Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Year in Review: 2014

So Farewell, then, 2014, and don't let the door hit you on the way out. There seems to be a general consensus that its been a bad year in many, many ways, especially if you spend any sort of time in online communities, which have felt like a magnifying glass for all the horrors of the world at times, albeit one that occasionally shows you cute baby animals too. Its also been a year when this negativity seems to have spilled out into everything - there is hardly anything that has been popular that has not been subjected to careful scrutiny for negative messages, secretive agendas or bias of any kind, from all corners of the political spectrum. Not that this sort of thing is an invalid process - I'd argue its a necessary process, in fact - but at times, to quote one of my favorite films this year, it just wanted to suck the fun out of everything. 

Personally, I just want to like stuff, to applaud what is done right. So here, in no particular order, are my "top three" entertainments of the year by largely arbitrary categories. Other Opinions are available! 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

I must admit that I am one of the people for whom a little bit of me died when they announced that Peter Jacksons adaptation of The Hobbit would become a new epic trilogy. Two films, I could see, but three, with a load of extra stuff added to make it a "true" prequel? I'm not sure I signed up to that, in my heart. But you know what? I enjoyed An Unexpected Journey, when many didn't, for all it was overlong and meandering. I liked the smaller scale, the bumbling, un-epic nature of it's Company. And then The Desolation of Smaug fixed a lot of those problems anyway, with more pace and focus and maintaining a sense of fun and intimacy that made it easy to ignore the more earnest stuff over in Dol Guldur. Going to the cinema just after Xmas to see a Hobbit film has become a tradition too, so we were always going to go see The Battle of the Five Armies, and to be honest I was looking forward to it. It's a shame then, by my review can be summed by a long, disappointing sigh. 


Monday, December 22, 2014

DVD of the Week: Muppets Most Wanted

The Muppets, as a franchise, seem to suffer from a huge "rubber band" effect when it comes to expectation for their output. Both their TV shows and movies run through cycles of anticipation, enjoyment, wildly varying quality, and even general direction, ranging to rag-tag caper films, historical adaptations, and god knows what else, rising and falling in popularity as it goes. I'm of that generation that grew up with them on the TV and in my Record Player, so they're somewhat ingrained on my conciousness, but they've managed to transcend generations, which is no mean feat. And then a couple of years back they made The Muppets, which was rooted in a deep love for what they represented, and managed to be about more than just it's "getting the band back together narrative" and be something really touching. Inevitably, as they sing in the opening number, there is a sequel. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: Foxglove Summer

Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant series was one my big literary discoveries of last year, something that had slipped under my radar until I was lent the first three, which I devoured in quick succession. I guess they're best described as "Modern Urban Fantasy", mixing contemporary London with a hidden world of magic and assorted supernatural entities, and a healthy dash of Police Procedural. There's a lot of fun world-building, some interesting new twists, and above all a great sense of character right in the front and centre, making them books that are a pleasure to read and spent time in. Foxglove Summer is the fifth in the series, and it's largest departure to date. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

DVD of the Week: About Time

It feels like ages since we managed to sit down on a Saturday night and watch a movie, something borne as much from the Autumn rush of new TV as anything else. We've managed to keep up with four - four! - new seasons of superhero telly, plus Doctor Who and my own obsession with Strictly Come Dancing, but this week we finally managed to settle in with the latest DVD we've had from lovefilm, which been gathering dust from October. This turned our to be About Time, the lastest offering from Richard Curtis, promising to be an extremely middle-class rom-com with a smattering of Time Travel Shenanigans. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Comics Review: Fatale and Gunnerkrigg Court

And so we come back to the sporadic round-up of things we bought at Thoughtbubble, but seem to be taking forever to read through. Indeed, a month on, there are still two or three things left to read, sat up on the sideboard with my 2000AD backlog, which is at least a sign that I got good value for money in terms of buying "stuff" this year. Part of the joys of cons is discovering new things - ongoing series you know you want you can pickup any time, really, but usually when at a con I try and focus on small press stuff, which doesn't get the exposure it often deserves, or more off-beat stuff a natural conservatism would pass over in, say, an actual shop. These two however were things we went intending to buy, so I guess count in neither of those categories. Hmmm. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Book Review Roundup: History!

I realised with some pleasure recently that I've hit my target of reading 20 books this year, which may not seem that many to some of you, but feels like an achievement to fit around everything else. It's been an eclectic year and mixed in is a bunch of factual books I've not mentioned here, yet. I'm not quite sure why - many reviews I read of history books tend to double as critiques of the history, as much as the book itself, especially for periods that feel contemporarily relevant, something you'll see a lot this year with all the World War One stuff. Personally I feel that if you're interested in a period you should read around from multiple sources anyway. So with that in mind, here is a round-up, along with a quick summary of why you should read them! 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Comics Review: Grandville Noel

It's been a couple of weeks since Thoughtbubble, and I'm still slowly but steadily reading through my loot pile, held up thanks to visitors, house decoration and the usual distractions of parenthood. Also, it's a fairly big pile containing a lot of stuff, so I've been reading them through in order of excitement, or in some cases, mood. First off the pile was unquestionably Bryan Talbot's Grandville Noel, which wasn't actually out, officially at Thoughtbubble, and sadly Bryan wasn't there to sign it either, but a couple of stalls had advance copies and I snapped one up as my first purchase. I am an unashamed Bryan Talbot fanboy, and Grandville in particular has always been exceptionally good value to me.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

First Impressions: Star Wars Rebels

It feels strange to admit that I have a large affection for the now defunct Clone Wars TV series. Strange because when it came out it really looked unlikely to ever be the sort of show I could care about, and make an effort to watch. Set between two of the Star Wars prequels - which I've never hated, but certainly never felt more than "sort of liked, with some pretty decent sections" - and featuring whiny Anakin Skywalker and his never-even-hinted-at bratty Apprentice, it doesn't sound promising and its pilot "movie" wasn't that great either. But Clone Wars really grew on me - it handled its characters fantasically, expanded it's horizons, and in the end was a better prequel to the Classic Trilogy than the official Prequel Movies. Oh, and Ahsoka became possibly the best female lead on kids TV that wasn't called Korra. And then it was cancelled, a victim of the Disney buy-out of Lucasfilm, and instead we got Star Wars Rebels. How's that working out?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Box Set Blues: Breaking Bad

I found myself trying to describe what I loved about Breaking Bad to someone the other day and realised that it probably sounded really horrible. Whenever you wind up watching one a show that is so unrelenting dark, something so determined to keep hurting its audience, it's hard not to focus on the horrible things going on, and how horrible everyone is, and then, suddenly, you realise that you probably sound like one of those people that slow down for car accidents to check if they can see the blood. I'm not sure that that is Breaking Bad's attraction - I think I've got a certain intolerance for media that revels in it's own grimness, hence not watching (for example) The Walking Dead - but its swirling darkness is potent and tangible. So what, then, is it? 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review: Declare

Over on the Dissecting Worlds channel, we're currently doing a series on Spies and all things Espionage related. We've just recorded the third episode, on the intersection between horror and the spy genre, and when we mentioned this planned episode a couple of months back, one book kept coming up, and it was one that I've never actually heard of. I guess thats kind of appropriate, right? The book was Declare, by Tim Powers, and when at least four people recommend is a "set text" for the subject, then you really have to read it. I'm really, really glad I did. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Movie Review: Interstellar

At the moment I'm very used to being behind the curve on things, entertainment wise. Hell, we just this week finished off Breaking Bad (review soon!) the most talked about TV show of last year, and thats pretty up to date for us. Add to this the difficulty in getting to the movies for anything that isn't a superhero-themed action film or a flat-out kids flick, I'm mostly in the habit of shrugging and expecting to find out what all the fuss is about a long time after everyone has stopped being, well, fussed about something. So it was nice, this weekend, to see Interstellar, which seems to have generated a lot of interest, and to be able to express and opinion whilst that interest is still around. I'm still a little shocked about that! 

Monday, November 10, 2014

TV Review: Doctor Who, Series 8

If there was ever a show that proved the old maxim that "you just can't please everyone" it is Doctor Who. Having passed its 50th year, and now 8th year since its unlikely return - regeneration, perhaps - from the dead, it seems to have found a place as one of the most talked about TV fixtures of the year. The national press do it, of course - dusting off the old casting rumours, gossip about who is leaving the show and hoary old complaints about it being "too dark for children" or "too silly for grown ups", safe in the knowledge that the comments sections will fill up with impassioned defenses and critiques. It's very prominence makes it a lightning rod for wider debates, a metaphor for wider issues in TV as a whole and geek TV in particular. And so a show about a time-travelling alien in a phone box, that goes out on a saturday evening to a family audience, seems at times to have the weight of a more serious, worthy show, whether it wants to or not. It also means that simply "liking" or "not liking" feels like its not enough.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

First Impressions: The Flash

So following on from the start of Gotham a couple of weeks back, the wave of new comics-based shows continues with the start of The Flash. Unlike Gotham, however, The Flash shares a world with the already-successful Arrow, and Barry Allen even appeared for a couple of episodes to hang out in Starling City and flirt with Felicity, damn him. I was late to the party on how worthwhile Arrow was, so the spin off show, promising a lighter tone and yet still tied in, has been hotly anticipated in our house of four geeks of varying ages. Now we're two episodes in, and so I thought I'd share my opinion so far. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rambling: DC vs Marvel Movie Showdown

Anyone paying much attention to either the movie news or the comic book world news (or both, if you're like me) will have noticed that in the last few weeks both Warner Brothers (who own DC) and Marvel Studios have announced their upcoming slate of superhero movies for the rest of the decade. This is ignited a lot of chatter, a lot of excitement on the main but also a good helping of snark and some of the good old tedious Marvel vs DC argument. I have to admit I'm a good deal more excited about the Marvel properties than the DC ones, which has led to a little bit of self examination, as historically I've always been a much bigger DC fan. So, if you'll bear with me, this will hopefully go some way to bearing out my thoughts. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

First Impressions: Gotham

What a time it is to be a fan of capes'n'tights-themed comic books. A few years back, if someone had told me that the biggest film of the year would be based on the Guardians of the Galaxy, I would have called them mad. If they then went on say that the autumn TV schedules would feature five superhero shows I would have been on the phone to the local sanitarium. I mean, thats crazy talk, few supers shows have succeeded in the past, and even the ones that did are rarely fondly remembered, for all we're getting nostalgic about Adam West these days. And yet, here we are, As Agents of SHIELD enters its second year, and Arrow its third, one of this years newcomers is Gotham, which has now shipped out two episodes in the UK. So, how does it start?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book Review: The Bone Clocks

I think its safe to say that I was a huge fan of Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. It hit just the right note of pretentious cleverness and playful genre-savvy, and managed to sweep me along with a bold structure, well drawn characters and great sense of what each section was, making it one of my favorite books of the last decade or so. I've been remiss in catching up with the rest of Mitchell's work, but I found out he had a new book - The Bone Clocks - released just as I was needing something to get stuck into for a couple of long hauls flights (that I'm sure I'll shut up about soon). And that just seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

Friday, October 17, 2014

(Another) DVD of the Week: X-Men: Days of Future Past

So the second movie of last week's long-haul flights was one I wanted to catch in the cinema but missed - X-Men: Days of Future Past. It was one of the films out this year that I wanted to see, but always held a slight fear for; the casting sounded overly cluttered, the franchise itself hasn't always been a mark of quality, and it felt like a little bit of a backward step after the interesting clean break that was X-Men: First Class. Still, that cluttered cast is made up of one hell of a line-up, Bryan Singer was a sure hand behind the first two X-Men movies, and it's a revered storyline with a lot of potential. So i'd be crazy to pass up the chance to watch it. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

DVD of the Week: Edge of Tomorrow

I may have mentioned that I spent last week in India, which meant that I spent a lot of time on a plane to get there. The upside of being cramped into cattle-class for up to eight hours at a time was that at least I got to catch up on a couple of movies that I hadn't seen. The in-flight magazine was really, really keen on getting me watch Transformers: Age of Extinction, but given that the trailer has enough dumb in it to concuss a Robot Dinosaur, I decided to spare myself that pain, and indeed that of my fellow passengers would probably have to listen to be complain about it. So on the outward flight I settled in with Edge of Tomorrow, which underperformed at the box office yet seems to have picked up a bit of a reputation for being actually rather good.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Rambling: India, Part the Third

So the trip home works like this; up at 1.30am (local time) to check out of the hotel and then get a car to the airport. Bag drop, security, immigration, and a bleary couple of hours sat around before being loaded onto a plane for 4.40am departure to Doha. Arrive Doha and at least find a decent cup of coffee to kick-start my brain before more sitting around in various lounges and then the actual bloody plane is delayed on the tarmac for over an hour, before the 7 hour flight back to Manchester, landing just after 2pm, which given the time zones means I've already been up 15 hours on about 3 hours sleep and some catnapping on the aircraft. No wonder I struggled to use the e-gate properly! 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rambling: India: Part the Second

I wake up in the morning - for the third time, as the unexplained drilling noises about 2am and the outbreak of barking at about 4am - and realise that my arm is laid loosely over the pile of unused pillows on the other side of the bed. There is a moment when I realise that I've subconsciously piled them on Z's side of the bed, to simulate no being alone, and suddenly everyone feels very far away, and no amount of interesting, productive work time can close that distance. But then I'm up and awake, and email and Skype are things that exist, so I can still talk to the people I love even from this side of the world.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Rambling: India, Part the First

The sound of India is the blare of the Car Horn. And the Bus Horn. And the Tuk-tuk horn, and the motorbike horn, and pretty much anything that goes "beeeep" as it hurtles through the traffic too fast that is comfortable into a space that always seems too small until it turns out that it isn't. Its the sound, as much as the wave of heat, even at 3.30am, that reminds that I'm back in the country after two years, on another trip out to see our development team in Ahmedabad, Gudjarat.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Books Review: The Dresden Files

My reading habits seem to be rubber-banding around a little bit at the moment, mostly between factual (mostly history) stuff and then whatever popcorn paperbacks I can find to fill in the gaps between them. It leads to some interesting whiplash in both style and content, if I'm honest, but mostly I'm fine that. My most recent Popcorn obsession has become Jim Butchers The Dresden Files, in part because I've been meaning to go back after reading one a couple of years back, and partly because I'm now playing in a Dresden Files inflected Role-Playing Game. More of that in some other post, perhaps. But, the books then, how are they?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Games Review: X-Wing, X-Panded

Its been a long time since I reviewed the X-Wing Miniatures Game, and since then we've played it quite a bit. Actually, a lot. We've also bought a lot of new fighters for it, expanding both the Rebel and Imperial Fleets to allow for larger battles, or just a lot of variety in smaller battles. Also, a collection of tiny model spaceships which may be a victory in it's own right. Ewan has almost permanently claimed the Imperial side, which is slightly worrying, but not as worrying as the number of times he is beating me these days. So what I thought I'd do is a quick run down of some of the expansions released so far, and how we've found them on the table-top.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Games Review: The Banner Saga

The Banner Saga was one of those games I'd heard good things about, picked up in a Steam sale, and then totally forgot that I owned. Which is the problem of Steam Sales, I guess, and why so many PC game owners these days have hard drives full of games they only dimly remember buying. However, having experienced The Deep Roads of Dragon Age: Origins, which pretty much killed my interest in a game i was enjoying up to that point, I was rooting for something different, and this fit the bill. So how was it?

Monday, September 22, 2014

DVD(s) of the Week: Round-up Time!

Yes, it's that time again, when I attempt to round up a bunch of movies we've watched over the last month or so, but where my feelings on them aren't ebullient enough to demand some sort of long-winded ramble. I know, I know, as the sort of person who, in the right moment, could write up a review of his coffee, I should be ashamed of myself. But sometimes things are just "fine", and there isn't a lot get your teeth into. So with that in mind, here's four quick reviews.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Review: Seal of the Worm

I used to say that I didn't like Fantasy as a genre, usually accompanied by some dismissed comments about Elves. However since being properly called out on it a few years back, I've probably read more Fantasy than any other genre, and whilst a lot of that prejudice remains - I don't trust it still - there are more than a few books and series that I'm now rather fond of. I'm most wary of the long, epic, super-cycle, which is beloved of the genre but feels like a bad habit at some levels. After all, what can say in 10,000 words that you can't say in 500? Well, mostly the same thing twenty times, comes the snide answer from my brain. But in the rights, that sprawl can feel like watching history unfold before you, some vast and complicated and involved and deep, and when that works, its totally worth the time. Which brings me neatly to The Seal of the Worm.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Box Set Blues: Arrow, series 2

Its a sad fact that I was late to the Arrow party, mentally filing it away with the Smallvilles of this world and missing out on its first transmission, and then scrabbling to catchup as everyone kept telling me it was actually rather good. Its first season followed a common "first season" trajectory; a mix of strong setup and then a certain amount of paddling in circles, and a strong finish as the cast and crew all settled in with how everything was going to work. It also helped to have a strong cast with no obvious weak links, even if the show struggled to give everyone something worth-while to do. So its second season was something to look forward to, with the promise of more changes to come and a firmer sense of the shows direction. Thankfully, it gets a lot more right than it gets wrong. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

DVD(s) of the Week: Documentary Catch-Up

The feature-length documentary can be a bit of an unsung hero of cinema. There are some that hit big - last years Blackfish, which we've still not seen yet as a recent example - but certainly in the local cinemas near us they rarely get shown so they're a bit of a staple of our DVD rental list, just to keep up. And there are some great ones out there - not just the iconolastic, Micheal Moore-style polemics, but also the thoughtful, intelligent investigations or discussions about subjects that benefit from a decompressed running time and that little bit of extra prestige that the format seems to bring. We've caught up on a couple over the last few weeks, so it makes sense to review them together.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Games Review: The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

What we've started to do, as Ewan has got older, and (though he often pretends otherwise) increasingly interested in same array of geek stuff that his parents are, is play a lot more board games. As often said here and elsewhere, we are in a bit of a golden age for getting around a table and playing games, especially of the sort that are quick to pick up, and fast to play, without sacrificing too much depth. So on our recent holiday, for evening entertainment, we bought something different, something a little more complicated, to pass the late-summer nights. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Box Set Blues: Game of Thrones, Season 4

Of the long, complex and blood-dripping saga that is A Song of Ice and Fire, my favorite section is the back half of A Storm of Swords. Its a piece of writing that manages to show a huge amount of focus and discipline as it brutally dispatches characters, but more importantly storylines, that no longer serve any larger purpose, and carefully positions its surviving players on new trajectories through the narrative. A lot of stories are closed off as new ones open, and questions are answered that hang over from the A Game of Thrones, and the book closes on a promise that the series is really going to go somewhere next. And whilst there is nothing really wrong with the two novels that follow, they do feel somewhat like treading water, with little of that propulsive force. So when the TV adaptation reached this section, and having put out its most brutal moment in Series Three, how does it manage?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy

Back from (another) holiday in the wilds of Northumbria, so it's time to catch up a little on whats been occupying my free time before we start the steep descent through the return to work and school and down into the depths of the run-up to Christmas. At least there is Thought Bubble to look forward to first though! Lets start with books, and The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling's first published work that didn't involve teen-aged wizards, and her first "adult" work to boot. I remember this being released to huge fanfare and a degree of sniffy reviews from the sort of reviewer who'd clearly been waiting to put the boot in but felt unable to dent the Potter Juggernaut, and it was clearly going to be a step change. So I was looking forward to it, for all it took me a while to get around to reading it

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rambling: Dublin!

No DVDs or much TV this weekend, as we took a rare opportunity to leave the kids behind (with grandparents, I hasten to add) and jet off for a weekend away. Its not something we get to do very often; the odd convention in the last few years but that's always been UK based, and pretty much every trip abroad we've done in a long time has involved friends or family. Which is cool, but a weekend for "just us" has been long overdue. After some debate, and the "too hot, too cold" game in terms of destinations, we settled on Dublin, which had the benefit of being relatively close and English-speaking, and neither of us had been before, so was a good start for what we hope will be the first of many weekends away. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The Planet of the Apes movies were one of these series of films that always seemed to be on TV when I was a kid. Actually it always seemed to be Escape from the Planet of the Apes for some reason, but broadly speaking its a series I grew up with, and probably affected my sense of what Science Fiction, as a genre, should be - something that for all its faults wants to be about deeper things. So you can imagine how crushing I found the Tim Burton film, and how hard I fell for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which could have just been franchise fodder but instead insisted on being a smart, thoughtful movie. A couple of years on we get the inevitable sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, although I can't help but feel that they got the titles the wrong way round.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

DVD of the Week: The Wolf of Wall Street

There aren't many directors for whom I'll just watch a movie because it has their name at the front. The Coen Brothers, for one. Spielberg, for good and ill. Soderburgh. Christopher Nolan is getting there. There are some film makers that just remain diverse and interesting, no matter what they turn their hand to, and so a white box with "new movie by X" on it would still get bought or rented. Included in this list is Martin Scorcese, who I seem to have come to late in life, after not really "getting" in my twenties, due to what I can only assume is a fit of extreme dumbness on my part. Since whatever it is that needed to clicked in brain, I've been a devotee, and some of the gaps on viewing his back catalogue still niggle at the back of my mental watchlist. But he has a new movie just hitting rental, so obviously we watched it as fast as we could.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Box Set Blues: True Detective

If you had any sort of Social Media presence in the earlier part of the year, you had to have noticed that True Detective became "a thing". Which was annoying in part because we were clearly missing out, and in part because it's a Detective show, and the risk of inadvertent spoilers was reaching epidemic levels. Thankfully we now have Sky, who kindly repeated the whole series late at night so people like us could record it, and we managed to (mostly) avoid spoilers outside that we needed to be looking out for some "King in Yellow" references. So, eight episodes later, was it worth all they hype?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

First, a confession; For a long time, I really didn't see how Guardians of the Galaxy could succeed. Sure, Marvel Studios are in a solid groove now, with a good reputation for delivering at the minimum solid, at at the best really excellent, blockbuster entertainment, but this just seemed like a step too far. Outside of comics fans - and not all of them at that - who has heard of StarLord and the like? This is the age of pre-loaded franchises, dammit, of playing it safe with established characters, not sailing off into a strange corner of the Cosmic Universe to play with a Talking Raccoon. So lets just say, for the record, that I was dead wrong.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rambling: Super-Diversity

Well, this feels like sticking my head into shark tank. There seems to be a running debate about the moment about diversity in superhero-land, and sometimes it feels dangerously insane. I'm not talking about the headbanging idiots that seem to think that their toys are being taken away, more that it feels increasingly less like a debate and more a complex series of battlelines designed to facilitate the throwing of insults between people who mostly agree. The latest outbreak seemed to be sparked by Marvel's announcement that the next Thor would be a woman, and the next Captain America would be a black guy, but San Diego Comic Con, and its array of white-guy leading roles let it all simmer along too. Like everyone else, it seems, I have opinions, although they're somewhat contradictory in places, which makes them ill-suited for 140 characters or less.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

DVD of the Week: Her

Joaquin Phoenix stares out of the movie poster for Her with a strangely bemused expression, a little like a puppy confronted with their own misdeeds but really not sure what its done wrong. Its an expression he wears for most of the film, that of someone truly lost, adrift one of those strange worlds that only seem to exist in movies where every has huge apartments and works in interestingly creative jobs. I think the film knows this though, and there is a level of artifice in the construction that rules throughout it, a strange, almost fairy-tale air that tries to talk about love, identity and belonging. Its all very, very, strange. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Games Review: Age of Wonders III

I've always been a fan of huge sprawling strategy games, dating back to a university-era addiction to Sid Meiers Civilisation. There is something about starting with your one villager, or landing pod, or whatever, and ending up with vast, empires that you created, crushing all before you. I actually own more than I've ever played, especially in the last few years, as getting the time to invest to bury myself in one of these games has become a lot harder to come by. Thankfully, whilst looking for a new co-op experience, we came across Age of Wonders 3, a huge, sprawling strategy game consisting of both a strategic and battlefield layer, that we could play together. Awesome.

Monday, July 21, 2014

DVD of the Week: Prometheus

Prometheus arrived in cinemas riding a wave of huge expectation, loudly proclaimed by expectant fans as heralding a great revival of the Alien franchise, which, a bit like fellow 80s SF favorite The Terminator, had long since fallen from it's Olympian heights. It arrived on DVD riding a wave of vocal derision; a film that wasn't actually reviewed all that badly, and performed pretty well at the box office, but also attracted a vocal "hatedom" who saw nothing good in it whatsoever. Such is the power of crushed dreams, I guess. A couple of years on, I've finally got around to seeing it, and I think the whiplash of expectation and disappointment is far enough away that I can get a fairly objective eye on it. And you know what? I rather liked it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

TV Review: Penny Dreadful

The long legacy of the Victoria era sometimes feels like it looms too large over the modern age, especially in Britain. After all, it was the time when it could reasonably be said we were the worlds's "Top Nation", and even over a century on it's burned into our national psyche. It's also a time when a lot of the culture we built in the twentieth century started to emerge, driven by an increasingly literate and empowered population in search of entertainment, driving a wave of creativity that still echoes forwards. The late Victorian era, especially - which probably most resembles what we think of as "Victorian" - brought us a boom in the "Penny Dreadful", often dark, gothic serials sold to the mass market as disposable entertainment. So if nothing else there is an amusing irony in the TV show Penny Dreadful being an expensive, classy production sold on an exclusive pay-for TV channel in the 21st Century.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

We've had a bit of a debate in our house recently about what age to start taking Robert to the movies. After all, he's only 4 (and a bit!) and his attention span isn't brilliant at the best of times, but he's at the age when we started taking his brother and we only had to leave a couple of films before he got the hang of it. Going to the movies has always been a big part of our family life (from before we had a family!) so we'd been looking for an opportunity to really get everyone one - even bouncy little monkey-beasts - involved in cinema trips. Ewan's taste is pretty solidly 12A nowadays, but he did want to go see How to Train Your Dragon 2, and so we leapt on the opportunity for a family day out, albeit one where I was braced for having to leave after an hour or so. But I didn't, and so this review is brought to you courtesy of a very well behaved little boy who really enjoyed his first cinema trip.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

DVD of the Week: Robocop

It's often cited as a sign of Hollywood bankruptcy that we are are living in age of sequels and remakes, compared to perceived earlier ages when we didn't. Like most "ohhhh back in the day" arguments it does't really hold that much water, and largely comes along over the summer when the most visible things in the multiplex's are franchise fodder, and it's largely from people of my generation, who are seeing their youth remade and rebooted. I'm not totally sold on the idea of these sorts of films being safe bets anyway; nostalgia is a dangerous thing, and there is always the risk of a backlash before a film even starts shooting, especially once they start sliding down the ratings towards the PG-13 (12A) rating and perceived "watering down".

Monday, July 7, 2014

On Writing

Some time ago now I wrote up some words on how I felt about claiming to be a "writer", in an age when it may never have been easier to do so, whilst paradoxically perhaps increasingly hard to make a living at it, at least relatively speaking. The sort version of it was whilst I certain write, I'm light on objective validation of any sort of quality, and most of my "published" work is reviews and magazine articles, as opposed to the fiction that I want to write and so far have only accumulated some polite rejections. However, you keep plugging away, if only stop the ideas overwhelming you. The thing I've never thought to try my hand at was comics, but after a conversation on Dissecting Worlds one evening I got an idea that I couldn't shake. And as of this week, you can actually go out and buy it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Review: London Falling

Sometimes your enjoyment of a thing is so wierdly subjective it's hard to parse. Usually, if I love a thing, or hate a thing, years of being opinionated spring into action and I can pretty well express what I liked, or what I didn't, even if its just a matter of being honest about having certain mental buttons pushed. Just today I've been feeling pretty snarky about the released pictures of next year's Batman v Superman movie, which is uncharacteristically mean-spirited of me, but at least I know why. (Its because I'm a little bored of grimdark re imaginings and the film - so far at least - sounds utterly joyless). But other times I struggle to put my finger on it, so a work can be both fascinating, and frustrating, for the wrong reasons.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Movie Review: 22 Jump Street

21 Jump Street was one of those movies that turned out to be a pleasant surprise; a fun, breezy and self-aware buddy comedy that could easily have been terrible, but was largely saved by a neat script and engaging central performances. Like all such films, especially ones that go on to make a pile of cash, a sequel had to be made, bringing with it all the potential problems that come with sequels to comedy movies. For a start, the buddy movie has a pretty set formula that is well tested. It won't surprise you, but it works, and I don't really think anyone has properly nailed the follow on to that yet. Next, there is always an urge to repeat the jokes that worked the first time around, despite the fact that by definition the audience have seen them before. 21 Jump Street wasn't doing anything terribly new, but was doing it well, so turning out for 22 Jump Street seems like a safe bet.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

TV Review: Fargo

We seem to live in a Golden Age of Television, so goes the endless refrain from critics. From the late 90s onwards we've seen a steady stream of excellent TV, especially from the United States, that ooze quality in the acting, direction and writing, so much so that we almost take it for granted now. Whats marked a lot of these shows out - poster children like Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos, or Mad Men, is also its sense of darkness, or corruption and moral peril. Modern TV, especially at the "quality" end, is a series of stories of the deep recesses of the human spirit, where victory is fleeting at best and your chance of the good guys winning are slim because you're even sure who the good guys are. It's a bit like mid-80s Doctor Who, only not utterly shit.

Monday, June 23, 2014

DVD(s) of the Week: Lincoln and Inside Llwelyn Davis

Unusually, this week, we got a double-header in on movie Saturday, something we've not done for a while, as we usually wait for our youngest to head to bed. This week, a combination of the heat and a very energetic party left him spark out early, so we took the opportunity to have a bit of a catch-up. And an odd double-bill it turned out to be - Steven Speilberg's historical drama Lincoln followed by the Coen Brothers tale of the early 1960s folk scene, Inside Llwelyn Davis. I'd love to be able to draw a neat, unexpected parallel between the two films, but really I can't, so regardless, lets just plough on with the reviews.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Games Review (sort of): Warhammer 40,000: 7th Edition

Gosh, it must be "games week" here on the Rambling blog, but its probably a fair enough representation of out time at the moment. But for a games-mad household, Warhammer 40k is a odd bird, a large-scale, long game with a lot of plastic miniatures bought at high prices. But that said, its starting to eat up a fair bit of my free time at the moment, and I even got a chance this weekend to head down to their HQ in Nottingham where you can book out tables to play on. Which was pretty cool. So, what's it all about, and what the attraction?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Games Review: Gloom

I think its fair to say that the Web Series "Tabletop" has cost me a lot of money. Its a pretty fun series hosted by Wil Wheaton (yes, that Wil Wheaton) and three guests, where they play boardgames for your entertainment. It's really slickly put together with cut-outs for rules explanations, and on-screen graphics, and edited to be pacey and funny. It's good stuff, but for a family full of gamers its...expensive. Especially for smaller, shorter, more portable games that look like they'll run well for newbies as well as more veteran gamers. One such game was Gloom, a card game based around making your characters as miserable as possible, and then killing them horribly.