I’m Published Again!

Hello to my blog readers. Things have been up and down since moving halfway across the country which is why I’m still not in the habit of posting here. But I can tell you that I have been working on a new project which I hope you’ll be interested in.

For a long time I’ve enjoyed the works of M.R. James. For those of you who don’t know M.R. James then you should know he was one of the most prolific Victorian writers of ghost stories. In fact the popular image of a ghost as a sheet actually comes from his works. I really enjoy Victorian ghost stories and since playing The Last Door I have taken it upon myself to start writing my own.

They’ll be published fairly regularly and I will be posting on here when they are published. At the moment there is one available on Smashwords for free! Yes at no cost at all you can have a read of some of my work right on this fancy hyperlink here or at the one below.

You can download it in a number of formats best to suit you or just have a read on the site. 

My first story is The Quiet House and is set in modern day London. Joe, a recent graduate, has moved into a new house that is unnaturally silent. Soon strange things start to happen and he begins to suspect that he is not the only one in the flat. 

If you’re into horror then have a read, there’ll be plenty more in the coming weeks.

 

The Quiet House

the-quiet-house-cover_edited-1

Film Rant Time: Kick-Ass 2

Despite the name I’m not always going to use this feature to talk about things I don’t like. There are a lot of ‘review’ shows and blogs about that mostly talk about how rubbish a particular thing is with maybe a last few words suddenly saying “I actually liked this.” It becomes less of a review and more a ‘how comically angry can I get about this?’ game. I already talk about many games that I like so I would like to extend this to films as well. I like the feature name but this will be less ranty and more… critiquey?

So let’s get down to business (to defeat…) and talk about Kick-Ass 2. 

The idea of superheroes in the real world is not really an original concept. It’s been done a number or times, most notably with Alan Moore’s excellent series Watchmen. Kick-Ass, created by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., is this idea of realistic superheroes taken to gritty, dark, and depressing extremes. I say this mostly about the comic, for those who have only seen the film trust me when I say they lighten it up so much. 

Kick-Ass is about American high-school student Dave Lizewski, played in the films by Aaron Taylor-Johnson who one day decides that he wants to try and be a superhero despite no skills or real motivation. As is to be expected he is mostly a complete failure, getting beaten nearly to death a number of times while mostly only managing to help a small number of people on a very superficial level. But that’s okay because it’s more about the fantasy of the new persona for Dave, since in his normal life he is nerdy, unpopular, and has a hopeless crush on the token ‘hottest-girl-in-school’ (Yes it’s clichéd). Unbeknownst to Dave, however, there is in fact already a real superhero duo and they do have the skills, the equipment, and the training: Big Daddy and Hit Girl, played by Nicholas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz respectively.

If you haven’t already seen the first film and you think you might enjoy it then I do recommend it. It’s not even nearly as depressing as the comic and has this interesting mix of horrific scenes, ironic humour, and straight up goofiness. It’s fun and it’s odd. I’m now going to talk about the sequel which takes place a little after the end of the first film and is, in part, about Hit-Girl attempting to regain her childhood and reintegrate into society. As with Elysium I will keep the spoilers to a minimum until I mark the spoilers section. Oh and if you’re offended by bad language then you may not want to read on as I will not be censoring any of the names.

They're here to fight crime and get beat up... at least one of them is.

They’re here to fight crime and get beat up… at least one of them is.

Visuals

Like the original the film has this blend of bright and dark in its visual style. The costumes of the many (and I do mean many) supporting heroes are bright, campy, and ridiculous. In normal Kick-Ass style this is set against more gloomy and dull images of the city and makes more a nice, if sometimes cringe-worthy, contrast. It’s meant to look realistic and as we all know realistic means gritty so that’s what most of the real world parts look like. 

The fight scenes (of which there are many) are well choreographed and interesting to watch, with the usual high intensity of blood that anyone who has seen the first film or read any of the comics should have come to expect. There’s also a surprising amount of bodily fluid scenes. Kick-Ass 2 definitely takes a leaf out of the adolescent and gross out humour which the first film lacked. There are numerous instances of vomiting and one of electrically induced diarrhoea, I’m not kidding. It’s a little bit cheap and it’s a shame. It’s one of the main differences between the humour of  first and second film, the first had a little bit of cringey humour but mostly derived it from the really odd circumstances being portrayed. The second goes much more for poop jokes, masturbation jokes, penis jokes, and impotence jokes too. It does certainly feel a lot cheaper than the first which was by no means high brow already.

One thing that I kept noticing throughout the film was how careful the film team had been in concealing Dave Lizewski’s body. Considering in part the film is about Kick-Ass actually training and becoming, you know, a superhero I was just waiting for the Captain America ‘Suddenly MUSCLES EVERYWHERE’ moment and it most certainly arrives.

But you'll have to wait and see it! Or... I don't know google it or something. If you put Kick-Ass 2 into google images it already comes up with 'Shirtless' as a possible refined search.

But you’ll have to wait and see it! Or… I don’t know google it or something. If you put Kick-Ass 2 into google images it already comes up with ‘Shirtless’ as a possible refined search.

Characters

Most of the characters in the sequel have been set up in the first film. Dave Lizewski is still a high-school loser to a degree (they play it up a bit more at random points) and Mindy Macready is still the Rorschach of this drama. Perhaps a bit more of an emotional one. Some of the characters from the first film get a bit more of a starring role, most notably Dave’s nerdy high school friends who get their own little character arcs. Some others drop off the map completely, in this case Dave’s girlfriend Katie who has one scene where she breaks up with Dave over a misunderstanding, makes a penis size joke and then promptly disappears from the plot.

The character of Red Mist/Chris D’Amico also returns, with Christopher Mintz-Plasse reprising his role. He gets promoted to the role of primary antagonist after an incident involving a tanning bed, a set of bondage toys, a couple of guns, and his mother, which leads him to become the world’s first supervillain, dubbing himself The Motherfucker… don’t ask. He recruits a number of henchman into his group known as the Toxic Mega Cunts, and he proceeds to generally give racially insensitive villain names to all of them. They are really enjoyable to watch and I can’t help but feel the actors protraying them were trying to have a lot of fun. Similarly the supporting hero cast also have a chance to shine with some bizarre and entertaining names and origins. Notable names include Donald Faison as the bat-wielding Doctor Gravity and Jim Carrey as the ex-mob enforcer turned born again Christian superhero Colonel Stars and Stripes.

The acting is pretty spectacular and remains entertaining throughout. It really does feel like people were having fun with their roles even during some of the more intense moments. I should also mention a little cameo appearance of Iain Glen who plays Chris D’Amico’s uncle and, technically, the leader of the D’Amico family now. For anyone not familiar with the name Iain Glen then you might remember him as Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones. I kept waiting for his accent to slip and for him to say “Khaleesi”.

And so the crew of slightly pathetic superheroes marched off to battle.

And so the crew of slightly pathetic superheroes marched off to battle.

Plot

You know what, I was really surprised by the plot here. The trailers made me think that the plot was going to be Hit-Girl struggling to adapt to life in high-school while Dave Lizewski tries to turn her away from her past as Hit-Girl. Maybe that’s just me but that trailers certainly made me think that. Turns out I was wrong, it’s the reverse. Dave is bored with his life again and wants to go back to being Kick-Ass and is encouraging Mindy to stay as Hit-Girl. Most of the plot is about the consequences of trying to be superheroes in the real world, just like the first, but with the added danger of the creation of The Motherfucker, the world’s first supervillain.

It sounds, when written down, that it’s just a re-hash of the first plot but there’s enough variety and twists and new character development (and bodily fluid jokes) to feel like a very different beast from the original. The moments where Mindy manages to ingratiate her way into high-school life are very entertaining, mostly due to her reactions to the various situations.

Down this road leads only to spoilers, that and Castle Vampire

The main motivation of Chris D’Amico, aka The Motherfucker, is his hatred of Kick-Ass. After the events of the first film he wants revenge over the death of his father and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to get it. Kick-Ass himself has been training with Hit-Girl but she is forced to give up that life once again as her adoptive father does not want her to continue life as Hit-Girl but rather to try and grow up normal. Kick-Ass is despondent at losing his partner and thus starts teaming up with likewise “superheroes” many of whom are even more pathetic than he. As the film progresses we see Mindy try and live a Hollywood high-school life and, ultimately, pay the price. These bits are quite entertaining, particularly a brilliant scene with a One Direction rip off that is weirdly hilarious. But the main thing we want to see a Kick-Ass film is for are the superheroes. Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t disappoint here as Kick-Ass’ team quickly grows to a huge number, 

But The Motherfucker has also been creating an army and beings to wipe out police and costumed heroes alike, just to get back at Kick-Ass. As a result costumed vigilantes are all arrested in a very Keene Act way and Dave Lizewski’s dad admits to being Kick-Ass in order to protect his son. The Motherfucker, continuing his revenge plot, arranges to have Dave’s dad murdered while in custody. As a result Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl and the remaining superheroes team up once more to fight The Motherfucker and his henchmen.

It’s quite a standard superhero plot with the realism touches that really make it interesting. There are a few duff scenes, mostly the ones with the cheap jokes, and, bizarrely, the most unrealistic scene is the “revenge” scene of the popular high-school girls. It’s odd considering the subject matter that this is the most unrealistic scene.

You’ve survived the spoilers, well done.

The Motherfucker's costume... it's not subtle

The Motherfucker’s costume… it’s not subtle

Themes

Themes of a Kick-Ass film… well I know I’ve gone on about it so far but the main theme of the film is the realistic depiction of superheroes. Many characters start talking about how this sort of thing doesn’t work in “real life” and that people like Dave and Mindy should just try to lead normal lives. But ultimately the film is at odds with its own ideas as its portrayal of real life is pretty unrealistic. The high-school life is a complete Hollywood idea of high-school with all its fun archetypes. I’m not American so I don’t know how realistic these ideas are but I can’t imagine they’re particularly close to reality.

But Kick-Ass has always excelled when it comes to the reality of superheroism and the consequences of leading such a life. So the film does a very good job of showing that while it is cool, which is undoubtedly is, it has unique problems to do with how to merge your life with and without the mask, the dangers you face yourself, and ultimately how it affects your relationships with other people. Kick-Ass 2 does a good job of exploring these themes further, it just falls short when it comes to portraying normal life. Maybe that’s a bit strange but I think the film just does the bizarre better than the mundane.

This is Mother Russia, she's basically the Bane of the film

This is Mother Russia, she’s basically the Bane of the film

Final Impressions

If you really enjoyed Kick-Ass then you will probably enjoy the sequel but might find there are some real disappointments in store. It’s still entertaining and the fight scenes are brilliant but it’s a more heavily flawed gem than its predecessor. I wouldn’t call it bad, not at all, because I enjoyed it immensely but I think that for the potential third film they should stick mostly with the heroes and villains and stay away from the issues of ‘real-life’. Oh and they should move away from the vulgar humour. The only reason that I enjoyed those scenes was that someone in the front row of the cinema seemed to really enjoy them and had a very distinctive laugh. 

So it’s a good film that maybe needed a bit more polish before being sent out. Still enjoyable even for its flaws.

Oh all right, here you go.

Oh all right, here you go.

SolForge

Well it’s happened, I’m all moved in to my new place in a completely different part of the country and I have internet back. So now I think it’s time for me to tell you about a free to play game that I’ve been having a lot of fun with.

I’m a big fan of board and card games (if only I could find more people to play with) and I like being able to build a good deck. SolForge is a Collectible Card Game Video Game. For those who don’t know the difference between a Collectible Card Game (CCG) and a Living Card Game (LCG) a very rough guide to the differences between the two: Living card games are generally bought in large packs and with regularly released expansions. They contain the full set of cards required to play the game. Collectible Card Games normally release starter packs and then require you to buy booster packs and get lucky to get some of the cards you want. LCGs are more expensive as a rule but you have that certainty of knowing you’ll get all the cards you want while CCGs are cheaper but can work out quite pricey with bad luck.

Stone Blade Entertainment’s SolForge, however, is a free-to-play CCG and so is quite interesting. An overview of how it works: In SolForge the players have to play cards in order to defeat enemy cards and bring the opponent’s health from 100 down to 0. As you play the game your cards start out quite weak but every time you play one it levels up and the next time it appears in your hand to play it will be much stronger. These cards fall into two categories, creatures can be played in your lanes and act as your units, attacking the opponent and their cards whilst defending you. Secondly you have spells that you play to provide bonuses to yourself or weaken the enemy.

Rwaaaaaar! You will never defeat me and my deck full of legendary cards!

Rwaaaaaar! You will never defeat me and my deck full of legendary cards!

You can customize the decks you use quite freely, being able to choose thirty cards and two out of the four races available in the game. They each suit a different play style and can be combined to create some very interesting combinations. Some races can flood the battlefield with units, others can be levelled to become practically unkillable, some utilise spells more. It’s a game where you can really adjust your style. It’s a lot of fun to mess around with the races to try and work out what’s best for you.

Each race is pretty unique from the abilities to the art and let me tell you that the art in this game is pretty amazing. Each card has a little image that changes and advances as the creature levels. The design is impressive making it a lot of fun to look through the cards and their various forms.

The game is far from perfect, the wording on some of the cards can require a second or third reading before you actually understand what it means. It just makes it a little clunky which is unfortunate. There is also quite a heavy reliance on luck. Not only in getting the cards you want for your decks (which I’ll explain about later) but in having them show up at the right time. There is a skill in knowing how to level your deck but there are many times when the difference between winning and losing is just down to getting lucky with cards.

Pardon me a moment while I build some better cards

Pardon me a moment while I build some better cards

So how to get cards in a free-to-play? Well the free to play mechanic here is that you can spend real money to buy in-game gold which you use to purchase the various forms of booster packs. The more expensive the booster pack the more (and better) cards are inside. But you don’t have to fork over money if you want to get better cards. For those playing a purely free-to-play style then the game offers daily rewards for logging in, winning your first and third matches. You are rewarded for this in silver and in random cards or booster packs. Using silver you can only buy the basic booster packs and the skins for your game but the game is pretty generous with giving you the slightly upgraded booster pack too.

So the game can become more of a chore if you’re just trying to get some better cards. It’s like punching a time-card and waiting for the chance to get better things. If you’re looking for constant variety in your gameplay then you’ll either have to keep spending money or look elsewhere as the variety available without paying in SolForge may not be enough to keep you interested.

However the game is still in Beta with plans for a campaign and a tournament mode in the works. I look forward to the campaign because the lore that Stone Blade has created is very intricate but at the moment only available on their website. As it stands in current Beta you have the option of battling against the computer in three difficulties or against human opponents both off and online.

It’s free to play so there’s not much to lose by checking it out. If you’re a fan of deckbuilding games then you’ll probably have a fun time at least for a while. I look forward to seeing how the game develops and will keep trying to farm those booster packs.

SolForge will have your money! You will get the pretty cards!

SolForge will have your money! You will get the pretty cards!