Sunday 26 June 2016

Movie Review - The Conjuring 2

The various true stories surrounding paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren have interested people for years and years, and it'd be a crime to avoid crafting movies out of them. In 2013, James Wan's The Conjuring did so to enormous success, and this year he finally returns with a much desired sequel, which explores one of the Warrens' lesser known cases from 1970s London.

The Warrens are lead to London after the Hodgson family begin to experience strange occurrences within their council house in Enfield in 1977, which unveils further unsettling backstory regarding the house's former residents and beings that link to Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) herself. The story begins in two segments between the Warrens and the Hodgsons in England and America, with their narratives eventually conjoining once the true hauntings evolve into something truly sinister.

The only returning actors from the original film are Wilson and Farmiga, as this time we venture into the lifestyle of a new family that mostly features a lineup of child actors, all of whom provide surprisingly strong performances (particularly Madison Wolfe) that not only help us feel convinced when they are subjected to these haunting events, but also drawn into the developments of their characters, though perhaps the latter applies more to certain ones than others. Initially, the narrative focus is a bit strained as we shift abruptly between the Warrens and the Hodgsons, causing a feeling of rushed pacing, as if the Warrens themselves were an afterthought at times - while the Hodgsons are certainly nice to bond with and enjoyable to watch, the initial lack of true focus on the Warrens and balance between the two plot threads means the eventual converging doesn't feel as smooth as it should do. 

The haunting scenes in the first Conjuring are some of the best in a recent horror flick to date. The tension builds up so well and the many jump scares are more than just cheap loud noises to scare you - instead actual freaky occurrences that leave a lasting fearful impression. The Conjuring 2 achieves the exact same merits, boasting a number of superbly staged and richly thrilling haunting sequences that I never wanted to end; being scared this much has never felt so good, and it's all down to a combination of eerie visuals, exceptional sound design, and genuine, absorbing performances. All this coupled with strong characters and a compelling narrative make the occasional hiccups in pacing and somewhat abrupt climax forgivable; and thus this equates to a worthy sequel that matches, and in some cases succeeds, the original.

Saturday 18 June 2016

Nintendo E3 2016 - My Thoughts

Another year, another E3 - and once again, Nintendo skip the traditional press conference in favour of online broadcasts to unveil their latest upcoming works. Airing on June 14 and 15 respectively, these live videos revealed further information on already announced titles whilst also confirming a number of new ones for both the Wii U and 3DS, many of which will hit both systems by the end of the year.

Without further ado, I'll give some brief thoughts on what was offered...

Paper Mario: Colour Splash

I gave my initial thoughts on this game back in my overview of March's Nintendo Direct, but Nintendo have now given us an even bigger insight to it's gameplay mechanics and even a final release date: October 7. As many know, Colour Splash generally abandons the style of the original two games, and even many complexities of Super Paper Mario, and instead adopts the basic traits of Sticker Star; there's no real story, the characters appear to be generic Toads, battles rely on the use of tools to collect that perform attacks (this time cards as opposed to stickers), some battles must be won with certain items which may be just as vague to figure out and find, and it seems said battles have no real purpose at first glance due to a lack of EXP points and a levelling up facility. The inclusion of the paint hammer to restore colour to each landscape looks pretty cool, and I do like some of the implementations of the Wii U's touch screen, but this isn't enough to distract from the fact that this is recycling too many bad ideas from Sticker Star.

So, naturally, the dislike bars on Youtube trailers are blindingly high. As for me? Well, as I've said before, the art style is certainly gorgeous, and exactly how a HD console Paper Mario should look. But as for gameplay? Nothing really won me over, and in fact the more I saw, the less interested I became. All the magic, all the ingenuity, all the complexity of the original trilogy seems to be shoved aside yet again in favour of a dumbed down, somewhat patronising gameplay formula that just indicates Nintendo and Intelligent Systems never learnt from their mistakes with Sticker Star, and that Miyamoto's obsession with removing all the compelling features just because he dislikes them is egotistical and thoughtless beyond measure. I'll just keep sitting here and waiting for my true successor to The Thousand Year-Door.

Pokémon Sun and Moon

Arguably my most anticipated games in the coming months, Pokémon Sun and Moon will come to the 3DS this November, introducing what is typical of a new game in the series; a huge lineup of new critters, a brand new region, refined visuals, and new uses of the 3DS' hardware, whilst maintaining the gameplay we've all come to love over the years. Whilst it must be said I do have my fears that there may not be quite enough room for the essential innovation, which lead to me getting bored of X and Y abnormally quickly, I'm still greatly impressed with the new ideas and visual updates coming to fruition.

The newest region, Alola, isn't a large island like before, but instead a series of islands that the player travels between on their quest; Nintendo has dubbed it the Pokémon world's version of Hawaii, and the various island landscapes promise to make the overall world more diverse than ever before. The legendary mascots, Solgaleo and Lunaala, tie in with the overall narrative more so than previous legendary Pokémon; not just due to their central importance as representations of the sun and moon. The focus on 3D visuals is stronger than any previous game, even the last two entries on the 3DS - a refreshing change and a timely update, making both the overworld and battle scenes look more vibrant and lifelike than ever before. I for one love the new starters, and Popplio will certainly be my pick, and I certainly can't wait for the finished product come November.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

This is the game everyone turned to Nintendo's E3 stream for; and it certainly didn't disappoint. Releasing for both the Wii U and the Nintendo NX in 2017, Breath of the Wild will bring the Zelda series into a new level of scope thanks to the improved hardware of these next gen systems, allowing us for the first time to experience Hyrule as an open world adventure in a similar style to games like Skyrim. The game adopts a cel shaded look combined with a realistic art style, similar to Skyward Sword, and while the trailer didn't give us much to grasp in terms of the overall narrative or gameplay direction, the various glimpses of each of the many activities certainly got many fans jizzing with excitement.

Famously, the amongst all the establishing shots showing of the game's gorgeous visuals, one can hear a woman's voice: open your eyes....open your eyes...wake up, Link. Whether or not the game will have voice acting is not yet confirmed, but this brief snippit has lead many to believe it is possible; something I welcome if Nintendo master it, as it'd certainly help fit into the larger, cinematic scope they're going for. The game itself looks absolutely superb at first glance, showing off some interesting new mechanics (even if it's hard to grasp them out of context) and methods of exploration. Hyrule itself will be more open and vast than ever, allowing players to explore all sorts of intricate pathways and routes instead of just following predetermined gameplay paths with a little bit of freedom here and there. I noticed some parts where the visuals could be improved, namely with textures and backgrounds (but I'm sure they will be), and I must say I hate the title (because breath is just an awkward, funny word...sorry), but otherwise, I can't wait.

The rest...

Some other little bits and bobs were also revealed, including Mario Party: Star Rush, the newest installment to Nintendo's gargantuan party franchise, and the second on the 3DS after Island Tour. It looks like mild fun, and certainly may be amusing for the casual crowd, but for me nothing really grabbed my attention; I've not played an entry to the series in so long and lost interest in it ages ago that newer installments will never maintain my interest. Nintendo also unveiled BoxBoxBoy, a platformer being developed by their primary HAL Laboratory team, and a sequel to their 2015 game BoxBoy. It once again features the main hero Qbby navigating a number of stages, using his ability to generate a limited number of boxes to overcome large gaps, tall obstacles, and claustrophobic mazes; however, he can now use two sets of boxes at a time, creating a new wave of challenges. As before, it kinda reminds me of a fun little game you'd find as a mobile app, and so it's certainly fitting for a nice eShop downloadable.

Most other things came and went for me, not because they were bad per se, but because many were third party titles of franchises that, while certainly famous and rightfully so, don't interest me as much: namely Monster Hunter Generations and Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past. Nintendo's secret weapon this time around was of course Zelda, and while it certainly looks superb, perhaps there could've some more variety. Colour Splash, as I've said, has gone from mediocre but having possible potential to absolutely dreadful, and the lack of NX news is a bit of letdown. Whilst it was much better than their 2015 presentation, I still found myself kinda bored after Zelda and Pokémon were over and done with.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday 5 June 2016

Movie Review - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

The Ninja Turtles franchise dates back to the Mirage comic series originating in 1984, and since then has spanned numerous television shows, video games, and, of course, movies. The original trilogy kickstarted the live action side of things with guys in bulky suits portraying the titular heroes, but with modern cinema boasting newfound, dazzling potential when it comes to special effects, the rebooted installment two years back brought CGI into the mix - but outside of such impressive visuals, it's fair to say most other things sucked. Less than two years on, a clearly rushed sequel has arrived in the form of Out of the Shadows; and while the majority of critics have claimed it to be a superior effort, I myself just cannot see how this is the case in any way whatsoever.

The plot (if there even is one) sees the Shredder (Brian Tee) returning to wreak havoc following his initial defeat; however, this time he finds himself teaming up with the monstrous Krang (Brad Garret) from Dimension X, who shares Shredder's lust for world domination. Alongside evil genius Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) and clumsy yet powerful thugs Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly), Shredder and the Foot Clan launch their next deadly attack on New York, which the turtles, joined again by April O'Neil (Megan Fox) and Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), must put a stop to before time runs out.

Out of the Shadows doesn't even try most of the time; the plot cruises along at a messy pace, at times feeling like it's a parody of its own genre. Yes, this is a movie featuring talking turtles and a giant pink slobbery alien in a metal suit, but that doesn't excuse every flaw - character motivations often make little to no sense, logic is dispensed in the most dire situations, and there are times when the villains only get away with their evil deeds due to the idiocy of the protagonists or obvious plot holes - for example, a worrying lack of cameras in public areas to record evidence of all of these major attacks, and police officers who seem incapable of just firing their guns. It's hard to pinpoint just how dreadful some of the writing is without going into major spoilers, but it's fair to say that it feels like the script was penned with little to no thought on genuine quality, but just to try and drag in fans by stuffing in all kinds of retro villains and references whilst not focusing on any authentic narrative requirements.

Bringing in classic characters like Bebop, Rocksteady, and the much loved Krang seems like an awesome idea, especially when modern day effects can bring out the best in them - but this is all but false hope. In reality, the characters not only look fairly putrid in their visual design (well, Krang looks okay), but their personalities and choice of performers are both utterly abysmal. Bebop and Rocksteady have gone from the goofy yet loveable villains in the original series to annoying thugs who pride themselves on making endless jokes based on flatulence, weight, binge eating, and, for reasons unknown, genital size. As for Krang, voiced by the dramatically miscast Brad Garrett, he's gone from an evil genius to an obnoxious moron, with little to no development and no real purpose - his presence is belittled and rendered meaningless, which is a real shame considering his amazing history. As for Shredder, he wanders around with an expressionless face spouting dialogue that I guess is supposed to be eerie and powerful, but in the end even he's naught but a generic baddie that lacks any intellect or true power.

The turtles themselves also have no real chemistry or development throughout the film, with the script falling back on their cardboard cutout personalities and going down generic character arcs as the story goes on - only providing more evidence that this was all an afterthought from start to finish, with the handsome salaries at the end of it being the main focus. Despite some fun action scenes, the abundance of plot holes, atrocious villains, painful attempts at humour, and a soulless, messy script render Out of the Shadows most certainly one of the worst films I've seen in a very long time.

One of the only good things was CD9's cover of Turtle Power in the end credits. And it's not even on the official soundtrack!

Wednesday 1 June 2016

Movie Review - The Angry Birds Movie

Hollywood is truly desperate for ideas now...

...was pretty much all we heard once an Angry Birds movie was announced. Whilst there may have been some merit to these comments, many people, in fairness, could've relaxed and given things a chance instead of jumping to fierce conclusions; though I guess that's what the internet is all about at the end of the day. As time went on, and more and more trailers came, opinions remained divided, and for many, the notion of a movie adapted from a mobile app seemed a bit too much. The end result, however, is surprisingly decent; not a masterpiece, but genuine effort is visible.

After too often letting his temper overwhelm him, Red (Jason Sudeikis) is finally sentenced to Anger Management Class, where he befriends (used loosely) the lightning fast Chuck (Josh Gad) and (literally) explosive Bomb (Danny McBride). As their classes proceed, the world of Bird Island is suddenly visited by a tribe of pigs lead by the charismatic Leonard (Bill Hader), who initially seem carefree and open to friendship, but whom Red sees have more sinister intentions behind their happy masquerade; and one he and his new friends must fight to stop before time runs out.

From a visual perspective, Angry Birds finds just the right style for its narrative content, creating a colourful world with lively characters and some gorgeous backdrops, with plenty of attention to detail in key areas. Characters are animated fluently and with tons of personality, and so each one stands out at first glance - even if many of them suffer when it comes to further development. Indeed, considering so much initial backlash was present over the concept of a movie based on a mobile app, the effort injected into the overall aesthetic design is surprisingly strong. The characters are just as equally brought to life thanks to passionate effort from the cast, particularly Sudeikis as Red (despite his occasional cheesy sarcasm) and especially Bill Hader as the villain Leonard / King Mudbeard, who isn't rich in his backstory or motivations, but still entertaining thanks to Hader's energetic voicework.

Angry Birds doesn't need to be emotionally powerful and full of societal commentary - however, complexity is almost entirely absent for the most part, which can result in many predictable scenarios and underdeveloped scenes. While the script is funny, some jokes often feel poorly timed as it seems the movie tries to avoid any effort to proceed with true emotion, and some of the more dirty gags, per se, sometimes feel in poor taste; that's not me trying to be some sort of overprotective parent, but many of them yield an initial shock factor and certainly not lasting humour. Those who are 100% not sold by the Angry Birds trailers may not find their opinions changed from full viewing - I myself thought it looked decent, and got exactly what the trailers promised. It's a harmless and reasonably enjoyable animated effort, with an especially chaotic and fun (if slightly contrived) final act, but there's not exactly a shortage of superior alternatives.