Why Play… ‘Stardew Valley’

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Welcome to Stardew Valley, a quiet little town isolated from the rest of the world. When your grandfather passes away and leaves you his farm in his will, you pack your bags and begin a new life away from the hubbub of the commercial world to learn what it takes to become a farmer.

With the option to create your own items out of the resources you have collected, Stardew Valley is more than an homage to Harvest Moon.  It takes what made Harvest Moon such a success and adds a factor that minecraft players would find familiar. Additionally, the game also incorporates a level up system for each different skill the player may use on and around their farm such as farming, foraging and fishing. With each level the player will find using those skills easier to use and ultimately will discover that a good farmer uses each and every one of these skills in order to maximise their daily success.

However, it isn’t the game mechanics that make the game such fun to play but the relaxation that the game provides. This quaint little town that holds its own secrets, villagers with their own unique personalities and backstories and the bright 8bit pixels all create a tranquil charm to get immersed in. Most importantly, the game’s music also ties in a warm calming atmosphere that changes with each passing season.

Despite the soothing tone though lies a darker realism to the game. As you play through your first year as a farmer and start making friends with your neighbours, you realise things are not at happy as they seem. Through a number of cut scenes brought about by filling up villager’s friend meter, the game begins to explore a number of adult themes such as alcoholism, depression and PTSD.

Moreover, Stardew Valley also holds a negative view of the free market seen between Pierre’s general Store and the JoJa Mart; the freedom to choose where to shop has a tendency for major corporations, with the money to sell items cheaper, to end up monopolising the market and forcing their competitors to go out of business. Yet, the player does have the option to ignore the evidently exploitative nature of JoJa Corp and have a different experience to the game by buying a membership card from the Hypermarket.

The success of Stardew Valley is in the fact that it doesn’t force the player to do any specific job they don’t want to. Instead it allows us to play the game as we like. Whether it be to get rich, make friends or discover the secrets of the valley, the player will find themselves immersed in a small town and its community that one can’t help but wish existed in order to get away from our hectic lives. Stardew Valley is proof that sometimes the simplest things in life can turn out to be the best.

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Why Watch… ‘Gotham’

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Similar to the short-lived Gotham Central comic book series which focussed on the Gotham City Police Department rather than Batman, Gotham centres on Jim Gordon’s first year attempting to fix the corrupt Gotham City before Batman existed. As one of Gotham’s few ‘clean’ cops, Gordon gets tasked with the murder of a young Bruce Wayne’s parents which leads him to the mob; most specifically Carmine Falconi. Since Falconi owns the police force and there cannot be “organized crime without law and order” Gordon is tasked to prove he is ‘part of the programme’ by killing a whistle-blower lackey named Oswald Cobblepot (The Penguin). Keeping to his moral code, Gordon pretends to kill him and orders him never to return to Gotham. Unbeknownst to anyone, this action is the beginning of a big change in Gotham. With mobsters such as Fish Mooney and the Moronis attempting to overthrow Falconi, Cobblepot returning to create his own mob and Bruce Wayne beginning to train with Alfred, the only thing clear is that Gotham will never be the same again.

The programme mixes the gangster genre with comic book elements in order to create a gritty portrayal of a city in need of a saviour, allowing for people uninterested in comic books to enjoy a police drama. That is not to say that Batman fans will be disappointed as the show is filled with characters from the Batman mythos such as Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock, Renee Montoya and Edward Nygma. Some characters are obvious but there are many hidden allusions to the DC world such as the introduction of Thomas Elliot (Hush) and even Harley Quinn’s costume (seen on dancers within Fish Mooney’s night club). These ‘easter eggs’ add to the programme’s appeal for die-hard Batman fans while those who are not familiar with the comic books will not truly feel excluded from following the plot.

A gritty police drama filled with plenty of plot twists and betrayal Gotham will leave the audience unsure who to trust in a city where the police are just as corrupt as the criminals. The show bypasses the expectations of a simple series to set up a world before Batman by making sure that each case Gordon and Bullock do tackle are just as difficult to solve as any other crime drama. The viewer won’t be disappointed by the judiciary narrative or the connections with one of DC’s most recognisable superheroes.

Why Watch… ‘House of Cards’

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A remake of an original British series, the US political drama House of Cards revolves around Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) exacting his revenge against his political peers (including the President) for breaking a promise to make him Secretary of State. He subtly uses, abuses, lies and manipulates those around him in order to gain more power for himself. What makes the series so likeable is that the viewers do not need to be familiar with the American political system in order to understand what is happening unlike many political dramas. Additionally what makes the series unique is that Underwood constantly talks to the viewer directly. It is Spacey’s breaking of the fourth wall that truly makes House of Cards such a series worthy of winning 3 Primetime Emmy Awards for its 1st season.

House of Cards ultimately feels Shakespearean in nature, reminiscent of Macbeth and Hamlet. However, as Shakespearean tragedies always suggest, the more powerful they are, the harder they fall. It is this fact that intrigues the viewer to continue watching Underwood’s subtle machinations in the curiosity as to when or if indeed he will fall. Additionally, the viewer also feels like an accessory to Underwood’s plan to topple the political order as they are the only ones aware of his motives. That is not to say that the viewer knows everything though, being caught up in the web of lies and deceit formed by the Underwoods, blurs the boundaries between the truth and all the lies. The viewer must delve deeper into Frank’s malicious plan in order to find out more.

House of Cards not only focuses on Frank Underwood however. His wife Claire (Robin Wright) also plays a vital role in the series. Owning a charity named ‘The Clean Water Initiative’ she appears to be the opposite of Frank, yet, as the viewer learns quickly with Willimon’s drama, appearances can be deceiving. The series itself proves this; it is ultimately more than a political drama. It focuses on people and the lengths they are willing to go to in order to gain and retain power. Reporters, politicians, families and lovers are all doing anything they can to get what they want.  The series cleverly portrays what the corporate world epitomises; a dog eat dog attitude and those who refuse to play the game are easy targets. Additionally, House of Cards also calls attention to how powerful the media is over politics as well as how fragile the political system can be; so brittle that one man can ultimately manipulate it to his will.

A political thriller for the masses, House of Cards keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats in trepidation. With Season 3 being released on Netflix on 27th February, 2015, there is no better time to watch the two previous seasons portray the dark side of American politics in all its glory.

Movie Review: ‘Pride

8/10

Pride is a British ‘dramedy’ written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus. It depicts the true story of a group of lesbian and gay activists from London calling themselves L.G.S.M (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) who helped raise money for the families affected by the miners’ strike in 1984 during the reign of Thatcher’s government. Due to the National Union of Mineworkers’ worry of being associated with homosexuality L.G.S.M decide to go straight to the source and offer their donations to a random mining village in Wales; the Dulais Valley. With no idea how the locals will react in such a small, isolated village, L.G.S.M are invited to its town hall which results in an unlikely alliance between two oppressed groups during Thatcher’s time in power.

In honesty, I was hesitant to watch the socio-political and historical feel good film due to the fact that a number of similar films share a depressing tone focussing heavily on the negative circumstances surrounding homosexuality such as the homophobic brutality that took place in the streets. However, I was glad and very relieved to discover that Pride concentrates largely on the positivity of how two minorities can work together to attempt to oppose the government’s regressive actions. Although, it did contain some emotional scenes which aided in presenting the spectrum of public opinion at the time, it did so without losing its uplifting vibe. Similar to many of its peers though, the film is based on a part of history that very few people are aware of to do with the mining strikes of 1984 (my parents are both Welsh and come from the same area and had no idea about L.G.S.M’s influence on the area). However, what makes Pride such a must-see film is that it does not simply stop at informing the public of a group of forgotten heroes but attempts to change the public perception that is held over a very dark decade of British history as well.

I must make clear that the film is not only for homosexuals (or the Welsh); it is a film that can be enjoyed by straight people as well. It delves deeper than merely a movie about homosexuality; it explores several themes such as acceptance, community and struggle. Obviously it is these three themes give the L.G.S.M and the small Welsh village its similarities which help them accept each other.

With a plethora of celebrity actors merging with a number of lesser known actors such as Bill Nighy and Andrew Scott, Pride is not entirely a roar with laughter film but the audience will find themselves beaming from ear to ear throughout with, as the name suggests, pride.

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NT Live: ‘Medea’

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Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned. That is most definitely the case as Helen McCrory takes the stage in Ben Power’s adaptation of Euripides classic play Medea. It is an age old story that has been adapted for centuries yet still resonates in our society today. The tragedy follows a single mother coping with the loss of her unfaithful husband by attempting to get revenge on him. It explores what happens when the loathing of someone is stronger than the love for your own children so much so that it brings to light a taboo that no one wants to accept happens; mothers murdering their own children.

With such a disturbing narrative, the play’s disconcerting atmosphere is intensified through the use of the scenery most significantly a fog ridden forest. However what truly exemplifies the tragedy is the chilling performance given by the cast members. McCrory’s regal persona strongly emphasises Medea’s royal connection to the king of Colchis and adds an emotional ferocity to the character in which her exile from her own father and country and the abandonment of her husband; Jason (of the Argonauts) causes her ultimate destruction. Of course, we expect nothing less from McCrory since she began her career inside the National Theatre’s very own walls.

Power’s adaptation adds a tremendously powerful depth to the play with help from Gregory and Goldfrapp’s musical scores. With the use of a repetitive, piano tune throughout (first played by one of Medea’s ultimately doomed children) the 1 hour 30 minute tragedy keeps the audience tense throughout. Additionally the use of choir music at extremely important and disturbing moments adds to an already intensive hair-raising atmosphere which emanates the grandness of certain acts taken. This is also seen clearly when coupled with the disturbing dance-like twitchy movements the Greek chorus named the women of Corinth use when the play nears its dramatic finale as if to represent Medea’s own frantic and unsettling frame of mind.

Power has seamlessly placed this ancient Greek play into modernity and has also expertly kept the tragedy intact as to leave the entire audience disturbed by the scenes that have just took place in front of them. Yet what is most magnificent about this National Theatre performance is that it not only parallels with nowadays but also the decade long scholarly debate surrounding Euripides’ tragedy by allowing the audience to decide who is to blame for the finale. It leaves the viewer unsure as to who to actually feel sorry for since ‘terrible things breed in broken hearts’.

Pie & Vinyl, Southsea (Castle Road)

Pie & Vinyl Exterior

(Pie & Vinyl Website)

Hidden among Southsea’s bustling one way streets and student housing lies a small ‘record’ café aptly named Pie & Vinyl after the two things it sells. The café combines one of Britain’s very own comfort foods; pies with vintage style music; vinyl to create a unique experience that fits perfectly into Southsea’s historically founded location.

With an assortment of locally sourced drinks and food, Pie & Vinyl sells its pies individually or as part of a ‘meal deal’ which consists of the pie you have chosen with creamy mash, gravy and minty mushy peas which will turn any mushy peas despiser into a regular (myself included). A popular favourite among the Portsmouth University students is the Moo & Blue; a pie filled with British beef steak, red wine, gravy and aged stilton which makes my mouth salivate just writing about it. Unfortunately, I cannot claim what the pie tastes like as they have run out of stock by the time I’ve visited proving they must be as delectable as I imagine. However, vegans and vegetarians rejoice! Pie & Vinyl have not forsaken you! There are a number of options available to you as well which are lovingly made as much as any other pie name on offer with an interesting such as the Heidi; a pie comprised of goat’s cheese, sweet potato, spinach, red onion and roasted garlic. You will not feel as if they have made these pies simply to avoid criticism but rather they have created them to fully satisfy their vegan and vegetarian customers. However, I would suggest that to avoid missing out on your favourite pies, it is best to visit the record café outside university term times. Moreover, the café’s cosy interior comes with a price, although it creates a lovely atmosphere as if in a second home, it does limit the number of tables they can feed.

With this in mind I can begin to hear the odd pessimistic reader complain that pie shops seem a little old fashioned for our economy nowadays. With only 60,000 pubs still open in the UK today and four on average closing each day what chance does a humble pie shop have when pubs do similar dishes plus more. Well let me tell you: Pie and Vinyl prides itself on its originality and its kooky (if not obscure) dishes such as the seaside inspired Fish and Chips Pie which, I have on great authority from my partner, is not at all a culinary monstrosity as it sounds. Its oddness doesn’t stop there either, Pie and Vinyl takes the pie theme to the extreme when thinking pudding as well, Pie & Vinyl sells (yes you’ve guessed it) sweet pies as well.

Enough about food however, I’ve only discussed half of what makes up Pie & Vinyl. The music shop may not have the largest collection of music but they try to cater to most genres of music and will order any you ask for with only one exception, they only sell vinyl (as the name suggests). It is rare to find a place where there is the mix of old records with the newly released vinyl records which major chain stores such as HMV have only recently decided to sell. However, what makes the store what it is today is in fact the live music events that Pie & Vinyl plan on occasion, ranging from artists such as Frank Turner and Band of Skulls.

If you are looking for somewhere in Portsmouth that is a little out there then Pie & Vinyl’s Heston Blumenthal-like dishes are for you. It is an odd mix that works by exemplifying the already apparent alternative style seen throughout Southsea as well as allows those seated and waiting in the café area to enjoy some retail therapy by buying an album or two or if you are lucky a live performance from a band you might just find you love.

For a full menu of this establishment please visit the their menu

Movie Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

8/10

You would think that Marvel would be struggling to think up new ideas after the plethora of films they have released lately but you would be wrong. Their latest addition, Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, rids any thoughts that Marvel might be putting less effort into their film franchise relying on their already established audience who would avidly watch anything they distribute; like a heroin addict to their next fix (myself included). The movie consists of a good plot that integrates into Marvel’s overall cinematic universe as well as opens up opportunities to expand it through other superheroes involving aliens other than Thor whom have yet to be portrayed such as Miss Marvel and Nova.

A human thief, a green assassin,  an alien, revenge-driven murderer, a gun-toting racoon and a living, walking tree, joining forces in order to prevent a genocide determined leader from destroying an entire planet may sound a little farfetched at first but its beauty relies in making the unbelievable believable. In typical Marvel style, the movie concentrates quite heavily on how the main characters interrelate with one another which, in turn, gives these characters a sense of realism; each protagonist has their own reason for being with the others but that doesn’t mean they have to get along. It is the subtle change from selfish wants to working as a team which gives Guardians of the Galaxy as well as other Marvel films (e.g. Avengers Assemble) its out of this world experience.

Marvel’s summer blockbuster also breaks the mould from the rest of their franchise as it requires more from its special effects department, as not only do entire planets need to be created but also entire spaceship chase scenes and two of the main characters; Rocket the Racoon and Groot, the tree-like being. All of this makes Guardians of the Galaxy an action-packed, unique movie with a number of imaginative, spectacular and colourful views. Although some jokes are specifically suited for an adult audience they are not explicit so will give parents and teenagers something to laugh at while children remain oblivious allowing Gunn’s film to be enjoyed by people of every age.

The cast also makes this film a must-see movie with stars such as Glen Close and Karen Gillan both taking rather important roles in the movie. However, what makes the cast choice excellent is that each protagonist appears to have had the correct actor to play them. Chris Pratt’s personality fits well with Starlord’s talkative and cheeky nature whereas Bautista’s wrestling career suits perfectly for his part as the brutish Drax the Destroyer. Perhaps most talked about though is Bradley Cooper who voices Rocket the Racoon. Although only voiced, Cooper seems apt for the role; Rocket is portrayed as a frequently angry racoon with a sense of humour which matches well with Cooper’s charming yet wily trademark. Although not the best film for people to ogle over their celebrity crushes; with very few scenes of bare chested men (other than Bautista) but perhaps some (although not too overtly) sexual allure towards Saldana’s character Gamora through her skin tight clothing, the audience will be able to enjoy the film for what it is; an adventure about conflicting personalities that just so happens to take place on a number of other planets.

Through some great character development, humour, awkward dancing and a classic 80’s soundtrack; Gunn’s film Guardians of the Galaxy seems to have it all. The only question unanswered now is how will the Guardians of the Galaxy integrate into other Marvel films?

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