Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Downton Abbey: Season 5: Blu Ray Review

Downton Abbey: Season 5: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Ent

Another year, another outing on the estate.

This time it's 1924 and the Crawley family faces new challenges as a new Labour government comes to power. The threat this time is to the future of the estate, and their very way of life, causing ripples between the downstairs and upstairs groups.

The whole tone of this year's outing is one of the past coming back to haunt them, particularly for Anna Bates who ends the year clapped up in chains. The fact this beloved character's facing issues should give you some idea of the overall feel of this year's piece; a relatively sanitised and entirely predictable plot thread that's woven throughout.

Unfortunately, it's starting to feel like time needs to be called on this estate, with the series' writers really starting to suffer from a real lack of originality or real development from within the cast. Granted, it's all acted well and looks delightful, but dare I say it, Downton's starting to feel a little tired and lacking the fizz (which as ever is played by Maggie Smith's dowager) that it needs to sustain itself.

While not exactly a vintage year for the estate, Downton Abbey: Season 5 will delight the fans who simply wish to wallow in yesteryear.


Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Cold In July: DVD Review

Cold In July: DVD Review

Rating: R18
Released by Vendetta Home

Dexter star Michael C Hall exchanges splatter and gore for the victim side of things in the synth drenched Cold In July.

He's Richard Dane, mulleted and mustachioed in East Texas in 1989 and who's awoken one night by the sounds of an intruder downstairs. Heading down to see what the commotion is and with a wife and child in the house, Dane lets off a single shot killing the intruder outright.

And he believes that's the end of his problems - with the law clearly on his side and the victim buried, there's nothing else left to worry about.

However, things get complicated for Dane when the burglar's father Ben (a softly spoken but menacing Sam Shepard) is paroled and comes looking for Dane...

Cold In July has an old school vibe about it in many ways - and that's not just the looks of the leads.

With its synth based score, and outfits, it feels like an 80s murky revenge thriller, with secrets of the town thrown in for good measure. But the mystery takes several twists and that's really where the strength of this film lies.

It becomes a greater film when Don Johnson shows up, as he brings an energy and skewed take on things that's needed after a minor slump - as the riddles unravel and the reasons are explained, it's clearer that this is more a film about the bonds which strengthen and divide families.

Director Jim Mickle delivers some tension filled scenes including a great jump moment during a home invasion that even though you've seen it coming delivers such a visceral punch, you don't recover straight away.

As the murkier aspects of Texas are explored, it builds to an explosive end that's really needed to help deliver on what was promised before. It's not as strong as it could be, but the trio's chemistry works well and guides you through the weaker parts of the narrative.  It takes a while to get there and you are either on board or you're not, but Cold In July smacks you upside the head - just not in ways you'd quite expect it to. 


Monday, 29 December 2014

The Fault in Our Stars: Blu Ray Review

The Fault in Our Stars: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by 20th century fox Home Ent

Stand by, because here comes a tear jerker based on a successful "sick-lit" novel.

Divergent star Shailene Woodley is Hazel Grace, a teenager, stricken with cancer and permanently strapped to an oxygen tank to help her breathe. Cynical and dismissive of the positivity around her, Hazel finds her life turned upside down when she meets a fellow survivor, Augustus (Elgort) at a support meeting.

The two form a bond and a flirtation leads to love - but as ever, with the story of star-crossed lovers, tragedy is waiting in the wings.

The Fault In the Stars is going to prove fatal to some audiences of a certain age and certain disposition, as it mixes heartbreak, heartache and first love - as well as loss.

It's got sardonic wit on its side too, as these teens live with the constant threat of death in their wings - which is remarkable when lines like "It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you" are espoused on the screen.
In amid the preppy, perky relationship of the book smart Hazel Grace and Augustus, there's a rich vein of non-exploitative cynicism running throughout that adds welcome touch of an adult feel to this movie. The world-weariness they both display is a refreshing touch and wavers more on the side of levity than wallowing - which is perhaps a blessing given the subject matter contained within.

Woodley sparkles as Hazel Grace, a girl for whom life has provided disappointment after disappointment and who carries around an oxygen tank as if it were the latest accessory; Elgort provides ample support and Dern and Trammell are functional as parents of Hazel Grace. Perhaps the only bum note really is Willem Dafoe, whose pyjama clad, booze soaked author, idolised by Hazel Grace, who tonally feels at odds with the film. And a final last act appearance from him really stretches the credibility of the movie.

Inevitably the weepy tone overtakes the final third of this movie and you're either all in or left unmoved by this - but either way, you can't fail to be impressed on what's put up on the screen for this bittersweet and endearing romance thanks to near faultless performances from the young leads.


Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Expendables 3: Blu Ray Review

The Expendables 3: Blu Ray Review

Released by Roadshow Home Ent

Once more unto the breach for these ageing OAPs of the action franchise with the latest outing of The Expendables (or as one wag's coined them - Stallone's geri-action franchise)
This time around, Stallone's Barney finds the mission's a little too personal when the man he co-founded The Expendables with, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) comes back from the dead and is threatening the team.

Deciding not to put the risk on the shoulders of the old timers after one of their own is mowed down by Stonebanks, Barney recruits a newer younger bunch of Expendables to take him on...
Pitching itself as a new vs old installment would have been a great idea were there not so much bloated weight in this; excruciatingly long, The Expendables 3 is a turgidly slow action "thriller" that's lost some of its bite as it dials down the violence to achieve a wider reaching bloodless PG13 rating.

Half the problem is that Stallone, who wrote the piece, seems to have forgotten that the vicarious fun of this franchise is seeing all the old timers from the 80s back in action and kicking some ass, while touting some very big guns. Unwisely, he decides to sideline them for a bunch of newbies who would dearly benefit from a large dose of charisma that's sorely lacking when they head into the picture and are ultimately unmemorable for any future outings. (To be fair, though, the film introduces its first Expenda-belle, Luna played by UFC stalwart Ronda Rousey whose acting is laugha-belle, so clearly there's that side of the franchise about to expand)

But with far too many names on screen, the film becomes bogged down in its own self mocking and terminally unfunny banter (a dig at Wesley Snipes' internment for tax evasion, Stallone's stroke, how their plan to shoot everything was great if it were 1985) and almost cripples itself as it heads limply to a crowd-pleasing conclusion that's chock full of as much action as it is fraught with plotholes. (Most won't care though in the middle of all the guns being fired, exploding masonry and slow mo death defying running)
Mel Gibson is clearly still cinematically atoning for his rather public Hollywood sins, and is now destined to play bad guys (first Machete Kills, now this) but relishes the time he has in the spotlight as Stonebanks and at least brings the energy levels up; Antonio Banderas, by contrast goes too far the other way - he's brought into the fold as a babbling live action version of Puss in Boots; Harrison Ford steps gruffly into the vacated position once occupied by Bruce Willis' Church (who's been retired, ho ho). Snipes makes a memorable entrance in a pre-credits piece, suggesting his importance to the team but is largely sidelined thereafter, and some members of the old team barely register chalking up moments designed to see the crowd fist pumping but which end up hardly mustering any bluster as the film plods on and on.

Sure, the old adage of you can leave the team but the team never leaves you can be seen a mile off, but it's really only when the old gang head back into the fray that the chemistry once again clicks into place after nigh on 100 minutes of relatively flat delivery and relatively pointless detours.

While The Expendables 3 does deliver in the action stakes in its final set piece in an abandoned building in the region of Azmenistan, the thrills are too long coming in this over long, undercooked, stuffed-to-the-gills, totally unessential and utterly expendable mess of a threequel.

Extras: Extended cut, making of, various mini features, gag reel


Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Evil Dead Anthology: Review

The Evil Dead Anthology: Review

Rating: R18
Released by Madman

Collecting together the original trilogy and the 2013 re-imagining of the Evil Dead (filmed in Auckland), the anthology is the definitive set for films of Sam Raimi's cult classic - and is only being released in Australasia.

With Bruce Campbell as the hero of the piece, you pretty much know the story - possession of the woods, an army of darkness from skeletons and a chainsaw for an arm - it's all the trappings of a cult and it's endured for years.

Pulling together the films onto Blu Ray and throwing in 3 extra DVDs of documentary and featurette stuff really does the set justice and warrants the extra cash. Complete with a book of drawings and a sculpted Kandarian dagger that's a testament to model-making, the set is designed to drive the true fan into a frenzy.

The transition to HD looks great and Invaluable a doco about the series is guaranteed to hook people in to this groovy and seriously genre-defining series.

If you're a fan of horror and serious about the Evil Dead series, then this set can't afford not to sit on your shelf. With a HD remaster that looks the business, an inside look at its enduring appeal, Madman's gone all out to ensure that finally a set dedicated to a film or its series feels like the definitive article.

Extras: Too numerous to mention, making of, trailers, outtakes, life after Death doco, commentaries - a wealth of material.


Friday, 26 December 2014

Night At The Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb: Film Review

Night At The Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb: Film Review

Cast: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Ben Kingsley, Ricky Gervais, Owen Wilson, Dan Stevens
Director: Shawn Levy

So, the final installment of the Night At The Museum trilogy is unleashed, with the deaths of both Mickey Rooney and Robin Williams hanging over them (to whom the film is dedicated).

Ben Stiller returns as museum night guard Larry, who finds that the magic tablet of Ahkmenrah is decaying for no discernible reason, threatening the very existence of everyone in the museum. Convincing his boss (an uptight Ricky Gervais) to send him and the tablet to the British museum to reunite with the other half of the expedition that discovered it, Larry, his son and a gang from the museum head abroad.

But as they head to the British museum, their presence brings to life everything there - causing problems for Larry and the gang.

Night At The Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb is an uneven film, mixing in some nice emotional beats with a glut of CGI shenanigans and an OTT performance from a dashingly deluded Sir Lancelot played by former Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens.

Granted, a film that has a giant monkey peeing on Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson's mini-characters (to stave off lava from Pompeii) isn't promising to deliver much, but at times, it feels like Stiller et al are really phoning it in as they essentially go through a retread of the first film and the CGI shenanigans you've seen before.

And yet, in parts, the creatures in the British museum offer a degree of freshness even if the cast are simply moving from one corridor to the next, going through the episodic motions of a familiar farce. There are also some amusingly adult elements to the dialogue too with Larry remarking on how Attila the Hun was hacking into a dolphin like it was in The Cove and a certain cameo near the end offering up some smartly silly laughs. Equally, a showdown within an Escher painting brings a vital shot of cinematic creativity to the fore, an all too brief interlude before the cliched film resets to its default.

But too many of the scenes throughout drag on with strained banter that goes back and forth without any real punchline; too many opportunities feel wasted and the characters you know and love from the series are simply trotted out one last time because it's the end of the road.

There's no denying the poignancy of Robin Williams' final scene as Teddy Roosevelt, a last blast of sincerity and warmth which is punctuated with a manic rug-pull so endemic of Williams' own approach. It's a more than fitting send off which is then cruelly robbed of its emotional resonance just moments later in a lazy epilogue scene guaranteed to provide the sap and sentiment needed to wrap everything up happily ever after.

There's something to be said for Night At The Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb: its CGI (while over-used) brings real life into the creatures and will amaze the younger generation (much like David Attenborough's recent Natural History Alive special). But the lack of any real freshness or fizz within the cliched story and its execution (Larry's strained relationship with his son, everyone coming to terms with their place in life) lets down Night At The Museum 3: Secret of the Tomb quite badly, and leaves you with a feeling that you're quite glad that this exhibition is now being shut down.


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas to all

Merry Christmas to all

It is of course, Christmas Day today - and to wish you all a very Merry Christmas is of course, an obligation.

However, whether you're with family, without family, working or away from those you love or have had a difficult year, this shot of Baymax and Hiro from Big Hero 6 will give you the festive impetus you need to get through the day.

A very Merry Christmas to all of the readers of Darren's World of Entertainment - I really appreciate the support and wish you all the best festive tidings of the year.

Stand by for 2015 - it's going to be massive for films and games!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Mr Turner: Movie Review

Mr Turner: Movie Review

Cast: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson
Director: Mike Leigh

Renowned directorial miserabilist Mike Leigh teams up once again with actor Timothy Spall to bring to life the final 25 years of the canvas of Brit painter JMW Turner.

In this biopic, we witness the life of Turner as he rambles from one moment to the next in this relatively plotless film that makes more of its garish characters than anything else.

As we join Turner in a truly gorgeous opening shot with windmills in the background, Leigh pans to reveal the silhouette of the relatively rotund artist delighting in his daubings. It's a moody yet whistfully evocative shot that sets the tone for the piece as it shows how far Turner will go for his art, how dismissive of his apparent family he was - other than his beloved father, his interactions with other artists at the Royal Academy of Arts and his trips away to another wife and another life.

Throughout all the swirling of life's great canvas and negotiating through this 150 minute journey is Leigh regular and Brit stalwart Spall. He's already collected accolades for this portrayal of the relatively unlikeable man, who grunts his way through interactions like some kind of superior pig, revelling in acrylic muck. But throughout the bottom-gruelling biopic, Spall is the guiding light within as Leigh's direction and script do little to pander to the cultural ignoramuses who may attend this.

Some of Spall's best scenes come when he lets Turner's guard down; a fumbling desperate sexual encounter with his housekeeper, a breakdown after his father's death while attempting to draw a prostitute and an interest in the invention of the camera towards the end of his life show a man creatively trapped and lacking the respect and the public admiration from his time. Spall does little to hide his Turner from the vile, and uses it to his advantage bringing the man vividly to life.

While Leigh's eye for the visual is never anything less than stunning, with seaside vistas and shots of Turner tied to a ship's mast to help his recreation for his art being just two of the moments which stand out.

But all in all, Mr Turner is a film about more than broad brush strokes; it's just a film that left me relatively cold in terms of emotion; granted, Spall's character work as the pot-bellied Turner is nothing short of awards-worthy - particularly in the sequence where his father dies., but the emotional pull is distinctly lacking and the relative repugnance of the man does more to drive you away than pull you in.


Begin Again: Blu Ray Review

Begin Again: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

How do you follow a massive hit like Once?

As any musician will tell you, the second album syndrome is a difficult one to break through - and in the case of Once director John Carney, it's a case of maybe repeating yourself but on a bigger canvas with a wider appeal.

This time, it's the story of two disparate broken souls in New York; first, Ruffalo is Dan, a music producer who's not had a hit for years and who's just parted ways with the record company he founded with pal Saul (Mos Def); secondly, there's Greta (Knightley) , a UK singer / songwriter who's just split with her boyfriend, rocker Dave Kohl and is contemplating heading back to England.

Their paths cross at an open mic night, where Dan sees the potential in Greta and who is determined to get her signed up. With the power of no record label behind him, Dan pitches the idea that Greta will record an alfresco album with New York being the canvas for her to musically paint on, an idea that appeals to her opposition to overly produced music.
But along the way, both find themselves facing upto some home truths and looking to repair some broken bridges - from an ex wife and disenfranchised daughter (Dan) to dealing with an ex (Greta).

Begin Again is about as mainstream a feel-good romantic drama as you can get - a recognition from Carney that he can't repeat Once without swamping his next attempt in something so incredibly middle of the road that it becomes bland and mass marketable.

It's not without its occasional charm though; a brilliant visual flourish early on sees Dan focusing on the arrangement around Greta's open mic turn as she sings on. Instruments spring to life around her, as if operated by ghosts and it's a daring insight into how the creative mind works. Sadly, it's the one and only original touch in the piece that's just about as soulless and bland as the music that inhabits within.

Ruffalo has a rugged edge to Dan, a man who's teetering on the broken and looking for a way back up; a man whose fast-talking has worked for him before but who's now faltering in a world that no longer apparently needs him. And Knightley does as well as she can with a one-note character, who's initially strong but who falters into mediocrity once the on street recording of music starts and she inevitably begins to be a part of Dan's life and his domestic issues.
Ruffalo feels the most fleshed out of the characters with scenes of his relationship with his ex (Keener) giving the feeling of a past; contrast that with parts of Greta's story as she deals with the fall out from her ex (played by Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine), which feels cliched and stereotyped.

The saccharine levels of this rise pretty quickly as the sounds of the streets of New York form part of the album and the film - even if it's the tourist / picture postcard spots which form the majority of the locations. Throw in a cameo with a rapping Cee-Lo Green, it's all so sanitised and bland that Begin Again starts to feel like the complete antithesis to Once, a middle of the road creation that covers all the bases without any hint or frisson of excitement. (It's even got James Corden as a loveable busker....)

As a breezy piece of romantic drama, Begin Again will be to many people's cup of tea, but with a predictable story and pleasant acting, there's so much sugary inanity on show that it left me seeking a dentist after it had ended.


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris: PS4 Review

Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by: Square Enix

The Tomb Raider reboot last year was one of the best games to hit the PlayStation.

Gritty, and with a depth of character for an action heroine, it was an engrossing piece that swept you up in the world and gave you something to enjoy.

Equally enjoyable but for different more disposable reasons is Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, an isometric gamer that works better if you play with a group of people rather than solo.

Once again, you get to take hold of Lara in a new adventure that's fairly light in content but simple in execution. Picking up where 2010's Guardian of Light left off, this arcade style game (that's reminiscent of Gauntlet and Dead Nation) is a fairly stylistically simple piece that's not really about graphics, other than in its glorious cut scenes.

Lara's on a journey to the Egyptian pyramids when she inadvertently stirs Set, an Egyptian god of destruction and sets in motion a chain of events that could signal the end of the world. Along with fellow explorer and rival Carter Bell and a couple of gods, Horus and Isis, the group tries to revive Osiris to save the day.

Occasionally a top down view can make judging surroundings hard and climbing things difficult, but for the most part it fuels down some gaming which feels very much of an arcade game at its best. Collecting gems a la God Of War from urns and shooting hordes of enemies with your duel guns (as used by your right stick) the game's mechanics are breezy and easy to accommodate.

Artifacts, relics and weapons can all be collected and equipped; a staff can be used in something like Raiders of the Lost Ark style burning of other creatures and problems, but once in a while you'll have to employ the grey matter to help you as well as the fellow team-mates. While Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris plays fine as solo, it's really more suited to a co-op experience although that can lead to some screen frustrations if characters lag behind or you're desperate to push on.

Perfectly disposable, utterly fun, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris is a game suited to the ADD Generation; if you want to invest hours within it, you'll be rewarded. But equally, if you just want to blitz through a few levels to kill some time, you'll also find your lack of patience deeply satiated.


Skylanders: Trap Team: PS4 Review

Skylanders: Trap Team: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by Activision

Toys, there's just something endlessly enduring about the collectible nature, the little plastic figurines and the Pokemon-got-to-get-them-all mentality.

Skylanders was one of the original starters from the franchise and was ahead of the game before Disney Infinity swept in and stole some of their gaming thunder. So, a fourth iteration of the series has some way to go to try and ensure the series doesn't fall prey to heated up competition.

For those who've never played Skylanders before, this is a good place to jump in with a starter pack coming with a base and the ability to reuse old toys again. In among the gaming, the idea is that you can trap other characters within the game by defeating them and using the trap panel on the base to your advantage. But you need to have the right element to capture these characters too, with the developers ensuring that you have to stump up more cash to get them on your side.

Bright colours, simple mechanics and a desire to ensure you've completed all of the areas means that this is addictive and financially draining to any completist out there. But with the fact that the villain's capture throes fade from the TV into the Trap box is a cool little touch which makes it feel like it's not just a simple cash in on any front.

The game manages to bring some life to the toys but doesn't quite leave you feeling that you are being a little short-changed in that you can't access other games and content without opening up your wallet.

The Skylanders set is clearly aimed at the kids and it'll work in much the same way that Disney Infinity has - it captures their imagination, leaves them dazzled with bright colours and ideas and has them clamouring for you to get them more sets.

As summer's here, and the push for family entertainment is getting harder to fulfill, it's clear Skylanders Trap Team will work for those rainy days. The need for further content will be clearly obvious to older game players, though I suspect the youngsters of the families won't care about that and will simply spend hours on this action-platformer game that's definitely going to trap them.


The Crew: PS4 Review

The Crew: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by Ubisoft

With the relatively mixed release of Driveclub ringing collectively in gamers' ears, it's fair to say there's a small hint of wariness around the latest online racer, The Crew.

Ubisoft's got a way to go with convincing fans of the arcade racing game that this is the title to invest in - over the rival XBox One's brilliant Forza Horizon 2.

But it doesn't quite get there to be honest.

Mixing a plot that feels derivative of Fast and Furious (a bloke Alex, played by Troy Baker, infiltrates a racing gang), The Crew's open world nature and mash up of Need For Speed feels like it's not really trying for originality at all.

So, it's best to flip the story into reverse and ignore that side of things and concentrate on the driving, thanks to a completely massive open-road world and a map that allows you to go anywhere. Detailed and sophisticated with zooming in and out revealing growing levels of detail, the map's the best part of the game and the depth of the developers' efforts is clear to see. Timings and mission info are all there for you to factor in and a drive is not always a simple 10 minute burn through the country, which really helps you engross in the game (a trait lacking thanks to the story)

The game however, needs a constant internet connection to play, giving you the chance to be part of the bigger world if you want. Though I had the growing feeling there was no need all the time for such constant connectivity - sure, you can form Crews and team up with mates, but if you want to be solo, there's really no need to take the game to the WWW.

Transactions and level ups are all fine as they work on the usual XP; and there's plenty to work on around the game as well - but it's the story which unfortunately puts you off a deep dive into The Crew.

It's playable enough, but it's not quite the driver we were looking for at the end of the year. While it's to be praised for its real driving times and beautiful scenery, the cars very rarely stand out and the story really does drag it down.


Monday, 22 December 2014

Big Hero 6: Film Review

Big Hero 6: Film Review

Voice cast: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, TJ Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr, Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell
Director: Don Hall, Chris Williams

Stand by for a new animated character to find its way into your hearts.

Following the success of Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, Disney ventures into the animated world of Marvel with Big Hero 6, a story about a boy and his robot.

Prodigy and robot wizz Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) is spending his young life in a Robot Wars style arena, clearly talented but wasted. His older brother Tadashi, though, pushes him into using those talents to work in the robotics world like he does.

But one small tragedy later and Hiro has lost all interest.

Until he discovers the robot that his brother built, Baymax - a big hulking white stay puft of a creature that's sole purpose is to cure Hiro. However, Hiro, along with Tadashi's co-workers, adapt Baymax to help track down the evil that's haunting San Fransokyo.

Big Hero 6 is perfect family animated fare for the Christmas holidays.

With gorgeous backgrounds (San Fransokyo mixes San Fran and Tokyo as you'd expect from the name to breathtakingly beautiful effect) and some truly joyous animation, the film is nothing short of fun, hilarity and heart.

For at least the first hour anyway.

Those initial 60 minutes or so concentrate of the mechanics of the burgeoning relationship between Hiro and Baymax and imbue the screen with a gooey warmth and humour that's infectious and reminds you why animation and visual gags can work best when stripped back to their basics. Their bond is beautiful and will touch your heart thanks to a simplicity of emotive moments and strong writing; Hiro with his big Japanese anime style eyes and Baymax with his simple two eyes joined by a line give everything you need to know with a minimum of exposition and with humour that's spot on.

So, it's a shame that the movie becomes a bland middle of the road superhero origin piece as Hiro puts together a team to track down the bad guy who's running amok in San Fransokyo wearing a Japanese kabuki mask with one of Hiro's inventions.

While this section of the movie is perfectly fine and is gorgeously animated, it lacks the emotional feast that's been served up prior to the standard visuals and plot machinations. As it veers away from the fun and unique, Big Hero 6 becomes formulaic (even derivative of the Avengers and its conclusion) and forgettable.  Further examination provides discrepancies in the plot and the villain's raison d'etre and reveal is muddily handled, with a final showdown feeling like something we've seen a million times before in the genre.

At its heart, Big Hero 6 is a movie about loss, dealing with it and moving on - and it's here that it truly triumphs (even with some Stan Lee visual gags). While the formulaic nature of its denouement and origins story may rankle, the first adaptation of this Marvel comic still impresses even if it doesn't feel as fresh as it should.

(Make sure you get there early too to catch the beautiful short Feast, about a dog whose relationship with food is charted through the relationship of his owner and his love life. Inventive and adorable, it's the perfect computer generated fare).


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Penguins of Madagascar: Movie Review

Penguins of Madagascar: Movie Review

Vocal cast: Tom McGrath, Christopher Miller, Christopher Knights, John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch, Werner Herzog
Director: Eric Darnell, Simon J Smith

The Penguins spin-off from the Madagascar series couldn't be a more perfect piece of screwball insubstantial entertainment for the kids in all of us.

Skipper, Rico, Private and Kowalski head out into the big wide world but soon find their lives are in danger when an old enemy, an octopus called Dave (voiced with glee by John Malkovich), appears on the scene. 

Forced to team up with the North Wind, a splinter spy group headed up by Benedict Cumberbatch's wolf, the penguins must try and save the day from Dave's bitter campaign.

Penguins of Madagascar is frenetically silly, ADD entertainment of the highest order which packs in silly gags for the kids and some adult moments for the rest of us.

From the Werner Herzog documentary crew trailing penguins opening through to Dave's use of Hollywood star names to bark out orders (Hugh, Jack, man the pumps being just one example), the film's clearly got its heart in the zany camp rather than the long -term emotional fulfillment area.

Which is probably a good thing, because the paper-thin story only falls apart around the two-thirds' mark as it hits a lull that is only noticeable due to the lack of throwaway gags and globe-hopping antics.

Coupled with a tacked-on last minute "message" about how looks aren't important and it's what's inside that counts as well as being a valued member of a team, the final third of the Penguins of Madagascar loses some of its prior zippy pacing as it heads towards the finish line.

Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich are terrific in their respective roles; Malkovich's suitably rubbery voice gives some tentacles to Dave and Cumberbatch plays a little looser with his smart and superior TV personalities to give his Wolf (aka Classified) the uptight yin to Skipper's looser yang.

All in all, Penguins of Madagascar may well appeal to the kids of all ages thanks to its scattergun silliness, its off-the-wall zaniness and puns, but it's not quite the soaraway animated success that you'd expect - merely a distracting diversion to start 2015.


Saturday, 20 December 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings: Film Review

Exodus: Gods and Kings: Film Review

Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Ridley Scott

It's perhaps apt that Exodus: Gods and Kings is dedicated to Ridley Scott's deceased brother Tony, given that this story is about the bond between brothers.

Christian Bale is Moses, and Animal Kingdom star Joel Edgerton is his apparent brother Ramses in the year 1300BC as Scott's retelling of the classic Sunday school tale is doled out.

With Moses willing to do anything for his brother and apparently being preferred as the King of Egypt by King Seti (John Turturro, who appears only in a handful of scenes), his world is rocked when he discovers the truth of his lineage.

Exiled by Ramses and with the bond seemingly shattered for good, Moses rises up against the Egyption Pharaoh as God's messenger urges him to let his people go-go. But the quest for freedom continues and the clashes bring a series of terrorist-like raids, the personal cost for Moses could be too high.

Emotionally withdrawn and relatively bland in execution, Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings may tell an epic story, but it draws it on a canvas that's lacking any real flair.

An extremely flat execution of Moses' exile, the almost Keith Richards' like Ben Mendelsohn as Hegep, and a pre-ponderence of guyliner prevent Exodus: Gods and Kings from achieving any feeling of grandeur over its 150 minutes run-time.

The one sequence that finds Exodus coming alive is the depiction of the plagues unleashed on the Unbelievers. It's here the CGI comes into its own as Scott effortlessly brings into reality the horror of vengeance. Likewise, the parting of the Red Sea is creatively impressive and smartly executed, with a deftness of touch that's somewhat lacking throughout.

Bale and Edgerton start off strongly but with a lack of character development (creatively, there was nowhere for those involved in the writing to go without bringing down a series of plagues on themselves), they soon pale and fail to reach the emotional highs which are needed to help Exodus soar out of the ordinary. A few off-kilter humorous moments involving the seers - including a cameo from Ewen Bremner - add some levity to the ponderous proceedings.

As a 21st century realisation of a timeless story, Exodus: Gods and Kings is sorely lacking.


The Imitation Game: Movie Review

The Imitation Game: Movie Review

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Rory Kinnear
Director: Morten Tyldum

Perhaps it's fitting that a movie about the cracking of the Enigma code tries to serves up the cracking of a character who's an enigma himself to many.

Benedict Cumberbatch is Alan Turing in this biopic that never really scratches the surface of the character as it chooses to concentrate on Turing and his peers trying to save the day at Bletchley Park during World War II.

The film starts with Turing being investigated by police (headed up by sympathetic Rory Kinnear) after a burglary at his home - Turing's stand-offish behaviour and insistence that nothing's been stolen actually provokes the police to dig deeper into the case and his background.

While the kernel of the story focuses on Turing's initiation into the Bletchley Park world and his inability to work with others thanks to a sense of superiority, flashbacks to Turing's early days and love at a boarding school and flashforwards to the police investigation dizzy up the narrative, that's swamped with newsreel footage of the war effort and Hitler's relentless push towards dear old Blighty.

And that's the majority of the problem of The Imitation Game.

The first half of the film is formulaic, by-the-numbers Oscar-baiting period piece which lacks a frisson of excitement and a depth of character. While Cumberbatch soars as Turing (more on that in a moment), those who swirl around him are lazy stereotypes ripped from a Boys' Own novella.

There's the suave mysterious head of an unknown MI6 (Mark Strong), the suave cad that clashes with Turning (played by Matthew Goode), the military leader who answers to nobody but Churchill (Charles Dance) and the woman who's better than the men (Keira Knightley) - all of these are simply sketched dancers who pirouette around Turing's troubled genius and ultimately, end up dancing to the mad man's tune.

But amongst it all is a truly impressive character turn by the chameleonic Benedict Cumberbatch. To say that he inhabits the role and overtakes the screen is a massive understatement. Essentially playing a variant of Sherlock's intellectual superiority, inability to suffer those whom he perceives as fools and arrogance with a dash of A Beautiful Mind's genius thrown in, Cumberbatch's fiery genius Turing tears up the screen - but at the cost of those around him unfortunately, who thanks to formulaic underwriting fare less well.

And it is parts of the writing that really make the film suffer; the flashbacks to the youth and flashforwards narratively don't mesh and integrate as well as they could, leaving a dramatic frisson and depth unexplored. Equally, Turning's homosexuality is merely subtly hinted at which is fine for some but for a picture that aims to expunge history's view of him seems like a major oversight thanks to hints and broad brush strokes. The single moment of drama only comes with the cracking of the Enigma code - though you suspect here the drama is piled on for drama's sake and artistic licence.

The Imitation Game really feels like an imitation of a formulaic biopic; there are manipulative moments of swelling music that seek to orchestrate your feelings and the decision to hold off from truly delving deeply into its subject proves to be a crippling flaw. It's only thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch's dizzyingly mesmeric turn that the film rises out of a potential mire.


Friday, 19 December 2014

Dr Who: Series 8: Blu Ray Review

Dr Who: Series 8: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by BBC and Roadshow Home Ent

The Doctor will see you now - but perhaps, you're not ready.

In this latest season, Peter Capaldi takes over from the relative zippyness of Matt Smith to bring a darker and slightly grumpier take on the Time Lord.

In this string of adventures, the Doctor's faced with a very old enemy, some old friends and a series of new stories (which are of varying quality). From the opener, Deep Breath to the closing Death in Heaven, there's plenty of scope this time around for difference.

Capaldi is scratchy, almost unlikeable as the Doctor, with his TimeLord spending most of the series pondering whether he's a good man or not; it's an interesting idea and one that certainly warrants exploration particularly given some of his actions throughout, with moments making him appear callous and cold. It's a shock to those who've appreciated the man as the enduring hobo with a love for humanity, but it's good to see the writers going elsewhere.

However, this series belongs to Jenna Coleman, whose Clara has a more interesting journey, and a narrative which is compelling and sees her open to a warmer writing and a more approachable nature. Sadly though a love interest thrust upon her doesn't quite hit the mark and doesn't hit the emotional high for what's needed come the end of the season.

Notable episodes are Listen, which sees Moffat go back to basics, Flatline which is really Coleman's tour de force and Dark Water which deliciously sets up a finale which doesn't quite deliver.

All in all, an interesting year for ideas but in the execution the TARDIS hasn't quite hit its mark. Year 2 of Capaldi's reign could be a very interesting one indeed.


Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham: PS4 Review

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by Travellers Tales / Warner Bros Interactive

It's back to the world of the little blocks and the superheroes we go with Lego Batman 3 - but this time around, the DC Universe comes into play.

Batman and Robin are the main heroes of the game, but there's just a little more scope this time around as Brainiac shows up and takes on the Lantern team as well. It all kicks off with Bats and Robin innocently hunting down Killer Croc in the sewers before things take a turn for the predictable with the appearance of the Joker.

However, when Brainiac comes into play, that's really when the game starts to move its focus outside the world of the Caped Crusader and is all the better for it. It's your usual LEGO fare though; break the items, collect the studs, collect the characters, but it's the wealth of material this time around which really adds to the universe feeling well populated and the characters really taking the positions they rightfully deserve on their stages.

Collectable suits work for them all too; and with plenty of collectible material, a heap of upcoming DLC and so much to do, there's a chance that this could be a little overwhelming in total. But that's the thing with the LEGO Games - they never lose sight of their humour throughout and adding in little Adam Wests to be saved from the game is also a nice touch as well.

With a Bat Mite character from the past on hand to help you out, there's never really the danger that you'll become totally stuck with the game - and sometimes thinking laterally and literally will help as well.

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham may not break the little plastic mould; but it's great childish fun for the DC fan and anyone who's serious enough about platforming game. With so much to do and so many options to redo it, the chances are you'll keep playing this for a long time to come.


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