Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Movie Review - Blade Runner 2049

Though met with mixed reactions and mediocre box office takings upon release, 1982's Blade Runner now remains an iconic cult hit and arguably one of Ridley Scott's finest directorial efforts. Now, over thirty years later, an unexpected sequel has arisen - whilst the acclaim is on par with it's beloved predecessor, as our it's lacklustre box office takings. In spite of such disappointment, Blade Runner 2049 undeniably ends up being one of 2017's very best films, and the sequel that the original certainly deserves.

In 2049, biorobotic humans dubbed replicants are engineered for a variety of tasks; one such model, K (Ryan Gosling), works within the LAPD to hunt down and retire older replicant models hidden deep in society. His work eventually begins to unveil more and more mysteries about the replicants' history and potential, which in turn triggers questions over his own origins and purpose.

Blade Runner 2049 thankfully creates a story respectful towards the original, not something to milk it's fame - it intertwines a number of new ideas with it's already engrossing premise to further develop this rich fictional world. Everything is brought to life superbly in every category; superb art direction creates engrossing and equally unique dystopian future, depicted with some stunning CGI visuals and set design. Such aesthetics are further supported by a superb soundtrack by iconic composer Hans Zimmer alongside Benjamin Wallfisch - it pays homage to the original with similarly iconic themes whilst also offering up some lovely original music.

Audiences will journey through all manner of twists and turns as the plot moves forward; while not without occasional sluggish moments (leading to a huge run time), the complex narrative is still handled with care and attention to detail. It challenges viewers with a number of intriguing questions about what is human and what isn't, and of course leaves it to the audience to deduce a number of interesting twists themselves - certain plot threads seem to intentionally lack a degree of finality, allowing for more subjective outcomes and inviting debate amongst audiences over what various scenes mean and how they fit in with the original film.

This story prospers even further thanks to a superb cast lead by Gosling, also featuring talents such Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks in threatening if slightly forgettable villainous roles. Gosling's deadpan protagonist wins merit for an intimidating presence during various set pieces as well the genuine heartfelt persona that comes to fruition as more tender moments unravel; it certainly leads to what is arguably one of Gosling's best roles to date. Harrison Ford also makes a welcome return in the role of Deckett - going into his purpose within the narrative will lead to a wave of spoilers, but it's fair to say Ford's performance is just as spot on as it was in the original; the character blends seamlessly into the latter portions of the story and is developed even further with superb results, making his role far from a lazy cameo.

Blade Runner 2049 didn't need to be nearly three hours long, some of it's set pieces are a little excessive, and the plot undeniably gets a little too confusing during it's deepest moments - but what you watch is still an enthralling piece of science fiction and a worthy successor to a beloved cult classic. Fans of the original will be just as impressed as those fairly new to the story; it's a shame to see it fail to attract the majority of the general public, but if it's still playing at your local cinema and you've yet to give it a chance, that's something you should quickly rectify for sure.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Movie Review - Thor: Ragnarok

The MCU continues to grow as each year passes, and now has reached new standards in the eyes of many critics with the God of Thunder's threequel blockbuster (sure to be anyway); Thor: Ragnarok is now the most acclaimed film in the franchise, exceeding the immense praise of even Iron Man and The Avengers, so to say the hype of fans is only escalating would be a gross understatement. Now, sorry to sound like an elderly killjoy, but this is the part where I come in and try to justify my controversial thoughts - Thor: Ragnarok is an enjoyable adventure, but far from the masterpiece most people strangely make it out to be.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to his world protecting duties across the stars following the overthrow of Ultron, but soon finds himself stripped of his ancient hammer Mjolnir and stranded on the planet Sakaar, forced to battle against the also captive (and universally hailed) champion Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to satisfy the gladiatorial desires of the violent natives. He soon leads an effort to escape as his homeworld Asgard comes under threat by Odin's twisted firstborn Hela (Cate Blanchett), reborn to exact her revenge and spearhead the impending Ragnarok - the predicted end of Asgard and all who live there.

To begin with, Thor: Ragnarok simply adopts the same flaw that many recent MCU films have been suffering from - many may disagree with me, and it's all a matter of taste perhaps, but it's simply too goofy. It certainly has a likeable sense of humour, deeply funny at it's very best, but the filmmakers simply can't step back and develop a sensible scene without throwing in an awkwardly timed gag to debunk any buildup of genuine tension or emotional weight. This is a superhero film for a wide audience and not one that has to be dark, gritty, and obsessed with complex themes, but it's also one that does have the potential for some more serious development - sadly said development never quite comes to fruition. Indeed, there are times where you'd think this is a parody of the genre more than anything else.

But Ragnarok is not without charm; as said, when it's funny, it's really funny, and even it's most awkwardly placed jokes are not without their humourous appeal. It's cast perform strongly to ensure said laughs and eventual epic moments are executed wonderfully - particular praise can be handed to Hemsworth himself as a likeable if overly silly Thor and especially Jeff Goldblum as the film's secondary villain Grandmaster, the ruler of Sakaar. His character is fairly flat and role in the narrative somewhat unbalanced, but Goldblum's performance does a sound job of capturing the character's twisted sense of humour to make him an entertaining villain whenever he shows up. In terms of the film's principle antagonist, Blanchett brings Hela to life with suitable sadism, though her strangely long absences and occasional daft antics can make investing consistent interest a tricky task.

Hulk's inclusion holds some significance given that Ragnarok is derived from the Planet Hulk comic storyline, however I can't say his role won me over. Ruffalo's performance is decent, and the effects used to bring his giant green self to life are as refined as ever, but the character's gross idiocy and irritating dialogue frequently reduce him to a cliché moronic comic relief - a real shame considering his former threatening appeal. Thor: Ragnarok still boasts the same visual thrills and stylish set pieces that most MCU films have mastered so well, but these can't fully make up for the unfocused, overly silly humour and generally mediocre story. It's good fun, and another treat for the most loyal of fans, but little else.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Movie Review - The Ritual

Following his closest friends' murder, some bloke named Luke (Rafe Spall) finds himself leading the rest of his college pals on a hiking trip in tribute to their late colleague's memory. Initially evocative and more adventurous than they expected, the journey is soon cut short following a tedious injury; to get to safety as quick as possible, a shortcut through the forest is taken, where a sense of unease slowly begins to emerge and a number of dark truths soon come to fruition as the group find themselves unable to escape the evil around them.

The Ritual is a film very independent at it's core, which makes it's superb production design and special effects all the more admirable. This same praise also applies when discussing the overall atmosphere; yeah, it occasionally relies on cheap jumps, but it's not without strong moments of eerie chills and frightening twists, certainly making some of it's key set pieces all the more entertaining and nerve wracking.

The movie's key flaw sits within the story itself - though it begins with some surprising emotional heft, it eventually treads down typical horror clichés and lacks consistently refined development, particularly when the key antagonists emerge within the climax. The protagonists fare no better, in all honesty; which is even more of a shame considering how the performances offered up are largely superb and deserving of much praise.

This is a story which simply begins strong yet sinks majorly as it approaches it's conclusion; while it has moments of chills and thrills, the final act certainly feels rushed and contrived in many areas, all coming to an end with an unusually abrupt and inadvertently comical conclusion. The Ritual does offer a genuinely scary experience in some of it's most unsettling moments - making it even more disappointing to see it lose more and more interest in it's story and pacing the more and more it goes on.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Worst to Best - Super Mario 3D

Super Mario Odyssey is on the way...to say I'm hyped would be a vast understatement. Since his arcade debut as Jumpman in 1981, Mario as long since been Nintendo's iconic mascot and one of the most renowned heroes in the gaming industry - his reputation precedes him with some of the best games on offer to audiences of all ages. Without a doubt his 3D outings remain just as iconic as his famed 2D ones, and it goes without saying all have maintained a consistent streak of quality over the past two decades.

So this list sure isn't an easy one to form...but now let's rank all of Mario's main 3D adventures, all of which adopt their own innovation and offer some of the best experiences on their respective platforms.

#6 - Super Mario 3D Land (3DS, 2011)

A simple yet strong effort for Mario's main 3DS debut, Mario 3D Land deftly blends the straightforward structure of the 2D classics with the complexity of his 3D efforts - the end result is a game that offers an addictive and well designed platforming experience approachable for loyal fans and newcomers alike. It's first admirable factor are of course the visuals which, impressive 3D effects aside, are certainly some of the best the 3DS has to offer, full of colour and vibrancy and with the simple yet insanely appealing art direction Mario's finest works are always known for.

Perhaps 3D Land isn't quite as memorable as later entries to this list, simply because it may seem little short lived to some and not full of as much innovation to give it the same impact other titles have boasted. Regardless, that doesn't jeopardize it's overall quality by any means, and there's no denying this is one of the best 3DS titles even half a decade on.

#5 - Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996)

Mario 64 being so low on this list may not click with many of you I imagine...though I must emphasise once more that these games are largely even in terms of quality so this in no way implies 64 is an average game. It already wins acclaim for being such a benchmark in the platforming genre, pioneering and refining conventions such as complex analogue control and a 3D camera system. It's also quite remarkable how well the experience has aged - even two decades later, revisiting 64 never feels like an outdated experience and remains just as fun as it was way back when.

What makes 64 such a great experience is the expansive structure most levels boast, promoting exploration without feeling too vague in their design. It's bags of fun to just mess about within the stages' most intricate areas, and seeking out more and more secrets in the process. It's also pleasing just how much variety the game offers - stages range from colourful yet chaotic battlefields, soothing harbours, and a tall, tall mountain (literally), so each experience feels just as unique as the last. There's still plenty of fun and variety on offer, and the game's influence on the industry alone makes it something that will never get old.

The DS remake, somewhat awkward controls aside, is also a respectable update; being able to play such a masterpiece on the go already makes it worth having.

#4 - Super Mario Sunshine (NGC, 2002)

Mario Sunshine is the series' title that yields some more mixed reactions within the fanbase; it's a great game, no doubt, but it's slightly stronger focus on story perhaps didn't work out too well in many people's eyes, and it's occasionally savage difficulty wasn't always appealing when trying to reach that 100% completion.

Sunshine's story sees Mario on vacation at the gorgeous Isle Delfino resort, yet he quickly finds himself framed for polluting the island's beautiful locales and is forced to clean up the mess whilst also tracking down the real culprit. It's nothing disastrous, perhaps just a bit hard to connect with considering the blatant idiocy of Delfino's native Pianta's and the incredibly cheesy voice acting. That aside, Sunshine is definitely one of the best GameCube titles; notably impactful for me as I'd dub it my first true experience with the plumber, considering I was more into the Sega Genesis and PlayStation during past generations.

The new Isle Delfino setting allowed each stage to be fresh in terms of design, and their expansive structure once again promotes exploration; it's equally fun to put the main quest aside to goof off and locate more and more secrets. The integration of FLUDD, Mario's water backpack, also stirs up the experience even further - FLUDD's various nozzles allow you to not only take care of foes and hazards with blasts of water but also navigate large gaps and zoom up to higher locations. It's aforementioned difficulty perhaps could've been a bit more refined, and you certainly wish the characters didn't open their mouths during most cutscenes, but Sunshine is otherwise one of my favourite Mario titles no questions asked.

#3 - Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007)

Branded one of the best games of all time by critics and audiences alike, Mario's debut on the Wii ten years ago now certainly helped prove Nintendo wasn't just trying to milk the casual market with their latest and most controversial console - indeed, there was still the same genius company we all know and love within, capable of making some of the best first party titles seen across all generations of gaming. Galaxy deserves it's strong acclaim simply because of how much ingenuity the developers injected into the experience - as the title suggests, Mario is now whizzing into outer space to stop Bowser once more, and this setting of course paves the way for some of the most innovative level design the series has to offer even today.

The various galaxies Mario explores adopt all kinds of themes - beaches, gardens, volcanoes, you name it. We've seen similar stuff in previous Mario titles, but the fresh design in Galaxy's most notable stages make them far from samey. It's this blend of solid art direction and some amazing technical aspects that also helped show the Wii as something very capable of impressive modern graphics, even if it lagged behind it's rivals. As well as visually stunning, each level is also packed with depth and, whilst the design is actively more linear than 64 and Sunshine, there's a lot of fun to be had as you explore more and more of each world. It's a bit easy at times, yeah, but that matters not when Ninty have otherwise crafted a masterpiece of game design that will never lose it's impact.

Oh, and that music...enough said.

#2 - Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii, 2010)

The Wii became such a gargantuan hit and enjoyed such a long life that there was time for two main 3D Mario games; with so many ideas they couldn't possibly fit into the original, Nintendo came back for the first main sequel in Mario's 3D history, building upon an already stellar formula with some neat little additions and of course an onslaught of new, equally absorbing levels. Of course the most notable addition at first glance is the return of Yoshi, making his first 3D Mario appearance since Sunshine eight years prior. He can be a little underused I won't deny, but the inclusion was certainly a superb one, far more enjoyable and less fiddly than his Sunshine gameplay and paving the way for more and more creativity during his main segments in certain levels.

Galaxy 2 also streamlines the experience a little more by featuring a much smaller hub world and a stronger focus on a world map to connect each level - it may seem a shame to not have as much freedom initially, but this is a minor worry when the game's fluidity is seriously aided by this new, simpler structure. Aside from such tweaks, Galaxy 2 doesn't dramatically alter the experience offered by its predecessor, meant in a good way as of course if something isn't broken, don't fix it; the new stages and missions offer plenty of challenge and enjoyment, yet the game still adopts the same stellar visuals and fluent controls. The outcome? Certainly that rare superior sequel.

#1 - Super Mario 3D World (Wii U, 2013)

Though certainly considered one of the Wii U's best titles, Mario 3D World wouldn't be most people's choice for the best of the plumbers 3D outings. Not that it's bad in any way, but perhaps just not as impactful as past efforts, considering the resounding influence many of them had on the platforming genre.

But alas, whilst it took a lot of thinking due to the franchises refined quality, 3D World has to be my pick for the best of the best. The game adopts the style of 3D Land, with timed, somewhat linear stages, but builds upon it with a dozen new ideas of it's own: a world map more open to some exploration, more and more thoughtful concepts within each level, new power ups, and of course a multiplayer element that makes the experience over ten times as fun when shared with friends. The multiplayer may get a bit crowded during the later stages, but it remains one of my favourite aspects of 3D World's experience, and it's nice to see some later levels actually designed with it in mind to allow you to unlock new secrets and pathways alongside teammates.

It also goes without saying that on a visual and audial level, 3D World remains true to the series' high standards, boasting some of the Wii U's most crisp, vibrant graphics and a soundtrack that is without any forgettable tunes. Whilst I look forward to Odyssey returning to the more open world design, 3D World again proves the more linear structure is not without depth of it's own, and can certainly be just as engrossing.

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!

Friday, 6 October 2017

Movie Goofs - The Woman in Black (2012)

I don't read a lot of books - but as I've always made clear at any opportunity, my favourite novel of all time has to be Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, first published in 1985. A well told ghost story with an unsettling tone, Hill's novel is a gripping read from start to finish, with the depth to the overall narrative and characters help rendering it as good a piece of storytelling as it is a haunting experience.

Amazing stage play aside, The Woman in Black has been adapted for screen twice - a superb 1989 TV film, albeit one with numerous changes, and a 2012 theatrical release featuring Potter star Daniel Radcliffe himself...and one with even more changes, no denying. But hey, it's a pretty good horror flick overall, although just not quite the adaptation I feel the novel truly deserves.

Oh, and it's not without it's plot holes...

  • A central issue that even the original story sometimes holds is how the Woman is said to lead to the death of children whenever seen. However, the amount of times Arthur must've seen her in this film...not every sighting seems to link a to a child dying. Perhaps the meaning is of course that the death of a child is joined by her appearance? If so, Elizabeth's explanation of it is quite poor to put it lightly. 
  • Kekwick, whose son was killed by the Woman, seems to feel strongly about avoiding any chance of disturbing her to save future misery. However, this doesn't quite seem to be the case, as we see him change his mind in a flash of a second over a cheap little bribe. Some repercussions of this must've took place: did Keckwick's employer ever find out? Was Keckwick reprimanded for such a gross disobedience? I'm just thinking out loud (and far too much) now, but hey, there's some merit to my words.
  • Why does nobody just tell Arthur about the ghost of Jennet Humfrye? While this makes sense in terms of them not wanting to look bonkers or kick up even more of a fuss, they are extremely adamant to get rid of him but do a pretty poor job of doing so. It perhaps would've been better if they were just honest about it; even Sam blindly shunts aside the obvious truth and puts Arthur in serious danger for reasons that just aren't made very clear.
  • Referring back to Sam, he and his wife find it an good idea to lock up their daughter Lucy in an insane effort to shield her from the eponymous ghost. This requires obsessive monitoring and gross mistreatment - of course it links back to paranoia developed by the Woman killing their previous child, but maybe it would've been a good idea to just use protection if all they'll be doing is locking their new kid up and guarding it like incredibly valuable treasure.

  • It seems odd how the marsh surrounding the causeway has extremely strong preservation qualities, made obvious when Arthur and Sam dig up a pony trap housing two corpses in pristine condition...despite it apparently being there for a fair few years.
  • The same scene is also slightly hard to believe in as it shows Arthur tying a thick bit of rope around the submerged pony trap, in a method strong enough for it to be hauled out with minimal hassle, all whilst swimming in the marshes and consequently unable to see a thing.
  • Perhaps it also would've been a good idea for Arthur and Sam to carry out such a task during the day so they'd have a solid view of the tides and surrounding marshes, making it both easier to steer along the causeway and accomplish their bizarre goal without serious risk of veering into a sticky situation. But I guess a horror film needs to be dark during it's climactic moments, right?
  • This scene also raises the debate over how the Nathaniel boy drowned within said marshes - the book establishes that they're immensely strong and will drag anyone to their demise if they so much as catch their foot in them, however we, once again, see Arthur swimming in it with little hassle. So how did Nathaniel drown in it if he was with his parents? Did they abandon him to save their own asses? Even if he couldn't swim surely someone was there to aid him, or were the wealthy snobs that afraid of getting dirty?
  • Arthur's always established as highly protective of his son Joseph following the loss of his wife during childbirth - however, when Joseph notices the Woman at the train station, he purposely lets go of Arthur's hand and at this point neither Arthur, nor Sam, nor the lady paid to keep an eye on Joseph notice him climb onto the train tracks and approach the enormous locomotive thundering into the station.

I remember being so, so hyped for this film throughout 2011 as it's release neared and the trailers rolled out. Like I said earlier, it's a decent horror flick no doubt, with one of it's biggest pros being Radcliffe and the strong cast he leads. Sadly, it just feels too noisy and obsessed with forcing set pieces into the mix, than it does portraying the heart of the book with a fresh aesthetic. Oh well.

Thanks for reading!