Rounding out 2021 with some more films

Well I figured it be a decent end to the year/start of the new year to give a run down of the new films I’d seen in the tail end of the year. Again mostly cinema films with an exception but being able to go to the cinema after all the lockdowns still hasn’t lost the charm. Hopefully there’s going to be a decent crop of films out in 2022 to get watched.

No Time to Die – The Daniel Craig Bond films have been a bit of a mixed bag to date, Casino Royale and Skyfall were great with Quantum of Solace and Spectre being not so great. I was looking forward to this new film as the trailers had looked solid and it was the first Bond film I’ve been aware of where it had definitely been the actors last film in the role so I was interested to see how they ended things. Having now watched it there’s alot I enjoyed about it and a few things which weren’t ideal and while they impacted the film overall they didn’t really prevent my enjoyment of it thankfully. The main issues for me that it’s too long, and most of that run time seems to be spent trying to tie everything from the previous films together and in some cases to seemingly undo alot of what happened which was feels like a bit of a weird approach. Another issue is the use of the villain Safin, he’s essentially barely in it, doesn’t get much in the way of development and as such doesn’t really feel like much of a threat and it’s a massive waste of an actor as talented as Rami Malek. That being said it does an awful lot well, it feels like the first Bond of the Daniel Craig era that attempts to find a bit of a middle ground between more modern approach and the humour of the older films, and the humour worked quite well for me too as it was never over the top or intrusive, it felt quite natural. Craig gives, in my opinion, his best performance as Bond and his weariness at playing Bond actually seems to be channeled into his performance, there’s a nuance there that I don’t necessarily think was there as much in prior films and it humanises him. The supporting cast are largely excellent and make the most of the time they get given even when it’s not a huge amount, of particular note for me was Ana de Armas who has a sequence which is really alot of fun and she and Craig bounce off each other really well, to the point where it’s a shame it’s not longer. It also has a very definitive ending for this iteration of Bond, I guess this is an advantage to knowing it’s going to be your lead actors last outing in a role. I will say in terms of the ending I loved it, it felt oddly earned and was also pretty brave I thought, definitely memorable if nothing else. It’s a visually impressive film which is pretty standard for a Bond film and the Hans Zimmer soundtrack is very good too, I’d say it’s probably my second favourite of the Daniel Craig Bond films just behind Skyfall, that’s how highly I think of it though I will concede that I’ve not seen Casino Royale in a while.

Val – A documentary about Val Kilmer always had the potential to be fascinating such is his reputation as a complicated figure who can be difficult to work with so this was one I was interested in when I initial found out about it. The fact that it turns out Kilmer has been keeping what’re essentially home movies of his life added to the interest as you’re looking at some really interesting insight into his life and career as he’d made videos on the various film sets he worked on over the years. Apparently the project came together after Kilmer got throat cancer and recovered to an extent, though his voice has been severely impacted, and apparently this was the catalyst for him wanting to tell his story.It doesn’t cover every single films he’s done but it does cover off the more well known films like Top Gun, Batman Forever, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Tombstone and a few more and while it covers most of his big films there are things not covered off that I’d have loved to have learned more about, like how he ended up voicing KITT for the Knight Rider reboot series or more about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or Bad Lieutenant with Nic Cage, who was presumably interesting to work with. It also covers off his youth and that’s interesting in itself as it sounded like he had a complicated family life though also nothing too outlandish, what is clear very early on though is that he always wanted to bee an actor, to the point where he maybe took it a little bit too seriously and as such he’s a perfectionist and you get the impression that part of the issue he had working with other people was that he expected everyone else to have similar standards and would get frustrated when this wasn’t the case. It’s narrated by his son Jack which is unfortunately a largely necessary choice as the times where Kilmer speak he’s quite difficult to understand and it seems to cause him discomfort too, which is pretty understandable all things considered. There are definite issues, which maybe is as a result of the level of access that Kilmer was able to provide. It tends to shy away from the more controversial elements of his career like the way he behaved while filming Batman Forever and The Island of Doctor Moreau, the annoying thing is that from what we see there’s potential reasons to explain why he was the way he was to some extent, on Moreau for example the production seems pretty chaotic and the actors seem to struggle with it generally, and Kilmer isn’t happy with the way Marlon Brando is being treated so I think that showing more of the less desirable stuff would have made for a more interesting end product. Not that it isn’t interesting, it honestly is as well as being quite moving at times, I’m very glad that I got to watch it.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage – Lets be clear, I wasn’t a huge fan of the original Venom. I thought it was ok but relied too heavily on the violence that the age rating allowed them to have in order to cover for the fact that it wasn’t especially well written in terms of the overall plot and especially the main villain so I wasn’t really looking forward to the sequel despite Woody Harrelson being onboard as the villain and Andy Serkis directing which had me intrigued at least. The first mistake it makes is that in the States it isn’t an R rating so the violence is significantly reduced from previously, though it somehow has a 15 rating over here despite that which is odd. The relationship between Eddie Brock and Venom is played off too slapstick for it to really work well, the attempts to humanise Cletus Kasady are clumsy and didn’t really work for me, I think he’d have been more effective if he’d just been kept as a chaotic psychopath and there’s a sequence in the film where Venom leaves Brock and is jumping from person to person and getting to live on its own a little which is played for laughs despite the in film logic being that the symbiote kills pretty much anyone it bonds with (with Brock being the notable exception) so the humour feels a little flat when you know people are being killed for what is essentially a falling out – what I’m basically saying is that tonally the film is all over the place. It is also odd though as run time is just over an hour and a half which for a comic book film seems incredibly short and honestly as a result it feels like it’s missing a middle act where Carnage gets to really let loose and establish itself as a proper threat, which never seems to happen much and I appreciate that my complaining about a film being too short when I consistently moan about films being too long but this definitely needed some more story beats. I will say that the film was visually impressive and the special effects were pretty decent, which is always useful with a film that uses as much CGI as this one does and as a result the action sequences are solid though I also say (possibly uncharitably) that there wasn’t anything that stood out. Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris and Stephen Graham do their best with parts that don’t really have a massive amount to do in comparison to the focus on Hardy and Harrelson. Ultimately it feels like a bit of a cash grab sequel where I feel like it could have been so much more, kind of the same as the first one really but without the violence to hide behind this time. 

Dune – To start things off here I think this has been marketed poorly so far as it’s being sold as Dune but the minute the titles come up the name is actually Dune: Part One as the book has been basically been broken down into multiple films (part 2 has just been confirmed so that’s a plus at least) but it feels like people are going to go in expecting a complete film where that definitely isn’t the case despite the 2 and a half hour run time. I’ve never read the book and didn’t see the 80s film, the sum total of my knowledge of Dune is a PC game I played more than 20 years ago and that basically extends to knowing that spice is important. Turns out that is not a helpful level of knowledge for this going in, it really doesn’t do an amazing job of catering for people who aren’t familiar with the book to the point where it felt like even a voice over of some sort to offer exposition at key points would be helpful. I’m hoping that part 2 will offer a little more in terms of background and explanation so that it’s a little easier to know what’s going on. This is the biggest complaint I have but not the only one, though most are as a result of this being part of a larger whole – the end of the film drags and it really does seem that there isn’t a natural breaking point for the film so while to does the best it can it’s just not a great end point, though the sting is lessened knowing that the story will continue at least. Complaints aside there’s alot to recommend too, the cast is pretty exceptional with Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa being standouts, Timothee Chalamet is the main focus and is solid, with Rebecca Ferguson also being interesting. Stellan Skarsgaard is heavily made up to the point you may not initially know it’s him and he does a decent job, but Dave Bautista is underused and Zendaya is also barely in it though you’d assume they’ll both have bigger roles in future. It’s the cinematography where things really shine though, I thought a film predominantly set on a desert planet might look at bit dull but that’s definitely not the case here, it looks stunning and it’s backed up nicely by a solid Hans Zimmer score and the action sequences are pretty stunning looking too, the big screen definitely helps the overall experience. Overall I’m glad I checked it out despite it essentially being half a film an it being not so welcoming for a newbie to the Dune story but I’ll definitely interested to see how it plays out over what I assume will be 2 films.

The Last Duel – A Ridley Scott period film starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Ben Affleck was always going to be one I was going to be interested in seeing, finding out that Jodie Comer was in it after seeing her in Free Guy was an unexpected bonus. As it happens she’s probably the best thing in the film, she has alot of heavy lifting to do acting wise given the subject matter and she’s more than up to the task. The story is that of the last duel in France which came about when Jacques Le Gris, played by Driver, is accused of raping the wife of Sir Jean de Carrouges, played by Damon, and a duel is requested by Carrouges as this was seen as a way of God judging the party not telling the truth in the process. The film is split into threes chapters, which are essentially the viewpoints of Carrouges, Le Gris and of Marguerite de Carrouges, played by Comer, and while the third account is positioned as the truth it’s interesting to see the other view points and how the egos of the two men seemingly colour their memories. That being said this approach is also the films biggest issue I’d say as the none of the different viewpoints offer anything sufficiently different to justify the run time of the film, in my opinion a single focussed narrative that allows for a little more expansion to certain events that take place. There are a few battle sequences outside the eponymous duel of the title and Ridley Scott continues to show he knows what he’s doing with these, honestly any period film with battles done by Scott is at the very least worth a watch and the duel itself is genuinely excellent, it’s as violent as you’d expect and doesn’t exactly pull any punches. The rape sequence is nowhere near as graphic as it could have been It’s a good looking film as per any Scott film and the soundtrack is solid and not done by Hans Zimmer which is a bit of a surprise, but Harry Gregson-Williams has a no dissimilar style os there’s that. Special mention also has to go to Ben Affleck who seems to be having the time of his life playing Count Pierre d’Alencon, he adds some much needed levity to proceedings (in appropriate places thankfully) and is the only one of the male characters that doesn’t seem to lie to himself. I don’t know how historically accurate some of the elements of Marguerite’s questioning are after her assault but if there’s anything there then it’s a pretty damning indictment of how we, as a society, treat rape victims today and that should probably be the biggest takeaway of the film.

Last Night in Soho – Edgar Wright has a tendency to make films that appeal to me, I’m not typically a horror fan or of those sorts of films but the trailer had me intrigued by the seeming pitch of a girl from modern day who travels back to the 1960s and becomes a girl from that time where she experiences the seedier side of things. There’s a solid cast including Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg and Matt Smith but the main focuses of the film are Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise and Anya Taylor-Joy as Sandie. Eloise is a troubled girl who is obsessed with the sixties and goes to London to study fashion, she moves out of the college dorms and into a house in Soho where she starts to experience life as Sandie, an aspiring singer, who is trying to make it big in the 1960s. It’s these dual performances that really anchor the film as while both women come from very different worlds they’re very similar in as much as they have dreams they’re trying to pursue and in so doing they find out the worlds they’re inhabiting aren’t as pleasant as they’d initially expected. Eloise finding that her fellow students aren’t the nicest people and start to make her life hell to the point where she moves, Sandie on the other hand is much more confident and outgoing which makes her the initial connections she things will help her to become a famous singer but it quickly becomes apparent that the people she’s dealing with aren’t the most pleasant and as a result she discovers the seedier side of the world she wants to break into quite quickly. This is where Matt Smith comes in, he’s her manager and starts off charming and friendly but soon shows his true colours and it’s a really good performance from him as he switches between being suave and menacing so easily it’s easy to see why Sandie struggles to breakaway. Visually the 2 time periods are very distinct, with the 1960s era taking on something of a character in it’s own right given how vividly it’s portrayed, and as always with a Wright film the soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to what’s happening on screen. The atmosphere is great, it does a perfect job of being creepy and fostering a sense of unease which can lead to the jump scares you’d expect in a film like this. There’s a few issues for me, there’s plot points that seemingly get thrown out that don’t seem to go anywhere or get expanded on in a way that satisfies and there’s a twist at the end that while great doesn’t make a massive amount of sense when you think about it too hard. Ultimately these might be bigger problems for someone else than they were for me but for me it didn’t overly detract from what is a solid film that I really enjoyed.

The Eternals – The MCU film which follows on from Black Widow in terms of the release order for this year, it’s also one of the Marvel properties I have absolutely no familiarity with so I didn’t know much about it beyond the cast and what I’d seen in the trailers. In terms of the case you’ve people like Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Richard Madden and Gemma Chan as well as less well known cast members, plus Kit Harrington though he’s not in it much and definitely introduced more with a view to what’s to come after this. I’m not going to get to much into the plot beyond it being pretty typical MCU fare though it actually doesn’t feel like a typical MCU film in the way it’s structured which was a pleasant surprise though it does come with definite downsides. At 2 and a half hours it definitely feels its run time and this isn’t helped by the pacing which is hampered by flashbacks to the past, while these help establish the relationships with the various characters it does break up the flow of the film. The number of characters is a problem too, when you’re introducing new characters bringing in a dozen-ish isn’t going to be easy as some are going to get short changed and in so doing you’re wasting decent actors and you’re touching on storybeats which don’t have necessarily go anywhere at this point. Jolie for example isn’t used to the fullest which is a shame as her character feels more of a plot device than a fully formed character and some of the other characters outside the core cast aren’t given a huge amount of development which is a shame as what you do get is actually very interesting, though I guess the plan is to build on that with any future sequels. The main villain isn’t the best too, the reveal of their motivations is interesting but beyond that they’re broadly underdeveloped which is a shame. On the positives note it’s visually stunning, the flashbacks allow for some really striking visuals and the present day stuff looks great too, Nanjani is great as the comic relief and Chan is great as the main character. While the flashbacks aren’t great for the pacing it’s a handy device for allowing the viewer to get to know the characters and how they went their separate ways prior to the film and they’re generally interesting time periods too. With there being a deaf character and a gay character there’s what feels like a positive step towards more diversity being introduced into the MCU though I can only speak from my perspective here. There’s some interesting twists over the runtime which have the potential to have some really interesting pay offs in future films. Overall it’s a fun but flawed film where I think it was maybe a little too ambitious for it’s own good but I think I’d rather that to some extent than something that doesn’t have a sense of ambition.

Ghostbusters Afterlife – I love the first two Ghostbusters films, I was not overly fussed about the reboot and I have to say I don’t think I was the target audience there so I’ve left that alone for now but I was very interested to learn of a new film which was a proper sequel to the initial two and the trailers I’ve seen just managed to make me more excited for it. The inclusion of Paul Rudd and the fact that it Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Ernie Hudson back was pretty much the icing on the cake in terms of my anticipation. I had to wait a bit longer than initially thought given the delays that have happened due to the pandemic but eventually it did actually get released. My initial reaction after getting out of the film was that I couldn’t find any fault with it, now I know this is utter bollocks however it made me feel like a kid again in the best possible way, if I were to re-watch it I’m pretty sure there’s things wrong with it and even with the benefit of hindsight it’s potentially a little too close plot wise to the first film and the tribute to Harold Ramis possibly treads an incredibly fine line if you don’t know that his family were onboard with it. The main focuses of the film are Finn Wolfhard and McKenna Grace as Trevor and Phoebe respectively, children of Carrie Coon’s Callie who is struggling financially and moves to Summerville when she inherits the house of her deceased father, who turns out to be Egon Spengler. It’s the family element that drives the film as Trevor has to make new friends and Phoebe ends up in a summer school of sorts which is overseen by Rudd’s amazingly named Gary Grooberson. Phoebe is very much the primary character of the film, she’s very reminiscent of Egon and has alot in common with him. It’s her that starts to piece together there was more to Egon moving out to the middle of nowhere than people seemingly thought. I honestly had so much fun watching it, there’s certain things that bring on nostalgia and the proton packs firing up and the Ecto 1 are very much up there. It’s great seeing the original busters show up too, they’re not in it loads which is fitting given the story being told here but when they do show up it’s pretty great. There’s a mid credit scene which is a lot of fun and then a scene after the credits which os partially a deleted scene from the first film which is quite touching in context and then potentially a little tease of more to come which is going to be welcome if it make me feel like this does. I’d honestly say it’s probably my film of the year, I went in hoping for the best and if I’m being completely honest expecting to be disappointed so it was a pleasant surprise that I wasn’t.

Spiderman: No Way Home – Far From Home left things at an interesting point as Mysterio had revealed to the world that Peter Parker is Spiderman which obviously has a number of implications. The trailer showed that Peter would go to Dr Strange to get a spell cast so people would forget and that would go pretty drastically wrong, tapping into the multiverse thread that Marvel are establishing by bringing back villains from the previous Sony Spiderman films, including Alfred Molina as Dr Octopus, Jamie Foxx as Electro and Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin amongst others. While I’ve been looking forward to this I’ve been convinced that it’d either be a great film or an absolute clusterfuck given then number of moving parts it’d potentially have, thankfully I thought it was great but I’m going to avoid discussing the plot too heavily so as to avoid any potential spoilers. All I’ll say about the story is that it broadly works, it feels like a fitting conclusion to this trilogy of films and it sets up a new and interesting status quo to potentially be built off. In terms of what doesn’t work, the run time isn’t ideal though understandable with everything it’s trying to cover though this does lead to some pacing issues where it drags a little in the middle of the film. The number of characters in the film means that some get a bit shafted in terms of screen time though everyone does their best which is something on that front, I’m also undecided on whether the mid credits scene is genius or lazy as hell, it is effective though so I’m erring on the side3 of it being both which I actually think is oddly charming. The positives, and there are a fair few are that you’ve got a great performance from Tom Holland, I personally think he’s been great as Spiderman and this emphasises that for me as he’s given a lot to deal with. THere’s strong performances across the board, Marisa Tomei, Zendaya and Jacob Batalon are all solid as ever and Cumberbatch, Molina and Foxx are all great but Dafoe pretty much steals the film with his performance, he’s all in and he seems to be having a great time Special mention also to JK Simmons back as J Jonah Jameson in a piece of casting done so well that they didn’t even attempt to re-cast the role. It has the typical MCU production polish so it looks and sounds great and I’d say it’s probably the strongest MCU film of the year and it’s going to be interesting to see where the the series goes next year and what Spiderman gets up to whenever he returns.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City – I’m not going to lie I wasn’t expecting much from this, Resident Evil films have a mixed quality on the whole and that’s being generous as they’re typically a bit shit. I as intrigued given that the director had said it was going to be faithful to the games, this turned to concern when I learned it was adapting the first to games into a single film as that’s a hell of alot of ground to cover in what it turns out is a less than 2 hour run time. I actually turned out to be pleasantly surprised, to be clear it’s very much shite but there are things to recommend which I legitimately wasn’t expecting so lets start with the positives. It’s mostly a decent cast Robbie Amell is solid as Chris Redfield and Tom Hopper is decent as Wesker though we’ll be revisiting him, Donal Logue and Neal McDonough are solid if underutilised and Avan Jorga could have been decent as Leon Kennedy if the character had been as per the game (another one we’ll come back to) but it’s Kaya Scodelario who’s the standout as Claire Redfield, she’s honestly great. The set design is also absolutely amazing, the mansion and the police station genuinely feel like they’re straight out of the games and that’s massively impressive, the zombies are pretty cool design wise too and it’s nice that you’re aware of the reason the people are turning into zombies. Now we move onto what it gets wrong, combining the 2 games into a single film is a massive mistake as it really doesn’t do either game justice as it breezes through some plot points and misses out some entirely which is infuriating, this also leads to some character changes such as Jill Valentine being largely pushed aside which is a shame as the actress playing her is decent and deserved more, Wesker is changed so that he’s not an antagonist as such which is a huge shame given what an iconic villain he is in the first game, much less the series and Leon is massively fucked over as a character, he’s turned from a rookie whose first day on the job coincides with a catastrophe to an incompetent idiot who got his job through nepotism. The special effects on the monsters are fairly ropey, especially the main monster at the end of the film and alot of the fan service to the games doesn’t gel especially well in film form and feels pretty forced. Ultimately it’s an improvement on the Paul WS Anderson films but it’s too ambitious for it’s own good, I honestly wish it’d picked a game and run with that rather than trying to smash the 2 together as it would have worked so much better as there’s honest potential there which is ultimately the most frustrating thing.

I realistically need to get back the motivation to watch new films in other mediums again as I’m building up quite the list of things on streaming and Blu-Ray to watch which I really need to stop putting off. Maybe my New Years resolution will be to get on that.

Masters of the Universe Revelations

I’d watched the She-Ra reboot on Netflix last year and fell in love with that, I’vge written alot about it, and at some point after this a new He-Man show was announced which was being worked on by Kevin Smith. I’m a big fan of Smith as I’ve loved his films and his Q&A stuff is always entertaining and I obviously knew that he’s a massive geek and he was saying all the right things about it, and the added intrigue was that it was intended to be a continuation from the original series rather than a reboot.

I’d tried to re-watch the original 80s series a few times now and it’s aged incredibly badly in my opinion. I’m not even talking the animation as that’s understandable given it’s nearly 40 years old at this point. It’s the sound that I don’t like, the way the voices sound (and that’s not a knock on the actors at all), it just doesn’t sound as good in a modern context as something Transformers does. I dislike it to the point where I much prefer the early 2000s reboot which I find much easier to watch.

That being said I did watch it as a kid and I’ve read a fair few of the comics so I’m familiar with some of the lore of the show, though it’s obviously not 100% confirmed how much of that is going to be utilised  in this though there are certain things hinted at which I guess may prove to be either proved or disproved in the second half of the season once that drops. As such what I’ll be doing here is offering opinions for part one and speculating a little about part two and as a result there will be some spoilers which I feel like it’s impossible to avoid.

Let’s talk voice cast to start with, Kevin Smith has managed to assemble and incredibly solid group of actors. There’s a nice little nod to the past to start as Skeletor’s original voice actor back to voice a secondary character, but you’ve got actors like Sarah Michelle Gellar, Lena Headey and Tony Todd doing voices and everyone pretty much nails it for me. Chris Wood as Prince Adam and He-Man is solid though I’d never heard of him but the big get in terms of casting was Mark Hamill as Skeletor, he’s a great voice actor anyway but he’s pretty much peerless when it comes to bringing villains to life at this point and this show doesn’t change that thankfully.

The first episode establishes an interesting status quo very early on, Adam and Skeletor are both killed off and this causes a ripple effect of events, including Adam having to split the sword of power into 2 component swords beforehand which are transported to the shows versions of heaven and hell – Preternia and Subternia. Teela finds out that He-Man was Adam all along and also finds out that she was seemingly the only one the that was ignorant of this and as such walks away from her old life as she’s incredibly disillusioned by everything at this point.

The show then picks up after an unspecified time jump with Teela working as a mercenary with a character called Andra who appears to be a re-purposed character from an old comic book series from the 80s. Teela has a new look and has a much more cynical world view and a general distrust of magic, which is all pretty understandable in light of what she’s gone through. Andra is something of surrogate for the audience as she’s the more talkative of her and Teela and therefore tends to drive some of the exposition that fills in what’s happened during the time jump and it’s a choice that works for me from a story telling perspective.

Story wise Adam splitting the sword of power into the 2 component parts and them disappearing off has caused magic in Eternia to fail which is basically going to wind up causing an end of the world type scenario. The Sorceress essentially finesses Teela back in to the fold to help fix things which winds up with her having to work with Evil-Lyn which leads to an interesting dynamic and arguably goes some way to making Lyn a sympathetic character to an extent as there’s a definite implication that she’d been essentially trapped in an abusive relatiounship of sorts with Skeletor.

Teela and Lyn are tasked with obtaining the 2 halves of the sword of power and re-forging it to bring magic back to the world, the dynamic of former enemies becoming uneasy allies is generally one I find quite interesting and it works quite well here in my opinion. The have to travel to Subternia and Preternia to do so and over the course of the journey meet up with recognisable faces (though no Fisto so far disappointingly), some who help them and some obviously wanting to hinder them. This somehow manages to make Orko one of the most likeable characters and it’s also fun getting to see what some of the villains have been up to, Tri-Clops starting a cult wasn’t what I was expecting but it was interesting.

Adam is encountered in Preternia and he and Teela re-bond a little, although she is still hurt by his keeping secrets from her. They collect the sword piece and Adam comes back to the real world with the group (with the ominous warning that if he goes he probably won’t be able to come back when he dies again). The sword of power is reforged and they take it to Castle Grayskull where Adam uses the sword and seemingly corrects the magic issue, thus saving the world. At this point Skeletor emerges, having hidden in Lyn’s staff when Adam and he seemingly died, he stabs Adam and takes control of the sword and becomes something more powerful, and this is the point where part 1 or the series cuts off.

Now I do somewhat understand some of the blowback there’s been for part one of the series, there was definitely something of a bait and switch with the early marketing in that He-Man was featured incredibly prominently and then wasn’t in it much. I always thought that this would be rectified in part 2 and the trailer for that which I’ve now seen does seem to indicate that this will be the case. I do think that the Netflix model when it comes to animated shows where they release seasons in parts rather than as a whole does leave them open to this kind of situation, where a more patient approach and releasing in one go would possibly prevent this, though it may just cause a different issue.

What I don’t agree with is the level of vitriol that’s been levelled at the people involved with the series. As I say I get that people feel like they’ve been misled but the way this has been channeled by some people into attacking people just feels toxic at this point and actually it’s done pretty well critically so it’s just a shame that there couldn’t be a little more civility around discussing what people haven’t liked but that does seem like something to a theme these days. Hopefully people will give part 2 a fair chance and subsequently enjoy the whole thing as a whole but sadly it’s also possible that people will double down and it’ll all just become even more unbearable.

Anyway as noted I’ve now seen the part 2 trailer and it does seem to confirm some of the things I had speculated about – Teela does appear to become a new sorceress which ties in at least partially with some of the things I’d seen in the comics, whether or not she’ll be the daughter of the original sorceress remains to be seen but it seems that this may be where they go. Teela seems to heal Adam too and He-Man makes a return, which realistically was always going to be likely and it seems that there’s a nod to the new She-Ra in there (whether deliberate or a nice coincidence) around needing the sword to transform. The trailer indicates it’s going to be much more action heavy than part 1, which is to be expected I guess as part 1 is largely moving the various pieces into position.

In terms of what I’d like to see in part 2, there’s definitely some emotional beats that I’d like to see. I think there needs to be some sort of resolution for Teela on why Adam didn’t tell her the truth, I have my own feelings on this but I figure professional writers would have a better handle on it. Man at Arms has something to share with Teela and I suspect that’ll be who her mother is and I’d like to see Lyn maybe break away from Skeletor, there’s definitely things in part 1 that indicate that she’s not happy with her prior choices so some pay off there could be interesting and actually the absence of Adam and Skeletor in part 1 allowed for some characters to grow in unexpected directions and it’d be nice to see that continue.

I think I was ultimately spoilt by She-Ra in terms of the emotional level of the story telling there, these definitely some interesting emotional content here though in very different terms to She-Ra and I appreciate that they’re two very distinct entities in these terms. I’m hoping that some of the more emotional character threads pay off in satisfactory ways in the second part, I have things I’d like to see happen in terms of character interactions but I’m also willing to be surprised as I can appreciate that often things can pan out in ways I didn’t necessarily expect and then find that even more satisfying. Whatever does wind up happening though, it’s unlikely to be boring and there’s something to be said for that if nothing else.

Actual new release films being watched, it feels like it’s been a while

This is another run down of films I’ve not previously seen before, it didn’t initially start out as such but it’s ended up being actual newly released films which I wasn’t expecting after the last year and a half. Most of these have been cinema films which has been such a relief honestly, there’s definitely something unique about seeing a film on the big screen and it’s definitely something that I’ve missed more than I expected to with the whole pandemic largely ballsing up the cinema experience.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – I enjoyed the original film, it definitely had some flaws but it was largely a fun distraction of a film and as such I was interested in seeing the sequel when it came out. As it is it’s the first film I’ve seen at the cinema in not far off a year so that was a definite plus but after watching it I feel largely the same as I did about the first film. Flaws wise it’s again got a few, the most notable ones being that the film walks back Ryan Reynolds’ character from where he was in the first film and makes him a punching bag which is a shame, it also wastes Antonio Banderas somewhat as the villain, not to the same extent the first film wasted Gary Oldman, but more screen time would have definitely welcome. I think my biggest issue is the tonal shift from the first film though, the first was obviously silly but it existed in a world that was pretty grounded for the most part, this film leans into the ridiculousness much more, you’re talking giant drills as being key to a plot to cripple all of Europe and there’s much more slapstick humour than previously, it doesn’t stop it being fun but it is quite jarring. Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson are typically solid, but they are essentially playing characters that they can do in their sleep at this point, they never feel like they’re phoning it in and the interplay between them is very funny but it definitely isn’t challenging them. As noted Banderas is alot of fun as the villain, just not utilised enough, villains in this sort of film always appear to be having the best time and there’s no exception here. Salma Hayek is comfortably the best thing in the film by some margin though, she’s got the best lines and is just clearly having the best time ever and is probably the main reason the film is as fun as it is. There’s some occasionally dodgy special effects but largely it’s well made and action sequences are well shot which is pretty much a must. I think the thing I appreciated though was the brisk runtime, it’s a decent amount under 2 hours and is decently paced, it’s actually a refreshing change to get through a film that never outstays its welcome. Overall I’d say it was a decent film, it was fun and I really enjoyed it, probably a solid 6 out of 10 film.

Black Widow – As the first MCU film since Spiderman Far From Home in 2019 I was really looking forward to this. It was originally meant to be released last year but obviously the pandemic put paid to that so it’s taken a while to actually be released but it’s finally arrived. It’s mental to think that Scarlett Johansson originally started playing the character way back in 2010 in Iron Man 2, and that it’s taken that long for her to get a standalone film. Thankfully despite the various delays I really enjoyed the film, it’s a more personal story than the Avengers films and it works really well for the character and Johansson can basically play the character in her sleep at this point. What’s most impressive is how the film takes place just after Civil War but slots in quite nicely, they’ve done a good job with the MCU in that they’re able to slot stories into the existing time line without too many issues, it’s amazing what you can do when you have a plan.The film has a great cast with David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Florence Pugh provide support and they’re all excellent, Harbour provides alot of the humour though he manages to provide layers to the character, Weisz is more reserved in her role but works well with what she has but it’s Pugh who is probably the big stand out, possibly more so that Johansson at some points and their dynamic is very much the heart of the film and works incredibly well, they play off each other amazingly. Villain wise Ray Winstone does his best but Dreykov is basically a one dimensional monster, his Russian accent isn’t the best though which isn’t exactly helpful. Taskmaster is a bit of an odd one as it’s not exactly the character from the comics, though works well in the context of this film and as an imposing terminator like threat it’s a solid enough role. The film is as visually impressive as you’d expect from a Marvel film and the action is decently realised, even if I personally don’t agree with the choice to pull out to a distance with some shots during some set pieces as I think keeping the closeness would have worked better as it would maintained the sense of immersion where I think that was lost a little, not a major issue but a niggle nonetheless. Overall it was definitely worth watching and a solid start to the film element of phase 4.

Stillwater – I didn’t know much about this going in besides the very basic synopsis that Matt Damon plays Bill Baker, a dad, who tries to clear the name of his daughter who is in jain for murder. Apparently it’s loosely inspired by the real life story of Amanda Knox which I knew very little about anyway. It’s set in Marseille and it’s an interesting choice of location as it’s a not what I would consider to be a typical place visually, there seems to be a distinct difference to the more well to do areas and the rougher areas but it was definitely a nice change of pace for sure. Damon is good in the lead, he’s taciturn and it becomes apparent he wasn’t a great father at any point and you get the impression that he sees his attempts to help his daughter as a way of making everything right. Abigail Breslin is decent as the daughter, she doesn’t have much to do overall but she makes the most of it and both her and Damon do a really interesting job of making you believe that there’s a genuine strain in their relationship. The real standouts are Camille Cottin as Virginie and Lilou Siauvaud as her daughter Maya, they help Baker over the course of the film and way the relationship grows makes for a compelling narrative but it also derails the film a little bit. The issue with this element of the film is that it basically makes the film like 2 films that have been stitched together – one a crime drama and the other a family drama, and it’s a little jarring at times. That being said there are things I like, Baker is obviously massively out of his depth with his investigations and the film doesn’t shy away from this and the mistakes he makes along the way, it makes things feel more human some how to know that the main character is very much fallible. Things as a general rule just feel messy and that really works in the films favour as there’s generally a sense of convenient solutions or improbable leaps in logic in other films like this, it’s not perfect but it does feel like the way things pan out are more in line with how things would work in real life and I appreciated that. There’s also a little twist towards the end which changes the context of some of the things that happen over the course of the film and that’s nice too as it just emphasises that people are flawed. Overall it was a decent, understated film that does a good job telling the story it sets out to and is weirdly unsatisfying which feels like it’s point, it’s definitely worth checking out though.

The Suicide Squad – This was one I’d been looking forward to since it was initially announced that James Gunn would be working on it, I’ve enjoyed his films to date and this one had an amazing cast so there were high hopes. It acts as a sort of sequel and almost reboot to the original film which was deeply flawed for what seems like a number of reasons which we won’t get into here, suffice to same Gunn seems to have had less interference with this film.It’s very much a James Gunn film, the sense of humour and the dialogue are very much in line with his previous efforts and the violence is probably pushing the boundaries of what’s allowed for the age rating as it’s really quite gory in places. The cast is genuinely excellent, there are too many actors to go into everyone full but John Cena is great Margot Robbie and Viola Davis are typically excellent, Joel Kinnaman is much better served by the script this time round and Idris Elba gives one of his best film performances for me. Daniela Melchior and David Dastmalcian are also both excellent and King Shark comes close to stealing the show at points and Sylvester Stallone is excellently cast as the voice. The first thing you notice is how much some characters had been featured in the marketing for the film played by some reasonably well known actors, including Gunn stalwarts Michael Rooker and Nathan Fillion, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d have a big part to play but they’re essentially cannon fodder in a entertainingly brutal opening sequence, appreciate this is a spoiler without being completely specific but with the film being called what it is there’s an element of this that’s very much expected. I’m not going to go into the plot too much but basically the squad go in under the premise of shutting down a weapons program but it naturally emerges there’s a little bit more to it than that, it’s hardly original but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if the script is at least entertaining, and it definitely is and it’s helped along by the fact that everyone is clearly having a great time. I think the biggest criticism to be levelled at DC is that film wise they’ve been trying way too hard to replicate what Marvel have done in a much shorter time frame and it just hasn’t really worked, hopefully this film is an indication that they’re just going to focus on making entertaining movies and doing their own thing as they have some amazing properties and the films they make do seem to wind up being better when they allow directors a certain amount of freedom, it’s definitely well worth checking out.

Snake Eyes: GI Joe Origins – This was a film that I was especially looking forward to when I knew it was coming out. There’s maybe 3 characters that have been favourites since I was a kid and Snake Eyes is one of them. This appears to act as a reboot for the GI Joe movies, which is probably a solid choice as the previous 2 films were a little bloated and certainly pretty inconsistent. Henry Golding is solid as Snake Eyes and gets to work through quite an emotional range, and the rest of the case are all decent with Andrew Koji as Storm Shadow in particular giving a great performance. Samara Weaving as Scarlett and Ursula Corbero as the Baroness both seem well cast, especially if this leads to further films in the series, and they’re utilised sparingly so as not to get in the way of the main narrative for the most part. The film is largely well shot, there’s some excessive shaky cam during action sequences in the first half of the film that I wasn’t a fan of but this is thankfully much reduced in the second half which I think improved the action sequences, though I appreciate this is a personal preference. There’s also some seemingly mystical elements which are touched on and then sort of go no wheel which is odd, it’s like the film can’t quite decide what it wants to be tonally. To be clear I really enjoyed the film and I thought some changes to the established origin that I’m familiar with were necessary. The Vietnam war aspect obviously couldn’t be held over and there was connection to Cobra Commander in there that would have probably taken too much effort to get through and probably wouldn’t have made for a very good film overall, I can also understand a reluctance to have him lose his voice though I do think it would have been great for inclusion purposes to have a lead character with a disability. That being said the working for the yakuza, being out for revenge for his father’s death and the forced links to both GI Joe and Cobra things I Had a problem with as it felt like too much was being changed of the actual character, and I totally appreciate this is always going to be a problem when you’re hugely invested in a character going in to an adaptation but it just felt a little unnecessary and like they were just trying to make him edgy. Overall I enjoyed that it was much more focussed than the previous GI Joe films and I’m interested to see if they make any sequels as there’s definitely potential here, even if I don’t agree with all the creative choices.

Free Guy – A computer game based film that isn’t linked to a specific game, you have Ryan Reynolds as a background character in a game who becomes self aware and starts breaking out of the routines of his programming. This was largely as much as I knew about it going in, I’d seen trailers which indicated it’d be a amusingly entertaining film but probably a solid if unspectacular one and I have to say I was shocked that it resonated with me much more than I expected. Now lets be clear it’s a little bit of a mess – it doesn’t know what sort of film it wants to be, there’s a few different genres vying for attention here and it’s a little jarring at times, it feels like it wants to be a snarkier version of the Truman show but the real world sub plot doesn’t really allow for the same level of charm there. Reynolds is as dependable as always but he’s playing a role that he could essentially do in his sleep at this point, he never feels like he’s phoning it in and he’s incredibly good at this sort of role but it’d be nice to maybe see him do something a little different some time soon. Taika Waititi is excellent as an utter douchebag but his character feels like it belongs in a different film as he’s just too over the top. There’s a track on the soundtrack that’s used a few times which is a track used in a Disney short film from 2012, it’s the sam composer for both and it’s a great track but still it’s an oddity for sure. I think the biggest issue is the fact that it leans to heavily into gaming references, it’s understandable but it also feels like they’ve alienated a fair amount of any potential audience as a result, the fan service (especially towards the end) treads dangerously close to going too far and taking you out of the film and there’s points where it cuts to real life streamers commenting on what’s happening in the game at the core of the film and it just kills the pacing which is frustrating. All that being said it just worked for me, I appreciated the gaming stuff and early on alot of the humour is found in what’s happening in the background while the film is establishing the characters which I enjoyed. Jodie Comer is probably the spine of the film given she plays a character in the real world setting and then her in game avatar too and thankfully she’s great and Joe Keery is great too as the conflicted former business partner. It’s to the point where I actually initially thought I’d hate the real world stuff and actually I was really engaged with it and it had what I found was one of the most cathartic pay offs I’ve seen in a film in recent times, genuinely had me leaving the cinema feeling good which ultimately is all I can really ask for from a film.

Reminiscence – I didn’t even know that this existed until I saw a trailer for it before another film and it looked intriguing as it seemed thematically similar to a film I love called Strange Days where people can experience other peoples memories. Having read a little bit about it after the fact it takes place in a near future type setting where climate change has caused the seas to rise and flood some cities and with this as a backdrop it follows Nick Bannister as he apparently uses other peoples memories to try and track down his lost love, which seemed like a pretty simple premise but the potentially interesting setting and the fact that Hugh Jackman was playing Bannister at least piqued my interest to give it a go. The initial panning shot through a Miami that is both familiar and obviously different due to the water level is actually pretty stunning, and you get a little voiceover from Jackman to establish the background of the memory machine which is actually interesting in itself and quickly shows you what it can do as Bannister lets an old war buddy use it to see his dog again which cements it as an immediately interesting concept and the first quarter of the film is spent establishing the relationship with Mae and his ties to his friend Emily Sanders, along with the fact that he’s taken Mae’s disappearance badly and is very much on edge and the way this is done very much like a noir film, something that the voiceover really emphasises. There’s a time jump and Bannister is pretty much obsessed with finding Mae at the expense of pretty much everything else, Sanders gets them a job which provides a clue in what happened to Mae. What unfolds after is a mystery of what happened to her and how Nick is involved, it’s actually a surprisingly compelling and I really enjoyed watching it play out though it does rely on some leaps in logic in places. There are definitely flaws, the pacing is a little slow in places and some special effects are a little ropey, it’s also a little overly convoluted in places but I loved the setting and the aesthetic, it’s atmospheric as hell too and the soundtrack contributes. Solid performances from Jackman, Thandiwe Newton, Rebecca Ferguson and Cliff Curtis definitely help and honestly it’s refreshingly different to most of the films I’ve seen lately which was actually nice. It does a great job of building a world I’d like to see more stories in that’s for sure and honestly there’s alot to be said for a film that can do that, no matter what other flaws it has.

Shang-Chi – The latest MCU film and one where I knew nothing about the character going in, I’d seen the trailer but that was the sum total of my knowledge upfront. I went in cautiously optimistic as you expect a certain standard with these films now and I’d been been massively into martial arts films when I was younger so there was alot of things I was looking forward to on paper. I wasn’t hugely familiar with alot of the cast, the only ones I’d really heard of from the main cast were Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung and given this is the letters first Hollywood film that’s quite a huge bit of casting as far as I’m concerned as I’ve seen how great he is in various Hong Kong films. The film is typically visually stunning, the soundtrack is great and it’s fits the MCU tone perfectly while actually managing to not feel like it’s being forced to. My knee jerk reaction after getting out of the film was that it’s in my top 3 MCU films to date, there’s genuinely alot to love about it. Simu Liu and Shang Chi is great, Meng’er Zhang as his sister is solid with potential to grow further in later films, Michelle Yeoh brings a sense of gravitas and it’s honestly funny without feeling forced and this is in large part down to Awkwafina, as Shang-Chi’s best friend Katy, who serves as surrogate for the audience due to her being caught up in the events that unfold. The action is great, the fight sequences really benefit from feeling a bit like an old school martial arts film and I have to say the slow motion is utilised pretty well and never feels over used. It benefits alot from the plot feeling quite intimate, it’s essentially the story of a grieving family but there’s a depth there and consequences that raise the threat level but none of that works without this simple core. It also benefits hugely from one of the best antagonists the MCU has had so far, there’s a complexity to the character of Wenwu and he’s brought to life by an amazing performance from Tony Leung, it’s honestly one of the best casting decisions they’ve managed in these films. He’s for all intents and purposes the real Mandarin but his withering disdain for the fake one and the name from Iron Man 3 is great and actually leads to a really fun pay off too. There are definite flaws, the special effects are occasionally pretty ropey and the end fight has far too much CGI but for me it’d earned enough goodwill over the rest of the film that the flaws didn’t really spoil my enjoyment. I suspect it’s going to wind up being a Thor Ragnarok type of film where I can watch it loads and never be anything less than entertained.

Cop Shop – I saw a trailer for this and was intrigued as it looked like it could either being a fun little film or an entertainingly awful disaster, plus I have a soft spot for Gerard Butler so him being in it made me more interested than I probably would have been otherwise. Frank Grillo plays Teddy Murretto, a con man who has made a few enemies and gets himself arrested to avoid hitman Bob Viddick, played by Butler, who then also gets himself arrested to get at him. This is further complicated by Anthony Lamb, a rival hitman played by Toby Huss, and at the centre of this is Valerie Young, a cop played by Alexis Louder. It actually wound up being alot better than I expected it to be, the dialogue is great and my only complaint there is that it feels like it wants to be a Tarantino film at times. The soundtrack makes it feel like a 70s throwback and the other officers in the police station get just enough characterisation that you start to like most of them before they inevitably become cannon fodder. Grillo is an excellent scumbag, Butler is good as the imposing hitman and Huss is clearly having a great time portraying a psychopath but it’s Louder who really stands out as she’s the one virtuous main character in the film, she does a great job of getting the audience on her side. I really liked that the film makers managed to use different camera angles to keep the police station setting fresh, the fact that it’s largely set in the one location carried a degree of risk that you’d get sick of seeing the same places repeatedly but they avoid this. The films also actually manages to utilise shaky cam and slow motion, 2 things I bitch about alot, in a way that enhance the scenes they’re in and they’re used sparingly too so it’s not jarring, I was very pleasantly surprised on that front. There are complaints, the scenes that take place away from the police station feel tacked on and aren’t really long enough sequences to do much in terms of story enhancement, expanding these sequences probably would have benefited from being either a bit longer or there being a few more of them though I appreciate this would have impacted pacing which is pretty solid overall. My biggest problem is the last 20 or so minutes though, it just seems to be a stream of double crosses that stretch credibility to breaking point and go along way to undoing the good work the rest of the film manages, it does have a pretty satisfying ending overall but the lead up to it is just a little too much. Overall it’s a fun little film that’s well worth checking out in my opinion, there are definitely far worse ways to a couple of hours.

Kate – A Netflix film I’d never even heard of but which I was immediately interested in due to it starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead who I’m a big fan of, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in something where I haven’t enjoyed her performance. I didn’t even know who else was in it and to be honest aside from Woody Harrelson I’m not really familiar with the rest of the cast. In terms of the plot Winstead plays the Kate of the films title, an assassin who is poisoned  and not left much time to live so she decides to track down the people that did this and get revenge. It’s not a dissimilar synopsis to an old 80s film called Dead on Arrival (itself a remake of a 40s film) which I happened to really enjoy which was another positive going in. Setting it in Japan gives it a fun aesthetic, there’s some cool visuals to be had and the soundtrack is entertaining, frustratingly some of the effects sequences make it look a little bit like a computer game and some of the effects generally don’t look as realistic as you’d want in an action film and there are quite few times where it’s just too dark. It’s seemingly  tonally all over the place, it can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a serious John Wick type film or if it wants to be more tongue in cheek and some of the attempts at humour just don’t land, Kate takes a girl hostage and then they bond and she accidentally shoots Kate instead of someone else because she’s never fired a gun before, it’s that sort of thing where you’ve seen it in better films a million times before and that’s largely a theme if I’m being honest – it rips off a multitude of better films without ever managing to exceed them. The action sequences are solid, Winstead is pretty great in them and is convincing as a bad ass, in the same way she was in Birds of Prey, she’s very much the the core of the film and she’s never anything other than excellent and easily the strongest part of the film. Harrelson, as Varrick, is solid as always but under utilised and it’s to the detriment of the film that he is, it feels like the film would have been much better for focusing on the relationship between him and Kate as the film establishes a backstory there which it never makes the most of. Overall it’s a frustrating film, there’s a core of a really good action film here but it it’s just too generic and predictable to be anything other than crushingly average and that’s genuinely gutting as Winstead and Harrelson so their absolute best to make it work and are unfortunately let down by things outside their control. I’m especially infuriated as while it’s a film I liked just fine, it’s a film I desperately wanted to love.

Honestly it’s been great getting to watch actual new films again rather than just ones I’ve just not seen before. It’s been weirdly beneficial to my mental health just to be able to do things like go to the cinema again and hopefully there’s going to be more interesting films coming out now things are starting to get back to some sort of normalcy. It’s been fun getting to watch trailers before films again and plan what I want to see in the future, it’s a stupid little piece of normalcy that it’s been awesome to rediscover.

Checking out anime films I’ve not seen before

Last year I got re-invested in anime films after finally watching Your Name and that progressed to me watching a few other films that I seemingly did a good job of picking. As such I started to more actively get ideas for films via various avenues and naturally started getting some new films to watch as a result. I figured I’d do a full anime post rather than mixing them in with other new films to keep it all a little separate and give me an excuse to actually watch these films rather than just hoarding them with the intention of one day watching them. I’ve tried to avoid any massive spoilers but obviously there’s some broad plot points and things so this might be something to be a bit wary of.

Maquia – A film I picked up, as a few of these will, off the back of trawling through anime blurays online and reading the plot blurb to see what got me interested. Maquia is part of a near immortal race who has to flee her home and into a world she hasn’t experienced before and seemingly finds herself meeting people who don’t have the same longevity as her. It was a really interesting concept for me and I figured there’d be alot of scope for emotional moments and potential for some philosophical moments too. It’s starts of interestingly straight away as it establishes Maquia as feeling lonely and separate even amongst her own people, naturally when she finds herself away from home this feeling naturally worsens though she finds a baby and that seemingly gives her a purpose though there are some some amusing moments as she learns about the world but overall it’s not an easy journey for her as she has to learn to be a mother in essence. It’s visually stunning, and show cases a variety of different settings which are distinctive, there’s also some excellent use of lighting and some of the night scenes look absolutely amazing. The musical score is great too, again very distinctive tracks which suit what’s happening on screen excellently and the English dub is pretty good, though again I’m not familiar with the voice cast. Some of the pacing is a little odd due to there being time jumps but this is a key point to show that while everyone ages around her Maquia doesn’t, which obviously leads to emotional moments as things change, sometimes in unexpected ways. I think the biggest issue I have is that the first half of the film probably has a bit too much going on but is a little slow, Maquia is naturally the main focus but there’s a sub-plot with a seemingly evil empire and their efforts to grow their power further using Maquia’s people. There’s really cool elements like the way people Maquia has met seemingly keep crossing paths with each other over the years and how the time jumps show how those characters grow too. It’s a wildly ambitious film and honestly it does feel like there’s too much happening at times and it’s a little unfocussed but it also manages to be surprisingly intimate at times, which I think is due to the focus on certain characters and seeing them grow. I think what I find most impressive about it is how it manages to be both bittersweet and uplifting, it’s a story that I was fascinated by despite its flaws and I’m really glad I experienced it, the ending is absolutely exceptional while also being an absolute gut punch though oddly beautiful too, it’s definitely a film I’d recommend to people.

Okkos Inn – This was purchased predominantly because it gave me really strong Kiki’s Delivery Service which in all honesty is high praise though possibly an impossible standard to measure up to. It follows Oriko, also known as Okko, who goes to live with her grandmother at her inn after her parents die, Oriko can see spirits who she befriends and tries to help. It’s a fairly simple premise on paper but one that I couldn’t help feeling could also be incredibly sweet. Visually it’s very Ghibli-esque which I very much mean as a compliment, it’s not as stunning as some of the anime films I’ve written about but the characters look nice, if a little over stylised in places, and the scenery is suitably pretty, I will say there are some really impressive moments though. The parents are killed off very early on in a car accident which Oriko survives, it’s quick and thankfully not traumatising at all though this also seems to make it much less emotionally impactful than it probably should be, particularly as Okko doesn’t seem bothered by it at all initially which feels like a very odd creative decision though you do get some explanation towards her mindset as the films goes on which is helpful. The dub is ok – some of voice acting is great, Okko and her grandmother in particular are excellent, but some of the other voice acting varies in quality, one one is dreadful but I’ve just gotten used to more consistent dubs is all. Oriko is very much the heart of the film and thankfully she’s a delight, she can be headstrong at times but she’s also incredibly sweet and the filmmakers do an amazing job of making you care about her and they also address some of the trauma she carries from her parents death which was unexpected. There’s not much of a story early on, it’s just generally about Oriko learning to help around the inn and generally helping people out and cheering them up, it’s honestly probably the films greatest strength that it keeps things so simple. There’s some sadness in there which is to be expected given the subject matter but it does an amazing job of how it deals with it. It’s genuinely an incredibly sweet film, there’s honestly something to be said for a film like this where it’s hopeful tone just winds up feeling like a giant hug, and sometimes you just really need that.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya – A Studio Ghibli film I’d never seen before, which given it was seemingly released in 2013 is a bit odd, as I’d essentially never even heard of it until finding it in a shop. It’s based on an old Japanese tale called the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which I’m naturally not familiar with at all so it was very much a case of going in blind barring a number of very positive review scores. Visually it’s utterly stunning, it’s almost a cross between watercolour painting and cel shading and honestly the use of colour is utterly astonishing, it’s impressive how on the surface it looks quite simple but if you look a little harder there’s a level of detail there which you don’t initially spot. There’s the usual Ghibli ability to assemble a solid voice cast, you’ve got people like James Caan, Mary Steenburgen and Chloe Grace Moretz amongst others and everyone delivers good performances which isn’t really a surprise with Ghibli films as they typically have good English dubs. Story wise it follows Kaguya who is found within a bamboo shoot by a bamboo cutter who decides to raise her with his wife, she grows incredibly fast and the bamboo cutter decides to move so that she can be a princess rather than a country girl as he has found gold and other things in the bamboo that imply that she’s meant for more. This goes about as well as you’d expect, princesses rarely seem to have a great time in fairy tale type stories and this one isn’t an exception and the result is quite melancholic at times and the use of silence at points does a very good job of driving this home. It’s far too long, it’s over 2 hours and it does drag in places, but while it could realistically be far shorter and therefore flow a bit better but you’d lose the melancholy I think and that’s weirdly part of what makes the film so beautiful. This build up also makes the last 20 or so minutes both incredibly uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time, the ending is beautiful but an emotional gut punch which just about manages to finish on a hopeful note. Honestly there’s so much to recommend here and it does an amazing job of walking the tonal tightrope it does as it’s never depressing even when it’s sad, I’d definitely recommend it to people as one to check out.

Anthem of the Heart – This is a film that I’ve kept seeing pop up on various things when I’ve been looking at anime so decided that I’d give it a go as it seemed interesting. The blurb basically says that the film follows Jun, who is now doesn’t speak due to an incident in her youth which caused issues in her family, an egg fairy seemingly sealing away her voice to prevent any further hurt. Essentially as a kid she sees something which she then talks about and then gets blamed for the fallout despite it not being her fault at all, you see her initially as a happy, imaginative girl and later on she’s withdrawn and she’s lost that sense of joy that she had, it’s actually incredibly sad and as the film goes on it’s about her healing. There’s only a Japanese dub and it largely avoids the quirks that tend to make me stick to English dubs where I can, the subtitles showcase the films dialogue though, character interactions are incredibly earnest and there’s a sense of growth as the film progresses, I will say that I noticed spelling errors though which is pretty sloppy. Jun is undoubtedly the beating heart of the film but the relationships she builds with Takumi, Natsuki and Daiki are central to this and they’re all interesting characters in their own right. Visually it’s largely solid without doing much different to other anime films set in school, there are breaks from this where Jun imagines things and this provides more distinctive visuals and this has the added effect of emphasising how she sees herself which makes you really root for her to get a happy ending. The use of music is also really good, a nice blend of melancholic and uplifting which fits the tone of the film perfectly. At 2 hours long it probably could have done with being a little shorter but honestly it’s hard to think of anything I’d personally cut out as it all seems to be there to build the characters and their bonds and that’s pretty key to everything that happens. The way the relationships play out isn’t how you’d necessarily expect based on how things initially build but the weird thing is that it feels better for it as it somehow feels more chaotic and real as a result. Overall it was a really pleasant surprise, it’s a beautifully heartfelt film and thankfully it has a wonderfully upbeat ending.

When Marnie Was There – This is apparently the last pure studio Ghibli film currently released that I haven’t seen as yet, though there are others linked to the studio I haven’t seen as yet. It follows Anna as she goes to visit relatives and while there comes across an abandoned mansion where she meets Marnie, who she befriends and learns more about over the course of the summer and subsequently about herself too, typical coming of age stuff you’d think but it’s a little more complex than that. The English dub has a solid voice cast, you’ve got people like Gina Davis, John C Reilly and Kathy Bates and established voice actors like Grey Griffin and Fred Tatasciore all of whom know what they’re doing, Hailee Steinfeld voices Anna and has to display a fair emotional range and does a really good job of bringing her to life and making her relatable. Visually it’s a typical Ghibli film, the backdrops and scenery are love lyand the characters are really well realised and carry that distinct Ghibli style which I think will always be pleasantly charming. The soundtrack is exceptional, quiet and wistful for the most part it fits the tone of the film perfectly and adds to pretty much every scene which is incredibly impressive. Anna seems to have a sense of self loathing which has led her to keep people at a distance, this is as a result of her not really knowing who she is due to her past. It’s bittersweet watching her start to come to terms with her past as the film goes on and start to open up to people as it comes off the back of learning about Marnie and the tragedy of her life. Learning the truth about Anna and Marnie’s connection is a bit of a gut punch but it comes at a really uplifting point near the end of the film so it isn’t quite as brutal as it could have been, it’s a genuinely lovely ending that feels completely earned and there’s an epilogue of sorts before the credits roll where you get to see a much happier and more confident Anna and it just ends on an absolutely perfect note.

The Red Turtle – This is an animated film produced by Studio Ghibli but directed by  Dutchman Michael Dudok de Wit, so an anime in the Japanese context of the term which essentially covers all types of animation. Apparently Hayao Miyazaki had seen a short film by de Wit and had wanted to co produce a film with him, this led to this film being made. It follows a man trapped on a desert island whose attempts to escape are thwarted by the red turtle of the title. It gets noticeable weirder about half way in when he seemingly kills the turtle and she turns into a woman with a subsequent relationship of sorts forming between the 2 characters after this. The first thing you notice is that the colour palette is incredibly muted, the scenery still looks gorgeous but it’s not as vibrant as you’d normally associate with Ghibli film. This seems to allow for a more subtle use of lighting at different times of the day which provides some nice effects. I wasn’t initially a fan of the art design of the main character as it didn’t seem to fit the artistic style of the backdrop, but I thought he was amazingly animated, the way he moved felt very real to me. My dislike of his art style eased off early on when he interacted with a bridge in moonlight and it looked amazing, and the way shadows would fall on him also help make him feel part of the world he’s in. There’s also some moments that genuinely make you tense, early on the man falls into a cave and has to swim out through an incredibly narrow tunnel, you obviously suspect he’ll be ok but it does an excellent job of conveying a real sense of claustrophobia. The most striking thing about the film though is that there’s no dialogue, characters shout and make noise but there’s no talking to each other at all, it’s a bold move and does well to be engaging for the entire run time despite the lack of any exposition. As such the soundtrack needs to do alot of heavy lifting and it definitely does a good job of conveying the mood, whether that be loneliness, danger or anything else that the film is conveying at the time. It’s an odd little film but absolutely fascinating, I was honestly expecting to appreciate it but not really gel with it but actually I found myself being pretty riveted by it which was a nice surprise.

Penguin Highway – A film I found through trawling through the anime options for sale on an online store, immediately there was an appeal because of penguins. The synopsis on the back basically talks of penguins mysteriously appearing in a town that’s miles from the sea and main character Aoyama decides to try and solve the mystery behind this happening, and I’m not going to lie I was pretty much sold at that point. It’s a weird one as within the first 3 minutes or so it makes you hate Aoyama, he comes across as incredibly arrogant which isn’t ideal, I’m not sure if this is a translation thing and he comes across differently with the Japanese dub and subtitles mind you and he does get more likeable as the film progresses. The English dub is average, easily the weakest of the anime films I’ve seen of late. The voice actors are alright but they sometimes come across as a bit awkward and not very natural which is a shame. Visually it’s solid if a little inconsistent, there’s aspect that look amazing and then others that are decent and the soundtrack is alright though not exactly memorable. Luckily the film is delightfully weird and that’s what makes it stand out, as the mystery of the penguins is uncovered and it turns out to not be a naturally occurring phenomenon and it turns out a character can seemingly create them and then Aoyama begins to work with his classmates on another mystery that turns up and it’s seemingly linked to the penguins. There’s a few little mysteries in the film as it turns out and they all seem to be connected and it’s genuinely fascinating. The last 20 or so minutes is particularly striking and the ending kind of reminded me of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in that the core story is resolved but it leaves questions about what may happen in the future, it’s something I know will sit with me like it did with that film too. I have to say the film wasn’t what I was expecting at all but in the best possible way, there’s some definite flaws but I think the core story it’s telling (which is based on a book that I intend to check out at some point off the back of this) was interesting enough to make me look past the flaws which is impressive in itself.

Ride Your Wave – I knew nothing about this going in, I’d seen some screenshots while looking for anime and bought it purely based on the fact that this shots looked stunning. I suspected I’d made a mistake when reading about the plot as I figured it was going to be hard on the old heart as it follows Hinako who is rescued from a fire by Minato, they subsequently fall in love but this is cut short when Minato dies and Hinako is distraught though he somehow appears to her in water after this. The voice acting of the English dub is really good and it makes it very easy to warm to the characters, there seems to be at least a few established voice actors on the cast which I think helps, Hinako is voiced by the same voice actress that voiced Frosta in the recent She-Ra series which was a nice little surprise. I wasn’t initially sold on the art style of the characters but I warmed to that when I saw them animated, they work very well, and in terms of everything else visually it’s every bit as stunning as I had assumed it would be, the use of colour at times is amazing. The early part of the film follows Hinako and Minato as they first meet, go surfing together and as they fall in love and it’s honestly a delight, they’re disgustingly cute together, there’s an added layer of dread though as you know it’s going to be shattered at some point and when it comes it’s pretty brutal without ever actually showing anything – Minato is essentially there and then he’s not and Hinako naturally has a hard time with this. When he starts appearing to her in the water no one else can see him so you’re initially not sure if she’s actually just hallucinating because of her grief but when he proves to be real she seemingly starts to resume her relationship with him which doesn’t seem ideal. It’s an interesting film because it actually shows how Minato’s death impacts his best friend and sister too and you get to see how they all start to move on and heal and it’s honestly pretty heartwarming. There’s a sequence towards the end that’s more than a little silly but it somehow comes off as charming though it’s then followed by an emotional gut punch. Thankfully it ends on a much happier and more hopeful note but honestly it was a great film that I think handled the subject matter in a way that was refreshingly different to what I’d have expected.

Sword of the Stranger – I found out about this film from an article someone had written with the best anime scenes ever and this was either in it or someone called it out in the comments, and after a little bit of study it reminded me a little of Ninja Scroll which I loved so figured this would be worth a go if nothing else. The setting of feudal Japan and the fact it’s seemingly more action based than the other films on this list made for an interesting contrast and the plot of a boy trying to escape a prophecy (which presumably doesn’t end well for him) and enlisting the help of a stranger apparently called No Name, a warrior who has vowed to never unsheathed his sword, to escort him. It’s a seemingly pretty straightforward plot but such things have a tendency to not be quite so simple. I initially thought thee art style was a little retro and date but actually I warmed to it pretty quickly, the scenery looks nice and the action is well animated, some of the characters are a little too old school at times but it’s not the end of the world, my only real complaint is the blood spray and the only reason I’m complaining is that I bitched about Kill Bill for the same thing so it’d be churlish not to call out other films that do it. No Nam pretty much follows every cliche going in that he has a trouble back story, he’s distant from people and leans into the money grabbing mercenary trop and he warms to his companions as the film progresses, Kotaro is the typical kid who’s whiny initially though it’s understandable given his troubles but he’s also oddly endearing too and Tobimaru the dog rounds out the group and he’s an utter delight, though he does get hurt early doors. Villain wise pretty everyone seems to be one, none of them are especially well defined though the most distinct is Luo-Lang a blonde haired warrior whose primary motivation seems to be finding a challenging warrior to fight. Voice acting for the English dub is largely solid, the main characters are decent but some of the more throwaway characters tend to be a bit hit and miss, nothing that ruins the film but it’s can be a bit jarring at times. It’s a solid film overall but it’s definitely elevated by the sequence that initially piqued my interest, it’s pretty epic and the final battle is awesome too. I think the first half is a little slow but probably the last half an hour or so is amazing and more than justified the decision to check this one out.

Children of the Sea – Recommended by an artist I follow and whose work I adore, I seemingly waited ages for it to be released in the UK and it essentially became the inspiration for doing a whole anime watch blog with it being the last film on there so I’ve been looking forward to finally sorting it. The synopsis is basically Ruka is drawn an aquarium after seemingly seeing a ghost in the water and befriends two boys, Umi and Sora, who she meets there. They were apparently raised by dugongs and feel the same call of the sea that Ruka does and they all get caught up in a mystery as there is a worldwide disappearance of fish in the ocean. The beginning of the film establishes that Ruka doesn’t necessarily have many friends or get on particularly well with people at her school, and her mother and seems to be quite withdrawn generally, Umi on the other hand is very outgoing and friendly and befriends Ruka incredibly quickly, Sora is a bit more disagreeable and early on seems to enjoy annoying Ruka, which he’s quite good at though he does warm up in time. It’s absolutely stunning in places, the underwater sequences are amazing and very visually distinct, I can’t speak highly enough and there were a few scenes where I was just in awe. The score is the perfect accompaniment, Joe Hisaishi does and excellent job but having heard his work on various Studio Ghibli films this wasn’t really a shock. It gets seriously weird after the first hour or so, to the point where I wasn’t really sure what the overall plot actually was though seemed incredibly open to interpretation, which I have to say I’d usually hate but some how it just works. I think this is largely due to the fact that it seems to be absolutely massive in scope but having Ruka as the central character makes it feel incredibly personal and intimate at the same time. I was completely invested and fascinated the entire time even when I was trying to figure out what was going on during the trippier parts. There are definitely flaws with the way it tells its story and sometimes it feels like it’s missing parts, which may be down to it being based on a multi book manga where they’ve had to condense things like Akira had to as some characters feel completely redundant, the ending seems insanely abrupt too and again it’s open to interpretation but you see elements that suggest Ruka is in a better place overall there is an after credits scene though and that does feel like a near perfect end point for the film. It’s an odd film as while I’ve obviously highlighted issues I can already tell it’s going to be a film that’ll stick with me in a positive way as it’s definitely memorable.

It’s been quite a good experience watching these films, there’s definitely something to be said for not knowing much about a film going in and it’s been nice to know I can pick films I actually enjoy based purely on a bit of blurb and an idea of whether I like the art style. I still have films left over to watch and more that I want to check out as it’s now something I actively look into so this sort of blog may be something I do again in future, there’s also the possibility of doing a Ghibli re-watch at some point though I may put a limit on the number of films there rather than going back through everything.

More newly watched films

This is the first blog of the year where I talk about films I’ve watched that I previously haven’t seen before, it’s been a bit of a struggle with this one as depression has kicked my arse a bit and I’ve struggled for motivation to actually watch films in general, even old ones that are comfort films for. This has therefore taken me far longer than I’d have liked to get finished, as evidenced by a Christmas film being on here. I’m hoping that my mental health is going to give me a little bit of a break and I can watch some more films. Also hopefully cinemas may actually re-open in the not too distant future which would definitely be something to look forward to, even if it’s potentially older films that will vie shown to start with.

Surviving Christmas – I’m a Big Ben Affleck fan, though I’ll concede this is more to do with his more modern output than his early stuff. I do like to give the older stuff a go though which is why I picked this up after finding it cheap in spite of it seemingly being slated ,though I obviously managed expectations as a result of this. I’m not typically a fan of Christmas films as I find them overly sentimental and incredibly predictable, I got a bit of a bad feeling in the intro where a guy is donating to a charity Santa and throws his wallet, watch and wedding ring into the collection in what I assume was meant to be funny but wasn’t really and there were a few other scenes in this where dark humour is used which doesn’t really land. Affleck at this point in his career is well cast as a millionaire douchebag who after being dumped decides he wants the family Christmas experience so essentially rents a family for the holiday and it does not initially go well. He’s naturally an utterly entitled dickhead for much of the film but learns to be a better man as things progress. This is largely due to Christina Applegate’s character who acts as the romantic foil and thankfully Applegate is a delight, as she is in pretty much anything I’ve ever seen her in. James Gandolfini is comfortably the best thing in the film though, the sense of put upon exasperation he conveys is genuinely funny. Affleck overacts to a point where it’s actually cringe inducing a lot of the time, there are moments though where he’ll play a scene much more restrained which gives a much darker subtext to what’s happening and it really does provide a glimpse of a film that would have been far more interesting. As it is it’s largely a clusterfuck, an enjoyable one, but a clusterfuck nonetheless though it does have a quite decent ending. I’d warn anyone even slightly tempted to either not bother or seriously lower their expectations. I honestly want to see a version of this film where it’s played as proper dark comedy where you get the more restrained Affleck slowly unravelling over the festive period, it would have been a much much better film.

The Place Promised in Our Early Days – One of the only Makoto Shinkai feature films I’ve not seen at this point, and apparently his feature film debut. It’s also the film of his I’ve owned the longest, I honestly couldn’t say why I’ve never gotten round to it til now but having gotten properly into his films it felt like it was about time to get it watched. My initial impression was that it fits the pattern with his previous films in that it’s visually very, very pretty, Shinkai really knows how to use colour to effectively create atmosphere. The voice cast aren’t actors I know but they did solid work, it was a pretty decent dub overall. The film follows two friends, Hiroki and Takuya, as they rebuild a plane with the intention of flying it to a mysterious tower and there’s a third friend, Sayuri, who mysteriously disappears which causes Hiroki and Takuya to drift apart. It’s much more science fiction based than his films I’ve seen previously as it takes in things like parallel universes and an alternate history where the Soviet Union occupies half of Japan, which is a pretty interesting concept though it’s never really expanded on as much as I’d like, though I guess you’d either need a huge exposition dump or more time to explore it which would impact the pacing, which is largely pretty decent overall so while I’d have liked more background I understand that there’s a balance which is necessary. It’s much more violent than the other films of Shinkai’s that I’ve seen which is a result of the backdrop of the divided Japan, it adds an element of danger to the film which isn’t unwelcome. Sayuri is pretty central to the story being told, Hiroki reconnects with her in a dream of sorts and vows to fly the plane to the tower with her onboard as he believes doing so would allow them to re-connect in the real world. Overall it’s a cool film but I think it has too many plot threads going on which means that it’s not as focussed as it could be and as a result there isn’t the same level of character development I’d have liked, this is something I’d say has been learned from in later films though and honestly my main complaint is that it’s essentially too ambitious which isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world.

The Matrix Revolutions – This was apparently released way back on the good old days of 2003 when we were allowed to do things with other people, I never bothered watching it due to how much I’d originally disliked Reloaded. I decided I should give it a go give there’s a new Matrix film on the way and because having rewatched the second film I was interested to see how it all ended given the cliffhanger, though I will concede I wasn’t exactly excited about it. I honestly wish I hadn’t bothered, the opening 45 minutes is lots of talking with one action set piece which was decent and the first three quarters of the film keeps Neo and Smith to a bare minimum which is naturally frustrating when they’re the best things in the film, in fact Neo’s most significant contribution in this period is to get himself blinded by Smith (who hijacked a human body in Reloaded) though he’s still able to see in some fashion, which is obviously very fortunate. You get a major set piece about halfway through where the machines attack the human city and they have to defend it, which they do though they seemingly now have access to mechs and other things which is a bit of a stretch given what we’ve seen prior to this and I say this knowing how ridiculous everything else to this point has been. This battle is suitably chaotic and the effects are pretty solid but it suffers from one very key problem – I literally didn’t give a shit about any of the characters involved in this sequence. The characters they’d invested the bulk of the screen time making me care about weren’t actually in the battle and basically popped up right at the end to save the day. The final confrontation between Neo and Agent Smith felt like a wasted opportunity too, it was well shot and choreographed but it just felt incredibly soulless, this wasn’t helped by the fact that there was an army of Smiths stood around just watching it happen, it was just very anticlimactic. To be clear I didn’t hate the film though I can’t say I liked it either, I just couldn’t care about it at all, I couldn’t get invested in it which isn’t something I could say about the other 2 films in the series (for better or worse in each instance). I’m still very interested in seeing the fourth film when it comes out but I have to say that expectations will be tempered accordingly, I hope they can steer clear of the convoluted bollocks which ultimately hampered the sequels.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices – Also know as Journey to Agartha apparently, this was the last Makoto Shinkai feature film for me to see at this point. Where I had a vague idea of the basic stories for his other films this one I had no clue about which meant I was pretty much going in blind, therefore my expectations were purely around it being a visually stunning film that’d most likely be quite emotional in places. The film follows Asuna, a young girl whose father has passed away and mother works a lot so she spends alot of time on her own helping at home where she can. She’s attacked by a mysterious creature and saved by Shun, a boy from the country of Agartha, who dies not long afterwards. She later meets Shin, who is Shun’s brother, and they travel to Agartha. There’s much more to it than that as Agartha is a place where the souls of the dead reside and the seeming villain of the piece wants to bring his dead wife back. It’s a more complex plot than the other Shinkai films I’ve seen in my opinion but it feels like a more contemplative piece as a result, which I think is due to the focus on death and dealing with loss, it’s incredibly interesting. Visually it’s typically impressive however it’s quite a different style to his usual films, it reminds me more of a Studio Ghibli film which may have been deliberate given it’s much more fantasy based than his other films. It’s definitely not a bad thing, just a little jarring in terms what I’ve grown used to, though it’s always a positive to see a film maker that’s able to utilise different styles effectively. The English dub is decent if a little understated, there’s no actors I recognise in the cast but from what I’ve been able to tell the cast are largely made up of established voice actors and the experience shows. My only complaint with the film would be that it gets a little convoluted at times but the ending more than makes up for it due to the fact that it touches on loss and how it can be difficult. Also unusually for a Makoto Shinkai film it doesn’t end quite like his other films as there’s a more seemingly closed ending rather than the ones he typically goes for where they’re typically left open to interpretation, overall it’s well worth checking out.

Coming 2 America – I love the original film, it’s one of those films where if it happens to be on then it’s never a bad idea to sit and watch. That being said it’s not a film I’d have said needed a sequel, and with that there’s also a feeling that it may not even be good idea as there’s really no way this can even be close to as good as the original. All that being said I was super excited when it was announced and was also quite glad it was coming straight to Amazon Prime given the pandemic and how it’s shut down cinemas. It’s definitely trying too hard to re-capture what made the first film so special, and while it isn’t a patch on the original that’s not to say it’s not enjoyable. Everyone is clearly having a lot of fun and it’s great seeing Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall playing off each other again, the barber shop is again a highlight. James Earl Jones is back briefly and his character comes off more mean spirited than he really should which is a shame and Wesley Snipes is surprisingly entertaining. The de-aged Hall and Murphy used to expand flashbacks from the first film to explain the long lost son are a little jarring, but thankfully it’s not used excessively. There’s numerous little call backs and references to the first film which should probably annoy me a little but actually I found more charming than anything else, little things like the baby elephant from the first film now being grown up to a McDowells advert. There’s a scatter gun approach to the jokes where some don’t land and some do and it’s skewed a bit in favour of the former, but the ones that did land had me laughing, there’s also a very nice Trading Places reference in there which made me smile too. It treads some familiar story beats to the first film which I initially rolled my eyes at but actually it does feel like a natural progression from the first film and maintains a lot of the sweetness from the first film, I was honestly pleasantly surprised by that. It’s an unnecessary sequel and realistically it’s not a patch on what came before but it is harmless fun, and I really enjoyed it so I’m happy with it.

Wonder Woman 1984 – I really enjoyed the first film, I thought it was fun and got the tone of the character right which hasn’t always been the case with some of the DC films. My only really complaint was around the excessive use of CGI towards the end which I thought made things a bit silly, but that’s a pretty standard feeling with any film with too much CGI so it wasn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. I was therefore looking forward to the sequel though I will admit to being somewhat concerned when it kept getting delayed as that’s not traditionally a great sign. It’s visually stunning, it’s incredibly colourful and vibrant which I really like, and Hans Zimmer delivers a pretty immense soundtrack, there’s a scene early on that reminded me of the original Superman film from the 70s tonally and it eased alot of my concerns as it showed that the tone from the first film was consistent with this one which was great news. Gal Gadot is excellent once again as the title character as she always seems to be, she naturally carries the film as you’d expect and she does a great job of it. Chris Pine being back makes very little sense, they explain the character he played in the first film returning but he’s initially in a different persons body and Pine seems to return as all Diana sees is him which is a very silly but it just about gets away with this conceit as Pine is a delight as the man out of time and there’s a few good laughs there. Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig are the villains of the piece, Pascal is Maxwell Lord and Wiig is Barbara Minerva who becomes Cheetah, they’re both excellent and the characters they’re playing are pretty well realised, they’re more complex than most villains in superhero films. Wiig in particular is excellent and it’s all too easy understand some of her actions, she’s kept remarkably sympathetic despite going down the path she does. There’s some nice nods to the Wonder Woman character as a whole in there too, the invisible jet and her learning to fly, there’s also a cameo from Lynda Carter who played Wonder Woman in the old TV series. I really enjoyed the film, it’s well paced and tells a story I was interested in, sure it’s silly but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and  also manages to convey genuine emotion in there too, it’s definitely well worth checking out.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League – I’ve been curious about this since it was announced, given the amount supposedly re-shot by Joss Whedon for the theatrical release I obviously wanted to know how different the original vision was. Let’s start with the obvious concern – it’s 4 fucking hours long, which is exhausting thinking about much less actually watching, though in fairness it is split out into parts so there are natural break points in there if you didn’t watch it all at once. The film follows the same basic premise as the theatrical version but there’s more context provided, which is the advantage of the extended run time. The intro is completely different with it showing the death of Superman and how his dying scream seemingly awakened the mother boxes which drive the plot, it’s much more tonally in line with Snyder’s universe too so doesn’t feel as jarring this time around. Some of the  one liners and jokes are gone, some of these are better gone, the scene where the Flash lands on Wonder Woman and Batman’s quip about Aquaman talking to fish being examples. There’s alot of build up here, it’s slow paced for the first half with alot of world building and introducing characters interspersed with some action beats. It actually works much better than I expected though you know damn well while watching that it never would have been released like this and it does feel like hacking away some of it would have had a dramatic impact on how much sense things made given that you’d be potentially losing characters and arcs. Flash and Cyborg get far more to do in this version, Cyborg in particular feels far more important to the plot here where previously he felt like something of an afterthought and Flash, while again used for comedy relief, is much more consistent as a character. There’s a completely new score in place too, Junkie XL doing the honours here and it’s very good, the call backs to Hans Zimmer’s work from previous films is nice but I do miss the Danny Elfman score too given the references to the older Batman and Superman films. There was alot I really loved about this, Batman and Superman were much more how I’ve always seen them in terms of character, Aquaman is better characterised compared to the original version, Wonder Woman is as good as ever, there’s more Alfred which is a delight, it’s less quippy than the original which I appreciate more than I expected and the lack of Henry Cavill’s CGI’d top lip is a definite upside. The negatives are obviously that insane run time, the effects are occasionally a bit ropey, it’s at times incredibly self indulgent, I think there’s a bit too much crammed into the film and it teases a Batman film that’ll most likely never get made which is a a crying shame. Overall it’s a flawed film that’s alot of fun, it’s well worth watching if you’re a fan of Snyder’s previous DC films. It’s honestly amazing it’s even been released at all given everything that’s happened since he stepped away from the film after the tragedy he had to deal with but the campaign to get it paid off massively.

Mortal Kombat – I guess this is technically a reboot given it doesn’t connect to the original films at all, but they’re all based on a computer game series so not really sure how it all works. Trailers for this showed a level of violence that at least mirrored the games, as well as a number of things that appeared faithful to that series so I was pretty interested, though with the caveat that game adaptations are typically shit. First impressions were that it was visually impressive though the blood effects were a little off, and it makes an odd decision to introduce a brand new character called Cole Young. Thankfully he’s pretty likeable and acts as a gateway into the world the film builds, there’s a certain amount already established which you learn about via Cole which is quite  a handy narrative short cut. It keeps the core cast relatively tight compared to the sheer number of characters that have been in the games over the years, this leads to some pretty glaring omissions like Johnny Cage though which just doesn’t feel right somehow. It sticks pretty close to the games tonally, in the sense that it doesn’t shy away from the violence at all. There’s some fatalities in there too for good measure and it largely doesn’t take itself too seriously though this does jar somewhat with the intro which sort of feels like it belongs in a completely different film along with the Sub Zero and Scorpion fight later on. Casting is largely solid, Joe Taslim as Sub Zero is probably the stand out though as he’s probably the main bad guy overall and there’s a genuine sense of menace about him which is impressive. There are definitely things I don’t like, it’s little too cliched and silly in places, some of the special effects are a little ropey, it doesn’t actually have the traditional tournament at all and it basically short changes Goro massively which is a shame. That said it’s a lot of fun and leaves plenty of room for a sequel which is something I’d definitely want to see as I thought the fight sequences were great overall. There’s also scope to bring in plenty of other characters, Johnny Cage being the most obvious and then there’s the second Sub Zero which could be a great addition. Ultimately I hope it does well enough to justify further films, I’d definitely recommend giving it a watch.

Double Dragon – I confess that I decided to watch this not because I especially wanted to but more to see if it was as bad as its reputation would indicate. It’s based on a computer game where 2 brothers beat the shit out of waves of bad guys to rescue the one of the characters girlfriends, not exactly a complex plot so it’s a little odd that the film goes a v very different route plot wise. It did star Mark Dacascos though who I’ve seen in a few things so made me hopeful the fight sequences might be alright at least, and Robert Patrick as the bad guy is, in theory, solid casting, needless to say though I went in with low expectations. These expectations were not exactly reassured when after the intro to establish an ancient medallion as plot macguffin it shows the setting as being New Angeles in 2007 where you honestly can’t help feeling like just having it be Los Angeles would have been less of a ballache. You also get a flavour for how bad the special effects are going to be when Patrick’s character takes possession of half the medallion, it’s really weird to think this came out after Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 and the effects are so want, though I concede I’d imagine this had a comparatively minuscule budget. It then establishes the heroes, Dacascos playing the more serious Jimmy and Scott Wolf as Billy who for want of a better word is a dickhead, instantly unlikeable and I wanted him to have his head kicked in early doors so I didn’t have to put up with him. The whole aesthetic is just weird, the futuristic setting means all vehicles look mental and the gangs that come out after curfew look like a mish mash of the Warriors and the Village People, it’s seriously fucking weird and hard to believe someone got paid to sort it out, the heroes have a car that has what appears to be a jet engine on it which is powered by an onboard incinerator they feed newspaper into, I’m all for suspending disbelief but for fuck sake. The dialogue is dire, genuinely appalling to the point where again it’s amazing someone was paid for the script. It tries to be clever and satirical, it cuts to news reports like Robocop does and there’s cereal branded by the bad guy (though these are just Rice Krispies with the elves wearing shades and a sticker stuck over the rice part on the box), but these attempts never really work as the film makers don’t understand what satire actually is. There’s also a henchman that gets some kind of medical procedure done to him to make him stronger and he winds up looking like a ball bag, I wish I was kidding. There’s also very little fighting which is idiotic given the game it’s based on, and it’s an utter waste given that Dacascos can actually fight. It is without a doubt every bit as shit as I was expecting, and actually it’s frustrating as if you remove the mystical bollocks, and the bullshit pseudo sci fi setting and just focus on the fighting to rescue the person you’re closer to the games, you’ve arguably got a better film and you could have used some of that special effects money to pay for a better script. Honestly the only thing that makes it semi worthwhile is that Patrick seems to genuinely be having a blast as the bad guy. Watching shit like this voluntarily though seriously makes me question my sanity, there are so many things about this that I could rip to shreds but honestly it’d take too much time and space.

Men in Black International – I originally intended to see this at the cinema, the trailers had looked promising and the chance to see Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson bantering off each like in Thor Ragnarok definitely appealed to me. Then it came out and got absolutely slaughtered in reviews and I just never bothered so figured I’d give it a go now it’s on Netflix. I went in with the mind set that it can’t be as bad as the reviews indicated surely, I appreciate that I should really know better at this point and keep expectations low but sometimes I’m sense of hope overrides my sense of realism. Thompson is very much the main character here as agent M, a new hire who has managed to track the Men in Black agency over the course of 20 years, she’s a socially awkward delight and you know she’ll have come into her own by the end of the film and Hemsworth is the maverick agent, you get the impression at this point he could do this sort of role in his sleep but he’s consistently entertaining thankfully. It’s very weirdly paced as M finds and joins up and has a montage of training which happens insanely quickly and then it takes about half the film to build up to the main plot, and even then it doesn’t flow especially well. There’s some questionable effects with some of the aliens and there’s special effects like the pointlessly transforming subway train which honestly would have worked better it had remained a standard train, this is a theme in the film in that some things just seem to happen for the sake of looking cool. Some of the alien designs are pretty cool but this comes with the caveat that bar a couple of exceptions none are especially memorable. It’s unbelievably predictable, you know that the alien M meets at the start is going to factor in again at some point and it happens, though I will say it’s quite sweet when it comes. The villains are imposing but literally have no characterisation and there’s a twist that is horrendously realised, it should be meaningful but because the character doesn’t get a lot of characterisation it comes off as trite instead.The most irritating thing about the whole film is there’s some really good performances in here, Thompson and Hemsworth play off each other well, Kumail Nanjiani is fun as the voice of an alien, Liam Neeson is solid as always and Emma Thompson might be the best thing in it, which is impressive given the limited amount of time she’s actually in it. Overall it’s shit but it just about manages to stay on the side of being mildly entertaining shit, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but if asked it would probably result in shrugged shoulders and a comment that I’d seen worse films.

I’m really glad to have got through this finally, I think the next newly watched film thing I do will likely be pure anime as I’ve acquired quite a few new films of late and I’ve been putting them off as I’d already done a few for this blog and didn’t want to overload it where I think a dedicated one is just fine. Cinemas are also hopefully due to re-open soon so there may be some stuff worth seeing there soon, though I’d imagine not for the initial few weeks.

Constantly trying to be a better person

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to post this or not given I don’t think it paints me in a great light. I’ve decided to go for it though as I feel like it also shows that I’ve gotten better and am trying to be better and figure that’s not a bad thing to talk about. 

I’ve been what I’d consider to be very lucky in my lifetime, I grew up in stable home with parents that loved each other and me, and the people I went to school with were largely the same. I never met anyone who had divorced parents until I started working at 17. As such I had a very specific view of the world and there was things I didn’t really understand or consider outside of my particular experience at that point.

With the benefit of hindsight a fair few of my viewpoints have been dickish at best, the way I’ve acted towards people has sometimes been problematic, especially towards people I consider friends. I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years as I’ve made incredibly good friends who I’ve learned from, who’ve been patient with me and who have stuck by when I’ve not always deserved loyalty like that. It’s been humbling and incredibly enlightening. 

These days I consider myself to be reasonably open minded, I’m open to learning about things I don’t understand and I want to be someone that doesn’t hate people or mock people because of circumstances outside of their control, traumas they’ve suffered, choices they’ve made or just who they are. It’s just odd to get to a point where you’re used to a certain way of thinking and then gradually that way of thinking is changed as a result of the people you surround yourself with, be it friends, family or work colleagues.

It’s something that’s been hugely eye opening over the years, turns out I was a bit of a prick when I was younger. I still am now to be perfectly honest, I think I’m just much more self aware than I was back then, coupled with the fact that I want to be a better person. As such I try to learn and listen to people, it’s taken time to develop that particular skill being the stubborn, opinionated prick I am but I have to say it’s been one of the most personally rewarding things I’ve done.

There was never any hatred in my thinking when I was younger, I was just the typical idiot who didn’t consider other people when I’d be joking about things. I was also the typical dickhead who thinks making jokes about topics like rape and calling your friends gay as an insult is the height of comedy, and you brush it off as just having a dark sense of humour. In my case I was just an oblivious wanker that didn’t really know much about the world and Jesus it showed more than I’d care to admit.

I think my view of things started to change when I started working at Virgin Megastore when I was about 20. I worked with a decent number of people that were gay or bisexual and basically realised they were just people. This seems so bloody obvious to me now and I question why I was so stupid but I’m just glad I was able to get past that way of thinking as it led to me making some really good friend, becoming more comfortable with myself as a person and just generally making myself more aware of some of the crap they have to deal with from people like I was or worse.

I think and hope that that’s the crux of the human experience, you meet people you care about and you learn to empathise with life experiences that differ from your own. I’m friends with people that have been raped and that immediately stopped me making jokes about it, that perspective of them having to have dealt with that kind of trauma just instantly stopped it being funny to me. For me it was one of those things where it made me angry at myself to think how callous I was and hoI could just make throwaway jokes about things like that. This is the wonderful thing about hindsight, it’s very easy to beat yourself up for past actions.

There’s loads of little things like the above examples that have happened over the years which have been really eye opening to me. From personal experience it’s very easy to just ignore things that don’t fit my worldview and don’t impact me but I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that not everything is about me. It’s been fascinating (sometimes morbidly so) learning more about these things, and I’m a little proud of myself where I’ve taken myself out of my comfort zone to do so, though I appreciate trying to be a non shit human should be the bare minimum.

I’d say I’m not sympathetic in the conventional sense, I don’t think I’m especially great knowing what to say in situations like that. I think I’ve become pretty good at listening and being a bit of a sounding board as I try to approach things from a logical standpoint. This has led to conversations with friends about things like counselling where I’ve had some experience which really helped me. I had a conversation with a friend about it once when she was considering and she said that talking to me about it had helped a little with the way she approached counselling and as a result the she found it a bit useful, it’s nice to know that while I’m learning from other people I have things to offer too.

I think that’s been the thing about my depression, I’m way too hard on myself. I’ve beaten myself up over the years and to be fair on my friends for the most part I don’t think they’ve had a problem with how I’ve been. Sure there will be disagreements about things but I’d like to think that they know I listen to them and take stuff seriously. If anything I’m hyper aware of how I can come across now, probably way more than I need to be in all honesty.

It’s weird because I see the way the world is changing, with racism being called out and with everyday sexism women deal with being highlighter it feels like we may actually wind up living in a world where people are capable of not being dicks to each other and if not necessarily accepting the differences of other people but being respectful and not being wankers about it. I suspect it’s going to be a slow going process to some extent but I figure any improvement of situation for people who are treated badly for things such as race, sexual orientation and things that have happened to them has to be embraced and has to be expanded.

Ultimately I am who I am now as a result of the people I’ve met, talked to, cared for and essentially wanted to learn from. I used to think as a kid I was open minded but I’m not sure I was, at least not on some topics. I’m not 100% sure I am fully now to be honest, I’m still very stuck in my way of thinking on alot of topics but I’m also trying to move away from that. I’m at least open minded enough to acknowledge I don’t know everything and to listen to people who know more about things than I do, which I figure is a decent enough 

This has extended to my friends, I’m trying to be a little bit less argumentative with them and losing my temper when they’ll sometimes say things I disagree with. We’re all stubborn and opinionated so no good tends to come from getting wound up about stuff. I’ve taken this to the point where if things start to get as little heated in our group chat I’ll remove myself from there for a bit to cool off and make sure I don’t say anything I regret. I like to think I’m a slow learner in some respects but I do learn eventually.

I’m not sure how effective it’ll be but I know I’m at least willing to accept when I’m in the wrong and not get offended about it which seems to be the very least I can do. Ultimately though I want my nephew to grow up being someone can see past all these issues and just knows to treat people with decency and respect, the person I aspire to be in essence. Based on how he is at 2 and wanting to be friends with everyone I suspect I’m going to wind up being very proud of him, and probably learning a few things from him.

When all said and done I just want to be the best version me I can be, I want to be there for my friends and help them wherever I can and I want them to know how much they mean to me and the regard I hold them. I don’t want to hate people as it’s exhausting, but if I do hate someone I want it to be because they’re an arsehole rather than for any other reason. And most of all I just want to make my little corner of the world a little better where I can, it doesn’t feel like much overall but at the same time it feels like I’m doing something at least.

If you happened to have read this and stuck with it to the end thank you, I’m not really sure what the purpose of this was beyond trying to convey my mindset a little while also trying to make sense of it myself. I overthink alot so this has been rattling around in my head for weeks now, as a result it may be a little all over the place but I also like to think it comes from a good place and makes some kind of sense.

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.