Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Seen and heard: May 2015

Earthsea – radio dramatisation by Judith Adams of the original three novels of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea sequence. Not as compellingly good as The Left Hand of Darkness last month, perhaps because (in Wizard of Earthsea anyway) there are more action sequences which feel abbreviated and rushed (or do I just know the original text too well?), but the characterisation and dialogue are strong and vivid, especially in The Tombs of Atuan. The varied accents also work well; it would never have done for all the characters to be speaking RP.

Broken Age, Act 2 – adventure game by Tim Schafer. At last, we have the conclusion of the story, after the cliff-hanger ending to the first half. Some players were disappointed that there were no new locations or characters, but duh, the whole point is that the two protagonists Vella and Shay have now exchanged places and are having to work in each other’s world. If you see it as a story primarily about the two of them, the whole structure makes perfect sense and the resolution is satisfying. The whole thing shines quality, of writing and voice-acting, puzzling and interaction design, and is the adventure game I recommend first to newcomers to the genre.

Gypsy Fever, performing at the Quecumbar. Our friend Katarina’s band has really moved up a level. Their new line-up includes some great additions, including a notable second singer, and they’re now specialising in folk songs from the Bosnia Dalmatia Serbia Macedonia region, re-integrating in music what was divided by war and politics. Magic work; by the end of the gig, Serbs and Croats were up and dancing together, so important work too. This act is definitely going places, but in the meantime they have some of their songs on SoundCloud: hear for example U Stamololu Na Bosforu.

Review of Never Alone on Adventure Gamers website. If you’ve from a traditional society, concerned about passing on your culture before it disappears, you could write a book, make a film – or create an adventure game. Never Alone is an interesting attempt to teach players about the ways of the Inuit, and according to the review it’s a pretty good game too.

The Padagogic wheel [sic] – diagram by Allan Carrington, making sense of the relationship between new technologies and their applications for education and learning, significantly placing motivation and learning activities at the centre. There seems to be a generally felt need to organise the chaos of thinking about learning; another diagram I’ve recently found comes from the HoTEL project (that’s Holistic Approach to Technology Enhanced Learning).

Margin Call – tremendous film from 2011, about a Lehman Brothers type investment scandal which triggers a general market collapse. Great performances from an all-star cast, including Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, and Zachary Quinto. All men, because this is a very male field: the one woman amongst the broker-managers is the person sacked as a sacrificial lamb once the crisis hits. I like the Shakespeare-like, Greek tragedy-like way in which the public action – wars, disasters, flights and famines – is all off-stage, but is conjured into imagination just through people talking. And the way the main action takes place in just one long night: after the terror in the accounts is discovered in the evening and before trading opens the next day.

A Royal Night Out – supposedly based on real events, but the only plausibly true aspect of this is that the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret went out incognito to mingle with the nighttime crowds during the VE Day celebrations. As a Channel 4 documentary made clear, they were never unchaperoned for a second, which doesn’t mean that the episode was uninteresting: very significantly, I think, Princess Elizabeth was part of the crowds outside Buckingham Palace shouting “We want the King!” and cheering when the Royal family (minus the Princesses, of course) finally appeared – in other words, she had the experience of seeing the Monarchy from the people’s point of view, surely of importance to her when she herself came to lead The Firm. The film is actually a fantasy, it’s basically Roman Holiday, re-written for Britain in 1945.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell – BBC TV adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s novel. I seem to be in a minority here, but I really liked this: superheroes and sword-and-sorcery are all very well, but it’s undeniably original to set a magical fantasy in the Napoleonic period. The BBC gave it the full Austen with period locations and costumes, and the whole thing is as English as roast beef – which may be part of the problem. If people these days are more familiar with Hollywood-mediated fantasy than the English tradition, they may have had trouble appreciating the fairy-lore which is rather important to the plot. Ironic, given that the revival of English magic is what the story is all about.

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