LOVECRAFT COUNTRY s01 (2020)

A total masterstroke of modern genre television.

Less the Cthulhu mythos elements of Lovecraft’s stories, but rather taking small, weird tales of scifi, cosmic horror, occult organisations, time/space travel and wrapping them all in post-Korean wartime black United States.

So of course, all the supernatural darkness and horror that comes with the magical side of things is frequently less terrifying, threatening and horrible than the everyday racism the protagonists face in their ordinary lives.

It’s brilliantly done. Each episode takes this lens and focuses it through the tone and genre of classic pulp novels — one time a haunted house, one time an artefact heist adventure, one time a body-swapping life-in-their-shoes story, one time a time-travelling historical lesson, one time a mythological fable crossed with a wartime romance.

The cast and their performances are fantastic, the VFX are cinematic quality (not to mention impressively visceral and disgusting) while the choices to use anachronistic modern elements of black culture only serve to further elevate and enhance the experience.

There’s just so, so much packed into only ten episodes that it puts many other shows to shame with both its ambition and execution.

Highly, highly recommended.

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.

LEGION (s01-03)

It’s hard to pin Legion down, since it’s very proudly one of the least superhero-y comicbook-based TV series of the past decade despite being populated by very comicbooky characters and ideas.

It’s more of a psychedelic mind trip through gorgeous production design, S-tier cinematography and a plot and cast of characters that absolutely delight in and embrace all the weirdest things that the genre has to offer.

The cast is clearly having a ball, and it goes to show yet again how underutilised Dan Stevens is in the broader scheme of things.

Sure, there are action sequences and the like, but more often the central conflicts are resolved by compassion and strange conversations and a few times by psychic dance-battles. Oh, and a hippy cult smokes happiness from the udders of a gigantic pig at one point.

Yeah. It’s weird.

And that’s all to the benefit, because it’s not trying to be a regular sort of X-Men show, it’s a character study of a persona fragmented by trauma, wrapped in a dream-like 1960s aesthetic and often a very Lynchian desire to be willfully obtuse.

It’s unsettling and dark at times, gorgeous and strange and wonderful at others. The pacing overall is fairly off-kilter, but if you’re willing to forgive its self-indulgence you’ll find a tonne of reasons to fall in love with it.

It runs just long enough to tie itself up nicely without overstaying, but I wish more shows were this willing to embrace the absurdity of their own premises.

Highly recommended.

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY (s02)

Now that introductions and an initial conflict in the first season are out of the way it’s much more fun just to let the characters be themselves… while scattered across the timeline of 1960s Dallas, Texas.

Of course, there’s another apocalypse looming and a trio of time-hopping Swedish assassins to deal with, but really the show shines when it’s letting the family play off and support each other.

Feels a bit more loose and creative this time around, and the soundtrack is bangin’, the whole cast puts in great, hilarious, dysfunctional performances.

A case could be made for spreading the show out over weeks instead of dropping the Netflix binge model all at once, since something like this is fun to keep in conversation rather than to burn through and promptly forget about, but that’s a broader conversation on streaming strategies.

All up, better than the previous season even if the pacing is a little strange at times. If you liked the first one you’ll have a good time again here.

THE BOYS (s02)

Just as bloody, cruel and pointed as season one, but a bigger shift to the humanity of all the characters makes it feel much less nihilistic, and as such it’s more engaging.

I liked the first season plenty, but was curious to see if they slid towards the kinda offputting edgy-for-edgy’s-sake takes on superpowers that the comic does. Glad to say it swings hard in the other direction and improves on its source material in every way.

The whole cast are great, though special credit has to go to Antony Starr’s Homelander — an absolutely terrifying narcissist power-mad Superman analogue, a psychological trainwreck and an absolute monster. There’s good reason why everyone is scared of him.

Otherwise, all the usual crass humour, crude gore and body horror is still present and accounted for, only it’s using also its social satire to actually make points and draw parallels to current headlines.

There is also an extentable, prehensile penis and a whale explosion.

If you’re looking for something light and breezy filled with likeable characters who make good decisions and get happy endings… well… I’m sure you worked out in the first 20min season one that this wasn’t for you.

Otherwise, enjoy the ride!

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (2019)

The two MALEFICENT movies exist in a weird tangent of the Disney live-action reboot universe.

On the one hand they’re an interesting perspective shift on the classic Sleeping Beauty tale with a surprisingly A-list cast (Jolie! Pfeiffer! Ejiofor! Fanning!) mixed in with some surprise appearances (Warwick Davis! Ed Skrein!). They’ve got the sort of largely well-done fantasy special effects that only a swollen purse and high-grade talent pool can produce.

On the other hand they’re overly melodramatic, exposition heavy and self-serious in a way that doesn’t serve much more than generic fantasy cliche tropes. Also, the humans (with few exceptions) are quite unambiguously the villains, especially in this film, so there’s little conflict in siding with this supposed “Mistress of Evil” who never does anything considerably evil at all. It sort of gets handwaved away as being the perception of her by commonfolk, but I still feel like Angelina Jolie must have signed on expecting something vampier and more fun than the little she really gets to do.

Characters are paper thin, plot goes nowhere interesting, action is pedestrian and stakes aren’t engaging, even the design is at most blandly pretty. The first one was okay but this feels unnecessary.

FROZEN 2 (2019)

In some ways more charming than the first, in others less inspired.

Kind of a mixed bag — half the songs were forgettable and the overall story felt like a bridging episode between a strong first film and a bigger, more creative third one.

But the visual design is wonderful, painted on an autumnal Scandinavian pallette and the colonialist narrative touched on some darker concepts without really confronting them, which I suppose is understandable as this is still ostensibly a film for kids.

Doesn’t really transform the franchise in any meaningful way despite heaping on new elemental mythology and expanding the world, something that plays more like the setup to a more interesting trilogy rather than a really solid standalone in its own right.

That said, Kristoff’s 80s power ballad backed by imaginary reindeer harmonies is a brilliant bit of tonal anachronism and I like that the fundamental messages are of community support and reparations.

Overall not bad but I assume the next one will be better.

THE WITCHER s01 (2019)

Takes a bit to come together properly, and in the end mostly establishes itself as a good base for more interesting seasons to come.

Cavill is pitch-perfect as the titular Witcher, the gruff and stoic Geralt of Rivera, and this would have worked well enough as a monster-of-the-week style creature feature show.

Better, then, that there is a whole dense world’s worth of politics and history and intrigue and lore running in parallel to all the magic and monsters, even if the arrangement of the first season sees parallel timelines come across a little jumbled.

If you’re a fan of swords and sorcery this is worth a watch, though be aware that it’s far more unabashedly fantastical than say, GAME OF THRONES is, so your mileage will vary based on your taste there.

Good action, mostly solid effects, brilliantly realised background/landscape artwork.

I liked it, I think it will get much better too. Lots of potential.