What remains of Edith Finch : What really remains

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Indie games are winning.

In an era where major AAA gaming franchises are either strained cash cows or a mass-marketing grand fiasco, indie games are continuing to hold the benchmark flags high. Video games to me are story driven pieces of art, an amalgamation of smart level design, breathtaking atmosphere and intuitive combat. At its core is story and gameplay mechanics. Somehow this notion seems to be unknown to even accomplished studios and people helming them (Peter Mollyneaux comes to mind). As a result we end up getting a lot of games that are unfinished. Either great story, or great combat, or a memorable soundtrack, but very few times coming together to create an unforgettable experience.

Last year, Firewatch became the raging point of discussion amongst the gaming community. A walking simulator as critics labeled games like these, Firewatch told a story that was emotional and lacked any fluff whatsoever. It was blunt and extended the right amount. Conservative in its frame narration and removing any sort of superhuman notion (which games like CoD and Battlefield have been famously known for), the game provided a riveting insight into the human psyche, painting a picture that was to last quite a while. Firewatch to me was the best game of the year, followed closely by another gem, Inside.

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What remains of Edith Finch is a different take on the Firewatch genre, but it keeps the core ideas same and evolves on the concept. Telling the story of a decaying family from the perspective of its youngest member is quite a task to take on, and this game hits it out of the park. This is not so much a game as it is an experience, a soul wrenching at that. There is an unbridled joy in freedom of expression, in freedom to choose life and death and the realities that surround us, and visiting every Finch, knowing their fate through their own words is both harrowing and spectacular. The monsters that consume them eventually are their own creations : fame, desperation, despair, fear, delusion, craving — and most of all, a relentless pursuit of their realities.

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The ending to it all was not as sad as I thought it would be, but the individual stories left a deep mark on me. After I finished this short game, the haunting, minimal soundtrack kept on harping on familiarities that I didn’t want to dig up. Somewhere I longed for my family, my own bunch of loonies with their own fallacies and their own perceptions.

This is where Edith Finch succeeds in telling a story, and being an art. It makes you think : of all possibilities that could have been, and whether we maketh our destinies or our destinies maketh us. At one point I contemplated on whether I should write it all down and get it off my chest, but this in its current state is absolutely worth experiencing.

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What remains of Edith Finch ends up telling us whatever remains of us and people we care for, in a way I have never seen told before through the world of gamepads and keystrokes.

Best Game of 2017, yet.

Logan : the superhero movie that we may not want, but one that we absolutely need

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It all started with Batman Begins.

Christopher Nolan’s retelling of the rise of one of the most iconic heroes of comic book universe had won critics and viewers alike. It will be followed by the superb The Dark Knight and inspire producers to take the superhero genre seriously, something that had all but died after the atrocious barrage of Batman and Superman movies.

Sam Raimi in his infinite wisdom had created a launching pad for Spider-Man, yet after the second installment the party was over. Spider-Man 3 was a quagmire of missed opportunities and bad character choices, and sort of bucked to the trend.

A trend where the superheroes were normalized, the stories changed, their actions either over the top or simply too humane, the villains relegated to flesh and blood animations without any sort of mysterious hyperbole. The movies often felt like slick thrillers. Some hardcore comic book nerds were left displeased as a result. Essential violence was stripped off; characters mellowed down – no ferocious animosity, no vicious path for absolute justice, no ravenous appetite for destroying the world or saving it, movie after movie succumbed to a global rise of PG era nonsense that was often too comical for its own good. Even Guardians of the Galaxy, a sleeper hit couldn’t prevent it. Last year, I saw two massive chances for comic book adaptations’ return to form squandered (counting Suicide Squad makes it three). While Batman vs Superman was certainly ambitious in its premise, the rush to meet Marvel at its path ruined the sustained story development. Hollow characters, deep holes in the plot and mindless battles only fastened its sad demise. Captain America : Civil War on the other hand ended up becoming too civil, too contained – almost too safe. It was a painful reminder of how a strong platform can still be ruined if no risks are taken. For reasons purely based on business, the story was criminally changed and forced on us.

It was only natural that the ghost of all these movies were still lurking around me when I finally decided to give Logan a shot. Two hours later the things that were in my mind were a mixture of the movie’s strong points and the fact that I was about an hour and a half late for home, the latter not sitting well with my parents. But off I went, promising myself to write a review because this movie deserved one.

In many ways, Old Man Logan is Marvel’s deviation from the norm, much like how The Dark Knight Returns was for DC. Alternate universe – check. Old, aging, dying superhero – check. One last mission – check. Morality strains – check. Wolverine, often used to the point of irritation as this hot with rage killing machine cum southern biker – a shallow existence who serves as a thug with pea brain and yellow costumes is shredded to bits here. Replacing him is a degenerating hero, not wolverine but Logan, Logan of yore who has forgotten his ways of being part of X-Men. Saddled with the responsibilities of a mortal man and the depressive disorders of a schizophreniac, he lunges onto one straw from another, trying to find a safe place to die. This Logan is cornered, vulnerable, and dangerous.

A deranged Professor Xavier is his sanity clause for the moment. The movie focuses on their love hate relationship. Some scenes are truly beautiful and worth pausing and rewatching (something I wish I could do in a movie theater). The small holes in the water tank and the rays of the sun poking through them creates the illusion of a starlit sky; the flood of light on the other hand concentrates on a small batch of greenery, giving the place a stark contrast and a touch of the mundane. Xavier’s demons were to be exercised there, away from humanity, in the middle of nowhere. But fate and Wolverine had other plans.

What happens after that is a two hour long escalation of situations and emotions. Kaliban, the mutant with a Brit accent and a pale skin is interestingly put inside this story and he surprises with his quips. He seems to be the only one with a sure footing in this world that has lost its own. Xavier and Logan on the other hand are too volatile, too vibrant and too crass.

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The story changes gears and gives us flashbacks of the old Logan, both as a protagonist and an antagonist- Wolverine if you’d like to call him that. The bleeding and carrying the adamantium bullet to relieve himself of his life Logan is arguably far more interesting though, as is wave-splattering, hallucinating Charles Xavier. The old reminiscing is what is utterly fascinating, to hear and see them go about discussing events that took place a long time ago. Mutants were gone, so were their well wishers. The remaining museum samples were being hunted down like dogs.

Twenty-three, or girl with the wolverine claws shows up under a familiar trope of a circumstance, and immediately triggers a whole barrage of crap onto the hapless trio. The redneck villain is surprisingly menacing here, mixing usual goof with unusual ferocity. The girl doesn’t steal the show, and neither does the villain, because this is not about them. It was never meant to be about them.

What about that ending though? I honestly feel that there couldn’t be a better ending than what Logan gives us. A conclusion that is devoid of the There was a huge bomb blast with the hero in tow but he still survives and many years later is seen in Italy enjoying a drink bullshittery, Logan’s finale is much more grounded in reality, something that immediately connects with the audience, the ‘No more guns in the valley’ notwithstanding.

Two hours later, I have nothing but praise for Hugh Jackman, Sir Patrick Stewart and James Mangold who gave us a fitting reply. This is the sort of comic book adaptation people want. A no fluff story, fewer, stronger characters and loyality to the original storyline and essence. Not the moviemaking kryptonite that kills superheroes and creates Barney the dinosaur in their places.

Now where’s that R rated Batman movie, DC?

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman – a fresh coat of paint

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For People who love mythological stories, the Norse stories are surely a draw. I had an odd thing introduce me to this grandeur – a video game, Ensemble Studios’ Age of Mythology. Later I figured out that much of Tolkien’a lore was actually influenced by the Norse Gods and creatures, and that fact intrigued me even more.
Gaiman’s retelling of the stories – from beginning to the end don’t give you anything new if you are aware of the central themes. It however gives you a fresh coat, a different literary perspective, something which Gaiman has plenty of experience dishing out. With his sharp, measured approach, the stories are cut lean, stripped from all the usual chatter that most writers tend to introduce. Gaiman also lends his lucid way of storytelling, far cry from the campy or dark, Brother Grimm like ways.

I thoroughly loved it, and this book will appeal to even the staunchiest of myth disapprovers. You don’t have to believe in divinities – just enjoy the larger than life stories.

The Seven Samurai: Indian Tech Review Warriors, 2017

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The Indian summer is exclusive as it is relentless. Obfuscating as the endless media channels with their ‘you-saw-it-here-first’ slaps on the hapless faces of consumers, the generous heat emanating as a result of a lovemaking between human farts and the rays of the sun ends up shaping our lives in more ways than one.

But we’re not talking about copulation, and its irritable effects. The issue at hand is much more grave than coming back home with STD after the wildest night of your life.

I, therefore, invoke the power bestowed upon a lucky few by the Gods of tech. This is not my writing, but a mere translation of the divine words. I feel grateful that the onus fell upon my shoulders. Maybe it was the fruit of my past ten years’ worth of asceticism. Maybe I won the lottery. Maybe I went rogue.

  • The written review sites- are there any even left worth reading?
  • Video review sites – most are shit. Some stink more than others. Worse even, the YouTube endorsed Indian reviewers are on top of this stinking mountain. Best to utilize that time watching or reading stuff that will actually help you. If you know what the different voltages are and how they affect overclocking and stability, it is going to help you decide how far you want to push your processor. Watching a video where a barely 20 year old doles out maa-behen ki gaaliyan won’t.
  • Tech Evangelists, know-it-alls, Well-wishers of the community (there are a million names these people go by) – These are the most poisonous snakes. You will find them rambling about things in product pages, forums, and most of them ultimately end up hate-speeching on their own Facebook pages. These kind of idiots thrive only because we give them attention.
  • Old, back from the dead zombies – Some are really risen for the good. Others are lurking in the shadows. Their stink’s way too real.
  • Young advisers – Keyword Nazis, fighting and calling everyone fanboys. Has a very strong opinion about everything, and often uses obscure sites to prove points. Especially adept at producing benchmark numbers out of their rear ends.
  • The Buying and Selling Connoisseur – One who jumps into every sale thread with plentiful advises, fights vehemently with everyone, and then tells that he was educating the seller/buyer. The stench that these pariahs leave can floor even a Super Saiyan!
  • The Lone Mercenary- He is a Skinwalker, a Wendigo, a Ronin; He walks a thousand paths, yet he never settles. Can be seen online most of the time, but barely replies back. The hard disk crasher, the data-ninja, the male Valkyrie of the downed warriors in the long tech battle. You will see him everywhere, yet he’s not there. He fights alone, because his insatiable hunger for hardware is all-consuming. If you see him, do not move. Stay still.

I do wish from the bottom of my heart that these seven perils won’t faze a new reviewer. Amidst the rubble, there are a few rays of light, new warriors adorning familiar weapons with a new blaze. If this Kurukshetra is any lesson, here’s hoping that the bastion will be carried by the worthy, and not the attention-seeking vermin.

The Wendigo – Algernon Blackwood : visiting one of the sources of Pet Sematary

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Pet Sematary is one of those books that has many uncommon tropes of the horror genre, penned effortlessly by Stephen King in his drunken rage, only to loosen up the dreary influences he received from multiple source materials. Blackwood’s The Wendigo served as one of the biggest catalysts in the early 1900s to have writers incline towards Native American folklore – and before you knew it, a sub genre was born that dealt with only these legends. In Pet Sematary, arguably King’s finest telling of the Wendigo lore of the Algonquinian tribe, the literature peaked at its best, yet to get to the root of where it all started, we will definitely have to give due credit to Blackwood. Derelith, who wrote the marvelous Ithaqua, drew heavily from this psychological thriller of a short story, and in turn ended up influencing the monster that dwelt in the marshes beyond the Creed’s, one who was barely seen but was often heard, one who walked with the wind.

The premise in itself is pretty barebones : but that gives the narrator plenty of time to spin his web and create an atmosphere that is as vicious as it is visceral. Five people break into groups of two and three in some remote American wilderness, hunting big moose. The obscurity of the forest ensures that the stories inside it also stays intact, and something primal lurks in it that the forest protects fervently. It is no accident that this creature, the Wendigo, masks its presence so well amidst the dense foliage, icy terrain and a placid lake that splits the forest into two. You have a hard time for the most part deciding who is the villain here : is it the monster that feeds on fear, or is it the forest that creates that fear?

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There’s a third perpetrator in this tale : the human yearning to jump into things that they don’t comprehend, a sort of answering the call of the wild, feral, the uncharted – that inevitably brings about their doom. Blackwood is quick to point that out in The Wendigo, that even though the monster of the folklore maybe out there, it is the curiousity of the hunters and trackers that ends up being one of the deciding factors in their encounter with the elusive beast, and as much ferocity nature can conjure, it is also the fate of a few inconsiderate people who run chasing every rare chance an obscure wilderness may present : in their callousness they give life to folklore and legends that are best left unseen.

Unsurprisingly enough, it’s the Indian tracker Dévago who bears the brunt of the abuse of senses – in his change of form from a jocund moose-tracker to something else that is most profound here. Blackwood also throws in the possibility of a possession and its fatal aftermath, but the conversation between a newbie Scot and a veteran Dévago constitute the better part of the story. Punk and others chip in and fill the holes in the plot.

In the end, the sparsely heard song is what remains as a crushing reminder :

“Oh! oh! My feet of fire! My burning feet of fire! Oh! oh! This height and fiery speed!”

There is an undeniable Lovecraftian quality in this story that I absolutely adore. The thrusting into the atmosphere horror, the unseen protagonist, the psychological turmoil, the relentless questioning of human psyche elevates this story into a work of art from a simple narration. No wonder it inspired a generation of writers to spin their own twist on this genre.

Chatwin’s Patagonia, or why I couldn’t finish the book

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There are five or six different types of places in this world in my opinion. Most of them are synonymous with one of your own emotions – remember that I said yours and not the generalized human emotion, because emotions are purely subjective, a customized version atop a common platform. So what Kolkata might evoke in you may not elicit the same emotional response in me. But then there are places that come very close to defying that rule. Places that are either too crowded, overbuilt and infested with civilization to the bones – your days are too sped up there for you to conjure up things in your mind. It’s like a whole array of art installations on a conveyor belt. The moment you blink, the visceral statue of a muscular, dead horse is replaced by a rather jaunty, psychedelic picture of a man screaming his head off.

Then there are places that are so derelict, so devoid, so empty, so abyssal that the small bubble of human emotion just fizzles out in front of it. The absorbing power of such place is unheard of, not only because human beings have not yet stepped on it, but also because of the core ingredients that constitute such an ocean of emptiness has yet to come into contact with enough of our species to form a bond. Hence the stories that are found there are conserved ferociously, almost like the treasures of Nassau, and are being passed from generation to generation with occult like precision.

Patagonia – or where the memories evolve.

Bruce Chatwin, born and brewed in the society that rejected the tribalness in human nature, took it upon himself to fancy a chance in exploring the extreme nomadism that existed in the loneliest parts of our planet. It all started with his childhood fascination for a Brontosaurus bone (in actuality, a giant sloth’s called the Mylodon) that he saw in his grandparent’s home. The bone was found in Patagonia, a large, mostly uninhabited land on the southernmost part of Argentina and Chile that stretches from the prairie like grasslands of the Pampas to green and yellowish lakes to the remote snowladen peaks of the mighty Andes that stretches to Antarctica. To the child, it was a land of never before seen stories, of giant animals and long lost worlds, but he never thought about it before his monotonous work took him to Eileen Gray, the then 93 year old architect who had a map of Patagonia printed on her salon wall. There, revitalized by the nonagenarian’s inspirational words, he flew to Lima two years later on a whim, to find out what that world had to offer.

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In Patagonia is a two-hundred page book filled with Chatwin’s recollection of the stories that he collected in his multiple travels. The stories, often criticized as more a figment of his own mind mixed with some truth, are disjointed, experimental, and divided into nearly a hundred chapters that range from a paragraph to two pages. The biggest flaw of the book turns out to be this: the nomadism that Chatwin so wishes to experience ends up being so evident in his writing that he ends up not building any sort of flow whatsoever. You can safely skip pages without any consequences here.

While that is my biggest gripe, there are some more glaring omissions as well. Reading through the chapters felt like Chatwin was aiming for a cheap recipe of storytelling : not investing in any characters that he met, rather swiftly browsing through their daily lives, trying to cover as much as possible. Hence we never get any ramblings of his mind, just a clean, journalism-esque reporting of incidents. This puts him in accordance to his then livelihood and hammers any prospect of getting a Borges out of his diaries.

So after trudging through halfway of this book, I am heavily inclined to abandon my journey through Bruce Chatwin’s eyes. Not like I don’t like Patagonia – I want to go there, I want to experience the lack of emotions myself, I want to feel the vastness of absolutely nothing, the fiendish preservation of culture of the people surviving there, albeit I want to take time to assimilate them all. A fast one won’t do.

Brontosaurus bones or not, the Chatwin Patagonia continues to be one of the best travelogues, popular amongst many book lovers. I agree to this: read this book as a simple travel diary – just don’t expect anything better.

Analyzing Mr.Robot Season 02 : Complimentary Loneliness

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There is a good chance that a good book series may not woo you in its second, or third avatar. Movies and visual media in general are the most susceptible to the human mind’s malady of expectation, and when the premier starts off strong, the walls of hope get even more slippery. Complacency kicks in, and we are presented with a Jaws 2, or a Jurassic Park : The Lost World , ruining our fond moments with the first iteration.

Does Mr.Robot, in its second season, fall to the same lunacy?

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The story of Mr.Robot, in its all man-vs-corporation shenanigans serves as a wrapper for a man suffering from clinical depression trying to separate the two realities- his  own version versus the one that others see. Shown in a manner of Arts Décoratifs the blurred line between the visible world and the imaginary, the first season kept the ace in the hole hidden for almost half its duration and lured us into thinking that this was another of the stories of a self-proclaimed messiah, a Julian Assange-esque altruist who, in his alternate social avatar is awkward and lonely. Elliot turned out to be a genius trapped in his own mind, a sand castle that ebbed away with the lashes of time waves. His images, the shoebox shaped memories, the stories that formed his life were either too drab or too vivid; people were rotten in their core, and maggots came out immaculately dressed in suits.

Season 2, compared to the avalanche of emotions that was season 1, is much more tame. Elliot is still delusional. The world is still falling apart. The gang of rebels are still at large. E-Corp is still…alive. Yet the noose is tightening every moment on all of them, and their defense mechanisms, unique as they are, are what we see in these twelve episodes. Elliot’s paternal alter ego is one of the strongest kneejerkers in this desert storm of a world, closely followed by a stuck in a spiderweb Angela Moss. A distant Darlene tries to puppeteer a revolution, failing terribly.

In this quagmire are introduced some new faces. Lost souls, like trapped tadpoles in a mudhole, desperately gasping for that last bit of water before the world falls apart – they keep the show’s sanity to a bare minimum. Be it the devilish yet brittle Ray, uncannily different to his name – or the depraved, ebbing away Dom, or the sadistic, voyeur Joanna, or even the menacing, desperate Phillip sitting on his throne alone (a lot more screen time was given to him this season, thankfully!), the world outside seems no less surreal or vicious than the one that is inside. And therein lies the beauty of this juxtaposition, this effigy of a planet plagued by different levels of loneliness. Sam Ismail doesn’t break the extraordinaire that was the first season, but merely compliments it. Like a glass of Pouilly-Fuissé sitting beside caviar, it only makes the meal feel outstanding.

Of the actors, Rami Malek continues to be this doe-eyed, disjointed, depressed, socially awkward man who controls the plot. Christian Slater has been severely underrated for almost all his acting years, and Mr.Robot gives him the space – whether or not because he’s producing it, I don’t know, to go berserk. And he does. Portia Doubleday plays Angela Moss to a T, portraying a woman torn between career and moral choices. Her subdued, beautiful expressions often distract a viewer from other things happening around the same frame, but Sam Ismail plays it cleverly, and blurs the palette so you can only concentrate on the body of the sketch.

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Revelations come in the form of Grace Gummer, who plays Dominique DiPierro, an FBI agent stuck in the grays of her past. Her conversations with Alexa, her staring vacantly at the laptop, the bursts of holding-on-to-a-straw-while-drowning desperation to find a purpose in her life, they all flow like a sad pang that at times is overbearing and frighteningly familiar. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see her in a more fleshed out role in the third season, if any.

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Craig Robinson also deserves praise for Ray, a broken man living in his own shadows, fighting his own demons, a wounded animal with one bite left. His acting is nice, albeit his appearances stay minimal at best for all intents and purposes. Joey Badass (or Bada$$, as he prefers to write) is fresh and cocky.

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The ending didn’t surprise me. Elliot deserved to be back in the reality, the zoo that he carefully decided not to enter many, many years ago. It doesn’t matter what brought him there. In the end all that mattered was that FSociety didn’t mean F**k Society.

It meant Find Society, and that’s how Mr.Robot won.

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