Manhattan

Charlie: You’re working on an atomic bomb.
Akley: We prefer to call it a gadget.

I’ve got a thing for 20th century history. In fact, I think my favourite works of fiction revolve around recent history: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Boardwalk Empire, Maus… Hey, my whole moving-to-Germany adventure? Started with Good Bye Lenin. Guess I’m kind of a nerd.

So it’s surprise to precisely no one that I instantly fell in love with Manhattan. A show set in Los Alamos, the top-secret base where the Manhattan Project unrolled, starring the physicists that developed the bomb? If there’s an itch that can never get enough scratching, that’s the one.

Manhattan revolves around Frank Winter, a brilliant physicist in charge of creating the atomic bomb. Surrounding him is a team of cracks – and their accompanying wives and children, who gave up their lives to follow their husbands to a top-secret city in the middle of the desert, not even knowing what their spouses were doing. The show’s a fantastic mix of personal stories and espionage, told against the backdrop of the biggest (and scariest) invention the 20th century has given us.

Unfortunately, the show completely flew under the radar, gathering a small following of rabid fans completely enthralled by the brilliantly plotted espionage and intrigue the show offers – so it surprised no one when it was canceled after two seasons (I think three were planned). And while I know how insanely frustrating it can be to watch a show knowing there’ll be no exclamation mark at the end of the sentence, know that the end-of-
season-two cliffhanger is one of the most cathartic TV moments of the year and one of my favourite scenes ever.

So if you’re in love with big dramas in small settings revolving around huge explosions but not actually featuring any – this is your show!

And if you’re not convinced – check out its Emmy-winning intro:

Overwatch

Me and gaming, we’ve fallen on hard times. Things used to be different: We would have fun together, play all sorts of stuff until the middle of the night… Nowadays, we just look at each other and shrug. It’s like we lost all our old love, like we don’t know how to push each other’s buttons or find our graphics undesirable. What has happened?

In all earnesty: I’ve been working a lot. Like, a lot a lot. So usually, when I come home from work, my brain is so mushy I can’t really focus on doing anything. I tried playing Final Fantasy XIV, found there to be too much reading. I tried DOOM, which was great, but there was too much looking at the map. Lord knows I’ve played The Last of Us – but even there, there was too much going on and I couldn’t take any of it in.

So I ended up playing Puzzle Quest and Tropico – and as far as the latter was concerned, just the first few missions over and over on a loop. I’ve gotten so good at that game, if you ever need a colonial-era dictator to run your banana republic, I’m in.

And then I bought Overwatch. On a whim, because the thought of an online competitive shooter was enough to make my eyes roll out the back of my head. I’m not competitive, and playing against other people for fun should have been the last thing I’d want to do. I like games because they’re a series of a meticulously designed challenges waiting to be conquered – not because I wanna be teabagged by a random stranger.

Overwatch, however, seems to scratch current my gaming itch perfectly. It’s easy to pick up – a handful of heroes, a few maps and three rotating game modes – but with enough tactical depth to keep me coming back. The maps are small enough that playing them a few times is enough to get a good read on them. And the game’s entire atmosphere is more about having fun than winning (you can be lose the game and still be the match’s MVP, for instance).

So if you’re on PS4 and looking for someone to play with – hit up Kuudelka! Together, we can conquer the world.

The Boxtrolls

Anyone who’s halfway into stop-motion should have heard of Laika. The makers of Coraline and Paranorman are the Pixar studios of moving dolls around and taking a painstaking amount of pictures. Coraline (based off the Neil Gaiman novel) was brilliant, and Paranorman (which centers around a little kid who can see dead people) is one of my favorite movies to date. I think that’s the reason I shied away from watching the Boxtrolls – I was afraid of it being bad.

Thankfully, it’s not!

The Boxtrolls takes places in a victorian-era metropolis (that strangely enough centers around cheese), in which the current order (defined by the color of their hats) fight the terrible beings that live underneath the streets: The Boxtrolls. Boxtrolls are precisely what the name suggests: Trolls that live in boxes. They are peaceful creatures that are misunderstood and find themselves hunted by a group of red-hatters (two of which have a delightful back-and-forth existential crisis about what side they are really on). Laika wastes no effort in finding visual ways to incorporate these boxes into the story, with boxtrolls stacking on top of each other to climb fences or walls, or them sleeping on top of each other in a perfectly ordered cube. The first insights into their home are downright stunning, with dozens of little doodads moving around, and set the bar for stop-motion animation (which had previously been set by – you guessed it – Laika!).

But all of this is a given, really. You don’t go see a Laika flick and expect it to look like garbage. It’s the story where Laika often falters. Coraline had little issues in this regard: after all, it had a great novel as a backbone. Paranorman, however, sometimes faltered: Some of its scenes were kind of strange, with no clear beginning or end – and had it not been for its painful honesty, it would have been a disaster.

Thankfully, the Boxtrolls is confidently written, with a thematically sound story about human (and boxtroll) nature, and some great exchanges about family. Compared to Paranorman (and Coraline), the movie loses some of its honesty and feels more like a generic blockbuster, but it nails the emotional beats, and never feels like just another popcorn movie.

In all, there’s no doubt this is the weakest of Laika’s three feature films. But it’s still miles above most animated movies, which is saying a lot. And in a world of computer technology, there’s something to be said for a movie where you can feel the handiwork involved. Like all Laika features, Boxtrolls feels alive.

(Do people still do blogs nowadays?)