Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Croods: Blu Ray Review

The Croods: Blu Ray Review

Rating: G
Released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Emma Stone stars as Eep, the eldest girl of the Croods, a family of Neanderthals getting by thanks to the over-protective nature of her father in this animated outing, Grug (Nicolas Cage, in one of his best performances in a while) who simply wants to keep the family safe from harm and trapped within a cave. But Eep is growing up and wants to spend more time in the sun rather than the dark of the cave.

However, when nature intervenes, their cave's destroyed and the continents begin to separate, the Croods have no choice but to move on to find a new cave. And things are further complicated when Guy (Ryan Reynolds) shows up - a smart, thinking and inventive chap, with diametrically opposed ideologies to Grug. Eep falls for him but his attitude puts him on a collision path with Grug... Will the Croods survive the new world?

The Croods movie is, without a doubt, a blast of animated air for the holiday period.

With an opening that exudes CGI confidence as the Croods hurtle around the landscape trying to catch their food,The Croods movie hits the ground running as it crafts together a world of colourful critters and hilarious hijinks. Whereas Scrat had his acorn to chase, the Croods have an egg which provides them with sustenance - a parallel which can't be ignored in this latest prehistoric outing.

With her waving red hair, Eep is the latest redhead after Brave to grace the screen but it's the animation and the world around the Croods movie which scores highly. From its bright colours to its general lunacy of pace, there's plenty to keep the kids entertained in this - with its supporting character of Belt, a sort of pinkish/ purple long armed sloth providing some of the film's best laughs. Which is a good thing because there's scant story to see the film through to be honest. It's simply a tale of a family trying to find their way into a new life - and the usual father / daughter tensions shining through as the girl-meets-her-first-boy and father-struggles-to- reconcile-with-the-possibility-he-will lose-her-to-a-younger, smarter version of himself. The whole family as Neanderthals and new guy as an intelligent next stage works well as an allegory (who hasn't thought their family were primitive when it comes to being impressed by a new suitor?) but it's anything but subtle as the occasional ACME style zaniness plays itself out.

Still, in terms of the journey, it's one which is worth taking - even though it lacks a fully rounded and expanded story, it pushes family values right in the final stages and provides a gooey resolution to the Eep / Grug tensions, The Croods is still a film which will delight many - no matter how young or old they are and regardless of whether they're Neanderthals or otherwise.

Extras: Lost scenes, be an artist, HD picture...


Monday, 30 December 2013

Now You See Me: Blu Ray Review

Now You See Me: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Entertainment

In this new heist / caper / magic, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson and Isla Fisher star as a quartet of magicians aka The Four Horsemen - J Daniel Atlas (a cardsman), Jack, (a pick-pocket) Merritt (a mentalist) and Henley (another escapologist), who, having worked individually are brought together by a mysterious benefactor to pull off some of their biggest ever tricks after a year of planning.

But the group attracts the attention of the FBI's Dylan Rhodes (a wonderfully rugged Mark Ruffalo) after they apparently rob a bank in Paris and give the money to their audience during a show in Las Vegas.

Rhodes teams up with an interpol agent Alma Dray (Inglorious Basterds' Melanie Laurent) and a debunker of magic Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to try and track the Horsemen down and stop them.

And so begins a taut game of cat and mouse....

Now You See Me is a slick, flashy, crowd-pleasing affair. With swirling cameras looping around all the actors and the action all the time, you may get a little dizzy and disorientated as the speedy plot plays out. There's hardly any time to catch your breath really as well as the chase begins and there's certainly no time to dwell on some of the plot holes, light characterisation and confusing moments as it speeds to its ever so slightly open ended conclusion. A lack of real explanation as to why the group's taken in by this scheme is missing until the end, giving you open-ended discussion over why they're involved and causing you to feel a little cheated.

Like any magic trick, Now You See Me is a heady mix of quick cuts, sleight of cinematic hand and misdirection. Nothing is of course as it seems and its ending is ludicrous, making a lot of what has already proceeded seem like something mysterious yet empty.

Eisenberg is smug and arrogant as Atlas; Harrelson's smirking and wise-cracking as the Mentalist - and unfortunately Fisher and Franco barely register as characters in this rather crowded cast. They're lost in the confines of the story and the initial brilliant opening scene, introducing us to all of the characters doesn't follow through on its promise. Freeman and Caine have a frisson of conflict as Tressler, the Horsemen's bank roller and Thaddeus the debunker. But it's Ruffalo who emerges as eminently watchable throughout this piece; his FBI agent seems to always be one step behind the action but his dogged determination is catchy and pretty soon, you're on his side, rooting for the capture of the quartet. That's the thing with Now You See Me - its mix of magic, heist caper and slick Hollywood swirling cameras is infectious - like any good trick, you're caught up in the moment as it plays out - but the minute you step out of the cinema, you find yourself questioning what you've seen - and while Now You See Me proffers up some entertaining moments throughout its 110 minute run, you're soon left with a hollow after glow and a feeling that you've been tricked. A real case of Now You See Me, Now You Don't on the plot front...
Extras: Extended version of film, history of magic, deleted scenes, audio commentary


Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Look of Love: Blu Ray Review

The Look of Love: Blu Ray Review

Rating: R16
Released by Madman Home Ent

"I'm Paul Raymond - and welcome to my world of erotica."

So announces Steve Coogan,straight down the barrel of the camera, at the start of his fourth collaboration with director Michael Winterbottomin this biopic about Paul Raymond, the Soho baron of smut and once Britain's richest man.

The notorious journey to infamy began back in 1958 when he opened a gentleman's club that none could resist - and Winterbottom charts this journey from the very beginning as it grew into an empire for Raymond, and one which was scattered with booze, birds and blow (well, a lot of hard drugs, but you need the alliteration, right?) along the way.

But it's Raymond's personal life which is laid relatively straight forwardly out through the 60s, 70s, 80s and up to his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots) and her death from an overdose in the 1990s. Along the way, it's a heady mix of sex, drugs and porn, but it's relatively lacking in insight into Raymond and remains simply a re-telling of his life rather than an interesting look behind the curtain. Anna Friel blazes a trail early on as his first wife Jean but she soon falls by the wayside when Tamsin Egerton's Fiona Richmond shows up and steals his affections. Though perhaps, that's somewhat unsurprising given how many women appeared to come and go in his life. Jealousies stir and Coogan manages to just about convince as Raymond (even though he does veer dangerously close to feeling like another Steve Coogan comedy stereotype - something which admittedly, it took a while for me to shake). Poots brings a fragility to the proceedings as the daughter who simply wants to impress her dad, but ends up falling into his world as she desperately tries to connect with him.

Winterbottom's wonderfully brought to life the swinging era with some great period detail, but some terribly corny, cheesy, almost Carry On like lines proliferate his leading man that you're never quite on his side. The Men Only shoots are stylishly recreated and evocative of the era and add a level of sleaze to the proceedings that's necessary, but Raymond is such a two dimensional character, it's quite hard to really feel for him when he inevitably finds himself on his own. 

It's easy to see why Coogan was attracted to this character - there's certainly shades of his tabloid presence within and moments which border on parody - but Winterbottom brings little to the direction of this tale of excess and regret. Despite the mountains of merkins and bare flesh on show, there's little passion in this piece. It's a sleazy, simply told tale which lacks a real heart and poignancy that's needed to convince of the unfolding tragedy.

Extras: Deleted scenes, interviews with cast, timeline of life.


Saturday, 28 December 2013

Elysium: Blu Ray Review

Elysium: Blu Ray Review

Rating: R16
Released by Sony Home Entertainment

The director of District 9 returns with yet another sci-fi outing. In the year 2154. the Earth has become over-populated and over-polluted leading to the rich upping and leaving the planet to inhabit a floating space station called Elysium where everything is perfect - and where those who can afford it can be healed of any condition or problem. But back down on the surface, the have nots are struggling to get by, spilling out of slums and slaving for what little they can find.

Matt Damon is Max, who's always wanted to be among the stars and who's sickened by the class system which has developed on the Earth. He works on a production line in a factory, building the robots who police the world and who, ironically, suspect him of wrong-doing simply because he has a criminal record. When he's given an overdose of radiation at work, he believes he has nothing left to lose - and sets Elysium in his sights. But, in order to secure a ticket and transport to the space station, run by Defence secretary Delacourt (an icy Jodie Foster, underused, underwritten and with a truly bizarre clipped accent), he finds himself part of a mission which could bring equality to both those up there in space and down on Earth. But there are those who don't want the equilibrium damaged....

District 9 was such an incredible success that it was perhaps inevitable that anything Blomkamp followed it up with would be disappointing.

Not so with Elysium - to a degree.

Once again, his flair for stunning visuals and establishing shots is there right from the beginning; as with District 9 and its spaceship hanging in the sky, Blomkamp brilliantly sets the scene of the ravaged Earth and creates the world within the space of a few minutes.But despite Elysium being a gritty, dystopian piece of sci-fi, it proffers up a bitterly sweet sentimental ending that seems unnecessary.

Flashbacks back to Max's childhood and friendship with Alice Braga's Frey swoop in and out maybe a few times too often and the end reminiscence certainly is unwarranted. It's Blomkamp overegging the pudding in attempt to ground his protagonists with sentimental motivation.

That said, Damon is pretty good as the man with nothing left to lose and everything to gain as he plies his everyman persona to a slowly dying Max.But it's Copley who once again shines - this time playing bad ass mercenary and rogue agent Kruger, who's sent to deal with Max. There's a cruel streak to him which is uncomfortable to watch in places - I wouldn't be surprised if he gets offered a few more roles as the bad guy now.

FX wise and on the technology front, Blomkamp has created a world which is utterly plausible and totally impressive - he really has grounded the scifi look in a reality which seems just over the horizon and then dirtied it up a little to take the sheen off it. With
 props created by Weta Workshop and including Weta crew Joe Dunckley and Tim Tozer, we've got something to shout about.

The social message is clear for all to see and while the action scenes are sparse and brutal (aside from a final showdown between Max and Kruger which is all Hollywood bluster as they go head to head in exosuits in something akin to Rock Em Sock Em Robots ) Blomkamp has not lost sight of the thrust of his film despite the bluster and slightly out of place ending.

It was always going to be impossible to reach the heights of District 9 and by over-sentimentalising towards the end as he attempts to humanise the protagonists, Blomkamp's actually detracted from what the film sets out to do. That said, it's still a superior slice of sci-fi and a film which is well worth watching, from a director who's pretty quickly raising the bar for the genre.

Extras: Over 1 hour of content for the blu ray including behind the scenes content on how it was put together


Friday, 27 December 2013

To The Wonder: Blu Ray Review

To The Wonder: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

This time around, rather than taking on the big mysteries of life, director Terence Malick's choosing to concentrate on the nature of love, in To The Wonder with a piece centring on Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko's relationship and how it plays out. 

It starts off romantically as the duo journey to Europe on a train. With no inclination for explanation, we're thrown into the middle of their relationship and left to observe; Affleck is near mute and Kurylenko's voiceover gives us snapshots of a life, a love and a budding world of dreams. As time goes on though, the romance cools, the pair split amid a visa issue and Affleck falls back for former girlfriend played by Rachel McAdams. However, once again, that dream falters and the original duo reunite. Intertwined with their life and love is a priest played by Javier Bardem whose purpose in life is drifting away from his calling.

Once again, Malick displays a real propensity and skill for a lyrical liquid narrative, blessed with some wonderful imagery which captures the life within our grasp; but for some, the fluidity and lack of real structure may prove a stumbling block as it rambles on to its conclusion. The overall feeling of To The Wonder is more of an experience, a live picture book than a conventional film - a spiritual journey rather than a scripted pathway. An orchestral score soars early on as the trio all search for something - and while Affleck and Kurylenko's characters seem to get the most closure, Bardem's priest is a little neglected and on the outside of the film rather than being more fully embraced. To The Wonder is a film to be seen and discussed but it may not be one whose snapshots of life and love are anything more than fleeting moments of celluloid; haunting definitely but lasting, not entirely.

Extras: Making of


Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Extended Cut: DVD Review

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Extended Cut: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Warner Home Entertainment

For some, an extended cut of the first Hobbit movie is something akin to torture. For those who love Jackson's deep dive into Middle Earth though, it's to be welcomed as much as a second breakfast.

Everyone knows the story of the Hobbit, so let's skip over that and just say that this cut adds in 13 minutes of footage which was dropped - including more dwarves singing. It's ok, but nothing sensational and there really is the feeling that Peter Jackson put in as much as he could into the main body of the film and there was little left over.

However, the greatest addition part of this 5 disc set is the appendices which chronicle the making of the film and these are a real insight into a production from inception to final birth on the screen. These are essential viewing for anyone who's ever been interested in making movies and also for the fans of this series - Jackson's released these kinds of docos before with King Kong but the scope of them this time around is greatly rewarding and worth the price of the set alone.

A final disc goes back to Middle Earth and discusses the characters within- another greatly expanded piece for completists.

All in all, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Extended Cut set is a must own for any one serious about either Middle Earth or film-making in general.


Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The World's End: Blu Ray Review

The World's End: Blu Ray Review

Rating: R13
Released by Universal Home Ent

Simon Pegg re-teams with on screen buddy Nick Frost and behind the camera whiz Edgar Wright for this latest, which sees Pegg playing initially a little darker than he has done before.

Simon Pegg is Gary King, a black coated, black haired and distinctly Gothic lizard of a man who believes the best year of his life was when he attempted a pub crawl (aka The Golden Mile) in his home town of Newton Haven.

Determined to finish what he started for reasons initially unclear (though hinted at with some kind of family tragedy), King attempts to pull back together the other four players in this epic challenge of alcoholic proportions and put the band back together for one last boozy night out. However, in his unswerving dedication to the amber nectar, he's ignorant to the fact most of the gang have moved on - and one is still harbouring a grudge over treatment from all those years ago.

Paddy Considine's Steven now works in housing, Martin Freeman's O-Man is an estate agent with a blue- tooth permanently wired to his ear and Eddie Marsan's Pete is a respectable man with a family of two kids in suburbia. The final link is Nick Frost's Andy, a partner in a firm and the one who feels most betrayed by King's behaviour and lies.

But, against all the odds, King manages to pull them together and they all pile into his car from the 80s (which he still owns) and head back home to try and complete the legendary pub crawl, no matter what.

However, when the quintet hit the Haven, it appears not all is what it seems and soon, Gary and the gang are facing a fight for their lives, and potentially the planet's future.

The World's End is an epic, exciting and giddy end to the Three Colours Cornetto series.

It's still Pegg and Frost as you know them, but this time, the world's been created on a larger scale - both in budget and characters.

So, it means all the main players have had to severely up their (already high) game and the end results are truly beneficial for the audience. Pegg's brought a complexity to his Gary King which marks some of his best work. Initially distinctly unlikable, Gary is a bit of a hard ask when it comes to eliciting sympathy. But it's as if Pegg knows that and has imbued his Gothic quest leader with an infectious energy, even if he does seem to harbour several personality disorders.

And Frost is utterly incredible in this - confined to the (relatively) oafish roles in the first two films, here his Andy is the straight man for a change and is completely watchable for it. Many of the crowd pleasing moments are elicited by Andy's behaviour and to say more on that front, would spoil the pleasure I felt when those moments came to the fore. The core dynamic is still there at work and still the bonds of friendship ring true, regardless of how initially fractious they may be.

By widening the ensemble cast, Pegg, Frost and Wright have ensured there's more of a dynamic at play without ever losing the tight plotting, jeopardising the story and providing smart and silly pay-offs. And that's the thing about The World's End, it is remarkably silly in places, but it's the kind of goofy fun which leaves a wide grin on your face. The sci-fi elements are brought to the fore in this story as the likes of The Stepford Wives, The Village of the Damned, The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and The Thing are all referenced.

But, by choosing to lace the script with these moments rather than hang it on them, the story is all inclusive and universal - it's about growing up, losing and rediscovering friendships and staying true to your youthful dreams, despite life trying to force you into maturing.

Considine brings stoic solid support as Steve, Martin Freeman adds a deadpan edge as O-Man but it's Eddie Marsan who is the best of the ensemble. There's a tragic pathos to his turn as the put upon Pete and his underplaying is much to the advantage as the story unfolds.

Wright also needs to be commended as well for adding in a new layer of action to his directing cannon. Early scenes may be slower, concentrating on the relationships and interplay, but once the action begins, the wonderfully choreographed moments unspool with such frenetic yet careful ease.

However, Wright doesn't lose the personality of his characters as the action plays out. One bravura sequence sees Pegg channelling some of the best silent comics as he tries to administer a beat-down while not spilling a drop of his pint. It's impressive stuff and certainly adds a level that could make Wright someone to watch when Ant-Man comes out in a few years.

With an impressive OST recalling some of the best of Britpop and a sense of emotional darkness,The World's End is a gritty yet silly end to the trilogy; it's one which suggests all the players are ready to move on, but are celebrating one last blast before calling time, gentlemen.

Extras: Over 4 and a half hours of content - a great bonus amount


Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Spirit of 45: Movie Review

The Spirit of 45: Movie Review

Director: Ken Loach

The post war spirit of Britain (aka the Stiff Upper Lip) is oft spoken of, and here evoked in director Ken Loach's latest.

Blending archive footage with modern day interviews (which are curiously in black and white), Loach pulls together a potted history of the UK in the days post the end of World War II and with an eye to never returning back to the doldrums of the years before.

Shots of bed bugs, of tidying up after the bombs have dropped and talking heads paint a picture of a world struggling to get back on its feet - but despite the film being painted as a polemic documentary, it's more a film of softer edges with a subtle political message running throughout. Loach proffers up his political colours, but chooses to let the speakers paint the picture rather than lecture around it.

Sure, you can see his political stance a mile away (trade unions are praised rather than looked at for their divisiveness) and there's something quite simplistic over the portrait which has been created overall.

However, The Spirit of 45 encapsulates and provides a portrait of the times more than anything else - it's down to the footage that Loach selects to use which gives an insight into a time we may have never seen rather than lived through.


Top films of 2013

Top films of 2013

It's done, folks. 

2013 is very nearly over for the year and with it, a time to reflect back on a year that was.

Scanning back on New Zealand's cinematic year, it's been a solid one - and some films have risen higher than others of their ilk when it comes to offering an experience.

So, in no particular order, here are my picks for the top films of 2013:

The Silver Linings Playbook - slipped in before Oscar season, this heavily nominated drama shone with cracking performances all around; particularly from Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Read The Silver Linings Playbook review here - and see why I said it had "heart and humour aplenty"

Amour / Rust and Bone - two crackers of smaller films which both had a rich emotional resonance and imagery that stayed with me long after I'd left the cinema. Read the Amour review here and see what I made of Rust and Bone here.

Blockbusters came thick and fast this year - but in among the blur, a few stood out. The second part of The Hunger Games trilogy, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire could have so easily have been a repeat of its formula (and indeed is in parts with a retread of the killing) but thanks to Jennifer Lawrence, it managed to be "certainly exhilarating to watch it unfold" - read The Hunger Games: Catching Fire movie review here.

Equally, The World's End was a fitting conclusion to the Cornetto trilogy with Pegg, Frost and Wright bringing a touching poignancy and friendship to the closing film, which meshed sci-fi and drinking to comic effect. Read The World's End review here.

And of course, Benedict Cumberbatch's presence in Star Trek: Into Darkness led me to believe those in charge had "set phasers to stunning." Read the Star Trek Into Darkness movie review and see why. There's also mentions for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug which brought the action - and a big CGI dragon; and praise for Ben Stiller's directorial prowess in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (which releases here on Boxing Day).

But there were quieter moments which really caught my attention this year and providing haunting moments for long after they'd finished. Mads Mikkelsen may be making his name as Hannibal these days, but in The Hunt movie, his pursuit over claims of paedophilia was horrific. It was a heart in the mouth drama that had a way of inveigling itself under your skin - read The Hunt movie review and find out more. 

I also fell for The Selfish Giant at the New Zealand International Film Festival, which still has yet to find a NZ release date. It's a shame as the film "crackles with electricity" thanks to its subject matter and the two young actors. Read The Selfish Giant movie review and see why NZ is missing out.

The Way Way Back, The Spectacular Now and What Maisie Knew were also impressive, with each possessing a wisdom of its subject and performances that certainly hit the right note. All dealt with growing up in different ways and the journey of their protagonists proved compelling, engaging and engrossing. 

Prisoners proved to be captivating in more ways than one - with Hugh Jackman delivering a powerhouse turn as a father whose family suffers the most horrifying of tragedies. Read the Prisoners movie review and see why its bleakness appealed to me. Equally, Stoker and Blue Jasmine possessed an appeal that proved difficult to deny. Stoker was a powerfully psychological piece and Blue Jasmine saw director Woody Allen back on form after the abysmal recent run of his that included To Rome with Love. Cate Blanchett proved to be the shining star of this horror show, delivering a multi-faceted turn that commanded the screen. Read the Blue Jasmine movie review here.

It's had film of the year accolades thrown all over it, and Gravity continues to be weighed down by plaudits. Somewhat ironic, given that it's set in the weightlessness of space. But director Alfonso Cuaron delivered an experience that was unparalleled in the cinema this year. Read the Gravity movie review here.

Equally, Ron Howard's Rush movie gave me a heady thrill and made me care about a sport that I normally ignore - motor racing. The story of the rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt is the stuff of legend but Howard's handling of this particular motor as well as the performance from Daniel Bruhl proved too intoxicating to ignore. Read the Rush movie review.

While James McAvoy delivered a killer turn in an adaptation of Irvine Welsh's Filth, it was in Danny Boyle's head-scratching Trance that he secured his reputation as one of his generation's best. Under-rated and under-appreciated, it's one of the best of the year without a doubt. Read the Trance movie review.

And finally, in this wrap, it was a sad year of deaths of stars, but none more so than the death of James Gandolfini. His passing away from a heart attack cast a shadow over Enough Said, but didn't rob the film of its warmth and heart and two great performances from both him and Veep and Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I said this tale of adult second chance love had "warmth and a raw honesty that's completely compelling and utterly entrancing." Read the Enough Said movie review here.

Merry Christmas to all - and stand by for the worst of the year to be revealed later over the festive period. 

Hit me up on the comments to share your finest movies of 2013! Did I miss any out?

Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor: Blu Ray Review

Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor: Blu Ray Review

Rating: PG
Released by BBC And Roadshow Home Ent

So, here it is then, the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who: The Day of The Doctor, starring Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt.

When a painting in the National Gallery appears to show the impossible, the Doctor's summoned by UNIT to try and work out what exactly is going on. But what it sets in motion is a chain of events that requires him to team up with his tenth incarnation (the ever bouncy David Tennant) and the mysterious War Doctor (John Hurt), a man they've tried to deny...

Doctor Who: The Day Of The Doctor is essentially a Christmas Carol with three Doctors playing various versions of the ghost; and it changes all of what has gone before in the past few years of the show. It's difficult to go into without spoiling (and I'll keep that going) but it's an ode to the show's 50 years with references to companions, moments and places woven effortlessly into the narrative without alienating the current fanbase.

While some of the plots don't come to full fruition and prove a frustration, the acting of the main three Doctors is top notch; Hurt breaks down some of the silliness created over the past few years and gives a venerable turn as an old school Doctor; even Tennant dials down his performance - but once again, Matt Smith excels with a performance that has charm, sadness and steely dedication all rolled into one.

It's a massive shame his next adventure will be his last....

Extras: The minisodes include McGann's final outing as the 8th Doctor, as well as trailers for the show and a Dr Who explained piece for newcomers. Shame there's no real making of other than a behind the lens piece, but it's a solid bunch for this release which looks very good in HD.


Monday, 23 December 2013

Forza Motorsport 5: X Box One Review

Forza Motorsport 5: X Box One Review

Platform: XBox One

Racing cars is one hell of a pastime.

From speeding around tracks to building up points and trading up cars, there's just something about sitting down and investing in the game. Or you can just take up the game, race a couple of times against your mates and move on.

Either way, Forza Motorsport 5 is one of the launch titles for the XBox One and I reckon one which will be on a lot of lists for the Christmas period. That's something to do with the fact that the series has been pretty strong all the way along from my understanding.

It's like any racing game in some ways - you have to head out on the track and finish first, to gain points and experience. However, unlike most racing games, it's the simulation and what's around it which gives Forza Motorsport 5 such an impact on the XBox One. Graphically, while the cars seem hyper-real, their look and shine ever so evident thanks to the next gen machine.  Landscapes and tracks are stunning to behold and even though they whiz by (if you've got the driving skills to do so rather than spin off the track) then you can see how awesome it actually all looks.

With over 200 cars from 50 manufacturers, there's plenty of driving experience to be had. It's all relatively good fun but it's the little moments in Forza Motorsport 5 which make it such an experience that drivers will love. After a few races around, the game tells you that the Drivatar is ready to go. This AI feature works off the cloud and gets you to race alongside your mates as an alternative to the computer generated stuff and it's a good fun if you've got a network of chums to race off against.

Integration with Top Gear means that this racing game has credibility - the emphasis is squarely on the simulation and with you needing a lot of time to generate the credits needed, you'll invest plenty of time and effort into it - and the reward pays off.

Forza Motorsport 5 is a rewarding experience and one which will be high on everyone's list if they're serious about simulation.


White House Down: Blu Ray Review

White House Down: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Ent

Roland Emmerich returns to the destruction of the White House in this second of two films this year, which showcase terrorists taking out the presidential seat (the first being Gerard Butler in Olympus Has Fallen)Channing Tatum stars as John Cale, a police officer assigned to looking after the speaker of the house (Richard Jenkin). He's a good guy, hoping for a break into the secret service and hoping to impress his estranged daughter in the process too.

But when the president James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) announces a Middle East peace plan which could see them leaving the area, it sets in motion a terrorist attack on the White House. Soon, Cale and his daughter are the only ones who can save the day as they find themselves in with the President when the attack happens...

Will John Cale be able to beat the bad guys with hardly any weapons and stop the President from being killed, as well as discover who's behind the attack - and re-connect with his daughter?

White House Down is actually a hell of a lot better than you'd be expecting for a film like this. With a pinch of self-awareness (a tour guide mentions early on that one building is the one destroyed inIndependence Day) and a few of the old action movie cliches, it's exactly what you'd expect from the film.

But it somehow manages to work with its self referential humour, silly moments and great chemistry between Tatum and Foxx. When the president tells a terrorist to "Get your hands off my Air Jordans" you know the script's not even taking itself seriously. Equally Tatum, complete with white tank top and glib comments (John McClane anyone?), is on solidly supportive form as the affable guy just trying to catch a break. James Woods gets the role of his life too, as the man whose son was killed in combat and whose life has been destroyed by it.

And yet, with some solid action pieces, replete with OTT explosions and gun fire, Emmerich manages to pull something entertaining together if you're prepared to leave your brain at the door.

White House Down is an entertaining diversion - nothing more, nothing less. And yes, once again, Emmerich manages the total destruction of the White House. Seriously, has he not satiated his vendetta yet?


Sunday, 22 December 2013

Philomena: Movie Review

Philomena: Movie Review

Cast: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Michelle Fairley
Director: Stephen Frears

Already picking up rave reviews in the UK and being tipped for much success at the next BAFTAs comes this film from Steve Coogan's production company.

Inspired by true events and based on a book, Philomena is the story of ex BBC journalist and disgraced civil servant Martin Sixsmith. World weary and cynical, and not coping with being out of work, Sixsmith is approached by a waitress at a party after she overhears him telling someone he's after a story.

This waitress' mother, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench in another of those turns where she can command a cinema audience with just one look) is racked with guilt at having seen her child snatched from her in Roscrea convent in Ireland by nuns punishing her for having had sex. Plagued by visions of him and unsure how his life panned out without her, the almost shrew-like Philomena wins over the cynicism of Sixsmith and they set out to try and find her son after 50 years.

But each have different motives - Sixsmith is being harangued into doing a "human interest" piece for a magazine which he's scornful of and she just wants to know if her son managed a life after being cruelly snatched away. So begins the Odd Couple style journey, with a clashing of religious ideology and differing worldly viewpoints...

Philomena is a dryly amusing story with an emotionally gooey centre which is, in equal terms, occasionally off-putting and deeply rewarding.

Plenty of sly laughs come from the culture clash between the two - one scene in an airport sees Philomena regaling a clearly uninterested Sixsmith with the finer details of a trashy romance novel and revelling in her own naivete over how the story plays out. And Philomena would rather watch Big Momma's House in a hotel than head out to see some local landmarks during their global jaunt.

The problem with that humour is that it soon becomes a crutch for the script to fall back on; and the initial amusement is lost as the comedy is repeated for effect, damaging some of the goodwill built up by the more gentle and funny moments from early on. It's a crowd-pleasing plan but what it ends up doing is affecting the feel and poignancy of the story as it continues.

Coogan is serious as Sixsmith, with some dry lines early on setting the scene, but it's a once over lightly which impresses; equally, Dench is on a winner as well as she revels in the slightly twee innocent nature of her character (who even at one point asks if Martin can change her name in the story he publishes - she wishes to be known as Anne Boleyn) which begins to grate, no matter how much truth it's based on.

While the weightier issues of the nuns' behaviour are explored, there's never really a dark undertone which rises to the surface, despite the inherent nastiness of their past actions or the consequences for Philomena; if anything, this crowd-pleaser of a film manages to contain the outrage in a kind of syrupy shock that's a little easier to swallow, though no less bitter.


Saturday, 21 December 2013

Newstalk ZB Movie Review - Anchorman 2, The Mortal Instruments and The World's End

Newstalk ZB Movie Review - Anchorman 2, The Mortal Instruments and The World's End

This week, it's the final NewsTalk ZB live cross with Jack Tame.

We talked about Christmas, new movie Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues; The Mortal Instruments and The World's End.

Take a listen below:

Doctor Who: Series 1-4 Blu Ray Review

Doctor Who: Series 1-4 Blu Ray Review

Rating: PG
Released by BBC And Roadshow Home Entertainment

The first 4 seasons of the relaunched Doctor Who get a Blu Ray Release in time for Christmas.

Each individual set collects together all 13 episodes from the tenures of Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant and remind you why the revamp of the show was so successful in 2005. It's Eccleston's era which has been longest neglected by this reviewer in the endless Tennant repeats, so heading back to the beginning again is a great reminder of why it worked so well - an actor who was so committed to the role, who brought austerity and heart and helped the show find another life.

From the final scenes when Eccleston's Doctor goes to the opening moments when he's full of life and freshly regenerated, there's a joie de vivre that's encased in the heavy heart of the last of the Timelords - something which is ramped up to a degree in David Tennant's time in the TARDIS. There's a carefree selfishness that manifests itself in his time and it certainly makes for a more lively time during the 3 series that are released here. Of these, School Reunion which reunites him with Sarah Jane Smith is just heart warmingly poignant and beautiful - a reminder of how old school Who can be effortlessly woven in.

Each set's packed with extras, Doctor Who Confidential (oh, how we miss you), behind the scenes stuff, deleted scenes and trailers - well worth diving into as there's some 60 hours of viewing here.

A must for any collector of Who - but no new material to speak of.


RED 2: Blu Ray Review

RED 2: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Hopscotch Entertainment

RED (Retired and Extremely Dangerous) was a sleeper hit back in 2010.

Its infusion and mix of an older group of action heroes and the fact Helen Mirren got to shoot a very big gun (thus shattering a lot of stereotypes) meant that it was an unexpected worldwide box office hit.

So, perhaps a sequel was inevitable.

This time around, retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses (a broodier Bruce Willis) is back and forced into action once again. Which he's not happy about because he's enjoying the quieter life with beau Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) - even though she craves the more active life and has a taste for danger since the first outing.

When former colleague Marvin (Malkovich) is apparently assassinated, (minor spoiler - he wasn't) the group is sent on a global jaunt to try and track down a missing portable nuclear device...and that sends them right to Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) a scientist from Frank's path - and also into the sights of Frank's former flame Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones)With RED2, it's a case, really, of repeating the successes of before - and adding in a few more ingredients of the older generation to get a wider audience. But with a few caveats.

Unfortunately, some of the thrill of the first film was seeing Helen Mirren in action - she's largely sidelined in this piece and separated from the group, which is a real shame. Though, Mary-Louise Parker's character has come more alive in this and her need to fulfill a vicarious streak to her nature leads to some more comedic moments than perhaps you would initially have been expecting. The cattiness between Sarah and Katja is entertaining for a while but its lightweight nature threatens to topple RED 2 despite some average action sequences.

With a plot that closely follows that other uber-work of Bruce Willis, A Good Day to Die Hard, it's almost as if Bruce is suffering from deja vu here. And deja vu is present in many ways, with Neal McDonough taking on Karl Urban's role from the first, as the hard-as-nails pursuer - but there's way too much comedy in this piece to make it feel like the right mix. The problem is the characters do nothing new - with perhaps, the exception of Mary-Louise Parker who gets to be part of the spy world and get the action she so craves.

Distinctly average but fairly disposable entertainment, RED 2 is another outing for the Grey Team - and perhaps some will enjoy that. Others though will feel that they maybe need to actually stick to the concept of being Retired (but with a third installment planned, that could be a long shot).

Extras: Gag reel, deleted scenes, the cast, the weapons, the stunts


Friday, 20 December 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Movie Review

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Movie Review

Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt
Director: Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller flexes his directorial muscles in this quirkily whimsical piece about a white collar worker who works for Life magazine.

That worker is Walter Mitty (played by Ben Stiller) - and his job is to process photos for inclusion in the magazine. Prone to daydreaming, Mitty's an unmitigated hopeless case; a man for whom fantasy is more reality than an escape from the anonymity of a boring daily routine.

But when the magazine is bought out by a conglomerate and the final issue's announced by management-speak spouting bearded boss (Adam Scott), Mitty's forced to take action - not just because the image they need from top photographer Sean O'Connell is missing.

So, bounding out of the door and finally coming to life, spurred on by LIFE Magazine colleague (and crush) Cheryl, Mitty embarks on the first and biggest adventure of his lifetime as he comes wildly to life.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a real curio of a film and a doozy served up by Ben Stiller. Based on James Thurber's 1939 short story and not a remake of the 1947 film, Stiller's committed something to celluloid which looks distinctly different to anything else witnessed this year.

Mitty's flights of fancy are visually incredible as they weave seamlessly into the ongoing narrative - from an opening sequence where he imagines himself leaping perilously through a building to save Cheryl's three-legged dog before the whole thing blows up to an imaginary fight with his boss which wrecks as much of Manhattan as the Avengers did and an adorably funny sequence where Mitty imagines his life with Cheryl in an homage to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, they capture the fantastical nature of a daydreamer. But, with so many of them coming so quickly, the technique threatens to jar and irritate rather than to help the film soar.

Thankfully, when Mitty springs into life to track down O'Connell, the film calms down a little as the real adventure doesn't need sprucing up with fantastical edges. Taking in Greenland and Iceland's wondrous scenery, Stiller's done an excellent job of letting the visuals set the tone for this incredulous journey of a quiet and reserved man finding his voice.

Sure, there are coincidences of quirk layered upon this travelogue and a nice side story involving an internet dating site continually calling Mitty to expand his profile and hobbies as he's out adventuring, but there's an earnestness and a zest for life that's fully exploited on the big screen.

Stiller doesn't entirely manage to fully convince as Mitty; while he's dialled down his propensity for slapstick (which comes to the fore in a couple of sequences), his default setting appears to be Blue Steel which can be occasionally off-putting. He has a good solid rapport with Wiig and their burgeoning relationship works well; likewise, the enigmatic Sean O'Connell is excellently portrayed by an earnest Penn.

Thoughtful, occasionally profound and always visually inventive, it's as a director that Ben Stiller excels in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - I've seen nothing else like this on the big screen this year. There are strong visuals which really resonate as they bounce onto your eyeballs - and Stiller's found a crafty way to write various parts of the script into the world around Mitty thanks to VFX.

All in all, there's a cinematic eccentricity and whimsy to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty which is hard to ignore; it's a flight of fancy and reflective piece to let wash over you as the excesses of Christmas subside.


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