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I have toted with checking this show out a number of times, but have always been cautious taking on a gay themed series sight unseen.

But with JB Hifi currently selling the series at a dramatically reduced price – $14.95 NZ – I decided to take the plunge and bought the first season. After only two episodes I have now gone back and bought the rest. It is that good.

Beyond just being witty and about the GLBT community, the series really does present a fairly accurate portrayal of the minefield of issues that face gay men and women on a daily basis. Yes, it is slightly exaggerated, but when one of the character’s states “There are only two types of straight people. Those who hate you to your face and those who hate you behind your back” in reference to gay people.

That’s not only a ballsy statement to have a character make, there really are actually gay men out there who think like this. Presumably this guy is going to have this view challenged before the series ends.

While the series is an ensemble show, there are three clear leads out of the cast of seven. Mike is the narrator who occasionally breaks the fourth wall for comic effect. He’s nice, friendly and clearly a bit of a romantic. Brian is the gorgeous cocky manwhore who doesn’t believe in love just sex for fun. He’s arrogant, but there is a hint that this is to protect himself from a world he feels is just out to get him. Justin is the supernaturally beautiful 17 year old virgin who is just entering the gay community. I say supernatural because the actor is just stunningly beautiful in a very angelic manner. Even when he’s being adorably goofy – for example he is in bed and asked “what do you like?” by a naked Brian and he starts listing his hobbies and after school activities.

I love that the show has a reasonable cross section of the community, including a lesbian couple that don’t look like a crass stereotype.

From a perspective of “would heterosexual viewers like this show?” I think many would. The cast are great, the dialogue is witty and fun. The show is very frank about what the gay community is like, to the point that it may surprise some people as to what it is like to be a part of that community.

I think QaF succeeds in presenting a gay perspective that can engage, shows the sensuality of the lifestyle without being porny and has some bluntly honest observations of how the world looks from a gay perspective.

Two thumbs up. Genuinely good television.

Conan

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I have just finished playing Ninja Theory’s Enslaved, and I felt that I kind of need to get my finishing thoughts about the game out there.

For those who didn’t know about this game, Enslaved is a post-apocalyptic third-person platformer with a melée combat element. It retells the classic Chinese tale, Journey to the West – better known in NZ by the television version, Monkey.

Enslaved includes a very cool looking post apocalypse over-run with abandoned war machines that were programmed to kill all humans.

Much like Heavenly Sword, another Ninja Theory game, Enslaved left me feeling wanting more. But not in a “that was awesome cool” way but in a “what? Is that it?” way.

There were many similarities between the two games – a desperate desire to tell a compelling story, and a desire to be a fun game. Unfortunately it felt to me in both instances that Ninja Theory kind of gave up half way through the process.

But I’m going to focus on Enslaved here.

Gameplay
Many reviewers have compared Enslaved to Uncharted 2 – and it isn’t a surprise. UC2 has kind of set a new benchmark for production of a third person game both in storytelling and gameplay. Uncharted 2 is not innovative in its gameplay, but it is innovative in how it uses established gameplay. Naughty Dog clearly decided that reinventing the wheel isn’t necessary, focus on good solid and engaging gameplay – then produce exciting set pieces around that gameplay that really lets the player cut loose and have fun.

Enslaved’s gameplay was solid, but also very lacking. The platforming felt unnecessary and used only to pad out the game, the fighting felt anaemic and limited, and there really wasn’t much strategy to the game. It often felt like the gameplay was just there to get you along to the next cut scene.

The cinematic chase scenes were at times cool. but often annoying too.

It wasn’t awful, and was fun at times – but generally I just felt like the game didn’t want to let me really experience the setting.

Graphics
I get that a lot of developers love using the Unreal engine – but why do they do such a sloppy job of it. And why did Ninja Theory drop the ball so badly this time. Heavenly Sword was a gorgeous game that rarely experienced the glitches so common in Unreal engine games. But here the game was constantly plagued by glitches – slow texture loading, clipping, characters mysteriously vanishing… but more than that the game would enigmatically boost the volume on the music, or keep a track playing when it should have cancelled – often drowning out dialogue…

In one instance, Monkey fell but didn’t die, requiring me to reload the game.

Which is all a shame given that most of the time the game does look gorgeous. The set design and character models are great. Monkey grew on me as a character, and the Mechs were all very cool designs.

Story
So with gameplay not really rocking my world, and graphics being glitchy, it kind of comes down to the story.

Yes. The story.

While I do think that the In Media Res opening could have started a little differently, the story does start off well enough, and the initial chapters are well told. The game slowly reveals to us the city, we get some teasing hints about the characters and it all seems a very promising start. Unfortunately as the game progresses, all that promise – the interesting location and vision of a post-apocalyptic world kind of gets dumped in favour of a cliché heavy second half.

It’s a real shame that after presenting the ruins of New York City with it’s teasing hints of how the world collapsed – interesting posters that suggest the slow decent of civilisation, the state of the ruins – and then the minute Trip and Monkey are out of the city all that haunting and intriguing history is summarily dumped.

The middle part of the game, with the arrival of a third member to our merry band, does have some amusing banter and great visuals, and again teases some possible ideas of what happened before – but this gets lost in the hokum cliched plot development.

As if the characters didn’t already have a good enough reason to find out what happens at Pyramid. Instead a good 3-4 chapters are wasted on fetch quests that were unnecessary. I would have excised all but one maybe two chapters from that tripe and focused on getting to Pyramid. Which does bring me to the epilogue.

The ending is, in my opinion, crap. I saw it coming from a mile away and it was not an original finish to the story. It cheapened the whole experience for me because of two things:

a) It contradicted nearly everything leading up to it.

b) It lacked decent foreshadowing.

c) It kind of felt slapped on at the end. It was one of my most hated clichés in storytelling – the twist for the sake of a twist. And it wasn’t even a “ZOMG! I didn’t see that coming!” It was more “oh, so that’s how they decided to spin it this time.”

It felt to me like the writers suddenly felt that the story wasn’t profound enough and tried to have some moral quandry at the end – but it was so poorly handled and sloppily resolved it just felt like a lame duck ending. There isn’t really any room for a sequel either.

What this game and story needed was to firstly be twice the length it ended up being. It needed to draw more plot inspiration from it’s source material Journey to the West – it had some nice parallels at the beginning, but again dropped these in favour of bad lazy game clichés. There should have been more characters. There should have been more communities shown struggling to exist in the world. The arrival to Pyramid should have been the beginning of the third act of the game, and the final chapters should have been about exploring Pyramid and learning its secrets.

And those secrets should have been more profound and uncomfortably challenging than the lame-ass ending that Ninja Theory went with.

Apparently there is a DLC episode planned that will be a story that runs in parallel with the main one.

Given how disappointed the game left me feeling, I don’t intend to waste my money on it.

Ultimately I felt that Enslaved was a squandered opportunity. There was a lot of promise in the setting and characters, but the game cops out rather than does any justice to those inspired ideas.

Conan

Sorry for not posting in a long time, folks. I’ve been a busy beaver trying to get a few projects underway and kickstarting some stymied projects. But I’m back with a review on a recent film – Jennifer’s Body.

Be warned, there may be a couple of spoilers in the following review. I’ll try to avoid them where possible.

The reason this film has kickstarted me into posting is because it exemplifies the issue of how even with all the right ingredients a film can fall apart very easily.

Needy is your stereotypical Hollywood high school geek girl. We know this because her hair is frizzy, she wears glasses and usually has her hair in a ponytail. She is best friends with high school cheerleader, Jennifer. (Played reasonably well by Megan Fox.) They live in the small hick town of Devil’s Kettle – so named after a mysterious waterfall and sinkhole on the outskirts of town. After escaping from a bar fire, Jennifer allows herself to be driven off by a visiting indie band who are devil worshippers in disguise and ends up possessed by a demon who proceeds to eat the local jocks and boys. But when she sets her sights on Needy’s cute boyfriend, Chip, the war between BFFs is on.

Despite being penned by Diablo Cody of Juno fame, and despite a number of talented actors – this film never knows what it is trying to be. It is clear that Cody is trying to tell a metaphorical tale about the pitfalls of an abusive friendship -the boy eating takes a backseat to Jennifer and Needy’s friendship and the strain put on it by Jennifer becoming demonic.

However the director’s lack of confidence unhinges the film, as does the weak set pieces and Cody’s error in writing the characters as more in depth than the archetypes they are meant to subvert.

While making things have a very real foundation, the failure to decisively be a comedy or a humorous horror ends up making for an uncomfortable mess of a film.

That, in my view, is the director’s responsibility. Despite casting a pretty girl as Needy, she never transforms into an attractive character. She remains geeky throughout. Even though the promotional posters have her sexied up.

Jennifer is presented at times in a sympathetic light, but nothing ever really comes from this.

Often humorous lines are delivered in a flat manner, and are accompanied by totally inappropriate music that steals from the scene.

By refusing to take one position over another in style, the film is just an awkward mess. The big face-off even happens at the beginning of the third act rather than the climax, leading to another weaker climactic face off that is far too emo for its own good and leaves everything feeling flat and undercooked.

A comedy, even a dark comedy, should never make you shy away from finding the humour. It should make you feel uncomfortable for laughing – but it shouldn’t make you feel too awkward to even laugh.

This film lacked that decisive directing that would have kept the film balanced. Which is a shame. In the hands of a more capable director, this did have the potential of being another Heathers. Brilliant, witty and dark. But what we got was wishy-washy and awkward instead.

Ruby, Hunky (Luke), Rupert and Mina are ready to follow in Joss Whedon's footsteps...

Ruby, Hunky (Luke), Rupert and Mina are ready to follow in Joss Whedon's footsteps...

Just as an update – I’ve been put on an antibiotic regime for the next few days due to pain and possible infection. Hence my being up at 3am while waiting for my painkillers to kick in. Yeouch. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear to be anything serious – just a delayed reaction to watching Go Girls… I kid. But while I wait, I thought I would share a bit of an experience with you all.

So yesterday Nick introduced me to Demons – a British action-monster show created by ITV, apparently in the hopes of competing with the Saturday night family viewing juggernaut of British television, Doctor Who.

Since Doctor Who has gone on a hiatus for this year – only being released as specials rather than a full season this year – ITV must have hoped to capture that market with something attempting to have the same mix of the fantastical and the humourous.

The basic premise of the series is that Luke Rutherford, a typical London teenager, discovers that he is the descendant of Abraham Van Helsing. When his godfather, Rupert (with an inexplicable American accent) shows up and reveals this he also reveals that Luke – unlike other London teenagers – is destined to be a warrior against the Half-lives/Freaks… That he has near supernatural powers of his own via speed and strength as well as a natural inclination towards the martial arts…

Is this beginning to sound a little familiar?

Maybe it would help if I point out that one of the initial encounters with Rupert has him throw a sharp object at Luke, who intuitively catches it in his hand – ala Buffy the Vampire Slayer Movie.

Yes. ITV has created Hunky the Demon Slayer.

 

Edward Cullen, I challenge thee to a pretty boy face off! Hunky (Luke) perfects his pout...

Edward Cullen, I challenge thee to a pretty boy face off! Hunky (Luke) perfects his pout...

You think I jest, but the preternaturally pretty Christian Cooke spends a good part of the first episode wandering around with his shirt off at the smallest provocation. Looking all Abercrombie and Fitch, Luke hunts a little CGI demon in his apartment, shirtless and armed with a mop. It’s all, well, odd to watch.

 

Of course the series is British, and the budget isn’t nearly to the scale of a US show. They have a number of elaborate and expensive CGI shots and sets – which means a smaller cast. So Luke’s friend Ruby ends up pulling double duty as Willow and Xander for the series. She’s the source of the Xander quips and has Willow’s unrequited love, but directed at Hunky. I mean Luke.

Meanwhile there is also the enigmatic Mina Harker, a blind concert pianist who has a few dark secrets of her own and likes to pick on Ruby. She’s very Angelic a character…

Of course there are some differences in the series to it’s “inspirational” source material. But the first episode kind of trundles along and really doesn’t set up a heck of a lot considering it’s a six part series.

Luke learns he’s a hunter. Demon shows up at his home. Ugly Demon Man stalks Luke. Luke accepts that there is something going on. Rupert overacts while showing Luke the way to Van Helsing’s secret HQ – The Stacks. (I kid you not.) Rupert shoots a rat with a hoopy microwave gun just to show that later on he is able to shoot a ray gun at baddies. Luke goes home. More Demons. Ruby and Luke get attacked. Mina is mysterious. Ruby is bitchy. Mina is bitchy. Ruby gets kidnapped. But no Big Bad is hinted at or revealed.

Now don’t get me wrong. This show isn’t bad. And it isn’t as awkward as watching Go Girls was. But, it just isn’t fresh enough in its first episode. There isn’t anything wrong with going for a Buffy-style show with a guy instead of a girl, but at least they could have aimed for a bit more difference and variety. Cribbing entire sequences straight out of Buffy felt less like homage and more like lazy rip-off.

And Rupert. Oh Rupert. Feck off. Something I really hate about Demons is that Rupert is so self-righteous and “we shall smite the enemy” it gets very boring. The show takes the view that all the Freaks are inherently evil and nasty and just need to be smited. End of story. On top of that, Rupert has this ridiculously stupid “Type” category system that, as far as I can make out, has no real measure and is just kind of bandied about to imply the “danger” level of a monster.

I sincerely hope that as the series progresses, that gets turned on its head. Because it really bugged me. I really hate Rupert – he’s obnoxious and, frankly, a prat.

Hunky, I mean Luke, is cute and Christian Cooke certainly does a good job of making him feel like a believable teenager who is learning that his life is not what he thought it was. If only he wasn’t required to take his shirt off so much in the first episode. I mean, I like cute guys without their tops on, but I also like it if it makes sense in the show. Not just the kind of pointless sequence that “Demons” went for.

Having said all that, from the teaser of the second episode, it does look like they have some interesting monsters show up over the course of the show – and it is possible that as it progresses, the series will become more than the first episode implies.

It’s worth checking out – just be prepared for some serious deja-vu.

Conan

So when the new Doctor Who came out, I was a might impressed with it. The series managed to upgrade the series into something modern, while still keeping that essentially “British” feel to it. I have only been able to see the first season of the New Doctor and a couple of snippets of David Tennant’s run.
Torchwood was a spin-off that arose around the second season of Doctor Who, and was one that I avoided watching for some time. The reports I had received from people watching the series had left me uncertain as to whether I’d be keen to watch it or not. Sex, violence, gore, sex… it sounded a bit… different.
Finally on Baz’s recommendation, I got a hold of Seasons 1 and 2 of Torchwood to finally judge for myself whether the show was for me or not.
Season One: If sex makes things racy, bisexuality makes it racier!

Okay. So BBC Wales wanted to make a sexy, more Americanised science fiction action series. The first season of Torchwood is insanely inconsistent. There are some fantastic episodes in the series, but the writers clearly don’t “get” the genre mix they are aiming for.
As Lee puts it, the show is decidedly Welsh. However, rather than play up to Welsh cultural behaviour, the show struggles to be more American action show. Which makes the whole production kind of feel like a weekend project made on a big budget.
Within a few episodes, every major cast member had a same sex kiss – ooooh racy! Except it isn’t, even I found it kind of awkward watching. It felt less like the characters legitimately were bisexual and more like a purile “we’re so sexy we have sex with ANYONE!”
Which is a shame, because one of the best storylines is a bisexual storyline we only see play out in the background of season 1. Ianto, one of the team, loses the woman he loves and eventually takes comfort in a sexual relationship with Jack Harkness – the only openly and believeably consistent bisexual on the show. I loved how their relationship was scripted as it was foreshadowed from the very first episode and carefully built with simple scenes like Jack laying a hand on Ianto’s shoulder, or Ianto sharing a glance…
This is a great example of how this show struggles through the first season. It has some atrocious scripting where characters speak lines that just don’t ring true – and come across flat in those strong Welsh accents. But when the show just embraces it’s British culture, it works – such as an episode where during an investigation, Owen comes over with “four pasties for a pound” and a small scene plays out with the distinctly British feel of the characters sitting talking with their pasties.
By the end of the season, the characters have been better fleshed out and were really what kept me watching. I was more interested in Gwen’s struggle to balance her homelife with boyfriend Rhys, Tosh’s attempts to feel included, Owen’s struggle with finally falling in love to have the woman he loved leave him and of course the beautiful Ianto developing a love for Captain Jack Harkness…
Unfortunately the finale smacked of needing to be big without really having a good explanation. I think if they had built it up over four episodes rather than rushing it all into one with a limp leadup episode – it might have been better. As it was, the final crisis felt like an idea that was never really developed properly… which is a shame.

-Ianto Jones, gorgeous and with a sexy accent.
Season 2: Now this is more like it…
Fortunately, the Torchwood team seems to have fired all the previous writers – or sent them to a hard core writing camp – because the tone and feel of the first episode of season 2 is lightyears better. There is still a case of some motivations not really matching up – the bad guy kills someone and tells a witness “I was never here” then promptly walks into a local bar and threatens all the clientele with guns.
Worst is the decision to make Gwen fall in love with Captain Jack. I get the need for a love triangle to keep the Ianto and Jack storyline interesting – Jack is a promiscuous bisexual, which leads to all manner of potential conflicts – but it was so badly developed. In the first season, the relationship between Jack and Gwen never really felt sexual or passionately motivated. It felt like two people who respected each other – but were more friends than potential lovers.
Season 2 opens straight out with Gwen and Jack in a moment where Jack tells Gwen he wants her and she acts all lusty about it. Say what?! I don’t mind the triangle aspect – but it should have been built up more slowly over the season. Furthermore, why are Ianto and Gwen into Jack? He’s cute- but a slut. And openly so. Are they really that naive to think he will ever want to be just with one person?
I’m curious to see how this is developed over the rest of the season.
The show definitely aims for a bigger brassier action approach – and the dialogue is considerably wittier and more natural.
Check it out!
Love and Huggles

Conan

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