Saturday, 1 October 2016

Keanu: DVD Review

Keanu: DVD Review

Rating: R16
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

Propagated from an extended sketch by the feel of it, comedians Key and Peele try and fail miserably with this film that aims to send up gangs and sees one of the duo doing a Dwayne Johnson OTT impression.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele star as Clarence and Rell, two cousins who are nowhere near as street smart as they think they are. (One listens repeatedly to George Michael's Faith and Father Figure). When Rell's kitten Keanu is kidnapped, the duo infiltrate a street gang to get it back. And "hilarity" ensues.

Painful in many ways, Keanu's humour is scatter-shot at best (and perhaps better suited to anyone who's been drinking a lot) with many moments falling flat as the film drags on. Despite a cameo from an actress, the film's lacking in originality and while the kitten may be cute, the continued over-acting on Key's part as Clarence is grating.

One to be avoided at all costs, Keanu is nowhere near what it could have been.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Me Before You: DVD Review

Me Before You: DVD Review

Rating: PG
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

The Fault in Our Stars, If I Stay, Last Cab to Darwin; there have been a growing number of cinematic entrants to the pantheon of doomed love and illness literature in the past few years.

The latest contender, Me Before You, taken from Jo Jo Moyes' book and adapted by the author, is the most current addition to the cinematic experience that is kryptonite to many - the weepie.

Buoyed by likeable (and bankable) stars Emilia Clarke (she of dragons and Thrones fame) and Sam Claflin (he of Hunger Games fame), large swathes of this story are forgiven their cliches because of the chemistry between this duo.

Claflin plays Will Traynor, an aristocratic castle-dwelling guy who lives life to the full, has it all and in a sequence before the credits, has it all taken away and is paralysed from the neck down when hit by a motorbike. Trapped in a chair in a small town, his life as a quadriplegic his future. 

Enter Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke as the eccentric small town girl Lou Clark, a perpetually perky, expressively eye-browed, quirkily dressed potential carer, whose life is a struggle to help her family and make ends meet. Initially reticent and hostile to Lou, Will finds her perkiness wears him down - and the two begin to form a friendship.

However, in the background, a dark secret is waiting.

Meshing the Intouchables with an English sensibility and a different performance from Clarke, this fairy tale story of the guy in the castle in the village is exactly what you'd expect from the genre.

Wrapped in portions of humour - some appropriate, some not - and blessed with two chalk and cheese leads that you actually manage to care about even though it's a story you've seen a million times before, Me Before You is a twee journey that dawdles a little on its way to its eventual destination.

The problem is that the struggle for Will never feels real and a story decision over assisted suicide feels narratively necessary for the film and book's USP rather than the cinematic catharsis. It's no discredit to Claflin at all, whose subtle performance is perfectly in keeping with the genre and shows his bitterness at times, but merely the writing which lets him down.

He's not alone though, as the film is packed full of underwritten and underused supporting characters that hardly feature except when it suits proceedings. (Step forward, Matthew Lewis akaNeville Longbottom and Lou's boyfriend) 

Inevitably the Hollywood trappings and tropes of the genre forbid the darkness from seeping into this rom-com-sick-lit piece, and it's a shame that the final portion of the film actually lacks some of the emotional heft it could have achieved. (Though there were some women at the screening with wet eyes). 

Still in a film where one of the leads has never seen a subtitled film or where another is constantly apparently in pain but never glimpsed, it's to be expected of Me Before You. 

Shoe-horning in melodrama at the end and washing everything over with a twee brush and a MOR soundtrack is to be expected, and ultimately, Me Before You works within the confines of its genre, 

However, it means this mix of wannabe optimism, bizarre take on the reality of being disabled and predictable formulaic fare is what you'd expect - but given its euthanasia edges and the debate of a right to die storyline, those involved fudge the most interesting kernel of the piece in favour of a quirky and mawkish rom-com. 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 2: Children of Arkham PS4 Review

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 2: Children of Arkham PS4 Review

Developed by Telltale Games
Platform: PS4

The latest chapter of Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 2: Children of Arkham digs deeper into the corruption of the Wayne family and with Bruce dealing with their legacy.

While the first was a little slow burn, this one carries that trend a little as it heads towards showdowns and a particularly gruesome final sequence that happens in a live TV debate which would make Hillary and Trump shudder.

There's not heaps of action in this one, but the storyline's deepened by the mystery of what actually is happening as it looks like a puppetmaster is emerging from the shadows and no-one is who they claim to be. Though admittedly a lot of the set up makes this feel a bit like the TV Series of Gotham where the villains aren't there yet - and perhaps some of the suggested jeopardy may make it feel like Telltale is a little constrained from either bringing in shock moves or breaking from mythology (time will tell on that front).

But this episode concentrates more on the relationships (as well as a very Nightwing-esque bar fight) - and sees Bruce given the choice of how to handle his burgeoning cat pal, Selina Kyle as well as Harvey Dent. It's here the meat and bones of the episode's drama rise and fall and in many ways, the meat and bones of Telltale Games' delve into the Bat-world. It's great to play Bruce so much more rather than simply diving into the tech and mask of the Batman (even though this episode's major choice is about whether to visit a corrupt city official as Bruce or Batman).

While the story's an involving element, parts of the gameplay of episode 2 felt a little disjointed.

Trophies for completion of episodes were popping up halfway through a couple of the latter part's sequences rather than waiting till it had finished; there seems to be a lot more loading times in episode 2 as well. And a couple of times, the game's QTE fight sequences still took place without me choosing an option - it's an intriguing development from Telltale - I've yet to be either killed or maimed in this game or have to start again.

All in all, Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 2: Children of Arkham is actually an episodic level that feels like the investigations and the mystery add more to the story than any arcane action sequences; here's hoping there are real consequences ahead for the decisions made in episode 2 or it'll feel like Telltale Games is toying with us and running coy from the moral weight that Batman should actually hold.

The Tomorrow Children: PS4 Review

The Tomorrow Children: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Developer : Q Games

The Tomorrow Children is an oddly beguiling affair.

Mixing the red peril with Minecraft leanings and a hefty dosage of Jigsaw, with the premise and the idea of communism, the fact it’s an online open world sandbox seems delightfully and wilfully, amusingly wry.

Set in a world where the Soviet Union has somewhat gone awry and the world’s become enveloped in a kind of dystopian void, it’s wilfully perverse when it comes to its game mechanics and raison d’etre.

You play a girl, whom you later learn is a Projection clone and is therefore able to function within the white wide expanse known only as the Void. Armed with only a satchel, you stumble around the void until a TV set on a stick rises slowly from the white nothingness….and a disembodied address comes your way, with some instructions and some vague level of menace. It’s like Jigsaw from the SAW movies has been trapped within the TV screen and is working on bringing the Russian world back to life.

Basically, in a nutshell, it’s up to you to re-build the world and create a glorious utopia again – and the ethos of sharing plays a big part in that. As the TV set receded into the distance, a massive structure rose up out of the ground and the glorious leader granted me a pick-axe to smash my way into the building and to do his bidding.

What transpires though is that you need to have some inkling of how to solve some basic puzzles and employ some lateral thinking as too much time in the dark sees your projection clone start to twinkle with green static. Given a portable lamp is a clever touch, but how to use that when you have to carry metals from within and with only one set of arms is a puzzle that may take an ounce of simple thinking to solve.

Here’s the interesting thing about The Tomorrow Children though; it seems to thrive on a pool of economies rather than a one for themselves ethos. The metals I gathered were taken out of the complex and dumped into an area that was marked “Storage” – before I was granted access to the subway and a personal upgrading for the work I’d done. It’s quite clear the Red philosophy permeates every pore of the DNA of this game.

Taking you on the subway to what would appear to be the hub of the game brings you into an area that resembles, in part, a monopoly board. Divided up into portions and with bits going on around you, there’s plenty to do as you start to absorb yourself into this world.

From the wry Russian humour to the fact you’re told to "Line up", there’s an air which pervades The Tomorrow Children that shows it's something a little wilfully different
The Islands prove to be the key point to this game as you get to visit them and mine for resources. Building your own town and visiting others seems to be a raison d'etre too - but in parts, most of this game is about you doing your job and conforming to the socialism ideals.

There are creatures waiting to attack you – the Izverg seemed determined to make my life a misery. Attacking one seemed to link it as an albatross around my neck and it would merely follow me and attack. Even if I was in the middle of another interaction with someone else – which is more than a mild irritation given how I was unable to continue with what I was doing.

In among the propaganda films and the Russian ethos, there’s an inkling that The Tomorrow Children is something different and is shaping up to be an indie that’s more than just quirk. But it takes time to feed into this and to build your own attitude as well - it looks beautifully rendered, but it's not a world that cries for you to spend time within. It may not be to all tastes, but The Tomorrow Children is worth spending some time in - it feels more like a missed opportunity than a fully formed ideal, but it';s certainly a sign the indie sector can shake things up.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Re: Core: XBox One Review

Re: Core: XBox One Review

Platform: XBox One
Developer: Comcept and Armature Studio

Melding a sort of Tomb Raider vibe while crossing it with some Force Awakens' style Rey heroine and throwing in a Ratchet and Clank ethos works for the large part of Re:Core.

Set on the far away colony of Far Eden, you are heroine Joule Adams, who awakens after a cryo-sleep to find that not everything is how it should be. With her trusty robot dog Mack by her side, you take control of Joule as she travels across Far Eden, trying to right what's gone wrong - and facing off against robot baddies in the sand.

Solving puzzles and taking on combat is essentially Re:Core's MO, a game of such fun, that even its hellishly long loading times can't diminish (Though the developer has revealed that these are strictly in their crosshairs and a forthcoming patch will fix this). As you power through the desert, the game's graphics truly stand out and the sandy world feels like the kind of place you'd easily re-visit.

But Re:Core is also about combat and pulling out the cores of the machines that attack you to help you either power up your own weapons or to take on the upgrades of Mack and other bits and bobs around the world. Facing off against enemies that have cores within them is all about ensuring a degree of combat strategy. Fight with different coloured weaponry to break down their defences and then grapple their cores out of them, it's a method that's both engaging and reflex provoking. Press too hard on the R3 stick and you'll end up snapping the robotic tug of war and falling flat on your ass.

There's a degree of repetition in the gameplay as the missions roll around, but it's enjoyable enough fluff as you battle flying bats, spider creatures and track down missing robots to help you in your quest.

Mixing platforming trials and light combat work well for Re:Core and while it may lack a little oomph to keep its place in the gaming pantheon as we head the triple A storm that hits this time of year, this XBox One exclusive is certainly a good way to spend the rainy school holidays.

Hardcore Henry: DVD Review

Hardcore Henry: DVD Review

Rating: R18
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

How you may feel about Hardcore Henry will largely depend on how you feel about being subjected to extended action from a  first person viewpoints.

Waking up in a lab Henry has been brought back from the dead by his scientist wife; given a robotic arm and then shot at, it's straight into survival mode for Henry as his life and wife are put in jeopardy. With a clutch of killers on his tail, it's survival time for Henry...

A pure shot of adrenaline filled lunacy and clever use of its POV camera work, Hardcore Henry feels like you're in a VR version of a video game. Unrelenting it definitely is and while it borders dangerously close to causing nausea, a lot of Hardcore Henry shows just how committed to its MO it is. Haley Bennett and Sharlto Copley deserve kudos for their part in this (and Bennett shows why she's being touted as a rising start) , but the real star of the piece is director Ilya Naishuller, whose vision is nothing short of singular.

One of a kind cinema experiences are very rare these days, and Hardcore Henry is certainly that. It won't be for all tastes but for those willing to strap in for the ride, it's a hedonistic and mental reward.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Film Review

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Film Review

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Terence Stamp, Eva Green, Samuel L Jackson, Chris O'Dowd, Ella Purnell
Director: Tim Burton

It should in theory work, as it has all the kooky elements of a Tim Burton caper – unusual kids, an unusual setting and some spooky bad guys.

But Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is mired in a lengthy set-up that takes forever to tie all its ends together and even get started, crippling it for the first hour.

For those unfamiliar with American author Ransom Riggs’ number 1 best selling novel and its Harry Potter-esque trappings, it’s the story of Jake (Enders’ Game Asa Butterfield who brings a degree of intensity even if his character is saddled with exposition) who heads to Wales after the grotesque death of his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp).

Jake was close with his Grandpa, who used to regale him with night-time stories of the oddball children who’d live at a school under the watch of Eva Green’s Miss Peregrine. Believing the stories to be true, Jake stumbles into their world in Wales and marvels at the peculiarity of it all.

But what initially appears to be dream-like soon turns into a nightmare with something stalking the children and their charge to carry out a terrifying scheme…

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children mixes the macabre and the Burton vibe with a degree of visual aplomb as the allegory for Jewish persecution and child alienation is brought to the fore.

There’s eccentricity all over the place but thanks to a disjointed flow and some middling acting from some of the younger charges under Burton’s watch, the piece never quite achieves the levels of quirkiness it’s aspiring to.

Samuel L Jackson gives good scenery-chewing as the ultimate bad guy menacing the kids, Eva Green is barely there as the slightly plummy, stuffily British toothy pipe-smoking schoolmarm (Scary Poppins, anyone?) and Butterfield manages the awkward emotions of Jack quite well and is fine, but nothing more; it never fully gels in the way it should on the human front, thanks to a convoluted plot and a muddled attempt to get there.

Even Burton’s touches on this feel muted, almost as if a darker approach proved a little too out there for the audience it was aiming for.

It’s a shame the Beetlejuice vibe is played down as the Gothic gallows humour that appears in places is a welcome touch, and the more comic touches add to an air of oddity that's crying out to be set free, but which withers under such underwritten side characters.

Nowhere is this more evident than a brilliant showdown on Blackpool’s pier (of all places) with animated skeletons taking on stretched Slender-men style shadow creatures. It’s inventive, meshed with touches of both Burton and Harryhausen as the bony bodies bounce manically around. (A similar stop-motion scene with two doll puppets, a la Toy Story spider-babies, fighting to do the death is equally as welcome.)

It’s certainly dark, and the more nightmarish touches may explain why Burton had to reign it in for a more Addams Family vibe (but without the jokes) and an ongoing gag about why Florida is so horrific to so many.

The darker touches work well too – the inherent sadness of the war, the displacement of children, mental health problems and parents summarily dismissal of their child's illness, the impressive visuals as the Nazi bombs drop towards the house, the persecution of Jews by human monsters, they all lurk below the surface, but never fully bubble upto the top, almost as if there are fears the audience wouldn’t engage.

Ostensibly lashed with timey-wimey sensibilities and more confusing moments, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fascinating could have been movie from Burton; the offbeat touches meshing with the more gruesome edges to form a queasy cinematic experience that frustrates rather than thrills. It could have done with more of its danse macabre ethos, and a little more ooky rather than just kooky to ensure this children's home is one you'd want to check into again.