Friday, March 6, 2015

DVD of the Week: Dallas Buyers Club

It's starting to look like we've reached the point in the year when we've got a solid list of the more interesting films of last year finally queuing up to be watched. Currently sat on top of the DVD player is a pile that includes 12 Years a Slave, Under the Skin and Frank, all of which I'm looking forward to. Well, "looking forward to" may be the wrong word for the first one, which I expect will be tough going. I was also expecting tough going from this weeks film, Dallas Buyers Club, which revolves around the early days of treatment for HIV/AIDS and a central character that by all accounts is a difficult one to engage with. But, excellent reviews and a subject I know little about, so I was pretty keen to give it a go.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

TV Review: Agent Carter


Agent Carter has not been picked up by any UK broadcaster. As such there is no legal way for me to watch a show that ran between the two halves of the second season of Agents of SHIELD (Channel 4) and features several returning characters from Captain America: The First Avenger, and is part of Marvel's wider Cinematic Universe. I guess the bubble has burst on US imports onto UK TV, after a run of failures from the "major" free-to-air broadcasters. The BBC and ITV have basically given up on it, preferring to invest in shows it can send the other way across the Atlantic, and both Channel 4 and Channel 5 have fallen into the same pattern of buying a show for a couple of seasons and then gradually letting them slide across the schedules to oblivion. I guess Channel 4 still show infinite reruns of The Big Bang Theory, if that's any consolation (spoiler: it isn't). 

Friday, February 27, 2015

First Impressions: Better Call Saul


Whilst I was late to the Breaking Bad party, its no secret that I quickly became a huge fan. We tore through the whole series through the course of 2014, relishing every dark turn, and flash of sardonic humour, and although it finishes near perfectly, I still missed it as soon as it was gone. That said, I wasn't too sure I wanted a spin off or sequel, because an awful lot of it's more interesting characters were dead. And when you look at the survivors, any sort of follow negates the resolution that they get - you can't ride off into the sunset effectively if next week you're back doing the same old crap. And spin-offs generally are a roll of the dice; for ever Frasier there is a Joey, as they say. But then again, if you've got an idea, and a character, then maybe it can stand alone against the odds, right? Which brings us to Better Call Saul, a prequel of sorts, but very quickly it's own thing. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Review: The Cuckoo's Calling


Crime is a genre I don't read enough. I few years back I read a "Year of Crime", 20 books from different writers across the genre, and found a lot to like there, but never really found too much time to go back. Its got it's own beats and conceits, cliches that have broken into the wider culture, and ones that haven't, and the "detective" figure has had an impact in both SF and Fantasy over the years, although often a very specific model of it. So naturally I'd never heard of Robert Galbraith, who'd written a moderately well read, but well reviewed first novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, until it was revealed that he was, in fact, the pseudonym of much better known author J K Rowling. I can see why she did it too, after The Casual Vacancy - not perfect, by any means, but certainly interesting and at time very ambitious - got more than it's fair share of snippy reviews that seemed to drip some contempt for a "childrens author" writing "adult books". 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

DVD of the Week: Pompeii

I sometime wonder if I'm too hard on films that are essentially good old-fashioned B-movies. I mean, for all it's big-name cast, The Expendables series are B-movies at heart, as was Wolfpunching fiasco The Grey. There is part of me that says you need to critique movies based on what they are, and where they come from, and what would be a terminal failing in a $200m summer tentpole may just be par for the course with quarter of the budget. Its especially true when special effects are a big part of your film, where the bar is constantly being raised by the latest extravaganza and you're still, ultimately, competing with them to an audience that has raised expectations, no matter what you're budget. But the B-movie tradition is all about that challenge, right? Which brings us to the Romans vs Volcanos festival that is Pompeii.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

DVD of the Week: The Wind Rises

Studio Ghibli's international acclaim is probably the most enduring legacy of the 1990s anime boom, not least due to the distribution deal it secured with Disney, which brought it to the wider american market. Sure, it's never going to do the business of the latest Pixar movie, but it's varied and wonderful house style is familiar to audiences who may never have even heard of other anime staples such as Akira or Ghost in the Shell. But in an age where traditional animation styles seem to be dying out, I do worry for the future of the studio, especially with the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki. In the meantime however, I'm still sufficiently behind to be still catching up on recent output, so was pleased to see The Wind Rises on Film4 this weekend.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Games Review: Wolfenstein: The New Order

There was a bit of a buzz phrase that went around the gaming review world about the time that Bioshock Infinite came out; Ludonarrative Dissonance. Its about as pretentious a concept as it sounds; the idea that gameplay and story can jar badly in a game, pushing you out of enjoyment of either the moment-to-moment gameplay or whatever epic tale that gameplay is trying to tell. It's actually a pretty common thing - think Lara Croft getting teary over killing someone and then proceeding to kill about two dozen more - and its pretty rare that games successfully mesh the two, especially in the big, AAA action section of the market. But I've rarely had a problem with it, because its part of the gaming landscape, and I always appreciate the effort, story wise. In fact, the first such game I can think of where I've really had this problem is Wolfenstein: The New Order.