Other things Microsoft’s President of the Interactive Entertainment Business may or may not have said
- “If you eat at Burger King, you’re really a burger.”
- “If you’re a long distance runner, you really don’t have any legs.”
- “If you’re forced to quarter the EU price of Windows 8, you really have a flourishing company.”
Read/reading: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion.
Extremely Loud is an odd book. It’s kind of fragmented, which is how I read it - short bursts over a month, because I’m sometimes terrible at committing to books and this one was definitely challenging at points. But it’s rewarding - the protagonist, nine-year-old Oskar Schell, is a fascinating character and it felt almost painful to be torn away from him by the alternative perspectives presented throughout the novel. It’s not perfect - some of the more experimental sections border on the banal - but it’s fascinating in a way that few books have been lately.
I’m not expecting much from Warm Bodies - I know it’s unabashedly populist, a YA novel, and the film was middling to good(ish). I just need something lighter after that mammoth.
Watched: Whip It
- Aww. No, really! This was very sweet, and just shy of cloying.
- This deserves pointing out (and will continue to deserve it until there’s a bit more parity on this front), but this film aces the Bechdel test throughout. Yes, there’s a romantic subplot, but it’s a subplot - there is a lot more going on, and it’s more important than all that kissin’.
- Can any Texans verify if Ellen Page can pass as one or not? I heard the odd “y’all” here and there, but for the most part she sounded a bit… refined? Not that that’s a problem. And Marcia Gay Harden (which, sorry, is a hilarious name) is sublime.
- It’s also a big fuck you to Hollywood execs who talk about appealing to core demographics, because you know what? This is relatable on a few huge levels, and interesting, and I didn’t need some blond-haired-blue-eyed-betesticled proxy to get that effect.
- It was billed as a comedy when it came out, and I’m not sure about that - there are laughs, but most of them come from feel-good places. There are emotional points, but it’s generally all quite light and fluffy. Which is fine! You don’t have to kill off your characters to create emotional investment!
- Generally, besides the automatic points for breaking gender conventions (and, seriously. That shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is) this was solid, and pretty good. Not a classic, but fun to watch.
I stopped trying so hard, or other things got in the way; whatever happened, I don’t feel as connected as I used to. As things stand, I think I might be a little mad - I have one friend who I might be lucky to see once a fortnight, others who I maybe see once a month, and a family with whom I have a sometimes-strained relationship; I am, after all, leaving them with no promise of return later on this year.
Besides that, there is the Internet, which used to have a lot of promise for me. There were over two thousand people who at least pretended to be interested in what I had to say; a little landscape populated by people who wouldn’t scuttle away if I popped my head up and said hello. Then things, and people, got ugly. Complications here and there, but also some cowardice - reaching out to strangers is hard, and often ends up being an empty gesture.
It’s odd to think that I met Casey by doing this, and my fiancé, and a few other online contacts who are still dotted around. These days, I wonder if I’d have the same luck - I’m a little jaded by the number of people with whom I ended up having nothing in common (there are a few), and I suspect that might colour my initial perceptions a little more.
What it means, though, is that there is once again enough silence to really get to grips with what being alone is like. You need a lot of solitude to really get a handle on it - periods in between contact are just points of anxiety, not moods in themselves. It’s funny that I’m currently at a point with so much contact - my job requires near-constant communication with colleagues and students - but little that’s meaningful or friendly. There’s the palpable sense that I’m just ticking along.
Today, we got an email from USCIS, the US immigration office, saying that they’d received my petition to become a legal permanent resident of the United States. This means that it’ll be roughly five months before I go for a visa interview with a view to entering the country - I was waiting before, but now that waiting has an accent on it.
My fiancé is currently seeing friends in Canada, and by all accounts having a great time; it’s heartwarming to watch, but occasionally the feeling of why am I not there flares up. Being kept apart from the person that you love isn’t quite how it’s made out to be - for the first month or so, there’s that gut-wrenching movie loneliness that people assume you’re going to have, but when a year passes with no contact - and it has - it becomes a dull background ache, only fucking with you if you lean on it too hard. It’s always there, waiting to ruin your evening; the trick is finding a way to stop it from bothering you.
So. Continuing to figure out Who I Am is how I’m mostly spending my time. There is part of me that knows that I won’t have this sort of period of long, uninterrupted contemplation for a long time after I move, and I need to re-learn some of the things I worked out before university and brush off some of the more unhelpful attitudes I’ve developed in the interim.
More and more, I want to be the sort of person who’s dependable in a crisis, cool and analytical, emotional when it’s helpful but otherwise polite and reasonable. I could do with a little more drive. I want to expand my capacity for language - stagnated as it is by a years-long terror of coming across as “pretentious” - but still somehow come across as approachable rather than intimidating. I want to enjoy the company of others, but not get sucked into black holes when I’m on my own. I’m coming to terms with the fact that education and adolescence only shape you so far, recognising that this mind and body is still a work-in-progress, and figuring out the best way to work on it.
Watched: Fright Night
- The 2011 one, not the original. It sounds awful, but I’m really not that interested in seeing the original.
- This was so fun. Incredibly stupid (even though there were some funny lines), but it knew it was and decided it was going to have a good time. It wasn’t that scary, either, but that’s fine - there was enough tension to tie the plot together, and it still felt like a rollercoaster. Just, you know, a fun one.
- David Tennant. Unf. Sorry, just… those leather pants. And the eyeliner. Holy shit. I don’t think I’ve ever been more attracted to a man in a film.
- Everyone in this was really fun to watch, if sometimes gratuitous. Anton Yelchin is a brilliant actor (Charlie Bartlett still remains one of my favourite films, and why wouldn’t it), Colin Farrell does a good job (by no means a given these days), and the supporting cast are all solid. Even Dave Franco was pretty good, if totally deplorable.
- Thinking back on it, this is a film that mostly takes place in two locations, but it feels suitably epic considering that’s the case - there’s so much going on, you don’t necessarily notice the background. Occasionally, it feels like egos battling for space on the screen (even Yelchin’s straight man is pretty intense), but for the most part it’s just really enjoyable acting. Did I mention David Tennant?
- More fun than I thought it would be, not nearly as scary as something like Drag Me To Hell (tonally, though, it’s a decent match), and fantastically schlocky if you want to switch your brain off for a hundred minutes. That doesn’t mean it’s mindless entertainment - there’s enough going on - but it’s not aggressively demanding on either your stomach or your head.
Watched: The Amazing Spider-Man
- This film really got the fluidity of a character like Spider-Man and ran/swung/flew with it. I think this is the first time where a bunch of workmen turning cranes around has ever made me cry.
- Andrew Garfield definitely lends a humanity to the character, but his face began to unnerve me after a while. It never stops moving. It’s hard to harness emotional significance when you’re always in a constant duel between smiling and frowning.
- They could have done more with Rhys Ifans’s character, too - he gradually faded from view in favour of The Origin Story - which, while good, is a bit of a tired formula by now. That said, it’s hard to really lend character development to a giant lizard with an English accent.
- Uncle Ben! (Martin Sheen was really good when he was around.)
- Emma Stone somehow turned a fairly one-dimensional part into something with depth, too - most of her role is hanging around, waiting for Peter to show up, but she has some good lines and leaps off the screen.
- The music was really good, and was really part of the tapestry of the film - at times, there was the impression that it was trying to create a mood that wasn’t there, but for the most part it worked in synchronicity with the rest of the film.
- Side note: I haven’t seen, nor do I intend to see, any of the Tobey Maguire Spidey films. The man’s face terrifies me. Just… yep.
Watched: Another Earth
- This was very different. In a good way.
- Also massively mis-marketed, which I already knew about, but don’t go into this expecting science fiction. Sure, there are elements, but really the science fiction elements are a plot device rather than a huge texture. It’s a small, highly charged drama that’s principally between two characters (co-writer Brit Marling, and Willam Mapother, who is stunningly brilliant in this and completely erases Ethan from Lost from your memory), and all the better for it.
- It’s funny that this is the first time that my complaints about a film have been solely technical: the camerawork could have done with being a bit more measured (it’s principally hand-held, and loses the meditative touch a little as a result) and the closing music wasn’t great in that it mirrored the opening (which was tonally hugely different). Aside from that, though, it’s very impressive, especially as an independent feature.
- The script, in particular, is perfectly minimalist, bravely choosing silence over filling the air with waffle. Marling’s character, on reflection, probably only has a few pages of dialogue, but she feels solidly grounded as a character; Mapother’s role could have been an exercise in melodrama, but he handles it perfectly. Apparently he’s a cousin of Tom Cruise, which is bizarre.
- See this. Expect something small, and you’ll walk away thinking you’ve seen something enormous.
Watched: Reality Bites
- This somehow managed to simultaneously feel surprisingly fresh and aggressively dated at the same time. It’s not just the VHS generation loss and the very 90s soundtrack - there’s a sensibility to this that we’ve kind of lost, even though the same issues (jobless arts grads struggling to find meaningful work) persist. Nowadays, though, it’s taken as read on most fronts that if you want to do the job you want, you work at something you hate first; here, there’s a fierce resistance to that attitude that seems both naive and visionary at once.
- Interesting, too, how the focus narrows over time rather than immediately seizing on the eventual love triangle. In the opening few minutes, it’s hard to tell who the real subject of the film is, which lends the whole affair the feeling that this is just a glimpse of a culture.
- Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder are electrifying in this - the latter didn’t surprise me, but Hawke can be very hit (Gattaca, Dead Poets Society) and miss (Daybreakers). This was good. He steals the last scene. Stiller was less impressive, though I suppose it’s tough when you’re essentially directing yourself.
- Not too philosophical (despite deliberately twee allusions to the contrary), but fun and heartwarming. Somehow paints so-called slackers in a positive light, which is nice (and rare) to see.
Confusing media roundup: Grand Theft Auto IV, Halcyon, Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!
Because I’ve been watching and playing a lot of stuff, but splitting thoughts into three individual posts would be exhausting.
Halcyon (in addition to being a really good book by Casey Morell) is an iPad game by Zach Gage (of Ridiculous Fishing fame) and therefore probably isn’t that interesting to about 90% of my readership. (Maybe I’m wrong - maybe you all have iPads. I’ve never done any research.)
It’s a curious title, though - the gameplay is visually unassuming and aggressively repetitive, but a combination of stunning soundscapes and a slightly meditative tone put it in the same group as games like Super Hexagon - aggressively addictive without relying on microtransactions and powerups (I’m looking at you, brilliant-but-otherwise-infuriating Jetpack Joyride). Basically, how arcade games should be, but for some reason aren’t anymore.
Chuunibyou was one of those shows I shouldn’t really have liked. It’s cutesy, has a few too many upskirt shots for a show about a group of young teenagers and deals with a phenomenon I’m not too familiar with (so-called “8th-grade syndrome”, where the sufferers generally act like fantasy characters and engage in delusional activities okay it’s basically LARPing as a way of life).
But it’s weird - although it stays along the line of genuinely funny but a little bit trite for a few episodes, things take a turn about halfway through and cast the show in a whole new light. The humour isn’t lost when it’s grappling with bigger issues, but it lends the whole thing a sense of humanity I didn’t quite expect. It’s funny - I think the reason I feel like anime as a medium hasn’t yet won me over is because of my total lack of exposure prior to a few months ago, because so far there hasn’t been one show (or film) I’ve disliked. I have a couple in mind for the next on my list (either Shin Sekai Yori, which looks interesting in a oh-woah-this-subject-matter-is-different sense, and Revolutionary Girl Utena, which apparently left a huge impression on Arden so my hunch is that it’s probably pretty good).
That leaves Grand Theft Auto IV, which… well. It’s such a videogame. Filled to the teeth with lazy misogyny, characterisation that ignores gameplay and a story that’s less engaging than Captain Picard’s junkie meltdown, but still fun because the radio stations are funny and the open world (despite a shitty PC port) feels palpably alive.
My one complaint about Saints Row: The Third (a far superior game in most respects) is that the world at times feels a little cut-and-pasted, the suburbs punctuated by things that don’t really fit in for the sake of cost-cutting. It’s fine - SR3’s priority is fun rather than coherency, and it delivers bucketfuls on that front - but Liberty City feels aggressively real. Now that I’ve completed the story, I’m having fun just wandering around and seeing what I discover. I’ve been throwing myself off tall buildings a lot. Not sure what that says about me (or the game). It’s made me want to get Grand Theft Auto V when it comes out, blaze through the story as fast as possible, and revel in what’s left. There is enough here to excuse the awful shittiness the writers left at the front door.
Dirty Love, by Kesha and Iggy Pop.