TV

Red Dwarf: The Promised Land

Red Dwarf is a show that’s close to my heart, it was often quoted in the playground, I also took my school nickname from it (not through choice I might add, but as my name is Duane, well it speaks for itself) but most importantly it’s a show that my partner and I watch over and over again, in fact, she struggles to sleep at night unless we’ve left it playing in the background. It’s return to TV thanks to Dave has been a bit of a mixed bag, but even so, when the crew get the word out that they’re working on a new series, we both get a little excited. Add in that it was going to be “feature-length” after decades of rumours about a Red Dwarf movie (and an ill-fated attempt to make an American version of the show, don’t Google it, it’s atrocious), plus they then said it would be released on April 9th, my OH’s birthday, and everything was set for a good night in front of the TV.

But was it?

Well, yes and no.

Plot-wise, it was a bit all over the place. A bunch of Cats who still believe in Cloister (having never met Lister unlike The Cat, who we must remember remained behind on Red Dwarf as he was a bit stupid, though not as stupid as his “jelly-brained” father who chewed his own paws off) are being chased by their “Feral Leader” who is trying to squash the cats who believe in the Holy Poppadom. The small group of religious cats escape and send out a distress beacon, which is picked up by Red Dwarf and from there we’re treated to something I’d describe as a Greatest Hits of Red Dwarf.

Throughout the entire thing, we obviously get lots of dialogue discussing Lister not being the deity the Cats believe him to be (“The End”), them expecting miracles of him and the crew bundling through every obstacle placed before them that only intensifies the moggies belief. Holly returns, with Norman Lovett returning to the role, except he’s been rebooted and now does everything by the book then later returning to the Holly we know and love (“Queeg” but Holly also changed from being portrayed by Norman Levvet to Hattie Haydridge and back again during its original run). Rimmer becomes a better version of himself and also goes through some heavy self-reflection (“Holoship” and any episode with Ace Rimmer), I could go on.

As fans of the show would expect, its finest moments come when the crew in confined area’s. Kryten pulling out the Haynes manual for Starbug may remind me of “But we’d have to change the lightbulb” but it still properly cracked me up and Lister having a heart to heart with Rimmer harks back to Lister having a similar conversation with Cat about realising how much he needed Rimmer (though the two will never admit it to each other) and Lister’s dream about him returning.

The thing is though, whilst it all doesn’t feel fresh, it does work and the cast pull off their performances as comfortably as you’d expect. Besides, after all this time, who could really complain about the show going down the route of rehashing some of its finest moments? I certainly can’t. That’s not to say it’s a laugh a minute, and at two hours (including ad-breaks) it does begin to out-stay its welcome just a little, though that could also be a symptom of my partner and I normally being about ready for bed at around half past 10.

 

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Movies, TV

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

As most of the people reading this will be aware, on Friday Netflix released El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. The movie, released 6 years after the end of the main TV series, follows Jesse Pinkman after his escape from Jack’s compound at the very end of the final episode.

Thats not where things start exactly, we’re first treated to a flashback (a commonly used tool in El Camino) of a conversation between Mike and Jesse in which Jesse informs the former that he intends to leave the drugs business, they discuss Jesse’s possible future, which is a theme that crops up time and time again in El Camino.

When we return to the present, Jesse is literally driving away from the slaughter that Walter White had committed, screaming, turning down a side road to avoid the Police he see’s on the horizon and ultimately ending up at the house old friends and accomplices Badger and Skinny Pete are living in. The pair take him in, help him get cleaned up etc and aid him in evading the Police using a plan that feels far too clever for the pair. It was great to see these three back together, Badger in particular was one of my favourite characters during the shows original run. It’s a pity we didnt get a little longer with them, and it was really endearing seeing Skinny Pete taking on a homely and caring role in order to get Jesse back on his feet.

Mike, Pete and Badger aren’t the only returning characters, in fact there’s a few of them which both make and break the movie for me, the vast majority are in flashbacks however. The major positive was the return of creepily friendly and (as we already know) completely unhinged Todd (or as I call him “Not-Matt Damon”). We, through Jesse, spend alot of time with him prior to the moments in the show where Jesse kills Todd. This time is there to show how broken Jesse became, which was portrayed better over the running time of the shows seasons rather than the limited time afforded to it in these flashbacks even though the Todd ones take up a meaty section of the film. It also gives us the information to understand alot of Jesse’s actions in the present day, with Todd telling Jesse about the money he keeps in his apartment and Jesse’s need to get to it in order to carve out a new life for himself. During his search for the cash we’re treated to an excellent bit of film-making (in my opinion) when we’re given an above camera shot of the entire floor plan of the apartment with Jesse ripping the place apart (literally, I don’t just mean throwing furniture around, he literally pulls the plaster off the walls) to find it. The whole sequence kind of reminds me of playing Hotline Miami, and the music would almost fit that games soundtrack too.

It’s Jesse’s plan to create his new life that cause the most problems for me. Choosing to visit “the Disappearer”/Ed who aided Saul and Walter both abandoning their lives and going into hiding (with the latter returning for the events of season 5 and the former going off to work at a Cinnabon as we find out in Better Call Saul). We know Jesse had the opportunity to use Ed’s services back on the show, which he ultimately rejected, but it feels a little too much like the writers are leaning too heavily on those events, both to cause more tension and keep the plot ticking over (Ed wants Jesse to pay for the services he declined and for his services this time, Jesse is a little short on the cash needed so has to resort to getting that before Ed can move him on). Ed gives him the opportunity to go it alone, basically saying that with $248,200 he could get very far away very easily provided he’s careful, but for whatever reason Jesse decides to enter into a very dangerous situation in order to get the rest which feels entirely unnecessary.

Thats not to say that this harms El Camino entirely, its an entertaining couple of hours and it kind of feels good to be back in that world again, especially with Jesse who always seemed to be the heart of the show. However, it does feel like the writers couldn’t help themselves, especially when they shove a flashback featuring Walter White in there (with Bryan Cranston wearing a skull cap that makes his head look huge). Early on we’re told that White did in fact die at the end of Breaking Bad and I personally felt thats all we needed, it felt like Vince Gilligan was pandering to the fans too much at this point.

It’s a nice enough send off to the show, but if thats what Gilligan intended this to be then it feels really weird for it to have been made six years after Breaking Bad ended, particularly whilst Better Call Saul is getting so much praise in certain quarters (though it has reminded me I need to get back to that show as I dropped off it in Season 2 I think). I think it mostly feels that way because the present day stuff takes place so close to the end of the TV show and the cast are showing 6 years of aging, especially Jesse Plemons (“Not Matt-Damon”/Todd), and overall I think I preferred how Breaking Bad ended prior to the release of El Camino.

Gaming, General, Mental Health, Music, TV

Mind Games: Men, Gaming and Mental Health

I’ve been sitting on this post since around the time I started writing regularly, but its something I’ve been struggling to put together, there’s been alot of self doubt in regards to me actually writing this as I’m really, really concerned that my writing ability isn’t at a level that I feel I can do this justice. It’s a topic that I find particularly challenging.

So, a little background, I’m 35 now, I have three children, all girls, one of whom is 15. I was exactly four weeks to the day off turning 20 when she was born. Two years prior to that I was diagnosed with depression and put onto anti-depressants. Around a year after moving away from home and before my eldest daughter was born I decided I felt much better within myself, I was working and despite being young I was looking forward to becoming a Dad. I decided I was “better” and stopped taking my medication. I’ve never been particularly out going, I’ve always preferred being in my own company or with an individual than big parties and the like, so spending the next few years with just my partner, myself and our daughter, but playing on XBox Live reguarly was absolutely fine. I wasn’t well though, and the pressure of adding two more children to the mix, being made redundant twice and taking on a job where I was very much out of my comfort zone and meant alot of changes at home left me in a really dark place and things became really bad for my whole family, for which I still hold myself responsible. I had to seek help and am now back on medication, its a low dose, but its helping. I’ve started to socialise a little in recent months, its only once a month at a book club, but its just enough and once the kids are back at school I’m looking at other things I can do that will keep me healthy.

However, its very easy to close myself off, seal everything away and bottle it all up, its what my Dad’s always done so its a learnt behaviour. Thing is, this has all come back to mind in recent weeks, especially after being reminded that the world lost Chester Bennington two years ago. Now I used to love Linkin Park, I adored their first album, they weren’t my favourite band (during that era it was Feeder, but it came as a shock when the news broke about his death and the circumstances around it. Like Kurt Cobain, its easy to look back and point to their lyrics and say “oh this was them asking for help” or whatever, and its easy for people close to them to wonder if there was anything they could have done to help them, you only have to listen to Feeder’s “Comfort in Sound” and “Pushing the Senses” albums to hear the grief and torture our loved ones put themselves through after such events (for those that aren’t aware, on the back of Feeder really hitting it off with their Echo Park album plus singles Buck Rogers, Seven Days in the Sun and Just A Day, drummer Jon Lee took his own life, he tried to call Grant Nicholas, lead singer and guitarist of the band, shortly before he did so but Grant didn’t take the call and was full of guilt afterwards, something he has spoken openly about in interviews and his lyrics ever since). Its not just Chester though, look at the list of high profile suicides.  Chester Bennington, Anthony Bourdain, Chris Cornell, Robert Enke, Keith Flint, Dave Mirra, Gary Speed, Robin Williams. Both that list and the names mentioned are only a small proportion of reported suicides, both Male and Female.

However, suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. An despite campaigns from the NHS, Mind and movements like Movember, we men seem to not be doing anything about it. We still bottle things up, despite knowing better, I still do it from time to time. We still won’t talk openly about it and we still don’t do much, if at all, to look after ourselves. There’s been great movement in recent years in most people looking after their physical health in a much better manner, gyms are everywhere you look, Instagram is full of people showing off their bodies, both the Google Play and Apple App stores are chock full of free apps that are designed to get you active, and thats great, personally speaking its something that I need to do for myself. However, how many of us take the time out to really work on our mental health? When people who we think have it all, like Bennington, decide to take their own life, then building a social media profile counts for nothing when you aren’t even comfortable in your own mind. When you’re full of self doubt, its exhausting.

I mentioned up post about the book club I’m a part of, I’d be lying if I said I found it easy. The whole group are lovely, but I purposely walk the 40 minutes to each meeting with my earphones in listening to my favourite music in order to deal with my own anxiety before walking through the door of my comic shop, saying “hi” to every body and then finding the courage to voice my opinions on the book we’re discussing at that particular meeting. I have other systems in place too, although they’ve slipped in recent weeks and I’m finding getting into the habit again particularly difficult. Each night I had a handful of apps I’d work through:

Brain Yoga
Lumosity
Woebot
Daylio
Drops

I’d spend 15-20 minutes an evening working through these apps, then take the dog for a walk before taking my medication and vitamins, then getting into bed (with my phone out of reach and all the apps locked down) and reading my book. I used to be a poor sleeper but this routine has really helped over the past twelve months.

It’s not the only positive thing I want to mention here. Last summer the BBC broadcast a new TV show, it was on BBC2 and was called “Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing“. The premise of the show was that both Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse (who for those who don’t know are both comedians who were really rather famous in Britain in the 90’s) have, in recent years, had heart operations. Paul Whitehouse has always gone fishing and he decided that he’d take Bob Mortimer along with him to get him out of the house and try and stop him feeling sorry for himself. It’s literally two blokes, in some beautiful locations, fishing. But that does it a disservice (not that theres anything wrong with that as a TV show, even as a non-angler its a nice relaxing watch), because its more than the sum of its parts. The two guys talk, they talk about their operations, they joke and compete about the changes its had on their lifestyles, Bob cooks “heart-healthy” meals for the pair of them and its a show that does away with all the bravado that you would expect of these two men. To bring it to some coherent conclusion, its two men doing what two men should be doing, taking an interest in each other beyond “bants”.

You may be wondering what this all has to do with gaming, and you’d be right for wondering that. As I write, this post has become essentially what I thought it might become, a bit of a ramble about mental health, coping measures and the like. But I think I touched on gaming and mental health a little a while back in my The Toxicity of Gaming Culture and my review of Drowning.

I think gamers are awful at looking after one another and I’m not finger pointing here, we’re talking about a past time here thats so heavily focused on competing with one another that there’s that element of not showing any weakness. The absolute biggest games of most era’s are competetive, you can see it when you read stuff that alludes to gaming and gamers such as Ready Player One, we even turn single player games into a competetive environment, what with speed runs and score attacks. This isn’t everyone, I’d never say that, but its hard to ignore. When you have communities surrounding certain games that rather than passing on tips and advice you’re simply told to “Git Gud”, how is that constructive or making a community accessible to all? As a community we spent decades being told we were a certain way, then our past time becomes hugely popular and the most vocal types begin to lash out or we turn on each other, abuse each other and generally act like shit.

I regularly play Gran Turismo Sport with the same group of people, within our group there’s people of all levels, we have people who cant commit to playing as regularly and we even get people from outside our little community who get invited to join in. Everybody is friendly and even when things on track there’s something happening on track, it never develops into animosity. In fact its probably the opposite. There’s something about racing that, in my opinion, differs it to other competetive games. For the most part its all about driving your own race, focusing on your own performance, and then when you are in a battle with somebody else, having the ability and confidence to watch somebody else, learn where you’re stronger than they are and take advantage of that as cleanly as possible and as a gaming experience I find it both tiring but therapeutic. Thats not to say a Call of Duty, Street Fighter, Fortnite or FIFA player doesn’t find their experience of those games to offer them the same, if thats what works for them then thats great, and thats what this is all about.

There’s some much more I want to say on this subject, and its something I may have to return to in future posts. I still don’t feel I’ve done the subject matter the justice it deserves and I’m not entirely sure if I’ve got my message across in a manner thats actually coherent. It’s such a big subject that I’ve given it it’s own catergory which you’ll now found amongst my top menu. I think as I through my own journey with my own personal mental health I’ll be able to provide more insight into my thoughts on the matter, but for now I’ve literally scrambled my brown throwing this all down into a post thats as much for me as it is for you, and I think this is one of the few times I’ve put a large chunk of me down for others to read it.

Lastly, I’d like to say, if you are struggling with your own mental health in any way, please, please get in touch with Mind by calling them on 0300 123 3393 or texting them at 86493. For any readers in the US, if you’d like to leave a suggestion of whom to contact for help then please do so, I’ll be adding details in my side bar so they’re always visible.

Anime, TV

Why don’t I like Hi-Score Girl?

I’ve written this after watching all twelve episodes, plus the three OVA’s but having never read the Manga. Everything I’ve watched is available via Netflix.

At its heart Hi-Score Girl is a romantic love triangle, lead character, Haruo Yaguchi, is a videogame obsessed kid who spends every moment he’s not at school in his local arcades playing the likes of Street Fighter 2. He’s not academic, atheletic or particularly sociable, every waking moment he’s not playing a game he is thinking about and counting down the time to when he can next boot up a game. We’re introduced to Akira Ono as academically the opposite of Haruo, she’s a straight A student from a wealthy family but secretly she also loves videogames and is exceptionally good at them, especially Street Fighter 2. Like Haruo, however, she has no social skills, but whilst Haruo is awkward around other people, Ono doesn’t speak, instead she tends to display her emotions in a child like manner, usually abusing people (Haruo) who disagree or do something to annoy her.

For the opening few episodes the show lets the “relationship” between the two develop, this mostly amounts to Haruo man-splaining pretty much everything about the games he’s playing both to the viewer and to Ono. The sheer amount of dialogue that comes from Haruo is overwhelming at times and the relationship between the two is mostly friendly rivalry (Haruo seems unable to comprehend that his main competitor in the arcades is female). Soon after, Ono leaves Japan, and we’re introduced to another girl as Haruo enters Junior High. Koharu Hidaka is more sociable than Haruo, and the relationship between the two, like with Ono, develops thanks to Haruo’s love of videogames, however Hidaka (initially) prefers to watch, and once again there’s a bit of a “girls dont understand games” attitude from Haruo.

Despite watching the whole series I never really warmed to Haruo, he never really develops as a character, despite the show being set over a few years (The characters go from Elementary to Junior High to High School, I think), his attitudes and behaviour never really alters and it isn’t until Ono runs away from home that he shows any semblence of being considerate of others (and even then during his search for her he finds the time to buy a new/old console), but quickly reverts to type when Hidaka gives him an ultimatum and beating his opponent becomes priority number 1. You’re left feeling sorry for both girls by the very end of Hi-Score Girl and I was certainly rooting against Haruo developing any relationship with either of them. Essentially, like Scott Pilgrim, Haruo is a complete and utter dick who by the end of the shows run time still has not developed any character beyond being “a bit of a nerd”.

I’m probably being a bit harsh on it overall, especially as many seem to quite like it, but the constant name checking and lack of character development (which I appreciate is hard to do over 12 + 3 twenty-two minute episodes/OVA’s) and maybe I’ve gone into it expecting more than it was ever intending to do. But if all you want from a 90’s video-game scene anime is for the writers to name drop Virtua Cop, Darkstalkers, PlayStation and “TURBO GRAFX 16!!!!” then you’ll be pretty damn happy with this.

 

TV

A competition in creepy

Netflix have been really pushing their True Crime documentaries over the past couple of years, particularly since they released Making a Murderer. Two have recently generated quite a lot of discussion: “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” and “Abducted in Plain Sight”. My other half have watched both this week and despite Netflix’s promotion of “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” via their Twitter focusing on it being scary

its that “maybe don’t watch alone x” comment that really stands out, and indeed certain websites have clung onto it to say how scary it is. But you know what? Its just not. Sure, its a good documentary about a notorious guy and the thing I took away from it was just how egocentric Bundy was. He was the perfect killer, so “intelligent” he thought he was better than everyone and only “confessed” to his crimes right at the very end as a delaying tactic to try and avoid the death penalty, his “intelligence” (read: ego) was such that he wouldn’t let his defence lawyers, State appointed or otherwise, do their job, he knew he was a better defence lawyer. Not only that but he gave him opportunity to relive his crimes. However, we all knew that he met his maker, and whilst the World will never know the extent of his crimes, its clear he’s no longer on the loose and that the worlds Policing and profiling specialist learned an awful lot from those cases. What is scary about the world we live in afterwards is that the media we consume does still stereotype to an awful degree, murderers in TV shows are nearly always weird, counter culture types that don’t socialise and have strange behaviours.

Onto Abducted in Plain Sight which my partner and I found far more terrifying. Why? Because of the sheer ineptitude of absolutely everybody involved, sure the fact we have three girls ourselves may play into that fear to some degree, but as each moment, each cock-up, every manipulation was revealed and how the girls family were, seemingly, more interested in protecting themselves from their own indiscretions, our jaws dropped further and further. The story is something that you just could not make up, could not imagine, it’s beyond baffling, and yet it happened. Not only that but “B” has committed similar crimes on other young girls and never served any serious jail time prior to taking his own life. That the mother of Jess recollects being seduced as part of his plan to get closer to Jess with a smile on her face, seemingly looking back on that time almost fondly, because he made her feel special, never seemingly properly acknowledging the fact he only made her feel like that in order to get close to his real target. Likewise Jess seems to still be in love with “B” (and has even admitted her relationships since haven’t been the same, that she hasn’t loved them like she did “B”). That to me is terrifying, that despite everything they don’t seem to have learned their lesson, and despite Jess’ tears and her voice cracking there still seems to be a longing there for the relationship to have continued.