Friday, 20 October 2017

Forza Motorsport 7: XBox One Review

Forza Motorsport 7: XBox One Review

Developed by Turn 10 Studios
Platform: XBox One

The Forza motoring series is fast becoming a mark of quality on the XBox.
Forza Motorsport 7: XBox One Review

An exclusive series which really does bring out the best of the racing game simulator in general, the latest iteration is no exception to that rule.
The tenth release in the series has managed to amp up the quality of what appears on your screen with some state of the art graphics and also some pretty sweet gameplay.

While the Forza Horizon series has always been about the arcade feel with its Outrun-esque racing, Forza Motorsport has always appealed to the purist, and while that's a good thing, it's always been smart enough to ensure the game doesn't feel elitist and is open to all.

This time, with its over 700 cars and over 30 race environments, complete with dynamic weather, the game's clearly about continuing to ramp up the size and scope. It's also the first title to have 4K resolution (something untested in this review) but clearly for the upcoming XBox One X console.
Forza Motorsport 7: XBox One Review

Perhaps the biggest change to the series, and one of the most controversial in the gaming world in general, is the addition of loot crates and the currency issue. With no way to really garner what your money's going on this feels like perhaps the bizarrest touch for the game that's rarely put a foot wrong on the track in previous games.

Ultimately though, what Forza Motorsport does is what it's always done - it delivers a powerhouse of a simulation game.

Even if they've added trucks to the racing this time, what comes across is this is one of the best simulated racing games bar none.
It looks beautiful and as the rain drops flutter past on your screen as the weather starts to turn, this game has everything right in terms of gameplay.

Drivatars make mistakes as well and can hand you the race without realising - it feels like fallible humans behind the wheels of the cars rather than AI (something which is incredible when considered).
Forza Motorsport 7: XBox One Review

Car handling is smooth too - everything Turn 10 Studios has done this time has been about improving the game for players - and it resolutely shows.

Campaigning through the races and playing with everything to race for is nothing short of compelling - and while the market place for racing games may be feeling a little crowded at this time of the year with Project Cars 2, the upcoming GT Sport, Forza Motorsport 7 absolutely deserves its pole position.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Cuphead: Xbox One Review

Cuphead: Xbox One Review

Developed by StudioMDHR Entertainment
Platform: XBox One

Imagine if Steamboat Willie met with the gaming generation and you're half way to the reality of Cuphead, the XBox One exclusive.
Cuphead: Xbox One Review

With a very simple story (two mugs sell their souls at a casino to the Devil and now have to run about doing his bidding to claim them back), Cuphead's MO is less about narrative and more about the look and feel of the game.

Much like the return of Crash Bandicoot to the PlayStation 4, Cuphead's a platform run and gun game that thrives on its difficulty more than anything.

But that's actually no bad thing, as games these days lack the challenge they used to revel in.

So often would games guide you to where you needed to go to do what you need to do, and while Cuphead's simplicity is annoying in many ways, it's also refreshing.

However, that's not to say it's not punishingly difficult in places.
Cuphead: Xbox One Review

Jumping, running, shooting bosses and bouncing on different colour bombs lobbed your way to fill up your supermeter may sound easily, but the execution of the game is anything but. If timing is remotely off, you're in big trouble and restarting. It can be frustrating, but why should a game that looks this good be so easy anyway?

The game's artwork and animation is nothing short of superb.

Easily reminiscent of early 30s animation and early Disney work, as well as the personification of the WW2 vibe of comics and Korky the cat, the game's artwork is gorgeous. If there weren't so many things coming to kill you, it'd be worth taking it all in.

Ultimately, Cuphead looks good, plays with difficulty and reminds you of why you game - for a challenge, for something different and for something fresh. 
Cuphead: Xbox One Review

Cuphead is all of these things and more.

If you're prepared to sacrifice your sanity occasionally.

Home Again: Film Review

Home Again: Film Review

Based on no real kind of reality, other than the fluffiness that exists in the white privilege confines of the movies, Reese Witherspoon's latest unashamedly and unapologetically panders to the female audience.
Home Again: Film Review

Witherspoon plays Alice Kinney, the just-turned-40-year-old daughter and single mother-of-two of film-maker John Kinney, who's recently divorced.
Celebrating a night out with friends for her birthday, the eternally perky Alice meets Harry, Teddy and George, a trio of wannabe film-makers who've just been evicted but are on the verge of a big deal.

Nearly hooking up with one and finding the other two in her house the next day, Alice finds her mother (Candice Bergen, making the very most of her very few scenes) has invited them to move in while they search for the big break.
But problems arise in this odd family when Alice's former husband Austen(the begrizzled Michael Sheen) decides he wants her back.

Home Again exists in the kind of bubble that Hollywood rom-coms tend to perpetuate.

With everyone looking incredibly perfect and somehow incredibly bland, Nancy Meyers' daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer's assembled a veritable piece of fluff that trades largely on Witherspoon's eternal likeability and girl-next-door-could-be-your-best-friend sheen to maximum effect.
Home Again: Film Review

With little attachment to any reality and some perfectly pristine house interiors, Home Again is a sort of wishful piece of life porn, where the very troubles that arise aren't actually really troubles and everything ends nicely at the end of the day for everyone.
It's so detached from real life and drowned in a sort of saccharine appeal that it's likely to give you diabetes.

That said, its target audience will lap up the tenuously underdeveloped love triangle, will laugh riotously at the bristling of the generations when Austen returns and swoon as the nice guy gets the girl by launching a charm offensive that culminates in him fixing a wonky kitchen cupboard and entering Alice's heart and affections.

It's not that Home Again is anything other than what it aspires to be, and while there are a few moments which will garner some amusement, there's a nagging feeling that any male will find this dangerously intolerable at times and any female will wilt in its presence and perpetuation of the Witherspoon appeal.
Home Again: Film Review

Broad and yet bland, Home Again manages to be just about inoffensive over its 90 minute run time - however, its lack of developing plots and desire to indulge only the slightest of plot developments inside its bubble mean Meyers-Shyer's debut is about as appealing as flat champagne - there are moments of sparkle, but the after taste is anything but pleasant.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

One Thousand Ropes: DVD Review

One Thousand Ropes: DVD Review

Tradition, spirituality, family ties, ghosts of the past long forgotten and haunting melancholia mixes together in Samoan director Tusi Tamasese's latest film, One Thousand Ropes.

Blending together a slow-burning concoction of humanity and redemption proves to be a fertile narrative ground for this tale of Maea (Uelese Petaia, quiet and dignified, with hints of more bubbling dangerously under).

Living in a simple life in a run-down empty house in Wellington, and working daily at dawn in a bakery before providing Samoan traditional massage to pregnant women, Maea finds himself trapped in a modern world that appears to be turning its back on his old ways.

From old ways of kneading dough to old midwifery, Maea is stuck dealing with the consequences of how he's handled life - and haunted by a warrior-like spirit lurking in the corner of his house that he believes he freed during a massage session.

Things further reach breaking point, when the bakery he toils at brings in a machine to keep up the pace and Maea continues to lose business to the local church and their midwifery ways.

When his pregnant daughter (Shortland Street's Frankie Adams) returns home, beaten and battered by her partner, Maea finds his quest for redemption inadvertently renewed - but will the sins of his past ruin what's left of his future?

One Thousand Ropes is gloomy, bleak and slow-moving - and all the more powerful because of it.

It also has something of a commanding presence in among the darkness as Tamasese weaves intricately and carefully laid out details into the fabric of this Samoan story that the audience will have to work with to get the most out of. He did something similar with 2011's The Orator, which delivered an emotional punch of some considerable heft.

While One Thousand Ropes occasionally teeters on leading a little too slowly towards its denouement, its stripped back paucity and ominous foreboding build a terrifically-laced atmosphere that washes over those willing to spend a little patience in the cinema. It's already had good reviews out of Sundance and also the Berlinale Film Festival, and it's easy to see why.

Themes of redemption and reconciliation co-exist and coagulate in the mix, as the a-lot-said-but-little-spoken forlorn film plays out. The pay-off is tangible too, and while Tamasese leaves a lot for the audience to connect the dots, the selective way the emotional moments land and the truths are revealed deliver maximum impact as well.

Predominantly, this is due to Petaia's dignified turn, one which is understated and subtle. Etched on his face, the man once known as The Lion and who's encouraged to smash the perpetrator of his wife's beating lumbers with the guilt of the past and teeters with fragility on the brink of giving in. This is a turn that delivers so much by doing so little.

There's some terrific imagery too - from the succubus-like Seipua haunting Maea and strangling him to Maea's incessant kneading of the dough demonstrating his volcano-like emotions bubbling under, Tamasese does a lot with lingering slow shots, filling the frames of the film and providing more than screeds of dialogue ever could.

If you succumb to the rhythms and the slow-creeping power pace of One Thousand Ropes, the end result is quite unsettling and powerful. Weaving together both myth and personal tragedy are a potent mix for Tamasese, and despite the sedentary pace potentially putting some people off, it actually works in ways you could never expect.

Evocative, haunting and hard to shake, One Thousand Ropes is a timely reminder, once again, that small-scale intimacy works infinitely better than big screen bluster.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Waru: Film Review

Waru: Film Review

Eight independently told stories over one 10 minute period, linked by one single tragedy, but not so highly strung together it feels stretched.

That's the premise of the Maori female director-led Waru in an attempt to both stimulate discussion on child abuse and other Maori issues.

At the centre of it all is Waru, a boy killed in circumstances fully unknown, yet depressingly familiar, and whose opening words over a black screen "When I died, I saw the whole world" hint at the heartbreak of tragedy rippling through a community stricken by various forms of grief and guilt.

Waru: NZIFF Review

From there, the 8 female directors take on varying stories; from an aunty setting up the kitchen at the tangi, to a school teacher at a local kindy where Waru was and ending with 2 sisters on the road, the film's poignancy is evident in its subtlety and its execution.

Each vignette, grounded in a reality that's all too depressingly common, has a different director and story thread, but they're all intertwined with the common theme - and all bar one, they're more than successful at delivering what needs to be said having gone their own path and eschewed the usual trope of seeing the same story from different sides. Using singular shots and swirling around the locations, Waru's team of helmers make great fist of both time constraints and revealing a complete story.

While the great majority of the film works on its subtleties and imbues its subject with the gravitas that's needed and adds in some typically Maori humour, it's sad to note that the ever-so-slightly over-the-top section on the media handling of the case feels like the only section which is slightly fudged. It's the only story that slightly betrays the tone and feels like its extremist approach, while with valid points to raise, could have done it more with a shade less vitriol.

Elsewhere, the story involving two grandmothers, a marae and a challenge for Waru's body is utterly emotionally devastating, a powerful calling card over what a short story can deliver when helmed and written with utter precision. It's an electrifying commitment to culture, clashes of guilt and apportion of blame and self-examination in the light of tragedy, and in many ways, it feels uniquely New Zealand.

Having led us through the darker edges, the final short, with Miriama McDowell, proffers up a degree of frustrated hope and Waru concludes with much discussion to be had. Granted, there are a few moments when there's a bit of lecturing that's aimed at the characters (and by extension, us) throughout, but Waru's greatest strength lies in its subtlety of execution - its portmanteau approach makes this collection of thematically similar shorts both a damnation of societal ills and a template for discussion for change. 

Monday, 16 October 2017

No Ordinary Sheila: Film Review

No Ordinary Sheila: Film Review

The name Sheila Natusch will be familiar to anyone who loves nature and anyone who's from the lower reaches of the South Island.

Director Hugh MacDonald's gentle film biography takes in the life of Sheila Natusch, with better access than most given he's part of her family.

Starting off in Stewart Island where Natusch was born (nee Trail), MacDonald uses a Kim Hill Radio New Zealand interview with Natusch herself to help paint a lot of the scene, as well as Sheila's own writings. From growing up with a fascination for the wildlife and a strict father to Natusch's friendship with Janet Frame after they bonded at teacher's college, the depth on display here is fairly exhaustive, even if MacDonald knows which bits are best excised.
No Ordinary Sheila: NZIFF Review

Using some stunning wildlife footage and shots from around Stewart Island itself, (a nice quick cut montage manages to show the range of what the island has to offer), the scene's set for Sheila's interests to be awakened.

Essentially a social document of growing up and life in the south from when she was born in 1926 on Rakiura, this telling of a life story is amiable stuff. It helps that it's centred so laconically by Sheila herself , a fairly upbeat sort of a character, whose enthusiasm is never in question throughout.

Very occasionally, there are some sadnesses on display, giving Natusch a more rounded edge. Be it the lack of children or the rejection of her Animals in New Zealand book by a publisher written off when one error was clocked, the more human frailties are brought to the fore by MacDonald's use of footage and other's questions.

But with an ethos of "If I'm going to look back, that's what I want to see", the toothy Sheila is a tough old bird, with an attitude which many could learn from - but sadly, most of the audience for this piece won't unfortunately be the youngsters they're looking to try and inspire, with a feeling that perhaps an older generation or a clutch of people from the South will benefit better from this gentle portrait.

It could occasionally do with an edit, and it's not always entirely convincing chopping and changing from different interviewers to tell the story of her life with soundbites or interview moments, but when the spotlight shines on Sheila, there's evidence of the spirit and the inspiration which shine through.

Quite a handy social document as well as salutation to one of New Zealand's pioneering naturalists, No Ordinary Sheila is genial fare, which is fortunate to be blessed with the cunning dry wit and warmth of its quintessentially Kiwi subject. 

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Life is Strange: Before the storm Episode 2 is coming

Life is Strange: Before the storm Episode 2 is coming

New Gameplay Trailer Available
Hi everyone,

Thank you for the amazing support you have given Life is Strange: Before the Storm since the release of the first Episode. We can now officially reveal that Brave New World, the second episode of the three part series, will be available on 19th October for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC (Steam).

Our new ‘Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 2 Trailer’ sets the scene for the events of Episode 2: Brave New World, showcasing some new characters and environments alongside others that are making a return from the first game. As Chloe and Rachel’s family life continues to crumble, their friendship blossoms and the two girls discuss running away together. But before they can go, Chloe gets involved with an errand for Frank Bowers which puts her in a dangerous situation and exposes an uglier side to Arcadia Bay…

LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM is set in Arcadia Bay, three years before the events of the first game in the series. Players will take on the role of a rebellious 16 year-old Chloe Price who forms an unlikely friendship with Rachel Amber; a beautiful and popular girl destined for success. When Rachel’s world is turned upside down by a family secret, it takes this new-found alliance to give each other the strength to overcome their demons.