Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - review

I can trace my love of all things fantasy directly back to the first time I read The Hobbit at the age of around nine and, as such, it's always had a special place in my affections. Maybe that's why, despite his success at adapting The Lord of the Rings for the big screen, I had doubts about Peter Jackson's ability to do the same for my childhood favourite. The Hobbit is, after all, a children's book at heart and the decision to turn it into an epic trilogy has ruffled more than a few giant eagle feathers.

The second film in that trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, is in cinemas now, so just how well is Jackson's return to Middle Earth faring? Does it languish under the gloom of Mirkwood, or sparkle with the lustre of the Arkenstone?

Read my comprehensive and yet still surprisingly spoiler-free review at Fanboys Anonymous!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Tom Hanks to play Harley Quinn?

Considering the versatility that Tom Hanks has demonstrated in his many roles over the past three decades, it is perhaps surprising that he hasn't yet donned a mask and tights and graced the big screen as a superhero, especially given the plethora of Marvel and DC films which have been jostling for our attention in recent years.

Tom Hanks wants a film that pits him against the Bat.
Dare we suggest A [Justice] League of Their Own?
With his impressive pedigree, you could be forgiven for thinking that the reason might be that Hanks considers a role in a big budget, costumed, popcorn extravaganza as beneath him. Not so, apparently. The real reason he's not been seen leaping buildings in a single-bound is, as he disclosed in a recent interview with The Showbiz 411, is that he's never been asked. In fact, he so much wants to be cast in a super-powered blockbuster, he'd even consider playing the villain!

Want to know which villains he could have been in the running for? Read the full, shocking details here!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Thor: The Dark World - full movie review

So, the wait is over. Thor: the Dark World opens in the US today but, for some reason, it hit our screens here in the UK a week ago. So what can our US cousins expect? Does this second instalment of the thunder god's adventures bring the lightning, or does it just rain on everyone's parade?
Release date for Thor: the Dark World US
I will not write 'it's hammer time'; I will not write ... oh, what
the hey. It is hammer time!
Find out by reading the full (largely spoiler free!) review of the movie here!

Friday, 1 November 2013

American Horror Story: Coven - review

Not being a huge fan of the horror genre, I'd never watched either the original American Horror Story or the follow up season, American Horror Story: Asylum. However, maybe because Sleepy Hollow has been so successful or maybe just because the first episode was being aired here in the UK on the day before Hallowe'en, I decided to give the third series, American Horror Story: Coven, a try.
Fiona Goode (the Supreme) presides over Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies.
In retrospect, choosing Vlad the Impaler as her interior
decorator may have been a mistake.
Witches, it seems are the new vampires. Or, at least, someone in TV production land would like them to be. Not since the Halliwell sisters in Charmed and Buffy's Willow, have witches featured so prominently in mainstream TV shows. The Witches of Eastwick, Witches of East End, Once Upon a Time's Regina, The Secret Circle, and even Sleepy Hollow's good witches vs bad witches dynamic all seem convinced that there's an audience out there just waiting to have its interest in magic-wielding femmes fatales pricked, like so many thumbs. American Horror Story: Coven is the latest show to try to tap into this demand. But does it hubble and bubble, or is it just a steaming cauldron of toil and trouble?

Read the rest of this review at Fanboys Anonymous.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show (Live): Review

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy started life as a BBC radio show way back in 1978. It quickly became a cult hit in the UK, made a successful transition to TV, spawned a series of books and has since been released and re-released on vinyl record, audio tape, VHS cassette and DVD. In 2005 it finally made its way onto the big screen but, sadly, without the original cast and due in no small part to its reliance on special effects to carry some poor casting decisions and some unwise changes to Douglas Adams's drily ironic scripts, the movie version failed to capture the spirit and wit of the original.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams (also known for Doctor Who), later made into a film starring fan sweetheart Zooey Deschanel (New Girl, Tin Man, Elf - with Will Ferrell), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, The Office), John Malkovich, the often naked Helen Mirren (Caligula with Malcolm McDowell and Sir John Gielgud, Red with Bruce Willis, Karl Urban and Morgan Freeman, Prime Suspect), Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman,
It's on stage, but it's a radio show. Except it's not on the
radio. So you can't tune in to another station.
The latest incarnation of this peculiarly British SciFi phenomenon is a stage adaptation, a self-styled live version of the radio show. It's a touring production with almost 50 scheduled dates around the UK and, last Sunday, I went to see it at the Rose Theatre in Kingston-upon-Thames. So, how was it? As mind-blowing as a pan-galactic gargle blaster, or as frighteningly awful as the ravenous bugblatter beast of Traal?

You can find out by reading my full review at Fanboys Anonymous!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

10 things I hate about Mass Effect

The Mass Effect trilogy of games is huge. The hero (or heroine) Commander Shepard, his (or her) state-of-the-art space ship the SSV Normandy and his (or her) battle against the galactic menace that is the Reapers have already passed into gaming legend. The supporting characters are interesting, funny and likeable, and - for the most part - the gameplay is a sublime mix of meaningful decision-making and frantic action. Mass Effect may well be my favourite game series of all time.

Shepard with Garrus Vakarian (turian sniper) and Ashley Williams (gunnery chief and sexy soldier)
Shepard with Garrus and Ashley. Look behind yoooou!
But, despite what some games journalists would have us believe, no game is a ten out of ten. I've lost count of just how many times I've played each of these games, but I recently played all three of them again. In succession. Twice. (I really do love these games!) And, as I did so, I was not only reminded of all the many reasons why Mass Effect is so enjoyable, I was also reminded of the ha'porths of tar which spoil this otherwise perfect ship. Here, then, are the ten things I absolutely hate about Mass Effect.

Read the rest of this article at Fanboys Anonymous.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Twinkle, twinkle little Bat: Gail Simone's relaunch of Batgirl sparkles!

Batgirl Volume 1, by Gail Simone (Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman), Ardian Syaf (Blackest Night, Brightest Day, Justice League, Green Lantern) and Vicente Cifuentes (Fantastic Four, Hulk)
Batgirl never could get the hang of
that 'Live long and prosper' thing.
Gail Simone's run on the relaunched Batgirl series has been pretty well received by both fans and critics alike and, for my money, is easily the best written of all DC's New 52 titles.

With the second TPB (Knightfall Descends) due for its UK release next month, this is perhaps a good time to revisit the first volume (The Darkest Reflection) to see just what it is that's had Batfans all aflutter.

Read the rest of my review of this book here.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Haven (Season 4) - terminally troubled?

Based on a story by Stephen King, Haven is an odd show. Unlike most dramas that deal with the supernatural, it's homely rather than unnerving, comfortable rather than scary. The first episode of Season 4 has just premiered here in the UK, but before we go into the new season, let's remind ourselves how we got to where we are now.
Panoramic view of Haven, Maine, with logo
Haven. But not a safe one. Don't be fooled by the name!
Season 1 began with the arrival of FBI agent Audrey Parker in a small town in Maine - the Haven of the title. Back then, she was on the trail of a murderer, but she soon found herself embroiled in a far greater mystery. See, the inhabitants of Haven are "troubled"; not troubled as in worried or psychologically disturbed, but rather, they are afflicted by curses that might, for example, cause their moods to affect the local weather or make people spontaneously combust. Small town life apparently can affect you that way!

You can read the rest of this review at Fanboys Anonymous.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Atlantis - hit or myth?

It may take a while to reach foreign shores but, here in Blighty, the first episode of the BBC's new fantasy series Atlantis aired at the weekend. It was trumpeted as having been made by the same team behind Merlin, a series which was an international hit for the Beeb but which, for me, never quite managed to decide whether it was meant for adults or children. Would Atlantis have a clearer idea of its target audience?

BBC show Atlantis starring Jack Donnelly and Mark Addy from Game of Thrones and The Full Monty
A classic in the making? Or an epic fail?

You can read the rest of this review at Fanboys Anonymous.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD - far from super

Just a few days after it aired in the US, we here in dear ol' Blighty got to see the pilot episode of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD for ourselves last night. So, what did we think of it on this side of the Pond?

Well, as far as this particular Brit is concerned, it was ... ordinary. For those of us of a geeky disposition, there was nothing so bad that you'd feel compelled to reach for the remote but, for anyone not already versed in the world of Marvel comics, there was nothing to make you want to continue watching the next episode either.

Marvel comics' TV show movie spin-off
Even Marvel realised an apostrophe-'s' would spoil their logo.

You can read the rest of this review at Fanboys Anonymous.

Friday, 21 June 2013

XBox One - why journalists must share (at least some of) the blame

Now that Microsoft has grudgingly and with much bad grace finally reversed its disastrously misguided DRM policies for the XBox One, the question being asked is how could they have misjudged the market so badly?  How did they get it so wrong?  In part, I blame the games journalists (with apologies, of course, to my online friends like Darren Pearce who, of course, always writes excellent games reviews!)

The number of gamers who play online multiplayer games has clearly grown enormously over the years and continues to grow even now.  I'm going to go out on a limb, however, and suggest that the number of gamers who do NOT play online, who are quite happy with their single-player offline game experiences, who do not even download digital DLC packs are actually still in the majority.  By a huge margin.

But read any games magazine and you'll find that game after game is criticised and given a lower rating simply because it has no multiplayer element to it.  Worse, if it does have a multiplayer option and that option isn't up to the standard of, say, Halo's online blast-fest, it may be dismissed entirely.  Why?  It's surely not beyond the wit of man to give different scores for the single and multiplayer experiences.

In many cases, I suspect, it's because professional journalists may have their hardware, software and online subscriptions paid for by their employers (or, if they're freelance, are able to claim them as business expenses) and because they HAVE to play online multiplayer (and dowload DLC packs) in order to write their reviews.  This means that their gaming experience and their perception of what gamers want and are prepared to pay for is very, very different from that of the casual gaming majority.

So, being at least one step removed from what really matters to the single-player spending his own money, they write reviews which assume everyone wants to play online and they rate games accordingly.  They give high scores to games like Mass Effect 3 without even recognising that the need to play online in order to secure all possible endings is going to incense legions of fans worldwide.  (Or, indeed, that the ending is a betrayal of everything the story has been leading to up until that point, but that's another already long-exhausted debate entirely!)

So, what do you do if you're a games developer working on a single-player game?  Far too often the answer is to tack on an online multiplayer option.  It doesn't matter that most gamers don't want it and will never play it; the important thing is to get past the first hurdle - to avoid the possibility of the reviewers marking the game down for lacking one.

All this gives console manufacturers a false impression of what the market is ready for, how comfortable it is with digital downloads, and how much value it attaches to online functionality.  Remember, neither the executives nor the techies at companies like Microsoft speak to the ordinary casual gamer like you or me.  They talk to each other.  They talk to other industry boffins.  They talk to developers.  They talk to online gaming communities.  And, of course, they talk to games journalists and reviewers.  In short, they speak to people for whom online gaming and the digital future are already a fact of life and, as a result, they ALL start to believe their shared opinions and experiences are representative of the gaming community as a whole.  And then, in Microsoft's case, they design the DRM policies for their next generation console accordingly.

Only after those policies have been made public do they get to hear the views of the casual gaming majority.  Only then do they discover that gamers believe they are being stripped of their long-cherished rights while being offered little or nothing in return.  Or, more accurately, little or nothing that they actually value.  (Except, of course, for the few who value the ability to change TV channels by waving their arms or shouting at the TV.)

Now this isn't to say that Microsoft is blameless.  Its launch of its XBox One DRM policies was arrogant, and the surly, ungracious tone of its retraction is likely to upset some gamers even more.  But, in asking WHY they got it so wrong, it's important to recognise that it's not entirely their fault.  There's plenty of blame to go around.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Shades – Volume 1: now at comicsy!

Already available through US indy comic retailer, Shades Volume 1 is now available to order through a UK site,

This is great news for readers in the UK and elsewhere in Europe! IndyPlanet has long provided a fantastic service to the indy comic community but, being based in the US, those of us on the other side of the Pond can incur exorbitant US international postage costs (and all too often have to suffer interminable waits!)

Comicsy provides a UK-based online "shop window" for readers to browse, and all orders are fulfilled by the creators themselves.  And, since the creators are all British, this should mean faster delivery times and maybe even slightly cheaper prices.  Win, win!

Shades, of course, is my graphic novel which examines the many facets of the UK national character. Yeah, that sounds heavy, but don't worry - it serves it all up as an action-fuelled adventure in which a retired tailor brings together a group of quasi-historical British "superheroes" to save the nation from an insidious evil.  Trust me, it's fun!

Or, better still, don't trust me.  Go order a copy of Volume 1 through Comicsy and see for yourself!