Feelgood Movie Night

I’ve been feeling out of sorts most of the day – a combination of head fog and a rattling in my chest that I can’t quite pin down to heart or lungs. It’s only really been the last half hour that I’ve decided its the lungs, but the worry hasn’t helped me through the day.

Sensing that I wasn’t too perky, Lady M prescribed pizza and daftness – which is how we’ve just finished a double bill of Marvel films: Antman and the Wasp, and Captain Marvel and it has done the job of distracting me and raising my spirits through music and light banter. Just what I needed to switch the worry centres off.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Antman films. I love heist films, and the daft childlike spirit of the original and its sequel are like a comfort blanket – largely because of the ensemble cast who seem to be having fun making them. That sense of fun shines through more and more when I watch Captain Marvel too, despite the efforts of the space fascists (Kree) to be oh so serious. They’re not high art films, and they know it, and when I need a distraction that just fits the bill – and I say that as a very very long-term Marvel fan.

Pleasant Nonsense

We’re a little late to the party but after seeing a cheap bundle of all three films we’ve watched all three John Wick movies and delighted in their glorious B-Movie schlock while trying to identify all the well-known faces that pepper the assault course. The relentless drive from brutal set piece to frantically kinetic set piece was exhausting at times, but the quiet world building also impressed with its shorthand approach. Once you accept the world’s premise of ridiculously stylised seedy riches, glamour and violence, the deadpan charcoal black humour positively sparkles.

If you’ve been hesitant about trying them, take this as the nudge off the sidewalk you were waiting for.

There’s An App For That

Every now and then I like to have a wander through the app store on my Android and see some of the oddly specific programs that people have produced. Sometimes I even try them out. There’s a rare few that find an instant niche and stay, I on my phone for any length of time – and these tend to be either writing tools or means of organising my time. Like many of us I lend weight to recommendations from people I know as well – after all, if someone has enjoyed or found useful an app enough to tell me that they think I’ll have a specific use for it then it would be rude and unappreciative of their time and thought not to at least spend a few moments to consider it.

Also like most of us, I tend to see my phone as quite a personal object – it after all not only spends a lot of time on my person and in use, but stores personal information and access to things that I enjoy or find of use. I see this every day in people who come into the library wanting to print off an email but being stymied when pressed to log into their mail service through a browser rather than through the app on their phone where they entered a password once a year or two ago and have never thought about it since. (We won’t even get into the people who don’t know how to use a mouse and keyboard because they’re so used to touchscreen technology.)

And so finding a useful app that crosses both into the personal and the useful is a great delight – expecially where it is useful to the dynamic between myself and lady s. We live a small distance apart, so anything that helps maintain contact without straying into slightly stalkery territory is a bonus – especially where it comes to the negotiated power transfers that come as part and parcel of a BDSM relationship. An online usergroup of which we are both part was discussing various online apps that could help with monitoring tasks, rewards, and punishments agreed between the participants of a dynamic and there was one that sprang to the fore for the flexibility that it offered – so we’ve been giving it a try.

We both downloaded the app and connected our profiles, and have agreed a number of tasks for lady s to undertake at various intervals during a week – whether several times a day, every day, or several times a day – and a points value towards rewards list for the successful completion of those tasks. There are also punishments defined and agreed for the failure to complete the tasks – and these range from points deductions, through restrictions on certain activities, through to other forfeits.

Activities on the task list include things such as eating a certain number of sit down meals a day, achieving a certain level of step counts, and certain household or personal tasks. Rewards include massages, the purchase of certain gifts, or activities to enjoy together.

As each day goes by, lady s ticks off certain tasks as she completes them, or leaves them if she chooses not to undertake them, and the app notifies me and counts/deducts points or assign pre-agreed forfeits that we can catch up on when we next meet – and for our dynamic it works. It appeals to the need for imposed structure and routine that lady s has without my needing to chase her for updates. The tasks have come from both of us, drawing on rewards and forfeits that we have both agreed – and at the same time, if life gets in the way, it is a matter of a few clicks to reset counters or remove forfeits if felt appropriate.

There are parallels with the reward schemes some parents set up with their children to encourage them to undertake chores in the household, or complete their homework from school – which I think makes the app more intuitive to set up and use as it is full of concepts that many of us have encountered elsewhere – so in many ways it does stand as a somewhat unexpected and yet inevitable illustration of the marketing phrase “there’s an app for that”.

Oh, it’s called Obedience – appropriately enough

D-Day Museum

Lady M and I visited the D-Day Museum in Southsea yesterday while lady s was at work, and I found it just as powerful and human as I did the last time I visited. It tells a rounded story of local people, the preparation, the fears, and the events and aftermath of the D-Day assault without indulging in jingoism, cliche, or fantasy.

The exhibits are carefully curated and laid out in a highly efficient use of the space available, and the whole place just feels…loved.

I can’t recommend it enough, and the cafeteria is friendly and full of tasty things too.

Wonder Women

I curled up on the sofa with my partners last night to watch Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – based (a little loosely) on the creators of Wonder Woman.

The film is of particular interest to us both for the comic book history link and due to the polyamorous relationship between the title characters.

As a spoiler-free review, we were very pleasantly surprised by the film. We’d had no small degree of trepidation about the depiction of their relationship but instead we found a gem of a film full of heart.

There were plenty of moments that resonated with us as a triad, and from our own experiences, that were in turn humourous and heartbreaking. We were so glad to have taken a chance on it, having heard varied reviews.

Ladies S and M both remarked that what they liked was that most of the focus was on the relationship between the two women as a driver, rather than it being male-led or salacious in how it was presented.

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but treat it as a love story and the levels of dramatisation as a necessary evil overwriting the strictest historical accuracy and it’ll wash over you and leave a lovely glow.

It’s definitely a film to curl up with on the sofa rather than a big blockbuster, and as such it’s a good contrast to our usual fare.

Spoiler-free: Defenders

Lady M and I binged the Defenders series this weekend, and it’s good. The increased time for shooting and choreographing really shows; and the shorter episode count keeps the pace at a mean trot. This is a good thing.

The differing styles and cinematography of the four disparate original shows blend into each other as the non-team comes together. It’s a little touch that is easy to overlook but I found effective.

I’m a shameless Marvel fan, so it should come as no surprise to hear me say I enjoyed the nods to wider continuity and comics history. The dialogue bubbles and twists with hugely entertaining quips and insults, and yet has a warmth that shows growing affection between the characters.

TL:DR watch it, enjoy it.

Gaming Chez M

Last month I was locked in to Skyrim as game of choice. I haven’t completed the game by any stretch when talking about the DLC options, but I think I reached saturation levels recently.

That’s why I took advantage of a recent sale and bought Mass Effect: Andromeda. I have to admit I didn’t buy it when it came out for two reasons. Firstly it was bloody expensive. Secondly my news feeds were full of muttering about animation glitches and lackluster reviews.

This sale brought it down to half price for one of the digital deluxe editions, so I thought it would be rude not to now, especially when there had been ample opportunities for patching updates. 

We also found a gift card that Lady M had got from work, so we picked out a couple of games for her – one of which was Steep (and it’s Season Pass) – a snow sports game with more than few nods towards her favourite game series: SSX.

As I am currently working a bit closer to home this month, I’m often back before she is, so I’m grabbing an hour or so of Andromeda a day. Then after we’ve eaten and caught up on some shows, it’s Lady M’s turn to create some virtual havoc of her own.

So – Mass Effect is… Rather appealing actually. I’ve described it to a couple of people as space opera with heart – not just for the usual Bioware diverse dating options for characters – but for its themes of family, loyalty, and building a future. This (so far) is in stark contrast to the original stories with had an almost Lovecraftian horrors to the struggles of the characters against literally monolithic and uncaring alien entities intent on consuming whole species without care for the individual.

In this iteration there’s more of a Wild West feel of building from the rubble of shattered dreams and the formation of new chances. Yes there are uncaring lyrics aggressive alien machines and a mystery of godlike technologies to unravel, and all new alien races adjusting to your arrival on the scene. At every turn you are reminded that humanity is the invader here and it’s your choice as to how you take things from there.

And that appeals to me – along with the hugely open world maps that are, frankly, gorgeous and full of things to discover.

Yes, there are elements that bug me: not all scene animations are skippable, but enough are to not be too much of an issue. In addition, unlike many games, it’s not possible to boost past dialogue to get tot the decision points. I read a lot faster than the characters talk, and so while it’s a minor gripe it has got me sometimes tapping my fingers and willing the characters to just hurry up – oh and some of the idling animations while characters talk are a bit limited and don’t seem always suited to where they are and what they’re doing. It’s small things that generally I can handwave, except when I can’t. 

No biggie.

Steep, by contrast, caters to Lady M’s adrenaline junkie side with snowboarding, skiing, wingsuits, sleds, and more all available for her to use to throw herself down virtual mountain tops. It’s an unforgiving game with some truly unpleasant sound effects and ragdoll animations when her avatar hits the ground/snow/rocks/trees/buildings at speed, awkward angles, or both.

But visually it’s a feast, and when she overcomes the urge to rage-quit the skill challenge has her gripped and determined to win.

Which frees me up to write more. Because I’m not too proud to distract her when a story is rattling in my skull…

So yay, gaming wins all round at our place.

Recent Reads

The last few months have seen me return to using the Kindle app on my phone to catch up on reading on my way to and from work – and I’ve mostly been mainlining Charles Stross’ Laundry Files series.

The concept of the series is relatively simple to those of us with a geeky side, or at least an appreciation of mathematics and Lovecraftian horrors. Magic is basically advanced mathematics. The performing of complex mathematic formulae resonates with other dimensions and attracts the attention and response of entities in those nearby realities. Most of those entities are generally inimical to life in our set of dimensions. 

To try and mitigate the effects of rising numbers of people and computers the British Civil Service contains a secretive branch descended from the wartime SOE (Special Operations Executive) which tidies things up before things like the transfiguration of Wolverhampton into Nyarlahotep become more than an ill-defined PhD paper, or a televangelist can resurrect a Sleeping God.

Just don’t forget your security pass when entering the office after hours or you’ll be eaten by the Residual Human Resources (don’t use the Z-word).

It’s a great series available for not a lot of money, and it makes me quietly giggle on the bus so that more people than usual shuffle away from me. Go find it, it’ll make you smile without even needing a geas.

TV Binging

We have a lot of TV shows we’re following – and so far we seem to be managing a sort of sane balance between catching shows, playing games, working, and very occasionally pretending to be sociable.

This week we’re working our way through Iron Fist. We like it. It’s an origin story about identity and choice, and has eschewed wirework wushu for its fight scenes.

Controversial, I know.

It has totally overtaken our interest in the rampant barminess of the CW Arrow/Flash/Legends/Supergirl stable. It fills a nice gap before the return of iZombie. 

I’ll think more on why I like it, but I think a big part is that more of it is well lit, breaking away from the noir streetlife of Daredevil and Luke Cage, and even the stylised colour schemes of Jessica Jones. There are scenes taking place in bright sunlight where people smile! I know, it sounds stupid to fix on that.

There’s some smart storytelling here. It’s not without flaws, but the same is true of all the Netflix Marvel shows, especially when it comes to pacing. Still, I’m enjoying it, and am rather bemused by all the hate I’ve seen in some quarters for it.

Driving Lady M’s Car

In a hitherto unknown level of trust, Lady M has allowed me to drive her car as we’ve travelled North for Christmas. I know, you’d think the car I normally drive round the local area was on its last legs or something, right? 

Certainly the thought of driving six or seven hours up the M1 in a sixteen year old Ford Focus gave us both pause for thought; so after several enquiries with her company, the filling out of several extra forms, the generation of a one-time access code via the Gov.uk website so her employers could read my driving license and history, and a certain amount of finger crossing we heard last night that her employers would not send out a crack death squad if I touched her brand new BMW 2 Series SE Grand Tourer.

I think I got the bits of that name in the right order. Maybe, I don’t know, it has four wheels and more displays than the bloody space shuttle…

Lady M will be the first to tell you I have only a passing interest in cars beyond “will it move if I stamp on this pedal?”, and “it had better bloody shift if I stamp on this pedal.” She will not only tell you this, but also her shame that she is the resident petrol head in our house and that I don’t have a wish list of expensive vehicles to own (apart from the DB-9, because I’m not a total moron).

So where better to present my first vehicle review than here? Oh wait, no, I have actually written car reviews for money before as a ghost writer, but they weren’t for very good cars or very good money and I won’t tell you what they were or for who. (Disclaimer, I did have to ask Lady M what some of the model names meant)

So, what were my impressions of driving this beastie, compared to an old Ford Focus? Well, I was most vocal about how I felt I was going to break it, compared to how I have to work to get the old rustbucket to move. This is actually a good thing, believe it or not. To get the same performance out of the BMW 2 Series as I do out of the Focus, I have to treat it like it’s made of very very fragile things – so it feels like the slightest bit of brute force will snap the accelerator pedal off, or make the steering wheel melt. 

The truth of course is that if I were to treat the BMW 2 Series the same way I do the old rustbucket, I’d have made the journey up here in half the time, chased the entire way by several police constabularies, and covered in the debris of numerous vehicles through which I had driven.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the bloody indicators. There’s a reason BMW drivers famously don’t use them, and that’s because they’re crap. If you tap them you’ll get a couple of seconds flash and off, but if you hold them they’ll start flashing and never turn off again until you’ve over compensated, flashed several directions in one go, caused a three lane pile-up and got evil glares from traffic police in three counties.

BMW indicators are designed to do this. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature – like early 90s computer security or self-detonating Galaxy Note 7s. 

You may be forgiven for thinking I haven’t enjoyed driving Lady M’s car. It is a good drive, but the transition to sports brakes and suspension is rather a large leap – similar to the one I made from learning to drive in an Austin Allegro to driving in a Nissan Primera and suddenly discovering power steering. 

My initial thoughts were that it felt rather similar to driving an automatic a couple of years ago in Florida. It was less an experience of making the decision to move as managing a vehicle that wanted to move by default.

Perhaps that says more about me than it does about the vehicle, and about the level of control I expect to have. All in all, as much as I’ve found it a strange experience, I have generally enjoyed it. I may even give the car back at some point.