Sunday, 21 January 2018

Worst to Best - 3D Sonic

In recent times, Sonic the Hedgehog has been an iconic video game character for both good and bad reasons, particularly when it comes to his many 3D outings. Some rank as the worst games in history, others...well, I can't say any rank as the very best, but they're not all bad.

This is getting awkward. Let's just crack on...

#10 - Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)

Widely dubbed one of the worst games of all time, let alone one of the worst in the Sonic series, Sonic 06 as it is colloquially known isn't really a game I have to spend ages ranting about - it's infamous nature has rendered many of it's most iconic flaws apparent even to those who've barely played it. Whether it's the onslaught of glitches, poor controls, dreadful level design, or the ludicrous, laughably bad plot, there's plenty of negatives to list if you wanna get critical. It's such a shame that the once mighty blue blur had to sink to such a horrific low, yet even worse that Sega decided to associate this garbage with the beloved Genesis classic with that iconic title. For shame.

#9 - Shadow the Hedgehog (2005)

Undoubtedly another new low for the franchise, Shadow the Hedgehog seemed to be some sort of attempt to make kids feel badass for liking Sonic and win them over through cartoony yet somewhat dark violence - to be honest, it perhaps worked in some ways. I was 10 and at Primary School when the game came out, and certainly recall many of my classmates being won over by the so called badassery of Shadow wielding his epic firearms and blasting away his foes within sinister looking locales. But when you start taking games a little more seriously, this initial wow factor for the narrow minded promptly fades away - Shadow the Hedgehog I'd certainly almost dub as bad as Sonic 06 as, while certainly not as glitchy or unfinished, it's simply a poorly designed mess with some dreadful controls and, once again, a laughably bad plot. There's no harm in trying to stir up an existing formula with new ideas, especially within a spinoff of sorts, but trying to turn it into some sort of poorly structured adult thriller is quite embarrassing for sure.

#8 - Sonic and the Black Knight (2009)

The second entry to what seemed like a planned sub series, Black Knight follows on from 2007's Secret Rings by having Sonic journey into the world of King Arthur, armed with his own sword to hack away at an onslaught of new enemies. It's actually a decent success in terms of presentation, featuring some superb visuals for the Wii, decent voice acting, and a story that, while still a little daft at times, thankfully doesn't take itself too seriously. However, it's this solid presentation that makes the less than tacky gameplay even more of a letdown; whilst Black Knight has some fun moments with a brisk pace, it's often bogged down by a clumsy control scheme that makes the swordfighting tiresome and messy. Players will find themselves waggling the Wiimote like an idiot over and over as strings of enemies block the way, and it's seldom any fun - just exhausting and boring. Such a shame, considering it's newfound potential.

#7 - Sonic Heroes (2003)

It's a game most fans seem pleased with, but I myself find it hard to engage with Sonic Heroes beyond the fresh concept which offers the occasional charm - otherwise the end result is overstuffed with countless frustrations that certainly become major detractors as things continue. Of course, said unique concept is the ability to swap between a trio of characters as you race through each level, and the game features several trios to stir things up even further: from the classic Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles to lesser known (and liked) extras Amy, Cream, and Big, to name a few. It's this concept which works at times and fails miserably at others, leading to a clumsy mess of fiddly platforming with some pretty damn awful controls. I lost patience with the majority of the game far too quickly as a kid, despite wanting to love it with all my heart, and even now I can't find any real reason to enjoy it the same way most do - there's bags of potential, but it's all wasted on mediocre presentation and frustrating, imprecise controls.

#6 - Sonic Unleashed (2008)

Sonic Unleashed was a frustrating game for many of the blue blur's biggest fans, both the SD and HD versions. The developers virtually nailed the gameplay style within Sonic's 3D running stages - the pacing, balance of speed and platforming, and seemless shifts from 3D to 2D gameplay made each one an exciting and generally fun experience, and one that most felt was what 3D Sonic was always supposed to be. It's even more of a shame then that these gripping stages have to come to a tragic end to make way for the second gameplay mode: the Werehog. A sort of werewolf like alien hedgehog Sonic turns into come nightfall, the Werehog stages simply feature players continuously beating up an onslaught of generic and uninteresting enemies, hampered once again by iffy controls and bland level design. It's a shame this is also helmed by a very silly story, as once again the 3D Sonic stages virtually nail what we expect - lessons were certainly to be learned here.

#5 - Sonic Adventure 2 (2001)

My opinion of Sonic Adventure 2 won't be popular with many - though shimmers of greatness are visible from many of it's fast paced stages featuring Sonic and Shadow, and occasionally the chaotic shootouts with Tails and Eggman, it often feels inconsistent in terms of overall focus, and certainly not consistent in terms of overall quality. Perhaps it's main flaw is simply the incredibly mundane treasure hunting stages with Knuckles and one Rouge the Bat which, despite being laughably easy and over quick in the first game, are overly expansive and thus drag on for far too long; it's this and many of the aforementioned shooting stages that detract from much of the greatness offered by the aforementioned running stages with our lead hedgehogs, though even they aren't free from flaws. It's a solid effort in terms of presentation (not so much story), with catchy albeit cheesy rock music and some decent looking environments, but otherwise I'm not one who can see just why it's hailed as such a masterpiece by many; just a decent pasttime at best.

#4 - Sonic Adventure (1998)

Though many would consider Sonic Adventure 2 the superior game, and while I certainly find both vastly overrated and fairly average, I'd have to go with the original when selecting a favourite - if only because I can play as Sonic, and Tails to be fair, and dismiss the other characters for the most part. Unlike it's sequel, Sonic Adventure features a lineup of protagonists to choose from, each with their own unique structure: speedy thrills with Sonic and Tails, short lived treasure hunting with Knuckles, clunky, boring platforming with Amy, repetitive and overstuffed shooting with E-102, and...fishing? Yeah, fishing for some dumbass frog with Big the Cat. Even Sonic and Tails' stages aren't free from clunky controls and awkward level design, though there's still fun to be had with their brisk pace and decent levels of variety. It's reasonably enjoyable at it's best, and has some great music I won't lie, but can't help but feel dramatically outdated just like it's successor.

#3 - Sonic and the Secret Rings (2007)

A controversial choice to put above the Adventure titles, but Secret Rings is a game I ended up enjoying a lot more than many of Sonic's most dedicated fans. It's most notable factor at first glance are the controls; the on rails structure has players holding the Wiimote on it's side and tilting it to steer Sonic throughout each stage, and while this can get awkward no doubt, it's a surprisingly fun way to play. The levels are also structured with this in mind, allowing for a generally smooth experience with it's fair share of unique challenges, though the pace may be abruptly halted now and then with irritating obstacles. It's no masterpiece, feeling quite short lived and occasionally frustrating, but it's refined presentation and approachable gameplay structure make it an enjoyable experience regardless.

#2 - Sonic Generations (2011)

A blend of old and new is what sums up Sonic Generations perfectly - here Sonic meets his past self from the classic Genesis days, and both journey on a quest to stop the evil Eggman once more. Here we have a blend of modern 3D stages coupled with retro 2D ones, each themed after iconic stages from the past and featuring a handful of memorable remixed tracks that equate to one of the best Sonic soundtracks for sure. However, it's also the gameplay that really nails it - the modern 3D stages further perfect an already solid formula, and while it's again not without occasional frustration, it's certainly an experience that superbly captures the pace and agility of what this should be. As for the 2D stages, they to largely master the formula they aim for, harkening back to the old school days outside of just presentation, but also with it's solid blend of speed and intricate platforming. The aesthetic design for all these stages is also masterful, certainly some of the best visual design in a recent Sonic title.

Good stuff.

#1 - Sonic Colours (2010)

After a lengthy slump, Sonic made an impressive recovery in 2010 with the Wii's Sonic Colours, returning to his vibrant aesthetics and fast paced gameplay, whilst also bringing us some refreshing new ideas. Perhaps one of the biggest downsides in modern 3D Sonic games was plots that took themselves too seriously, trying to add excessive drama into an inevitably cartoony premise, but Colours dismisses these faults once and for all and gives us a story that's fun and simple, and certainly not without humour; the dialogue is genuinely funny, and the voice acting is a fantastic starting point for the largely revised cast, featuring the debut of Roger Craig-Smith as Sonic himself.

But it's also the gameplay where things are well executed - Sonic finds himself in all manner of vibrant locales that nicely combine relentless speed with enjoyable platforming once more. The Wisps bless Sonic with all manner of power ups that blend nicely into each stage, be it brief hovering or a quick boost, and each level is of course designed very well with these in mind; the end result is a highly refined experience full of variety and, while not without some hiccups here and there, largely absent of the major frustrations that plagued the many Sonic games before it. Modern 3D Sonic is not an easy formula to perfect, but Colours largely nailed it, and certainly ranks as one of the blue blur's finest outings to date.

Disclaimer: Haven't played Lost World or Sonic Forces, hence their absence. Sorry!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Most Anticipated Films of 2018

Another year, another lineup of films on the way - though I can't deny that trying to select my most anticipated films for the coming 12 months has been so much harder than ever before. Simply put, 2018 just doesn't have as many films that greatly interest me compared to previous years, so trying to select some that I was excited for was a tricky task.

But alas, I've finally found five that I am genuinely keen to check out upon release, so let's crack on and have a look over them...

#5 - Christopher Robin

No images yet released for this film...so I'll have to go with this for now.
With no trailers and barely any official images released, Christopher Robin is a film not yet well known to many, and I have to be honest and say I myself didn't know of it's existence until very recently. Of course there's nothing to really trigger my excitement at this rate, though I find myself strangely enticed to see how this one pans out - initially this seems like another live action remake of a Disney classic, though there's an interesting twist on the story that makes it much more than that at first glance.

Said twist now has Christopher Robin all grown up, with his childhood friends within the Hundred Acre Wood trying to find and help him regain his vivid imagination. Robin finds himself played by Ewan McGregor, while one Winnie the Pooh is voiced by the renowned Jim Cummings - the current voice of the character in many modern portrayals, and of course a huge contributor to many of Disney's works. Again, there's little promotional material around at this stage, but I'm still interested by this unique twist on the source material and am once again keen to see just how it turns out.

US Release: August 3
UK Release: August 17

#4 - Pacific Rim Uprising

An exciting creature feature that thankfully didn't take itself too seriously, Pacific Rim was certainly far from a narrative masterpiece, but also showed that blockbusters don't need to be full of excessive depth and complex themes to be an enjoyable watch - sometimes just a fun experience with some exciting set pieces and charming characters equates to something just as memorable. The film's less than remarkable box office earnings meant a sequel seemed unlikely at first, though fans can now be relieved to see one not far from release; Uprising jumps to a decade after the events of the first film, featuring a lineup of new characters as well some familiar faces and returning foes in the form of the monstrous Kaiju.

The trailers once again show that this will certainly be sporting more style than substance, but that's not a flaw providing the narrative is more than a rehash of the original; the visuals certainly look as impressive as ever, and once again look set to be brought to life through a number of thrilling action sequences. This all makes me continuously keen to check out the finished product, which thankfully isn't far from release.

UK + US Release: March 23

#3 - Mowgli

So soon after Disney's live action remake of The Jungle Book comes a second CGI-fuelled live action reimagining, though this time of course of Rudyard Kipling's original tale and not Disney's renowned musical. Motion capture master Andy Serkis leads the way as director and as the beloved Baloo, with an equally superb cast at his side including Christian Bale, Bennedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hollander, and Cate Blanchett. There's been little in the way of marketing yet with the release almost a year away, but I find myself highly intrigued to see more glimpses of what's to come, especially once again as it's adapted from the original story and not based on Disney's musical reimagining in any way. It'll take a lot to rival the effects of the 2016 film, but with Andy Serkis at the helm, I'm sure some impressive aesthetics are inevitable - let's hope a solid story is also.

UK + US Release: October 19

#2 - Incredibles 2

If you told fans of The Incredibles back in 2004 that they'd be waiting 14 years for a sequel, mayhem would certainly ensue; Incredibles 2 continues where the original left off, seeing the Parr family tackle a new villain known as the Underminer, a plot previously used in the video game sequel back in 2005. The most we've seen of this anticipated successor is a simple teaser hinting at Jack Jack's potentially larger role, exploring his newly developed powers seen towards the end of the original film, though otherwise things are under wraps for now - likely due to change soon as it's release edges closer and closer, however.

The Incredibles is not my favourite Pixar film, though it remains a winner in dozens of ways - the fact that Pixar have taken so long to get to work on this much needed sequel is a shame, but all is forgiven providing the finished film lives up to it's title.

US Release: June 15
UK Release: July 13

#1 - Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2

Wreck-It Ralph certainly ranks as one of Disney's best efforts for me - clever game references aside, the film finds itself a witty and surprisingly heartfelt adventure with a universal appeal, and so a sequel was always desired. Much like other films on this list, it's hard to talk much about Wreck-It Ralph 2 when not a lot of promotional material is around at this stage, so I can only hope the upcoming trailers only improve my anticipation and that the end release itself is a sequel worthy of it's title. Well, a better title to be honest.

The internet is a dangerous place though, Ralph...what we certainly don't want is a film that dismisses it's story in favour of milking the barrage of pop culture references that such a premise has the potential for. The first film found a great balance, so let's hope such a trait is passed over.

US Release: November 21
UK Release: November 30

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 22 December 2017

Movie Review - Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars and it's modern reboot has been naught but a winner for Disney's newest moneymaking machine; 2015's The Force Awakens becomes the highest grossing film in North America and one of the highest globally, with 2016's Rogue One earning similar accolades on it's record breaking debut. Said hype remains intact as The Last Jedi sets more box office records after it's first weekend and looks poised to be another global blockbuster that'll outmatch most rivals - making it even more of a shame that the film's overall quality doesn't quite reach the unparalleled heights of it's box office receipts.

Continuing on from The Force Awakens with the First Order reigning over the Rebellion, The Last Jedi weaves together multiple plot threads throughout it's beefy 152 minute run time; Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeks out the legendary Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for his assistance in fighting the First Order. At the same time, the Rebellion find themselves cornered by the enemy and forced to take desperate measures to fend off the threats that await - threats in the form of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his own supreme leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). It's sort of hard to explain it all seeing as all these plot threads are interwoven without much care and focus.

Referring to this messy plot brings to mind the film's key issue - Rian Johnson's flimsy script which, despite a decent start and gripping finale, struggles to maintain a coherent structure throughout everything in between. The film switches between largely dull sequences with Rey and Luke as forced morals and bizarre tonal shifts come into play, as well as entertaining if overlong action sequences with protagonists Finn (John Boyega) and several newcomers alongside familiar faces. There's a lot of visual thrills in many of these action scenes, though many also drag and sometimes feel far too excessive and bloated.

Characters? Way too many, and the end result is a generally clumsy mishmash of people trying to hog the limelight. Scenes shared between Rey and Luke have the potential to be far more effective and engaging, but the aforementioned tonal shifts and poor pacing make them come and go with little impact - if anything cutting them down a bit would've made things less dull, despite Hamill's solid performance and some likeable humourous moments. When we zoom back to the struggling Rebellion lead by Princess Leai (Carrie Fisher), and then over to Finn and his sidekick Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), or perhaps the attempted development of abruptly rising villain Snoke, we've sometimes completely forgotten about the stuff seen in other scenes simply because the film asks us to focus on far too much at once.

But this is an entertaining movie at it's best, no doubt; again, it starts off with a brisk pace and some gripping action, all crafted through some stunning visual effects and helmed by a lineup of brilliant performances; the same and much more can be said for the film's climactic moments. It's here where the action evolves into something much more than noisy chaos without much purpose - it's consistently entertaining, with a number of twists and turns keeping us engaged beyond a bunch of explosions and stylistic lightsaber duels. It's these superbly crafted set pieces that makes the array of flaws all the more disappointing - with it's talented cast and superb aesthetics, The Last Jedi truly has the chance to be one of the best blockbusters of the year, but these perks are sadly dragged down by a weak script that suffers from a distinct lack of polish.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Best and Worst of 2017 - Worst Five Films

Business as usual - with the year reaching it's end, now's the time to look over the best and worst of the films I saw throughout 2017. Let's get the stinkers out of the way first...

#5 - Kong: Skull Island

Shared universes are all over the film industry since the MCU took off, and one of the most recent is the...MonsterVerse? Whatever. The series began with 2014's Godzilla, and continues with King Kong's rebooted motion picture debut - one that was welcomed by most, but often had me bored beyond all measure. Kong: Skull Island is largely burdened by sluggish pacing and a lack of focus on many of it's key characters; instead more effort goes into showing off it's admittedly impressive special effects and fairly entertaining if repetitive set pieces. Kong himself pops up now and again to have bustups with the hideous creatures that lurk around the eponymous hellhole, and despite his presence always being fairly enjoyable, he's sadly put on the back burner for the most part in favour of our boring human protagonists.

The film as a whole is far from offensively bad, but just ends up being uninteresting, samey, and riddled with clich├ęs.

#4 - The Mummy

Shared universes are becoming...hang on, I've said this before. Christ know how many times, so I guess there's no need to hammer this rubbish in anymore; alas, The Mummy finds itself as not just a remake of a beloved (if already mediocre) fantasy flick, but the start of a new shared universe combining all sorts of horror characters into some strange, desperate ensemble. Things have certainly got off to a bumpy start to say the least - while The Mummy starts off quite decent, it quickly sinks into something both boring and contrived, soon obsessed with set pieces that aim to be chilling yet end up being unfocused nonsense as the characters confront a number of scary situations with daft one liners or a bizarre sense of humour. You're never sure what vibe the film is going for, and thus it ends up being a cheesy and poorly directed mess, only redeemed in areas by some decent performances and special effects.

#3 - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I've always been a fan of the Pirates series - even the lesser praised Dead Man's Chest and At World's End won me over despite their many flaws, though I couldn't quite force my biased love to get me into On Stranger Tides as much. It was then the series coming to a closure seemed like the best option; though perhaps we must remember that with such larger franchises the interest is purely on profits and not so much on engaging storytelling.

Dead Men Tell No Tales adopts many of the common flaws of the franchise and worsens them even further - once again we're bombarded with a flurry of noisy action sequences that string together an underwritten, virtually non existent storyline. Perhaps the film's only compelling factor is the dedicated performance of Javier Bardem who helps make villain Salazar an interesting foe despite his weak characterisation. But what about the iconic Johnny Depp? Once again his wit and charm is long gone, leaving Jack Sparrow naught but an irritating comic relief forced into a lead protagonist role.

With $794 million in global earnings, down from over $1 billion with On Stranger Tides, it's apparent the series isn't the highlight it once was - and yet, it seems more sequels are inevitable at this stage. Sigh...

#2 - Transformers: The Last Knight

A decade ago Michael Bay's infamous Transformers series began with a decent albeit forgettable action flick, and from there became a shitty film making machine of sorts. As each sequel arrived, things got worse and worse, to the point where we could only wonder how such garbage was earning such promising profits for the studio. It seems this tradition, however, may now finally be coming to an end; with just $605 million in global earnings, The Last Knight is by far the lowest grossing of the franchise and was considered quite the disappointment financially. A sequel and Bumblebee spinoff are planned, so one can only hope that is where it finally comes to a close. At least until it's rebooted.

Oh, this film? Well, of course it sucks, and of course it contains all of Bay's iconic trademarks: repetitive, bloated action scenes, narrow minded rude humour, stereotyped characters, and a thinly written story. Yeah, the visuals are good, but that doesn't make it worth watching whatsoever.

#1 - The Emoji Movie

Perhaps many saw this coming - and perhaps many will agree. The Emoji Movie was met with naught but contempt and confusion from the minute it was announced, with backlash largely aimed, of course, at it's incredibly daft premise. Said premise really doesn't have much potential outside of the occasional amusing gag, so developing it into a good 90 minute animated feature is a task that perhaps not even the greatest of filmmakers could succeed in.

Sure enough, the end result is a film that has little to no story behind it, and ends up being a ridiculous array of unfunny pop culture jokes spat out by consistently irritating characters. Colourful visuals and rare laughs aside, The Emoji Movie simply becomes the prime example of what goes wrong when film studios milk pop culture trends a little too much.

Sometimes Hollywood just confuses me...

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Movie Review - The Disaster Artist

Helmed by wannabe filmmaking genius Tommy Wiseau, 2003's The Room has now found itself widely considered the best bad movie of all time; it's nonsensical storytelling, atrocious script, and terrible acting have helped it develop a reputation that Wiseau perhaps may have wanted, albeit not quite for such reasons. It's this infamous nature that lead to co-star Gregg Sestero penning the widely acclaimed memoir The Disaster Artist in 2013, recounting his experience on the project, which now finds itself on the big screen at the hands of director/star James Franco.

The Disaster Artist revisits the making of Wiseau's (James Franco) personal masterpiece whilst also exploring the relationship between him and Sestero (Dave Franco) during it's development and production. From the moment they met to the premiere of the end product itself, the film takes us into one of the strangest filmmaking journeys of all time - a combination of genuine emotional integrity and of course a tonnage of comedy awaits during it; fans of The Room will find themselves particularly impressed at the care and attention used to recreate some of it's most iconic moments.

Perhaps the most notable pro at first glance is the performance of both the leading brothers. James Franco as Wiseau is undeniably going to annoy some, but it's simply because of how accurate he ends up being - Wiseau is a mysterious and very odd man, and Franco captures this perfectly with a performance that offers plenty of laughs. Wiseau's inept social and painfully bad directing skills are well recreated, as are his insane interactions with many of the supporting characters; it makes for some hilariously tense moments without a doubt. Dave Franco's performance as Gregg of course mustn't go unnoticed; there's depth to his character for sure, and the bond between him and Wiseau as their friendship takes a toll during the film's troubled production makes for some surprisingly heartfelt moments. We're certainly treated to much more than a comedic tribute to a superbly bad piece of cinema.

Then of course Seth Rogen's role as script supervisor Sandy Schklair, while not as memorable, still beautifully sums up the immense frustration many obviously felt as Wiseau's clueless direction took it's toll - a lineup of fine supporting actors also aid in recreating many of The Room's most infamous scenes, and their interactions with Wiseau as he continues to mess up his own ambitions are an unexpected joy to watch. It's this attention to detail that is beyond impressive, particularly when it comes to the overall accuracy of the set design, camera angles, you name it; it's all handled perfectly to tribute this atrocious masterpiece. Perhaps Franco's portrayal of some scenes is a little rusty, and the humour certainly gets repetitive now and then, but overall The Disaster Artist finds itself a film that offers audiences plenty to admire - laughs, tears, surprises, and interesting trivia brought to life from it's source material. Even if you're unfamiliar with the premise, it's certainly worth your time.