Sunday, 25 March 2012

Film Review: The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games

The latest teen-reading series to hit the big screen, The Hunger Games brings the futuristic dystopia of Suzanne Collins' Panem to life in edgy and gripping fashion. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Voice of Reason #3: Online Gaming Outrage

Infinity Ward's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
With our media landscape being increasingly dominated by social media and the compulsion to share with sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube growing with each passing week, the gaming industry has also been acknowledging the importance of on-line social content in recent years. 

Multiplayer has gone from being an entertaining and pleasing add-on to being considered a necessity. Labelled as the future of gaming, more and more focus is being given to developing games that offer the best online experience for gamers. Blockbuster games such as the latest instalment in the Call of Duty franchise, Modern Warfare 3 (pictured above) have had such a profound impact upon the way online gaming is orchestrated that millions disregard the traditional singleplayer content of games, the storyline or narrative, and instead measure a games success upon it's online content and experience. But is this the way forward for the industry? A sign of things to come?

It would seem so. Once-profoundly singleplayer experiences such as the Mass Effect, Uncharted and Dead Space series' have felt the need to integrate an online multiplayer mode in order to meet the needs of the market. I can't help but feel however that it will appear to have all been in vain. Just chucking in a deathmatch or capture the flag mode isn't going to topple established multiplayer communities like those found in Call of Duty, Battlefield or Gears Of War. Now this isn't a rant that is badmouthing Call of Duty, it's a complete modern day phenomenon, selling millions upon millions in it's first 24 hours.

Batman: Arkham City
I'm simply saying that developers are giving too much credit to online multiplayer. Is it really necessary for every game on the market? I'd like to think not. Numerous games have hit the shelves in the last 12 months that prove the worth of just a strong, entertaining singleplayer mode. L.A. Noire, Batman: Arkham City (pictured above) and most notably Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are all intricately crafted and genuinely gripping games that have been hugely successful and critically acclaimed. On the other side, games like Battlefield 3 have shown that when too much precedence is given to online multiplayer, the singleplayer modes will suffer. 

How is it that everyone has become so engrossed with online multiplayer that offline modes have become so seemingly sidelined? Is it that the incessant repetition and maze-like maps are so entertaining that the industry has all but disregarded the future of singleplayer? I can see the social appeals of online gaming; a place to meet and make friends, share in the fun of the game, that, I am okay with.

It's when people forget the brilliance that goes into crafting a encompassing story such as those in solely singleplayer games like Arkham City and Skyrim. In my mind, online multiplayer games simply don't stack up, no matter how many additional map packs or DLC's a developer releases. It's just new mazes for their rats to run.

Here's hoping the multiplayer gaming isn't the only future the industry has; it'll be a very boring one for me if it is.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Top 5: The Simpsons Episodes

No explanation needed, it's The Simpsons.

When a TV show hits has been going as long as The Simpsons has, you know it is something special. As clich├ęd as it sounds, The Simpsons has been one of the defining shows of the last two decades, completely altering and owning the Zeitgeist and pop culture in the process. When the show's 500th episode, "At Long Last Leave" airs in Australia on Wednesday, the show will have reached a very special landmark. 

So, in order to mark the date, I've been mulling over the show's extensive back-catalogue, stretching all the way back to 1989 and picking what I feel are some of the Simpsons greatest moments. Check it out and let me know what you think...

1) You Only Move Twice (Season 8, Episode 2)

A hilarious homage to classic Sean Connery Bond movies like Goldfiner, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, this episodes premise, where the Simpsons move to idyllic village Cyprus Creek when Homer is recruited by "evil" corporation Globex is brilliant. Also "Bond villan" Hank Scorpio is simply genius.  "Homer, which is your least favouraite country, Italy or France?" quips Scorpio as he adjusts a giant laser cannon.  "France" retorts Homer. "Heh heh heh nobody ever says Italy."

 Also, who can forget the classic hammock conversation or the poor kids in Bart's remedial class. Entirely biased decision, but You Only Move Twice is my favourite Simpsons episode.

2) And Maggie Makes Three (Season 6, Episode 13)

A very touching and sweet episode, And Maggie Makes Three showed us all that the Simpsons wasn't always about the funny. Don't get me wrong, this episode still has the laugh-out-loud moments but it also manages to be incredibly emotional, as Homer recounts the story of how Maggie was born. 

Having quit his mundane job at the nuclear plant, Homer's life seems to be on the up, now working at the bowling-alley. However, when new baby Maggie is born, Homer has to sacrifice this all to get his old job back so he can support the family. It's a fantastic mix of gags and story-telling.

3) Homer Goes To College (Season 5, Episode 3)

At the other end of the spectrum is this Season 5 cracker; Homer Goes To College. Jammed-full of college stereotypes and hilarious pranks, this episode sees Homer sent back to college in order to pass a nuclear physics class and keep his job at the power plant (and instead spends his time chasing squirrels and then hitting the college dean with his car and putting him in hospital. Yes, really)

This episode didn't spawn just one instantly memorable quotes: it spawned three. Playing with a pigs tail, Homer squeals with delight, "Curly, straight, curly, straight!" and then later on plans to roll said pig "up in a carpet and throw him off a bridge!" Classic stuff which has stayed with me for years. And who can forget Homer singing "I am so smart, I am so smart. S-M-R-T. I mean, S-M-A-R-T"? 

4) Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo (Season 10, Episode 23)

In my mind the best "the Simpsons go abroad" episode, Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo sees the yellow-tinged quartet make the trip to Japan. From getting locked in jail (for wrestling the Japanese Emperor no less) and eating traditional Japanese cuisine at Americatown, the trip goes from bad to worse when the family are forced to appear on a sadistic Japanese game show (The Happy Smile Super Challenge Family Wish Show) to win plane tickets home after going broke. Star Trek legend George Takei guest appears as the show's host.

A host of jokes and references to all things Japanese, from haiku's to Pokemon, shows that nothing is off limits for The Simpsons.

4) King-Size Homer (Season 7, Episode 7)

Another classic episode, King-Size Homer sees Homer undertake the challenge of becoming 300 pounds; just so he can be classified as 'disabled' and be allowed to work from home and get out of doing exercise classes at work.

Sporting a blue and pink muumuu (because he wouldn't want to look like a werido), Homer has to save Springfield from a huge nuclear fallout after he leaves a toy bird in charge of his computer.

And the worst... The Principal and the Pauper (Season 9, Episode 2)

How do you upset millions of fans in the course of just half an hour? Change a well-loved and fleshed-out character's entire back-story that's how. Principal Skinner, a regular appearing character on the show since its inception suddenly got a complete rework in this episode, throwing away something built up over eight years for the sake of one controversial episode.

Claiming that Skinner has been an imposter all this time (really named Armain Tamzarian) whilst the 'real' Principal Skinner (voiced by Martin Sheen) has been locked away in a Vietnamese POW camp, the episode upset a lot of fans and worst of all; the "fake" Skinner stayed on and the plot-line was hardly ever spoken of again. Just plain lazy and insulting. 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Verdict: Sherlock - The Reichenbach Fall

"I may be on the side of angels, but don't for one second think I am one of them"

This review contains spoilers

Completing a trilogy of ninety-minute episodes, The Reichenbach Fall began with a ominous flash-forward to an emotional Watson (Martin Freeman) recovering with the fallout of past events. Before rewinding to three months previous, he manages to choke out the words "My friend, Sherlock Holmes, is dead".

This scene pretty much sets the scene for what is to come; a gripping and emotional-laden mystery punctuated with some genuinely shocking twists and tear-jerking moments. Based upon Conan Doyle's book "The Final Problem", this season finale sees Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch), squaring up against his nemesis Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) for the second time.

Initially introduced in the final episode of last season, the intense rivalry between the two has now already been establised and this allows for writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat to launch straight into proceedings. In the opening half an hour, Moriarty launches a series of high-profile robberies the include the Tower of London and the Bank of England. I felt this first part took a while to get going, but once Moriarty's 'final problem' begins to unfold, it really kicks up a gear or six. 

The way in which those around Sherlock (such as Inspector LeStrade) are turned against him and made to doubt him is done brilliantly, in such a way that even the audience begins to question the Detective. Is he solving these crimes or orchestrating them? As always, there are enough red-herrings to keep the audience guessing and participate in, but never enough to give it away or ruin the surprise.Whilst those familar with Conan Doyle folklore will be more astute to the cliffhanger than other's, the ending is still genuinely gripping stuff. Both brutal and touching, the episode's final ten minutes are brilliantly acted by both Cumberbatch and Freeman. It's a genuinely tear-jerking moment and in my experience that's a rare thing for television shows to achieve.

Andrew Scott also is seriously affecting as Moriarty, as he seemingly channels Heath Ledger's Joker and becomes the man "who just wants to watch the world burn". The way in which Moriarty brings about Sherlock's fall from grace through the tabloids is not just cleverly executed but also appropriate given the current spotlight on the British newspapers and media in the Leveson inquiry. In addition to this, the final third of the episode where Sherlock and Moriarty try to out manoeuvre one another through lies and deceit is brilliantly written. And then just when you think Sherlock has the upper-hand on his nemesis comes that cliffhanger...

Overall, this second season of Sherlock certainty didn't disappoint and has really set the bar even higher. It's now up to the duo of Gatiss and Moffat to better it for the already confirmed third series (most likely to arrive next year, with the Cumberbatch and Freeman off appearing in major Hollywood films such as The Hobbit and Star Trek affecting shoot schedules). The wait and withdrawal symptoms won't bother me however. I'm sure it'll be worth it!


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