Sunday, 28 February 2021

Resident Evil: Maiden: PS5 Demo Review

Resident Evil: Maiden: PS5 Demo Review

Developed by Capcom
Released by Capcom
Exclusive to PS5

The demo may be short and those behind Resident Evil:Village may view it more as a visual showcase, but there is no denying this is something stunningly atmospheric and unsettling.

Waking in a dungeon, the player has one simple mission - escape unscathed.
Resident Evil: Maiden: PS5 Demo Review

It’s the usual Resident Evil fare based on the success of Biohazard: a first person perspective aimed at immersing you into the world, giving you jolts where necessary and making you question whether you actually did see something out of the corner of your eye.

In honesty, it’s nothing truly original - the horror genre has been somewhat trapped in its confines in the gaming world for a while, unable to breakout and offer anything resembling game changing for years.

But what Maiden has going for it is how effectively well it’s done.

From crystal clear graphics on the PS5 to a clever use of the unnerving (did that body just move, why are human parts falling from the ceiling), the game is there to rattle you from the start.
Resident Evil: Maiden: PS5 Demo Review

Touted as a stand-alone from the upcoming Resident Evil: Village, the demo shows promise for the game, even if the puzzles in the demo are relatively simple to hardened players from the genre.

What it does offer is some hope that the upcoming Village will continue the good work from Biohazard and breathe new life into a franchise corpse that’s been riddled with cliche and slight rot for a few years.

Resident Evil: Maiden is available to download exclusively for the PS5 for free at PlayStation Store.

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Sackboy: A Big Adventure: PS5 Review

Sackboy: A Big Adventure: PS5 Review

Developed by Sumo Digital
Released by Sony Interactive

There is no denying that Sackboy is one of the essential PlayStation characters.

Sackboy: A Big Adventure: PS5 Review

And so it is that the PlayStation 5 launch title Sackboy A Big Adventure comes with both the level of expectation from the platform and also a mission to create cuteness in the next generation world.

This time Sackboy finds himself sucked into a world of trouble when new monster Vex appears and sucks out all the little adorable sack creatures into his own world.

From there it’s very much the usual Little Big Planet game modus operandi - collect all the little bubbles, collect cosmetic bubbles and generally avoid being caught by the bad guys.

That’s nothing new here but what is new about this Sackboy game is how it retains its charm in the next gen world.

Sackboy: A Big Adventure: PS5 Review

While Astro's Playroom may have stolen the jump on what the DualSense controller can do, Sackboy uses it to the best of its advantage even though sometimes it feels a little like it’s lacking in its own creativity and imagination. Which is not something you'd ever expect from this franchise.

Instead of using the controller to create gimmicky moments what Sackboy manage to do with the controller is more about providing a level and atmosphere of immersion.

From popping bubble sound effects to keep music to various sounds coming at your controller from you at all levels and on all fronts, the game certainly dials up the cute for anyone diving in at any level. It also allows for characters to walk through grass, across other environments and for you to enjoy the subtle sounds of either swishing grass or hearing the ground beneath your feet from within your controller.

It’s fair to say the creative side of the Little Big Planet franchise is sorely missed this time as it's simply a well-executed platformer, but the size and scope of the levels mean replay is about obsessive completion rather than inventive necessities and multiplayer online with your pals.

Sackboy: A Big Adventure: PS5 Review
Sackboy: A Big Adventure is so nicely executed that it’s hard not to fall for its charms.

If you love the Little Big Planet series on the PlayStation before chances are you’ll still love it even more this time around. 

Sure there’s been a bit of tooling quietly done in the background, but given the final result, the cloth creature’s future in both PlayStation’s world and gamers’ hearts is still secured.

A review key for Sackboy: A Big Adventure was provided by PlayStation New Zealand. 

Friday, 26 February 2021

What to watch on Disney +, Neon, Netflix, Amazon Prime in March

What to watch on Disney +, Neon, Netflix, Amazon Prime in March

It's already March, which is an utterly astounding concept, as it feels like 2021 is flying by.

With cinemas still largely affected by Hollywood getting scared off from releasing its blockbusters, streaming services are once again taking advantage and gaining a foothold in our viewing habits.

Here's some of the best stuff being released on streaming platforms in March

Raya and The Last Dragon (Disney +, Premier Access from March 5)

Raya and The Last Dragon (Disney +, Premier Access from March 5)

The latest animated film from Disney is getting a hybrid release in New Zealand, with cinemas here being fortunate enough to be under Covid alert level restrictions.

One of the bonuses is getting to choose how to see Raya and the Last Dragon, a tale of Kelly Marie Tran's Raya, who's forced to undergo a quest when the dragon orb her people are charged with guarding is stolen. 

A return to form of sorts for Disney, Raya and the Last Dragon is a magical family outing.

The Mauritanian (Amazon Prime, March 24)

The Mauritanian (Amazon Prime, March 24)

This could potentially be a fine drama.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald and based on the best-selling memoir “Guantánamo Diary” by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, The Mauritanian is the inspiring true story of Slahi’s fight for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the U.S. Government for years.

Already coming with talk of awards pedigree, the film's streaming premiere is something to mark in your diaries.

Waffles and Mochi (season 1, Netflix, March 16)

Waffles and Mochi (season 1, Netflix, March 16)

Former first lady Michelle Obama is heading to the world of kids TV.

A delightfully colourful looking show, Mrs Obama is going to be bringing the world into your living room, as she is joined by puppet pals to discover, cook and eat foods from around the world.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney +, March 19)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney +, March 19)

Did someone say Marvel?

Yep, just two weeks after the no doubt cataclysmic events of the WandaVision finale, the latest salvo from the Marvel canon is fired, as the Covid-delayed The Falcon and The Winter Soldier premieres.

After being handed the mantle of Captain America at the end of Avengers: Endgame (2019), Sam Wilson teams up with Bucky Barnes in a worldwide adventure that puts their abilities to the test as they fight the anti-patriotism group the Flag-Smashers.

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan star - and probably some top secret cameos. (We're expecting Chris Evans)

Louis Theroux Life on the Edge (March 16, Neon)

Louis Theroux Life on the Edge (March 16, Neon)

Lockdown was hard on us all globally.

But for documentarian Louis Theroux, it gave him a chance to pillage his archives for reflection.

And the result is him visiting some of his more controversial and colourful characters, as well as the chance to catch up with them.

The series just manages to avoid outstaying its welcome, and the format creaks a little under the strain of what's an extended repeat in parts, but it's still a fascinating look at what enthused us then, and what happens after the cameras have gone.

Coming 2 America (March 2, Amazon Prime Video)

Coming 2 America (March 2, Amazon Prime Video)

Three decades and three beautiful daughters later, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) prepares to take over the reigns of his homeland of Zamunda.

However, that all changes when an ailing King Joffer (James Earl Jones) delivers the shocking news that Akeem has a long-lost son, Lavelle, in Queens.

You may be able to guess what's next, because of the title, and the first film...

Invincible (Amazon Prime, March 22)

Invincible (Amazon Prime, March 22)

Invincible is an adult animated superhero show that revolves around seventeen-year-old Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), who’s just like every other guy his age — except that his father is the most powerful superhero on the planet, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons). But as Mark develops powers of his own, he discovers that his father’s legacy may not be as heroic as it seems.

From The Walking Dead's head honcho Robert Kirkman, this animated film has a multi-talented cast.

But its greatest asset will be Steven Yeun, whose performance in Minari (in cinemas now) have finally sealed what many have known for years - that he's a stellar talent that's vastly underappreciated.

ZeroZeroZero (March 8, Neon)

ZeroZeroZero (March 8, Neon)

This eight-parter from Stefano Sollima (who created the stunning Suburra) is all about drugs.

It follows the journey of a cocaine shipment, from the moment a powerful italian cartel purchases it, to its packaging in Mexico and shipment across the Atlantic Ocean.

With an all-star cast including Andrea Riseborough, Dane DeHaan and Gabriel Byrne, it's sure to be a tense and unpredictable ride for those of us obsessed with shows like Narcos.

Justice League: The Snyder Cut (Neon, Date TBC)

Justice League: The Snyder Cut (Neon, Date TBC)

Due to release abroad on March 18, and still not confirmed for a day or time but with Neon confirming via Instagram, it will be "Express from the US", geek expectations are high for this one.

The director's cut of the 2017 film is one of the most anticipated films of the year - even though this is a 4 hour epic helping to bolster its US streaming platform.

Whether it's folly or game-changing remains to be seen, Widely derided on release, and supposedly what sank Warner Studio's ambitions for a DCEU, it will be an essential watch for those of us interested to see how creativity changes along the way.

Demon's Souls: PS5 Review

Demon's Souls: PS5 Review

Developed by Bluepoint
Released on PS5

A new generation console with old generation games retooled.

Yep, here we go again - a sense of nostalgia hanging in the air and once again, a feeling of deja vu.
Demon's Souls: PS5 Review

If the end of the PlayStation 4’s life felt like it was being swamped with remasters (Crash Bandicoot, The Last Guardian, Shadow of the Colossus), wearying you and making you feel like new IP was something game devs were scared of, then the announce and subsequent arrival of Demon's Souls for launch would have had you positively apoplectic with déjà vu.

But the father of From Software’s souls family seems to make a lot of the next gen graphics as well as the sound elements of the controller.

Bluepoint's remaster is actually technically something to marvel at, with the HD graphics having a clarity of vision that’s pleasing to see as the game progresses from its initial crack of light pervading the screen.

Whether it’s a crackling fire, a foreboding environment or lightning hanging in the air, the game mails the atmosphere with ease - and transports the player without any concerns.

For those unfamiliar with the 2009 original, the land of Boletaria is under threat from "the old one" and it’s up to you to slay it and restore peace.

So far, so nefarious and familiar.
Demon's Souls: PS5 Review

As ever, combat is as punishing as you’d expect from the genre with deaths feeling genuinely like they’re your fault as you pressed the wrong button or moved at the wrong time.

Loss is to be learned from and while the game doesn’t hold your hand, it does still feel like a reward when you progress.

But that’s a hard road and as ever with the Souls series the casual gamer will feel lost, unable to attain a sense of gaming worth and a degree of satisfaction with the punishing stakes and grit of grind.

Ultimately, if you’re willing to invest in the technically superior remaster then it will reward your efforts.
Demon's Souls: PS5 Review

In fact you could say the PlayStation 5 version of this once hated now beloved classic will enrich more than just a Demon's Soul.

A review key for Demon's Souls was provided by PlayStation New Zealand.

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales: PS5 Review

Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales: PS5 Review

Developed by Insomniac Games
Platform: PS5

If Insomniac Games' Marvel's Spider-Man was a mission statement about how to reinvent the comic book hero for the gaming console and provide a deeply immersive and challenging spectacle, their follow up, Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales improves on that and delivers more diversity than you could ever expect.
Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales: PS5 Review

Set in New York City, Insomniac Games do an even greater job of setting their stall out from the very beginning. This is a multicultural game, a game that lives and breathes the cultural melting pot of the Big Apple from its opening moments as Miles negotiates the stairwell out of the underground.

From speaking Spanish to local residents to a later mission involving a girl who signs, and a Spider-Man who signs back, this is the first video game to really feel like it's embraced all elements of the world - and it's all the better for it.

Talking of the story, Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales sees you taking on the titular hero and sole guardian of New York City after Peter Parker skips town for a working vacation with MJ.

But as soon as Parker's left town, a mysterious organisation called Roxxon and a new villain called the Tinkerer spring up to cause chaos for the newbie...

Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales does an excellent job of one-upping the original game, whether you play it on PS4 or PS5. 

Obviously, with the PS5, you get faster loading times, no whirring from the SSID, the DualSense coming to life with haptic feedback, adaptive triggers and immersive sound, but aside from the technical tweaks, the game is an upgrade on the original in simple subtle ways.

Colours pop in the upgraded PS5 version; animations are smoother and the game just feels right as you jump off rooves, hurtle through the skies, and basically feel like a newbie attempting to be Spider-Man.
Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales: PS5 Review

From upgraded combat moves (named Venom moves, despite the wider Spider-verse) to incredible action scenes, every second of Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales feels natural and engaging.

It helps that you learn as Miles does, and that he's not infallible when it comes to making mistakes. This means the game makes for great bedfellows, no matter who is playing, or at what level.

All in all, Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales is the superhero game any self-respecting gamer needs - from smoother execution to a richly rewarding world to swing around it, this is one game that's a must have on every single level.

A review key for Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales was provided by PlayStation New Zealand.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Supernova: Film Review

Supernova: Film Review

Cast: Stanley Tucci, Colin Firth
Director: Harry Macqueen

That Supernova deals with the fallout of a devastating disease - dementia in this case - is admirable. But that it does it in such an overtly subtle way throughout is less admirable, leaving you feeling the whole issue is lightly being danced around.

That's not to detract from the terrific work done by both Firth and Tucci, whose tender relationship anchors this film and grounds it, but also leaves you wanting the film to have been more daring when exploring the emotional devastation wrought on a long-term couple.
Supernova: Film Review

Tucci is Tusker Mulliner, a writer whose life is nearing an end because his creative edges are being slowly ravaged by the onset of dementia. Firth is Sam, his soulful and melancholy mate, whose eyes betray every single ounce of fear he feels over what's befalling the love of his love.

Driven on by Sam, the pair take a roadtrip around Britain, visiting the haunts of where they first fell in love and where life blossomed before the vine was so cruelly withered by the disease. But Tusker has more up his sleeve, having "forgotten" his medication....

The poignancies of Supernova come more from what's unsaid in the tender and unfussy, but grounded and real, relationship between Tusker and Sam. Early scenes show the duo playfully bickering on the road, as quarrels over which roads to take, how to read a map, and where they go demonstrate a shorthand of a long lived-in relationship that's excellently conveyed by the pair.
Supernova: Film Review

But then the melancholy starts to hit Supernova, and Macqueen's penchant for subtleties teeter on the mawkish as the realities of the disease start to hit home.

In the forlorn Firth and the almost wistful Tucci, the film finds its strengths; in fact most of the movie would be lost in other actors' hands. The duo gel, the tenderness feels real and the subtleties of their relationship are wonderfully and demonstrably shown by the duo - they are a couple for the ages.

Yet, at times, it feels like Supernova is shallow in its exploration of the onset of dementia, and almost dangerously romanticising the practicalities and realities of those impacted. At times, it's close to giving off an emotionless pitch, leaving you almost uncaring in Sam and Tusker's journey toward darkness.

Thankfully, Firth and Tucci do much to keep the film centred and rooted solely in their relationship in a tender and moving way. From brief glances to troubled countenances, this is a movie that dallies more with the human side of the relationship than the existential dread ahead for those afflicted.

It all culminates in a somewhat curious denouement that feels earned, but weirdly emotionless - where there should be tears, despite beautiful lovely acting, there is a void. There is also a stillness in this void though, a sign of tenderness respected and a celebration of quiet strength.

Whereas other dramas could have gone for explosive revelations, Supernova, despite its somewhat grandiose title, chooses to allow small emotional truth bombs of the oncoming reality to pepper its run time. It's a smaller film in many ways, carried by two astral turns, and a desire to approach a subject usually mined for explicit drama in a more subtle and downbeat yet humane way.

Whether that's enough to be as affecting for the audience remains to be seen - were it not for Firth and Tucci, it would have been more a damp squib than the emotional Supernova it aspires to, and far too occasionally reaches.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Boss Level: Film Review

Boss Level: Film Review

Cast: Frank Grillo, Mel Gibson, Naomi Watts
Director: Joe Carnahan

Rarely straying away from its Groundhog Day mixed with violence premise, Joe Carnahan's Boss Level is an exercise in pure machismo and blockbuster thrills.

When Roy (Frank Grillo) awakens every day, he finds himself in a time-loop with a a bevy of of assassins trying to kill him for reasons unknown. Rarely making it past 12.47pm each day, Roy starts to try and piece together what's happening - and why - before the clock claims him again....
Boss Level: Film Review

It's not that Boss Level is a shallow film. 

In truth, from its opening moments of utter violence, complete with glob voiceover from Grillo, it's actually quite fun, unfussy and refreshingly frank about what it wants to do.

As each death transpires, Carnahan conducts an almost balletic symphony of stylised violence that's hypnotic to watch, and refreshingly simple in its complex execution. As the bullets fly, or the deaths unfurl, it's clear Carnahan is doing exactly what he wants and managing a series of Groundhog Day style montages that suit the tone of the film's MO.

But as it goes on, it becomes clearer that the deeper edges of the plot are tied up in the usual sci-fi tropes and little else. Which again, is perfectly fine, because over the 90 minutes, it's less a film about developing and the usual one about timeloops promoting a sense of personal growth and acceptance.

However, Boss Level is so joyfully executed and committed to screen that it would be churlish to deny its charms.
Boss Level: Film Review

That's not to say it's not without flaws though.

Female characters are massively underwritten, and appear only as cyphers or objects of desire - even the female assassins are sexualised in some way or other. It's put through the male gaze in extremis and little else is afforded. Criminally Watts' scientist is so underwritten, she may as well not be anything more than a dollybird dumper of exposition as far as the script is concerned. It's almost laughable, if it wasn't so offensive.

Gibson delivers a cigar-chomping baddie with ease, spouting some abhorrences that feel almost nasty as the film goes on.

And Grillo makes good fist of the hero, a chiselled grizzled and wearied victim of circumstance heading out on the road to redemption via the usual means of the genre. But he makes it watchable thanks to a layer of machismo charm that's hard to deny.

All in all, Boss Level is popcorn guns-to-the-wall entertainment in extremis. Attempts at emotional depth are plumbed into the final third of the film, but by then, it's too little too late.

But as a statement of its premise, it's undeniably fun - in a disposable yet entertaining 90 minutes almost comic book package.

Monday, 22 February 2021

Destruction: All Stars: PS5 Review

Destruction: All Stars: PS5 Review

Developed by Lucid Games
Published by Sony Interactive
Available free as part of February's PlayStation Plus offering

Destruction All Stars feels very familiar.
Destruction: All Stars: PS5 Review

Solid but familiar - elements of Rocket League minus the giant football and goals mixed with Fortnite’s cartoony shooter sensibilities to create a destruction derby game that’s disposable fun, but offers some promise.

The game’s point of difference is this is a racing game where you get to leap out of the car you’re in at any point, run around the course, snag collectibles and hijack other cars.

It’s smooth for a third person game and there certainly feels like there’s a pace and a zip to the gameplay, but there are moments when you’re not entirely sure what the longevity of this game actually is.

Launching with a few modes, and a skill level that’s at the lower end, there’s easily enough to keep players engaged thanks to colourful graphics and an almost ADHD frenetic gameplay. From levels like Carnado where the aim is to rack up points and destroy your car as you bank them, to Mayhem where you try to survive, the game's not gone for a deep set of levels to begin with. (Although Carnado is the most playable of the four).
Destruction: All Stars: PS5 Review

Cars are spawned on the track and you race to them to pick them up and then it’s all just game on - it's simple enough premise.

In online player levels and arcade mode, it becomes a competition where you have to score the highest points when the day and basically survive: it’s nothing too challenging or taxing to anyone who has played these sort of games before.

Maybe that is some of the problem of Destruction All Stars.

It all feels a little too much like déjà vu and even with the new technology haptic feedback and adaptive controllers it doesn’t feel like there’s a brand-new USP in this game to keep it going forever - though accelerations and braking are all too common place in driving games, so there's not much to deviate from.
Destruction: All Stars: PS5 Review

Gameplay is certainly slick there is a feeling that’s really there’s no new use for the DualSense controller in this first PlayStation5 online battler, which is a PlayStation Plus game exclusive for now.

The only real downside when racing about the arena is the lack of ability to really look round and see what’s going on in any kind of mirror. Certainly for a game where are you are about to be smashed any second that seems like a crippling oversight from the gameplay developers and won’t help with any tactics to help you win.

Triggers adapt to make you feel like you’re pushing peddles and that’s really about it The controller  does rumble, there’s a bit of movement here and there but it just feels wildly under-developed for this game which is a real shame when you consider what the immersive work that’s been done with Astro's Playroom.

Ultimately Destruction: All Stars is perfectly fine addition to the new gaming console.

The fact that it’s free and available for PS plus is also a bonus and will hopefully entice as many in as did Fall Guys recently.

However it remains to be seen if this is a game that will develop through seasons of play or will grow as a franchise and online experience or suffer the fate of many where servers are empty, and matchmaking is patchy.

Destruction: All Stars is disposable enough fun for now - but as a signal of intent for the PlayStation 5 console, fine shouldn't really be just enough.

A review key for Destruction: All Stars was provided by PlayStation New Zealand. 

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Astro's Playroom: PS5 Review

Astro's Playroom: PS5 Review

Developed by Team Asobi
Platform: PS5

Astro's Playroom: PS5 Review
It’s hard to explain just how good Astro’s Playroom is.

Both as a game and as an extension and showcase of what the Dualsense controller can do, it’s exceptional, going above and beyond what anyone could expect from a free game.

Where the VR Game AstroBot Rescue Mission showed off what VR could do, Astro’s Playroom takes the overly cute robot and puts it front and centre of the PlayStation’s past and its future.

Jumping through four different lands (essentially the inner workings of the actual PlayStation), the Bot collects coins, uncovers artefacts from the history of Sony’s console and generally platforms its way around the various levels.

But it does more than just this - it showcases the possibility of what the controller can do and what future developers should be embracing to ensure the next generation deserves its label.
Astro's Playroom: PS5 Review

Whether it’s using the controller’s haptic feedback and tensions to power a spaceship with Astro in (like some of the very first basic games from the 80s which saw you using z and x on keyboards to avoid walks) or stroking the touch pad to roll Astro in a ball in an homage to Marble Madness,there’s a real sense of gaming nostalgia at play here.

Team Asobi doesn’t hold back at all from delivering something that excels for all age levels.

Sure, this may be a play once through and never again kind of game, but it’s 12 hour gameplay, designed to engage from the get go.

From truly inventive moments like blowing on the keypad to power an onscreen fan, there’s not a single moment of Astro’s Playroom that’s not about fun, using the haptic feedback from the adaptive controller to maximum effect and earning the title of one of the best next generation games.
Astro's Playroom: PS5 Review

What a written review can’t explain or demonstrate is the thrill of the DualSense and its execution. From feeling rain hitting the top of Astro through the controller to feeling the scratching and crunching of ice in snowy levels, Astro’s Playroom goes beyond to utilise its controller.

When the next gen ends, Sony’s team can easily look back on Astro’s Playroom content in the knowledge this title launched it with a creative bang and set the bar high for others to emulate right from the start.

A review key for Astro's PlayRoom was provided by PlayStation New Zealand.

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Little Nightmares II: PS4 Review

Little Nightmares II: PS4 Review

Developed by Tarsier Studios
Released by Bandai Namco
Platform: PS4

When it comes to stealth games, atmosphere is everything.
Little Nightmares II: PS4 Review

And Little Nightmares II has it in spades from its deeply unsettling opening moments.
You're Mono, a boy who wears a little coat and appears to have a bag with eye-slits on his head, who wakens on the outskirts of a wood and has to make his way from there.

Whereas Six navigated the Maw in the previous game, moving with caution through areas and solving puzzles, Little Nightmares II throws you into the open a little more - but with the same devilish designs on ending your game before it's began.

Mono has a bit more access to other movements than Six appeared to - among other things, he's able to wave sticks to set traps off as he negotiates the 2.5D world. But in truth, that won't help if you don't see the traps coming in the first place.
Little Nightmares II: PS4 Review

From the Wilderness to a creepy school room, there's plenty of unsettling touches scattered throughout Little Nightmares II that make it just about shake off its familiarity from the first game. While the reappearance of Six later on doesn't make the game become a co-op playthrough, it does give the game a feeling of existence within that universe. (And certainly, the game's end will be enough for some).

There is occasionally the feeling that the game is unnecessarily cruel at times as you step out into spotlights and are taken out by various creatures almost instantaneously, but there is also a feeling that gradual learning benefits Mono's journey as it progresses. And the Mono and Six relationship does very much put you in mind of the protagonists Lil and Laarg of Escape Plan that was launched back in 2012 for the launch of the PlayStation Vita. (Remember that?)
Little Nightmares II: PS4 Review

Once again, the creatures of Little Nightmares prove to be the nightmare fuel of the game, and add greatly to the unnerving edges that play out. The puzzle platformer refuses to hold your hand, and is all the better for doing so, but it can occasionally frustrate those unable to see where the perverse solution may lie.

Oversized monsters, creepy level design and an eerie atmosphere as you traipse through Pale City make Little Nightmares II something of a low-key triumph. It's a sign that indies are in fine fettle and well worth diving into and certainly this one will keep you up at night from its scares and its puzzles.

A review key for Little Nightmares II was provided by publisher Bandai Namco.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Occupation Rainfall: Film Review

Occupation Rainfall: Film Review

Cast: Jason Isaacs, Ken Jeong, Temuera Morrison, Dan Ewing, Jet Tranter, Lawrence Makoare
Director: Luke Sparke

Lacking the relative depth of the first film from 2018 which somehow punched above its weight and scored an unexpected sequel, Occupation Rainfall follows the guns and grunts as they continue to take on the invading Greys aliens.
Occupation Rainfall: Film Review

The fight's now been going on two years on after the first saw a ragtag group of survivors banding together to lead the uprise - starting in Australia (of course).

This time, meshing a buddy-one-more-mission brief into its sci-fi B-movie trappings, the film largely follows army grunt Matt (Ewing) and his unwilling alien partner nicknamed Gary (an anagram of the Greys, the invading race and used as a derogatory term) as they try and track down the mysterious alien device Rainfall.

But also hot in pursuit are the aliens...

There’s no way that this movie as anything but an unabashed love letter to the cheesy blockbuster.
Occupation Rainfall: Film Review

The film cost only $25 million to make and quite frankly, it’s stunning what Luke Spake has managed to achieve with the money as it really does all show up on the screen, thanks to some inventive CGI work and some obligatory all guns blazing action sequences.

But it’s more in the human element that this Independence Day blockbuster ripoff falls down a little with Platt this time concentrating more on shifting sequences between action scenes rather than delivering the depth of character that came in the first film first time around.

That’s not to say the Occupation Rainfall isn’t bad as sci-fi extravaganzas go for a small screen.

This one is likely to find a second life thanks to its Netflix deal. 

It certainly won’t find the bums on seats in the blockbusters in the cinemas even with the Covid epidemic because there are no distinguishing moments to really make it stand out from the rest of its ilk and genre. There's nothing new here, but there certainly is more than enough effort to make it admirably.
Occupation Rainfall: Film Review

While Temuera Morrison is a calming presence, he’s infinitely better than the script would offer him  - but a moment of principle when facing a mob delivers a timeless message from the film and grafts his appearance a credibility it needs.

As the two hours plays out, it feels like the film is outstaying its welcome and failing to build the foundations of anything other than leading to a sequel-baiting ending.

It seems churlish to mock the veritable spirit behind Occupation Rainfall - but script elements like the Alien Nation buddy plot, the comedy banter of Ken Jeong and Jason Isaacs’ alien and the overall storyline, tropes and themes feel like they’ve been done a million times before - and where the budget will allow it, a million times better.

But Occupation Rainfall is the very essence of a cinematic battler and while it may end on a frustrating note, you can’t half help but hope this franchise may overcome the odds so heavily stacked against it in terms of familiarity to ride again - whether you want it to or not.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Wrong Turn: Film Review

Wrong Turn: Film Review

Cast: Charlotte Vega, Matthew Modine, Bill Sage
Director: Mike P Nelson

The Wrong Turn franchise began back in 2003 with Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum Eliza Dushku facing off against hillbillies. and launching another relatively soulless slasher series.

The 2021 Wrong Turn movie comes after the sixth in 2014 lost everyone's interest.
Wrong Turn: Film Review

But it's not right to dismiss Mike P Nelson's take on the franchise, which is subtitled The Foundation.

Granted, it doesn't mess too much with what you've come to expect. In this latest, a group of liberal friends (an interracial pairing, a gay couple and a heteronormal duo) ignore advice to stay off the beaten track on the Appalachian Trail, and end up hunted by The Foundation, a group set up long before the Confederate War tore through America.

If Wrong Turn starts as an all too familiar horror, the competency displayed proves wildly unnerving at about the 50 minute mark of the movie. While there are all manner of traps and a few early kills served up early on, the film comes more into its own when it introduces more of The Foundation and their philosophies on life, embodied by Bill Sage's unsettling leader.

Here, it turns into a more ideological piece that's content to revel in some of its gruesomeness but does more to humanise both sides of the conflict, and even leaves you feeling like the outsiders are the transgressors. (There are more than a few elements of stories told in the Far Cry video game series at play here, with morality and audience loyalty wavering.)

But it's disappointing to report that the film throws all of that morally grey high ground away in the final third of the movie, resorting to a tried and true hunter killer, cat and mouse game horror fare.

That's not to say that it's not capably executed. Modine and Vega (who reminds of Jessica Rothke's strong and likeable performance in Happy Death Day) make for good solid protagonists as two side stories collide, and prove the journey is sometimes more worthy than the destination. But some broader character strokes earlier on, as well as a troubling lower end treatment of the gay couple prove there are one or two wrong turns taken at a basic script level.

Wrong Turn may prove a bit of a rebirth for the series, and certainly does more than enough to keep the tired tropes of the genre at bay - there's just a feeling that with a slightly tighter focus at a script level, and less of a rushed ending, it could have been a Wrong Turn that was definitely worth taking.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

The Little Things: Movie Review

The Little Things: Movie Review

Cast: Rami Malek, Denzel Washington, Jared Leto, Natalie Morales
Director: John Lee Hancock

The Little Things's desire to be a child of the 90s goes beyond just its setting.

The ethos of the film is very much a crime drama of the 1990s, with some big dramatic hitters assuming the major roles. But like the title says, it's the Little Things that help when the story gets either too muddled in its own mire, or too drawn out to be fully compelling.
The Little Things: Movie Review

While Hancock tries for tension, he doesn't quite make it stick as the 2 hours plays out, even though Washington, Malek and an underused Leto give their all.

Washington stars as Joe "Deke" Deacon, a deputy sheriff working on the fringes of Bakersfield, who's called into Los Angeles for a mundane job. Arriving in LA, Deacon finds himself drawn to the case of a missing girl that's being investigated by the department star Jim Baxter (Malek, in an exaggerated mannerisms role).

With time running out, and the bodies piling up, Deacon finds similarities between this latest case and an unsolved serial killer case he was investigating.... 

Aiming for dark and brooding, but occasionally dipping its toes into meandering, Washington anchors much of The Little Things' desire for flashbacks at pivotal turns and its penchant for jarring narrative turns that take you out of the moment.
The Little Things: Movie Review

Even though he's anguished and relatively dour, it's more that Washington feels a little less urgent in this role than in films like Kiss the Girls. But he remains watchable in the role, even if the script doesn't allow him the chance to expand much of his role as the cop haunted by one previous case.

The moments where the tension rises palpably does little to save the film, and a final gravel-pit based confrontation delivers echoes of Se7en's Brad Pitt's Mills desperately asking Kevin Spacey's John Doe "What's in the box?", but fires admirably hinting at what could have been in this old-cop-mentors-young-rookie-hotshot story.

But if Washington goes for dour through his paunchy physicality (and weirdly hints at the film's Deke being some kind of spiritual offshoot to The Equalizer), Leto's tendency to overplay his movements and exaggerate them leaves the potential villain of the piece as too much of a caricature, rather than a psychologically greyer one. 

The same can initially be said for Malek's hotshot detective who's majorly unlikeable in early appearances, and almost dismissive of the film he's in.

That's perhaps some of the problem of The Little Things - while it could have been a majorly effective psychologically haunting and morally questionable film, it dabbles too much in the procedural and fails to cohesively bring all the elements together. (And it's no film for women either, as they're victims or in Morales' case, afforded little other than supporting bit players).

Sure, it's the Little Things such as a haunting score and a brooding atmospheric shoot that help, but it's the bigger things that torpedo all of writer director John Lee Hancock's ambitions.

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

I Care A Lot: Amazon Prime Movie Review

I Care A Lot: Amazon Prime Movie Review

Cast: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Dianne Wiest, Eiza Gonzalez
Director: J Blakeson

UK director J Blakeson's twisty and twisted I Care A Lot doesn't populate its 2 hour with very nice people.

And in the case of this stylised and sleek film, that's probably no bad thing.

Pike is Marla Grayson, a self-appointed Guardian of the elderly, who essentially uses her position to scam them out of their possessions, and leaves them locked in nursing homes, with no access to family or the outside world.

When Marla is approached by a crooked client telling of a "cherry", an elderly patient with no relatives or contacts, she senses an easy scam. As Marla targets Jennifer Petersen (Wiest, in an all too brief role), she believes this grift is a simple one. However, Marla's mission is anything but...

With a laser-precision bob, icy stare and pinched cheekbones, Pike is effortless as Grayson in this thriller that twists more often than it stays on the straight and narrow. Her pristine stylings on screen set the tone in Blakeson's film, which mostly stays the course (it's perhaps a little overlong in the final furlong) and keeps you horrifically engaged. 
I Care A Lot: Amazon Prime Movie Review

There's a sickening superficiality here too that may keep you at arm's length (character history and motivation is not what Blakeson wants to indulge his script in), but thanks to Pike and some choice cuts of dialogue and voiceover, you're already clued into this warped American dream within the opening moments.

The best thing about I Care A Lot is not knowing where the journey is heading - and it's invariably better kept that way. Blakeson fills his screenplay with mostly irreputable lowlifes, but somehow manages to make you turn that scorn into sheer hope that Marla and her partner Fran (Baby Driver's Gonzalez) will survive what they've chanced upon. It's a masterful stroke, brought vividly to life by the central players.

Dinklage also deserves praise for his role, the details of which are too spoilery, but there's a simmering tension whenever he's on screen, mostly led by the work done by his eyes and what lies within. Special mention also needs to go to Chris Messina, a lawyer who has as many moments on screen as there are button holes in his tailored suits, but who makes the absolute most of every single word, and every delicious implication thereof.

If Blakeson's film is supposed to be a searing salutation of the anti-hero, it manages it well. The production values of the film give it a stylised yet unnerving look that's hard to shake, a Stepford Wives feel permeating parts of the care home and some of the cutaway scenes to maximum effect.

Overall, I Care A Lot will surprise you with how much you actually do care for these hateful and spiteful characters (clue: it's a lot) as the immorality tale plays out. It may have chosen to leave humanity on the cutting room floor of the scripting room, but I Care A Lot, with its seething venom the antidote to anything engaging, makes it a savagely intriguing thriller that grips as much as it appals.

I Care A Lot starts streaming on Amazon Prime Video on February 19.

Monday, 15 February 2021

The Legend of Baron To'a: Neon NZ Film Review

The Legend of Baron To'a: Neon NZ Film Review

Ambition on a budget meets a degree of heart and family legacy in director Kiel McNaughton's debut.

It's the story of Latukefu's Fritz, an Aussie-based businessman who needs to sell the old family home in New Zealand to finance a deal back home. Landing in his old cul-de-sac, he finds some things have changed since the days when his wrestling father, Baron To'a, ruled the roost.
The Legend of Baron To'a: Film Review

But when a local gang makes off with his dad's prize wrestling belt, Fritz's uncle refuses to sell the home until it's returned - sending Fritz on a collision course with his own personal and troubled history.

The Legend of Baron To'a starts with two of the actors (Latukefu and Tui) apologising to the Tongan King for what they're about to see, but exalting him that they wanted to show a true to life story.

In truth, the cul-de-sac where the story takes place could be anywhere where bad apples have set in and the rot's begun, and where family and community have been torn apart by crime and deliquency.

On that front, McNaughton and his writing team have seized on a vein of veracity that's got plenty to be mined for dramatic effect.

Yet in parts, The Legend of Baron To'a lacks some of the dramatic KO that it's clearly going for - largely in part due to the writing of Latukefu's Fritz. Prone to going all Beautiful Mind and writing on windows, Fritz is a hard character to really care about, despite the Robbie Magasiva-like Latukefu's best acting intentions. And certainly when the chips are down, there's more a sense that he was entitled to what was coming, rather than favouring this underdog.
The Legend of Baron To'a: Film Review

A cartoon-like element underpins some of the brutal beatdowns, with not one ounce of blood spilled throughout, despite some of the violence on show - it's moments like this that take the film out of the reality and grittiness it aspires to.

And yet, in its flaws, this genial pic packs in heart when it needs to - particularly with moments of Tui's To'a, a legend in his own cul-de-sac. Glimpsed in flashbacks and in old videos of wrestling, it's clear there's a legacy here, and Tui makes the absolute most of the limited screentime.

Equally, Laga'aia's subtle and simple portrait of the long-time dweller offering advice to the newcomer is a stellar performance, one doused in subtlety. Laga'aia lifts some of The Legend of Baron To'a's shortcomings when it truly counts. Billed as a comedy, the laughs are, to be frank, in short shrift, and The Legend of Baron To'a is more a family dramedy than anything else.

With fight scenes that resemble UK's World of Sport Wrestling TV series, McNaughton makes great fist of the small spaces to bring the action alive, clearly channeling Tongan Ninja and Kung Fu Hustle.

Overall, while The Legend of Baron To'a may lack a few killer KO moves throughout and would have benefited from a tighter script, it does proffer a solid night out for NZ cinemagoers.

Sunday, 14 February 2021

Win a copy of Des

Win a copy of Des

To celebrate the release of the David Tennant mini-series Des, thanks to Madman Home Entertainment, you can win a copy.

About Des

Win a copy of Des

Des is a true crime drama focusing on one of the most infamous criminal cases in UK history.

Dennis Nilsen Known as the ‘kindly killer’, Nilsen (David Tennant, Good Omens, Broadchurch) was a local civil servant who spent five years murdering boys and young men he met on the streets of London’s Soho from 1978 to 1983. 

When he was finally caught on 9 February 1983 Nilsen had murdered a total of fifteen men over a period of five years, making him Britain’s most prolific serial killer of the time. 

After his arrest, Nilsen was astonishing in his honesty admitting outright to all fifteen murders in the police car outside his flat. 

But infuriatingly for the investigating detectives, he couldn’t remember any of his victims’ names. 

With no apparent motive, inconclusive forensic evidence and most of Nilsen’s victims living off grid, the police started the biggest manhunt investigation in UK history. 

This time not for the murderer, but for the murdered. 

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Win a copy of The Craft: Legacy on Blu Ray

Win a copy of The Craft: Legacy on Blu Ray

To celebrate the release of The Craft: Legacy on Blu Ray, you can win a copy thanks to Sony Home Entertainment.

About The Craft: Legacy

In Blumhouse’s continuation of the cult hit The Craft, an eclectic foursome of aspiring teenage witches gets more than they bargained for as they lean into their newfound powers.

Win The Craft: Legacy

Friday, 12 February 2021

Honest Thief: DVD Review

Honest Thief: DVD Review

In Honest Thief, a fairly competent story is given plenty of heart and soul before falling into old action genre tropes, and fizzling when it should really be ramping up.

An earnest Liam Neeson delivers another variation of his Taken routine, this time performing as Tom, a former marine cum IED disposer turned bank robber with a conscience.

Following a meet-cute with Kate Walsh’s Annie at a storage depot, Tom decides to turn his back on bank robbing life to settle down.

So deciding to turn himself in, Tom calls in the FBI, and tries to convince them he’s their man. Initially Reticent, two of the FBI’s most disgruntled (for reasons never fully expanded upon) decide to rip Tom off, steal the cash and make off with the perfect crime.

But when Tom is crossed, he takes the fight to the FBI, using a variation on his set of special skills to get revenge.

Honest Thief starts by placing characters into its story, developing them before they deciding to throw them in the shackles of a relatively plodding typical action film.
Honest Thief: Film Review

Neeson gives good hangdog face and his burden is obvious, even when the script fails him. But by the time Jai Courtney’s maniacal glee enters the frame. The film eschews any desire to further service its characters, preferring merely to service a rote plot that neither fizzles nor burns in its final third.

There is a story of how middle management flounder in life, how males lose their direction and how guilt catches us all up, but Honest Thief is less interested in that and more interested in ensuring a happy ending for all, the baddies are caught and love will find a way.

An abrupt end doesn’t help things and serviceable action scenes exist only because they have to and not because they ramp up tension or push you to the edge of your seat.

Honest Thief is watchable enough fare, but unless Neeson does something new and fairly soon, the twilight of his career will be notable only for a long list of average actioners - that’s the honest truth, but also would be a crying shame.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Rams: DVD Review

Rams: DVD Review

A re-imagining of Grimur Hákonarson's Cannes Award-winning Icelandic movie, Australian director Jeremy Sims' latest offers more of a lighter tale than the bleak original.
Rams: Film Review

Neill and Caton are Colin and Les, two estranged brothers who are at war with each other, and whose quarrels have divided the community. When Colin suspects Les' award-winning ram of having a rare disease, he has no choice but to tell the authorities, setting in motion a purge of the region's sheep and devastating livelihoods potentially for a generation....

The Australian version of Rams is less interested in providing the kind of bleakness that was so redolent of the Icelandic original. 

From broader strokes to an almost comedic performance from an OTT official, the film isn't wanting to wallow in the darkness of the first, that came with both an oppressive Icelandic setting and a grim outlook. But given its desire to reach a wider audience, this is perhaps understandable.

Instead, by setting the film in the Aussie outback with its pristine paddocks and rolling hills, Sims' take on Rams is less nuanced, but nonetheless effective, thanks largely to a stellar performance by Neill as Colin. (Although the ending leaves a lot to be desired.)
Rams: Film Review

Neill delivers a weathered and wearied performance that taps into the farming mindset of less said, more demonstrated - from occasional looks to the heart-rending viscerally numbing moments after he has to slaughter his sheep, Neill delivers a masterclass in understated and builds a character that's both loveable and questionable in some of his antics.

Caton has less to work with but manages to turn in a brother whose anger and resentment has gone beyond my brother's keeper ethos and is tinging on self-destruction. But when needed, he provides a more than adequate foil to interactions with Neill's Colin.

Ultimately, despite the bucolic background, there's still the elegaic feel of the original to Rams, and a slower pace gets to the heart of both the characters and the community affected by the outbreak of disease and the devastation of loss. It may have softer edges than the original, but it has an eye for the subtleties of farm life and those who dwell within it.

There's a rhythm adjustment needed for Rams, but work with it, and it offers a strongly rewarding experience that offers insight into how men behave later in life, and how rural life shapes a certain perspective and outlook.

It may be occasionally stymied by some of its broader comedy strokes, and its desire to err from the darkness blackish comedy within, but given its central performance from Neill, it's eminently watchable.

Very latest post

New Tales from the Borderlands: PS5 Review

New Tales from the Borderlands: PS5 Review Developed by Gearbox Published by 2K Games Platform: PS5 New Tales from the Borderlands follows t...