Doctor Who: The Bells of Saint John

Well, let’s plunge ourselves back into the unpredictable rip current of Doctor Who. Now, I bashed the previous episode, 2012 christmas special “The Snowmen”, because it had a dumb plot and an inconsistent tone. At the time, though, I was pretty happy with it. The point of the episode was to introduce a new companion, and it did so pretty well: We got to know the compassionate teacher and lady-out-of-time Clara Oswald. Though she seemed a little generic, I was looking forward to future episodes fleshing her out and establishing her as something other than another tiresome “Most important person in the universe, with a love-hate relationship with the Doctor” companion.

Well, here we are at the season premiere (I’m not going to split hairs with Brit vs. American terms, or with the wonky series division the BBC has – the run of episodes from now until “Time of the Doctor” is the 2013 season for me). Let’s see how things pan out, and whether promoted internet weird guy Stephen Moffat can work his customary magic to restore my faith and fandom in the show.

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BioShock Infinite

DISCLAIMER: It’s no secret that this blog doesn’t get very high viewership, or that writing down my rambling and snarky thoughts on these works of art is more for my benefit than anyone else’s. As a consequence, please note that this will go on for much longer than normal.

And once more with feeling – your playing experience will be very much spoiled by this review. If you just came here for a yea or nay, you should play the game, by all means – you’ll probably enjoy at least some parts of it.

References within references within references…this was fun to make.

It’s impossible to talk about BioShock Infinite without talking about its lineage. The game is the sequel to 2007’s BioShock, one of the best known and most influential games in history. BioShock is a true work of art, and unlike some other games which share that distinction it’s also a really fun game in its own right.

 

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Oz the Great and Powerful

This is not embellishment – that is literally what the Wicked Witch of the West looks like in this movie.

here are movies that were popular in their time, there are movies that defined and affected their genres for years afterwards. Then there are movies that have passed into the public consciousness – dozens of movies, to which everyone knows the setup, or a certain scene, or a few lines. There are too many of these to list.

And then there are a few movies that have been all but canonized. No matter who you are, where you come from, or even whether or not you’ve seen the movie, everyone in the Anglophone world knows the characters from Star Wars, the songs from The Sound of Music, the lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the scenes from Titanic

…But even beyond that, there’s a single film that absolutely everyone is had expected to have seen in its entirety. Maybe not the best, maybe not the most well-loved, but almost certainly the most popular movie of all time. I’m speaking of course, of The Wizard of Oz.

If you tried, you could probably recite several of the songs from memory right this second – go on, right now. If you’re in public, you’ll probably start a sing-along.

And so, you’ll definitely get the reference when I say that Disney’s latest follow-up attempt, Oz the Great and Powerful, “really was no miracle”.

I’ll say that adaptations of the original novel ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ are nothing new. A cursory Wikipedia search reveals that in the world of film alone, there are a ridiculously large number of prequels and sequels, ripoffs and reimaginings, disco versions and gothic versions of L. Frank Baum’s classic – including half a dozen before the one everyone remembers!

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Crysis 3

The Crysis FPS/RPG franchise can, in terms of its production, be compared to the works of Michael Bay. Its oeuvre consists of shallow, feel-good action romps with a particular eye for visual flair. This was enough to carry the works of Bay until his 2009 critical flop Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, but the notoriously fickle gaming industry has already abandoned Crysis after just three games, which is surprising considering how overall decent the first two were.

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Dead Space 3

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2008’s Dead Space was a self-proclaimed love letter to the sci-fi horror genre, and was one of the last specimens of a dying breed: The AAA-developed horror title.

Jim Sterling of the Escapist has gone over this in more depth than I care to, but I’ll sum it up: Because horror games have a niche market, big distributors and developers are less willing to take a chance on them over products with a wider appeal. Thus, horror games are usually the province of smaller developers. This has led to some big successes for startup companies, like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Slender: Source and Outlast. The drawback to this is we’ve lost the grand, theatrical style of horror games that we got until the beginning of the previous console generation; F.E.A.R., Resident Evil, Metro 2033…the list goes on.

Yes, major developers, we’ve all seen Aliens – we know that the logical progression for a horror franchise is to make it more action and character focused. The problem is that when you do that, it stops being a horror game and just becomes an action game with the lights turned off. All the franchises I mentioned above have neglected their horror roots in favor of becoming more generic shooters…except for Dead Space. The third and latest game in that franchise makes a decent attempt to stay a horror game, but commits a few unforgivable sins in the process.

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My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Hearts and Hooves Day

I was going to draw something, but the little girl on the right perfectly sums up my attitude. And, hey, this scene of baking cupcakes sorta fits in with my usual motif.

That’s right, folks. Gauntlets off – on this New Year’s Eve, I’m taking on one of the most popular children’s show’s in recent memory. Joy to the world, ladies and gentlemen.

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Doctor Who: The Snowmen

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Things like last year’s Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Snowmen” are the reason this site exists: When I first saw it, I thought it was a decent episode – that its main flaw was that it relied too much on setting up questions to be answered in later episodes, but I was eager to see those questions resolved all the same.

Now, armed with the knowledge given to me by this past year of Doctor Who, I can make a more definite appraisal of this episode, and thus I can safely say that I really don’t like it.

In many ways, it typifies writer and showrunner Steven Moffat’s approach to the show, of late – we get armfuls of banter, grand spectacles filled with raw emotion and theatrical symbolism, goons with creepy faces, recognizable references to the classic series… but it’s all done without any sense or consistency, and so quite a lot of it just doesn’t work for me.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a deeply unnecessary film, but unlike some other unnecessary films  (cough, cough), I was perfectly willing to see it, and meet it on its own terms. Say what you will about the Lord of the Rings movies, but you can’t deny that they built one of the most rock-solid and epic worlds in modern cinema – and I didn’t mind the chance to see another story in that world.

And speaking of saying what you will about LOTR, I’d like to do just that. So permit me to blaspheme for a moment: I think that J.R.R. Tolkien was an amazing writer, but a horrible storyteller. I really don’t like how exhaustive and minutely detailed his writing style can get, and I much prefer the movies to the books because of how they remove the restrictive filter of the narration between the story and my perception of it.

The Hobbit’s main problem is that Peter Jackson and company try to make it another Lord of the Rings, but the original children’s book can’t really bear the weight of a sprawling, three-hour epic, much less three in a row. It’s fun to watch, but it’s a bit less brainy than the original trilogy – though that’s not saying much, and the wonderfully dedicated team behind the first trilogy really brings their A-game in every way they can.

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Far Cry 3

For those of you just tuning in, my Assassin’s Creed 3 review had me notice several similarities in that game to FarCry 3 – similarities which I attributed to the two games being developed by the same studio, and released within a month pf each other. I haven’t been the first to see this, and I also won’t be the first to say that the latter game, and today’s subject, fares much better for its stint in the Ubisoft mixing bowl than ACIII did.

I haven’t played the previous installments in the FarCry franchise – in fact, my only previous experience with it has been a riff session with some friends of the Uwe Boll movie – so I went into it dry, not knowing what to expect outside of the accounts from reviewers, which praised the game for the joy that it brought to exploration, but didn’t like the near-complete lack of any story or structure to the game’s world.

This problem has been mitigated, but it still remains. There’s a whole lot of things to do in the game, and they‘re all satisfying and make for a coherent flow of gameplay, but quite a few of them don’t have any real incentive. The reason FarCry 3 is such a great game, though, is because of how effortlessly it manages to combine this varied gameplay with a tight, deconstructive and well-scripted story.

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Skyfall

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Daniel Craig’s term as James Bond can, I think, be considered the gold standard of continuity reboots. From the very first scene of 2006’s Casino Royale, where Bond battles a man in a public toilet before dispatching a nameless Russian guy with a quip and a smile, we’re introduced to the film’s mission statement: To blend classic Bond film elements with darker, more realistic modern spy movie tropes.

This formula worked wonders in Casino Royale, but was disappointingly toned down in Quantum of Solace, the sequel, which tried to minimize the Bond stuff to make way for the modern stuff, and made for an underwhelming experience. Luckily, since Skyfall was intended as a celebration of the franchise’s 50th anniversary, Bond stuff was not only expected but mandated, and the contrast between the two gives the movie some really memorable scenes and images. But what catapults it to the best of Bond is more than that: Skyfall has an excellently realized story – a thematic character study and political spy-thriller both – assisted by a tight script and excellent performances.

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