They create worlds: Prey

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

It’s one of the staples of premises in sci-fi games: the abandoned space station where something has gone horribly wrong. Did I say abandoned? Well, not quite… You’re not the only one creeping through the station’s corridors; there are… things barely glimpsed from the corner of your eye, things that are not your friends. So, arm yourself with a trusty wrench, hoard every medkit you can find – and survive. Because there is no escape – other than the cold, empty vacuum of space.

Prey

Continue reading

All hail the God of Silliness

If you had told me a year ago that a Thor film would be one of my favourite Marvel movies in recent years, I would have looked at you like you were touched in the head, possibly by a mythical hammer. For me, the two first Thor films were firmly at the bottom of the MCU, kept company only by Iron Man 2. In fact, I would have said that the character Thor was my least favourite of all the main characters in Marvel’s cinematic universe (though I am not including the TV series in this reckoning, because, well, Danny Rand). Yes, thanks to The Avengers I could see that the big, blond lug had some potential, but mainly as a supporting character and as the butt of a bunch of jokes.

Thor: Ragnarok

After Thor: Ragnarok, though? Well, let’s put it like this: if you’re looking for story or theme in an MCU film, the latest adventure of the God of Thunder won’t make you a convert. If you’re expecting a plot that is significantly different from, oh, pretty much every single Marvel movie since Iron Man, you’re out of luck. If you want a movie that fully embraces the silliness inherent in this ever-growing comic book universe translated onto the screen, though? Then hell, yeah – Thor: Ragnarok is an embarrassment of riches.

Continue reading

Is this the real life? Is it just replicants?

Perhaps it doesn’t need to be said – after all, the film is exceedingly well reviewed – but I want to start by saying it anyway: Blade Runner 2049 is a gorgeous piece of visual art. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Roger Deakins has surpassed himself; his portfolio does include The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, after all. Nevertheless, there are few films this side of the turn of the century, or even this side of the original Blade Runner, that offer as coherent and as gorgeous a window into a world that is at once excitingly different and eerily familiar. And the praise isn’t just Deakins’: the artists that worked on all the individual puzzle pieces that make up the look of Blade Runner 2049 may just deserve most of the awards that exist and some that don’t. I don’t think the film will necessarily become as influential as the original Blade Runner, which pretty much defined what dystopian cityscapes of the near future look like, but aesthetically it manages the almost impossible, reconciling the iconic neo-noir with a more modern, almost anthropological sensitivity and creating something that both recalls the original and adds to it in startlingly original ways.

Blade Runner 2049

Just consider this: after the endless night of the original film, Blade Runner 2049 is largely set in daylight scenarios – and it pulls it off.

Continue reading

Every inch a King

As this blog as much as the many BILLY shelves in my living room stacked with DVDs and Blu-rays can confirm, these days my main media are probably film and TV. However, when I was young, and well into my 20s, I was very much a librophile first and foremost, which is also what determined much of my education and my early professional path. And while he wasn’t there when I got started on a lifelong love of books pretty much as soon as I learned how to read, Stephen King was probably the first writer I obsessed over.

I don’t know when I last read one of King’s novels, but it’s definitely been at least ten years. I don’t much feel the need to return to his world, to visit our old haunts in Castle Rock and Derry. Although it may sound arrogant or pretentious, I’d say I’ve outgrown him – but, and perhaps more importantly, I’d also say that I grew up as a reader in the company of Stephen King.

NIght Shift Continue reading

Sometimes a third chance is all you need

Back in 2013, if you liked your crime to be character-driven, if you were keen on small towns whose idyllic surface belies the darkness below, if you were looking for something altogether less surreal and more British than Twin Peaks, then Broadchurch was a good option. The series wasn’t novel in its plot or themes, but it delivered its tale of a small community being brought to the breaking point by a horrible crime with honesty, sensitivity and the kind of cast that would make grown men weep.

So how do you ruin a series that was rightly lauded as excellent and, more importantly, that told a complete story? You make a second series that is badly plotted and that signals its pointlessness at every twist and turn. And yes, it did make grown men weep.

Broadchurch

Continue reading

The one with the talking raccoon

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is one of the most likeable films in recent years. It’s definitely the most purely fun film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) since, well, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1. It is funny, it has personality, and it is eminently quotable. Almost every scene has at least one great line, and that’s not even mentioning the visual humour the film excels at. It’s almost impossible not to like the movie.

Reader, I liked it – but I wanted to love it, and I didn’t.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians Vol. 2 does so many things right. It takes the fun ensemble of the first film and builds on it – and this extends to some of the henchmen, sidekicks and minor characters from the first film. It avoids the mistake common to the MCU of generic villains who are uninteresting as characters and who don’t reveal anything about the protagonists either (even if Marvel does return to the well of daddy issues a bit too often, perhaps). Visually it continues the trend of Dr. Strange of making these films look good instead of mediocre and blandly competent, and there’s genuine wit to some of the film’s humour. Continue reading

Metafictional metaphysics and the art of puppetry

I’m a big fan of Laika. No, not the space-faring dog so much as the animation company responsible for Coraline, ParaNorman and, most recently, Kubo and the Two Strings, one of my favourite films of 2016. Their loving dedication to the art of stop-motion animation tends to combine with their ability as storytellers and their oddball imagination to strange and wonderful effects, making their films distinctly different from Pixar’s beautiful but more sentimental fare, and elevating them far beyond other contenders with their well-rehearsed snark and pop culture references. I’d avoided The Boxtrolls to date, mainly because I’d heard that it was distinctly lesser Laika – and now, having caught it on TV, I would probably agree that it’s nowhere near the top of my list of Laika favourites, but it is still a great example of the company’s craftsmanship. The film, loosely based on Alan Snow’s 2006 children’s book Here Be Monsters!, combines the early Victoriana of Charles Dickens’ novels with the dark and sometimes gleefully gruesome humour of Roald Dahl – and hinting at even darker and more surreal entertainments such as the films of Monty Python.

The Boxtrolls

Continue reading