Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

On Female Leads and Genre Fiction

July 16, 2017 1 comment
Taken in the British Library. Sadly he was busy saving the universe. Travelling by train is all very well, but travelling by Tardis...

An encounter of my own, some years ago. Though time travel makes that a tricky thing to pin down.

On a weekend when Roger Federer won his 8th Wimbledon title and Disney announced its intention to release all the movies coming out over the next three years (these were the things that registered with me – your mileage will undoubtedly vary), the biggest news was that the newest incarnation of the Doctor will be, for the first time, female. This is not only a big thing for me – a viewer of Doctor Who since an unreasonably young age – but it means that the three big ongoing science fiction/genre fiction franchises (Star Wars, Star Trek (with its new Discovery series) and Doctor Who) will soon have female leads.

The announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor caused me such simple joy that I actually had to check myself. Was I just feigning it – having the right reaction to an obviously correct move? (Not in itself a bad thing – “fake it until you make it” works well as a method of overcoming any prejudices that culture has dropped on you.) Nope – I was simply 95 percent happy that the Doctor, a character who has changed with the times again and again over the years and has always been about doing the right thing rather than the easy thing, would now serve as a direct inspiration for even more kids. The other 5 percent of my happiness came from amusement at the fact that Twitter would (and did) blow up over this simple change. My feed was mostly positive, but there were plenty of butt-hurt reactions too.

I shall now pause and digress to attend to arguments of the female-Ghostbusters, “this has ruined my childhood” type. If it helps, imagine me wielding a hurley during the following paragraph.


Not me, but more appropriate in this instance.

This does not <smack> in any way <smack> invalidate <smack> the things that you love. <smack> Those pieces of culture are already out there <smack> to be enjoyed again and again <smack> in this era of infinite storage and re-watching. <smack> If it makes you happy <smack>, ignore the changing world around you <smack> and devote yourself to an ever smaller <smack> circle of media <smack> unsullied by “political correctness”. <smack> I assure you, your opinions will not be missed <smack> by those of us eager to see a new spin <smack> on an old favourite. <smack> Moreover, those girls, young and old, who will find themselves represented in another place where they’ve only been allowed to assist before, <smack> will have a head start on dreaming up even more stories for the future.

You might argue that girls should have their own characters rather than appropriating old ones. To which there are two responses: the first being “that’s already happening, in case you hadn’t noticed”, and the second being that we lived in a world consumed by nostalgia and bestrode by media colossi who are determined to milk every penny out of that love of the familiar. Opening up these storied stories to new representation (race and sexuality are fields that will be explored sooner or later – it’s just that gender is an obvious first step here) is an inevitable step when it comes to seeing just how big this can get. Financially and morally, you’re on the wrong side of history, and that’s a confluence that’s both rare and very difficult to halt.

(For anyone who doubts the appeal of female representation in the current cultural climate, there’s also the recent Wonder Woman movie. Not perfect in any way, but a better offering than many and one that’s showing longer legs at the cinema than any superhero movie in years. Possibly a more important consideration than the flashier opening weekend box office figures, which tend to favour sequels anyway.)

Though this change may not be aimed at me, I’m heartened by it and will be looking forward to enjoying the stories it leads to. I’m a straight, white male, born in Western Europe in a time of affluence and growth. I’ve had the chance to travel the world and have been spoon-fed media with heroes who looked like me (my favourite Doctor is the second because I had a haircut like his when I was a kid – true story) throughout my life. It would say terrible things about my upbringing if I didn’t believe that others deserved the same level of representation that I’ve benefited from through the years. Thankfully for my parents, they raised someone who believes in those slippery concepts of equality and justice.

So here’s to the thirteenth Doctor (actually the fourteenth if you include John Hurt, but numbering the Doctors is as tricky as numbering Popes these days) and her upcoming debut. With a revamped cast and crew, she’ll have a chance to carve out a new legend, and thanks to the excellent recent series from Steven Moffat, Peter Capaldi, and Pearl Mackie, she’s been given the best possible platform. Some of her stories may disappoint but others will enthral, as has been the way since the very beginning. I’ll be watching with a smile on my face, and if there are more faces and more varied faces in the crowd with me, I’ll just be smiling all the more.


A Long Time Gone

August 21, 2016 Leave a comment

A picture of a dead whale. Because this blog is like a … never mind.

It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Not that this was deliberate on my part. I had plenty of intentions of posting new and fascinating content, but circumstance and laziness always got in the way. I do intend to be better though. Thoughts about films, books and games will be forthcoming, and there will – in a not overextended period of time – be more travel journals. (Yes, that time of the year has come around again. I have become terribly predictable in my elder years.) In the meantime, a few thoughts on some of the media I’ve been consuming lately.

Mysterium: It’s a board game. Which is not something that I play enough of these days. (There’s a Tuesday evening boardgaming evening in the Black Sheep pub in Dublin that I’ve been making excuses for not going to for weeks now.) What sold me on Mysterium was the review from Shut Up and Sit Down, a site you should really be following. Boiled down to a brief description, it’s cooperative psychic Cluedo (Clue for Americans) and is as easy to play and strange as that description suggests. One player is a silent ghost who hands out vision cards to the gathered psychics; the others are those selfsame psychics, who must use those visions to solve a long-ago murder. Cue a lot of confused babbling about the exact meaning of the symbolism on the vision cards and exasperated gurning on the part of the Ghost, who doesn’t understand why they can’t figure it out. It’s a lot of fun, and most importantly you don’t need to be a boardgame veteran to play. Highly recommended.

(I also played Cards Against Humanity for the first time at a recent wedding (no, really) and proved beyond all reasonable doubt that I am a horrible person. Which is all that you need to know about that.)

The Just City: I burned my way through Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy recently, having enjoyed the TV series to start with, so normally I’d be writing about that. But I’d been looking forward to reading Jo Walton’s The Just City for so long that it sneaks in ahead of it. The high concept – the goddess Athena decides to build the theoretical state from Plato’s The Republic as an experiment – is delightful, and the execution more than lives up to it. The viewpoint characters are chosen to pick apart the assumptions of privilege and precedent at the heart of Plato’s supposed clean-slate state, and while it’s no surprise when holes are poked in it, the manner in which it happens is consistently engaging. The second book in this series is already out, and the third is coming soon, and if they live up to the opener they’ll have a happy place for themselves on my bookshelves.

Stellaris: It’s been an odd year for games. This was the first of three games I was really looking forward to, and poor reviews for the latter two – No Man’s Sky and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – have put me off splashing money on them until the next Steam sale. So in the moments between the vaguely social activities that are my forays into Lord of the Rings Online, I’ve been playing Paradox’s Stellaris, a mostly successful attempt to lift its grand strategy template into space and take the place of much-loved classics like Master of Orion. The opening stages of the game, as with all Civilization-style games, are the key draw, as you map out a galaxy for your new interstellar power (designed with plenty of freedom courtesy of the game’s engine), and the mid-game has improved with Paradox’s legendary post-launch support. As yet, none of my games have made it into the late-game phase, so I can’t really report on that (blame LotRO) but with larger patches and content expansions looming, I’m looking forward to seeing the game it becomes.

Film: Honestly, nothing I’ve seen in the past few months has really floated my boat. Which is a little depressing. Overhyped offerings are the order of the day in blockbuster season, and even those films that promise something more haven’t gone anywhere. There’s been no Mad Max: Fury Road this year, and while that’s a high bar to clear, it would be nice if someone at least got close. Or made the attempt.

So, that’s where I am right now. There are political thoughts (shudder) and other matters in my brain that may or may not get exposed in the three-and-a-bit weeks before I escape on another travelogue. In the meantime, my apologies for having been absent and my promise to be a little more present in the weeks and months to come.

Captain America: Civil War – Bucking the Trend

I'd prefer aquamarine vs. chartreuse, myself.

Red vs. Blue. Isn’t that always the way?

For all of the successes of the Marvel superhero universe, most of the sub-franchises haven’t enjoyed uninterrupted upward curves. Iron Man 2 was a mess, Thor: The Dark World was a bit dull, and Avengers: Age of Ultron seemed tired by comparison with its mega-successful predecessor. Only the Captain America movies have shown consistent progress: starting well with The First Avenger, getting better with The Winter Soldier, and now topping the lot with Civil War.

(All the spoilers below…)

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Batman v Superman v The Critics

March 27, 2016 Leave a comment
The photo is at least as dynamic as two thirds of the movie.

Its subtitle is Dawn of Justice. Which is certainly … a subtitle.

The fact that this movie is called Batman v Superman tells the audience ahead of time the sort of an experience they’re in for. This is really a Batman movie (Darkness, No Parents), albeit one in which he’s dealing with Superman’s world—Lex Luthor, Kryptonite and Superman himself. It’s also being savaged by both mainstream and geek critics, but is it really that bad?

Bat Spoilers v Super Spoilers…

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Star Wars: The Next Generation

December 25, 2015 Leave a comment
Poor old Poe Dameron doesn't even get a look in.

Lots of orange and blue, because hey, it’s a movie poster.

So Star Wars is back. Beware the spoilers…

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December 23, 2015 Leave a comment
Nowhere near as creepy as the character of Kilgrave actually was.

The promotional materials for Jessica Jones helped to tease the villain and set the mood.

Marvel’s Netflix offerings stand at a remove to the 4-colour heroics of their cinema offerings (and the connected Agents of SHIELD series). Drawing on modern iterations of street-levels heroes, the idea behind them was evidently to provide a darker and more complex take on superhumans than The Avengers. So far it’s working well. Daredevil was a promising beginning, and with Jessica Jones Marvel and Netflix kick it up a notch.

Spoilers for Jessica Jones below…

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Sicario – How Bleak is Too Bleak?

October 11, 2015 Leave a comment
His background doesn't surprise, but it's key to the film's narrative, so I'll keep schtum.

Sicario’s “Alejandro,” unwilling to be a victim.

Sicario is a beautifully shot film, orchestrated by director Denis Villeneuve and master cinematographer Roger Deakins. It has a fine script, well acted by the cast, with Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro standing out in the leading roles. As much as I appreciated it, though, I didn’t enjoy it. Why not? Because it’s also an unremittingly bleak film, with nary a chink of light to be seen.

(Spoilers below.)

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