Nightwing #78 – Really bloody good thankfully

I’ve talked about my issues with the Ric Grayson story arc a few times at this point, I didn’t like it overall as the book stopped being a Nightwing book for all intents and purposes. I did like how they eventually tried to tie it back to being a bigger deal story wise than it had been up to that point but by then the whole thing had gone on too long. The best thing for me about the Joker War storyline was that it basically represented the end of that arc which I think a lot of people were very much ready for.

I was immediately cautiously optimistic when Tom Taylor was announced as writer from issue 78 and that it was going to be a jumping on point, Taylor has done some great work on Injustice and DCeased even if Dick Grayson was killed off early in both of those. When I saw previews of the art from the issue by Bruno Redondo that cautious optimism turned into genuine excitement, it honestly looked amazing from what I’ve 

I’ve kept seeing stuff online which just made the wait for the issue to be released, it’s been unbearable at times. I’ve now read it though and I absolutely loved it, it was everything I wanted and then some. With that in mind I thought I’d talk a little about it just because I’ve pretty much re-read it about 4 or 5 times at this point and it’s probably going to get read a few more times. There’s going o be spoilers in here as there’s very specific stuff I want to get into.

It does some interesting work setting up what’s to come, you have Blockbuster killing the mayor of Bludhaven and installing the daughter of Tony Zucco, the man that killed Dick Grayson’s parents, as the new mayor. So there’s a personal connection there straightaway and and while Blockbuster doesn’t get much time he’s established as being a powerful and ruthless presence so you know he’s going be a formidable opponent in the future.

The art work is stunning, Redondo does a great job of making Bludhaven more distinct that Gotham City where it’s been very similar over the years via the use of colour, Bludhaven has been established as a Casino city so the implication I believe is that there’s alot of neon lighting. The art also does a really good job of conveying movement which is particularly useful give Grayson is an acrobat and his fighting style reflects this so it’s great that the artwork does such a great job of showing this.

There’s some nice acknowledging of past Nightwing runs too, the apartment block where he lives is a building he owns from a previous run which hasn’t been seen for a while which is nice. There’s also some light-hearted jabs at the whole Ric Grayson arc when he rescues the 3 legged puppy who looks to be becoming a fixture in the comic going forward which isn’t unwelcome as she’s pretty adorable on the whole.

The comic opens with a flashback to when Dick is a kid, it’s when he first meets Barbara Gordon at school as they defend a fellow student being picked on by a group of bullies. The subsequent follow where he’s taken home by Jim Gordon and starts helping Alfred with chores is really earnest as it establishes Dick as just wanting to help people. It’s such a simple thing to do but it also really separates him from Bruce Wayne as a character as this motivation is just there without the trauma of losing his parents playing a part. It’s such a small thing overall but it works.

This is the first time in ages that I can remember a comic focusing on the bond between Alfred and Dick. It was always great when they were allowed to interact as there was a clearly established affection there and it was always great to see it as Alfred is much more comfortable expressing emotion than most of the people Dick knows so they tended to have a lot of sincere moments. The scene of them talking as Dick helps Alfred with the washing up is one of my favourites though and has me hoping for more flashbacks in future issues.

The interaction with Barbara Gordon is largely great too, there’s a bit where she takes him by surprise that’s a little frustrating as it turns him into the butt of the joke a little which is a little frustrating coming off the most recent arc but it’s a small niggle. What’s nice is that the conversation is relative easy going despite the heavy reason for Barbara being there. A lot of their interactions in recent memory have been argumentative or mean spirited which is legitimately annoying when they’re meant to be as close as they are. I’m incredibly grateful for it not being the case here, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she figures into this run knowing she’s meant to be involved.

Her reason for being there helps tie together another bugbear I’ve had in relation to Alfred having been killed off. That being that there’s been no real payoff with regards to Dick as he was Ric at the time and then he came back during the Joker War arc so there was no real room for this to happen in a way that worked. This rectifies that as Barbara is there as the executor of Alfred’s will, turns out he was loaded and made some great investment choices and left the money to Dick and while this is nice it’s not the truly cathartic part of the comic.

To be honest the whole conversation where Dick and Barbara discuss Alfred and how rich he was and why he continued to basically look after Bruce and everyone else is really sweet. Dick wonders why Alfred would make him sandwiches and do his washing and Barbara’s response is perfect in its simplicity – it’s what he wanted to do. She also passes on a letter that Alfred wrong for Dick, turns out he’d write one every year as a precaution.


The letter Alfred wrote for Dick is genuinely the most emotional things I’ve personally ever read in any comic. It sums up the regard Alfred held Dick in , saying how proud he is, how much he believes in him and his ability to do good and referring to him as his son. It’s incredibly heartfelt and I’ve read these particular pages multiple times now and I get the same kick to the heart (in the best way possible) every single time. The whole issue would be worth it for this alone if everything else wasn’t very good but thankfully everything is largely great.

I’d go so far as to say this is properly my single favourite issue of any comic I’ve ever written, it’s really great to see Dick being written as a distinct character in his own right where it’s seemed like he’s been treated more as an extension of Batman of late which is frustrating. I’m incredibly excited to see where this run goes and I hope Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo stay on creative for as long as humanly possible as they make a fantastic team. I had really high hopes going in and for the first time in a long time those hopes were exceeded, which is a very pleasant surprise.

It’s personally the Nightwing comic I’ve been waiting years for, a talented writer who seems to totally get what makes the character so special, and also the fact that he seems to be able to keep him a bit separate from Batman. It’s been great to see Taylor talk about what he wants to achieve as it’s clear he holds Dick Grayson in the same sort of esteem as I do which isn’t a bad thing. Hopefully Taylor is going to get to tell the stories he wants to tell as if he does then this has the potential to be a truly special run.

Rewatching films is sometimes not a good idea

The anime re-watch blog I did a little while back got me thinking that it might be a solid idea to do something similar with films in general that I’ve not seen in ages as there’s been a few films that I’ve not seen in a while that have been in my head demanding to be watched again. The always interesting thing about this is that it’s a good opportunity to see how film holds up and whether they’re as good as I remember them being, though on that note I probably won’t bother re-watching anything I previously thought was shit to see if it sits with me differently as I just don’t have the energy for that sort of enforced masochism. There’s likely to be spoilers here too just for fair warning.

Event Horizon – I’d not seen this in well over 20 years at this point, it was one that me and some school friends loved as it had a cool concept, essentially a haunted house but on a spaceship, and at the time was genuinely freaky and unnerving. The director has largely gone on to make films that aren’t exactly great so I was interested to see if I was just remembering through the pleasant haze of youthful nostalgia. The premise remains brilliant, the ship in question disappears through a wormhole a number of years later and then returns so a rescue team go aboard to investigate what happened to the crew and trouble ensues. The CGI is a bit wank but that’s to be expected given the age and the fact you’d assume it didn’t have a huge budget, it does keep this to a minimum for the most part though so it’s never really distracting. The cast is excellent, Laurence Fishbourne leads them and does so with an assured swagger but it’s Sam Neill who really stands out as the troubled creator of the ship Dr Weir, you witness the ship start showing the crew things which naturally doesn’t tend to end well for them but with Weir it drives him mad and makes him side with the ship. It’s about an hour and a half long and the first hour or so is mostly build up before the proverbial shit hits the fan and when it does it’s pretty relentless. It holds up surprisingly well it has to be said, it’s nowhere near as gory or scary as I remember it being but it was definitely entertaining to the end so that’s a positive.

Dragonheart – Another 20 something year old film, I expected this one to have dated due to there being a CGI dragon in there. There are exceptions but for the most part I find that 90s special effects don’t tend to age well. Dennis Quaid is always engaging though from memory it’s set in England and he’s a knight but makes no effort to put on an English accent and then you have Sean Connery voicing said CGI dragon so there’s a couple of plus points going in so I was hopeful though I have to say not hugely optimistic. Quaid does seem to do an accent but its so inconsistent that it’s really hard to know for definite, and actually it’s oddly endearing to be honest. The opening shows why Bowen becomes the bitter man he is and why he blames the dragons he’s now hunting for the actions of the prince he was mentor too before he became a none to pleasant king. Connery is excellent as the voice of Draco, he brings a sense of gratis and wry humour to the role and serves as a guide to Bowen to try and make him remember who he is and what he stands for and that’s the heart of the film ultimately. David Thewlis is a complete shit, which I guess shows he’s playing the villain well, and Jason Isaacs adds yet another bastard to his CV which I’d forgotten, this is back in the good old days where bad guys didn’t get much development but did get to overact magnificently. The CGI isn’t as bad as I was expecting, it’s obviously dated quite badly and doesn’t look great but it works and the way Draco interacts with the world around him is actually quite impressive still. So overall visually it hasn’t aged amazingly but in terms of how much I enjoyed the film that thankfully hasn’t changed.

Timecop – It’s a 90s action film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme which includes time travel, I have vague memories of thinking it was quite clever, which I was expecting to have after watching it again, but also memories of it being fun. It literally sets up that the makes no sense whatsoever, even by film standards, so that was expected at least, it does try and establish logic though bless its heart, and to be fair it’s not just the time travel logic that’s as dumb as fuck, the whole film is absolutely idiotic and the dialogue is absolutely abysmal. There’s a completely gratuitous sex scene and Van Damme’s character gets to have a tortured backstory in order to make him more gruff and serious, this is somewhat  undone by his incessant quipping which while amusing does little to convey gravitas, also his mullet is gloriously ridiculous. Mia Sara is largely wasted as the wife too, she’s killed of early doors and then factors back into the time travel bullshit later on. Special effects haven’t aged well which I guess is to be expected for a 26 year old film which I’d assume didn’t have the biggest budget, the upside is that there aren’t a huge number of effects shot to look shite. It’s still entertaining in spite of being stupid and ,to be honest, quite shit, it’s oddly endearing for this though. Ron Silver as the villain is a definite plus point as he seems to be really enjoying himself and hams it up quite nicely and Bruce McGill gets some great lines as Van Damme’s put upon boss. The action is amusingly over the top and you get to see some of the classic moves like Van Damme doing the splits which seemingly never gets old and the fact that the film takes itself so seriously actually makes it funnier for some reason. Ultimately it was probably shit even back in the 90s but it has the good grace to be entertaining bollocks which is easy to watch.

Near Dark – This is a vampire movie from the 80s that came out around the same sort of time as the Lost Boys, it’s a very different beast though starring Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein (all fresh off appearing in Aliens) as the bloodsuckers in question and Adrian Pasdar as the young man that gets caught up with them. All I could really remember was that it had strong performances across the board and a decent soundtrack so it felt like I was largely going in blind. Pasdar is good as Caleb, the naive country boy that gets dragged into things he can’t possibly understand and Jenny Wright is equally good as Mae, who is responsible for Caleb’s predicament but the film very much belongs to Henriksen, Paxton and Goldstein who are just utter forces of nature. Paxton as Severen is absolutely psychotic and really leans into the role, and Henriksen is unbelievably intense as Jesse, there’s a quiet malice there and this is one of the roles that really makes you really how underrated he is as an actor. The soundtrack is excellent, it manages to be sinister, melancholy and and fits the film perfectly, Tangerine Dream (who I’d never heard of prior to this) created something pretty special here. It’s interesting as it plays pretty loose with the typical rules of vampire lore, the only things seemingly set in stone are the drinking blood, aversion to the sun and the benefits of being a vampire, to the point where the word vampire isn’t actually mentioned at any point. It’s got a decent visual style where it makes the most of the lighting available and has some really distinct locations, and it uses practical effects for the most part which work very well. It’s an interesting blend of genres, there’s western and horror elements for sure and the art of the film is basically the romance between Caleb and Mae, it does a great job of blending these different styles into a cohesive film. The ending is a little bit jarring as it just essentially ends 2 minutes after the climatic showdown but that’s realistically a minor complaint for what is still an excellent film.

Broken Arrow – This was originally released 25 years ago which blows my mind, I remember renting it on VHS and watching it with my best mate at school. We thought it was amazing and it’s one of those films I’ve maintained a soft spot for over the years despite having not seen it an absolutely ages, I was therefore a little nervous about watching it as I didn’t want it to wind up being shit. The first thing I noted was that my memories of it having a cracking soundtrack were accurate, Hans Zimmer pretty much always does great work but I think this is one of his that really stands out. The premise of the film is ridiculous, a pilot, played by John Travolta, goes rogue on a test flight and steals a couple of nukes and it’s then up to his co-pilot, played by Christian Slater, to stop him. Travolta is excellent as the bad guy, he’s in full scenery chewing mode and is easily the best thing in the film, he honestly seems to be having the time of his life. Slater is suitably engaging as the plucky hero, he’s just the right amount of earnest to have you wanting him to save the day. The supporting cast is of a decent standard with actors like Delroy Lindo and Kurtwood Smith along for the ride but Samantha Mathis is the main support as the park ranger that gets dragged along for the ride and she’s very good as a character out of her depth doing her best. The special effects hold up pretty well, which I think is partially because there are some quite clever tricks used, for example the flight sequences at the start are done at night which makes it easier to mask certain things. The action is pretty great and holds up nicely but then I’d expect that to some extent from a John Woo film as he very much knows what he’s doing. The train sequence towards the end is a particular highlight but I don’t think there’s a weak action sequence in the entire film, I think my only real complaint is the romance that’s shoehorned in but never really properly developed, but I think that’s just down to the film being a product of it’s time. I’m really happy to find it’s every bit as fun as I remember it being, sure it’s not going to win any awards but it’s a bloody entertaining film and sometimes that’s all you need.

Judge Dredd – I remember this being a fund but dumb action film which I had a lot of time for back when I first saw it, going in I suspected that the special effects will have suffered badly and that having become more familiar with the comics than I had been at the time and having the more recent Karl Urban film that I wouldn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much. Sylvester Stallone stars as Dredd and Armand Assante as his evil twin Rico, I’d forgotten that they’d some how conned James Earl Jones into doing the opening narration which lends the film more gravitas than it deserves and I’d also forgotten that Rob Schneider was in it which didn’t bode well at all. The opening credits do reveal that Dredd’s armour was designed by Versace though which was a little weird. I have so say the the initial view of Mega City One wasn’t bad at all, someone clearly put a lot of effort into the sets, and there’s an attention to detail in terms of little details which is actually quite impressive. One of the issues early on is that all the judges apart from Dredd are portrayed as utterly useless and Stallone portrays Dredd as having a stick up his arse and just generally being constipated, it’s not helped by the general overacting going on around him by literally everyone, Armand Assante is especially guilty of this though he does appear to be having the time of his life which actually helps. The plot is utterly bollocks, Dredd is framed (by his evil twin obviously) to get him out of the way to replace the judges with clones loyal to the bad guys in charge, who Rico then naturally double crosses, which is as predictable as it is cliched, the tone is far too tongue in cheek, it didn’t need to be as serious as the more recent version but it leans a little too far into silly coming across as more of a cartoon which is a shame as there’s definite potential here. The tone is not helped by have Schneider in as comic relief, although actually he’s probably the one of the few people playing it slightly less over the top than everyone else. All in all it’s a load of shite but a fun one at least, there wasn’t a point where I wasn’t entertained even if there was a lot of eye rolling going on.

The Matrix Reloaded – I’ve only ever seen this the once and I hated it so much that I never bothered with the third film in the series, and I’m at point now where all I can remember is the ludicrous sequence where the Architect explains things to Neo in a way that’s just utter nonsensical bollocks. The reasons for the re-watch are twofold – to see if I judged it too harshly way back when and to lead into watching the third film in the series and just seeing if that one was any good, it could be a bad idea but I figure it can’t be any worse than some of the more recent shite I’ve tortured myself with. Within the opening sequence I was reminded of one of the things I disliked, slow motion is used way too much and the special effects haven’t aged especially well which didn’t exactly bode well for the rest of the film as I obviously remember it being incredibly effects heavy and that the films kicked off a massive craze of using slow motion in everything. The costumes are pretty ridiculous now, all trenchcoats, latex, leather and stupid sunglasses but again I remember how obsessed people were by them (myself included in the interests of full disclosure, I definitely wanted a trenchcoat), it just all seems incredibly impractical. There were things I’d forgotten about like the rave in the cavern which is utterly ridiculous and unnecessary, it’s something that easily could have been sacrificed. There’s also way too much exposition, characters spend way too much time talking and the stilted nature of the dialogue at times makes it tricky to watch, the actors do what they can to make it work but there’s only so much you can do. Special mention should go to Laurence Fishbourne here who truly does do his best and at least manages to add some gravitas to the shite he’s saying. Keanu Reeves, as the main star, and Hugo Weaving, as the villain, are the two best things in the film by some margin, it’s weird to think that if not for the Matrix series we’d have never gotten John Wick. The fight sequences are honestly generally very good, the sequence where Neo fights an army of Agent Smiths is honestly great fun so it’s just a shame that the excessive slow motion hinders them in my opinion. I will say that while the freeway chase sequence goes on way too long it’s honestly one of the most exciting I’ve seen in a film, genuinely had me on the edge of my seat which was a pleasant surprise as I remembered it being a bit shit, the Architect part is the same bollocks I remember it being so that at least is consistent. Overall I’d say it’s not as bad as I remember it being but in some ways it’s worse as, a few elements aside, it’s just incredibly mediocre.

Executive Decision – Another 90s film that I loved, I remember this one being a bit less gung-ho than most action films from that time due to it being on a hijacked passenger plane. Starring Kurt Russell as the lead and David Suchet as the villain, which were both sound choices from what I remembered, it was also notable for having Steven Seagal in it and killing him off in spectacular fashion very early on. I decided to re-watch this as I figured it’d be a fairly safe choice after the 2 Matrix films as figured at worst it’d still be a solid film that’d just aged poorly. The intro credits reminded me of Escape from New York a little which definitely isn’t a bad thing, it was accompanied by a solid score too. The film opens with a sequence where Seagal’s special forces team undertake a raid to recover nerve gas which is no longer there, it’s short and to the point in letting you know this stuff is going to be important in time. You’re then introduced to Russell’s character learning to fly and more setting up of what’s to come including the plane being hijacked, this is all done in the opening 20 or so minutes and it’s refreshingly to the point and not messing around though it is also a little uncomfortable given what’s happened in the world since the film was released. The infiltration of the plane is incredibly well done even though I knew how it worked out, when it starts going wrong it’s honestly one of the most tense sequences in a film I’ve seen and it’s the part where we bid farewell to Seagal as he’s sucked out when the link between the infiltration plane and the passenger plane decompresses. It’s something of a novelty in terms of this sort of film as it’s not over the top, it’s very restrained and does a really good job of building tension. Suchet is excellent as the villain, he plays him completely straight, no over acting and he’s so much more impactful for it as he comes across as a genuine threat. Russell always tends to be good and this is no exception, he’s an intelligence guy that gets dragged along and then has to help the soldiers that have got on the plane with him, which he naturally does his best with which thankfully helps save the day. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to see that it still holds up, it’s not an effects heavy film which I think definitely helps it’s to avoid feeling too dated, the only thing that’s really aged it is obviously everything that’s happened in the world since 2001 but that aside it’s still a very enjoyable film.

A Good Day to Die Hard – This is the fifth film in the Die Hard series, I’ve enjoyed the previous four films to varying degrees so I was always going to check this one out, I watched it and hated it so much that I’ve essentially erased all knowledge of the film so I can’t actually really remember what happens at all.. I’ve decided to subject myself to the likely torture of re-watching it because it could provide some entertainment when I wind up hating it all over again and there’s also the possibility that it might not be quite as bad as I’ve lead myself to believe. I opted for the extended cut rather than the theatrical cut as in theory it’s going to be the best version of the film which admittedly isn’t saying much. In the first couple of minutes I immediately took umbrage as you get a dialogue scene to set the tone of things to come and the camera isn’t steady, it’s distracting and unnecessary, I assume the rationale for this was to make things more realistic but it takes you out of the film because it just makes it appear that it’s been made by fucking amateurs. Bruce Willis is in full modern day Willis mode where he’s basically sleep walking through the film and seemingly only in it for the money, and I will never understand how Jai Courtney keeps getting work as he’s a truly atrocious actor and a charisma blackhole to boot. Courtney plays John McClane Jr (now going by Jack) who is estranged from his dad and a CIA agent, during an operation he gets himself into trouble to John hops on a plane to help him out. What follows is the biggest load of bollocks I’ve possibly every seen, McClane senior manages to blow a CIA operation, carjack someone and cause property damage on a ridiculous scale in the first half hour and he’s somehow meant to be the hero of the piece. The most impressive thing about the whole film is how it takes plucky underdog and everyman John McClane and turns him into a psychopath, in previous films he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and did his best to save the day, in this he absolutely revels in the carnage he causes and it’s a fucking terrible direction for the character. The bickering between John and Jack gets old after the first exchange but you then have to sit through an entire film of it before they inevitably make peace, it’s all insultingly predictable. It begrudges me to say but Courtney isn’t the worst thing in the film, in fact he seems to be doing his best to make the shitshow remotely palatable, the dubious honour is taken by Willis, this was just prior to him really hitting the taking any old bullshit film for money phase and it really seems like he’s checked out based on this, not helped by the fact that John McClane is written to just be an utter arsehole. It’s got what should be a decent run time, coming in at just under an hour and 45 minutes, and yet it seems far longer than that, and not in a good way – in fact it feels like it’s never going to fucking end and the actual villains have all the menace of a bastard care bear, they’re undeveloped and just a waste of everyones time. Turns out it’s every bit as terrible as I remember, honestly one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, to the point where the only positive thing I can say about it is that it does, eventually, fucking end.

Mortal Kombat Annihilation – I was going to end this with a film I had fond memories of but then I picked this up on the cheap so figured I’d “treat” myself, I say this knowing that my memory of this film is that it’s an abomination. The first film was silly but solid and above all entertaining, from memory this was a clusterfuck of bad decisions, shitty acting and piss poor special effects so I can’t say I was looking forward to it but self inflicted suffering is something I do. The film opens with a quick recap of the first film followed by an invasion of Earth by Shao Kahn and aside from the truly diabolical special effects from this sequence the first thing you notice is that 3 of the 5 lead characters from the first film have been recast, followed by how awful the script is based on Kahn’s opening speech. 5 minutes in and I was already regretting the decision to watch this as the dialogue and acting were fucking horseshit. Johnny Cage is killed off in those first 5 minutes and that’s actually a mercy of sorts as he was probably the best character in the first film and the recasting here was a significant downgrade. It’d honestly be hilarious how ineptly made this film is but for the fact it’s a franchise I like and sequel to a film I really enjoyed. The original film at least had the good grace to know how ridiculous it was a leant into where this one takes itself far too seriously, especially considering how shit it truly is. Some of the worst moments are when they try to put emotion into scenes, Cage’s death as an example, but the acting is atrocious and you get the impression some characters are just consipated rather actually emoting. It tries to shoehorn as many characters as possible from the game into the film and as a result it’s an overcrowded mess where none of them really get developed at all, you have popular characters like Sub Zero and Scorpion pop in for cameos and it’s utterly pointless. The fight sequences are shit, which isn’t what you want from a film based on a fighting game, they’re just really boring and you don’t care about anyone so you don’t really care who wins. To emphasise how stupid the film is there’s a scene where a character says Kitana is the key to winning and she then gets captured and the same character says not to go after her to rescue her, this makes no sense. I wish it had a decent soundtrack like the first film so I had something to enjoy but that’s a pile of wank too, there is genuinely nothing to recommend about this load of old ballbags. This might actually be the worst film I’ve ever watched, at least with other films where I’ve said this there’s usually something I can kind of appreciate but this is just a massive display of incompetence across the board, it literally has no redeeming qualities at all and I’m astounded that someone let it be made.

So this started out with good films and deteriorated to a veritable smorgasbord of bullshit. I had fun ripping the films to pieces though so that’s a plus, but while I’ll definitely do this again I do think I’m going to try and avoid films that are so fucking shite that they make me angry. I already have some ideas of films I want to re-watch and I already know some of them are going to be trash even though I suspect there will at least be some redeeming qualities to them where there weren’t with some of the batch here. It’s just as well I enjoy the writing element of this as the self inflicted masochism of watching some of this shit a second time would be very questionable indeed.

Mass Effect Andromeda – replaying a divisive game

In view of the Mass Effect trilogy remaster being released in a few months I thought it’d be nice to re-play the fourth entry in the series, Mass Effect Andromeda to see how it’s aged given some of the controversies from it’s release and that have subsequently come to light in the years since it was originally released back in 2017. I initially played it on the Playstation 4 upon release where this time I’m playing it on an Xbox Series X, though it’s not a game which has been upgraded for the new hardware.

It’s been interesting in the time after the initial release reading about the difficulties that were experienced during development, learning to use the Frostbite engine which was apparently not very well suited to this style of game so the team had to learn to use it while getting it to work which sounded like a nightmare. I’ve also read recently about how budget limitations had an impact on things like the number of new alien races included in the game and the galactic travel elements too. In some respects in seems like a miracle of sorts that the game was completed at all.

In the interests of full disclosure I had mixed feelings upon the initial announcement of the game, on the one hand more Mass Effect was definitely something I wanted but by setting it in a brand new galaxy and having it take place 600 or some years after the events of the initial trilogy I had misgivings due to feeling like I wanted to stick with stories post the Reaper invasion and to be able to continue to see characters that I’d come to love. I was also still a little disappointed with the ending to the the third game, which while the extended cut dlc did improve things it was still very underwhelming.

The most jarring change is the removal of the paragon and renegade dialogue system, you don’t get alignment points anywhere based on your actions and dialogue choices which is a bit of a shame as this was one of the things I really loved about the trilogy. That being said the replacement dialogue system offers more choices with how you respond to things, you can choose to be emotional, funny and that sort of thing, it’s similar system to Dragon Age Inquisition and it works really well in both games. Whatever other issues I have with Andromeda, I absolutely love the dialogue, it’s something that Bioware is definitely very good at doing.

Let’s start with the negatives first, the key one being it’s buggy as hell. I’ve multiple crashes so far and I’ve had instances where all the sound in the game cuts out to be replaced with just a loud buzzing noise which requires the game to be reloaded which obviously impact the playing experience quite heavily. I’ve had stupid ones like the Nomad vehicle spawning inside a building where you can’t then use it, cutscenes where people are holding invisible weapons and instances of speech starting unprompted and seemingly totally out of context all of which are irritating but thankfully not game breaking.

Human characters (with a few exceptions) look appalling, they look kind of like wax dummies to my mind and the facial animations when they’re talking isn’t the best which doesn’t help with the immersion when playing. There’s a lot of back and forth between worlds which can get a little tiresome when trying to do all the quests and some of the quests are quite uninspiring while also being unhelpfully marked meaning alot of traipsing around hoping you’ll get lucky and stumble across what you’re looking for in order to scan it and move on to the next item.

You also seem to get the same animal enemies over different planets just with a different look and name, which if talk of budget issues is true then it’s not a bad way of making your assets do more work without having to create brand new ones but also does also feel quite jarring. The inventory system is a bit crap too, you just end up accumulating loads of shite that you seemingly never actually need to use so just wind up selling and there’s not really much need to buy anything given the rate you collect items with, the only things I’ve really bought in this play through are starship models and quest based items that have cropped up.

On my first playthrough I wasn’t overly fond of the story, at times it feels like a bit of a re-tread from the trilogy with the Kett being the antagonists rather than the Reapers, they’re essentially trying to use other races to incorporate their DNA into the Kett, though their ultimate motives aren’t revealed so there’s jumping on points for a potential sequel. I appreciated it a bit more the second time round as there were just little bits and pieces over the course of the game which I initially didn’t appreciate which make it more individual. I will say that the Archon is a poorly defined main villain in my opinion though, there’s nothing done to make him anything other than pretty generic which is a shame.

Now there’s actually a lot I really like about the game too, the combat is as solid as 2 and 3 with the jump mechanic adding some variety even if it’s largely unnecessary. There’s an absolutely enormous selection of combat powers to sink skill points into so there’s alot of scope to make a very personalised combat set up. The combat you’ll encounter over the course of the game is largely pretty well paced too, they never get to a point where they’re a slog and that appreciated, though I appreciate this may not always be the case on higher difficulty settings . Also the battles against the giant architects are particular stand outs which are pretty satisfying to win.

The narrative choice to set the game in the Andromeda galaxy and the sandbox like elements of the planets you travel to allows for some really cool gameplay elements. It allows for a genuine sense of exploration and this is encouraged which is brilliant, there are quests and secrets to be found and the terraforming of the planet plays into this too. It’s one of the things I love most, I spent so much time just driving round the various maps seeing what quests I could turn up and unlocking fast travel points given how useful these always are. Honestly I loved making each planet viable for an outpost to be constructed, it’s something I’d definitely want to see more of in a sequel were one to happen.

There are some really cool moments too, the final push towards the end where you’re having to drive the Nomad to the destination to try and stop the Archon in particular stands out as you’re doing this while a battle is raging on around you. The moral choices you get to make over the course of the game are very much less black and white than the previous games too, hear it’s essentially it’s things like deciding between one group or another to leave to their deaths or to cover for someone that got people killed because she’s potentially useful or to be honest about it, it really makes you think though the fallout of these decisions isn’t always readily apparent in this game as I guess they planned for them to be more impactful in any potential sequels.

My absolute favourite part of the game though is the crew you travel with, while they’re not all as memorable as some of the crew mates from the trilogy there are some great characters here. The conversations you can walk in on between various characters really help bring them to life, as does the banter you get when you’ve got 2 team mates and you’re exploring the planets. I definitely can’t fault most of the dialogue on offer here as it’s largely superb and the different options you have for your Ryder make for a more personalised experience, you can potentially be completely serious or a bit of a joker or other options and the interplay just really worked for me.

There are loyalty missions for the team mates and then lots of little side quests for the people on your ship and these are really nice little distractions which further add to their personalities. Liam’s loyalty mission in particular is brilliant if you play it how I did as there’s a lot of bickering happening while ignoring the bad guy, who is progressively getting more annoyed at not being taken seriously and it was very entertaining. It’s helped by some great voice acting across the board, I don’t think there’s a single bad performance in there which is obviously a positive thing.

I honestly think the biggest shame about the game was how it was essentially dropped after the reception it received. All the downloadable content was canned and from what I’ve read one of the packs was going to be the hunt for the Quarian arc and that would have been cool as it in theory would have also brought back some of the other aliens that don’t appear like the Elcor and Hanar. I kind of understand there being a backlash but at the same time it’s always a shame when it basically kills of any plans for further support for a game that’s only real crime was being flawed.

And that’s ultimately the crux of the issue with Andromeda, it’s by no means an awful game but it has alot of niggly flaws which hold it back. I think the huge shift away from the setting and characters of the original games was massively jarring to people to which didn’t exactly help. I don’t know that it deserves the level of vitriol that’s been thrown at it since release, it’s fundamentally a solid game, I think my main issue with it is that it had the potential to be so much more but with that being said I enjoyed it alot and at no point during either play through did I ever consider not seeing it through to the end.

This potential is possibly the biggest shame of the whole thing, I have no idea if there will be any sequels to Andromeda but I’m now at a point where I’m torn. I’d like a sequel that follows on from the main trilogy but I’d also like a sequel here too where they tell the story they wanted to tell, with the features they wanted to include and to be given the time to iron out most of the flaws. I suspect it may not happen as I expect Bioware will opt for a safety first approach to any new Mass Effect games in future. Maybe they could change to a Call of Duty model of operating and alternate between new Andromeda and trilogy linked games but I very much doubt it.

Ultimately it was good fun to replay Andromeda, it’s definitely got me looking forward to the remastered original trilogy that’s for sure. I’ve also picked up the books that link in, one of which is apparently the story that one of the DLC packs would have used prior to everything being cancelled, so I’m looking forward to giving them a go. I guess beyond that it’ll just be a case of waiting to see where Bioware decide to take the series as all we’ve got to go on is a very vague teaser trailer that implies that things will be back within the Milky Way, so it’s going t one interesting if nothing else.

10 of my favourite books of all time

I like reading, it’s the whole story thing which we’ve established I’m a big fan of, I not quite as prolific as I was when I was younger when I’d pretty much always be reading something, these days I tend to go through phases where I’ll read through a few books at a time. I thought it’d be interesting to chat a little about a few of my favourite books, I may wind up discussing certain plot points but I’ll try to avoid spoiling anything as much as I can

Nimona – This one may be seen as a little bit of a cheat as this started life as a webcomic and the book was just the collection of everything from that. I’m including though because I honestly love it, it manages to combine moments of sweetness and quite dark storytelling while also being incredibly funny. It was also how I discovered Noelle Stevenson and turns out I’m a huge fan as I’ve since gotten very into the reboot of She-Ra and a comic called Lumberjanes. I love the art style and the fact that it’s able to make me feel many different emotions, I think it was also the first piece of media I experienced with a gay main character, and especially where the character in question didn’t play into some kind of stereotype which was nice and very much helped open me up to storytelling which features characters that don’t necessarily represent me and this seems to be becoming much more normalised these days which is definitely a good thing.

World War Z – I’m obviously very familiar with zombies as they’re pretty much a horror staple like vampires at this point. Max Brooks took what was a pretty shite monster when you think about the shambling creature usually depicted and put a really interesting spin on it. It’s set in the aftermath of what was a global struggle against the zombie, the author is chronicling  prior events by interviewing survivors. I love the way it’s structured and how it takes in the time periods where things start to go wrong, where humanity is nearly made extinct and then where they start to fight back and fall back on ingenuity. It’s things like the grounded tone, the fact that it’s hugely focussed on the humans of the story and how the zombie outbreak is kept deliberately mysterious that make it work for me but I honestly love it. The audiobook is exceptional too as it takes the format of the book and uses different actors for different characters rather than just having one person read it, I would definitely recommend checking it out. 

Jurassic Park – I did this the wrong way round as I watched the film first (as a kid naturally) and at the time didn’t realise it was based on a book. I obviously found that out when I was a bit older so obviously wanted to read it as there’s dinosaurs. It’s actually a very different beast to the film though actually a lot of the characters are quite close to the film personality wise with the exception of John Hammond, who is much more of an arsehole than in the film, and actually I think he’s a much more interesting character as a result. There’s certain things that I think would have worked brilliantly in the film, like a set piece involving a river, a raft and a the T-Rex that I think would have been superb though I guess it would have been harder to work in to the film without changing things. The book is definitely well worth a read if you liked the film, it’s suitably different that you don’t know exactly how it’s going to go while also having very clear parallels too, and it’s quite interesting to be able to compare the two.

Mythos – This was recommended to me by a friend who’d enjoyed this and thought I would too. She was right, I’m a big fan of Stephen Fry anyway but I especially enjoyed the way he wrote this as it’s pretty much impossible to read and not hear his voice in your head narrating. He makes the stories he’s telling incredibly accessible and easy to follow, he also manages to ensure there’s a decent amount of humour on offer which is to be expected. Reading it made me realise that while I know the more obvious bits of Greek mythology there was a hell of a lot that I didn’t know too so it was interesting to be learning things that I didn’t really know going in. I think what I like best about the book though is the tone, there’s a warmth there which radiates off the pages and it’s really obvious how much Fry cares about the stories he’s telling and that enthusiasm is infectious, you can kind of sense the twinkle in the eye that Fry had while writing this. I’ve also enjoyed the subsequent follow ups Heroes and Troy which he’s done, the only issue is that it’s made the more traditionally dry mythology re-tellings a bit harder to read.

Legend – The first David Gemmell book that I ever read, I’d been eyeing up a few in the bookshop at a point when I was trying books that seemed interesting. I love Legend because it’s a fantasy book that doesn’t follow the typical story tropes and the main hero Druss is well past his prime, though still formidable  he is fundamentally an old man. It’s an interesting pitch that has a decent story to back it up and a likeable cast of characters that provide interesting counterpoints to Druss, who is quite a straightforward character. As was Gemmell’s debut novel it’s a little raw in places but I actually think that adds to the overall charm. What I think Gemmell writes especially well are the action scenes, they tend to be suitably brutal and exciting which is just as well as there are a fair few battles in here with the sense of peril escalating with each one. This was one of the first books I read that I’d class as being of a more traditional fantasy type story and because I enjoyed it so much I was much more willing to stick with it, it also got me interested in further books of his, some of which were set in the same world as this one which I’ve always found interesting. I’d especially recommend the Drenai series Gemmell did (of which this is part of).

Snuff – This was the last book that Terry Pratchett wrote which featured Sam Vimes who is comfortably my favourite Discworld character. I know people have bitched about a drop in quality on the later Discworld books due to Pratchett’s Alzheimers but it’s not something I’ve personally ever noticed, this one feels a little different to previous Vimes books but I think that[s natural due to the evolution of the character over the various books he appears in. What I love most about Snuff is that it takes a little while for the more typical story beats to kick in, what you get is a decent amount of build up and during this you get to see more of Vimes outside his comfort zone and also just getting to spend more time with his son which are some of the funniest and sweetest parts of the book. It’s become a comfort book for me, whenever my depression is especially bad and I need a bit of a pick me up this is one of the books I tend to go for as it never fails to make me smile, it’s the reading equivalent of a bloody big hug and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

Eye of the World – I picked this up during my random book phase in my late teens and early twenties, I’d been tempted by it for ages and gave it a go. It’s the first in 15 book Wheel of Time series and while as a series it was occasionally a bit too ambitious for it’s own good the first book was excellent in my opinion. It goes a great job of establishing the main characters, everyone is sympathetic on some level which is good for how much they change over the series, and does well in establishing a lot of the world that the series will take place it. It was one of my first fantasy books and as such has very much helped to establish what I look for when I’m choosing something from the genre that I’m not overly familiar with. The action scenes are particularly well written and exciting, there’s a genuine sense of danger at times as you realise more of the nature of the various enemies and it does a really good job of setting the scene of what’s to come, I’d say it’s the strongest book of the series and works very well as the opening part of a frankly huge saga.

A Cavern of Black Ice – Another fantasy book bought by randomly reading the blurb on the back in a bookshop, this one initially appealed to me as the characters came across as very human and therefore very relatable to me. It’s one of the more grim books I’ve read in terms of tone, it’s very serious and very quite dark. Main character Raif Sevrance has the ability to strike the heart of any creature and kill them, and you learn this is significant relating to a supernatural threat to the world while establishing most of the other characters are largely only concerned with their own interests. Raif is possibly one of my favourite characters ever as there’s a complexity there combined with a naivety (certainly in the first book) that makes for a sympathetic and engaging main character. I also picked the book up at a point where I was particularly struggling with my mental health and it was stories like this that I tended to try and get lost in as a coping mechanism of sorts so it’ll have a pretty special place in any book discussions for me.

Mort – This was the book that got me into Terry Pratchett in the first place, I got it from the library when I was a much younger lad and was pretty much instantly hooked by the humour and the the world the story exists in (the Discworld naturally). The basic concept is what if Death were a person (or a skeleton with a personality at least) and ushering people on to whatever comes next after they die was a job, and what if he got himself an apprentice to help with the workload.  I think it was the first humorous book I read as a young adult and what I always liked about to was that it really resonated with my sense of humour and I really loved the characters. Death was one of those characters where you can just immediately hear his voice in your head as you read (he had what turned out to be Christopher Lee’s voice in my head though I couldn’t identify it as such at the time), and it helped that he liked things like cats and curry which did alot to humanise him. I also appreciated that you didn’t need to have read the previous Discworld books to enjoy this, it’s essentially a standalone story within a shared world.

The Hobbit – As things stand this is probably my favourite book of all time and I’d go so far as to say it’s the most important book to me personally as I’d credit it as being the book that got me into reading in the first place. I remember reading in class at school when I was about 10 and we’d read a certain amount in each lesson, I got properly into it and would take the book home and read more of the book in my own time, something that my teacher clearly knew about as she gave me a copy of the book at the end of the year and I still have that copy of the book nearly 30 years on, it’s a bit beat up now but it’s still treasured. I loved the sense of adventure it brought out in me and there’s a definite sense of wonder at things like Smaug the dragon and the final battle which have always stuck in my head. I read it again recently and while it’s little more raw than I remember being it was no less enjoyable, and actually I think I enjoyed certain parts more now as I have more of an understanding story structure and character development than me as a kid would ever have had.

I definitely have something of a comfort zone when it comes to reading, I know the sorts of things I like and historically I’ve been more adverse to trying things outside of that sphere. I’ve got friends who have started giving me recommendations which I’ve enjoyed and some of those books may appear on one of these in the future. One friend has given me a few suggestions which I’m looking into and will probably pick up some of when I next get paid, there’s definitely advantages to having friends with opinions that you trust.

The 10 games I enjoyed most in 2020

So 2020 being what it was there was alot of time sat around when I wasn’t working. I’ve done things like watch films and TV shows and read alot but I’ve also played a hell of a lot of video games. Some of these have been online multiplayer so have given me the chance to stay in touch more easily with friends and some have naturally been story based and single player. With that in mind I’d thought I’d go through my ten favourite games of 2020, bearing in mind they weren’t necessarily released that year, it’s purely just games I’ve played in that timeframe.

Division 2 – This was picked up when it was stupidly cheap after we, as a group, had struggled to get into the original. I think this was down to us not all being the same level due to some having played it already where with this we started at the same time so progressed together. It’s actually alot of fun, there’s loads to do and it’s incredibly atmospheric in places. It looks nice and really does encourage team work as failure to work together tends to end badly. We enjoyed it so much that we picked up the expansion when that was on sale and put a decent amount of time into that too. It helped that it was a game that also allowed us to chat and catch up so it was a solid purchase all in all, would definitely recommend it.

Witcher 3 – At the start of the year I decided I wanted to play through this again, this was largely off the back of the first season of the TV show making me want to revisit the game. I invested something ridiculous like 250 hours into this playthrough taking in the main game and both DLC packs, which had quite alot of content in them. I honestly really enjoyed the stories being told and while there are generally happy endings to them you always get a sense that there’s consequences to what’s got you to this point. It’s one of those games that does a fantastic job of realising the main characters in it, Geralt is brilliant and his interactions with the other characters tend to be really well written. I’m looking forward to the Series X upgrade that’s planned so I can play through it again.

Pokemon Sword – The year started with me completing the pokedex for the main game and then as the year has gone on I’ve played through the 2 DLC packs and completed the respective pokedexes for those. I honestly love Pokemon and really enjoyed the expansion of this rather than having to shell out for a brand new game as has been the case in the past. I get far too obsessive about getting all the Pokemon but last year was probably not a bad year to have that to focus on. It’s been one of those games where it’s been great to just pick it up, catch some Pokemon and then save and exit, so it’s been perfect alongside other games I’ve been playing. I’m not sure if there’s going to be any more DLC for Sword and Shield in 2021 but I honestly sort of hope there is as I really like the region these games are set in.

Assassins Creed Odyssey – I didn’t play this much when it initially came out as I prioritised Red Dead Redemption 2, so figured I’d give it a proper go after finishing Witcher. I started from scratch and sank a hell of a lot of time into it and I’m really glad I did, turned out to be my favourite Assassins Creed game to that point as the setting was absolutely fantastic and I really enjoyed the story. I wasn’t sure how I’d like the more RPG direction of the game having not played Origins but I really enjoyed it and thought it worked well. The addition of the assassination targets and the mercenaries was quite a cool touch too. I think the only things I didn’t really like is that the amount to do is a little overwhelming and the inventory management is a ball ache but there are honestly only small niggles overall.

Story of Seasons – I always loved the old Harvest Moon games so this remake of a game I’d played and loved absolutely years ago was one I really enjoyed getting to play. It’s not the most complicated game but having played the later entries in the series that had added more and more features it was actually quite refreshing to play a more simplified game. It’s one of those games that’s pretty much perfect for just chilling out and playing with no pressure to be had. It’s by no means perfect but it never failed to raise a smile and I’m not going to lie I needed that last year. It also lets you have alpacas and rabbits on your farm in addition to cows and chickens and you can have pet penguins and capybaras which is obviously a delight.

Forza Horizon 4 – I’m utterly shit at driving games, always have been, but I picked this up when it first came out due to finding it cheap. I’d never really played it prior to starting to play as a group with my friends. I’ve gradually gotten better to the point where I can actually win races on occasion but I’m usually one fuck away from finishing nearer to last. What I have found highly entertaining is when one of us fucks up someone elses race, there’s nothing quite as amusing as slamming someone into a wall or trying to punt some on a straight so they miss a checkpoint, it’s obviously far more entertaining when it’s not me but even then I can appreciate when karma comes back to bite me even when it’s frustrating to be adrift in last place. The car collecting element obviously also appeals to me even if I know I’ll probably never try most of the cars I’ve obtained.

Golf With Friends – I thought this would be something me and my mates would play a couple of times and then never touch again just because it’s on Game Pass, turns out I was wrong and we’ve played a shitload of it. Initially we played in classic mode which was fun for mockery when someone fucked up but then we switched to party mode, which has power ups and the ability to twat into each other when playing the ball at the same time, and the entertainment level shifted significantly. It turns out it’s absolutely bloody hilarious to fuck someone up by turning their ball into a cone or an egg or some shit, it’s also even funnier when you’re doing badly to just cause chaos by just smacking into people when they’re taking their shot. It does definitely need some new courses now though as we’ve played through the current selection quite a few times at this point.

Assassins Creed Valhalla – It came out in November and I’ve sank around 120 hours into it so far, it needs patching as I’ve hit a bug that means I can’t progress the story any further and I’m not willing to revert to an earlier save as I think I’d lose about 60 hours of progress and fuck that noise basically. That aside it’s my favourite Assassins Creed game now, I like the way the RPG side of it has been tweaked and the equipment management is much much better this time round though I do think some elements around the inventory that could do with improving. Visually it looks very similar to Odyssey however the lighting is massively improved and really adds to the atmosphere, especially in the more snowy areas. I genuinely love it though I am frustrated with the bugs, it’s crashed on me a fair few times and there’s current bug I’ve hit which essentially breaks the game given I can’t progress the story any further. I will say though I appreciate the making of stealth less compulsory and allowing for more murderous rampages.

Final Fantasy 7 Remake – A game I’d been looking forward to years, the original version on the PS1 back in the 90s was the main reason for my love of RPGs, it came out not long after the start of the first lockdown. I’m not going to lie it’s quite padded given that they’ve taken what was essentially the opening few hours of the game and stretched it to 40 plus hours but I was also personally always entertained. The switch from a turn based combat to more action based is handled pretty well and was a lot of fun once I got used to it. It was just awesome getting play through with the characters again and it was nice that characters with smaller parts in the original had expanded roles and I really enjoyed that it wound up not being a straight remake and trying to do its own thing, though I’m also well aware this could wind up being a disaster later on.

Animal Crossing – I knew I was going to wind up playing a lot of this but I don’t think I realised quite how much but as it is I’ve hit around 540 hours which is more than I’ve spent on 2 full Witcher 3 playthroughs combined. I’ve spent that time catching bugs and fish, digging up fossils and making friends with my various villagers. Even when I’ve been doing jobs like sorting out weeds and fixing my flower infestation (with help, it got silly) which are basically chores, or paying off my home loans I’ve genuinely enjoyed every second of it as it’s just an incredibly chilled experience. I’ve done alot of what there is to do now, I have the art gallery to finish and some villager pictures to obtain but honestly having a game like this where I could just drop in for a quick play or hammer it for a few hours was really quite useful last year and getting to go and visit friends islands was also pretty amazing.

I’m looking forward to what’s potentially going to be out this year, I’m probably going to replay Mass Effect Andromeda to see if I judged it harshly initially and then there’s things like Halo Infinite and the Mass Effect trilogy remaster that are due out later in the year and there’ll likely be other stuff I play that I’ve had kicking around for a while. I think this will be the first year where I don’t have huge list of games I’m excited for which is an odd experience but hopefully that’ll just mean lots of fun surprises to play.

2021 – Here’s hoping for a good year

As we’ve established 2020 was wank, the pandemic fucked up alot of things. Tons of films got delayed, and it was really difficult to go away anywhere due to the various lockdowns. Honestly it’s been a mercy to see the back of that shit show and hopefully 2021 can’t be any worse, though I wouldn’t surprised if it found a way to be an even bigger load of bollocks. That being said there are a few things I’m looking forward to and am hopeful for so I though I’d discuss them a little bit.

Movies – A lot of films got delayed last year (understandably) to be released in 2021 instead, things like Black Widow and Ghostbusters which I was really looking forward to and then there’s things like the new Matrix film that I’m intrigued by too. Plus there’s always loads of things that come out that I’m not even initially aware of that pique my interest so I’m sure there will be lots of other films I’ll want to see. I think the biggest question will be how that will work after all the Covid shit, will cinemas be able to re-open and things go back to how they were or are we looking at things moving more into the streaming space like some films did in 2020. I honestly hope I can get back to the cinema experience as there’s honestly nothing like getting to see certain films like that.

Holiday – I got a week away in Newquay last year but that was realistically the only proper break I got, I did a pretty shit job of looking after myself. I’m going into the new year with loads of holiday still to take for the remaining holiday year, not sure if I’ll be able to do anything with those aside take time off work but hopefully I’ll be able to do something aside from being sat at home. Hopefully as the year goes on though things will settle down a bit and I can start looking at properly getting away somewhere. I’ve got thoughts on places I’d like to go in the country, there’s the potential of going out to Malaysia to visit a friend if things are less shitty and then maybe I’ll go to Iceland to see the northern lights which would be a dream come true. Essentially I need to take time off work, take the time to actually get away from normal life and chill out while also getting to go exploring and discovering cool new places.

Endlords – Sometime pre 2007 I started reading the Sword of Shadows series of books by JV Jones, like a few other books around that time this was started by randomly looking at book covers in shops and then reading the blurb on the back to see if there was an instant appeal and with this series it resonated with me much more than initially expected due to what I personally thought was excellent character work and an interesting premise. At that point there were 2 books and since then there have been a further 2 books with the last being released in 2010. I’ve then had to wait for the fifth book to be written which may also wind up being the finale to the series so it’s one I’ve been anticipating for a while. I know the author had issues getting it started but since then it seems to have been going a little better for her, I have no idea if the tentative release window of 2021 is accurate but I’m obviously hoping it is as at this point it’s possibly the book I’ve been anticipating the most for quite a while.

TV – There’s been alot of good stuff I’ve watched over the course of 2020, the streaming services have offered a pretty cracking selection of options. There seems to be a fair bit coming out in 2021 that immediately appeals, you’ve got stuff like the Marvel shows that fit into the MCU, the third season of Cobra Kai (which I’ll have probably hammered before this actually gets posted) and then Star Wars shows nearer the end of the year. There also stuff like Ozarks which I really want to watch but haven’t got round to yet. I’m sure there will be stuff that I’ll miss that will be recommended to me as well which I’ll obviously give serious consideration to as that tends to work out quite well generally. I’m also really hoping for season 4 of the Dragon Prince, I know it’s in production currently but no idea what the turnaround time is like, at worst there should be some news about it at least.

Seeing people – 2020 has largely been a pretty difficult year for seeing friends as much as I’d have liked which was unexpected given alot of the time I find being social quite tiring. I managed to see few people which was nice but it’s been oddly lonely in spite of it being easy to stay in touch with people via the phone. I’m really hoping that I can see people face to face more often and do normal things like going to the pub, out for a meal or to the cinema to watch a film. Some of my friends live a little ways away too so being able to go and see them potentially means getting away for a little bit which would be lovely too. It’s been weird not seeing my best mate and his kids as much as usual, where we’d usually do something at least once a month so I’m definitely looking forward to future fancy beer nights and what not.

Games – This will be the first year of the new console generation so there’s hopefully going to be some good stuff coming that hasn’t been announced as yet. Of the stuff that has been announced I’m really looking forward to the Mass Effect Trilogy remaster and Halo Infinite and I’ll most likely wind up getting Cyberpunk too. I really hope they fix Assassins Creed Valhalla as I’m currently stuck on the story due to a bug that doesn’t allow me to progress which is infuriating. I’ll also likely make a decision on whether to get a Playstation 5 this year though that’s going to depend on what’s coming out as there’s currently nothing out that makes me want one, I know there’s going to be stuff coming out it’ll just depends on whether it comes out this year or not. I’m also hoping for an E3 return so that my mates and I can do our usual thing of watching the conferences and commenting along with the reveals as it’s really fun.

Nightwing – It’s been a hard couple of years as a Nightwing fan, the Ric Grayson arc was incredibly hard work. That’s over now so I was obviously looking forward to Dick Grayson being back and doing his thing. Then DC made an announcement that Tom Taylor was going to be taking over the writing in 2021 and I won’t lie I got a little emotional as he’s a writer I think is pretty amazing and in interviews since the announcement he’s said he wants to be working on the book for a long time and wants to establish Nightwing as a character on the same level as characters like Batman and Superman which is a huge deal. It honestly has gone from something I was looking forward to to becoming something I’m genuinely excited about. I can’t wait to see how it’s going to pan out and what adventures await, and I’m also really interested to see how Barbara Gordon is going factor into it all. I have high hopes and honestly can’t wait for March to get here to read the starting point.

So yeah I’m really looking forward to this year, providing things start to go back to some semblance of normal I think there’s a lot to look forward to. It’s nice to have things to look forward to after the last 12 months. There’s always the possibility of unexpected things happening too which generally winds up being a positive thing. All in all after last year it’s pretty much impossible for me to not try and look for positives so fingers crossed it’ll pan out to be a cracking year.

2020 – a bit of a review of a bollocks year

2020 has largely been an utter shit show, Covid has basically meant that pretty much everything has been delayed or closed at various points in the year so normality has been very much disrupted to a pretty awful extent. As it stands I thought I’d discuss what I’ve been doing with my year to try and essentially make it through and how I’ve been doing mentally over the course of the year as it feels like something that’s worthwhile to discuss.

I think the big thing has been work, I’ve been working from home since about February and I’ve been grateful to have had the work to maintain some kind of structure to my days. It’s been insanely busy all year and it’s been way too easy to work longer than normal and I’ve not really taken much holiday as there’s not really been much point due to not really being able to go anywhere so it’s been exhausting at times which hasn’t been great overall. You’d think I’d have learned this lesson over the years but the unique circumstances of this year have meant that’s all gone out the window to some extent.

This obviously had some impact on my mental health, depression thankfully hasn’t been too bad compared to how it’s been in the past but it’s taken a few serious knocks over the course of the year. It’s just very easy to do when you’re largely in the same place pretty much constantly and you’re limited on what you can do where you’re used to just being able to go wherever you want whenever you want. I’m genuinely grateful to be living with my folks as it stands as I dread to think how things might have gone had I been stuck on my own the entire time.

I’ve been finding stuff to do to keep myself busy away from work. I’ve play a shit load of computer games this year. Highlights have the Final Fantasy Remake and Assassins Creed Valhalla (though I’ve hit a game breaking bug 120 hours in which is infuriating), these have helped keep my brain occupied. The think I’ve played most this year has been Animal Crossing though, because a game about doing chores on your island every day is such a break from real life. However making friends with all the animals on your island is absolutely delightful, so much so that I’ve invested around 

I’ve also used the time to watch alot of TV shows, it’s been nice to finally get round to watching some stuff I’ve meaning to get to for ages like She-Ra and the Dragon Prince, those were great successes. I’ve also watched the second seasons of Altered Carbon and the Mandalorian which were both excellent, there’s been various other things along the way too as there’s alot of good stuff coming out. I also had the enjoyment of getting my dad into things like Bosch while he was on furlough which my mum also got into as well.

I’m not sure if it’s down to how some of the things I’ve watched this year have resonated with or just the nature of being stuck at home but I’m definitely more emotional than I have been historically though probably still nowhere near what a normal person would consider to be healthy. I’ve discussed in a couple of other blogs what essentially opened this particular Pandora’s box but it’s definitely not gone back to how it was before. This actually feels healthy progress for me after years but I’m still not sure how to deal with it all, I figure it’s only a matter of time until something turns me into an utter sobbing mess though.

I’ve naturally watched an absolute fuck ton of films over the course of the year, though very few cinema trips which has been bizarre as usually I’d got a few times a month. I’ve obviously used the time I’ve had to watch lots of films I’ve not watched before which the streaming services have helped with immeasurably, though I also didn’t realise exactly how many films I own that I’ve never watched. I’ve a lot of really good stuff this year and to alleviate boredom and for shits and giggles I’ve also watched more than my fair share of utter bollocks, that element has largely been a terrible idea but it has had the upside of giving me things to rip to pieces.

This film watching has also got me writing much more this year, I appreciate that alot of what I’ve written about has been film. The seeming side effect of this is that I’ve been having more ideas of things to write about than I have in the past so I’ve made a point of making notes for these ideas as I’ve gone along so that I have a starting point to work from. It’s been oddly reassuring to be getting ideas to the point where I have a backlog of things I want to write about as usually it’ll be me wanting to write but struggling for ideas which just sucks the fun out of it for me and keeping it fun is really important for me.

I’ve also read quite alot this year, comics and graphic novels have made up a large proportion of this as I bought alot books early in the year, things like Nightwing collections and Batman stuff I’d not known about before and that’s been pretty great. What’s definitely been a highlight has been the books though, I’ve naturally checked out a decent amount of stuff that falls well within my comfort zone as I know with some certainty I’ll enjoy it. I’ve had a few recommendations this year though such as the Stephen Fry Greek mythology books and a couple of others I’ve already written about and I’ve absolutely loved them, they’re not things I’d have ordinarily picked out for myself so I’m very glad I listened to my friends, I’d definitely do so again.

I’ve basically become partly feral over the course of the year, I’ve not had a haircut in over a year and I’ve shaved maybe 3 times all year so I think it’d be fair so say that I look like a bag of shit, it’d be slightly less bad if I could grow a proper beard rather than the patchy mess that actually grows but what can you do. I’ve also essentially spent the year wearing shorts or tracksuit bottoms with hoodies it’s genuinely going to be a struggle when I have to start wearing jeans on a daily basis again as I don’t need that sort of discomfort in my life.

I managed to get down to Newquay for a week in October which was needed, it was essentially the first week off I’d really had up to that point so I was pretty run down and shattered. I went down with big plans of doing lots of things but when I got down there I just couldn’t be bothered to do much so it turned into a weekend of going out wandering for a bit then just going back to the apartment to veg out and read or watch something. It turned out to be exactly what I needed, it was nice to just be able to slow down and recharge without having anything to sort out for a change. Obviously next time I’d like to do the whole getting out and exploring and finding awesome places to visit but this was a nice and well needed break.

On the whole the year has mostly been shit, there have been some up sides aside from those mentioned above such as getting to see a decent amount of my nephew which has been cool as he’s turning into a proper cheeky little boy now and is alot of fun. Hopefully next year is going to be a significant improvement on this one, but it looks like the start of the year is going to be much the same as this one which sucks. Hopefully it can’t be as soul crushing as this year has been over the course of the whole thing but I guess we’ll see how it goes.

Even more films I’d never seen before

Here we are, still dealing with pandemic shit and not really being able to do anything like normal life so I’m still trying to use the time to watch films I’ve not seen before. There’s a couple of films I managed to see at the cinema too which was honestly a very pleasant change of pace. Obviously I’ve tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible but there’ll most likely be a few in here, though hopefully nothing too blatant.

Weathering With You – I read about this a while ago, I forget specifically what it was but it was saying about how good the film was which piqued my interest so I’ve been keeping tabs on it and waiting on a blurry release for a while. I then found out it was from the same guy that did Your Name (which I still can’t stop thinking about) and it just made me even more excited so I was hugely pleased to eventually get it and I watched it pretty much straight away as I’d deliberately avoided reading too much about it so I could go in knowing as little as possible. Visually it’s absolutely breathtaking, it’s probably the most stunning anime film I’ve ever seen and there are certain sequences that really did make me emotional. The dub is excellent, one of the best I’ve experienced and I think every voice actor is superb. I honestly loved it, it’s got some flaws, the last half an hour is a little over the top and silly in places and climate change warning is a little heavy handed even if it makes for an incredibly evocative visual but you have some amazingly realised characters, good dialogue and incredibly sweet interactions between the characters. I have the same problem I had with Your Name where it ends at a point where I’d have maybe liked a little bit longer from that point just to see more and follow what happens next but, again, as with Your Name it sits with you and lets you use your own imagination for that. I know it’s going to stick with me like Your Name did and it’s actually made me want to go back and rewatch 5cm per Second also by Makoto Shinkai, as I hated it when I first saw it but I want to see if I just didn’t understand it back then. I’ve never had a film make me want to go back and re-consider a directors earlier work so that’s definitely a new experience and I’m definitely looking forward to whatever he does next.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – To be clear the main reason I chose to watch this is that my brother has, for almost 20 years, described this as categorically the worst film he’s ever seen so naturally I was curious to see how bad after subjecting myself to Catwoman. I’ve not read the comics that the film is based on which may be an advantage as I’d imagine they’re better than this load of bollocks. I initially thought it was visually competent, shit special effects aside, but then I noticed how sloppy it was, continuity is just a word here and appearances change from scene to scene, most noticeably with the invisible man and his makeup so he’s visible, in the first 20 minutes it had changed from his face to his whole head and back again a fair few times and the vampire lady would have blood all over her face one minute, then a few spots the next, it’s just fucking lazy. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are just want versions of Bruce Banner and the Hulk, Hyde tears clothes when he transforms but conveniently has an oversized top hat, seriously who the fuck thought that was a good idea. The acting is bullshit and the characters are all basically a bunch of unlikeable dickheads and Sean Connery clearly has not time whatsoever for this utter horseshit. It’s actually impressive in the sense that it manages to get progressively worse as the it goes on, the special effects are so bad late on it’s like the spunked on the budget at the start of the film, realised they’d fucked up massively and then didn’t even try to half arse it. The plot is so reliant on on stupid decision making and convenience that it’s actually insulting by the end of the film, you can forgive a little of this in a film generally but it seems to be the driving force here and it’s fucking insulting, literally everyone from the good guys to the bad guys is just an utter shitting cretin. The funniest part is the clear sequel baiting right at the end, I refuse to believe that the people involved in this film thought that it was anything other than a fucking train wreck. The first thing I did when I’d finished watching the abomination was to apologise to my brother for doubting him, this might actually be worse than Catwoman purely because that at least didn’t take itself so seriously, this is just utter bollocks and I frankly don’t have enough swear words to use here, it’s so utterly shit that Sean Connery never appeared in another film again.

The Way Back – I was really looking forward to seeing this at the cinema back in April, but sadly Covid happened and fucked everything up for what feels like the rest of time. I subsequently had to wait for it to be released to buy, I could have rented it a little while ago but the rental price was more than the purchase price now is which is fucking insane, and if that’s the model for film releases if cinemas remain closed then I can’t see it being a huge success but that’s a rant for another day. This is the tale of Jack Cunningham, an alcoholic who starts coaching his old high school basketball team. I was looking forward to it as I think Ben Affleck is a great actor, more so latterly than perhaps with his earlier films (though he was the bomb in Phantoms), but knowing about his own struggles with alcohol this felt like it could be an incredibly raw performance which I was interested in. I’m not familiar with the rest of the cast, they’re all excellent though and ably support Affleck who is naturally the main focus of the film and gets the bulk of the screentime. Affleck is bloody excellent, as expected it’s an incredibly raw performance but he manages to also find the heart in it too, he’s a man struggling with his demons and as you learn more about them he becomes more and less sympathetic as you know what’s happened to him and at the same time you know the people he’s lashing out at have been part of it which makes him harder to root for, it’s a fine line to balance on but Affleck manages it superbly. The cinematography is excellent, some of the scenery shots are beautiful, even if they don’t add anything to the narrative, and the basketball scenes are frenetically engaging. The use of the score is brilliant and really conveys the tone of the scenes, moving from melancholy, uplifting or fraught as needed and it really adds to the experience. It’s not a typical sports film either, the point where a more tradition film would end happens about half an hour from the end here, what follows is genuinely uncomfortable but also very impactful, the ending isn’t what I’d necessarily hoped it would be, it’s not exactly a happy ending but it’s bittersweet and it’s hopeful and it really resonated with me. I genuinely loved it, to the point it may be my film of the year so far, my only real regret is that I didn’t get to see it on the big screen.

Tenet – I didn’t think I’d get to see this at the cinema as it was essentially released 2 months ago and a lot of cinemas are closing again due to the whole pandemic situation and most new films being delayed to next year. It was therefore a nice surprise to find a smaller cinema that was still open and showing it so I went for my first cinema trip since February I think. Anyway one of there things you know you’re going to get with a Christopher Nolan film is great cinematography and this doesn’t buck that trend, the special effects are excellent and some of the set pieces are genuinely brilliant. John David Washington is exceptional, he’s adept at the easy going charm element of the character as well as the physical aspects, he’s believable at being able to beat the shit out of people all of which is impressive. Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh also all stand out but the rest of the cast are all solid too. The time travel type concept is fascinating but does become somewhat complicated, it’s very grounded and the attempt to establish the in film rules around this lead to obvious questions and headaches which is pretty standard for anything where time travel of any kind is a factor. It can be difficult to follow and as things do start to click some elements can be worked out, time travel is largely bollocks as a rule and while there always seems to be problems at least Tenet manages not to dwell on them too much and keeps things entertaining. Music wise it’s odd to have a Nolan film where the score isn’t by Hans Zimmer, this apparently due to Zimmer having other commitments. Ludwig Goransson does a good job though I don’t think it was especially memorable which is a but of a shame, it works well with the action scenes though and doesn’t detract from what’s happening on screen in anyway. It’s definitely one I want to see again before I make any long term judgements on where I’d position it alongside Nolan’s other films, it definitely feels like a film that’d work well with watching it again as it’d allow you to appreciate and be on the look out for little details that may have been missed the first time round. A definite plus point though is that it’s made just that little bit more excited for Robert Pattinson as Batman, and I was pretty optimistic about that anyway.

Bill and Ted Face the Music – Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey was the first film I ever saw at the cinema, apparently way back in the good old days of 1991, so I’ll admit I was looking forward to the sequel which I never thought would happen. First thing that was a pleasant surprise was the run time, at just over an hour and a half it never outstays its welcome. It’s a time travel film so as with any time travel film it makes no sense at all and this film crumbles under even the slightest attempt to apply any logic to things, but on the other hand it doesn’t seem to even attempt to have it make sense which is surprisingly liberating as it’s just focussed on having fun and in that it succeeds. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are clearly having a blast and seem to be having more fun playing the different versions of Bill and Ted that appear while time travelling which is where a lot of the laughs are found. The other focus of the film is on the daughters of the main characters, played by Samara Weaving and Brigitte Lundy-Paine, this is fine and their side quest is fine and entertaining enough but it’s the way that it works back into the main story that works particularly well and is actually incredibly sweet. To be honest the whole film plays it safe and doesn’t do anything that is especially brave and it probably relies on nostalgia a bit too much but it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than that and I’ll take a film that keeps things simple providing it’s entertaining, which this is. I feel like I’m being overly harsh and that’s not my intention at all, it’s one of those films that’s a comfort film, something to watch when you’re wanting to be cheered up. I will say it’s very odd watching Keanu do more light hearted stuff after seeing him kill a hell of a lot of people as John Wick, he’s not an amazing actor but seems to be good at picking roles that work perfectly for him, especially in the last few years. Overall I’d recommend the film, I came away from it with a smile on my face despite the flaws, which never actually ruined my enjoyment of things.

Patema Inverted – I’ve been checking out a bit more anime of late so I’ve been looking out for films that people have recommended and then checking the synopsis to see if it grabs me. The blurb gives very little away beyond main characters Patema and Age meeting and getting dragged in an adventure of some kind, that vagueness coupled with what appeared to be an attractive visual style intrigued me enough to give it a go. The film opens with a disaster of some kind which seems to have forced Patema and the rest of her community to live in an underground shelter of some kind where they go scavenging, Patema is seemingly more curious than most and likes to explore places she shouldn’t and while doing this she falls down a hole where she encounters Age for the first time. Age lives in Aiga, a world that seems to be much like the real world though it’s a dictatorship where the kids in school are essentially indoctrinated but Age doesn’t but into this. The key difference thing that differs between where Patema and Age are from is that they’re inverted to each other so essentially Patema stands on the ceilings when in Aiga which is a little jarring initially, Age promises to help Patema get back home and thus the real story kicks off. I really like the visual style, there’s a interesting contrast between Aiga and the underground where Patema comes from and there’s some great use of panning which I’m a big fan of, there’s some use of slow motion which is incredibly janky as it looks more like it’s being paused and unpaused repeatedly rather than being slow motion which isn’t great but is probably my only issue with the visuals. The dub is fine, the voice actors for Patema and Age give the best performances which is a definite good thing given they’re obviously the main focus, the music is mostly decent but unspectacular but there are a few stand out pieces which add to the scenes they’re in. The story is interesting and actually has a genuinely excellent twist which changes alot of what comes before and the bond that grows between Patema and Age really adds a level of emotion to proceedings that may not be there otherwise. Overall I really enjoyed this, my only real complaint is that it doesn’t tie everything together as neatly as I’d like but that’s definitely more down to my need to closure than anything the film does wrong.

6 Underground – A film directed by Michael Bay and starring Ryan Reynolds, I’m not going to lie I went into this expecting a badly edited clusterfuck full of an excessive amount of explosions which Reynolds would do his best to make work and wind up being the best thing about the film,, essentially expectations were pretty much rock fucking bottom. The opening 15 minutes has an overly long car chase which largely lives up to my suspicions, Reynolds brings his trademark snark to the table and is suitably entertaining with it and Bay brings a ridiculous amount of carnage and some excessive slow motion, so far so predictable. This opening introduces the six members of the team and what they all do and then promptly kills one of them off, where they replace him with a new guy with a completely different skill set. The opening 45 minutes is essentially all about the back story that leads into the team essentially staging a coup in a country run by an utter bastard and installing a less genocidal leader as a replacement. Lets start with the plus points, Ryan Reynolds is comfortably the best thing in the film as expected, the rest of the team are decent too and their bickering back and forth is largely responsible for a lot of the humour in the film, Bay doesn’t use quick cuts like he normally would and he has an eye for a good looking shot, for the most part this is a very pretty looking film and on the whole it’s entertaining, though that does with caveats. Now onto the negatives, and there are a few for me. It’s absolutely fucking nonsensical, you’re supposed to buy into a billionaire essentially starting his own black ops unit which works completely of any other military or national security organisation, not only that you get the impression that sometimes they rely a little bit too heavily on luck. It thinks it’s far cleverer than it is and takes itself far too seriously for the most part, I think if it was played a little more tongue in cheek then it would be easier to swallow. It’s a convoluted load of bollocks, I’m all for non linear story telling but there comes a point where it becomes hard to track and the first hour is guilty of this, it becomes more formulaic as things go on though. The bad guy isn’t given a whole lot to do bar being a dictator that is a shit and murders his own people and the film as a whole is absolutely full of cliches. While the cuts are much more controlled the use of shaky cam and slow motion definitely are not restrained in the slightest and the destruction is absolutely fucking absurd, genuinely sometimes less is more and one of the mist frustrating things is that Bay could be a great director with more restraint but basically peaked with The Rock back in the 90s. Ultimately there are worse ways to spend two hours of your life, but by Christ there are many, many better ways too.

Black Mass – A gangster film starring Johnny Depp, based on the true story of Whitey Bulger who was a mob boss became an FBI informant. I knew nothing about the film or the real life tale going in, to the point where I didn’t know that the cast had people like Benedict Cumberbatch and Kevin Bacon. I obviously was also somewhat conscious of the fact that I’ve not exactly enjoyed the previous gangster films I’ve seen so far. The film mostly plays out  in a linear fashion starting in 1975 and with some time jumps but does occasionally flash to interviews with members of Bulger’s gang with law enforcement which allow for a bit more exposition to be delivered which is a pretty smart way of doing this. Aside for the three actors mentioned there’s a hell of a cast here, people like Joel Edgerton, David Harbour, Peter Sarsgaard and Jesse Plemons to name a few. Everyone gives strong performances with whatever time they’re given, which for some realistically isn’t enough which is a shame. Naturally it’s Depp, as Bulger, that is expected to do alot of the heavy lifting and Edgerton too given that he’s portraying Bulger’s FBI handler who also happens to have grown up with him too. Depp is honestly excellent, it’s nice to be reminded that he can act as it seems that roles like Jack Sparrow have been his go to in the last few years, here though he looks almost unrecognisable and he’s genuinely menacing at times but he keeps him restrained and also human which is impressive. Edgerton does an impressive job too, he starts out as an FBI agent wanting to use Bulger but gradually this goes awry and he starts to actually help Bulger, which leads to people getting murdered, and gets entangled in the shady activities, he becomes very much a morally grey character and this becomes a much more difficult situation when a new guy comes in that’s determined to take Bulger down. It’s a slowly paced film, it paints a pretty vivid picture of the sort of person Bulger was at that point and how the agents handling him got themselves into serious trouble, it’s always interesting and becomes genuinely fascinating towards the end when the walls begin to close in. Visually it’s solid but as a rule I don’t tend to find anything set in the recentish past to be visually stunning as a rule but there’s nothing wrong with that, it does what it needs to when all said and done. Overall I really enjoyed this, I’d go so far as to say it’s the gangster film I’ve liked the most out of all the ones I’ve seen so far.

The Devil Wears Prada – I knew next to nothing about this movie going in, essentially that it was meant to be amazing and that it had inspired a shitload of memes over the years and that was pretty much it beyond it starring Meryl Streep and Anna Hathaway. The film follows Hathaway’s character, Andy, as she starts a job as an assistant to Streep’s character, Miranda, who is the editor of a fashion magazine. Obviously this doesn’t initially go well as Andy struggles with the demands of the role and the fact that no one actually properly trains her and the fact that Miranda is a demanding bastard. Hathaway is excellent as the idealistic journalist that takes the job thinking she’s too good for it, and gradually starts to commit to the role though then starts to struggle to balance her life. Streep seems to be having the time of her life in her role, Miranda is demanding, harsh and dismissive but you’re always aware that she’s a human and Streep somehow manages to keep her mostly likeable where I suspect it’d be very easy for her not to be at all. There are only two other actors I’m familiar with, one being Emily Blunt who is excellent as an utter bitch, but rather less sympathetic as a result.  The other is Stanley Tucci who I don’t think has been anything less than superb in anything I’ve seen him in, and he’s not broken that streak in this, he’s also a bitch but does it with a twinkle in his eye and you know his bitchiness is a way of showing affection and as such he’s probably the most likeable character in the film. It’s hard to really offer an opinion on the visual style as it’s mostly set in an office, the scenes not set in the office have some really cool locations so that’s interesting and the camerawork is very good at capturing the emotions on the characters faces and frames them well which is pretty impressive. The sound track is really good, whoever picked the songs that get used did a cracking job there as they really enhance the scenes. The last 15 minutes or so is genuinely exceptional, you find out the kind of person Miranda truly is and Andy realises the she’s started to walk the same path and has a decision to make about who she wants to be, and it’s a moment that the film has been doing a cracking job of building towards and it really does a lot to show just how talented an actress Hathaway is. Overall it’s definitely not a film I would usually checked out but it’s one I’m glad I did as I really enjoyed it, definitely one that’s worth checking out.

Vengeance – My friends and I have a tradition at birthdays we give each other a seemingly shit film, I usually get someone a Steven Seagal boxset. This year I got this film which I’ve never heard of, it stars Nicolas Cage and seems to be one of a huge number of films he’s done in recent years where it’s seemingly for the money. Obviously this is all initially speculation though the fact that the full title is Vengeance: A Love Story according to IMDB didn’t exactly inspire confidence that this judgement would be proven wrong, added with the 4 and 5 star ratings quote on the cover are from places I’ve never even remotely heard of and IMDB gives it 5.2 out of 10 suggested it was definitely going to be a pile of shit so my only hope was it’d wind up being so bad it’s good. The intro actually provided some positive news in that the soundtrack is done by Frederik Wiedmann who has done a cracking job on the Dragon Prince soundtrack, and the soundtrack is largely pretty decent which was a very pleasant surprise. It also opens with a movie cliche where Cage’s partner is gunned down seconds after saying about how he’s going to propose so this seemed much more in line with expectations. It’s surprisingly good looking film in places, there’s one scene early on where the characters are walking through some woods and the use of lighting is excellent and some shots look utterly awful with a clearly fake backdrop. There’s an incredibly unpleasant rape scene which is significant to the plot but feels almost gratuitous which I’d hope to christ wasn’t what they were aiming for. There’s some really shit continuity in there, the same night as the attack happens we’re expected to believe that the police arrest the suspects and arrange an ID parade, and that they then get away with it in what is possibly the worst court scene I’ve ever seen in anything up to this point, it’s just a shambolic load of bollocks, it’s utterly unbelievable. Don Johnson is pretty great as the smarmy arsehole of a lawyer he plays although he is pretty key to the utterly ludicrous court scene. Anna Hutchison, as the victim, has to do a lot of the heavy lifting acting wise and she’s honestly excellent, as is Talitha Bateman as her daughter. Nic Cage is surprisingly restrained by his standards, to the point where he doesn’t really seem to give much of a shit and actually isn’t the main focus of the film until maybe the last 45 minutes when his character takes justice into his own hands. It has to be said that this is the point where the film picks up significantly as it’s incredibly gratifying when the pricks start getting what’s coming to them even if you have to suspend your disbelief to ridiculous levels. In all it’s an unpleasant and stupid film that is nowhere near as wank as I was expecting it to be, to be clear it’s also not a good film and I think if not for the performances of the 2 female leads it’d definitely fall into utter shite territory.

I’ve got a few films already in mind for another one of these in the future, I’ve actually found these to be pretty useful for my mental health as watching the films gives me something to do and concentrate on and then the writing about them provides something else to focus on. Not sure the watching shit films is ideal overall but it at least lets me swear about something so every cloud.

Music – pretty important for other media

Music in films, TV shows and games can be a pretty fucking huge deal, at worst it should be atmospheric background accompaniment and at best it should enhance the scene it’s being used in. I thought I’d write about a few of my favourite examples of the latter, I’ve tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible but given the fact some of these are linked to specific scenes it was pretty much unavoidable for some so fair warning and apologies. I’ve embedded Youtube videos for the tracks in question so you can just skip the text entirely if needed, I’m sure I’ll need to check in on this for broken links later on.

Promise – She-Ra: We’re leaning towards the second part of this song here, though the whole thing is pretty amazing. The part I’m referring to is used at 4 very significant points in the story and is representative of Adora and Catra’s relationship over the course of the series. The first is the point in season 1 where Catra turns away from Adora and chooses to stay with the Horde, the second is season 3 where Adora realises how toxic Catra has become, the third is the point in season 5 where Catra decides she wants to be different and kicks off her redemption arc and the fourth is in the final episode of the series at the culmination of Adora and Catra’s journey, these are all incredibly emotional moments that are enhanced by what is a very emotional piece of music.

Fireworks Festival – Weathering with You: Realistically there were a few options for this film but I went with this one due to the ethereal quality of this piece of music coupled with the scene it underpins. We’ve seen Hina up to now using her ability to stop the rain to help various people but this occurrence is slightly different though as it’s on a much larger scale as she does what she does on top of a skyscraper and she’s much more confident in herself at this point. You see the sunset punch through the clouds and and then see the city bathed in the light and then it cuts to a massive firework display over the city, it’s honestly one of the most visually stunning sequences I’ve ever seen. You also get the human element as Hina is happy to be helping people and feels like she’s found a purpose and this is when Hodaka starts to realise how much Hina means to him so it’s pretty emotional too and the music just really underpins that.

The Last Agni Kai – Avatar: This piece backs the final confrontation between a redeemed Zuko and a spiralling Azula and with this type of final battle you’d normally get quite a piece of music that tries to make the confrontation more exciting whereas here you get something that’s altogether more sombre and fits perfectly as rather than focus on the excitement of the battle it’s used to highlight the tragedy of what is actually a battle between a brother and sister and how their relationship has had to come to this point, it’s incredibly sad even without considering that they’re both teenagers and how Zuko has finally found a sense of peace where Azula is being consumed by her internal conflict.

Because She’s Rayla – The Dragon Prince: This comes at a point where main character Callum is describing how he says Rayla to someone who’s just essentially tried to steal their dragon companion from them and who Raykla has just saved from near certain death. It winds up being the culmination of them slowly realising they’ve developed feelings for each other after a fair few awkward moments, and there’s one here too just for good measure. It’s a genuinely heartfelt moment on Callum’s part and you get a sense of relief from Rayla who realises he feels the same way as her so it’s natural for it to be an emotional piece of music that backs the scene, and it’s very much that.

The Fields of Ard Skellig – Witcher 3: Something of an anomaly on this list in that it’s the only one that’s not linked to a specific scene of sequence, instead it’s background music which accompanies you when you make it to the island of Ard Skellig and Geralt continues his search for Ciri. It’s a piece of music there’s a definite sense of wonder in the music but it’s also melancholic which I think fits the the potential mindset of Geralt as a surrogate father searching for his daughter, and at this point in the game you’ve spent a lot of time looking for her.

Journey – Destiny 2: This plays right near the start of the game as you make your escape from what is essentially the last safe stronghold on Earth, which you’ve just witnessed essentially get invaded and the Traveller, which is the source of your powers, be captured which leaves you pretty much powerless. It’s a sad piece which definitely brings home the sense of loss you’re experiencing at this point not knowing who else has made it out alive as you try and get as far away as possible while trying to survive against any enemies you encounter with limited means of defending yourself. As you encounter something leading you to an end point the music sweeps as drums and vocals join and it becomes a much more hopeful and resolute theme, it’s actually one of favourite gaming sequences and the music is a huge part of this.

Lifestream – Final Fantasy 7: This game was one of my first experiences of music in a game that was on par with a film soundtrack. This is my favourite piece on a truly excellent soundtrack as it’s comes at a point where you and the rest of Avalanche arrive at Cosmo Canyon and have some truths about the nature of the world and how the cycle of life and death connects to the lifestream, essentially the living essence of the planet itself. There’s a sense of sadness to the piece as you essentially have it confirmed that Shinra, who are using mako which is basically taken from the lifestream, actually are harming the planet which up to this point is almost played off as being the mad ravings of a terrorist group.

Epilogue – Red vs Blue: It would take far too long to give full context here here but this track plays over the end of season 8 where main character Church (who is an AI it’s been revealed) goes into a memory storage device to look for someone. He decides that he’ll wait for her to find him and set up a simulation of his friends and where they’d been prior to all this so she’d know where to find him. The monologue is surprisingly touching and this piece just underscores the bittersweet nature of the ending, it rounded off the story arc that seasons 6 to 8 set out to tell pretty much perfectly.

Apotheosis – Journey: The music that accompanies the final level of Journey and the meaning of the word apotheosis he highest point in the development of something; a culmination or climax so it’s appropriate both as the lead up to the end and also because you’re about to complete your journey to the top of the mountain so it fits. The music in this game is amazing and the key to how emotional it is and this track is the best of the lot as in the penultimate level you collapse in the snow. You receive a sudden burst of life which propels you on the final stage and it’s amazingly uplifting and hopeful which is never unwelcome.

Death of Optimus Prime – Transformers the Movie: This scene was absolutely devastating to young me, and also pretty much unthinkable on reflection as it has them kill off Prime who had been the leader of the Autobots in the cartoon up to this point so was a character you’d just automatically assume would be safe but actually he’s the probably the biggest character killed in what is an absolute bloodbath. He gets to go out like the hero he was by turning the tide of the battle which was something to still, Jesus. The music to the scene is just haunting, and still to this day sends shivers down my spine as he’s surrounded by the survivors passes the torch to them but his passes just makes things feel pretty bleak at that point.

There’s a million and one music tracks that I could talk about here to be honest, and that’s not even factoring in tracks with lyrics so maybe I’ll do some more of these down the road.

More cartoons worth consideration to watch

About 6 years ago I did a blog about my top 10 cartoons up to that point, I did an updated list on my mates website (twobeardgaming.com) at the start of 2019 that factored in some new shows that I’d seen and loved in that time frame but here we are in the heady days of the shitshow that is 2020 and I’ve watched a fuck ton more shows so thought I’d write a bit about them. I’m not doing it as a top 10 this time as it’s just a ballache trying to organise stuff so let’s start off with the 2 shows that got added to the updated list. Just to forewarn though, there may be some spoilers in here though I’ll try to steer clear of anything that’s plot specific as much as I can.

Voltron – This Netflix show started in 2016 and was created by one of the guys who was responsible for Avatar. It’s a reimagining of the classic anime though I’m not overly familiar with the original to be sure on how faithful it is. What I do know is that there’s a distinct focus on the characters, their relationships and a genuine growth with the personas which is very enjoyable. It also largely does a good job of balancing the story with the humour and more emotional elements. They fucked up the final season, it was just nowhere near as enjoyable as the rest of the series which is a huge shame, but everything prior to that was excellent.

Gravity Falls – I discovered Gravity Falls after a discussion with mate and after watching a short clip we were pretty much hooked from that point. It only lasted for two seasons, but sweet baby Jesus were they good. The show follows Dipper and Mable as they go to stay with their Grunkle Stan for summer in the town of Gravity Falls and discover all manner of adventures and weirdness. It’s genuinely fun and in a way it’s a shame it only lasted as long as it did. On the other hand, it never outstayed its welcome and went out on a definite high and on its own terms too which is more than a lot of shows get. It’s one of those shows that’s fun to come back and watch episodes of when you’re at a loose end.

Then we move onto the more recent stuff I’ve been watching since the other pieces were done, and I have to say there’s quite alot of them. This is most likely going to be due to having more time to watch stuff when I’ve had free time this year due to everything else going on.

She-Ra – I’ve talked about She-Ra alot, it was one I was always going to get round to watching as I’d heard great things, I then found out that Noelle Stevenson worked on it and that was enough to make it a priority. I loved it because there were incredibly complex characters on display, Catra in particular has become one of my favourite characters ever but almost every character is fantastic in their own way and I love the diversity of them too and I hope it’s something other shows learn from and build on in future. It told the story it set out to tell in the number of episodes it had available, sure some of it is a little convenient at times but for the most part I think it’s very well done, there are alot of strong episodes to be watched and I’d go so far as to say the the final season might be one of the most amazing seasons of any show that I’ve ever seen.

Young Justice – DC do some pretty excellent animated shows and this is one of the best ones. It follows what is initially a team of sidekicks as they become their own team comparable to the Justice League but you get to see them grow into heroes in their own right, and the character work is outstanding. Over the course of the seasons you get to see things like Robin become Nightwing and have the replacement Robin be part of the team as it grows. It’s effective at having standalone episodes while also having an over-arching story for the season, I think the only real issue it has is that the cast of characters is possibly a bit too large by season 3 so not everyone gets their due which can be a shame but that’s a small niggle overall.

Disenchantment – The latest series to come from the mind of Matt Groening, who created The Simpsons and Futurama, this follows the adventures of Princess Bean, her demon friend Luci and Elfo who is unsurprisingly an elf. It’s set in the fantasy world of Dreamland and for me is very tonally similar to Futurama which is never a bad thing. The first season is a bit disjointed and didn’t really work as well as I would have hope but thankfully the second season was a vast improvement, it’s funnier and just seems to flow better, it feels like the people working on it became far more comfortable with the characters and what they were aiming for and the whole thing is much better for it. One of the other fun things is all the recognisable voice actors from the other Groening shows, and there are shitloads of them.

Kipo – Kipo is a bit of an anomaly, it’s had three 10 episode seasons put out in the same year which is just insane. Those seasons pack in a hell of alot of world building, character work and fun and humour so it’s mightily impressive too and by all accounts it told the story it set out to tell too which is always a plus. It follows Kipo as she searches for her father above ground in the remnants of Earth after some kind of apocalypse and on her adventures she makes various new friends, most notably Benson and Wolf. It’s gotta really great and colourful visual style and the soundtrack is really distinct too, it’s shame it’s over so soon but like Gravity Falls it’s better to have something like that than something that stays too long and becomes crap over time.

Bojack Horseman – Bojack is a hard watch at times, it’s funny too but it also deals with alot of the less pleasant aspects of life and it’s surprisingly uncompromising with it which makes it quite impactful at times. The voice acting is excellent across the board though it would be remiss of me not to single out Will Arnett (who I’m typically not a fan of) who does an amazing job of bringing Bojack to life and keeping him walking a fine line of just about keeping him likeable when he’s clearly a very damaged person and this has left him with a lot of less than desirable personality traits. It’s also a very weird show, which is to be  expected from a show about an anthropomorphic horse who was formerly the star of a show called Horsing Around.

Castlevania – This is an adaptation of the super old videogame series, apparently more specifically Castlevania 3, and while I have no idea how it works compared to the game it’s a brilliant show. The first season is only 4 episodes long and feels more like an extended proof of concept which was thankfully so well received that subsequent seasons were longer. It follows Trevor Belmont, part of a family of vampire hunters, Sypha Belnades , a mage, and Alucard, the son of Dracula, as they try to stop Dracula and his army. It’s brilliantly acted and suitably violent, the first 3 seasons are excellently written so it’ll be interesting to see what happens in season 4 and any other seasons that follow. It feels like there’s alot of story still to tell and as long as the quality doesn’t drop it’ll pretty compelling viewing.  

The Owl House – I checked this out as it came pretty highly recommended from people who had seen She-Ra, plus the series creator had previously worked on Gravity Falls so my interest was piqued. I’m honestly glad I did as it’s great fun, it’s incredibly funny and does a great job of building the magical world of the Boiling Isles where the show is based without ever seeming to get bogged down by it which is impressive. Main character Luz is excellent as are the supporting cast, Eda and King in particular are great fun but Willow, Gus and Amity all get time to shine too. The ending to season 1 also sets up an intriguing storyline where the emperor, who doesn’t seem like a good sort, is looking to gain access to the real world where Luz arrived from so I’m looking forward to the new season whenever that arrives. The first season has also just hit Disney Plus so all episodes are there to be watched if you have access which is convenient.

Hilda – This show is based on is based on a graphic novel series by Luke Pearson who had previously worked on Adventure Time. It follows Hilda as she and her mother move from their cabin in the woods to the town of Trollberg and she makes new friends with people and the various creatures and spirits she meets along the way. It’s a really cute show and one to watch when you want something chilled and stress free to watch, there’s a new season due out this year and I honestly can’t wait for it. There’s not huge storyline over the first season, it’s more episodic though there is still character progression and it honestly works brilliantly in my opinion.

Harley Quinn – I was expecting big things from this show given how much love it was getting on the internet, thankfully it didn’t disappoint. It’s incredibly violent and sweary and also very very funny. It’s very happy to take the piss out of pretty much everything related to DC but naturally it pokes the most fun at the Batman franchise, be it Commissioner Gordon wanting to fly the Batplane or Bane having a voice that it very much a deliberately shit version of Tom Hardy’s Bane voice in the Dark Knight Rises, and honestly it never stopped being funny for me. Everyone involved seems to be having a great time and it really shows, and Kaley Cuoco deserves a special mention as she’s absolutely amazing voicing Harley.

Star Wars Rebels – Dave Filoni gets Star Wars, I wasn’t a fan of Clone Wars as I didn’t like the stories being structured into set episode arcs but Rebels has much more traditional storytelling with an absolutely amazing cast of characters. There’s links to the films and to Clone Wars on display and generally it’s never done at the expense of the core cast so it really helps to make them feel part of the larger story, and being set in the time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope it exists at a point where not much story had been told and it also manages to work old Expanded Universe characters like Admiral Thrown into the Disney canon which did away with pretty much all of that initially. It’s also set up some really awesome moments like Kanan’s voice being heard by Rey in The Rise of Skywalker, the only real issue I have with it is that it ends on a cliffhanger in terms of one characters fate though there’s talk of a follow on series and certain other characters appearing in the Mandalorian so there’s a good chance this will be resolved in some fashion.

The Dragon Prince – This might actually be the most pleasant surprise of all the shows here as all I really knew of this was that the visual style was interesting and that the eld character had a Scottish accent. I didn’t know there were links to the Avatar with the writers and the voice actor of the main character (who voice my favourite character in Avatar). The first season was a pretty by the numbers affair but with the subsequent seasons there’s been much more world development and backstory layered in which has worked incredibly well, it also helps that most of the characters  are pretty well developed and have room to grow in future seasons. The thing that really grabbed me though has been the way the characters have grown and bonds have been formed and tested and it’s all felt incredibly organic. It’s apparently been renewed for another 4 seasons so in theory there’s a decent amount of story still to tell which isn’t a bad thing.

So as I say there’s been quite alot watched since the last blog and I’m already seeing new stuff hitting Netflix such as Blood of Zeus which is getting decent word of mouth and there’s a He-Man reboot coming with Mark Hamill as the voice of Skeletor which is just exceptional casting. I’ve also had Disney show Amphibia recommended to me so that’ll wind up being watched too no doubt. It does seem that Netflix are pretty decent with cartoons currently so hopefully that’ll continue to be the case but it’s going to be interesting keeping a look out for new things and new seasons of the stuff I’ve seen that hasn’t finished yet.