The Ones Who Dream: Why La La Land Resonates So Deeply With the Human Condition

“Here’s to the ones who dream, crazy as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that break, here’s to the mess we make.”

As Emma Stone belts out the final verses of La La Land‘s penultimate song, Audition (The Ones Who Dream), it’s difficult not to internalise them and ponder what they mean individually to each of us.

Simple words constructed in such an easy sentence, yes, but never have truer words been spoken – or, rather, sung – about the frailties of human endeavour to overcome obstacles in life and achieve greatness against all the odds.

It is, for this very reason, why La La Land deserves every plaudit and accolade that is bestowed upon it.

lalaland3A movie full of charm and emotion, music and comedy, joy and sorrow, and that is stirring and heartbreaking, inspiring and moving, at its heart, La La Land is a straightforward story about two lost souls trying to passionately pursue their dreams in one of the most soul crushing cities on the planet.

And, yet, La La Land resonates deeply within cinemagoers, who have had the pleasure of sitting down and watching two hours pass by, as they marvel at the abstract nature of a story that echoes within the very core of humanity as a whole.

It is a microcosm of every individual’s dream of becoming someone greater than who they are, thanks in part to realising those dreams and accomplishing goals. Regardless of whether any person still holds onto their dream, has realised or has seen it fall away and felt diminished because of it, it is human nature to have aspired, and continue to aspire, to be more than what we are.

lalaland1In La La Land, both Mia (Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) portray the trials, tribulations and struggles of people doing their best to realise their lifelong ambition to make it as an actress in Hollywood and successful jazz club owner respectively – a battle that is relatable to each and every viewer, if not by profession then certainly be their desire to become successful at what they’re most passionate about.

The beauty of the film’s narrative, and the manner in which it is so intimately portrayed, meant that it wouldn’t have mattered what dream each character was pursuing – the duo could have been attempting to make it as a lawyer or football player, or a journalist and politican – and that is down to the core values at the heart of the film.

Feelings of hopelessness, dejection, hurt and acceptance of defeat make way for triumph, elation, healing and refusal to surrender before returning again, as if to offer up a glimpse into how our own lives bear resemblance to rollercoasters – the dips and falls to-ing and fro-ing with the highs and crescendos.

lalaland4That the flick is filled with other striking symbolism, such as its soundtrack detailing each character’s arcs or the changes in colour and tonal feel of Stone’s costumes throughout the film’s length, only add to the simplicity of the human nature on display in La La Land, and help to convoy the overall tone of the motion picture to the audience.

It is also helps to have such a marvellous cast carry out the roles to a tee. Both Stone and Gosling shine as the will-they-won’t-they couple, with each bringing their own gravitas and comedic timing to events, while the supporting cast – including Golden Globe winner J.K. Simmons and singer-songwriter John Legend – help to drive the story forward whether it be through the film’s musical numbers or screen time in other capacities.

And what of the film’s original score itself? If there’s a catchier, more triumphant display of award-winning direction than that concocted by Justin Hurwitz this year, it’ll be some soundtrack to dethrone La La Land‘s ability to worm its way into your head and stay there for days on end. From the bright and breezy opening number of Another Day of Sun – a fine musical number that sets out the scene for the two protagonists with their backstories – to the duet’s performance of City of Stars, La La Land‘s musical score is as good as they come.

lalaland2Director Damien Chazelle has assembled an all-star cast, sensational musical score and jaw-dropping backdrop to a deserved Oscar-winning contender of a film. Yet, without its humanistic values on display across its 128-minute runtime, La La Land could be viewed by many as just another musical comedy for those of a certain disposition to enjoy.

As it is, the fundamentals that make La La Land such a triumph is its ability to resonate with even the hardest of hearts, and what it means to be a person striving to become their best self.

If that’s not something to reflect on and to be inspired by, especially with the way the world is at the present time, it’s hard to say what is.

Fight Off Your Demons: The Battle Continues

One year. One whole year has already passed. It feels so surreal.

It’s bizarre to think that, on New Year’s Eve 2015, I was stuck in the midst of another unrelenting battle to keep myself from circling down the proverbial drainpipe into another pit of self loathing, misery and depression.

It only feels like yesterday that I was sat at my desk, laptop open and alcoholic beverage nearby, typing out the thoughts as they came to me. It was difficult to write, it was even more anxiety-inducing to publish, and it was terrifying to show my family and friends something I was even afraid to admit to myself.

That night, I vowed to attempt to become a better person, to become mentally healthy, to test myself in ways I hadn’t done so before and become the individual I saw myself becoming years ago.

Now, 2016 has come and gone and, staying true to the promise I made myself that night in 2015, I went back and re-read that deeply personal blog post of mine to see how far I had come.

The honest truth? I’ve not come as far as I had envisioned.

mhLooking back, I still found myself ducking out of some social engagements. I got stressed out over simple things like journeying home from work, frantic to get back to my house and just relax for the evening – a bittersweet irony, given how much I worked myself up on the bus about getting home. I lost my temper far, far too easily with those closest to me over the most insignificant of things. I’m still yet to summon up the courage to begin conversations with people who I’d like to meet or, even more personally, chat to women I find attractive. And I didn’t make the most of other opportunities when they fell in my lap.

It hasn’t all been bad though. I started the year by earning a gold standard diploma for my journalism studies – an achievement I never thought I’d be rewarded with. I picked up the fitness bug, spending most of the year running and building my stamina, and have been a member of a gym for almost five months now to build up my strength. I went to gigs to see bands I’ve wanted to see for years. I watched films that made me think about life differently. I got a job that makes me get up in the morning. And, perhaps most importantly, I realised how lucky I am to have the family and friends that I do have.

It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up. – Vince Lombardi

With a New Year, then, comes a fresh start. It’s something of a cliche to hear people around this time of year come out with phrases like “New Year, New Me”, but I genuinely feel like such a mocked phrase could actually be relevant to me as I continue on to become the best version of me I can be.

In order to do that, changes need to be made. As someone who’s very much a creature of habit, said change won’t come easy, but if I want to continue up this road of fighting off my demons, change must occur.

With that in mind, here’s a few things I plan to do this year:

  1. Spend less time online and, in particular, less time proscrastinating on social media. It’s time to stop comparing myself to others, and the perceived fun that they’re all having, on the likes of Facebook and Twitter. I want to create new, happy memories of thoroughly enjoyable times of my own, and add them to those I’ve already got.
  2. Read the self-help books that will go some way to helping me sort my mind out. They’ve been sitting on my shelf for a while now and, if I’m to continue down this road of recovery, I’ll need all the help I can get.
  3. Continue my pursuit of becoming a fitter version of myself. This will include more gym sessions and less comfort food – the latter especially if I don’t stick to the former. I’ve got a new workout programme to follow and, all being well, I’ll see it through.
  4. Begin meditating again, especially on days when I don’t physically work out. Even if it’s just 10 minutes at some point during the day, finding some space and time to centre myself and find some peace will be beneficial.
  5. Meet, talk to and hang out with new people. No matter how nerve wracking it is, it would be good to get a handle on my social anxiety and become comfortable interacting with anyone.
  6. Appreciate the small things in life more, and stop stressing about things that genuinely don’t matter. Why get worried about journeys home? Or stressing about what I need to get done every day? Things work out in the end, regardless of time, so I need to quit putting so much pressure on myself for no reason.
  7. Spend more time in the company of family, friends and loved ones. My support group is important to me, and I’d like to give time, effort and other things in return for that.
  8. Vow to stick to the vast majority of the above points. In the event that I slip up on them from time to time, I’ll try not to beat myself up over doing so. Be kind to yourself, Tom.

img_1155It’s easy to write the above points down, and think I’ll stick to them just because we’re a couple of days in to a new year, but I have to become and remain determined, honest, confident, self-aware and hopeful that I can achieve them.

Nothing in life worth pursuing is easy, especially when you feel like most every day things are such a toil due to the mental struggles I’ve had, and continue to have. However, I really, really want to spur myself on and, knowing that I have the support and belief from family, friends, colleagues and relative strangers, I can go a lot further than I’ve already done.

I’m ready, 2017. Let’s do it.

Which Everton youngsters could feature for the first team before the season’s end?

Everton supporters could be forgiven for turning their attentions elsewhere as the 2015/16 season draws to a close.

Heartbreak in two cup semi-finals, a potential second bottom half Premier League finish in a row and a loss of faith in current manager Roberto Martinez have rendered the final four matches of this campaign irrelevant to many Toffees fans.

Despite gloomy skies engulfing Goodison Park, though, there is a chink of light for those of a Blue persuasion.

Sitting third in the Under-21 Premier League Division One table, Everton’s youth side have impressed under the watchful eye of former Toffees left back-turned coach David Unsworth.

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The club has a long tradition of handing youth players the opportunity to work their way through the ranks into the first team, with Michael Ball, Wayne Rooney, Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert, James Vaughan and Ross Barkley just a few of the talented young stars who have gone on to feature for Everton’s senior squad.

And, with a number of the current crop making their mark at under-21 level, here are five of the brightest talents who could feature for the Blues in the final weeks of this term.

Keiran Dowell

Kieran Dowell has been the name on the lips of many Evertonnians in recent weeks thanks to some sterling performances for the Under-21 side.

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The 18-year-old attacking midfielder, who has been with the Club since the age of seven, has netted a number of sensational strikes in recent victories over Norwich City, Manchester City and Leicester City – the latter of which saw Dowell bag a superb hat-trick.

Adept with the ball at his feet, with an eye for a pass and a box of tricks to boot, the Ormskirk-born teenager made his first-team debut in the 1-0 home defeat to FC Krasnodar in the Europa League in December 2014.

Dowell put in bright cameo appearances in two of the first team’s pre-season fixtures against Hearts and Dundee before an injury curtailed his chances of impressing further, but expect him to be in and around the senior squad for the Toffees’ final fixtures of 2015/16.

Matthew Pennington

Warrington-born Pennington is another of Everton’s youth players who has enjoyed first-team exposure during the current campaign.

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A centre-half by trade, with the ability to figure at right-back, the 21-year-old has started matches against Barnsley and Dagenham & Redbridge in the Capital One Cup and FA Cup respectively.

Pennington had been earning rave reviews for his displays whilst on loan at Walsall but, due to the Blues’ injury crisis ahead of their recent FA Cup semi-final, the defender was recalled and took up a place on the substitutes’ bench at Wembley.

With Ramiro Funes Mori still suspended and Phil Jagielka’s season potentially over, Pennington could be in line for an appearance or two before the season’s end.

 

Callum Connolly

Accomplished in a variety of positions across the park, including centre midfield and full back, Connolly’s versatility has ensured his presence as a mainstay in the Under-21 side.

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The 19-year-old was part of the team that secured the 2013/14 Under-21 Premier League title, and has represented England at Under-17 level.

A member of the Everton youth ranks since the age of nine, Connolly enjoyed his first taste of senior football in the recent 1-1 draw with Southampton, receiving praise for his performance from fans and manager alike.

A likely contender for a place on the substitutes’ bench in the finals weeks of the season.

 

Tom Davies

Davies has been a member of the Toffees’ academy since the age of 11, and has rapidly risen through the ranks to become a regular at Under-21 level.

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The 18-year-old midfielder was on the scoresheet in the first mini Merseyside derby of 2015/16 – a match that ended 3-3.

Like Connolly, Davies made his first-team bow in the Goodison Park clash with Southampton, with his eight-minute cameo giving him a platform to show off his undoubted ball control and skills.

Feisty in the tackle despite his small demeanour, further appearances may lie in wait before the season’s end.

 

Mason Holgate

The only youth player on the list who hasn’t made his way through the Club’s academy, Holgate joined the Everton ranks from Barnsley for an undisclosed fee in August 2015.

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The 18-year-old defender has settled into life on Merseyside particularly well, and was handed a place on the substitutes’ bench during the Blues’ 5-3 Capital One Cup triumph over his former club back in September.

The former Tykes player has become a regular under Unsworth for the youth side, and recently bagged his first goal for the Under-21s in the 2-0 win over Chelsea.

With the ability to play at right-back and centre-back, Holgate could end up making his first senior appearance for the Toffees before the end of the campaign, with first-choice full back Seamus Coleman currently nursing a hamstring strain.

Who is the real hero of Quantum Break?

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Heroes and villains. Protagonists and antagonists. Good guys and bad guys.

Whatever terminology is used to describe them, it is usually easy to recognise who to root for, and who to root against, in any form of entertainment.

In Remedy Entertainment’s recently released Xbox One exclusive title Quantum Break, it seems easy to assume, on the surface at least, who are the heroes and who are the villains.

The player takes control of Jack Joyce, who returns to the fictional city of Riverport after six years away to aid longtime friend Paul Serene with a time travel experiment at Riverport University.

The pair become imbued with time-altering powers after the test goes awry, Paul Serene travels into the future, and returns 17 years older and hellbent on allowing something called ‘the End of Time’ to occur.

Naturally, Joyce opposes his best friend-turned nemesis’ viewpoint and sets out on preventing the onset of a ‘permanent time stutter’ – an event which would see time break down, and hold the world in a perpetual fixed state of immobility.

Serene, who leads the shady Monarch Solutions corporation, is only interested in allowing a select few members of the human race to ‘survive’ the apparent End of Time by initiating the Lifeboat Protocol – a plan which would allow the chosen few to retain the ability to move as they look to find a solution to time’s end.

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So far, so simple with regards to who the hero and villain are – but look a little deeper, and those roles aren’t so easily defined.

If Jack Joyce is not the hero of Quantum Break‘s story, then who is?

There are four potential contenders for the ‘Hero of Quantum Break‘ crown in my mind, and each has their own pros and cons.

Note: Spoilers for Quantum Break are likely from this point on, so turn back if you are playing the game and haven’t finished it, or if you are going to play it at some point.

Jack Joyce

On the surface, it seems pretty clear that Jack Joyce (portrayed by Shawn Ashmore) is Quantum Break‘s undeniable champion.

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Along with attempting to stop Serene’s plan to allow time to end, Joyce also has revenge on his mind after Serene seemingly murders his brother and world renowned physicist William Joyce – another action that lends credence to Jack being the good guy as he seeks retribution for this incident.

With the aid of Beth Wilder and either Amy Ferrero or Nick Marsters (depending on what decisions you make at certain junctions in the game) Joyce ends up stealing back the countermeasure (or chronon field regulator) – an object made by his brother that can prevent the End of Time from happening.

Again, it seems logical that Jack is indeed the hero this story needs.

But, during Quantum Break‘s fifth and final act, it is revealed that a) William is actually still alive (he’s saved by Jack himself via time-travel logistics) and b) the countermeasure does not prevent the End of Time; instead it merely seems to halt its inevitable arrival.

So can Jack be viewed as being the hero, when his path for vengeance stands for nothing in the end, and after stopping the initiation of the Lifeboat Protocol, which we can safely presume is the only way that a solution to the End of Time can be prevented?

Paul Serene

Paul Serene (Aiden Gillen) appears to be the primary antagonist of Quantum Break.

He appears to murder Jack’s brother William, kills Beth Wilder when she comes into contact with the countermeasure, and is only concerned with allowing the best of humanity to continue on at time’s end thanks to the Lifeboat Protocol.

But are Serene’s villainous motives as clear cut as they seem?

paulsereneQB

Afterall, Monarch’s head honcho is the only person with a plan in place for such an occurence.

Of course it’s helpful that, due to the time machine experiment going wrong, he sees the End of Time itself and vows to find a way to rectify it when it transpires.

Furthermore, he’s not leaving the other seven billion people on the planet to die – those outside of the Lifeboat Protocol and without the necessary equipment to move inside of the permanent stutter are merely held in place, unable to move due to time’s end.

Providing a solution is found, time would restart and those seven billion individuals would be unaware of anything happening.

Would Serene’s actions not be viewed as heroic, then? Is sacrificing a few people worth it to save the lives of billions?

Beth Wilder

Beth Wilder (Courtney Hope) is an operative employed by Monarch solutions, but whose allegiances lie with the Joyce brothers due to circumstances that are explained during Act 4 of Quantum Break.

Throughout the story, she helps Jack escape Serene’s clutches, aids him in securing the services of Paul Serene’s chief scientist Sofia Amaral to help fix William’s old time machine, and attempts to steal back the all-important countermeasure.

In the end, Wilder suffers a heroic death at the hands of Serene six years in the past due to a cleverly put together plot that sends her both forwards and backwards in time in a bid to locate the countermeasure.

bethwilderQB

But, in being an aide to Jack Joyce to stop the End of Time, she only assists in pushing him down a path which, for the mean time, appears to have been fruitless, what with the End of Time still likely to arise.

Due to other time travel mechanics later on in the story, she also causes her own enclosed time loop – going back in time to tell her younger self that her only priority in life is to stop time from ending and, in doing so, prevents herself from ever being able to live a happy life.

It is often said that the mark of a true hero is to put your own needs aside for the greater good, but what kind of hero would end up being the one who causes their own life objective and untimely death as a result?

William Joyce

World renowned physicist and Jack’s older brother, William Joyce (Dominic Monaghan) is the creator of both time machines that exist in Quantum Break, as well as the countermeasure that can apparently stop time from ending.

willjoyceQB

Building the chronon field regulator, after being informed of its necessity by a time-travelling Beth Wilder, Joyce ends up producing the only object capable of preventing the End of Time.

But, in being the scientist that first discovers the existence of Meyers-Joyce field, subsequent unearthing of time-related chronon particles and, a as result, building two time machines that are able to send things into the past and future using those particles, Joyce appears to set in motion all of the events for Quantum Break – even if it is indirectly.

Naturally, he does all he can to prevent time’s inevitable end, but is it difficult to look past him being the instigator of the events which unfold throughout the game?

The Verdict

So who is the real hero of Quantum Break?

All four individuals are trying to prevent the same thing, the End of Time, from occuring but each character ironically appears to launch its unavoidable onset through their various actions throughout the game.

In spite of this, however, their major decisions and actions can be deemed as heroic – even Serene who, in the end, is only trying to save the human race.

Perhaps the characters will be defined more clearly as ‘hero’ or ‘villain’ in the hinted-at sequels but for now, it is arguable that all four are heroic in some form throughout Quantum Break‘s story.

Opinion: Martinez comments on Baines a step too far for beleaguered Everton manager

If you were to ask Evertonians for their opinion of Leighton Baines, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would say a bad word about him.

The Everton left back has been a devote servant of the club for almost nine years, and has received widespread praise for his performances during that time.

The England international has also always come across as an honest, intelligent, salt-of-the-Earth individual when giving an interview.

Earlier this week, Baines was questioned over whether Everton’s first team stars were finding it tough to motivate themselves in the Premier League after progressing to the FA Cup semi-finals a few weeks ago.

“It is yeah, but the motivation should be in trying to get your name there for it, shouldn’t it?” Baines replied.

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“It’s like (pause of several seconds), I just think, you know, I don’t know, I just don’t feel like the chemistry is quite there on the pitch within the team at the moment and it hasn’t been for a while.

“Obviously results have an impact on that because chemistry and confidence can go hand in hand in a way. You start winning games. I mean look at the teams who are having success this year. You would say they’ve got chemistry, you know?

“If I had to say one thing it would be, I don’t know if it’s there at the moment for whatever reason.”

A typically candid, forthright answer from Baines then.

Which makes manager Roberto Martinez’s comments on the 30-year-old defender today all the more unnecessary and, perhaps, insulting..

The Catalan was quizzed over this apparent lack of on-the-field chemsitry, and replied in less than glowing terms.

“I think there are two aspects of that,” he said.

“First, it’s very disappointing when you see a misinterpretation of certain words that a player says and really this has been taken out of context in the way that it’s come out.

“And the other aspect is that someone of the experience of Leighton Baines knows he has to take responsibility for those words – I have had a chat with him – those words have given the opportunity to be maybe attracting a meaning that is not right, not correct and obviously for that he has apologised and taken responsibility for that for leaving those words open.

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“Those quotes have been taken out of context and that’s disappointing on one side.

“But on the other side, obviously Leighton takes responsibility for putting himself in a position which has given the wrong words and allowed the wrong interpretation and for that, as I said, he has apologised and is ready to move forward.”

If Baines’ words were indeed misrepresented – they weren’t – then why has he been made to apologise?

And if Martinez was justifiably concerned with one of his senior players being frank and upfront, when he did not believe Baines should have been, then why not keep all of this in-house instead of publically deriding him?

It is a very dangerous game to try and leverage yourself against any individual who has given a truthful, honest answer to a genuine question.

It is even more perilous to do so against a senior member of your first team squad, and a player for whom Evertonians across the globe have a lot of time and affection for.

Of course, this is nothing new, providing you believe the rumours of discontent from both past and present Everton players who have allegedly had run-ins with Martinez.

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Samuel Eto’o, Sylvain Distin and Kevin Mirallas have all supposedly made it known that they have not agreed with the former Wigan Athletic manager’s tactics, opinions or management style – and all have paid the price to varying degrees.

But none of the above have been subjected to public embarrassment like Baines has, thanks to today’s comments.

Martinez was already walking a thin tightrope with Everton fans after another discouraging campaign; the upcoming FA Cup semi-final his only potential saving grace.

Now he has taken on a beloved servant and important first team member of his squad.

There is only one winner where Toffees supporters are concerned – and it certainly isn’t Martinez.

Opinion: Chris Brown comments symptomatic of mental health stigma

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The world has come a long way over attempting to remove the stigma surrounding mental health.

Where once people were detained under the Mental Health Act and locked away in psychiatric hospitals, individuals are now given counselling, medication and support to overcome depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder, to name but a few.

Internationally-recognised names such as Stephen Fry, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the late Robin Williams have all helped to bring awareness over mental health issues into the mainstream media.

And, even in the past week, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin and Prison Break star Wentworth Miller have gone on record to talk about their own battles, particularly with depression.

But the shame about speaking out over these illnesses continues to persists in spite of the good work done thus far.

Comments such as those made by singer Chris Brown demonstrate that much more needs to be done on tackling this issue.

The less-than-popular singer took to Twitter on 29th March to slam fellow R&B star Kehlani for looking for sympathy after an apparent suicide attempt.

At the time of writing, the 26-year-old’s tweet has been retweeted 52,000 times, and has received over 60,000 likes.

Now, of course, a number of those could be ironic likes and retweets from fellow users to publically shame Brown for his insensitive thoughts and attitude towards the 20 year old’s suffering.

But, like it or not, Chris Brown is famous and adored by fans of his music – and his comments can, and most likely will, be taken as gospel by some who read it and those people in turn will close their minds to such plights.

It is remarks of the ilk of Brown’s that show just how much more we need to do to alter the perception over mental health.

Suicide attempts are not “a coward’s way out”; nor should they viewed as “looking for sympathy”.

They are genuine cries for help for a person who sees no other alternative than to take their own life.

That the only option they believe they have left is to commit such an act shows the dark depths that some people are stuck in, and that cause them to act in this manner.

But, thanks to comments like Brown’s, the stigma surrounding mental health will encourage these types of views, opinions and judgments.

We must continue to educate, inform and break down the social barriers and the taboo over mental health.

Only then will we, as a species, be more sympathetic, kind, nurturing and understanding towards anyone struck down by these invisible illnesses.

Review: Daredevil Season Two

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It’s been 11 months since Netflix and Marvel brought us their joint collaboration of Daredevil Season One.

And such was the critical acclaim that the debut series received, it was a dead cert that a second season starring The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen would be green-lit.

Fast forward to March 2016, and it’s safe to say that the second installment of Daredevil‘s story not only holds up, but at times it surpasses season one’s impressive credentials.

Taking over from season one showrunner Steven DeKnight, Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez had big shoes to fill – particularly concerning a new primary antagonist.

Note: Spoilers from both seasons can be found from this point on, so leave now unless you want everything spoiled for you!

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With Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk finally jailed at the end of the first series, fans and critics were intrigued as to who would step into the role of big bad to take on Matt Murdock’s (Charlie Cox) alter-ego.

In Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle/The Punisher, it appears that such a character is found.

Seeking vengeance after seeing his young family gunned down in cold blood during a gangland shooting, ex-marine Castle stops at nothing to lay waste to all of the criminal gangs that took part in the massacre on that fateful day.

It is this unrelenting slaughter that sees Daredevil lock horns (pun intended) with Castle throughout the early episodes of the season.

No more so is this evident than in episode three (New York’s Finest) where, after being captured by Castle, Murdock and his new apparent foe question each other’s moral code.

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It is an early highlight, and is built upon in episode four (Penny and Dime) when Castle displays vulnerability as he recounts the story of returning home from war, to see his family, after he is rescued from the Irish mafia by none other than Daredevil himself.

It’s a heart-wrenching monologue delivered with emotional depth by Bernthal, and lends weight to his own vigilante motives.

Following his arrest at the end of the episode, the season could have begun to unravel as soon as it begun.

But in Elektra Natchios’ (Elodie Yung) arrival, the plot transitions into carefully orchestrated forked paths, as the cast are led down their own relevant mini-story arcs.

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For Daredevil/Murdock, the arrival of his ex-girlfriend-cum-assassin sends both his personal life and vigilante persona into disarray, as he struggles to stop the villainous organisation known as The Hand and attempts to prevent his already-fractured relationships with Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson (Eldin Henson) from completely falling apart.

It is a role that Cox revels in, as the titular character becomes torn between his duty to “his city” and to the few friends he has in his life.

Yung’s Elektra, meanwhile, sparkles as the aptly-ironic devil in Murdock’s ear, as well as portraying the character’s complexity and tortured past with aplomb.

The twist surrounding her destiny in the penultimate episode leaves more questions than answers before she is given a supposedly heroic send-off, but it does little to detract from the excellent depiction that Yung brings to the table.

And it is not just Murdock and the new supporting cast that see their character’s stories fleshed out.

Page revels in the role of investigator-in-chief as she attempts to uncover the real story behind Castle’s rampage – a side to her that evokes memories of the departed Ben Urich – as her resourcefulness and bravery prove that she is more than a mere damsel in distress, despite her carelessness sometimes throwing her head first into trouble.

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Nelson, too, receives much needed character development – his frienship with Murdock, already frayed after finding out Daredevil’s true identity in season one, is torn asunder as the pair clash over the falling apart of the People vs Frank Castle trial midway through the season.

And, like Page, he discovers his own courage during a visit to The Dogs of Hell gang’s turf, and throughout Castle’s trial – a court case he almost single handedly wins before allowing Murdock to completely ruin proceedings during his questioning of the defendant.

Rosario Dawson’s no-nonsense nurse Claire Temple provides a sense of morality and honesty that is sometimes lacking in other characters, Scott Glenn’s Stick, mentor to both Murdock and Elektra, offers up his usual self-rightousness and piety throughout, while Peter McRobbie’s Father Lantom is given a brief-yet-profound monologue in episode three in his only appearance of the series.

The surprise reveal of D’Onofrio’s Fisk in episode eight is a welcome one too – the calculating villain helping to move the story along with typical malice and cunning as he manipulates Castle into taking out a rival in his prison he now seemingly owns.

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Action wise, the show builds impressively on the foundations laid by its first season.

An excellently filmed sequence involving Daredevil and the Dogs of Hell gang pays homage to season one’s fight with the Russian mob, as he dispatches a number of underlings with creativity and a whirlwind of force down a staircase.

Castle’s one-man stand during one prison scene is as brutal and barbaric as they come too – a welcome contrast to the acrobatic and ninja-esque style of Daredevil and Elektra themselves.

Brawls with The Hand in later episodes are choregraphed brilliantly as well, and are as ferocious as they are elegant.

The plot takes a turn for the mystical as it reaches its climax, as the gritty realism of Hell’s Kitchen is replaced with the supernatural revelation that The Hand have supposedly uncovered immortality.

It is a move that is somewhat of a let-down, such is the authentic feel of the show up until that point.

Given that the wider Marvel universe, both on the silver screen and in other TV shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, it is perhaps not as superfluous as it is made out to be.

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Question marks also remain over some story threads that are not cleared up.

An explanation of the gigantic hole that Daredevil and Elektra uncover is not provided; nor do we see the mysterious figure that Stick chats to at the end of episode seven of the first season.

Doubts remain over what happened to Page’s brother, given the newspaper clipping we see, whilst the fate of Elektra is left up to the imagination – for now.

It is probable that these queries are just set ups for later seasons of Daredevil, and aren’t just glossed over with the introduction of new plot strands and characters come season three.

Overall though, Daredevil season two lives up to its predecessor – shaking up the single villain formula in favour of introducing other complex characters and mulitple ‘bad guys’ opens up the world Marvel has created, and helps to continue the sterling work that the multinational company has produced over the past decade.

Verdict: Bold, emotional, complex and gory, Daredevil Season Two successfully implements a muliple-stranded story arc that succeeds in building upon its debut series. 8.5/10

Review: Valiant Hearts

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Since its inception in March 1986, Ubisoft has had a knack for producing outstanding video games.

Triple A franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Tony Clancy’s Rainbox Six, Far Cry, Rayman and Trials are just a few of the series that the Paris-based corporation has had recent success with.

It is their lesser-known, ‘indie’ titles that have garnered a wealth in interest since 2012, however.

Child of Light was charming, beautifully designed and a throwback to the era of RPGs; Grow Home was also a quaint compute game and showcased an interesting concept, puzzle wise.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War, developed by one of Ubisoft’s subsidiaries, Ubisoft Montpellier, was another game that somewhat flew under the radar upon release in 2014.

So what better time to dive into it, after it was featured as one of Xbox One’s Free Games with Gold titles back in October 2015.

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Set during World War One, Valiant Hearts is a freely-based story telling of four different characters as they navigate the infamous ‘War To End All Wars’.

Players progress through the personally absorbing stories of Frenchman Emile Chaillon, German son-in-law Karl, American solider Freddie and Belgian nurse Anna as they cross paths with each other throughout the four-year long conflict.

The game itself is split into four chapters – each around two hours long – and players are tasked with steering past various obstacles and brain teasers as they progress through the course of the campaign.

Some puzzles are relatively straight forward, while others take a little more time to work out. Fortunately, if you ever do get stuck at a particular problem, the game does provide hints – spaced one to two minutes apart – so you don’t end up getting too frustrated.

Like 99% of all video games these days, Valiant Hearts also hides collectibles in each of its levels and, with over 100 to find, some players may think it a thankless task to locate them all.

Luckily, the vast majority can be found along either the linear route of the game itself (thanks to its 2D sidescrolling design) or just slightly off the beaten track.

Once each level has been completed, players are able to go back and play them in whatever order they choose to locate those elusive optional trinkets if they so wish.

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Another interesting part of the game is its historical facts that players can view, at the beginning of each new section, by pressing the Y button (or triangle button on PS4).

These facts help to educate players about varying aspects or battles throughout The Great War and, though a little invasive and pushy about wanting you to read them, provide a fascinating insight into real life events.

Perhaps the most distinctive design about Valiant Hearts, though, despite its apparent setting, is that you do little in the way of fighting.

Soldiers, aircraft, tanks and cannons attack, shoot, traverse and die around you in both the foreground and background as the player progresses through each section but, save for two short periods of driving a tank while firing off shells and a brief quick-time punch up, there is hardly any combat for the player to partake in.

For a game based around war, it’s an intriguing take on the genre.

Aesthetically, Valiant Hearts is gorgeous – its cartoon-ish style contrasting nicely with the setting of the game and proving that Ubisoft’s art direction is up there with the best.

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The sound direction, too, is superb – the game’s title screen music played on piano providing poignancy to a game set during The Great War, while another moment alongside a French marching band delivers one of a few humorous moments in the game.

Valiant Hearts is by no-means perfect, however.

In keeping with the realism of the setting, taking any damage results in the controlled character dying immediately, and causes the player to pick the game up from the last checkpoint.

It is a refreshing take compared to other games that use health bars or other ways to prevent instantaneous death, but it means one silly mistake can cost the player, particularly if you are engrossed in the unfolding story.

A word too on the boss fights that the game has.

The car chase ‘battles’ at certain points are a tad annoying, whilst another encounter sees you given mere minutes to rescue another character from the hands of a status-obsessed German commander.

Again, it is a welcome change from seeing an enemy’s animation continually fail to bash down a solitary door as you figure out how to stop them, but the time limit can lead to frustration if you need more time to work out just what the strategy, to win, is.

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The game’s final chapter wraps up the over-arcing story nicely, and throws in a twist that will leave players shocked and, perhaps, slightly emotional.

It’s a move that demonstrates that, despite its cartoon-ish nature, events of this ilk did occur throughout The First World War, and reminds players of the horror of war.

It is this realism that sends out a message of just how traumatising real life events would have been for anyone involved in such a horrific period at the start of the 20th century.

Educating the next generation about past atrocities are of huge importance to prevent events like this happening again.

If Valiant Hearts strikes a chord with anyone and provides that tuition, even through the medium of a video game, then it has done its job.

Verdict: Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a cool eight-hour puzzle-adventure game that acts as a poignant reminder of the events of 1914-1918, and its educational tools add something extra to what could be considered just another 2D sidescrolling title. 8/10

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is available now on Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, PC, iOS and Android.

The Weekend Reflection: Fortress Goodison? Don’t Make Me Laugh!

Goodison Park used to be a bastion of hope for Evertonians.

It is a stadium filled with rich history that oozes charm and class, especially under the floodlights for an evening kick off.

And, when the opportunity arises, it bears witness to a vociferous, boisterous and unabating home crowd that has roared Everton to countless victories, struck fear into the hearts of opposing sides and bayed for blood when refereeing decisions have gone against the Toffees.

Of late, however, the Grand Old Lady is anything but a fortress.

It is merely a sandcastle, with the tide crashing ever closer, ready to sweep it out to sea.

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It is not the Goodison faithful that is to blame, however – for 78 minutes during yesterday’s infuriating 3-2 home defeat to West Ham United, a crescendo of noise swirled around all four corners of the ground as the Blues, despite disadvantaged by Kevin Mirallas’ first half red card, found themselves 2-0 up over the Hammers.

Instead, it is yet again the fault of a manager who is clearly out of his depth at one of the most successful British clubs in the history of the game.

True, Roberto Martinez’s first season in charge of Everton was a joy to behold.

A record-points haul during a Premier League campaign and European football back at Goodison were reason enough to celebrate.

But a record of 13 wins, three draws and three defeats from 19 home matches was even sweeter.

It seemed Goodison Park would  become one of the toughest grounds for any side to travel to, thanks to a blend of defensive resilience and artistic, free-flowing attacking flair.

And yet, it is anything but.

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Since the start of the 2014/15 season, Goodison has beared witness to just 11 wins from 34 home matches in the Premier League.

Perhaps more striking is that only four of those victories have come this season – even then they were routine triumphs over struggling Sunderland, Newcastle United, Aston Villa and, at the time, Chelsea.

Coupled with four home draws, Everton have amassed a paltry 16 points from 15 home clashes on home turf this campaign.

To make matters even worse, the Blues have been defeated on seven occasions on home soil – five of which have come since December 19th.

Manchester City, Manchester United, Leicester City, Stoke City, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United have all left L4 with three points to leave Everton supporters bewildered, angry and forlorn.

It is, frankly, unforgivable that teams will travel to Goodison Park knowing that they can, and will, depart with a victory.

And Martinez is to blame for this slide in home fortunes.

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Too open, too lax at the back, too gung-ho, no game management, conceding from set pieces, conceding from crosses, unable to hold a lead – these have all been levelled at the Spaniard in the past 18 months, and not one problem has been rectified.

It is simply not good enough from a man who has Everton’s best first team squad since the last time the Blues won a league title, back in 1987, at his disposal.

To add further insult to injury, the Toffees have now conceded more goals at home (26) than Aston Villa – a side who currently prop up the league standings and suffered a 6-0 home thrashing at the hands of Merseyside rivals Liverpool just a few weeks ago.

It is a sign of just how abject Everton have become at home, and the sense of apathy and despair that greeted Martinez and his players at full time yesterday was indicative of such facts.

With just four more home league encounters to come, in the shape of Arsenal, Southampton, Bournemouth and Norwich City, the Toffees are on course to register their worst ever points tally at home in a single league campaign.

Even if the Blues win those four remaining matches, they will only be three points better off than their all-time lowest haul of 25 points at home garnered during the 1996/97 season.

There was a time when Goodison Park was the last venue that teams loved to visit – now they lick their lips in anticipation.

Fortress Goodison? Don’t make me laugh.

Review: Daredevil Season One

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In 2003, diehard fans of the comic book character Daredevil had been left disappointed and bemused.

A film adaptation of the Marvel character, starring Ben Affleck as the titular hero, had been received poorly – despite taking $179.2m at the box office – with many criticising the plot and direction that the movie had taken.

Even Stan Lee, creator of Dardevil, said that it had “got the whole thing wrong”.

Fast forward 12 years, and that disappointement is no longer etched on the faces of Daredevil fans.

A Netflix original series and produced by Marvel Television, ABC studios and DeKnight productions, the TV adaptation of Daredevil has been lauded by fans, critics and casual viewers alike for its dark, gritty and accurate depiction of the comic book lore.

Created for TV by Drew Goddard, who was in line to write and direct a Sinister Six film for Sony set in their Spiderman universe before it got cancelled, the show draws inspiration from Lee’s and Bill Everett’s long-running series and introduces viewers to a side of New York City, in Hell’s Kitchen, that is overlooked in Marvel’s flagship film franchises.

Beware: Spoilers for the comics and show appear from this point on, so turn back if you do not want anything ruined for you!

Daredevil tells the story of Matt Murdock, a lawyer who was blinded as a child by a radioactive substance that fell from a vehicle after he pushed a man to safety from said truck.

Despite being unable to see, Murdock’s other senses are significantly heightened by the substance and grants him a ‘radar sense’, not unlike Spiderman’s ‘spider sense’.

By day, Murdock works at Nelson & Murdock: Attorneys At Law – a fledgling law firm set up by Murdock and best friend and fellow lawyer, Franklin ‘Foggy’ Nelson.

By night, though, Murdock stalks the rooftops, streets and buildings as the Man in the Mask, thwarting criminals and saving lives.

And in 33-year-old actor Charlie Cox, both Murdock and his alter-ego are transferred from page to screen effortlessly.

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Charming, intelligent and resourceful as Murdock, and gruff, physical and fearless as Daredevil, Cox’s portrayal as The Man Without Fear is superbly carried out.

Cox’s ability to depict Murdock’s blindness, too, is down to a tee – the English actor’s work with blind consultant Joe Strechay paying dividends to give a natural, accurate representation of a blind individual.

And, as with all superheroes, there is a complexity about the character of Murdock and Daredevil that Cox manages to convey throughout a series of stellar performances.

Having taken the oath when becoming a lawyer, Murdock knowingly breaks his own vow every night when acting as a vigilante in Hell’s Kitchen.

Coupled with his devout Catholic beliefs, questions of morality and grey areas come into stark contrast for Murdock – particularly as the season reaches its final few episodes.

Indeed, Murdock’s emotions get the better of him as he seeks revenge for the death of the innocent Elena Cardenas – a resident of an apartment block who stands up main villain Kingpin/Wilson Fisk’s plans to buyout her building, but who is killed off by one of Fisk’s henchmen.

After being seriously injured during a showdown with Nobu, a member of mysterious Japanese organisation The Hand and part of Fisk’s criminal gang, Murdock is almost left for dead when stupidly trying to take on Fisk after despatching of the former.

It is one of a few occasions throughout the series when Murdock’s desire to do the right thing gets the better of him, and allows viewers the opportunity to question his motives.

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Murdock’s constant struggle between refusing to take someone’s life, in part to the Catholicism instilled in him and, as he eloquently puts it, battling the ‘devil inside of me’, is a key component of the complexity of the character, and one that proves how intriguing Dardevil as a personality is.

Strikingly, Fisk – who is expertly portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio – isn’t too dissimilar from our titular hero in wanting to rebuild Hell’s Kitchen.

Fisk’s willingness to kill anyone who stands in his way, however, is the one key difference that keeps the two players at polar opposites of the spectrum.

As a 12-year-old boy, Fisk saves his mother from his cruel bully of a father, after years of abuse, by beating him to death with a hammer – a move that begins to sow the seeds of the man Fisk will eventually become.

And it is this disposition, to remove anyone who stands between him and lording over his city, that leads Fisk into believing his intentions are justifiable, in spite of his criminal activity.

Such actions become more severe as the series presses on, as Fisk takes out fellow partners in the Russian mafia, led by the Ranskahov brothers, and financial distributor Leland Owlsley – the latter of whom conspires with fellow criminal Madame Gow to assassinate Vanessa Marianna, Fisk’s love interest.

His masterplan further unravels following the death of right-hand man James Wesley, who is shot dead by Page after she is kidnapped by Wesley, and sees Fisk become erratic and emotional – a move that eventually proves his undoing.

Both Murdock and Fisk are flawed as individuals, and believe that they must save Hell’s Kitchen from the mediocrity it finds itself in – their ideals over how to do so, though, is what ultimately leads them to butting heads as the season’s climax looms closer.

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It is not just Cox and D’Onofrio who stand out as part of an impressive cast either.

Deborah Ann Woll is wonderful as secretary-cum-investigator Karen Page; Elden Henson as ‘Foggy’ Nelson too, who brings humour and heart in equal measure, especially when finding out that Murdock is Daredevil himself.

Rosario Dawson’s performance as Claire Temple, who patches Murdock’s injuries up and acts as a potential love interest, is strong if fleeting, while Vondie Curtis-Hall excels as journalist Ben Urich before his death at the hands of Fisk in the penultimate episode of the season.

There are small nods to Marvel’s other franchises throughout Daredevil too, with small mentions of the events of Avengers Assemble just one such example of how Marvel is tying its cinematic universe into its TV story arcs.

The season finale finally sees the ‘Man in the Mask’ dubbed ‘Daredevil’ in the media – thanks in no small part to the unveiling of Murdock’s new, improved and protective costume – and ties season one’s storythreads together in a fitting manner.

The face-off between Daredevil and Fisk could possibly have been a little longer in length, given the events that had led up to that point, but it was enough to leave viewers wanting more – a duel that will no doubt be revisited when, not if, Fisk escapes from prison.

That fight and other action sequences are well choreographed and fluid throughout too, with various camera angles picking up a variety of stellar shots to exhibit the violence on show.

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A couple of slight niggles with editing in one or two episodes show that there is slight room for improvement, in addition to a smattering of ponderous moments, particularly in the earlier chapters of the series, but these faults are minor and can easily be rectified now that the show has a sound footing on which to build.

Season two of Daredevil, due for release on March 18th, will introduce fan favourites such as Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) and Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung), but it will have to make do without season one showrunner Stephen DeKnight – a decision that will hopefully not cause too much concern going forward, such was the acclaim the first series garnered.

If Goddard and co. can produce another successful season that surpasses the first, fans will be in for a treat. It’ll be much deserved after years of being reminded of that 2003 film.

Verdict: A triumph for all concerned, Daredevil is a tactful interpretation of a beloved comic book superhero. Gritty, dark, intriguing and, at times, shocking, solid foundations have been laid for the show moving forward into season two, with much of the same expected for the next chapter in the franchise. 9/10