Some things are stranger than Stranger Things.

I’ve got nothing specific to talk about today, but let’s see where this goes. We finished Stranger Things 2 last night, but it feels a bit early to get into it. So let’s not.

While we’re on the topic of entertaining media, I’ve got a hot tip on a fun audio story. It’s kinda like an old-timey radio play, but streamable. A friend of mine is part of a local theatre group who produce fantastic plays. They’re a mainstay of Toronto Fringe each year. How to Build a Fire is the story of a small town dealing with the aftermath of tragedy and unpacking the mysteries behind it. It’s six episodes long, just under three hours in total. It’s well directed and acted, with clean and clear audio production. It also does a great job of making neat character moments and drip feeding you information at a solid rate. I loved listening along at work, hearing new clues come to light as it progressed. Enjoying how they weaved together various storytelling tropes with relatable character writing, lifting the words off the page. Theatre Brouhaha regularly put together some of my favourite on stage content, so any chance I get to promote what they’re up to is a bonus for me. If they keep on getting attention, I’m sure it’ll lead to them putting together more content. Win win, right?

It’s Halloween, which is rad. If you’re looking for something to watch tonight, might I suggest Braindead/Dead Alive? It’s a classic 1992 New Zealand horror comedy from our beloved Sir Peter Jackson. While he’s now better known as a large Hollywood director, back in the 90s his forte was the world of z grade horror films. Campy and over the top, silly as hell and funny as fuck. All set in the picturesque backdrop of small New Zealand cities. Braindead is a great zombie film with a ton of Kiwiana thrown in. Alternatively, Bad Taste revolves around aliens invading Earth to harvest humans for their intergalactic fast food restaurant. If you’re into hyper cartoony gore and insight into why Peter Jackson was such a curious choice to direct the LoTR films, they should answer some questions.

I went to the gym yesterday and noticed a peculiar occurrence. A woman walked into the free weights area (no, that’s not weird), talking on her phone. I assume. She was wearing headphones and talking, so she was probably on a call? She strolled up to a bench, put her towel down and kept chatting. I know she hadn’t just arrived, because she was on the exercise bike next to me during my warm up. I was free weights area adjacent for maybe the next half hour. She stayed on her phone the entire time. She wasn’t picking anything up, but neither did she move her towel. All of the benches were in use, but she didn’t budge. Nobody approached her, because they probably also assumed she was about to make use of the bench she’d dibsed. I didn’t understand it. Had she intended to work out, but got caught up in a call? What kind of call takes that long? Who has such confidence that they’ll take a personal call for over half an hour in a public place? Or was she just there to perv on people? No stress, but if that was her plan why would she monopolise equipment that other people could use? Was she crafting some kind of alibi to excuse her perving?

Or am I entirely wrong and was she just an oblivious dick without consideration for other people? Because the pieces fit.

Advertisements

Do androids post clickbait for electric sheep?

Spoilers ahead for Blade Runner 2049. My girlfriend posted this article on Facebook and it prompted discussion. I spent a while writing a response to the discussion and figured I’d done my daily writing. Here goes.

So I think these are all pretty valid criticisms of the movie. The one conceit that I’m not buying into is that the sequel’s box office performance is tied to its lack of representation. Films with shitty representation go gangbusters at the box office all the time. It sucks and it’d be great if that wasn’t the case. It’s a niche, long and contemplative Sci Fi sequel of a cult film released something like 30 years ago. Also like they said, the original wasn’t a huge hit either. Also how often are people buying tickets to films knowing how effective their representation is? Isn’t that something you learn after watching the film? Using its box office performance issues as a tag for an otherwise pretty decent article seems pretty clickbait-y.

So first off, I’m not positing this as me having some crazy hot take. Unabashedly I really enjoyed the film and kind of just want to have people to talk about it with. I’m also of the opinion that you can both love a piece of art and criticise it without detracting from the fact that it meant something to you. I think that this article’s author had a bunch of pretty salient points and I’m interested in a discussion.

She’s on the money saying that women in this film were primarily relegated to window dressing and signposting. I mean, Robin Wright, in typical Robin Wright fashion, was fantastic. She was certainly a Boss Ass Bitch, but even she was reduced to essentially a gatekeeper making sure to quell the uprising in a very motherly position.

So how would we go about fixing the script? First and foremost, I don’t think the gender of K is super important to the plot. I mean, the commoditization of female bodies is sort of a central idea, whether it’s the corporation mass producing replicants like some kind of big baby factory, or trying to obtain the replicant born child to cheapen the reproduction process. Having K be female could’ve opened avenues for her to navigate these themes as well as the nature of reality, humanity and all that jazz. Then again, it’s not like this movie needed a longer run time.

I don’t know where I sit on the whole JOI aspect of not having agency, because that was kind of the point, right? She was a product created by the corporation to sell to their own products (I mean, grow your own consumers? That’s gotta help your bottom line). The whole “I tell you what you want to hear” idea was central to the plot and eventual twist. I think it would’ve gone some ways to have depicted male JOI units too (because surely the corporation wouldn’t skip out on selling to half their market?). Maybe even including a scene with The Lieutenant using one? Could’ve added a nice layer. Maybe have male sex workers too? Sexy nude dudes on that Vegas planet as well?

I mean, the Vegas planet was a nice backdrop for a film obssessed with the nature of reality and illusion, the holographic performers, etc etc. I did think it was a bit much that we were only seeing female bodies sexualised.

As for the sex scene, it felt more like they were using it to show off impressive SFX than super important narrative pathos. Was JOI organising the sexual encounter an extention of telling K what he wanted to hear? Did it show how much he was tied into the idea of her as real? They had the rain scene, him pouring her a glass, that dumb “buckle up” line. Did it add enough to necessitate its inclusion? I’m not sure. It looked pretty, but felt kind of throwaway to me.

Luv is another matter. I think [my friend in the thread] made a pretty great point about the sociopathic relationship with Wallace. I’m not gonna lie, I was a bit sleepy when I saw the film, especially during the Leto scenes. This strikes me as a pretty astute read on the character. The details were either subtle enough that I missed them entirely or maybe dozed through them. It would’ve been great to have just a little bit of dialogue implying that she had agency in her decisions, or furthering her motivation along those abusive relationship lines. We know she was his tool. Hell, K was just a tool himself after all (and the question of agency was another big part of the film, right?) but the film was built around him. It could’ve done a ton to build her out as an antagonist if her motivations were more apparent.

I kinda want to watch this film again…

I guess you could say that it’s my cup of tea.

I wish someone would bottle the feeling of a long anticipated experience paying off. There’s something so satisfying about having hopes come to fruition, so gratifying to have adroitly placed your faith. While so many dreams never grow legs, seeing those that do gives birth to the notion that they can.

Let’s bring the grandeur down a notch. I played a video game and it delivered on everything it promised.

For context, let’s jump back a bit. Last year I was dating this gal who was a professional artist. Her current project was doing watercolour backgrounds for this video game called Cuphead. A side scrolling platformer modelled in the manner of Gunstar Heroes, Contra, etc etc. Stylistically it was taking its cues from early Fleischer Brothers cartoons, Steamboat Mickey, and Betty Boop. It looked awesome. I was floored. This was exactly the kind of game I loved playing as a kid. Fast twitch style gameplay, power ups and two player co-op. I was excited right from the start. As we dated, I saw so much of the work she and her partner were putting in. Modelling props for a combination of CG and video, endless watercolour world maps, shop backgrounds. So much creativity going into each frame. She took me through a bunch of the animation influences. We watched classic Popeye and Bimbo. I learned about the techniques used, and how Fleischer Studios invented rotoscoping. I saw little Easter Eggs strewn around the game. I never saw gameplay or got hands on experience, but watching everything come together was such a thrill, imagining how the final product would look.

The game was getting a lot of press. She showed me fan art that people had submitted an entire year before the game was even released. Whenever I mentioned the game around game dev friends they’d perk up. The trailer was released. I saw international gaming sites talking about it. Conan O’Brien featured it on his Clueless Gamer segment. I realised that this game was a Big Deal.

Cuphead was released and the reviews were great. It sounded like the difficulty level was right where it needed to be. People were digging the art direction, the soundtrack and all the love that’d gone into curating the experience. I was pumped to play. I wanted to find a gaming friend who’d commit to playing through this thing. I wondered who of my friends had the controllers and wanted to invest the time. I asked around and got some vaguely interested parties, but I never followed up or went through and bought the game. It’s been out for a month (exactly) and I still hadn’t played it. Note the change of tenses? It was intentional, I’m not that shitty a writer.

I had lunch with my friend today. We hadn’t hung out in a while so catching up was très nécessaire. While we were eating, I asked about the game and how she’d enjoyed playing, how the controls worked out and whether it’d fulfilled all of her expectations. She was over the moon with it and so pleased that everything had come together. She asked if I wanted to come over and play. I did. We did. It was exactly what I’d hoped for. The controls were fluid and intuitive. The animation followed suit. The world was gorgeously colourful, cute with hints of menace. The soundtrack was perfect, evoking the moods of the era. The gameplay was hard. Very hard.

At the same time it never felt too much. Dying happened frequently, but wasn’t oppressive. The levels weren’t too long, so restarting never set you back to the point of frustration. Power ups helped so much. The boss fights were fun and involved several transformations, so once you got used to a certain attack pattern they changed up. It felt dynamic and exciting, fast paced without being overwhelming. Even in the midst of battle, little details really stuck out. The enemies were incredibly creative and so well tied to the theme of their levels. Playing with her was a blast, as she’d explain cool behind the scenes tidbits as we advanced. I’m so excited to get the game myself, buy a controller and get stuck in.

Let the games begin.

Worst of all, the Dollarama has finally sold its singular Agent Cody Banks 2 DVD. What monster would buy that?

The past 24 hours have been the most amazing downtime. After putting the pedal to the floor at the work Halloween party, I didn’t have much oomph left in me. I went to the gym, went out for Korean on my own then came back and spent the night oscillating between TV, the internet and the 90s Microprose Magic the Gathering mod. Frankly, it was awesome.

At work yesterday, I had this fear that I’d lost my go-to sweater while I was out drinking. I remembered bringing it to work, but not taking it to the bar or the after-party. But it wasn’t at work either. I started fretting. By the time I’d considered calling the bar to check, I was most of the way home. If it was at the after-party, I was screwed. I didn’t remember the names of the people who’s place it was. I remember the vague location of the apartment, but that was about it. I started thinking to myself maaan, I should’ve put my name on the tag or something. I thought back to those times as a kid when a name on the tag meant getting clothes back from camp. I realised that the last time I lost any clothes was probably 20 or so years ago. For the most part, when I go out I make a point of picking up stuff I brought with me. I don’t want to make my shit someone else’s problem. Losing one of my favourite sweaters was a bummer, and a blow to my (admittedly smug) sense of pride. What do I have to be proud about? I’ve got a mere 4.97 Uber rating.

Anyway, the sweatshirt was hanging up when I got home. Turns out that even tired, I managed to hang it up back on its usual hanger. I guess not much has changed from the days of drunk Leon cooking meals and packing the sealed containers in the fridge.

Today was all about marathoning Stranger Things season two. More accurately, it was about my girlfriend and I doing all of our boring adult chores before spending four hours doing nothing but eating and watching. We had good breakfasts, took in dry cleaning, sorted out our Halloween costumes, went food shopping (braving the nightmarish Galleria Mall. I swear it’s a portal to The Upside Down. The lighting is eerily bright and it’s a cluster of stores where the products seem like macabre perversions of those you can buy elsewhere) and fixing a hearty soup and sandwich lunch.

Then we vegged the fuck out and got stuck into the first four episodes. Without spoiling anything, they’ve done a great job of taking an enjoyable show and taking it to necessary places. Slow reveals without holding too much back. The kitchy 80s period mise en scene walks the line of being neat, while occasionally tipping over into pandering. Most importantly, they’ve strongly considered the events of last season and weaved them into character progression. It’s not a hard reset, characters act as if they’ve gone through something. It’s stuck with them and changed how they interact with people outside of their normal circles. Plus the show still looks fantastic. The budgets must be insane. I wonder how many Stranger Things season two costumes there’ll be this year. Is it actually too soon?

I guess we’ll find out tonight.

So I guess you could say I feel more Holloween than anything.

It’s Friday night and I feel subpar. I was super smart last night and had a late evening of drinking on a school night. I could’ve called it quits hours before I did, but that would’ve required exceedingly more forethought than I was ready to put in. Why was I even out drinking with work the next morning?

It was the work Halloween party. Not a huge deal. I mean hey, it’s pretty neat that our company puts on a Halloween party at all. It’s not like every company out there does. It’s strange though, that they put it on during work hours. 2pm-4pm means that we need to scoot back to our desks for an hour once it’s done. Couldn’t they shift it by an hour? We’d be able to continue partying straight away instead of playing into the ridiculous notion that people would actually work afterwards. They gave us two drink tickets each (though it wasn’t difficult to find more), played music and scattered a bunch of chippy packets/fun sized bars around the atrium.

Some people put a shit ton of work into their costumes. A few towed the corporate line and came as something work/company related. Brown nosers. Those who went all in however, really went all in. There was a neat Inspector Gadget costume. The guy had made his own hat and created a propeller/handles that weaved into it. Someone else came as a trash lobster (?). No idea if that’s meant to be from something, but it looked tremendously good. It even got surreal as someone dressed as the claw machine from Toy Story. There were group costumes (my team did Mario Kart) and a bunch who put in either minimal effort or didn’t even bother with a costume. I had a Devil of Hell’s Kitchen costume from a couple of years back. Reusing a past Halloween getup was the least amount of work I could put in to still come dressed decently. Plus most of the items were normal clothes I could wear to work anyway. Bonus. And, working at a television company, nobody mistook me for Dread Pirate Roberts this time. BIGGER BONUS. The costume came with cons. My vision was piss weak, it was hard to make out little details on other people. The gloves I wore were just winter gloves, which meant I had no strong tactile fingertip grip. I couldn’t open a chip packet or fun sized bar. So I didn’t eat. I juuuust drank.

I also got to do more voicing at work. I used to do a little back when I worked in radio, but frankly there were better voices around. Here in Canada, my accent is a neat little commodity so I get more opportunity to read. Yesterday I got to do my first movie trailer. It was fucking fantastic. The engineer is new to the company, but he’s been doing voice/talent coaching for years. He was endlessly patient, so we kept going at it from different angles (plus the clients were known to be notoriously picky, so we wanted a bunch of options). We tried the faux LaFontaine thing (both in a NZ and North American accent), we tried a more natural read (both accents). We then tried to punch up specific lines, pronunciations, moods, etc. It was fucking great to work with someone who wasn’t afraid to take their time and who gave thoughtful advice/feedback. I think we spent around 40 minutes working on the 30 second script, but hopefully they bite. After I got warmed up, even I was surprised at how good it was sounding. It’d be awesome to do a ton more voicing. I’m finding work to be pretty damn tedious at the moment. Any chance to leave the desk and do something I actually like is worth taking.

At the moment however, it feels like the only thing worth taking is a nap. Night night!

Excelsnore!

It’s not that my alarm failed to go off this morning, but more that my phone for some reason turned itself off. Maybe it decided I needed an extra little nap. Thanks phone, I think. I feel rested and energised. I have the work Halloween party tonight, so it behoves me to get this writing out of the way early today. Hence writing on the bus.

Fun dreams last night. One of them I was in improv class. We had to improvise a first date. It’s funny, because in the dream I felt like I was being so quick witted, coming up with left field suggestions from thin air. Really though, it was a dream with dream logic and a dream’s timeline. I had all the time I needed. Plus my brain was creating not only my lines, but my scene partner’s lines and in fact the entire improv class. It even decided when our scene had gone on too long and cut our bullshit so someone else could have a turn.

The other dream I can vaguely remember was far more convoluted. Stan Lee had died and for some reason I got invited to the funeral. Something seemed off. People were giving eulogies, but it also felt like there wasn’t the appropriate amount of grief. During the wake I went back to his house to look for clues and discovered Stan “The Man” himself grabbing a few things before heading out the door. I tailed his car and saw him enter a warehouse with glowing runes in the door. Weird. I followed, but in a sneaky parkour manner. Because apparently this dream took place circa 2005. Stan was communing with misshapen (judgement much?) beings. Tentacles and an excessive number of additional limbs. They gave him some kind of dossier in a manilla folder. I got back in the car and followed him to a small private airport. For some reason I know that those secrets couldn’t fall into the wrong hands and that Stan was a narc for The Man himself: the US government. A high speed chase ensued and I ended up shooting Stan down, dossier in his hand. Blood slowly pooling around it. I don’t know what I accomplished, but my mission success was enough to rouse me from sleep.

I mean, I slept last night. Surely that’s a bonus. Even if Dream Stan Lee was the casualty.

Spoiler: People actually floated this time.

Let’s get this out of the way, definite It spoilers to follow.

I imagine that anyone who’s been planning on seeing the It remake has done so already. If you haven’t, now’s your last chance to do so unspoiled before I enter what’s no doubt gonna be some kind of diatribe.

With me?

So. Firstly, I haven’t read the book. I recently watched the miniseries, so that’s the source material I’m working with. In general I thought they handled the remake really well. It was an enjoyable adventure film based around the kind of misfit outsider characters that’ve become Stephen King’s stand by. Any big changes made tended to be for the best. It made a lot of sense to me for them to shift forward to the 80s. If you’re between 30 and 40 now (probably the bulk of the target demo), it’d resonate a ton more than the 60s would. Plus there’s the whole Stranger Things buzz (which funnily is aping from similar kinds of stories as the original It) to jump on board with. Given that they’re doing a film and not a miniseries, they could do away with excessive backstory and details to fill in the time. It’s punchy and there’s a lot less wastage. Also they didn’t have to do a reaction shot from every single character. Beverly seems much better sculpted in this version, though holy shit it leant hard into the creepy dad thing. Still abusive, but much more explicitly. Mike was similarly buffed out a ton more. The dead parents housefire backstory added to the character, plus the homeschooling was a new touch. Lessons in ethos from his grandfather also came with a handy stunbolt gun. Useful.

Richie was still the constant scene stealer, with his colourful language taking centre stage. To that end, wasn’t it fantastic to have the kids overload on expletives? Upping the F-bombs, etc etc seemed so characteristics of teenagers who’ve just learned dirty words and seek any chance to push boundaries. Ben faded into the background a little more and sustained an absurd amount of battle damage. Overall the character beats seemed to mostly make sense. So he has both an “H” carved into his chest and massive claw marks? Kids get tossed around like confetti in this film. It’s brutal. Plus Pennywise and its newly improved lamprey mouth bite literal chunks out of these children. Quite graphic. Given the improvements of technology, Pennywise itself was much less campy. Some really nice touches in terms of quick shuffle movement (that seems to have become a staple of horror film. Fast zombies, anyone?) and bringing out the insectoid aspects of the monster.

Now, for some less important stuff. So Ben is an amazing researcher. Seriously, kid is exceedingly more thorough than I’ve ever been. How much did photocopying cost back in the 80s? Why did he have the money to copy all of those documents? Did he have a part time job? Or did he tell his parents that it was all for school work? To that end, did his parents know about his macabre fascination with child mortality? When Beverly says that she kissed a guy once and it was nice, was there anything more to read into that than a throwaway line? Was it meant to be just that she’d kissed some rando kid at some point? Because the only previous implications were that possibly she’d done something with psycho bully Henry (though that’s most likely some bullshit rumour he made up, right?) or that her father had sexually abused her. Which isn’t something nice to think about and most likely not the “nice” kiss she was talking about. So was it just a nothing line? When Beverly was lying in the tub and noticed the one drop of blood, how could there be a drop of blood? If they’d missed a spot, it’d be a smudge, not a perfectly round drop. Maybe there’d be a patch they missed, but not a visually pleasing drop. I was happy they got rid of that silly ‘imagination as a weapon’ idea (like telling Pennywise that his inhaler was battery acid and it working as such) and just stuck to beating the everloving shit out of Pennywise. Also those stupid chunks of silver working as magical bullets? Unnecessary. Glad it was cut. The house scene was super neat and the monster designs in general were leagues ahead of the original.

Failing anything, I’m just glad to have finally seen a film with a child’s dismembered head in a tree. Who knew I’d been waiting for that my whole life?