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Thursday, 31 December 2015

Best and Worst of 2015 - Worst Five Films


In 2014 I had the blessing of not seeing many awful films, and so compiling a list of the worst was not possible; making 2013 the last time I did such a thing - until now. Sadly, 2015 was home to several stinkers which tortured me with awful storytelling and terrible execution in the dark cinemas...so, allow me to vent more of my angst in this list of the very worst movies to grace the past 12 months.

#5 - Minions


The iconic yellow Minions are some of the most treasured animated characters in recent years after their debut in 2010's Despicable Me, a charming film with a unique premise, and it's sequel Despicable Me 2, a lazier effort than relied more on the yellow things than telling an interesting story. Of course, as soon as the fanbase was formed, a movie of their own was inevitable - it has gone on to become one of the highest grossing animated films to date, with over $1.1 billion in revenue.

You can tell from the get go that the filmmakers really struggled to derive a plot for the film, as the premise seems like a brief episodic idea that's been awkwardly strength to feature length. The main human star is Sandra Bullock as Scarlett Overkill, who admittedly does give a charming and funny performance, in what is easily the most likeable character in the film. The Minions often feel bereft of purpose as they wander around making idiotic noises and performing generic slapstick gags that are tired and equally dated. The animation is full of spirit as ever, but due to an inevitably shallow plot and an attempt at humour that dwindles into annoyance, Minions fails to justify why these yellow sidekicks should have a movie of their own outside of obvious monetary gain.

#4 - Tomorrowland


A highly pretentious and confusing film from director Brad Bird, Tomorrowland strives to be an original and unique sci-fi family experience, but ultimately ends up being too messy and poorly realised for it's own good. Bird derived a story from the Disneyland themed area of the same name, which sees protagonists Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) and Frank Walker (George Clooney) in their adventures within another dimension that directly influences the events of our own. It's a real shame that such a promising setup went to waste, but the further the story goes on, the more vague and ridiculous it becomes. Nothing makes sense, and towards the climax, any attempt to develop things further is tossed aside to focus on generic action in a desperate attempt to inject some excitement into our bored mindsets.

Bird wanted to tell a unique story, but it seems like the film would only make sense to himself - he fails to convey the complexities within his tale to us, so the final result is a film that's visually dazzling yet narratively nonsensical.

#3 - Avengers: Age of Ultron


This is likely a choice that will offend many...but I'm sorry, this film really sucked. Poor pacing, a weak villain, and a narrative that's overstuffed and poorly drafted.

Here is my review and here is my feedback in my 2015 retrospect for more insight. Otherwise I'll repeat myself till the ends of the Earth...

Forgive me, MCU fans.

#2 - Fantastic Four


I actually liked the sound of this film initially, thanks to an interesting cast and Josh Trank as director, who seemed apt for the job after his indie superhero flick Chronicle impressed audiences globally back in 2011. However, upon release, negative reviews poured their way in faster than light itself, and box office results were awful to say the least. Fantastic Four faced numerous struggles during it's lengthy production, namely Trank communicating poorly with the cast and crew and causing serious damages to the studio rented property. Who knows if this is legit, but as I've said before, we can easily see that something went horribly wrong.

Fantastic Four is a dull, depressing, and unnecessarily dark addition to the superhero genre, with a distinct lack of excitement and almost no development of it's main characters. It takes ages for them to gain their powers, and then things rush along afterward at a pace so brutal that we get no time to acknowledge the changes in their lives and the world around them. Time jumps allow filmmakers to bypass any meaningful development and exposition, and while Toby Kebbell gives it his all as villain Doctor Doom, who does have a cool design, the character is so weak that his talent ultimately goes to waste. Outside of a great cast and impressive visual effects, there are simply no redeeming factors in this dramatically missed opportunity. Guess it's time for another reboot...try again guys.

#1 - Poltergeist


I didn't expect much from this remake of the 1982 classic - perhaps just a dull horror flick, which I had the blessing of having free tickets for. However, after less than an hour of viewing, it becomes apparent that this is one of the worst horror movies to grace the film industry in decades.

Sam Rockwell stars as Eric Bowen, whose family have moved house after facing financial struggles. Of course, the house is haunted by mysterious spirits of an eerie background, which puts the family's future at stake. A horror movie needs to be scary for a start and, to put it lightly, this film simply isn't. Not one scene in this miserable pile of rubbish induces any sort of fear, and in fact unintentional laughs are far more common. Even the characters give up taking this nonsense seriously towards the end, not caring about situations that should really traumatise them emotionally, and acting out the cheesy climax as if the film is a parody of the genre. It's certainly one of the worst films I've seen in a long time, and perhaps the worst "horror" I've ever seen in my life.

We'll go along with more positivity with my favourites of 2015 and most anticipated for 2016 very soon!

Thanks for reading! Happy New Year!

Monday, 28 December 2015

RETROSPECT - Most Anticipated Films of 2015

When the year commenced, I posted my five most anticipated films as I usually do.

Here is that list.

Now, after seeing Star Wars just last week, every film on the list has been seen. So, traditionally, here is my retrospect, rearranging each film in terms of actual quality and how it compared to my original expectations. Let's commence...

#5 - Avengers: Age of Ultron


Marked as one of my most anticipated movies of the year, Age of Ultron was nothing but a miserable disappointment upon arrival. Despite being enjoyed by most, things just didn't quite click with me as I watched the narrative struggle along from the get go into a messy sequence of poorly timed gags, pointless sub plots, and almost no scaled down focus. Plot threads are tossed everywhere, jokes are made at even the most inappropriate of times, and theres simply no emotional connection between any of these characters. Performances are generally less interesting than in previous MCU films, and while James Spader does a great job with the fantastically animated Ultron, he's such a bland villain that all this talent ultimately goes to waste.

The action is exciting as always, but even that drags on; and as everything is so poorly drafted, the actual reason as to why the Avengers are undergoing another epic fight is seldom explored. I can see why others enjoyed it, but for me, it's another beyond mediocre entry to this recently mixed franchise.

#4 - Spectre


Spectre comes off the heels of 2012's Skyfall - heralded by many critics as the best Bond film in recent times, and also the highest grossing one with over $1 billion in box office receipts. In this sequel, the titular organisation comes to the big screen for the first time in over forty years, with acclaimed actor Christoph Waltz starring as the new villain.

With plenty of pulse pounding action scenes and another strong performance from Daniel Craig, Spectre manages to transcend it's occasionally thinly written narrative and lack of character development. The disappointment from critics seems similar to that of Quantum of Solace, which gained similarly mixed reception after failing to rival the standards of it's predecessor, Casino Royale, back in 2008. Here, although Spectre can't match the enormous heights set by Skyfall, there's no denying that this is still a thoroughly entertaining modern action flick, with an interesting, if again thinly scripted narrative, thrilling set pieces, and a lineup of fine performances from a well chosen cast.

#3 - Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Could The Force Awakens be on it's way to being the highest grossing film of all time? Who knows. Topping $2.7 billion worldwide to surpass Avatar will not be an easy feat, but with $544 million in domestic earnings just over a week after release, rivalling Avatar's $760 million US haul seems more and more achievable. The first Star Wars flick released in a decade has got fans and non diehards alike overloading theatres to catch one of the biggest movie events of all time, and there's no sign of any disappointment for most.

The Force Awakens is a tale that unites the classic Star Wars trademarks, and characters including Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, alongside fresh ideas and characters into a narrative that's stocked with thrilling action scenes, plenty of dazzling effects, and a blistering sense of fun and scale. It's epic to say the least, with an impressive villain and a lineup of superb performances from a loveable cast of newcomers. Humour is occasionally poorly timed, given the context of certain scenes, but thankfully this doesn't adopt any traits of "dark and gritty" blockbusters; so, at the end of the day, it's not only surprisingly complex, but also great fun for audiences of most age groups.

Also, BB8 is a legend.

#2 - Jurassic World


There was no denying that Jurassic World was going to be a success - but the amount of records it broke was bombastic to say the least, and now it sits proudly as the fourth highest grossing film of all time. The first entry to the franchise in 15 years, Jurassic World sees John Hammond's dream come to life at last as a fully operational dinosaur theme park is constructed at Isla Sorna as he had originally envisioned. However, not to give anything away, but a decision made by the park staff to reignite visitor interest gravely backfires, putting everyone in danger.

Chris Pratt stars this time round, and only B. D. Wong returns from the original films as Doctor Henry Wu, so everything's freshened up for a new audience. It treads over the same plot points as the original classic, and may not impress some people as a piece of original storytelling, but an interesting insight to the behaviour of the creatures in the park, as well as important (if a bit generic) themes of excessive consumerism help to build upon the ideas that it's predecessors expressed. Couple that with a well rounded cast, excellent visual effects, and some tense, thrilling action sequences, and Jurassic World is finally the sequel that does the original justice.

#1 - Inside Out


Inside Out is Pixar's latest original tale based on the lives of emotions that dwell inside our head, and how they operate our daily lives. The main character is Riley Anderson, whose five emotions Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear try to guide her through the struggles of moving to a new home across the country. Things take a turn for the worst when Joy and Sadness are whisked away into the depths of Riley's mind, leading to a breakdown within Riley herself that must be fixed before things worsen beyond measure.

It's a beautifully animated, smartly written, and breathlessly constructed narrative that's full of passion and heart, with a host of loveable characters that are flawlessly voiced by a lineup of fine actors, including Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, and an impressive performance from young newcomer Kaitlyn Dias as Riley herself, as well as Richard Kind as imaginary friend Bing Bong. The story is penned in a way that can be followed in a simple manner but also in a way that has so much complexity deep down, delivering a touching message about growing up and accepting changes in life; ideal for the younger audience and one thats surprisingly nostalgic for adult viewers. This film was actually number five on my anticipated list, and now here it is at the very top; I hoped it would be Pixar's major return to form, and it certainly did not disappoint whatsoever.

Thanks for reading! Have a Happy New Year!

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Movie Review - Star Wars: The Force Awakens


It's been a decade since the last Star Wars movie, and three years since Disney acquired Lucasfilm and spearheaded their plans for a new sequel trilogy. In what is officially one of the biggest releases of all time, The Force Awakens has finally arrived in cinemas - greeted with record breaking ticket sales and acclaim from fans and critics alike. Safe to say, it meets most expectations.

Taking place thirty years after Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens sets up a new story where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has fled into exile when his attempts to rebuild new Jedi order only lead to the eventual revival of the dark side, now dubbed The First Order. Under the command of the ruthless Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the First Order seeks out a map that will lead them to Luke in order to destroy the Jedi for good; their efforts are combated by scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and redeemed Storm Trooper Finn (John Boyega), as well as a few familiar faces of the past, and the freedom fighters known as the Resistance.


J.J. Abrams has done a masterful work with the Star Trek franchise's resurgence - so he was evidently the perfect man to helm this project. The Force Awakens is full of the trademark features that we expect from the series, notably the classic scrolling credits intro with John Williams' iconic music, as well as plenty of new ideas to inject fresh energy into the overall narrative. It admittedly gets off to quite a bumpy start, mainly due to some vague exploration of backstory and unexplored character motivations, but this is quickly redeemed by some thrilling set pieces and a welcome sense of fun. Whilst there are times when humour is poorly timed, given the context of the scene, there's still no moments of it veering into dull, gritty territory - which is the best way to go.

The cast is generally spot on, especially Harrison Ford in his return as Han Solo, as well as Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. However, let's focus on those new arrivals - John Boyega helps Finn to become a likeable and charming character, but admittedly of his initial motivations aren't explored in the level of depth they really deserve. As a result, some of his behaviour is strangely segue given his apparent inner struggles; while he is entertaining to watch, his development isn't perfected in the way it should've been. The same goes for Daisy Ridley as Rey in a sense, as while the character is likeable, fun, charming, and definitely entertaining in the film's numerous battle scenes, she's just not quite as refined in terms of her backstory and general motivations.


But rest assured each of these characters, no matter how much room for improvement there always is, are worthy assets to the film that each have their own loveable perks and characteristics. A worthy antagonist rests with Adam Driver as Kylo Ren who, while again having some moments of unaddressed development, proves to be a disturbing yet epic foe, complimented by a suitably sinister design and some fantastic emotional acting provided by Driver when truths are revealed towards the films climax. For me personally, another scene stealing role was interestingly all in the hands of an ingenious effects team - that of BB8, a droid who plays a crucial role in the overall storyline. Loveable, cute, and often quite funny, BB8 is a thoroughly entertaining sidekick with a design (built and used for the film, no CGI) that is both innovative and unique, and makes for one of the most endearing robotic characters in the entire franchise alongside the ever amazing R2D2 and C3PO.

The Force Awakens is well penned by all those involved, with a story that unites age old concepts that the franchise was renowned for and injects them with a fresh feel and some new revelations. In hindsight, when watching for the first time, you begin to see just how bad George Lucas was at writing dialogue in his screenplays for the prequels - overly cheesy, borderline laughable dialogue is seldom present, and it's much easier to engage with emotionally stirring scenes, moments of genuine humour, and epic exchanges during battle sequences. More effort could've been made when it comes to character development of the new arrivals and some abrupt tonal shifts, which seems to be a common blockbuster problem nowadays, but The Force Awakens remains a stellar and exciting sequel that is more than a promising start to the next stage of this franchise.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Disneyland Paris - My Review


Another year, another trip to Disneyland Paris for myself - on the past two occasions, I posted a list of some of the best rides at the resort, from thrill rides aimed at the older crowd to family friendly experiences for all to embrace.

Now, I've surely ran out of rides to smack on a new list - so, as a new approach, I'm gonna give my overall thoughts on the resort, including all the entertainment it offers outside theme park rides. Let's begin...

Rides


Well, first, we'll start with a general consensus regarding the attractions on offer at both Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. You can find my best of lists here and here, showing off some of the most notable and enjoyable rides the resort has to offer. 

There's thrilling coasters such as Space Mountain: Mission 2, Thunder Mountain, as well as Rock N Roller Coaster and Crush's Coaster in the Studios park. Each one provides it's own unique experience with fantastic effects and track design - Space Mountain has you hurdling through deep space, surrounded by effects that simulate meteors, supernovas, and nearby galaxies, while the classic Thunder Mountain speeds around the eponymous mountain region in a cursed mine train, enduring sharp turns and sudden drops beside the Rivers of America and racing through dark caverns in a loud and intense set piece. In most rides, cast members are extremely enthusiastic, becoming engrossed in their roles and giving genuine performances to suit the ride's atmosphere instead of being uninterested hosts directing you to a seat.

That's not all the place has to offer; as I've established in those aforementioned posts, we have other classic rides such as the haunting Phantom Manor, stomach dropping Tower of Terror, addictive shooting gallery Buzz Lightyear Lazer Blast, and the renowned water ride, Pirates of the Caribbean. Truly, the resort offers attractions for a variety of age groups, with remarkable attention to detail and scenic design both in the queue areas and on the actual rides themselves. It adds up to a family friendly experience that Disney fans of any age can embrace.

Merchandise


Disneyland Paris is home to dozens and dozens of shops, many of them based at the exits of the most famous rides. All sorts of products can be purchased across each of them - from Disney themed clothing (hoodies, shirts, even underwear...) to a plethora of toys, mugs, badges, keyrings, and countless other products. Being a holiday resort, you'd expect some hefty prices - a hoodie can set you back around €50, and a shirt could be around €25. It's not something that everyone will be pleased about - but, without trying to sound like a suckup, the material of them and the overall design does not disappoint. You can find all kinds of amusing clothes, from Buzz Lightyear suit hoodies to classic items with traditional Disney icons and logos. Soft toys of classic Disney characters are littered across every shop, and all are utterly adorable in every way. You'll also find more Marvel and Star Wars products in recent times after Disney's acquisition of both franchises.

The shops themselves are all beautifully designed, particularly Constellations (just beside Buzz Lightyear Lazer Blast) and the gargantuan World of Disney at the Disney Village complex. Across the Disney Village and in all the parks, the shops on offer provide plenty of things for Disney fans to enjoy and admire, despite some admittedly hefty (and occasionally absurd) price tags.

Restaurants


Disneyland Paris is host to a variety of dining experiences, from quick service fast food meals to traditional table service meals with diverse menus on offer. Café Hyperion, Casey's Corner, and Cowboy Cookout offer classic burgers, hot dogs, and barbecue chicken meals respectively, and while the queue system (one team member tends to serve two queues concurrently) is often ridiculous, the meals themselves are generally enjoyable, despite some equally high pricing.

Table service meals on offer include Planet Hollywood and the Steakhouse in the Disney Village complex, as well as the renowned Blue Lagoon restaurant that offers unique sea food, and sits directly beside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride with a dimly lit, snug atmosphere. Contrary to some people's beliefs, Disneyland doesn't just dish out cheap fast food - it has a large lineup of tasty quick service and table service experiences, that provides something for everyone based on their preferences and budget.

What needs fixing?


No matter how great something is, it can never be perfect - and Disneyland Paris is not devoid of flaws. The most notable element is some outdated attractions, mainly in Walt Disney Studios Park. This includes Armageddon - Les Effets Speciaux, a ride that simulates practical effects in the eponymous film from 1998 - seriously, does anyone care about that anymore? It is usually plagued with hideous queues and is a samey, dull, and outdated experience that needs to be scrapped. The same goes for the Studio Tram Tour, which features bland set pieces that aren't as impactful as they sound in today's world and can't help but feel repetitive and, again, rather outdated.

That aside, my other gripes are those I've already mentioned, including the irritating queue system in some of the quick service restaurants and the occasional excessive ride closures. Bad pricing is also a problem here and there, but all in all, very few flaws exist to detract from the resort's overall charm.

Overall


I can't comment on the hotels in general, having only stayed at Sequoia Lodge and Santa Fé - with log cabin and motel themes respectively. They're a relaxing place to kip, with free continental breakfasts on offer to those who purchased a packaged holiday and bars to chill out at after a busy day. For those with a bigger budget, the resort boasts higher class hotels such as the eponymous Disneyland Hotel which resides directly in the main theme park and offers plenty of five star services.

In general, Disneyland Paris is a resort that can appeal to fans of theme parks in general, and especially to diehard Disney fanatics. It has it's flaws, namely with some awkward queue systems and some excessive closing of major rides during quiet periods (though it's all the interest of maintenance which is fair enough in some ways), but I'll always treasure it as one of my favourite places to vacate alongside the Disney resorts in California and Florida.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Cool Planes


Without a doubt, the fixed-wing aircraft is perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all time. Modern aircraft weigh hundreds of tonnes, yet still find a way to lift off the ground and cruise nearly six miles in the sky - all thanks to the ingenious design of it's wings and engines. Invented by the Wright brothers in 1903, the modern day aircraft is one of the most important methods of travel in the modern world - for tourists, business tycoons, military personnel, and even for the purpose of transporting all manner of cargo. Without the power of flight, our society would simply not prosper - it's something we truly take for granted.

Here, in yet another random blog post, I'm gonna have a quick look at some of my favourite aircraft...

#5 - Boeing 747


Quite possibly the world's most iconic aircraft, the 747 was the original plane that your childhood self referred to as a "jumbo jet" - it entered service in 1969 and quickly became the largest passenger airliner ever built, and one that revolutionised the aviation industry; particularly when it came to lengthy transatlantic flights. The distinct hump on it's front houses the first class sector, and from an outside perspective, it's one of the key traits that makes this plane so easily recognizable, even to non enthusiasts. It set numerous other records upon launch relating to overall mass, wingspan, and speed - with a maximum cruising speed just shy of 560mph. Without a doubt, this is an aircraft that would immediately come to mind for many people when thinking about planes on the spot. Not that you would, unless you're a loser like me.

No offense intended. Well, not to other plane fanatics anyway. To myself, always.

#4 - Airbus A380


The 747 held the record of largest passenger jet from it's inception in 1969 until 2005 - when the Airbus A380 came along. Capable of carrying over 800 passengers (though average flights house just over 500 due to different layouts and classes), the A380 is slightly shorter than the 747, but easily tops it in terms of wing span - 80 meters in total - and general mass. The A380 was Airbus' response to Boeing's efforts to dominate the large aircraft market, and as a result, it has become an essential asset to the fleets of many top airliners; from British Airways to Virgin Atlantic to Emirates, the latter of which own over 60 of these beasts. It can fly at nearly 600mph, thus completing transatlantic flights in around 8-10 hours like it's competitors, but the larger capacity paves the way for more passengers, more on flight facilities, and an overall richer experience. It's awesome inside and out.

#3 - Antonov An-225 Mriya


Officially the largest airplane of all time, the Antonov 225 was built by the Soviet Union in 1988 for the sole purpose of transporting the Buran spaceplane. Once the Buran programme was concluded, the Antonov was bereft of purpose for nearly a decade, until finally being refurbished and used to transport enormous payloads - and allow the Soviet Union to brag about their god-like flying machine.

Weighing over 300 tons, reaching a length of 84 meters, and having a wingspan of 88 meters, this airplane is one of the most impressive achievements in aviation history - and makes it even harder to comprehend how such gargantuan things are able to even get off the ground, let alone happily cruise above the clouds. The Antonov stands out not only due to it's sheer size, but also it's six turbo fan engines, huge landing gear system that includes 32 wheels, and a tail fin that's even larger than the wingspan of smaller passenger jets. It cruises at about 500mph, the average speed for a jet airplane, but again, even more impressive when you look at just how big this thing is. Only one was built, as a plane of such scale was not essential for most aviation duties and so investing in future models seemed pointless. Perhaps this just helps it to stand out amongst the crowd.

#2 - Boeing C-17 Globemaster III


Truth be told, I struggle to really explain why the C-17 is one of my favourite airplanes - it just looks so badass, particularly thanks to it's impressive and iconic tail fin. Created solely for military purpose, the C-17 is a common in the fleets of most of the world's aviation warfare departments, such as the RAF and US Air Force. It's ability to take off and land in a matter of seconds, as well an impressive cruising speed of 520mph, make it perfect for military use; allowing it to reach even the most remote and narrow places when necessary. The C-17 is primarily used for transporting troops and cargo, and even to drop essential supplies down to recovery teams.

The C-17 began service in 1991 and production concluded just last month, although Boeing will continue to support usage and repairs of them for years to come. It's clear, based on it's impressive stats and robust design, that it'll be a long time before any attempted successor can rival it.

#1 - Concorde


A cliché choice for sure, but one that I had to include; first flown in 1969 and launched commercially in 1976, the Concorde was the world's second supersonic passenger aircraft after the Tupolev, which had a much a shorter lifespan due to safety and budget problems. Concorde planes were capable of flying at 1500mph - nearly three times the speed of the average jet plane, and over twice as fast as the speed of sound. As a result, lengthy transatlantic flights could be completed by the Concorde in a mere three hours. The sleek overall design, simple yet complex delta wings, and immensely powerful Olympus 593 engines allowed the aircraft to shatter numerous records and become one of the fastest of all time. As a result, it was primarily a magnet for the wealthy, with fares costing thousands of pounds - imagine how inflated that'd be today!

Sadly, the very first Concorde crash occurred on July 25, 2000, when an aircraft clipped an alloy strip upon takeoff, caught fire, and consequently smashed into a nearby hotel, killing everyone aboard and several people on the ground. After being grounded for over a year, Concorde took to the skies once again in November 2001 - of course, the tragic attacks on the WTC two months before caused an understandable fear of flying amongst passengers, and numerous airlines faced severe losses in revenue as a result. Consequently, due to high fuel and maintenance costs, the program simply became unprofitable by a large margin, and so it was retired in 2003. It's legacy rightfully lives on to this day as a true engineering marvel.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Movie Review - The Good Dinosaur


After a string of films that didn't quite meet Pixar's acclaimed heights, this year's Inside Out dazzled audiences and critics alike with it's boldly original premise and stellar execution. Due to countless production troubles, Pixar's latest The Good Dinosaur was pushed back from it's 2014 release to make 2015 the first time that Pixar has ever released two films in one year. As established, Inside Out ranks as one of their finest works yet, but how does The Good Dinosaur hold up?

What if the Chicxulub impactor missed Earth 65 million years ago? That is the premise of this interesting tale, which features a young Apatosaurus named Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), who is swept away from his home during a fierce storm and forced into a long journey to find his way back. Along the way, he meets and bonds with a cave boy whom he names Spot (Jack Bright), and learns to confront his inner fears and become a stronger person...well, dinosaur. Whatever.


There's no need for me to mention that The Good Dinosaur is beautifully animated; that's been standard for Pixar since their inception, and whilst people have expressed concern over the "cartoony" dinosaurs against the photorealistic backgrounds, it works surprisingly well to create a more expressive art design with a widespread appeal. It helps the characters stand out, giving them their own vibrant identity, and has a charming finesse to it. Indeed, the animation ranks as possibly some of the best in Pixar's long history.

The narrative is where we encounter some problems - the pacing gets off to a bumpy start as potentially stirring moments are disposed of before they can truly flourish, particularly the relationship between Arlo and his father Poppa Henry (Jeffrey Wright) during the first act. When Arlo and Spot begin their journey, their own bond develops nicely, and the host of supporting characters they meet are scene stealing in many ways; namely Sam Elliot as Butch, a Tyrannosaurus rancher. Sadly, despite their fantastic contribution, these supporting characters leave the narrative too quickly and thus are greatly missed - in a very frustrating way.


The Good Dinosaur, however, has some beautiful tender moments, namely relating to it's morals of devotion to family and confronting your fears. Yes, these plot lines aren't incredibly original, and in fact Pixar could've been a lot more unique with their creative concept, but the overall good humour and sense of adventure in the story helps to compensate. This combined with the gorgeous animation, a well chosen voice cast, and a superb score by Mychael and Jeff Danna makes The Good Dinosaur an enjoyable if imperfect addition to Pixar's renowned pantheon of family films.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Mobile Game Reviews

I've been a busy bee recently, with not much time for blogging....so, to fill in the gap, I've compiled these short mini reviews of some mobile games I've been playing over and over again to make the days fly by quicker until Christmas...

...because I have no life.

1010


Perhaps one of the most simple yet addictive portable games I've ever played, 1010 is a puzzler that takes place on an appropriate 10 x 10 square grid and has gamers line up different shapes of blocks to make them disappear. The player is given three patterns of blocks - and must place these onto the grid in any way they like. When all three are used, another three appear, and so on. The aim is to line up a row full of blocks, which will then disappear, giving you 10 points - you'll also get points for each block you successfully place onto the grid. When there is no longer any room on the grid for your next type of block, the game is over - there is no end, it's just about racking up a high score.

The game gets more and more ruthless as it goes on, giving you blocks that aren't the easiest to use in your current situation, which can be frustrating but it equally presents an addictive challenge that keeps you coming back for more to increase those numbers. It's a simple yet extremely engrossing experience, testing your strategic abilities and constantly keeping you on your toes more so than many other modern puzzle games.

8 Ball Pool by Miniclip


8 Ball Pool's title pretty much sums it up - based on the original Flash game, this little package allows you to play pool on the go, made easy with highly refined touch screen controls, polished physics, and useful targeting reticules. This makes it beyond easy to get to grips with, even for those not so good at pool in reality. The online community is massive, so finding a game is never a problem; and thankfully, you can compete in leagues that cater to your skillset, so you'll never be unfairly pitted against a stronger opponent. A shop system allows you to customise your cues and unlock new tournaments and game modes, expanding and adding further depth to the gameplay, even if the fact that everything seems to cost in-game money feels a bit absurd at times.

These coins can be earned via giveaways, winning games, and betting in higher leagues; but it can be difficult to rack up enough to afford certain upgrades, and the only way to get more in a quicker manner is to actually pay for it - as in, with your own money. It's not as bad as it sounds (bar that last bit), but still a bit frustrating - equally so when there's not even a free single player mode to practice against an AI opponent, meaning you can lose a lot of coins by merely trying to practice online as a newcomer. However, with a rich online community and a polished overall feel, this is still an addictive mobile experience that's consistently fun and offers plenty of replay value.

Temple Run 1 & 2


One of the most popular mobile games to date, Temple Run has you playing as a danger-loving explorer who must run from a band of monstrous apes (a large gorilla in the second one) after stealing a sacred artefact from their temple. You tilt your phone side to side to steer your character, with swipes to the touch screen allowing you to jump, slide, and turn down different pathways. The course is randomly generated as it goes on, so it's different every single time you play. Once you fall off the walkways, crash into a wall, or come forced to a halt in any way, you must restart - it's all about garnering a high score based on how far you can run and how many coins you can collect along the way.

The first game is simple compared to it's successor, which boasts a number of new elements including mine carts, waterfalls, and ziplines, which present a number of new challenges, particularly once the pace picks up further into the game. What's most fun about these is the randomized course design, making the gameplay experience different each time and so it never feels too repetitive. There's a nice level of customization implemented, allowing you to play as various characters with different perks and weaknesses to see which can yield the best results. It's also one of the most impressive mobile games on a visual scale, and so if anyone hasn't yet given it a go after so long, now is the time to change that.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Worst to Best - Super Smash Bros.


Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. franchise is arguably one of their most successful - with every installment selling well over a million copies and earning critical and audience acclaim alike. The series is known for a creative new take on the fighting formula, and for bringing all of Nintendo's classic franchises into one package for the first time.

Since it's inception in 1999, there are currently four games in the franchise across four different platforms; here, we I will rank them in terms of preference. Let's begin!

#4 - Super Smash Bros. (N64, 1999)


The original Super Smash Bros. is enjoyable and certainly likeable, but it's not aged well for me personally, especially when you consider how much further it's sequels refined the formula. Those who are used to the large character and stage rosters, as well as the expansive single and multiplayer modes of the sequels may not find much left to relish in this first title.

That's not to say it's bad though - far from it. It remains a fast paced fighter that is good fun with friends. Again, it's successors have improved the formula so much that it's slightly dated, but it's still a fun and nostalgic charmer that wins points for innovating fighting game conventions and kickstarting this amazing series.

#4 - Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (2014)


I never really got stuck into the 3DS version of Smash Bros. as much as it's Wii U counterpart - Nintendo did an superb job with converting the formula to a handheld device, which was surely not an easy task. The sharp, outlined visual style and slightly simplified game design make it more ideal for playing on the go in your own time, but the chaotic nature of the gameplay is still tricky to get to grips with for those used to the home console format.

This is because it can be easy to damage your 3DS Circle Pad if you get too stuck into the relentless pace of hectic battles, and it can be tough to keep track of the characters when the camera is so zoomed out during multiplayer modes. Latency issues can also be a concern here and there - but, ignoring those flaws, this 3DS installment still offers an engrossing experience that fans will adore without a doubt, and is an extremely impressive effort to bring one of the best console games to a portable device.

#3 - Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii, 2008)


Upon launch, Brawl received critical acclaim but also some criticism, mainly aimed at it's different physics and pacing compared to Melee, it's predecessor. Whilst this all expanded into a ridiculous debate, there's still some truth behind these arguments - Brawl takes some time to get used to for players adjusted to Melee's gameplay style, but that doesn't detract from it's quality whatsoever. Brawl boasts a surprisingly engrossing single player mode, dubbed the Subspace Emissary, which features a full scale narrative that brings together every character across the Nintendo universe. It does get a tad boring as it goes on, but it's still an ambitious and unique effort to stir up the one player experience.

The expanded lineup of characters, stages, and various multiplayer modes make playing with friends all the more compelling, and while the laggy online mode was a bitter disappointment, Brawl is still a fine entry to the series that, as is usual, ranks as one of the best games for it's system.

#2 - Super Smash Bros. Melee (NGC, 2001)


Melee remains a personal favourite of mine thanks to a relentless pace during battles - I really do hate the whole 'physics' debate as you may have guessed, but Melee's faster and more fluid gameplay style when compared to Brawl is noticeable after so long. It doesn't make it better or worse from a critical standpoint - simply comes down to personal preference, and that is where Melee shines in spite of it's shortcomings.

The single player Classic and All Star modes offer the standard exciting action, but the Adventure mode is too long and often boring, and the fact that it needs to be completed with all 25 characters just makes it all the more tedious. The multiplayer is of course where things truly shine - Melee's 64 player tournament mode is one of it's best features, and while the AI is pretty unbalanced, they still present a unique challenge, making the game as equally fun in single player fights as it is in multiplayer. Definitely one of the Gamecube's finest without question.

#1 - Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (2014)


The Wii U installment disposed of many of the lengthy single player modes from previous instalments, and stuck with a simple Classic and All Star setup much like the N64 original. However, thanks to a slightly updated gameplay style that makes brilliant use of the GamePad as well as Nintendo Network's expanded features, Smash Bros. for Wii U becomes a much more addictive experience than any previous installment and one that will keep gamers occupied for years to come. The character roster is expanded even further, and some fighters are completely revamped to freshen things up; the visual style is also refined into something more colourful and vibrant than the previous games, which is a refreshing change.

The eight player fights are a little too busy and forced into the game without much thought as to whether or not they truly work - and in my eyes, they're really not as fun as the simple 2-4 player style. But with that said, the Wii U installment remains a masterful experience without question - all of it's features including the more flexible stage builder, diverse character roster, rich online modes, tons of gripping multiplayer offerings, and the aforementioned simplified yet engrossing single player modes certainly help it to become the Wii U's finest title and the best iteration of the franchise to date.

UPDATE: This blog post has now been adapted into a video for the gaming channel ProjectFalconPunch! Check it out via the link below!

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Saturday, 7 November 2015

Not Quite Disney


Back in Disney's prime in the 1990s, numerous other studios attempted to mimic their formula in order to leech off of their fame - pretty much all of them backfired and ended up financial failures, but that doesn't always reflect on the quality. Well, it usually does, but let's take a closer look as some key examples and see how they hold up...

The Pagemaster (1993)


The Pagemaster features Macauly Culkin as protagonist Richard Tyler, a young boy who is sucked into an animated realm upon entering a seemingly abandone dlibrary during a heavy storm. There he encounters all sorts of literary characters ranging from Dr Jeklyy to Long John Silver, all governed by the Pagemaster (Christopher Lloyd); the guardian of the written word. Joined by three books Fantasy (Whoopi Goldberg), Adventure (Patrick Stewart), and Horror (Frank Welker), Richard faces the task of confronting his inner fears and making it to the exit to return to the real world once again.

As you may have guessed, The Pagemaster blends both live action and animation; though the majority of is the latter. It works in a creative way, even if the live action segments do tend to drag once the film begins. Once the animated sections begin, it shows itself to be very nicely drawn and vibrantly animated, but the key weakness here is the plot - clocking in at just 68 minutes excluding the credits, and with the entire animated section only lasting about 45 minutes, the film can't help but feel rushed when it comes to portraying and developing this vast array of literary icons. The pacing is poor and the characters a bit weak; however, underneath the flaws, there's still a charming, harmless film that has a creative core, a brilliant cast, and some excellent visuals.

The Swan Princess (1994)


Directed by former Disney animator Richard Rich, The Swan Princess sought to mimic the romantic vibe from classic Disney fairy tales, but just ended up creating something that's shallow and painfully lazy. The main character is Prince Derek (Howard McGillin), whose mother tries to raise him to love Odette (Michelle Nicastro), a princess from a neighbouring land, so they can eventually marry and join the kingdoms together. Despite hating each other for their entire childhood, Derek and Odette suddenly fall in love at first glance when adults. Derek arranges a marriage, but Odette shuns him - she is then kidnapped by the bitter sorcerer Rothbart (Jack Palance), and turned into a swan (though only at night) until she agrees to marry him. This is where Derek embarks on a quest to save her, and now she suddenly loves him and awaits his eventual arrival. It makes no sense.

I had to sum it up but provide some more detail to get my point across for newcomers - the film's animation, voice acting, and general sense of humour show some potential, but this a story that needs to focus on it's romantic leads, and they simply have no chemistry. It feels as if the writers gave up halfway through production in order to avoid putting any thought into character development or genuine storytelling. The villain is flat, the narrative generally nonsensical, and John Cleese's French accent is bloody awful, and so this is a film with little appeal that doesn't even come close to rivalling Disney's efforts.

Rover Dangerfield (1991)


Rodney Dangerfield was an acclaimed stand-up comedian back in 1980s, known for his catchphrase of "No respect" and his ability to spout out rude yet witty one liners with minimal effort. There's no clear reason as to why he decided to write and produce a kid's film featuring him as a dog, and the final product is just as strange as it sounds. Rover Dangerfield is mainly criticised for it's dull plot and nonstop barrage of cheesy one liners - said 'plot' is just there as a basic backdrop to justify Dangerfield spouting a number of bizarre jokes referencing his dog persona. A few of them work, but most of them do not.

But Rover Dangerfield has it's charms, and a few funny gags here and there. Dangerfield is no professional singer, and while the songs are badly written and pretty meaningless, some of them still have a catchy beat to make them guilty pleasures. The animation is also decent, as is some of the voice acting, and so this is a film that's not as bad as it's made out to be (for me anyway), but it's certainly nothing exceptional either.

FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)


FernGully is a usually referenced when criticising James Cameron's Avatar, which is commonly branded a sci-fi rehash of this film's general story and morals. It's an effort to promote environmentalism and demonstrate the value of the forests that we continuously destroy for our own needs - told in a way to appeal to children; the main character is Crysta (Samantha Mathis), a young fairy living in a colony of fairies that seek to protect the forest. Upon witnessing a human named Zak (Jonathan Ward) and his colleagues take part in deforestation, she shrinks him to her size and begins to reveal to him the beauty of the world around him, and this leads to a mission to stop the pollutant monster known as Hexxus (Tim Curry) from destroying the forest and it's beauty for good.

It's neither great not bad - just an average animated film with a typical rushed love story and predictable ending. The songs are pretty dull, aside from Toxic Love, and the only real things that stand out are the pleasing visuals and Tim Curry's surprisingly devoted performance as the cool albeit underdeveloped villain. Robin Williams finds himself in a supporting role as Batty, a deranged bat driven crazy by human experimentation. He was a talented man, but here he's simply not funny; just ungodly annoying, which gets worse and worse as the film goes on. Not an awful movie, but not something I'd immediately recommend.

Thumbelina (1994)

This is just messed up.
Former Disney animator Don Bluth directed famed classics such as The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail - he also directed a number of stinkers including The Pebble and the Penguin, A Troll in Central Park, and this here Thumbelina. Much like The Swan Princess, Thumbelina is a painfully obvious attempt to mimic the formula of Disney fairy tales in order to leech off of their success. It even features Jodi Benson as the title character, and Kenneth Mars in a supporting role - both of whom appeared in The Little Mermaid five years prior. For some reason, even acclaimed actors John Hurt and Gilbert Gottfried also decided to get involved in this nonsense.

This film offers very little outside of a ridiculously underwritten love story and a forgettable, often painful, lineup of songs. Famously, Marry the Mole was awarded the first Razzie for Worst Original Song, though I'm surprised that accolade didn't go to On the Road - sung by a toad with a sexualised female body (seen above). Said toad appears in the film for over 5 minutes - and just one second of film has 24 frames, all of which need to be hand drawn in this instance. This means this toad was drawn over 5000 times in order to be animated. Did the artists never get a bit disturbed with this?

Sorry. But aside from that, Thumbelina is actually well drawn, as Bluth has always been incapable of creating bad animation. That aside, it's just a lazy Disney imitation, and ended up being another nail in Bluth's coffin that just further lead to eventual demise.

The Iron Giant (1999)


Directed by animation star Brad Bird, who eventually went on to make Pixar's The Incredibles and Ratatouille, The Iron Giant was a film that exemplified his desire to bring a political message into a simple animated story, and adapt it into something more complex for older audiences. The story features Hogarth (Eli Marienthal), a lonely boy living with his widowed mother Annie (Jennifer Aniston). His dull life is turned upside down when he encounters and befriends a mysterious giant robot who crashed onto Earth just days prior; from there begins a touching story between two unlikely friends that deftly blends comedy, emotion, and genuine thrills.

The animation is particularly impressive, with the titular character constructed entirely through cel shaded CGI, which is seamlessly integrated into the lush hand drawn visuals. The supporting voice cast consisting of Christopher McDonald, Harry Connick, and Vin Diesel bring a host of likeable characters to life, complimented nicely by Brad Bird's confident direction. It's certainly a fantastic piece of work that did not deserve to be such a box office failure.

Don Bluth has made numerous other failures that we've not covered, so maybe that will come another time...

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Movie Review - Spectre


After Skyfall grossed over $1 billion worldwide following it's late 2012 release, the hype for the next installment was all but enormous - which means this year's Spectre, strangely the second most expensive film ever made, is going to be a huge win without a doubt. Not all expectations are met, but that doesn't stop this from being one of the better entries to the franchise.

Following the attacks on MI6 by Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), James Bond (Daniel Craig) engages in a personal mission to locate a mysterious assassin and unveil the truth behind a criminal organisation known only as Spectre. His actions drive him across the globe as he encounters old and new acquaintances alike - and eventually meets an old foe who brings even more of his dark past to fruition once again.


Much as in Skyfall, Spectre is an attempt to bring more of the renowned characters and concepts from past Bond films into Daniel Craig's rebooted phase of the series. This time, the titular organizaition debuts in it's first film appearance in over 40 years, featuring the always masterful Christoph Waltz in the lead villainous role that yields more surprises than initially thought. He delivers a rich performance with minimal effort, being the star he is, although it is slightly disappointing to see the villain underused in several key areas, and his relationship with Bond is not as compelling as it may initially seem.

But Waltz is the not the only star - Léa Seydoux is brilliant as the latest Bond girl Madeleine Swan, and Craig delivers his fourth gritty, exceptional performance as Bond himself; his characterization is better than in Skyfall which, amazing as it is, made him slightly too goofy in segue areas. He maintains a dry sense of humour, but you can still admire him as an unrestrained badass who demonstrates the ability to magnificently claw his way out of unbeatable situations in superb, and I mean superb, action sequences. The rest of the supporting cast also make a return, including Ralph Fiennes as the new fresh take on M, and Ben Wishaw as the techie sidekick Q. They are joined by Andrew Scott, whose role is an interesting portrayal of a villain seeking to do what seems to be the right thing.


Spectre is also unique in how it links all of Craig's films into a surprising new plot twist, dating back to the villains in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. This retcon of sorts is actually extremely effective, and the end result is carefully thought out and very nicely executed. It comes very close to matching Casino Royale and Skyfall, and is certainly superior to Quantum of Solace, and so we have another winner from director Sam Mendes and another example of why Daniel Craig is perhaps the best 007 in a very long time.