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Saturday, 30 July 2016

Minecraft: Story Mode E6: A Portal to Mystery

Minecraft: Story Mode
Episode 6
A Portal to Mystery.

If I'm being honest, I'm not that excited about the Adventure storyline. I really adored the Wither Storm story: It was well-paced, had some excellent build-up, had a pretty terrifying antagonist (you can't really call the Wither Storm a villain), some great highs and lows, and while it wasn't perfect, it was probably one of the better stories Telltale Games had ever penned, and one of the few where it actually felt like any your choices even had the slightest bit of weight to them. The Adventure storyline, meanwhile, feels tonally jarring and kind of aimless, as Jesse, Lukas, Petra, and Ivor hop from world to world without really any kind of overarching plot.

If it had all been confined to DLC, that would have been fine - but instead, the storyline started in episode five of the main story, what would usually have been the grand finale, so instead there's this weird halfway house where it's both part of and not part of the main story.


A Portal to Mystery takes Jesse and the gang to a world filled with zombies. Taking shelter in the mansion of the White Pumpkin, they soon encounter a variety of other guests, all invited for dinner. But before long, guests start dying, and it soon becomes clear that the White Pumpkin is after that world's enchanted flint and steel to open a portal, and is willing to kill to get it. With Lukas falling under suspicion, and nobody able to leave the mansion until dawn, Jesse must put on his detective hat and discover the true identity of the White Pumpkin.


It warrants mentioning that this episode has a gimmick, and that gimmick is 'famous Minecraft youtubers are the party guests.' This -- is a gimmick that fell a little flat for me, because I don't tend to watch Minecraft youtubers, but I did, at least, recognise Captain Sparklez, who was clearly meant to be the biggest name there. There was a bit of wink-wink-nudge-nudge-you-know-who-these-guys-are going on, which was fine, really, I'm not going to begrudge the series a little bit of fun. 

In all honesty, though, the gimmick was a little bit jarring at times, since most of these people aren't professional voice actors and, while they certainly all gave it the old college try, most of them didn't make brilliant voice actors. Some of them certainly did: CaptainSparklez actually did a pretty solid job (and his inclusion led to the best joke of the episode, as Ivor snaps at Lukas to be respectful, since they're talking to a captain), as did a few others, including Cassie Rose, who plays the villain in extraordinarily hammy fashion. I mean that in the best way possible, too, as she goes full Mitchell and Webb evil voice in the episode's final act, doing the verbal equivalent of smoking an evil cigarette out of an evil cigarette holder.

Cassie Rose, and a cat who I assume is based on her actual cat?

In theory, I do actually like the idea of a Minecraft: Story Mode murder mystery, despite my resentment at the Adventure storyline in general. It falls a little bit flat here, as the episode is so short (it comes in at an hour and a half, somewhat shorter than most episodes) that the storyline has to rush through the mystery at a breakneck pace, especially since the last twenty minutes are devoted to a quicktime event action scene between Cassie Rose and Jesse.

There's also not a great deal of actual sleuthing involved. The episode does try to work it in by having a Poirot-esque 'everyone gathered in the drawing room' moment that you can screw up if you pick the wrong options (as I nearly did), but adding in clues that you could miss, or other gameplay elements to increase the detective-y vibe, could have gone a long way towards making this episode stand out.

(In other news, I'm increasingly vexed at the game's insistence on making Jesse and Petra best friends forever a thing, not least because I'm deeply concerned there's going to be a tired, forced romance plotline. More Jesse and Lukas, please. Or bring back Olivia and Axel, and we can have more Jesse and Olivia while Axel tumbles headlong off a cliff! I'm flexible.)

Just one day from a promotion to Admiral.

Ultimately, this episode was -- fine, I guess? It's becoming very obvious that the standalone episode format doesn't work out well for this series, whereas the arc-based serialised format obviously did, so I'm kind of not looking forward to two more episodes of it. The next episode, it seems, is about Jesse fighting a HAL 9000 type computer who has taken over a desert wasteland, which seems like an interesting concept, at least? I'm going to try being cautiously optimistic, let's put it that way.

Honestly, though, it feels like this entire storyline is sapping the life from the series, and that really is a shame. Still, it's not so far gone that a good final episode wouldn't be able to pull it back.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016).

Alice Through The Looking Glass

In a move that I think we can all agree was a mistake, I actually watched Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland in cinemas when it came out. It was a supremely disappointing experience: The film was pretty, albeit in the exact same way all Tim Burton films are pretty, but totally empty, substituting pretty scenery and CGI for plot, characters, and good writing. One thing that stuck with me about the film was just how absurdly straightforward it was, in that you were essentially told the entire plot at the beginning of the film, and then got to watch it play out precisely how you were told it would.

Set three years after the events of Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through The Looking Glass follows Alice, now a sea captain, as she returns to London to find that her mother has sold her shares in her trade company, and that Hamish, the man whose proposal she rejected in the first film, is pushing for her to sell her ship to him to save her mother's house, and become a clerk. Travelling through a mirror, Alice finds herself back in Underland, where she discovers that the Hatter is deeply distraught, believing that his family might have survived the Jabberwock's attack. Convinced that he's delusional and urged by the other Underland residents to make his delusions real, Alice steals the Chronosphere, a device that powers the great clock of time, and travels into the past to save the Hatter's family, with Time himself in close pursuit.

What a lovely promo picture.

So, I guess the film gets credit for not literally sitting the audience down near the beginning to lay out exactly how the plot's going to pan out, but in spite of that, the plot is just as predictable. Alice goes back in time but finds that she can't change anything, because she's either too late or accidentally causes the events she's trying to stop (are we ever going to talk about how Alice is apparently indirectly responsible for the Queen of Heart's head injury? No? Okay, then). In doing so, she learns that the Hatter's family is still alive - it's odd that she didn't believe it in the first place, since it was never that unbelievable - and they go rescue them. Chekhov's Gun about your past self seeing your future self causing the end of time is fired, and Alice must race to restore the Chronosphere. Alice returns home having learned a valuable lesson.

It's kind of a boring, tired story, and an absolute minimum of effort has been put into it. The plot twists and turns are all extremely obvious from a mile away, the pacing alternates between glacially slow and lightning fast (when the writers wanted to rush through a section to get to something they are vaguely interested in), and bizarre asides are occasionally added in, such as a scene of Time at a tea party, or - even more weirdly - a five minute section where Alice returns to the real world and becomes a patient at an insane asylum, with Andrew Scott as a sinister doctor. That last section seems to only be there to work Andrew Scott, who says about three lines, into the film, and maybe to drum up some trailer footage, because it's never referenced again afterwards.

Oh wow Andrew Scott is playing a villain, I am shocked.

When it actually becomes time for the big lesson moment, it doesn't feel like the lessons actually have anything to do with what's happened in the film. Alice has a big speech about how time gives before it takes and how all time is a gift, but that's not really been a theme of the film so far. Her decision to support her mother rather than try to keep her ship (although she keeps it anyway, as her mother refuses to sign the papers) is a little better foreshadowed, but it left a sour taste in my mouth, as the film insists that you should immediately forgive family members for selling your property and doing their best to ruin everything you care about.

A young Hatter, who is identical to old Hatter.

The film is very pretty, but once again, it's a totally empty kind of prettiness, because nice scenery and costumes (and a lot of CGI) is really all this film has, especially as its all-star cast of actors barely have any lines at all. Some of those actors make more of their limited lines than others - Stephen Fry throws his all into the Cheshire Cat's handful of lines, and Richard Armitage plays the Queen of Heart's father in full Thorin Oakenshield mode for the one scene he's in - but none of them are especially prominent in the film, not even Johnny Depp, who gets pride of place on every poster for the film.

All in all, I probably wouldn't have watched this film if I didn't have a gap in my review schedule, and I can't really recommend it to others. Maybe as someone to have on in the background as you're doing other things? Ultimately, it's a very empty film, but if an hour and a half of beautiful nothing is your thing, then check it out.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Editorial: Top 10 Souls Series Bosses, Part 1.

Editorial: Top 10 Souls Series Bosses,
Part 1, 10-6.

Dark Souls III, purportedly the final installment in Dark Souls, recently came out to great critical and commercial acclaim, and I've made no secret of my great love for Bloodborne - so it was really only a matter of time before we did an editorial looking at the most lauded and well-loved feature of the Souls and Souls-like games, the bosses.

To clarify, we're including all of From's Souls-like games here: So that's Demon Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls II, Bloodborne, and Dark Souls III.

10. Looking Glass Knight, Dark Souls II.

Getting points for sheer uniqueness, the Looking Glass Knight is probably the only Dark Souls II boss that will end up on this list, and he's here mostly because he has a really interesting gimmick. Armed with a sword and a mirrored shield, the Looking Glass Knight will attack with a combination of sword strikes, lightning attacks (via electrifying his sword from lightning strikes), and deflecting your spells, but that's not what makes him really interesting.

What makes him interesting is that, just like you, the Looking Glass Knight can summon NPCs and other players to help him, effectively using your own tactics and abilities as a player against you. Like you, he can summon up to two, so if you brought two players of your own with you, this can turn into an all-out war with two teams of three (one of whom is massive, shiny, and wielding lightning strikes) clashing against each other.

For extra confusion, regular red phantoms can also enter your game while this is going on, meaning it's entirely possible for a three-way battle in which two of the parties are gunning for your head.

9. The Bloody Crow of Cainhurst, Bloodborne.

An optional boss in Bloodborne, the Bloody Crow of Cainhurst comes at the end of Eileen's storyline. A mad hunter of personal importance to Eileen (his name suggests that, like her, he was a hunter of hunters), with a connection to the Vilebloods of Cainhurst, you encounter the Bloody Crow after he has defeated Eileen and driven her to near death.

The hunter enemies in Bloodborne are always difficult, but the Bloody Crow takes it to a whole new level - he's durable, fast (in fact, he'll abuse the use of the Old Hunter's Bone, allowing him to engage in Bleach-esque flash stepping), strong, can enhance his Chikage sword with his own blood to increase its range and power (albeit while draining his own health), and behaves totally unpredictably.

He's almost unique in that regard, because while most hunters act in a fairly easy to predict way, the Bloody Crow will do things like rapidly dart around the room to confuse you; step in to attack then abruptly flash-step backwards again; repeatedly attack you with his gun instead of using it to parry; and leave openings for you to attack only to jump away when you try.

Personally, I defeated him in the most cowardly way possible, using a combination of his Chikage's health-draining effect and poison darts to slowly sap his health until I could kill him with one or two hits. It was mostly a game of keep-away for me.

8. The Abyss Watchers, Dark Souls III.

I'm usually not a big fan of crowd bosses (although I suppose the Abyss Watchers don't really count, since only one of them is the boss - the rest are just back-up for him or her), but the Abyss Watchers earn points for being ridiculously cool.

Paying homage to Artorias (although in a very Dark Souls twist, homage to him only after he became corrupted by the Abyss), the Abyss Watchers are a band of fighters who are sworn to combat the Abyss - and, by the time you meet them, they are all, collectively, a Lord of Cinder.

They're all absurdly fast, wield a sword and dagger to brutal effect, and occasionally you'll encounter an Abyss Watcher who's nominally on your side (unless you get too close) meaning that, like the battle with the Looking Glass Knight, this is a boss battle that has the potential to become a confusing battle royale. 

The boss has a pretty cool second stage, too, a duel with a single Abyss Watcher, now empowered by flames after assuming their Lord of Cinder form.

7. Ludwig the Accursed/Ludwig the Holy Blade, Bloodborne. 

A much heard about figure in the base game, you don't actually encounter Ludwig, the first hunter of the Healing Church, until The Old Hunters. Rather than encounter him as a hunter, however, you instead find him as a massive, two-headed, horse-like beast, beginning one of the most memorable boss battles in the game.

Ludwig starts off as a pretty fearsome beast, prancing about the room, crushing everything around him, and doing his very best to murder you. He's aggressive even by the standards of a Bloodborne boss, and you get very little chance to relax in this fight. Even summoning an ally doesn't help much, as Ludwig is more than capable of inflicting violence on both you and your ally simultaneously.

It's the second phase that makes him truly special, though, as he picks up his glowing sword, forces himself to become bipedal, and begins fighting again. In his second phase, he's some weird combination of beast, hunter, and magical girl, as this towering horselike monstrosity strides about the battlefield, swinging a sword bigger than you are that produces waves of damaging moonlight with every swing. What was already a hectic battle quickly becomes even more hectic, as the area is filled with blasts of moonlight.

When you defeat him, you can decide whether to comfort his disembodied head, and whether to kill him - or leave him for Simon, another hunter, to finish off.

6. Manus, Father of the Abyss, Dark Souls.

Manus is the closest thing the Dark Souls series has to a main antagonist. Often suspected of being the Furtive Pygmy, all we know about him is that he was a human with powerful humanity, whose humanity went out of control after the actions of the people of Oolacile, causing him to emanate darkness and create the Abyss. 

While we kill him in the first game, this simply causes him to split into fragments that become the queens of Dark Souls II, and come Dark Souls III the Abyss is still very active and powerful.

The battle against Manus oozes atmosphere, as you fight him in almost pitch darkness, as he alternates between lumbering around in the shadows, leaping at you with surprising speed, and extending his limbs into vortexes of hair and darkness to attack you from afar. 

He hits like a truck, is durable, has an absurd amount of HP, and makes full use of those shadows, stalking about in them so that a lot of the time you can only see his eyes and what little light there is glinting off his bone-horn-hair-things.

To make things worse (or better), he has a second phase, where he starts using magic unlike anything seen elsewhere in the franchise, summoning oily black orbs of shadow to attack you.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

1979 Revolution: Black Friday.

Yes, it's another review of a game I just finished Let's Playing. You can find that Let's Play here.

1979 Revolution: Black Friday.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I was searching for a short, quick game to do a Let's Play of and, after dismissing several options, eventually settled on 1979 Revolution: Black Friday. Describing itself as a Telltale Games style game about choices and consequences, set against the backdrop of Iran's revolution of 1978 (the '1979' of the name comes from the fact that, along with 'Islamic Revolution,' '1979 Revolution' is one of the names used for the revolution as a whole), it came over as one of the most interesting and unique games that Steam had on offer.

The game's only been out for a few months, but it's already generated quite a lot of controversy, mostly in Iran, where a right-wing newspaper accused the game's director, Navid Khonsari, of espionage, shortly before the National Foundation for Computer Games blocked all websites distributing the game in Iran and began a round-up of copies. with the government-backed organisation claiming that the game will poison the minds of young people.

Set after the end of the revolution, you play as Reza Shirazi, an eighteen year old photojournalist who has been taken prisoner by the new regime, and is being interrogated in Evin Prison. As his interrogator tortures and cajoles him, we see in flashbacks how Reza got involved in the Iranian Revolution two years earlier, as he and his friend Babak participate in the events leading up to the events of the eponymous Black Friday.

Reza and Babak.

Starting on the technical stuff: The game looks like an old PS2 game, with graphics that are more than serviceable, but a fair ways behind the time. Characters often move in very choppy, awkward ways, and graphical glitches such as sharp framerate drops weren't all that uncommon in the game. The soundtrack is fine but not especially remarkable (it's also available to buy separately, but I'm not sure why anyone would). The voice-acting, meanwhile, is pretty good across the board - as it should be, given that the game markets itself on having an all-star voice cast.

The gameplay, meanwhile, is basically okay. Most of it consists of walking around with Bibak and taking photos - a pretty simple process involving waiting until a slider is in the centre of the screen and then snapping a picture, prompting the game to provide you with a little snippet of historical information. It's surprisingly engaging, and the bitesize bits of information you're given are always pretty interesting to read. When you're not doing that, the game has you either partaking in quicktime event action sequences (which are always pretty awkwardly, because sometimes the controls will fail to register that you've done anything), or picking responses in conversation, complete with the ominous Telltale-esque 'This person will remember that' alerts.

Abbas making a speech.

It's a bit odd that you get those alerts, actually, because for the most part, nothing you do actually changes anything. The only thing that makes a difference to the game or the ending at all seems to be how you treat Reza's brother Hossein, which determines whether it's him or Lajevardi (an actual historical figure used to great effect in the game) threatening you at the end. Granted, Telltale Games don't exactly offer a multitude of branching paths and consequences in their games, but they have a little more than that.

It's a very short game, coming in at about an hour and forty-five minutes in length. While this isn't necessarily a problem, it does mean that the price tag of twelve quid is way too much to be charging for it, because that's a lot to charge for a very small game with shoddy graphics and occasionally wonky gameplay. For comparison, The Walking Dead: Michonne, which is about three and a half hours long in total and a much more polished product, is a pound less than that.

Ali's only purpose in life seems to be to turn peaceful protests violent, even when
it'll lead to most of the protesters dying.

The story, while good, also feels somewhat incomplete. The game introduces a lot of characters without really fleshing them out or concluding their storylines at all, with only Reza and Babak getting any kind of particular focus despite Bibi, Abbas, and Ali all being framed as important. The game also ends on an incredibly abrupt note: Rather than come to any kind of conclusion, it just finishes on Reza telling Lajevardi he won't talk, and then the credits rolling. It's jarring, and a little strange, which is a shame when the story had so much potential.

I do always like seeing games that take an interest in real world happenings and history, though, and I like seeing games that focus on experiences outside of the US and Western Europe, so I did like how the game was completely an unapologetically about Iran and its history and culture. This was a game with a lot of potential, and while it didn't quite manage to live up to that, it's still worth checking out. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016).

Batman: The Killing Joke

I know a lot of people were very excited for this film, and it's not difficult to see why. The Killing Joke is an iconic part of the Batman comics, often lauded as some of Alan Moore's best work, and has played a massive part in defining the Joker's characterisation both in comics and in adaptations. Add to that that the film was bringing back Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (which always gets people excited, both for nostalgia reasons and just because they make an excellent Batman and Joker respectively), and that DC's animated flicks tend to be very well-animated, and it wasn't difficult to see why people were hyped.

I wasn't, but that's largely because I don't have the same attachment to the story that a lot of people do. I only read The Killing Joke fairly recently (a few years ago, I think - and I did enjoy it a lot, and I think it's a pretty good self-contained story), and I'm not massively familiar with Alan Moore's other works, so the story doesn't have that same nostalgic weight for me that it has for some people. I was interested, though, not least because I wanted to see if it lived up to the hype it had created.

As for whether it did - well, there's one glaring problem that kind of drags the whole thing down. We'll get to that.

The Joker, and a glass of water.

Following Batman and the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, The Killing Joke begins with the two attempting to track down Paris Franz, the son of a mob boss who is dangerously obsessed with Batgirl. Seeing similarities between the Franz and Batgirl's relationship and his own with the Joker, Batman attempts to shut Barbara out of the investigation. Once Franz has been taken down, however, the Joker enters the scene, escaping from Arkham and brutalising Barbara, kidnapping Jim in order to convince him that any normal person can go insane if they have one bad day.

Okay, so, I'm not against the prologue in theory, in fact, I think splitting the film into two halves with the first squarely focused on Barbara would have been a good idea, if it had been done right - in this case, though, it wasn't, because instead of actually fleshing Barbara out as a character, the writers used this prologue to shoehorn in a romantic relationship with Batman (and not just that, but a romantic relationship in which Barbara is presented as head-over-heels for him, while Batman is conflicted), and it's just creepy. 

A relationship between the two of them would have been creepy anyway, given the massive age difference, the power differential, and the fact that their relationship is more like an uncle and niece in the comics, but it takes on a whole extra level of creep in the film, because Batman is constantly exerting his power over her. The fact that Batman is framed as 'conflicted' (massive air quotes, since he's not conflicted enough not to sleep with her), while Barbara describes him several times as her teacher while also pursuing him, is also a little uncomfortable.

The final-ish confrontation.

It also frames the story in an entirely new light, because now Barbara is consistently seen through a sexual lens throughout the film - in the first half, there's a heavy focus on how she wants to sleep with Batman, and that means that that's on our minds going into the second half, and completely alters the tone of the story. Not only does it reek of 'now Batman is motivated by his girlfriend being injured!' and other refrigerator-y antics, but now her being paralysed and photographed (which the film goes out of its way to render more sexually than the comic did) feels much, much more sexual in nature, much more like a punishment for sleeping with Batman, and much more like it's trying to snidely suggest that now she's been desexualised by being disabled.

Beyond that, the film is there, I guess. It's well-animated and voiced, but not to the point of being especially remarkable, so I guess it scores moderate points for technical stuff. It hammers in, somewhat, that the story doesn't work as well when divorced from its medium - Moore is very good at utilising the medium of comics to create pacing, tension, prolonged moments of suspense and sudden moments of violence, and that doesn't translate over into the film. With a better director, possibly it could have.

It was nice to see more of Barbara, just - not with the creepy relationship angle.

Conroy and Hamill bring their A-games, as usual, and they're both a delight to listen to. Hamill especially does a great job of portraying both the Joker and the man he used to be, playing them as similar enough to be audibly the same man, but different enough that you'd never get the two mixed up. Tara Strong also does a good job as Barbara, although for obvious reasons, she's mostly absent in the latter half of the film.

All in all, this really isn't the masterpiece I think everyone was hoping for, and while some of the blame for that can be laid at the feet of the director, most of it is squarely because the writers decided to shove in an unnecessary, creepy, and frankly distracting romantic subplot between Batman and Barbara, in defiance of all logic and good sense.

... Also, was that random musical number in the comics? It lasted, like, three minutes and it was incredibly jarring, but I couldn't remember if that was in the comics, so I didn't want to specifically single it out, but wow, either way that did not work.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Orange E4.

Episode 4.

I think this is the first episode where Naho has genuinely and deeply annoyed me. I spent most of it in a state of deep frustration at her, and while she did eventually do the right thing (in a moment oddly reminiscent of episode two - in fact, arguably episode two and episode four have nigh identical plotlines), it was still irritating to watch her pull the 'it's easy for future Naho to ask me to do these things, she's not the one actually having to do them!' as an excuse for not following future Naho's directions, even though time and time again she's been shown that bad things happen when she doesn't follow the letter's advice.

In this week's episode, Naho feels increasingly awkward around Kakeru as he dates Ueda, a girl in the year above with a jealous streak, and begins avoiding him - despite the letter warning her not to avoid him, and to instead continue talking to him. As Kakeru and Naho both become more conflicted, Ueda reaches boiling point and publicly yells at Kakeru, while Naho is offered advice by Suwa, who urges her to talk to Kakeru. In the future, meanwhile, the group visits Kakeru's grandmother.

Well, on the bright side, I was wrong about Ueda breaking Kakeru's heart - while she very publicly screams at him (in a way that seems like it should be more humiliating for her than him, but the show plays it off as if he's the one that should be embarrassed), he seems pretty unconcerned by it. I am a little annoyed that Ueda actually turned out to be a terrible person, because it seems like a bit of a tired cliche - I would have preferred it if Ueda was a genuinely nice, pleasant person, and just, you know, maybe not equipped to deal with a boy who's clearly mentally ill.

Suwa is too good, too pure.

Anyway, the fallout from them dating is mostly focused on Naho feeling like she can't talk to Kakeru, which grated on me a little. It feels like such an oddly immature reaction to him dating another girl, and the fact that she was warned by future Naho - in pretty strong terms, all told - not to avoid him and to keep talking to him or else bad things would happen only made that worse. Naho in this episode comes across less as someone who's well-meaning but shy and socially awkward, and more like someone who is unable to cope with a slightly weird social situation in a mature way, and that does not make her especially likable.

In previous episodes, this kind of behaviour would have been vexing, but not a serious problem - but in the wake of it being (mostly) confirmed that Kakeru committed suicide, it puts the audience in a weird position of powerlessness, where we know how and why Naho is courting disaster because she can't just suck it up and start a conversation with the lad, but can't do anything about it. That's really not a pleasant feeling.

I'm not sure why Naho stayed on the floor for so long. Like, being knocked over sucks,
but she didn't seem to be hurt? Idk.

Oddly, this episode has an incredibly tight focus on Naho and Kakeru, as well. They're the two leads, obviously, so they usually get the lion's share of the screen time, but the rest of the gang barely gets a look in, with the exception of Suwa, who we'll talk about in a moment. I don't think Hagita has any lines at all, and Azusa and Takako do nothing except occasionally talk about how much they don't like Ueda - which is a little odd, since they were all for Kakeru dating her last episode. The show very briefly addresses this by having someone (Suwa, I think) point out how they were cheering him on, but then the fact that they are partly responsible for this mess is never brought up again.

The happy-ish couple.

Suwa, meanwhile, is still my favourite character, and he gets what might be the best moment of this episode, as he stops Naho and has a firm talk with her about how she needs to actually talk to Kakeru. More and more, though, I'm convinced that something's up with Suwa - that either he has his own letter, or he somehow else has foreknowledge of the future, because Naho's remarked upon the future changing twice now (and both times dismissed it as just the result of her actions, which is not an unreasonable conclusion for her to come to, I think), and both times it's involved Suwa intervening somehow.

This was probably my least favourite episode so far, but it was still pretty enjoyable. It had a few great moments in it (the opening moments with the extreme close-ups and the ice cream machine was utterly pointless but really well done), and in general, it wasn't a bad episode, just a bit more frustrating than I really want to deal with when I'm sleep-deprived and writing up my first review of the week.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Allegiant (2016).


Picture the scene. It is three in the afternoon. Still groggy, unhappy because I haven't taken my painkillers yet, I look at my review schedule to see what's been put in for today, suspecting that it's probably a low effort editorial. But the space for Saturday is blank. I gasp in alarm. It is that day. The day where, in the absence of anything else to talk about, I have to watch Allegiant

It's no secret that I think the Divergent films are terrible. I panned both the first and the second films, and I fully expected to find Allegiant to be just as awful. Well, it lived up to that expectation, albeit not quite in the way I thought it would.

Set some time after Insurgent, Allegiant sees Tris and Four - whose names I genuinely forgot at first - escaping Chicago, now under the control of Four's mother, Evelyn, who is holding sham trials for Erudite and their allies. Fleeing the city with Tris' Erudite brother Caleb, and their friends Christina and Peter, the group heads into the blasted wasteland beyond the city walls, where they eventually encounter the Bureau of Genetic Welfare. However, before long it's revealed that the Bureau's leader, David, has been lying to Tris, along with abducting children, and plans to manipulate Evelyn into releasing a memory erasing serum over all of Chicago.

Wow, Four is dull. Still, slightly longer hair suits Theo James.

Or, at least, I think that's what happened. To be honest, it was all very confusing, because I had trouble focusing on the film for more than six minutes at a stretch. It was all just so boring. I've talked before about how these are very cynical films without any kind of passion or enthusiasm behind them, but if anything, the amount of enthusiasm going into these films has waned with each one.

This was no more apparent than during the dramatic moment where Tory, played by Maggie Q, dies: The background sounds dim, leaving just music and the characters' voices, in a pretty old film trick, but it falls completely flat because nobody involved sounds like they're that bothered. As they scream for Tory to wake up, they sound less like a friend and mentor figure has just died and more like they're being slightly inconvenienced by her taking an over-long nap. Then, about a minute later, the moment is over and it's never referenced again, with the entire cast apparently forgetting that Tory ever existed.

That's kind of the mode the entire film is in. Actors drone their lines as if they're reading them off a script for the first time (with the exception of Octavia Spencer, who puts her all into every one of her regrettably few scenes), the music sounds like it was composed via committee by sampling tracks from other films, the cinematography can best be described as 'workmanlike.' Some effort is put into set design, especially when designing the more science fiction-y parts of the film, like the futuristic city of Providence, but not a tremendous amount.

Tris is also really dull.

In fact, it's kind of bizarre how uninspired this film is, because it's not like the people working on it are untalented. Several of the cast members - Zoe Kravitz, Naomi Watts, Daniel Dae Kim, and Jeff Daniels, for example - have proven acting chops that they've seemingly decided not to bring to the table this time. Robert Schwentke might not be the most accomplished director, but he's done genuinely good work on The Time Traveler's Wife, and even on quicker paced films like R.I.P.D. Florian Ballhaus' cinematography on films like The Book Thief has been pretty thoroughly celebrated, and Lucy Fisher was a producer on The Great Gatsby, a film that met with significant critical acclaim.

Apparently, they either all forgot their talents when making this film, or they just weren't enthused about it all, and it seems more like the latter. This film feels like one that nobody really wanted to make, and moreover, like one that nobody was really all that concerned with the quality of, since people would go and watch it regardless.

They make a very boring couple.

I can't quite blame them for not being buzzed about the source material, either, because the storyline makes negative amounts of sense. We were already on shaky ground with the bizarre faction system and the equally bizarre genetics guff - which the film hammers in, having a character gravely intone a monologue on genetic manipulation, including the odd assertion that 'people who are too peaceful become passive, and people who are too intelligent lack compassion' - but this film flings itself off into the deep end by tying those weird ideas into an incoherent plotline involving memory serums, evil science bureaus, child abduction, and schemes to get extended funding. 

(I did, at least, like that the council set up to be evil wrong'uns turned out to be totally normal and fairly nice people.)

The real kicker? This isn't the last film. Oh, no, the final book is getting split into two films, because that's all the rage with young adult film adaptations, so come this time next year, I'm going to have to watch and review another two hours of complete dross. Great. Good. Nice.

Friday, 22 July 2016

My 8 Favourite Game of Thrones Characters, Part 2.

My 8 Favourite Game of Thrones Characters
Part 2, 4-1.

Okay, time for part two of this. Part one is up here, by all means take a look, and let's crack on with number four through one.

4. Daenerys Targaryen.

Daenerys is a fan favourite, so it's probably no surprise that she's on this list. Like Sansa, Daenerys is a character who we've been able to see grow into the character she is now, starting off in an impossible situation (made more impossible by Benioff and Weiss again tacking on rape scenes that didn't exist in the books and that twist her character arc into odd shapes) to eventually become the queen of most of Slaver's Bay - with the finale of the most recent series seeing her sailing to Westeros to join Dorne and the Reach as they try to take over the Seven Kingdoms.

Daenerys' character development has headed in an entirely different direction from Sansa's, though: While Sansa has become a Littlefinger-esque player of the game, Daenerys has turned out more like Stannis - a general-queen whose rigid sense of justice has seen her leave a trail of (pretty much completely warranted) violence across Slaver's Bay.

The most recent few episodes have given some hints that Daenerys might be suffering from the Targaryen madness, and while I hope that's not the direction the show eventually goes in, it is, at least, an interesting angle to explore.

3. Tywin Lannister.

Who doesn't love Tywin? I mean, probably a lot of people, since he was legitimately a terrible person, but I find it difficult to hate any character played by Charles Dance. The man does urbane, cultured evil really well.

Tywin is the patriarch of the Lannisters, and for a while he was a genuine contender for the series' main antagonist, alternating between tormenting his family in King's Landing and orchestrating some of the worst atrocities of the series, including the infamous Red Wedding. But he was always a joy to watch, effortlessly stealing every scene he was in and adding a tone of menace to the entire show.

It's arguably a shame that he died in such a ridiculous (if also gruesome) way, but that sort of works for the show's themes - Tywin was a larger than life character who loomed over the entire story, so it's fitting, in a way, that his death wasn't especially grandiose, but instead undignified and unwitnessed, and the result of his familial spite instead of his political scheming.

2. Robb Stark.

This might be the one I have the most difficulty justifying, because in a list filled with people with interesting character arcs or mysterious agendas, Robb is pretty straightforward: He wants his family back, and he wants an independent North, and most of his arc is about him struggling to do that while maintaining his own sense of justice.

Like Tywin, though, Robb had a certain amount of presence and charisma, one that sets him pretty far apart from his brother and the new King in the North, Jon (who has all of the charisma of a potato), which made scenes with him pretty engaging to watch . For a while, he was tied with Sansa for the most interesting storyline of the Stark children, as well, something only enhanced by the fact that he had a decent supporting cast in the form of Catelyn Stark, Roose Bolton, and Theon Greyjoy.

For a while, fans had hopes that he'd come back to life with a wolf's head, but that doesn't seem likely. Also, that's just a ridiculous idea in general.

1. Cersei Lannister.

Cersei was pretty much always going to be in the number one spot here.

Perhaps more than any other character in the show - and definitely more than any of the other antagonists - Cersei's a tragic figure, one who really wouldn't be out of place in a particularly gory Shakespearian tragedy. She's had to struggle with powerlessness, an overbearing and often ruthless father, an abusive husband, and the foreknowledge that all of her children will die and that there's nothing she can do about that.

It's really no wonder that she spends so much time lashing out and committing atrocities of varying severity to protect herself and her children - she's constantly under threat but never given the power to deal with those threats, and she knows for a fact that one day, sooner or later, she'll fail and everything she has will come crashing down around her. It puts her reaction to Tyrion threatening her happiness in a whole new light, contextualises her alternately sympathetic and hateful treatment of Sansa, and provides a weird reasoning for almost every terrible thing she does.

Cersei's compelling to watch, and she's tragic in large part because she could have been a good person, under different circumstances.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Kamen Rider Ghost E39+E40

Kamen Rider Ghost
Episode 39 + Episode 40.

Quick administrative note: I mistakenly referred to Ganmaizer Magnetic-Blade as the Perfect Ganmaizer last week, which is actually Adel's Ganmaizer form.

How many Ganmaizers are left now? We've lost Spicy Adel, Solemn Adel, Moist Adel, and Breathy Adel prior to this episode, and this one sees us lose Charismatic Adel and Knifey Adel as well, which should put us down to nine Ganmaizers to deal with in eight to twelve more episodes, along with Cool Original Adel and Igor. That's a lot of different villains to deal with in not that many episodes, so I won't be surprised if at the end we have four or five just never appearing in their own right and instead just being transformation fuel for Adel.

In this fortnight's episodes, after a failed attempt on Adel's life, Alia's Eyecon is absorbed by Ganmaizer Magnetic and Ganmaizer Blade, who have fused with each other and become obsessed with analysing contradictory emotions after experiencing battle damage. Takeru and the gang quickly find themselves dealing with a confusing situation when a teenage girl, Mayu, becomes bodyswapped with her father, and discovers that he might be a corrupt cop.

A design that's both boring and ugly.

Usually I'd be a little annoyed that we're getting Ganmaizers fusing instead of seeing all of them, but since Ganmaizer Magnetic and Ganmaizer Blade sound like the most boring possible Ganmaizers of all, I don't mind too much - although, predictably enough, together they make what's probably an even duller villain of the fortnight, with a design that is both incredibly awkward (and which is visibly difficult for the suit actors to move about in, resulting in Ganmaizer Magnetic-Blade barely moving) and yet somehow also massively uninspired. When it shows up for its first and only proper battle, a two or three minute long snore fest mostly involving Takeru, Makoto, and Alain punching it while it barely moves and they all scream about how powerful it is, I genuinely considered just skipping through.

The actual plot of the episodes also isn't all that great. It's your typical bodyswap plot, except unlike most bodyswap storylines, none of the main cast are involved - which is weird, because that's usually what makes bodyswap plots entertaining, since you get to watch the various members of the cast do their best impressions of each other. The show did this with the stock de-ageing plot as well, having it exclusively happen to arc characters instead of the main cast, and it was a strange choice there as well.

So, I found that all a bit boring, because ultimately, I don't care about Mayu or her father, and because the plot beats were pretty predictable. Obviously it was Mayu's father's mind (sorry, I didn't bother memorising his name) in the Ganmaizer; obviously he wasn't actually going to be corrupt; obviously his partner was going to be the corrupt one.

Also kind of a boring design, to be honest.

Making things moderately more entertaining is that every time - every single time - anybody tried to talk about Mayu's father, Makoto would cut in with a remark to the effect of 'Okay, but what about my father, he was terrible.' It's a pretty obvious film tie-in, but since it happens constantly, in nearly every conversation, it just becomes hilarious (and eventually a little bit grating).

We also get Alia transforming into Kamen Rider Dark Necrom P (what an incredibly awkward name) for all of about a minute in this episode. She transforms very dramatically, slides about for a while, and gets in one failed finisher before she's unceremoniously defeated and imprisoned, presumably never to transform again. It's almost like a cartoonish parody of how Kamen Rider treats the notion of female riders, with shades of 555's six-second female Delta or Wizard's barely-appearing film tie-in Mage, except for how it wasn't intended as a parody at all. 

It's bizarre, because Kamen Rider showrunners clearly know there's an appetite for female riders, otherwise they wouldn't keep pulling the 'ooh, ooooh, she's going to transform, we're going to get a female rider' only to immediately pull it back. A lot of people try to claim that audiences just don't want female riders, but if that were true, then the constant teasing that it could happen wouldn't be necessary.


I'm also personally quite disappointed, because - look, okay, I wasn't expecting Alia to suddenly join the main cast of riders, but I was hoping that she'd have a role a little meatier than 'she transforms, is immediately defeated, and then gets taken prisoner,' and I don't think that's an unreasonable thing to have hoped for.

Next week, we're actually definitely getting to see Eadith become Ultima Ebony, Adel's showing up again and facing the gang as the Perfect Ganmaizer, and Ganmaizer Climate appears to be doing something, even if it's just standing around looking weird. So that's nice, should be fun. I'm a little alarmed that Igor's not dead yet, I'm starting to wonder if he'll end up being the final villain or something like that.