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.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

DVD of the Week: Cloud Atlas

I've mentioned before that one of my favorite books of the last few years is David Mitchells' Cloud Atlas - an intricate, sprawling, and pretty pretentious in places mediation of life, humanity and all that "stuff" that serious novelists like to meditate on. Its the sort of book that, in my wildest dreams, I would like to write myself, the sort of complexity and cleverness, mixed with genre-savvy and accessibility, that I wish I had myself. Part of the joy of the book is the nested structure; 6 stories that fold into, and then out of, the next one as we move forwards (and then back again) in time. Each story is tonally different, each a homage to a different style, and yet each journey is essentially thematically the same. What possessed then to make a movie it is completely beyond me. And yet they did.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Movie Review: Big Hero 6


I can occasionally be heard to complain that I don't get to watch grown up movies at the cinema very often, due to a mix of the need to sort out babysitters on the one hand, and the fact that our 12-year-old is keen to come with us whenever possible on the other. It's not the hardest problem we face, and the dominance of 12A action movies in the summer months mean we still see a lot of the big films, but it does relegate the "grown up" films to DVD nights, which can be a shame. Especially when awards season comes around and all the cinema billboards are full of films I'm sure I'll like when I see them 9 months time. But then occasionally you troop into the cinema half-filled with kids and get to see a film that is just as affecting and serious as anything vying for that Oscar nonsense, it's just disguised under -  in this case - brightly coloured Carbon Fiber plating.