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Author: Andy Johnson

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Words about books, boardgames, music, film and videogames by Andy Johnson.
43 Episodes
Flash Point combines the talents of director Wilson Yip and star Donnie Yen, two of the foremost individuals who kept the fire of Hong Kong action cinema burning in the 2000s. The two had worked together before, and would do so again, but Flash Point is arguably the film on which their abilities really clicked for the first time. On this project, Yip and Yen helped to prove that Hong Kong action movies still had some fight left in them, and set the stage for their later collaborations - notably the Ip Man series.  Support the show (
 Chairmen of the Board may just be one of the most underrated soul vocal groups of the 1970s, little-known outside their enduring pop hit “Give Me Just a Little More Time”. The Chairmen had a brief but richly productive heyday, their original lineup putting out four patchy but deeply interesting albums between 1970 and 1974. Like many soul performers, they can be thought of as a singles act first and foremost, but their albums contain a number of hidden gems which should rank alongside some of the best pop-soul and funk of the era - which is saying something. Support the show (
 Over 50 years later, Edwin Starr's version of "War" is one of the most recognisable and popular recordings from the glory years of soul and funk - thanks in part to frequent airplay and its use in movies like Rush Hour (1998). But Edwin Starr himself is hardly a household name, and while soul fans will readily remember him as the performer of "War", they won't neccesarily know a lot about him or about the rest of his career. The man himself died in 2003, but it's always a good time to delve into the discography of one of soul's more underrated stars.  Support the show (
Following the publication of The Dispossessed (1974), Ursula K. Le Guin ceased to write new stories in her Hainish universe. In the following years, she wrote some of the books which are less well known today, including the Orsinia books and the experimental Always Coming Home (1985). At the time it must have seemed as if Le Guin was finished with the Hainish cycle - but after a 16-year break, she began to publish new short stories in 1990. Eventually, she followed these up with one of the most structurally unusual books in the Hainish series - Four Ways to Forgiveness.  Support the show (
Originally published in late 2008, the Destiny trilogy is a major linchpin of Star Trek tie-in fiction. This hugely ambitious series combines characters, ships and backstory from several TV series and films and is a deeply rewarding read for Star Trek fans. Support the show (
In the glut of World War II shooters that followed in the wake of Saving Private Ryanand Band of Brothers, it could be difficult for a game to be distinctive. With their first original project Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, Gearbox Software used an increased focus on realism and small-unit tactics to help them stand out from the crowd. Support the show (
In 2006, EA proudly presented a collected set of all of the Command & Conquer games released in the series' first decade. The second decade was far less successful, however, with a string of catastrophic failures and cancelled projects. This episode takes a deep dive look at the glittering diamond in the rough - the magnificently camp Red Alert 3, which is still a pleasure to play today. Support the show (
"Nobody gives Schwarzenegger a raw deal!" On April 1, Arnold's 1986 flop actioner directed by John Irvin will get another chance to impress, when it is added to Netflix. This episode takes a look at the film, arguing that it deserves the same cult status enjoyed by Stallone's movie of 1986, Cobra. It also recaps the strange story of Raw Deal's co-writer, and how the film's failure helped lead to the success of Total Recall in 1990. Support the show (
In 2003, the New York Times published an article casting judgement on which show was “the best spy series in television history.” The writer, Terence Rafferty, wasn’t thinking of the then-current hit series 24. He was writing about an obscure British series which had barely been broadcast in the United States - The Sandbaggers.  Exploring this unique and little-remembered series is fascinating for its low-key approach and its implications about the UK's place in the world.Support the show (
Resuming my exploration of the Hainish cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin, I reach The Dispossessed (1974). One of her most acclaimed books, it won the Hugo, Locus and Nebula Awards for Best Novel. This brief recap looks at the book's exploration of radically different forms of social and economic organisation, set on the two worlds of Urras and Anarres.Support the show (
"An Action Canon" is a new series which looks at some of the best and most important action movies of all time, and explores why they have a crucial place in the genre's history. This first instalment focuses on Paul Verhoeven's subversive sci-fi action masterpiece RoboCop (1987), which is definitely the only movie by that name ever released.Support the show (
Funded by a hugely successful kickstarter in 2012, Shadowrun Returns is that rare thing - an RPG which can be finished in a modest amount of time. This short piece looks at the appeal of an RPG which is made to be completed, and not just dipped into.Read my top games of 2020 published by Entertainium here.Support the show (
Kathryn Bigelow's 1995 cyberpunk thriller Strange Days was a major flop, and seriously damaged her career. Watched 25 years later to see in the New Year, the movie is more relevant and impressive than ever - despite an ending that seems overly hopeful right now.Support the show (
In this conclusion to a three-part series looking at Crystal Dynamics' first trilogy of Tomb Raider games, we explore the final game - Underworld. A slightly haphzard effort to combine the best aspects of the two prior entries in the trilogy, it isn't the most consistent game in the series but certainly has its moments and serves as the end of an era.Support the show (
Part two of a three-part series on the Tomb Raider: Legend trilogy (2006 - 2008).Tomb Raider: Anniversary represents a unique fusion of two eras of the Tomb Raider series. While preserving some of the smoothness and new mechanics of Legend, it also brings back the solitary, atmospheric adventuring and strong emphasis on puzzles from the 1996 original. The result is a game which is strikingly different to the one that preceded it and which has more of a niche audience - but which also shows just far the Tomb Raider series had come in its first decade.Support the show (
In 2004, the Tomb Raider series was in a bad place. The critical failure of The Angel of Darkness led publisher Eidos to sack Core Design from the series, and bring in another of their studios - Crystal Dynamics. Released in 2006, Tomb Raider: Legend overhauled Lara Croft's adventures in a number of key ways that have set the series in good stead for its ongoing success.Support the show (
There is a grand tradition of rally video games, stretching back into the 1980s. Released for a host of platforms, they have varied in their approach to realism and their relationship to official championships. Art of Rally is a genuinely unique take on this venerable sub-genre of racing games. Developed by Canadian outfit Funselektor Labs, it recognises the things that make rally unique and special - the mastery of its delicate technical skills, the sense of being alone against the elements and the clock, and the euphoric experience of getting a corner just right.Support the show (
My overview of Michael Moorcock’s epic Elric saga continues, and concludes, with this second part. The guide covers the eight main novels in the sequence in their internal chronological order; to catch up with the first four novels, be sure to read or listen to part I.Following those first four books, Elric has made enemies in what remains of his Melnibonéan people, and in the powerful sorcerer Theleb Ka’arna. More positively, he has made a stout ally in the form of Moonglum of Elwher. He has won great victories, and done terrible things, all with the demonic sword Stormbringer at his side.All of these events are factors in the stories which follow in books 5 to 8. Here, the chronology and provenance of the series becomes a bit more complicated. The four books were published out of sequence, during three decades. Confusingly, the book published first is actually the lastin the main sequence. Hopefully, this concluding part of the guide will clear up the probable misunderstandings - rest assured that these are fine books, and a wild ride in the Multiverse.Support the show (
By 1972, Ursula K. Le Guin was increasingly being seen as one of the most important writers of science fiction and fantasy. Following three fascinating but mostly ignored novels, the Oregon-based author and her Hainish series were brought to wide attention by The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). She had also published A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) and The Tombs of Atuan (1971), the first two entries in her Earthsea fantasy series, to some acclaim.While Le Guin’s career was taking off, she was profoundly troubled by outside events - specifically the horror of the Vietnam War. This would profoundly influence the fifth entry in her Hainish series, The Word for World is Forest. As Ken MacLeod put it in his introduction, the book is a “reflection on invasion, exploitation and oppression, and on the necessity and cost of resistance.”Support the show (
Nothing looks quite like Amid Evil. Released from the murky ambiguity of Early Access into the sunlit uplands of actual completion in 2019, the fantasy shooter by developer Indefatigable has a genuinely unique aesthetic. Even moreso than its eminently solid gameplay, it is the visuals and level design of Amid Evil which elevate the game into being one of the best examples in the recent retro shooter boom.Support the show (
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