Jumping the shark?: My thoughts on The Walking Dead mid-season finale.

***Spoiler Warning***

Do not read on unless you have already seen the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead and are up to date on plot developments in the comic. If you are up to date or don’t mind spoilers, read on.

This week has seen the broadcast of The Walking Dead’s Season 8 mid-season finale and it has pissed off the online fan community and fans of the comic book alike and for very good reason. I have had my doubts about The Walking Dead for a few seasons now. I have been a fan of the show and watched it without fail since its inception but it has become painfully obvious of late that the show is running embarrassingly low on both steam and purpose, relying heavily on shocks and fan-baiting red herrings to keep its waning viewing figures out of the red.

The standard of writing on the show has dipped dramatically in recent years featuring massive jumps in logic, just plain dumb narrative moves and excess padding to keep the show plodding along and fill out the season. Every year I tell myself it’s building up to something good, something special, last years introduction of Negan was admittedly brilliant and harrowing in equal measure but then it just slipped right back into lazy plot devices and filler, little to no character development, particularly in the case of new additions of which I’d regularly find myself asking “And you are?!”. I kept telling myself to have faith, stick with it because when Walking Dead is good, it’s really good. Unfortunately the flip side of that coin is, when Walking Dead is bad, it’s embarrassingly bad.

The latest in a growing line of questionable narrative choices came in this seasons halfway point when they revealed that Carl Grimes, a character who has been in the show from the beginning and is still a major part of The Walking Dead comics had been apparently bitten by a Walker at some point in an already jumbled, directionless and far too busy episode, possibly prior on a episode a few weeks ago when Carl was set upon by Walkers in the woods? It’s possible this could be set over the course of 24hrs or so but it’s frankly terribly edited and more than a little ill-conceived.

My initial feelings were, here we go another “shock”, which is all well and good if the decision makes sense narratively and wasn’t such a humongous divergence from the comic. Carl in the comics survives the ‘All Out War’ narrative playing an instigating role in the introduction of new antagonists The Whisperers. He’s a key character in major plot developments, not expendable in the slightest. The decision to kill Carl in the show feels like it’s for gratuitous shock value and nothing more as it’s so completely non-sensual to the plot lines moving forward. Now, I may be wrong, in a few months I could be eating humble pie here but I severely doubt that to be the case in what appears to be an overly cynical ploy to rescue the show from its rapidly depleting viewing figures with cheap gratuitous plot twists.

I feel with this latest move The Walking Dead may have finally ‘jumped the shark’, a term coined from a late episode of Happy Days where The Fonz jumps a shark on his motorcycle, basically a term for a long running show, possibly too long running, making a stupid and quite possibly, massively damaging narrative choice that signals it’s decline, it feels like The Walking Dead may finally be at this point in its run. A part of me hopes I am proven wrong, it makes its bold gambit and it pays off in new surprising and daring ways to step defiantly back from the brink of disaster, I unfortunately serious doubt this to be the case and fear The Walking Dead may not be much longer for this world as its rotting limbs fall off one by one as it shuffles toward an ignominious end.

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Merry Christmas Ya Filthy Animal!: The enduring charm of Home Alone.

There are fewer enduring images in modern comedy cinema than Macaulay Culkin smashing Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern in the face with swinging paint cans. A riotous celebration of slapstick violence and Yuletide cheer that finds its way automatically on people Christmas movie checklist without question, Home Alone is a film that has the legs to stand out as one of the great Christmas movies for many a reason.

When you look closer at a film like Home Alone, it’s enduring popularity and its rightful place in the pantheon of beloved Christmas movies, it’s clear to see from the pedigree of all involved as to why it was and still is so well received. Being written & produced by John Hughes straight away gave the film all the attention it needed to be recognised as a must see film. Directed by Chris Columbus and starring the like of Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara, John Heard and John Candy, you already have an intimating amount of talent behind this picture. Telling the story of a young boy unwittingly left behind as his family leave for Christmas vacation leaving him as the custodian of their opulent mansion-like home, it was a kids dream come true, having a whole house to yourself without being told what to do. Factor in the addition of the home being scoped out for looting by the bumbling ‘Wet Bandits’ Harry & Marv, the viewer is thrown into a glorious cacophony of comic book violence and slapstick as Kevin rigs the house with booby-traps to foil the witless pair, it was a remarkably simple but tremendously effective idea.

I think part of what has helped Home Alone endure and stand the test of time is the fact that it isn’t your standard holiday entertainment, unless violence & prolonged human torture are your festive traditions, but hey, who am I to judge. In all seriousness though, it was a breath of fresh air to the Christmas movie landscape, it gave us the warm seasonal fuzzys and also buckets of hilarious, absurd comic book violence and slapstick, a heightened reality where a man can take a paint can swung at his face with some velocity and still live. It offered a charming and irreverent alternative to the standard of Christmas movies and did so with chuckling and at times, malevolent glee.

Spawning one equally brilliant and arguably stronger sequel and two straight to video ones which don’t really merit the name Home Alone they are so awful, Home Alone carried with it an endearing message of the importance of being with the ones we love at this time of year, hammering the point home by allowing Kevin to meet people, Old Man Marley in the first & The Bird Lady in the second, who would give anything for companionship at Christmas and reminding him that no matter how much his family irritates him, he loves and needs them unconditionally, despite its chaos it has a wholesome, deep rooted message of good will.

Home Alone is nearly 30 years old and is just as fresh as the first time I viewed it as a child. It’s a film like Gremlins, like Elf, like Muppets Christmas Carol that stands the rest of time admirably and is eminently watchable no matter how many times it has been viewed prior, a sign of not only a great Christmas film but also of a great film in general irrespective of the time of year it is based. Without fail it makes its way into my annual Christmas film checklist and will do for many years to come.

Now I Have A Machine Gun, Ho, Ho, Ho: Of course Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

A discussion, I say discussion, it has become more of an argument of late, has popped up on Twitter in the run up to the big day now that everyone has started their annual Christmas movie marathon. There are joyless corners of the Twittersphere that seem to be under the joint delusion that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas film, say what now?! How is it not?!

First off, it’s literally set on Christmas Eve. Ok, it’s not your picture postcard Christmas setting being based predominantly in an L.A high rise for its entire duration, no snow covered vistas here but this is ultimately a film about a man trying to make a reconciliation with his wife so his family can be together for Christmas, what’s more warm and fuzzy than that?! John McClane is a good man who just wants to deliver his oversized teddy bear to his daughter and have a family Christmas like everyone else, it’s not his fault he gets caught in a terrorist plot, wrong place at the wrong time. The setting also drives the plot, why are all those employees in the Nakatomi during an evening at the same time? For their CHRISTMAS party! Gruber needed A: Hostages and B: Takaghi to be in the same place at the same time and what better time than for a festive gathering where no one would expect a terrorist action, as far as storyline goes, it makes perfect sense. McClane ultimately saves Christmas for hundreds of families by foiling a terrorist plot! What’s more festive than good thwarting evil during the happiest time of year?!

Some have argued that the film was released in the summer of 1988 so it’s not a Christmas movie. That rational would also omit Home Alone & Gremlins as Christmas movies as Home Alone was released thanksgiving 1990 and Gremlins in June of 1984, yet say either of those aren’t Christmas movies and you’ll receive a swiftly raised eyebrow. The most Christmasy film ever, Miracle On 34th Street was released in June of 1947 and with that, that argument crumbles like an underdone Christmas pud.

Another point raised is that a true Christmas film is a film only watched at Christmas. Well that rules out Gremlins, Home Alone 1&2, Batman Returns, Nightmare Before Christmas & Trading Places. Hell, I’ll watch Elf & Bad Santa anytime of year, not a preselected one constructed to win an argument. It’s perfectly acceptable to watch a festive film anytime other than Christmas.

Could it be classified as an alternative Christmas film? Most certainly if people are going to nitpick. No one rubbishes the idea of Gremlins as a Christmas film even though there are decidedly un-festive moments such as the Futterman’s being snowploughed, Mrs Deagle flying out of a window to her doom or THAT Christmas story as to why Kate doesn’t celebrate it and that it is quite clearly set during the holiday season, the same should apply to Die Hard in my opinion.

Die Hard is undoubtably a Christmas movie, an ass-kicking, terrorist killing, yippie-ki-yaying blood and bullets extravaganza that just so happens to also carry the tenant of the importance of being with ones family on the holidays no matter the insurmountable odds, even if those odds mean cooking some fools and blowing up the roof of a L.A high rise, it also contains the greatest Christmas song ever, Christmas In Hollis by Run DMC so all other arguments are invalid to me. All hail John McClane, bringer of presents, taker of names and saviour of Christmas.

Life & Death: A What Remains Of Edith Finch review

As some of you who have read my past gaming reviews may know, I’m a sucker for a great story driven game, something that dares to buck convention and walk the road less travelled to deliver a unique and special gaming experience, What Remains Of Edith Finch certainly ticks those boxes.

What Remains Of Edith Finch is the latest offering from the independent Giant Sparrow studios who brought us the beautiful BAFTA award winning Unfinished Swan back in 2012, Since then they have been developing this beautiful, beautiful game. The player takes the role of Edith Finch Jr, returning to her eccentric family home after the death of her mother, the player finds the house abandoned, learning as the game progresses why, and all the bedrooms of the house sealed with only plaques on each door and a spy hole so the player can peer in. Each room was owned by a member of Edith’s immediate family who died of tragic circumstances as well as rooms that were inhabited by her long dead ancestors. As you find a route to enter each room, an object in the room, usually a journal or letter will trigger a mini game of varying genres, ones a flick-book, a few employ a first person perspective that tells that family members story leading to their unfortunate demise, it’s a mechanic that works beautifully to unfurl the strange, cursed history of the Finch family.

Each story is wonderfully varied and unique often giving a moving account of events that lead to the persons death. In one room we have the account of 10 year old Molly Finch who after eating poisonous Holly berries hallucinates becoming a cat, a shark and finally a devouring serpent. In another, it recounts the tragic tale of Lewis Finch who after suffering narcotic withdrawal starts to hallucinate a fairytale world in which he is in a fantastical kingdom of his own design, the player both controlling Lewis through the world with one control stick whilst carrying out the mundanity of his factory job with the other, both overlapping in an evocative dreamlike sequence that is quite unlike anything I have ever experienced in a video game, powerful, mournful and incredibly moving. It is these stories, the way In which they are translated to the player via these mechanics that make What Remains Of Edith Finch such a memorable and hugely rewarding gaming experience.

Games such as this, that have a powerful story to tell and new and exciting way in which to tell it are few and far between and as is usually the case these days, it takes an independent game studio to take the leap of faith to employ some genuine innovation and thought to convey such an experience in a rewarding and thought provoking style that will stay with the player long after its credits have rolled. What Remains Of Edith Finch is a game experience I have not felt in a long while, the only others in recent memory that impressed and moved me so much being Unfinished Swan and The Chinese Room’s Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. It is a short game, it only amount to possibly a few hours of play, but the experience is more than worth the price tag. If you are looking for a different kind of gaming experience, one slightly left of centre, go to PlayStation store and download this game, you will not regret it.

SANTAAA!! : An Elf review.

Directed by: Jon Favreau

Starring: Will Ferrel, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart, Peter Dinklage, Kyle Gass

Plot: Buddy doesn’t fit in, he’s taller than the other elves, he can’t build toys as well and has always felt out of place. One day Papa Elf drops the earth shattering news that Buddy is in fact human and so sets in motion an adventure to New York City to find his father.

Few Christmas films past a certain point in time fully succeed in ingraining themselves in the public psyche so much that they become as synonymous with the Christmas season as the great yuletide movies of old. Home Alone is one, two actually, Nightmare Before Christmas is another, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation is arguably up there also but travel past the early nineties and that list dwindles, except possibly for a film where Will Ferrell wears tights and fights a Santa that smells of beef & cheese.

Jon Favreau’s Elf was an absolute delight when it was released in 2003, a charming, odd, effortlessly hilarious and heartwarming ode to the festive season that only the most cold hearted of humbugs could rubbish. The story of an oddball man-child and his innocent worldview being plunged into the reality of life in the big city was a formula that had win written all over it given the caliber of all involved. Favreau had yet to come into his own as a director at this point but Elf certainly showed him as a director with an aptitude for capturing lightening in a bottle in the performance he captured from Ferrell who predictably steals this movie.

Ferrell was known before this film for his stint on Saturday Night Live and a selection of excellent support roles in various comedies. In 2003, Elf was the film that catapulted him to lead status and it isn’t hard to see why. In Elf he is charming, consistently hilarious and showed he was capable of carrying a family friendly film with ease in stark contrast to his role as Frank ‘The Tank’ in that years quite frankly, filthy, Old School. In Elf he chews the scenery with likeable gusto and delivers each line like no one else could, a classic comedic performance in all the best possible ways. Next to Ferrell, everyone is responsible for playing it straight for the most part. There is some great chemistry with Zooey Deschanel, an able stooge in James Caan, some affable sanity from Mary Steenburgen and some classic deadpan delivery from the great Bob Newhart. Director Favreau also makes a variety of cameos both live and vocal showing us the many strings to his bow.

It would be remiss not to mention Elf in the same breath as some of the all time great Christmas classics, it was a film that captured audiences with its off the wall humour, good natured charm and just with the fact that it’s a really well made film. If you haven’t seen it, why on earth not?! Add it to your Christmas film checklist immediately because since 2003, watching Elf in the run up to the big day has become a family tradition and one I can’t wait to introduce to my daughter down the line. An undisputed festive classic.

Wales Comic-con December 2017: Day 2.

I The first day of the annual end of year Wales Comic-con wasn’t without its hiccups, I will fully admit that during the opening hours of the con I was kinda expecting a bit of a washout, literally & figuratively but as always this event and its tireless and dedicated staff pulled it back from the brink through dedicated hard work and the determination for people to have a great day even if things don’t quite go to plan. There was quite a bit of negativity floating around online about the relatively few things that went wrong during day 1 and to put it them in context, I was reading absolutely shocking word of mouth coming from the Manchester For The Love Of Sci-Fi event being held the same weekend, truly horrible stories of mismanagement and disastrous organisation which made the relatively tame complaints levelled at WCC seem rather trivial in comparison. A lot of genuine love goes into Wales Comic-con and I think it’s a huge disservice for that to be overlooked or poo-pooed due to a few logistical nightmares that were on the whole resolved, whereas FTLOSF sounded like a train wreck from start to finish with promotor greed outweighing fan experience, some food for thought to start off my piece on Day 2 of the event.

We arrive at the Glyndwr campus early again to bag ourselves a parking space only today there is no standing around outside in the cold due to our weekend wrist bands we obtained yesterday, a quick flash at the door to the main entrance building and were inside out of the early December drizzle. Upon earlybirds being allowed entry, we head straight to the vendor areas to scope out some more possible purchases, my wife embarking on a WCC right of passage, a visit to the fudge man. Once we’re done we head to our only Q&A of the day, The Walking Dead.

We are let into the hall for The Walking Dead Q&A nice and early where we find some great seats with little to no problem. During the wait for the panel to start I became suddenly aware of a lone walker shuffling his way down the aisle and getting a great pop from the crowd, particularly when he is set upon by some Walking Dead cosplayers and gamely falls to the ground dead and there he will stay for the entire duration of the Q&A, kudos has to go to that guy for his commitment to the role.

Soon after the Walking Dead guests take to the stage and we get Scott Wilson who played Hershall Green and Micheal Cudlitz who played Abraham.

Both actors make very entertaining and amusing panellists, answering questions from the audience with wit & warmth. This may have been my only Q&A of the day but it was a great one to have caught.

Next we made our way to our first photo-op of the day with Denis O’Hare from American Horror Story. As with yesterday’s photo-op’s, Denis was quite taken with Amelia and was lovely to converse with.

After coming out of the photo hall we had some time to spare so took an opportunity to get some photos of some of the spectacular array of cosplayers on display at this years event. After already encountering one of them during The Walking Dead Q&A, the Walker reappeared with a friend in tow and seemed to also take a shine to Amelia, she was wonderfully unphased.

We happily bumped into Terrance & Philip who also obliged us with a picture.

Heck, we even run into Deadpool.

But all this back & forth can be tiring so we prepare for our last photo-op of this WCC with Eric Millegan.

We arrive bang on time as people are being let into the photo hall which in many ways sums our entire WCC photo-op experience, no hassle, no unreasonable waits for the actual photo shoot, no waits for the actual photo as we leave, it is beautifully regimented and the event staff should be commended for their work in the studios this weekend. From the dreadlocked staff member who brilliantly, expertly even, handled any query put her way and ushered people into their respective photo-ops with time to spare, to the photography staff who tirelessly throughout the day take hundreds of photos and process them in no time at all, it is exemplary work all round. We enter the photo hall and in very little time meet Eric Millegan who greets us with a big smile and even elicits one from Amelia when she meets him, a lovely guy.

And with that, our comic-con experience for 2017 is over. This has been a very special comic-con for both me & my wife as it was the first we got to experience with our daughter as a family and we felt so well looked after. I have said it before in the pieces I have written on their event, the WCC community has a real family feel, everyone helps one another to have as best a time as possible and the staff are absolute heroes, many of whom volunteer to help make people convention experience a memorable one and by my personal estimation they have done this for me time and time again. We will be returning in April of next year to celebrate WCC 10th anniversary and we will be bringing our daughter with us to something I hope that will be a family tradition for many years to come.

Wales Comic-con December 2017: Day 1.

That time of year has come again to make my bi-annual trip to Wrexham for Wales Comic-con, slightly later this year then usual. This Comic-con was slightly different for me and my wife as it was our first as parents with child in tow to experience the event as a family. We arrive at the Glyndwr campus in Wrexham in good time to compensate for the fact that this comic-con may actually be the busiest & most successful in its history, in no small part to the quite frankly intimidating quality of its guest lineup, around the region of 50 stars of screens big & small, writers, artists and everything in between are lined up for this chilly weekend in December and the assembled queues outside were already hyped for it to start as were me, my wife and I hope in some small way, my infant daughter, I know it’s unlikely for a 12 week old child to grasp the concept but hell, start em young. The WCC community is very much a family affair, everyone helps one another and people of all ages and walks of life come to let their hair down and meet some guests from their favourite films & TV shows, it’s a community I feel very comfortable taking my child to be a part of and I hope when she’s a little older she’ll dig it as much as her old man. There are a couple of glaring bugbears at this particular con and the first was encountered on arrival with some delay getting into the event and I would be remiss not to mention it, it is something that hasn’t really happened before whilst I have purchased earlybird entry and was a good 40 minutes past opening before we got into the event without little to no explanation other than an apology for the wait. Having a weekend ticket, this didn’t really bother me too much, I know that tomorrow we can walk straight in with our wristbands, however, if I had purchased a Saturday only earlybird I’d probably be quite rightly annoyed right now.

After making our way around the large vendor marquee to peruse some of the many stalls set up for eager con attendees to part way with their hard earned moolah, we make our way to our first Q&A of the day, and that is where we encounter bugbear number two. We make our way into the Q&A hall for the Sherlock panel and are waiting for quite some time for it to start, it’s not for a good 20 minutes or so after the original start time that we learn that both Andrew Scott & Louise Brealey are waylaid on their way to the con. It’s something understandably out of WCC’s control but after the issues being let into the event nearly 45 minutes late, it leaves an even more sour taste in the mouth as we leave for our first photo-op of the day to beat the queues as they take to the stage. Not a good start.

You may think I’m being a little negative in this piece but believe me, that’s not my intention nor my wish but I am being honest. You will be glad to know I have nothing else bad to say about my first day at WCC as what was to follow put mile wide smile on me & my wives faces. We make our way into the photo-op hall and wait for Andrew & Louise to arrive for our Sherlock photo. During the wait our daughter Amelia is gaining a lot of attention from con goers cooing and spoiling her with attention which was beyond lovely for her first con experience, when it was our turn were greeted by a beaming Andrew Scott who seems quite taken by Amelia in her rather fetching Tiger onesie asking us all about her which was an unbelievably cool and disarming moment of fan service that pretty much made my day, the photo was lovely also even if Amelia fancied a snooze.

No sooner are we finished in the Sherlock photo-op than it’s time for us to queue for the Sting photo-op. My heart sank as we walked outside to see a queue that ran all the way back to the main hall some distance away. We walk over and ask a member of event staff if this was the Sting queue which she confirms and then proceeds to find us a place a little closer to the front as she can see our small daughter and appreciate it’s really quite cold, it was a fantastic moment of above & beyond customer service and some good natured people around us in the queue who had not issue with it, my mood is improving by the second it seems. We queue in the hall for our photo with The Stinger, when were greeted by the man himself he asks if he can hold Amelia for the photo, errr YES! As you can see, Amelia was rather overwhelmed to meet The Icon.

After taking some more time to bimble around the event, taking in the sights and Amelia enjoying a lot of attention from con attendees who seem quite taken with her, it’s time to make our way to our last Q&A before we head home, the Sting Q&A. Compared by former valet So-cal Val, Sting is an engaging & interesting person to hear interviewed, gamely answering questions from the audience with all the charm befitting of a living icon.

And with that, our first day at WCC is over and it as been a mixed bag, more good than bad thankfully and a wonderful first con, hopefully of many, for our daughter. Ready to do it all again tomorrow.