Movie Review 20: Hostiles


In preparation for seeing Hostiles the next day, me and my parents recently watched Open Range. It made me realise that I’m a sucker for Westerns, which is strange considering the fact that my favourite genre is sci-fi. But films like Magnificent Seven (original and remake), 3:10 to Yuma, The Revenant, For a Few Dollars More, and even Blazing Saddles are among some of my favourites to just whack on the TV of an evening. Hostiles began as an equal to these films, but I’m afraid it peaked far too early.

Christian Bale plays Captain Joe Blocker, a US cavalryman tasked with transporting a dying Cheyenne and his family across to Montana. But the Cheyenne is Chief Yellow Hawk, Blocker’s bitter rival from the Plains Wars, a fact Blocker must come to terms with lest he face court martial and the retraction of any benefit for his time served in the military. Over the course of his journey, he also comes across Rosamund Pike’s character. I genuinely don’t remember her name and I like to point out this fact instead of just looking it up for the review, because it shows how weak her character actually was. A story of honour and forgiveness, honestly, for a movie entitled ‘Hostiles’ it contains considerably fewer than expected.

The Good:

I mentioned above that Hostiles peaked too early. Our neighbour came round for tea before we watched the film, and he told us that he’d watched the first half an hour or so and found it violent and terrifying. It’s violent enough, but certainly nothing special, and there are a few tense moments for sure. The Comanche stalking Rosamund Pike’s character (who I’ve just learnt from IMDB is called Rosalie, so we’ll just refer to her as such for the rest of the review) is genuinely chilling, and seeing her whole family get killed in seconds is harrowing-ish, I suppose. It sort of happens too quickly to really conjure up any sort of emotion other than slight distaste, though, a trend we shall see runs through the rest of the film. Some other great aspects of the film’s first half hour are the acting, where Christian Bale’s performance is just phenomenal, and the locations. In fact, the latter stays fairly satisfying throughout. But then Bale’s moping, mumbling soldier-type demeanour becomes quite frustrating. Man, I really am having trouble giving this any praise, aren’t I?

However, one more thing I want to point out before we move onto the real criticisms is the character of Tommy. At the outset of the film, he mentions to Blocker over a glass of whiskey that the doctors say he has the melancholia. Then, almost at the film’s climax, Tommy rides off into the woods in a rainstorm wearing nothing but his breeches, and is later found sitting against a tree with a bullet in his head and a pistol in his hand, the barrel streaked with blood. I can’t remember ever seeing a character who suffers from depression and suicidal tendencies in a film before, at least not one where they aren’t the main subject of the plot. But as someone who has battled with similar feelings myself in the past, I think it was a great addition and really added to the depth of the characterisation. Tommy’s character is so much more amplified by this inner struggle which, even though it only surfaces a few times, is one that many filmmakers are unwilling to pay attention to.

To focus on a true positive, let’s look at the ending of the film, where Blocker escorts Rosalie and the now adopted Little Bear, Yellow Hawk’s grandson and the only surviving Cheyenne of the group, to the train station. He sees them onto the train then turns to walk away, the film winding down with a tastefully done slow-motion sequence. We see Rosalie crying in the carriage. We see Blocker walk away. We see Rosalie wiping her tears. We see Blocker stop. He turns to face the camera and stares into the audience’s soul with big mournful eyes for what feels like a whole thirty seconds (a long time to break the fourth wall). Then, slowly, elegantly, he walks along the platform after the train. As the music swells to its crescendo, Blocker puts a hand on the guardrail and lifts himself up onto the back of the last car, followed by a fade to black. It damn nearly redeemed the entire film for me, but after sleeping on it I realised that, try as it might, such a well-done ending couldn’t blind me completely to the shortcomings of the film throughout the rest of its runtime.

On a side note, there’s a particularly beautiful if detached sequence where Bale lays his gun in the dirt and silently screams while lightning strikes on the horizon and thunderclouds roll overhead. But that’s a single minute out of a hundred and thirty, so perhaps isn’t quite enough to sway me.

To be Improved:

Let’s start off with the most niggling issue I have: campfires. Bloody campfires. My mum put her head in her hands near the films climax and moaned “No more campfires”, but almost on cue they managed to put another ten second shot of the Cheyenne family sitting around one. It was to show the passage of time, but the timing couldn’t have been more perfectly awful. In all seriousness, there is just far too much sitting around and talking. Every scene, pretty much, is in a camp, or ends with Blocker ordering his men to stop and make one.

Another big problem I have is that the primary antagonist seems to be the plot itself. Anything to get in the way of our heroes goes, really. The Comanche, who are the coolest looking but least explored members of the cast (as is the case with many things, here’s looking at you, Boba Fett), and are frankly wasted. After a brief but exciting altercation, the troop sets off on another day and finds the last two Comanches killed, murdered in the night by the Cheyenne Blocker is escorting. It’s scenes like this that I want to see instead of the aftermath. I know you can only squeeze so much into two hours, but it would have fleshed out Yellow Hawk’s character no end. Instead, we’re left with the desire to see what happened and how he singlehandedly took down the two vicious warriors who, oh, I don’t know, murdered Rosalie’s whole family at the beginning of the film, but no satisfaction. Speaking of that fact, after being picked up by Blocker, Rosalie initially sees the Cheyenne he is transporting and shies away, screaming and crying. Then, after the Comanche attack again, she immediatelynay, purposefully makes a beeline to the Cheyenne and cowers with them. It’s a blatant contradiction to the character’s personality, and very jarring.

The final gunfight (which caused me to whisper “It’s not a Western unless everyone dies” in my girlfriend’s ear) is very muted and, whadya know, everyone dies in about six seconds flat, very back and forth in the nature of one protagonist down, one antagonist down, one protagonist, one antagonist, until there’s only a few left and of course the love interest and main hero, shot through the wrist but apparently impervious to any damage caused thanks to the wonder of plot armour, are the last ones standing. It doesn’t really work, and has nothing like the stakes, dynamics or duration of final shootouts such as those found in the true classics.

And finally, on a small technical note, there is a series of very awful shots of sunsets containing massive, painfully blue and purple Star Wars and Star Trek-esque flares. It completely detracts from the film as these strips of neon colour only occur when light goes through a manmade lens, so it immediately makes it clear that there’s a film crew present. What’s even worse is the fact that the flares aren’t even mixed up with the other, more natural colours. They’re completely isolated of off to one side, and I’m no expert, but it seems to me like they could have very easily been edited out. Accidental or deliberate, it was a huge oversight to include them.

Overall: 4/10

What a load of drivel. Songs round innumerable campfires, deaths that happen off-screen, a final gunfight where you don’t even see the last kill even though it’s the most satisfying (Blocker performing a Comache-style “stem to stern” slit with a bowie knife), a cast of characters where the most memorable one has about ten lines then shoots himself. Strange, then, that critics are hailing this as one of the most brutal Westerns ever made, a fact which not only makes me throw my head back and laugh, but also causes me to wonder if perchance they’ve ever seen Bone Tomahawk, Hateful Eight, or even Slow West. With probably three instances of actual bloody violence, and even then ones that are so blink-and-you’ll-miss-it that by definition they are nowhere near “brutal”, I’ll repeat what I started this review with: the cast and plot of Hostiles are anything but.


Review 24: The Secret Life of the Owl by John Lewis-Stempel


Let us take a trip back. All the way back to May 2015, in fact. To what was only my second review on this site: Meadowland. The trip through a year in the life of an English field was a beautiful foray into nature, and in the present day, 2018 (Happy New Year, everyone!), I have two tattoos (of a planned many) relating to nature: A soaring peregrine falcon and a rearing stag. As one who believes his tattoos are an ‘outer manifestation of one’s inner state’, and someone who grew up with a family cottage in the English countryside (many references to that in some of my other reviews here and here), it’s safe to say nature is close to my heart. So when I saw The Secret Life of the Owl in the half price section in Waterstones I was both upset that it hadn’t been given more credit and pleasantly surprised that I could snap up such a pretty little read on the cheap. Student life, I’m afraid.

The author has a resident tawny owl, Old Brown, at his family home on the Welsh border. She swoops over his head by night, and is nowhere to be seen by day. This is the life of the owl, and Lewis-Stempel reveals it in all its wonder in this charming book.

The Good:

Short of science textbooks at school, I don’t think I’ve learnt as much from a book in my entire life as I did from this one. I finished it in two or three sittings, and each one was stuffed to the brim with new tidbits and oddities about these beautiful creatures. The chapter on Owl Factfiles in particular has most of the juicy stuff, but the preceding chapter is also jam-packed with info. I learnt that owls bob their heads because they’re gauging the distance of objects, and they have to do that because their eyes are fixed and immovable in their skulls. I also learnt that said eyes take up SEVENTY percent of the space available in their heads. The phrase isn’t ‘bird-brain’ for nothing, as my dad pointed out. Those facts alone are amazing, but the book is full of so many more. On top of that, a section on literature relating to owls was a particular favourite of mine as an aspiring author, future Creative Writing degree student and general bibliophile.

To be Improved:

With Meadowland, I could find little wrong. But I ended up giving the book a seven out of ten purely because, try as the author might with amazingly poetic description, there’s no way past the fact that the subject matter is a single field. Besides, it wasn’t really focused on the animals in general for educational purposes, more so an autobiography of a year of Lewis-Stempel’s life. With The Secret Life of the Owl, the subject matter is already something beautiful, and it is played upon to great effect. My only issues are that the book is far too short, perhaps because owls are as mysterious as they are, so we know much less about them than other creatures, and also that I would have enjoyed fact files and information on many more owls than the few found in Britain. The problem I had with Meadowland resurfaced with this book, because Lewis-Stempel has this sort of arrogance (charming all the same, but arrogance nonetheless) in the way he writes, wherein anything he is unable to experience for himself is not allowed. But I’m sure he isn’t doing this on purpose, and it does make the book nice and contained when it focuses on the wildlife of one particular place. If I wanted loads of variety I’d read one of my many RSPB bird-watching books.

Overall: 9/10

As mentioned above, I finished The Secret Life of the Owl far too quickly, which stands as a testament to how un-put-down-able and fascinating it is, but goes to show it could have been extended into a larger tome and I would have enjoyed it all the more. I know the author is British, but if he adores the creatures as much as he claims to in the book, he might have stretched to include some owls encountered beyond the realms of his own experiences. However, on the whole I don’t know how I could bring myself to give this book any less than a near-perfect score, for that’s exactly what the book is. Near-perfect.

Movie Review 19: Bright


The trailer for Bright came on before Star Wars… And despite the massive ‘Netflix’ logo that normally turns me off completely, I was actually thoroughly impressed. The visuals caught me right away, and the idea of orcs and guns was one that, I gotta admit, appealed to me greatly. Unfortunately, I got home to discover that it wasn’t going to come out until the 22nd of December, granted only about a week away but still too long for me to wait. Basically, I don’t know if there was just something about it, but I was itching to see this movie.

Following officer Ward (Will Smith) and his orc partner, Jakoby, Bright injects fantasy creatures into a sprawling LA, set some decades in the future. A magical war swept the Earth two thousand years ago, and a mysterious figure called the Dark Lord rose and was eventually defeated by the nine armies. Now, a powerful artifact has been discovered which could bring about his return, and it’s up to Ward and Jakoby, with the help from an elven sorceress, to find it and destroy it. That probably doesn’t sound too interesting to the majority of people, but it’s really quite good.

The Good:

One thing that sprung to mind immediately from the moment Bright started was something my girlfriend says all the time when we’re watching movies. “I don’t like this,” she tells me, “You can tell it’s a script.” With Bright, I find the exact opposite to be true. Will Smith is a highlight, of course, with his Deadshot-esque quips (directed by David Ayer of Suicide Squad fame, after all), but the others characters talk like normal people, too. It’s incredibly refreshing and is most likely because a movie like this, which goes straight to TV/Netflix but has still had some semblance of a budget behind it, doesn’t have to fill the expectations created by the silver screen in terms of dialogue. But that doesn’t mean it’s worse. It means that, free of the confines of cinema, TV writers have full reign, and actually write better scripts overall. What sounds better, truly? Sherlock Holmes, or Avengers? If you think it’s the blandly barked orders and cliche catchphrases of the latter, I pity you. Bright’s script is one of the best things going for it.

Now, I’m a sucker for already-established lore, like that of the Star Wars universe, and my other favourite thing about Bright is the mythology behind the story. Mythology which, in the film’s setting, has existed for thousands of years, so is already deeply ingrained in the characters’ thoughts, actions and psyches. Meanwhile, in Lord of the Rings and the like, the many races and locations and creatures and weapons and blah blah bloody blah are without fail explained in massive exposition dumps. “This is Bluddagud, the sword that slew Infil whom slew Underfil whom begat Grundil,” and so on so forth. Don’t make me laugh. Just hand the sword slowly and carefully to the hero (so I know it’s an important or sacred object just from the way you’re handling it), maybe tell me its name in a hushed whisper (so I know you’re scared or intimidated by it) and then have the hero react accordingly (so I know, simply from their actions, that this weapon must have a huge reputation). I want a universe where characters can just reference things around them like they’ve been living amongst them for years, which, if we’re suspending our disbelief as one must when watching movies… they have! Think about it. In a film of your life, would you buy a coffee with a friend and, as you pay the barista, turn to them and explain the strange metal discs in your hand? No. As a writer, when you spoon-feed the audience information, they know you think they’re too stupid to figure things out by themselves. When a police car drives past a checkpoint and there’s a fricking centaur in body armour with an assault rifle, I know that this is clearly a normal thing in this society. This is the way things should be done, and it’s the way things are done in Bright.

There are also some very cool visual and musical cues that brought tears to my eyes, especially at the finale, where the score that has been teased for the duration of the film builds to a proper climax. Just an aside.

“Croc? Wrong movie, man, come on! No, I’m not Deadshot, I’m Ward this time. Look, it’s complicated.”

To be Improved: 

Tikka? Chicken Tikka? I couldn’t really tell her name from the way they were saying it, the problem when you never see fantastical names written down, but she’s this nimble elf blondie who’s stolen a magic wand and she’s really damn annoying. She’s basically a walking ex machina, for one thing, able to steal handcuff keys in the heat of the moment, while being shot at, may I add, but on top of that she cringes at every slight noise and is generally just a bundle of nerves. Her acting, towards the end, though, actually gets incredibly good. The elves in general are all a bit of a let-down, considering they’re some of the coolest-looking in the film. The main villainess can take down a whole SWAT team single-handedly, with one knife, but is somehow bested by Will Smith literally wearing a tracksuit. She then comes back to life, an even more annoying result, and her henchman is a ripoff Hitman complete with suit and bald head, and:

There is also plot thread with a Magic Task Force, led by a blue-haired elf, following the heroes along with the police, the human street gangs, the orc street gangs and the creepy Elf death squad, which just gets lost as the protagonists have so many people after them that it seems unlikely they’d be able to even turn a corner without bumping into one of their pursuers. Finally, there is a very cheesy moment (if a little touching, come on, I’m not made of stone) where a character emerges who knows one of the protagonists but is inexplicably the one person tasked with killing them. When said character then leaves and the protagonist is actually killed, I thought this criticism was going to have to be put in my ‘The Good’ section for having the balls to actually stiff a hero. But then, the character is brought back to life a second later! Disappointment to pleasant surprise and back again. If anything I can at least say it kept me on my toes.

Overall: 6.5/10

After enjoying the trailer immensely and seeing the potential in a film like this, I was worried that Bright wasn’t going to be anything special. But I think, for the most part, I was proved wrong. The socio-political commentary on race is a little heavy-handed, especially given the nature of the setting (where orc ghettoisation has clearly just represents African-American ghettoisation) but perhaps it’s exactly the sort of thing we need in today’s world. Granted, it probably won’t change the world. Ratings for Bright have been anything but. In my opinion? The message is there. And it’s wrapped up in what is, honestly, a well-written, Suicide-Squad aesthetic, brilliantly-acted, sometimes cheesy but more often visually and narratively impressive and innovative, movie. And you can’t take any of that stuff away from it.

Movie Review 18: Star Wars VIII – The Last Jedi



Yesterday, the two year wait for VIII finally came to an end. Taking my seat in the cinema, I suddenly felt sick. Very sick. The lights went down and my stomach was churning. But this was not a winter vomiting bug, or something I’d eaten. This was raw, untamed excitement.

Last Jedi picks up (almost) immediately where Abrams left off in The Force Awakens, over seven hundred days ago. Luke has been found. The First Order, after obliterating the Republic with the Starkiller weapon, now approaches ready to snuff out the last spark of hope in the galaxy: The Resistance. Finn lies in stasis, injured from the final battle with Kylo Ren. Will the light rise again to face the darkness that rises to meet it, or is this truly the end of the Jedi order for good? I DON’T KNOW LET ME WATCH THE DAMN FILM ALREADY I’VE WAITED TWO YEARS.


The Good:

Once the opening scene got past a particularly long and drawn out joke about being put on hold, holy space balls was it insane. I remember sitting there and my only thought, after two years of incredibly anxious waiting, was this: My god. Rian Johnson has done it.

Seeing the spiralling X-Wing engage its boost drive and take on the mighty First Order Dreadnought, I was just bouncing in my seat, I really was. The visuals are somehow even more crisp and clean than they were in Force Awakens. Although I really think that Abrams bridged the gap between the almost entirely practical Original Trilogy and this, the half-and-half Sequel Trilogy, Rian Johnson really knocked it out of the park with this. It’s pure, gorgeous, laser-pulsing sci-fi in all its glory, and to see The Last Jedi is to see the franchise at its peak. It’s as simple as that, and I’m going to just get that out of my system now.

In short, everything has been fixed since Force Awakens. Despite the fact that it goes in some odd directions at times, as we’ll see in the ‘To be Improved’ section, the story finally feels like it has a proper focus now. Some burning questions have been answered, others… Not so much, again, as we’ll see below. Phasma got a gorgeous chrome-plated send-off, awash with pink and blue neon, after doing nothing in the first film. The Praetorian guards are absolutely beast and engaged in one of the most tense, exciting and visually awe-inspiring lightsaber battles in the franchise, in my opinion. The force was finally properly explained, after all these years, putting a forty-year-long debate to rest. We saw Luke’s green lightsaber. YODA’S BACK, BABY.

So much goes on and the visuals, sound design, effects, plot choices, tension, score, characters, settings, EVERYTHING is wonderful. Well. Perhaps not absolutely everything.

‘Heeeeere’s Phasma!’

To be Improved:

Little disclaimer, one I’ve said before in many of my reviews. When a piece of work, be it film, book, or game, is as incredible as this, the list of things wrong with it may seem numerous but that’s only because anything less than amazing sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s simply a blessing and a curse that comes with things that turn out to be really really enjoyable. Now that’s out of the way, let’s get to it.

There were two types of moments in this film that I didn’t appreciate, both of which caused me to turn to my girlfriend and tell her I was very upset, and she often agreed. The first type is the unnecessarily injected moments of humour that simply do not add to the film in any way. Some of these are alright and bring a different and fresh sort of spark to the story, like Leia telling C3PO to “Wipe that nervous look off your face”. Others, like Luke squeezing the teat of some odd pink space-walrus that giggles as it sprays milk into the bottle, made my stomach flip over. “Oh, fuck,” I thought. “Rian Johnson has done to Star Wars what James Gunn did to Guardians of the Galaxy with the sequel”. If you’ve read my review of GotG2, you’ll understand why this feeling was the most unfortunate one that could have possibly surfaced during a trip to see a film from my favourite franchise of all time. But, luckily, thank the maker, these moments are very few and far between. Just enough to add something funny for the common denominator, I guess, but I’m still upset that they weren’t left on the cutting room floor.

The second type of moment is a lot more challenging, for it comes in the form of actual plot threads that don’t do anything for the wider narrative, or are otherwise just confusing and misleading. Case in point: I know we all should have seen it coming, but are Rey’s parents really just… nobody? That seems like a massive kick in the balls to anyone who waited two years to find out some sort of answer, and I can tell you, I was one of those people. Another of these moments was when Snoke was killed by Kylo. Though the entire proceeding fight scene was glorious and brought tears to my eyes with the refrain from John Williams’ Force Theme, throughout all of it all I could think was “Oh god, who’s going to be the big bad of the franchise now that the Emperor Palpatine knockoff is dead?”. I guess only time will tell, but for now it looks like Star Wars IX is going to be left with a very whiny teenage darksider as its primary antagonist, which does not bode well. The next of these moments is what I like to call Chekhov’s X-Wing. Chekhov’s gun is the controversial literary principal that everything that is shown (or at least focused on) in a narrative must then be utilised later in the story. The example given is if, in the second chapter, a person walks into a room and notices the shotgun hanging on the wall, that shotgun must be used by the final chapter or it should not be included in the first place. Case in point: A dramatic shot of Luke’s X-Wing, sitting underwater just offshore. It was just such a disappointment to remember that shot once the credits started to roll, and to know that it was never returned to. But perhaps the weirdest scene of them all is when Princess Leia is shot out into space, only to pull herself back to the ship using the force. Just… WHAT? I’m pretty sure even Luke wouldn’t be able to do that! It’s horribly CGI-ed, the imagery is disturbing, Leia has never had the force in all its strength until this moment, where it comes very suddenly, and above all it’s probably single-handedly the worst thing about the film. That and the rage-inducingly prolonged sequence in the casino, where Finn and Rose ride these weird horse things through town destroying cars and buildings for what seems like a good ten minutes. On top of that, the film finishes with, in my opinion, an appalling final shot, with a slave child looking up to the stars and holding his broom like a lightsaber. It was just a really disjointed, tacked-on sequence that could have been left until the next film, or at the very most stuck somewhere other than right on the tail-end of this one.

Screen Shot 2017-12-15 at 11.47.35.png
Alan and Jim might have taken it a little bit too seriously when everyone told them red was their colour.

Overall: 8/10

Not ten, I hear you ask in shock? Well… No, not really! Despite this being one of the best films in the franchise, and (after just a single viewing, mind you) definitely up there in the second place spot below Empire and above Rogue One, The Last Jedi had a lot of frustrating things about it. All the moments that were fabricated purely for the sake of it or because they looked ‘cool’ or ‘funny’ or because they hurried the story along really detracted from the scenes that were pure genius. Luckily, the film plays out a lot like Blade Runner 2049 in the sense that all the scenes are so sort of separated into separate threads of consciousness rather than one long story that when they’re put together as a whole film, it doesn’t really matter if some fall down while others are elevated. To cut to the chase, though: Rian Johnson has done it. And the wait? It was more worth it than my seventeen-year-old self could have possibly imagined.

Game Review 8: Fallout – New Vegas


My experience with Fallout: New Vegas is a very strange one. After purchasing it several years ago when a friend told me it was the best in the series by far, I struggled to get past even the opening segment. There was just too much to understand, too many things to do, and far too many options when it came to how to do them. I got past the opening about ten times, returning to the game every few months vowing that this time would be the time I saw it through to the end. And about a month ago, that finally happened.

America, following obliteration in a nuclear war centuries previous, is controlled by a number of factions, including but not limited to the New California Republic (assholes who attack you on sight en masse for no reason if you’re even the slightest bit disliked by them), Caesar’s Legion (assholes who are all but impervious to damage and seem to attack you on sight no matter what), the Brotherhood of Steel (assholes in massive power armour with massive weapons and laser turrets who will not attack unless fired upon but are impossible to kill when you are eventually forced to do so anyway, regardless of whether or not you want to) and many more. Sensing a theme here? Everyone hates everyone. Deal with it. Or don’t. You could just go and kill giant ants all day. It doesn’t really matter what you do at all.

The Good:

Despite my frustration at this game, my negative feelings towards it mainly stem from the feeling that I had my trust betrayed. I put thirty hours into New Vegas over a period of just a few weeks, and before it all turned sour (as we shall see in the below section) I actually got really into the story, the factions, the various bonds you can make and break at will, the wasteland and its inhabitants, and above all the feel of it. Post-Apoc has a special place in my heart after enjoying the Hunger Games as a kid, and going through this grittier version was a treat while it lasted. After being incredibly cautious for, I don’t know, TEN HOURS of the game, I finally gained enough strength to start sort of feeling powerful enough to take on stronger enemies. Sure, every quarter of an hour something would come out of nowhere and kick my ass, but you get good at avoiding certain areas in the wasteland. The dialogue and overall story is impressive, and I actually found myself really getting into which faction I was going to root for. However, once you get to the end of the game, despite being given the ability to peacefully resolve any situation if you have a high enough speech skill, you are forced to really knuckle down and go all in with a specific faction. This leads to everyone else in the wasteland attacking you, and when they’re the types of people described in the intro to this review, I would personally much rather take the diplomatic approach. Unfortunately, the game locks you out of going down this route after a certain point.

To be Improved:

Above all, I think despite its moments of genius, the entire system is fundamentally broken. I always had a hard time killing enemies, seemingly missing all my shots despite the target standing still and the crosshair being exactly on them, but towards the end it just became more and more apparent that armour is useless and enemies are all but impervious to most damage. I was lured into a false sense of security by an area full of robots who went down in two hits from my new plasma rifle, but when fighting actual humans it seems they get an invulnerability boost or something. By the endgame, despite being five levels away from the maximum, my gear and strength had stagnated about five levels back, and the willingness of the game to let you do what you want means that save for looking stuff up online I was completely misguided and lost for large portions of the narrative. It was impossible to find guns better than the ones I was using, yet anytime I bumped into four or more enemies they destroyed me with basic rifles, even when I was wearing the heavy power armour I’d spent so long trying to achieve. After ten attempts, I decided to stick everything on Very Easy and just rampage through the final battle, because I felt that I’d done all the work leading up to it and more, but for no payoff whatsoever. In fact, this happened at various points in the game, where you’re left fighting for your life despite the game convincing you, up until that point, that you were powerful enough to deal with whatever the threat was. It seems there’s a massive divide in the playerbase when it comes to New Vegas. Half of the people who grapple with it, myself included, find it simply too hard to play despite their skills or how long they’ve been playing videogames, and become frustrated. The other half apparently breeze through the Very Hard difficulty and desire something even more challenging. How truthful both parties are being is unprovable, but it’s an odd thing to happen outside of rage games like Super Meat Boy that do actually require hours of practice to get good at them. Either way, my experience is dramatic spikes in difficulty and a total breakdown of the games mechanics by the time the story comes to an end.

Overall: 6/10

The game itself is an enjoyable and engaging one. About halfway through I had a great few days where I had found the perfect balance of challenging to the point where you truly felt you’d achieved something when you completed a quest, but not to the point where it was frustrating and you couldn’t get anything done. But as the game went on, it rapidly became a steep uphill climb against the damage modifiers, meaning that after trying to get each individual ending I realised that I was just running at a brick wall. My shots felt like they were ricocheting off enemies rather than taking out bits of them, and all of their shots seemed to be piercing even my power armour like it was a tin can. Above all, though it is commendable that the developers managed to create such a sprawling world with so many options for dialogue and quests and ways to do things and little intricate subplots, the end result is a mishmash and is, ultimately, just as I originally found when I first purchased the game: simply too complicated.

Review 23: All Systems Red by Martha Wells


So, I guess I haven’t finished a book in a while, despite the fact that I’ve had time to see plenty of films. But that’s what happens when you go to university for a few weeks then withdraw, and films are only two hours while a book takes a lot longer to get through. Either way, I thought it best to get back into the swing of things by reading something shorter, and the 150 or so pages of All Systems Red seemed like the best place to start (especially seeing as I’m considering possibly tackling Dune next, goodness me).

Following the crew of PreservationAux, a mission to a distant planet goes awry when they discover a conspiracy bigger than anything even their elusive sponsor, known only as ‘The Company’, is willing to ignore. With the help of their SecUnit, which unbeknownst to the crew has become self-aware and calls itself Murderbot, they must get to the bottom of the sinister GrayCris organisation before it’s too late.

The Good:

One of my favourites aspects of the novel is this: The ambiguity of the level of technology utilised in the narrative does the opposite of the complexity of universe-building seen in books like A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, but to great effect. By this I mean we don’t need to know how advanced civilisation is by this point, because by demonstrating the technology the author gives us just enough information to allow us to determine the scope of the setting. It’s very tasteful, in short, and doesn’t require further explanation because the story is driven by the characters rather than the world around them, in a way. The characters themselves are very well thought-out, and each one has a distinct personality. You can really picture what they look like just based on the way they act, an admirable achievement on Wells’ part. Naturally with the exception of the Murderbot, the primary protagonist, who is on the cover, which is a great shame in my opinion, as more than enough written description is given for the reader, especially one as into sci-fi as I am, to picture it easily. On that note, however, the description itself is very minimalistic in parts, and this is but one factor contributing to why the book is so short, though it works to great effect because it means you visualise it all in your head instead of being told what to picture. Like I said, the story itself isn’t the driving force here, but the interactions between the characters. But I shall continue this in the below section, right about…

To be Improved:

…Now. Although the plot is a mystery of sorts, with lots of strange occurrences eventually leading up to some minor reveals, it all happens too quickly for the tension to really be allowed to build, and there’s lots of running away then going back to where you were but this time with a plan then running away again because it goes wrong but now you know a little bit more than before and ugh! It just gets tedious after a while rather than atmospheric. In terms of specific story elements, there is an all-encompassing company in control of most of the goings-on in the book, which is only referred to as… Well, ‘the Company’. But the problem is that around two thirds of the way through the author refers to said Company’s competitors, shattering the mystery and making me wonder why such a subtle name was chosen if the original so-called Company is not the only one in existence. The author also falls into the trap of writing in a style where yes, if you’re the one who came up with the story, you’ll understand what’s going on, but as the reader these moments sort of go over your head. Moments like the fact that the good guys’ expedition to the planet is called ‘Preservation’, and that’s somehow supposed to obviously signify that the leader of the expedition herself is the political entity controlling it, as opposed to an outside influence like it normally is. Make sense? No, I didn’t think so either. It’s little things like this peppered throughout the novel that sort of attach a weight to the story every time they crop up, ever so slowly dragging it down until you get to the end.

Overall: 5/10

A short and sweet read, ASR whisks you away for a brief outing on a hostile alien planet. I really enjoyed the more toned down yet still atmospheric horror undertones once the conflict really got going. Because I’m a nervous wreck when it comes to anything more than mildly scary (see my Alien review), reading something that went easy on the fear factor but still added elements of scariness constituted major tension in my timid mind, so it worked out really well. Not a spectacular story by any stretch, but certainly an enjoyable one. Besides, even though I didn’t adore it one can plough through Wells’ novella in such little time that I’m definitely going to be picking up the sequel (or prequel?), if for nothing except to see how this tale wraps up.

Movie Review 17: Thor Ragnarok

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As soon as I saw the trailer, I was excited for Thor Ragnarok for two reasons. One, instead of being a normal action film like regular superhero movies, it was a sci-fi. And two, it had a kickass neo-80s vibe to its soundtrack. Two of my favourite things in one? Sign me up! Though after the shambles that was, oh I don’t know, every other film I saw this year save for Blade Runner, I once again lowered my expectations. That strategy actually worked this time round, because the god of thunder far exceeded them.

In short, Thor’s sister Hela, Goddess of Death and rightful heir to the throne of Asgard, no big deal or anything, has returned. She seeks to bring about Ragnarok (imaginative title for the film, then) the end of everything. That’s a pretty vague description for the apocalypse but it’s all bad news either way, and it’s up to our unlikely band of heroes to stop the evil Hela once and for all. Classic good versus evil stuff, fairly standard.

The Good:

Directed by Taika Waititi, who also helmed The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a film I really should go back and review on this site, for once a Marvel film has finally managed to make me laugh out loud. Some of the jokes in the first half are just there for the sake of it, but despite obviously unnecessarily interrupting the action sequences because they’re there for the kids, they’re in no way immature. Finally, I mean god-damn I’d had it up to here with jokes about farts and sex (not at the same time), here’s looking at you, Transformers and GotG 2. But yeah, if you’ve seen Waititi’s 2016 classic then you’ll know that he has a bloody good sense of humour. That said, the New Zealand accent he threw in for the comedic relief Korg (“What’s up, name’s Korg, just a big walking rock but there’s nothing to be afraid of, unless you’re made of scissors – there’s a rock-paper-scissors joke for ya”) does help a lot. So the humour, for the most part, if a little juvenile, is there. What else? Well, I’ve already mentioned the soundtrack. Along with the screaming vocals of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’, the pounding synths to go along with the appropriately Star Wars trench run-esque spaceship battles were superb. In fact, the whole sort of neon and laser aesthetic is one that I really appreciated, and I’d agree with the many critics calling it the “boldest Marvel film yet”. It certainly is that. Story-wise, honestly, you can’t really praise or criticise anything because it’s legitimately all the same at this point, save for a few clever little bits. Besides, there’s so much to look at with this one as we switch between the sweeping clifftop fields of Norway, sprawling cityscapes of Chicago, sparkling cities and rolling junk-hills of Sakaar, and the glistening gold glory of Asgard. On top of that, there was a particularly beautiful cut where the camera zooms into a view out a window at the stars against the blackness of space, and the stars become lights moving past Thor as he travels forward on a conveyor belt. I know this is a very specific, split-second point to focus on. But in fact, it was such a good shot that it sort of diminished the merit of the rest of the film, and unfortunately reminded me of Enchantress turning June Moon’s hand over in Suicide Squad:

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It reminded me of it because we all know that the film turned out to be nowhere near the standard of that clever piece of imagery. However, I’m pleasantly surprised to be able to say that with Thor that is very nearly not the case; it almost manages to match the ingenuity of its brief highlight. Particularly, at least for cosmetic standards, the sequence where we get almost a full minute of slow motion as ranks of gold-plated Valkyries ride gleaming white Pegasuses (Pegasi? Pega… you know what I mean) against Hela before she was exiled, is plain gorgeous. It’s just a scene that, with the synth music, is very epic, and I grinned all the way through it. There are a few moments like this, and they really carry the film because just as it threatens to be getting a little stale visually, a giant dragon will chase Thor through the rainbow space-bridge back to Asgard.

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“Does my apocalypse look big in this?”

To be Improved:

Let’s start with what stood out most: Blanchett and Ruffalo’s acting. She’s speaking like she’s trying very hard to put on a British accent, which she is, and it shows; and he’s changed the way he normally talks when playing Bruce Banner and is instead using this weird high-pitched panicky Bronx lilt that’s just grating and really doesn’t fit with his character. I know he’s supposed to be timid, but he’s not a quivering mess. In fact, quite the contrary: he’s got seven PHDs, as he’s so eager to point out during the film. On the subject of Hulk, he’s useless now, if I’m being honest. I don’t know why they’ve switched up the character so much, but he looks super weird and sounds nothing like he used to, and none of the rage is there. During Ragnarok he just walks around and, if anything, gets beaten up more than anyone else! Ridiculous. Speaking of characters looking different, the tattoos on the Valkyrie’s face (good lord, I for the life of me can’t remember her name, I don’t think she was even given one! Scrapper 421, I think? What kind of a name for a main protagonist is that?) disappear halfway through the final act. Yes, she goes through a wardrobe change and dons her Valkyrie gear, but that shouldn’t change permanent inking of the skin, right? Right? But it doesn’t stop there. There’s a very jarring moment when Thor confronts Hela and she becomes this weird fake CGI Blanchett that’s all airbrushed and shiny, or at least that’s what it seems to be. As far as I can tell it’s actually the genuine Blanchett reading the lines, so it isn’t even fake and definitely shouldn’t fall into uncanny valley territory. But it does. It makes it look like the actress dropped out of filming early so they had to make a CGI version of her for the last few scenes, and it’s all very odd. Furthermore, Hela’s right hand man is an Asgardian recruited during her takeover of the city, and he’s called… Scourge. So my problem here is Scourge being called Scourge (that’s just… somehow just too much for me, because he’s a good guy before Hela recruits him, so, what, you’re telling me no one suspected a guy called Scourge?!) along with the fact that he has dual M16 assault rifles on Asgard for no discernible reason (if this is his signature weapon from the comics I do apologise, but come on, I know enough about the comics that I recognised Korg and Miek from the Planet Hulk arc, I can’t be expected to know absolutely every little detail). Fenris Wolf is tragically wasted, and I was hoping for a more brutal, ‘King Kong breaking open the jaws of a T-rex’ style death seeing as Hulk was the one fighting him, but we’ve already discussed how useless he’s become as a character. And while we’re talking about Hulk, I guess we’re not finding out if Banner is coming back, so that’s… I don’t know, I guess 2018 will have to tell us with Infinity War Part 1. Weird disjointed cliffhanger if you ask me, and a weird rehash of what they did with Age of Ultron.

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“Legolas, how’s it go- Oh wait, it’s just Thor. No, he’s cut some silly design into his hair, I though it was ears, I- Look, just forget it.”

Bonus Round – Trailer Turmoil:

Ah, yes. Now we come to my main issue with Ragnarok, and it’s not even one that’s to do with the actual film, hence the separate section. It’s going to be quite a long ranty one, so if you don’t feel like reading it feel free to skip to the final verdict, as this section won’t effect my rating of the movie. That said, it’s an issue I’m rather passionate about so I’d appreciate if you stuck around. I’ve started boycotting trailers for films I’m excited for, because, as we’ve all probably realised, these days they just completely spoil the plot. When I go and see Last Jedi in December, for instance, as SOON as I see snow, I know that Imperial Walkers are going to appear at some point. It doesn’t matter that I “don’t know when they’re going to arrive”; it ruins the whole scene if, as soon as it starts, I know what the main spectacle is, so it renders any and all build-up moot. So, that’s why I don’t watch trailers anymore, and I only saw the one for Ragnarok because it came out on YouTube way before I decided to avoid the damn things. With Rogue One, there were issues with the various cuts of the finished movie so, annoying though it was, I can understand why there were some shots in the trailer that were just plain not in the final product. With Thor, however, I fear an even more worrying trend has been started. Or, in fact, not even just started, but carried on. After seeing Force Awakens back in 2015 (man, time flies when you’re waiting for Star Wars sequels), when I went back and watched the trailer I swear they’ve slightly edited some split-second shots so that when you see them in the movie they’re different to the way they were initially. I might be wrong, and even if I’m right the changes are subtle enough that they probably only did it because us eagle-eyed viewers scrutinise every detail of trailers so much these days that we’re likely to spot Obi-Wan Kenobi standing on the bridge of the Star Destroyer that’s taking off in orbit if the producers don’t edit him out. With Thor, on the other hand, they were anything but subtle. They’ve straight up rejigged shots so that they don’t spoil massive moments of the storyline. A standout one is when Thor lands on the bridge to Asgard, lightning coursing through his body. In the trailer, he’s mostly unscathed, but in the film, he’s got a bloody eye missing! There were a few more shots like this, were a massive thing had simply been wiped using VFX, and while some may argue that this is kindness on the producers’ part because it means we don’t get spoilers. “Antlerflax”, I hear you cry, “You said you didn’t want spoilers, and now they’ve taken them out for your benefit, you’re still complaining! What will make you happy?”. I’ll tell you what will make me happy. If filmmakers stop blatantly corrupting the concept of the trailer. They’re just moving further and further away from what they should be, and spoiling more and more of the movies we’re excited for, and now they’re actually bastardising shots from the films themselves just so they can show them a month before you see it on the big screen. If it’s that important, here’s an idea… Don’t even bother showing it in the damn trailer! I tell you, it’s a huge issue, and it’s becoming a larger and larger problem with every new blockbuster that’s released. Trailers have release dates now, for goodness sake. Isn’t it time to stop?

Overall: 5/10

As superhero movies go, this is certainly one of the more enjoyable, though it’s becoming increasingly harder for me to judge these as I get older due to the target demographic being… Well, what I was when I was twelve, which was nearly ten years ago. Despite how far-removed I am from being able to truly appreciate thrill-ride candy-coloured action movies, Thor Ragnarok’s soundtrack, action scenes, little injections of actually laugh-out-loud humour (take notes, everyone else working for the studio) and, honestly, just the sheer fun of it, mean that I agree with what the big reviewers, Empire and the Guardian alike, are saying: It truly is Marvel’s bravest and boldest film to date.