Tuesday, November 14, 2017

South Park - The Fractured But Whole

I've never been too big on computer games but I love South Park.  A few years ago I bought a PS3 to play The Stick Of Truth and more recently I've purchased a PS4 for the Fractured But Whole.  I didn't realise that the name was a pun until someone pointed it out to me.

The new game is a South Park take on superhero franchise movies with two opposing teams of costumed vigilantes led by Cartman (the Coon) and Timmy (Doctor Timothy).  There is a main story to play with a funny story as well as a lot of easter eggs and side quests. I'm really crap at computer games and I managed to complete the main storyline after about 27 hours of game play.

The game is like an extended South Park film with you as the star.  As the New Kid you come to town, try to make friends and solve problems.  The special moves are great, the fighting is fairly easy and at one point you take on Morgan Freeman.

There will be a season pass with additional game content that I'm looking out for.  Hope they make another in due course

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bladerunner 2049

I managed to see the new Bladerunner film in the cinema last night and I liked it.  Overall, it was more coherent than the first film, which has now been released in about 7 different versions.  The new film is a sequel and continues the story of the original in an interesting way.

Bladerunner was visually striking and the successor is too.  The colour scheme has changed but it still has the desolate feel of a failed future.  Technology appears to have developed consistently in the 30 years from the first film but everything is still grim.

Bladerunner left us asking if Dekkard (Harrison Ford) was a replicant?  A re-edited version of the film showed us Dekkard being presented with an origami horse, an animal from his dream, strongly suggesting that he was an android.  There is still some debate about this and the new film does nothing to give us a definitive answer.

The main character in this film is a replicant and much of the film is about the search for identity.  Ryan Gosling tries to find out who he is, while trying to solve a mystery or a miracle.  There is no Roy Batty style nemesis in this story.

The film takes it's time.  It stops to think and it plods.  Overall it lasts about 2 hours and 40 minutes but I think it needs that time to breathe, to capture the inhumanity of the replicants.  Some of the behaviour we see is very strange and some is very human.

A good film.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Trains

I spend a lot of time on trains. I commute to work on trains several times a week and at other times I get the train to meetings around the country. I like trains although I have a preference for trains that are less busy. Right now I'm a bit sleep deprived after doin a long return journey in just over 24 hours.

I

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Guns are bad

I grew up with guns in the house.  My dad enjoyed shooting as a hobby.  He took me shooting with rifles and pistols.  We had airguns that we would use when we were in the countryside. On one occasion, many years ago, I even got to fire an AK47.  My dad used to spend a lot of time in gun shops, chatting to the owners and other customers.  He grew up in the countryside and spent a lot of time shooting.  I think he even won some prizes for shooting in competitions.

As a young child, I enjoyed it.  To a young boy, guns seem cool.  They are macho.  Soldiers, policemen and heroes have guns.  Han Solo had a gun, the Transformers had guns, Action Man had guns, GI Joe had guns and the Punisher had guns.

As I grew older I became less fond of shooting and guns.  I came to realise that guns essentially have one purpose.  Guns exist to kill things. Guns exist for hunting, to kill animals in 'self defence' or for other reasons and to kill people.  Theoretically guns may exist as a deterrent, to prevent crimes or violence but they still have the underlying dark function of making death.

I thought some of the people at the gun clubs were a bit weird and a bit boring so I stopped going to shooting things with my dad.  I developed my own interests, I became more interested in other concepts and more suspicious of weapons.  In some ways I became more interested in pacifism although I do, sadly, accept that in some cases wars and violence become necessary.  However, should guns really be easily available to the general public?

In August 1987, a man called Michael Ryan used a hand gun and two semi-automatic rifles to kill 16 people before he killed himself in a town called Hungerford.  The following year the law was changed to make several types of rapid fire guns illegal.  At this point I think my dad became slightly disenchanted with his hobby but this was a 'lone wolf', an isolated nutter.  Guns were still available.

Sadly, things got worse.  When I was in first year at University, in March 1996, Thomas Hamilton, a 43 year old suspected paedophile used 4 legally held handguns to kill 15 young (5 or 6 year old) school children and their teacher before killing himself.  16 more people were shot.  This happened in about 5 minutes.  Again, gun laws in the UK were tightened and after the Cullen report private ownership of most hand guns in the UK was made illegal.  My dad had a few hand guns and he got rid of them.

I think Dunblane really  sickened my dad.  He grew less fond of shooting as a hobby.

Since 1996 there has only been one mass shooting in the UK.  This was in 2010 in Cumbria, when Derek Bird, a licensed firearms owner, killed 12 people and injured 11 others.  There have been 4 major terrorist attacks in the UK since 1996.  Arguably these attacks could have been much worse if the terrorists had access to legal firearms.

I think that gun laws have made the UK a safer place.  Thankfully we are a small island and it is difficult for bad people to easily get guns in the UK.

The UK now has 0.23 gun deaths per 100 000 population per year.  The USA has 10.54 gun deaths per 100 000 population per year.  Honduras has 67.18 gun deaths per 100 000 population per year.

The USA has the most guns per head of population in the world (based on wikipedia information).

Overall, I think that tighter gun laws reduce deaths from guns.

I grew up with guns, my dad had a lot of pleasure through using guns for sport. Sadly, if guns are available bad people use guns to kill people and good people are more likely to accidentally hurt themselves or others.

That's all I'm going to say.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

I've started to forget how many Nick Cave gigs I've been to - Nick Cave live at the Glasgow Hydro

If you are ever lucky enough to have a chance to see nick cave play a live show, grab it.  He's a great performer and with any band, or solo, he always delivers.  He's always got the goods.

I'm a pretty fortunate guy and I've now seen Cave so many times that I even forget entire shows.  I first saw him in 1998, at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh festival.  It was him and a piano, reading some stuff from his introduction to the Bible.  He played a couple of songs he had 'just written' (Into my arms and love letter) before they were recorded and I think someone also played some violin.  I don't really remember.  It was long ago.

I first heard Nick Cave as the singer for the Birthday Party.  A free cassette tape came with an issue of Vox magazine and it contained a bunch of Peel sessions including Big-Jesus-Trash-Can and I was hooked by the swampy, drunken Jesus Lizard like noise.  A few years later a friend played me Murder Ballads and I was hooked.

Since then I saw Nick Cave with the Bad Seeds in the Glasgow academy (2004 and 2008), at the Barrowlands (2013) and in a solo show (that had completely escaped my memory) in 2015.  Every single show has been a cracker.  Ever show has been different but similar.

The Hydro is the biggest gig that he has played in Glasgow.  He opened with a few newer songs from the Skeleton Key album that I own but have yet to listen to.  We then got Higgs Boson Blues, From Her to Eternity and Tupelo.  The band were loud and aggressive.  Tight but with a loose feel.  Cave was having fun, laughing with the audience, jumping into the crowd and being an excellent master of ceremonies.

Into my arms remains a personal favourite and he played a beautiful version with the crowd singing along.  On another new song a 40 foot projection of a female singer appeared above the stage to take the lead vocals.  It was a bit of a U2 moment but it worked in the Hydro.  They also played a nice version of the Mercy Seat.  I have a Mercy Seat tea towel.  It is a personal favourite.

In true Bad Seeds fashion the encore included Stagger Lee which featured about 40 audience members dancing on stage along with the Weeping Song and Push the Sky away.

My ears are still ringing. Nick Cave is 60 but he is still one of the best front men out there.  Brilliant band and I really hope to see them again.  If this is stadium rock I can live with it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sigur Ros live at the Glasgow Clyde Auditorium

This was the third time that I've seen Sigur Ros and probably the most enjoyable.  A lot of my enjoyment was because of the venue, the excellent 'Armadillo' at the SEC in Glasgow.  Watching a chilled out band with great lights is much better in a comfy seat and it's always a bonus if there are no drunk twats about to pour beer over you.

I first saw Sigur Ros in 1999 supporting Godspeed You Black Emperor at the Garage.  I remember Jonsi, the singer, using the violin bow on the guitar at that point and having a great voice.  I remember watching from the balcony at the back of the Garage but I never thought the band were destined for greatness or (moderate) superstardom.

I didn't pay much attention to Sigur Ros after that until I was visiting friends in Bristol and I went to a dinner party (very middle class) and Sigur Ros was being played in the background.  I think it was the brackets album but I'm not sure.  After that I bought up a few of their CDs and got up to speed.

I saw them live again in the SECC about 4 years back.  The old halls at the SECC have very bad sound and generally are not  great venues.  My main memories of the show revolve around trying to find friends and not having anywhere comfortable to sit.

On this occasion all my physical needs in terms of seating were met.  I didn't really recognise much of the material in the set but the sheer sound and spectacle of the show was enough.  The lights were amongst the best that I have seen.  I understand that the most recent Sigur Ros album had a bit of a metal edge to it and this was certainly evident.

If you get a chance to see Sigur Ros on this tour take it.  You will enjoy it.  They are playing some shows in Iceland around New Year and I am very tempted to fly up (I am fond of Iceland).  They seem to be at the height of their powers just now.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Podcasts

Over the past few years I've started listening to a lot of Podcasts.  I always liked listening to the radio although I didn't always find the broadcast shows to be very exciting.  Podcasts are homemade radio shows that you can download and listen to at a time that suits you.  They also often cover more offbeat or esoteric subjects that appeal to me.

Mostly I listen to real life mystery podcasts, American political podcasts (mainly ones about Trump), Twin Peaks related podcasts and comic book podcasts.  And the Private Eye podcasts.

One of the first mystery style I started to listen to was Thinking Sideways - in this podcast three presenters take turns to present a mystery every week and discuss various theories on what went on.  The first episode that I listened to was on the 'Glasgow effect'.

Another slightly more fantastical podcast that I enjoy is Astonishing Legends - this podcast goes into strange tales in a great degree of detail.  They exude an X-Files type vibe and they are often rather credulous but the production values are good and I enjoy the shows.

From a comic book point of view Fatman on Batman produced by Clerks director Kevin Smith as part of his Smodcast empire is a good starting point (if you like Batman).  The early episodes in the archive are great, often focusing on individual comic book writers or artists and Batman related stuff. More recently the podcast has developed into a general forum for discussion of sic-fi, superheroes and anything Smith wants to talk about.

The Stuff You Should Know network has several good podcasts including Stuff They Don't Want You To Know and Stuff to Blow Your Mind (both of which have a sort of counterculture vibe) as well as the more mainstream, flagship Stuff You Should Know series.  All of these are fairly interesting.

In terms of Trump bashing Trumpcast is fairly funny and a good place to start.  The Pod Save America team have more White House connections and often have serious guests on to interview although they are often pretty funny too.

No Such Thing As A Fish  was one of the first podcasts I listened to, a spin off from the BBC QI series, where strange facts are discussed in an amusing manner every week.  It's good for a smile every now and again.

There are many more podcasts to check out - a few more are below
Page 94 - The Private Eye Podcast
The 2000AD Progcast - some great 2000AD chat
The Politico Nerdcast
A Twin Peaks Podcast

Enjoy

Frank Quitely at Glasgow Kelvingrove

I visited the Frank Quitely exhibition at the Glasgow Kelvingrove Museum for the second time today.  I'd been lucky enough to be invited to the opening night a few months ago and I wanted to have a slower walk around the show when it was a bit quieter.  The show finishes on the 1st of October so a bonus Friday off work gave me the perfect opportunity to visit the show.

Quitely is the pen name for Scottish artist Vincent Deighan, a graduate of Glasgow School of Art who has ended up being one of the most admired comic book artists in the world.  He seems to have fallen into comic book art after trying to find work as a commercial artist in Glasgow in the late 1980s.  His first published work was in the first issue of Scottish underground comic/Viz rip off Electric Soup.  I actually bought that comic when it came out and I really liked his strip The Greens although the actual comic was quickly confiscated and disposed of by my dad.

The Greens was a parody of the Broons, a perennial Scottish comic strip favourite initially drawn by Dudley D Watkins for DC Thompson in Dundee.  Watkins also created Oor Wullie and Desperate Dan amongst others.  The exhibition showcases some of Quitely's early Green's art as well as original Watkins art from the 30's, 40's and 50's.  I was particularly impressed by the painted cover art from one of the first Broons annuals.

On this visit I made full use of the audiovisual parts of the exhibition.  There were interviews with Quitely as well as his most famous (and fellow Glaswegian) collaborators Grant Morrison and Mark Millar.  It was interesting to hear them talk about developing story lines, character design and art techniques.  Quitely also highlights his own artistic development, highlighting art from a rejected Lobo comic as well as the rejection letter from the DC editor that helped him to re-evaluate his artistic approach to comic book storytelling.

The exhibition highlights the working methods of a comic book artist, often starting with doodles and thumbnail sketches on a comic script then developing through progressively more polished drafts until the final coloured and polished art appears in the printed book.

Morrison and several of the other talking heads in the films talk about how good he is.  At one point, after starting to work on the X-Men comic at the start of the century, a lot of comic book fans were expressing their dislike for Quietly's art.  A concerned editor asked him if it was hurting his feelings.  Quitely, was impressive self knowledge as well as self confidence, said that he knew more about art than these fanboys and he knew he was good so he didn't care.  He was right.

I've met Quitely a few times over the years.  He's a nice bloke.  He's drawn sketches for me and he has signed my books.  He has produced many pages of beautiful comic book art and he has worked with some great writers.  He deserved this show at one of Glasgow's finest buildings as he is one of Glasgow's finest modern artists.

I'd love to visit it again but it's finishing pretty soon.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Jackie Leven should have been more famous

Ian Rankin regularly references Jackie Leven in his books.  I never really know his music.  Rankin eventually recorded a CD with him and curated (I think) a free CD that came with a music magazine a while back.  That CD was my first exposure to the music of Jackie Leven, and it was pretty good.

More recently, a Leven shaped light bulb went off above my head.  I'm not entirely sure why but I decided to listen to some more of his stuff on youtube and some of it really clicked.  Tracks like 'My Spanish Dad' and 'The Sexual Loneliness of Jesus Christ' really say something to me. 'My Spanish Dad', in particular, pulls my heart strings and often brings a tear to my eye for personal reasons.

Leven was a great talent but he never became famous.  In the late 60s he started to make music, initially releasing an album under the name John St Field, on a Spanish record label in 1975.  He then fronted the new wave band Doll by Doll.  Sadly their music is not easily available in physical formats not.  He was badly assaulted in 1984, losing his voice and he was subsequently addicted to heroin for a while.  He collaborated with Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols in the band CBI in around 1988 before   leaving the public eye for a while.

He returned to music making publicly in 1994 and released more than 20 records before his death from cancer in 2011. He played folk with a contemporary feel, employing samples with his acoustic guitar.

There is a lot of music and I have certainly not heard much of it.  It is worth dipping a toe in.  The Rankin curated CD was called 'Heroes can come in any size' and came with The Word magazine.  It's also available in MP3 format from Amazon.

He should have been a household name.

Updates and maintenance of the blog

I've been doing a bit of updating of the blog, I was considering a new theme but I'm going to keep this one for now.

I did update the Cool Stuff section a bit click here to read the updated cool stuff page

Life is busy and I always have a lot going on but I do enjoy playing about with this blog at times.