Sunday, 18 November 2018

Pick Of the Litter: Film Review

Pick Of the Litter: Film Review

So, here it is - this year's Kedi.

Whereas the tale of Turkish kitties was a story of animals, their surroundings and the people that adopt them, Pick Of the Litter is an unashamed piece of furry kryptonite, determined to deliver some close ups of adorable puppies.

Choosing to follow five Labrador puppies as they undergo training for guide dogs for the blind in the USA is not the most taxing of intentions.

However, Dana Nachman and Don Hardy's documentary is unashamed in its desires and is oblivious to the notion of going deeper in this once-over-lightly piece that just about entertains for its 80 minute run time.

Pick of the Litter: NZIFF Review

Primrose, Poppet, Phil, Potomac and Patriot are all born within the walls of a Guide Dogs building in California and all have the potential to change future owners lives. But not if they fail basic training and their puppy raisers don't meet the mark.

With a couple of the pups passed around different trainers, the interesting parts of the film and the dilemmas which reside within are largely ignored in a brisk and brutally cute piece that's aiming for Hallmark thrills rather than in-depth investigations.

Perhaps the more interesting and knottier elements of the film are dropped in amid the cutesier touches as the dogs are "career changed" (lingo for being moved out of the programme) and disappear from our immediate view.

Questions over the ethics of in-house breeding, what kind of a life that must be, the cost of doing it, both financially and emotionally for the organisation and more specifically the trainers are vaulted over at such speed that it's dizzying.

It's a shame as there are hints of some darkness here that are genuinely worth exploring, and which linger rather than being dug into. Some trainers have the dogs taken from them with a disconnect between the administration and the owners unable to be reconciled; issues over whether there are problems with expectations are hinted at - there's a lot more meat to be explored here, but doesn't get done so.

It's not to say that Pick Of The Litter isn't engaging - certainly, if you're an animal lover, you'll adore it, and you'll end up invested in which of the five pups - if any, given the high rate of failure - make it to the end of the training.

And there's certainly no denying the power of the simplicity of seeing the joy on new owners' faces and prospective lives being changed just by having a dog get through this.

But Pick Of The Litter is very much a once-over-lightly kind of pleasantly presented doco, that lacks deep insight but gives cutesy cuddles - not a bad thing for the winter months, but certainly there's a nagging feeling that a stronger documentary definitely lies within, waiting to be coaxed to the surface. 

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Tetris Effect: PS4 Review

Tetris Effect: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4/ PSVR

Tetris Effect: PS4 ReviewThe return of Tetris in Tetris: Effect feels like a loving tribute to the game which sucked so many of our lives over three decades ago.

It's essentially Tetris, without the annoying soundtrack of the past, and feels very much like a recognition of the simplicity of the first original game.

Tetris Effect: PS4 ReviewBut in many ways, this is a Tetris that's bathed in an Ibiza Chill-out album, set to a pulsing strand of imagery, and then locked into a floatation tank with you via the route of Sound Shapes gameplay which incorporated music and rhythm.

Pulling in some of the vibe of Pac-Man Championship Arcade and Pac-Man 256 in terms of look, the game's built on clearing lines of the classic drop-a-block gameplay, before allowing you to move onto the next level.

Set over a cosmos of worlds, each level sees you graded for your efforts.

But each level is also blessed with a whole series of moving effects around the central game too which sits in the middle of your screen. It's a more engaging effect in the VR environment, but doesn't lose any of the benefit when it's on a normal screen. In truth, as the relaxed soundtrack plays out, the images are absorbing, reflecting the nature of what you're doing.
Tetris Effect: PS4 Review

Some levels see horses move quicker the faster you drop the blocks; others see birds flying, dolphins jumping out of waters, and worshippers getting more and more frenzied the quicker you clear. Very occasionally, it's distracting, and paying not enough attention to the actual Tetriminos could cost; but when the windmills turn as you rotate blocks or blobs pulse with each line, it's beautiful to behold.

It's a sensory onslaught in many ways - albeit a welcome one as the swirling patterns, growing creatures form around the sides of the game, pulsing, whirling and living breathing digital dots which grow as the levels go on, and as your gameplay improves.

It's never a sensory overload - and Rez creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi's made sure the game appears to embrace the past as well as the future, with its focus on the simple gameplay and fiendish ease of the original. It's sucked more of my life again, and I wouldn't change a thing.

New touches include a series of random levels where various effects strike your chance of clearing, and an inclusion of something called The Zone, which effectively stops the clock, giving you a chance to score points and clear lines in a limited time. This is triggered by the more chains of cleared levels you get and it's a canny way to clear the building blocks to help when the clock restarts.

Online levels, classic levels, the chance to play random parts again - there's much replay in this, and there's also much that will give itself joyously to disposable pleasures.

All in all, Tetris Effect is a trippy update of the past, a clever nod to the future, and a game that never loses sight of what made the original Tetris such a fiendish knotty game to put down.

Friday, 16 November 2018

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: Film Review

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: Film Review

Directors: The Coen Brothers
Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits, James Franco, Bill Heck, Tyne Daly

Boasting an all-star cast, and an ensemble to impress, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs takes on the wild west in an anthology from the Coen Brothers.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: Film Review

Comprising six stories, of varying quality in truth, the Coens' take on the Wild West is one that plays to the violence of the times, while also offering a wide scope of stories.

The end result is somewhat of a mixed bag, with some hitting the mark, and others misfiring. And given each short's differing time duration, when it misfires, it can feel longer than it should.

Successful outings include Blake Nelson's singing cowboy Buster Scruggs who is as deadly as the notes which come flying from his mouth and also a prospecting tale with Tom Waits, panning for gold on a lonely quest for riches.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: Film Review

Less successful are Liam Neeson's vaudeville tale of a showman exploiting a quadriplegic raconteur and a meditative piece on Stagecoach that ends proceedings, but manages to feel like the whole thing's not quite wrapped up.

If the shorts are of differing quality throughout, the production values of this multi-faceted take on the wild west are not.

Linked by a book flipping pages between stories, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs embraces its old time roots with veritable gusto.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: Film Review

Looking stunning throughout, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs feels authentic to the time, without ever playing up the edges of the genre; and once again, the Coen Brothers' eye for brutality in all its forms, and human tragedy, as well as black humour are all present.

Much like panning for gold, there will be some nuggets, and some almost nuggets - the anthology nature of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs makes for an intriguing companion on the road to original movies, even if it's not quite as settled a tone throughout as you'd hope for.

Dogs: Netflix Review

Dogs: Review

Dogs: Review
If a show is called Dogs you can pretty much guarantee what it will be about.

But Netflix's Dogs, while packed to the gills with good boys, is about more than the bond with human and pooch.

This six part series, from Deliver Us From Evil's Amy Berg and Glen Zipper, is also about society and the subtleties that live within.

While it starts with the cute, the opening episode treads much of the same lines as recent cinema release Pick of the Litter, in that it tackles service dogs. But whereas the film keeps things fluffy, the doco chooses to go deeper into what the dogs mean to their various charges, in this case young Corinne whose epilepsy means her mum continually sleeps in the same room, but what also their presence does to the rest of the family - hint, it's no family pet (much to the consternation of one sibling whose constant queries over the dog show how she's bonded beforehand).

More powerful I'd wager is the second episode which tells the tale of a Syrian refugee desperate to get his dog Zeus out of there and into Berlin where he now lives. There's much more going on with Dogs than pure cuteness at a surface level. 

Dogs: Netflix ReviewThis tale is pertinent, globally acute and is as much about the refugee cost as a case of reuniting owner with dog.

It's some smart doco making that finds all the deeper facets and avoids the obvious easy routes - and Dogs does it well, with panache and pooches in equal measure.

For animal lovers in the know it's not exactly eye-opening stuff in some ways, but given people will be piqued by the cute pitch (Dogs!), the scope for education on more global issues is an opportunity well worth bingeing on.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

You Were Never Really Here: Film Review

You Were Never Really Here: Film Review

Director Lynne Ramsay's thriller is bathed in brutality, but also beaten down in humanity.

A hooded, hulking and haunted Joaquin Phoenix is Joe, a hitman former veteran, whose specialty is saving children from sex rings.

Aside from the repugnance of his day job, Joe spends the time outside of the job looking after his mother, who's ailing and in need of care.

But when Joe's called in to a kidnapping of a US senator, what he believes is a cut-and-dry job turns into something a lot more personal - and potentially fatal.

Based on the 2013 Jonathan Ames' novel, Ramsay's sparsity with the camera work and the hallucinatory material within works masterfully for You Were Never Really Here.

You Were Never Really Here: NZIFF Review

It's aided by a sterling turn by Phoenix, whose intensity is suited to the anger contained within Joe as he dispatches his law-breakers with a hammer. But Phoenix also makes a case for real tenderness in terms of his interaction with his mother and also the victims of the child sex rings.

It's these touches which lift You Were Never Really Here out of the darkness that it inhabits.

Ramsay (who did We Need To Talk About Kevin) keeps things taut and interesting throughout - rather than fixating on the violent means of despatching, she angles the camera away from proceedings.

When Joe breaks into a hotel to free his victims, CCTV footage shows the scene but cuts just before the method of murder is revealed; equally a desperate fight on the floor is depicted through a ceiling mirror - it's impressive stuff that's not too showy, but very effective.

It helps with the disorientation too, as You Were Never Really Here has an overall feeling of thrilling wooziness as it plays out.

Greatly enhanced by a turn from Phoenix that keeps you riveted as the conspiracy plays out, You Were Never Really Here is as much of a trip for the audience as it is on screen.

It may be a trip to a seedy underbelly, but thanks to Ramsay and Phoenix, it's a trip that's well worth taking. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Red Dead Redemption 2: PS4 Review

Red Dead Redemption 2: PS4 Review

Released by Rockstar Games
Platform: PS4

The third Red Dead game is already massive.

Massive in sales, massive in actual gameplay, and thanks to Dan Houser, massive in controversy, after he revealed "crunch" teams were working upto 100 hours a week to get it all done, prompting discussions about gaming industry working conditions.
Red Dead Redemption 2: PS4 Review

When all is said and done, and regardless of right or wrong, it cannot be denied that what Rockstar has committed to the small screen in this game is truly incredible, game-changing, bar-raising kind of stuff.

You are Arthur Morgan, outlaw and member of the Van der Linde gang, who finds himself in 1899 after a botched heist. Hiding out and then trying to escape, it's up to you to negotiate the treacherous world within, and potential allies as you take part in heists, hunting and hollering utter chaos as the story unfolds.

To say Red Dead Redemption 2 is a cinematic game is an understatement.
Red Dead Redemption 2: PS4 Review

It's clear every detail has been pored over repeatedly in setting this game on the right path, and whether that's right or wrong, given what was reported, it's hard to deny that this game has strived for perfection throughout.

Early visuals like a snowstorm, and the interaction of people within are just mind-blowingly impressive. There's no chance to run in this, and the system doesn't let you cheat as you try to make your way through; snowy crevices and peaks are stunning as well. Just don't try walking your horse over one, because the creatures won't let you do it.

There are plenty of controls in place for Arthur as well - he'll need to be fed, kept stamina up and also kept healthy. It's this kind of nannying, which while realistic to the game, reminds you that it's also a bit of a chore (much like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas made you keep your protagonist alive) and does detract from simply getting on with the game.

There's an argument realism can be taken too far, but in making this as real as possible, this is what Rockstar have compelled you to do. And there are way too many controls to remember when necessary, so there's an argument it's all been over-complicated in some ways - which sounds like lunacy when you look at the scale of what's been achieved.
Red Dead Redemption 2: PS4 Review

Visually, the game impresses on every level, from cinematics that feel authentic to switching cameras on scenes that makes you feel like you're in a Sergio Leone film, there's a lot to marvel in here.

The story's enjoyable too, and while the constant maintenance of your character may occasionally take you out of the action, it's fair to say that Red Dead Redemption 2 is a pinnacle of what gaming can do.

Rockstar Games have built on the success of previous titles like Grand Theft Auto and created an almost video game cinema experience that will continue to impress for years to come, and be emulated by others desperate to repeat their success.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: Film Review

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: Film Review

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz
Director: David Yates

In truth, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald struggles to justify carrying on the franchise into five-films beast.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: Film Review

From the pen of JK Rowling and expanding on what was a flimsy compendium of creatures, the latest picks up the end thread of the appearance of nasty wizard Grindelwald (Depp, bleached white, and downplaying the menace for once) and ups the ante with talk of shattering the fragile peace between the wizarding world and the Muggles.

Finding himself in the centre of all this is Eddie Redmayne's awkward, but openly honest and pure-of-heart Newt Scamander, still being punished for his altruistic actions in Fantastic Beasts.

To say more, is to break the marketing omerta imposed on all reviewers, but suffice to say the problem with Fantastic Beasts 2 is that it gets tied up in its own world, starts talking only to its own and not the average Muggle who's not that keen on every throwback.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: Film Review

Character arcs feel unformed with one twist feeling unearned and emotionally underwhelming, demanding you appreciate them because you met them in the last film, rather than for their own journey.

And for a film whose subtitle is The Crimes of Grindelwald, Grindelwald himself carries out scant any crimes - although given the uproar of Johnny Depp's casting as the veiled Trumpian baddie, some may strongly disagree.

The major problem is a lot of what's delivered here is swathed in large amounts of world-building, of set-up and of promises further down the line; sub-plots swirl and float, leaving undernourished edges to waft among the murkily executed CGI.

Of the principal cast, Depp is serviceable and serves really to bookend the film; Redmayne and Waterston conjure up the same kind of tension that was last seen executed by Edward and Bella in The Twilight Saga; and Law brings a heart and earnestness to a young Dumbledore which is sorely needed to anchor the film's lack of anything else.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: Film Review

Ultimately, the Fantastic Beasts film series needs to deliver more of a case for being fantastic and bring the magic back to the world - and feel like less of an ill-conceived thinly-veiled cash grab to extend a dying franchise.

Spyro™ Reignited Trilogy is out now

Spyro™ Reignited Trilogy is out now

Spyro™ Reignited Trilogy is out now

Spyro, the iconic purple dragon that entertained living rooms worldwide in the late ‘90s, is making an epic return today with the release of Spyro™ Reignited Trilogy.

Even Snoop Dogg is excited and after 2,808 miles across America, the first fire-breathing and talking Spyro drone made it to Snoop’s house and delivered the goods!

Spyro Reignited Trilogy introduces players to a fully remastered game collection with a re-imagined cast of characters, animations, environments, brand-new lighting and recreated cinematics—all in stunning HD. The game is available now on PlayStation® 4, PlayStation® 4 Pro and the family of Xbox One devices from Microsoft, including the Xbox One X.


The Old Man & The Gun: Film Review

The Old Man & The Gun: Film Review

Cast: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck
Director: David Lowery

Touted as Robert Redford's cinematic swansong, and marketed thus, the latest film from A Ghost Story's David Lowery uses Redford's undeniable charm to maximum effect in his take on a true story.
The Old Man & The Gun: Film Review

Redford plays Forrest Tucker, a career criminal who used a smile, an apparent gun and a suit to rob banks. Never anything other than unflappably polite, Lowery's tale follows Tucker post-robbery as he encounters Spacek's Jewel, broken down on the side of the road. Striking up a friendship and romantic spark, Tucker resists Jewel's attempts to find out what he does, claiming he's a salesman.

However, on the side, Tucker continues to rob banks with minimum fuss, engaging the interest of ennui-ridden's Detective John Hunt (Affleck), who's hit 40 and is tired of the life he leads.

Piqued by the case dubbed the Over-The-Hill-gang (and more specifically the thrill of the chase) Hunt and Tucker engage in a cat-and-mouse game throughout the years.
The Old Man & The Gun: Film Review

The Old Man & The Gun is an intriguingly relaxed film, one that feels like a 70s caper, but resists the smash-and-grab thrills of the heist genre.

Whilst its jazzy score leaves a little to be desired throughout, and is never quite successful in underscoring the atmosphere, the gentle charms of Lowery's piece are curiously affecting in ways that would work even if this were not Redford's farewell.

It may feel like the characters are underwritten in parts - certainly, in Tucker's case, there's nothing but a sort of admiration for the general ballsiness he has to carry out his robberies; but in truth, Redford imbues Tucker with a sort of affection and charm that is more affable rogue than psychologically-scarred inveterate criminal.

It's suited to the way Redford's played his career in many ways, but Lowery's also smart enough to ensure he doesn't overplay the edges, and still adds in some levels of suspense, where really little exists.
The Old Man & The Gun: Film Review

There are attempts to flourish the film with 80s-style montages and quick split-screen cuts, but in truth, The Old Man & The Gun is anything but flashy, preferring instead to lay out the threads, subtly tie them together and then have them coincide unexpectedly.

It's not all entirely successful - certainly Elisabeth Moss' cameo seems at odds with the rest of the film, and hints at a darkness that's never fully explored or explained, which would have added further depths to Tucker's behaviour and make-up.

Spacek and Redford have a rapport that's hard to shake, and certainly Jewel's attempts to straighten him out over the years when their paths collided are exerted in subtle moments from the script. Plus there are long shots of the duo simply talking or engaging in daily routines which are seldom seen on the screen these days.

Gently cruising through its 90 minute run time, The Old Man & The Gun works in many ways, and fails in some. But as an almost-shaggy dog story unfolds, it does wrap you up in its charms, and provides you with a poignancy that's hard to shake.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Win a copy of Marvel's Ant-Man and The Wasp

Win a copy of Marvel's Ant-Man and The Wasp

From Marvel Studios comes Ant-Man and the Wasp, a new chapter featuring heroes with the astonishing ability to shrink. 

Win a copy of Marvel's Ant-Man and The WaspAs he struggles to balance his home life and super hero duties, Scott Lang finds he must suit up again, joining the Wasp on an urgent mission to uncover secrets from the past.

Marvel's Ant-Man and The Wasp is out now

Exclusive extras provide an inside look at some of Marvel Comics’ most celebrated characters and the consummate, comedic actors who portray them in “Ant-Man and The Wasp.” 

Featurettes spotlight Paul Rudd, who returns as good-hearted thief turned hero, Scott Lang, and delivers big laughs both on set and in theaters; Evangeline Lilly, who transforms into The Wasp, the first female character to be featured in the title treatment of a Marvel Studios film; and iconic actors Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer as super couple Hank and Janet Van Dyne.  

Viewers can explore more about the visual development artists and effects used to bring the characters to life and drastically alter the size of the Super Heroes and their surroundings. 

Additional extras include deleted scenes, bloopers, outtakes, and audio commentary by “Ant-Man” franchise director Peyton Reed.

Blu-ray & Digital:
    • Back in the Ant Suit: Scott Lang – Hero and all-star dad Scott Lang keeps the laughs coming for the audience, cast and crew.
    • A Suit of Her Own: The Wasp – Highly trained Hope Van Dyne is now the Wasp. See how some of her craziest stunts and action-packed scenes were brought to life.
    • Subatomic Super Heroes: Hank & Janet – Hank Pym’s wife Janet was lost in the quantum realm. Trace the legacy of these characters and the iconic actors who portray them.
    • Quantum Perspective: The VFX and Production Design of “Ant-Man and The Wasp” – Explore the movie’s visual effects and production design from a whole new viewpoint, in which every micro and macro detail counts.
  • Gag Reel and Outtakes – Audiences are treated to the hilarious quips that did not make the film as well as exclusive outtakes from Stan Lee and Tim Heidecker.
    • Gag Reel - Join in the fun with these outtakes from the set.
    • Stan Lee Outtakes - Stan Lee tries out a series of hilarious one-liners for the scene in which his car shrinks.
    • Tim Heidecker Outtakes - Check out Whale Boat Captain Daniel Goobler and his improvised whale-watching riffs.
  • Deleted Scenes (with commentary by Director Peyton Reed)
    • Worlds Upon Worlds - As Janet leads Hank through the surreal landscape of the quantum realm, they encoun ter an intelligent life form.
    • Sonny’s on the Trail - On the hunt for Hank Pym and his lab, Sonny Burch and his henchmen check the security camera of a neighborhood bookstore.

    To win all you have to do is email your details and the word ANT-MAN to
     this address: or CLICK HERE NOW!

    Competition closes November 26th

Monday, 12 November 2018

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2: PS4 Review

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2: PS4 Review

Released by 2K Games
Platform: PS4

Looking like a bobbleheads version of a basketball game, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is a sports sim that's more about the broad fun, than the hard-as-nails sports approach.

Meshing arcade sensibilities with a 2v2 mentality works well for this candy-coloured game that's more about fun thanks to its association with the 2K Sports brand.
NBA 2K Playgrounds 2: PS4 Review

At the start, you get access to trading cards, which helps you unlock certain players, and teams to help you build a roster. Nicely packaged, and smartly deployed the cartoon edges give NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 a feeling of fun to begin with.

As for the gameplay itself, with some 300 players and ten new playgrounds from around the world, the throwback mentality of the game is complemented with some depth that puts it on a par with feeling like something new, other than just a blatant rip-off.

Games themselves are pacy, and require some degree of skill to ensure you get the most out of your roster. But equally, the game's open to those who've never balled before, and who know the names of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

Earning in-game currency means you can build a roster, and you don't have to engage in the horror of microtransactions to get by. You can if you want, but it's not a necessary factor to enjoying the game.

With a shooting metre to help with the hoop shots, you'll need to learn some basics, but they come quickly, and the games shoot by speedily thanks to their ease of playability.

Ultimately NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 is a pick up and play, no experience necessary (but better if you want to play long term) title that's fun and disposable balling at its best.