Velvet Goldmine – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 76: Velvet Goldmine (1998)

Velvet 001

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We tackled Ride With the Devil, Ang Lee’s empathetic take on the American Civil War.

The Choice

This time it was on me, and I narrowed it down to the bare essentials before making my final choice.

Pleasantville (1998) via Tobey Maguire because… I’ve been meaning to watch it for years.

The Newton Boys (1998) via Skeet Ulrich because… I really should see a third Skeet Ulrich film.

Outlander (2008) via Jim Caviezel because… it’s got aliens and vikings in, I’m only human!

The Village (2004) via Celia Weston because… an M Night Shyamalan film might at least be fun to dislike.

Safe Men (1998) via Mark Ruffalo because… it’s got Sam Rockwell in it and I will watch him in anything.

And the winner… Velvet Goldmine (1998) via:

The Link

Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Velvet 002

Turns out I’ve been lucky enough not to see him in that much. Ah, I miss those innocent days. I mean, he’s clearly very pretty, he looks like a Frank Quitely comic book character, all bee stung lips and such… but… well, I’ll talk about it below.

Velvet Goldmine and me

Sometimes we come across classics in CRFC and it’s a little embarrassing to admit I haven’t seen them (I didn’t start blogging this until after we watched The Godfather, thank christ). Other times there are films which, if they’re not stone cold classics, they are at least so incredibly pertinent to my interests that my not-having seen them beggars belief.

I got into glam rock when I was in my early teens, mainly through T Rex and Sweet. Then in my late teens and early 20s I was in a goth band with definite glam leanings. We preened, we were thin white dukes all (ok, thin white oiks), and I had the best silver mock snakeskin coat the world has ever seen.

Velvet 003

I miss this coat

And as all this was happening, Velvet Goldmine came out. My best friend and bandmate saw it at the time and told me I had to see it.

And for some reason I didn’t.

IMDB says

In 1984, British journalist Arthur Stuart investigates the career of 1970s glam superstar Brian Slade, who was heavily influenced in his early years by hard-living and rebellious American singer Curt Wild.

I says

Hum.

And that’s the hum of someone unsure of what they thought rather than someone humming along with a tune.

It’s definitely not what I expected, which can be both blessing and curse. And realising that it was directed by Todd Haynes, he of the Dylan biopic in which 7 diverse people play Dylan at different times of his life should have been a clue (really must see He’s Not There at some point).

Velvet 004

Not Bowie

Jonathan Rhys Meyers is Bowie-alike Brian Slade (though different enough following lawsuit threats apparently); Christian Bale is a journo who had a formative experience at a Slade (oh, I see what they’ve done there) gig 10 years ago and is now doing a where-are-they-now piece about the vanished star; Ewan McGregor is Iggy Pop-alike Curt Wild. That one. I’ll watch the Iggy one please.

Velvet 005

Not Iggy

And I think that was my main feeling – I couldn’t give a monkeys about Meyers or Bale in this, Ewan McGregor’s Curt Wild was so much more fun and charismatic (and likeable) that the others sort of paled (even more than the make-up). He was a lot Iggy, a bit Jim Morrisson and, according to Courney Love, a bit Kurt Cobain. It’s a strong mix. Rhys Meyers on the other hand, fresh from last weeks appearance as some sort of bizarre vampire in 1800s America, seems to be playing a bizarre vampire in 1970s London. Is he a bizarre vampire in everything? I’ve not seen The Tudors but can picture bizarre vampire Henry VIII all too clearly…

It did make me think a bit though. Not about what it wanted me to think about, mind, whatever that was. No, it struck me that it was made in the late 90s when there was a sudden surge (or it seemed like it at the time) of experimenting with sexual orientation. Out the back of the Yeoman on a Friday night you’d have to be blind to miss boys snogging boys and girls snogging girls, and this in Tunbridge Wells. People were professing their bisexuality all over the shop. I had some confusing feelings about Jamie Theakston for god’s sake. And Velvet Goldmine reflects that atmosphere back and says yeah, it was right there in the 70s too (though there did seem to be a conflation of homosexuality and paedophilia in places which was somewhat… troubling).

Velvet 006

I mean… Hunky, yeah?

And now that we’re living in a time when sexual orientation and gender identity are big mainstream topics my main thought is that I hope it sticks this time. It’s been bubbling away in subcultures for so long that I really do hope we’re at the point where it isn’t all forced back underground and cloaked behind euphemism. It’s there behind the hippies, glam, punk, new romantic and on and on and on. It’s always been there, now perhaps we can discuss it sensibly and publicly accept that it has indeed always been there. Always will be there no matter what happens in the grand scheme of things. It feels like we’re really close this time, laws have been made after all and mainstream gay and trans icons abound, but events across the pond are showing how quickly things can be undone…

Getting back to the film for a sec, most damningly I didn’t come away from it humming any tunes. And that’s unforgiveable. There’s a decent version of Gimme Danger courtesy of Ewan’s Curt Wild. And Placebo turn up to give 20th Century Boy a decent outing (but come on, unless you piss about with it 20th Century Boy is always going to be 100% banger). For all Cadillac Records‘ flaws I was singing Chuck Berry and Howlin’ Wolf songs for days afterwards. I still find Sing Street’s Riddle of the Model popping into my head (seriously, go and watch Sing Street if you haven’t already. And watch it again if you have). The Blues Brothers is held together by the strength of the songs… and that’s where Velvet Goldmine falls flat.

Come to think of it, The Blues Brothers might be a good comparison. Both have a sort of hyper reality that keeps becoming quasi music video. Both deal with forgotten musical heroes in a way… Wikipedia tells me that Velvet Goldmine closely parallels Citizen Kane, but I’m saying The Blues Brothers is the one to compare it to. And I know which of those gets me singing…

The Verdict

If you’re after Citizen Kane allusions I’d recommend the episodes of The Real Ghostbusters and Pinky and the Brain instead.

Coming Attractions

It’s Tim’s choice. I hope it doesn’t involve a bizarre vampire.

@BornToPootle

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Writing About Writing (For Once)

One of the original purposes of this blog was to document any successes or pitfalls I had as I tried to get a novel published. You might have spotted that more recently it’s been a lot of film review stuff (though I like to think the Chain Reaction Film Club posts end up saying more about me than the films themselves) and some noodling about video games. That’s because I’ve fallen into the deadliest pitfall of all – not actually doing any writing. Why haven’t I been writing? I dunno. A combination of factors from the risible to the more serious. Partly I blame Southern Rail.

I changed my commute about two years ago because Southern became too unreliable. I used to write on my way to and from work – somewhere between an hour and an hour and quarter of beautiful writing time. But that’s not possible on my new commute. Also, I shared a pro-critique of the novel I thought I’d finished a while back. And while it was positive in places, it also confirmed some things I feared about the manuscript. And I think it probably knocked me back a little further than I let on. Hey ho, that’s the creative life isn’t it.

And the novel I have been working on in the interim, the one about the teenage punk band and the devil, well… the second half is really not coming together for some reason. I’ve got what I think is a kick ass first half, somewhere around 60,000 words but… Well. I’ll work it out at some point.

But it’s a new year, and I’m pissed off with my lack of creativity. So instead of bang my head against The Judas Tattoo (or We Are The Scene or whatever I end up calling it) I’m turning my attention to one of the other books I’ve had in the back of my mind for a couple of years. I read though most of my notes today, a form of archaeology of the self, and got quite excited about it – there’s a more coherent plot than I remembered for a start.

When I started planning it the main character was intended to be a trans woman. Over the last few years since I started it’s become increasingly clear that there’s a bit of trans tokenism going on (I work in TV advertising, so I’ve seen the tokeniest, believe me). And while I do think my character was more than tokenly trans, I also don’t think I want to try and appropriate that experience out of something akin to pure curiosity (and empathy). So I decided today to have a cisgender female protagonist which will be a sort of first for me. Somewhere I’ve got a second draft of a zombie novel which is about 60% male POV, 40% female, but I haven’t read it since finishing a few years back.

It’s about ghosts, psychic terrorists, a kick-ass photographer of derelict spaces, judgement, death and guilt. And there’s stuff set in the 60s psychedelic revolution as well as present day. And some really creepy mummification. But the cutesy version is that it’s Chloe Price (from Life Is Strange) vs Edith Manning (from The Invisibles) vs John Dee (from beyond the grave). That’s all very exciting to me, and I may write more about it here as it develops. We’ll see.  It means I get to read lots of esoteric nonsense, which always makes me happy.

On a completely separate project, I may be doing a thing. I’ve written a short script for a two hander play or film, and the person I’m working on it with has very sensibly stuck a deadline on when we’re going to do something with it by. So hopefully by the end of the Easter hols I’ll have some news about a short film (that doesn’t involve ghosts, magick or other esoterica for once). Everything’s too scary until there’s a deadline, then you just have to work and fucking do it. So here’s hoping I just work and fucking do it.

@BornToPootle

 

Ride With The Devil – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 75: Ride With The Devil (1999)

Ride 02

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

Cadillac Records was last up, and I theorised that the two ways to tell whether a music biopic was worth it’s salt were a) would you rather have watched it than spent the duration listening to the music itself, or b) has it put the music in a new context that affects your enjoyment one way or the other. Cadillac Records fell at both hurdles, unfortunately.

The Choice

There was no shortlist this week – after looking through some filmographies Tim knew he wanted to go to Ride With The Devil next.

The Link

Jeffrey Wright

Ride 03

Wright as Muddy Waters in Cadillac Records

He turned in a muscular performance as Muddy Waters in Cadillac Records last time. I’ve seen him in a few bits and bobs over the years, but always in quite minor roles, so I’m pleased we’re getting a second helping. Tim’s a fan of his, and on the strength of last week’s film alone I can see myself becoming a fan too. It doesn’t exactly hurt that his Twitter account is a very sassy resistance feed:

Ride 01

Ride With The Devil and me

I wanted to see this when it came out. I wanted to see this at various points when it was on TV in the early noughties (goddamn I hate that that caught on as the nickname for the decade). I’ve had a copy on a hard drive recorded from TV for about 10 years. And yet…  for some reason I never have managed to find the time. Apart from being directed by Ang Lee, concerning the American civil war and being one of only two films I’m aware of Skeet Ulrich being in (Scream is of course the other) I know very little about it.

IMDB says

During the American Civil War, two friends join the Bushwhackers, a militant group loyal to the Confederacy.

I says

Well here we go. The American Civil War has come back into general discussion recently (possibly in the US it’s never out of general discussion) thanks to the debates about the confederate flag and statues of confederate generals and such. As a rank outsider, the general view I’ve always assumed is that Confederates = want slavery, Unionists = want abolition. Or to put it another way, Confederates are the bad guys. Now I know it’s not as simple as that and am certainly not going to spend this blog writing a secondary school essay on the causes of the American Civil War, but I hadn’t previously realise that this film centred on Confederate troops. I say troops, but they’re more like a guerilla cell within Union territory.

Ride 04Skeet and the Tobester (as I imagine their local radio morning show would be titled)

Toby Maguire and Skeet Ulrich are the friends who join the Bushwhackers following Ulrich’s father being murdered by Union soldiers and his house being burned to the ground. They get up to such shenanigans as dressing up as Union troops to inveigle their way into a group and then open fire on soldiers and civilian supporters alike. We see that bad stuff has been done to them, and they go right on and do bad stuff back. Things get a bit more interesting when they shack up in the woods for the winter with Simon Baker’s George Clyde and Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright), a slave whom Clyde freed – not by buying his contract but by gifting the money to buy the contract to the slave himself.

As they remain cooped up, things seem to become more savage among the Bushwhackers. People are collecting scalps. The Union army is closing in. And in the meantime singer/songwriter Jewel is coming and going with food parcels and kisses for Skeet Ulrich. Incidentally, I’ve looked it up and I don’t think Skeet is short for anything. Imagine that.

There’s a feeling that the boys are tired of the fighting, but more than that it becomes increasingly apparent, though not trumpeted loudly still, what is being fought for. And it becomes increasingly uncomfortable for Daniel Holt, who is well and truly bonded with Clyde and the others. Black bodies are being burnt in the street and drunken Bushwhackers make a grab for him, forgetting he’s on their side. It does a good job of balancing sympathy for the characters without expecting us to sympathise with the cause. I’ve never been a huge Tobey Maguire fan though, which didn’t shift with this film. I saw Molly’s Game at the cinema a couple of days later, which would have blown any remaining fondness for Tobey away anyway (I know, the character in Molly’s Game is fictionalised, but by how much?). A film focusing more solely on Jeffrey Wright’s character might have been more my cup of tea.

Ride 06

That’s right, I’m about to shoehorn in a Firefly reference. Because any excuse.

I got quite interested in the Civil War last year, as I finally read Killer Angels, one of the books Joss Whedon cites as a big influence on Firefly (yes, that’s the only reason I read it, wanna make something of it?). That’s a dramatic retelling of the immediate build up to Gettysburg from the points of view of various Union and Confederate soldiers and has a similarly good balance between character and cause. Because it had such a tight focus on one specific battle, I ended up watching a documentary series on Netflix to give a bit of context. If you haven’t already seen Ken Burns’ Civil War then I would strongly recommend giving it a go. Suffice to say, war is hell.

Two final points on the film. Firstly, Ang Lee knows his way around a frame. There are some really beautiful shots. Secondly, my least favourite element was Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character who seems to be a malevolent dick throughout purely for the sake of it. Towards the end he seems to be morphing into the vampire Lestat, which unfortunately reminded me of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. And there’s no need for that.

Ride 05

I’ll give you the choice I never had… 

The Verdict

Mainly interesting and compassionate, occasionally exciting and nasty, sometimes cheesey and forced. And then a vampire turns up.

Coming Attractions

Will I discover a third Skeet Ulrich film? Will I make Tim watch the dance sequence from Spider-man 3 (spoiler: no. No I will not. Because I would also have to watch it again)? Has Jewel been in any other films? We’ll find out next time…

@BornToPootle

Cadillac Records – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 74: Cadillac Records

 

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor. We’re on the hunt for classics we’ve missed, hidden gems and films to reappraise now we’re, uh, getting older.

Previously On…

We watched Talk Radio, which I still find myself thinking about. One of the good ones.

The Choice

State and Main (2000) – Third or fourth time on the shortlist so it’ll happen one day…

A Midnight Clear (1992) – I’m definitely going to try and work back to this at some point, but it sounded a bit depressing (although fitting) for our Christmas watch.

Point Break (1991) – Yes, I really should have seen this shouldn’t I…

Wall Street (1987) – Yes, I also really should have seen this shouldn’t I…

And the winner… Cadillac Records (2008)

The Link

Eric Bogosian

I wrote about him a bit last time, so I won’t bore you with repetition. I was pleased to find out that he plays a radio dj in Cadillac Records though, which made me think I should tighten up the CRFC rules – maybe we should only link via an actor playing a character with the same job…

Cadillac Records and me

I don’t remember hearing much about it at the time. The film is about Chess Records, bastion of the blues. If I had heard about the film then I might have been quite tempted, as I’m a fan of American (and British) folk and roots music. Although mostly Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger albums at the point the film came out, I have more recently got into Howlin’ Wolf in a big way. Actually that’s thanks to the game Watchdogs, which features a soundtrack of Chicago-centric music. It’s a fun way to curate a soundtrack it turns out.

Anyway, we have a rather mixed relationship with based-on-real-life films here at CRFC so I picked it with a mixture of excitement and trepidation…

IMDB says

Chronicles the rise of Chess Records and its recording artists.

I says

That’s a terrible blurb from IMDb. If you don’t know anything about Chess Records, it tells you nothing. And it sounds like it could be a documentary, with talking heads repeating the same old platitudes and wry anecdotes. Oh well.

The film is more accurately a retelling of Leonard Chess’ rise from backwoods dive bar owner to head of his own record label championing black musicians in 40s, 50s and 60s Chicago. That’s a more appealing proposition by far, particularly when you factor in Adrian Brody as Leonard Chess.

Let’s start with the most important thing in any music biopic: how they handle the songs. This was strange because I was convinced that most of the time the stars were miming to the original tracks. This seemed particularly apparent with Howlin’ Wolf and Etta James (played by Eamonn Walker and Beyonce respectively). It struck me as particularly odd to hire Beyonce and then only get her to mime along, so in some ways I wasn’t surprised when the credits rolled and it turned out the cast had in fact been singing themselves. Just in some cases the syncing seemed really off.

I never quite know how I feel about actors singing the tunes versus miming over the originals. Where a film is as about the music as this one is it seems churlish not to let the original music shine through, but that can then feel like you’re watching a professional karaoke video. Joaquim Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon had a good bash at Johnny Cash and June Carter in Walk The Line a few years back, but I spent the whole film wanting to listen to Johnny and June themselves… I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of going about it, as I’d feel a bit distracted either way. Oh well, sucks to be me, I guess.

The bulk of the film centres on Chess and Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright – who really did seem present in the musical numbers), and I think  focusing solely on this would have been a more interesting film. There’s a tendency with real-life-based stuff to try and tell the whole story, and that’s something you can do in a book or longform TV show but not as successfully in a film. Introducing Howlin’ Wolf for a bit of tension, Etta James for some big emotional bits and Chuck Berry for a little comedy is fine, but the whole shebang stretched almost to bursting. It’s not helped by a framing device of Willy Dixon (songwriter behind many of Chess’ big hits, and played by Cedric the Entertainer) adding some narration to the beginning and end. He was such a background presence during the film itself that it was quite a shock when he popped up again.

On the subject of Chuck Berry, he’s played by Mos Def here. I’m one of that handful of people who quite liked the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy from 2005. And I really liked Mos Def in it. He impressed me again here, with a sparkling wit, believably inspiring presence and great versions of some of Berry’s songs.

I made the classic blunder of looking up how closely the film resembles the truth, and to date that hasn’t improved any of the CRFC films. Timelines are problematically skew wiff, deaths of real people become malleable things used more for metaphor than for any realistic sense of a person’s life ending, hugely important people are erased from history… The more biographical films I see the more I appreciate Tarantino’s choice for the ending of Inglourious Basterds.

So here’s the real test of any music film, would I rather have spent that 2+ hours of the run time just listening to an album of the label’s greatest hits? And yes, in this case I would have. To be honest I could listen to Howlin’ Wolf’s Spoonful (written by Willy Dixon) for 2+ hours on a loop and have a jolly good time of it. Has it recontextualised the music for me? Not massively. And, crucially, I can’t trust its recontextualisation (totes a word) because it has distorted reality so much.

The Verdict

As is so often the case with biographical films, it was… fine. Messy and frustrating in places but with enough heart and, importantly, good tunes to pass the time adequately. But maybe just look up an album or two and have a good listen instead while reading Wikipedia.

Coming Attractions

Tim’s up next, and he’s a big Jeffrey Wright fan. Adrian Brody is in a lot of heavy films I should have seen (Hello The Pianist!) and a lot of terrible films I never want to see (Goodbye Predators!). Isaiah Whitlock Jr turns up briefly, so perhaps we’ll be heading off with The Bunk… And Beyonce adds a few options, though I will veto Goldmember as if my life depends on it.

@BornToPootle

Christmas Spent Gaming With Awesome Women

For the last few years the Christmas break has become more than an escape from work in my household – it’s become a break from reality. We spend the month or two before exhaustively listing all the games we’ve missed over the year (or been specifically saving) and whittle them down to the ones we want to spend our holiday playing. And then that’s pretty much all we do for 10 days.

This year I realised that all the games we’d chosen were female-led, and given the story that’s doing the rounds at the mo about the top 3 grossing films of the year being female-led it seems like a good time to write about them. So in a medium that’s incorrectly seen as being predominantly consumed by men, yet has a history of marginalising women in the industry and the games themselves, is the tide turning? If these games are the result let’s hope so.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Hellblade

A happy game for happy people

Hellblade looks like it’s going to be a third person actiony kind of game. The titular Senua is a Pictish woman crossing into the Norse hell to rescue her beloved who has been killed by ‘the north men’. She has a sword at her hip and a few combat moves in the repertoire. While there is a fair bit of combat involved, it’s actually a lot more than that. The game was developed with input from the Wellcome Trust and despite its fantastical setting (or perhaps thanks to it) deals fairly seriously with psychosis and trauma.

Best played with headphones, Senua is constantly beseiged by the voices of the furies, sometimes offering helpful hints but most often second guessing or belittling Senua’s progress an ability. As well as combat, there are a lot of visual puzzles. To unlock various doors Senua has to find the relevant rune in the surrounding environment, using perspective to line up geographic features. It’s one of the most intense games I can remember playing, and benefited from multiple short play sessions over long stints. I felt like I needed to come up for air, the psychosis suffered by Senua all too well realised and stifling. The animation is brilliant too, from Senua’s facial expressions to the way she drops into different movement styles. One of the best this year without a shadow of a doubt.

Blackwood Crossing

Blackwood

This was well received and looked like it would be right up my street – you play as a young woman on a train following her kid brother, but things start to get surreal as you try to keep up with him. I’m a big fan of ‘walking simulator’ style games (when they’re done well) and this looked a little Alice in Wonderland inspired to boot, with a white rabbit beckoning you on. This year also saw the release of What Remains of Edith Finch, another exploration based game that deals with the same themes as Blackwood Crossing and has been hailed as one of the top few games of the year. I played it in the Autumn, and it’s possible then that this suffers because of that comparison. Something in the pacing and mechanics just didn’t quite work for me in Blackwood Crossing. And while I’d probably say the same about Edith Finch, that was also punctuated by moments of surprise and ingenuity. I like that his kind of game exists, but I think the benchmark has shifted a lot higher over the last year or two. Still, it’s very short (maybe three hours?) so worth a go if you like this sort of thing.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon 2

It’s a nice looking game.

This was the ‘big’ game of the Christmas break, the one that I knew I wouldn’t get to the end of before the dread return to work. It’s a big open world rpg where you play as Aloy, a member of the Nora tribe in a world a long time after some sort of near apocalypse. Humans are split into luddite tribes, and machines stalk the earth. But Aloy’s background is a mystery that seems to link into whatever technological tragedy befell the world.

Aloy’s tribe is matriarchal in overall leadership, but other than that the gender roles are fairly evenly split. There’s also a clear drive to ensure racially diverse characters and strong representation of same sex relationships which is great to see and a AAA game. Aloy herself is voiced by Ashley Burch, of Chloe Price fame (more on her later) and comes across as self confident and plucky. She has to take on giant robot dinosaurs single handed, so you’d hope so really. There’s a nice touch relatively early on in the plot when you leave the Nora lands and move into a different, patriarchal, tribe’s domain. While there does seem to be a balance of gender still across the NPCs, there’s more open sexism in conversation.

Sometimes in games the choice of gender can be rudimentary – you pick either male or female and, aside from potentially affecting romantic partners (hello Bioware! I was gutted when Dorian from Dragon Age Inquisition turned out to be gay. No romance for my lady elf) it doesn’t have any other impact. It’s nice to see a main character being specifically written as female and that having an impact on how characters talk to you.

Horizon 1

A REALLY nice looking game

That aside, it’s a fun (and big!) game. I can’t talk about how the plot comes together because I’m only part way through, but it’s certainly a treat to look at and enjoyable to play. The world is interesting enough and although it doesn’t set me on fire like Witcher 3, I find myself eager to get back to it. Also, it looks absolutely stunning. There’s a photo mode which I’ve been abusing Twitter with, and some genius put in the option for Aloy to strike different (and often silly) poses for the photos. Like I needed the extra distraction.

Walking Dead Season 3

Walking Dead

One of these people is a badass. The other is male.

Watch out for minor spoilers here – more about the tone than the specific content.

Okay, so this one isn’t as female led as I thought it was going to be. The first two games revolve around Clementine, a young girl caught up in yer standard zombie apocalypse. In the first game you play as Lee, the man who becomes a father figure for Clem, and the whole game revolves around the influence you are having on her. In the second game you play as Clem herself. It turns out that in this one Clem is a much more peripheral figure. There’s still the sense that your actions are having an impact on her, and at the end you’re given a rundown on how Clem has been shaped by your actions. It’s not quite what I was hoping for though. Part of that is because I remembered reading that this was going to be the conclusion of Clem’s arc – turns out that’s not the case and the game ends with ‘Clementine’s story will continue’. I felt a bit miffed about how sidelined Clem had been until I got to that text.

It’s hard to judge the game setting aside that disappointment, but I’d say it’s still pretty good. The weakest of the three seasons, but still well worthwhile if you’re already invested in the world. New main character Javier is a compelling presence, and has one of my favourite lines of the year. He and his latino family are besieged by some predominantly white bandits. When recounting the battle he says they were attacked by ‘some very bad dudes’. Fantastic.

Life Is Strange: Before the Storm

Life is Strange 2

Longtime readers (both of you) will know about my love for the original game. This is a prequel focusing on Chloe Price and her friendship with Rachel Amber. After the original, Chloe was one of my favourite videogame characters of all time. After this she’s one of my favourite characters in any medium. There are only three episodes this time around (with a separate bonus episode coming this year some time). There are some huge emotional gut punches, particularly in the first episode. There’s also plenty of humour and lightness of touch, and some really surprising moments that I will not spoil by even hinting at. It’s a tighter, more focused game than the original, and looks great too. Some of my favourite moments were letting Chloe sit, slumped in depressed thought, with punk music turned up loud. It’s dripping with an atmosphere that hits all too close to home.Life is Strange 1

I’m not going to say anything else about it, apart from if you haven’t played the original please go and play it and then play this. There are some clunky moments, sure, but it’s all worth it. The voice actor has changed, due to a strike of some kind, but after about three minutes I’d adjusted. The only weird thing was Lyd playing Horizon Zero Dawn while I played this – so every now and then I’d hear Chloe’s original voice yelling about robots. It seemed oddly fitting.

So there we are. Five games, four and a half lead women (damn you Walking Dead!). Action, emotion, humour, violence and the rest of human experience. A Christmas well spent.

@BornToPootle