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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Top Twelve Best Television/Film/Comic Moments of 2018

Top Twelve Moments of 2018
Back in 2017 I comprised a list of some of my favourite moments of that year’s television: the scenes that made me laugh, cry, shriek, or just appreciate the fine art of storytelling.
I couldn’t do the same in 2018, simply because I didn’t watch as many shows, at least not ones that aired that particular year. But I really enjoyed crafting my “best of 2017” post, and always wanted to do another.
So I’ve made myself a fresh list of great on-screen moments, though I had to broaden my horizons to include both films and material that aired before 2018. I’ve put moments that featured specifically in 2018 at the top of the list, though otherwise there’s no order or ranking here.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Review: Toy Story

I never actually saw Toy Story on the big-screen, though I vividly remember my grandmother telling my dad: “I’ve just seen a film you have to take the girls to.” But it wasn’t until it came out on VCR (yes, I’m old now) that I got to watch it – and become temporarily obsessed with it. You know how kids can just watch something over and over again without getting sick of it? For my sister it was E.T., and for me it was Toy Story.
So with the promotion for Toy Story 4 gearing up, I decided to re-watch the entire trilogy (plus the various shorts) and try to figure out just why I was so enamored as a child.
Well, there’s the obvious: what kid isn’t captivated by the idea that their toys come to life as soon as they’ve left the room? Toys are our first friends and confidants; they comfort us at night, guard all our secrets, and provide us with constant companionship, being entirely subservient to whatever our imaginations decide to project upon them.
We love them to bits, and so the possibility that they might love us back is a compelling one. 
Of course, Toy Story certainly isn’t the first tale to explore the idea of living, sentient playthings. Just off the top of my head, there’s also E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker, Hans Christian Anderson’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Margery Williams Bianco’s The Velveteen Rabbit, Lynne Reid Banks’s The Indian in the Cupboard, Victor Herbert’s Babes in Toyland, and the likes of Winnie the Pooh, Raggedy Anne, and the assorted stories of Rumer Godden. Julian Fellowes got in on the act with The Curious Tale of the Abandoned Toys, and when I was little I read the Sally Anne series by Terrance Dicks, about a group of toys living in a children’s hospital.
And hey, remember Small Soldiers back in 1998? That was a fun one.
My point is that Toy Story certainly wasn’t the first to come up with the idea of living toys. But all good stories start with a good idea, and “toys that come to life when nobody’s around” is a great one, full of magic and possibility, as proved by its popularity over the years. (I recall the early promotion for the film playing on this theme, with one advert asking: “ever wonder why your toys are never where you left them?”)
But what makes Toy Story special is that it’s not just based on one good idea, but several, all of which are explored to the full extent of their potential.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Review: Gabriel Knight: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned

This is the third and final game in the Gabriel Knight trilogy, and as is the case with so many third instalments, it pales in comparison to its predecessors. The ambition is certainly there, with a sprawling story, talented vocal cast, and what was (for its time) impressive graphics, but it’s also overly complicated, difficult to navigate, and somewhat anti-climactic. And those graphics? Have dated horribly. Just horribly.
The pixel art of the first game and even the full-motion videos of the second are still watchable, even beautiful, but this – from the balloon-like limbs of the characters to the garish textures of rock and grass…there’s no beating around the bush, it’s hideous.
Perhaps the toll it took on designer/creator Jane Jensen is clear in the lack of supplementary material she would have otherwise prepared for the game’s release. Sins of the Fathers has a 2014 remake, a comic book introduction, and a novelization. The Beast Within has a novelization. Blood of the Sacred has only a slim comic to give players a grasp of the story, and the fact Jensen never got around to putting this story on the printed page (which would have done wonders for clarifying some of the plot’s murkier developments) suggests she never had the time or inclination to do so.
The game was released in full 3D, but by all accounts the development team had little experience with the format, leading to a number of bugs and omissions that put a huge strain on the schedule and release date. As a result, its greatest claim to fame is sadly one of the most infamous Moon Logic Puzzles of all time, though it should be renowned for the audacity of its storyline, which delves into the patrilineal line of Jesus Christ and the possibility he fathered a child, a full six years before The Da Vinci Code had tourists swarming historical sites and ticking off the Catholic Church in search of evidence for its similar hypothesis.
But you can bet the promotional material made the most of the fact it was released in 1999, with a poster that's possibly one of the greatest and most evocative images ever used for a computer game:
I mean, wow. That's ingenious. And check out the trailer:
You can see how badly the graphics have dated, but the music, the editing, the sequencing – they’re still fantastic, and at its best the game captures that thrill of an ancient treasure hunt beset with supernatural dangers and grand conspiracies...

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Links and Updates

2019 has hit the ground running, and already one of my must-see films of the year has hit theatres… at least in Australia and New Zealand. For some reason How To Train Your Dragon 3 was released a full month earlier than other countries – and no, I haven’t seen it yet, but it seems a missed opportunity to not see it several weeks before the rest of the world. Stay tuned.
And Young Justice is also out, though not on any streaming service. That’s okay, I was planning on waiting until all the episodes were released and binge-watching it (that’s the best way, since the stories are so intertwined). What a great start to the year!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Doctor Who: Resolution

So we made it. Without a Christmas Special we had to hold out for a New Year’s one instead, not that it really made much of a difference. This will be the last Doctor Who episode we get for a while, as the show isn’t returning until 2020, and that’s way too far away to be thinking about now.

But just think, by the time we see these characters again, we’ll know the end of the Game of Thrones, Infinity War and the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Now that’s freaky.
As ever, here are ten thoughts on the episode…

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Review: Aquaman

I was going to save this for my monthly reading/watching log, but then it got too long!

There are very little surprises when it comes to Aquaman, though I felt some sympathy for the script-writers considering most of the character’s stories, themes, and even basic imagery has been around in the comics since the 1940s, only to have been “borrowed” over the years by other creative projects: everything from a weapon only the worthy can wield (Thor’s hammer), to brothers/cousins warring for the throne (Thor/Loki, T’Challa/Killmonger), to disparate tribes that the true king must unite (Black Panther again), to Mera’s red hair and green scales (Disney’s The Little Mermaid).
Heck, even Nicole Kidman as Atlanna surviving by herself for decades in a hostile environment was beaten to the punch by Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne earlier in the year.
Of course, a lot of Aquaman’s story was originally derived from Arthurian legend (including Arthur’s own name!) but since then other comic-book movies have overtaken him in fame and popularity, making a lot of what’s seen here extremely predictable. The one true king, the greedy usurper, the test of worthiness, the spirited love interest, the quest for the magical McGuffin: there are echoes here of everything from The Lord of the Rings to Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It’s therefore in the little things that the film sets itself apart.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Woman of the Month: Rosa Diaz

Rosa Diaz from Brooklyn 99
It’s always a challenge to choose the Woman of the Month for January, as a part of me feels she sets the tone for the year to come. Should it be someone inspirational, someone complex, or someone I’d like to emulate?
This month I’m going with that last option and picking Rosa Diaz. Yes, I’m finally catching up with Brooklyn 99, even though I’ve spent the last few years looking at gif-sets on my dashboard and seeing the show’s best quotes applied to characters and situations from completely different fandoms (it’s actually a real trip seeing them in their original context).
And of course, the “great motive, still murder” line that’s currently threatening to tear fandom apart.
But one season in, and Rosa is already the stand-out character. It’s hard not to wish you could have some of her confidence and fearlessness, not to mention the black leather jacket and amazing hair. She doesn’t take crap from anyone, her personal life is a complete mystery to her co-workers; even her posture is intimidating.
Granted, her temper is not always a good thing, as sometimes it’s directed at people who don’t deserve it, or it makes a high-stress situation even worse. But there’s a heart in there – one that stands up for people being bullied, one that can recognize when someone else is in pain, and one that’s come up with creative solutions to difficult problems.
So in the year ahead, I’m going to try and channel some of Rosa’s attitude: do no harm, but take no shit.
(And just for the record, I’m counting down the episodes until Gina Rodriguez turns up!)