Geek 2015 – Margate, Kent, UK

Los Angeles has the Electronic Entertainments Expo; PAX stretches from Massachusetts to Texas; San Diego is home to Comic-con; London houses the MCM expo every year; and then there’s the small seaside town of Margate in Kent. Although don’t be put off by the apparent David amongst Goliaths, GEEK (which stands for Game Expo East Kent) is the hugely popular exhibition of everything related to ‘play and games;’ a celebration of classic and modern video games, board games, card games, cosplay and stalls packed full of merchandise, memorabilia and crafty novelties. We certainly couldn’t afford to miss out on the greatness that was practically on our doorstep. Nerd is the word…

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Nestled in the Winter Gardens on Margate’s seafront held between the 19th and 21st of February, the three-day event that is GEEK 2015 accommodated a plethora of old and new gaming consoles from around the world. Set into different zones, there was a chance for paying members of the public to play different types and genres of games. From action, sports, simulations, shooting, fighting and puzzle games spread over all generations of Nintendo, XBox, PlayStation, PC and Sega systems (to name but a few). It was hard not to be spoilt for choice on what you wanted to have a go on next. Ever wanted to play on a Nintendo Famicom with a mouse? Never got round to playing a Dreamcast? Want to know all the fuss is about with the new Call of Duty? Felt the need to show off your battling prowess in Pokémon against real players? All of these questions could be answered. With the main hall featuring the massive selection of gaming consoles, another full of exhibitor’s stalls with a secondary stage set up for interviews and a final Chill zone complete with niche indie games and mood lighting, there was always something worth your time.


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Starting with the exhibition hall, you could get all your game and pop-culture related merchandise from this opening hub allowing you to purchase retro games, character prints, and mugs, wallets t-shirts or even classic sprites made out of Hamma beads. You could also pick up your copy of the Geek Gazette – a useful souvenir guide full of articles, interviews and information on all that was happening over the weekend. Set to the other side were board games and players teaching others the ins and outs of their favourite past times. Another hidden gem was the simple computer arrays made of old egg boxes and some that replaced input devices with forks and knives. The stage headed the front of the space which held informal interviews with YouTubers and indie developers as well workshops with cosplayers and the Saturday afternoon’s cosplay masquerade (other days held talks about video game narratives, a showcase of the Unity gaming engine and storytelling workshops over the weekend). On the upper gantry, more board gamers were set out and there was also an opportunity to meet with the previously mentioned YouTube personalities and ask them questions one-on-one.

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The main hall held the meat of the event; a vast room full of the consoles before and during our existence. We jumped straight onto Puyo Pop Fever on a GameCube – a colourful but crazy falling blocks game – and although we had no idea of the controls, we picked it up very quickly and were battling it out to see who could get the highest score. Saturns, Mega Drives, PlayStations, NES’ and SNES’ caught our attention the most as we played through some well-known titles such as Clockwork Knight, TOCA 2, EA Hockey and Yoshi’s Cookie. The sixteen XBox 360’s playing Halo deathmatch tournaments centred the room; Hearthstone had a few machines dedicated to its own mini-contests and newer blockbusters such as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, WatchDogs, Far Cry 4 and Need for Speed Rivals on current generation consoles were contained in an 18+ area for obvious reasons. Having never played some of these on a newer system, this gave us the opportunity to try them out. It was also good to see some of the greatest and newest indie titles such as Fez, Thomas Was Alone, Shovel Knight, Super Meat Boy, I am Bread and Screamride hold their own against the likes of FIFA 15 and Halo’s Masterchief Collection. Although no-one could compete with the greatness of Minecraft. It had its own special area with a queue to get in and its own tournament. Not hard to understand as it’s one of the biggest selling and most popular games. Another selection of stalls then sold modified Gameboy’s, figurines, cartridges and table top games which included our personal favourite, Rory’s Story Cubes (review imminent).


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And if you wanted to take things a bit easier and remove yourself from the scale of the event, there was also the Chill Zone filled with ambient lighting and independently developed games that reflect on the cool and calm. Whether you wanted to jump from cloud to cloud as you drift through the storybook world of Castles in the Sky; explore as a rolling cube in a geometric domain in Cube and Star: An Arbitrary Love; sore over Journey’s sand dunes; float through the neon-rainforests of The UnderGarden or simply watch a projection of someone else wander through a world of beautiful glowing particles in A Light in Chorus. This zone also became a small theatre later on in the day as it showed the 2012 documentary, ‘Indie Game: The Movie’; a nice change of pace from the hectic Main Hall.

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But of course this was only the tip of the iceberg since we only went for the Saturday. Earlier that morning there was a Guinness World Record attempt to beat the quickest time in completing Bricking It in Time Splitters II. There were different retro gaming tournaments running throughout each event too with a Sonic challenge each day, a Mario Kart 64 challenge on the Friday, Street Fighter II on the Saturday and finally a Super Smash Brothers Melee closer on the Sunday with prizes from each awarded to the best player. With enough differences each day to warrant a subsequent visit it made for a very unique day out. We had missed the early ticket sales online but on they were reasonably priced at £15.50 on the door and you definitely got a lot for your money. Friday and Sunday were slightly cheaper but only by a pound or so but with it being the start of the weekend, it was easy to see that the Saturday was priced the way it was. Either way, no matter what day you could have chosen, you wouldn’t have felt any less out-of-pocket.


Getting around was fair also; the map included in the guide was clear but having a list of what was on offer from the off would have been a great way to go around and essentially tick off our favourites or finding something that sounded good. Luckily a lot of what we played was found with our eyes and that was probably and arguably a better way of discovering. A few machines did cease to work but that’s only understandable when a twenty something year old console is running throughout a day of a busy play through and lots of play styles. On the other hand, seeing older Master Systems and NES’ continue through it all just shows how they can continue under pressure.

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And so our time at GEEK 2015 was a pretty epic trip down memory lane, reliving some of the nostalgic games we used to play and also getting a chance to try something different which may have otherwise been overlooked. We have both been avid gamers for a long time and so this event has given us a taste of gaming exhibitions; something neither of us has experienced before but it’s something that we would wholeheartedly recommend to gamers and pop-culturists alike, no matter what the scale. Although compact, GEEK 2015 offered us a new insight into one of the world’s biggest and best mediums. Hopefully we’ll get chance to go to the event in 2016. It certainly beats sitting inside and playing video games all day.

Words by Jimmi and Kat

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There’s Something About Mary (1998) – 52 in 52: Film 3

“IT MAY NOT BE A TYPICAL ROMCOM…”

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A couple of days ago, it was of course St. Valentine’s Day and what better way to celebrate it than to watch a romantic comedy. But we didn’t want to watch any old soppy, sugary-sweet romcom. We decided to give The Farrelly Brother’s There’s Something About Mary the Reviewinators treatment.

Ben Stiller starts the story as Ted, a typical high-school nerd with shaggy hair and a mouth full of braces; an air of awkwardness tends to follow him around. The beautiful Mary, played by Cameron Diaz, holds his affections and as the two start to connect, he is outwardly surprised when she asks him to the upcoming prom after she reveals she has currently split from her sportier boyfriend. Excited, he rocks up in his brown suit ready for a night he will never forget. After a faux pas with Mary’s special needs brother and a painful zipper accident that involves Mary’s step-father, mother, a police officer, a fireman and a resulting trip to the emergency room, Ted is left still pining after what could have been… Thirteen years on. Under advice from his best friend Dom (played by Chris Elliot), he hires a sleazy detective to track down Mary after she moved from Rhode Island to Miami to become an orthopaedic surgeon. Sleazy detective Patrick (Matt Dillon) uses his sly skills to find her and soon realises that he would be better off with Mary rather than the loner Ted. Patrick soon starts spinning lies and makes for Miami to beat Ted at his own game using the information he gathered whilst stalking her. After realising he has been left for a schmuck, the awkward Rhode Islander drives to Miami to confront Patrick and win Mary back. Cue another awkward encounter with the police and a bail out from Dom, the two of them head off to Miami to continue Ted’s mission. Ted finds out the hard way that he isn’t the only one fighting for Mary’s affections. Not only is he fighting off Patrick but also four other guys and so must work out a way to overcome them and be the better man even if he may be vastly outnumbered by the competition.

There’s Something About Mary isn’t the usual bawdy, teen movie that where rife in the era. There are the sweet sentiments to it but the cringe-worthy comedic aspects make it a fun film to watch” says Jimmi, “especially with the famous ‘hair gel’ fiasco; we can’t not mention that” Kat adds. You can’t help but laugh at poor Ted’s expense when he picks up a questionable hitchhiker and has to explain to the police why he did it. Or even a speed-infused dog that Patrick tries to desperately resuscitate by any means necessary. Hilarity will always ensue. “I thought it was a bit over the top sometimes but that was to be expected with a film of this nature” Kat mentions. Each character may have their reasons to batter ten shades out of each other but Mary always tries to be all things to all people. Stiller and Diaz have a great chemistry; Ben Stiller’s usual awkward and shy self is the ying to Diaz’s confident, smart but outgoing yang. Add that to Dillon’s portrayal of the greasy Patrick; Lee Evan’s elasticity of the dubious British architect, Tucker; Dom’s true identity and Mary’s disabled brother Warren (W. Earl Brown) serving as almost a catalyst between the different character types, you’ve got a very odd set of people that play the best to their jokes extremely well.

It’s easy to see why this film has been described as a ‘sleeper hit’ but despite being almost seventeen years old now, the sentiment and the laughs are still there. There may be elements that are in your face and some that you have to watch through your fingers – not as much as, say, the ‘American Pie’ series – but when it wants to be sweet and charming, it doesn’t distract it from being a good romcom. It may not be a typical romcom that follows the same soppy structure that some others do where they become too dramatic and you can feel your heart become a dead weight; and there are times where it could have slipped into either category so keeping it balanced kept the hilarity up. Admittedly there are the slow build up’s to pivotal moments but when it does eventually reach them; it gets incredibly wacky and left us crying with laughter. It may come across as slightly run of the mill with little sense of urgency but it ticks all the correct boxes; it’s fairly satisfying. We’re just confused as to how it managed to slip under the radar on us for so long…

Words by Jimmi and Kat

How to Train Your Dragon (2010) – 52 in 52: Film 2

“I’LL ADMIT, THE STORY IS GOOD. HOWEVER…”

POSTO

Dragons have always been a main staple of everything fantasy because of their immense ferocity. Every major medium has its own portrayal of a mythical fire-breathing reptilian. Smaug in the Hobbit is arguably the richest fictional character ever. George R.R Martin has his dragons in the literary mammoth that is Game of Thrones. The titular Spyro battled his way through enemies on the original PlayStation… Erm Dragonforce are a band that makes music. Everywhere you look, dragons tend to be popular so it was no surprise that Dreamworks – possibly riding on the success of the first two Shrek films (the latter two less so, but that’s another discussion) – created an animated family film based around the trials and tribulations of the dangerous creatures based on the original book by Cressida Cowell.

Director’s Chris Sanders and Dean DeBois have both worked with Disney to help create some of their classic films such as The Lion King, Mulan, Aladin and, my personal favourite, Lilo and Stitch, so to see them come together again for Dreamworks, I was interested to see how they would do with a clean slate to start from with this 2010 offering.

Hiccup narrates the tale set in the Viking populated village of Berk that is constantly attacked by dragons that take their sheep and destroy their buildings. Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel, is portrayed as the outcast of the society that doesn’t live up to his father’s (voiced by Gerard Butler) battle-hungry persona. Hiccup is young, weedy and clumsy; a trail of destruction normally follows the kid and as such, he has a rocky relationship with his dad and he feels that they are worlds apart and that they don’t have much in common. That is until Hiccup secretly shoots down the infamous Night Fury – a stealthy and agile and somewhat rare dragon – during a night time attack on the village. To prove his mettle, Hiccup contemplates killing the Night Fury to prove to his father and the village once and for all, he can be accepted as a dragon-murdering machine like the rest of them. After all, he has got the life of one of the lesser known species in his hands. He fails and lets the Night Fury go but after he finds the dragon trapped and crippled, he starts to form a bond and names the dragon Toothless and starts to learn that the fire-breather is not as violent as first understood. Hiccup builds a relationship and then a controllable replacement tailpiece that allows him to fly Toothless. The lessons he takes away from his bond with the dragon, he then applies to his battle skills in dragon training with his fellow young vikings, much to their disappointment as this once weedy, outcast is outdoing them in every single way.

I’ll admit the story is good. However, it isn’t amazing and I couldn’t really watch it without seeing shades of Lilo and Stitch in there; outcast terror that only one character bonds with that everyone else is trying to rid only to be captured by the baddie when an ultimately stronger force comes along to end it all, so the baddies and the goodies become acquainted, settle differences and save the day. A lot of stories may do that but Sander’s and DeBois’ Disney film did it before and also did it a lot better. I also found Hiccup, no matter how good I thought Baruchel portrayed him, to be bit one dimensional – ironic, for film that was released in the age of ‘3D everything to within an inch of its life’ cinematography. Hiccup isn’t boring but he also isn’t very enlightening as a hero. I didn’t walk away feeling that I want to be that type of hero in my own dragon-based adventure, whether I was a child or not. I didn’t connect. I also felt the lack of interplay between Toothless and Hiccup to be a bit whimsical; almost as if Hiccup doesn’t really understand how much of a big ordeal shooting down a Night Fury is. Toothless has all the charisma and charm in this relationship and is the true star of the film.

Apart from that, the films technicalities are perfect! There are some stunning backdrops and the flying sequence have depth. You can see it was made for 3D and I don’t feel that any of the drops, swoops and high-speed turns lost any of their magic on a 2D screen. It’s a bright and colourful film even in night scenes and the effects of blazing fires are quite remarkable. I also enjoyed America Ferrara’s acting on the cold and fierce but likeable Astrid as she comes to terms with Hiccup and his skills. Butler’s voicing of Hiccup’s Father Stoik was perfect. So perfect in fact, I fully expected ‘This is Sparta!’ to be ruptured out of his vocal chords more than once during the film. The music is also grand and captures the same atmosphere that from the off, I would expect an epic adventure film to have.

Maybe this is all oversight though. I mean, How To Train Your Dragon was, and has been very successful. I am disappointed that Sander’s and DeBois’ could have done a lot better and I feel that Dreamworks will always be second best to Disney/Pixar’s efforts (although they can still hold their own when it comes just Disney and their own computer graphics animation films. Tangled, I’m looking at you). I just feel there where missed opportunities and arcs that could have been better developed. The things that How To Train Your Dragon does well, it does really well but the things that it does badly, bring that level of polish down and gives it an overall mediocrity. It’s still funny, it’s still beautiful and clean and it is still also rather fresh which for an almost 5 year animated film is no small feat. Who knows? Maybe all of this will be change my opinion if the follow up doesn’t suffer from a bad case of ‘Sequel Syndrome.’

Kat says: “I have read the book How to Train Your Dragon and although the plot differs from the film I did enjoy it. I can see why they didn’t follow the same story as the book but I actually prefer book over the film. I do, however, like Toothless from the film”

Words by Jimmi and Kat

Maleficent (2014) – 52 in 52: Film 1

DISNEY GOT DARK”

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Alas, a new challenge is upon us, and what a great way to start than with a unique twist on one of Disney’s classic and best known fairy tales. In a world where 2014 was a-wash with Frozen, Maleficent cuts through the songs, talking snowmen and over-night relationships with betrayal, tense battles and an irreversible curse; Disney got dark!

Directed by Robert Stromberg Maleficent portrays the other side of the Sleeping Beauty story but this time from the perspective of the villain. Or should we say “villain” as this retelling puts a different spin on how Maleficent became to seek out vengeance.

Jimmi says: “I have never really taken much interest in anything with Angelina Jolie in, not that I fault her as an actress or anything, but they just never really struck me as ‘must-watch’ (maybe that will change over the next fifty weeks or so?). That was until I watched this and I must say she put on a very good and very striking performance as the malevolent fairy. Jolie makes Maleficent and depicts her as powerful yet graceful, like she is always a force not to be reckoned with and is always in control of the situation no matter how sinister it may be.”

Kat says: “From the point of view of having watched the original Sleeping Beauty as a child, it was thought-provoking to see Maleficent as more than a one dimensional villain that she was portrayed as initially. I like the fact that she was showed as a human character with emotions, feelings and motives rather than someone who was outright evil for no discernible reason, something that Sleeping Beauty never really touched on; she was bad and that was that. This film shed light on this misunderstood character and created a more mature narrative.”

From the beginning, it was clear that the character set up in Sleeping Beauty was of course, very wrongly portrayed. As a child, Maleficent was a kind, sellfless and sensitive fairy, protecting the Moors and all of its amazing creatures. After meeting a human boy, Stefan, the two grow close and start to fall in love. As they grow apart and grow older, we learn that a powerful king wants to claim the Moors as his own. This doesn’t sit very well with Maleficent who summons vast tree-creatures of the forest in their droves and fights back taking out the King’s army and wounding him in the process. No small task but it showed us how much the Moors mean to Maleficent and the lengths she will go to. As the King lies on his deathbed he states he needs an heir for the throne and his daughter; the man who overcomes Maleficent will inherit the throne and his daughter’s hand. Stefen steps forward as he knows he had a bond with a younger Maleficent and uses this to deceive her for his own personal gain, claiming the throne. Seeing Disney use such underhand tactics gives the film darker edge. Disney has always done death and characters being killed off but what they did in Maleficent isn’t really the norm. Jimmi says “the emotion Jolie puts into her character once she knows she has been deceived was rather unsettling for me to watch and would perhaps go over some children’s heads. It’s interesting to see it be done but at the same time, very irregular.” The motive of how she became evil is suddenly apparent and the rest of the story plays out with that in mind hence why she curses Princess Aurora with an unbreakable spell, the same spell that was cast in the original film, word-for-word, something that Jolie insisted on during the production. “At first, Aurora is the chance for revenge and so Maleficent makes sure nothing gets in the way until her sixteenth birthday when the curse comes into effect. However, when the two start to bond, I sense that Maleficent sees that innocence in Aurora that was once in Stefen and as she watches over her, she grows to love her” Kat adds. The rest of the story shows how Maleficent battles not only with the true enemy, but also her regrets.

This is all set on a backdrop of amazing set pieces. In one scene the colourful, neon Moor creatures evoke a similar sense of awe that was found in the alien rainforests of Avatar and having the palette  change when things do inevitably get dark, it sets the right sinister tone making this film get the right balance between good and evil. Sam Riley is great as Maleficent’s human-formed raven Diaval and the dialogue between the two is a sharp contrast to the slapstic and comedic three pixies Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistlewit (played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple respectively). Sharlto Copley as King Stefen is also remarkable at out-villaining the villain too and Elle Fanning’s Aurora recaptures the carefree sweetness of the typical Disney princess.

Rather than seeing the villain as just a villain and a means for the protagonist to finally defeat, seeing this sort of twist is unusual of Disney to do but something that we would like to see them do more often. Normally the villains have a better tale to tell than the hero and learning about how they came to be is bound to be very interesting. Maleficent proves that this type of storytelling can be crafted extremely well.

Words by Jimmi and Kat

Our 5 Most Popular Posts in 2014

Happy New Year! Bit late we know but we’ve given you enough time to sleep off your hangover. And what better way to start 2015 (albeit, a bit belated) than a peruse of our most popular posts of last year. Yes, 2014 is over and we can’t think of any better way to celebrate this New Year than living in the past and showing you our top five articles.

The Baby’s Coming by Virginia Howes: 52 in 52 Book #25

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Kat read this autobiographical account by Virginia Howes – a Kent based midwife – back in August as part of her 52 in 52 challenge. At the time Kat was in training to become a midwife also and so this book served her well as it was engaging and informative as the author described the trials and tribulations of this highly important role played in lots of peoples lives.

Robot Wars Live – Glow at Bluewater, Dartford, Kent

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Back in September, Jimmi took us on a nostalgic trip down childhood memory lane when the opportunity came up to go to see Robot Wars – the very popular robotic combat sport previously shown on the BBC – and relive the carnage that kept him tuning in every Friday evening. But once the TV show was cancelled, a live show was set up to keep metal shredded and sparks flying. It didn’t disappoint!

Gabriel’s Angel by Mark A Radcliffe: 52 in 52 Book #9

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Another one of the 52 books, Gabriel’s Angel saw Kat delve into this interesting premise after she came by it by sheer luck. Gabriel has been hit by a car and rather than going to heaven, he becomes involved with a therapy group ran by angels that caters for people who are on the verge of passing into the afterlife. Characters include a murderer and their victim and also the woman who hit Gabriel. It set out to be a rather fascinating journey.

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen: 52 in 52 Book #35

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Body Double was book number 39 in Kat’s challenge (there is a pattern emerging here) and one of many by Tess Gerritsen that featured from the Rizzoli and Isles series. Full of murder, twists and turns, this had Kat gripped from cover to cover.

Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith: 52 in 52 Book #29

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The very first Kat read back in January 2014 was Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and nine months later, she read Tears of the Giraffe – it’s sequel. Although she felt it suffered from “sequel syndrome” where the previous installment came across as better, she did enjoy the vivid imagery of the charming African landscape; the creation of new and interesting plot lines and the easy pace that this detective story gave.