Sunday, 17 June 2018

Movie Review - Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The modern film industry is arguably infested with more sequels than ever before in recent years, particularly with the advent of evergrowing shared universes, which themselves are leading to the revival of many age old franchises that rank among the most treasured in cinema history. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a sequel that slots nicely into such a category - the truck sized earnings of 2015's Jurassic World made a sequel an irreversible decision from a business perspective, but while Universal's bank accounts will be looking good soon enough, it's a shame this level of positivity can't quite be applied when discussing the finished project itself.

Three years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, the volcanic activity within Isla Nublar begins to reemerge, placing the now freely roaming at dinosaurs at risk of extinction once more. Some won't let such tragedy unfold - dinosaur activist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas-Howard) and Navy veteran Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) join a team of fellow activists to rescue a number of species from Nublar before time runs out, though these actions ultimately leave them tangled in a scheme that brings to fruition another threat against them all.

Fallen Kingdom's biggest setback is that which has plagued almost every other sequel to the beloved 1993 classic - a story that holds little merit and is simply more of the same. Whilst Jurassic World had it's interesting premise with John Hammond's original bizarre dream of a dinosaur infested theme park coming to fruition at last, there was little potential for a continuation outside of financial gain; Fallen Kingdom provides visual thrills and excitement within it's very best moments, but said moments are dwindling in overall variety, and outside of them we have very little to be truly absorbed in. You'll find little has been done to stir things up - the plot is another generic blend of cardboard cutout villains motivated by naught but fancy profits, seriously miffed off dinosaurs causing a ruckus and killing a number of disposable extras, and of course the iconic idiocy and greed of man as the central cause of all this unwanted chaos to begin with.

Any attempted emotional depth largely feels forced and forgettable, and often quite sappy, with numerous tired clichés recycled within a script flooded with numerous contrivances. My bitter self emerges once more, but rest assured Fallen Kingdom isn't necessarily a bad film, per se; it's still entertaining for the most part, and offers a decent array of laughs and genuine thrills, once again brought to life through some stunning visual effects and well structured (if occasionally silly) action sequences, and of course all is portrayed well through a strong, well chosen cast. It's just a shame the filmmakers have made little effort to try and breathe any sort of new life into the age old series, instead settling for a flimsy narrative that recycles all these tired conventions. At this rate, it seems things have definitely run their course, hard as it is for studio executives to come to terms with.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Movie Review - Solo: A Star Wars Story

The Star Wars sequels have got off to a pleasant start in terms of box office receipts, though some of it's plot directions have been left with mixed responses from some of the most dedicated fans; said trend doesn't change much for this year's Solo, another spinoff from the main series that explores the backstory of one Han Solo. I won't claim to know the Star Wars series and all it's expanded universe stuff inside out, but upon watching it's latest blockbuster, I only had one response: why all the negativity from some?

Solo once again is an exploration of the iconic Han Solo's development and how he came to be the rebellious hero we all know and love. His character now finds itself in the hands of one Alden Ehrenreich, developing into the eventual bounty hunter we've all come to know in a mission to reunite with his lover Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) following a failed escape from the oppressive world of Corellia. His subsequent adventures bring him into partnership with the stern Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and of course the beloved yet short tempered Chewbacca, and soon enough on a mission against rising crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Of course with a film like this, the initial factor of much controversy is always going to be the recasting, should the new talent brought in be an acclaimed, hugely award winning superstar or not. Many reviews have left questionable feedback of Ehrenreich's effort in the role of Solo, but it seems quite a lot of said reviews leave such mixed responses and only seem to justify it with how his efforts can't match that of the beloved Harrison Ford. Such a mindset isn't a healthy (or fair) one; we can't endlessly compare our young Solo to the original to outline his overall quality, but once again it seems such a trait is inevitable with any recasting. Ehrenreich, at least in my eyes, does a fab job with his portrayal - he is still the same sly, skilful, and witty hero, one who always has a plan and works hard to pursue it. It's still largely our same Solo that we know well from the originals, yet of course more vulnerable given his younger and less experienced nature. All in all, Ehrenreich finds himself worthy "predecessor" to Harrison Ford, so to speak.

But it's not just Ehrenreich who performs well - in fact his efforts lead a generally superb cast all over. Woody Harrelson as our secondary protagonist Tobias Beckett is on a similar level of quality, and shares a perfect chemistry with Ehrenreich, as does his long term lover Qi'ra, despite her confusing characterization in latter parts of the narrative; and once again (without becoming too obsessive), one Joonas Suotamo dons the costume perfectly in his efforts as Chewbacca. Our villain once again lies in the form of Dryden Vos and the talents of Paul Bettany, and while he may not be the most memorable or thoroughly developed foe in film history, or hell even the history of this franchise, Bettany's efforts make him a threatening one whenever he's on screen for sure. One can also appreciate Donald Glover in his relatively minor role as Lando Calrissian, though he may come and go at bit awkwardly at times.

In traditional Star Wars fashion, Solo adopts a fantastic visual style, for the most part deftly blending fine costume work, animatronics, and CGI effects. Perhaps some of the fully animated characters can stick out a bit awkwardly when blended into scenes with animatronics or costumes, but it's not hard to say that the gargantuan budget is put to great use when it comes to all these aesthetics. Solo isn't free of any flaws; some of it's story elements can feel a tad rushed when important, particularly as we approach the end, and others slightly dragged out - perhaps it's 135 run time wasn't quite needed for some of the material included. What's more is whilst we're treated to a handful of superb set pieces, beautiful to admire in IMAX, maybe they can occur too often in rapid succession and drag out a tad when it feels they should be coming to a conclusion. But negativity aside, Solo remains a fun time at the movies, just as the original series always was, and all those involved have made a great effort without a doubt.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Movie Review - Deadpool 2

An R rated film starring a Marvel hero who perhaps isn't the most well known among the general public - and yet 2016's Deadpool found itself one of the year's most successful films, and most of us will say such an accolade doesn't go undeserved. Helmed by Ryan Reynolds' charmingly foul performance as the titular antihero, it's balance of well structured humour and epic set pieces arguably makes it one of the most original superhero films in recent times - a sequel was always inevitable considering it's profitable potential, but thankfully it's more than just a quick cash grab.

The story involves the audience quite literally in a sense - a plot burdened by lazy writing (as Deadpool himself enjoys claiming) begins with the tragic death of Wilson's true love Vanessa and his befriending of rebellious mutant kid Russell (Julian Dennison) when thrown in the "Icebox" detainment unit - all this coincides with the rise of a new villain known as Cable (Josh Brolin), who journeys from the future to seek vengeance on those responsible for destroying his own.

Deadpool 2 adopts the same charms as it's predecessor and in many ways improves upon them with even wittier, perfectly timed gags, from violent slapstick to a number of hilarious one liners - much of it certainly not for the faint of heart. But while it's narrative isn't without fault, mainly it's final act dragging a tad at times, there's a surprising amount of thought put into it in a way that makes this once again more than a tonnage of random giggles; many things may feel cliché, but the film embraces this in a perfect way to benefit it's sense of humour without it feeling like a forced attempt to justify, well, lazy writing. 

This is all blended with the right amount of gripping action sequences which, humour aside, do offer their fair share of genuine thrills providing you're able to stomach some of the incredibly graphic violence. Perhaps the films' biggest perk is once again the central performance by Reynolds himself - the rebellious badass finds himself just as loveable as he was in the original, his bitter outlook on life and it's consequential influence on his questionable acts of not quite heroism adding up to the majority of the film's biggest laughs. Perhaps the focus is largely pinned on him much more so than the many other supporting roles, but said supporting characters still mustn't go unnoticed - familiar faces like T.J. Miller and Leslie Uggams among many others support Reynolds in many of the funniest scenes, and Josh Brolin finds himself performing strongly (and hilariously) in another villainous Marvel role, despite his character feeling a little forgettable at times.

If my endless waffling hasn't made it apparent yet, Deadpool 2 is a hilarious and suitably action packed superhero flick, with a strong script brought to life through a superb cast and excellent visual effects. It's not for everyone, but after seeing the original's unexpected rise to immense fame, it seems to still clicks with quite a lot of us - and rightfully so.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Movie Review - Avengers: Infinity War

Another money making machine from Marvel arrives - Avengers: Infinity War has the iconic heroes face arguably their toughest foe yet, the power hungry Thanos (Josh Brolin), who seeks to acquire all the legendary Infinity Stones to gain control of reality itself. Dozens of previous MCU films have built up to this gargantuan story, evident when you see just how many heroes are blended together in comparison to the first film back in 2012. For those who may not even be the biggest fans of this ever expanding franchise, this certainly remains a superhero thrill ride worth checking out.

The MCU has been somewhat on and off for me in recent times - for every brilliant entry, there seems to be an equal amount of mediocre and sometimes downright awful ones. Sometimes I fear many more recent entries seek to do nothing other than to build up the story to these epic ensemble blockbusters. With this is mind, Infinity War thankfully doesn't feel like a forced blockbuster blending many iconic heroes together to simply turn a truck sized profit; while not without it's faults, it's a largely well structured, thrilling adventure that, as has been said by many viewers and critics, never forgets the necessary depth and humanity required to make this more than a mishmash of chaotic battle scenes.

Infinity War is of course a film that prides itself on superb special effects, and said special effects are handled masterfully. Be it the incredible motion capture on the likes of Brolin as Thanos, or simply the lineup of stunning action sequences, it maintains the MCU's legacy of having some of the best visual thrills since Iron Man kicked things off over a decade ago now. Yeah, some of it's action scenes may drag at times, and perhaps become somewhat samey as we approach the conclusion, but it doesn't stop the from being enjoyable; and within them as we near the finale come a fair share of interesting twists and turns in the overall story, helping to keep us hooked even further.

The cast is also without a doubt one of the film's finest merits, many will agree. Our favourite MCU stars from previous hits are back, with a solid chemistry between one another that helps their interactions feel far less forced. It's Josh Brolin of course who stands out , at least in my eyes, not only due to the brilliant aforementioned motion capture effects but also his sinister yet emotionally stirring performance as one of the best villains in a superhero film to date. His talent thrives for sure, but such praise is also earned by the majority of the actors it can be said - ranging from beloved Downey, Jr. to more recent arrivals like Chadwick Boseman. I won't grossly defend every inevitable flaw - things do get a bit jumbled as we near the end, and there are flashes of excessive silliness at very awkward moments, but all in all Marvel brings us another exciting, largely well structured blockbuster. One can now only look forward to where the plot takes us next...

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Movie Review - A Quiet Place

Horror is certainly one of the most difficult genres to tackle in this day and age - genuinely scaring the audience without spamming repetitive jump scares or creating inadvertent giggles is tricker than it sounds, and so many horror flicks in modern cinema are consequently met with mixed results. However, every so often a rare gem comes along, one absorbing, narratively compelling, and equally thrilling; one such gem has now arrived in the form of A Quiet Place, at the hands of acclaimed actor and now rising director Josh Krasinski.

A Quiet Place doesn't go into it's premises backstory with extensive detail, which isn't perhaps hugely necessary but may yield mixed results for many; in 2020, humanity finds itself largely wiped out at the hands of a group of powerful monsters with remarkable hearing skills. The Abbott family finds themselves one of very few survivors in the wasteland around them, communicating through sign language and scavenging secretly for supplies to prevent detection from the creatures hunting them down.

Again, not a huge amount of backstory is explored, which will confuse and maybe frustrate some viewers, but in the end such unaddressed concepts don't prove too detrimental to the overall story. In fact, many other key factors are indeed explained through subtle methods, such as brief glances at newspaper headlines within the Abbott's home; a clever if sometimes incomplete method of storytelling. Such subtlety also helps the unsettling moments nicely prosper; A Quiet Place certainly earns it's place within the horror genre, crafting a gripping atmosphere that'll keep viewers on the edge of their seats, and restricting the jump scares to moments that are genuinely freaky, not just a cheap barrage of loud noises.

What helps such a thrilling vibe prosper even more is of course the efforts of the cast themselves; Krasinski stars at the Abott father, Lee, alongside Emily Blunt as mother Evelyn, Noah Jupe as son Marcus, and Millicent Simmonds as daughter Regan. Their chemistry and development is strongly managed, bringing to life a number of heartwarming and equally heartbreaking moments as the story slowly unfolds. As for our main villains, their disturbing design and limited visibility for most of the story arguably benefits their intimidating presence, but they thankfully remain just as outright terrifying when seen up close on several occasions; it's this coupled with the overall pale and sombre visual design of the ruined Earth that makes all the scares occurring within it even more fitting and effective. Such traits all in all render A Quiet Place one of the best horror films modern cinema has seen in a long time without a doubt, and one any fan of the genre must check out as soon as they can.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Movie Review - Pacific Rim Uprising

Hollywood loves it's sequels - but it seemed strange to many that Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim of all films earned itself a sequel five years after release, considering it's extremely weak domestic earnings and fairly average global earnings of $409 million, rendering it far from a commercial failure but not exactly record breaking considering it's naturally colossal budget. With it's US opening weekend set to barely reach $30 million, it seems this year's Pacific Rim Uprising will also be relying on international takings to being recouping it's beastly costs. Reviews have also been less inspired than the original; is such mediocre reception deserved?

Set in 2030, a decade after the original, Uprising focuses on Jake Pentecost (John Boyega), the son of acclaimed war hero Stacker Pentecost, who earns a living selling Jaeger tech on the black market, which soon leads him to a hidden independently made Jaeger built at the hands of young orphan Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny). Both eventually find themselves captured by the authorities and escape prison with an alternative to join the Jaeger program itself, a familiar and unwanted sight for Jake, which finds itself thrown into action once again when a number of unexplained rogue Jaeger's begin to reek havoc, linking to even bigger threat that ignites the return of the menacing Kaiju monsters and their sinister goals for world domination.

Uprising of course isn't going to win any awards for it's story - probably an obvious claim for those who've even yet to see it. However, what's interesting is the path the narrative takes as things get going, becoming more than a simple rehash of the first movie. There's a decent level of heart to it, and while it's emotional moments are cliché for sure, the cast portray such moments with solid performances, notably Boyega and Spaeny in their lead roles, and the morals conveyed are relatively touching if somewhat uninspired. It's this that makes the story a decent skeleton to link each of the inevitably gripping action sequences, and while a number of contrivances and daft plot twists do certainly pop up out of the blue as we approach the climax, it's all still, again, just that bit more than a dull rehash of the first movie.

Of course action and visual effects is where Uprising does stand out in an impressive fashion. The Jaeger's pummelling each other in many epic bust ups, mercilessly trashing every environment that surrounds them, equates to some superb set pieces that naturally make for the film's best moments. Some may certainly feel dragged out, and perhaps a little repetitive, but if you come to see the film it's arguably these scenes you're here to focus on, and they surely won't disappoint most fans. It's all brought to life, as with the original, some remarkable visual effects; Jaeger's not only look fantastic, but are animated just as superbly - and of course, IMAX is definitely how the film was meant to be viewed, as may seem obvious. It's story may be second rate to many, but at least there's a fairly decent amount of effort put into it, and, as I've made quite clear by now, the set pieces we're treated to alone will make Uprising worth watching for fans of such stuff.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Movie Review - Game Night

A premise I was certainly excited to see unfold when the first trailers came to my attention, Game Night sees a group of friends whose most recent weekly, well, game night, becomes something much more dramatic when a staged murder mystery soon evolves into one quite the opposite; with lives at stake and major criminals behind the scenes, it's now down to said friends to piece together exactly what is going on and put a stop to it before major repercussions soon come to fruition.

Leads Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams helm most of the story, supported by a lineup of similarly talented actors - Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons, and many more. Said well chosen cast help bring many of the film's best moments to life without a doubt, particularly Chandler and Bateman as long lasting sibling rivals. Whilst I'd love to of course say the same about McAdams given her role as Bateman's wife, it's hard to remain as interested in her persona at times given her occasionally excessive, hyperactive nature, rendering her an irritating listen in many scenes.

Whilst the overall cast is certainly decent and visibly talented, and all perform their roles without any major flaws, it's only really our aforementioned leads Bateman, McAdams (when not bellowing every comedic line), Chandler, and Plemons that stand out for the majority of the story. Of course supporting roles don't require as strong a focus on development, but the outright lack of it in areas also leaves some of the other characters extremely forgettable and somewhat bland at first. Similar flaws also extend into the overall story, which arguably drags a little during it's opening moments, courtesy of a sluggish pace and somewhat repetitive humour; it comes and goes without an awful lot of charm, but thankfully such standout flaws largely brush off as we venture into the meat of the story...

While I struggled to find the overall viewing as much of a consistent gem like many others did, it's certainly the second half where the story becomes just that little bit more involving, presenting us with many cleverly structured plot twists and balancing witty humour with some genuine thrills as the climax approaches - this is of course where our cast, despite their flaws, really pull off their best efforts, thus perfectly bringing a well structured finale to life. Of course one doesn't expect the introductory moments of the film to be in a similar category of excitement, but it's a shame Game Night isn't really as interesting when it begins as it is when it ends - for the most part, it starts off samey and boring, morphing into something far more engaging as it progresses, thus making it a fairly decent if unbalanced viewing for the most part.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Movie Review - Black Panther

The MCU continues to grow as each year passes; we now approach it's ten year anniversary with Iron Man hitting cinemas as far back as May 2008, and with each year since more and more heroes have hit the big screen to renowned success and widespread acclaim. Yet another example arrives in the form of Black Panther - far from the most well known hero to the general public, but one whose opening box office takings would make you assume quite the opposite.

The story branches away from the meat of the MCU narrative, taking us into the fictional nation of Wakanda, home to a number of supernatural tribes powered by the rich material known as Vibranium. Using said material to devise advanced technology, the Wakandans segment themselves from the main world, their actions directed by the Black Panther leader. Said role is soon assumed by newest king T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) - who then finds himself on a quest to prevent Vibranium from falling into the wrong hands following the malevolent actions of vengeful soldier N'Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan).

It's a narrative with a lot of depth and branches to it, so summing it up is quite difficult - those who haven't read the comic books may find themselves a little confused at times, though it does it's best to establish characters and their motivations in the best possible way, blending such development with a number of entertaining, beautifully filmed set pieces. Black Panther adopts a rich, stylishly dark visual style that makes it's briskly paced fight scenes superb to watch, and certainly leads to a lot of absorbing tension during it's more atmospheric moments. Thankfully this isn't just a mindless blend of action, however; the film does it's best to develop a cast of strong characters and mix them into the suitably complex story. The traditions of the Wakandan tribes are nicely captured without becoming too excessive, helping to establish the world around us as we head through each phase of the plot.

What I also found equally enjoyable about Black Panther is how it's almost entirely absent of any scene that contributes to building the MCU franchise and little more. Many recent films in the franchise that I've admittedly still enjoyed have had their fair share of forgettable moments that, again, simply exist to just merge other characters in the series together - Black Panther lacks such stuff, making it a well focused and consistently engaging story that doesn't branch away at any point to simply build the franchise around it and awkwardly link it into other MCU flicks. All these perks, coupled with some excellent performances, notably Boseman and Jordan in their lead opposing roles, make for a gripping superhero hit from start to finish; sure, the story, fab as it is, may be a little puzzling at times, and perhaps some moments do drag, but we're still left with a fine entry to the MCU that even non comic book fans can enjoy.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Best and Worst of 2017 - Best Five Films

I've already covered the worst cinematic efforts of last year, and my list of the finest is late to say the least - sadly Disney decided to release Pixar's latest product Coco two months later here in the UK and considering it's outstanding acclaim upon debut in the US, I decided to wait and check it out before listing my favourites of the past 12 months. Perhaps I've also been a bit lazy in recent times...so, with Coco reviewed a few weeks back, let's finally commence with a long overdue ranking of the best films of 2017...

#5 - It

First brought to life as a television flick starring Tim Curry in 1990, Stephen King's arguably most renowned novel made it's way to cinema screens for the first time last September to rather outstanding results, scooping up $700 million in global earnings to rank as the horror genres highest grossing effort. Such accolades don't go undeserved - thanks to a superb script, haunting visuals, and a fantastic lead performance by Bill Skarsgård, It ranks as a terrifying yet thoughtful tale, far from afraid to censor the novel's key thrills whilst also never forgetting the complex story behind it all. Certainly one of the best horror films I've seen in quite a long time, and one fans of the genre must make checking out a huge priority.

#4 - The Disaster Artist

Tommy Wiseau's masterpiece of bad filmmaking The Room remains an icon to many - and so a film based on it's development, in turn adapted from the 2013 memoir of the same name, was inevitable for sure. James Franco finds himself helming and starring in this retelling of Wiseau's adventures throughout his films' bizarre production stages, and while Franco's own re-enactment of some of The Room's most infamous scenes are not always as faithful as one would hope, his overall effort in capturing the detail and depth to each character in such a story is inspiring for sure. Ranking as a humourous yet surprisingly deep story, The Disaster Artist is also an admirable and reasonably faithful effort to retell a strangely iconic part of film history.

#3 - Paddington 2

Paddington, released back in 2014, raised initial concerns of being a beloved childhood character being forced into a silly modern, pop culture riddled story simply to cash in on the appeal and earn a quick buck for needy film studios. Thankfully, the final product was a loveable and superbly told family adventure, and this all carries over into the sequel with equally fantastic results. With our titular hero once again brought to life with superb visual effects and rich voice work from Ben Wishaw, what also makes this another loveable watch is of course the superb blend of tender emotions and big laughs - we're left once again with a film apt for wide range of audiences in almost every way, only building upon the many successful merits of it's predecessor.

#2 - Coco

Again, I had to see this first before making this list - it may have not even made it on, but based on it's overwhelming critical success, I had a major feeling it simply would. Alas, Coco certainly stands tall as one of Pixar's very best efforts, let alone one of the best films of last year, showing how the studio has yet to lose their touch when it comes to crafting beautifully original stories that help prove animation still has the potential for complexity and emotional depth - not just ranking as colourful silliness to keep the kids quiet. It succeeds in pretty much every key category for sure - it looks gorgeous, has a handful of memorable songs, and a rich narrative that has the courage to explore deep themes in an approachable manner, leaving it a heartwarming masterpiece for all age groups.

#1 - War for the Planet of the Apes

The Planet of the Apes series recovered from a downward spiral with it's 2011 reboot, which revitalised the central story with a well told origin tale featuring some of the most exceptional motion capture CGI effects seen in a modern blockbuster. Last year's War for the Planet of the Apes brought the central trilogy to a close, despite potential for more sequels, and everything you'd expect from a closing installment is met in this emotionally stirring yet still suitably epic sci-fi hit. Alongside remarkable special effects, it's the lineup of fine performances that also help bring a well structured story to life in the best way possible, notably Serkis as ape leader Caesar once more and Woody Harrelson as our intimidating villain, simply known as the Colonel, who lacks the amount of screentime one may expect from a major foe but this somehow doesn't prevent him from remaining a thrilling antagonist. All this coupled with gripping yet never overly excessive set pieces leave this a superb finale to a fantastic story, maintaining all the positives of the previous entries and treating us to a lot more to boot.

Apologies once again for the major delay with this post, but there you have it - now let's see how this year's lineup of films compare...

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Movie Review - Winchester

The supernatural horror genre, in fact perhaps even the horror genre as a whole, is an ideal one for low budget flicks. Budget doesn't always equal success, as many classics have made clear, but of course such classics didn't reach their acclaim just because of low budgets. Winchester is another awkward example of this, and one that also utilizes one of the biggest marketing tools for a horror project: based on true events...

Okay, well yes, it is to an extent based on a true story - that of the renowned Winchester Mystery House, residence of firearm magnate William Winchester and his widow Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren). This bizarre landmark holds various backstories as a cursed one for ghosts of Winchester gun victims to chill, a story Winchester uses as we bring mental health doctor Eric Prince (Jason Clarke) into the mix. With Sarah deemed mentally unsound to helm the company in her grieving state, Prince is hired to make a diagnosis for himself that will support or debunk such claims of Sarah being cursed...let's face it, being a supernatural horror film, what route do you think we'll be going down?

The more I left the gap between seeing the film and writing this review, the more difficult the latter became. Winchester I never recall being a painfully awful horror flick, but without a doubt a boring and forgettable one. What's most apparent upon watching is how reliant the film is on cheap and eventually irritating jump scares; the human body's natural flinching response to such sudden loudness is passed off as genuine fear once again, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who finds such a strategy tiresome and irritating. To be fair, sometimes the content making you jump can be quite threatening and induce mild scares, but this seldom occurs and for the most part you're putting up with a string of thunderous sound effects and occasional generic screams.

Whether a horror film sucks in the scare department or not, it still has to be held together with a half decent story, and Winchester doesn't offer much here either - simple parts of the narrative are frequently dragged out to desperately piece together a feature length tale from fairly mediocre source material, and a our newcomer fictitious characters including lead Eric Prince don't offer much to keep us compelled. Whilst Jason Clarke gives a decent performance, once again considering mediocre source material, it doesn't truly save the character from being bland and largely uninteresting. Same can be said for Helen Mirren who, fantastic an actress as she always will be, fails to be more than a pale lady walking around adopting a moody expression, perhaps opening up a bit more as the film nears it's climax but not so much to keep her consistently interesting. It's this mixture of weak scares and boring characters that makes Winchester a dull horror effort through and through, with praise only really viable for it's decent production design and little more.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Movie Review - Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Though a sequel to a 25 year old cult hit seems odd, Welcome to the Jungle has become a surprise success to say the least; nearly $900 million in global earnings despite a relatively minor debut, and a high level of acclaim for critics and audiences alike. With the original having Robin Williams dragged into a supernatural board game of sorts, Welcome to the Jungle brings the concept into the modern era with a lineup of teens being dragged into the mysterious Jumanji video game, taking on the form of their chosen avatars, and left with a mission to escape before time (or their extra lives) runs out.

Jumanji is a simple blockbuster effort from start to finish, and that works to it's benefit for the most part; the characters each have their own charming if somewhat generic personalities and are brought to life by a loveable cast both in their teen forms and in-game avatars. Dwayne Johnson particularly stands out as a comedic charmer, with much of the humour aimed at his impressive physique as expected, but those behind him are just as loveable in their own unique ways. Jack Black finds himself with an interesting role given that his character within the real world is actually female, now transferred into a male avatar, paving the way for a ton of obvious yet witty jokes that make for a number of crude yet big laughs.

This a story that can't truly prosper without modern special effects - and said effects are beautifully handled without a doubt, leading to many epic set pieces with all kinds of creative fictional creatures. Fans of all kinds of video games will adore the clever references to such game logic, including special moves, character perks, non playable characters and their repetitive dialogue, and various missions that drive the main structure of the game itself. Jumanji uses these conventions to portray a simple yet fun story and also fill it with tons of clever gags, both through witty dialogue and well timed slapstick. Perhaps the film's only real flaws lie within it's undemanding nature, which isn't exactly a trait of a poorly made project, but just inevitable considering it's source material - for one thing the villain doesn't truly stand out as a consistently interesting opponent, though many audiences may have no real issue with such stuff. As it stands, Jumanji is a fun and well structured comedy adventure, portrayed once again through a talented cast and some forever impressive special effects.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Movie Review - Coco

It seems each Pixar's best film usually ends up changing as soon as a new one is released; while not without their slumps, the renowned studio has arguably produced some of the most innovative computer animated works to grace the industry, showing how such a genre can be much more than an array of colours to keep kids occupied for 90 minutes. Their latest effort, Coco, already finds itself hailed as one of their finest yet, and this isn't without good reason once again.

Set during the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos, Coco focuses on aspiring musician Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), whose bitter family continuously seek to drive him away from his ambitions and focus on his future within their own lifestyle - all of which takes a turn for the worse when Miguel himself finds himself warped into the Land of the Dead as the holiday progresses, meeting mysterious trickster Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) and left desperate to return home whilst seizing a chance to fulfil his own dreams along the way.

It goes without saying Coco looks beautiful - even in their worst efforts Pixar will never fail in terms of visual prowess, yet the technical outcome can be no good without equally good art direction, which Coco also masters in every respect. The visuals are colourful enough for kids without disrespecting the key concept behind them, with the Land of the Dead becoming a perfect blend of visual gags representing pop culture yet also a world full of refined detail and life - more than just a vibrant background for our characters to dwell in. Coco is also a musical in many ways at it's core, and the lineup of songs it does offer are certainly memorable to say the least - Gonzalez finds himself performing many of the film's key numbers and does so beautifully; following the film's conclusion, my key impulse took me straight to the iTunes Store.

Amazing presentation makes Coco a delight to look at and listen to - but this is also held together by a brave story that explores thought provoking themes without ever reaching excessive stages or resorting to tired clichés. Viewers won't have to do extensive research on the aforementioned Día de Muertos to understand the ideas the film conveys in it's most heavy moments, making it approachable for all without sacrificing the complexity it aims for. This is a story about culture and family, embracing life yet accepting death, and such powerful themes are conveyed well with a lineup of loveable characters, a well drafted script, and superb overall direction - combine this with gorgeous visuals and superb music, and you have a winner of a film through and through, no questions asked.

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!

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

Click here!

Thanks for reading!