Monday 29 December 2014


Super Smash Bros. is one of Nintendo's most acclaimed franchises, with the previous installment on the Wii, Brawl, selling over 12 million copies, the Gamecube edition Melee selling over 7 million, and the very first release back on the N64 selling over 5 million. The most recent instalments for 3DS and Wii U mark the first time a Smash Bros. game has gone multi platform upon release; and no surprise, their sales are slowly rivalling those of their predecessors. The Wii U installment is my game of choice, and I have yet to try out the 3DS version, so in this lengthy blog post I'll cover some of my initial opinions on the Wii U's latest first party title...

For starter's, there's a vast amount of content all packed into this game, far too much for me to cover in this piece, and it's all accessible in a slick menu system that's easy to navigate through and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. From the moment the game begins, things are already promising...

Nintendo have certainly improved the AI over the past iterations. The computer opponents are much less stupid, and more challenging to practice with. Level 9 opponents can often be far too good, for a lack of a better term, thanks to their ability to effortlessly dodge, block, and counter most frontal attacks, even when preoccupied with other opponents in a free for all. It'll be a huge challenge for newcomers and for people used to the inferior AI of the previous games, but with much practice you can conquer them with clever tactics and exploitation of mistakes. With that said, the level 9 computer is still far too calculative and automatic, demonstrating reflexes that are simply beyond human, and so it's much nicer to be fighting slightly lower difficulty levels - or, just real people.

Nintendo knew how ideal the Gamecube controller is for Smash Bros., so an adaptor was created to let gamers bring that control scheme to the Wii U - and as most people know, the adaptor bit the dust almost as soon as it was released and most retailers have not yet been able to replenish their stock. As a result, I have not been able to use a GC controller, and was forced to adjust to the GamePad. Great a controller as it is, it just didn't seem right for Smash Bros at first glance - but, after settling into the new control scheme (which may take a while for GC fans), it becomes just as comfortable as the other methods, and thus it's not the end of the world for those who can't get their hands on the adaptor at the moment.

Some characters have received some nice little improvements; for instance, Luigi's Final Smash now hoovers up opponents and sends them soaring off the stage, and, most notably, Bowser has been completely revamped - he's now heavier, but can run faster, boasts better agility, yet retains his trademark power. A plethora of newcomers also join the fight, including Little Mac, Greninja and Charizard (in the absence of the Pokémon Trainer from Brawl), Duck Hunt Duo, and Villager from Animal Crossing, the latter two of which are ridiculously overpowered. The visuals for these characters are much more attractive than that in Brawl which, like Melee, went for a realistic approach. In contrast, SSB4 adopts a more vibrant and cartoony colour scheme that's more reliable to the games these characters appear in, and one that is far more appealing to look at - especially in HD.

All sorts of masterpieces can be created in the new Stage Builder.
The Stage Builder is vastly different than that in Brawl. Instead of building levels with preset blocks and other features, players are free to draw their own platforms via the GamePad touch screen. You're literally able to create any shapes you wish; even human genitals, a rude word, or any other immature things most older gamers will want to draw. It's addictive to say the least, and whilst the edge detection needs improving, it allows for far more creative freedom. The central flaw is a severe lack of objects to position on the stage, which only consists of springs, cannons, lava fields, and moving platforms. This range is extremely small and disappointing, but hopefully patches or updates may expand it in the future.

The game is not without challenge - whilst the level 9 CPUs may sometimes be unfair, the majority of the games challenge doesn't feel so cheap. You'll be screaming in frustration when tasked with KO'ing numerous opponents in Cruel Smash, or trying to defeat the final boss Master Core on the highest difficult in Classic Mode, but it'll only drive you to be a better player - and make for incredible satisfaction when you've accomplished your goals. With over 700 trophies to collect, a huge increase from Brawl's 544, you'll be preoccupied for god knows how long in trying to gather all the extras and conquer all the challenges and events. Single player is far more enjoyable as a result, with a well structured Classic Mode, tricky yet addictive events, and tons of other activities to enjoy along the way. Nintendo haven't tried to craft an unnecessarily complex adventure mode like they did with the Subspace Emissary, or an extremely repetitive one like they did in Melee. Single player is kept simple, yet is still more fun than it has ever been before.

Multiplayer is as enjoyable as it was in the previous titles, but now we have a new inclusion - eight player battles. It makes for mixed results; while fun and crazily chaotic, the wide camera angle the game is forced to adopt during such fights make it incredibly hard to see who's who, and the constant fighting makes it equally hard to keep track of yourself. It's certainly fun, but on higher difficulties or with more experienced players, it can be a little nauseating. Online play has more to offer than it did in Brawl, with modes that let you fight solo, in teams, and even in one on one matches with no items involved. In spite of this, it's still very disappointing to see the return of hideous lag; sometimes games can be smooth, but many times they're sluggish, with noticeable button delays and dramatic dips in framerate. This is less of an issue in one on one games, but still not acceptable at this point. It most certainly needs fixing in future updates, for online play is something Smash fans will always want to enjoy, and to have it feel a little too unstable is not a good thing whatsoever. It's also a massive shame that the tournament mode - one of my very favourites - seems to be entirely absent in offline multiplayer. Why, Nintendo?

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is too large a game to completely cover in one blog post, but it's time to wrap things up - bottom line, this game is the definitive reason why you should own a Wii U. It's packed with engrossing content, and is a much more colourful and simple, yet still complex, effort than it's predecessors. Nintendo have created the perfect iteration of the franchise by incorporating the best elements of the past titles whilst also learning from their mistakes - and the end result is not only the finest of the series, but easily the Wii U's best game to date.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday 25 December 2014

Movie Review 100 - The Woman in Black: Angel of Death

My 100th movie review since 2011! W00T!

The Woman in Black is my favourite novel of all time, and the 1989 adaptation stands tall as one of my favourite films. The 2012 film had me hyped from the very beginning, years before release, yet failed to be the modern adaptation the book deserved in the end. When a strange and unnecessary sequel was announced, the fear of turning my favourite book into a franchise of cliché horror movies made me bitter to say the least; but now that Angel of Death has finally arrived, I can safely say that I am quite surprised at its outcome.

During the Blitz at the peak of World War II, schoolteacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox) and her class of schoolchildren must seek refuge in the long abandoned Eel Marsh House, sitting amongst the lonely marshlands at the end of Nine Lives Causeway, with the help of former pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine). The house remains derelict and unsettling; and as time goes on, Eve notices something is not right, and their worst fears come to fruition as the menacing spectre known as The Woman in Black returns once again.

The central issue with the 2012 adaptation was its lack of a truly chilling vibe, and it was mostly saved by its stunning production design and solid performances. With Angel of Death, we have a much more unsettling atmosphere and more careful use of jump scares; they're very much in moderation, and less gimmicky than those in its predecessor. The film also keeps us on edge as things seem to build up to a huge jump, but then we cut away - leaving us unsure as to when the next scare will be, thus making the film less predictable.

There are still several annoying jump scares (some of which directly recycle ideas from the first film), and the character development this time round isn't as rich. In spite of good performances across the board, some characters simply fall flat, namely several of the insanely annoying children and Jeremy Irvine in a role that the writers seemed to be indecisive over - is he a main character or not? What's his purpose? His focus? His role is seldom developed and thus he feels shoehorned in from the moment he first appears. It's also a shame the musical score prominently rehashes Marco Beltrami's themes from the original, thus making it extremely repetitive and rather lazy.

But negativity aside, Angel of Death is definitely an improvement over the first film; not by a large margin, and it's certainly not flawless, but this time round the filmmakers knew how to moderate the jump scares and improve the overall atmosphere. It's therefore a much more absorbing experience, and a surprising outcome for something that looked fairly awful at first glance.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Best of Disneyland Paris #2

Last year me and my girlfriend flew off to Disneyland Paris for a week, and I came back to list a selection of the best rides it has to offer. We went there again during the same week this year, and with plenty of other superb rides to talk about, I feel it's time for a second list summing up the best of the best...

#5 - Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy

Once you've painstakingly tried to pronounce and understand the French title, you'll find the latest attraction to bless Disneyland Paris is in fact one of their most innovative yet. Combining trackless car technology with 3D visuals, Ratatouille simulates a chase through Gusteau's restaurant, shrinking you to the size of a rat as you flee desperately from the disgusted chefs and diners. We had the worst luck in the queue as the ride broke down for a good 20 minutes soon before we were due to get on, but once we finally did, it definitely proved itself to be a fantastic addition to the theme park.

#4 - Star Tours

Disneyland Paris is the only Disney resort to house the original Star Tours experience, which first debuted at the original Disneyland in 1987. This motion simulator takes guests on a voyage to the moon of Endor on the StarSpeeder 3000 - however, thanks to an incompetent robotic pilot, the trip takes a turn for the worst and leads the ship into a battle against an Imperial Star Destroyer. While it's the same experience each time, the ride has plenty of charm - notably with a pleasant aiport-esque atmosphere in the queue and boarding area, and the immersive technology which flawlessly pulls you into the experience.

The 3D sequel Star Tours: The Adventures Continue has replaced Star Tours at every other Disney resort, and Paris will receive it in 2017 - marking this original rides final closure. It will be missed.

#3 - Crush's Coaster

Despite opening in 2007, Crush's Coaster remains one of the most highly populated attractions in Disneyland Paris, with horribly long queues even during quiet days. The popularity even made a FastPass system impossible, as so many people utilised it that the entire point of jumping a long queue was instantly defeated. So, is this ride worth such a tedious wait?

It definitely is for newcomers. Once you finally board the spinning shell car and traverse round the track, you're treated to some superb scenery and animation featuring the Finding Nemo characters; and then the calmness all changes once you climb a huge lift hill and spiral around a fast paced course in complete darkness. There are no inversions, but that doesn't detract from the thrills - thanks to the sharp turns and immense sense of speed. The queue is unbearable, but you'll be dying to go again when the ride is over.

#2 - Indiana Jones et du Temple de Peril

Disney originally intended their Parisian Indiana Jones attraction to be a huge experience, with numerous attractions in a large themed land. But when budget cuts forced the financially unstable resort to rethink its larger ambitions, the plan was simplified to an outdoor roller based on an escape from a cursed temple. A good ride for the slightly older crowd, Indiana Jones takes elements from wild mouse coasters but adds its own intense thrills, with stomach dropping inclines, a 360 degree inversion, and extremely bumpy sharp turns around the temple like structure, which the train speeds through at nearly 40 miles per hour. It's short and simple, but still a fast paced and memorable experience.

#1 - Pirates of the Caribbean

A classic attraction at every Disney resort, Pirates of the Caribbean is not only an engrossing water ride, but also an iconic one - giving birth to the classic Pirates Life for Me folksong and being the inspiration for Disney's mammoth film franchise of the same name. The ride takes you on a journey through a pirate riddled landscape, through the expansive seas, humble towns, and dark grottos. On your journey, you encounter intense battles, drunk hooligans, and caves littered with glorious treasure, crafted through beautiful scenic design and lifelike animatronics. Thankfully you don't get too wet, which would be horrific in the cold French weather, and so it's definitely one of Disney's best rides for all kinds of age groups.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Movie Review - Paddington

The first big screen adaptation of the children's book series, Paddington features the well mannered bear (Ben Wishaw) journeying from darkest Peru to London in search of a home; he is briefly adopted by the Brown family, but they insist his residence is only temporary. As they assist him in his search for a permanent home, Paddington's prospects face trouble as his nature for causing chaos ensues; and as his presence attracts the attention of cruel exotic animal hunter Millicent (Nicole Kidman).

Being the most expensive film by StudioCanal with a budget of $50 million, Paddington no doubt has some spectacular visuals - which effortlessly bring this childhood icon to life on the big screen. With a combination of animatronics and CGI, Paddington is beautifully animated; and the charming voice by Ben Wishaw only helps to convey the warmth of the character. All his traits are there; his obsessive politeness, his habit for accidents, and his love of marmalade - and it's all suitably updated for modern audiences.

Though some feel underdeveloped, the lineup of human characters are just as likeable; particularly main stars Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins, as well as Nicole Kidman as Millicent, the quirky villainess. But even with those members aside, Paddington also boasts a solid supporting cast made up of Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, and the voices of Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton. The script is genuinely funny throughout, with jokes appealing to both adults and children, but none that feel inappropriate; and this dual appeal, as well as the films heartwarming storyline, allows it to be one of this years most endearing family offerings.

Friday 28 November 2014

RETROSPECT - Most Anticipated Films of 2014

When the year began I made a list of my five most anticipated films - which were, in order: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, RoboCop, Interstellar, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Godzilla. Having finally seen them all after watching Interstellar a few weeks back, it is time to do another retrospect - and reorder these films in terms of quality to see how they relate to my original list.

You can find that list here.

Now, let's begin...

#5 - Interstellar

Christopher Nolan's latest sci-fi epic failed to impress at the US box office; it'll barely sell 20 million tickets, and will collect the majority of its sizeable earnings from international markets. Such a situation is extremely shocking, considering Nolan's reputation and the hype for the movie itself; and when you consider his last three films made well over $200 million domestically (one of which is the fourth highest ever in the US), it is very odd to see his name suddenly failing to attract a large audience.

From a critical perspective, Interstellar is definitely not a bad film, more a decent one, but it still didn't put enough effort into telling its great premise; and Nolan gets lost in his desire to ensure the film is scientifically accurate. Its stellar (sorry) visuals and great cast make up for some of the flaws, but it was still a disappointment due to a testing runtime and a lack of narrative focus.

#4 - RoboCop

The original RoboCop is one of the most treasured films of all time; and one of its most compelling attributes was its cheesy, over the top gory violence that was a convention during the 1980s. So, a remake with a 12A (PG-13) classification was met with naught but contempt; and with earnings of only $242 million on a $120 million budget and mixed reviews, it seems the film wasn't give the warm welcome the studio hoped it would.

But it's totally strange to me why people dislike this reboot, for this year's RoboCop is still a thoroughly entertaining action film, backed by a strong cast and a welcome focus on the emotional weight of its narrative - which makes the sacrifice of the violence more than worthwhile. Michael Keaton particularly stands out in this impressive ensemble, and while it may not be as satirical as the original, smart little prods towards the general outlook of the media still make for an updated commentary on the modern world.

#3 - The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The rebooted stage of the Spider-Man film franchise is not going down the best path, with the first installment becoming the least successful both domestically and worldwide in 2012; an unwanted accolade now passed onto this latest sequel. Let's go back to ten years ago: Spider-Man 2 sold over 60 million tickets in the US alone. The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Roughly 25 million. A huge decline in attendance has affected each film as the franchise moves forward, and this latest installment brought this trend to an all time low - so much so that Sony wants to progress with Sinister Six more than the sequel to this film.

It's a shame because, while a lot of the story can feel contrived, this sequel boasts an extremely talented cast, remarkable production design, and surprising depth, mainly thanks to the chemistry between our leading stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Despite initial controversies, even the villains ended up being a lot better than I initially though they'd be, particularly at Dane DeHaan's Green Goblin - despite his limited screen time.

#2 - Godzilla

Opening to a $93 million weekend yet only closing with $200 million in domestic earnings, Godzilla was one of the most front loaded movies of the summer, which is easily pinned down to one cause: a slow burn structure which didn't contain as much monster fighting that people wanted. The titular monster makes his first appearance nearly one hour into the film, and it's been calculated that the action scenes put together total roughly 11 minutes - out of a 123 minute long film. So perhaps the fans have a reason to be so upset, particularly those loyal to the original films.

But interestingly, Godzilla seems to echo the approach of films such as Jaws and Jurassic Park - the central villains of those movies don't appear as often as you'd think, which helps to build tension and make their eventual appearances incredibly exciting. Using this approach for a Godzilla movie was a bold choice, and while it failed to impress everyone, I was sure engrossed by it; especially when the cutaway teases helped make the climax all the more thrilling. It's a fact to me that director Gareth Edwards was the right man for the job.

#1 - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Having collected over $700 million worldwide compared to Rise of the Planet of the Apes' already successful $484 million, Dawn has launched the series into enormous stardom once more, and things are only set to get better in the future.

Taking the story in an exciting new direction, this sequel shows us how the simian flu has wiped out the majority of the human race, leaving apes to adopt their own peaceful colony in the ruins of San Francisco; however, they face confrontation with a surviving band of humans not so far from their own homeland. Thanks to another incredible performance by Andy Serkis and the stunning motion capture effects, Dawn understands how to tell its beautiful story, and never fails to impress when it comes to the action front. As a result, it is without a doubt one of the best films of the year thus far, and another masterful achievement in this rebooted series.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday 20 November 2014

Movie Review - Mr. Turner

From accalimed British filmmaker Mike Leigh comes Mr. Turner, a biopic on one of the most renowned artists who ever lived, whose legacy continues to have a huge impact on the fine art community countless decades after his death. Starring Timothy Spall as the eponymous J.M.W. Turner, Mike Leigh's film tackles complex issues and strives to be an honest rendition - but slips up when it comes to genuine entertainment.

Mr. Turner documents the major parts of the titular characters life, including the passing of his father, his travels around England, his controversial relationships with women and his own children, and his eventual decline in the art world shortly before his untimely death.

Mr. Turner is extremely difficult to critique - it is beautifully filmed, with stunning production design and an exceptional performance from Timothy Spall. But at the expense of this visual grandeur and interesting drama, the film suffers from a sluggish pace and occasional lack of focus. Things move slowly for a while, then hop around too quickly at random moments; on several occasions, I had absolutely no idea what was going on or who certain characters were. Perhaps it caters more to passionate fans who are engrossed in Turner's work, but for general audiences, it is easy to get lost.

It certainly succeeds on a technical and artistic level, and it's not without a dose of likeable humour, but we must never forget one of the most important aspects of film: entertainment. And sadly, Mr. Turner is lacking in this field - at 150 minutes, it is testing to say the least, and when I thought things would soon come to a close, the film was nowhere near its conclusion. I can't say much else in the long run - on an aesthetic level, it is brilliant. But as entertainment, it just didn't quite click with me.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Movie Review - Interstellar

Christopher Nolan wasn't a marketable name a decade ago - but this day and age is a completely different story; Nolan is now one of the most profitable names in the entire industry, and the very mention of him is enough to grab a large audience. Strangely, his latest work Interstellar hasn't seemed to match that reputation at the box office - but why is this? Let's take a look...

Earth is reaching an uninhabitable state when dust storms plague the land, leaving food and other resources scarce, and the human race at the edge of extinction. As the situation reaches the pinnacle of its severity, former test pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is recruited by NASA professor Brand (Michael Caine) to lead the last resort - an expedition to a wormhole beside Saturn, which is the only hope in finding a new world to call home.

Interstellar gives us more of the striking visuals Nolan is known for, especially now that he has branched out beyond his Batman trilogy, which remained grounded in a realism. On the flipside, Interstellar embraces its outer space setting to develop a number of unique worlds, and beautiful portrayals of the void around Earth. The soundscape also pulls us into this experience - it may be far too noisy at times, drowning the character's speech, but when the sudden silence hits us as the Endurance spacecraft hovers through the Solar System, the gentle score really demonstrates a wonderful rendition of outer space.

But at 169 minutes, Interstellar is a testing experience, and the run time is evident. The last hour or so of the film could've used a lot of trimming, and some of the supporting characters are completely pointless - without trying to spoil, I will simply say a smaller role by Matt Damon is wholly unnecessary, stretching the run time with no satisfying content. Nolan also tends to expend more effort into crafting a beautiful visual palette than he does telling a coherent story, failing to provide some essential backstory, and bragging about the films scientific accuracy - I know absolutely nothing about this stuff, but the characters spew out scientific jargon as if we understand it inside out. As a result, some conversations and plot points fail to make any sense to general viewers.

But Interstellar still has its fair share of engaging twists, and a fantastic lineup of fine performances, particularly from McConaughey and Michael Caine, though perhaps less so from supporting protagonist Anne Hathaway. Nolan's screenplay also has some incredibly deep, moving moments - some of which almost had me in tears - and while many of the lines are superb, sometimes the themes and ideas of the film are painfully delivered in sentimental dialogue, which no normal person would ever say at the top of their head. It's difficult to critique Interstellar as it blends some fantastic moments with a lot of mediocre ones; and while it is likeable, it fails to fully live up to its incredible hype.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Movie Review - Horns

An adaptation of Joe Hills 2010 fantasy novel, Horns stars Daniel Radcliffe as Ig Perrish, an outsider within his local town, who is accused of the rape and murder of his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). His attempts to clear his name continue to fail, until he suddenly wakes up with two horns protruding from his forehead - granting him the power to reveal peoples darkest secrets. Once controlled, he uses these newfound abilities to locate Merrins true killer and unveil the truth once and for all.

Radcliffe continues to demonstrate his flexibility in the acting world - not only is his American accent extremely impressive, but his performance in general is quite easily one of the best of his career. Ig becomes an interesting character thanks to his reckless behaviour that shields a very wounded figure deep down, and Radcliffe conveys this wonderfully, with plenty of gritty charm and wit. It adds up to a performance thats funny, sinister, and extremely emotional. The supporting cast generally perform well, but while the buildup to the climax is tense and involving, a sadly underdeveloped villain lies at the end of it.

The script has been a common point of criticism, and while it isn't terrible by any means, it still needed some fine tuning. Pacing is a concern, as are the jarring tonal shifts - at its core the film is a horror comedy, and it does a good job of providing solid ideas from each genre. However, instead of neatly blending these genres, the script often seems to just jump back and forth between them, which can be awkward. After a strong buildup, the climax is a bit too sluggish at first, but soon becomes a satisfying and thrilling finale to the story. It's far from perfect, but Horns' flaws are still redeemed by Radcliffes excellent performance, an emotional if flawed narrative, stylish visuals, and plenty of classy adult humour.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Movie Review - Fury

In David Ayers war film Fury, Sergeant Don 'Wardaddy' Collier (Brad Pitt) leads his troops during the last months of World War II, in the titular Sherman tankas the Allies commence with their final assault on Nazi Germany. When the original assistant of the Fury dies in battle, Collier is assigned a new one: Howard (Logan Lerman), an Army typist who has never experienced warfare battle. Wardaddy and his crew disdain him for his incompetence, but soon the intensities of war force them to stick together, and force Howard to rethink his morals and conform to the severity of what they are up against.

Unsurprisngly, Fury doesn't glorify war, nor does it lighten the content to appeal to wider audiences. This is an honest and violent portrayal of the last global conflict; the essence of fear, the sheer violence, and the utter lack of compassion from both sides is conveyed to help us realise just how relentless it can be. Despite focusing principally on the Allies, the script never renders them to be exceptional heroes; they may believe they are, but this arrogance leads them to carry out senseless killings and convey racial hatred. The same can be said for the opposing Nazis - and in the end, this violent and honest depiction of warfare is just as engaging as it is disturbing. This violence is also excellently staged in thrilling battle scenes, full of tension and satisfaction as the protagonists fight their ruthless enemies.

The intense portrayal is further enhanced by some superb performances, particularly Pitt and Lerman, but also the rest of the team including Shia LaBoeuf, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, and Jason Isaacs in a smaller role. Their performances convey the tough outer shells of these men who deep down are terrified of the warfare experience, and as we see them comfort the dead and mercilessly kill the Nazis who they are sworn to fight, we see just how tragic the effects of war can be on these people. At the end of the day, Fury is a brilliant but acquired taste; it's very intense, though perhaps not on par with Saving Private Ryan or similar war films, and as we near the second act things drag out, but it's still respectful and unrestrained in its story of men stranded in a corrupt and violent part of human history.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Movie Review - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have passed the glory days; nobody could get enough of them in the 1990s, but these days they only continue to be in the public eye with the reasonably popular CGI animated series. Being absent from film since 2007's weak TMNT, the turtles have come back in a standard Hollywood reboot - but one that doesn't really do them justice.

Journalist April O'Neil (Megan Fox) desperately tries to get her voice heard when she claims a group of vigilantes are secretly fighting off the Foot Clan, a gang of criminals hell bent on ruling New York City, lead by the tyrannical Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). Her tenacious efforts soon expose these mysterious vigilantes: four humanoid turtles dubbed Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard). Lead by their loyal master Splinter (Danny Woodburn), they are tasked with fending off Shredder and his allies as they attempt to take over the city, and O'Neil discovers her relationship with them is far more complex than she initially thought.

Using motion capturing techniques, the turtles themselves are brought to life exceptionally; as expected from a high budget Hollywood blockbuster, the effects are top notch. The motion capture translates to extremely polished believable animation, and the voice work from the talented cast is just as good. The casting of Knoxville was met with mixed reactions, and while Leonardo is missing his characteristics as a brave leader, Knoxville still manages to deliver a great voice with his limited material. Ritchson, Fisher and Howard give it their all, and even Megan Fox is decent despite being terribly miscast.

But the script here is extremely weak, lacking a coherent structure, and pitting the turtles against incredibly poor villains - yes, the Shredders depiction really sucks. This in turn makes the few plot twists lose any of their desired impact and limits the space for character development. The movie never takes itself too seriously but at the same time never really tries to adopt an emotional focus to its story. The action scenes dazzle as always, and its humour is approachable to wide audiences, but in the end Ninja Turtles is just a mediocre experience; there's fun to be had, but not much else.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Movie Review - Nightcrawler

Marking Dan Gilroys directorial debut, Nightcrawler features Jake Gyllenhaal as a bizarre sociopath who is driven into a number of methods to earn money; one that particularly grabs his attention is the competitive and power hungry world of urban crime news. He ensures his success with blackmail and little to no compassion, leading to a dark path for those around him - but an aspired one for himself.

For starters, Nightcrawler is beautifully filmed and superbly acted. Gyllenhaal's character is creepy and equally interesting, and he crafts these qualities with a strangely effective monotone delivery and animalistic curiosity. Tension in the later scenes is well constructed, sometimes pushing the film into horror genre territory, and Gyllenhaal's complete lack of empathy makes for some truly disturbing thrills, even if his performance sometimes overshadows the rest of the actual film.

However, Nightcrawler is vague with its general plot, and sometimes it's hard to deduce the principle focus. The ending does little to resolve several unanswered questions; this leaves the audience to interpret many character motives and meanings, which is always amusing, but sometimes a more solid conclusion is in order. With this in mind, Gilroys script is still original and clever; and despite issues with the general plot, a handful of fine performances and some great thrills make Nightcrawler an engaging if flawed experience from beginning to end.

Friday 17 October 2014

Worst to Best - The Dark Knight Trilogy

Two years after its conclusion, The Dark Knight trilogy remains one of the most iconic and cherished in film history. Christopher Nolan took the caped crusader and delved him into a story with darkness and depth at its core - starting in 2005 with Batman Begins. While it didn't make any records initially, the series soon expanded into major blockbuster territory with The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises - Nolan has moved on from the franchise now, and with only three films to review, let's delve into my shortest Worst to Best list yet. Well, by worst, I mean least favourite. Worst does not suit this trilogy whatsoever...

#3 - The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The hype for The Dark Knight Rises was immense following its epic marketing campaign, focusing on Bane as the villain who brings Batman to his knees and the mere fact that this is the conclusion of such a major film trilogy. Set eight years after The Dark Knight, the film features Bruce Wayne returning as Batman following a depressing absence; a terrorist threat has arisen in the form of Bane and his armies, who lay siege to Gotham to cure it of sin. Its story is nicely complex with many strands as it moves forward, but sometimes things get a bit too farfetched - generating massive plot holes and conflicts in logic.

But with this aside, The Dark Knight Rises manages to transcend its slightly mediocre script with some exquisite cinematography and production design, not to mention some thrilling action scenes. It's an ambitious effort from a brilliant director, and with a lineup of fine performances from a fantastic cast, it makes for a great conclusion to this epic story arc.

#2 - Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins disposed of the campy silliness that plagued the string of Batman films before it, portraying the caped crusader as a wounded hero in a dark and intelligent storyline, driven by realism and human drama. The focus is more on Bruce Wayne than his alter ego - which works extremely well, keeping us engrossed in the story and not waiting impatiently for Batman himself to crop up. And when he does an hour or so into the film, the action and excitement only gets better.

Remarkable production values make for visuals just as strong as the story; incredibly detailed sets of the Gotham slums built at Shepperton Studios as well as a creative blend of CGI and miniatures make everything feel nice and tangible. It's all wonderfully shot by Wally Pfister, and with a brilliant score by Hans Zimmer and top notch performances from a great cast, Batman Begins ends up being one of the most compelling superhero films ever, and the definition of a worthy franchise reboot.

#1 - The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight ranks as one of the highest grossing films in North America and by extension of all time - its earnings of $1.004 billion were up over 200% from Begins' $373 million, something pinned down to the stellar reputation the latter had built up in the three year gap, as well as the buzz surrounding Heath Ledger's incredible performance as the Joker - one of Batman's most iconic foes.

His untimely death garnered the film even more publicity, but at the end of the day, The Dark Knight is far from overhyped - and is easily one of the best superhero films in recent times. It succeeds as an action packed blockbuster but also as an engaging crime thriller, with a fantastic screenplay taking the story in a number of surprising directions and twists. This alongside naturally superb performances and stylishly dark visuals make The Dark Knight quite easily one of the best films ever made. Not nominated for a Best Picture Oscar...what nonsense.

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Sunday 12 October 2014

Movie Review - Annabelle

A lower budget spinoff of last year's The Conjuring, Annabelle tells the story of the titular doll who appears to carry a disturbing curse, haunting those who have it in their possession. Coming off from one of the best horror films in recent memory, Annabelle certainly has potential - and while it may not be as well constructed as its counterpart, it sure is just as freaky.

As the story begins, the Annabelle doll is currently the possession of married couple John (Ward Horton) and Mia Gordon (Annabelle Wallis), who are expecting their first child. Things soon take a turn for the worse when members of a satanic cult murder their neighbours and target them next, with their motivations revolving around the bizarre doll itself. When the authorities intervene, the Gordons quickly move away to another house, though Annabelle whom they tried to dispose of mysteriously follows them - and their connection begins to expose more sinister truths behind these strange occurrences.

Annabelle may not be a masterful piece of storytelling and it's certainly not as compelling as The Conjuring, but to say it's not scary would be a massive lie - maybe there's one too many jumpies, but at least most of them actually have scary content, rather than being pointless loud noises. The film successfully manages to craft a number of shocking moments that make the cinema erupt into screams of panic - particularly with its stylishly grim cinematography and eerie sound design.

The doll itself and the satanic entities that begin to emit from it only add to the fear factor as the film approaches its climax; sadly, this build up is met with an extremely clumsy payoff, resulting in a rushed ending and an unfortunate lack of focus. The conclusion actually starts to provide some unintentional laughs and lazily mimics The Conjuring itself, making for a been there, done that vibe. With these compliments and criticisms in mind, Annabelle is definitely lacking in substance, but with some solid performances and plenty of scares, it makes for a thrilling experience when enjoyed on the big screen - especially with a large audience.