The RAW Review: Golden Dynasty (14/10/13)

Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton discuss Hell in a Cell

Last week, Shawn Michaels was announced as the special guest referee for the upcoming WWE Championship match between Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan. Makes sense - a third match between these two needs something special to hype it up, and with the dusty finishes in the previous two, it makes sense for that "something special" to be a special guest referee. HBK works in this role - hates Randy, likes Triple H, likes Bryan. He's conflicted, so you can't predict if he'll call it straight down the line or turn on one of the challengers. It works.

Here's my issue with this opening segment - HBK kind of sucks on the mic. His whole shtick is "goofy legend", and he falls back on it heavily here. He jokes about "your old buddy HB Shizzle" calling the match and generally doesn't add much to the storyline. Nothing's gained besides a few groans when he says to Randy "were you saying something? I wasn't listening!" You'd be as well as adding in a few comedy horns in the background as Shawn winks into the camera. Randy does as well as he can as a heel in his hometown - he gets some heat from the crowd, and there's a nice bit of physicality in the end of the segment when Randy goes for the RKO and HBK for the Sweet Chin Music. There's no lasting impression left though - a bit of a dull segment, all told.

Rating: C

The Miz vs. Randy Orton followed by Wyatt appearance

I'll preface this segment by saying I've started to watch wrestling alongside my flatmate, so the way I've been watching wrestling has changed. If a match is great, then it's really great - we both really get into the match and it's heightened as a result. However, the reverse is also true - a stinker is made worse as we both chat amongst ourselves. It's the living room equivalent of chanting "RANDY SAVAGE" at a live event.

If I'd been watching alone, I'd likely have lumped a B- on this and went on my way. But, it was made worse by boring two people instead of one. Here's a few reasons why: 
  • The Miz doesn't work as a face. The crowd loved it when the Wyatts threatened beating him down a while back and they loved it when Randy did it here.
  • Randy, as hard as he tried, can't get heel heat in his hometown. It's not his fault per se, as he's up against bloody Miz, but it doesn't make for a strong match.
  • It ended up with the tired old "shit, music is playing" distraction. To be fair to The Miz, the lights did go off as well, but it's still unoriginal.

The Wyatt Family came out to said distraction, and Bray talked about how Miz's yearning for fame pisses him off. It worked as a promo, and it's miles better than his pseudo-cryptic bullshit about bringing down the machine. The only issue I have with it is a feud between The Miz and Bray Wyatt will mean Bray gets cheered for mauling the ineffectual Miz. 

Rating: C

You Should Watch... Attack on Titan

When you hear the word "anime", what image is conjured in your mind? Is it one of ridiculously toned men with similarly ridiclous haircuts screaming at each other in a wasteland somewhere? Is it one of ninjas battling in a forest for twenty episodes in a row? Or is it one of stupidly busty girls giggling in a school? Anime gets a bad rap for the aforementioned archetypes - look beyond, and there's some seriously clever stuff out there.

Attack on Titan isn't like any of those. Attack on Titan (or as it's known in Japan, Shingeki no Kyojin) is a gritty and traumatising show with more in common with Game of Thrones than anything else. It's set in an alternate version of Earth where humanity has been forced to flee behind several fifty-foot high walls as they're being hunted by gargantuan Titans seeking to feast on their flesh. One hundred years of relative peace ensue, but eventually a boy named Eren Jaeger witness the fall of the outermost wall by the hands of the biggest Titan anyone has ever seen.

You may be thinking, "oh, okay, so it's a David vs. Goliath situation here, this boy Eren's going to easily beat all these Titans and save the day". Not the case. When the smaller Titans burst through the broken wall and begin slaughtering everyone, there's an overwhelming sense of helplessness. The young Eren can only flee from these beasts alongside his friends Mikasa and Armin, and is entirely vulnerable. One of the series' earlier shocking moments occurs when Eren cannot do anything to prevent the death of his mother. He is rooted to the ground in frustration, in anger, in fear as one of the towering horrors picks up his mother like a child would a doll and devours her.

Later, Eren and his friends join the military, inspired by the chilling events they witnessed in the fall of their hometown. The military uses ropes and swords, and appear like Spider Men soaring through the cities. The supporting cast is introduced here, and each of them are as interesting as the main trio; Annie is stoic and mysterious, Reiner is strong and duty-driven, Connie is headstrong and eager to prove his worth, Jean is simultaneously brash and cowardly... it's a strong supporting cast. Yet none of them are safe. When the crew are sent out to the field, a typical anime would have them cutting their way through the Titans. But in Attack on Titan, several main characters are either gravely injured or outright killed in their first battle, hence the earlier comparison to Game of Thrones. It's a realistic portrayal of going up against the odds, and it makes the show a compelling watch.

The art and music present this horrific image of war perfectly. The Titans have a freakish array of facial expressions, from stoic like the Colossal Titan in the image to the left to all-too humanlike in some of the smaller Titans. The colours are rarely vibrant, and the show does not shy away from gritty violence. The music is heroic when it needs to be, lulling the hapless viewer into a false sense of security, swelling at the moment when you believe your hero will succeed, before changing to reflect a harrowing scene. It's all perfect presentation to accompany a gritty and bizarrely realistic story. I say it's bizarre as the story presented is about giant otherworldy beings fighting humans swinging around on ropes.

Even if you're not a fan of anime, I wholly recommend giving this a try. You can watch all 25 episodes currently released at the link here for free right now, so you've nothing to lose for trying. Just, don't get too attached...


My Life - Flu and Me (Week of 7/10/13)

Greeting and salutations good people.

So, straight off the bat I have to apologise, more to myself than anyone, for neglecting this blog over the past week. There's a reason for it - namely a horrid flu that plagued me midweek - but I still should have posted once or twice. I need to get on top of my schedule, as I can feel myself slipping behind both on this and on uni. I'm not happy with my work ethic right now, and I need to change it.

Anyway, moving on to my past week. I spent the weekend over in Glasgow reuniting with a childhood friend. I'm always amazed by how easy I find it slip back into an old friendship. With no effort whatsoever, my friend and I were speaking like we'd seen each other yesterday, and that same comfortable rapport we've always had came back into play. True friendship doesn't just fade away like that. It was a reminder I needed to have, as a worry I've been having recently is one that when all the people I know who went away abroad to have a brilliant time on their years abroad come back to sunny Scotland, our friendships will have faded. Last weekend helped settle that fear. I'm rambling.

So, after an amiable reunion with my longtime pal, a night of drinking and meeting mad but brilliant people ensued. At one point in his party, after somebody turned off a Rush song, I yelled "DON'T HUSH THE RUSH". I hope they had as good an impression of me as I had of them. Waking up in the morning worse for wear, both in health and in wallet size, I returned to the merry city of Edinburgh. Pro-tip, if ever in Glasgow City Centre, there's a milkshake place there (I can't recall the name) that do a Parma Violet milkshake. It's as divine as it sounds.

After a brilliant weekend in Glasgow, I paid the price during the week. My mate and his flatmate were suffering from a brutal sounding cough and a fever/flu respectively, and as my dumb luck would have, both of those symptoms were mixed up into a disgusting cocktail of illness for me to experience. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and some of Thursday was dedicated to illness. I even had to miss class on Wednesday, which really sucked. Now I'm in the unfortunate position of playing catch-up, which is only building to my stress. Luckily, I'm getting to play catch-up from the comfort of my Mum's and my Dad's over this weekend, so I can take some solace in that.

I'm hoping next week will be better, I'm at a pretty low ebb right now.

Updates next week...I PROMISE! 



My Life - Blogging Anew (Week of 30/9/13)

So this is the first of what is hopefully going to be a long stream of "personal" blog posts. A diary of sorts, I suppose. I really don't expect anyone to read these, beyond close friends and family and even then I would be surprised. I'm ultimately writing these for myself.

This week has mostly been about this blog. I'd let it lie dormant for far far too long and it was beginning to get me down. I felt I was disappointing myself by not writing here regularly. Hence, I came up with a weekly schedule and I fully intend to keep to 5 posts a week. I tried to set myself a day-by-day schedule but that fell through 3 days in - however, when this goes up on the blog, I'll have fulfilled my goal! I'm excited to build up a portfolio of work, regardless if people read it. The goal here is to develop my writing style, and people are already complimenting it. It's an honour that people read this, and even more so that they enjoy it.

I started back at university a few weeks back and the schedule has been difficult, but manageable. I'm only in 3 days a week at uni, but the majority of my time is spent reading or writing. English Literature might seem like an easy degree to some, but there is a hell of a lot of work that needs put into it. Last week I had to read a 500 page tome in a week, which I had to do on top of other assignments. It's pushing me though, and it's getting me motivated.

I went through somewhat of a tough time towards the beginning of the month, as a lot of my friends went meandering over to Europe for their years abroad. Part of the curse of doing French in first year but dropping out and switching to single honours English Literature is that most of my friends came from languages, and were ultimately going to leave my life for a year. I won't mix my words - I was pretty lonely. I used to see them several times a week and not having that has sucked. I'm not worried about losing touch with them, Skype and Facebook has seen to that. But I'm worried about not meeting new people. Luckily, that seems to be changing somewhat. I've been meeting new people on my course, and some people from my previous summer job have kept in touch. Things are on the up.

This is just a short one this week - I think what I'm going to do is change this to a Sunday blog post. It makes more sense to chronicle a full week rather than doing Friday to Friday. The weekend will be fresh in my mind that way, and everyone knows the weekend is when interesting stuff happens. Nobody wants to hear about my degree anyway, probably my future self reading this back included! So, till next Sunday.


Silver Linings Playbook - Movie Review

Lawrence and Cooper - stars or out of their depth?

The review I ought to have written about seven months ago... better late than never!

Silver Linings Playbook is a film that entered the cultural zeitgeist suddenly with a string of seemingly sudden nominations during awards season. When all eyes were on Lincoln, Les Misérables and Argo, this unassuming indie romcom rushed up and demanded attention. Did it deserve its nominations and the awards that it won, or is this a case of the Academy getting it wrong?

The film opens with Bradley Cooper as a patient in a mental hospital. Initially, there's doubt. Bradley Cooper is best known for The Hangover trilogy and thus taking him seriously in a dramatic role is difficult - but following his performance here he's paved the way for a serious career. He displays both naivety in regards to his illness but there's also a fractured and angry side to him that you can see bubbling under the surface in nearly every scene he is. He's excellent at portraying the unpredictability of mental illness and he shines throughout.
You talking to me?

The film details how Cooper as Pat struggles to readjust to life outside of a mental hospital. He's trying to get healthier, but mentions of his wife, who caused Pat's psychotic breakdown after he found her cheating, cause Pat to deteriorate further. His father, played by Robert de Niro seems to have more time for his "job" betting on football matches than he does for his son. de Niro for the first time in some time wakes up for this role. His disappointment at himself for losing his job is directed towards his son yet at the same time his fatherly instinct remains. It's refreshing to see de Niro in a role where he can act seriously. It feels like too long since we've seen him not in a comedic capacity, and he shows once again why he's one of the all-time greats here. He elicits sympathy for Pat, who at times can be difficult to empathise with as he's such an erratic character. Enter Jennifer Lawrence.

Jennifer Lawrence is on a whole other level from the rest of the film. She elevates what essentially is a quirky romcom with some dark themes pervading it to something special. She plays Tiffany Maxwell, a recent widow who's had a string of meaningless sexual encounters as she's so detached and distant since her husband passed away. She forms an odd friendship with Pat after offering to get him in contact with his estranged wife. Slowly as the film progresses, the pair bond over dance and their shared mental issues. It's an endearing pairing, but where it succeeds is coupling Cooper's naivety and frustration at his situation with the hauntingly vulnerable Lawrence. She deflects her weaknesses through a solid barrier of snark and blunt questioning, but when it falls she reveals a broken soul. She's so bitterly angry at how life has went for her and she uses Pat as a mental punching bag. Lawrence does an absolutely outstanding job at reflecting this raw hurt, and when she explodes with rage, it's as if Lawrence truly has undergone this emotional turmoil that Tiffany has. It's the sign of a truly great actress. Just look at how Lawrence shows both true anger and humiliation simultaneously in the image below.

Every scene Jennifer Lawrence is in is elevated to a new level.

It's a shame that despite the outstanding performance from Jennifer Lawrence and the impressive showing from Bradley Cooper that a surprising change in tone part way through the film deflates it somewhat. What was shaping up to be a bittersweet exploration of two characters relying on each other to heal from their mental wounds but being unable to process that because of said wounds strays into all too cliche rom-com territory. The climax of the film is so brutally predictable and it's disappointing. For a film with such unpredictable and complex characters - even the supporting cast - to fall into convention is saddening. Still, it's not entirely film-ruining and if you can overlook the cloying stench of cliche then there's a five-star film here.

Final Verdict: A stunning performance from Jennifer Lawrence who truly deserved that Best Actress gong at the Oscars. Praise must go to Bradley Cooper and Robert de Niro who put in layered and believable showings as well. An outstanding film marred by an all-too familiar ending.


Pixels and Polygons - Thomas Was Alone

...until he made some friends.

How do you get somebody to care about a group of brightly coloured quadrilaterals?

That's the question Thomas Was Alone poses. On first glance, it would be easy to pass this off as one of the many, many faux-artistic puzzle platformers that followed the incredible success of Braid. But give it some time, and you'll be treated to a clever and heartwarming experience.

Each block has unique properties.
It's difficult to do this game justice just through words and screenshots alone. Without experiencing this for yourself, be it through playing the game or watching a video, it's tricky to explain its charm. But I'll do my utmost to convince you why this is a little gem. You start off the game as Thomas, a little red rectangle who can jump pretty well. As you progress through your journey you meet different coloured squares and rectangles who join you on your quest for... well, nothing really! But they're there, and they each have different properties. Christopher, the short stumpy orange block can't jump very high. Claire, the big blue square, can float in water, allowing her to ferry passengers over deadly pools. The game gives you different combinations of these characters and challenges you to solve its puzzles. They aren't particularly taxing, but they're fun enough to drive you onwards. This isn't a game where you're expected to be sitting staring at the screen, totally stumped as how to progress, but one where you're gently pushed forwards. It's more a platformer than anything, requiring you to make some tricky jumps. There's frequent checkpoints, so frustration never sets in. This isn't that sort of game.

Visually, it's a typical indie title - minimalist graphics. But that all adds to the charm, and here we get into the meat of Thomas Was Alone. You may have noticed I referred to the blocks by names, and with genders. The reason for this is Thomas Was Alone's brilliantly quirky story. Through an almost children's storybook style of narration, Danny Wallace (perhaps most famous for being That English One in the Assassin's Creed series) tells a tale of how each of these blocks come to meet one another, and he gives them personality. Thomas is alone in the world and looking for a friend; Christopher is grumpy but slowly opens up to his comrades; Claire has body issues but grows to accept her usefulness when ferrying her pals over water obstacles. What could have been a game where you're given differently shaped blocks with different properties and are told to complete level after level becomes a lovely quest full of character. It's witty as well - Danny Wallace is no stranger to comedy, and he adds humour where needed without ever stepping over the line into parody.

The end goal is to get each shape into its respective white outline.
The score adds a lot as well, coupling with Danny Wallace's storybook-like narration to create an ethereal dreamlike air as you play through. The end effect is immersion, and that's integral to getting you to care about some squares and rectangles. Some AAA games studios struggle to make you care about their characters even with ten-minute long cutscenes and the best voice actors money can buy. Here, with the narration of one English man and a story which essentially boils down to "some blocks meet, what happens next?", you grow attached to these shapes. It's ridiculous, but true.

It's a shame the puzzling wasn't just that little bit more complex in the later stages, as the difficulty does remain at a fairly low level throughout. Whilst that does lend itself well to the quaint storyline, it does mean that Thomas Was Alone is an all-too fleeting experience. Savour it while you can, as it is a short game as most indie titles are

Final Verdict: A great experiment in storytelling that is ultimately successful - Thomas Was Alone makes you care about coloured blocks. That's an achievment unto itself. Couple that with some decent puzzling and platforming action and you have the end results of a great indie title that's well worth the few quid you can pick it up for.



No Post Today!

Apologies for this, but due to unforeseen circumstances i.e. I'm really damn tired, there won't be a post today. It's only a minor setback though for tomorrow, plucky readers, all five of you will be treated to a double post! Two in one day! WOW.

So yeah, no games review tonight, instead it'll go up tomorrow alongside a film review.