Friday, October 28, 2011

TV Review: The Fades

I nearly missed this. I suspect a lot of people did. Late on a Wednesday night, BBC3, I never saw much publicity for it, and if it wasn't for some strong support from Twitter people I would never have seen this show. I've tried to push people I know, people with similar tastes to me to watch it, and most of them had never heard of it either. And that's a damn shame, because The Fades is one of the best shows I've seen this year.

I guess at first glance it doesn't look like much - a little bit of Skins, a little bit of a supernaturally themed Misfits, the first episode is light on the horror, and up on the quips, and awkward teenage angst, and the usual sort of "discovering secret powers as an analogy for growing up" thing that Young Adult fiction is so full of. But this isn't Young Adult fiction, and this isn't light on horror, and the youth of it's main characters is misleading - this is already grown up, proper, dark, horrific stuff.

At it's heart is Paul (Iain De Caestecker), 17 years old, dorky, who discovers he's an "angelic" - a human with magical powers - and is dragged into a growing war between Angelics and the eponymous "Fades", increasingly angry ghosts who have been unable to "ascend" and are stuck wandering the earth. Stealing pretty much every scene he's in is Paul's best friend Mac (Daniel Kaluuya), and we also get his perpetually angry sister her best friend (and later Paul's girlfriend) to round out the young cast. The whole cast is excellent - really, really, excellent for some of them, notably Mac, who I've mentioned, but head Fade John and dead-in-episode-one-but-still-hanging-around Angelic Sarah.

As the series goes on, and gets less "darkly funny" and more just straight "dark". I certainly didn't laugh once in the finale, although some parts were less horrifically bleak than others. Notable the moment - which you'll know if you've seen it - that had me half off the sofa in shock. Even it's ending is true to that trajectory. Its ballsy television, well executed and with some new and fresh things in the mix. I'd have to be mad to say to it's not without the odd niggle, but in so many places its really investing in trying something different its churlish to mention it.

And really I can't believe they didn't push this more. I can't believe more people haven't seen it. I can't believe they haven't commissioned a second series already. Because it deserves to be watched. If you've not seen it - find it. Watch it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bastion: Arthouse Gaming Joy

Seems like most of my gaming time this year has been on the indie scene, at least if you ignore that whole "World of Warcraft addiction" thing I had going on. It's not to say that there haven't been great mainstream, big budget titles around, just that I've found myself more enticed by the choppier waters of small development teams for most of the year, largely due to the siren lure of regular Steam sales. "Indie" is a big category, and somewhat hard to define, including breakout one-man hits like Minecraft, to games produced by fairly large teams aiming at the cheaper end of the market. All that really seems to link them together is the broad cost of the game, a digital distribution model, and a pleasingly common desire to take a bit more of a risk than the typical "man shoots gun at aliens" blockbuster games seem to want to.

Sometimes the risk is just to make something with a smaller sales base - open world building games like Minecraft and Terraria are never going to be selling out at Tescos, for instance - others are genre-mashups like Sanctum and the just-released Dungeon Defenders, and some are just flat out arthouse games.

Like Bastion.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review: Cloud Atlas

I've recently finished the last book of my "Dystopias and Disasters" reading list for this year with The Road, and for the first time in a while I've felt to read a book on a whim rather than because it was the next one on the list or out of the sort of mild obsession that made me read all of A Song of Ice and Fire earlier this year. The book that fulfilled that whim was David Mitchell's highly regarded Cloud Atlas - a book I know little about other than that it had a cool title and a good reputation amongst people with similar tastes to me.

So, with a quick click of a button, it was downloaded to my Kindle - and I'll start with a slightly off-topic observation about the reading experience. Mostly I've been very happy with my Kindle; it's a good size, great screen, broadly speaking a pleasure to read on. But with Cloud Atlas - for reasons that will become obvious - for the first time I missed the tactile nature of a "real" book, and the ability to easily flick backwards to earlier chapters to refresh myself of characters or events. The search function isn't really the same...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Behold! A Perfectly Ordinary Comics Review!

I think it's fair to say I've always been a comics fan, but there have been a couple of long hiatuses in my buying/owning/collecting of them. The first was between quitting getting 2000AD at about 14 or 15, and getting to University in the early 90s to get introducted into the big DC/Vertigo wave of writers who are all grown up and properly famous now. The second roughly co-incided with the birth of our eldest child, a move to a leafy suburb and being a long distance from my neighbourly comic shop, which meant I increasingly missed out on new titles and the ones I was following gradually ebbed away - a break that ended a couple of years ago and now I'm frantically trying to catch up on that lost time with the help of recommendations and graphic novel reprints.

I may be late to a lot of these parties, but at least I'm here. And of all the stuff I've read in the last couple of years, for me, the standout is Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener's Atomic Robo. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thinking: Value for your Entertainment Money?

Reading around the internet, and it's never-ending hive of social media, a lot of my Friends seem to be on real budget kicks this year for a wide variety of reasons and I guess I'm no exception. My big problem is that I can be quite a heavy consumer of media; books, films, games, for many of the same reasons I feel a bit skint - I have two kids and spend a fair amount of time stuck in the house. So whats a geek to do?

Now the obvious answer, that I see a depressingly large amount, is just pirate stuff. Its free! Yarrrr!. Well, no, actually. The thing is that for all the railing against Big Media you read about, and the shoddy practice and stupid legislative witch-hunts, these products are produced by creative people and they deserve paying for that. I want to pay them for that. I want a world where people can make a living writing, or drawing or acting, more so if they're creating something off the mainstream which is often where my tastes lie. So, no Piracy.

My solution to choosing what I get may seem a little wierd, but for me at least it works. It's "Pounds per Hour".

Bear with me.

See, if I buy a book I'm not so much buying a bunch of paper and card but a number of hours entertainment whilst I'm reading it. Most books I read once and leave on a shelf; and eventually donate to charity, so really their value is those hours of entertainment. So I spend 7 quid on a paperback and read it in 3 or 4 hours and that entertainment value is £2/hr.

I just finished Deux Ex: Human Revolution and that took me (according to Steam Stats) 28.5 hours. And cost me £30. So close to £1/hr. I paid the same for Borderlands, and thanks to co-oping goodness have played it a staggering 61 hours! Right at the top has to come my old World of Warcraft Subs at £8/month, which I was typically playing 9 hours a week (so something like 40 hours a month), so thats £0.20/hour. At that rate why did I quit again?

That last point of course is a key one - the value of those hours as entertainment isn't the same, and I'm not suggesting that it should be. But people often look at say, buying a computer game for £30 and wince, but for the return you get on it - assuming you play the damn thing - it's excellent value. Especially when you consider that a movie ticket for a two hour film will cost you £7 these days and a decent meal out will run you £15 for an hour in a restarant and both of these we mostly see as fair value. And settling a limit on how much you'd pay for something you want is clearly daft, if you can afford it and it will bring you pleasure.

(Also for the straight £/hr metric the best book I ever read was the cheap but very very long copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged I read a couple of years back. It was not the best book I ever read. Although Rand may have approved of the budgetary sentiment.)

But I think it's a good guide for how well you're spending your budget. I use a lot to catch up with films and TV shows, and generally get through 7 or 8 discs a month, usually 4 films and 3 discs of telly. Thats easily down below £1/hr mark, and feels good value for money. I've started gravitating towards indie games on the PC as I tend to run out of game before attention span and definately get my monies worth over the latest full-price shooter. I make sure I finish books I start, unless they actively start causing me brain aches. Like every budgetary technique it's not really there to mould your behaviour to it, just to act as a check that you're all under control.

Thats the plan, anyway...wonder how well it will survive ThoughtBubble this year?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

TV Review: Doctor Who; Series 6

Doctor Who seems to have been a staple of my "must watch" mental TV listing since it's 2005 return to the nations' Saturday nights. Its one of the few shows we sit down to watch as a family and it's great to see it having a grip on the kids as much as the adults. And now the sixth post-relaunch series has ended, possibly the most plot-dense of them all so far, amongst the usual media hubbub about it being "too dark", "too complicated" and so on. So here is my thoughts.

Monday, October 3, 2011

September DVD Round-Up!

We don't seem to have got through as many films this month as usual, which I think is mostly due to the large amount of TV shows (both rented and timeshifted) we've been catching up on. Anyhow, this months selection were:

R.E.D. As a film that, when it dropped through the letterbox, I thought 'I don't remember adding that to our list', I guess my expectations weren't that high. Yes, from the comic by Warren Ellis, and a great looking cast, but it sort of passed me by at the cinema and I went into it pretty cold. And y'know? its pretty damn good. Visually it wears it's comic book roots on it's sleeve, with some great direction, and the performances from the leads are pretty much what you'd expect as a group of retired, highly-trained killers pulled out of retirement by some old conspiracy returning to haunt them. A bit like the previous months The Losers, it's a fairly lightweight, over-the-top actioner held up by being dead in key with what it is.

Rango. I always suspect that drugs are involved in the creative process and Rango would be right up there as case for the prosecution. A Johnny Depp voiced chameleon ends up stranded in the desert saving a border town of miscellaneous animals from a pretty routine western plot, with an odd, dream-logic structure, and the occasional moment of surreal genius, most notably a rattlesnake with a tail made of six-shooter cylinders or gophers riding bats armed with gatling guns. Unfortunately it seems to fall between wanting to be a kids film and wanting to be clever and knowing; the great problem of almost any animated fare that isn't made by Pixar, it seems. I enjoyed it in places, sure, but can't shake the feeling that something is missing.

The Incredible Hulk. So, the second attempt to make a movie from the Hulk and I'm now starting to think that true success will ever elude Hollywood. Overall a less brave, and therefore more successful attempt than Ang Lee's attempt it plays more conventionally and does some nice work, especially in the opening, Latin American section and it's culminating chase/fight sequence. The problem, as ever, is that when Hulk steps out of the shadows theres not a lot too him; "Hulk Smash" and all that and it's all a bit loud and stupid, with all earlier subtlety lost. Again, fun, but slightly lacking.