Road to Chess Mastery – Part 1

I understand this deviates from my other articles, but is more about me and, of course, chess. I love chess, and have played it for a couple of years now, though never with any serious intent. However, having just finished my first exam series at University and now having some time on my hands in the holidays,  I thought that it would be interesting to try and improve my ability in chess, and take back this study plan to University and continue there.

The aim of this is to improve my chess, which is currently mediocre, at around about a Class C player, though without ever having played an official tournament this is an estimation based off of online ratings. The aim is to hopefully reach a master level of chess eventually, but to generally improve enough to make the University team in the next 2 years, which would require a level of Expert or higher.

The aim of this blog is to give updates on my progress, recommend training tips and books that I find useful, and hopefully to provide some game analysis as well on the side. Hopefully this will be enjoyable, and I will be successful! I hope to update you soon with some progress!

Movies to look forward to in 2017

With 2016 drawing to a close the dawn of a new year approaches and, quite frankly, the films coming out in 2017 are quite incredible. Here are just a few which I am most excited for:

LOGAN

The final instalment for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine having done 9 X-Men films in the past 17 years. Logan is a new look for Wolverine with the now aged hero living in a dystopian future for mutants. this movie is gritty and looks to provide closure for fans of those who have followed the X-Men movie franchise from its very beginning in 2000. Charles Xavier is once again played by Patrick Stuart, and Dafne Keane joins the crew to play Laura, and perhaps provides a future for mutants after all. Logan is out in March.

LALA LAND

Ok, so for Americans this movie is not a 2017 one, however it is not out until January 13th in the UK, and the hype being built about it from the States is enough to make me very excited. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling play Mia and Sebastian, an aspiring actress and jazz musician. They fall in love and the film follows their romance as it is challenged by the rising success of each of the characters. Directed by Damien Chazelle who has apparently done an incredible job in bringing the film together, LaLa Land is a film to see, and one which is set to claim many Oscar nominations.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

A real version of the classic Disney Princess movie from 1991 which was the first Disney cartoon to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens come together in this modernised retelling of the story released in March, and early opinions are very positive about it.

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2

Keanu Reeves returns as the hit-man John Wick for a second film to be released in February. The success of the first movie, both commercially and to critics was enough to convince the requirement of a second, and although the plot is not known, it can be guaranteed to be another action packed, thrill ride adventure.

LEGO BATMAN

Following the surprise success of Lego movie, the Lego Batman movie is perhaps not as surprising as it would first appear. Will Arnet returns as Batman/Bruce Wayne with Ralph Fiennes as Alfred and Michael Cera as Robin. Chris McKay directs and his involvement in the Lego movie suggests the project is in the hands of a man who knows what he is doing. The early trailers for this movie have been great, very funny and the character Batman seems to me to be like a more PG version of Archer. Due to release in February, Lego Batman looks like great fun.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL.2

The return of the entire original cast as our favourite band of space saviours, Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Zoe Saldama, Bradley Cooper and Dave Bautista, is very exciting indeed. The original film was great fun and with a fantastic soundtrack to match was a surprise hit for a not so very well known comic book made into a film. The trailers for the new film look as though they continue the fun and energy found in the first film; with a release date in April 2017, the new film is one to look forward to during the cold winter months of the New Year.

WONDER WOMAN

The disappointment that was Batman V Superman did give some positives, one of which was Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. The success of her character has now been followed with a solo film for her, and I believe is the first female lead super hero movie in this new generation of super heroes.  Wonder Woman is drawn into war from her seclusion following the crash landing of American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). He informs the unknowing Amazons of the global catastrophe and Wonder Woman is left with no choice but to follow Trevor and go to war for the sake of humanity. So many reasons to be excited for this film, but we must wait until June.

ALIEN: COVENANT

Director Ridley Scott returns again to the sci-fi genre on which he founded himself. Alien Covenant picks up where Prometheus left off, but a few years down the line. A crew on the ship, Covenant, are travelling across the galaxy when they see a planet which presents itself as a possible paradise, but which is in fact a hell hole, and the planet on which the events of Prometheus took place. With Fassbender and Noomi Rapace returning the film must intend to provide explanation to what took place in the inbetween years from Prometheus to Covenant, and also aims to link more definitively with the Alien movies. Due to be released in May.

So there are just a few of the great movies to look forward to next year and I, for one, cannot wait! Have a great New Year!!

Pacific Heat Review

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Pacific Heat is a new animated show made for Netflix about an Australian police squad who, despite their best efforts to do good, lack the brains and ability to do good. An interesting starting point and of course it immediately lends itself to comparison with the beloved show Archer. Unfortunately, Pacific Heat fails in a number of ways and rather than trying to simply emulate the success of the show Archer, it is quite clear that little imagination has been used to develop a new and unique idea that is separate from Archer.

One issue which I have with Pacific Heat is the quality of the show’s appearance. The animation is styled differently to Archer, slightly, with more angles and lines which is in itself quite attractive. The issue arises when effects are needed, such as explosions or fire, and here the lessened quality really shows and looks highly out of place with the overall appearance of the series’ style. The appearance of the show though is the least of its problems, and a constant falling point is the lack of main character. Following around the team of four main characters, there are times when a main character is implied, but one never steps forward. This leaves the story without focus and I found led to none of the characters really developing properly. The lack of character progression through the series left each episode lacking any reason for me to keep watching, and by the end of the series it was a struggle to keep going.

There were some funny points though, and some of the humour was good and provided me with some chuckles. Again, though, a few major issues arise with the show’s idea of fun. The thematic jokes that occurred in multiple episodes were lacking any real laugh value, and their recurrence was not appreciated. The biggest problem though was the seeming confusion between offensive and funny. This is a line which Archer runs very finely, but he seems to be forgiven for it, as either the ruder stuff can be dumped on the main character for being an abhorrent human being, or the jokes never really go too far in to out right offensive. Pacific Heat was much less concerned with subtlety, and there were points where i physically cringed as dubious sexism and racism was splurted out with little attempt to hide it. The women of the show are consistently used to sex up an episode by them removing their clothes to work “undercover”, and the criticism of certain foreign characters’ English speaking skills are just a couple of points where the mute button and duvet seemed to be the only solution to rid the festering scenes which were unfolding.

Ultimately the show is one which is trying to pick up on the success of another, but seems to misunderstand what made Archer successful, resulting in an unfunny and offensive turd of a portrayal of entertainment.

Time Commanders New Series

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Time Commanders returned to TV with a new series after an 11 hiatus. The show, though containing some similar aspects to the original two series that aired in 2003 and 2005, was also refreshingly different, and overall the first episode was a success!

The new host was Greg Wallace and he brought a nice combination of presenting professionalism from years of experience, but was also energetic and seemed very enthusiastic and involved in the action.

The general setup was different from the old show, which saw a team of 4 work together, with two captains and two generals, to fight a historic battle, before the experts, who were ever watching, would return at the end of the carnage to deliver an analysis. The new series differed though, setting up two teams of three people against one another. They each controlled one army and were given the chance to practice their skills in a skirmish. The studio was divided in two, with a large screen in the centre acting as a partition. This setup made the battle more interesting as it provided multiple perspectives on the action, as well as an extra element of competitiveness for the teams. Additionally, the show involved some real life use of the weapons if the troops and these sections were a nice way to segment the show. The teams were each given a time out for the battle as well, so that they could, if necessary, regroup their thoughts and seek the advice and aid of the experts.

The battle featured for the first episode of the new series was Zama, between Hannibal and Scipio, and so featured the Total War Rome 2 engine to represent and display the action. This was another change from the original series which of course only used the Rome Total War engine, where as the new one wishes to take advantage of the more diverse range of games now out by the Total War franchise.

Overall, the new Time Commanders was a success; entertaining and informative and all round good fun! If you are yet to catch it, I would thoroughly recommend doing so!

Sherlock Characters’ Hogwarts Houses

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The real question on everybody’s lips right now must be: Which house would Mary Be put in if she were a wizard? Well, puzzle no longer, as I have attempted to sort them out for you!

Sherlock = Slytherin: The brain box, drug addicted sociopath we all know and love. One might have thought that his intelligence would have made him a likely candidate for Ravenclaw, however, his wish to take risks, put himself in danger and generally his struggles with boredom make him much more a Slytherin than any other house (although he would appear to fit into most houses… though maybe not Hufflepuff!) The values of ambition, cunning and resourcefulness which Slytherin treasures are just some of the many which Sherlock possesses and demonstrates time and again. His wiles and wit enable him to think out any problem and he will pursue whatever interests him, no matter the danger that that path might have!

John = Hufflepuff: A tricky one indeed; caught between both Hufflepuff and Gryffindor, but John’s love of his friend and wife linked nicely to the love of home that defines Hufflepuffs. He is clearly a hard working man as doctors need be, dedicated to the people he loves with near endless patience for Sherlock and his connivings. Most obvious though is joins loyalty, which he demonstrates to Sherlock time and time again, coming at his call no matter what the situation; perhaps he is too easily trusting “you are very loyal, very quickly” but this is just another reason we love our John.

Mrs Hudson = Gryffindor: Not always a Landlady (not a housekeeper) in London; Mrs Hudson’s past married to a drug lord and filled with passion and adventure make her an ideal Gryffindor. Even now, her daring tendencies have not left her as she demonstrates her strength of character to help Sherlock fend off unwanted American guests. A wonderful woman with the strength of a lion.

Mary = Gryffindor: Again, a person caught between two houses (Slytherin was a close second) but Mary’s courage and bravery demonstrated by her past as a hit woman are clear to see, along with her insistence on going where the adventure is, even if it is not always wise. Daring and brave, Mary must be Gryffindor.

Mycroft = Ravenclaw: Different to his brother in so many ways and considered the smart one of the two, Mycroft is a clear candidate for Ravenclaw. His mighty intelligence is matched only by his unwillingness to be active and involved in the action, and he regards humanity with a nonchalance bordering on disdain (no, it probably is disdain). His one weak point is of course his little brother, but the otherwise it is difficult to point to a more Ravenclawing Ravenclaw that ever Ravenclawed.

Donovan = Slytherin: Donovan is a difficult one, but her pride in her work and ambition to be the best drive her on. She is resourceful and clearly one of the better police officers in the station. When she believes she is right she goes for it, creating a plan and pushing for its result (although not always right! something something Sherlock died something something). Clearly not afraid of danger and eager to work her way up, Donovan is of Slytherin.

Anderson = Gryffindor: Tricky as Anderson reveals little in the series so far and what he does show is generally dislikeable, but his attempts to usurp Sherlock might be considered brave along with reckless. I honestly have little more to say about this man. so…

Lestrade = Hufflepuff: Hardworking and dedicated to his job; Lestrade shows that he is not entirely useless despite Sherlock’s insistence to the contrary. He, like John, puts up with Sherlock’s crap demonstrating his patience and although not so resourceful, one feels as though this may be due to his sense of fairplay and doing things properly shown by his opinion of some of Sherlock’s methods. In addition, the brief mentions given of Lestrade’s life outside of work shows a dedication and loyalty to his family (cheating wife) that can be only suggestive of a true Hufflepuff.

Moriarty = Slytherin: Sherlock’s identical hand twin; Moriarty can be nothing but Slytherin. His resourceful nature and ambition are seen in the strength and might of his criminal empire, which takes Sherlock two years to dismantle. Much like Sherlock he has a boredom problem, and his pursuit of knowledge and a cure for boredom knows no fear of danger or death. He must know, just like Sherlock, and his games show a genuine disregard for literally everything. His schemes are brilliant and he is the only true match of Sherlock. I dare you to place him in any other house.

Molly = Ravenclaw: Dear, sweet Molly. The smartest and most important aid to Sherlock; in times when he needs her most she is always there for him. She is quiet but fiercely intelligent, and although she does not like to endanger herself, she will help Sherlock with whatever he needs. She is a brilliant scientist in her own right and provides Sherlock with much information, as well as access to the morgue. Endearing for her shyness, Molly does occasionally burst from her shell to cut down Sherlock, and she is one of the few characters who is ever able to. Intelligence and knowledge are her things thus making her truly a Ravenclaw.

Irene Adler = Slytherin: Once more a character who may have fit with another house, but she is placed in Slytherin. She schemes to protect herself and much like Sherlock enjoys the thrill of the chase; games are only fun when there is danger involved. Although her job as dominatrix shows her passionate side, it is all part of a wider plan that she has and is able to use to her own advantage. She is cunning; she is resourcefulness; she is Slytherin.

So… that happened! I did my best and understand there are some characters that could be argued for other houses… how well did this sorting hat do?

Stranger Things -Binge Watching Supreme

As I settled down on the sofa, blanket wrapped around me with sweets ready at hand, and pressed play on the remote to start Stranger Things, I must concede to not having quite been fully in the mood for committing to a new TV show. My mind, however, was instantly changed when the show got rolling, and what had been intended as a break from more serious work turned into an accidental marathon of the series.

Stranger Things tells the stories of a group of friends, young boys, and their families, set in the early 1980’s. When one of the boys goes missing, we see the different attempts by the groups to understand what has happened, but soon it is revealed that a more sinister and fantastical reason may be responsible for the boy’s disappearance than most seem to believe.

The story unfolds through the eyes of the different groups: the mother and brother of the missing boy, the police sheriff, the boy’s friends and finally the sister and family of Will who is the leader of the pack of boys who have lost their friend. The appearance of a girl, almost mute and dressed in a hospital gown only adds to the complicated story. Will takes her in but it soon becomes clear that she is no ordinary child. As the series progresses these stories become ever so more entwined, and the characters are explored further both with flashbacks and the way in which they adapt and handle the ever evolving situation they find themselves in.

The soundtrack is excellent too and really helps to set the scene for a 1980’s town, whist adding in elements of sci-fi and horror (and acoustically reminding me to some extent of the original Tron). The cast is strong and all give grand performances, and most pleasing is the strength of child acting, considering that much of the story revolves around them, they really hold their end up.

With twists and turns the whole way through, touching moments and characters of great depth and interest to the reader, and a cool cross over between the comic books and games which the gang of boys enjoy so much, Stranger Things is a TV show that will grab you, hold, and then leave you wanting more.

Batman vs Superman: Thoughts and Opinion

The recent blockbuster smash Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice has been torn to shreds by many reviewers, so here I am to give the opinion (my opinion) of a movie and comic book fan. Although underwhelming compared to what could have been, the movie was not completely dire, and undeserving of its current rating on sites like rotten tomatoes, where the score stands around 31%. So here’s to a slightly different look, a spotlight on the positives, as there were some and thus there is much to be excited about for the future of DC in the movieverse. The following review is entirely my opinion on things, feel free to interject, refute and offer your own thoughts. I have also attempted to keep this review spoiler free, so read on without fear of ruining the film for yourself.

The movie’s layout made it appear to be split in two, with the first half centring mostly on Bruce Wayne and his attempts to discover Lex Luther’s evil machinations. This part of the movie was good, enjoyable to watch, giving a good introduction to Affleck’s Batman and giving some story to the whole movie, without going over the top on mad action scenes. This also saw the introduction of Gal Gadot, and set up her later appearance as Wonder Woman. The last hour was when the madness began, and the movie slipped into a CGI fest reminiscent of Man of Steel, creating excessive destruction for the shits and giggles of doing so, repeating similar scenes and generally lacking an inventive conclusion to what promised to be a good movie. However, within there was good to draw from amongst the carnage.

Affleck’s Batman was fabulous to see; clearly the intent was to give the audience this hardened and grizzled Bruce Wayne, now older and tired due to the amount of time he has spent fighting crime. Aesthetically this batman was very cool, the suit looked great and it was clear Affleck worked hard to get in shape (the guy was fucking HUGE!!!). Obvious comparisons to the Batman created by Nolan and brought to life by Christian Bale in the most recent reincarnation of Batman can be made, but I refrain from doing so for some reasons. The two Batmen are very different; they have different characters, with Affleck’s Batman being most similar to the Batman seen in Dark Knight Rises: the older and scarred Bruce Wayne. But the movies give both Batmen different problems and although both attempt to portray a realistic Batman, there is clearly an element of the unbelievable with the involvement of Superman and other such characters and events, which Nolan was careful to avoid in his adaption. Bale’s Batman is written very differently too as he encompasses the journey of Batman, where as Affleck’s is centred very much on this end stage in Batman’s career. Affleck’s appearance in the movie contributes to the character, with slightly greying hair and a worn out look in his eyes, he approaches problems with two options, either as Bruce Wayne or “The Bat”. There is a very definite distinction between the two, again suggesting perhaps that time has taken its toll and it has become necessary for Bruce to see the Batman identity in this way so as to avoid overlap with his life outside of crime and fighting. Ben Affleck’s Batman is a fresh take on the character and it gives me much hope and excitement about potential future films that may be made involving him.

Along with Affleck’s strong performance was the incredible job done by Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. The wait for a female superhero finally over, and boy, did Gadot knock this out of the park. Her scenes with Wayne were very interesting and the two actors seemed to connect and gave a very convincing performance that made the majority of the movie a pleasure to watch. Without wishing to give too much away, of course, but Gal Gadot’s performance was magical. She suited the character down to the ground, emitting power with her mere presence in scenes and again, as with Batman, the costume design was on point giving this Amazonian warrior complete dominance on the screen, and it is only a shame that she features relatively little overall. Gadot’s heroin is a relief from the male dominance held on the super hero world and this in particular (though obviously the pure badassness of the character contributes significantly also) makes this another super hero to be extremely excited for the upcoming movie and the future involvement of Wonder Woman in DC’s cinematic unverse.

The main fault with the movie lies with the involvement of Superman (despite him being a title character…hear me out just one sec), not to any particular fault of Henry Cavill, who played Clark Kent and the Kryptonian hero well. As with Man of Steel (a movie I dislike for its lack of story and attempts to cover this up with repetitive and unnecessary CGI destruction), there seems to be the idea that a Superman movie must involve massively excessive CGI effects, resulting in giant slug fests that level cities and destroy buildings without a concern for consequence. What made the Batman-Wonder Woman first half of the movie good was that there was story, with not pure madness and carnage from the outset; both characters act detective outside of their super hero guise and this gives time to digest and appreciate the action sequences when they come along. You would have thought that Clark Kent, an investigative journalist, would have the potential to do something similar, instead he spends most of his time on trivial tasks that leave the character without depth and he seems out of place in the movie as both other protagonists develop the plot towards its conclusion, where as Superman just breaks things.

Some quick side-notes: The soundtrack for this movie was great, Wonder Woman’s music was sublime, completely fitting the character and adding to the epic shadow her formidable presence already casts.

The actual showdown between Batman and Superman is done very well, not excessively destructive and very interesting to see how the characters react to the presence of one another (one of the many things that drives Bruce Wayne to the edge is this Super Human presence).

And finally I would say the movie was, for the most part, Aesthetically pleasing, well shot, and for this Zach Snyder deserves credit (amongst many others).

In conclusion I would say that this movie is worth a watch if you are a fan of the genre, perhaps even if not. It provides a platform for the future of DC’s movies and introduces some very interesting characters. Once again it feels, as with Man of Steel, that overuse of CGI ruined what could have been a solid film, along with some dubious decisions by characters and a fairly ludicrous (even for a comic book movie…IKR?!) conclusion. 5.6/10