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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Review: Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within

Sequels are tricky things to manage, and that goes as much for games as for books and films. They have to build on the previous story without repeating it, raise the stakes without overblowing it, and deepen the characters and expand the world-building without getting too convoluted.
The Beast Within finds the right balance, though interestingly enough, it does not raise or lower the stakes in any significant way – it merely changes them. If Sins of the Fathers was about righting an ancient wrong, reclaiming ones heritage and wiping out a criminal cartel, then The Beast Within is about saving two souls from damnation and preventing a centuries-old killer from harming more innocent people.
It seems simple enough, and yet the story is just as deep and poignant as its predecessor. Set a year after the events of Sins of the Fathers, Gabriel has taken up residence in his family's ancestral home of Schloss Ritter and assumed the mantle of Schattenj√§ger (that is, Shadow Hunter). Now all he needs is a case, and so who should appear at the castle door but a gathering of solemn townsfolk, seeking the Schattenj√§ger's assistance...

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Thoughts on The Avengers: Infinity War

Yes, I've joined the ranks of those who have witnessed Infinity War, and not a moment too soon – the very next day the unspoken courtesy that prevented people from immediately posting spoilers on Tumblr was deemed over, and my dash was filled with (surprisingly high-quality) GIFs of movie scenes.

As I've said plenty of times before, I'm only a casual fan of the franchise, so I enjoyed this as I've enjoyed all the Marvel films: as relatively mindless fun in which likeable characters do cool things in bright set-pieces for a couple of hours.  That said, I obviously cared enough about Infinity War to go see it at the theatre as soon as I could, and though I had a general idea of how the ending would go down, most things came as a surprise to me.
This is not so much a review as a series of thoughts; an attempt to get all my ideas and impressions into one place as opposed to a coherent "think-piece" on the film.
Obviously SPOILERS below the cut...

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Woman of the Month: Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson
This is only the second time I've featured a real-life person as Woman of the Month, but in keeping with this blog's interest in science-fiction (among all the other subgenres of speculative fiction) I'd say that a mathematics genius working at NASA during the most crucial and exciting years of the American/Russian Space Race certainly deserves the spotlight.
Which is fitting, since Katherine Johnson's role in Hidden Figures (as well as her guest-starring part in NBC's Timeless) is all about finally giving credit where credit is due. Like many on hearing the premise of Hidden Figures, my first reaction was: "how on earth did I not know about this?"
Along with dozens of other black women in the 1960s, Katherine was a "human computer" who calculated trajectories, launch windows and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights, as well as rendezevous paths for the Apollo lunar lander and command module flights to the Moon. I'm not even sure what some of that means, but it clearly demonstrates a staggering level of intelligence.
I had mixed thoughts on some of the creative decisions in Hidden Figures, but if one thing was vividly captured, it was the utterly stupid banality of the prejudice Katherine and her companions had to face. One of the most brilliant minds of her age, working with people who were aiming to put a human being on the moon – and they were worried about who drinks from what coffee cup?
That she maintained such dignity and composure in the face of such galling pettiness inspires just as much respect as her mathematic achievements, and that she and her fellow "computers" have finally been recognized for their intellect, perseverance and work ethic makes you hope that sometimes justice is done. The best part is that at the grand age of ninety-nine, Katherine lived to see it!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Reading/Watching Log #28

I churned through a few children's classics this months; ones that I had never read before, but which I was eager to finally read if not just to understand their importance in the cultural milieu. It was also a month for mockumentaries – three in total – which proved to me that as funny as they can be, it's also a very lazy genre. Seriously, all you need are some talking heads, a few celebrity cameos, and instructions for everyone to take themselves extremely seriously. There's a reason this genre got kick-started in a location as banal as an office block. Because it could.
As well as this, another adaptation of a North American novel, a variation on Groundhog Day, those three no-longer-obscure women mathematicians, and a cult classic I'd never even heard about until recently.
Oh, and I FINALLY get to The Defenders.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Xena Warrior Princess: Cradle of Hope, The Path Not Taken and The Reckoning

My Xena Warrior Princess watch continues with the next three episodes of the first season. It's clear that the writers are still figuring out the dynamics, not just of Xena and Gabrielle, but between those characters making the jump from the mother-show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

For example, what we see between Xena/Ares here isn't what the show settles on later down the track (not least because his first appearance plays out as though he's never met Xena before, something that's retconned later) and there's a tendency to introduce characters from Xena's past who seem to be of great significance ... and who are never seen again.
Still it's early days, and amidst these opening episodes are a few glimmers of the potential that'll be mined later. 
(And if you're wondering why I reference Merlin so many times in these reviews, it's because my first viewing of these episodes coincided with that show's season four).

Friday, April 20, 2018

Review: Troy: Fall of a City

I feel like I've been waiting my whole life for a comprehensive adaptation of The Iliad and all its adjacent myths. And ... I'm still waiting. Troy: Fall of a City isn't bad, but it never really gets over the threshold of "adequate" either. 

It will certainly replace Wolfgang Peterson's Troy (2004) as the go-to version of the story that gets shown to high school students, and it certainly takes advantage of its extended run-time to expand on several characters (and at least one original subplot) but my inner Greek mythology geek still wishes for the ultimate take on Troy, from Peleus and Thetis's wedding to a closing caption that tells us Aeneus went on to be the founder of Rome.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Standing Tall #22

So as it happens, I have very little memories of this giraffe. It was one of the first ones I saw on the day I went out to track down all the giraffes in the city, and I guess it didn't make much of an impression on me.
It was the location that really counted, as it was in one of what's known as the city's "gap fillers", where sculptures or playgrounds or markets have been erected in the vacant sites where buildings have been demolished after the Christchurch City earthquakes.
This one had a mini-book exchange where people could leave or take the books that were available in a special display cabinet, and the giraffe itself was a tribute to the other gap fillers in the area. Called Giraffa Spatiumnolovacuam and designed by Jen McBride, its patterns represented places like The Commons, the Pallet Pavilion, the Dance-O-Mat, and the Gap Golf, some of which are still up and running.