Thursday, 25 May 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E23 - 'Finish Line'





Considering that The Flash had been building up to the possibly death of Iris West for most of its third season, the idea that it would actually reach that point, and seemingly go through with it, at the end of the season's penultimate episode had struck me as very unexpected. It had always felt unlikely that the series would actually kill off such a key member of its supporting cast – so, when that moment actually came, I'm sure that most in the audience probably expected the season finale to have some final twist in store. On reflection, the previous episode had even given a pretty clear hint at what that final twist might be – a hint so obvious that I have seen the theory of H. R. Wells taking Iris's place, and sacrificing himself, mentioned many times over the past week.

This, as we learn in the opening moments of the final episode, is exactly what happened. Still feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt at being the one to inadvertently reveal Iris's location to Savitar, Wells had taken it upon himself to use the broken-off piece of Savitar's armour to lead him to the villain's lair – and, working alone, he had even managed to free Iris while the villains were distracted. Of course, they were discovered at the last moment – and, in a last minute attempt to save Iris, Wells used his holographic projector device to, essentially, change places with her. Sure, the fact that the success of H. R.'s plan ultimately hinged on Savitar's decision to send Killer Frost after them, rather than coming himself (and, as a result, actually giving them enough time to make the switch), struck me as a little odd – but, in the end, the entire sequence felt just plausible enough that I was perfectly happy to just go with it.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E22 - 'Nevertheless, She Persisted'





Over the course of the past few episodes, Supergirl had finally managed to achieve a sense of narrative focus that it had been lacking for most of the season. Sure, the previous episode may have wasted some of the potential offered by the Daxamite invasion of Earth – but, at least, we finally had some sort of clearly defined challenge to bring us to the end of the season. Also, the final moments of the previous episode did manage to significantly raise the stakes, as we went into the finale, with the reveal that Superman had, somehow, fallen under Rhea's control.

It had felt like a fairly classic 'comic-book' moment to end things on, last week. Sure, given how likable Tyler Hoechlin was back at the beginning of the season, it would have been a shame to have wasted Superman's return by having him stuck in the role of a brainwashed slave, it also would have been a shame to not capitalise on the potential of some classic 'hero versus hero' action. Fortunately, the season's final episode was able to find room for both – opening on a very entertaining action sequence that pitted Superman and Supergirl against each other, before bringing a quick and decisive end to the whole sub-plot, as the episode moves on to more important matters.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Review - 'American Gods', S01E04 - 'Git Gone'





If American Gods has had any real flaw, so far, then it would probably be in how disconnected the events of the past few episodes have felt. It's not much of a flaw, of course – since those somewhat disjointed sequences have still been very entertaining, and the series is clearly building toward establishing a broader narrative, as the pieces all start to fall into place. But, it has still been noticeable. While the season's fourth episode does not give us any revelations concerning either the Old Gods or the New Gods, or the brewing war between them, it does still manage to provide some much needed context for some of the strange events of the series, by placing the spotlight on Shadow's recently deceased wife, Laura (Emily Browning).

While the previous episode having ended on the reveal of Laura seemingly returned from the dead, and waiting for Shadow in his motel room, this episode takes the somewhat unexpected route of stepping back from that moment. Delaying what is certain to be a very interesting conversation, the episode instead focuses on showing us how this moment came to be, from Laura's perspective.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E22 - 'Infantino Street'





Given the fact that this is the penultimate episode of the season, and that the moment of Iris West's death is drawing closer, it seems a bit strange that the episode would devote so much time to what is, essentially, a rather light-hearted detour. But, given the circumstances, this odd blending of light and dark tones actually works rather well – making this easily the strongest episode of the season and, perhaps, one of the strongest of the series, so far.

The team's hopes now rest entirely on Tracy Brand's 'speed bazooka', and the slim possibility that it might truly be able to trap Savitar in the Speed Force – but, of course, there is still the very important issue of how, exactly, such a potent piece of technology can be powered. The energy required to actually activate the bazooka is, after all, well beyond anything that they team currently have access to – a piece of Dominator technology recovered in the aftermath of their recent invasion.

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E21 - 'Resist'





Over the past couple of episodes, Supergirl has managed to do a very impressive job of addressing many of the lingering issues I have had with the season. It had even managed to do so while, at the same time, significantly raising the stakes for the season's final act – setting up a conflict that promised to end things on a high note. It's really just a shame that, in the end, the season's penultimate episode seems to have squandered some of that potential.

It all got off to a pretty great start, of course. That opening image of Rhea's Daxamite fleet hovering over National City, firing down onto the streets below, was definitely an effective way of establishing just how high the stakes of this conflict truly are. Also, those early scenes of Daxamite forces working swiftly to impose martial law on the city, while dealing with any Resistance, were also very effective.

In particular, a definitely appreciate the moment in which Rhea sent some of her forces to attack the DEO headquarters, directly. Not only was it the sort of sensible strategic decision which allows her to appear as a genuinely competent, and effective, villain – but, it also created a genuinely fantastic 'hero moment' for Alex, when she made her escape by leaping from the balcony, confident that her sister would catch her. While it is a bit disappointing that the series just doesn't have the budget with which to truly create the sense of scale required for a convincing large-scale invasion such as this, there was still a lot to enjoy, here.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Review - 'American Gods', S01E03 - 'Head Full of Snow'





By the end of its third episode, American Gods is a series that still seems fairly determined remain something of a mystery. Approaching it all from Shadow's perspective, as we are, there is definitely a sense that the creator's might actually want us to feel as overwhelmed as he is – but, at this point, I have to wonder if they might be pushing it a bit too far.

While we now know that Wednesday's ultimate destination is somewhere in Wisconsin, for example, we still don't actually know anything about what he is planning, once he gets there. Also, while we have met both Old Gods and New Gods, over the past couple of episodes, the series still hasn't felt any need to make the nature of the conflict between them explicit.

Instead, the series has been content to move at its own pace – introducing its various elements, and building its world, through a series of loosely connected vignettes, and a central plot-line that is clearly in no real hurry to reveal its secrets. Anyone in the audience who actually has read the book will, of course, already have a very clear idea of where things are headed – and, as a result, I have very much enjoyed the slow and steady pace that the series has set for itself. Rather than worrying about any of unanswered questions, I have been able to simply sit back and enjoy seeing some of my favourite scenes from the novel recreated in live action – just as I have enjoyed the new additions that have been made, as the show's creators take the opportunity to expand on the source material. At the same time, though, I do have to wonder if, and when, it might start to test the patience of new-comers.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E21 - 'Cause and Effect'





The idea that The Flash would choose to follow-up the reveal of Savitar's true identity with what is, essentially, a light-hearted filler episode struck me as very strange – especially with the end of the season drawing so close. And yet, in the end, that is exactly what this episode is. Oddly enough, though, it also manages to be up there among the most purely entertaining episodes we have had, recently (not quite on the same level as the musical cross-over, sure – but, there are moments where it does come pretty close).

Following a tense stand-off his his evil doppelgรคnger, Barry is left understandably distraught by the revelation that it is actually some twisted version of himself who is responsible for Iris's death. The rest of the team, meanwhile, are just as understandably concerned about how they could ever hope to fight someone who already knows every decision that they are going to make, due simply to the fact that he can remember it.

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E20 - 'City of Lost Children'





The previous episode of Supergirl had actually managed to catch me by surprise, with the way that it directly addressed some of my lingering issues with the series, as a whole. And, now, it continues to surprise to surprise me with its latest episode, by directly addressing another – with an episode that seems set on finally doing something truly worthwhile with the character of James Olsen.

Now, while I'm perfectly aware that opinions on this point could be wildly varied, I've never actually had any issue with the series portrayal of James Olsen. I don't have any real problem with the changes that have been made to his usual personality and demeanour – and, I also don't have any issue with the fact that he is black, now. I also don't have any problem with Mehcad Brooks's performance, in the role. I feel like I have probably said all of this before. But, it's worth reiterating – especially when talking about this episode.

My only real issue with the character has been with the fact that he just hasn't ever been utilised very well. The writers of this series made the decision, early on, to take a character who was, arguably, almost as important to the story of Superman as Lois Lane, and make fundamental changes to his usual portrayal as they set him up as something of a mentor figure for Kara – then, they absolutely failed to do anything to justify any of that.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Review - 'American Gods', S01E02 - 'The Secret Of Spoons'





With its first episode, American Gods had managed to establish itself as a series content to move at its own, rather relaxed, pace. Clearly, it was going to be a series content to take its time, as it moved through it various plot-points – lingering on each as it gave its talented cast plenty of opportunity to establish themselves, and fully embody their characters. It's the sort of thing that could test the patience form some in the audience, of course. For me, though, this slow and relaxed pace quickly became one of the strong points of that first episode – and, I definitely appreciated the fact that the second episode was clearly determined to continue in much the same way.

Throughout this second episode, we have Shadow recovering from his encounter with Technical Boy's faceless thugs, tying up the last loose-ends of his old life, and setting out with Mr Wednesday to the first stop on their cross-country journey, in Chicago. Along the way, Shadow has an encounter with another of the New Gods, Media (Gillian Anderson) – who, speaking to Shadow through a television screen in the form of Lucille Ball, attempted to win him over to side of the New Gods. It's a fantastic sequence, and Gillian Anderson does a great job with the role – to such an extent that I am already looking forward to seeing her appear in other forms, throughout the season.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E20 - 'I Know Who You Are'





Barry's trip to the future, in the previous episode, may not have gone quite as smoothly as he would have hoped, but it did still provide him with one very important piece of information – a way to trap Savitar in the Speed Force, thanks to the theories of Tracy Brand (Anne Dudek). The only problem, though, is that the device capable of trapping Savitar is not actually invented for another four years, much too late to save Iris. In the present, Tracy is still just a graduate student – one whose theories and ideas have been dismissed as fantasy by her professors, and who is currently considering abandoning her academic pursuits entirely, in favour of a career as a barista.

The solution to this current dilemma seems straight-forward enough, of course – with Barry already in possession of the results of the future scientists research, it becomes a simple matter of convincing the grad student to take on the challenge of developing the technology four years ahead of schedule. But, of course, Savitar is also aware of Tracy's existence – and, with Killer Frost now firmly committed to supporting the villainous speedster's plans, it becomes a race against time to protect Tracy, so that she can develop the trap to finally stop Savitar.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E19 - 'Alex'





While the second season of Supergirl has been a fairly significant improvement over the first, in a variety of ways, there are still a handful of lingering issues which have yet to be resolved, or even addressed.

First, there is the lack of any truly compelling villains. There is, also, fact that we still don't have any sort of coherent, over-arching, plot-line to carry the season toward its final episode. Then, there is the way in which certain member of the supporting cast, particularly Maggie Sawyer and James Olsen, have been poorly handled by the writers – with Maggie finding herself stuck in a very familiar, and very thankless, 'love interest' role while James is pushed further and further into the background.

There is also the small matter of Kara, herself – though, personally, I've always tried to think of her occasional moments of unlikeability, where her stubbornness gets the better of her, as a deliberate character flaw, rather than a failing on the part of the writers. So, while it is very tempting to list this among my issues with the season, I have also held on to my belief that it was something that would eventually be addressed.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Review - 'American Gods', S01E01 - 'The Bone Orchard'





While it has been many years since I last read American Gods, I would still have to place it high up on my personal list of favourite novels – just as Neil Gaiman is high up my list of favourite authors.

It's worth pointing that out right at the start, if only to make it clear where I stand with regard to the novel being adapted into a series. Since it was first announced, the idea of an American Gods series has been a source of both concern and anticipation, for me. The opportunity to see this story play out in live-action certainly had its appeal – but, at the same time, I still found myself concerned that the bizarre events of the novel might not translate very well, or that the adaptation, itself, just might not turn out to be very good.

On both counts, though, this first episode managed to do great job of easing any concerns that I may have had. Most impressively, it managed to do so in the straight-forward manner possible – simply by fully embracing the outlandish premise of the story right from its opening moments.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Book Review - 'Burning Bright', by Tracy Chevalier





Basing a work of fiction on a real historical figure would have to be a daunting prospect.

For the writer, there's the obvious need for research - a very pronounced need to familiarise themselves with the figure in question in order to ensure that their portrayal is as accurate as possible, and that it is something that readers will be willing to accept. Assuming, of course, that the writer actually cares enough about authenticity to make the effort, this whole process would have to be much time consuming, and potentially much more stressful, then simply creating an entirely fictional character to serve as the protagonist of their story. After all, it's not enough to write for a general audience who might not be familiar with the subject matter - they also have to be prepared for potential readers who might know as much, if not more, about the matter at hand.

Even for the reader, though, there might also be the nagging question of exactly how well the writer has done their job, here - and, of exactly how true a representation of the historical figure in question this fictionalised portrayal truly is. After all, it is depressingly easy to imagine a lazy author simply not bothering to do any of the required research.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E19 - 'The Once And Future Flash'





Barry Allen slowly coming to terms with the risks associated with time travel has been a recurring theme throughout much of the third season. Barry's decision to travel back in time and save his mother had created an entirely new time-line – and, despite his best efforts, he had not been able to return things to the way that they were, before Flashpoint. More than that, though, many of the problems that Team Flash has been confronted by, throughout the season, have been a direct result of Barry's decision to meddle with the past.

Watching as Barry had slowly come to accept responsibility for the problems that he had caused, and resolved to do better in the future, had actually made for a fairly satisfying character arc – to such an extent that it actually seemed a little strange to end the previous episode with Barry's decision to travel to the future.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E18 - 'Ace Reporter'





When Kara's decision to go against Snapper Carr's orders, a couple of episodes ago, had resulted in her being fired, I had thought that it was inevitable that she would eventually get her job back. Even if the idea of the series abandoning CatCo, and focusing entirely on Kara's exploits as Supergirl, had held a certain appeal to me, it had just felt like too drastic a change to the basic format of the series.

So, with Kara's eventual return to CatCo seeming inevitable, the only real question concerned how it would come about – and, I do have to admit that this was a source of some concern, for me. Kara's transition from personal assistant to investigative journalist had just seemed much too simple, back at the beginning of the season. The entire sequence of events that lead to her becoming a journalist had seemed to consist primarily of her decided that it was what she wanted to do, and being handed a position by Cat Grant – and, nothing that had happened since than had done anything to convince me that she was actually suited to the position.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Three Great Plot Twists In Three Great Video Games

While there has always been a large number of video games that have been entirely focused on action and spectacle, or simply on pure entertaining, it would also be fair to say that there has also always been video games that have attempted to explore the possibility of telling engaging stories within this interactive medium.

It's an aspect of our strange little hobby that might not be appreciated by those who do not share it, of course. But, for those of us who have devoted too many hours to playing video games, there are bound to be any number of video games that have impressed us with the quality of its writing, or its cast of characters, or the basic structure of its plot. There may even be examples of video games which affected those who played them in a much more profound way than simply providing a few hours of entertainment.

Sure, you could make the argument that none of this would make necessarily allow video games to be classified as 'art' (although, even on this point, it might be possible to come up with a list of games that would suggest otherwise) - but, that's hardly the point. As a medium for story-telling, video games have always had the same potential as films, books, and television.

Take, for example, that classic story-telling device known as the plot-twist – that sudden moment of revelation intended to catch you by surprise, and to completely change the feel of the story. In books and film, a well-done plot-twist can become the main talking point for fans. And, in the world of video games, there are examples that are just as good as anything you can find in any other medium - three of which I fully intend to blatantly spoil below, so consider yourselves warned.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E17 - 'Aruba'





The first season of Legends of Tomorrow may have had its share of issues, but the series had still managed to pull off a very entertaining final episode. The whole idea of the Legends being required to divide their forces, as they took on different versions of Vandal Savage at different points in time, had made for a very impressive, and very creative, action sequence which had even managed to go some way toward redeeming the first season's often underwhelming central narrative. I still didn't really care about any of the convoluted drama between Hawkman, Hawkgirl, and Vandal Savage, of course – but, at least the characters did receive a memorable send-off.

Of course, the second season of Legends of Tomorrow has felt very different. The trio of villains who had been brought together to challenge the Legends have been so entertaining, whenever they are on-screen, that the season has always felt a little bit weaker whenever the focus wasn't placed on them. That's actually the exact opposite of how I often felt while watching the first season – and, it definitely indicates a fairly significant improvement for the series, as a whole.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E16 - 'Doomworld'





Personally, I've always appreciated stories that are willing to let the villains achieve a decisive victory. It's not necessarily that I actually want the villains to win outright, of course (although, that can be entertaining when it is done well) – but, instead, it really has more to do with actually allowing the villains of story to appear to be both formidable and effective. In a story where the villains never actually win, or never even seem to come close to achieving any sort of victory, the entire conflict can start to feel a little one-sided.

The Legion of Doom, for example, have been a very entertaining part of the second season of Legends of Tomorrow – but, as the season has progressed, the odd sense that they are actually the underdogs in the story has only seemed to grow stronger. This came to a head with the opening sequence of the previous episode, when we saw the Legends not only manage to locate Eobard Thawne's base of operations, but also successfully steal the last piece of the Spear of Destiny right out from under the nose of the villainous speedster.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Film Review - 'Ghost in the Shell'





While I would never call myself the most devoted fan of Japanese animation, I could still list plenty of examples of different films and series that I have genuinely enjoyed over the years – some of which even having managed to leave a lasting impression. High up on that list is, of course, the original Ghost in the Shell animated film, released in 1995 – a film which managed to impress me with both its strong sense of world-building, and its story-telling (the deliberately slow pace it set did test the patience of my younger self the first time I saw it, admittedly – but, it grew on me).

So, perhaps understandably, the whole idea of a live-action American remake is something that I have always approached with some degree of trepidation. Not because I have any real issue with the idea of a live-action American remake, of course (in fact, I have been sincerely hoping that the film would turn out well) – but, mostly out of concern that the whole endeavour would be fumbled in some way. This is, of course, exactly what seems to have happened – though, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E18 - 'Abra Kadabra'





Throughout the third season of The Flash, much of the central narrative has seemed to center on the questions of exactly who Savitar really is, and what he has planned for Barry Allen – which are, basically, exactly the same questions that we had with the previous central villains of previous seasons. Despite the writers' best efforts, and some genuinely great moments, it just isn't something I have found to be terribly interesting.

In fact, it has even seemed that Savitar works much better as a vague, and distant, threat than he has as a primary focus. The character, himself, might not be all that interesting, for example, but the lingering threat of his eventual murder of Iris West has provided a strong sense of focus as we move toward the season finale.

More than anything, it seems that this threat is also at the heart of the season's eighteenth episode – as a new villain from the pages of the comic-books makes his first appearance. Abra Kadabra (David Dastmalchian), as he calls himself, is a flamboyant show-man from the distant future, who uses highly advanced technology in a way that appears to be magic.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E17 - 'Distant Sun'





So, in the end, it seems that the whole point of the musical cross-over episode of The Flash was simply to bring a quick, and decisive, end to the romantic difficulties that both heroes were currently going through. By the end of that episode, Barry had been moved to propose to Iris once more – and, with this episode of Supergirl, it seems that Kara and Mon-El's issues have also been resolved. While, in the previous episode, it had seemed as though the sense of betrayal Kara felt at being deceived about Mon-El's true identity had created an insurmountable obstacle for the two, it now seems that Kara's recent experiences have given her a new-found perspective (I do have to wonder who all of this would come across to someone who only watches Supergirl – but, it's become increasingly clear that this just isn't a concern for the creators).

While I don't have any real issue with the whole idea of this latest romantic conflict being resolved so quickly, I to have to admit that I am a little disappointed by the fact that the interesting moral aspect of the whole dilemma has also been brushed aside. For me, at least, the revelation concerning Mon-El's true identity, as the prince of Daxam, also raised some interesting questions concerning exactly how culpable Mon-El actually was in how that corrupt society was run, and the extent to which he benefited from it. It's possible that future episodes might focus a little more attention of that aspect of Mon-El's background, of course – but, it certainly doesn't happen in this episode.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Review - 'Legends of Tomorrow', S02E15 - 'Fellowship of the Spear'





The appearance of George Lucas, earlier in the season, had served as the basis for a remarkably strange, and very entertaining, episode of Legends of Tomorrow. Making good use of the central conceit that it was actually the time-travelling adventures of the Legends which had, indirectly, inspired some of his greatest creations, the episode had managed to have a lot of fun with its homage to both the director, himself, and his films. It was an episode that even managed to culminate with a scene featuring George Lucas being tossed into trash compactor, alongside the Legends – in what would have to be one of the most purely fan-pleasing moments of the entire series, so far.

It had been a fun episode, overall – though, with that in mind, I do have to admit that it feels a bit strange to see the series retread that familiar ground again, so soon. Instead of George Lucas, though, the real-life celebrity who finds himself drawn into the Legends' wacky adventures is J. R. R. Tolkien. Much like with Lucas's appearance, the episode isn't too shy about using the author's greatest work for inspiration while, at the same time, strongly implying that it may have actually been the Legends who inspired that great work.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Review - 'The Flash', S03E17 - 'Duet'





The Flash is far from the first series to every attempt a musical episode. But, with the truly impressive amount of musical talent on hand, within the casts of both this series and its CW siblings, it is probably fair to say that this musical cross-over is up there among the most highly demanded. With Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist both being former cast-members of Glee, and with with so many other talented musical performers among the supporting cast, it actually makes perfect sense that some fans would wonder if this was something that might actually happen.

At the same time, though, there are bound to be plenty among the show's audience who simply don't like musicals – or, who regard the whole idea of a musical episode, especially of a show like The Flash, to be the worst sort of cheap and unnecessary gimmick. That's perfectly understandable, of course – and, to be honest, if that's where you find yourself, then this episode is probably going to feel like a bit of a chore.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Review - 'Supergirl', S02E16 - 'Star-Crossed'





As someone who has never really been a fan of the way in which relationships, and romantic drama, has been handled on the CW's DC shows (or, if I'm being honest, on CW shows, in general), I can't say that I was all that thrilled about an episode that devotes itself not one, but two, plot-lines centred around romantic conflict. The overly melodramatic angst that usually results when the focus is placed on relationship drama has often been a source of frustration for me, in the past, after all. I suppose you can think of it as a personal bias of mine – one which I readily acknowledge.

Here, for example, we have a primary plot-line placed firmly on Kara and Mon-El – who, after sharing managing to share an entire scene of romantic bliss (as they binge-watch Game of Thrones, while eating ice cream), find their still relatively new relationship test, once more, by the arrival of Mon-El's parents. In a development which has already been hinted at, and which probably would not have been much of a surprise anyone in the audience even if it hadn't, it turns out that Mon-El isn't actually the palace guard whose life was spared by the prince of Daxam – he is, in fact, the prince of Daxam, himself.

Review - 'Iron Fist', S01E09 - 'The Mistress of All Agonies'



I suppose that any lingering concerns I may have had about the death of Harold Meachum can be laid to rest with the opening moments of the season's ninth episode – as we are shown, quite clearly, that he isn't actually dead, after all. Or, to be more precise, he was dead – but, now, he's back. It seems that Harold's previous experience of being brought back to life by the Hand has had some rather unexpected consequences – and, now, the implication is clearly that Harold Meachum simply can't be permanently killed.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Review - 'Iron Fist', S01E08 - 'The Blessing of Many Fractures'






Iron Fist may have had a shaky start, but the last few episodes have managed to achieve a fairly consistence level of quality. The series still isn't quite up to the same level as the best of Netflix's corner of the MCU, sure – but, it has still managed to be entertaining. It has managed to develop its cast of characters into genuinely rounded, and interesting, individual – and, it has managed to provide some great moments of action. It has even managed to find a sense of focus that it initial lacked, with the escalating conflict between Danny Rand and the Hand.