Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Star Wars: Phasma – Book Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

‘One of the most cunning and merciless officers of the First Order, Captain Phasma commands the favour of her superiors, the respect of her peers, and the terror of her enemies. But for all her renown, Phasma remains as virtually unknown as the impassive expression of her gleaming chrome helmet. Now, an adversary is bent on unearthing her mysterious origins – and exposing a secret she guards as zealously and ruthlessly as she serves her masters.

‘Deep inside the Battlecruiser Absolution, a captured Resistance spy endures brutal interrogation at the hands of the crimson armoured  stormtrooper Cardinal. But the information he desires has nothing to do with the Resistance or its covert operations against the First Order. What the mysterious stormtrooper wants is Phasma’s past – and with it whatever long buried scandal, treachery, or private demons he can wield against the hated rival who threatens his own power and privilege in the ranks of the First Order.’

Captain Phasma, the mysterious chrome plated leader of the First Order stormtroopers, was one of the most enduring mysteries of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though not one of the central mysteries of the film. With so much of the film, and the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi being dedicated to Rey, Luke, Kylo, and Snoke, there’s little room to explore a character like Phasma in any real satisfying way on the big screen.

Thankfully, the new novel Star Wars: Phasma not only gives us a lot of answers about who Phasma is and where she comes from, but gives us an intriguing look into the inner workings of the villainous First Order.

Despite being a story about Phasma, she’s not a main character within the book. Most of what actually happens surrounds a Resistance spy, Vi Morai, who is captured by the First Order mid mission. Being taken captive by a Captain within the First Order, a crimson armour wearing stormtrooper called Cardinal, she’s forced to tell him the information she’s learnt about Phasma’s past. Because of this, the story we hear about Phasma comes as a third hand account, one that may be filled with exaggerations and embellishments.

Whilst it’s possible that the story Vi tells Cardinal could be fake, it does feel very real, and fits with the kind of personality we’ve seen from the character even from her brief onscreen appearances. Telling a tale of her youth, growing up on a barren and desolate world, and her eventual meeting with Brendol Hux, the then leader of the First Order, Vi is able to shed a lot of light on the character. Where in the past such revelations of characters mysterious pasts can often make a character lose some of their mystique, seeing some of the things that Phasma has done as a young woman make her all the more terrifying.

With a story that feel as much Mad Max as it does Star Wars (and it’s no surprise to learn that the soundtracks the author listened to when writing the book consisted of two Star Wars soundtracks and Mad Max: Fury Road) we see a side of the Star Wars universe that we often miss. A primitive and brutal story, a civilisation barely surviving and fighting amongst itself for any resource, it feels less of a Star Wars story and more of a post apocalypse tale.

This framing narrative also allows the story to introduce one of the more interesting new characters I’ve encountered in the new novels, Cardinal. The same level as Phasma in rank, though not as favoured by the current General Hux, Cardinal was in charge of training all of the First Order stormtroopers before Phasma arrived. Having seen her martial prowess first hand, the previous General Hux split Cardinal’s duties, putting Phasma in command of the older recruits and Cardinal of the children.

Thanks to this Cardinal has had a vendetta against Phasma for years, and hopes to use the information that Vi gives him to bring her down. Without going into too much detail as to why this doesn’t come to pass, we see the internal struggle of Cardinal throughout the book, and by the end I’d come to care for the character a great deal; which surprised me greatly due to him essentially being a villain. Hopefully, Cardinal will appear in more Star Wars media to come.

Star Wars: Phasma delves deep into the backstory of one of the new trilogy’s most intriguing and visually striking characters, whilst also explaining a lot about the inner workings of the First Order military. Whilst the story does drag a little in the middle, it contains enough action, mystery, and characterisation to keep you wanting to learn more right up until the last pages.

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The Muppet Christmas Carol Re-Release Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

There have been dozens of adaptations of the classic Charles Dickens tale ‘A Christmas Carol’ over the decades, with many great actors taking on the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge. With a huge variety of film adaptations to choose from, ranging from the classic Dickensian ones, to modern day comedies, and even animated adventures, there’s one version of the story that captures the hearts more than any other, The Muppet Christmas Carol.

The idea of blending classic Dickens with the iconic Jim Henson puppets might seem like a strange combination, especially when you throw in a hugely respected and seasoned actor like Michael Caine and add singing, but it somehow works perfectly. Perhaps it’s because the film doesn’t try to push the silly humour too much, maybe it’s that Caine plays it completely straight throughout, or perhaps it’s the touching emotional moments the film manages to squeeze in. Whatever the reasoning, there’s only one version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ that I watch each holiday season, this one, the best one.

This was the first Muppets film made since the death of their creator Henson just two years before, and was dedicated to his memory; along with that of actor Richard Hunt, who voiced Statler, who dies during pre-production. Perhaps because the loss of these members of the Muppet family, but this is easily the darkest of the Muppet movies, with the third act of the film being particularly grim. Despite this, it’s also one with the most love, managing to warm the heart of not just the evil Scrooge, but anyone watching at home too.

The film is remarkably close to the source material, despite being acted out by foam puppets and singing vegetables rather than people, and even takes many of the lines from the original text and uses them, such as Scrooge’s reply to hearing that the poor would rather die than go to the workhouses, ‘If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population’.

It’s moments like this, along with Scrooge having to relive his worst memory of losing the woman he loved, watching people steal his possessions after his death, and facing the possibility of Tiny Tim dying that makes this a dark film. Yes, there are bright and colourful characters and jokes aplenty, but this is the kind of film that you should watch with your kids for their first viewing as it can get quite sad and frightening at times.

Thanks to these moments, some of which still bring me close to tears as an adult thanks to how well they are handled and the phenomenal acting from Michael Caine, that the end is as good as it it. By the time that Scrooge has come to change his way’s you’ve come to like him and to care for him, you want him to be a good man and to make the lives of the people around him better.

The final moments will have you smiling, possibly through tears, as you’re filled with the sentiment that one person can make a difference to others; that you can go and be a force for good and kindness in the world, even if you think it’s too late. Yes, it’s a film will silly puppets and Christmas trappings, but it’s a film with a message and a heart to it that’s important. This is why the film is still beloved 20 years after it’s release, why it’s back in the cinema now, and why it will forever and always be my favourite Christmas film.

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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Whitney's Wish

I don't usually use my site to try and encourage people to give money, not even to charities. I think that if people find a cause worthy they will go out of their way to give to it. But I'm going to break my own rules on this occasion, because I need people to know about this cause.

My friend, Whitney, has terminal cancer. She's a sweet and kind young girl, only 19 years old. I met her at work and became fast friends, bonding over our mutual love of Pokemon.

Whitney loves Pokemon, and a load of anime's, often cosplaying her favourite characters at conventions. One of her lifelong dreams was to visit Japan. She's now running out of time and chances to get to do so. Her family want to make sure this happens.

Please, visit her Go Fund Me page, read her story, and if you can, donate.

I know it's the holiday season, that a lot of people are spending more than they normally would at the moment, but please donate, even if it's a small amount. Forgo that extra bottle of wine, buy yourself one less present, skip buying a coffee today, and help make this wonderful young girls last days something that she will treasure forever.

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Monday, 11 December 2017

Piers Morgan Mocks Trans Community In Tweet About The Snow

Piers Morgan, host of Good Morning Britain and former newspaper editor, has once again lashed out at the transgender and gender fluid community in his continued campaign of hate.

The television host, who on previous occasions has argued that children should not be allowed to dress in clothing that is not seen as being for their gender, told trans people on the show that they are 'confused', denied people's gender identity to their faces, and has described gender non-binary people as 'a contagion', has tweeted further insult to the community.

With snowfall having covered most of the UK this weekend, Morgan celebrated the change in weather by tweeting that he's 'off to build a non-binary gender fluid snowperson', followed by snowflakes.

Despite many people responding to the tweet decrying Morgan's comments, he has received a large number of positive responses, and has had a number of Twitter users respond with similar, transphobic comments.

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'Back To The Future: Hard Time' Comic Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

The fourth volume of the ongoing Back to the Future series is now available in stores, and begins an intriguing tale that goes back to one small throwaway line in the first film, but adds more depth to the Back to the Future universe, and the McFly family.

During the events of the first Back to the Future film the audience learnt that Lorraine McFly’s younger brother Joey had had his parole denied. Other than this, we knew nothing about who Joey is, why he was in prison, or how long his sentence was. Hard Time looks to address this, making the release of Joey the main focus for much of the book.

Whilst the usual family drama of having a member released from prison after close to fourteen years would provide enough entertainment to fill a book in itself (the interpersonal drama and family dynamic between Lorraine and her siblings and how they react to Joey’s return is varied and engaging) things become more interesting when Doc Brown tells Marty to avoid Joey at all costs. This kicks off an investigation into why Joey went to prison in the first place, and leads to Professor Irving taking Marty back to 1972 in order to view events themselves. As is typical for a Back to the Future adventure, the two of them inadvertently become embroiled in past events when the DeLorean disappears.

With Professor Irving finding himself meeting a younger, mustachioed Doc Brown, Marty accidentally gets himself involved in Joey’s criminal activity, which involves Biff Tannen. The volume gives us a great beginning to this adventure, and explores how big an impact the imprisonment of Joey had on his family. Whilst there is still a great deal of this particular story left to tell, what we get is solid enough to stand on its own as a good look into the McFly family dynamic, and ends with a possibly dangerous moment as Marty comes face to face with a younger Biff, who may recognise him as Calvin Klein from Marty’s previous journey to 1955.

With just what happens to lead to Joey going to prison still yet to be resolved, and the possibility that he may return to a life of crime in the present (1985) it will be interesting to see what (if any) impact Marty and Irving’s presence in the past has. In addition to this three part set up, we also get a stand alone adventure that focuses on Doc Brown and his son, Verne. When Doc Brown forgets his anniversary he jumps into the DeLorean in order to travel to the future to get a present for Clara, as well as picking up some pieces for his time train.

Unfortunately, Verne has stowed away in the time machine, and ends up wandering off on Halloween 2017, where he gets a sack full of candy, and ends up being used by a gang in order to rob a shop. Thanks to his cowboy skills, and having grown up hearing about his fathers adventures, he manages to thwart the robbery and becomes a hero. Whilst this little adventure doesn’t add much to the overall story, it does give us an insight into Doc Brown’s life back in 1893, and shows us a little more of his family, seen only briefly at the end of the third film.

Back to the Future: Hard Time is a fun book that sets up for even bigger misadventures through time in the upcoming fifth volume. Whilst the fact that the story is not resolved in this book, and that it ends on a cliffhanger, may upset some readers, there’s still plenty here to keep people entertained and engaged.

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