February 2017

TV

Fiction

The Grand Tour

Okay, this started way back in December, but I figured I wait until the series ends before I comment on it.

Short recap: There once was a rather popular show that had something to with cars, called TopGear. Almost two years ago though the main guy, Jeremey Clarkson didn’t get his contract extended and promptly the other two blokes refused to re-sign as well. That left the BBC with the need to replace them and the three guys to find a new employer, which they succeeded in by signing with Amazon. We shall not talk about the “new” TopGear though, if you’re curious, I am sure you can find plenty of reviews on the net.

So onward to the Grand Tour, which is, really, in most ways a continuation of what Clarkson, Hammond and May did on TopGear. Interestingly enough, Episode 2 showed clearly that it’s mostly a show about three blokes who really like cars, and not a car show run by three blokes. Something a lot of people seem to have found confusing.

I am not going to go into an episode by episode review, but let’s talk about some larger themes.

Firstly, they did carry a whole lot of the stuff from TopGear over into The Grand Tour. The main thing missing are the interviews with the Stars and the “Star in a reasonably priced car” segment. Not necessarily a huge loss. While I always found the laps interesting, the interviews I mostly skipped because I just don’t really care enough about it. But this wouldn’t be a Clarkson show if he wouldn’t poke fun at this and he chose something they called “Celebrity Brain Crash”, which is essentially a short bit where they “kill” off a celebrity instead of having them come onto the show. This was funny the first episode or two, but it quickly got long in the tooth. So there is hope that they kill this off in the next season.

The next, rather obvious, thing is also a continuation of TopGear. The show was always heavily scripted, but clearly in the earlier seasons on TopGear they didn’t quite had as tight a grip on things as in later ones. So they felt a bit more natural. Later seasons of TopGear often blatantly showed the scripting and editing and unfortunately The Grand Tour suffers from the same problem. So let’s hope they really get a bit more adventurous in the next season and rely less on pre-planning and scripting.

So what’s left? Still a very entertaining show, if at times a bit too close to TopGear in my opinion. Then again, it’s a starting point and I do have some confidence that the three can come up with something that’s less TopGear and more Grand Tour.

Last comment on TopGear btw. Instead of watching any of the “new” episodes, watch Clarkson trying to put a shipping box together. It’s way more entertaining:

Legion

We live in the age of the Superhero, at least if we follow the entertainment industry. You can’t really throw a rock without hitting at least something related to Superheroes (or Zombies). Netflix has lead the way on TV with it’s adaptation of Marvel heroes and so it is with a bit of a surprise to see the “next big thing” not show up on Netflix but on FX.

Legion follows David Haller, a troubled young man who may be more than human. Diagnosed as schizophrenic, David has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years. But after a strange encounter with a fellow patient, he’s confronted with the possibility that the voices he hears and visions might be real.

The first two episodes have left me a bit wondering. I admire the way the show is shot and the quirkiness it brings along, but I cannot convince myself (yet?) to actually really dive into it. Part of it is that I am not really a big Superhero fan.

I will keep an eye on it and see if it “grabs” me. In general I give new shows three or four episodes before I decided if it’s worth my time or not.

For now, I say check it out for the shooting style alone, if that will be enough to keep me watching remains to be seen.

The Expanse (Season 2)

The Expanse is back with Season 2 and much like the first season it looks spectacular and so far the story follows along the books nicely.

If you are looking for a space opera akin to the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica this one is definitely for you.

The only question is: Why did it take SyFy more than a decade to come up with another one?

SS-GB

After Amazon brought us “The Man in the High Castle”, which departed from the book and at times gets rather corny, it’s now the BBC’s time to come up with an Alternate History drama.

In the BBC version Operation Sea Lion has succeeded and the UK is now under Nazi control.

What starts out as a murder investigation quickly turns into a large power struggle between different Nazi factions, British resistance and the potential thread of bringing America into the war.

Unlike the somewhat corny Amazon show, the BBC has opted for a darker tone. A lot of effort seems to have been made to try and be historically realistic, at least as close as you can be in an alternate timeline scenario.

If you like historical fiction and / or alternative history stories, this one isn’t bad.


Movies


Fiction

Suicide Squad

I sort of avoided the movie when it was first released, mostly because the reviews weren’t very good. But it was a snowy and cold day and I still had a bit of a cold, so I decided: Why not.

Well, the answer to this is: Because it’s a really bad movie. Or maybe bad isn’t the right term. It has a lot of interesting sounding ingredients, but after two hours of watching the movie it just leaves a feeling of “meh” behind.

The main problem is that I don’t really care about the characters. It’s not that they couldn’t be interesting, and the movie tries to give them sort of some depth, that’s how we get the joker in there after all. It just doesn’t really work. None of the characters is really likeable, and although they’re all supposed to be super villains they…. well aren’t really.

Not even the main antagonist. She’s a tragic figure that has been made a victim herself (and of course there will be a Hollywood ending on that one too), cliche anyone?

The best thing that came out of this was probably the soundtrack, though even here it’s mostly classics that are re-purposed.

I leave you with RedLetterMedia’s review of Suicide Squat, way funnier than the actual movie:

Doctor Strange

There are two genres in movies and TV I generally am a bit burned out over. The first one is anything Zombie related and the other one is anything Superhero related.

To that end, my expectations of Doctor Strange weren’t really that high and although, at the end of the day, I have to say it had some good production values, it just didn’t really do it for me.

I am sure that says more about me than about the movie itself, forced crossover during the credits not withstanding, but I just can’t really find a lot of excitement watching yet another over produced Superhero film.

Having said all that: If you do like these kinds of movies, there are many worse ways to spend your time.


Books

Non-Fiction

Always Hungry — David Ludwig

https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/713/32809894240_fa855ec30c_o.jpg

I have been pretty busy reading up on a variety of nutrition information in the last few years and more or less revamped my diet.

This book, if I had found it back in the day, would have been a great help and have greatly reduced my trial and error. In essence, if you want to lose body fat and overall feel healthier, this is the book to start with. It will provide a good introduction to reducing your dependency on carbs and shift you to a more healthy lifestyle. Not only food wise but also in the way you approach life.

As an added bonus it not only tell you what to do but also how, with an extensive recipe collection to work with.

The Ultra Mindset — Travis Macy, John Hanc

It takes a “special breed” to run Ultra Marathons or do other endurance events like Triathlons. Or so many people think. But although it is true, it’s not in the way that you probably think.

Simply put, the old adage of “mind over matter” still holds true and this book will provide you with a guide on how to develop it yourself.

As the jacket of the books says itself: This is not only for those that want to do ultra or endurance events, but these tricks and skills also help you in your day to day life.

The Barklay Marathons come to mind here, where all the finishers were also highly educated and achieved individuals in their “normal” life.

If you are struggling with an idea on how to achieve your goals, this book is for you. We may even see each other on the trails.

Primal Endurance — Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns

When it comes to nutrition and lifestyle at every little nook and cranny on the internet you will find advice on how what you’re currently doing is wrong and how you should do X over Y. Often this is somehow esoterically justified (e.g. modern life bad, pastoral past good), without really providing anything to back up that these assertion, much less anything that is peer reviewed / scientifically sound.

Having said that, between all of these bits and pieces there is usually something useful in there. Much like religion, it’s a pick and chose type of approach one needs / should take to get to the end goal.

Primal Endurance, although written with endurance athletes in mind, provides an interesting “way forward” even for the average person, much like the earlier discussed “The Ultra Mindset”.

You will probably have heard of the “Paleo movement”, which Wiki describes thusly:

The Paleolithic diet (also called the paleo diet, caveman diet or stone-age diet) is based mainly on foods presumed to have been available to Paleolithic humans. Wide variability exists in the way the diet is interpreted. However, the diet typically includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, meat, and organ meats while excluding foods such as dairy products, grains, sugar, legumes, processed oils, salt, and alcohol or coffee. The diet is based on avoiding not just modern processed foods, but rather the foods that humans began eating after the Neolithic Revolution when humans transitioned from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to settled agriculture. The ideas behind the diet can be traced to Walter Voegtlin, and have been popularized more recently in the best-selling books of Loren Cordain. Like other fad diets, the Paleo diet is promoted as a way of improving health. Limited data exist on the metabolic effects on humans eating the diet, though the available data suggest following this diet may lead to improvements in terms of body composition and metabolic effects as compared to the typical Western diet or as compared to diets recommended by national nutritional guidelines. Following the Paleo diet can lead to an inadequate calcium intake. The digestive abilities of modern humans are different from those of Paleolithic humans, undermining the diet's core premise. Although little is known about the diet of Paleolithic humans, it is very likely that they consumed wild grains and legumes. During the 2.6 million year long Paleolithic era, the highly variable climate and worldwide spread of human population meant that humans were, by necessity, nutritionally adaptable; in contrast, supporters of the diet assume that human digestion has remained essentially unchanged over time.

Primal Endurance hooks definitely into the same / similar ideas, but expands it not only to diet but also lifestyle (and is also quite less restrictive around the diet part). It could be summarized in a simple acronym: KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid.

The strength of the book is that the authors aren’t trying to find a “one size fits all” approach to this like most diet books do. They explain what has worked for them, the science behind it and encourage you to try your own. But were many diets live off of the idea to completely throw out certain things or heavily concentrate on only one thing, the authors here still believe in moderation (e.g. carbs).

All three books in this section together provide, in my opinion, a good starting point if you’re unhappy with how you look and feel. They aren’t going to make you run a sub two hour marathon or deadlift 500 pounds, but if you adopt some of the things in these books you may just surprise yourself.

Just don’t expect to read the book come away with a fool proof plan on how to live forever. There will be challenges and you will need some grit to get rid of already ingrained habits.

Fiction

A Trader’s Tale from the golden age of the Solar Clipper Series — Nathan Lowell

Space operas are fun, if done well they create a world full of wonder and excitement. Having said that, many can also be a bit dragging as the author gets bogged down in overly detailed descriptions of the world or “shifts” the narrative far outside of our daily experience that reading the book becomes a bit of a challenge.

This series though manages to strike the right balance, it’s easy reading, fast paced and has a sense of humour to it that makes it enjoyable.

The story centres around a young guy named Ishmael Horatio Wang who is at risk of being deported from a corporation owned planet after his mother dies in an accident. Instead of getting ejected he hires on one of the solar clippers.

These are large ships that cross the distances of space shuttling cargo and people between the world. Many are owned by large transport companies but the smaller ones are family run and owned.

We follow Ishmael from starting out in the galley to eventually becoming the owner of his own shipping company, always progressing through a combination of skill and sheer unawareness of what he is actually doing.

It’s entertaining and fun and an easy read.

Expeditionary Force - Book 1 - Columbus Day — Craig Allison

When the Aliens arrived they weren’t friendly. The Ruhar went straight to blowing up the worlds major cities, only to be fought off by another alien race known as the Kristang.

Of course their help wasn’t free. Once they had rescued us from the first attackers they demanded that we provide some kind of payback. And what are humans good at if not fighting?

So off we went and sent an army into space, who quickly realized that our rescuers weren’t quite as benign and friendly as we thought. It all gets even more complicated when our hero discovers an AI on an alien planet we were sent to garrison and who quickly tells us just how complicated and political the galaxy is. Oh, and he doesn’t know who created him, but what he lacks in knowledge he makes up in sarcasm and cruelty. After all, as far as we are concerned he is (a) God.

May he have mercy on our souls.

Fun, fast paced and at times cruel, this makes for a fun read. I am looking forward to book two in the series.