Uncategorised

Fascinating talk between Joe Rogan and Russell Brand

This is one of the most fascinating discussions I’ve heard in a long while. A discussion that talks about the human condition through the ideas of addiction, mixed martial arts, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and many other things between.

One of the key quotes I took from this was at 1 hour 14 minutes and 26 seconds, where Joe Rogan says:

I think there’s a freeing aspect in pushing boundaries – physical boundaries because it’s exhausting, and not just exhausting physically but mentally too because there’s a strain on your body’s desire to quit. Like your mind’s desire to seek comfort and that in pushing past that you find this freedom and you also find a vulnerability in who you are as a person.

Manga

Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito

Fragments of Horror is a collection of eight short stories by horror manga artist and writer, Junji Ito. It features a hallucinogenic futon; a woman obsessed with being dissected and a twisted author looking for the perfect facial tic. All pretty much par for the course in Ito’s world.

I really enjoyed reading these stories and did so one at a time, letting each one sink in before moving to the next. I read one per journey travelling to and from work last week (some pages did get me odd looks from other train passengers). There is a lot of stuff here for fans of Ito’s other works like Uzumaki and Gyo, but I think this could also serve as a good introduction to him too.

Calmer Tales (relatively speaking)

Dissection-chan

Stories like Futon and Gentle Goodbye are relatively tame compared to his more infamous tales.

Futon is the shortest story of the book at just eight pages long. While it does deal with what are called ‘Dark nature spirits’ haunting a man from above his bed – with an excellent two-page-spread depicting said spirits, there isn’t any really scary horror in there. In fact just as the story was getting going it was over.

With the latter, Gentle Goodbye, it is a slower-paced story about a woman entering into a new marriage. Within this marriage is a family who have found a way to bring back their recently-passed relatives into what they call ‘After Images’. These after images are essentially ghosts but this isn’t written as a scary ghost story. Instead it deals with the idea of the loss, and the worries of losing, loved ones around us. It was nice to read this one as a mental break between two of the collection’s most horrific stories.

Dark side

On the other side of the Ito scale are stories like Dissection-can and Blackbird.

Whispering Woman

Dissection-chan has a super simple premise, which also happens to be the most twisted idea in my opinion. A young woman, who has snuck into a medical university dissection room, almost manages to get her wish of being dissected by pretending to be a cadaver. We then see how she has had this fascination from a young age and whether or not she gets her wish fulfilled.

Junji Ito has himself named one of his biggest influences as being H.P. Lovecraft. This is most evident in the story Blackbird. In blackbird a hiker is discovered in the woods after being left injured on the ground for a while. He then goes on to tell the story of how a strange woman would come to him when he was hungry, to feed him as a bird would. She would regurgitate food into his mouth and he, starving at the time, would accept. The story then continues into an almost mind-bending conclusion that manages to come back round on itself.

In closing

There are four other stories that I haven’t mentioned here and will let you discover for yourself. What I will say is that my favourite story of the collection is one called Tomio * Red Turtleneck. In this the eponymous character, Tomio, spends the entire story trying to keep his loosened head attached to his shoulders. Now there’s an enticing premise if ever I heard one.

Games

The Last of Us review

The Last of Us was released in 2013, yet i didn’t get to play it till three years later. But when I did, it quickly became one of my top three games of all time. Its whole world and the characters within have somehow become a part of me. Joel and Ellie have become two of the most important characters in my life.

What’s The Last of Us about?

After one of the most emotional game intros I’ve ever experienced, we are placed with our hero, Joel, twenty years into a Post-apocalyptic world. Early on in the game you are entrusted to look after 14-year-old girl, Ellie. This is where it all begins – one of the most important relationships in gaming history starts right here. You are tasked with getting her safely to a group called ‘The Fireflies’, the reasons for which I wont reveal here, and of course it’s not simply a case of walking from A to B.

Once Ellie is with you, she will follow you wherever you go and you must protect her at all costs. But don’t get mistaken that protecting her means she is helpless; quite the opposite is true in fact. As the game progresses you will find that Ellie is just as tough as Joel, if not more so. They both come to rely on each other for survival.

Joel and Ellie arrive on campus

You will end up travelling across America in your mission, encountering some interesting and downright terrifying people. The locations too are beautiful to explore, with the suburbs; the University of Eastern Colorado; a snowy lakeside resort; and more. All of which have been subject to the unstoppable spread of both mother nature and the deadly virus. The combination of overgrown flora and fauna, along with the ever-mutating infected, make for some simultaneously beautiful and grotesque imagery.

Infected everywhere

The infected that you encounter on your journey can be really tough at times, with all-out gun fights being the worse option to take. The infected people are found at different stages in their individual mutations, with each stage having its own strengths and weaknesses. The most iconic of these stages is probably what are known as ‘Clickers’. These mutated festering people have one of the most iconic sounds I’ve heard – their namesake ‘Clicking’.  They use this as a form of echo location due to their being blind as a bat.

There’s nothing quite so brutal as the moment a clicker grabs a hold a bites down hard.

A game of character

The emotional thread that runs through this game is much stronger than any of the make shift melee weapons that Joel can fashion. The core of The Last of Us is the father/daughter relationship between Joel and Ellie that gets stronger and stronger as time goes on. Although he is initially cold towards her, treating her simply as his current mission, you will see how their bond becomes tighter with each step they take. One of the real great parts of this character development too, is the subtle exchanges of conversation that happen in-game, when you are playing.

Ellie from The Last of Us

It is hard to talk about the characters in this game without drawing comparisons to The Walking Dead. What both The Walking Dead and The Last of Us do so well, is deal with the conflicts between humans themselves. Even though humans as a species have a common enemy in the viral outbreak, there are still separate factions that arise that will kill one another for control and supplies instead of working together.

As strong and positive as the relationship between Joel and Ellie is, there is darkness out there that would see them torn apart. This darkness could not have been portrayed any better than by David. The build up through the Winter chapter to its violent conclusion is one of my favourite scenes in gaming. And that’s all I’ll mention of it.

Multiple playthroughs

I’d never before finished a game and immediately, after the credits, hit ‘New Game’, but with this one I did. I just couldn’t wait to get back into this world once again. Once I knew the story and where conflicts would occur, I found I could take in more of the environment. I would start looking carefully at every little detail in the world around me, ever-impressed with the level of care.

When you replay through at the same difficulty you keep all weapon and character enhancements you gained first time through. This made me feel like a bad ass and I actually went looking for fights.

In Conclusion

It’s rare that a game, or even a film, that gets such high praise and surrounding hype actually lives up to it, but The Last of Us does. It’ll have you laughing at the funny interactions between the characters; it’ll have you terrified and scared for your life. It may even have you questioning the things that you really hold dear in this world of distractions and excess.

The Last of Us not only lives up to its reputation, it dwarfs it.

Albums

Tropic of Cancer by Roslyn Moore

Roslyn Moore is back with her second desert opera, Tropic of Cancer.

I was an immediate fan of Roslyn’s as soon as I first heard her stuff on Soundcloud over a year ago. So the announcement of this new album did get me excited.

Evolution of the desert opera.

Tropic of Cancer is the new album by Roslyn Moore, which builds upon the material from her previous album Hazy. Those older songs – some of which have a different sound to them, coupled with 9 new songs – make for a deeper and darker Roslyn Moore experience on this album.

I’ll first address the elephant in the room. Yes, all of her songs from Hazy are on this new album but what you have to remember is, is that these songs have been available for free on Soundcloud since their release. With this, I tend to think more that she is working out her sound and albums in the public space. Kind of like if a painter uploaded her pictures in stages as she was painting them. The same emotional and ideological core, but each iteration building on the last into a stronger end piece.

Some hand-picked favourites

There were a few songs that immediately stuck with me from Tropic of Cancer. These tended to be ones that sounded like she was experimenting with her sound.

Tropic of Cancer by Roslyn Moore
Roslyn Moore

Starting with the ebbing and flowing of quiet percussion, The Great Escape/15 Rounds was refreshing to hear from Roslyn. The percussion starts and stops with her spoken lyrics continuing, giving it a 50/50 mix of accapella and accompaniment. It gives the song a really interesting sound that is unlike anything Roslyn has done before.

Speaking of things she hasn’t done before – scaring the hell out of me is one of them. The last quarter of Hazy/Agents At The Ferris Wheel took a complete left turn into what I can only describe as a drug-induced, Industrial nightmare. I was nodding off to her calming vocals and this thing just hit me off guard.

It scared the absolute living shit out of me. Good job.

Probably my favourite on the album is a song called Coke&Weed. With its marching-band / jazzy / guitar-kissed infusion, this song has so many interesting parts to it that I keep going back for more. This song would sound so fucking awesome played live in the Road House on Twin Peaks.

In closing

You should think of Tropic of Cancer as more of a transformation from her previous album. All of the songs from her previous album, Hazy, are on here – but so too are 9 new songs. Not only that but some of her previous songs sound like they have been redone / remixed.

I love that Roslyn is still pushing her music forward, experimenting with new ideas, whilst still remaining true to her emotional centre. These songs are still soaked in a dark melancholy, only this time she’s coming at it from new angles and with new styles.

TV

The Trip with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon

The Trip is a British TV sitcom starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. In it, they play semi-fictionalised versions of themselves as they travel to various restaurants in order to review them for a paper. Each series focuses on a single country.

The story that runs through The Trip is a simple one, giving plenty of space to enjoy the conversations and natural chemistry between Steve and Rob. Often we see them talking over a gorgeous looking meal in one of the restaurants they are reviewing. These conversations then tend to snowball into an array of impressions of famous people. The impressions are hilarious too, which isn’t surprising at all given the calibre of these two comedy legends.

For me, where this series really shines, is in its ability to make me feel like I’m there with them. I could just as well be on the next table over from them in the restaurant listening in.

Despite the many laughs this series has, it still has a serious thread running through it. It often explores the characters’ personal side and how they may occasionally veer off the straight and narrow. These moments aren’t played for laughs either; the whole show is very sincere from beginning to end. In fact the laughs that The Trip triggers are as organic as if you were sat in the room with them.

The friendly rivalry between the two of them is fun to watch as well, with them having occasional digs at one another’s career. There are even times when I’d think one had overstepped the mark. However, I have to remember that they are playing character versions of themselves, not their actual selves.

At the time of writing, there are three series of The Trip: ‘The Trip’, ‘The Trip to Italy’ and ‘The Trip to Spain’. (The first series was set in the countryside villages in the north of England). It is such a fun series to watch one after the other, and I’ve never got tired of sitting with them as they eat some of the worlds best looking food.

Here’s some of the moments from the series for you to taste:

Films

Thoughts on the film “Neon Demon”

With its gorgeous visuals and pulsing soundtrack, Neon Demon is a film that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. The majority of the story felt to me like it was floating in and out of the conscious mind, with an increasing level of abstract as it went on.

What’s The Neon Demon about?

Elle Fanning as Jesse in The Neon Demon
Elle Fanning as Jesse in The Neon Demon

The Neon Demon follows fresh-faced, 16-year-old model Jesse, played by Elle Fanning, as she enters the harsh world of fashion modelling. We follow her from her first demo photos – featured in the poster above – to her quick rise to fame. With her sudden rise she attracts enemies within the business and even some avid admirers.

By the film’s final scenes I found myself slack-jawed, not quite believing what I was seeing; you could say it left me slightly haunted.

Bold and beautiful visuals

The fact that this film has such an easy to follow story, allowed me to get completely caught up in the rich atmospheres that the director, Nicolas Winding Refn, put together. Neon Demon felt almost like a dream for the most part. In fact even some moments that were grounded had elements of a dream / nightmare in them (the scene with the mountain lion for example). The colours throughout were so refreshing to me as well. The vibrant purples and blood reds gave my eyes a real treat with the bold shots they created.

Bathroom scene from The Neon Demon
Bathroom scene from The Neon Demon

The film reminded me quite a bit of italian giallo films – those ones that are really unsettling to watch – like “Suspiria” or “Cat O’ Nine Tails”. Just something about them isn’t quite right – some kind of horror that is sitting just beneath the film’s surface. The music only served to enforce this for me and felt somewhere between Giallo and Synthwave – a great combination.

In Closing

As with Mother! from last week, Neon Demon is another one of those films that defies an easy grouping. There are elements of horror, thriller, very black comedy and even touching on very *taboo subjects. However, those elements are woven into the fabric of the film to create a single, altogether unique viewing experience.

I was thinking about this film still days after I’d watched it. Proceed with caution and an open mind.

*(I can’t really mention the taboo subjects without giving away key events. What I can say is that they aren’t for the faint of heart.)

E.Ps

Her Tape 2 by Her

Her Tape #2 is a six-track E.P. released by ‘Her’ in April of 2017. This E.P. was one of those random finds that I now couldn’t imagine not having in my regular playlist. All of the songs on here are made up of an eclectic mix of instruments and singing styles, expertly woven together.

After a french-spoken introduction, ‘Blossom Roses’ begins with a soulful voice singing over a simple organ melody. The chilled out nature of this music just welcomed me into it like a huge wool blanket. Like the one my lady knitted for me at Christmas. The song soon flowers into what I can only describe as being influenced by Zero 7. ‘Blossom Roses’ was such a great escape from the monotony of my regular commute that I had to hear the whole E.P. before I started work that day.

The next song, ‘Queens’, mixes up the singing style from the previous and has an awesome little guitar riff throughout. Just with ‘Blossom Roses’, the song builds up brilliantly to its crescendo. ‘Queens’ gave me some vibes similar to the band Arcade Fire in parts.

‘Jeanie J’ helped the band’s knack for effective arrangement really sink in for me. Just like with the rest of the songs, none of the individual parts of ‘Jeanie J’ appear to be particularly complex, yet they come together to create a beautifully-arranged song.

If you find yourself with twenty minutes spare nad not sure what to do, check out Her Tape #2. After listening to it, it left me wanting another twenty minutes from them.

Games

Life is Strange: Before the storm episode 1

Going back to the coastal Pacific Northwestern town of Arcadia Bay has been a joy. So many familiar places and people made it welcoming once again. As to did the game’s visual style and character development.

One of the central points of Life is Strange was Max Caulfield’s new power – the ability to rewind time, allowing the player to pick an alternate choice to their original. I was interested to know how a new game, a prequel in the case of Before the Storm, would hold up without this huge key component.

As it turns out there is so much more to these games than just the ability to rewind time. In fact the more I played Before the Storm, the more I realised that – although it is key to the original’s plot – Max’s ability isn’t the most memorable thing about her and Chloe’s adventure. The most memorable things for me were the characters, their relationships and the world they all live in.

Chloe’s special ‘gift’

Although Chloe doesn’t have Max’s power, she does possess the gift of ‘Backtalk’.

Stay with me.

Backtalk is when you engage in a battle of words with another character, with each of your responses having to be chosen before the timer runs out. It feels great to win an argument in this game and a lot of Chloe’s comebacks had me genuinely laughing out loud.

Chloe Price rocking out to firewalk
Chloe Price rocking out to firewalk in the game’s opening scenes

More of a coming of age story

Where a lot of the plot of the original was a mystery / detective story, Before the Storm is more of a coming of age story. There is no mystery to solve here. You, as Chloe Price, are going about your business and quickly befriend Rachel Amber. Their relationship advances nicely given the relatively short time frame and number of locations they have. By the end of the episode I could feel the strength of their friendship quickly becoming love.

I also loved how we got to experience life as Chloe, seeing her subconscious and how she’s coping with the loss of her father. We also see the early stages of David, her mom’s new boyfriend, moving into her life. I have to say that I couldn’t dislike David at all since I knew how heroic he became in the climax of the first game. Saying that, her comebacks to him when engaging him in backtalk are golden.

Still a game of exploration

Before the Storm is just as fun to explore too, as with it’s predecessor. You should talk to everyone and walk everywhere, because you never know what cool little conversations you will have. Each scene also has areas where Chloe can tag with her black marker pen. These are rewarded with achievements too so make sure you find them all.

On the whole I really enjoyed this game. I didn’t miss Max or feel the game needed anything else like another magic power or anything like that. Before the Storm felt smaller in scale to Life is Strange, but the characters and situations still helped to flesh out the world of Arcadia bay much more in my mind.

Films

You’ll die if you try – Thoughts on the film IT

I will always remember the original TV mini-series of IT with fondness and nostalgia; it was the first thing I watched that scared the crap out of me. I was extremely wary, I might even say pessimistic, about the new theatrical version to come out this year. However, after deciding to give it a chance I found that I came out of the film very happy.

From what I’ve gathered, this newer version stays closer to the source material than the aforementioned TV series. This isn’t really of any importance in my enjoying of it as I’ve never read the book, but thought it was worth a mention.

I personally found the jump scares to not have too much of an effect on me. What did leave an impression on me were the relationships between the main characters – the losers club, and the absolute creepiness of Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise.

The Losers Club

The actors and actresses playing the losers club did an awesome job and had great chemistry on screen. It was good to see the blossoming, and sometimes damaging, of their friendships before ultimately coming together for the final showdown against Pennywise.

The Losers Club
The Losers Club from the film IT

But aside from the kids versus clown, the story also did well in telling the group’s stories as a coming-of-age tale – these aren’t just a bunch of one dimensional characters; these are fully-realised people who are all dealing with the stress and anxiety of growing up, as well as added parental pressure. Never mind the killer clown that wants them dead.

Pennywise the dancing clown

Speaking of Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård was so frickin’ awesome in this part. Even though I knew the story and knew the general series of events, he still creeped me the fuck out from the get go. His eyes that weren’t quite right; the subtle shifts from being a friendly clown to showing the expressions that betray his underlying motives; the downright terror that ensues when his real self comes to the forefront.

It was genuinely scary to just see him talking in the opening scene – the opening scene that goes further than most other popular horror films do. Even though I knew what was coming in that scene, I still found myself sitting there, anxiously awaiting the climax.

Chapter 2…

I thought it was interesting to only see the events of the group’s childhood; leaving the adulthood and final showdown to its own film entirely. I don’t think it would actually be possible to cram the whole book into one film – at least not without cutting huge chunks out.

I’m looking forward to seeing the conclusion of IT sometime in the near future, all being well with all of the same writers and creators.

Films

Thoughts on the film mother!

I had zero knowledge of ‘mother!’ when I went in to see it, other than it was directed by the same guy who had made Black Swan (which I love). This is always my preferred way of experiencing a film – without knowing what it’s about. Little did I know I would be led down the garden path into the ever-increasing darkness.

Mother! is a film that I find defies classification. I think if you’re going into it expecting a horror film, as some have, you may be disappointed. Similarly if you go in expecting romance, or thriller, you may also be disappointed. Instead, remain open-minded; think of ‘mother!’ as being a unique story that slowly unravels; keeping its cards close to its chest.

Jennifer Lawrence & Javier Bardem posters for Mother!

When I watched it I didn’t quite know what I was seeing. I mean, yes it’s a seemingly straight forward narrative about a couple in the early stages of dissolution of their relationship, but the narrative is a veneer for a whole slew of metaphors – I’m just not smart enough to have spotted them. All I know is that I enjoyed the journey I was taken on, the mixed feelings it conjured up, and the challenges it often presented me.

There were some moments in the film that were quite difficult to watch, with the mother having an increasingly bad time as the story progresses. But I think that’s what films should do – challenge us; confront us with things we wouldn’t normally experience; shock us out of the rhythm of everyday life and give our brains something new to process.

It’s great that we live in a world with directors like Daron Aronofsky, who just have a story and they tell it, staying true to the original kernel of the idea. They don’t pander to any pre-decided notions of what a particular story should or shouldn’t be, or even what a story should be, they just do their thing; everyone else is just along for the ride.

If you are looking for something different and are open-minded to be taken on a different kind of journey, you should check out mother!