I have a friend who recently bought a PlayStation. He’s in a similar situation to me – young kids, limited social outings, long nights on the couch. He’s not a gamer. Neither am I. My PlayStation is a telephone with benefits. It scratches an itch left unscratched since I became more or less housebound on a Friday or Saturday night. That vital social connection I used to get from going to the pub and shooting the shit with mates. Only now I can shoot my friends in a digital hellscape while also talking to them.

So, my friend bought a PlayStation and I didn’t hear from him. He didn’t appear on multiplayer game lists, ignored invitations to connect. Maybe he hasn’t even turned the damn thing on? I thought to myself. The truth was stranger and sadder.

Fallout is a post-apocalyptic role-playing game which involves travelling around an open-world shooting mutants and trying to survive. My friend had discovered Fallout. He was addicted. Not in the way most gamers might be in terms of unlocking achievements and completing missions – no, my friend’s addiction was being fed by a far more prosaic activity. In the game, he’d built a shelter, stocked it with food, made it safe and kept himself busy by doing repairs and sleeping. Yes, sleeping. He’d taken a game famous for its compelling story and detailed world-building and turned it into a glorified sleep simulator.

My friend spends his precious free time sitting on the couch watching his digital avatar sleeping. On learning this, I naturally gave him a significant amount of crap until I started thinking about what he was doing and realised it wasn’t so crazy. A new dad is never alone, is constantly sleep deprived and harried. If a game allowed you to create a refuge where you could hide from the world and not be disturbed, where you could rest in comfort, then I could understand its appeal. Hell, I’m thinking about buying Fallout myself.

Movies

The Incredibles

I’m on record as being tired of the superhero cinematic genre. Over the last decade or so I’ve been assaulted by a barrage of repetitive origin stories, monologuing villains, disposable romantic interests, and relentless CGI-fuelled mayhem. Some of these stories have been better than others. Most are perfectly well made. I’m still bored of them. And then I watched The Incredibles with my son and realised I wasn’t as jaded as I thought. I just hadn’t seen a great superhero movie in a long time. The Incredibles is quite simply the best superhero team movie to date. It might be the best superhero movie. Ever. In fact, labelling it a superhero movie feels reductive. The Incredibles is a great movie, genre be damned!

Priest

Nobody talks about Priest. With reason, it’s not a very good movie. The post-apocalyptic sci-fi action movie about kung-fu priests fighting vampires never stood a chance of being good. Not by critical standards. Catching it on Netflix, I nevertheless found myself engaged. The first thing that struck me was how polished the flick is. The filmmaking craft on display is masterful – frame after frame is perfectly composed, the action choreography inventive, the CGI vistas beautifully realised. The director has a great eye. Unfortunately, the story is, if you’ll forgive the vampire-related pun, woefully anaemic. Underwritten characters with little to no motivation doing…stuff. One of the big issues I have with movies like this is the fallacy of the invincible protagonist. Time after time Paul Bettany’s priest faces off impossible odds, surviving with nary a scratch. How are we supposed to identify with a character who is never afraid? A character who’s indestructible. I think back to Predator which feels like a comparable genre flick made a few decades earlier. That starred Arnold Schwarzenegger of all people yet was infinitely more involving because Arnie played a human character (as human as he can play anyway). Arnie was scared of the Predator, you could see it in his face during their confrontations – he even ran away from it at one stage in a blind panic. Show me a hero who’s afraid, who bleeds, and I’ll buy your story. Even a story about a priest fighting vampires in a post-apocalyptic world.

Looper

The director of Looper, Rian Johnson, is currently completing post-production on the new Star Wars movie. No doubt it will make a huge amount of money. It might even be good. Doesn’t matter, in 50 years time Looper will be the film he’s remembered for. It’s a classic. I knew it when I saw it at the cinema five years ago. I still know it now. If you haven’t seen Looper I won’t spoil its story surprises to suffice to say it’s a sci-fi noir starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It deals with time travel and telekinesis though defies easy genre classification. It might be Bruce Willis’s last great performance.

The Dark Crystal

A box office failure on initial release, Jim Henson’s fantasy masterpiece has endured thanks to a generation of children who were exposed to the film early and had their brains permanently re-wired. For me, The Dark Crystal is a formative as Stephen King and Steven Spielberg.  This may actually be the first film I can remember seeing (at the Port Macquarie Drive-In before those places were relegated to myth). I remember craning my head out the car window, looking up at these frightening creatures which seemed as real as my parents sitting in the car with me while the smell of popcorn and exhaust fumes hung heavily in the air. The fact that I can remember anything at all is telling. I can’t remember much else from when I was four. The story is simple, but the world-building so complex and strange and artfully constructed that I think the story needed to be simple. A more complicated narrative would have a distracted us from Henson’s visionary puppetry work. From the monsters. From the magic.

TV

Love

Early on in the second season of Love, I was growing restless. The romance between Micky and Gus was too smooth, there was no conflict, no drama. From a creative point of view, the decision to just meander along as these characters fell in love was refreshingly brave but it did not make for hugely compelling television. I shouldn’t have been concerned. The last few episodes re-contextualise the earlier ones and it becomes clear that Paul Rust and Judd Apatow were playing the long game. Love’s second season is ultimately as affecting and insightful as its first, though I would recommend binging it if possible. If it finishes here, that’s fine. I don’t need a third season.

Music

Beady Eye

After criticising Liam as being the lesser of the two Gallagher brothers with my review of the OASIS documentary in last week’s blog I was feeling a little guilty. This is a guy who fronted one of my favourite bands of the late nineties. He deserves the benefit of the doubt. So I put Beady Eye on for a spin. Beady Eye was started by Liam and made-up entirely of ex-OASIS members. Basically, everyone but Noel. And you know what? It’s pretty good. The music never rises to the heights of Definitely Maybe or (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory but for the most part, the songs groove and Liam acquits himself as an able songwriter. Makes me wonder what might have happened if Beady Eye hadn’t disbanded in 2014. They might have been more than a footnote in OASIS’s history.

Saskwatch

I caught the below little ditty on RAGE yesterday and liked it enough to Google Play Saskwatch. I really like them. The sound is big and bold and playful. Check them out.

 

That’s all for this week. The writing is moving ahead slowly but at least it’s moving. I’m hoping to get a lot accomplished over the Easter break. Probably, I’ll end up eating too much chocolate and sleeping. To be honest, the biggest time drain has been this blog. That’s okay. There might come a time when this blog becomes the lynchpin of my writing career rather than an adjunct. I’ve had some success in the conventional publishing world but not enough that I’m confident its the only way to do things. Self-publishing could be a possible future avenue.

There are some compelling success stories that certainly make it attractive. A frequently updated blog or more importantly a newsletter, seems to be the common thread in these success stories. I get it. Such devices are a great way to stay connected with current readers and hopefully reach out to new ones. Which is why I’ve just installed a fancy newsletter plugin to the blog. If you put your email in the below field you’ll get this blog sent straight to your inbox which is pretty cool as I’m not sure Facebook or Twitter have the cut through they once did. Via the newsletter, I’ll keep you updated on new books, send you short stories, excerpts and other cool things that I haven’t thought of yet.

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As always take care, read some good books, watch good TV, listen to good music and try not to do anything that hurts yourself or anyone else.

M.J.