Saturday, 28 May 2016

Film Review - 'Batman: Year One'





Gotham City, it seems, has always been a terrible place to live. Even in the years well before its streets were plagued by a cavalcade of colourful villains, it is still a city firmly in the grip of corruption and organised crime. The people of Gotham City may not have to worry about a villain like the Joker, just yet - but the infamous crime boss, Carmine Falcone, is still than enough for the Gotham City Police Department to contend with. With most of the city's police forces on his pay-roll, it seems as though there simply isn't anyone in Gotham willing, and able, to confront him.

Things aren't entirely hopeless, though, Two men have recently arrived in Gotham City, each hoping to make a difference in their own way. The first is James Gordon, recently transferred to the Gotham City Police Department after his assistant in an internal affairs investigation led to the downfall of a fellow officer. He may have been in the right, technically - but, the complicated loyalties of police officers has created a situation in which no one in his old department is willing to work with him. Gordon is eager to take a stand against organised crime in his new home, though - but, first, he needs to do something about the rampant corruption within the ranks of the GCPD.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E23 - 'Schism'





Warning: Spoilers Below.

With HIVE's underground sanctuary destroyed, and Damian Darhk's access to the world's nuclear stock-piles cut off, it feels as though it should all be over. Without the underground sanctuary to hide out in, HIVE's plan to wipe out all life on Earth, and start over, has become entirely unfeasible (for, at least, as long as it takes them to build a new sanctuary, anyway). So, it seems as though 'Team Arrow' has already won.

But, of course, we know that can't be the case. With his wife dead, and his daughter missing, Damian Darhk seems determined to go ahead with his insane plan, anyway. At this point, Darhk isn't interested in any horribly misguided plan to 'start over' – now, it seems as though he just wants to watch the world burn. With this new-found focus, it doesn't take long, at all, for Darhk to go back on the offensive – re-acquiring the means of accessing Rubicon from Felicity, and not wasting any time in launching as many nuclear warheads as he can access (which is, basically, all of them).

So, now, 'Team Arrow' find that they have only two hours to save the entire world – which feels like a formidable enough task. But, beyond that, there is also the small matter of another nuclear missile headed directly to Star City, which is due to arrive in less than an hour. On top of that, whatever ability Oliver had acquired to resist Damian Darhk's magic no longer seems to work, now that Darhk has received a significant power-boost. So, clearly, the stakes are high.

Review - 'The Flash', S02E23 - 'The Race Of His Life'





Warning: Spoilers Below.

As plot-twists go, the death of Henry Allen at the end of the previous episode wasn't really the drastic shock it was probably intended to be. With Barry feeling such a heightened sense of optimism as a result of his time in the Speed Force, it seemed depressingly inevitable that there would be some sort of tragedy to knock him back down. Similarly, with Barry's father only recently announcing that he intended to return to Star City, and with the two sharing so many moments of genuine father/son bonding recently, it had begun to feel just as inevitable that Henry Allen would be source of this new tragedy.

On the one hand, it definitely felt like a shame to see the character's time on the series seemingly come to an end. The initial decision to offer John Wesley Shipp a role on The Flash may have been intended as a entertaining bit of stunt casting (given his previous history with the character), but over the past two seasons, he has also managed to establish himself as a major contributing factor to the initial success of the series. Over the past two season, I've often found myself wishing that we could have seen more of Henry Allen – or, that he would have been allowed to play a more pivotal role in some of the action.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Review - 'Containment', Episode 6 - 'He Stilled The Rising Tumult'






Things continue to progress at a slow, but steady, pace as Containment moves into its sixth episode. Picking up on plot-threads set in motion during the previous episode, Lex and Jake are now both entirely committed to uncovering whatever sinister mystery might lurk behind the viral outbreak. Of course, separate as they are by the containment wall, there is very little in the way of support that they can offer to each other – but, each is still determined to do their part.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Book Review - 'Zone One', by Colson Whitehead





Mark Spitz is, by his own admission, nothing special.

He isn't a hero, or a soldier. He isn't even a particularly competent survivor. He's average - and, he always has been. He would be the first to admit that he owes his continued survival, in the face of a zombie outbreak, as much to luck as any other factor. However he managed it, though, the fact of the matter is that Mark Spitz actually has managed to survive the worst of the outbreak - and, now, he has joined up with other survivors, in an effort to reclaim territory, and rebuild.

His current role is as a member of one of a number of civilian 'sweeper teams', based in a reclaimed section of land referred to as Zone One. Working with his team, his job is a fairly straight-forward one - to head out into unsettled areas in order to locate any lone zombies that the armed forces might have missed.

Like with just about everything else in his life, Mark Spitz finds that his performance as a civilian 'sweeper' is average, at best - and, the he is often required to depend on the support of his team-mates. As he works with his team to reclaim sections of Manhattan, though, mark Spitz finds himself looking back over his life - recalling his life before the catastrophe, and the sequence of events that brought him to this point.


Saturday, 21 May 2016

Film Review - 'The Road'





The world is dying a slow, and very painful, death. An unnamed, and almost entirely unexplained, catastrophe has caused temperatures to being to drop to almost unlivable levels. Food has become increasingly scarce - to such an extent that some groups of desperate survivors have turned toward cannibalism just to survive. And, in the middle of it all, a man and his young son make their way across the country, following the faint hope of a place where things are not yet quite so bleak.

That's really all there is to the over-arching story of The Road - in both the film, and the original novel by Cormac McCarthy on which it is based. The novel on which the film is based was written in a distinctly minimalist style - so, naturally, the film can really only follow suit.

As the man and his son, neither of whom are ever named, make their way toward an unknown destination, the story follows their progress - and, the audience finds itself in the role of observer in their desperate, perhaps even hopeless, search for a safe haven. In almost painful detail, we are shown the pair's struggles to survive on meager supplies, their near escapes from roving bands of cannibals, and their constant efforts to just keep moving. At points, the story may offer a faint glimmer of hope to these dual protagonists - but, it does so seemingly only so that this hope can eventually be stripped away.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E16 - 'Legendary'



The previous episode of Legends of Tomorrow had proved to be the best episode, so far, of a rather inconsistent first season. With the team fighting a desperate battle against the Time Masters, on a space station at the end of the universe, it was an episode that provided exactly the sort of wildly over-the-top story that I was hoping for when the series was first announced – and, it was also an episode that managed to pack in an impressive amount genuinely exciting spectacle, with its action sequences. Beyond that, too, it was an episode that had even managed to pull off some moments of genuine emotion, toward the end, with Leonard Snart's sacrifice, and the reactions of various characters.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E22 - 'Lost in the Flood'





The penultimate episode of this season of The Flash had proved be a somewhat underwhelming affair, despite the clear promise that it had seemed to hold. With Arrow also moving closer to the end of its current season, I have to admit to feeling some concern about whether it, too, might ultimately fail to measure up to my expectations. It is, of course, entirely unfair to judge one series by what occurs in the other, regardless of how intertwined they often are – I'm well aware of that. But, in this case, I'm afraid that I just couldn't help myself.

Keeping up at the very moment at which the previous episode ending, with Oliver and Diggle tracking down Damian Darhk just as he requires new-found power, this episode certainly did manage to get off to a great start. The fact that this opening scenes ended with Darhk falling into the classic 'overconfident villain' trap of not simply killing his adversaries when he had them at his mercy was a bit bothersome, sure – but, it was still difficult to deny that the display of Darhk's newly acquired power was very impressive.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E22 - 'Invincible'





Following his experiences in the Speed Force, Barry Allen has returned to the fight against Zoom with a level of confidence which is, perhaps, higher than anything he has ever felt before. This new attitude is understandable, of course (after all, as Barry points out, he did basically have the Speed Force, itself, confirm that it wanted him to be the Flash, and that it wanted him to win) – but, his new-found confidence is also clearly troubling to his team-mates.

With there being such a fine line between justifiable confidence and over-confidence, the rest of 'Team Flash' are, just as understandably, worried that Barry might be on the wrong side of it – and, that he might be setting himself up for eventual failure. This seems especially true in the face of such overwhelming odds – with Zoom still loose and, now, with an entire army of meta-human criminals brought over from Earth-2 to fight for him. With things seeming this dire, it makes perfect sense that the rest of the team might be unconvinced by Barry's frequent assertions that 'everything would be fine'.

Review - 'Containment', Episode 5 - 'Like A Sheep Among Wolves'







With Lex already struggling with the dubious morality of his role as the public face of containment efforts, there is a definite sense of escalating tension between him and Dr Sabine Lommers as Containment moves into its fifth episode.

With the situation in the quarantine zone seeming to steadily worsen, Lex wants nothing more than to play a more active role in actually helping the people currently trapped behind the containment wall. Fortunately, Lex gets his chance when Dr Lommers puts him in charge of a plan to deliver a shipment of food into the containment zone – though, unfortunately, he will have to do so without the support, or time to prepare, that he believes a food-drop would require.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Film Review - 'Bubba Ho-tep'





Alright, stop me if you've heard this one, before.

Two men living out the last days of their lives in a decrepit retirement home somewhere in Texas come face-to-face with an ancient Egyptian curse, in the form of a stolen sarcophagus and the mummified corpse that it contains. The mummy rises from the dead (as mummies often seem to do), and set about terrorising the elderly residents of these run-down retirement him - consuming their soles in order to sustain itself. As their friends begin to die around them, these two realise that that they are the only ones willing to believe that there is anything sinister going on. So, it falls to them, along, to confront this evil creature, and destroy it.

Also, one of these men may actually be Elvis Presley, while the other is an African American man convinced that he is actually former United States President, John F. Kennedy.

Elvis (Bruce Campbell), we are told, found himself in this unenviable position due to the fact that, years earlier, he had made arrangements to temporarily swap places with the best Elvis impersonator he could find (also Bruce Campbell) - giving the impersonator the chance to truly be 'the King' for a while, and allowing the 'real' Elvis Presley to enjoy some time free from fame and instant recognition.

Some Thoughts About 'Atlas Reactor', Following The Free Weekend


In certain corners of the Internet, it seems as though Trion has become something of a punching bag for gamers – and, I have to admit, It's an attitude that I just can't bring myself to share.

I'm aware of some of the issues surrounding their games, of course. Their handling of the Western launch of Korean MMORPG, ArcheAge, for one. The alterations that they made to the pricing structure of their own game, Trove, for another. There might even be controversies surrounding their other games that I'm just not familiar with - but, to be honest, I just don't care.

My own opinions about those other issues aside, the game that Trion is currently developing, Atlas Reactor, looked interesting enough to catch my attention (even if Trion's recent decision to switch from the planned free-to-play model to a buy-to-play one seems set to become another issue for players). So, with Trion recently offering a free weekend, giving everyone the chance to download the game and try it for themselves, it definitely seemed like as good a time as any to have a closer look at the game.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E15 - 'Destiny'






One of the most disappointing trends of this first season of Legends of Tomorrow is the fact that, more often than not, the season's central plot-line has often been its weakest element. The season has had more than its fair share of genuinely great moments over the past fifteen episodes, of course – but, whenever attention is turned directly to efforts to stop Vandal Savage's rise to power, there has been a very noticeable, and very unfortunate, dip on quality. It has been a very frustrating aspect of this first season – and, it has given much of the season a somewhat inconsistent, and unfocused, quality.

Review - 'Arrow', S04E21 - 'Monument Point'





The previous episode of Arrow had brought things to a close on a very dramatic note. The exact details of HIVE's master-plan had finally been revealed – and, as it turns out, there was much more at stake than simply a single city. More than that, though, Damian Darhk had managed to get his hands on exactly what he needed to finally put this plan in motion – a means of accessing nuclear stockpiles all over the world, in preparation for a devastating attack.

While HIVE's master-plan seems to centre around the highly misguided goal of tearing down a corrupt world so that something new can grow in its place, it also seems as though Darhk also had plans of his own in motion. After all, with death and destruction having already been revealed as the true source of his magical power, it seems clear that HIVE's plan will also have the unavoidable side-effect of making Damian Darhk stronger than he has ever been before. Clearly, the stakes are higher than they have ever been for 'Team Arrow', as they find themselves fighting to prevent a nuclear apocalypse – and, in doing so, quite literally fighting to save the world.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Review - 'Containment', Episode 4 - 'With Silence And Tears'






While the first two episodes of the season suffered, somewhat, by focusing on establishing the 'viral outbreak' premise at the expense of development its cast of characters, the third episode seemed to manage to find a good balance between the two. For the fourth episode, though, the series seems to have made a complete 180 degree turn – with the viral outbreak seeming to be pushed more into the background, as we spend more time with those who find themselves caught up in it.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E21 - 'The Runaway Dinosaur'





Watching Barry Allen slowly disintegrate, as Harrison Wells's efforts to restore his powers went awry, had been a very dramatic not to end on for the previous episode of The Flash. For the audience, though, there wasn't likely to be any real question about whether Barry was truly dead (though, it would certainly have been a genuinely shocking twist if that had been the case). Instead, the true issue to be explored as we move into the latest episode is where Barry actually was – and, when and how he would make his inevitable return. And, of course, there is the similarly intriguing matter of what the fall-out would be for the rest of the cast – particularly Jesse Wells and Wally West, who had both managed to get caught up in this new particle accelerator explosion.

With that in mind, it's probably for the best that this episode didn't waste any time in revealing that Barry was, actually, still alive – and, in resolving the mystery of where he actually was, now. Barry, it seems, as been pulled into another reality – a world created for him by the Speedforce, the mysterious source of his powers. There, this mysterious entity intends on communicating with him, by taking on the form of those closest to him. It seems as though the Speedforce has a lesson that it intends on teaching Barry, or a test that it wants to put him through – or, perhaps, it's actually a bit of both. Whatever its intentions truly are, though, it seems that the Speedforce doesn't plan on simply letting Barry have the powers that he gave away back until he jumps through a few hoops.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Film Review - 'Big Man Japan'





A bizarre parody of an already occasionally bizarre genre, Big Man Japan takes the the entire concept of Japanese Kaiju films (in which, basically, a giant monster shows up and starts smashing stuff. They don't tend to be all that complicated) in an unusual direction.

For much of the film, what we are actually watching is a slow, and somewhat sedate, mockumentary-style film exploring the day-to-day life of the poor sap whose job it is to fight off a variety these giant creatures - our Kaiju super-hero, Daisato (Hitoshi Matsumoto). Daisato is the latest in a long line of 'Grand Men' - super-powered individuals responsible for protecting Japan from of bizarre creatures. Thanks to their natural ability to transform into giants, themselves, when subjected to a strong enough charge of electricity, these 'Grand Men' have been responsible for protecting Japan for generations.

While Daisato's predecessors were celebrated as national heroes, though, Daisoto, himself, is barely tolerated by the people of Japan. The energy that it takes to bring about his transformation is enough to power a whole city for an entire night - which leads to protests of wasteful use of energy. His battles are so rare, and thought to be so dull, that televised screenings have been shifted to an after-midnight time-slot that few bother to watch. Also, he is so poorly paid that he has had to resort to hiring an agent to arrange sponsorship deals. And, finally, when a monster that does pose a significant challenge finally makes an appearance, Daisato's first instinct is to flee - leading to accusations that he is a coward, on top of everything else.

Film Review - 'Max Manus: Man of War'





Even with the wide variety of stories that have already been told, in a wide variety of different mediums, it can be difficult to truly grasp exactly how all-encompassing the two World Wars truly were. Even apart from the key figures, and events, which have already received global recognition, it seems as though every country involved has its own share of stories which, quite simply, aren't as well known. I am, for example, not ashamed to admit that I had never heard of Max Manus, or the role he played in the Norwegian resistance to Nazi occupation, before coming across this film.

Recently returned from Finland, where he fought alongside Finnish forces against the Soviet Union in the Winter War, Max Manus (Aksel Hennie) is dismayed to find that his country is now occupied by a foreign power. Having fought to help Finland maintain its own independence, he soon comes to regard his own country's surrender to Nazi invaders as a clear mark of shame - even going as far as claiming that the whole situation makes him ashamed to be Norwegian.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Film Review - 'The Rover'





The Rover is an unrelentingly bleak film. It's probably worthwhile to make that clear right from the start. It is a remorselessly grim, and often very violent, film - one that is fully immersed in darker shades of grey.

There aren't going to be any happy resolutions, here. There aren't going to be any moments of levity to lighten the mood. And, there certainly aren't going to be any clearly defined 'heroes' for the audience to identify with. Of course, all that being said, whether any of this would count as a strength, or a weakness, is purely a matter of personal preference.

Taking place 10 years after the largely undefined collapse of modern civilisation, The Rover introduces the audience to a dystopian take on the Australian Outback (a place which, to be fair, already has the look and feel of a desolate wasteland, even without this context). How, and why, modern civilisation managed to collapse in such a way clearly isn't something that the film intends to address. As far as The Rover is concerned, that just doesn't matter.

What does matter, though, is the simple fact that this is the world that the film's cast of characters is forced to inhabit. In this world, they are forced to live out bleak, and increasingly hopeless, lives - desperately clinging to whatever form of normalcy they can manage to find.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S01E14 - 'River of Time'






After a season-long trend of Vandal Savage managing to slip from the team's grasp every time they come close to defeating him, the previous episode ended with with Savage pushed into a corner – only for Kendra Saunders to take it upon herself to make the decision not to kill him, after all.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E20 - 'Genesis'





Just as The Flash is setting events in motion for its final confrontation between Barry Allen and Zoom, as its second season draws to a close, so to is this fourth season of Arrow rapidly approaching its own final confrontation between Oliver Queen and Damian Darhk. Of course, freed from prison and with his formidable mystical powers restored, Damian Darhk may be more dangerous then ever before as he moves to re-establish himself as the leader of HIVE – even going as far brutally eliminating those among HIVE's leadership who were content to leave him in prison.

Believing himself to be essentially powerless against Darhk, in his current state, Oliver comes to the conclusion that what he really needs is some magical knowledge of his own – and, so, Oliver reaches out to John Constantine, hoping that his old ally can point him in the right direction. Constantine (who seems to have returned from the trip to Hell he had apparently taken the last time he was mentioned) directs Oliver to a casino in Hub City where, Constantine claims, Oliver will find someone that can teach him how to resist Damian Darhk's magic.

Review - 'Containment', Episode 3 - 'Be Angry At The Sun'






With two episode almost entirely devoted to establishing its central premise, it is probably well past time that Containment began to give the same attention to its cast of characters. That has, after all, been my main issue with the series, so far – as, with a few notable exceptions, the majority of the characters we have been introduced to have struggled to make any sort of lasting impression. While those previous two episodes were somewhat underwhelming in themselves, though, they did still hint at the obvious potential of Containment – so, it actually came as something of a relief to see things start to come together by the end of the third episode.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S02E20 - 'Rupture'





A couple of episodes ago, we had a moment where Barry Allen willingly gave up his powers in order to save the life of Wally West. It was a moment which was supposed to come across as a tense, dramatic, and very necessary, sacrifice on Barry's part – but, thanks to the way the scene was scripted, it just didn't come across that way. What we had, instead, was Wally West already set free, while Barry chose to give up his powers anyway, just because he had given his word. It was a frustrating scene at the time – and, it still frustrates me, now.

In the previous episode, Barry's plan to deal with the 'villain of the week' (who, it should be remembered, was actually little more than a scared and desperate kid) was to, essentially, trick him into killing himself. If we were supposed come out of that episode believing that Griffin Grey had survived then, once again, the point really wasn't conveyed very well. If not, then that means that Barry willingly killed a meta-human – and, no one felt any particular urge to call Barry out on it. Either way, it was frustrating.

The point I'm getting at, here, is that I just haven't been very impressed with Barry Allen, lately – and, the fault for that, I believe, lies largely with the writing and direction of the previous episodes.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Film Review - 'The Horde'





For such a simple premise, zombies have proved to be the basis for a surprisingly long-lasting fad - one which, despite its inherent simplicity, has managed to provide a wide variety of stories (of, admittedly, wildly varying quality) in a wide variety of mediums. Or, perhaps, it could just as easily be that this very simplicity was the reason for its success? It is, after all, true that much of the success of the 'zombie' fad has centred around simply placing them in different contexts - different locations, different casts of characters, even different genres (ranging from goofy comedy to serious horror).

The Horde, for example, is a French horror film initially released back in 2009 - and it is, in many ways, a very conventional example of the 'zombie' genre. But, that fact alone shouldn't count either for or against it, of course - rather, as with all films, it should be judged on its own merits.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Film Review - 'Captain America: Civil War'






As much as I enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron, at the time of its initial release, one of the issues that I did have concerned how messy and unfocused the film occasionally felt. The impression that I had, at the time, was that the difficulty of sharing the focus between so many characters had simply proved to be more than the film could handle (I had other issues, too, of course – though, there's no need to get into that, here). Considering that Captain America: Civil War actually has a larger, and more varied, cast of characters to handle, the fact that it doesn't feel nearly as messy is something I found to be genuinely impressive.