Stranger Things

I’ve just reached the end of the new Netflix series Stranger Things, and I have to say it was the most enjoyable TV I’ve seen in a long time.

Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, a major part of the show’s appeal (at least for me) is its retro aesthetic, which borrows heavily from a variety of iconic 80s movies; the most notable being ET and The Goonies. The overall style and execution seems to have struck a chord with many folks of a certain age, taking some familiar and well-loved themes and story beats, and wrapping them in a shamelessly nostalgic package.

As the series progressed though, the level to which the Duffer Brothers borrowed from other sources began to grate with me a little [SPOILERS AHEAD]. Kids on bikes being chased by sinister government agents, who manage to escape when their special new friend uses superpowers… I wouldn’t be surprised if that sequence alone didn’t prompt a phonecall from Steven Spielberg to his lawyers [END SPOILERS].

That’s not to say the success of the series relies solely on its more derivative elements. Even without the striking similarities to other sources there’s a great story here, and Millie Bobby Brown is incredible in the role of Elle/11.

I don’t tend to watch a lot of TV – massively popular series like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad have so far gone completely over my head. But the initial premise of Stranger Things was enough to draw me in, and the twists and turns (not to mention excellent soundtrack) were enough to keep me hooked right until the last scenes. In fact I enjoyed it so much I’ll probably be re-watching it very soon.

Entry level VR – Google Cardboard

I recently picked up a Google Cardboard viewer. I was interested to see exactly what kind of Virtual Reality experience it could offer, given that it’s probably the most accessible VR tech currently available (assuming you already have access to a smartphone).

The cardboard structure feels pretty low-tech, but for a few pounds it’ll convert a regular smartphone into a reasonably able VR device, which is pretty impressive. Obviously pressing hard cardboard edges against your face isn’t the most comfortable viewing experience, but in short bursts it’s tolerable.

After a few viewing issues (you need to calibrate the Cardboard app for your viewer, and initially the app wouldn’t recognise the QR code on mine) I was up and running and trying out the demos in the official Cardboard app. The demos serve as a reasonable introduction to VR, and my kids certainly found them lots of fun, but for slightly more meaningful experiences you need to look elsewhere. The official Star Wars app has a VR section called Jakku Spy, which features some short but pretty impressive 360 movies. You can also find 360 videos on YouTube, like Google’s own ‘Inside Abbey Road’, which you can see below – although for the full effect it really needs to be seen through a Cardboard viewer.

For a more comprehensive introduction to Google Cardboard you can check out the official page here.


Star Wars: The Force Awakens

So it’s finally here. Brand new Star Wars. And tonight, three generations of Parker (me, my Dad and my son) saw it together. If you’re wondering why I’m talking about it in such grand terms, it’s because I’m a massive geek and, like many folks my age, the original Star Wars trilogy was a big part of my childhood. So getting to see a new entry in the series is kind of a big deal for me.

At this point, a couple of hours since the credits rolled, I’m still not sure exactly what I thought of it. I think it’s because, as it’s been a lifelong habit of mine to watch Star Wars movies over and over again, seeing a new one for the very first time is a bit strange. It’s like first listen of a new album you’ve been looking forward to hearing, the first pass is really just an introduction, the finer points only become evident further down the line. But I already know I like it more than all of the prequels, so that’s a good start… [update 30/12/15: just had a second viewing and I can confirm I absolutely love it]