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October 5: Blade Runner 2049

It has been quite a year for guarded cinematic expectations.

We had, at last, the first big screen version of Wonder Woman. Released as part of a grim canvas of dreary and uninspiring DC superhero movies, it’s hardly surprising that many people were excited at the thought of a Wonder Woman movie, but also wary of how it might turn out. It ended up being awesome and, rightfully, an enormous hit.

We had Ridley Scott finally doing a bona fide sequel to Alien with Alien Covenant. The trailer may have been great, but the finished movie proved to have far less meat on its bones that the problematic Prometheus and was underwhelming as an Alien movie too.

Then, most recently, Blade Runner 2049: a movie I refused to either get excited about, or assume I would be disappointed by. The trailers proved that the makers had been able to capture the look and feel of the first movie, but it still seemed a long shot that they could capture everything they needed to in order to craft a worthy follow-up.

And yet they did! It’s an amazing achievement. Blade Runner 2049 is a movie that is written entirely in the language of its predecessor (the look, the sound, even the feel) while still providing a fresh experience. It builds on the threads that the first movie laid out, but weaves its own narrative. I can’t think any other sequels (at this moment) that have managed to do this. Aliens and Empire Strikes Back, for example, are excellent sequels but seem to be crafted from rather different DNA than their forebears. On the other extreme, many superhero franchises throw out perfectly good sequels … which typically involve many of the same characters and story beats in an effort to provide audiences with familiarity.

Having had Blade Runner in my cinematic blood for the last 30 years, it’s hard for me to see the sequel without being mindful of the original. Knowledge of the first film certainly enhances appreciation of the second, but I believe Blade Runner 2049 has been built to stand on its own. It reminds me of the ambitious, big-thinking, story-driven science fiction movies of the 1970s: it’s driven by character as much as it is by big ideas, and while the visual effects are stunning, they never dominate the narrative.

It’s too bad it’s not doing that well at the box office. We seem, once again, to be in a time when this style of science fiction simply doesn’t draw the crowds. Or maybe it’s always been this way, and the few films that do make it through are wonderful aberrations. Which is why we end up treasuring them so.

Either way, I’m already looking forward to seeing this one again.

October 4: Thinking

Thinking is hard. Using your brain is hard. I did a lot of it at work today and now I’m really, really tired.

So that’s all you get today.

October 3: Nothing

I left no notes for my diary entry today.

I can only assume I had a perfectly ordinary day, doing perfectly ordinary things, and thinking perfectly ordinary thoughts. I would have finished my perfectly ordinary job for the day, returned to my perfectly ordinary home, and had a perfectly ordinary dinner. After this I probably enjoyed a perfectly ordinary evening before retiring to bed in a perfectly ordinary kind of a way.

Yes. All perfectly ordinary. Nothing out of the ordinary happened today. Absolutely nothing at all.

October 2: Quality of Life

Since Monday brings nothing of either mortal or spiritual worth, I’m stealing this diary entry for weekend thoughts.

While setting up my new LED lighting strip over the weekend I did find myself wondering: why the hell am I buying all these dumb gadgets? They cost money (albeit not much) and I don’t need them … so why do it? The answer is, of course: because I like buying them.

The slightly less simplistic answer is that these things add to my quality of life, and investing a bit of disposable income into my quality of life is a pretty sensible investment if you ask me. We are surrounded by stress and pressure on all sides, and carving out a few small pleasures here and there is one way of dealing with that. For me, something as trivial as being able to control the lighting in my home means I get to completely relax and unwind when I sit down at the end of the way. In turn, this means I’m that little bit less stressed with Kinderbesten, and I’m that bit more refreshed when I go to work the next day, which means I can focus on my job that bit more, which means job satisfaction, which means less stress … and you see how it goes.

So, yeah – these $30 bluetooth bulbs are making my life PERFECT!

October 1: Connected

I watched a film called In Your Eyes tonight. Sunday night is, occasionally, my night to check out ‘hidden gems’ on Netflix, and In Your Eyes came out on a few separate lists so I figured I’d give it a go.

I didn’t realise until it started that it was written by Joss Whedon, but it’s largely shorn of his typical pop-culture charm. What it does retain is the emotional wrangling that made various moments in Buffy The Vampire Slayer feel like they’d literally reached directly into your chest just so they could make your heart feel like its protective layer had been ripped away.

The major theme of the film, in my interpretation at least, is of being connected to someone (that one someone); and whether that connection is to the right person or the wrong person. We typically end up partnering with people through the major circumstances of our lives–such as work, location, and so on–but what if entirely unexpected chance brought you together with the right person; a person you might otherwise never have met?

The film also caused me to ponder the way that we seek connections all the time. Not just to one person, but to anyone. Some of us can live large parts of our lives alone, but we will always want to touch base with other people: whether it’s chatting to that random person in the supermarket, or reaching out through social media, or even just by taking a walk in the park. We are, by nature, resistant to being alone. We need other people to remind us that we are there; that we matter; that we have substance.

But, mostly the film made me–as it was probably intended to–ponder about being connected to that one person. There’s (bizarrely) a useful explanation relating to headphone cables that comes into play here. Headphone cables are always tangled. You can stow them away nice and neatly, but they will almost always come out again tangled. This is because there is basically just one arrangement in which the headphone cable is not tangled. Conversely, there are millions of ways in which the cable can be tangled.

Similarly, there are millions of people out there who are not the right person. There are millions of ways of meeting those people. There are a select few who are the one. The chances of meeting them are tenuous, fleeting, and almost impossible. The odds are stacked against us. If you get that chance, take it.

September 30: Memories of Blade Runner

I watched Blade Runner today for my Awesome Saturday Night Movie. If you weren’t already aware, it’s one of my favourite films. You’ll probably be even less aware that it’s a fair few years since I last watched it.

Well, folks, it was absolutely incredible. The sound. The imagery. The design. The performances. I just fell in love with the film all over again.

And that got me thinking: for me, Blade Runner is a special experience; for many cinephiles, Blade Runner is a critically important movie; for others, it’s meh. So I began to wonder: how much of my personal experience, and my memories of the movie, is tied up in my appreciation for Blade Runner?

The first time I watched it was with my Dad. He rented it on VHS and we watched it one Saturday afternoon. I would have been around 13 years of age. I knew the film well enough, but certainly not to the intimate detail that the internet today allows you immerse yourself in movies that you’ve never seen. I knew the music (my Dad had the old not-Vangelis soundtrack album); I’d seen plenty of magazine coverage of the film during my pilgrimages to Forbidden Planet; I knew it was by the director of my favourite film; I knew it starred Indiana Solo. That was probably about it. My first viewing was like completing a puzzle: finally getting to watch the movie because it having not seen it was a gaping hole in my cinephilia.

At some point over the ensuing years I acquired my own copy: either recorded from TV, or copied from a rental release. I would invite friends around specifically to watch Blade Runner. On my own, I would watch it endlessly until its moment were seared into my brain. I would discuss it tirelessly with my other movie-loving friends. I remember the first retail VHS copy being released, with its piss-ugly sleeve. I remember my Dad being able to get us tickets to the first London screening of the Director’s Cut, which was hugely exciting. I remember the first, very lacking, DVD edition (a non-anamorphic, zero extras, release of the Director’s Cut).

Eventually The Final Cut was released. I preordered a beautiful tin-box edition on DVD and watched everything: all the different versions, and the awesome making of documentary. Mere weeks later, I saw a bluray edition of the same for silly money, so I snapped that up as well.

Watching The Final Cut tonight brought back many of these memories. The movie was filled with tiny moments that I’d forgotten about, but felt like old friends. It was familiar, but also long enough since my last viewing that I was able to watch it with fresh eyes. Had I (somehow) never seen Blade Runner before, I suspect I would have come away feeling that I’d discovered a new friend–much as my recent Tarantino first-viewings have left me. However, my deep love for the movie is unavoidably entwined with my memories of it, and the role it has played across the lion’s share of my life. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Blade Runner has defined me, but I am as much defined by being ‘someone who loves Blade Runner‘ as I am defined by being ‘someone who loves red wine’ or ‘someone who likes horror movies’.

And, of course, if you’ve ever seen Blade Runner and given its themes more than a passing thought, you should appreciate the irony of all that.

September 29: The Innocents

This week’s Friday Night Horror was brought to us by Henry James, although I didn’t realise that at the time. I’ve recently been researching lists of horror movies to build up a suitable selection box for Friday nights, and a 1961 movie called The Innocents–which I’d never heard of before–turned up more than once. I’m a big fan of black and white, 1960s horror (The Haunting is one of my favourite films) so I was definitely up for this one.

It’s a slow burner, but the hint of things not being quite right is there virtually from the start. An unsettling air of mystery is expertly layered on and builds right through to the disturbing conclusion. One of the things I like most about movies made in this period is that they bring a mix of modern and historical that works so well when a properly gothic atmosphere is needed. It may be a period piece, but it arrived at a time when cinema was just about to break out of the staid format it had rested in for the last few decades. Arriving roughly alongside a time when sexual liberation was also in the air also for some scenes that would be challenging now, but seem downright incredible that they made it to the screen over 50 years ago.

The Innocents is not necessarily a film I’ll be rushing to watch again–I want to savour that first viewing–but it’s proven to be something almost unique in our Friday Horror journey and I’m still surprised that it had never crossed my radar before now.

September 28: Bluetooth

I got my new smart LED lighting strip today (destined to go behind the TV for some colourful ambient lighting) and it prompted me to throw up some notes about the various Bluetooth devices I’ve bought recently. Because it’s been a thing.

When I rearranged my bedroom some months ago, I found an old TDK iPod dock. It came with the old non-lightning connector, but I had a cheap Bluetooth adaptor to enable my newer iDevices to play music through it. I put it in the bedroom, figuring it might be good to have music every once in a while. It was pretty good, but I had to remove the Bluetooth widget whenever I wasn’t using it (otherwise I’d have this horrifically bright blue light shining at me all hours of the day) which meant a mildly tedious re-connection procedure every time I wanted to to play music. It was ok, but it was not perfect.

It started me wanting a proper Bluetooth speaker but I didn’t really want to spend a fortune, because this was only ever going to be for casual use. I eventually found a Logitech X300 on sale for $40. It looked pretty cool so I ordered one. When it arrived it was about half the size I was expecting, and had the sound to match. It wasn’t bad, but when playing it side by side with my existing TDK speaker there just wasn’t a match.

The hunt continued, until I found a website called Shopmonk. I’d stumbled across the site because of their cheap mobile phone prices, but they also had a Bluetooth speaker section … which featured just one model: a Harmon Kardon Onyx. It was $110, which was heading above my preferred budget, but the reviews were good and the typical retail price was considerably higher than $110–and if there’s one thing that’ll get my attention, it’s a bargain. So I bought it. And it was awesome. The battery life isn’t great, but it’s gorgeous looking and the sound is terrific. In fact it thumps with so much bass that I’ve had to resort to equaliser settings on my apps in order to tone it down a little.

With my Bluetooth speaker urge sated, I turned my attention to Bluetooth lights. I picked up a Magic Blue LED smart bulb to go in the front room (to replace the bargain basement LED bulb I had in there, with a remote control that allowed me to pick exactly five out of the supposedly 16 million possible colours). The Magic Blue bulb can be controlled from my iPhone, rather than relying on a tacky remote, which is pretty cool. Naturally, I then decided I wanted to get some smart lights for my bedroom, primarily because every single other bulb I’ve tried in there has been way too bright. I eventually picked up a three-pack of Tabu LuMini smart bulbs (which had the advantage of coming with the E14 fitting, which all of my bedside lamps have).

These weren’t so good. They work well enough when they work, but there’s quite a song and dance to get them to connect to the Bluetooth: some mystical and secret combination of turning the lights off, turning Bluetooth off on my phone, at least two minutes of really solid cursing, and various other secrets that I’ve yet to learn.

Of course, I’ve not yet set up my smart lighting strip so I can’t conclude this gripping narrative at this time. I can, however, share the irony that it’s wifi controlled, not bluetooth. So make of that what you will.

September 27: Fairy Stories

As a father of two young boys, and someone who was himself a young boy in the distant past, I’ve been exposed to my fair share of fairy stories over the years. We have a box set of Ladybird fairy tales that has earned its price back many times over–some of which are the same tales, with the same illustrations, that I grew up with.

Now, I have no issue at all with the more gruesome aspects of these stories. Indeed, the idea of sending a young child to sleep with images of evil wolves eating old ladies alive amuses me no end. However, I do find myself wondering about the values that the stories are attempting to convey. There are various questionable themes that come up routinely: women falling in love with princes for no reason other than they’re rich and handsome; our supposedly sympathetic characters making promises, only to break them again by the end of the story. And so on.

Tonight we read Rumpelstiltskin, in which a woman agrees to marry a greedy king who has previously threatened to kill her three times, and who later goes all out to break a promise she made to the titular character. I have to say I feel sorry for Rumpelstiltskin (even if his name is bastard hard to spell): he offered his services in good faith, and got shafted. These are not exactly positive messages that I want my children to take on board. What are we saying here?

  • Lesson one: always marry someone who has expressed great enthusiasm for killing you;
  • Lesson two: definitely marry someone who is clearly only in it for the money;
  • Lesson three: if you make a promise that turns out to be a bit awkward later on, it’s just fine to weasel out of it.

This all makes me want to write some fresh versions of these tales. But it also makes me want to look deeper in the origins of the these stories, so I can understand why they were written, and how they’ve been reworked and remixed over the centuries.

Yeah, so, I’ll do that … one day …

September 26: Old

We celebrated my Great Grandmother-In-Law’s 82nd birthday today. She’s not quite twice my age, but she’s definitely got twice my energy. She comes over every week for three days to do the laundry, keep the kitchen clean, iron my shirts, and do any other minor domestic chores. Perhaps most importantly, she keeps the kids entertained when I’m busy getting dinner ready, or sometimes when they’re on school holidays. I let her do all these things because (a) I’m not an idiot and (b) feeling useful and valued is (by her own admission) one of the things that keeps her going.

She’s quite an inspiration. She has her quirks (she refuses to have a mobile phone, for instance, won’t eat from plates that have birds on them…) but outside of that she’s one of the most ‘can do’ people I know–and it boggles my mind that she’s in her eighties. I suspect when I’m that age I’ll be sitting in my armchair demanding people bring me fresh cups of tea while grumpily complaining that the damn, new-fangled TV remote doesn’t work. But I hope not. I hope I’ll remember my incredible grandmother and remember that age is no barrier to getting up and doing things.

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