Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Film Review - '20th Century Boys, Part 3 - Redemption'





The third, and final, film of the 20th Century Boys trilogy wastes no time in pulling the audience back into its strange, and increasingly bleak, world. Like with the beginning of the second part of the trilogy, the immediate fall-out of the preceding climax is skipped as we jump a few more years further into the future. The setting, now, is a walled-off future Tokyo where a strange cult, under the leadership of a mysterious figure known only as Friend, has transformed itself into a totalitarian regime.

It is really well past time that our heroes started scoring a few victories in this series. So far, we have had two movies of struggle and ultimate defeat, as Friend has been able to grab more and more power for himself. First, there was the carefully orchestrated attack on New Year's Eve of the year 2000, which allowed Friend to both paint Kenji as a terrorist, and put himself forward as a legitimate figure of authority. Then, there was the combination of Friend's assassination, and apparent resurrection, and the devastating release of a virulent and deadly virus in cities all around the world. And, now, the cult leader turned political authority figure has managed to convince his followers that he is, in fact, a living god (which is probably what all cult leaders really want, anyway).

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Film Review - '20th Century Boys, Part 2 - The Last Hope'





The second film in the 20th Century Boys trilogy, based on the popular manga series by Naoki Urasawa, shifts its focus fully to the year 2015, leaving the question of what actually happened immediately following the cliff-hanger style climax of the first unanswered as we are, instead, showing the long-term consequences of an attack launched by a mysterious cult on the first day of the 21st century.

Things didn't end so well for our band of aspiring heroes at the end of the previous film. Despite their best efforts, Friend and his mysterious cult were able to launch a successful attack on the city of Tokyo.Also, thanks to Friend's planning, the blame for the attack has been laid at the feet of Kenji and his companions - leaving Friend as a hero and saviour in the minds of the people. Because that was, as it happens, Friend's plan all along. The attacks were never simply random and meaningless destruction - but, rather, a deliberate attempt to create the right mixture of fear and instability that would allow him to step forward as a saviour. By placing himself at the centre of it all, Kenji had inadvertently played right into Friend's hands, and Friend was able to place the blame for his own attacks on Kenji. As far as the world is concerned, Friend is the hero and Kenji is a terrorist - but, of course, anyone who was actually there knows better.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Film Review - '20th Century Boys, Part 1 - The Beginning of the End'





The process of adapting a story from one medium to another can be a tricky one - that's something we should all be familiar with, by now. Just because a story works in one medium doesn't guarantee that it will work in another. Just look at the strained relationship between video games and movies, for example. There is a long-running tradition of adaptations in both directions, and the result is almost always terrible - or, at best, kind of average. Or, more appropriately for this review, let's consider the various adaptations of comic books to movie. There have been plenty - and, with increasing regularity, they're actually tending to turn out quite well. But, it took film-makers quite a while to get the balance right - to learn which comics would actually work on screen, and how best to translate them. And, most importantly, what to leave out in the process of translation.

In both the case of video games and comic books (and, novels as well, for that matter), the real issue is one of length. Condensing a comic long-running series, or a particularly thick novel (or, in the case of some of the more notorious video game adaptations of the past, padding out a story that can be summed up in a single paragraph into a full-length feature), requires a fair amount of work. And, it is something that film-makers have failed at many times. So, when it comes to a live-action adaptation of a well-regarded, though complex and very strange, long-running Japanese comic book series (or, manga, to the fans) it would be fair to wonder exactly how they intend to approach it. 20th Century Boys is the series in question, here - and, don't worry too much if you've never heard of it. Honestly, I hadn't either. It is, however, commonly considered to be one of the greatest works of respected manga artist (or, mangaka... again, for the fans), Naoki Urasawa. It is a complex tale that spans decades - from 1960s until well into the 21st century. And, perhaps knowing that they can never hope to condense it into a single movie, it was planned from the ground up as a trilogy.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Review - 'Doctor Who', S09E02 - 'The Witch's Familiar'





Picking up right where the previous episode left off, The Witch's Familiar finds itself facing the formidable challenge of trying to maintain that same level of dramatic tension achieved by the previous episode. As The Magician's Apprentice closed, we were left with the apparent deaths of Missy and Clara, at the hands of the Daleks - and, we had the Doctor trapped with his long-time enemy, Davros, who (as is fitting for a villain) seemed quite happy to gloat about his victory. Then, of course, there was the episode's final scene, showing us the Doctor returning to that moment, long ago, when the Doctor met a young Davros in danger and, seemingly, chose to abandon the child - though, this time, he is apparently set on killing the child, himself.

Of course, there was obviously never any real question about whether Clara and Missy had really been killed. So, The Witch's Familiar opens by making the wise decision of simply resolving that particular issue right at the start. Not only did we quickly learn that the pair were still very much alive, but we also learnt how they had survived - while also learning how Missy had managed to survive her previous apparent death, at the same time.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Book Review - 'After Dark', by Haruki Murakami





It seems fair to me to believe that most authors would want their readers to feel some sense of satisfaction upon reaching their end of their novel - or, if not that, then at least a vague feeling of regret that it's over. I know that I have felt both many times over the years, when authors have successfully managed to draw me into their story and get me invested in its cast of characters.

Try as I might, I just can't imagine that any author would actually want to leave their readers feeling frustrated and slightly confused. Or, maybe, their actually are authors who want their readers to feel that way. After all, why else would some authors go so far in their deliberate pursuit of the surreal. Japanese author, Haruki Murakami, definitely gives the impression of falling into this group. He is an author known among his fans for the sheer strangeness of much of his work – and is even considered to be something of a master of the surreal by some. But, like with anyone who deliberately aims for the surreal, it seems as though his work is likely to be highly frustrating to anyone who prefers things to be a little more straightforward.

After Dark is a novel very much of this particular style – one that attempts to blend elements of real-world, character driven, drama with overtly surreal and strange imagery.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Film Review - 'Wild Zero'





Wild Zero may not quite be the most absurd film I have ever willingly sat through - but, it certainly makes an effort. It could be one of the greatest films you are ever likely to see. Or, just as easily, one of the worst. It really all depends on your tolerance for absurdity.

It's not that Wild Zero makes any attempt to be controversial, or that it's too violent, or even that it's offensive in any way. It's just that the film is one of that strange breed that seems to be deliberately going for that cheesy 'so bad, it's good' sort of feel. It's the sort of film clearly made to be enjoyed with a group of friends - possibly while drunk. It's also incredibly odd.

Technically, Wild Zero is a zombie film - though, it can hardly be called 'horror'. Most zombie films will, at least, make a token effort at making the zombies intimidating - either by having a massive horde of the grotesque things shambling about, or even by mixing it up a bit and having them run. The zombies in Wild Zero, on the other hand, seem much more inclined to simply stand about and occasionally wave their arms in your general direction as you rush by. So, there's not going to be any real tension, here. Though, one thing that will probably become obvious fairly quickly is that there really isn't meant to be.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Film Review - 'Air Guitar Nation'





Have you ever dreamed of rocking out on stage in front of an adoring and enthusiastic crowd? Have you found yourself constantly being held back by a complete lack of any real musical talent? Well, this documentary film might have the answer you are looking for. Air guitar!

It all began back in 2003 with not one, but two, shocking realisations. First of all, that there is such a thing as an International Air Guitar Championship. And, second, that there has never been an American representative at this competition. Naturally, this leads almost immediately to the organisation of the first American championships – and, a surprising amount of interest from both competitors and an eager audience, that saw the small venue quickly filled to capacity, with many people having to be turned away. In this first competition, and the ones that followed, two stars quickly stood out – C-Diddy (aspiring actor and comedian David Jung) and Björn Türoque (Dan Crane – actual musician). The competition between the two is fierce, as each is determined to prove themselves as the first true American air guitar champion. And, their bitter rivalry is eventually carried to Finland and the next international championship, as they find themselves competing among the best air guitarists that the world has to offer.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Game Review - 'Sunless Sea'






If you're at all familiar with Fallen London, developer Failbetter Games browser-based RPG, then you would probably already know what to expect from Sunless Sea, their recently released game set in the same fictional universe. But, how to explain it to someone unfamiliar with Fallen London? Well, imagine a Victorian England setting, with elements of Gothic Horror, elements of Steampunk, and elements of H. P. Lovecraft. That should give you some idea of what to expect.

Fallen London is a city that has been stolen from the surface world, placed in a massive cave a mile underground. It's residents are forced to survive as best they can in this strange new world. In Fallen London players take on the role of one of these residents - taking on a variety of potential roles, as they pursue a variety of potential goals. In Sunless Sea, things are a little more ambitious. Here, you are cast in the role of Captain of a steamship, tasked with traversing the mysterious waters of a strange underground sea (called the Unterzee, by the people down there). What is it that you're going to find out there? Well, that's where the fun begins. Sunless Sea is a game about exploration, more than anything - there are mysteries and dangers out there, you just have to find them.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Review - 'Doctor Who', S09E01 - 'The Magician's Apprentice'





As someone who wasn't overly impressed with much of the last season of Doctor Who, it would probably be fair to say that I approached this first episode of the 9th season with mixed feelings. Over the years, Doctor Who seems to have succeeded about as often as it has failed, for me - and, in that time, my feelings toward the franchise have gradually shifted from the outright love a held for it as a child to something a little more complicated (it's kind of like Star Wars in that way).

But, I don't want to get bogged down in what I have liked, and disliked, about Doctor Who in the past. This is a very long-running, and very popular, series we're talking about here. If any show deserves a chance at a fresh start, it would be Doctor Who (Star Wars will get its chance in December).

Thankfully, the 9th season manages to get off to a fairly impressive start.

The action picks up on a war torn planet, where desperate soldiers flee from approaching enemy forces. It's a strange war on an unnamed planet - one where one side possesses planes equipped with lasers while the other seems to be reduced to using bow and arrows.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Book Review - 'Last Rituals', by Yrsa Sigurdardottir





Scandinavian crime fiction has earned a well-deserved reputation over the years - with 'Nordic noir', as the style is commonly called, often being praised for its devotion to realism and moral complexity. Last Rituals, the first crime novel from an author better known for children's fiction before its publication, is a novel clearly intended to earn its author a place among the best known writers of this particular genre.

The body of a young man is found horribly disfigured - with his eyes removed, and a strange symbol carved into his skin. The young man, Harald Guntlieb, is a German student of history with a deep interest in black magic and occult. Given the state of his body when he is discovered, it seems fairly clear that there must be some connection between his chosen field of study and his murder - though, what that connection could be remains largely unclear. Of course, it also doesn't help that the police believe that they already have the most likely culprit in custody - a local drug dealer associate of Harald's who, according to witnesses, was the last person to see him alive. Believing that the case is already closed, the police aren't too eager to dig into any possible connections buried within Harald's chosen field of study.

The problem, though, is that Harald's family aren't nearly as convinced - for the simple reason that Harald's missing eyes weren't found in the primary suspects possession. For them, there is a definite need to dig into these potential connections in order to make sure that the right person is held responsible for the brutal murder of their son.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Film Review - 'The Man From Nowhere'





If you've seen films like Taken or Man on Fire then, in many ways, you have already seen The Man From Nowhere. It is a film that is very reminiscent of those other films - with, perhaps, shades of the much earlier film, The Professional, added for flavor. Though, really, you shouldn't let its familiarity to other films put you off. The Man from Nowhere is also very much its own thing - a stylish, and often incredibly violent, action film from Korean director, Lee Jeong-beom.

Cha Tae-sik (Bon Win), an ex-special agent who is both highly trained and extremely dangerous, now lives a quiet life operating a pawn shop in a small, and run-down, neighbourhood. He is something of a mystery to the people around him - and, is clearly determined to keep everyone at arm's length. In spite of this, though, he still finds himself drawn into an odd sort of friendship with So-mi - a young girl who has been almost entirely abandoned by her mother, and is often left to wander on her own. Tae-sik is reluctant to allow himself to be drawn out of his self-imposed isolation - but So-mi's insistence, and her obvious desperation for at least one genuine friend in her life, gradually wears him down.

When So-mi's mother, Hyo-jeong, steals a package of heroin from a local gang, though, it seems inevitable that things are about to take a violent turn. When the crime boss, Oh, learns of the theft he sends his thugs around to recover the stolen drugs. Learning (through torture, naturally) that the bag in which the drugs were hidden had been pawned in Tae-sik's shop, the thugs kidnap both mother and daughter, before heading over to pay a visit to Tae-sik, himself.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Film Review - 'The Good, The Bad, The Weird'





With a title like The Good, The Bad, The Weird it seems fairly obvious that this Korean take on the Western genre is intended to bring to mind Sergio Leone's classic Spaghetti Western, The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly. The two films do seem to share some basic plot elements, at least - though, while the typical Spaghetti Western will often play out as a grim and serious affair, Kim Jee-woon's film takes a different approach. There is a more light-hearted focus here, with a clear emphasis on action and comedy, that occasionally plays out as more of a good-natured parody.

Manchuria of the 1930s is the setting. A land of lots of wide open space – portrayed as all but entirely lawless, with whatever law there is cruelly imposed by Japanese occupying forces. It is a place where bandits can ply their trade, before easily vanishing, and where bounty hunters can make a good living going where the law can't to round them up. Overall, it is a setting that seems well suited for an Asian take on the Western genre – a genre traditionally defined by outlaws and bounty hunters, and where a gun is a simple tool of survival. And, it is here that three Korean exiles find their fates intertwined.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Game Review - 'Her Story'





Her Story is a game that has the feel of an experiment. Created by Sam Barlow (who is, perhaps, best known for his work on Silent Hill: Shattered Memories), Her Story plays out almost like an interactive film - making good use of full-motion video, and an impressive performance from its star, as it tells its story.

For reasons that aren't entirely clear, at first, you begin the game to find that you have been given access to an archive of video clips taken from seven different interviews conducted as part of a murder investigation in 1994. These clips are all short (often under a minute in length), and seem to be very disorganised. Thankfully, though, by using a wonderfully archaic 1990s style interface, and the transcripts attached to each clip, you can begin to sort through these clips by searching for relevant terms. 'Murder', for example, is the term that has been entered for you when you start - and, by watching the four associated clips, you can begin to identify other relevant terms to search for as you begin to dig deeper. In doing so, you will being to uncover the story of a woman (played by Viva Seifert) who may, or may not, have murdered her husband.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Game Review - 'Dragon Age: Inquisition - Trespasser'





Being the last piece of single-player DLC that will ever be released for Dragon Age: Inquisition, there are clearly two main goals that Bioware hoped to achieve with the release of Trespasser. First, and perhaps most obviously, there was the need to provide a satisfying conclusion to the story of the Inquisitor - a story that had been in progress since the main game was released a year, or so, ago. There were plot-threads that needed to be resolved, choices that needed to be acknowledged, and relationships with the game's impressive cast of characters that needed to be given some form of resolution. At the same time, though, Bioware also wanted to give long-time fans hints about where the franchise was heading in the future.

Picking up two years after the end of the main game, Trespasser concerns itself with exploring what should happen to a world saving organisation now that it is no longer needed. As the new story opens, the Inquisition has been called to a Conclave where, as the Inquisitor, you will be expected to answer to representatives of Ferelden and Orlais. The political stakes for the Inquisition are made fairly clear right from the start - with pressure being placed on the Inquisition from both sides. Both the Orlesian and Ferelden representatives are concerned that the Inquisition still retains its power and influence even after the main threat has been dealt with - and, both are convinced that something needs to be done. The Orlesians, it seems, want to take control of the Inquisition, and turn it into another branch of their own military - while, the Fereldens would rather see the whole organisation disbanded.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Film Review - 'All-Star Superman'





In the occasionally overly complicated world of DC's comics, the All-Star imprint was intended as a means of allowing DC's most popular writers to tell entirely self-contained stories without the need to worry about fitting in with existing continuity. With All-Star Superman, writer Grant Morrison set out to do just that - striving to craft a tale that blended elements of classic Silver Age Superman with more modern story-lines, in order to tell a story that fully captured what made the Man of Steel so special to his fans.

It was a lofty goal that Grant Morrison set for himself - and, it's a testament to his skill as a writer that his efforts were met with success. Aided by the art-work of Frank Quitely, All-Star Superman turned out to be something pretty fantastic, which you should definitely read if you haven't done so already. It's the sort of thing that could, potentially, convince even the most cynical comic reader that there really is something special about the big boy scout.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Film Review - 'Thale'





Thale is a fascinating example of the stubborn determination of independent film-makers. Made on a strict budget of only $10,000, using props made largely from salvaged junk on sets constructed in an actual basement - and, with director, Aleksander Nordaas, required to take on a variety of different roles just to ensure it actually got made. It would have been an impressive achievement even if the film, itself, had ultimately turned out to be a disappointment. Thankfully, Thale also happens to be a genuinely entertaining film.

Two long-time friends, Elvis (Erlend Nervold) and Leo (Jon Sigve Skard), work for a cleaning service that specialise in cleaning up crime scenes - a position which often requires them to deal with the aftermath of particularly violent crimes. Elvis is clearly ill-suited to the job, but just as clearly needs the money. Leo, on the other hand, is practically a veteran - perfectly capable of getting his hands dirty without the slightest trace of squeamishness.

Their latest job takes the two men far from civilisation - to a cabin in the woods where, it seems, the unnamed owner was attacked by animals. The authorities have already removed what they could find of the body - but, after what we are lead to believe was a particularly violent attack, it seems that some pieces are still missing. So, the two men are given the task of seeing what else they can recover. As they work, though, Elvis uncovers what seems to be the entrance to a hidden basement. Overcome by curiosity, Elvis heads down to explore - with Leo following reluctantly. Not sure what to expect, the two men are stunned when they discover a young woman (Siljie Reinåmo) - still alive, but seemingly locked away and forgotten. Through a series of tapes left behind by the cabin's previous owner, we learn that the woman's name is Thale - and, that she is not human. Thale, it seems, is a Hulder (or, Huldra) - a supernatural creature straight out of Norwegian folklore.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Film Review - 'Series 7 - The Contenders'





Reality television holds a strange place in the modern entertainment industry. Many people claim to hate it – either due to its overall low quality, or because of the negative impact it seems to be having on more traditional television entertainment. Yet, due to the sheer variety of different shows out there, many of us may still find one or two that become something of a guilty pleasure – shows that we watch, even as we deride reality television as a whole. On the other hand, the constant need to bring something new to the table has led to some spectacularly awful examples – shows where the desire to shock viewers into watching has seemed to override any common sense. And, it is this very trend which is given the satirical treatment in Series 7 – a particularly dark black comedy first released back in 2001, written and directed by Danial Minahan

The Contenders is an exciting and wildly popular reality series with an incredibly simple premise. Contestants are chosen at random, through a lottery beginning each new season, and given a gun. Their task is then to hunt down and kill the other contestants – before any of the others have the chance to do the same to them. Losing the game equals death, and the winner is the last contestant left standing. Win three times, and you're free – until then, you have no choice but to play. Because, of course, in order to keep things interesting, contestants aren't given any choice in the matter – once they are selected, they're in the game. Refusing to play will just make them an easy target for those that are playing.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Film Review - 'Solomon Kane'






It has always struck me as a bit strange how some things can catch an audience's imagination, while others imply fail to do so. Conan the Barbarian, for example, is a character that most people would probably be familiar with, even if don't consider themselves to be fans. But, a character like Solomon Kane would seem to be all but unknown outside of those with a particular fascination for the pulp fiction of the early 20th century. This is in spite of the fact that both characters were the creation of the same author.

Solomon Kane is a violent man. An English mercenary fighting his way across North Africa with a crew of similarly violent thugs. It is when he is leading his crew on an attack on a fortress that Solomon encounters the supernatural for the first time. After defeating the mortal defenders of the fortress, Solomon and his crew come inadvertently release demons that had been trapped in magic mirrors. The creatures slaughter Solomon's crew, while he escapes to the treasure room. While there, though, Solomon has a more personal encounter with a demon that has a particular interest in him. This demon, introducing itself by the impressive title 'The Devil's Reaper', informs Solomon that his actions have damned him to hell, and that it intends to take him there personally. Needless to say, Solomon isn't too eager to go along with this - he fights back against the demon, and is able to escape when he jumps out of a window and into the sea below.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Book Review - 'The Thief of Always', by Clive Barker





Clive Barker is a writer most famous for a particularly disturbing brand of horror. Much of his most well known fiction, over the years, combines disturbing and horrific imagery with an overt sexuality – often creating a tone that is as perverse and uncomfortable as it is potentially fascinating. (Long-time fans of the horror genre may recognise the Hellraiser series of films as being based on one of his stories, to provide an example)

Because of this, it makes sense that some of his fiction can make for distinctly uncomfortable reading. And he has, on occasion, shown a tendency toward going overboard with it all - most likely due to a continued desire to shock his readers, and a perceived need to constantly one-up himself.

With The Thief of Always, though, the author was clearly doing all that he could to avoid that. Here, Clive Barker was clearly trying to create something that held the same fascinating as his other worth, but without much of the accompanying unpleasantness. Why? Well, because The Thief of Always was intended as a book suitable for children.

Ten year old Harvey Swick is bored. With school, with the chores forced onto him, and with his life in general. He is desperate for some fun and excitement to break up to dull monotony of his young life. As if in answer to his silent prayers, he is payed a surprise visit by the eccentric and mysterious Mr. Rictus, who slips in through his bedroom window despite it being locked and on the second floor of his family's house. Mr. Rictus tells Harvey about the Holiday House – a place where children can have everything they desire, and where every wish comes true. A place where it is Christmas every day, and Halloween every night.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Game Review - 'Dragon Age: Inquisition - The Descent'





A plea for help from the dwarves of Orzammar, combined with rumours of devastating earthquakes ravaging the surface world, leads the Inquisition deep underground in The Descent - the second piece of DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Journeying to a newly opened entrance to the Deep Roads, the massive network of caves and tunnels constructed by dwarves long ago, the player will be tasked with the formidable task of finding the source of these earthquakes and, if possible, putting a stop to them.

In their efforts, players will be joined by two new characters. Shaper Valta is a dwarven historian sent into the Deep Roads to recover long lost history - she's a scholar, basically, though that doesn't mean she can't hold her own in a fight. Renn, on the other hand, is a veteran of the Legion of the Dead - dwarven soldiers devoted to keeping the monstrous Darkspawn away from the dwarven capital. In the company of these two new companions, players will be required to descend beyond the dwarven-made Deep Roads, and into the natural caves beneath, as they work to track down the source of the earthquakes - fighting their way through the seemingly required hordes of Darkspawn, before finding encountering potentially more dangerous foes deeper underground. And, at the end of it all, there is the possibility of new discoveries which could have a profound impact on people's understanding of the world of Thedas. The party soon learns of the existence of massive creatures called Titans - creatures who seem to possess a natural affinity for stone that even the dwarves, themselves, can't match. And, it seems that one of these creatures must be responsible for the earthquakes plaguing the surface.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Game Review - 'Dragon Age: Inquisition - Jaws of Hakkon'





Dragon Age: Inquisition was a huge game. It might even be possible to make a convincing argument that it was a little too big - what with its occasional over-reliance on classic 'time-wasting' game-play that wouldn't look out of place in an MMORPG. There was simply too much time spent gathering resources, or collecting items for side-quests which may, or may not, turn out to actually be worth the time invested. There was, perhaps, a bit too much time needed to be spent running back and forth through the game's various regions - essentially going through the same process of establishing camps, and spreading the influence of the Inquisition, in each new zone. Sure, much of this was entirely optional side-content, and the main quest-line was always much more involved and interesting - but, it was always easy to see why some players may eventually get burned out on the whole process, even if it never quite got to that point for me, personally. And, it is easy to see, now, why the option for more of the same may not be as appealing a prospect for players as Bioware may have hoped.

But, Jaws of Hakkon, the latest piece of DLC for Inquisition, is very much more of the same. What it adds is, essentially, a new zone to explore - a zone filled with the sort of content that you either still enjoy, or have grown to hate. There are new rifts to close, more shards to gather, more resources to hunt down, and a new selection of side-quests which will have you running back and forth through the game's new locations. Of course, along with all of that, there is also a new, self-contained, story-line to follow - and, an opportunity to finally learn more about the Avvar, one of the many cultures which make up this increasingly complex fictional world.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Game Review - 'Dragon Age: Inquisition'





Dragon Age 2 was a disappointing follow-up to the fantastic RPG experience that was Dragon Age: Origins. Even as someone who still mostly enjoyed my time with the second game in the Dragon Age franchise, I have to admit that. Each and every criticism that was ever levelled at that particular game, back when it was released, had a basis in truth - in fact, the only place where my opinion ever truly differed from the people who hated the game outright was in the degree to which those issues ruined the overall experience. For me, they didn't - for them, well....

But, really, let's not get into that. Dragon Age 2 has come and gone - and, the franchise has moved on. In the end, it seemed as though even Bioware had to admit defeat, there - with plans for a proper expansion being cancelled so that the story it intended to tell could be saved up for the next game. And, now, that next game is here.

Dragon Age: Inquisition was obviously conceived as an attempt to restore the damaged reputation of the franchise, and to win back the affections of those fans who loved the original, and were left disappointed by the sequel. And after many, many, hours spent with the game the only conclusion I can draw is that they certainly seem to have succeeded.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Book Review - 'Neuromancer', by William Gibson





It's not often that you can point to a particular work as the point of origin for an entire genre - yet, that seems to be exactly what you get here. Something of an odd blend of Noir style story-telling, with a particularly bleak and dystopian science-fiction setting, Neuromancer (along with the film, Blade Runner) is one of the earliest examples of what would later become known as the cyberpunk sub-genre. For many life-long science fiction fans, it is still considered to be something of a classic of the genre – and, it also won its fair share of awards when it was first published.

Case is a cowboy, a hacker skilled at breaking through security systems and gaining entry to places he is not supposed to be. He is one of the best – or, at least, he was. On one particular job, Case got greedy and tried to steal from his current employer, breaking one of his long-held personal rules in the process. The result of this betrayal came in the form of the application of a potent toxin that severely damaged Case's nervous system – rendering him incapable of accessing the matrix, the world-spanning network of computer systems through which he makes his living. As a result, Case finds himself in Chiba, a particular run-down area of Japan, taking on any work he can find to finance his drug-fuelled downward spiral. It is commonly thought, by anyone that knows him, that his current behaviour is little more than a long and drawn out form of suicide.

Film Review - 'War of the Arrows'





One thing I probably need to admit, up-front, is that I felt more than a little lost during portions of War of the Arrows. There were moments, especially early on, where I simply had no idea why any of this was happening.

Now, it's hardly the film-makers' fault that I'm not overly familiar with Korean history - and, the fact that I felt the need to do some of my own research into the historical period in which this film is set may even be a good thing, in the end. Thanks to this film, after all, I know have a basic understanding of the Joseon dynasty, and of the details surrounding the first and second Manchu invasion of Korea - none of which I was aware of before watching War of the Arrows. But, still, weaving a bit of this historical context into the film, itself, really wouldn't have killed them. It could have been something as simple as a bit of text, at the beginning, to set the scene for the unfamiliar audience. As it stands, it feels as though the film-makers simply assumed that the majority of the audience would be familiar with the time period.

To be fair, though, while this historical context may help you understand why all of this is happening, the lack of historical context wont make actually watching the events of the film playing out any less exciting. The heart of the film is, after all, a fairly straight-forward tale of rescue and revenge.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Film Review - 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'






The one question that the audience may have had going in to this second Avengers film would be exactly how this team of wildly disparate heroes were going to be brought back together. Obviously, the audience may have thought, Ultron would be catalyst - but, exactly how would that play out? Would Tony Stark, as the creator of the villainous robot in the film, have to go to the other Avengers with his tail between his legs after his creation turns on him? Would they come together naturally against an overpowering threat (having already gone through all of the growing pains of becoming a team in the previous Avengers film)?

Well, as it turns out, all of that speculation was ultimately a bit pointless, as the film launches us right into the action - with the already reformed team of Avengers launching an attack on one of the last remaining Hydra strongholds, eager to recover Loki's staff (which, you may remember, was last seen in the post-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier). They were all there, too - we even had Bruce Banner willingly becoming to Hulk, once more, to take on this mission. It may not have been what I was expecting (or, necessarily, what I wanted), but having the team already together as the film opens did give us an entertaining action sequence - so, I suppose it can be forgiven.

It is also here that we meet Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) - war orphaned twins who volunteered to take part in experiments conducted by Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). Strucker's plan is to use Loki's staff to create supernaturally gifted individuals that will be loyal to Hydra - and, so far, the twins have been his only real success. In any other film, this could have been the whole story - though, here, Strucker is reduced to little more than the opening act. With the entire team taking on a mission that any of them could probably have handled alone, Strucker really doesn't stand a chance.