Things I Liked – November 2018

Welcomeback to another “things I have liked this month” post in which I talk, and theclue is very much in the title, about things I have liked this month.

Total War: Warhammer II – Curse of the Vampire Coast

Pushing the nerdboat out even further than usual, this is an expansion to a turn-based strategy / real-time tactics computer game based on a tabletop wargame franchise with its roots so deeply embedded in the 80s  that its most iconic character still have massive shoulder pads. Curse of the Vampire Coast adds a few faction to this game and that faction is vampire pirates. I mean, do I really need to say anything more than that? Except maybe that one of the vampire pirates is the ghost of an opera singer with a comedy French accent.

I’ve been a Warhammer fan since way back and I’ve really enjoyed the Total War incarnation because they’re all the fun of the Warhammer world without having to spend an insane amount of money collecting miniatures and an insane amount of time painting them. I’ve also theoretically been a fan of the Total War franchise since way back, although what this is meant in practice—and I’m regularly mocked for this—is that I’ve bought every Total War title that’s been released, played it for about 18 minutes, remembered I suck at strategy games and given up.

I’ve stuck with TW:WII for about 200 hours longer than I normally do chiefly because being really bad a strategy is a lot less frustrating when you get to play with dragons, wizards and zombies.

Boston Legal

So, one evening my Internet was down which meant if I wanted to watch something it had to be on DVD like it was 1472. Digging through the attic I managed to find my old copy of the first series of Boston Legal. Full disclosure: it wasn’t until I IMDBed it to find out what else Rhona Mitra had been in that I realised the whole thing was a spin-off for another series I’d never even heard of.

And, wow, this has aged really badly. At least in some ways. I still very much like its exploration of Denny Crane’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and its peculiarly sensitive and nuanced exploration of no longer being what you once were, which is a strange theme for a legal drama in 2004. But in a post #metoo world a show which is essentially a vehicle for a character whose defining feature is comedy sexual harassment is, um, difficult?

I also have the same mixed feelings I always get when looked at American TV shows written by liberal leaning writers from the Bush Jr era. It’s easy to forget, looking back, how much of a crisis the George W Bush presidency felt like to a lot of left-leaning Americans. And I can’t tell if, in retrospect, the correct way to think about that is “oh dear, you did not know how bad it was going to get.”  Or, “oh dear, all the things you were concerned about at the time were eerily prescient”. Or “actually, taking a step back, an awful lot of the things people are concerned about now are the same things they were concerned about then and not only did the sky not fall in but, in terms of broad legislative agenda, quite a lot of things were pretty similar.”

Anyway, against my better judgement I am really enjoying it.  It’s genuinely really rare to find a show that deals with degenerative mental illness that doesn’t present it as the end of the world—the story of Denny Crane is bittersweet, but it’s not a tragedy. And there are even ways that, at the end of his life, he can value to those around him in ways he couldn’t as a younger, less vulnerable man. And James Spader is, of course, the best at everything ever, and a pleasure to watch, apart from, of course, all the gross sexual misconduct. Your mileage may very much vary on how much of a deal-breaker that is.

This Kirby Pillow

Because who wouldn’t want to sleep with their head in the mouth of a giant Kirby.

Diamond Painting

I’ve semi-sheepishly posted some of my diamond-painted romance covers on social media, which while it hasn’t exactly inspired a frenzy of enthusiasm has made a couple of people curious.

Basically, diamond painting is one of those crafts for people with zero crafting ability. It’s kind of the “we maybe think this could be therapeutic” category next to adult colouring books—although it works a lot of better for me in terms of handling my neuroses because adult colouring books make me incredibly stressed. I mean, you have to choose what colour to do things, you have to stay inside the lines, it’s never looks as good as you think it should in your head: nightmare.

The deal with diamond painting is that it’s pointillism with little resin gems. A kit consists of a printed image divided colour-and-symbol coded squares and little sacks of “diamonds” that you stick directly onto the image based on the codes. It is completely stupid, bewilderingly tacky but kind of amazing. I’ve also discovered you can get classic rom covers so I’m clearly not going to be doing anything else for the rest of my life, unless they also bring out classic fantasy in which case I’ll be doing those too.

If you want to try diamond painting here are my top tips for navigating its weird little world:

  • Resin comes in two types: round and square. Round is slightly shinier and slightly quicker to place, because you don’t have to align the corners. Square can be a bit kinder on fine detail and has a satisfying “click” effect when you place the gems, but takes longer.
  • There are what’s known as “full drill” and “partial drill” – full drill means the whole image is diamonds, partial drill means only a bit of it (usually the foreground image) is.
  •  You can get a range of sizes – when you’re starting out, you probably don’t want to go super massive because you might not enjoy it or might feel overwhelmed. But if you go too small you lose most of the detail through pixilation.
  • When you’re choosing images, I personally go for colour and detail (since having to do big blocks of unremitting black or white is rubbish) and, obviously, the tackier the better. Not all images translate well to diamond so anything too ‘realistic’ looking tends not to come out well.
  • You get diamond painting kits from Amazon, but I’ve lately moved to AliExpress, because there’s a much better selection and they’re a lot cheaper, although you do have to wait 20-40 days from them to be shipped from China.

I have more advanced diamond painting tips for committed devotees but, err, I’ll spare you.

The New She-Ra Thing

Loved the old She-Ra. Love the new She-Ra. Although I am really disappointed that Loo-Kee no longer features, Imp is way less cute and Hordak isn’t blisteringly incompetent.  It did take me a while to get used to the new art style, but I am completely see why the showrunners didn’t think that a set of identical, incredibly idealised, massively over-sexualised body types was totally appropriate for a modern kid’s show.

I also admit to sometimes not being sure that the show isn’t fighting its source material a bit. When it’s working well, you’re getting knowing homages to the original series (like Seahawk as this dashing gloryhound who apparently keeps setting his own ship on fire or Madam Raz as a batty old woman who talks to a wholly inanimate broom) but when it’s working less well you have things that are just enough like the original that they remind you of a context that no longer makes sense. For example, I can completely see why they gave Adora more agency in her choice to leave the Horde rather than having her go from being under a spell to being not under a spell entirely as a result of a magic sword she’s given by a man. But because the Horde is so cartoonishly evil it does sort of make you wonder what the hell she thought she was doing for the first sixteen years of her life and why she and Catra (both in this universe raised by Shadow-Weaver to be leaders of the Horde armies) grew up with such utterly divergent value systems.

I mean, I don’t want to bang on about this too much, and I’m aware I always say that right before I bang on about something for a long time, but the thing that cements Adora’s desire to leave the people who raised her for her whole life is when she discovered that the totally innocent and defenceless village she’s wandered into is the same place she knew she had been asked to attack as her first proper mission a Horde Force Captain. But, well, she’d have seen it was an innocent and defenceless village even if she’d gone into it with the Horde armies. Surely the Horde must have known that at some point they’d be asking her to burn down the houses of adorable villagers. Why the hell did they let her grown up to be the kind of person who would have a problem with that? Especially when Catra clearly doesn’t. Did Adora just not show up on brainwashing day? Or are they making some weird point about inherent virtue in which case that’s kind of messed up, especially since she and Catra are both teenagers, and also because the show is so pointedly woke in most areas.

I also find it interesting, in an entirely judgement-neutral way, to observe that the 1980s She-Ra was targeted at kids, featured adult characters but with ultimately child-friendly storylines. The original Horde are totally non-threatening, their soldiers are fairly explicitly robots so the violence never has any consequences, and most of the plots are about the kind of thing that can be summed up in an explicit moral delivered at the end by a blue-haired elf in rainbow knee socks. By contrast, the 2018 series features teenage characters but tells stories that seem much more pitched towards an adult audience. Hordak is genuinely scary (and also is kind of blatantly supposed to represent the patriarchy), there’s a lot of quite nuanced stuff about Catra and Adora’s relationship and their fairly explicitly abusive upbringing (which, again, somehow only affected Catra #justiceforcatra), and the show tries, at least on some level, to engage with its surprisingly sophisticated science fiction premise (a society that canonically exists as a series of quasi-independent principalities ruled by young women with magical powers who are not inclined to cooperate with one another tries to resist a totalitarian space empire with the aid of a mystery saviour figure who comes out of nowhere and who explicitly used to work for their deadliest enemies). I’m honestly not sure which approach does children the most credit. And the answer is probably neither. It’s almost like people in different eras have different opinions about stuff.

Anyway, still really enjoying it. Because I do love me some magic sparkly princesses, although I wish the flying unicorn got more screen time.

Anyway, that’s it for November. Tell me in the comments what you’ve been enjoying month. Or, y’know, don’t. It’s all cool.

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