Thursday, 30 September 2021

What to watch in October on Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Neon NZ, TVNZ OnDemand and DocPlay

What to watch in October on Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Neon NZ, TVNZ OnDemand and DocPlay

The spookiest month of the year is here, and while 2021 is nearly at an end, there's no sign yet of any streamer finishing off delivering content.

Here's what's worth watching in October on Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Neon NZ, TVNZ OnDemand and DocPlay.

Seinfeld: Seasons 1 - 9  (October 1, Netflix)

Seinfeld: Seasons 1 - 9  (October 1, Netflix)

New York comedian Jerry and his friends offer up some hilarious dialogue in this show "about nothing" that became one of the longest-running sitcoms.

Starring Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis Dreyfus and Michael Richards, Seinfeld is still the quintessential sitcom.

Diana: The Musical (October 1, Netflix)

Diana: The Musical (October 1, Netflix)

The dazzling and devastating life of Princess Diana takes centre stage in this original musical, filmed in advance of its official Broadway opening.

Already described by some as a car crash, and the musical that nobody needed, this will most likely be polarising, but will no doubt be watched in droves.

Among the Stars (October 6, Disney+) 

Among the Stars (October 6, Disney+)

A six-part docuseries with fly on the wall access into the wider world of NASA, with cameras on Earth and in space. NASA astronaut Captain Chris Cassidy is on a quest to get back in his spacesuit for one last mission. This series follows Chris and the wider team who take on missions that risk life, limb and reputation for the greater good of humankind. Join them as their missions unfold.

Black Widow (October 6, Disney+)

Black Widow (October 6, Disney+)

Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger.

LEGO® Star Wars: Terrifying Tales (October 8, Disney+)

LEGO® Star Wars: Terrifying Tales (October 8, Disney+)

After the events of “The Rise of Skywalker,” Poe and BB-8 must make an emergency landing on the volcanic planet Mustafar where they meet the greedy and conniving Graballa the Hutt who has purchased Darth Vader’s castle and is renovating it into the galaxy’s first all-inclusive Sith-inspired luxury hotel. 

While waiting for his X-Wing to be repaired, Poe, BB-8, Graballa, and Dean (a plucky and courageous young boy who works as Graballa’s mechanic) venture deep into the mysterious castle with Vader’s loyal servant, Vaneé. Along the way, Vaneé shares three creepy stories linked to ancient artifacts and iconic villains from across all eras of Star Wars. As Vaneé spins his tales and lures our heroes deeper into the shadowy underbelly of the castle, a sinister plan emerges.

Muppets Haunted Mansion (October 8, Disney+)

Muppets Haunted Mansion (October 8, Disney+)

World-famous daredevil The Great Gonzo takes on the greatest challenge of his life by spending the night in the scariest place on Earth — the Haunted Mansion. 

Teamed with his friend Pepé the King Prawn, this musical comedy reunites Kermit and the entire Muppets gang, who portray the beloved grim grinning ghosts of the Haunted Mansion in this star-studded, frightfully funny Muppets adventure.

Wonder Woman 1984 (October 10, Neon)

Wonder Woman 1984 (October 10, Neon)

Gal Gadot's Diana's back in the Patty Jenkins' led 80s superhero fest which sees Kristen Wiig playing the baddie and Chris Pine rocking the humour and 80s fashion as Diana's long lost love Steve.

The Movies That Made Us: Season 3 (October 12, Netflix)

The Movies That Made Us: Season 3 (October 12, Netflix)

Chills, thrills and behind-the-scenes brawls: Insiders reveal the stories behind more of your favourite megahits in this funny, eye-opening docuseries.

I Know What You Did Last Summer (October 15, Amazon Prime Video)

I Know What You Did Last Summer (October 15, Amazon Prime Video)

Written and executive produced by Sara Goodman, I Know What You Did Last Summer is based on Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel, which was also the basis of the iconic 1997 film. One year after the fatal car accident that haunted their graduation night, a group of teenagers find themselves bound together by a dark secret and stalked by a brutal killer. As they try to piece together who’s after them, they reveal the dark side of their seemingly perfect town—and themselves. Everyone is hiding something, and uncovering the wrong secret could be deadly. 
I Know What You Did Last Summer stars Madison Iseman, Bill Heck, Brianne Tju, Ezekiel Goodman, Ashley Moore, Sebastian Amoruso, Fiona Rene, Cassie Beck, and Brooke Bloom.

You Season 3 (October 15, Netflix)

You Season 3 (October 15, Netflix)

Now married with a young baby, Love and Joe try to forge a normal life in the affluent suburb of Madre Linda. But old habits die hard.

Succession (October 18, Neon NZ)

Succession (October 18, Neon NZ)

Ambushed by his son Kendall at the end of season two, Logan Roy begins season three in a perilous position, scrambling to secure familial, political and financial alliances. Tensions rise as a bitter corporate battle threatens to turn into a family civil war. 

Promising Young Woman (October 22, Neon)

Promising Young Woman (October 22, Neon)

Carey Mulligan's searing turn in Emerald Fennell's award-winning drama still sizzles months after it was first released.

Mulligan stars as Cassie Thomas, a 30-year-old dropout from Forrest Medical School who lives with her parents, Stanley and Susan, whilst working at a coffee shop. But she has a secret...

Utterly uncompromising and shocking, Promising Young Woman is one of the year's best films.

LoveLife (October 28, TVNZ OnDemand)
LoveLife (October 28, TVNZ OnDemand)

Hit comedy-drama Love Life returns for a second season as the show shifts its’ focus to a new main character this season. Emmy nominee William Jackson Harper replaces Anna Kendrick as the lead this season – although Kendrick remains an executive producer.
The romantic anthology series will follow on Marcus Watkins as he comes out of a years-long relationship with the woman he thought was going to be his person.

The Green Knight (October 28, Amazon Prime Video)

The Green Knight (October 28, Amazon Prime Video)

Denied a cinema release in Covid-stricken 2021 on New Zealand shores, The Green Knight could be something a bit special.

From writer-director David Lowery, The Green Knight is an epic fantasy adventure based on the timeless Arthurian legend, The Green Knight tells the story of Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), King Arthur's reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men. 

Gawain contends with ghosts, giants, thieves, and schemers in what becomes a deeper journey to define his character and prove his worth in the eyes of his family and kingdom by facing the ultimate challenger. 
The Green Knight stars Dev Patel, Joel Edgerston, Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and Sarita Choudhury. 

Army of Thieves (October 29, Netflix)

Army of Thieves (October 29, Netflix)

In this prequel to “Army of the Dead,” a mysterious woman recruits bank teller Dieter to assist in a heist of impossible-to-crack safes across Europe.

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Spiral: Blu Ray Review

Spiral: Blu Ray Review

How do you revitalise a franchise like Saw, which had become so reliant on everyone knowing everything about Jigsaw and so convoluted in its own gruesome mythology?

The answer, so Hollywood would have you believe, is engage someone like Chris Rock and start up a new series that has nods to the originals but goes its own way, as a police procedural, mixed with whodunit elements and horror.

Only Spiral: From The Book of Saw is such a stultifyingly awful effort that it would be better if it had succumbed to one of Jigsaw's traps and been killed off immediately.

Spiral: From The Book of Saw: Movie Review

Rock stars as Detective Zeke Banks, a cop who's angered most of his precinct by doing the right thing in the past, and is alienated from them, and living in the shadow of his father (Jackson) who used to be the department head. When a killer appears during a heatwave (yes, we get the lacklustre nod to the Summer of Sam) who appears to be targeting cops, Zeke is partnered with rookie cop William Schenk (Minghella) despite his protestations.

But as the duo begin to investigate the killer who uses a pig masked doll (Pig-saw, anyone) for his perverted attempts at redemption, Zeke begins to feel the case is a too close to home...

Spiral: From The Book of Saw begins with a decent enough declaration of intent and gore, but quickly follows up with Rock's character delivering what feels like a Chris Rock comedy routine, and which punctures any sense of character or form that's hoping to bubble up. It may be an attempt to puncture the gravity of what's going on, but it heartily distracts from events.

With its mix of NYPD Blue shaky cam, and spiralling circling each time a trap is set and a victim caught within, the movie's ethos takes a bit of adjusting to, and often feels like style over any kind of substance.

It helps little the characters within are largely lightly sketched, that the twist can be seen a mile off, and that the political story of a police department that's corrupt could have been so timely but somehow manages to feel so cliche. Even elements of Se7en rear their head in what could clearly be an homage, if it wasn't surrounded by anything original.

If Spiral: From The Book of Saw deserves to be commended for anything, it's a return to the torture porn genre it patented, as some of the executions are grisly and push it as far as it can go. But there's little else to compliment the film for - its ending is abrupt and feels simply like unwarranted sequel bait.

Sure, there's a nod to the infamous moment from Saw, but thanks to a narrative that's largely full of loathsome characters, this attempt to "play a game with you" is a joke too far on the audience, and a kick in the teeth of any new potential franchise.

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Eleven hotly anticipated award-winning films announced for Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival

Eleven hotly anticipated award-winning films announced for  Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival

Award-winning films from Cannes, Venice and Berlin film festivals will feature at Whānau Mārama:  New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF). 

NZIFF today reveals 11 hot ticket films from its programme set to thrill, inspire, and surprise  audiences when they have their New Zealand premieres at the festival. 
Eleven hotly anticipated award-winning films announced for  Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival

“The film festival has always worked to bring the very best in film to New Zealand audiences, and  this year we have an exceptional line-up with major award winners from the biggest film festivals in  the world,” says Director Marten Rabarts. 

Cannes Film Festival titles include Palme d’Or winner, Titane, which will close the festival in  a memorable way and Grand Prix award winners, A Hero, from decorated Iranian director Asghar  Farhadi and Juho Kuosmanen’s offbeat train romance, Compartment No. 6

Other Cannes titles include two very different 'coming-of-age' films, the intense Russian Unclenching  the Fists and the sunny Croatian Murina, starring New Zealander Cliff Curtis, for which writer director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic was awarded the Caméra d’Or for best debut feature. They  join the previously announced Jury Prize winner, Memoria

Hot off the heels of critically lauded debuts at Venice Film Festival comes Golden Lion winner,  Audrey Diwan’s hard-hitting drama, Happening, and Grand Jury Prize winner, Paolo Sorrentino’s  majestical memoir, The Hand of God

These films join the previously announced opening night film, The Power of the Dog, for which Dame Jane Campion won the Silver Lion for Best Director. 

Berlin Film Festival highlights featured in the programme include Golden Bear winning black-comic porn-revenge story, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, Japanese romance anthology and Grand Jury  Prize winner, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Jury Prize winning documentary, Mr Bachmann and His  Class, and the arresting World War II drama, Natural Light, from Hungarian director Dénes Nagy who  took home the Silver Bear award for Best Director. 

Cannes Film Festival Award Winners 
Palme d’Or Winner: Titane (closing night film) 
France 2021 
Director/Screenplay: Julia Ducournou 
A body horror thriller film following a mentally disturbed serial killer who is impregnated by a car. 

Grand Prix Winner: A Hero (Ghahreman) 
Iran 2021 
Director/Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi
Eleven hotly anticipated award-winning films announced for  Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to  convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But things  don't go as planned. 

Grand Prix Winner: Compartment No. 6 (Hytti nro 6) 
Finland, Germany, Estonia, Russia 2021 
Director: Juho Kuosmanen 
As a train weaves its way up to the arctic circle, two strangers share a journey that will change their  perspective on life. 

Un Certain Regard Award Winner: Unclenching the Fists (Razzhimaya kulaki) Russia 2021 
Director: Kira Kovalenko 
In a former mining town in North Ossetia, a young woman struggles to escape the stifling hold of the  family she loves as much as she rejects. 

Camera D’Or Winner (Best debut feature): Murina 
Croatia 2021 
Director/Screenplay: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović 
Railing against an oppressive, overbearing father, a teenage girl embraces independence and flirts  with desire over the course of a formative weekend in this sunny, sinister Croatian drama.  

Venice International Film Festival Award Winners 
Golden Lion Winner: Happening (L’événement) 
France 2021 
Director: Audrey Diwan 
An adaptation of Annie Ernaux's eponymous novel, looking back on her experience with abortion  when it was still illegal in France in the 1960s. 

Grand Jury Prize ‘Silver Lion’ Winner: The Hand of God (È stata la mano di Dio) Italy 2021 
Director/Screenplay: Paolo Sorrentino 
The story of a boy in the tumultuous Naples of the 1980s. Sorrentino's most personal film yet is a tale  of fate and family, sports and cinema, love and loss. 

Berlin Award Winners 
Golden Bear Winner: Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Babardeală cu bucluc sau porno balamuc) Romania 2021 
Director/Screenplay: Radu Jude 
When teacher, Emi, finds her career and reputation under threat after a personal sex tape is leaked  on the internet, she refuses to surrender to the pressure of parents demanding her dismissal. 

Grand Jury Prize Winner: Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Guzen to sozo) 
Japan 2021 
Director: Hamaguchi Ryusuke
An unexpected love triangle, a failed seduction trap and an encounter that results from a  misunderstanding, told in three movements to depict three female characters, and trace the  trajectories between their choices and regrets. 

Jury Prize Winner: Mr Bachmann and His Class (Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse) Germany 2021 
Director/Screenplay: Maria Speth 
An absorbing documentary about the inspiring story of one teacher making a difference in the lives of  migrant children in rural Germany. 

Silver Bear Winner: Natural Light (Természetes fény) 
Hungary, 2021 
Director: Dénes Nagy 
World War II occupied Soviet Union: István Semetka is a simple Hungarian farmer who serves as a  Sub-Lieutenant in a special unit scouting for partisan groups. On their way to a remote village, his  company falls under enemy fire. As the commander is killed, Semetka must overcome his fears and  take command of the unit as he is dragged into a chaos that he cannot control. 

Annette: Movie Review

Annette: Movie Review

Cast: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, a puppet, Sparks' music
Director: Leos Carax

You will know that you're experiencing a movie in Annette, rather than just seeing it.

In its opening moments, this rock opera will have you make your Marmite decision.
Annette: Movie Review

The Cannes 2021 award winner stars Adam Driver as Henry, a narcissistic comedian and Cotillard as his opera-singing girlfriend Ann. The two have met amid a swirl of tabloid obsession and examination (one scene from the showbiz insert labels them "Beauty and the bastard"), and birth a child prodigy that has a talent (and a look) to be seen.

But as Henry's career, which was once in the ascendant, begins to wane, his latent personality traits and anger emerge as jealousy consumes him when Ann's career starts to soar. However, tragedy is waiting in the wings of this musical.

While Annette begins with bluster and energy, it soon begins to fizzle into a pattern similar to many musicals, with lyrics being shoehorned in to fit a narrative. So in parts, Sparks' lyrics perform a necessity rather than an organic feel to the film, and moments become strained in their lyrical execution and subsequent mundanity.

Moments of dialogue within the songs occasionally feel facile and contrite. One song repeats a refrain of "We love each other so much" to love scenes, which in truth add little to Carax's already overused pomp and ceremony.
Annette: Movie Review

And yet, Driver retains an utterly compelling screen presence throughout, with the story falling largely on his shoulders. Along with a puppet baby that's the most terrifying child incarnation since Twilight's Renesmee, Driver imbues Henry with much going on below the surface. Cotillard is as eminently watchable as ever also, with her softer edges early on doing nothing to betray the power hidden within Ann. The Big Bang Theory's Simon Helberg fares less well, with his conductor getting less time in the spotlight as the movie progresses.

Ultimately, it has to be said that Annette is a bit too long and occasionally garbled in its 2hr 20 minute execution. But even its flaws are outweighed by the sheer bravado that is on show here - when any director fires any number of ideas at a wall, some inevitably won't stick.

But a large proportion of Annette does stick - if you're willing to suspend some of your disbelief and overlook some of the film's weaker edges, then this is the rock-opera cinema hit you've been waiting for.

Monday, 27 September 2021

Death Stranding: Director's Cut: PS5 Review

Death Stranding: Director's Cut: PS5 Review

Developed by Kojima Productions
Released by Sony Interactive
Platform: PS5

Death Stranding polarised many with its November 2019 release on the PlayStation 4.
Death Stranding: Director's Cut: PS5 Review

Amid the hype of the fact Hideo Kojima was going it alone, and The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus was along for the ride, Death Stranding seemed to have not really built more on its reputation of a post-apocalyptic postman hiking the decimated US lands with crates stacked on his back delivering items.

In fact, the nadir was reached when Reedus' Sam Porter was forced to hike for kilometres across arduous terrain to deliver nothing more than a pair of underpants.

The Director's Cut doesn't move away from the fetch quest elements that became so intrinsically linked with the first - and simply builds on that, adding in a few more "fun" elements to help the player literally get from A to B.

A truck, a robot companion and a cannon to fire parcels off into the wild and into the arms of waiting customers give the game a bit more of a varied edge, but separate from the initial premise that was so much about one man going it alone.
Death Stranding: Director's Cut: PS5 Review

Interestingly, the online portion of the game still removes a lot of the challenge for you as Sam, with a myriad of other Sams taking the path you'll already take and leaving little bits to help out behind as you make your way. This initial idea was one that was distinctively divisive, removing the game's original MO and while serving Kojima's talk about connection, it also worked to rob the game of any challenge and feeling of completion or satisfaction.

That remains in the Director's Cut, but it feels less intrusive now, and an accepted part of the gameplay. It's intriguing how such a literal game-changer has now helped shape what the actual game is.

As for the game's changes itself, from improved graphics to the aforementioned companion robot, there is more than enough to keep older players engaged and newer ones feel like they're able to get a handle on the game. Adaptive triggers are in place for weapons, and the haptic feedback works in different ways on different terrain - it's a much more immersive console experience this time, rather than just BB crying through the speaker as with the first game.

From a firing range that helps you work your weapons to a race track, Kojima's gone all the way to making this game feel like it covers all of the bases and then some. 
Death Stranding: Director's Cut: PS5 Review

Death Stranding Director's Cut goes some way to addressing some of the things that would have put people off from the initial purchase two years ago. It may retain some of the frustrations of the base game, and some of the game's initial perversities, but with an upgrade and a spit and polish that adds much more in, this is a game that's worth trying to persevere with - even if at times the odds seem massively stacked against you.

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Golf Club Wasteland: PS4 Review

Golf Club Wasteland: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Developer: Demagog Studios
Published by Untold Tales

Golf Club: Wasteland is probably more about the atmosphere than the mechanics of the golf, which in truth, feels like a crazy golf game more than your proper 18 rounds on the green.

Set on Earth after a disaster destroyed the atmosphere, you play a man in a hazmat suit who was part of the escapees who fled to Mars. But they've returned to hit some balls into some holes and to scour the planet as they play.
Golf Club Wasteland: PS4 Review

To be honest, the golf is perhaps the weakest part of this game, thanks to the mechanics of how it plays and the wild inconsistencies of how you hit the ball.

Simply moving the left stick creates an arrow and elevation and the power that you hit the ball. A push of the X button fires the ball off on its way. However, the issue is that sometimes the arrow's length and elevation doesn't correspond to what comes from the shot over 35 holes. And given that's the large thrust of Golf Club: Wasteland, it's a bit of a disappointment.
Golf Club Wasteland: PS4 Review

Equally, there's no simple indication of what par each hole is on screen, meaning every time you load a hole up, you have to pause, go into the menu and select the relevant hole before the answer is revealed. It's less than ideal, and to be honest, detracts from the atmosphere of the game.

There are 35 holes and each one comes with its own unique edge, but physics just isn't what Golf Club Wasteland is truly about.

More engaging are the snippets of life before on Earth and what the human race found engaging, the likes of which help to build the quirky indie feel of Golf Club wasteland and serve to give some context. 
Golf Club Wasteland: PS4 Review

With scifi trappings, and Radio Nostalgia a radio station that provides ambient music as well as snippets of the past, Golf Club Wasteland is more effective as a rumination on our lives than on the green.

Golf Club Wasteland isn't really a hole in one overall, but it's an intriguing and relatively competently executed take on a golfing sim with the potential to keep you off world for a few hours.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

Deathloop: PS5 Review

Deathloop: PS5 Review

Developed by Arkane Studios
Published by Bethesda Software
Platform: PS5

Arkane Studios' latest is a dense affair that takes in time loops, duelling protagonists, stealth, outright attacking and the ability to kick endless goons off the top of cliffs to their deaths.
Deathloop: PS5 Review

In other words, it's a real mixed bag of various gameplays - and it's an utter blast.

You're Colt, who as the game begins, finds himself being murdered. Within seconds of the death taking effect, you're back on a beach stumbling around, wondering how exactly you're still alive.

Then the taunting begins. From a disembodied voice called Julianna, who mocks you, goads you, scoffs at you, and generally picks holes in any strategy in you decide to take. 

Stumbling across the land you discover is called Blackreef, various clues begin to present themselves and you can start to guide Colt toward his destiny - to kill those eight visionaries in charge of the loop and to stop time from repeating.
Deathloop: PS5 Review

But Colt's nemesis, Julianna, is on his tail and will stop at nothing to make sure he doesn't achieve his goal.

Every single death in Deathloop is generally caused by the player, but the game has a devious way of inveigling itself into your psyche, that makes you think you can get away with anything and inevitably sees you being killed with ease.

Divided as it is across 4 time zones, the Live, Die, Repeat ethos of Deathloop and its perpetual day makes for a compelling onion of a game. It's one that reveals its secrets carefully and judiciously, ensuring that once your three deaths per loop are done, you've got more than enough drive and thrust to get back into the game, and to scratch the addiction that's nagging away at you.

Gameplay is relatively simple, and on a par with what you'd expect from previous first person games from Arkane - there are elements of the stealth from Dishonored and Prey, but there's also the outright cannoning it from the likes of Doom too, where you foolishly think that you can easily beat the baddies. 

It helps that enemy AI is truly appalling - somehow despite firing at you, they never seem to directly hit and you can easily off them with your machete or some well-aimed headshots. (There's also the aforementioned kicking them which eventually kills them too.)
Deathloop: PS5 Review

Meticulous planning in Deathloop is also a sensible way of playing the game too. With static zones giving you plenty of option to explore and plot, there's a real need for early gameplaying to double as reconnaissance more than anything. The game's gradual reveal of clues and Blackreef's secrets make all the difference to planning, but each time you play, there's still the uncertainty of what could go wrong - 
it makes the writers' riff on AAA games always being the same somewhat thrilling and amusingly meta.

Graphically the game is more cartoony than serious, and while the locations look nicely executed, the game's strong point is really the interactions between two African-American leads, a first for the major AAA players. 

Whether it's cheeky or snarky observations, Colt and Julianna's push and pull relationship - exacerbated by the chance to play as either character - makes the game soar.

Deathloop may be a repetitive game by narrative necessity, but playing the same thing time and again, with variations on a theme, never becomes boring in the slightest - instead, it's thrilling, fun and utterly addictive.

Friday, 24 September 2021

Ghost of Tsushima: Director's cut and Iki Island Extension: PS5 Review

Ghost of Tsushima: Director's cut and Iki Island Extension: PS5 Review

Developed by Sucker Punch
Platform: PS5

When Ghost of Tsushima appeared on PlayStation, the saga of a wandering samurai Jin Sakai hit a chord with many.
Ghost of Tsushima: Director's cut and Iki Island Extension: PS5 Review

While there was little depth overall to the storyline within, the game's playability, coupled with the fact it was an open world exploration at a time when most of us were locked down due to Covid-19, meant it was a favourite with many.

After all, what could be simpler than a beating off the marauding hordes of Mongols while freeing up parts of your oppressed land?

So, with the Iki Island expansion, Sucker Punch has essentially done what fans would expect, tapped more into the lone samurai story ethos and pulled in the power of the next gen console to create something that looks truly gorgeous as it plays out.

And that's no bad thing at all, because the story develops some of Jin's past, and adds more backstory to what has already gone. This time, Jin Sakai comes to Iki Island to repel the last elements of the Mongols hiding out there, only to find his mission is complicated by the presence of shaman, a mysterious enigmatic leader called  the Eagle, and by islanders who mistrust the Sakai clan because of what was doled out to them in the past.

It makes the Iki Island expansion feel deeper than its repetitive quests would suggest. 

Much like the original game, it's still a case of fetch quests, with side missions to pet animals, liberate outposts and explore giving you a deja vu feeling of the Far Cry series, only set in feudal times.

But this upgrade of the game sparkles.
Ghost of Tsushima: Director's cut and Iki Island Extension: PS5 Review

Ghostly apparitions in hallucinatory sequences speak through the controller, there's a thudding heartbeat like sound as the hooves of your horse power through the wilds of Iki Island, and flute playing requires you to tilt the controller like a PS Move would to ensure the right notes are hit when required. Some thought has gone into adapting what technology there is to inspire an experience that feels worthy of your time, and not just a financial cash grab.

With side quests like achieving goals on archery targets, discovering island animals and re-meeting characters from the main game, Sucker Punch has also beefed up the combat elements this time around.

Mongols can be boosted by shaman in trances meaning fighting isn't as easy as it appeared to be before, and mixing up combat styles is the only way to get through unscathed. It's a small thing, but the idea of adapting to an enemy feels realistic and less rote than the original combat was.

There has been a technical polish for the PS5 too, and Ghost of Tsushima shines through here, with fields bristling with colours, and vistas looking undeniably stunning in HD. With the extra depth the Iki Island expansion has created, Ghost of Tsushima really stakes its claim in the PS5 - and given the wandering samurai ethos of the story, it also promises that Sucker Punch could be back for more - and willing to take further chances.

A PS5 review code was provided by PlayStation NZ for the purposes of this review.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Ride The Eagle: Film Review

Ride The Eagle: Film Review

Cast: Jake Johnson, Susan Sarandon, D'Arcy Carden, JK Simmons
Director: Trent O'Donnell

Marketed as a comedy, but probably more appropriate as something of a whimsical curio, Trent O'Donnell's Ride The Eagle feels like a movie made in Covid times, isolated as its main characters are.

Johnson stars as Leif, a bit of a drifter musician whose life is changed when his estranged mother Honey (Sarandon) dies. Sent a video with his mother offering him a conditional inheritance if he completes her to-do list, Leif begins to go through the list, and reconnect with his past and his mixed feelings about his mother and their time together.
Ride The Eagle: Film Review

There is a gentle laid back vibe to Ride The Eagle, with its Californian roads and countryside pushing through the opening sequences - with a middle of the road OST as well and a back and forth with a former flame, it's really not in any rush to go anywhere, despite Johnson's charm as Leif.

In truth, Ride The Eagle feels like a play in many ways, albeit one that's nowhere near as humourous as its marketing would suggest. 

Despite its brevity, the story drags, and there's no meat on these dramatic bones, as Leif shambles from one interaction to the next.

A veritable cameo from JK Simmons, all foulmouthed and angry, proves fruitful and gives the film the edge that it needs as it pushes the humour into a form of life; Sarandon has warmth, but just feels like she's reading scenes to a camera, constrained as she is by the narrative requirements. It's ironic the film pushes so much for connection when there's so little of it actually bursting through the screen.

Ultimately, Ride The Eagle is affable enough, but it's certainly not keen to do anything more than it really sets out to do so. It may aim for whimsy and also for humour, but it barely touches the mark on both.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Star Wars: Visions: TV Review

Star Wars: Visions: TV Review

Disney+'s latest short form animated offering takes in the world of Star Wars (once again) but this time through the eyes of Japanese animators.
Star Wars: Visions: TV Review

With a range of voice talent that takes in the likes of Simu Liu of Shang-Chi fame, Karen Fukuhara from The Boys and others like Kyle Chandlier, Alison Brie and David Harbour, it's clear this Star Wars take is perhaps the broadest one for a while.

Over 9 shorts - with times running from some 13 to 22 minutes, George Lucas' world gets thrown through a new lens and some differing views of what the Star Wars world could be.

In truth, many of the shorts follow a similar theme and culminate in battles of some description or other. 

The variety at times feels lacking, and the resolution of most episodes feels like a tired trope, given a different twist by each contributing animator.

More contemplative efforts like the fourth short, Village Bride, allow the story to feel fresher - and episode 6, entitled T0-B1, feels like a nice meshing of both Pinocchio and Astro Boy in its story and its aesthetics.

But that's not to say there are not stylish touches throughout. Episode 1's black and white Ronin elements are stunning and different and give credence to what Star Wars' Japanese reference points truly are. It's a bravura opening that sets the tone for the episodes, and while others don't quite measure up to the style and polished use of the Japanese Kurosawa edges, it doesn't mean there's not enough for everyone to enjoy.
Star Wars: Visions: TV Review

Perhaps cinemalovers may get more out of the shorts than the casual and younger Star Wars viewer, with cinephiles able to pick up on visual cues and influences throughout the stories.

Riffs on Luke and Leia's destiny are given a twist, new ideas of heroes emerge and there's a strong thread of equality running through Star Wars Visions that makes the storytelling compelling to watch in batches rather than one long burst.

New visual elements offer hope for cosplayers and familiar faces appear throughout (with possibly the Scott Pilgrim-esque Tattooine Rhapsody offering the most nods to Star Wars characters and locations in its short run time) making the mix of Star Wars lore and creative licence appealing enough.

While Star Wars: Visions anime touches show the franchise is willing to take some new risks, it may have been wiser to have pooled scripts and removed some of the more common themes and denouements to keep the sci-fi feeling a bit fresher and less familiar as each episode plays out.

Best watched in a drip feed than a tidal torrent, Star Wars: Visions celebrates its unique voices and executions - whether it's a vision you'll want to continue may just depend on how you feel about the Star Wars universe as a whole.

Star Wars: Visions streams on Disney+ from Wednesday September 22nd.
The anime studios are Kamikaze Douga, Geno Studio (Twin Engine), Studio Colorido (Twin Engine), TRIGGER, Kinema Citrus, Science Saru, and Production I.G

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

The Boys Season 2: Blu Ray Review

The Boys: Season 2: BluRay Review

The Boys returns for another foul-mouthed blood-soaked series about a bunch of arrogant superheroes (Supes) and an underground group's quest to take them down.

The second season had terrifying parallels with what was going on in the US during the latter parts of former US President Donald Trump's reign, seeing a rise in Nazism and also in extreme ideology.
The Boys: Season 2: BluRay Review

Whereas Eric Kripke's show could claim more just coincidence than anything, it's hard to shake the Trumpian parallels from year two. In the latest season, a female Supe arises in the form of Stormfront, a closet Nazi and supremist who gels with Antony Starr's deluded Homelander and who's welcomed into the world of the Seven after Chace Crawford's Deep is effectively outlawed.

At the same time, The Boys - including Kiwi Karl Urban's Billy Butcher - become wanted fugitives, and become determined to clear their name after they're framed for the death of Vought's CEO at the end of season one....

There's no disputing the gore element and the deep black tones that run in this show's veins. Within the first episode, a boat is driven through a whale, its inhabitants covered in blood and gore. This is a show that leans deep into its graphic novel elements and never shies away from the edges it needs to stand out from the ever-widening world of the MCU and DC franchises.

It's all the better for it - and while there are elements that feel much grosser this time around, the story arc of the second season feels much, much stronger than season one.

All in all, The Boys Season 2 is a compelling series that any serious fan of drama and satire shouldn't be without - its fantasy edges aren't the reason to dismiss it, because the human themes of hubris, arrogance and abuse of power are still too terrifyingly similar to what's going on in the world today.

Monday, 20 September 2021

Vivarium: Neon NZ Film Review

Vivarium: Neon NZ Film Review

Irish director Lorcan Finnegan's Vivarium has been compared to Black Mirror, because of look and tone.Though this tale of two would-be surbanites (Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots) finding themselves stranded in a housing estate after a visit to an oddball estate agent's, has more in common with a darker Tales of The Unexpected or Inside No 9 via Escher.
Vivarium: NZIFF Review

Gemma (Poots, digging deep when needed and yielding great rewards) and Tom (Eisenberg, increasingly detached and desperate) are wannabe homeowners, given the chance to visit a new housing estate called "Yonder".

When their creepy estate agent disappears while they're looking around the house which is "near enough and yet far enough away", the pair find themselves stuck when they can't escape Yonder....

Finnegan creates an atmosphere of unease early on in the piece, after a cutesy opening showcases both Gemma and Tom's relationship and their approach to life.

But with some digital trickery and some genuinely unsettling moments (it's wise to go into this unspoiled, and with a blank mind approach), what Finnegan crafts is something that haunts you after you've seen it.

Colour palettes add to the cinema of unease, and the sense of suspense as the rug threatens to be pulled out from under you at any moment. Parts of the film occasionally feel like the idea's been stretched as far as it can with its essentially two-hander cast, but just when the film seems to be out of breath, an audacious third act moment visually jolts you back into it.

There's a satire in Vivarium here both of suburban expectations and family expectations - albeit poured through a prism of genuine discomfort.

It's heady, thrilling, exciting, frustrating and audacious - Vivarium truly messes with you - but its ride is well worth hopping on.a

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Dawn Raid: Neon NZ Review

Dawn Raid: Neon NZ Review

Dawn Raid is the exuberant bust of energy that cinema in 2021 needs.

Director Oscar Kightley delves deep into a bountiful archive to bring to life the story of Dawn Raid Entertainment, the music empire that was born on the streets of South Auckland.

Helmed by a friendship forged on the streets and in a local college of Brotha D and Andy Murnane, Kightley's doco tells the story of the rise and eventual fall of the empire, but also fashions a time capsule of how the local music scene was changed forever by the foresight of the duo.

Starting off selling T-shirts at the local market after US rap invaded these shores, D and Murnane realised local voices weren't being heard and decided to change that - giving rise to the likes of Aardhna, Deceptikonz, Adeaze, Savage and Mareko.
Dawn Raid: Film Review

What emerges from this well-fashioned piece that uses archive footage to deftly weave a story is something about New Zealand's desire to seize on an idea and take it as far as they could.  There will be few who won't leave Dawn Raid feeling their ideas of entrepreneurship and creativity can't grow because of these two's dreams and business acumen.

There are plenty of vignettes thrown in here, and both Andy and D make such good bedfellows that there's one heck of a story here to be told, and a pair of narrators to do it.

But frustratingly, Kightley occasionally appears to be a little too much in the story's thrall, teasing out moments of conflict within the story and hinting at problems rather than expanding them and getting all the viewpoints. (Though given media coverage of the area and perceptions usually mean South Auckland is handed a bad name, it's perhaps understandable to see why).

A throwaway line from Murnane early on talks about how he should have kept family out of business, but Kightley doesn't follow that up; equally the inevitable tax issues faced by Dawn Raid and their artists feeling lied to is glossed over. 

There's a little too much of a one-sided narrative being told here, and no matter how entertaining that is, it's behoven of the documentary maker to explore all sides.

Dawn Raid may be an oral history and one of New Zealand pluck and enterprise, but there are holes which should have been plugged - the fact Aaradhna was the only female artist in their repertoire is never questioned is just one, but there feels like there could have been a deeper documentary to have been had with just a little more digging.

That said, what Kightley's committed to the screen is an enjoyable 90 minute ride - the highs of realising the dream easily outweigh the lows of the failure and the seismic changes of fortune. Maybe it's deliberately life-affirming and was never intended to be otherwise; at its core, Dawn Raid is a story of heart and told with heart. 

And for that, it can't be faulted.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Rams: Neon NZ Film Review

Rams: Neon NZ Film 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

Sam Neill and Michael 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.

Friday, 17 September 2021

The Dead Lands: Neon NZ Film Review

The Dead Lands: Neon NZ Film Review

Playing as part of Maori Language Week on Neon NZ

Cast: James Rolleston, Lawrence Makoare, Te Kohe Tuhaka, George Henare, Rena Owen, Raukura Turei
Director: Toa Fraser

With praise ringing in its ears from the Toronto International Film FestivalToa Fraser's The Dead Lands hits cinemas, completing a veritable belter of a year for Kiwi fare at the multiplex.

Entirely in Te Reo, Boy and Dark Horse star James Rolleston is Hongi, a Maori chieftain's son whose witnessing of a desecration of ancient descendants by rival chief son Wirepa (Tuhaka) sparks a rift in pre-colonial times.

When Wirepa and his men attack Hongi's tribe in the night, slaughtering all the men and killing Hongi's father Tane, Hongi swears revenge on Wirepa, despite not being fully versed in the ways of the warrior. Hongi sets out to get his vengeance, and with Wirepa crossing the abandoned Dead Lands, he sees his chance to use the spirits of the land and the ancient ways of the warrior to achieve victory.

In among the lush, verdant land so beautifully captured by Fraser and his team, there's a potent mix of spirituality and brutality on show in The Dead Lands.

Rolleston cements his place as a national treasure by pulling in a performance that's a subtle blend of ferocious anger during the quick cut fight scenes and sensitively scared maudlin boy on a coming-of-age journey, teetering on the verge of manhood. Equally, Makoare as the Monster in the Dead Lands is also a frightening presence, a reminder of the simmering rage and yet sadness that lurks in the violence of the past within this taniwha.

But it's Fraser who's the real star of this piece, for pulling together an epic genre film that blends martial arts style fight scenes that spit over with brutality, spirituality, Greek tragedy (via Wirepa's hubris - which is cunningly subverted at the end), 80s action movies (quick zoom ins, an atmospheric synthesiser score from Don McGlashan) and full on te reo. The soundscape's also impressive too, with bone-crunching fight scenes sizzling among the violence of this old fashioned revenge flick.

The te reo is also a masterstroke, with the colourful enunciations delivering an evocatively emotional edge to the spiky dialect and dialogue when practically spat by some of the cast - it's a touch which wouldn't have worked as well were it in English or dubbed.

Presence is key here and Fraser crackles with it with his cast and behind the camera, even as the vengeance story goes on - and leads to a finale that somewhat lacks in final act showdown showmanship after plenty of posturing has filled out the screenplay and screen time. (And given that the haka is more menacing here than on any rugby field)

It's an interesting end where Fraser looks to bridge the violence that's gone on previously and has so wrecked Hongi's life and other tribes with the signs of a dawning of a new sensitivity in the dawning of a new age. Perhaps, a more mature response to what's gone on before.

The Dead Lands proves to be creatively fertile ground for New Zealand cinema in a year that's been unprecedented for Kiwi product - and a sign that when required, we can offer an unique spin on events.

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Poi E: The Story of Our Song: Neon NZ Film Review

Poi E: The Story of Our Song: Neon NZ Film Review

Playing as part of Maori Language Week on Neon NZ

Director: Tearepa Kahi

There's no denying the electricity of Poi E: The Story of Our Song.

At its world premiere at the start of the New Zealand International Film Festival, the Civic Theatre audience was clearly in the mood to enjoy a slice of Kiwiana.

And to all intents and purposes, Tearepa Kahi's simultaneous salute to a generation growing up and to the eminence of Dalvanius Prime achieves what it sets out to with exuberance and insight.

But as a non-Kiwi not versed in the 1980s trappings of beige stubbies, A&P shows, BYC and long hot summers, perhaps some of its intricacies and significance didn't land as they should and it may not travel as well internationally.

That's not to decry what Kahi's done and the hard work that's been put into the making of the film.

It's a documentary blast of nostalgia that is extremely well-crafted with interviews from the original Patea Maori Club as well as various people offering insight like The Topp Twins, the members of the club, Taika Waititi and Stan Walker et al.

There's plenty of humour and vitality around as well in the simplicity of the interviewees from the heartland of New Zealand and Patea itself. It's fair to say the film's a celebration and does much to set the scene for the birth of the Poi E song and the growth of the club which to some degree appears to rise stronger when the local freezing works closes.

And in the centre of it all, is Dalvanius Prime, a chihuahua loving, larger than life visionary who clearly blazed a trail for Patea but who didn't come to it willingly at the start. Using archive interviews, current day footage and super 8 film stock, Kahi's crafting of Prime's story and the subsequent ripples his influence had on the music scene are vibrant and entertaining.

Audio interviews and a very first ever recording of the inception of Poi E give the film an intimate authenticity that adds both to its veracity and its cinematic vitality. Coupled with Kiwis being Kiwis on screen and the natural characters of the heartland coming through, the film's portrait builds nicely both of Prime, his influence and his legacy.

But a quick brush over Dalvanius' death seems to deny the man the full implications and explanation of his story for those non-versed with him or who didn't grow up here. Though one can understand the desire to keep this upbeat and there's no denying that 30 years on, the song's still New Zealand's legacy.

But in many ways, Poi E: The Story of Our Song is more than just a documentary piece about a song and cultural icon that's lasted over 30 years - indeed a footnote adds the club meets every Monday, and Auntie Bib says you just need to bring a plate. (An example of the disarming and charming moments infused within this film by Kahi)

There are hints of politics within and contempt for Maori and small town New Zealand that shine an unhealthy light on New Zealand in the nicest possible way, as they bubble away in the background. It's never Kahi's MO to keep this anything other than feel-good and all the audience projection and feeling of the time will come simply from the authentic way it's all been laid out.

It's hard not to feel anger when Prime's attempts to attend a Royal Gala at the Queen's behest are greeted with a resounding No from all quarters, leading him to mortgage his home. Likewise, the closing of the freezing works is presented as a harsh community reality but Kahi's at pains to show how the community (like so many around Aotearoa) rallied to the call.

Cheekily ending with a claim that many know the chorus but not the words before presenting the song's lyrics via animation and a montage of performances, Poi E: The Story of Our Song leaves with a joyous earworm in your heart and a smile on your face, even if you may be less versed in some of the more nostalgic moments.

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