27 September 2016

Hands on with Dishonored 2

As with Just Cause 3 last year, Dishonored 2 pretty much single-handedly sold me on my ticket to attend this years EGX. I'm a big fan of Arkane Studios' Dishonored, the 2012 steampunk-esque (whalepunk?) stealth game that combined excellent world-building, satisfying mechanics and brilliant level design to deliver something that I've replayed more times that I care to admit, and the opportunity to play the sequel was simply too tempting to pass up.

The mission I played is one that takes place around about 4 hours into the game, tweaked slightly so that those unfamiliar with the first game still have a fighting chance of completing it. Choosing to play as either Corvo Atanno (the protagonist of Dishonored) or Emily Kaldwin (the now grown-up princess from the first game with abilities of her own), players are are tasked with infiltrating the mansion of genius inventor Kirin Jindosh in order to put a stop to the development of his automated clockwork soldiers, while also rescuing an old ally who is being held prisoner deep within the mansion.

26 September 2016

Hell or High Water review

Films are as much a product of the time they were made in as they are the product of those who made them, and Hell or High Water demonstrates that better than most. It's a film that could only really be created in today's climate, a modern Western with a strong anti-capitalist streak that's going to resonant with an awful lot of people. We follow brothers Toby and Tanner Howard as they rob a series of banks in order to pay off a reverse mortgage that their late mother took out on family land, and in doing so earn the ire of soon-to-be retired Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton.

The Texas presented to us in Hell or High Water is a thoroughly depressing place, one still struggling to recover from the effects of the financial crisis. The small towns we find ourselves in are virtually abandoned, strip-mined by banks that have successfully turned financial difficulties into easy profit, and that into the new norm. This is the environment created by the banks, which in turn creates people like the Howard brothers - regardless of the actions they take, Hell or High Water places the ultimate blame on the banks themselves for putting the brothers in a position where their actions are necessary. It ensures that we understand that the people are victims of the banks far more than the banks are victims of the people, and in doing so marks itself as one of the most anti-establishment films of the year.

19 September 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings review

The opening act of Kubo and the Two Strings is some of the finest film making I've ever seen, truly transcendent cinema that holds your attention in a vice like grip throughout, bursting at the seams with the kind of imagination and beauty and craftsmanship that you rarely get to see. From an awe-inspiring sequence that sees Kubo's mother sailing through impossibly rough seas, to a charming scene that sees Kubo using his magic, his music and his origami to tell tales to an enraptured village, Kubo and the Two Strings instantly marks itself out as something different in the best possible way, all before the plot is even set in motion.

We follow Kubo, a young boy with one eye who is living in hiding with his mother after his grandfather tried to blind him as a baby. Kubo, like his mother and the rest of her family, has magical powers - his are best expressed through his instrument, a three stringed guitar that he uses to stage small street performances that tell the story of a great warrior named Hanzo using magically animated origami. However, after the rest of his mothers family find him, Kubo must travel far and wide to locate and unite three mystical artifacts that will give him the power to defeat his grandfather.

13 September 2016

Don't Breathe review

2016 may have been a terrible year for blockbuster entertainment so far, but it's been a great one for horror, to the point where I've started to come around on a genre I previously had little time for. Films like Bone Tomahawk, The Witch and Green Room have all offered unique, exhilarating experiences with a real sense of craft behind them - and now Don't Breathe has done much the same, although admittedly to a lesser degree.

Set in Detroit, we follow a trio of young adults - Alex, the son of a security system installer; Rocky, a young mother looking to leave Detroit; and Money, Rocky's boyfriend - as they break into a blind veterans house in order to steal the large payout he received when his daughter was killed in a hit and run incident. Unfortunately for them, the man they are robbing is far more capable than they initially anticipated in spite of his blindness, and before long they are trapped in the house that he knows like the back of his hand.

8 September 2016

Sausage Party review

Imagine if Pixar, the people behind films such as Toy Story, The Incredibles, Up and Wall-E, decided to make an adult comedy. Imagine if they gathered together a who's who of funny people, including most of the cast of Superbad alongside actors like Kristen Wiig, Paul Rudd and even Edward Norton. Imagine if they made a movie specifically dealing with the concept of religion, and that the world would be a better place without it.

Now imagine that Pixar were also really, really bad at making movies. Imagine that they lost their ability to effectively tell a story, to create interesting characters, to make movies that resonant with their audience. Imagine if everyone working for Pixar suffered a severe head trauma immediately before putting pen to paper, instantly putting their mental age back by decades.

The result is Sausage Party, a film that means well.

30 August 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping review

If you ever needed definitive proof that general audiences are terrible at deciding what films are worth spending their money on, look no further than Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Here's a film that audiences should have flocked to see - interesting premise, recognisable stars, and most importantly, genuinely hilarious - and yet there were just seven people in the showing I attended. Four, if you don't include myself and the two people who came with me.

That's the second emptiest showing of a film I've ever sat in, a frustrating reminder that general audiences seem to refuse to see anything that isn't based on a pre-existing intellectual property anymore. Still, a lack of interest from the population at large doesn't stop Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping from being quite easily the best comedy film of the year, a satirical look at the music industry and celebrity culture that leans hard into the over-exaggerated, almost surreal sense of humour that The Lonely Island are known for.

25 August 2016

Pete's Dragon review

In a time when studio interference seems more common than ever, it isn't difficult to appreciate what Disney have given us in Pete's Dragon. Here is a film noticeably lacking the hallmarks of a troubled production, one that isn't plagued by the kind of issues that often come from executive meddling. Instead, Pete's Dragon really feels like an example of a studio having complete faith in a directors vision, and the result of that is a wonderful little film that probably couldn't exist under any other circumstances - a film that a number of big studios could learn a great deal from.

We follow Pete, a young boy who has been living in a vast woodland with a friendly dragon named Elliot since his parents were killed in a car accident six years ago. However, as loggers cut deeper into the woodlands, Pete ends up being discovered and "rescued" by local park ranger Grace, and Elliot starts being hunted by a group of loggers led by Grace's soon-to-be brother-in-law, Gavin.

9 August 2016

Suicide Squad review

I can't believe we are living in a world in which Man of Steel - a staggeringly mediocre film throughout - is still the best that the DC Extended Universe has to offer. Despite being positioned as the saving grace of the DCEU, Suicide Squad is actually anything but - it's one of the most poorly made films I've seen in a year with more than it's fair share of poorly made films, a movie so flawed at a fundamental level of film-making that it's almost impressive. Warner Bros/DC had every chance to make a genuinely good movie here, and their inability to do that makes me more than a little concerned about the future of this franchise.

Because it isn't hard to pinpoint what went wrong with Suicide Squad - it's a film with all the hallmarks of a very troubled post-production period, one that seems to have been caused by extensive studio interference. Various reports indicate that the version of Suicide Squad in cinemas is a conglomeration of a few different cuts, and I'm inclined to believe them - it's a horribly edited movie, full of inconsistencies and oversights that end up making Suicide Squad feel more like a rough cut than a finished product.

28 July 2016

The BFG review

I went into The BFG with expectations pretty much as low as they could be. I've loved the work of Roald Dahl ever since I was a child, but nothing about the trailers or TV spots for this film had me convinced that it was going to be anything more than an over-produced, dumbed-down version of a book that I've read more times than I care to admit. Any Americans reading might not understand this, but Roald Dahl is special over here in much the same way that I imagine Dr Seuss is over there, and the idea that one of his most well-known and beloved books might end up being the punchline to an already disappointing summer film season was almost too much to handle.

I can't explain how relieved I am to say that isn't the case. The BFG may not be a perfect movie, or even a particularly good one at times, but it's as accurate an adaptation of Dahl's book as could be expected - a quaint, fantastical, beautiful movie that wears its whimsy on its sleeve. And I loved it.

25 July 2016

Star Trek Beyond review

Like a lot of people my age, JJ Abrams' Star Trek was pretty much my introduction to Star Trek as a franchise. However, unlike a lot of people my age I've never been overly impressed with that film - it's a decent action/adventure movie, sure, but it's as dumb as a brick too, a film reliant on its own momentum to power through a bunch of huge logical leaps that the audience are required to take just for the basic story to hold together. I may not know a lot about the Star Trek franchise, but I know it isn't meant to be stupid, which is why JJ Abrams was always the wrong choice for these films. At best, his work as a director can be classified as "superficially intelligent"; at worst, "entirely brainless". We like to pretend that JJ Abrams is this visionary science fiction auteur, but even a cursory look at what he's done in the genre is proof that he isn't even close to earning that status.

That's the main reason why I wasn't outraged when Justin Lin (best known for his work on the Fast and Furious franchise) was announced as the director of Star Trek Beyond, something I'm now very thankful for considering that he's now helped make the best film of the rebooted franchise to date. Gone is the convolution and conspiracy of Abrams' first two films, instead replaced by a relatively simple story that - again based on my limited knowledge of Star Trek - seems to embody what the Star Trek franchise was always meant to be about: the idea that unity will always triumph in the end.