Sunday, 18 January 2015

Fall Out Boy on Radio 1's Live Lounge

It's no secret I love Fall Out Boy. One of my utmost favourite bands since I was eleven years old, they're special to me for lots of reasons and I don't think I'll ever get out of the habit of fan-girling over them at least a little bit every time I hear them.

In all honesty, I haven't taken the time to listen to their new album yet, but I am a little sceptical over the title track American Beauty/American Psycho. I get it, but I don't love it. Then again, I felt like that for months about the entirety of Save Rock and Roll but my opinion now is completely different. Hearing it played in the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge perked my ears up a little more. On the radio it sounds a bit too chaotic (although that could definitely be my 8am self not being up for anything), but live it seems to slow a tad and I can definitely appreciate it more.

Anyway, this Live Lounge video is well worth a watch for any Fall Out Boy fans. The interview is quite sweet and made me feel kind of gutted that I missed out on tickets for their October tour because I picked Morrissey tickets instead (life is unfair, right?). They also play a cover of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' new song Uptown Funk, which is frankly fantastic. I loved hearing a live version of Centuries too, one of my favourite new releases from them. The interview pinpoints the song as sampling Suzanne Vega's Tom's Diner which I'm so glad about because it's been nagging at me for AGES as to where I recognise it from.

(You'll have to click here for the full thing - below is just the Mark Ronson cover.)

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Review: The Humans by Matt Haig

My second read of the year has been a wonderful novel by Matt Haig called The Humans. I picked it up as part of the three for ten pounds offer Amazon has on at the moment, not really paying too much attention to what it was about, but trusting the glowing user reviews.

In short, The Humans is the hilarious and touching story of an alien who has come to Earth in the body of a Cambridge University professor, in order to destroy information about an important mathematical discovery. Living as a human, the narrator experiences first hand new and strange things such as emotion, clothes and peanut butter sandwiches. In a sense, it's a coming-of-age novel turned on its head. You follow his account as he weighs up actually quite liking the humans with the destructive mission he has been sent on by his own kind. Fantastically written, it's a nod to the remarkable thoughtfulness insight Matt Haig himself must have on what it is like be human, particularly in modern England.

I'm always fond of books and films set in England, to be honest. I love the familiarity, even more so when it comes to witty novels such as this. It's full of true and humbling observations on science, religion, modern life and the human condition. Haig gets to grips with life from an alien perspective on things; the beauty of it, the rigidity of modern routine and the truth that Emily Dickinson knows everything. There's so many gems within the covers of this book, it's hard to resist getting the highlighters out. One of my favourites must be this; "Catholicism, I discovered, was a type of Christianity for humans who like gold leaf, Latin and guilt."

I really did love reading this book. It's Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy meets Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - it's charming, poignant, wonderfully funny and a fantastic journey of personal discovery I couldn't help but become immersed in. Often I had to stifle my laugh into my scarf as I read it on the way to work. It's also one of those narratives which effects your world view as you read it - I found myself thinking about the strangeness of some human habits we all have, particularly the 'state the obvious' nature of language and the subtleties of expression. There's a focus here too, as I mentioned before, on the rigidity of modern life. It's something I've been thinking about a fair bit about anyway lately. As a 21 year old, you have people pushing you this way and that, usually along the lines of "CAREER, CAREER, CAREER" or "give up everything and go travelling forever". The best idea seems to be ignore everyone and find your own balance, but there's certainly a fear instilled in me about spending my life doing things that I don't find meaningful. So, not only is this book touching, it's also very relatable and fairly philosophical, in a laugh-and-cry sort of way. I enjoyed it, a lot.

At the end, I was saddened. No spoilers, of course, but I really never wanted it to finish. I wanted follow the narrator along in his life and see how it all panned out. Despite never learning his name, the honest narrative of the storyteller is quite enamouring. I would definitely recommend this book, especially to fans of Curious Incident. This review is also a personal reminder to make sure I give my copy to my former housemate Amy, as it has her written all over it.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Disney Infinity 2.0: Princesses, Fairytale Castles and Machine Guns

© Disney
I was a little sceptical about Disney Infinity 2.0. I knew it would be fun: I've rekindled my love of Disney over the last couple of years and my favourite genre of game is 'anything that doesn't take itself too seriously'. I grew nervous as boxes piled up leading up to Christmas though, Rhys had bought me the Marvel starter pack plus six extra figures. It'd be fun, but would it be worth stretching the bank for?

The answer to that question is a resounding and excitable yes.

Far from just the Disney branded platformer I was expecting (not that that would have been a bad thing at all), there's so much more to Disney Infinity that I've barely played the play set levels and Toy Box games at all. Right up my street and something I had no idea was part of Dinsey Infinity is the My INterior section and the limitless building opportunities of the Toy Box. I've been building worlds that combine cutesy fantasyland cottages and castles with firework towers from Mulan and the stirring nostalgia of Pride Rock. Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed when I flew Iron Man and his magic wand (he's by far the best figure for building) up to the tip and The Circle of Life didn't start to play. Apparently that's what the addition of 'The King's Domain' power disc would enable though - I can suddenly see what a genius business move this game has been. There's a few niggles like that, such as Buzz Lightyear not being able to fly (factually correct, I suppose), although there's a jet pack power disc for that too.

You can buy power discs of abilities, toys and for customisation. They're like power-ups and each of them disappear once you take them off your Disney Infinity base. I'm not sure how this works with customisation though - if I spent hours on a beautiful Lion King-esque land and then switched to another power disc, would all my work be wasted? There's online features, how could I show it off? I wonder if they'll remain saved but uneditable in the mean time. I need to do some more research.

The figures themselves are exceptional quality and really quite special. I expected something flimsier to be honest. Rhys bought me the Marvel starter pack, plus a shiny new Rocket Racoon and Maleficent (love love love) and a few second-hand figures; Mike, Sully, Groot and Buzz Lightyear. The second-hand figures are fun to play first time round as their levels and skills are saved from their previous owners. A lucky-dip which got me a level 12 Wazowski straight off the bat.

The 2.0 figures definitely have better abilities - the Monsters Inc. duo mainly just roar and Buzz throws some bouncy balls. Maleficent can conjure up some witchy magic and obviously the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy crew are badass anyway. I'd like to have a play with some of the 2.0 characters who aren't so obviously battle ready, mind. I really want to get my hands on princesses, Donald Duck, Vanellope and whatever power discs get me all-things Mulan, Jungle Book or Tarzan.

Overall, I am loving the game so far. The Avengers Toy Box games have been fun with a dungeon crawler feel and the play set is everything I had expected from a kids platform game. The building and Toy Box elements of the game however really make it stand out to me, my only frustrations being that there's not more classic Disney. Obviously Disney have gone hard on the Marvel front and will no doubt be pushing Star Wars sooner than later. I would love to play Padme or Obi-Wan but I'd love an arrow-wielding Mulan more, or a bitter-faced Cruella.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Review: Orange Is the New Black - My Time in A Women's Prison by Piper Kerman

I'd been meaning to read this book for a while. Orange Is the New Black: My Time in A Women's Prison by Piper Kerman does what it says on the tin. It's the poignant, witty and charming memoirs of a woman who served a year in prison following a decade old drug charge.

Of course, I didn't come to this book a stranger. I binge-watched every episode of the last two seasons of Orange Is the New Black on Netflix beforehand; season one in procrastination of my university final exams, season two in celebration of finishing them (I'm debating booking a day off work for season three this summer). In reading this book I had more of an agenda than I usually would. I desperately wanted to know how real some of the characters I have become so besotted with in the show are, plus I'm forever curious about the rhyme and reason between books and their screen adaptations. Orange Is the New Black, the book, wasn't a disappointment.

There was less of a narrative than I was maybe expecting, but that's perhaps more of a reflection of my own naivety than anything else. The show of course is full of sub-plots and character back stories, all things which are not absent from the memoir but are far less sensationalised: less twists, less coincidences, actually like real life. If anything, I was more surprised at just how much had been lifted from the book untouched. Characters and witty one liners, mainly. Each character is crafted to perfection - but I suppose that's what happens when they're not fiction but actual women wrapped in the prose of a paperback. The book can be a little hard to follow at times, with a constant flow of inmates being referred to, although the central figures in Piper's prison life are clear as day.

The book gives a fantastic and intriguing account of life behind bars at a women's minimum security prison in the USA: a combination of anecdotes and inner-thoughts from Piper Kerman's point of view. She shows a self-awareness about her privilege in the system: her short sentence, middle-class upbringing, supporting family, white skin and blonde hair means that nothing is as bad for her in comparison the majority of her co-inmates. The narrative at these points wavers between humbling and pretentious. On one hand relatable, as I and most readers would probably be in the same boat if they landed themselves in prison, on the other hand a philosophical tangent with a 'special snowflake' vibe. All in all my relationship with author Piper Kerman is almost identical to my opinion of Piper Chapman, her on-screen double. Likeable, mostly, with a few irritating streaks. Good hearted, well-meaning. Not as interesting as the other Danbury inmates. The inmates at Danbury are colourful and heart-wrenching. Most doing time for involvement with drugs, the population is brimming with amazing women with life-plans and dreams making the most of a bad situation. I was glad to love each woman in Piper Kerman's book as much as I'd loved the ladies on screen.

Ultimately this is a book about how kind and amazing women can be in such a suffocating, harsh environment. As a sociology nerd, a firm believer that feminist is not the dirty word the internet would love you to believe and a constantly frustrated individual ("how is anything I'm doing with my life actually meaningful?"), these memoirs were quite perfect. Piper Kerman finishes on some startling facts and figures about America's prison system and how it's failing, catastrophically. Within the book she had placed faces and families behind each petty crime, showing the true awfulness of the 'corrections' and 'justice' system America has in place today. The book has it's purpose, to show the beautiful community of women hidden away and looking out for each other, and to highlight the neglect and flaws of prisons - how so simply they could be come more about rehabilitation, rather than institutionalisation.

The book is absorbing, eye-opening and well pieced together - I'd thoroughly recommend giving it a read. I'd like to read more books about the modern prison systems of the world, there's a few out there. I have a feeling that many experiences would be quite different from Piper Kerman's.