Thursday, 31 December 2015

Trainwreck: DVD Review

Trainwreck: DVD Review

Rating: M

Current It comedian Amy Schumer makes the leap to the big screen in Trainwreck, the latest dramedy to get the treatment from Judd Apatow, which began with 2009's Funny People and continued with This Is 40.

In this fairly autobiographical piece, Schumer plays Amy, a commitment-phobe serial one-night-stander and magazine contributor whose life's been shaped by her father's insistence that monogamy is not normal. When she ends up putting him in a home because his MS has got too bad, she finds her life upended - partially due to that and also due to the fact she meets sports Dr Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) who she ends up having feelings for.

In many ways, Trainwreck is a traditional rom-com that's bathed in an acerbic light thanks to the current pop culture icon that is Amy Schumer.

Complete with a lot of female identifiable comedy and a spunk that's all-encompassing, Schumer makes a relatively good fist of this - both as a writer and as an actor.

The eulogy she delivers for her father is both powerful and painfully truthful, a fact that Schumer's brand of occasionally foul-mouthed comedy is particularly fond of embracing. But there's also a good deal of honesty and heart in the story too; the bond between her and the relatively straight Hader feels realistic, as does the relationship with her sister (played by Short Term 12's Brie Larson) and the one with her father.

And the broad brush strokes of reality (albeit exaggerated at times) and self-effacing touches that she covers herself in means that a large chunk of the female audience will identify with this depiction of a woman on Hollywood's canvas - there's a confidence to Schumer that's infectious and that's laugh-out-loud contagious, despite the occasional depths of vulgarity that she mines.

While the plethora of sports faces will mean that this resonates more with US audiences, there's a vicarious thrill to seeing LeBron James doing the conventionally / unconventional as a version of himself who loves Downton Abbey and delivering some deadpan lines; equally a barely recognisable Tilda Swinton as a Catherine Tate version of a magazine editor has a blast - and John Cena, Marisa Tomei, Matthew Broderick and Daniel Radcliffe all prove game too.

It's fair to say that the usual Apatow formula in these films is strictly adhered to and means there are a lot of scenes where there's close to free-form babbling and ad-libbing that occasionally misses the point and there's certainly a feeling that an expeditious edit could have trimmed some of the bloat from the ragged edges of Trainwreck.

However, there's no denying that Trainwreck is squarely Amy Schumer's vehicle (certainly the closing sequence makes the price of admission worth it alone), a take on an old-fashioned film that may surprise and occasionally apall some in equal measure.


Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Aloha: DVD Review

Aloha: DVD Review

Rating: PG
Released by 20th Century Fox Home Ent

Hawai'i is a place for dreamers, so perhaps it's pertinent that Almost Famous director Cameron Crowe dreamed up this latest redemption flick and set it in the islands.

Assembling a multi-talented cast as well would appear to be the icing on the cake in this flick, which centres around Bradley Cooper's blue-eyed, lost at sea morally, defence contractor, Brian Gilcrest, who's brought to the islands to oversee negotiations of the blessing of a gateway for a new airfield.

However, when Brian heads back, he finds himself surrounded by his ex, Tracy (a woefully under-used and under-written McAdams) and under the charge of hotshot, star-in-ascendant Air Force pilot Alison Ng (a perky Emma Stone).
Thrown into that mix is billionaire private sector contractor Carson Welch (Bill Murray) whom Brian is now working for and who may have slightly-less-than-altruistic reasons for being on the island - will Brian find the redemption he needs?

With dialogue that seems like it's written more for the page than to be spoken, Cameron Crowe's latest is somewhat of a muddle. Mixing Hawai'ian mysticism in as Gilcrest negotiates with the islanders (a series of scenes which seem to be ripped from a tourism video in an attempt for Crowe to Show me the mana rather than fully develop them) and domestic twaddle, Crowe's badly misfired with the heart and soul of this piece.

The problem is that the characters almost feel like caricatures for the most part, espousing dialogue that feels unnatural and is a perception of how relationships should be - particularly for Ng and Gilcrest whose future is never anything but assured.

Equally, McBride's character, Fingers, is so called because he twitches his fingers repeatedly, a bolted on quirk to little else; Baldwin's General is essentially a frustrated drill-sergeant; Murray is a weird presence lurking on the sidelines, Krasinski is near-silent (something that works to the story's advantage it has to be admitted) and McAdams is merely a plot device to enable Cooper's Gilcrest to his final moment of clarity.

An ongoing "is he the father" story element is fudged, glossed over and resolution shoe-horned in so much that it has re-write and re-shoot written all over it; just one of the scripted moments that should have emotion in but don't manage to do so.

In amongst the spiritual leanings of Aloha and the great soundtrack, there's nothing iconic or long-lasting in Crowe's story, the likes of which he has penned before; it's meandering fluff of the highest order that has glaring tonal lurches and "do the right thing" written all over it but it never feels like a journey, merely a formulaic path to a screen-writer's perception of an emotional arc.

No Aloha indeed.


Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Vacation: DVD Review

Vacation: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

There's a moment in Vacation where the holidaying Griswold family, led by the put-upon dad of the group Rusty (Ed Helms) inadvertently bathe in raw sewage, mistaking the pools for a secret getaway.

It's something akin to how I felt at moments during the extremely patchy retake of the original Vacation film from the National Lampoon series.

The aforementioned Rusty is a pilot for low-rent air operator EconoAir - determined to shake his vacation time up after hearing his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) dismiss their continual trips to their holiday cabin, he rounds up his wife and two sons and bundles them in a car for a 2500 mile road trip to Walley World.

But, everything that can go wrong for Rusty and his clan does on the cross-country journey.

Vacation has its moments.

It's just that they are too few and far in between - and unfortunately, even though this has some nods to the original film, it's just not enough to carry them through and the punchlines are more often than not a weak denouement to the set up.

Both Helms and Applegate bring their all to the physical comedy elements of the script. Applegate herself excels at a scene at her former sorority where she's required to down a pitcher of beer and take on a Wipeout style course, and I won't deny there are laughs within, but the conclusion is similar to the air being let out of a balloon.

The dynamic between the bickering sons is nicely twisted, with the younger being more of a bully to the older bringing some meaner and welcome edges to the uneven script. But those in charge just don't seem to know what they want for the film and there's definitely a feeling that some of this potentially looked better on paper than in execution.

Certainly, Hemsworth's Southern drawl and six pack with prosthesis shows he's game as Rusty's brother in law, but the over-playing of that sequence suggests the kind of moment that's funny once, got a laugh and the directors decided to repeat the gag ad nauseum for no comic relief. More successful is Charlie Day's appearance as a white-water rafting guide, a sequence whose comic brevity speaks volumes to the ethos that punchy rather than paunchy comedy would have been the way to go.

And most embarrassingly, Chevy Chase's appearance at the end as the dad is nothing short of excruciatingly unfunny - it's painful to watch the comedy legend floundering around working a script that doesn't serve him well.

All in all, there just aren't enough laughs in Vacation, despite Helms' everyman touches and Applegate's willingness to humiliate herself, this is one cinematic holiday and road trip you should dread being dragged along on.


Monday, 28 December 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation: DVD Review

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Ent

Your mission - should you choose to accept it - is to allow a fifth film in the nearly 20 year old franchise starring Tom Cruise to force you to part with your hard-earned money.

This time around, with the IMF disavowed and disbanded thanks to Alec Baldwin's puffed up CIA boss getting his way, Ethan Hunt is a man on the run, believing a shadowy group known as The Syndicate is behind their demise.

Teaming up with Simon Pegg's comic relief Benji and trying to work out exactly who femme fatale Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) is working for, Ethan's got his work cut out.

Despite opening with the much-publicised stunt sequence that sees Cruise strapped to the outside of a plane, this latest Mission Impossible is surprisingly muted, preferring to concentrate on old school thrills (a line that was drawn in the sand in 2011's Ghost Protocol) and global set pieces rather than a coherently and fluidly running narrative.

It doesn't help that the head of the Syndicate Solomon Lane, played by Prometheus and 71 star Sean Harris, is a bit of a wet fish with hardly a jot of the menace needed for someone so detrimental to the IMF. Equally Baldwin's character goes too far the other way, decrying at one point that "Ethan Hunt is the manifestation of destiny", a line guaranteed to bring the guffaws and infamy in equal measure.

But when Reacher director McQuarrie concentrates on the group dynamic, it works reasonably well - and the mystery around Ilsa's character sustains a large part of the film, giving us a female lead that's as much about brains as it is beauty. By substantially beefing up Simon Pegg's tech wizz Benji to great dramatic effect, Cruise's Hunt has more of a partner than before. It's a shame to see that the latter part of the film lazily falls back on the comic relief role previously assigned to Pegg, derailing some of the dramatic work done and contributing to the tonal mis-match on display.

However, McQuarrie knows the old school reason for the Mission: Impossible films is in the gadgets and the stunts, and Rogue Nation is impressively mired in the retro touches and real world for its action sequences. From speeding around the streets of Casablanca, a fight at the Vienna Opera to a tense underwater sequence, this is not a film that relies on CGI thrills to pad the way and showcase its stars - if anything, Cruise's relatively sombre take on Hunt this time around is a sign that things are slightly more impossible than perhaps you would normally believe.

Which is why it's a shame that the story doesn't prop up the action perhaps in the way that you'd hope - it's there simply to help us globe trot from one sequence to the next and tonally, the film flips between action, overt comedy and covert caper with terrifying unease.

As a result, the tension in the central mystery just falls over and what emerges in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is a solid entry into the series, but one that never fully thrills as much as it could.


Southpaw: Blu Ray Review

Southpaw: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

A new contender squares up to the pantheon of pugilism in the form of Training Day director Antoine Fuqua's Southpaw.

But the problem with Southpaw is that it ends up being a coulda-been as it trips through the cliches of the genre and seems to be more concerned with ticking off the tropes rather than injecting something fresh into the blood, sweat and tears redemption story that most sports films fall prey to.

A buffed up and physically transformed Gyllenhaal plays bad-kid-done-good Billy Hope, a 43-0 volatile fighter whose calming heart and soul is his wife Maureen (a brief bright spot from a luminous Rachel McAdams) and daughter Leila (Lawrence).

But when Hope loses his wife in a charity scuffle that turns nasty, he finds himself on the way down. Stripped of his assets and thanks to the self-destructive grief of his daughter, Hope (get the subtle sledgehammering of his name?) finds himself facing either oblivion or a long road to redemption.

Falling in to a street gym run by former trainer Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker, in subdued mode but in full on Karate Kid Mr Miyagi mode), Hope begins his journey back to himself.

From the writer of the Sons of Anarchy series, Kurt Sutter, and originally slated for Eminem as a lead, Southpaw would appear to have the street-smarts and edge that it needs.

But what emerges is an overwrought, cliched hollow movie that's more interested in going through the motions rather than delivering a killer knock-out punch. Especially when you look at the emotive likes of Rocky and Raging Bull, both of which pack a presence years after they first appeared.

Fuqua's melodramatic film is functional at best, and soul-numbing at worst.

He appears to have little consideration toward developing the characters outside of Hope's immediate circle. Even a street kid called Hoppy that Hope forms a fledging friendship with at the gym is tossed casually aside like an unwanted rag-doll, denying what could have been a powerfully insightful side-story the emotional uppercut it needed.

Equally, broad brush story-telling strokes are thrown onto the ropes, dismissed as surplus to requirements.

Against the backdrop of the slow-mo boxing ring shots and obligatory training montages is an at times fiery Gyllenhaal but it appears his director's denied him the splashes of charisma needed to back this underdog. Outside of the ring, he's dour and downbeat, finding only his sizzle and energy in a few fight sequences (and only occasionally when Fuqua smartly get POV with his boxers) as if to signify this is where the simmering rage boils over and is the outlet to express it.

Mawkish, formulaic and riddled with all the boxing / underdog cliches you could imagine,Southpaw delivers more of an uppercut to itself than to the audience - it lacks heart and the story's denied the majesty it needed to transcend its been-there-seen-it-all-before ethos and it flails rather than punches above its weight.

It's an unsubtle sledgehammer in and out of the ring unfortunately, and despite Gyllenhaal's efforts, Southpaw remains firmly a contender rather than a knock out.


Sunday, 27 December 2015

Pan: Blu Ray Review

Pan: Blu Ray Review

Released by Roadshow Home Ent

Joe "Atonement / Anna Karenina" Wright's Pan is rarely as good as its opening sequence.

It's one which puts the stuff of childhood playtimes and active little boys' imaginations into the world of reality / fantasy with pirate ships soaring through the skies as they are attacked by British planes in a bizarre dogfight.

But once the film heads to Neverland, it's almost as if some of the vivid imagination is ironically lost, even if the visual flair isn't.

The film's a prequel and as such deals with the abandonment of Peter (Levi Miller, all cockney kid fresh out of Mary Poppins school of character writing) and his dream of escaping the orphanage run with grisly gusto by Kathy Burke's evil nun. Convinced the boys are being taken in the night, Peter waits up one evening only to find his suspicions given form. Swept up in the theft and onto Blackbeard's pirate ships, Peter finds himself in a new world and facing ever more peril.

Mainly in the shape of a prophecy and a pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman in pantomimey form) who believes that Peter will try to overthrow him...However, with the native princess Tigerlily (Mara) and

the rogueish Hook (Hedlund), Peter finds he has friends that he never expected in this battle.

Pan is a mix of so many other influences of film that it occasionally struggles to garner an identity of its own.

Hedlund's Hook is a melange of characters and by definition, not one of his own. Even though you know ultimately how it will turn out for him. By turns Indiana Jones style explorer / 30s B-movie pastiche and Han Solo / Leia romantic interaction with Mara's doe-eyed Tigerlily, Hedlund overplays his part and ends up being one of the memorable people in the cast for all the wrong reasons.

Likewise, Miller's plucky luv-a-duck youngster grates, giving this Pan the type of character you want to slap as much as you grimace when he comes out with lines like "Holy pudding!", as if lifted from the Dick van Dyke school of writing.

There's some depth to Jackman's Blackbeard and his first appearance with all the lost boys singing Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit adding to the oddness on show. But parts of his character are left without answer either, with one shot introducing a rejuvenator to keep him young and then ditching it with no explanation in favour of his Nazi-esque determination to wipe out the pixie race.

If anything, Wright's prequel will be justly remembered for its Irwin Allen-esque visuals as it creates the tribal territories land, filling them with the kind of wonder of a Sunday afternoon TV jaunt that fired the imagination.  In fact, it's the FX which help this film soar in the minds of kids, and the 3D brings much depth, as well as the obligatory duck from cannon-balls being fired toward you.

Mixing in Star Wars, Superman-esque flying in a fairy covered fortress of solitude, and some utterly bonkers ideas, this prequel will more likely fire with the kids than the adults. It becomes a sensory and silly overload that will keep many of them enthralled and will see them leaving with the biggest cinematic sugary hit ever. A little more work on the characters and this Pan prequel really could have flown as high as Peter believes he could.


Saturday, 26 December 2015

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Season 2: Blu Ray Review

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Season 2: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Ent

Phil Coulson and the gang return for another run of the show that wobbled at the start of its first series before ultimately finding its feet and soaring.

Following the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D, Coulson and his group look to regain some trust and work with the reality of what's known as the Inhumans in the world. But assembling a smaller team, Coulson finds his job not as easy as he'd expect.

Mixing together the action you've come to find from the Marvel series in general, Season 2 ups the ante for action and also deepens the mythology while keeping the Marvel DNA intact.

Adding the bad guys in the shape of HYDRA also helps, but the series this time around feels a lot stronger and more confident.

Essential for anyone invested in the Marvel Universe and thrilling for others, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Season 2 represents a significant step up for the series - and an exciting jumping off point for the future.

Fat Princess Adventures: PS4 Review

Fat Princess Adventures: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by Sony

Let them all eat cake takes a new dimension in the Fat Princess Adventures.

Blending humour and a degree of side-scrolling, the Fat Princess Adventures game is all about humour and killing - even if it is wrapped up in a degree of cute.

Focussing more on the action RPG elements of a game, it's all about the smash and grab and the fun with friends as the story goes on. But it all starts with its tongue firmly in its cheek and bothers not a jot with story.

Beginning with the customise menu, where you get to make yourself fabulous. From hair to eyes, it's all here for the pickings and all aimed at getting you into the fun and games of it all. Once you start, it's all about the hack and slash as you progress through levels and swathes of baddies using your weapon to bash into them and to kill them off.

Each fallen baddie usually ends up giving you some cake to replenish your health and to fire up your awesome sauce meter. And some provide things for you to throw at others, so there's certainly enough around to keep you from dying off too soon.

Mainly though, despite the cartoony graphics and cutesy feel (mixed in with the hack and slash gore), Fat Princess Adventures is at heart, nothing more than a pastiche of the Gauntlet game that swallowed so much of my youth.

In its co-op mode, it's primarily about working with friends to take on the hordes of bad guys and get through the levels while looking for replenishment (just like Gauntlet). Online or with friends, the co-op is where the game comes to life and where the fun is in this game which is slightly repetitive and not entirely challenging.

All in all, Fat Princess Adventures is much like a piece of cake.

It's good to look at, seems cute, fun and fluffy enough, but once you've scoffed it all, you want something a little more nutritious to satiate your gaming appetite.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

A quick note to wish you all a very merry Christmas and all the best for the season.

Thanks for your support over the year, and stay with us as 2016 is looking like a cracker!

Thursday, 24 December 2015

The Revenant: Film Review

The Revenant: Film Review

Cast: Leonardo di Caprio, Tom Hardy, Domnhall Gleeson, Will Poulter
Director: Alejandro G Innaritu

The savagery of survival is just one of the elements explored in the adaptation of the 2002 novel by Michael Punke, The Revenant brought to the screen by Alejandro G Innaritu, the award-winning director of Birdman.

Already nominated in the Golden Globes for both its lead actor and director, the film’s about Leonardo Di Caprio’s Hugh Glass , an 1820s frontiersman in uncharted America. When the group he’s working with are attacked by Pawnee Indians, they’re forced to flee. And things get even worse when Glass is mauled by a bear and is left for dead by those charged with his care….

While The Revenant is essentially a spiritual piece about rebirth and revenge, Innaritu’s created a film that’s visually rich. Working with his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, Innaritu’s made a great fist of the backgrounds on offer in the wilds as well as ensuring the fight for survival is intensely personally shot. A final shot is surprising and ensures The Revenant is burned into your brain as it leaves.

The story’s not exactly original, given the themes of vengeance and the rape of the land from Native Indians and while it’s adapted from a book, it’s not entirely successful in making the transition.

Narratively, the Indians provide the impetus at the start only to disappear as the story progresses and then re-appear when it suits (a thread about a chief’s abducted daughter seems to dawdle and lose steam as it circles the main thread) before re-appearing on the scene at the end. Equally, the French elements in the hills who seem so instrumental in Glass' group's demise are tossed casually to one side.

But perhaps in many ways, this is the way to structure the at times viscerally raw story of this fur trapper because it's Leo's film through and through.

After the intensity of the savage CGI bear attack (a sequence which only shows a few animated cracks as the bear protects its cubs in the most vicious way possible), Glass is left physically shattered and with a slashed throat and therefore our actor without a mouthpiece.

But Di Caprio manages to seethe and struggle through, with a physical performance that is both commanding and watchable. It's helped by a few surprising moments of breaking the fourth wall - notably in the very last shot - but not in the way we've become accustomed to. Fuelled by revenge and a desire to survive instilled in him by his slaughtered wife, Glass's journey, both spiritual and physical is a compelling one. By depriving him of a background and injecting him with a raw primordial push to live, Inarritu almost makes him mythical like Clint Eastwood's Man with No name (even if Di Caprio's throaty whisper is Dirty Harry like towards the end)

Poulter, Gleeson and Hardy deserve mention too as supporting players in this wilderness tale. Perhaps Hardy as the antagonist of the piece Fitzgerald is the one who emerges with a bit more of a rounded character as he expands on his own past and his scalping at the hands of the Pawnee Indians is a subtle tale, showing the horrors of colonialism and the anger of the natives. But his nagging self-preservation starts to strike a chord and make a lot of sense as he compels others to leave Glass behind.

While this odyssey could have done with an expeditious trim of some 20 minutes, there's no denying the power of the visual execution of The Revenant. Doused in spiritual edges and executed with visual precision by Inarritu, this tale of man vs nature with lashings of personal vengeance sprinkled liberally throughout becomes a story of resilience and a film of bravado.


Joy: Film Review

Joy: Film Review

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Edgar Ramirez, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rosselini, Elizabeth Rohm
Director: David O Russell

David O Russell reteams with his Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle dream team to breathe some life in to the story of Joy Mangano, who invented the Miracle Mop.

However, in bringing this biopic to life, he manages to some how pull together a story that doesn't quite fly like it should.

Lawrence (a little too young to play Mangano, but still on crackling form) is Joy, a woman whose life is a whirlwind of domestic chaos. Thanks to an ex living in the basement (Ramirez), a father who's just moved back in (De Niro) and a bed-bound mother (Madsen) who's addicted to soaps, she barely has a moment to herself.

But when she hits inspiration one day while cleaning up spilt wine glasses on a boat, she decides it's her moment to shine and designs a self wringing mop.

However, she faces a fight to get people to believe in both it or her...

Joy is a mixed film that bundles family dysfunction into an easy to swallow pill and cleans it up round the edges, forgetting to make this journey feel like one of extreme catharsis as it reaches the end.

Lawrence feels slightly miscast, almost a little too young to hit the straps she needs to as Mangano through the decades (even if the film feels like it takes place over a time period of a week), which is a surprise; it's not to detract from her performance, which is the one constant of Joy and certainly stands out from those around her. And it doesn't help that Russell goes heavy on the imagery with Mangano actually doing DIY around the home, while mentally doing DIY for her family. There's no subtlety in this rags to riches story and it's a damn shame because of it.

It's predominantly Russell's direction and the script which are the main reasons it never fully rises above its intentions. There's too much of an almost farcical approach to proceedings and when it comes time to inject the drama into the moment, it never quite fully catches like it should.

The sequences where Mangano heads to the fledgling QVC studios and makes a pitch to Bradley Cooper's Neil Walker and the subsequent scenes where Mangano sells her mop on screen are really where the film briefly stutters into life. The excitement of the new format, of the TV pitch, the fervour of the orders coming in as the camera circles around Walker is electrifying; but nowhere else in the movie does Russell ensure that this lightning strikes twice.

Interestingly, the potential for drama comes in the final stages of the film with Mangano heading up her own empire and finding others heading to her with ideas. It would have been a smarter move to see her having to balance the attitude she has of "I can't accept your answer and I won't" and "I don't need a prince" when facing business ideas from others. As it is, Russell settles for a saccharine "You can have it all" attitude that sticks in the craw with dramatic platitudes and cliches as Mangano lops her hair off to demonstrate her own turning point and self-reinvention.

Ultimately, Joy gets by on the strength of Lawrence alone; and while she does feel miscast, her presence on screen helps the film out of its own predicament. It lacks the catharsis that you'd perhaps expect and instead produces a more muted film that doesn't inspire as much as it should given the stellar talent involved.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege: PS4 Review

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by Ubisoft

First person shooters don't come with more prestige than under the Tom Clancy umbrella.

The latest, Rainbow Six Siege, comes at a time when the world's reacted to real-life terrorism and sieges in Paris which gives it a sort of unwelcome prescient sheen that's hard to shake off.

But just managing to shake it off, it does.

You play a member of a counter-terrorism team in a predominantly online game, that's aimed at giving you control of situations and seeing how you react in them. It's all about tactics in many ways and ensuring that your team survives.

Alternating between attack and defence, there's no denying that Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege is a tense game and will rely on you using some smarts rather than blundering in and firing willy nilly. Playing through levels helps you unlock equipment and operators, and helps you realise the potential of the team and its players.

And it's really here in the online multiplayer that Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege comes into its own.

Forced online means that you have to play with others or with friends and it's a little trickier if you're a solo player by nature. Picking a good team helps a lot, as you can't respawn in the middle of the game - once you're gone, you're gone. Which ensures that you play the game in a way which feels real and serious, something the Tom Clancy games have always done. The team works best with the headset environment, there's no denying that with the team out scouring the sites and scoring intel, it gives you an extra insight into what's around.

While there's been a few issues connecting to the server, it's been no worse than in Battlefront, and hasn't really prevented the play from coming to the fore.

If you're after a deep-dive immersive game this festive season that appears to have chilling overtones of current world events, then you can't go much further than Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege; it's tautly executed and thrilling.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Trumbo: Film Review

Trumbo: Film Review

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Louis CK, John Goodman, Helen Mirren
Director: Jay Roach

There's nothing Hollywood loves more than a tale about the wronged getting final justice.

So, coupled with the fact that this tale takes that and wraps it up in the past of one of its own, and you could see how Trumbo would be a shoo-in for awards season with its prestige veneer and stand-out performance by its lead.

Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston plays Dalton Trumbo, an American screen-writer and heavyweight of the industry in this biopic which follows Trumbo's ostracism from the Hollywood community because of his political beliefs.

In 1947, Trumbo was put on the Blacklist and ultimately jailed for his beliefs, before entering the Hollywood community again under a veil of secrecy.

Predominantly known for his comedy films like Austin Powers and Meet The Fockers, director Jay Roach heads down the traditional path for the genre, choosing to recreate a myriad of scenes and moments from Trumbo's life.

Consequently, the almost made for TV film occasionally feels like it's too choppy and frenetic with the areas it decides to land on; it's an odd idea and rather than simply concentrating on one particular time-span or thread, there are parts which feel massively underdeveloped and characters which go to waste. Chief among these is Trumbo's long-suffering wife Diane Lane, who simply shows to offer support before crumbling. Granted, by concentrating solely on the domestic stress of dealing with the idealistic approach to the Red Menace and Trumbo's exorcism the film would have felt over-blown, but there are plenty of dramatic fruits to be successfully mined here.

Thankfully, it's Cranston's actorly portrayal of the clearly witty and urbane Trumbo that helps propel the film along. He's clearly having a ball with his pronounced intonations delivering lines that are of a Noel Coward withering nature ("I'd say go on, but you will" just being one of the examples) He delivers the film's script with a dazzling theatricality that's called for that helps elevate the rather average ideas and execution from its own intentions.

There are moments when Trumbo becomes a film of characters and impersonations - chiefly Helen Mirren's harpie horrible Hedda Hopper and Dean O'Gorman's double-take Kirk Douglas - but it's in the execution of the spoken word and the recreation of the era that Trumbo excels. (Plus John Goodman's appearance adds a great deal of vim in the back as movie mogul Frank King, a peddler of B grade trash that Trumbo finds himself writing for)

Perhaps the criticism for this tale is that the choice of canvas is too wide and given the bath-dwelling Trumbo's a rich source for the plucking, it could have paid dividends in its final fight back against his vilification.

While Trumbo gained two Oscars writing under nom-de-plumes or selling the work to others as it was the right thing to do, the moment when he's welcomed back among his own, unfortunately lacks quite the emotional punch that it needs to resonate.

All in all though, Trumbo is a small triumph; had it chosen to hone in a little more on some key moments in his bath-dwelling life, it could have soared a lot higher than it actually does.

The worst films of 2015

The worst films of 2015

It's time for the annual hall of shame.

And looking back over what has been a terribly average year, some cinematic stinkers have really stood out.

Here are the worst films of the year - in no particular order:

1) Daddy's Home
2) Fantastic Four
3) The Gallows
4) Terminator: Genisys

5) Hot Pursuit
6) The Scout's Guide to the Apocalypse
7) The Transporter Refuelled
8) Dumb and Dumber To
9) Vacation
10) Irrational Man
11) Mortdecai
12) Taken 3
13) Get Hard
14) Unfinished Business
15) Jupiter Ascending

So, did I miss any? hit me up with your worst films of 2015!

The Best films of 2015

The Best films of 2015

It's fair to say that glancing back through the year, it's not been a vintage one for cinematic experiences.

Most have fallen into the middling category; not offensive films, but not massively enjoyable - which is in many ways, the worst experience to have at the movies. Films should move you, stir something in you and see you rise from your seat in ecstasy or agony.

That said, there's been some strong stuff out there this year - and here in no particular order - are some of the best,

1) The Ground We Won
2) Sicario

3) Creed
4) 99 Homes

5) Inside Out
6) A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
7) Mad Max Fury road
8) It Follows
9) Girlhood

10) The Martian
11) Song of The Sea
12) Cartel Land
13) Love and Mercy
14) Birdman
15) Foxcatcher

Here's hoping 2016 will be incredible!

The Good Dinosaur: Film Review

The Good Dinosaur: Film Review

Vocal cast: Raymond Ochoa, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn, Sam Elliott
Director: Peter Sohn

A Pixar film is usually a treat, a piece of animation that touches the heart with its story and characters as well as impresses the eye with its sumptuous work.

So, it's a surprise to say that The Good Dinosaur isn't quite up to scratch in the story department.

Positing the idea that the meteors that hit the earth and wiped out the dinosaurs never actually struck but zoomed past, The Good Dinosaur concentrates on a family of Apatosaurus dinos who work the land. Into this family is born fearful dino Arlo, the runt of the litter who struggles to find his place.

When tragedy hits the family and the father's killed (so far, so Lion King), Arlo ends up accidentally getting lost. With only an orphaned cave boy, Spot, whose sole behaviour is like a dog, Arlo begins the long and arduous journey home. (A la Incredible Journey and Homeward Bound)

The Good Dinosaur merely hisses where perhaps it could roar.

Mixing in the entirely unoriginal story of a lost character making their way home and having a few adventures while undergoing some life lessons on the way with a Wild West story is an odd mix that doesn't quite hang together as it should.

Which is a shame as technically, the movie is excellent.

Backgrounds, dirt and prehistoric mountain ranges sizzle - the environments look incredibly realistic and feel like they've been filmed and the dinos and other creatures super-imposed over the top. It's perhaps just as well the backgrounds are so immersive that you're not as distracted by the lack of what's going on in the foreground.

Because simply put, the main story is somewhat of a damp squib, an under-developed journey that goes from A to B, with little time for any major characters and interactions - unless it's to ram home the message of earning your mark on the world by doing something big for something bigger than yourself.

That's not to say the leads don't interact well and their relationship doesn't work well. Both Arlo and Spot are given a few funny and touching moments together throughout, but more often than not, these feel like perfunctory ends to moments and wouldn't feel out of place within a short film (in fact, at times The Good Dinosaur feels like a short film that's been over-extended and not fleshed out). It's a shame because the truth that resonates within Spot and Arlo's bond will keep kids engaged throughout - and there's not enough of that within. But the other problem is there's not enough of a connection between Arlo and his family; roughly sketched over at the start of the flick, the film fails to find the centre and stretches the connection too far.

The Good Dinosaur may revel in some of the darkness of life but the unoriginal journey and poorly padded out story makes it feel like Pixar's hit a rare bum note; it's a rare mis-step of a film that doesn't quite do enough to keep the kids as engaged as they should and doesn't do enough to keep the adults on side either.


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Disney Infinity 3.0: The Force Awakens: PS4 Review

Disney Infinity 3.0: The Force Awakens: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by Disney

Closing following the highly secretive plot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Disney Infinity set is likely to be a family favourite this Christmas with kids both young and old.

You will of course need the original Infinity kit to get this started, but given that, the game itself and its lovely styled figures are worth investing in and in no way constitute a quick cash in on the franchise.

Playing through the game will see you taking on the majority of the film's key moments (it's still too early for spoilers, so nothing to see here, move along) and it all kicks off on Jakku. You get to play as Rey or Finn and it's clear these characters are here to stay in the series, with chances to level up fairly quickly and easily on hand.

With slight variations on what you've experienced before in play sets, it's clear that this latest is trying its best to ensure you don't feel it's a rushed job. It's certainly brief, but given that you get to pilot X-Wings and the Falcon as well as laying into Stormtroopers on Jakku, this is definitely aiming to give you a flavour of the film rather than the full course, but the youngsters the set is aimed at will not care.

Three hub areas provide extra missions as well so even if the main storyline has brevity, there's still the chance to get involved in side bits and to keep minds and fingers occupied.

Ultimately, Disney Infinity 3.0: The Force Awakens is a nice solid tie- in.

It does what it needs to, is respectful of its Force material and will keep the kids happy during the summer months. There are signs these sets need to do something a little more radical in future, but not veering too far from their MO and keeping the charm dialled up to 11, Disney Infinity's latest foray into a galaxy far, far away shows this series is rightly here to stay.

Suffragette: Film Review

Suffragette: Film Review

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Ben Whishaw, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Brendan Gleeson
Director: Sarah Gavron

There's no disputing the Suffragette's movement was a vital one.

But in the hands of Gavron and writer Abi Morgan (The Hour, The Iron Lady), the film version of the growth of the movement feels didactic and as washed out as the grey palettes employed in the visual execution.

In 1912 London, Mulligan plays Maud Watts, one of the early foot soldiers of the movement, but who's more a soldier of chance than of deliberate stance. Working at a local laundry and duly handing in wages to her husband (Whishaw), Maud one day finds herself in the middle of the growing civil unrest instigated by Emmeline Pankhurst.

With her interest inadvertently piqued initially in the movement, Watts is dismissive of what's going on and remains a passive viewer. But when tensions begin to escalate at home, she becomes more involved in the fight for equal rights.

Suffragette is a misfire in many ways.

It fails to really get to the core of what makes the movement so powerful and gives us a lead that would rather view what's going on while all around lecture her. Equally, it doesn't help that Gavron's characters outside of the trio of women are so caricature. All men are bad and therefore badly portrayed with such a broad brush that the message threatens to be lost in the cinematic execution.

Conflict at Watts' home is so obviously signposted that it's never a surprise when it shows and the only real surprise is how dire it gets; this is a film which is never anywhere but in the women's corner, firmly entrenched in their camp and their fight.

In among the shaky cam and Mulligan's Watts' passive viewing of events (her character spends most of the film as an impassive viewer, rather than willing participant), there's also cliched dialogue rolled out over the law not being respectable to women; but there are moments that shine. Chiefly Brendan Gleeson's investigating copper brings a compassionate tone to proceedings, casting doubt over treatments and offering some hope for men at large.

Streep's appearance amounts to little more than a cameo as Pankhurst addressing a rally and Bonham-Carter seems to have wandered off the set of Sweeney Todd with her turn.

While Suffragette clearly wants to pass on a powerful message, its execution is muddled and mired in its intentions. It is perhaps telling the only moment to garner any emotion in the screening was when New Zealand appeared top of a list of nations that granted women the vote in 1893 - and the real footage is rolled out from events of the movement.

Sometimes, a true story needs only the simplest of executions to soar; sadly Suffragette misses with every moment and fails to add to the legacy of the suffragette movement.


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