Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Doctor Who 'The Snowmen' Review

The 2012 Doctor Who Christmas Special ‘The Snowmen’ is without a doubt the best Christmas Special we’ve had to date.  A brave statement I’m sure, especially as 2010’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ was so beautifully told a story.  But what ‘The Snowmen’ does so wonderfully is ignore the fact that it’s a Christmas Special.  It’s got the longer format of the Christmas Specials, and it’s set at Christmas, but gone are all of the awful over the top Christmasyness (yes, it’s a real word) that made many of the previous specials so horrible to watch.  No more killer Christmas trees, robot Santa’s and exploding remote control baubles.  Instead we are given a very down to earth and very human story that focused more on the characters and their struggles rather than some gaudy threat that needed to be stopped.

The core of the story itself wasn’t the Snowmen, or even the villains behind the Snowmen, but The Doctor and Clara Oswin Oswald.  We are brought into a story to find a Doctor that had finally been beaten into submission.  The devastating loss of the Ponds has taken its toll on him and caused him to give up on the universe.  Through the episode we see him fighting against his natural urge to get involved in the mystery that Madame Vastra and co. are investigating, as well as the draw to the spunky barmaid Clara.  This is a nice change, and a great chance to see a Doctor that feels cheated and hurt by the universe that he’s helped to save so many times in the past.  But by the end of the story both we and The Doctor see that sometimes you have to set aside the bigger picture and just focus on the one person, the one person in this case being Clara.

Clara and The Doctor investigate The Snowmen.

Clara herself was a wonderful character to watch come to life on the screen and did what ay good companion does, made us forget about who came before.  Now, no disrespect for Amy and Rory, I think they’re a great pair of companions and I am sad that they’re not in the show anymore, but not once during the episode did I want them instead of Clara.  Clara captured my imagination and had such a wonderfully fun attitude that I couldn’t help but fall in love with her the same way The Doctor did.

There was a lot of intrigue going into this episode surrounding Clara as the actress Jenna Louise Coleman had made a surprise appearance in the first episode of the series as Oswin Oswald.  Knowing Steven Moffat as we do it was obvious at this point that he was laying the seeds for something big, and one of the more popular theories was that Oswin was going to be future version of Clara and that The Doctor was going to meet her out of order, much like River Song.  Instead Moffat has given us something so much more original and exciting.  Clara Oswin Oswald is a woman who appears in two different time periods, possibly as two different people with separate memories, who meets The Doctor and dies.  So, we now know that the Clara that will be travelling in the Tardis will not be the one from Victorian England or the future, but another version.  This has set up a mystery that will no doubt continue to unfold through out the rest of the series, possibly building up to the big 50th celebration.

The Great Intelligence commands the living snow.

Returning for the Christmas Special were the Silurian detective Madam Vastra, her wife Jenny and their Sontaran butler Strax, as last seen in the series six episode ‘A Good Man Goes to War’.  The three of them make a great team, and each work perfectly with The Doctor, each brining something unique to the mix.  It was also fun to hear that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based Sherlock Holmes and Watson on the adventures of Vastra and Jenny.

Whilst the title of the episode seemed to suggest that the main villains of the piece were going to be the snowmen themselves it was revealed that they were in fact just the foot soldiers of Doctor Simeon and The Great Intelligence.  Although it would have been nice to see more of them their inclusion definitely improved the episode, due in no small part to the amazing casting of Richard E. Grant and Sir Ian McKellen.  It was also a great treat for fans of classic Doctor Who to see an origin episode for The Great Intelligence that appeared as a villain for Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor.

The episode also boasted a new and improved opening title sequence and theme tune, along with a new Tardis interior. 

The new opening sequence was a great new change and whilst their was nothing wrong with the old one it often benefits from a revamp time to time, much like the Tardis, the companions and even The Doctor himself.  Changing things up from simply having the Tardis flying through the time vortex to include images of space was something that the show hadn’t really seen since Sylvester McCoy’s title sequence.  And the inclusion on The Doctor’s face in the opening was something that I’ve been waiting for since the show returned to our screens in 2005, and the lack of it in the years between then and now has felt completely wrong.  The music also goes through a great revamp, once again being unmistakably Doctor Who, yet bringing something new and interesting to the mix.  

The Tardis, smaller on the outside.
The new Tardis control room also gives hints back to the history of the show with a console that is very reminiscent of the one that Davison, Baker (Colin) and McCoy used during their tenure on the show.  The set also seems to reflect the new mood The Doctor has taken, gone are the bright oranges and golds from the fun times he had with the Ponds, instead we’ve got the blue and green colours of his lonely brooding.  The glowing tubes inside the central column and turning mechanisms above it help to show that the Tardis is a machine, with engines and moving parts, not just a magical box.

Whilst it only appears briefly in the episode and we have yet to see everything I have to admit that I like the new look.  We’d gotten to know the last control room pretty well and it’s nice to have the show give us something new.  I can’t wait to see more, especially in the upcoming episode entitled ‘Journey to The Centre of The Tardis’.

‘The Snowmen’ was an incredible episode, the best Christmas Special to date and a great introduction to an exciting new companion.  The supporting cast were great, with both the heroes and villains each getting their moments to shine.  A fantastic piece of storytelling, a shame a lot more shows aren’t as good as this!


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Chernobyl Diaries Review

I went into ‘Chernobyl Diaries’ knowing nothing about the film, I hadn’t even seen a trailer, I’d only seen the poster when the film was first released in cinemas and knew that it was a horror film.  As such I went into the film with no expectations or preconceptions of what I’d be in for. 

The film starts off well, taking it’s time to establish its cast of characters instead of just jumping into the action.  The film also starts with a great fake-out as it starts with scenes of hand held camera footage, leading me to believe that the film was going to be yet another ‘found footage’ film, before shifting to a traditionally shot film.  It was actually very refreshing to watch a film that was not ‘found footage’ as many of the new horror films have begun taking up the format.

The film focuses on a group of six tourists and their tour guide who go on an extreme tour of Prypiat, an abandoned town that sits beside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.  The city of Prypiat is amazingly beautiful and eerie all at the same time.  The massive, abandoned buildings, the over grown streets and long forgotten everyday artefacts creates a real sense of a very real world horror.  It would be very easy to visit the location and become both awed and frightened by what you see.  These locations give the film a sense of scope and beauty that set it apart from a lot of other horror films that tend to focus on tight, confining spaces.

The plot begins to build well, giving you time to get to know the characters and explore the location of Prypiat as they do before the tension begins to ramp up.  Unfortunately thought once the tension builds to a certain point it stops growing.  From the first scares to the last there is little to no escalation in tension, no growth to the threat.  The threat itself begins well enough, with the first encounter leaving it very vague as to what it is, however, once you become aware of what the threat is you can quickly loose interest.

The film does have one of the best animal scares though.  Where many films will have a cat or a dog suddenly jumping out at a tense moment Chernobyl Diaries takes this formula and puts its own spin on it, and creates the most memorable moment in the film.

Chernobyl Diaries is a fairly standard by-the-numbers horror film that adds nothing new to the genre or tries anything particularly innovative.  That being said it does have a few stand out moments and the locations are wonderful to look at and create a visual style that not many other films share. 

A fairly competent horror film that is definitely worth a watch, even though it may not appeal to everyone’s tastes.


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story Review

‘Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story’ is an autobiography of the world famous actor, politician and champion bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Unlike many autobiographies that I have read this book seems to focus more on what Arnold achieved in office as Governor of California and his massive business successes, rather than stories of his life and personal experiences.
I’m not saying that that’s all the book has to it, there is still a great deal in their that appeals to me as a fan, and I learnt a great deal about him that I did not know before.  However, the last third of the book centres mostly on his time as Governor of California and the different initiatives he introduced and what he did to improve the economy of the state and very quickly becomes more of a chore to read than the rest of the book.

The first 200 or so pages of the book focus on Arnold’s childhood, his bodybuilding career and his journey from Austria to America as a young man.  During these pages, when Arnold comes to the realisation that bodybuilding is the path for him he begins a statement that will be repeated many times in the book, that once he sets his mind to something, no matter what it is, he will achieve his goals.
Arnold also gives some interesting insights and anecdotes about a number of the films that he work on over the years, describing how he interacted with the fellow cast members as well as the crew, how he was nervous about playing the Terminator through fear of being typecast as a villain, and the various personal struggles that took place around his movies, like filming scenes for Predator one day and flying back home the next to attend his own wedding!

These stories are fascinating and entertaining, and I wished that Arnold had sent more time talking about his film career and could tell us more stories from the sets of his film, but I have a feeling that these stories could fill a number of books just on their own.

Intertwined with his film career are stories about how he sets up successful real-estate and mail order businesses, meets and falls in love with his wife, Maria Shriver, and becomes involved in politics at a non-governor level.
As I said earlier, the last part of the book deals with Arnold as governor or California, which is an interesting insight into one of the world’s biggest economies during a difficult financial time. However what initially begins as an interesting read quickly becomes bogged down by political jargon.  These last sections feel less like an autobiography and more like a list of things that Arnold feels he needs to justify about his time in office, to show that he did some good during his terms.

Finally, after dealing with politics Arnold addresses his infidelity, his illegitimate child and the breakdown of his marriage with Maria.   Unfortunately, like with most of the book, Arnold just gives us the bare facts, a breakdown of what happened and little to no emotion.  Perhaps Arnold is a very private person, and whilst he is comfortable telling us what has happened to him over the years, he does not feel comfortable telling us how these events affected him emotionally.
‘Total Recall’ is an interesting read, especially for a fan of Arnold and gives a lot of insights into his career, however, it lacks on personal stories and actual emotional content.  A prime example is when Arnold tells the story of how is mother died, which was moving, but I can’t help but feel that is Arnold had put more emotion into it it would have had a greater impact upon me as the reader.  Overall an enjoyable read filled with great stories, but lacks any real depth or emotion.


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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

1000 Hits!

Wow, thank you everyone for visiting my blog and supporting my writing, I've had over 500 hits in the last month and it's all down to you guys!  Thank you so much for showing your support and reading my blog, I hope that I can continue to produce posts that you can all enjoy!

Thnk you all.


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Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Walking Dead Retrospective

The Walking Dead was first published almost ten years ago by Image Comics and has since gone on to become one of the best selling independent comic books of all time and has become a global phenomenon.  With the first issue selling for thousands and spin off media including television and video games you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of The Walking Dead.  With the television show having just reached it’s third series mid-season finale I thought that I’d take this time to look at The Walking Dead, talk about the differences in the various mediums and what makes the title so popular.

The Comic
The Walking Dead comic is one of the most successful independent comic books ever printed.  First produced in 2003 by Image Comics and featuring the creative team of Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore (later replaced by Charlie Adlard), the book quickly became a hit.  I first read the book when it was picked at my local book club and was instantly hooked by it.  I proceeded to read every available graphic novel and comic until I was up to date, and have tried to stay their ever since.  But what is it with the book that one captured my imagination so greatly, and has since turned to massive disappointment? 

 The beauty of the book was that it was unlike anything else at the time, with most other zombie comic books at the time being mini-series’ that tended to focus on the more horror movie aspect, of people fighting for survival.  The Walking Dead flipped this formula on its head, with the story starting months after the zombie outbreak and focusing on the survivors and their journey their relationships.

Instead of focusing on fighting zombies and fighting them physically the books showed the characters fighting their own inner demons, the struggle to come to terms with their losses and their need to find food and shelter.  In many cases the un-dead were more of a background object than a central focus.

Unfortunately after a certain while the book recycles the same plots again and again.  The Walking Dead seems to follow one particular story structure over and over again.  The main group meets some survivors, they join together, they find somewhere they think they can be safe, half of them get killed, they meet more survivors, they join together, and on and on it goes again and again.  New characters enter, old ones leave but the book always stays the same because nothing new ever happens.

Yes, there are some good things in the book, some great character moments and twists that genuinely shock the reader, usually relating to a sudden and gruesome demise of a character.  Unfortunately these good things cannot stop the fact that there is little to no plot development.  After reading the book for a hundred issues I just get the sense that Kirkman never intended for the book to run as long as it has, that he ran out of new and interesting idea a long while ago.

The Walking Dead starts as a great read, but unfortunately decreases in quality over time.  If you haven’t read the books, but are a fan of the show or even just curious about The Walking Dead the books are a must read, but be prepared for quality to diminish over time.

Televisionn Show

Unlike the comic series the television adaptation continues to move from strength to strength.  The television series is where The Walking Dead really took off and found a whole new fan base, allowing the series to become accessible to people who would never read the books.

The series is currently in the middle of its third season, with each season becoming more and more popular, with great new actors joining the cast and exciting new story lines that are brand new to the franchise.

The greatest strength of the show is that it doesn’t just completely follow the plot of the comic books, but instead tells its own unique story.  As someone who had read the books this difference is what makes the show exciting, even though I know the basic structure of the plots the show is telling, the details are completely unknown to me, and can go in any direction.

My favourite part of the show though is the characters.  The show treats the characters from the book much better than they ever were in the original source material.  For example, in the books Carl is pretty useless, remaining very child like despite everything that’s happening to the characters, however, in the show Carl as quickly become a hardened fighter, engaging in combat with the zombies as much as his adult counterparts and proving to be a vital member of the group.

In addition the characters created just for the show are also some of the best, with Merle developing in depth with each episode and Daryl being the single best character in the whole franchise.  

It feels like the television series is Kirkmans way of going back and correcting his mistakes, of creating a better crafted story than what he first produced.  One of the finest examples of doing something better the second time round.  A great version of The Walking Dead and one of the best shows on television right now.

The Video Game

The Walking Dead video game is a point and click adventure developed by Telltale games and is currently available for download on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3,with a disc release scheduled over the next few weeks.  It is set within the universe of the comic series, but tells its own story that begins before the comic, and eventually runs concurrently to it.

The story begins with the very early days of the zombie outbreak, when people were still unsure what was going on and that the army would sae them.  It’s refreshing to see this part of the story as it’s something that hasn’t been shown up till now, with both the comic and the television show starting up after the initial outbreak.

The game puts you in the shoes of Lee Everett, an essentially good man who had made some mistakes in his life and was on his way to prison at the start of the outbreak. Very quickly Lee encounters Clementine, a young girl left on her own.  Over the course of the rest of the game Lee becomes Clementine’s protector and surrogate father figure and fights to keep her alive through the end of the world.

Despite being a game that crafts its story based upon the decisions you make, its core story is amazing.  It once again focuses on the human aspect of the story rather than the zombies and shows just how delicate human relationships can be, with the wrong words chosen by the player having long lasting and potentially disastrous consequences for the survivors. 

The beauty of being set in the same world as the comic books is that it can use what has already come before it to tell its own story with greater ease. It also allows you to meet a number of characters from the books before Rick does, with early appearances of both Hershel and Glenn.

A great, fun and easy to play game that crafts a great story that will have you massively engrossed.  It’s very easy to start playing the game and fall in love with the characters, but be warned, just like in the rest of The Walking Dead franchise no one is safe from death, so try not to get too attached whilst playing.

All the best!


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Sunday, 2 December 2012

Mass Effect 3 Omega Review

The three heroes of 'Omega', Aria, Shepard and Nyreen

The ‘Omega’ downloadable content is the newest story related update for the critically acclaimed Mass Effect 3 and was released earlier this week.  It takes Commander Shepard and drops him/her into the bowels of Omega, a space station home to some of the worst criminals in the galaxy that is now under the rule of the terrorist organisation Cerberus.  Shepard joins forces with Aria T’Loak, former big boss of Omega.  If Shepard can help aria retake her station she will give Shepard ships, soldiers and resources that may help in the battle to save all life in the galaxy.

‘Omega’ is one of the better pieces of dlc for Mass Effect 3.  So far the majority of the extra content for the game has been multi-player content, with the only other piece of story content (other than the extended cut) being ‘Leviathan’.  Where ‘Leviathan’ offered a mystery story ‘Omega’ is a straight up action story.  From start to finish it’s Shepard and Omega against Cerberus.  And it’s great.

Revisiting the Omega space station last seen in Mass Effect 2 the player is taken through the dirty and gritty under-hive of one of the most lawless places in the Mass Effect Universe.  Many of the other locations featured in Mass Effect 3 are planetary environments and as such are large, fairly open areas.  This is scrapped in ‘Omega’ in favour of dark, tight tunnels that turn combat from army vs. army battles into small, desperate skirmishes. 

Along with the change in setting is also a change in squad mates to accompany you.  Gone are your companions from the main game, instead replaced by the leader of the assault on Omega, Aria T’Loak, and a new face to the series Nyreen Kandros, former Turian soldier and current leader of the Talon Gang that make Omega their home.

What makes Nyreen stand out as an addition to the series is the fact that she is the first female Turian to appear in the games.  To date female Turians have only appeared in the extended media, but Omega marks the first time one has appeared in the actual games and focuses as much on her as it does Aria and Shepard.  A former Turian soldier that was thrown out of the military after she developed biotic abilities she came to Omega and met Aria.  The two of them became close friends and allies until Nyreen became disillusioned with the way of life on Omega.  Since that day she disappears, only to return during the Cerberus occupation of Omega as the leader of the Talon gang, with the mission of freeing the citizens of Omega from Cerberus rule.

Nyreen Kandros, Mass Effect's first female Turian

Nyreen is a great addition to the Mass Effect universe, and it’s great to spend more time with Aria and see some more depth to her character rather than just ‘crime lord’.  Along with some great action sequences, a brand new set of environments to travel around and new characters ‘Omega’ is a fun addition to Mass Effect 3 that helps to build on what was already in the game, as well as continuing on plot threads introduced in the comic series.

Great fun to play and has some excellent new additions to the game and the series as a whole.  My only complaint with it is that Nyreen does not stick around beyond the dlc into the main game as a new squad mate companion.  8/10.


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