New art!

I’ve been learning 3D software in my spare time the past few months and it’s been awesome to be able to start producing concept pieces so fast and have them look so awesome!

I build the models in Blender, then export to Substance Painter for texturing, then back into Blender with the Botaniq add-on to populate trees/grass and to compose, light and render, then final touches are done with Procreate.

More to come, I’m just excited to have work to share that came purely from my imagination!

You can follow me on Instagram @_nervesquidpilot for updates.

BLOODBORNE (2015) // PS4

A hunter is a hunter, even in a dream.

Being a Dark Souls fan this one has been on my wishlist for years and I was excited to finally have a system to spend time slashing my way through the beasts of Yharnam to discover what the rituals of the Paleblood Moon were for. So here I am, five years late to the party.

It did not disappoint.

And as the hunt wears on and the moon rises, things become somehow even more nightmarish and terrifying. Townfolk transform into monstrous things. Secrets that should have remained hidden threaten to splinter reality itself.

The waking world and the frontier of nightmares blur together when the blood moon rises.

You find yourself lost, wearing away your resources and ending up forced to rely on wit and skill to survive, barely scraping through an ambush with your life and then… you reach a gate that looks familiar. One that only unlocks from this side and suddenly you’re back to safety and familiarity, drenched in the blood of the creatures you have slain. You are a hunter.

Now you must venture out again, a little further this time. Madness is everywhere and by the time the night is through you won’t be the same as when you started.

The atmosphere is fantastically forbiding, punctuated by mad screams and cries and howls. You can sense a boss arena approaching. The moment the incredible soundtrack picks up your blood goes hot as you face off against one of dozens of the bosses, all if which are absolute masterclasses in creature design.

The “plot” or what can be said of the story is told through the environment and tiny scraps of information absorbed by curiosity and player conjecture. Things are rarely laid out plain and a lot of the fun is untangling the implications of discoveries and inferring from unreliable information. You could very easily go the entire game and never understand anything that’s really happening and yet still be compelled to push onwards and seek more. The beasts are only the tip of the iceberg. Much more terrifying things await, just beyond the fringes of insight.

World design in Bloodborne is probably the apex of the developer’s catalogue, and this says a lot considering the superfluous work of previous FromSoft games. Narrow gothic alleys wind and tangle around each other, pushing you down into deeper and darker forgotten paths, surrounded by brilliantly horrifying beasts and nightmares that lurk and creep and can cut you to ribbons in moments if you aren’t quick on your feet and ready to strike back.

Combat is fast, visceral and mean — the classic FromSoft action RPG style twisted to encourage aggressive tactics and favour higher risk/reward strategies. Attire is largely cosmetic and the selection of weapons is greatly stripped back compared to Souls games, with a greater emphasis on knowing movesets and learning to dodge and parry effectively. It’s pushing you to embody the Hunter and once you’re past the initial learning curve it’s a blast to play.

Online multiplayer is also the most refined and balanced it’s ever been. Calling for help from other players opens you up to invasion from hostile parties but otherwise you’ll largely be left to tackle things on your own. The challenge can be steep, but it’s never truly insurmountable and sometimes all you need is that extra person to draw the attention of a boss off you so that you can take it down.

I’ve noticed that a decent number of streamers have taken the time in this pandemic to finally get around to playing Bloodborne as well and it’s just as interesting to watch someone else slowly unravel the puzzlebox of mechanics and worldbuilding, everyone coming to their own conclusions and developing their own strategies to survive the unforgiving night of the hunt.

It speaks to the quality and expansiveness of the title that five years later it can still have an active, vibrant community with no additional content being added. Even having slain every last nightmare I was ready to drop my character (Doctor Bueno) right back into NG+ to do it all again. I rarely ever go for platinum trophies in games anymore but this one is calling me back in.

We are born of the blood, made men by the blood, undone by the blood. Our eyes are yet to open.

Fear the old blood.

THE OUTSIDER (2020)

Stephen King really has a way with small towns and supernatural murder.

Based on the book of the same name (which I haven’t read), it tracks the investigation into what at first seems like a very clear cut murder that quickly starts to escalate and destroy the community.

Tone and cinematography are appropriately unnerving, casting is excellent. Pacing is slow, but it works in its favour, taking its time to chew on each twist and let things unfold.

It’s all very Stephen King, and definitely one of his stronger ones, though the horror aspects fade out a little in the second half. Still, the characters are compelling and the mystery is well constructed.

Slow burn, recommended.

THE MIDNIGHT SKY (2020)

A decent enough sci-fi drama trapped in an identity crisis.

There’s two tales happening in parallel and it takes a long time to become apparent how they’re linked, and only in the final ten minutes or so do the two threads really twine together. Problem is, George Clooney’s story is where we open the story and spend significant time before swapping to Felicity Jones’ imperiled space mission.

Something certainly got messed up in the edit here, and to some extent it seems like a marketing problem. Clooney is the bankable star and a decision was made to put his part of the story at the forefront of scene sequencing and this damages the story by relegating Jones’ arc to a B plot when it’s arguably the more important of the two.

And this is a shame! There some solid drama and well-executed action sequences that are overall held back by the story being told out of a better order.

You could still find plenty to enjoy here, but don’t be surprised if you find your attention flagging because the focus is scrambled.

Solidly medium movie, could have been very good with a few changes.

TED LASSO — s01 (2020)

For a show that’s framed around an American football coach moving to the UK to coach soccer it’s really about everything except that.

There’s an infectious earnestness and shameless good-natured bent it all that you can’t help but get invested in. And damn if the relentless optimism doesn’t just get in there and warm you up.

One of the McElroy brothers (Travis?) said something to the effect of “don’t punch down, don’t punch up, just don’t punch” and nothing embodies that idea so perfectly as Ted Lasso. It’s mature, kind, compassionate and manages to do it with fantastic emotional intelligence while also being anti-cynical and effortlessly hilarious.

I was often suprised, and always pleasantly, to find where it had chosen to place its narrative conflicts and how it chose to resolve them. As such it very quickly works to undermine your expectations of cheap drama for drama’s sake. This show has no interest in playing that way and it’s honestly all the more a ray of sunshine because of it, but what’s more is because it’s not burning up time trying to force conflict in everywhere it becomes entirely about mediation and accountability, and it gives the characters more time to just be.

After the absolute bastard that was 2020 it’s refreshing to watch something that actually just makes you feel good and Ted Lasso knocks it out of the park. Everyone needs a Ted in their corner.

The good news is this has already been renewed for three seasons. I understand why this topped so many peoples’ lists from last year. Do yourself a favour and get on it.

DA FIVE BLOODS (2020)

First and foremost, it’s hard to to address the posthumous presence of Chadwick Boseman as the long-departed leader of the titular Bloods — a young man taken well before his time.

The choice to have him remain the only youthful member of the cast makes his ghost loom large, since the remaining cast are all portrayed by their older selves in all the flashbacks to the Vietnam/American War.

Which is not to say he overshadows things at all. The other four Bloods all put in great performances. I’ll always appreciate the absurdly charismatic Clarke Peters (THE WIRE/TREMÉ) being put front and centre, and Delroy Lindo drops a showstopper of a performance.

Turns out, returning to Vietnam decades after the war to retreive buried gold has the consequence of dragging up old traumas. Whodathunk?

Scattered throughout are horrifying archival clips and stills, as well as Spike Lee’s own personally curated lessons in Black History around the men who went to war to prove they were true citizens of the United States only to find themselves used up and discarded.

It’s long one, almost two whole films of runtime split fairly neatly either side of the recovery of the gold at the unmarked grave of their former troop leader (Boseman). The pacing can feel bogged down in places even when it feels like a condensed version of an even more sprawling, structurally novelistic tale. This would make for a fantastic book — to the point where I had to keep checking if it was actually based on something (it’s not, other than true accounts of the war Lee researched while making it).

None of that is to be taken as complaint, mind. It’s a frequently uncomfortable look at the consequence of a war decades on, and of the lasting bonds that linger long after everyone has gone home, learned to live with their nightmares and become old.

Recommended.

SOUL (2020)

All the emotional storytelling you’ve come to expect from Pixar wrapped up in stunningly brilliant abstracted visuals and perfect sound design.

In a lot of ways it presents as Ratatouille for music, but it has much more to offer while still keeping a light enough touch that you never feel clubbed over the head by its themes.

The otherwordly soundtrack and score is fantastic (Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross doing a Pixar film?!) and the visual design (especially around the astral elements) is absolutely gorgeous.

Of course, you already assume that, going into one of these, and I’m happy to report the quality is strong and rich as ever.

Of the two or three major cinematic releases that dropped to streaming for Xmas this year, this is absolutely the one you should watch.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020)

Eh.

Feels like an 80s movie through and through, from direction to VFX composition, it’s as much the aesthetic of the Donner-era Superman as anything else.

Thing is, there’s some super-sketchy political messaging in there regarding the Middle East, and the final hopeful climax of the film that sees all the people of the world renouncing their wishes to heal the chaos… well, it’s kinda far-fetched for 2020, even in a pulpy superhero film.

The pacing is slow and it treads on its own feet trying to tell you its themes rather than embodying them and there’s really no iconic moments that match the No Man’s Land sequence in the first.

As a blockbuster it’s fine. Serviceable, a bit naïvely optimistic and uncritical of the world it uses as its backdrop and regularly too-convenient in its plot devices. All tell, no show. Even the chemistry between Gadot and Pine is stunted compared to the last round. Pascal looks like he’s having fun, at least.

Dodgy CGI all over the place, but it’s a pandemic film so it’s hard to judge too harshly even though we have television shows with better output this year. Unfortunately it does the same videogame boss battle climax the last one did.

Overall, never really rises above “okay”. Hard to even find a lot to highlight — I watched this just hours ago and it’s already smudged together. Can’t even work up enough passion to rage post about it.

Probably skip it.

TENET (2020)

What a mess.

Ok, positive first: The soundtrack slaps. The performances are all excellent. The execution of the practical effects and the stunts are great.

But…

The sound mixing is, BY FAR, the worst I’ve heard in a blockbuster, possibly ever. Action scenes are thunderously loud even with the volume turned way down, and the dialogue is so quiet we needed subtitles so we weren’t yo-yoing the volume constantly with the remote.

The editing and pacing are an absolute mess. A basic two-shot can cut back and forth to the point where it’s distracting from the dialogue. Which is often a mercy because there’s zero wit or subtext to anything anyone says. The dialogue is mostly flat and purely functional. It’s not fun or engaging.

The first 45min could easily be cut and the same information much more effectively and interestingly disseminated in the rest of the film. Even still the plot moves at a breakneck pace: out of the gate four characters dump five bursts of exposition on you from six locations, none of which especially clarify anything, and things don’t improve from there.

We jump from location to location so fast and characters make decisions that change direction within a sentence of one another with no clear purpose. Nothing breathes, nothing coheres, it feels like someone trying to talk so fast that you won’t notice the huge gaps in the logic of what they’re saying and all the while you’re being told “Keep up! This is very smart!”.

The so-called mechanics of time inversion are wildly inconsistent and unclear. It’s a cool hook of an idea drunkenly explained on the back of a coaster. It’s like someone saw the Hong Kong reverse-time battle in Doctor Strange and thought “Let’s do that but louder, less fun and deliberately much more confusing for some reason”.

There are some good gimmicks here but there’s never any tension to anything. The stakes vary wildly from scene to scene, sometimes even within a single sequence, and at a certain point it’s hard to care because all the cool flashy stuff doesn’t really serve the clever narrative trick Nolan thinks he’s playing. There are MUCH better ways to use all its better elements and not have it feel like a jumbled, convoluted mess.

Hard to tell exactly where in the production line this went off the rails, but at two hours long and absolutely failing to convey anything meaningful besides a few cool shots you can spend your time better elsewhere.

Definitely not worth potentially getting Covid at a cinema for, barely worth sitting through at home.

THE NEW MUTANTS (2020)

It’s hard to tell at what point of this film’s absurdly protracted release things started coming apart — clearly there was a distinct vision at one point and all the mess of its production just muddied that so much that what we got was just sort of a flat, disjointed and indecisive jumble of ideas that don’t cohere together at all.

Nothing in its premise stands up to the slightest bit of scrutiny, and the fact that it’s trying to squeeze five superhero origins and a romance and a horror film and a teen drama all into a tight 94min does nothing any favours at all.

100% would have been better served as a limited TV series where any one of those concepts could have had a moment to breath outside of rushed expository dialogue. As it is, each of the characters gets an introduction, a scene where they Don’t Want To Talk About Their Trauma, a manifestation of said trauma and then a moment of overcoming it in the climactic battle. On paper it sounds like everyone gets an arc but really it’s just a fill-in-the-blanks, paint-by-numbers rollout with zero nuance and a staggering lack of clarity or explanation.

I’m familiar with the comic run it’s based on and even still I struggled to keep focus. Some of the visual effects and design are cool but they’re not in service of anything.

Not even bad enough for a fun drunk watch, just skip it like you would all the late-game X-Men movies that aren’t Logan.