Posts Tagged ‘ review ’

#17 The GaMERCaT

The GaMERCaT. “What is ‘The GaMERCaT?” I pretend to hear some of you ask. Ah, dear followers, The GaMERCaT. How to describe The GaMERCaT? I hear his fur’s insured for a million dollars… One time he clawed me in the face… it was awesome. Oh. Wait. No, that’s the plotline to something else entirely (possibly, no one knows).

The GaMERCaT is a cute and kinda sassy webcomic that I have absolutely no recollection of how I stumbled upon it. But it’s pretty awesome.

Samantha Whitten, GaMERCaT’s creator, has come up with a sometimes-snappish but still likeable character that adores gaming. GaMERCat is relatable to any gender – because gaming, my friends, is not for any specific gender. Everyone can enjoy it. Even cats, with no opposable thumbs (yet, they may evolve sooner or later).

The great thing about these comics is that you don’t even need to have played every game Whitten references in order to enjoy the artwork and the storylines. In fact, really, you don’t even need to have played any game, though it does give you a little bit of a warm, smug feeling when you can nod your head along because you too have been there, rolling around on the DDR mat because your feet aren’t as co-ordinated as your thumbs.

GaMERCaT’s humour is just so easy to slip into; he’s almost like the black cat version of ourselves (or at least, myself. I find myself chuckling along because some of the responses just feel so familiar). It’s not over the top, nor is it too subtle. It’s just right in that it can be appreciated by almost everyone.

Though I don’t recall how I found this webcomic, I do remember expecting it to be something along the lines of Scott Ramsoomair’s VG Cats. And, yeah, okay, it kind of is a little. But the characters are distinctly different, the artistic approach just as good-looking but still very much Whitten’s own*. Let’s face it though, one can never have enough gaming kitties on the internet. Or cats in general (I Can Has Cheezburger, anyone?).

“Okay,” I hear you say now. “So it’s a cute cat on the internet, so what? Plenty of people can scribble one of those up in a jiffy.” Ahh. Well, that’s where Samantha Whitten has one up on the rest of us. Her comic based on the game Journey (that really interesting, quirky game that I only actually discovered a couple of months ago) has been featured in the official The Art of Journey book, in the fan-art segment. That’s pretty cool, you have to admit.

At the moment, Whitten is considering putting GaMERCaT into print. Like several other webcomics I read, this will probably involve using Kickstarter to help fund the project. If you check out the website and enjoy GaMERCaT as much as I do, you can keep an eye on the updates posted with each new comic and see how the project gets along. Definitely check it out though, if you’re into gaming and/or kitties. Who doesn’t love kitties (except maybe those with allergies)?



*This is not me saying Whitten has read or been inspired by VG Cats (because I just don’t know that, and she states herself that GaMERCat was inspired and modelled on her very own cat). It’s just me pointing out similarities in content.


#15 Elantris – Brandon Sanderson

Elantris UK

Recently (as in the last two months kind of recently), I’ve been reading Brandon Sanderson novels. I picked up Warbreaker a couple of months ago when it was on offer in Waterstones, and actually really enjoyed it. Both Warbreaker and Elantris are stand-alone novels, though I actually wish there were, if not sequels, then at least other novels set in the same ‘verse. Post Warbreaker, my mother and I both bought the three Mistborn books between us and devoured them pretty quickly. There’s a fourth Mistborn book already published (though not related to the characters from the original trilogy) and a fifth apparently in the pipelines. However, the Mistborn series isn’t my main focus today.

Elantris is a beautifully written book. I actually have very few qualms with it for once. The lore of the universe Sanderson has created is, for the most part, in-depth and detailed. It’s easy to read parallels with cultures of our own world in some aspects too, which doesn’t alienate a reader entirely by thrusting them into a world so strange and different from their own. Perhaps more could have been written about the religious sects, particularly the Derethi, though this would have been detrimental to the pacing of the book. The pacing of the novel itself is actually one of my biggest faults with Elantris, and this stems from the fact that it feels almost too well-paced. It is a little slow throughout the main body of the text, but during the last few chapters it seems to speed up significantly – again, almost too much. Elantris draws to a rapid-fire ending, covering the basics but not really lingering on details or the poignant emotional culminations of the events of the novel.

The magic of the world of Elantris is probably one of the most beautiful things about this creation; it is logical, it is intricate but understandable, it has its limits… Though Elantrians are talented in their magical art, they are not invulnerable or unlimited. The mystical Aons are incorporated throughout the book, and one wonders of the significance of each chapter being titled with a specific Aon (given more time, I hope to go back through and compare the meaning of the Aons with the events in each chapter). Admittedly, there is no explanation behind the existence of Aonic power, or how it came to be, but such things aren’t of utmost importance within the book; the reader is more concerned with the livelihood of their unfortunate Prince and the Princess who should have been his wife.

It has to be noted that Sanderson writes his female protagonists particularly well; they don’t entirely depend on their male counterparts, their focus is not on finding love (though they always struggle to balance their relationships with their duties because they cannot seem to find a balance between the two). The women are strong and they act with the best interests of the many, rather than themselves or those within their immediate circle. It is refreshing to see female characters who don’t simply fall at the ‘hero’s’ feet, simpering and swooning.

Elantris (2005) was Sanderson’s first novel and, despite the few faults I have picked out above, his writing has improved greatly since then. Taking into consideration the Mistborn series, the pacing of the novels can hardly be faulted. He crafts his fantasy worlds with the utmost care and precision; what is left outside of the reader’s knowledge has no place there anyway. Mysteries in the books that the characters are attempting to solve can also be followed easily by the reader – there is no exclusion, and sometimes there is even the satisfaction of working out the truth before the protagonist realises it themselves.

Brandon Sanderson’s work is definitely worth a read if you enjoy fantasy/high-fantasy that’s a little easier to swallow than Tolkien, but less tongue-in-cheek than Pratchett.

#13 Confessions – Dir. Tetsuya Nakashima

Confessions –
A psychological thriller of a grieving mother turned cold-blooded avenger with a twisty master plan to pay back those who were responsible for her daughter’s death 

“Carmen, you watch some of the sickest, creepiest movies, I swear.” – my mother last night as we were watching this.

Okay, in my defence, I don’t like gore and I’m not big on horror or thrillers… but I do really enjoy films that make you think and, personally, I find that a great deal of foreign cinema makes me do just that. Big budget blockbusters from Hollywood seem generically shallow these days; there’s little there but the retelling of old stories we’re all already familiar with, all made pretty. They’re great for entertainment and preoccupying our minds so we don’t need to dig too deep into our psyche but that’s all they’re really good for.

Based on a novel by Kanae Minato, Confessions is a teensy bit gory. Only a little. But it’s manageable. The real horror doesn’t come from the arterial spray of blood on white walls but from the psychological terror of the potential damage humans can inflict. Humans – not just adults but children too. Confessions showcases how our race manipulates, lies and kills in order to cover our tracks or reveal ourselves to the world. It shows how callous and cruel people can truly be when under duress from circumstance and pressure.

The real horror in today’s world is ourselves – and the majority of it is self-inflicted. Confessions attests to that; the pressure of school (you must do well, you must get the best grades, you must be recognised), pressure from parents and friends, bullying and death. These are just a few of the main themes the film deals with in mirroring reality.

The true message behind the film though is one to be worked out on our own. How precious is life? How can anyone even begin to answer that? Perhaps then, the better question would be, how precious is life to each and every one of us? Do some of us hold it in greater esteem? If we, like the female teacher, Sensei Yuko, lost our young child because of someone else’s ego, would we seek revenge? Would we sit by passively? Could we forgive?

On a final note, the acting in this was particularly impressive. Child actors usually go hand-in-hand with happy-go-lucky films, all gravitating towards a Happy Ending. But the children/young-adults portraying a class of thirteen year olds played their roles amazingly – and every single character brought raw, base emotions to life on screen with incredible honesty.

#12 Shin Kyung Sook – Please Look After Mother

Please Look After Mother – Shin Kyung Sook

On Tuesday, on a hunt to pick up a birthday present for my Nana’s 60th, I ventured into Waterstones for a quick look at books before I had to head off for a diabetes check-up at the hospital (not fun, by the way. They treat me like a human pin-cushion). Just looking at books is half the fun these days, mostly because they seem to be so much more expensive than when I was younger. I like to add things to my mental Reading List; books that, were I several thousand pounds richer than I currently am, I would cart home with me after making the woman at the check-out a very happy seller indeed.

I usually stick to the science-fiction/fantasy section but a small display caught my eye. I forget the exact title but there were lots of them around the store; stands with around ten books on them, each for a different award or genre that Waterstones was promoting. I picked up ‘Please Look After Mother‘ from a display that contained (amongst others) novels by Haruki Murakami and Roberto Bolano. Of course, this was an international fiction stand. I felt a little proud that there were authors who – thanks to one of my classes at university – I recognised.

Shin, however, I did not recognise. But I’m a sucker for pretty things so the cover grabbed my attention (as did a small pink novella but I eventually put that one down, though somewhat reluctantly). I ended up grabbing a copy of Brandon Sanderson’s ‘Warbreaker’ and Haruki Murakami’s ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicle‘ as well as ‘Please Look After Mother‘.

Please Look After Mother‘ is about losing a parent – and then, in searching for her, the mother’s entire family grows to discover more about the woman that cared for them. It’s a book that highlights how a parent truly looks after their child, encompassing empathy, compassion, love and aggravation. No family is perfect and everyone has their qualms with each other but, beneath all the anger and irritation, there is always love.

The novel has been translated into beautifully simple but evocative prose, with each chapter in a different narrative voice, depending on the specific character. With each chapter, Shin builds up the mother’s character, fleshing her out and giving her life, enabling us to see her from every angle and suggesting that it takes a great deal to truly know a person, no matter how close we think we are to them.

Shin’s novel isn’t about finding what you lost, it’s about urging us as readers to recognise what we can lose, before it’s too late. It encourages us to take a look at our relationships and keep hold of what matters most.

#11 Jenny Erpenbeck – Visitation

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The first few pages of Erpenbeck’s Visitation have a special hook to them. They act as bait, catching us with our mouths agape as the fairytale-esque narrative unfolds. The first chapters ‘The Gardener’ and ‘The Wealthy Farmer and his Four Daughters’ are promisingly full of Grimm and Andersen style and charm. It is after these chapters though that I lost my enthusiasm for the novella, the style shifting to something a lot more realistic and confusing.

Erpenbeck has a wonderfully simple way with words although some of the turns of phrase and expressions of dialogue left me confused and out of sorts.

The main theme of the book is a house by a lake, a dwelling that stands and survives the passage of time, new families and war. Visitation is the history of this house, the lived-in-ness of its walls, its land. The house is one of the only two constants in the story, the other being the Gardener. Few people ever stay in the house by the lake for too long a period of time – because of circumstances, as the country is ravaged by war or families move apart – but the Gardener is the only one to spend the majority of his life there.

The tale was a slow read for me as I found it difficult to remain engrossed in the lives of characters who didn’t seem to stay around. Perhaps re-reading it and truly accepting the house as the character would be more successful, but considering how so much detail is given on people rather than the house, it’s hard to stick with this idea.

I, personally, didn’t enjoy this book. Others might. One thing is certain: it never hurts to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.

#10 Samuel Beckett – Waiting For Godot

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‘A tragicomedy in two acts’, declares Amazon. Well, it’s certainly tragic, that much cannot be disputed. However, I failed to find any comedy whatsoever within the pages of this stageplay. And I studied Measure for Measure (which shall, I think, take the spot as my favourite tragicomedy studied, though I despised it at the time).

It’s not possible to declare this as a piece of ‘bad writing’ because, put to the test, many of us would find it nigh on impossible to replicate this ourselves or even finish a written piece of our own. This is simply boring. It’s about men going nowhere in life and nowhere in geography. ‘Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes’ states Jean Anouilh. The ‘nothing happens’ part is right – unless Pozzo, Lucky and the boy are figments of Estragon and Vladimir’s imagination.

The text centres on ideas of existentialism but as I am a terrible philosopher, this was a little out of my depth (you do not need to understand something to enjoy it although it may help). Even without the philosophical and psychological interpretations to bulk this narrative up, I still found this a long, tedious read. The short time it took me to read dragged – and all the while I felt as though I was running in circles or in a maze, similar to Estragon and Vladimir: stuck and unable to get out.

Perhaps not my favourite piece of literature ever. I’m now waiting – not for Godot but for the hours of my life back that I spent reading this.

#9 Korean Cinema

So today I thought I’d briefly cover a few (South Korean) films that I’ve watched in the last week:

  • Thirst (Park Chan-Wook, 2009)
  • Maundy Thursday (Song Hae-Seong, 2006)
  • Haunters (Kim Min-Suk, 2010)
  • Duelist (Lee Myungse, 2005)
  • Secret Reunion (Jang Hun, 2010)

A recurring theme in four out of these five films is the actor Kang Dongwon, currently enlisted in the Korean army. Firstly, I’d like to say that he’s not just a pretty face; man, can this guy act. In the majority of these films, he doesn’t speak too much. It’s a credit to him how much he is able to convey through his eyes alone. Another actor, whom you may have heard of before, is Song Kang-ho who acted alongside Kang in Secret Reunion. You might recognise veteran Song Kangho from Thirst if you’ve seen it or, at the very least, from Park Chan-Wook’s monster epic The Host.

Each of the above films has reduced me to tears, particularly Maundy Thursday, a tale of a convicted murderer on South Korea’s Death Row, awaiting his execution. The film takes you through his journey of wanting to die and a suicidal woman with whom he grows close to, both of them meeting weekly on a Thursday in the prison and each working through their own issues. The film touches on a lot of sensitive issues (the death penalty, suicidal tendencies, forgiveness, trust and dependency) with Kang Dongwon and female-lead Lee Nayoung bringing incredible emotional tension to the screen in their performance. Although the ending is somewhat predictable (as with much recent South Korean cinema although that’s not to say this is a bad thing), this is definitely worth a watch. Just ensure you have a packet of Kleenex to one side as it’s a real tear-jerker, churning your emotions and throwing your own outlook on criminals into a perspective that you question throughout the narrative.

Haunters, Duelist and Secret Reunion are probably more approachable from a Western cinema-fan’s point of view.

Duelist is a period martial arts film with a stunning backdrop of modern music with gentle touches of traditional East-Asian instrumentals and colourful scenery, edited in an entirely fascinating manner throughout. The most appealing scenes have to be the swordsmanship display at the beginning and the final battle-scene between the lovers, although this can be interpreted more as a dance, a type of mating ritual perhaps, but a little more tender.

Haunters, also known as Psychic, is a particularly tense cinematic ride although this is eased up on by frequent interjections of humour; you probably shouldn’t laugh but you’re going to anyway. There’s also an interesting representation of foreigners in this film and it’s generally a positive one. The protagonist is best friends with two extremely fluent Korean-speaking men; one from Ghana, the other from Turkey. Surprisingly, they play a major role and it is their bond with the protagonist that helps to progress the narrative and also offer some light comic relief.

Secret Reunion was one of the most successful films of 2010 in South Korea, dealing with North Korean defectors and both North and South Korean spy agencies seemingly battling each other. It proposes an interesting tale of tentative and cautious friendship between a shamed South Korean ex-agent and a shunned North Korean spy. The on-screen chemistry between these two is wonderful whilst highlighting the problems families encounter because of the separation between the two nations. Perhaps this could have been explored in greater detail but all is forgiven when you encounter Kang Dongwon wrestling with a chicken as Song Kangho screams and tries not to crash their car… The twists at the end of this film ensure you leave on a light-hearted high, leaving you feeling mostly satisfied that, for once, a certain actor is not sticking to his convention of dying in every movie he partakes in.

I found Thirst to be an extremely refreshing watch. There are no sparkling vampires and a priest is forced to question his morals and his very nature when an accident occurs during a blood transfusion, resulting in him becoming a vampire. This is one of the most explicit films I’ve watched recently – there’s a lot of nudity and sex although, again, this is refreshing to see that vampires haven’t been toned down in an attempt to lure in a romantic teenage audience. Of course, the film does have its fair share of romance although this causes no end of trouble to the priest. The ending is satisfyingly tragic because, after all, nothing in reality is perfect and this is a trait that most filmmakers seem to forget, often ending with happy, fluffy endings, particularly in the West.

It’s hard to watch South Korean cinema without being shouldered with a lot of emotional baggage. But it is this convention that adds to its charm. Instead of the physical fear of a monster you can see, it is the psychological fear and violence in a character that brings us, the viewer, the more intense feelings of fear and, occasionally, happiness. I can walk away from films like those above feeling refreshed, challenged, happy and even emotionally drained. And I enjoy it.

Most people I speak to dislike world cinema simply for the fact that, uh, ‘subtitles equals no’. I’ve never understood this, particularly if they enjoy reading as a hobby. You read books so it can’t be so hard to read a screen, right? Since I was young I’ve switched the subtitles on, on the TV, and turned the volume down a smidgeon. With world cinema, I relish the subtitles; I am constantly adding to my vocabulary not only words from another language but also phrases. World cinema teaches me about different cultures, different life lessons, alternate perspectives. It challenges me to leave single-mindedness behind.  Exposing yourself to different genres, cultures and people can only open up an entire new world for people. This is especially true of writers. All cinema is inspirational, as are books and music, and we should do our best to consume as much of other cultures as we possibly can, even if it’s only to say that we tried it and don’t like it.


Questions? Leave them as a comment and I’ll get back to you 🙂