What I took from the TV Series Dark:

It IS possible for a thing to end “It was all a dream” and not create a visceral reaction in condemnation of that bullshit?

Well alrighty then I guess that is a big spoiler in the opening line of the document so I guess there’s no point in adding a double warning but by this act of merely considering a double warning then I think one should take this as the second and therefore there is a double warning. What what.

I could draw a graph showing my enthusiasm for Dark. At the beginning it was the thing I watched while I went on my exercise bike. And there’d be a week between episodes. Then I watched it once on my TV downstairs and I basically binged the rest as fast as possible. Those initial episodes felt…pretentious but in a way that was kind of boring? For example I don’t know how many times we heard the BWWWWWWWWAHHHHH sound from Inception or the scene of a person shocked at seeing another person where the another person was wearing an ambiguity enhancing chunk of clothing.  And then in two seconds we saw that another person anyway.

The other thing the show did that did not help it at all was to have within an episode or two a cast of characters and then the same characters that were slightly younger. There were a lot of names and the faces they related to were doubled (and in some cases trebled or more). The difficulty was not too bad with the main main characters but the important fringe characters were tricky to keep up with.

Despite all that ploughing through the first five or six episodes was a good decision because I really liked the rest of the show.

Dark starts with the disappearance of a boy (it doesn’t literally start here but I think the real thrust of things starts here from the perspective of the viewer, while there is another mystery it doesn’t seem to drive much until some knowledge is gained). What then happens is that it turns out that the disappearance actually isn’t your bog standard abduction but a movement through time exactly 33 years in the past. That ability to move through time causes all sorts of nonsense to happen (including: a small boy eventually becoming the father of the main boy – Jonas , while simultaneously the small boy  – Mikkel – is also the younger brother of the main boy’s girlfriend – Martha – this is not the most nonsensical thing that happens).

Lets zoom forward right to the end (the word “zoom” has a whole extra meaning nowadays – if you say “let’s zoom” I wonder if in the future at some point all the cool words will have been encoded into being related to apps).  Anyway the ending of the show has Jonas and Martha (albeit a version of Martha that isn’t Jonas’ aunt for reasons including parallel universes) appearing in the middle of the road to prevent a couple accidentally driving off the road. The tragedy of that event causes the creation of a time travel machine which is the source of all the nonsense.

The thing is when the time travel machine is created what actually is created are two universes (so there are three – original + two created in total) in which versions of the original universe play out in loops infinitely.  These looping universes are extremely weird because inside them it is possible to time travel which leads to the mentioned bizarre family trees.

The presentation of these looping universes the focus of the whole series except for the last two episodes and it’s therefore possible to read them as real but I think the way I see them is closer to something like worlds in a badly programmed videogame that crash and start start the program again. The rub is also that the program itself some how can slightly improve itself on each iteration (at the very least change itself and randomly stumble upon a solution – although it makes more sense that there’s an improving iteration loop because the Actors in the program have a sense of how to keep things ticking along and the program doesn’t go wildly random).

Oh Actors in the program? Well I also think that the program has some kind of AI within it which is self aware and the AI are created to eventually sort the program out. The three actors are: Martha, Jonas and Claudia. The first two are guardians basically that make sure the program doesn’t go wildly out of control, there’s no iteration where everyone is a banana or the water becomes purple. Claudia is the X factor which slightly changes each time as the program tries to resolve itself.

I’m using this computer program metaphor in a slightly wild way. In context these are ostensibly real, self-contained universes, that are created. However i am extremely mindful of the fact that a recurring theme of the series is that Jonas and Martha describe themselves as “glitches in the matrix”. This explicit reference to a computer generated world so often suggests to me that the way this works is that it’s a computer generated world. The way that Jonas’ future self talks to himself he even uses the term “anomoly”, much like The Architect does to Neo in the Matrix 2 – however unlike Neo I see Claudia as taking the role of Neo in these worlds in that she’s the one who can affect real change in those worlds and materially affect the outside world – it is her intervention that makes the whole thing sort itself out.

This undertext of the worlds being like a program that is righting itself through iteration is exactly why I don’t mind that the show essentially erases everything in those worlds that we watched for two years. It’s because we know everything happens in those worlds is a nonsense (a mother is her daughter’s daughter) that erasing it all is the only thing that makes sense. And a glitchy program is the one way that could explain why those things could be allowed to happen: the instructions tell the world to go a certain way but if they lead to weird paths or accidental paths then that will lead to weird and bizarre results. The accumulation of too many bizarre results leads to a program crash and restart.

To me the analogy that strikes the biggest chord with respect to why weird parenthood is allowed in the “virtual” worlds is that there is a whole bunch of equations that accidentally allow a divide by zero. In algebra there is a classic “proof” which if you work it through allows you to make 2=1 but this is only possible if you accidentally and unknowingly divide by zero. So in the case of the virtual worlds the ridiculous can happen because some oversight has occurred in the construction of those worlds. And given that these worlds are functionally nonsense  built on precarious foundations it makes sense to me that they should be erased at the end. A world coded where a mother can be her own grandmother isn’t something that should last forever before it collapses in on itself.

My computer metaphor doesn’t fully work with the show – it turns out there might actually have to be some real time travel in the world but I think this is just about okay. I think if it had been a fully virtual environment with a computer whiz turning the screen off at the end or something like that it would have felt extremely unsatisfying. However what the show does is allow a tiny portion of that virtual world affect the real world in a small way that has a large tangible impact. (i.e. stop the people from driving which creates overall means no time machine needs to be built).

I don’t  think the idea that the virtual world impacting the real world is that ridiculous to be honest although the presentation of that in the show is extremely literal I think a meaningful impact can occur through cyberspace into reality. Firstly if an AI got smart enough – and why wouldn’t this be possible with infinite iterations – it could control electricity. And our interactions on the world are very much often through a virtual space. There’s nothing to stop our, say, Facebook profiles from pretending to “be us” in the future (and how would anyone know if it was convincing enough?).

Huh, that ended not where I expected.

 

 

Alvin – Can U really see evil: a curse.

This is a story about a terrible discovery I had made – I have been cursed! A true honest to goodness hex!

Last week on Tuesday, at the sandwich shop where I work, a man complained about one of our sandwiches. I don’t see how I’d done anything wrong, I served him one of our classics: lightly toasted ciabatta with heritage tomatoes, a hint of pesto and some fried mushrooms. His complaint was that the ingredients did not say garlic in them and that it was absolutely unfathomable that his mouth should even touch garlic. I hadn’t thought much of him before that point, he was terribly pale but so thin there was nothing to it. But when he hissed out a curse “You will never touch what you desire most again” the rational part of me slithered into hiding and a real prickle went all across my body. Of course of course it was nonsense. Of course it was.

Of course it was.

I made some bollocks excuse up and left in a hurry. I went to my girlfriend’s place and, with an almighty relief we had the most amazing shag. Well that was the curse averted.

And yet.

I went to the pub with my mates that night and we were shooting some pool for a bit. I’d lost the most recent game because I’d rolled the white in after the 8-ball (standard) so I had to get the drinks while half went for a piss and the others found a seat. I asked the barman for four Fosters and a Bacardi and Coke Zero, and also some nuts. Like an idiot I spilled them on the floor but no one was looking so I scooped them up and straight into my gob. You can’t waste a dry roasted nut, you know what I mean? We get to 12ish and I am zonked but my friends want to go home and play Mario Tennis so we go back to Cheryl’s for a few games.

The games are pretty even because we’re all drunk and we keep missing easy shots, mostly because our hubris is higher than normal. We come down to a final tournament between me and Cheryl. Her Donkey Kong is a formidable player when it hogs the mid court and my reactions (it’s now about 3) are terrible. My Peach skills aren’t enough – Cheryl has too much time to get super fast shots back  and keeps hitting winners, while whenever I stay in for more than two shots I’m just increasing my run length between scrabbled hits. Everyone ribs me for losing but I’m dead. We all hug each other and head back home.

My head is sore. I grab a paracetamol and glug it down with a left over coke from the fridge. That’s the advice isn’t it? I crash into my pillow and it feels sooooooooo good just to lay down. I think about the curse a bit and wonder if I wanted something more in this instant.

I wake up and  my head is fine, I’m feeling kind of energised. I’ve been here before though I imagine a slow fade. I call my girlfriend and we decide to watch a movie together that night – we decide to watch Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs because it’s got food animals in it and this is all my will will accept in about six hours or so.

Before the trailers on the film are finished she brings over some snacks. Doritos and peanuts. I dip my hand into the bowl of nuts and nothing. My hand just ghosts through them…

What.

NO.

A trip to NAPLES!

My partner and I went to Naples [or more accurately the town of Torre Del Grecco] in 2018 and it was pretty damn fun.

The main part of the trip was a wedding of my friend which lasted the first few days and we attached to this trip three extra days exploring Naples and the surrounding area.

Pre-amble

The main worries I’d had before this holiday were in part the idea of being in a foreign country but for the first time not doing a foreign holiday with my parents. Such a trip, while not realistically unusual, created a really tense feeling inside of me. Through many many adventures tagging with parents I had seemingly developed an internal crutch that means that even though I’ve left the British Isles many times I had not really learnt to be able to rely on myself to organise stuff that ended with me being not dead (I do recall a holiday to Turkey where, as a child, I’d managed to haggle the price of a leather jacket keyring from 5 to 3 thousand lira. I think a crap effort in retrospect because my Dad thought I could have got a better discount, but it was a thrilling effort at the time).

I think as a result of my insecurity about the situation meant I had an apprehension clouding the entire lead up to the trip. This apprehension made organising and figuring stuff out completely exhausting. The detail to which everything needed to be sorted in my mind in order to create a completely coddled experience meant far more effort was being expended than necessary. Having said that we got to Naples with only broad plans and pipe dreams of perpetual door-to-door taxis and coming back now, all of that ill feeling feels kind of dumb now in retrospect.

I learnt that planning a bit is enough. Use a guide and then your instincts. It’ll be fine.

Troika of locations.

We decided to stay the wedding’s hotel after the wedding. As a personal prejudice – I can’t stand transferring hotels at all. Once I have an anchor point I want to stay at the anchor point. In part this is logically based on wasting time on a holiday lugging lots of crap. Somewhat more irrationally, but perhaps more powerful in influence, is the pain in the ass nature of lugging luggage around on public transport and the worry of losing it all.

Fortunately, the place we stayed at had to big advantages for the holiday we ended up having. Firstly the location we were at was relatively close to a train station (but by god that walk back to the hotel at the end of the day was a real pain). Also fortunately the location was dead close to one place we wanted to go-Ercolano (Herculaneum) and effectively equidistant from Naples and Sorrento. Over the three days we went to those three places.

Sometimes you can extract retrospective benefits from any situation. I think it’s reasonable to figure these out first to reduce stress though.

Ercolano Day

Ercolano (or Herculaneum as it’s known in English) is an interesting place. It was not until very close to leaving that we had even heard of it. What we gained though from other’s trips to Naples was that there was a place that effectively had a lot of the interestingness of Pompeii but was smaller and also more interesting. We made a choice to go to Ercolano instead of Pompeii. Maybe we will go to Pompeii one day but not for a bit I think.

We started the Ercolano trip in the fashion that many of our trips were going to: a taxi straight to the place. It was kind of expensive (about 20 euro). We then entered the site and purchased audioguides for the site.

This is what the Ercolano site looks like:

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It’s hard to tell because it looks at first glance that this is a small village that was buried under enough ash-mud to cover a three story building. The whole of the site is a dig which uncovered under a mass of land that was about 20m high a remarkably preserved village that was engulfed as a result of the volcanic eruptions of  Vesuvius about 2000 years ago.

The initial plan afterwards was to get a taxi back to the hotel. But we had learnt there definitely was a train station nearby. We thought it was worth checking out.  So as we finished our time at the dig site we wandered towards what we thought was the route through a train station

Oh man the reliance I had on this trip on both my Phone and a battery pack cannot be over stated. Keep the phone on low power mode and bring a 3DS for games.

We followed the phone but it didn’t feel like we were making progress. Although we put in the right direction the map software was not coping at all. We had to hack the location we needed to get to by inputting a nearby location. Our wandering did accidently lead us to a corner shop that happened to have two vegetarian sandwiches left (cheese and tomato). A couple of interesting remarks here. Firstly I think this was the first major instance of real hustle (not conning but a feeling that the overriding culture was about being in a place to do the thing you need to do, then doing the shit out of that) the man in the shop saw our aimless hungry souls and sold us those sandwiches like a motherfucker. It was nice to eat something light for the first time in a few days (although we were really sweaty).

From there we walked towards the train station (up a bloody hill no less – what’s the deal with the areas round Vesuvius being up hill eh?!). Fortuitously we came across a “virtual museum” MAV. As a person who is curious about gimmicks I’m glad we stopped at the museum. One of the neat parts was that each section of the museum was introduced by a talking head that activated as you went round via Bluetooth type wrist watch. One of the coolest was a projection of a goddess onto a smoke screen

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As good as the dig site and audioguide were the MAV really gave a good context for life in Ercolano before the volcano. The ability to see the before painted a picture in a really exciting way. Well worth it as a combo of events – Ercolano Dig Site and MAV.

None of this would have happened if we’d stuck to the safe plan and didn’t try to experiment with the train network.

After MAV there was more hill to climb. We walked past a couple of people trying to sell us time in a restaurant but we were on a mission to get the next available train (as it was we had a decent enough amount of time but that is only ever true after the fact). We did see what would be the first in the fashion for people to wear Hard Rock Café T-shirts. We got on the train and we learnt how simple it was to use the rail system even though no more than half an hour before we didn’t even know how to say “ticket”. The train was also only 2 Euros.

Figure out how to use public transport. It may be sweaty but you get to learn more about the place by accident and it’s far cheaper than a taxi.

Post Ercolano Dinner

This was pretty funny actually. A lot of the wedding guests were leaving the next day so we had one final evening to get together. The hotel arranged a restaurant for 15 of us. But in the end the restaurant was a disaster on the level that it really wasn’t a disaster but felt like such in real-time.

Here were some comedy moments:

We had a table ready with a sea view. But we were supposed to be sat inside. They rearranged the tables while we were there;

We wanted chips so they brought us crisps;

There was a surly waiter who seemed to obfuscate on every request (we want coke zero- there’s no coke zero – oh here’s a bottle of coke zero. We don’t have wifi. Etc). He got swapped with someone more appropriate;

The crisps had a small fish in them;

Nobody knew how to read the menu;

In fairness the food was nice though and I think it was nice to have a meal with everyone even if the surrounding atmosphere was tense and terrible.

NAPLES (actual Naples)

Having learned how to ask for a ticket and how to use the train we ventured to Naples on the second day. In the morning we still had about zero idea of what we were going to do in Naples. Like any big city it’s possible to be overwhelmed by everything and do nothing of interest. Finding food was also important.

I looked at the lonely planet guide book and found an article about the museum San Severo. There was an apparently amazing statue of Jesus with a Veil over his face. Now I think anyone who has been to Naples or generally well travelled will likely scoff at the idea of doing this. It’s kind of lame to travel and do stuff based on a book. On the other hand for us the excitement of simply doing things in a weird place was a huge thing so a little guidance was perfect. It helped the writing described the sculpture in a really attractive way. Conveniently the museum was located two minutes (literally two minutes) from a highly recommended restaurant. The rest of our day was built on using the Hop-on-hop off tour bus. This is also lame (and kind of expensive) but also gets you around the town and interesting places to be while minimising walking.

In a way this was not a jam packed day. Two things and a ferry around are not a hugely efficient way to spend a single day in a new city. And yet…it worked perfectly for us. Maybe just a couple of things are necessary (eating being one) and the rest of the time can be spent absorbing the city as it is (and time to find cool places too).

When we got to Naples (using the train. This time 2 Euros each) our first task was to find the museum. It was quite a distance – maybe a mile away? – but on the way we picked up an espresso and a sfogliatelli!

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The coffee was really tasty. What I don’t think I ever really appreciated about an espresso is that it really does not ruin a coffee with loads of boiling water which surrounds the tasty tasty coffee. In some Americanos you can feel the coffee being suspended in water and it’s not that nice really. By reducing the coffee down you get all the taste you want. The sfog was also nice (it had an orange taste). The whole bill came to four euros which makes me feel over charged in the UK.

I think stopping for a coffee was really cool. I’m glad we weren’t on a schedule (or so we thought!)

We proceeded through alleys and streets towards the museum and came across this cool building.

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A few or so minutes later we got to the museum San Severo. The ticket office was just to the side in a separate building to the museum itself (a converted chapel). When we went in we decided to rent out more audio guides (unlike Ercolano dig site – where they used modified smartphones – these felt more like authentic “Audio Guide” machines). One of the great things about the audio guide was that it sort of forced me to spend time looking at various parts of the various sculptures (in addition to the veiled Jesus) which meant longer to absorb how much craft was put into each one. One of the cutest moments that occurred as a result of the audioguide was to be shocked at the magnificent ceiling structure. Such was my focus in following the guide’s talk that I had completely ignored the ceiling and to be surprised by it was an exciting moment.

Audio guides feel like a luxury – and in a way they are. But I think they add value to the price paid for tickets to the point where without the guide talks I think I’d have been more disappointed with the standard fee. I think, where possible, I’d always get an audioguide.

The audio guide had, in this extremely specific instance, lead to a moment of such perfection that it is impossible not to be delighted by it. The timing forced by the audio guide meant we’d left the museum at bang on 11:57. The restaurant we were going to opened at 12.

Now one of the things about this restaurant, Gino Sorbillo, is that there are queues if you don’t get in early enough,

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but also there’s a queue there before it opens! As we got to the restaurant we clicked in at exactly 12 and just got whisked in with zero waiting. IT. WAS. MAGNIFICENT.

When we were seated we ordered two pizzas (this was basically enough food for the whole day). I ordered a mushroom pizza (Salvatore) and Al ordered a Marinara (we’d had a lot of cheese). They came out and looked like this:

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And they were delicious and surprisingly cheap! (washed down with a beer).

Also the toilets were really clean and ultra hygiene focussed. The flush was foot operated which was cool.

Get to the restaurant at 11:59 and have a great pizza.  

We then walked over towards Piazza Dante because that was the nearest stop to the bus tour. And as we walked through we saw some cool stores and shops. Including a wall of maths puzzles/Thesis’s. It was really weird. We then walked past a book alleyway which was really cool too (obviously everything was in Italian).

Finally we got to the bus stop.

We took the trip around but before we knew where we were the guide on the bus stated we were near a museum that had some Carravagio and other great paintings. We whipped straight off the bus and into the museum.

The museum Capodimonte had a huge range of paintings, a lot of them of the “Madonna with Child” type. I think three things really struck me about the art and the museum. Firstly it’s stark how much you can glean from the craft of a painting only from looking at it in reality. You can see the order that paintings happened and which sections were reserved for the important detailed work. I think also we get a perfection that these great works are pure perfection but in each case you can see they are a imperfect (but not diminished by this) because they are works by hand. Finally I think someone at the museum (in addition to me) had watched Twin Peaks

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Most of the rest of the day was spent wandering back to the train station (via a supermarket for bananas- bananas seemed a surprisingly rare fruit in Naples) and then the trip up towards the peak of Vesuvius where our hotel was.

Sorrento

Is not a type of ham.

In a weird unknown accident we’d planned to go to Sorrento because everyone said it was great. Nicely though as part of the wedding the couple had arranged a coach trip to Sorrento (it was described as a coastline escapade, but we didn’t grok until a day or two before that this was Sorrento itself). Anyway this meant a couple of things when we eventually went to sorrento on our own trip but I’ll chat about that in a second.

Firstly- Hot Hot Hot + Train + 9am creates a toxic cauldron of bodily fluids. The train we caught seemed to have everyone who wanted to get to Pompeii for 10 in the morning. The train was crammed to the max and I was literally oozing. Gross.

Twop Twip: get to Sorrento unimaginably early if getting the train from Torre Del Grecco, or be in Naples and get the train from the first stop.

Fortunately, the train emptied heavily after Pompeii and we got a seat. Much better. It’s worth saying that the trains don’t have air conditioning but the temperatures are hot enough, the train fast enough and people are sweaty enough that the breeze from a moving train is enough to make the journey feel comfortable between stops. (oh and the train ticket was two euros for the pair of us).

When we reached Sorrento the sensation I had was a sense of familiarity that dulled much of the time spent there. That isn’t to say we didn’t have a great time there but it was certainly less exciting.

The one cool thing we did do was go to a lemon grove and bought some liquorice limoncello and a small cup for the limon. The grove was apparently council run so that was good.

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Still we got to see a few extra things including an inlaid wood shop (25 Euro for a coaster seems… excessive even though I’m sure the labour that went into it was exceptional).

We did have a nice lunch though at Aurora Light (man that lonely planet guide was basically a crutch at this point, but it also had a good hit rate, so worth the trust).

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Al managed to avoid tomatoes for the first time all holiday which was a shock and exciting moment.

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(for clarity this wasn’t the whole lunch – Al had a beetroot and leaf salad)

Conclusions:

We really liked Naples (area). Specifically I think we dug Naples the most. I wonder if we had spent longer the magic would have worn off, but what we did was really good. The city was exciting and alive with hustle. Even though you have to take gambles with crossing the road I think the fact everyone is part of the same game means the streets are less dangerous than they might be perceived by British folk. The drivers will stop if you’re bold enough to go with just enough space to go, but you do need to build the trust that it will happen. The feeling I took away from the place was that it was friendly but everyone was also busy and had things to do and weren’t really in the business of messing around too much. I don’t mind this so much because I don’t see as a traveller why I should be coddled. I don’t want to be coddled (and the softest of experiences are legit later forgotten anyway). I like to contrast the Naples trip with Sorrento where everything was so clean and nice it had an almost sterility to it. It was fun but didn’t quite have the tang or spice that made Naples feel like a real place. Sorrento felt more like a tourist engine, smooth and working well but also a little bit boring. I’d still go back to Sorrento though.

A first trip, as partial organiser and with my partner. I worried a lot for in the end almost no real reason and it was amazing!

 

 

 

 

Murder Mystery: How Riverdale’s biggest secret is that it’s not really about a small town murder.

Riverdale series 1 is absolutely one of the best and surprising shows I’ve seen in a really long time. Series two has started off…weaker (but maybe this is on purpose?). I’ll be talking about Riverdale series 1 and its secrets (with chat about series 2 creeping in).

Twenty First Century Twin Peaks.

Quickly – even though we did actually get a 21st century Twin Peaks in The Return, Riverdale also feels like a slightly different take on what a 21st century Twin Peaks could have been. The feelings I get from Riverdale are that the skeleton of the show (dead teen, wrapped in plastic, is found and completely cleaves a small homely American town). There are also some big differences however. Unlike Twin Peaks the Outsider Cooper Role (disruptor and viewer’s observer) is split between the Outsider Veronica (but like Cooper, also essentially good) who is the disruptor and an Insider Jughead who comments and observes the world for us. Also, Madchen Amick is in both too 😊

But like Lynch’s other work (notably Blue Velvet) it’s the underlying (and annoyingly underused) idea that the veneer of class is no indication of the nature of the people behind that veneer. Mercedes Benzes are suitable for holding dead bodies too.

Class structures in Riverdale

In Riverdale there are three main classes

  • The Upper Class – represented by the Blossoms, Lodges and McCoys. The first two are ridiculously wealthy in business (“business”) and the last is the governmental class.
  • There’s a Middle Class in which most of the characters exist – Andrews, Coopers, Keller. These people are technically workers but they have an amount of power as well – the Andrews own a construction company, Coopers control the newspaper and Keller is the local police. These guys are not that interesting outside of being the binding between the upper and underclasses (although the link between the police and government is always naturally there).
  • Underclass – represented by the gang the Serpents (from the “terrifying” “southside”). These are mostly invisible but pose a far away but nearby threat to the other two classes. The main representatives from this class are the Jones (sort of Jughead Jones, but mostly his father FP).

The Underclass

We do not see much of this group of people but they are perpetually framed as a faraway boogeyman. Literally existing in Riverdale but separate from “acceptable” Riverdale to the point that the other groups don’t really count them as true Riverdale. In the last episode of series 1 Betty Cooper (the daughter of the newspaper owner) uses a speech to admonish those who do not see this group of people as part of Riverdale. The catalyst for this reaction is a celebration in which only two of three teenagers who solved the major crime of the series are allowed to be the ‘faces’ of the celebration, the third – Jughead – is excluded as his face does not fit the Mayor’s vision for what the heroes of Riverdale event should look like (it’s worth noting that despite playing a bookish 6th form nerd, Jughead is in pretty decent shape and can throw a mean punch).

Even when members of this ‘underclass’ prove themselves to be good people, for example the Serpents help Andrews form a crew for a building project when Andrew’s business deal becomes nasty and violent, the stigma of the Serpents returns the instant there is a  smell of trouble. Even Betty, Jughead’s partner and staunch defender, is not immune to the bias that exists. When Jughead is transferred to a school on the southside, i.e. underclass Riverdale, the assumption is that he’s going to be harassed and bullied. Upon Jughead’s rescue however it is clear that Jughead is fine and the teens at the southside school are friendly like “normal” teens (perhaps EVEN MORE FRIENDLY I guess).

A note: this isn’t to say that everything the southside folk do is “good”. As FP puts it they “do what they have to do”. Sometimes they sell drugs (although they seem to have a moral code to only sell lower strength drugs) and they can be violent (especially in some misguided sense of justice). They’re also act out under the orders of members of the upper class.

Oh…what?

Yeah under the orders of the Upper class.

You see, the grand conspiracy at the heart of Riverdale is that the real corruption exists in the upper class. The Government (McCoys) and Aristocracy (Blossoms/Lodges) form an unsettling layer of filth that clouds over the whole of the town.

There is a sense that nobody likes the members of the Upperclass but they somehow hold the peace in town and, through the use of Police, keep the undesirables away from “good” Riverdale.

The Blossom Family runs the main business in town, which is selling maple syrup (maple syrup is such an intrinsic part of the town’s identity it forms the basis of a shaming slur). The truth of the business is however that the real money is made from importing heroin from Canada into Riverdale (it is the discovery of this by the character Jason that eventually leads to his murder by his own father). Interestingly the size of problems caused by this drug is a magnitude worse than the relatively soft drugs pedalled by FP and his gang. Aside from this the Blossom family has no morals in putting anyone out of business for their own gain.

The Blossoms (or specifically the father – although there is complicit ignorance at best by the rest of the family) use their influence (and relative immunity to the law) to also threaten Jughead’s life such that FP will take the rap for Jason’s murder.

The Government of Riverdale, which seems to be run solely by Mayor McCoy is no more immune to the corrupting influence of the town. Not only is McCoy open to take bribes from gangster criminals (Hiram Lodge) to supply Riverdale land on the cheap but everything she does is entirely about preserving fake “Good” Riverdale (and her status) at the cost of anyone not part of “Good” Riverdale (shown by her willingness to dustbin FP and Jughead at any instance). Not only does she exhibit traits of a dictator through policy but she has her own personal propaganda band in the form of her daughters band “Josie and the Pussycats”. It’s hard not to feel a sense of creepiness when a town has an anthem like this sung exclusively by the Mayor’s daughter. (I’m reminded of this cult song from the videogame far cry 5)

An interesting observation of class through the prism of a superficially nothing teen show.

So the sense I get is that the show is really tried to in a quite nuanced (although eventually less so) create images of people and use the stereotypes to play with the audience. I think this is actually the fundamental philosophy of show. Explicitly throughout the show references tropes in movies and TV which are popped in real-time by the characters. There’s a mean rich girl who explicitly rejects all meanness. A person creates a faux party to set up a character and is instantly told to drop the faux party story and get to the point. It’s really really cool how the show does this, and how often in the service of this show it means that a lot of unnecessary baggage has been discarded (so with the party, you don’t have to go through the party because both characters have put in the open the real reason for the party).

I like it…but

Well, so far series 2 has been worse. The interesting rhythms of the show (withholding information between characters to a minimum, a story structure around characters that end on the correct side of believable rather than turning into white terrorists by way of Fight Club (okay Fight club is also about terrorists too)).

Actually there’s more to Series 2 than meets the eye at the moment. but there is some jankiness too. I’ll return to this shortly.

Resident Evil 7, Hereditary, Mother! and Ocean’s Eight (AKA a wanky introspection on what I want to see in films and games before I think they are any good).

[I don’t care about spoilers]

Recently

I have completed playing Resident Evil 7, watched Ocean’s Eight and Hereditary in the last week or so. I have created a chart to express my disappointedness in each:

disa

(Excel makes this chart go up to twelve when any person will see this is meant to be out of 10)

For clarity – this isn’t a measure of objective quality or anything like that just my personal responses to these things.

A weird comparison

On the face of it there’s no good reason to compare Ocean’s Eight with Hereditary but I thought it was interesting that one film which is not really inventive, clever, new, deep or anything (Ocean’s) had me leaving the cinema having a better sense that the creators of that film knew what they were doing in making their film. In contrast I’d left Hereditary feeling short changed, confused and (I guess ironically) feeling more conned.

Ocean’s Eight is a film about attractive and diverse women who rob jewels for their own enrichment (of course if one robs jewels – non violently – it’s hard to have too much sympathy for the ostensible victims). But really the film is about loading the screen with women with power, control and sexiness and every choice made for that film really highlights it. For example, the way that Blanchett wears this magnificence:

cate

And Ocean’s notional rival is some dorky nerd who cares about Arsenal (James Corden) who is happy to take ten percent of what he was looking for when faced with Sandra Bullock’s RAW POWER. It’s really good. But I mean, it’s also a bit of frip’ innit? Nothing in the film will sustain a quantum of scrutiny and yet – I don’t really care that much because while I was in the cinema I was buying everything that they were selling wholesale.

Hereditary was a film that works and works and works to the point where it sings at the end of its first act. It’s really an amazing achievement. Hereditary is a film about a family that goes through some right rotten stuff but also cursed by something spooky. Or maybe not. Maybe everything in that first act is only coincidentally in any way supernatural. Yes there’s a weird kid (natch) and yeah there are symbols cropping up all over the place (of course) but the events themselves could occur in a theoretical version of ours world.

The film ratchets up to the point and does something so devastating that it’s not really believable. That something is left to pause in the air long enough in stillness that it starts to fade and then perhaps you start allowing yourself to forget that it really happened. The real tensions and repercussions caused by this moment are stunningly played by the actors. But the film does not hold this course.

Approximately a third to a half of the way through the film ostentatiously inserts a giant glob of text that will explain everything to you that will happen afterwards (if you think about it a little bit) and creates a volume in which literally any kind of imagery and behaviour is fair game to use, and use it shall be. The whole thing becomes a really tedious series of fun but gimmicky visuals. Theres’s a moving cup, there’s a cute scepticism looking at things under the table, there’s a man on fire, there’s a woman sawing  off her own head, there’s a this and there’s a zzzz. The thing… the thing is that none of that is as interesting as exploring the characters in the film. For a while the film sells itself unimaginably successfully as a family drama about people dealing with terrible shit in a supernatural but also completely relatable context and it trades every single penny of that good will for imagery that makes no sense really. And this is why Hereditary is disappointing. Because it’s clear the creators have chops (the first part is not successful without skill, craft and care) it’s all the more terrible when there’s a selling out for something completely different* because the film is less about what’s in the film and more about showing you how cool and clever the film makers are.

Resident Evil 7 has nothing to do with Hereditary but everything to do with making a thing and then losing all nerve in the interesting bit because it seems less fun to stick to the course or there’s a worry that people will get bored.

Resident Evil is a video game series about people who get mutated into zombie like creatures through various mechanisms (usually the “we could do this…” class of military application focussed pharmaceutical companies). The games have generally maintained a third person perspective (which is to say you can see on screen the character you control) but have varied over time in how powerful a character is portrayed. In the earliest games the control is clunky and slow which makes the characters vulnerable in context, while from the fourth game there’s more of an empowering “hoorah let’s shoot some shit” feel.

Resident Evil 7 makes a break from all the games (apart from some Wii shooters) by making the game first person – resident evil 7 puts your head into the scary stuff that’s about to go down (you can also play in VR for full sticking you into the situation feeling). What Resident Evil 7 does now is limit your view so that behind you is more literally a vulnerable space. It’s a really interesting choice to take a player and put them right inside the haunted house to explore, effectively it makes the game scarier by enveloping you in everything. The other thing the game really focusses on is putting you inside a maze-like space. The combination of a constricted viewpoint and environment really help the other to form a multiplying effect on the other’s scariness. Except the game does not hold onto any of that. The game feels like it gets bored with claustrophobia and tightness and opens out the game. For one you play as multiple people doing various things through flashbacks (these are conveyed as VHS tapes for some reason). You can go outside for indefinite periods of time but perhaps the most egregious is that the game allows you to wander safely for large periods of time until you complete certain puzzles. All of these choices can perhaps be explained in the context of expectations that come with a 50 pound game- it has to be eight hours long as a minimum and you have to feel like a badass (and so on) but all of these undermine the most successful portions of the game (the beginning when you feel vulnerable and you creep deeper into a hell space). Again it’s a damn shame.

Wind it up and let it go.

What I sense is missing from both Resident Evil 7 and Hereditary that I can’t see what driving force in each of those things is. Either this means it doesn’t exist or it exists and it’s been obfuscated by layers of content or it exists but it’s something terrible. If it’s the last of these my worry is that the drives for each of these are simply the creators showing what they want to show rather than showing what they must show. It’s the difference between “I want to show this cool thing” versus “here’s what happened: this happens to be cool”

A good example:

I really liked the film Mother! In a number of ways it has a lot in common with Hereditary – both are about mother characters who have their sanctuaries impinged upon and they both start from mundane and end on the ridiculous with a gargantuan amount of visual flair throughout. What makes Mother! work for me is that by the end of that film I felt I’d been tortured along with Jennifer Lawrence’s character. In a way I think we’re meant to feel the same way about Toni Collette’s mother character in Hereditary.

The difference is in the execution. Aranofsky for Mother never separates you from Jennifer Lawrence you become her perspective because that is the sole perspective the camera takes in the film. In contrast the camera in Hereditary bounces around like a hyperactive rabbit – it’s distance from a little girl it’s close to a photo of a boy, it’s readable to the dad’s emails, it’s close to a book.

 

*It occurs to me as a write this that maybe the whole point of the film is to have things that are realistic morph slowly into something wild and wacky but if that’s the case the whole thing is more disappointing because I think that’s a terrible trajectory for a film to aim for – essentially using realistic tragedy as a fakeout for what the real game is all about.

The Buff Man.

Today is the day – I received an envelope from The New Scientist.

I am a Buff Man. Every morning I wake myself up from the right hand side of my bed (from the perspective from me sleeping in it). I observed that doing this I have woken up everyday  for the past 30 years the same way. Right leg presses the floor taking the strain of my whole, Buff, body and increasing in strength. All other things being equal, the way I walk, shower, cartwheel, my right leg will gain more strength conditioning than my left leg. Even though I’m a Buff Man and all of me is completely Buff my right leg is a veritable colossus compared to my atrophying left leg. I observe that were this to continue till I died (I expect this to be no earlier than 2100) the asymmetry in my legs would mean that, all things being equal, I would also propel myself on my normal walk similarly asymmetrically. Reader, as you will no doubt be thinking at this very second, this will mean that it would become functionally impossible to walk in a straight line – the extra power in my right leg would mean I would have a torque in my walking motion such that I would eventually, I approximately calculate in the year 2054, only be able to walk in a circle with a radius of 3 metres.

I am a Buff Man, a man who is not to be condemned to a pathetic annular destiny. I decided to augment the strength of my left leg by only exercising that leg for one exact and precise exercise. I will – for my daily two-way commute to the whey supplement shop – use a manual scooter. I will push myself using only my left leg to work and then push myself back home using only my left leg. In this way I have balanced the inequality in exercise in my legs. These legs will become identically Buff.

I am a Buff Man and yet… . My premise is this: I perceived an asymmetry in the strain I placed on my legs as a result of the weight I put on my leg every morning as I woke up. I have scooted for the past ten years, left leg pushes me to the work, left leg pushes me home tyet… haven’t I kept weight on my right leg for all of the time I’ve spent on the scooter? When I push my left leg is doing nothing for almost all of the time I am riding. I decide to ask a question in The New Scientist – which leg is doing more work for the time of my journey?

Today I received an envelope in the post from the New Scientist, my question has been responded to- but dare I, a Buff Man, find out the answer?

Twin Peaks: current thoughts on Series 1, 2, Fire Walk With Me and The Return (Series 3).

Overall sensations

An unsatisfied feeling like forgetting the last half of a sentence and then grasping the edge of anything to try and remember it again. And yet a good one. Every part of the show (and a couple of books) have been absorbed and it’s encouraging I still want just a bit more. Maybe that is the right way – certainly better than to feel glad that it’s done.

An odd order

The most recent Twin Peaks watching was completed in an unusual order. When younger I’d watched series 1 and 2 and stopped before the movie Fire Walk With Me (FWWM) since then most of it had been forgotten. Very recently we started with The Return (Series 3) then back to the start and ending with FWWM. The logic was that 3 should be watchable without watching 1 and 2 given the series was so far from the previous last of Twin Peaks (also I had just bought the blu-ray for the return and I didn’t want to wait to watch it). In a way it makes sense to watch it this way even though it doesn’t really make sense.

One of my favourite parts of this particular watching method was to see a prequel but one which felt natural. The characters in The Return felt like they had grown from the characters that we saw in series 1 and 2. There was all the anticipation of watching a prequel but without the oversimplified and crass fan service that exists when a prequel is created for the purpose of being a knowing wink-a-thon of future events. I think it helped that nearly all the original cast was brought back (and supplemented well with analogues of the past and new foils ) and the show, world and characters had aged in real time together (it’s a testament to Kyle MacLachlan that he looks better as an actual old man than he did as a pretend old man 25 years ago).

Cooper the Dog.

Everyone likes loves Special Agent Dale Cooper! His enthusiasm and toot-toot whistle charm made him one of the most loved characters in TV history. It was interesting to see a layer of him that is much less wholesome (particularly in series 1 and 2) in that he’s also a perpetual pursuer of women. Aside from the obvious chemistry with Audrey Horne and the forced chemistry with Annie Blackburn he has his eyes on Josie at one point (“who’s the babe?”) and over 25 years falls (I think) for Laura Palmer. Looking at his history you can sort of see what he is railing against (his failed rescue of Caroline) but devastatingly each pursuit ends in failure: Annie ends up in a forever catatonia; Josie ends up a door knob and Laura (and everyone?) ends up a completely different person. The exception to this is Audrey who’s rescue would also have been a failure were it not for Hawk’s last minute intervention. Cooper’s perpetually repeated actions, a toxic combination of hubris and guilt I suspect, remind me of the often ascribed Einstein quote about insanity.

Loops and dreams

I think Cooper’s constantly repeated actions are a small part of the mirrors, clones and various other dejas vu that happen throughout all of the shows and film. I think this repetition creates an intriguing effect in the show. In a way the show creates an internal nostalgia which is created and cultivated only inside the show. We feel a little hit of fun when a thing we see is repeated but in an unorthodox but importantly uncommented/unreferenced way. Some cool examples of this:

In series 2 Audrey’s rescue has cooper on an adventure to a red curtained terrifying place of violence and hedonism adorned with Venus de Milo statues (one eyed jacks) and the very end of series 2 Annie’s (attempted) rescue needs cooper to adventure to a red curtained terrifying place of violence and hedonism adorned with Venus de Milo statues (the red room);

In Fire Walk With Me’s grimiest scene we see pink night club where lost souls dance away not properly being able to be understood to the point where the viewer needs subtitles;

The film’s opening is set in Deer Meadow which is a darker, unfriendlier version of Twin Peaks (no specials!);

My favourite though is successfully the arc of Ben (and in particular Ben) and Jerry transforms them from solid solid villains to friendly and sympathetic characters – it is beyond belief. Ridiculously the film makers manage to pull this exact same trick with the Mitchum Brothers in series 3. (this one reminds me the correlation between rapid forgetfulness and dreamlike states/how easy it is to be distracted by alternative villains).

You don’t get what you want. You get what you want. You get stuff now. Maybe you’ll have to wait.

One of the coolest (and perhaps irritating) exploitation of this inbuilt nostalgia is the way the Return really plays out many of the potential reactions to that nostalgia in order to evoke a variety of emotions. Perhaps the unique aspect of the show (and one that I can imagine will never be repeated) is that it’s an official follow up to a show which ended 25 years ago on umpteen cliffhangers. At the end of series 2 of Twin Peaks:

1) Cooper is replaced by a monstrous Doppelganger;

2) Annie is unconscious;

3) Audrey and Pete are blown up;

4) The mess that is Norma-Ed-Nadine rears its head again and

5) Ben Horne’s on a quest to save a small rodent.

And this doesn’t even count the low level “what are these cool people up to” like Major Briggs and Margaret (known as Log Lady).

 

Respectively the answers to these are

1) is resolved by making you wait a whole series to see nice coop again only for him to turn into someone else

2) nobody knows (unless you read a book)

3) Pete dies saving Audrey who ends up in a mental hospital (possibly)

4) Nadine embraces happiness and lets Ed go to be happy with Norma

5) Ben Horne becomes a normal, but rich, man continuing his quest to square the messes he planted the seeds of.

[additionally – Briggs becomes a floating head in an extra dimensional space, Margaret reaches the end of her life but is as enigmatic and insightful to the end].

I don’t think any show, given the chance, would be so brave and so multitoned in its response to creating a work which theoretically could forensically answer questions that have been bubbling for a quarter century (we know sometimes where nostalgia wanking can go) but only exercises that privilege as if it was the most precious resource in the world.

And the bravest decision: the series ends again with us only having the most oblique clues as to what the heck is happening.

Sheryl Lee

It’s really fascinating to me how an actor initially used simply to be a beautiful model inside a plastic bag to play a corpse could have completely missed the chance to demonstrate the full range of her skills. It was only possible to really appreciate this after watching the film. Her performance as Maddy was in the majority vanilla but punctuated by an absolutely harrowing scene in the middle of series 2. We learn from the film however that that was merely just a taste of her capability because in the film she puts in an absolute tour de force of a performance. Sheryl Lee plays the one week from dead Laura Palmer with a full range of emotions but always with an undercurrent of sadness. In a deleted scene (perhaps my favourite “missing piece” – the name given to the deleted scenes from the movie) where she is talking to Donna she layers the character we see of a lost and broken teenager heading for oblivion via anything she can to blot the badness out while admonishing her friend who hints she may be creeping to desiring some of Laura’s life.
And. Her scream.

What is the Pizza Oven. An oven in which, one might suppose, a pizza is made. Unfortunately what would happen if I placed a flat garlic bread in there? Would it cease to be a pizza oven? Maybe you would argue that it is an oven suitable for making pizza? In which case is my lasagne oven a pizza oven?

No, actually a pizza oven is in fact a designation granted by the International Sameness Organisation (ISO) in the case an oven meets the requirements of “pizza oven” and the manufacturer wishes to pay a fee and actually want their oven to be officially designated a “pizza oven”. For example did you know that according to ISO rules a Pizza Oven, for it to be sold as such required the following temperature dial

dial

Pizza Oven Necessary Dial

Some history: Prior to 1968 there were no specific designations for ovens. You could say that the entire oven industry was a lawless place. As recently as 1960 people were using ovens to make rotis (an Indian flat bread) rather than the traditional hot pan, it was even said that popcorn was made in ovens despite the obvious risk to domestic cats. Outside of the unfathomable disregard for norms in regards to the items cooked in ovens there was absolutely no set concept of what an oven was – if Plato had approached his concept of ovens pre 1970 he may well have given up his theory of forms. Such was the extent of the wild west nature of the oven industry that at  one point that there were newspaper reports of “husbands sent out to purchase ovens”… “try and cook roast chicken on Sunday, only to find”… “the ovens ran off from the back door” (Daily Mirror 17 February 1961). Some were less unfortunate but they still ended up with disappointing ovens.

oven2

Authentic 1963 Colin Door brand Oven

1966 was the year when everything came to a head. Famed oven entrepreneur Mahesh Sharma was visiting his cousin Deepak for a Sunday Chips and Beans with Cheese (McCain, Heinz, Cheddar). He was particularly looking forward because Deepak had suggested this was going to be the first use of his Pulnod Trops oven. Mahesh recalls

“I go round to his place and he’s excited about his oven, I was curious because I wanted to see the competition as I knew my ovens were best for Chips, Cheese and Beans but Deepak was giving it all that chat because the oven he got had a sticker on it that said –“20th Century Chips Drive Engine”, A complete marketing Bul*shit because I know my stuff.”

Mahesh talks a lot about how his ovens had a proper Chips Engine that was fully tested and had been so impressive in his company that they decided to give it official oven sticker designation. He was incredulous because in his view Pulnod Trops were piggy backing on his company’s engine innovation and slapping 20th Century on the name. He continues;

“Anyway Deepak takes the baking tray of chips to the oven and my god it’s just a Sainsbury’s carrier bag with tin foil on it. I couldn’t help but laugh at this. The so-called “drive engine” was merely a bicycle wheel”.

Mahesh was determined from this moment, he would not let this oven nonsense continue.

SOLO is the absolute pits.

“spoilers”

(ha if you’ve already seen Star Wars it’s very likely this film is actually impossible to spoil – but still if you care about such things stop reading – if you care about yourself, save yourself from the film)

Solo could be a fine film. It probably is made extremely competently – the action sequences have that requisite Disney weightlessness that is en vogue at the moment (by virtue of occupying all time), there are a precise number of jokes which will make you laugh and I’m sure there is a fight or two that involves hitting.

To be honest I don’t give an absolute flying fuck about it because the film is absolute rot and it killed any interest I might have had through a series of disrespectful choices, a crappy treatment of female characters and an ending that had more surprise heel turns than a Wrestlemania-Footloose crossover special.

Hello do you watch Star Wars? THEN ENJOY RECOGNISING THINGS FOR THREE HOURS.

Han Solo in Solo is less a character than the Wikipedia article that is linked to each entry on the IMDB page of “Han Solo Quotes”. He doesn’t really do anything with agency because if he did some part of the future would be ruined so he just shuttles around making sure he can get to the next quote he made in the original Star Wars. The level of referencing is clearly to service fans [this is basically ready player one: Star Wars] but it’s so dense that it converts (almost) all of Han’s experience as told across three Star Wars films as the into journey [okay: there is a “three years later”]. In this film Han does these things as mentioned in the older films: Gets the name Solo; gains, loses then gains his gold dice; Meets Chewbacca; Meets Lando; Gets the Millenium Falcon in a card game; Does the Parsec Shit; shoots a guy first and rejects the rebellion. It horribly smooshes a seasoned adventurer’s travels into a single summer gap year trip.

Perhaps the most egregious bit of fan service, to me, is the lingering shot that Han has and the camera has of his blaster (bear in mind Han has been in the army for a number of years at this point) when he gets it before a job. There is no good reason for him to give a shit about this gun and yet because the film makers know you will recognise the gun, Han Solo has to appreciate the gun. It’s really dogshit. A hero getting a gun is kind of on my mind right now because I’m watching Twin Peaks and there’s a scene near the end of series 2 where Gordon Cole hands Cooper a gun and there is a similar lingering on the weapon. The difference is that the gun in Twin Peaks actually represents something, because it is the physical representation of Cooper being restored as an FBI agent.

(the other is the gold dice which has an affection attached to it for some reason that seems inexplicable by the end of the film – but also gains affection as a thing because it happened to be on the car he robbed or he put it on a car he robbed.  I dunno, I don’t suspect my replica Zoom Ice Lolly will get its own WikiLore page).

Also: why the fuck is darth maul in this film?

Attention females in this film: if you die, no one will give a shit after their short-term memory of you has faded.

There are two female characters in this film that are treated really badly. It made me really really angry.

I say female characters because one of them is a robot, but they are played as female I think (and certainly the actor is the excellent star and writer of the excellent Fleabag – Phoebe Waller Bridge). The robot – L337 or L3 for short – is played as a sentient droid which in context means they are clever enough to understand the concept of freedom, feel guilt for robots that don’t have freedom and enough moral outrage to instigate a small robot rebellion. Basically L3 is has as much humanity as any person on the ship. At one point she is killed while encouraging the said rebellion. Lando rescues her dying body and then she dies. But don’t worry they can remove her hard drive and she functions as a GPS for the millenium falcon for the rest of Star Wars never to be given a fuck about or mentioned as an actual souled and intelligent person. Keep on GPESSING you old GPS. [note the G here stands for Galaxy].

Perhaps worse though is the treatment of Thandie Newton’s character Val (it’s weird that all the women are English in this film). Val plays a robber along with her husband Tobias (played by Woody Harrelson). The couple and their crew plan a heist and the only way to save it happens to be for Val to blow up a platform but this also means killing herself. She does this, Tobias is sad for a minute and then off him and Han Solo go off on adventures. The absolutely most disgusting part of all this is that Tobias makes a speech about how he never ever trusts anyone because then he can’t be disappointed by being betrayed and that’s how he survived: somehow forgetting his wife killed herself for him and his mission (despite him poorly preparing the whole catastrophe). It is absolutely wretched and the film should get minus ten stars just for this disrespect for the character of Val in the service of giving Han Solo a quote he can wheel out in Star Wars about not trusting people. SHIT AS FUCK.

The ending:

There are a lot of surprises which might make you feel something if you still cared about the film at this point. But they are also so fast that pfft who cares.

Jokes:

There are three good jokes in the film, the film manages to screw up at least one of them though.

One of the good jokes has Han trying to bullshit his way through a situation by pretending a stone is a bomb and making a clicking sound with his mouth. A giant worm monster says “that’s not a bomb you just made a clicking sound with your mouth”. It was good.

Another of the good jokes was chronologically the third good joke but the Cicero three means my rant is better made with the second joke being talked about third (spoilers). This joke also has Han bullshitting his way through a situation. This time he points to the millennium falcon and says he has thirty armed men inside – the shot cuts to the millennium falcon and it flies away. It’s got good timing.

The last (but chronologically second) good joke is based on a stunt. The stunt is this: a car is driving along and being chased. There is a narrowing of the road, the stunt has the lead car do some sort of sideways thing such that it can bypass the narrowing but the chasers cannot. Classic. In this case Han and Q’ira (pronounced Kira) are driving towards a train station: the joke ends up being the gap is actually too narrow and the car stops as a result of the cumulative friction. This should be game over, the chasers were gonna get them… except it turns out the car was about a yard away where it was going to stop and they needed to walk to the train station anyway.

And I think it’s this that basically sums up the film: it’s basically a thing that happens, but its utterly meaningless. There’s no jeopardy you know where it’s going it’s going to be fine and wherever they go it’ll be arbitrary but to link those moments together they offer a crumb of something you recognise or a joke.  Compounded with some of the character based shittiness, it’s hard for me to recommend this film.

What can board-games learn more explicitly from magic?

 

Here’s a problem to solve: you get £1500 a month and you want to buy a car in 6 months but the car costs £15000 – naturally if you save up you will end up with £9000. You can buy ten kilograms of fruit from Christina for £10 and sell them for £50 or you can buy from David fifteen kilograms of food for £10 and sell them for £60 but David will only sell to you if you can give Eileen more money  than your friend who is also looking to buy a car on the same basis. How much should you give Eileen?*

Regardless of whether this is a real maths problem worth a minute of your time or not there’s something kind of drab by it by design. However I think if I replaced the fruit with orange coloured cubes and the money with discs of card representing gold, it wouldn’t be too dissimilar to the activity thousands of people regularly partake in when playing a board game.

Maybe it’s possible that people would be happy to sit around and noodle around their thoughts with their friends to work out what they’d do in these wonderful scenarios but my instinct is that many would prefer the physical components to abstract the puzzle a little bit and partake in such puzzles more readily.

I wonder then if board games are basically aping some of the characteristics of magic tricks in disguising what are elaborate maths problems (including the idea of other actors potentially futzing your plans up) which are often about optimising economic and/or physical space.

When a person sees a magician it is not that they think that a magician is turning an egg into a chainsaw but the narrative a magician applies over the contraption that hides a chainsaw inside an egg gives us a sense that some actual physics bending activity might be happening. The fact that the whole audience doesn’t shout at the magician is a testament to the quality and power a narrative can have over seemingly impossible activities. In this context is it unreasonable to think that the abstractions of variously coloured crystals and robots make the underlying maths problems in century golem edition a more broadly enjoyable activity than if the abstraction coat was removed?

It is not a new thing to invoke the idea of magic in (board) games – there is a concept called the ‘magic circle’ which essentially creates the zone that all participants within a game bring with them an expectation to abide by the rules in the game in the spirit they are meant to be. This can manifest in a number of ways, for example: accepting tokens and abstractions mean what they say they are (yes this is actually 5 gold that you are paying an apprentice potion tester); the rules of the game are meant to be abided by even if they make no sense in reality (this apple costs the same as four oranges, a train ticket to London only costs 5 pounds). Fully embracing the magic circle means that everyone can enjoy the game more fully (and a magician’s performance doesn’t get ruined by hecklers who shout “you’re using an invisible string” every two minutes).

I think however the idea of narrative can have a much deeper effect in games and even where the game is far more abstract – no mention of orcs or whatever.

I’ve been really enjoying a game recently called . It’s been nominated for the 2018 game of the year (Spiel des Jahres). And this is a game that can fundamentally be explained like this: teams place a set of cards numbered 1-100 in ascending order with zero communication. However I think the enjoyment of the game can be greatly enhanced by actually building in some narrative. This doesn’t mean going too deep into the idea psychic communications are happening, but certainly a sprinkling indicating an intuition and empathy is growing between players really helps. I think also the idea that the rules should be explained as seriously and deliberately as possible is really important. It is normally not that much of a consideration as to what the delivery of a set of rules should be (although certain companies like Czech Games Edition put a lot of humour and in world justification into their  , presumably as mnemonic device as well as entertainment).  The stoic presentation of the rules creates, hopefully, a sense the game is much harder than it actually is. By being hard during rules the intent is to create a spectre that there is no chance, because the thing that is stuck in their brain is that there is zero communication. What the reality is that people will communicate using all sorts of subtleties (a jerk to attention when it’s close to their turn for example) but the emphasised percecption there is none makes the actual achievement of completing the goal much more elating. An observation I have noted with regards to the game is that those who observe the game as ridiculous have either not played the rules properly or tried to work out how to break the game (also by not playing the rules properly). As a class this group of cynical players have decided to reject any narrative the game is trying to convey . The activity in both sets of players is the same – place cards 1-100 in order – but those that buy into the narrative of the game enjoy the game hell of a lot more.

So here’s what I think: When thinking about rules and what kinds of feelings you expect from a game – give a second to explaining the game in its context and do not shy away from really selling the game as a thing to be played and the story surrounding it.

 

*I have no idea which is better.