Thursday, October 31, 2013

First Impressions: Marvels Agents of SHIELD

Here is the thought for today - how many shows were great straight out of the gate? I mean, I can name a few (Battlestar Galactica's "33" was one of its all-time greats, for instance) for every one I can think of a flood of shows with weak-to-terrible starts that went on to be something far better. I remember sitting in a convention screening room watching pilot the of Babylon 5 being laughed off the screen, and Encounter at Farpoint, which relaunched the Star Trek franchise on TV is just bloody embarrassingly bad. Fringe, the show that captured and then broke my heart (repeatedly), and went on to be my favorite show of the last decade, was so un-exceptional at first I simply stopped watching, and had to be persuaded back to it. So I find the current trend for snarky write-offs of Marvel's Agent of SHIELD a little premature.

Monday, October 28, 2013

DVD of the Week: Zero Dark Thirty

Its always hard when movies get into current affairs, as the truth can be a slippery thing, even decades after the event. Making a film that touches on the contemporary is fraught with peril, as so much information remains unknown, something complicated when you try and touch on the murky world of Intelligence Agencies. On top of this, you're often asked to pick sides on issues that still rattle around political discourse, touch on all sorts of sore spots, and make judgements on correlation or causations that aren't really that clear. Diving headlong into some of the touchiest of touchy subjects, is Kathryn Bigelow's film on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

(Not a) Games Review: The Last of Us

It's been remarked on before, but video games feel like they're in an odd place at the moment, torn between increasing mainstream popularity and new-kid-on-the-block insecurity as an entertainment form. For all Angry Man Crime Simulator VII and Call of WarBattle: Explosions! and their ilk turnover enough sales to stand alongside any major blockbuster movie, gaming also seems to struggle with legitimacy as an art form, both in terms of wider acceptance as such, and in it's own ambitions. The ongoing, rolling debate within gaming about the darker side of gaming culture, and how it approaches having it's bastions challenged, is a symptom or this, I think, as the form struggles towards more complex ways of using "gamification" to tell stories or explore complex themes. Which brings us neatly to The Last of Us.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: Saturn's Children, by Charles Stross

One of those authors that people keep recommending to me - in a "oohh what do you mean you haven't read..." sort of way - is Charles Stross. The reason I haven't read any of his books is pretty simple, and its to do with the fact despite being, at heart, an SF nerd, I largely burned out on the genre through the 2000s, when Stross really came to prominence. I was also very wary of Singularity-led fiction, so a writer who has a breakthrough work called "Singularity Sky" wasn't going to leap to the top of my book pile. That said he's always lurked on the edge of my consciousness, and given my re-ignited interest in the genre over the last couple of years, I finally got to one of his novels. Sorry it's taken so long, Charles.

Monday, October 14, 2013

DVD of the Week: Much Ado About Nothing

It seems that sooner or later, everyone wants to have a go at Shakespeare. Its to the mans credit that he holds such a sway over the creative imagination of Western Culture, so many years later, when the language has changed, the cultural idioms have changed, and much else has changed, that many of his plays continue to be produced and adapted. Sure, some are less accessible than others, but on the whole, they seem to stand almost eternal, as a body of work that just keeps giving. This week we got to one of the more recent adaptations, Joss Whedon's take on Much Ado About Nothing.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Box Set Blues; Person of Interest, Series 1

There is a weird transition you go through when you switch between watching US cable shows and US Network shows. They've got different rhythms, and different ways of presenting their stories, because they have different audiences with different needs. Contrast something Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad to a show like House, or Agents of SHIELD, and you'll see less serialization on the network shows, more character short-hand, more repetition of ideas, at least in part because they latter need bigger, broader audiences to justify their existence. The last network show to make a big success out of serialisation on a major network was Lost, and there are forsaken corners of the internet where people are still arguing about how that turned out. But that formula of accessible, digestible TV with serialised mystery elements is still pursued by Commissioning Alchemists, who have recently conjured up Person of Interest.