on Arrival

My wife and I are home, sick, again, as we’ve been all week.  It’s been a shitty week.

We just finished watching Arrival.  A few quick thoughts:

1. One of the problems of being parents who are afraid of hiring babysitters is that we don’t get to go to the movies as often as we’d like.  Which is why, of the 9 nominees for Best Picture, we’ve only seen Hell or High Water, and now Arrival.  I can’t properly assess how it will fare at the Oscars, but I can say this:  it’s one of the best science fiction movies I’ve ever seen.  Even having read the source material beforehand, I was moved and astonished and amazed.  I will watch anything that Denis Villenueve directs from here on out, but I should also mention the cinematography, the sound design, the performances – I have nothing but praise for every aspect of the work that went into making this film.

2. It is impossible to overstate how being a parent can profoundly affect the way one absorbs popular culture.  And if you’ve seen Arrival, you can probably guess where I’m coming from; I’ll leave it at that.

3. It is also similarly impossible to see this movie being made in the same way, now that Donald Trump is the President of the United States.  Indeed, it is impossible to see a lot of alien encounter movies being made in the same way with Trump running the show.  One can only hope that we, as a planet, remain untouched for the duration of his term.

Weekend recap: alternative facts

And so here we are, finally, the first Monday in Trump’s America.  We are expecting Nor’easter-ish conditions here in the NYC region, which seems fitting.

I don’t necessarily want to turn this blog into a political soapbox, but these are strange times, and like it or not, Trump’s current employment is going to affect us all one way or the other.  (I cannot and will not call him President.)  While I understand the impulse to say “Hey, man, leave politics out of it, you’re talking about games and music and books,” the truth of the matter is that Trump’s decisions are absolutely going to affect games and music and books.  Not just in terms of their subject matter, but – in more practical terms – they may very well affect our ability to purchase games and music and books.  Because unless you are a (white, male) billionaire, life is about to get more difficult, whether you like it or not.

And the thing is, Trump and his cronies are legitimately frightening, while also being incredibly ridiculous.  It is hard to take ridiculous things seriously, and yet we as a nation have to take them seriously, because otherwise the truly frightening fascistic shit will get lost in the shuffle.  So while we’re all enjoying a laugh at the insanity of Kellyanne Conway presenting “alternative facts” as a sublime bon mot, let’s not forget that it’s only been 72 hours and the Trump administration is already preparing to leave the United Nations, renegotiate NAFTA, and go into full-bore isolationist mode.  Oh, and that whole healthcare thing… that’s gonna fuck everybody up, too, including people who already have healthcare through their jobs.

In any event:  I despaired on Friday, but after seeing the enormity of the protests on Saturday, I am inspired and rejuvenated.


To that end, I spent last night replaying Wolfenstein: The New Order, because suddenly killing Nazis is cathartic again.  I wrote about this the last time I played it, and it’s still true.  Given that one of the highlights of this weekend was seeing alt-right neo-Nazi Richard Spencer get punched in the face, and then having that punch become a viral meme, I felt that it was my patriotic duty as an American to get my Nazi-killin’ skills in good shape.  I’m still a pacifist, I still hate guns, I still feel a little weird about the shooter genre, but I will alwaysalwaysalways have room in my heart to mow down some Nazis.

If I’m honest with myself, I should probably concede that I have not yet spent enough time with my PSVR to fully justify the expense of owning it.  And yet, my brother and his fiancee hung out with us over the weekend (they were escaping DC, as it were), and I got to blow their minds with that shark tank demo, and that in and of itself is justification enough.

I also dabbled in some other VR experiences; I gave Bound another look, and the difference between Bound in regular mode vs. VR is night and day.  It’s still a bit weird, but the visual experience is nothing short of breathtaking.  Similarly, I finally unlocked the fabled “Area X” mode in Rez Infinite, and all I can really say about that is wow.  Good lord.

I continue to screw around with my backlog, and I continue to find myself drawn towards replaying old favorites in lieu of playing new stuff.  I am having a very difficult time getting into Final Fantasy XV, and Dishonored 2 is also a bit of a struggle (although in that case it’s more that I’m just not very good at it, and while I want to be able to sneak around I end up having to kill everyone, and it becomes a bit of a drag).  I’m also having the same problem with Watch Dogs 2, actually, except I really don’t care about getting into gunfights, even though I feel like I should.

And yet I am more than happy to revisit The Witcher 3, and Rise of the Tomb Raider, and such.  Those games are still great, and given that time remains something of a limited resource, I’d rather spend my time enjoying what I’m doing than not.  It’s an indulgent attitude, I suppose, but these are strange and difficult times, and one has to find happiness where one can.

everyone has to start somewhere

As the oldest child and the son of two classical musicians, I didn’t get a lot of exposure to rock music.  My first exposure to Bob Dylan was, in all likelihood, Edie Brickell’s cover of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”, from the Born on the Fourth of July soundtrack – a movie I don’t think I’ve ever seen, actually.  (My second exposure to Dylan was most likely PJ Harvey’s overlooked cover of “Highway 61 Revisited“, and then there was whatever bullshit U2 did on Rattle and Hum, and then Hendrix, and then finally Dylan himself.)

I happened to hear Edie’s cover on the radio, back in those endless teen-aged days when I would carve out weekend afternoons specifically to tape songs onto my boombox, and it floored me.  That waltzing rhythm, that suspended chord with the bass staying on the root, the slow build in the devastating final verse; it all killed me.  Plus, I must admit that I had a bit of a crush on Edie back in the day, and this might’ve been the last “big” song she had before she and the Bohemians parted ways and she shacked up with Paul Simon.

And so anyway, when it emerged that Patti Smith sang the same song at Dylan’s Nobel ceremony, and fucking killed it – even in spite of a hiccup here or there, which, let’s be honest, would happen to anyone in that situation – it made my heart happy in a very specific and meaningful way.

I won’t pretend to know Dylan’s discography as well as I should – I have my favorite albums, and I have my favorite songs from those albums, as well as alternative versions not formally recorded, but there are large gaps that I suspect I’ll never get to – but in any event, this particular song has a special place in my heart if only because it was the first Dylan song that personally affected me, that made me say, holy shit, I get it, I should probably buy some of his albums.

And let me say, again, that Patti’s version is just straight-up astounding.  And the song is arguably even more resonant right now than ever before.

 

writing on the wall, and all that

I’m starting to get to that point where keeping an informal game-focused pop-culture blog seems ridiculous.  I don’t really know what I’m doing here anymore.  I’m feeling disconnected from the games I play; I’m feeling distanced from the books I read; I feel like I can’t enjoy music the way I used to, where I’d just totally shut out the world and allow myself to be consumed by the sounds coming through my headphones.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with allowing a bit of self-care right now.  Staying angry is necessary but it’s exhausting, and while I’m not on social media all that much anymore, I can’t help but feel that when I do pop my head in, most of what I see are essentially pissing matches about who the most “woke” is instead of finding practical, tangible ways of dealing with the nightmare we’ve all been thrust into.  And it’s more than just calling up your elected officials and making your voice heard – because once you get off the phone with your representative, that representative needs to follow through, and there is some frustrating (albeit anecdotal) evidence that the necessary follow-through isn’t happening.  (As an example, see this Twitter thread.)

Look – while this blog has the perfect title for it, this is not going to turn into a political site; I’m not smart enough to have the kinds of insights that are useful, and I can’t write well enough to fake my way through it, and the one thing I think we can all agree on right now is that there’s a WHOLE LOT OF NOISE.  I am reading, I am listening, I am learning.  I would rather speak my piece when I know what my piece is.

But I must admit that the alternative – to pretend that the nightmare isn’t happening and that you’re actually curious as to what I think about, say, Titanfall 2‘s campaign – isn’t all that appealing.  Or realistic.  I know what kind of traffic I get over here, and it ain’t much.

I write this now because this is usually the time of the year where I start going through my various spreadsheets and start compiling my Best Of 2016 posts, and I’m just not feeling it.  2016 sucked on nearly every conceivable level, and while there were some bright spots that are worth celebrating, I’m finding it unusually difficult to muster up the requisite joy with which to celebrate them.  Despite my medications and weekly therapy sessions, there’s a deep melancholy that’s setting in, and when I reflect on all this year has given us, it’s all I can do to stop myself from curling into the fetal position and setting this blog on fire.

I don’t want to set this blog on fire.  That’s about as definitive as I can get right now.

I do want to focus on finishing my album.  That’s the thing I should be working on over everything else.  Writing lyrics fucking sucks, but I’ve gotta figure out a way to work through it anyway.  I’ve got at least an album’s worth of really good music, but none of it’s finished yet, and if I continue to not finish it, what’s the point?

Anyway.  I’m rambling more than usual because this is the first substantial lull I’ve had all day and it’s probably the last opportunity I’ll have to write here before December.

So.  Take care of yourselves; take care of each other; I’ll be back here when I figure out how to do it right.

checked out

So it’s been, what, 3 weeks since I started taking new head meds?  Something like that.  I have definitely noticed a change; the mood swings are almost totally gone, and if I feel blue every once in a while it’s not an all-consuming despair.  I’m also a bit more fatigued, which I suppose goes hat-in-hand with being mellow.  I might be a bit more numb, possibly.  Like: when the whole Hoboken train accident happened last week – an accident that I apparently missed being in the middle of by about 10 minutes – I felt a bit more detached and far less anxious than I expected myself to be.  And even though my commute now involves having to go back to dealing with the pit of despair known as Penn Station again, I’m at least able to look at the bright side of it – my wife and I get to sit next to each other on the train, which is something we’ve never been able to do in the 16 years we’ve been together.

The flip side to all this is that, as I noted above, I feel somewhat more numb about almost everything.  I bring this up here because, well, this is a blog that’s primarily about videogames and how I play them, and to be perfectly honest with you I’ve been finding myself somewhat checked out.  I had some weird issues last week where my controllers weren’t pairing with my consoles – this is a thing that’s happened before with my PS4, but this was the first time it happened to my Xbox One, and it’s certainly never happened for both consoles at the same exact time – and I found that I didn’t particularly care, one way or the other, because I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.  The only console game I’m playing with any sort of gusto is Forza Horizon 3 – which is a game that is specifically designed to be played however you want to play it, and right now I’m content to simply cruise around, take in the sights, do some silly non-race stuff, unlock a few new cars, and then log off.

My rental copy of XCOM 2 arrived last week -a game that I’d been looking forward to for months – and I’m finding myself more or less totally disinterested in it.  I finished the tutorial, but haven’t been able to get more than 15 minutes into the very first proper mission without finding myself putting the controller down and looking at my phone, or going upstairs to get a snack.  I don’t know if it’s simply that the game is intimidating, or that I’m bad at it, or if it’s the head meds that have turned off the part of my brain that is receptive to the itch that XCOM was supposed to scratch – but whatever the reason, I’m just not feeling it.

Similarly, the wife and I have been watching Luke Cage, and even though we’re only 5 episodes in, we’re starting to run out of steam with it.  We want to love the show, and certainly there’s a lot to love about it (the music, the casting, the idea), but there’s certain aspects of it that seem weird to us.  More specifically, the writing seems all over the place.  Why is Luke such a negging dick to Misty Williams?  Why does everyone seem to deliver their lines in such a stilted, totally unnatural way?  These are little things that take us out of the show, and we’re finding ourselves falling a bit out of its rhythm.

Anyway, this is all a long way of saying that I’m feeling a bit removed from the sorts of things I normally talk about on here, and if I’m silent in the coming weeks, that’s probably why.  It’s entirely possible that one of the big fall game releases will come along that shakes me back into a feeling of urgency, and when that happens I’m sure I’ll be back here in a big way.  But for right now, I’m enjoying a bit of silence, and I hope that’s OK with you guys.

The Week In Review: Stranger Things Indeed

1. My buddy Sara returns serve with more Uncharted 4 correspondence over at Videodame.  I hope to volley back later next week.

2. I’m busting outta the ‘burbs and will be at the NYVCC summer shindig at Barcade this coming Monday, July 25.  If you’re in town, come on by!

3. I’ve been wanting to write about Stranger Things all week, but knew I should wait until I finished the season; my wife and I started on Sunday after the kid went to bed and pushed through 2 episodes per night, and so we finished it on Wednesday evening.  I woke up later that night at 3am and had one of those middle-of-the-night timeless intervals trying to figure out what I wanted to say about it.  Now it’s Friday and I’m still floating out to sea, somewhat.  (There’s a reason for that, though.*)

If you don’t know what Stranger Things is, here’s my very abbreviated elevator pitch: imagine Steven Spielberg directing a Stephen King novel, with a John Carpenter soundtrack, in 1983.

This essay from Paste goes into a bit more detail, especially in terms of what exactly it’s stealing from; here’s a TL:DR excerpt:

If you were a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, chances are you’ve seen Stranger Things before. An eight-part sci-fi spectacle and shiny new Netflix original from filmmaking brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, Stranger Things is spooky supernatural entertainment unashamedly in the 1980s popcorn mould. It won’t be a problem for today’s kids less familiar with that period in film, but for those that recognize the influences—anyone who’s been paying attention to pop culture over the last 30 years, probably—there’s nothing surprising about Stranger Things. In fact, there’s barely an original idea across its six-and-a-half hours. Instead, it constantly recalls old stories.

There’s an argument to be made that this is in fact Stranger Things’ ‘original’ concept: arranging shopworn ideas in a new and interesting way. Collaging is considered an art, and it no doubt takes talent to make a worthwhile season of television almost entirely out of borrowed parts. Which isn’t to say Stranger Things is like some scrappy mish-mash; like Quentin Tarantino, the Duffers only cadge ideas from the best, but are more importantly talented enough as storytellers to use those ideas in effective ways.

I don’t know if I would count it among the greatest seasons of capital-T Television I’ve ever seen, but it was incredibly fun, and I guess the thing I appreciated the most is how, while it’s obviously borrowing heavily from a lot of 1980s tropes, it’s also incorporating a lot of today’s story-telling methods.  Let’s be honest – if you go back and revisit a classic 80s movie that you haven’t seen in a number of years, a lot of them haven’t aged particularly well; they are better in your memory of them than how they actually are.

A few key examples of this:  the first Tim Burton Batman movie, from 1989.  I saw this movie in the theater as a kid and LOVED it, but hadn’t watched it again until a few years ago.  And for all its stylistic Tim Burton-ness, there’s just a whole bunch of nonsense that 14-year-old me just didn’t notice at the time.  There’s a scene in the back half of the movie where Jack Nicholson’s Joker pays Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale a menacing visit.  But there’s literally no reason for him to show up there.  The scene doesn’t accomplish anything.  It’s a fabricated excuse to give Jack and Kim a scene together, and when you watch this with the benefit of watching 20+ years of movies in the interim, suddenly it sticks out.

Or, alternately, Big Trouble in Little China, which I loved to death back in the day.  It’s still fun, and it’s visually interesting, but the movie itself barely hangs together.

Anyway, back to Stranger Things.  Here is a bullet-pointed collection of thoughts, which I am currently too distracted to properly formulate into an actual essay.  (See the above-referenced footnote below.)  It’s hard to be specific without getting into what are technically spoilers, but I should also note that this isn’t the sort of show where you’re being knocked over by plot twists; there’s a tremendous amount of forward momentum here and so anything spoiler-y is less about a BIG REVEAL and more about a moment of character development.  Still, be warned.

  • This story could certainly have been told in a 2-hour movie.  But by stretching it out to 8 episodes, we’re able to have these characters actually talk to each other.  And, in what feels like a genuine first, we’re having characters have conversations where they actually say all the things I wish that characters would say.  I don’t know if that’s a testament to the writing, or the acting, or if it’s simply that I am the target audience for this show and so I related to every single goddamned pixel on my television screen.  But, like – it’s great to be able to follow Winona Ryder into what for all intents and purposes looks like a psychotic break, and to have her fully acknowledge to anyone who asks that yes, she is very much aware that she knows what she looks like, but for us to know that she isn’t.
  • How great is the casting?  This is some of the best work Winona Ryder’s done in her whole career – and while casting her is no accident, she knocked it out of the park.  The kids are great: the girl who plays Eleven looks an awful lot like young Wil Wheaton, wouldn’t you say?  And of course the older brother looks a lot like young River Phoenix.
  • OH GOD THE MUSIC.  Obviously one of the things that makes this show so great is how it mixes lots of 80s things together, but especially how it takes a Spielberg-ian look at childhood in the 80s but eschews the John Williams orchestra and instead goes for the John Carpenter minimal-synthesizer thing.  I only wish they could’ve gone a little bit further and added some David Lynch/Twin Peaks weirdness, though I suppose having this story take place in an unusually strange town might’ve been pushing it a bit too much.
  • As noted above, I am the target demo for this show – a child of the 80s, thoroughly steeped in 80s movies and music and clothes and Trapper Keepers and D&D (well, in my case, piano lessons), and so I of course related to both the junior-high AV Club kids and the high school hormonal teenagers.  (And on behalf of all the teenaged girls I knew when I was a teenager:  I’m so, so, so sorry.)  But I am also currently a 40-year-old parent, and I also thoroughly related to the adults on the show, especially with regards to how those parents care about their children.  Like the scene between Nancy and her mother where the mother knows what just happened to Nancy and her boyfriend and desperately wants to reach out to her daughter because she’s been there and wants to be cool about it, and how heartbreaking it is for her to have the door shut in her face.  Or the deep sorrow that Chief Hopper carries around with him in losing his very young daughter; I don’t know what that feels like first-hand and I hope I never do, but I can certainly imagine what it would like to lose my son, and jesus I have to move on because I can’t finish this sentence.  Point being, I related to everyone, in intensely different ways.
  • BIGGEST SPOILER, SINCE IT’S ABOUT THE LAST TWO EPISODES:  In the last two episodes, how great was it to have all the good guys, who’d previously been in their own groups, finally come together?  And to also appear in completely different pairings than they’d been in for the rest of the season?  It’s so nice when people don’t have to keep secrets from each other.  The sense of relief the little kids must’ve felt when not only did Chief Hopper rescue them from the bus, but that he believes them.

I loved the show; you should watch it.


* This week’s been a shitshow – work has been busy, and the RNC is a waking nightmare, but on the lighter side of things I’ve also been pleasantly obsessing over music, which carries its own set of distractions.  I know I’ve talked numerous times about how impressed I am at whatever algorithmic alchemy Spotify manages to achieve for the weekly Discovery playlist; the hit-to-miss ratio is more than acceptable, especially considering that the songs that qualify as “hits” more often than not end up becoming profoundly affecting.  Part of the reason why I couldn’t write anything yesterday is because I spent, like, 5 hours just listening to the bridge in Moses Sumney’s “Everlasting Sigh”.

Civil War! Radiohead!

Here’s hoping you all had as lovely a weekend as I did.

First thing’s first:  normally I’m very late to the party when it comes to seeing big blockbuster movies in a timely fashion.  I spent 20 years dealing with the insanity of seeing big movies on opening weekend in NYC, a process that, among other things, entailed getting to the theater at least 90 minutes before showtime to ensure getting even a halfway decent seat, and this eventually wore on my nerves.  So between that and our weird reluctance to hire a babysitter, my wife and I don’t often get to go to the movies together, and certainly not for big big movies like Captain America: Civil War.  (Or, for that matter, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  My wife and I both saw it separately, and it wasn’t until the movie had been out for several weeks that we were able to see it together.)

But somehow we were able to see it yesterday.

I don’t know how valuable my opinion is when it comes to evaluating Marvel movies.  I’m not a comic book guy, and so my primary exposure to anything involving superheroes is through film – and film will always be different than the source material.  My wife, on the other hand, is a Marvel girl through-and-through, and she devoured the Civil War run when it was in print – indeed, I think the primary reason she was excited about the idea of an Avengers movie in the first place is that it might eventually lead to a film of the Civil War.

My understanding is that the film’s Civil War and the comic book run couldn’t be more different, even if they had a number of common similarities.  Obviously, the comic wasn’t constrained by all the various legal issues that have split up the various Marvel franchises among rival film studios – my wife is an X-Men fan, and so their absence in this Captain America film is rather strongly felt.  The comic was also, if I understand it correctly, spread out over a long-ish period of time; the movie, on the other hand, appears to take place within a 72-hour period, and the one big superhero battle is rather self-contained, all things considered.  It’s more of a grudge match than a capital-W War, like when a fight breaks out between teammates on the bench during a baseball game.

But this is all besides the point; I didn’t read the comics, so it makes no sense for me to look at it from that perspective.  As far as the films themselves, I’ve enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the most part; some films work better than others, to be sure, but all the heroes are well cast and the films possess a buoyant energy – far more so than the DC films.*

Anyway:  of all the MCU films, this Civil War film is almost certainly the best one.  For an ensemble action movie – with an absolutely gigantic ensemble – it’s remarkable how well-paced it is, how every character gets enough space to have their requisite emotional beats, and especially how both Captain America and Iron Man have compelling and valid points of view.

And the action sequences are similarly remarkably well-framed.  Unlike other recent action movies I could name, you can always tell what’s going on, who’s punching who, and there’s none of the motion sickness that seems to be part and parcel with these sorts of set pieces.  There’s one chase sequence in particular involving Winter Soldier, Black Panther and Captain America that is absolutely fantastic, specifically because the stuntwork is excellent and is shot in such a way that you can actually see what the hell is going on.  (The shot of Winter Soldier grabbing the motorcycle is arguably the most exciting shot in the entirety of the MCU thus far.)

It’s been noted by better critics than me that if this movie has one downside, it’s that the villain isn’t particularly memorable, and also that the movie makes up for this by not really needing a villain in the first place.  The Cap’n and Iron Man have been getting under each other’s skin for several films by now, and this film’s conflict is less about current ideological differences and more about, as Tony Stark says, simply “wanting to punch you in your perfect teeth.”

I want to say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything; I just hope I get another chance to see it on the big screen before too long.

*  *  *

The other big cultural event of the weekend: the new Radiohead album, “A Moon Shaped Pool”, was released on Sunday.  I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until late last night, and even then I was being an idiot and struggling with the admittedly ridiculous decision as to how I should get it – iTunes? Amazon mp3? or hope for it to appear on Spotify before too long?

I’ll need a few dozen more listens before I can write about it with any authority, of course.  But even just on first glance it’s clear that this is a gorgeous album, with haunting melodies and Jonny Greenwood’s otherworldly string arrangements doing freakish things to my brain.  The thing about Radiohead albums – for me, at any rate – is that the production is always interesting, even on their lesser tunes, and on this album there are some rather startling and intimate sounds; the ones that got me in particular are how you can hear the piano’s hammers strike each string, as if the microphone was placed an inch away from the piano’s heart.  (I’m reminded of a Flaming Lips lyric – each press of a piano key is like “the softest bullet ever shot”).

It’s perhaps not the grand return to form I might’ve hoped for after the rather limp King of Limbs – I can’t help but wish there were a few more uptempo songs, though I feel certain that “Ful Stop” will absolutely destroy in a live setting – but this is definitely an improvement.  It’s hard to know what I expect from a Radiohead album anymore; the 1-2 knockout punches of OK Computer and Kid A will probably cloud everyone’s judgement on that score, not just mine.  But in terms of pure sonic beauty, this one’s a keeper.

*  *  *

Nothing to report on the games front; my digital copy of Uncharted 4 is already pre-loaded and that’s pretty much where I’ll be for the foreseeable future.

As for books – I finished re-reading Justin Cronin’s The Passage and am about halfway through my re-read of The Twelve, all so that I can get caught up for The City of Mirrors, which comes out in 2 weeks.  Those books are still great!


* I still wish that Edgar Wright had been allowed to make the Ant-Man film that he wanted to make; I bet it would’ve been spectacular.  But I suspect that his directorial vision would’ve been too idiosyncratic with the rest of the MCU; the final film feels constrained and reigned in, and it’s not nearly as joyous and charming as it wants to be.

 

discouragement

[CAUTION:  PERSONAL STUFF.  I don’t keep a personal blog anymore; if I did, I’d write this stuff there, as opposed to here.  (I’ve also forgotten my Livejournal password.)  I am feeling inclined to write anyway, so, deal with it.]

I am unwell today.  I think I got gluten’d from my office cafeteria breakfast, and so the morning has been… unpleasant.

Sometimes I hear stories about people who take medication for depression or anxiety, and they start feeling better and decide to stop taking their meds because they think they don’t need them anymore, and then everything falls apart; I am not one of those people.  I’m on anxiety medication and it’s improved my quality of life a thousand times over and I do not plan to stop taking it unless there’s a really good reason not to.  Similarly, it’s days like today where I realize that no matter how much progress I’ve made in terms of my GI illnesses – and I’ve made a lot of progress – there is absolutely no wiggle room for mistakes; if I eat something I’m not supposed to, I pay for it.

(This is also a “fuck you” to people who go out of their way to make fun of people who are gluten-free.  Let me assure you, this is not a choice.)

I am also feeling a bit pessimistic about a timely resolution to the impending NJ Transit strike, despite one of the lead quotes from this article (which directly flies in the face of last night’s developments).  My office also won’t let me work from home, so I’ll be forced to take vacation time, even though my inability to get into work isn’t my fault.

My rental copy of The Division finally arrived yesterday, and so I’d been hoping to offer up some early impressions today; alas, the game required a 3GB patch and for whatever reason my PS4 was refusing to download it in a timely fashion.  That said, if the above-referenced transit strike ends up happening and I’m stuck at home, well… I’ll be able to do a much more thorough write-up, at the very least.

What else, what else, what else.  I don’t know.  I’m in a weird headspace today; feeling discouraged and pessimistic, in addition to everything else.  I wish I could go into greater detail here, but this isn’t the best place for it.

 

Gut Impressions: Star Wars TFA

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I am kinda procrastinating at the moment (also a little tipsy, but hey) so here are my quick, hopefully non-spoilery Star Wars Thoughts (and some necessary personal context as a prelude):

  1.  For starters, I’m pretty sure that this was the first time I’ve ever gone to the movies by myself.  That’s weird, right?  I just turned 40, and yet this was my first solo movie experience.  Also: it was a Sunday, 10:00am showing, and the theater was basically empty.  I’m so used to watching movies in NYC where you have to be at the theater at least an hour before showtime in order to get a halfway good seat, but here in the burbs I was the first one at the theater by at least 30 minutes.
  2. I’m not a huge Star Wars nerd, at least not to the extent that my wife and our friends are.  Star Wars was certainly a big part of my childhood’s vocabulary, and the Bespin Freeze Chamber was one of my all-time favorite toys, but I was never, like, obsessed with it, and the prequels left an awful, awful taste in my mouth.  My impatience at seeing this new movie was more about knowing that everyone I know had already seen it , and I was missing out on an important cultural event.  And I did want to watch it before the whole movie got spoiled for me.  Speaking of which…
  3. …I did have at least 2 very significant plot points spoiled for me before watching the film, but as it turned out it wasn’t a big deal; both things were telegraphed pretty early on, and I’m not sure either of them were ever intended to be a head-spinning plot twist.
  4. I do understand George Lucas’s reluctance to embracing the new movie, but I also think he’s a fucking asshole for his selling of the franchise to “white slavers”.  It’s not like he didn’t get paid BILLIONS OF DOLLARS for it.  And let’s be honest, here:  the Lucas prequels are borderline unwatchable at this point.  J.J. Abrams had a near-impossible task at making Star Wars meaningful to people again, and he knocked it out of the goddamned park.
  5. The movie is still too fresh in my mind for me to feel like I can be objective enough to “review” it.  Was it the best movie I’ve ever seen?  Not by a long shot.  But did I giggle and ooh and aah and have a goofy smile on my face and did I feel like an 8-year-old kid all over the goddamned place for the entirety of the film’s running time?  Goddamned right I did.  The casting is perfect – I love Rey and Finn to pieces, and I loved seeing the old gang together again, and I legitimately got chills at the final scene.  The cinematography is fucking epic.  The score is fantastic.  J.J. is maybe the only director alive who could pull this particular task off, and – again – he killed it.
  6. It’s OK that it’s basically a re-make of Episode 4; Episode 4 was an origin story about mythic figures, and it makes sense for this new trilogy to touch on familiar feelings, even if it has the potential to go in wildly different directions.  I don’t know if I trust Disney to allow it to go too far out, but Star Wars isn’t necessarily meant to be avant-garde. I do feel that this movie was made with confidence, and that the creative team felt good about the product they were putting out, and if nothing else the box office more than bears that out, and maybe some of these side stories can be a little more daring and risk-taking as a result.
  7. That said, I do worry about Star Wars overdosing – a new trilogy plus all the side-story stuff might get exhausting.  I’m starting to feel that way about the Avengers movies, at any rate.  BUT:  we’re gonna be taking the kid to some of these movies at some point, and I’ll be happy enough to be his guide for those experiences.
  8. It is weird to see a new Star Wars movie as a parent!  I watched this movie all by myself in the theater – 3D, non-IMAX, which to me is the best way to see it (if only because IMAX gives me vertigo) – and all I could think about was watching it with Henry and wondering how he’s going to react to it; anticipating his excitement; preparing for his hiding his eyes in my arms during tense moments (as I did with my father for Temple of Doom).
  9. I said I won’t get spoilery, and I won’t.  But there is a spoiler-y theory floating around that I really like, which I’ll hide behind a link – I really like this idea, and I hope it’s true.
  10. Bottom line:  I can’t wait for Episode 8.  I can’t wait to see this movie again.

The Last Weekend of my 30s

1. I had an epiphany the other day.  I’ve been reading “The Monster at the end of this Book” to my son for the last week or so – he loves it, and I love reading it to him.  It’s the sort of book that I can’t help but act out; I immediately hear it in my brain in Grover’s voice, for one thing, and certain words are drawn in such a way that I instinctively react to them as I say them out loud.

The epiphany part of this is that, as I continue to read this book every night, and re-live my own childhood as I read it to my son, I’ve realized that the book’s emphasis on conversational rhythm has had a profound effect on my own writing style.  I know I’m prone to excessive hyperbole, but I’m also prone to italics and digression and I have a very informal writing style; I try to write as if I were talking, or at least as if I were transcribing my thoughts in the way that I think about them.  (I hope that makes sense.)  There are plenty of books that I’ve read in my life that I’ve unconsciously absorbed into my writing style, but I’m not sure that any of them ever had the same sort of influence that this one did.  I mean, look at those pages!

2. The wife and I finished Jessica Jones last night; wow wow wow, is all I can say.  I don’t really watch that much TV these days, but I’d heard too much good stuff about JJ to ignore it, and my wife is as big a Marvel fan as anybody, so it seemed like a no-brainer for us to watch it together, and I’m so glad we did.  At the pivotal moment of the finale, I literally jumped off the couch, did a touchdown dance, and high-fived my wife.  There’s so much to be said for the show’s unconventional casting, and feminist point-of-view, and this and that and the other – which is a terrific achievement in and of itself, and better critics than I can explain why; at the end of the day, it’s a rich world with (mostly) well-drawn and well-acted characters, and David Tennant is possibly the best villain in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Very excited for the forthcoming Luke Cage show, and in the meantime I’ll probably have to go back and watch Daredevil now.

3. I was going to do a “first few hours” post about Just Cause 3, but I honestly don’t even know where to begin with it.  Yes, wing-gliding is amazing, and once you get the hang of the traversal system there’s really nothing quite like it.  And yeah, shit blows up real good.  But it’s abundantly clear that it’s not a finished game, and it’s lacking some sorely-needed optimizations; loading times are atrocious – hell, even the in-game map doesn’t load all that well, frames drop all the goddamned time which greatly diminish the impact of all those awesome explosions, and I often have no idea what I’m supposed to do next.  But there’s also a weird tone issue, where I can’t tell if the game is meant to be super-ridiculous and over-the-top (Saints Row), over-the-top but also maybe a bit grounded in some subtle geo-political observational satire (Crackdown), or just a playground where it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing or why you’re doing it (fucking around in GTA).  It’s clearly ridiculous, but it also feels like it’s lacking purpose beyond simply blowing shit up.  Which makes the experience feel a bit more shallow than I’d like.  I’m not saying I need this game to mean anything; I’m just observing that without any real narrative motivation, I’m finding it hard to stay interested in it.

4.  I’m not necessarily ready to give up on Fallout 4 just yet, but I haven’t played in a couple days and I haven’t found myself missing it.  I’m going to get to Diamond City, which appears to be the first real “hub”, and if the game opens up in a pleasing way, then I might find myself drawn in.  Otherwise, I’ll have a PS4 Pip-Boy Edition for sale, if anybody’s interested.

5.  I’m going to be 40 tomorrow.  I’m not as freaked out by that as I thought I might be; I think turning 30 was a bigger deal, if only because I distinctly remember waking up on my 30th birthday and having my entire body ache for no particular reason.  Frankly, I’m in better health now than I was back then; my hair is grayer, of course, but I’ve gotten a lot of my various physical and mental health issues dealt with and as such I’m able to enjoy myself, my family and my life a lot better than I’d been able to.  So it’s all good.

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