Sunday, December 30, 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit

So it seems that increasingly any sort of commentary on a movie needs to be prefaced by a disclaimer of technical information relating the format that we watched the film in. So with that in mind, we went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this week, and we saw it in 2D, 24FPS, non-IMAX, digitally projected, standard seating and no popcorn format. There is a whole post in how ridiculous this is getting, but for now let us say that I saw this in "normal" cinematic format, so I can't comment on anything other than, y'know, the content of the movie. Which lets be honest, is how it should be!

Anyway, the film.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Games Review: Dishonored

I got to the end of Dishonored, and the game made me feel like a bad, bad man. Having finally rescued Emily, the young girl you've spent the game trying to protect, she looked at, and told me her plans with something terrible in her voice, and something changed in her face. She had learned, not from the things done to her, but by the example I had set her in my quest to free her. Just for a moment, I shivered at the "bad ending" that I had created.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Games Review: DOTA2

There are games that are easy to explain, games that can be intuited without needing to be hands on, and Valves' DOTA 2 is not one of them. It is however, remarkably easy to pick up once you're in the game, and in a brief window between the game starting, and the learning curve crashing away from under your feet, it all looks very promising and straightforward. But it isn't. Its fiendishly complex and intricate, and compellingly addictive.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Reading Plans, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my "To Be Read" Pile

First up, the comics world seems to be buzzing with the news of Gail Simone's removal from Batgirl over the weekend. In some ways I don't have a dog in the fight, as I don't read Batgirl (or any other "Big Two" comics) but two thoughts leap to mind. First, firing someone by email is shitty and cowardly, even if they are the tea-boy, never mind one of your flagship writers. Secondly, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the decision, an industry sector with a growing image problem regards female characters and female audiences, should probably think really fucking hard before adding female creators to the list of the disenfranchised.

Anyway, to what I was actually thinking about.

I've been thinking a lot recently about what to read next year. You see, several years ago I had the shock the realisation that I didn't read anymore, and that was a bit of a kick in the self-image. I'd always been a reader, I'd always had a book on the go, and suddenly, I wasn't and I didn't. So in an attempt to force myself back into a pattern, I came up with the idea of reading lists - planning a list of themed books and reading through them (and blogging about them) as a way of getting back in the habit.

So first I picked 12 "Great American Novels", and then I moved onto 20 Crime Novels. After that, I did Fantasy novels - a genre i'd never got on with - and the folks at Geek Syndicate let me post them up on their site, which was pretty cool. After that I did post-apocalypse novels and this year I'd done Horror. The tourism into different genres has been wonderfully broadening and I heartily recommend it. Its too easy to just read the same stuff, and think that's all that's out there. However, now I'm hitting an unexpected side effect of these projects, which is causing me a few problems.

I'd like to read more Hemingway. I want to read all of "The Dark Tower". I should probably give Scott Lynch another go because many of my friends rave about him and I want to make sure I'm not missing something there. I've not read much Science Fiction - my first literary love - for a long time and want to go back to it, but not sure I could do a year of it. I've unread novels by James Ellroy, Adrian Tchaikovsky and David Brin to get through. I'd asked for at least two History Tomes for Christmas.

So, yeah.

I suspect I'll still try and put together a list this year, but one without theme, just an aspiration of books and authors I want to read, books and authors I'd only discovered from the previous years lists. But no matter what I end up reading, the important thing is this: I'm a reader, once again.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

DVD catch-up, November 2012

Yes, I know it's December. But it's only just December, and I meant to post this last week, when it was still November. That counts, right? Anyway, the bi-monthly round up of DVDs provided to us at semi-random from lovefilm continues after the break.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Games Review: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing. We all have great memories of things that we consider formative experiences; games we have played, books we have read or films we watched, that were the first time we felt a certain way, or saw a certain thing done, that memory remains so strong, so positive, that anything too similar always fails in comparison, regardless of it's own merits. You can never see that Star Destroyer slam overhead for the first time again and try as you might you can never quite recapture that feeling. For me, as a long-time gamer, UFO: Enemy Unknown is one of those games that sits in my memory, unassailable. Intellectually I can probably talk about its flaws, but emotionally it is one of the greatest games I ever played, one of the games that talked to me about what games could be. And its time has passed, turn-based tactics is dead, and we will never see its like again. 

Whats that you say? XCOM: Enemy Unknown? A modern remake? Turn Based? WHAT? 

Monday, November 26, 2012

ThoughtBubble 2012 Comic Round-Up

So, finally got chance this weekend to sit down and finish off the comics haul I got from last weeks rather fantastic Thoughtbubble Con. As ever, I had a pretty great time, caught up with a good bunch of people I rarely see, and spent far to much money. I also bought this lot:

Not Shown: The Rainbow Orchid. Which I bought on the Sunday. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Movie Review: Skyfall

What is it about James Bond? I mean, 50 years, 23 ("official") movies, 6 lead actors and more cars, women and explosions than you can count, and still it's going strong, standing on, rather than being dragged under by, the weight of history that the series has accrued. Its been written off several times and not least after the messy Quantum of Solace but here he is, back again, storming the box office. And we went to see it last week, and so this is what I thought (warning, spoilers!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rant: Fake Geek Girls and other such crap.

So, like a turd that just won't flush, the "fake geek girl" debate - although calling it a "debate" honours it more than it deserves - came up again yesterday after this particularly incoherent rant from artist Tony Harris. Twitter and the Blogosphere and so on exploded into righteous fury, and many words have written on the subject. And in many ways it was heartening to see, that this sort of crap is stood up against, and reading through yesterday there was some optimism to be found in the idea that the visceral response is a good sign for geek community being open and inclusive, and y'know, not deep down just a bunch of gynophobic basement virgins with too much access to the internet.

And then the more I thought about, I started to feel genuinely angry about it, because although there are many, many, good people standing up against this sort of behavior, it still keeps happening.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Games: Planetside 2 and the Dangers of Nostalgia

I was really excited when Sony Online Entertainment announced they were making Planetside 2. I was even more excited when it because clear it was going to be a free-to-play game. And then I got a Beta Key, and it was even more exciting! 

And then I got to play, and it was like being slapped with my own broken Nostalgia Filters. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thinking: Star Wars: The Empire Consolidates its Investments

So, Disney have bought LucasFilm, and everything contained within it except George Lucas himself. The internet has resounded to the sound of knees jerking, especially with the news that a new movie is planned for 2015, and so on every few years after. But what does it mean? Will Star Wars now become a soul-less, over-commercialized merchandising platform, with beloved characters hawked out to sell Washing Machines and Mobile Phone contracts?

Oh, wait.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Box Set Blues: Community, Series 2

I've come to realise that the key to my enjoyment of a lot of series over the last few years - not just TV, but books, comics, all sorts of things - is a sense that I simply enjoy spending time in the company of the universe that the series creates. It doesn't have to be a fun, unicorns-and-rainbows universe, just a well drawn one with engaging characters whose fates I can care about. I think this is why I bounced off The Walking Dead; I just don't care about its tedious zombie fodder bickering among themselves, but a show like Justified can make it's lowest and least competent villain a rounded individual whose fate I can have an opinion on. This brings me to my ever expanding love of Community, a show that for it's metatextual cleverness is, at it's heart, about a bunch of characters you can put in nearly any situation and just enjoy spending the time with.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thinking: Writer?

There is an old joke that seems to around social media sites every few months - or at least, old by the standards of social media - that whereas in the past being a Writer was a calling borne of study, graft and innate talent, these days its a simple update to your profile and *poomf*, done. Like most wit on the internet it is overstating the point but there is kernel of truth to it - it is certainly easier to self identify as a writer, and certainly easier to setup a blog and post up what you've written. God knows I did the latter, but I remain wary of labeling myself the former.

The thing is though - I write. I do reviews, here and over at Geek Syndicate. I write rambling, brain-storm posts like this one. I even write prose - short stories mainly, I even finish some and I've a little folder in my email for the rejection emails I get when I submit them. But I don't list "writer" as a hobby in the same way I list "podcaster". But I've got folders of notes and half-written prose, and even about a third of a novel stashed away somewhere, all needing time, love and inspiration.

Part of it is clearly the rejection thing. The moment some editor has a fit of charity and actually picks up something for publication I'm sure I'll stick "writer" over everything I can find, because I guess we all need a little bit of external validation now and again. I've no real evidence that anything I've ever written has been any good at all, and rejection letters remain bland and neutral; something I understand but is no less frustrating for it. Is this story actually good, but just not the right fit? Or is it badly written drivel not fit to ever see the light of day? Who knows?

But then again, is being a writer about quality anyway? The success of a number of terrible writers over the years suggests not, so waiting for an objective standard seems hollow. If it's about time invested, success or not, then that's wonderfully romantic - emaciated scribblers in their bohemian garrets is a great image - but you don't have to venture far into writers websites to find some talent-light, time-rich epics. Those guys are clearly writers though - they write, they publish (and be damned) and good on them for that.

So I guess I don't produce enough material to qualify, nor have I produced anything anyone seems to want. But I write, dammit, just to get the ideas out of my head. So it's back to editing up my next submission for me then. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Games Review: Black Mesa

"They're waiting for you Gordon. In the Test Chamber."

I remember playing Half-Life way back in the day, which probably dates me alarmingly. I remember that, pretty much like everyone else, this was one of the games that fulfilled the early promise of the First Person Shooter as a narrative experience as well as run-and-gun thrills, a game crafted with an eye on changes to the gameplay and pacing as the game went through, a game that really did define what a shooter could aspire to be. When you look at the huge presence of Steam as an online marketplace, thats because Valve were able to leverage it onto millions of PCs on the release of Half-Life 2. When you play one of those lumbering military themed shooters that seem to dominate the genre at the moment, they trace a lineage to the story and set-piece design of the your trek through the Black Mesa Complex. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Movie Review: Paranorman

I'm starting to worry that I'm going to soon hit a tipping point where I see more movies with Ewan than I do with Z. This year we've seen six films at the cinema, and I've taken Ewan to see three (including Avengers, which I saw twice, one with each!) and with Ewan now perfectly old enough to watch most 12A output his demands to go to the pictures are increasing. It may also be to do with a weekend afternoon away from his little brother too! Anyway, last weekend we went to see Paranorman, a CG Horror-comedy-drama for kids.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

TV Review: Doctor Who: Series 7a

Only half a series of Doctor Who this year, what a shame. I mean, I understand the logic - shifting to the autumn probably means better viewing figures from the darker and colder nights, more production from the split run, and the fact that they can be on next autumn for the big 50th Anniversary. But 5 episodes doesn't seem a lot, even though they were the build up to the leaving of the Ponds, companions that I've become quite attached to over the last couple of years. It was also supposed to mark a move away from the more serialised plotlines of last season, into more stand alone episodes, which always had the danger of being a somewhat double edged decision. So how did it get along with that then?

Friday, September 28, 2012

September DVD Round Up

Yep, it's been a "couple of months" since I did a catch up on my DVD watch list, so that means it's time a catch up on my DVD watch list. Looking back it's been a pretty eclectic run on films but a solid one, not least of which because a lot of the films we missed earlier in the year are now starting to come out DVD. So, whats on the list?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Box Set Blues: The Big Bang Theory

Here is a list of 10 episodes of endangered cult show Community I could probably write full length reviews of: 

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Modern Warfare, Remedial Chaos Theory, Paradigms of Human Memory, Critical Film Studies, Contemporary American Poultry, Debate 109, Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design, Epidemiology and what the hell, Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps. And I still haven't seen more than half the third series. 

Here is a list of 10 episodes of seemingly unstoppable smash hit comedy series The Big Bang Theory I could write a full length review of: 


Right then...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Books: The Hunger Games Trilogy

It feels like the big boom in books at the moment is "Young Adult", which I am now old enough to not quite understand. I mean, I'm sure that many of the books I read as a teenager would now be classed as Young Adult, but I don't recall them getting their own section in W H Smiths, and I certainly don't recall them being as ruthlessly turned into heavily marketed movie franchises as they seem to be these days. See? Old. I've also not really any of this new breed, although not from some outbreak of age-related snobbery but simply that I'm horribly backlogged on reading and am loathed to add more to the list. However, we did go see The Hunger Games earlier in the year, which moved Z to buy the books, and so recently I thought that a series built around lethal Gladiatorial bouts featuring children would be excellent light reading. 


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

TV Review: Once Upon a Time

Its always interesting, isn't it, when the collective of minds that push out films and TV all seem to come to a conclusion all at once on what is going to be "in" this year. 2012 seems to be the year of the Fairy Tale - two movies and two TV shows all riffing on the idea of "modernised" fairy stories, the films wanting to recast the idea as "girl power" heroines and the TV shows wanting to just bring a mixed bag of fairy story motifs and characters into the modern world. Out of all of these, I've only seen one: Once Upon a Time. In fairness, none of these films or shows really interested me, and I only watched OUAT for two reasons - first, it was on at a convenient time, and secondly, it looked so much like a Fables rip-off I just had to see if it was true. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thinking: Its Not For You!

Well, its that time again, when Doctor Who returns to our screens, and is instantly subjected to a level of scrutiny far beyond that which a Saturday Evening Family-viewing show merits. Everyone seems to be in on the act, from twitter (split as ever, between gushing fans and bitter refuseniks), the legion of geek blogs, and even the mainstream press can't resist getting a few articles up each about the return of the show, episode reviews and some tacked on commentary using the show as an analogy. It's all a bit weird really, when you think about it - Who doesn't put itself forward as that sort of show and there are a hell of a lot of shows that do and don't seem to get the coverage.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Movie Review: Ted

I don't know if it says more about my interests, or just the overwhelming dominance of the genre in this summer's blockbuster line-up, but Ted is the first film I've seen in cinemas this summer that didn't involve some guy in Spandex jumping off a building. A bit of both, probably, but it certainly nice to get see something different up on the big screen. On what seemed like a quiet weekend at the box-office, it was this or The Expendables 2, - no interest in Total Remake, thanks - and the profanity spewing Teddy Bear won the day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Box Set Blues: Misfits, Season Three

You know what bugs me about British TV? There is never enough of it. Take Misfits, for instance - after the end of this third season there is only remaining original cast member going into the next series. So after only 24 episodes - the length of a single US TV Season - they've burnt through four characters and all their attendant story potential, and they're taken three years to produce those episodes. And there isn't anything expensive, or complex about Misfits, its just that the British TV culture is these short runs and high cast turnovers, and I'm always left feeling I'm missing out on potential that is never realised. But, rant over, lets look at what stories we did get! 

Friday, August 24, 2012

TV Review: The Legend of Korra

One of my favorite kids shows is "Avatar: The Last Airbender", which was pretty big in the states but a bit more of a cult hit over here in the UK. A 3-series animated epic from Nickelodeon, it was set in an Asian culture-inspired world dominated by nations with strong elemental themes and magic built around elemental control ("bending"). Over the course of the original run A:TLA combined kid-friendly action and story lines with the sort of great characterization and deep subtext that keeps adult engaged too, along with a a fantastic visual style, great direction and and a really solid and interesting plot. If you've not seen it, it's well worth checking out. The show definitely finishes, however, and so when the team behind it were commissioned for a sequel, that was always going to be a tough task, both because of the reputation of the first series, and because, well, where do you go next?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Movie Review: The Amazing Spiderman

Six weeks ago, before I went to India for a week, and more relevantly, before I broke my elbow, I promised Ewan I'd take him to see the new Spiderman film, as he's got such a kick out Avengers, and had expressed an interest in more big-screen superheroics. Since we had some family holiday, and I could drive again, I finally made good on the promise and took him last week. Its been much reported that this film by and large only exists so that the studio can hold onto the rights from Marvel, who want to reintegrate their properties, and given the broadly excellent job being done with them part of says they should just be allowed to. But, The Amazing Spiderman is a film that should be judged on its own merits, outside of that context, although its hard not to feel that said context does have a bearing on the films problems.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Box Set Blues: Deadwood, Series 1

One of the many things that count against my self-identified label of "watcher of quality TV" is the amount of quality TV that I have not watched. I mean, I've seen five series of Bones, for goodness sake, so its not like I haven't found the time somewhere along the time to set in front of the TV and absorb more of the "good stuff". One of the more glaring omissions to my mind has always been Deadwood - HBO's three-season-then-dropped Western about the founding and growth of the eponymous town in the gold-rich hills of Dakota. It has a fearsome reputation of being a show about mud, death and swearing, or towering performances and deep, rich subtexts. So, finally, we have seen the first series.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Rambling Randomly

Sometimes I just have collected thoughts that don't coalesce enough for a coherent post. This is one of those posts!

Diablo 3 and the Agency Problem
Since writing up Diablo 3 a while back I've played it a bit more in co-operation with friends, and finally managed to nail down something that has been bugging me and I wasn't able to articulate. And thats the strange thing about it's story. Most games put the player at the centre of the action - after all, it's you shooting those bad guys, or you saving the kingdom, or you stacking those blocks. Even where the story calls for a defined central character, by and large you are playing that central character, even when the story allows you no choices and pre-written cut-scenes, usually you are in charge of that main character within the gameplay. It's called "agency" and is one of the more unique things about storytelling in computer games, and a lot of games in the RPG genre particularly are experimenting with the limits of this agency when it comes to emergent stories.

The thing is with Diablo 3's story, is that you actually have no agency. Sure, you run around the world killing monsters and looting their shiny things, but whenever the story crops up one of the NPCs is there to actually do the thing that needs to be done. You're not saving the world, you're getting lesser creatures out of the way so that other people can save the world. Other characters tell you where to go, read ancient manuscripts and perform ancient rites. In the end, your character may get to kill newly trans-sexual Diablo but the celebratory cutscene is Tyrael's triumph, not yours.

It feels like such an odd way to write a story - as if they were too attached to their characters to let your disposable killer get in the way.

Graphic Novel Round-Up
My current comic reading is limited to the two or three graphic novels I buy each month, largely on recommendation. Sure, I'm always behind, but the quality is pretty solid. This month I picked up Orbital vol 4 and Long John Silver vol 3, both from Cinebooks, who translate the european comics scene for English-speaking audiences. Orbital is a space operatic police series, and LJS is a sequel of sorts to Treasure Island, set around a search of a South American city of gold. Both are fantastic, great art, great stories, but these volume are the last currently in print and the next volumes look to be available sometime in 2013. Which isn't fair; I'm used to being so far behind there is always another volume!

I'm also finally starting to read Hellboy. Its the sort of thing I knew I will like, and of course I do. My reading is slightly plagued by lack of availability of some volumes, which I guess is the downside of being so far behind!

Dragons in Dungeons, Oh My! 
After many years of being a role-player, I am finally playing a proper, dungeon crawling Dungeons and Dragons Game. I'm a cleric, with the stupidly fantasy-tastic name of "Radia Lightsalve". She's Neutral Good, reads tacky romance novels, and is nice to everyone. Yes, my tongue is in my cheek throughout. That said, I've rather enjoyed it so far - it sort of is and isn't what you'd expect, by which I mean it's mechanistic, combat heavy, and a bit too much down the "boardgame" line for my usual taste in RPGs, but despite that it's pretty good fun....

Monday, July 30, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

What do we want from a Superhero movie? The huge success of Marvels recent films seems to indicate that flat-out, wall-to-wall fun times is the order of business, with none of this brooding in the shadows nonsense cluttering up the mood. On the other hand, the success of the current Batman films seems to indicate that we want our superheroes bound to the real world, with none of this ridiculous over-the-top, punching giant space worm fantasy. And it's an interesting serendipity that the culmination of both of these visions are hitting cinema screens within a couple of months of each other, first with Joss Whedon's no-holds-barred quip-and-action-fest Avengers Assemble, and now Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy rounds off with The Dark Knight Rises. These are two films so different in outlook that their common words and pictures heritage is hard to fathom.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

DVD Round Up July 2012

Well one of the perks (ha!) of breaking your Elbow and then flying long haul on the same month is that you get to watch a good few movies. So it's time for another round-up!

Friday, July 20, 2012


Well, as some of you (and the chances are, if you reading this, you'll know) I've spent this past week on a Business Trip to Ahmedabad, India. I've been emailing around some thoughts to interested parties, but here they are, collected for wider amusement.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Games Review: Diablo 3

click. click. clickclickclickclickclickclickclick. click.

I remember Diablo 2 very fondly -  a game I played a moderate amount on my own, but a hell of a lot in crowded LAN parties and over an earlier, less user-friendly incarnation of the internet. Not a complex game, really, but one that was great manic fun in company, its comparative simplicity allowing for some strange compulsive alchemy of destruction. But that was in another house, and besides, the Diablo is dead.

Except now we have a sequel, at the cutting edge of modern gaming, right?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Comics Review: Atomic Robo: The Ghost of Station X

Along with my increasing tendency to miss shows on TV, and catch up with them on box-sets, I've also long since stopped buying "floppy" comics and started getting collections of series that I like. This has three main advantages - the first is that I can exert some degree of budgetary control over what I buy, rather than just buying pretties in a comic shop every week. The second is that I actually re-read them, because pulling them off a shelf in an single volume is easier than digging out a pile of issues, although it's less kinethestically satisfying. The final reason is that I can pick up stuff on recommendation, which means that these days I read very little "Big Two" and a lot more small and indie-press stuff.

I've mentioned Atomic Robo before, and how wonderful it is, and the new trade is something I've been looking forward to for a while. It's also been billed here and there as "the darkest Atomic Robo story yet", which is an interesting line to take for a series so keen on being accessible and all-ages friendly. I can't deny that I'm sufficiently jaded on "dark" for anyone using the phrase to give me a slight chill.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thinking: On Reviewing What is Put in Front of Us.

One of the things that has been nagging at me over the last few months as I write up reviews for comics and TV shows and the like, is that I rarely seem to give a bad review to anything. I like to think I've got a fairly good sense of critical analysis, and I can be head-over-heals with something (say, The Avengers) and still be open to its weaknesses, whilst watching some generally regarded as poor and enjoy it for what it is without feeling I'm soft-balling it. But I've been in a couple of debates recently regarding films I don't dislike as much as some - Green Lantern springs to mind, but its not the only one - and found myself saying "well, for what it is..." or "not all TV shows can be The Wire".

Which is a problem, because then you are subconsciously grading things on their aspiration, not their final product. Or, as my mind is starting to call it, The Transformers Problem.

Friday, June 22, 2012

TV Review: Justified, Season 3

It doesn't seem so long ago that I said that I thought that Justified's second season was one of the most perfect seasons of TV I'd ever seen. Which is a big claim, although I still stand by it. But for all the greatness of that season, and the buzz for more it left me with, the nagging doubt remained: can the series top that? Is the next season just going to inevitably disappointing, no matter what its strengths may be? So it was with some trepidation we rolled into Season Three of Justified, to see where the show could go from there. Smartly, it chooses to go somewhere different.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

So Farewell Then, Star Wars: The Old Republic

So, over the weekend I cancelled my subscription to Star Wars: The Old Republic. My poor Jedi Knight will now be consigned to live out her days in a freezing cave on Hoth, wondering why no-one had the decency to port her back to the Republic Fleet where at least they have a bar and hot running water. She'll never get through your romance options with Doc and his cheesy dialogue and cheesier facial hair. She'll never get to the end of whatever your personal plot line turns out to be. I almost feel sorry for her. But in the end I just found myself not caring anymore, and not feeling the urge to login and play, and so it is no-more. From reading the gaming press, I am not alone.

So what went wrong? I mean, when we started playing SW:TOR I was really impressed with it, and only a few months later, I'm grabbed by ennui. What gives?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Box Set Blues: Game of Thrones, Series 1

Sometimes I’m quite happy about being so behind in TV shows, because it allows me to watch them free from the attendant hype (good and bad) that often attends them, and allows me freedom binge or meander through a series as I see fit. Sometimes, however, it’s a pain, as something I want to watch simply isn’t available to me to (legally) watch. HBO shows are even worse, as the window between transmission and DVD release is artificially lengthened, usually so that the previous series comes out just as the new series hits the screens for the first time. So it’s taken us a year to watch Game of Thrones, which has felt like a long cold winter.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 2012 DVD Roundup!

Its that time again, when I ramble on about the DVDs we've seen in the last couple of months. With the weekends being slightly quieter, coupled with a raft of films at the 12A rating and below, so we can watch them with Ewan, we've got through quite a few.

The Secret World of Arrietty
It seems wrong to be underwhelmed by a Studio Ghibli movie, given the fantastic track record they have, and the lavish attention to detail they bestow on their productions, but truth be told Arrietty, whilst beautiful to look at, feels strangely hollow. It may be over-familiarity, both of the visual style and the storytelling beats, but after a while I just sort of phased out, opened a book, and started reading. It's hard to pinpoint why though - there is nothing wrong with it as a film, and it's a solid adaptation of the classic "The Borrowers", but I thought the BBC adaption that was on over Christmas, whilst taking far more liberties, was superior in pretty much every way. And after a few recent so-so productions, I really am starting to worry that Ghibli is losing it's edge.

Cowboys and Aliens
OK, so what to expect with Cowboys and Aliens? Well there should be cowboys, right, and Aliens, right? and they fight. and, um, thats it. C&A has a good cast which is clearly enjoying itself, and makes a pretty fun tour around every Western cliche they can find en route to the showdown against some pretty generic Aliens (seriously, do they all shop at the same "space alien weapons and starships" store?) but in the end this is pretty popcorn lightweight fare that makes you smile without needing to engaging your brain.

Heavy Metal
Me and Z were chatting some time back about Heavy Metal - the 80s animated concept movie we'd both heard of and never seen, so we stuck it on lovefilm to have a watch. It's horribly dated of course, not just the animation but the obsession with blood and boobs, but its fascinating to watch and you can imagine the impact it would have had at the time. As a series of vignettes the quality can be pretty patchy with some stories stronger than others, and in places its magazine roots show through more strongly than others. But its definitely worth a view.

Horrible Bosses & Bad Teacher

I'm going to mention these two together as I feel pretty much the same way about both. They both aspire to be black adult comedies, both feature a strong cast giving game performances, and both are, actually, pretty funny in places. But in the final analysis they both fail to be black, or adult enough, and end up just sort of middling when their conceits and casts could probably have delivered something more if they took a few more chances. If you look at something like Bridesmaids, or The Hangover, both have hugely sentimental finales and both work hard to keep the characters mostly sympathetic, but both allow the jokes to be sufficiently outrageous to match their basic premises. Like i say, fun, but they both feel like a missed opportunity.

Green Lantern
I've seen some real hate for Green Lantern around the place, and certainly it's not a patch on any of the recent Marvel superhero films, but really it just suffers from an excess of mediocrity. For starters, it feels like it can't quite decide what tone it wants to set - are going for four-colour or are we going gritty here? - and the costume and set design speaks of that conflict. Similarly it can't decide with its characters either, with odd loops of progression going seemingly nowhere (why establish that Carol is a great pilot only to relegate her to damsel in distress for the finale?) and too much setup for future films they are now unlikely to make because the first one doesn't really work.

Cars 2
Finally, a film that I suspect would get a far easier ride if not made by Pixar. Cars always felt out of place in the Pixar line up, a decent but oddly derivative film and Cars 2 looks on the outside like a commercial, rather than artistic choice of project. That said, its not just a rehash of the earlier film and clearly comes from a desire to make a Spy homage, rather that the first films NASCAR homage. And it's mostly successful; quickly paced, decent script and polished to a shine. Unfortunately, when I see the Pixar logo, I just expect more, and Cars 2 is merely good entertainment...which may be a harsh verdict, but there you have it.

As you can see, there is no real stand outs here, but a lot of solid, middle-of-the-road entertainment. I guess sometimes that's enough...

Friday, May 18, 2012

TV Review: Fringe, Series 4

As I've already mentioned, I'm pretty pleased that loss-making, viewer-light Fringe has been renewed for a final run of 13 episodes to wrap up its storylines and say anything the writers feel is left unsaid. It's had a strange journey over the last three seasons and entered it's fourth a completely unrecognisable show to the one that started out as a mad-science themed X-files clone with better acting, and the third season, with its crazed jumping-between-universes narrative and strong central performances from a cast playing several versions of their established characters, stands for me as one of the strongest seasons of genre television I've ever seen. So with a big change to the status quo at the end of that season, where would they go from here? 

Friday, May 11, 2012

It's Renewals Season!

Well, over in the US, at least. But seeing as with only a few exceptions, US TV is where all the good shows are coming from, it makes it quite an exciting time for followers of quality on the box.

So the good news is that Fringe got a final 13 episodes to wrap everything up, which is excellent news and Fox deserves a lot of praise for sticking with a show they lose money on in the short because it's unique and interesting and the sort of show that they think they should be putting out there. I think we all have to stop bitching about them cancelling Firefly now, OK? Also, Community has another series (albeit a shortened one) , and cable hits like The Walking DeadJustified and Game of Thrones are unsurprisingly coming back next year.

Also returning is the solidly decent, if not spectacular, Once Upon a Time, which I've become passably hooked on, and the patchy-but-engaging Castle, both of which I like possibly more than I should, so there's more them to look forward to, as well as the long list of shows I'm miles behind on.

Whats more interesting is the effect that renewal or cancellation has on my desire to watch - Once Upon a Time being renewed (because it's a hit) makes me more likely to keep watching, but with Alcatraz being cancelled its suddenly a lot less likely I'll start to work through the episodes stacked up on my DVR. Which is odd really, because so many of the shows I like don't have huge audiences, and as a fan of genre shows the hard edge of cancellation for shows I've become attached to is something I have to live with. So why should I care if Alcatraz is cancelled, it doesn't mean its no good, right?

Mind you they also cancelled Terra Nova, and that was rubbish, or at least far more dull than any show involving people being chased by dinosaurs had any right to be. But renewed Falling Skies, which was far more dull than any show involving the Earth being conquered by aliens had any right be, too.

Still, its nice that come the autumn, after I've spent the summer desperately trying to catch up with these shows, there are new episodes to look forward to!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Movie Review: Marvel Avengers Assemble

Look, if it's OK with everyone, I'm just going to call it "The Avengers" or just "Avengers". In the latest act of naming lunacy, here in the UK we have to call this movie "Marvel Avengers Assemble" which is long-winded and un-catchy and stupid and I can't think of a single good reason why the decision was made to change it unless there was some weird legal thing to do with the old TV show (and deeply crappy movie) but I'm more inclined to believe that some coked up Marketing Executive just wanted to make his mark. But, title notwithstanding, me and Z got out to the movies again this weekend and just like everyone else we went to Marvels long-awaited superhero team-up movie.

Oh before we start - I've already seen folks on the internet doing warm up laps for the upcoming "Which is better, The Dark Knight Rises or Avengers?" debate and would advise if you're readying for that, please do us all a favour and go punch yourself in the crotch until you come to your senses and realise that a) its possible for them both to be excellent and we should hope that is the case, and b) one of them isn't even out yet. Thanks.

So with that said, back to the review.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thinking: On Value...

I've been having some slightly tongue-in-cheek conversations with a friend recently about his apparent spurning of fiction, after some unsuccessful run ins with books he's been recommended. The only think they've had in common, really, is that they are works of fiction, and he seems a lot happier now he's gone back to ready worthy tomes on history and economics. Each to their own, of course - and I've certainly gone through phases of reading factual material exclusively - but what's been interesting is the term "value" has come up a few times in the conversation, and that has got me thinking, because value, as applied to fiction, is an interesting concept.

Now I'm not talking here about financial value, or the "£ per hour of entertainment" metric, or anything like that. Relaxing and entertainment clearly have a value, because we all do it in our ways, to stave off madness, stress, or passing thoughts of murder. Maybe that last one's just me. But anyway, entertainment has a value, clearly, whether its on the xbox, in front of Coronation Street, reading a book, or walking the dog. So lets park that, and think about works of fiction.

Again, as a society we clearly value fiction because we create so damn much of it. Telling each other stories is what we do, even when we deal with real events. Politicians talk about "narrative" to get their message across, news channels of all stripes spend a long time trying to frame events in clean terms, even when events aren't, and as someone with a keen interest in History it's noticeable that many of the most popular periods are ones with easily discernible through-lines which help the interested to get into the meat of the subject matter. But this is using the refined techniques of fiction to portray the real world, and make it simpler to understand, so what is the attraction, therefore of the purely fanciful, simplified world of fiction itself.

Because it's not real, you know? By the very nature of fiction the only truth is artificial. We talk about works being "realistic" or "gritty" but they are as artificial as a Disney film, the author has just made the choice to resolve his storylines that way. I love me some James Ellroy, but the soul-tainting corruption of his works that none of his characters can escape is still a stylistic choice and as contrived (in a good way) as any happy ever after you care to mention. Sure, fiction can make us laugh or cry, but there must be more to it than that, something that separates say, Ellroy, from say, Dan Brown, and that's harder to define.

G K Chesterton - a writer I don't particularly like, oddly - wrote "Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon." What he is saying here is that value of fiction is the lessons it imparts, and crucially those lessons are true irrespective of the objective truth of the story itself. You can learn courage, and leadership, and other virtues from imaginary people doing imaginary things, and in fact you can learn them better, because the power of the author over the narrative means you can strip away the messy caveats of the real world. 

John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath exposes the desperation of the dustbowl better than any news story because he can load the story to make the point he is trying to make. Bilbo Baggins resonates because the story of being a small person in a world far bigger, and far scarier than you ever imagined is something every child will have to go through. Winston Smith's world remains an loudly echoing warning despite never existing and that fact it probably never could. Dickens stirred the conscience of the age with his studies of poverty and wealth, Wells directed colonialist destruction on the height of Imperial Britain, Neil Shute's On the Beach made me cry, and Slaughterhouse Five left me torn between hope and despair for the nature of humanity. 

All of these stories are false, but all of them are true. 

And I think that's the value of fiction - it can be a powerful tool to present truth, not fact, to tell you things, to show you things, free from the messy burden of reality. Sure, sometimes it's frivolous nonsense, but the power of stories comes from artificial control of the narrative to deliver the intent of the author, because of their sometimes loose connection to the real world, not despite it. We tell stories to understand the world, to express our desire to change it, and to open our minds to things beyond our eyes and ears, and I can't think of anything that deserves to be valued more. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

On Books and being a "book person"

I was chatting last on a mini-podcast to support the Horror Reading list I'm doing over at Geek Syndicate, and was asked about the idea behind it. I sort of waffled a bit about wanting to look at other genres, and being a bit snobby about things I know little about, but I've been dwelling on it a bit since and so I thought I'd try and lay out recent relationship with books.

The thing is, way back, I've always been a prolific reader. My parents will tell how I pretty much vanished into books in my early teens and stayed there until I left for university. At university I read and read, and even after I left university I accumulated books at a great rate largely thanks to the large about of second hand bookshops that proliferated around the University area of Leeds. The thing was, looking back, I think the volume was high but the range was narrow. I read Science Fiction, and pretty much nothing else, picking up an unhealthy disdain for Fantasy and Horror as genres along the way. Whilst I rarely re-read the same book (there's a few beloved exceptions) I suspect I was reading a lot of similar material and a lot of crap with spaceships on the cover, although I did manage to find some non-SF fiction I love to this day.

This really reached a peak in 1997, where I spent a long time hospital with very little else to do but devour fiction, although this did let me discover George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series so at least it wasn't all spaceships!

Without really noticing it though, I started to read less and less as the years went on. I became a father in 2001, I got more and more time- and energy- consuming jobs, and finally, a few years back, I had a moment where I couldn't remember what the last book I read was. I mean, I was still reading, occasionally, and mostly history or pop-science but certainly nothing at any great pace. Which was a bit of a stab at my self-image as a voracious reader and I had to do something about it. The answer was "reading lists" - nothing too demanding, just some sort of focus - and rather than sink back into SF I put together a lost of "American Classic" to read, enjoyed several of them, and discovered Hemingway, Vonnegut and Chandler.

So that was a win. After that I did "Crime Fiction", followed by facing by prejudices head-on and reading a year of Fantasy Novels, some of which (whisper it) I really really liked. Oh Dear Team, Oh Dear. In fact, this general project has been so successful that I'm thinking of doing a reading list of SF novels, just because it's been so bloody long since I read them in any volume!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Tatooine and Alderaan

In between everything else thats going on, me and Z are still ploughing our way through Star Wars: The Old Republic, albeit at a less frantic pace than before. As you approach the mid-to-late levels of any MMO, and SWTOR is no exception, it's always felt like an awkward stage, and where I've fallen out of quite a few over the years. The problem is simple enough, really - the "newness" of the mechanics, gimmicks and general world-building has faded, to be replaced with familiarity, and (expected) great opening up of "the endgame" has yet to emerge. For a story-driven game like SWTOR aspires to be, it at least has something to hang on to, to try and ease you past those bumps. But SWTOR has another trick up it's sleeve too; it can send you to some of the really famous locations available to it from it's license. 

I was waiting for a mission to pick up Power Converters but it never arrived! 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: Empire in Black and Gold

As anyone who has known me for any length of time will attest, I have always looked down on the Fantasy genre with the reflexive snobbery of a long-time Science Fiction Fan. I was at least partly cured of this after my "Big Year of Reading Fantasy" although I still feel pretty wary of it's tics, tropes and seemingly self-inflicted limitations of what the genre is allowed to be. I'm still more than capable of getting a little snippy about it, but at the same time there is an increasing amount of it on my bookshelves and I came back from the SFX weekender with 3 out of 4 books bought being Fantasy. And its starting to look like my next big reading obsession is a Fantasy series too.

Oh dear, team.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

It seems that everyone who stayed away from John Carter (of Mars!!) were really just saving themselves for The Hunger Games, the latest Hollywood franchise launcher, taken from a popular book series, aimed squarely that lucrative teenage market. This probably sounds a little snide, but its hard not to be skeptical. After the success of first Harry Potter, then Twilight, the last few years has seen a barrage of attempts to cash in on  Young Adult fiction boom and the devoted followings they inspire. Its not new behavior, but it seems to be being refined into a fine art, and in many ways the quality of the finished product is almost an after thought compared to the tie-ins, marketing drive and steady drip, drip of images of the readers heroes and heroines brought to life.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March 2012 DVD Round Up!

Seems to have been a while since I did a DVD round up, even though we are still watching through our lovefilm list with a good speed. A lot of these films have been 12 certificate too, which means we are OK with Ewan watching them (supervised) which makes for some nice family afternoons through the cold spells we've been having. Not going to go back too far, but some quick thoughts on the last couple of months movies follow after the cut...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Box Set Blues: Misfits, Season 2

We seem to be on a roll with box-sets at the moment, although this is in many ways an illusion. After all, getting through Community was a burst of crazy obsession, and as we tend to watch several series in parallel its just a nice coincidence that we seemed to have finished a few fairly close to each other. Another factor is of course that UK tv runs for much, much shorter seasons, which can be pretty frustrating, but at least we tend to wind up wanting more of a truncated show, than slowly losing patience with something going on for too long. I'm starting to think that the 10- or 13-episode run, being both the longest a UK show seems to run, and the shortest US one does, is about the right balance between breathing room and decent pace. But thats for another day. Today we talk about Misfits.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Box Set Blues: Community, Series 1

One of the great advantages of being behind in your consumption of culture is that when you find something you like, you can often burn through a lot of it very quickly. This is why I read all of A Song of Ice and Fire in a four month burst, for example, or watched four series of House at the rate of an episode a day until we'd ran out of actually produced episodes. I'm fond of bemoaning that I'm often behind, and have to play "dodge the spoiler" across the internet but it does mean that recommendation from up-to-date people acts a filter against some real dross and often means we can pick up whole TV series on the cheap.

All that said, I wish I'd seen Community sooner.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Movie Review: The Artist

The Artist has been this years "little movie that could" - a french-made, black and white silent movie that accelerated through the awards season to win 5 Oscars in what felt, by Oscar-night, a crushing inevitability. It was so critically lauded, so acclaimed, that before the opening credits even start to roll there is a burden of expectation upon it to deliver, and the worry is always that that it won't manage that, because the bar has been set for it so high. But we went to see it anyway, and this is what we thought. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Comics Review: Into the Woods

It feels like I woke up one day and Fairy Tales were "in" again. There are two Fairy Tale-based shows on the TV, two versions of Snow White approaching cinemas, Stephen Moffat cites them as a big influence on his flavour of Doctor Who, and there is just generally a more indefinable "zeitgeist" in air. I would say something off-the-cuff about Fairys being the new Vampires, but as I'm not a huge fan of the current Vampire craze it would be unnecessarily cruel. Moving Fairy Tales into the modern world (or modern sensibilities) isn't a new idea, of course - but its a concept that is suddenly front and centre.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Box Set Blues: Justified, Series Two

Justified's first season was one of these shows that we watched almost by chance, and instantly regretted that we hadn't been watching it sooner. Whilst displaying some "first season" choppiness, it was a slick, entertaining and clever show that left you wanting more, and waiting for it's second season to arrive (it was on my xmas list for santa) was slow, at times. But you have expectations, when a show starts as well as Justified did, that it can build on it's foundation, and deliver on that promise of future quality. So, does it manage it? 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Taris and Nar Shadda

So, once we got through with cleaning up the murky underpants of the Republic capital, we were offered a choice of worlds to go to next. Well not a choice, really, more that we have to do both but can do them in any order. Even though one is flagged as lower level than the other. So a choice, yes, but one which you're pretty pointed at the "right" answer. That said, it did get me thinking about how there seems to be different ways to approach The Old Republic; each world so far as a mix of solo "open" content, your class-specific content, and then 2- and 4-man mini-dungeons you can run. Through Coruscant we'd done all of it, and approached the next worlds slightly over levelled, something that became more even apparent when we'd finished Taris to the same degree.

But I think really what you're presented with is a real choice - if a world leaves you cold for whatever reason you can nip in, ignore everything but your class-quest arc, and then nip out again, and there is enough "spare" exp lying around from other sources to compensate. Personally I'm finding TOR as a game about "the journey", and the stories are generally pretty good, so my inclination to skip is limited, but i do appreciate that the option is there. Anyway, onto the worlds themselves!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Box Set Blues: Castle, Series 1

I seem to watch a fair bit of "proper" TV. If you ask me to list shows I watch I'd go for the top draw stuff, the big American dramas of quality and style, but I do have a guilty secret - I have a huge soft spot for gimmicky, odd-couple procedurals. I mean, House, is a great example, and Bones. Shows which are basically the same every week, holding on my the fun of watching the characters do their "thing" together. I can't pretend they're quality shows, I can pretend they're cutting edge - all I hope for is fun.

So I was recommended Castle, staring Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic, as a new one for line up of DVD comfort food...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cons, Representation and Balance

It seems that there is a lot of discussion about women in comics flying around again, between some of the reports on female representation at SFX Weekender panels, and the so-far-announced Kapow! lineup and whilst this is the sort of debate I usually try to hide under a desk from, I just can't help but hold opinions.Now as you can tell from my profile picture, I am a not-yet-middle-age-dammit white male, and I can't - and won't - try to speak on "how women feel" about the comics industry or panels. There are already many erudite and thoughtful posts from women on this subject (like this one) and hand-on-heart I never looked at a panel at SFX and thought "gosh I wish there was more women on it" so in many ways I may be part of the problem. 

But there clearly is a problem - most people seem to agree on it. The question is why?

Firstly I think that we would all love to live in a world where the age, gender, ethnicity or sexuality (or any other mostly artificial line we stick across our society to mess things up with) just simply didn't matter, and it's frustrating that it still does. I'd love to think that I moved in a sub-culture where we could genuinely be beyond it but I know we don't. But it comes from us - from the community - and we need to look to ourselves to drive change as much as expect con organisers to make tokenistic placements or panel guests to make noble gestures in the name of equality. 

Kapow! is headlining guests that will get ticket sales through the door. SFX fills its panels with people that will get bums on auditorium seats. I'm no great con veteran but I've stood enough queues to know that a lot of con-goers aren't interested in up-and-coming creators, or small press publishing, or first time authors, and that means that change takes a long time, and also means that some genres are going struggle more than others. With so few women writers and artists at mainstream comics top table, for instance, they don't get the exposure, so a lot of fans never hear about them, so they don't get the con invites, and it's all a horribly vicious circle. 

Literary genres don't quite seem so bad, although there does seem to be a growing opinion I overheard at SFX that SF has become the "boys genre" and Fantasy the "girl writers" genre, something the reported treatment of a female panelist at one event may be a symptom of. And it's clearly nonsense - but if the community reacts so that SF panels become male-audienced and fantasy female-audienced, that it will be come a "truth" in no time at all. 

Is there an answer to this? Well if I had an answer to this then I'd screaming it from the rooftops, but I don't. I suspect that the fact that we're talking about female representation in a way we aren't talking about say, ethnicity, is a sign both that women are really, properly, breaking into a white male geek world, and a sign that there are still battles to be fought. Because I don't believe that there is much malice in Geek Culture, I don't think we mean to exclude anyone, or make anyone feel uncomfortable. But often we don't think enough, and debates like this show that we should. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Movie Review: The Muppets

In one our one-every-couple-of-months trips to the cinema last week, when faced with list of films of which we wanted to see many, we "ummm-ed" and "ahhh-ed" a bit before finally plumping for a good dollop of comforting nostalgia - The Muppets. Like many of my generation I have a long history with them; watched the show as a kid, saw the films as first as a kid and then as an "ironic" twenty-something, and now I get to inflict Muppet Christmas Carol on my kids every year because a) it's brilliant, and b) inflicting your childhood on your own children is one of the great perks of parenthood.

But in terms of "new" Muppet material there is always that tremor of fear - can you go back to that well, years later, without either being too twee and dated, or horribly trendy and modern? Well, it turns out, yes you can.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Star Wars: The Old Republic: Coruscant

Slowly but surely, me and the missus are still playing through The Old Republic. This means that we are officially "subscribers" now, having paid for our second month, and I've not seen much about the overall performance of the game now that initial month has passed. Anecdotally, most of the people I know that bought the game are still playing, but what that means in the bigger picture I'm not so sure. I hope it's doing well though, the MMO space could do with a bit more competition surviving in the more premium end, especially as most of the (still anecdotal) stories I'm getting out of World of Warcraft paint a picture of a game sucking up huge large subscriber numbers but now just coasting lazily along.

Anyway, the next world in TOR after the introductory planet has taken us a while to get through, but it's pretty indicative, I think, of the leveling game as a whole.

Coruscant! Coruscant! Coruscant! (it's only a levelling zone)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Box Set Blues: House M.D., Season 7

It seems that a lot of the telly we've been watching recently has been first seasons of things. I suspect this is partly to do with having caught up on a lot recently, and we're not looking for new things to get hooked on, and partly because a few ongoing series have simply finished or gone into hiatus. So settling back into a show we've seen a lot of, and are familiar with, is a bit of comfort viewing, something where we don't need to get to know all the characters, and situations, and just enjoy a show happy in it's own routine. So with that in mind, we approach the seventh series of House M.D.

Monday, February 6, 2012

SFX Weekender 3: The Weekendering!

So, this weekend we packed off the kids, loaded up the car, and headed off to Prestatyn, North Wales, to the SFX Weekender. I've been to a few cons over the years but is my first Weekender, and the biggest one I've been to for a good many years. I didn't have much idea what to expect, to be honest - so here's my experiences...along with some dreadful photos!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

OK, so the Watchman thing...

I've seen this rumble around my twitter feed (oooh, get him!) for the last couple of days and as my thoughts on the matter are not easily broken into 140-letter chunks, I thought I should get it off my chest here.

So, the story is that DC have announced the creative teams and covers (which can be seen here) and as you might expect the Internet has exploded in it's usual confused and vaguely angry way. Some people a cross because they are doing Watchmen prequels. Some people are cross because of the people doing the Watchmen prequels. Some people are cross because other people are getting cross about the Watchmen prequels.

No-one actually knows what they're going to be about, how the supposed "interlinking" is going to work, or has read a single page of them. Hear that? It's the sound of a Hundred Thousand Knees Jerking as one.

Here's the thing - Watchmen means a lot to comics fans. It means a lot to me. It's a great work of art, by a great writer and a great artist. Its been constantly in print since it was written and is read by people who "don't read comics" - it routinely turns up on "Best Ever Novels" lists. It is that good and deserves that reputation. On the other hand, I don't see why those characters and universe must remain inviolate and never touched again. Watchman isn't great because of it's universe - it's great because of how it tells it's story and how it handles it's characters, and how it approaches superhero comics as a grown up, storytelling medium.

The most common complaint I've seen is that Alan Moore created the characters and "should" be involved. Now Alan Moore is not someone who needs random denizens of the internet to fight for him, and I'm sure if he has a strong opinion on the matter we'd all know about it. But we do - he's repeatedly said he'd put all that behind and he doesn't care any more - and quite right too, in my opinion. And these were adapted characters in the first place - used to dissect and analyse trends in comic book heroes, not hugely original concepts but hugely original uses. (Also, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Lost Girls. So that's enough about using other peoples characters on the Alan Moore front, OK?)

The second complaint is that Watchmen is a complete story and any else is unnecessary. I have some sympathy with this point - Watchmen nested ambiguities are part of it's strength and shining a light on those does feel unnecessary, even more given the frequent flashbacks in the books. And there is certainly an argument that the advertising budget and talent behind these books could just as easily launch something new into the comics world, more original stories, in an era where mainstream comics feel a little stagnant - certainly it is unlikely these will make the sort of impact on the industry the original did.

But this isn't a reason to dismiss them out of hand - the comics industry is built on retelling of the same stories with the same characters in different ways. All the big characters shift and change over the years in response to new writers and artists, and changing times and trends. If DC want to try and make the Watchmen universe somewhere they can tell more stories, then good luck to them, frankly, it's a big ask of the creative teams they've assembled.

But let's wait till they're actually written, eh?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Box Set Blues: True Blood, Series 1

Ah, Vampires. Savage, blood sucking monsters who descend in the hours of darkness to defile innocence and cause the ruin of all that touch. Somewhere along the line this became a romantic ideal, and whilst I'm not sure why, the pointy toothed fiends seem to be everywhere at the moment, running around and waving their subtext in everyone's faces. On the whole the Vampire hasn't done much for me since Near Dark, but the one show I have been recommended from a couple of places is True Blood, the HBO adaptation of the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlene Harris. So onto my Lovefilm queue they went, and now we've seen the whole first series, I can answer the big question of was it worth it?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thinking: Rating Troubles

Right, so we're going to watch
this film till you rate it correctly.
Our eldest offspring is 10 later this year, and his growing interest in games, and movies and the like has left me with a problem I've not faced for a couple of decades - that of age ratings. In some ways he's determined to like his own things, not things that his terminally uncool parents like, but in others he's growing into a geek, child of geeks, and is therefore despite himself interested in the films we are into, and games we are into. Which is leaving us with a problem - what do we let him watch when? 

On the face of it, it's all very simple, right? Some nice man or woman at the BBFC (in the UK at least) watches all this content and plonks a sticker on it that says an age advisory and there you are. Except that the ratings don't make a lot of sense to me in some ways, especially for games, and suddenly things don't look so simple after all. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

TV Review: Sherlock, Series 2

The first series of Sherlock was one of those genuinely surprising pleasures that no-one - especially the BBC which stuck it on in the middle of summer - seemed to expect would be half as good as it turned out to be. I don't recall it getting a lot of publicity, or much advance buzz, and the concept of a "modern day Sherlock Holmes" didn't really fill me with warm expectations, even given my pretty warm feelings towards Stephen Moffatt's run on Doctor Who. But how things change - the second series comes around with both leads enjoying growing profiles, a large expectation and a great schedule slot from the Beeb, as well as the promise of hitting three of the most famous Holmes stories in three feature-length episodes. So from unexpected pleasure to anticipated flagship, how does it fare second time around?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Star Wars: The Old Republic: The First 10 Levels

One of the things I've said a couple of times over the new year period was that quitting World of Warcraft was a great decision, as it freed up a lot of time that we then spent consuming games and TV that otherwise we would have missed out on. So naturally, signing up for another MMO sounds like an act of madness, right? Well perhaps. But the one thing that kept up playing WoW long beyond we would otherwise have got bored of it was it was a game we shared - a game we not only played together but a game we played with a wide array other people. And we're both big Star Wars nerds, and big fans of Bioware games, so Star Wars: The Old Republic was like a big gaming lighthouse, calling us in.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 in Review

Well we're now six days into 2012, and who remembers 2011 eh? That's the fast moving world of the internet for you but I still wanted to put out some sort of thoughts on the years entertainments, and after a brief delay caused by the year starting with the house being broken into, here it is.

I've got to start with the podcast. Dissecting Worlds has now put out nearly 40 episodes and not only have I had a fantastic time making it (because arguing with one of my oldest friends is always fun!) but I've also met a lot of new people and been pointed at a lot of new media to try. I've still little to no idea how many people actually listen but meeting the few who approached us at Thought Bubble was a great (but slightly weird-feeling) experience. And this year we've had a load of guests on, and they've all been great, lovely people. Cliched but true!

Entertainment wise the best thing we did the whole year was quit World of Warcraft. Not out of any real antipathy for a game me and Z have played a lot, and will almost certainly go back to in the future, but simply because we ran out of things to do that seemed worthwhile, and just eased away from it. What it did do it turn me into a much wider consumer of media, and my reading, TV and gaming consumption shot up through the back half of the year, so we've caught up on a lot that I suspect we'd otherwise have missed out on.

That said, I'm not sure it's been a year that anything leaps out at me as particularly outstanding. I've become completely hooked on Fringe, for instance, but I've seen nearly it's full run in the last 12 months so it's hardly a 2011 revelation except for lazy catch-ups like me. Similarly I've discovered A Song of Ice and Fire and Atomic Robo and the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast this year after somewhat criminally letting them pass me by in earlier years. Stuff new to this year? Nothing quite so striking.

On the other hand, on the gaming front there is possibly more striking and interesting games than I can successfully differentiate, especially only the indie gaming front. Bastion was great, for instance, and the number of hours I've ploughed into small titles like Dungeon Defenders dwarfs my time on the big AAA games like Uncharted 3 or Arkham City, both of which were great in their own ways. That said, if I had to pick a Game of the Year it would have to be the moody, atmospheric, thoughtful, and ever-so-slightly flawed Deus-Ex: Human Revolution, just I just found deeply interesting and compelling just to be in that world, even if my view of it was largely from hiding behind a desk.

For the sake of completeness I think I'd better mention the disappointments - largely the personal one that I didn't produce enough material for either this blog or for the commitments I made over at Geek Syndicate, a problem caused mostly by going back to college in the last quarter of the year and finding myself generally a little over-extended. I fully expect to make the same sort of error this year!

So, that was 2011. Here's looking forward to 2012...