Saturday, 31 October 2015

Review - 'Ash vs Evil Dead', S01E01 - 'El Jefe'

For fans of the Evil Dead franchise, the anticipation of a new series which continues to adventures of the unlikely 'hero', Ash Williams, has been difficult - and, the expectations for the show have been high. Halloween is, really, the perfect time for a show like Ash vs Evil Dead to premiere - and, now, fans finally get their chance to find out whether Ash vs Evil Dead can meet the lofty expectations set for it.

In the 30 years since Ash Williams found himself confronted by strange demonic entities, called Deadites, in an isolated cabin in the woods, Ash has settled into a quiet life living in a trailer-park and working as a stock-boy at the local ValueStop super-market. Ash seems perfectly willing to leave his trouble part behind him - instead focusing on barely doing enough work to hold on to his job, and weaving tales of false bravery to impress women he meets at bars. It is during one such encounter, though, that Ash first learns that the Deadites he fought so lone ago have, somehow, once more returned - and, that they have turned their attention toward him.

For much of this first episode, we find Ash very much in the classic 'reluctent hero' role. He's clearly the only person around who has any first-hand experience with this sort of thing - but, his first thought on learning that the Deadites are back, and that they are after him, is to try to run. It's really only when he finds himself trapped that Ash is finally prepared to turn and fight. Even the realisation that it was actually Ash, himself, he was responsible for the Deadites' return (hilariously reading from the Necronomicon while stoned and trying to impress another woman) isn't enough to get him back into the fight against the Deadites right away.

Game Review - 'The Park'

The Park starts off with a fairly straight-forward premise. A single mother, Lorraine, and her young son, Callum, have just spent the day at the Atlantic Island Amusement Park - but, now, the park is closing and they are on their way home. Unfortunately, though, Callum seems to have lost his favourite toy, a stuffed bear, and he doesn't want to leave until it is found. While Lorraine is at the information desk asking for help, Callum takes it upon himself to run back into the park - leaving Lorraine with little choice but the follow.

It all seems simple enough - but, once Lorraine makes her way into the amusement park, things take a much darker, and stranger, turn. As Lorraine desperately searches for Callum, it becomes clear that there are supernatural forces at work - supernatural forces that seem determined to keep Lorraine from finding her son.

From the moment that the player, taking on the role of Lorraine, first steps foot in the Atlantic Island Amusement Park, it is made painfully clear that there is something very wrong going on, here. Within moments of entering, reality itself will seem to twist and change around the player, leaving them stumbling about in the dark, in a park that now seems abandoned and derelict. This will be the first of, perhaps, many times that the events of The Park may bring the Silent Hill franchise to the player's mind.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Review - 'Arrow', S04E04 - 'Beyond Redemption'

Otherwise good people being forced to do terrible things by desperate circumstances is clearly the theme that they were going for with much of this episode.

First, there were the 'villains' of the episode, themselves - desperate police officers who turn to crime in an effort to support their families in a city that is slowly falling apart. The idea of police officers using their training and hardware to, essentially, take over the city's drug trade is definitely a fascinatingly complex one. Though, whether any of these police officers truly count as 'good people' is probably open for debate - they were, after all, perfectly comfortable with the murders of both the drug dealers they robbed, and the two other police officers who had the misfortune of crossing their paths. But, either way, their presence still managed to add an interesting element of moral complexity to what could have, otherwise, been another fairly standard conflict. Regardless of how the viewer saw them, after all, it was made fairly clear that they truly did believe themselves to be forced into their current life of crime, at least. As the leader of this group of corrupt police officers, Liza Warner (Rutina Wesley) was really the only one who received enough screen-time to make any sort of an impression on the viewer - but, she played the part of the morally conflicted officer well. Just as important, though, setting 'Team Arrow' up against a similarly well-trained and well-equipped team made for some entertaining action sequences.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Review - 'The Flash', S02E04 - 'The Fury of Firestorm'

Two main plot-lines set in motion during the previous episode are picked up again, here. The first concerns Dr Stein - who, it seems, is still suffering the lingering side-effects of the loss of his 'other half'. Of course, with the new revelation that Dr Stein actually, genuinely, needs to fuse with a compatible partner in order to survive, the stakes have been reason considerably higher, now. With no treatment available that would be of any use, and with his body slowly deteriorating, it seems as though the only way to save Dr Stein is to find a new partner - one similarly affected by the particle accelerator explosion who would be willing, and able, to fuse with him and create a new Firestorm.

Thankfully, though, Caitlin is quickly (and, perhaps, slightly implausibly) able to track down two likely candidates through their hospital records. First, there is Jefferson Jackson (Franze Drameh), the former star of his high-school's football team whose dreams of moving on to college football were dashed when he injured his leg on the night of the particle accelerator explosion. Then, there is Henry Hewitt (Demore Barnes), a successful, though arrogant, scientist.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Film Review - Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a film which seems set on basing itself firmly in the deliberate subversion of some fairly standard genre tropes.

We have a group of college students heading off for a camping trip in the woods. We have a pair of hillbillies in a run-down cabin, nearby. And, we have the seemingly inevitable conflict when the two groups cross paths. Of course, this time, the escalating violence and mayhem is the result of a simple misunderstanding, rather than overt villainy.

Tucker and Dale (Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine) are long-time friends, just looking to spend some time fixing up the dilapidated cabin which serves as their 'vacation home'. They are, naturally, excited by the prospect - set on getting their cabin fixed up, but with plenty of time still set aside for fishing, and drinking beer. At the same time, though, a group of college students are also heading out a vacation of their own - one filled with beer, pot, and skinny-dipping.

The two group's first encounter ends badly for Dale, as his nervous, and very unsuccessful, attempt to speak to one of the college girls results in him coming across as intimidating - but, as bad as that was, there second encounter is much worse. Out for a bit of fishing at night, Tucker and Dale come across the college students engaged in a bit of skinny-dipping - Dale wants to leave, but Tucker is insistent that they stay and watch for a while. The pair make a bit too much noise, though, and their argument attracts the attention of Allison (Katrina Bowden) who, shocked by the sight of the two hillbillies watching her, falls into the water and hits her head on a rock. Tucker and Dale immediately leap to the rescue, pulling Allison out of the water and into their boat. Unfortunately, their noble efforts are seen by Allison's friends as a kidnapping, and the rest of the group run off before they can explain.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Film Review - 'Housebound'

A horror/comedy film from New Zealand, Housebound is a film that is quite happy to blend different styles and sub-genres as it works its way toward its final, and suitably bloody, climax. Housebound is, also, the first film directed by Gerard Johnstone - who also acted as writer and editor on the low budget production.

Kylie's (Morgana O'Rielly) life seems to have hit a bit of a dead end. After working her way through a variety of rehabilitation programs, she finds herself in court once more, when a plan to rob an ATM using a sledgehammer and explosives ends with her arrest. Rather than being sent to prison, though, a surprisingly lenient judge comes to the conclusion that, perhaps, once final attempt at rehabilitation would be in her best interests. The only problem, though, is that this latest attempt at rehabilitation takes the form of 8 months of house arrest in the family home that she had fled years earlier - moving her back in with her mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), and her step-father, Graeme (Ross Harper). The judge's hope is that this will give Kylie some degree of stability and guidance - but, it quickly becomes clear that, as far as Kylie is concerned, prison would probably be preferable.

But, being forced to endure isolation and the seemingly endless prattling of her well-meaning mother isn't the only problem that Kylie faces. She soon learns that Miriam has reason to believe that their old house may be haunted. Kylie is quite blatant about her scepticism, though - but, an encounter of her own in the basement leads her to believe that there may be a mysterious prowler lurking about the house.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Film Review - 'Zombeavers'

The basic set-up for Zombeavers is actually very simple. Three young college students ditch their boyfriends to spend a weekend together at a secluded cabin by a lake - while the film-makers happily embrace the cliched nature of it all. At the same time, though, a lost barrel of toxic waste rolls into that same lake - slowly making its way to a beaver's nest, where it turns the harmless animals into savage and carnivorous mutant zombie creatures.

The young women are, naturally, entirely unaware of this, though. They are much more concerned with the fact they have been tricked into going somewhere where their mobile phones can't pick up a signal, and with the brief encounter that they have with a creepy hunter - and, finally, with the fact that their boyfriends seem to have decided to follow them out to the cabin, anyway, despite not being invited.

Eventually, though, the mutated creatures emerge from the lake. Looking for food, and finding a cabin full of pretty young people conveniently close by, the zombie beavers launch an attack. So, now, the group is forced to fight for their lives against this horde of mutant zombies - hoping to survive long enough to make their escape. There really isn't much more to the plot than that, to be honest. Sure, there's some relationship drama going on here, as well - but, that's not the sort of thing you're looking for when you watch a movie called Zombeavers, is it?

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Review - 'Doctor Who', S09E06 - 'The Woman Who Lived'

If the previous episode of Doctor Who had any real flaw (other than the border-line goofy inclusion of barrels of electric eels, of course), then it's probably the fact that it became increasingly clear, by the end, that setting the scene for Maisie Williams's return this episode ultimately seemed to be more important than the previous episode's own story. The village of lovable Vikings, and the alien threat that they were forced to confront, were ultimately set to be entirely forgotten as we moved forward.

Of course, while that was definitely a shame (I would definitely have liked to see more of those characters), that also quickly proved to be the entire point. As we discovered at the end of the previous episode, the Doctor's use of alien technology to save the life of the young Viking girl, Ashildr (Maisie Williams), had the consequence of making her, effectively, immortal. She could still be injured and killed, sure - but, barring that, the alien technology operating inside her could essentially keep her young and healthy forever. The episode even ended with the Doctor clearly feeling as though he might have just made a terrible mistake - a feeling that only seemed to be confirmed by that fantastic ending sequence which showed us the toll that the years were set to take on the once innocent young woman.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Review - 'Arrow', S04E03 - 'Restoration'

While the main plot-line set in motion in the previous episode was, of course, Laurel and Thea heading off to Nanda Parbat with Sara Lance's body, their absence also created the perfect opportunity for an important bit of character development for both Oliver and Diggle. Finding themselves in a position where the two have only each other to depend on brings the lingering distrust that Diggle feels toward Oliver to the surface. With Diggle's two-year long investigation into his brother's murder finally resulting in a concrete lead in the form of Mina Fayad (Carmen Moore), a fellow member of the mysterious H.I.V.E organisation that Damian Darhk represents, Diggle is determined to get the answers he has been looking for for so long. At the same time, though, a meta-human hit-man (J.R. Bourne) has recently arrived from Central City with the express purpose of accepting a contract to hunt down, and kill, the Green Arrow.

Diggle's unwillingness to trust Oliver, of course, ultimately only serves to place both men in danger. As Diggle goes after the woman responsible for his brother's death on his own, Oliver is left to deal with the meta-human hit-man hired by Damian Darhk to kill him. With neither there to provide back-up to the other, the seemingly inevitable result is that Oliver is left wounded, while Diggle's target is able to get away when he is spotted. This, of course, gives them the perfectly motivation to try to work through their issues, as each is forced (by Felicity, mainly) to admit that the lack of trust between them is only going hurt their efforts to protect Star City.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Review - 'The Flash', S02E03 - 'Family of Rogues'

The are many elements that have gone into making The Flash such an entertaining show in the time that it successfully spun-off from Arrow. It is, quite honestly, a show that has got much more right than it has wrong, so far. One of the more interesting elements for me, though, has been the odd, antagonistic yet almost respectful, relationship that has developed between Barry Allen and his most successful rival, Leonard Snart (better known, by now, as Captain Cold). Captain Cold knows who the Flash really is, but has agreed to keep that information to himself. Barry, meanwhile, has agreed to keep his distance so long as Captain Cold does not kill anyone. It is a fascinating balance that has been established between the two foes - and, one that I was eager to see receive more attention this season. Fortunately, I didn't have long to wait - as the second season's third episode, 'Family of Rogues', once more places the focus on Leonard Snart.

The action kicks off when Leonard's sister, Lisa (given the name 'Golden Glider' by Cisco, though it doesn't seem to have caught on as well as any of his other names. It also, as a side-note, still doesn't really fit this character - coming across more as an awkward attempt to include the name that the character uses in the comics) returns to Central City desperate for help. Her brother, it seems, has been kidnapped and his life is likely in danger. Barry is naturally dubious - though, when Lisa reminds him that he still owes her brother a favour after he saved Barry's life last season, he reluctantly agrees to investigate.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Film Review - 'I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK'

Some films are just deliberately strange. They base themselves around a premise that's just so 'out there' that their very existence is likely to cause the viewer to raise an eyebrow. They tell a story so bizarre that any attempt to summarise it in a simple and straight-forward way simply wont be able to do it justice. I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK is one of those films. It is a romantic comedy, at heart - but, it is one set in a mental institution. The young couple whose gradually developing romantic relationship includes a young woman convinced that she is actually a highly sophisticated cyborg, and a young man convinced that he possesses the ability to steal other people's souls. It is, despite that, also a light-hearted and rather surreal sort of comedy from South Korean director, Park Chan-wook - a director better known for a much darker, and often much more violent, brand of film.

Young-goon (Lim Su-jeong), a young woman who works in a factory which produces radios, is entirely convinced that she is actually a cyborg. How, and why, she came to hold this particular delusion isn't really explored in any great detail - all we know, and all we really need to know, is that this is what she has come to believe. After a misguided attempt to 'recharge' herself is taken as an act of attempted suicide, though, Young-goon soon finds herself committed to a mental institution for her own safety. Young-goon's mother, we learn, was aware of her daughter's problems, but was largely ambivalent - encouraging her to keep her delusion a secret. Young-goon's grandmother, the person she was closest to as a child, suffered from her own mental issues, and was similarly committed years earlier.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Film Review - 'The Guard Post'

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) marks the border between North and South Korea. On both sides of the DMZ, a line of manned guard posts allows soldiers to keep watch for any sign of aggression from the other side. It's probably one of the last locations I would ever think of for a horror movie - yet, take a moment to consider to possibilities, and it does start to seem oddly fitting. It's also exactly where we find ourselves in the South Korean horror film, The Guard Post (originally titled GP 506).

As the film opens, one of these guard posts set up along the edge of the DMZ seems to have fallen silent. In response to this failure to report on schedule, a team of soldiers is hastily deployed to investigate. There, the soldiers find a guard post which seems, at first, to have been entirely abandoned - though, as they explore, the soldiers find evidence of horrific violence. Blood, mutilated bodies, and, at the centre of it all, what appears to be the sole survivor - a man covered in blood, and holding an axe.

Sergeant Major Noh (Cheon Ho-jin) is sent to lead an investigation. But, before he even arrives, his superiors begins pressing for the bodies to be transported back to HQ, and for the guard post to be cleaned up. Fearing some sort of inevitable cover-up, Noh pulls rank with the soldiers at the guard post, in order to give himself time to conduct a proper investigation - hoping to uncover the truth of what happened at GP 506 while he still can.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Review - 'Doctor Who', S09E05 - 'The Girl Who Died'

It is fairly impressive to think that a show that has been around for as long as Doctor Who has can still find ways to surprise me. After all, even shows that don't have anywhere near as much history can fall into the trap of becoming repetitive and predictable. But, how did this episode of Doctor Who manage to surprise me? Well, it did so by providing an answer to a mystery that I honestly didn't realise even was a mystery.

Observant viewers are likely to remember that Peter Capaldi actually appeared in an episode of Doctor Who well before being cast as the Doctor - appearing back when David Tennant still filled the role. I'm sure that there was some speculation about a possible connection back when Peter Capaldi was brought in as the new Doctor - but, for me, if I had given it any real thought at all, it would only have been to dismiss it as a casting quirk that wouldn't even be addressed. I suppose I should have known better - since this episode makes it clear that there is a connection, there. And, when that connection it revealed, it's done so in a way that feels fairly clever and, actually, genuinely touching. To top it off, this moment also provides some fairly clear confirmation that a Time Lord does have some control over the form that they take when they regenerate - sub-consciously, at least.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Film Review - 'Beasts of No Nation'

The uniquely tragic plight of children taken up and forced to become soldiers in conflicts around the world is something that many of us should already have some degree of familiarity with. Beasts of No Nation is not the first time that this particular subject matter has been explored, either in fiction or non-fiction, after all. But, it is also important subject matter - so, the fact that it has been covered before shouldn't be taken as any sort of mark against this film. What matters is the quality of the film, itself - and, what it contributes to our understanding of this important issues. Because, of course, with Beasts of No Nation being what it is, most viewers would have to go in knowing that this isn't the sort of film you would watch purely for 'entertainment'.

As the film opens, we meet Agu (Abraham Attah), a young boy living a contented life in a small African village. His village has, recently, become home to an increasing number of refugees, and there is a UN presence nearby to help keep the peace - both of which are worrying. But, for Agu, life continues as normal. He has friends. He has a loving family. And, he has a playful rivalry with his older brother.

The sharp contrast between these opening moments and everything that follows is, of course, entirely intentional - as it's not long until Agu's little village finds itself caught in the middle of civil war. Government forces move in and, mistakenly believing that the inhabitants are rebel spies, brutally executes everyone they find - including members of Agu's own family. Barely escaping, Agu flees into the wilderness, where he is promptly captured by actual rebel forces, lead by the unnamed Commandant (Idris Elba) - a charismatic and intimidating figure who offers Agu a new home and the chance for revenge.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Review - 'Arrow', S04E02 - 'The Candidate'

The first episode of the fourth season of Arrow got things off to a very impressive start. It established the lighter tone for this season, particular through Oliver's more hopeful attitude. It introduced a great new villain for the season with Damian Darhk. And, it still managed to top it off with some entertaining action sequences. It was only the first episode of the season, sure, but it left me hopeful that Arrow may have managed to overcome some of its issues from the third season. So, it's probably fair to say that my hopes for the second episode of the season were fairly high.

The primary catalyst for conflict in this episode is an old friend of the Queen family, Jessica Danforth (Jeri Ryan), who returns to Star City prepared to announce her intention to run for mayor, in spite of the clear danger that represents. Inspired by the Green Arrow's efforts to keep the city safe, Jessica his determined not to let herself be cowed by Damian Darhk and his militant organisation. Regardless of the fact that the leadership of Star City has, only recently, been killed off, and the fact that no one else is even willing to consider taking on the role of mayor of Star City, Jessica is determined to try to become the symbol of hope that she believes the city needs.

It's a noble sentiment, certainly - and, you can see the conflicted feelings that her announcement causes for both Oliver and Thea. Neither wants a family friend to place herself in such obvious danger, yet both clearly also feel some degree of admiration that she would be willing to do so. So, rather than continuing in their efforts to talk her out of her plans, Oliver and Thea instead resolve themselves to act as her behind-the-scenes body-guards - determined to protect her from the seemingly inevitable attempts on her life.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Review - 'The Flash', S02E02 - 'Flash of Two Worlds'

Picking up right where the previous episode left off, with the surprise (at least for anyone who hasn't been paying attention to the publicity for this season) reveal of Jay Garrick who, it turns out, has dire warnings for Barry Allen. The singularity opened at the end of the previous season was responsible for opening tears between this world and an alternate reality. And now, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, Barry Allen has found himself targeted by a figure known only as 'Zoom', who intends to drag villainous figures over from this alternate Earth in order to send them after the Flash - the first of which, of course, being Atom Smasher in the previous episode.

In the comics, of course, Jay Garrick has a history even longer than Barry Allen's - he is, after all, the first Flash, who first appeared way back in 1940. Of course, one of the great things about The Flash is that, while it fully embraces its comic-book roots, it isn't actually necessary to be familiar with any of that to be able to enjoy the show's own unique take. So, while Jay Garrick may have a long history in comics, all we really need to know, here, is that he comes from a parallel Earth where he, rather than Barry Allen, gained 'super-speed' abilities and became known as 'the Flash'.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Film Review - 'Tai Chi Hero'

Tai Chi Zero was a strange film. A strange blend of martial arts, comedy, and steampunk-style alternate history, given to us by a director unafraid to let his unrestrained imagination play out on the screen. It was far from perfect, sure - but, it was also a lot of fun. With Tai Chi Hero, a direct follow-up released in the same year, it would probably be fair to go in expecting more of the same.

The film picks up shortly after where Tai Chi Zero left off. In order to spare Yang Lu Chan (Jayden Yuan) from punishment for secretly learning the unique martial arts style of Chen village, which is forbidden to be taught to outsiders, Chen Yu Niang (Angelababy), the daughter of the current master of the village, agrees to a marriage of convenience. This allows him to avoid the (extremely unpleasant) punishment that elders of the village had in store for him - though, it doesn't exactly earn him the acceptance he was hoping for. To both the residents of Chen village, Yang Lu Chan is still very much an outsider - and, to his new wife, he is little more than a barely tolerated student. It's an awkward situation for our young hero to find himself in. And, it is only made worse when the eldest son of the Chen family, Zai Yang (Feng Shao Feng), returns - revealing that the true reason for the rule against teaching outsiders is based superstition, and a prophecy that any outsider that learns Chen-style martial arts will bring doom to the village. Master Chen (Tony Leung Ka Fai) is suspicious, though - fearing that his long estranged son is deliberately trying to turn the villagers against Lu Chan for reasons of his own.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Film Review - 'Tai Chi Zero'

Taken at face value, there is nothing about Tai Chi Zero that will lead you to believe you are about to watch anything unusual. It's a fairly straight-forward tale about a young hero setting out on a journey to learn the ancient secrets of martial arts, who ultimately ends up proving himself to his teachers by aiding them against a threat. I'm sure that there are any number of stories, in any number of mediums, that could be described in such a way. So, Tai Chi Zero isn't exactly original - but, director Stephen Fung was clearly still determined to make the most of it.

Our hero is Yang Lu Chan, a young man with a strange growth on his head which is, somehow, the source of formidable martial arts power. Whenever that growth is hit, Lu Chan's is turned into a kung fu superman, perfectly capable of turning the tide of a battle single-handed. But, there's a cost, of course - each use of this unique ability leaves him drained and, as he is warned by a kindly doctor early in the film, will eventually kill him. Lu Chan's only hope (other than giving up martial arts entirely, which obviously isn't an option) is to travel to Chen village, where he may be able to learn a secret and forbidden style of martial arts that will help him learn to control his strange ability. But, of course, it isn't going to be that easy for our intrepid hero. When he eventually arrives at Chen village, he finds that the mysterious Master he had hoped to learn from is nowhere to be found - and, that no one else in the village is interested in teaching him. The village has a strict rule against teaching their unique style to outsiders, it seems. Lu Chan's insistence on convincing someone to teach him only seems to lead to him being severely beaten... repeatedly - most often at the hands of Chen Yu Niang, the daughter of the Master he had hoped to learn from.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Review - 'Doctor Who', S09E04 - 'Before The Flood'

After the pretty spectacular cliff-hanger that Doctor Who managed to pull off at the end of the previous episode, it would probably be fair to say that my hopes for this episode were fairly high. We had the Doctor and Clara separated, with the Doctor heading back into the past to uncover the source of the current danger and Clara still trapped in the underwater facility. And, we had the clear indication that the Doctor's mission may not be entirely successful as, in the present, a new ghost joins the ranks of those already hunting those left behind - the Doctor, himself.

Rather than jump straight back into the action, though, Before The Flood makes the strange decision of including an opening sequence in which the Doctor addresses the camera directly. It is a sequence whose sole purpose seems to be to explain one of the many fascinating quirks of time travel - in this case, the 'bootstrap paradox'. Who is the Doctor actually speaking to in this scene? Well, it's possible that the camera simply represents the point of view of another character (one of the two who travelled with him when the group was separated during the last episode, perhaps) - though, the truth is we never actually find out.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Review - 'Arrow', S04E01 - 'Green Arrow'

Personal opinions are likely to vary, of course - but, for me, Arrow has only really had one truly great season. The third season had its share of great moments, sure - but, it was also a season of wildly inconsistent quality. And, I didn't care for the first season, at all - to the extent that I'd probably recommend skipping it entirely, if it wasn't for the important plot-points it covered. I didn't actually become a fan of Arrow until the second season - it was at this point that Arrow became a genuinely great show. While the third season wasn't quite able to maintain that same level of quality, it was still perfectly acceptable entertainment, over all - so, I have to admit that my hopes for the fourth season are fairly high.

Of course, the third season ended with some fairly significant changes. Most of the city believe that the Arrow is dead, which has given Oliver the opportunity to walk away from his life of vigilante crime-fighting - an opportunity which, after his experiences with Ra's al-Ghul and the League of Assassins, he seems perfectly willing to take. So, the third season ended with Oliver and Felicity leaving the city to start new lives - with crime-fighting duties being taken over by Diggle, Laurel, and Thea.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Review - 'The Flash', S02E01 - 'The Man Who Saved Central City'

The first season of The Flash displayed a wonderful willingness to fully embrace its status as a 'comic-book' show - something which effectively distinguished it from Arrow, the show from which it sprung. While Arrow is often serious and sombre, The Flash was allowed to be light-hearted and fun right from the start. Throughout the first season, the audience was treated to a series of fun, and increasingly outlandish, villains who never would have been allowed anywhere near Arrow - up to, and including, Gorilla Grodd. Barry, himself, also made for a much more easily likable hero than Oliver Queen - being someone who clearly enjoyed his new abilities, and regarded using them for the greater good to be a privilege, rather than a burden, and who also hadn't spent the first season of his show ruthlessly murdering people.

And, to top it off, the first season came to a close with the spectacular sight of the Flash hurling himself into a rapidly expanding black hole in a desperate attempt to disrupt it, and save the world.

The first episode of the second season picks up a few months after this epic moment, though - showing us a city that had clearly been saved, but leaving the details about exactly how momentarily vague. Publicly acknowledged as the one responsible for saving the city, the Flash is now a recognised hero - there's even going to be a celebration in his honours, where the Mayor intends to award him with the key to the city.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Game Review - 'The Beginner's Guide'

There is something oddly, and almost uncomfortably, intimate about the experience of playing through The Beginner's Guide. The basic idea is simple enough - we have game developer Davey Wreden, co-creator of The Stanley Parable, gathering up a collection of strange and experimental little games made by a fellow developer referred to only as 'Coda' and releasing them to the world. Why would he do that? Well, presumably, he is simple a fan of his friend's work, and wants to make sure that these strange little games receive the recognition that he feels they deserve. The truth is that, at first, we simply have no way of knowing.

All we do know, going in, is that we have been invited to come along on something of a virtual tour of a handful of Coda's games, with Davey providing commentary as we play. At first, this commentary plays out like something of a lecture in the art of game design (something that fits with the game's title), with Davey taking the time to explain aspects of each game as he walks us through from one to the other. Davey is clearly quite eager to share his thoughts on not only how Coda made these games, but also why - offering up his own interpretation on each game's use of imagery and symbolism. It's an interesting experience, on its own - but, of course, a lecture in game design is not the true purpose of The Beginner's Guide. As we make our way through each game, Davey's narration begins to grow more personal in nature - less focused on the games we are playing, and more focused on his relationship with the person who made them.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Film Review - 'Slaughter Night'

In 1857, a serial killer with a rather unpleasant habit of kidnapping, and decapitating, children is finally caught - just in time to save the last of his prospective victims. The killer, Andries Martiens, is severely beaten and, presumably, taken away to be executed.

Cut to the modern day, and we are introduced to Kristel Lodema, a young woman whose father is killed in a sudden car accident while the two are arguing. Feeling guilty for the role she believes she played in her father's death, Kristel offers to make the journey to an abandoned mine, where her father had spent time conducting research for a book he was writing before his death, in order to pick up his research - making the journey in the company of a group of her friends. The subject of her father's book just so happens to be the serial killer, Andries Martiens - and, in order to learn more about her father's work, Kristel agrees to go along on a tour of the mine.

Here, we learn that the brutal murders committed by Martiens' were, apparently, part of a bizarre, and bloody, ritual which would have allowed him to enter Hell and speak to the souls of his dead parents. The ritual was interrupted when Martiens was captured, though, and Martiens was offered to chance to act as a 'fire-man' (someone whose job was to enter methane filled tunnels, dressed in wet rags and armed with a lit torch, in order to ignite the gas so that mining could continue) in place of a traditional execution. So, the dark and gloomy tunnels where Kristel and her friends find themselves also happens to be the same tunnels where Martiens finally died. But, now, Martiens spirit is active once more - possessing the bodies of Kristel's friends as he tries to, finally, complete the ritual that was interrupted so long ago.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Film Review - 'Reign of Assassins'

As the opening narration in director Su Chao-pin's wuxia epic, Reign of Assassins, tells us, Buddhism was originally brought to China, long ago, by an Indian monk named Bhodi. While that monk is, naturally, long dead by the time the film begins, it is still believed that his remains can be a source of supernatural power for whoever happens to possess them.

A group of dangerous assassins, known as the Dark Stone clan, seek to acquire the monk's mummified remains on behalf of their leader, called the Wheel King (Wang Xueqi) - who wants the power it offers for his own mysterious, and no doubt sinister, purpose. But, it seems that one member of the Dark Stone clan, a young woman called Drizzle (Kelly Lin), may have plans of her own.

After an encounter with a Buddhist monk, though, Drizzle finds herself moved to leave her life of violence and death behind - betraying her former comrades, stealing Bodhi's mummified remains, and fleeing.

Undergoing a procedure to change her appearance, Drizzle (now played by Michelle Yeoh), taking the name Zeng Jing, hopes to begin a new life in a small town far from the reach of her former comrades. There, she meets Ar-sheng (Jung Woo-sung), a young man who works as a messenger - the two eventually falling in love, and marrying. Of course, the Wheel King isn't willing to just let her go (especially not Bodhi's remains, which he had invested so much into recovering) - and, it seems inevitable that her past will eventually catch up to her.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Review - 'Doctor Who', S09E03 - 'Under The Lake'

After all the ground covered by the first two episodes of the ninth season of Doctor Who, it is probably fitting that the third would attempt to shift the focus onto something a little smaller in scope - if only to give the audience a little extra time to come to terms with the implications of, for example, Missy and Davros potentially working together, now, or whatever secrets might be contained within the Doctor's 'Confession Dial'. There are, obviously, far-reaching implication yet to be explored there. But, with Under The Lake, all of that is put to one side, for the moment, so that we can shift focus to a new, self-contained, tale.

Bringing the focus back to Earth, the audience is quickly introduced to the crew of an underwater mining facility, sometime in the 22nd Century, who have just made an unusual discovery, in the form of a ship that is clearly not of human construction - whoever unwilling the crew may be to accept its possible alien origins. The crew don't really have long to argue this point, though, as it quickly becomes apparent that this ship isn't all that has been brought into the facility. First, their own Captain is suddenly killed when the ship's engines suddenly activate. Then, they find themselves confronted by strange, ghostly, figures - one of whom clearly seems to be their own former crew-mate.