Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Why Him?: DVD Review

Why Him?: DVD Review

It's the eternal dilemma.

Your beloved brings home a better half that is less than desirable in your eyes.

This is the crux of the latest comedy from director John Hamburg (Along Came Polly, I Love You Man) with Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston as Ned the dad threatened by his daughter Stephanie's choice of beau.

Stephanie's fallen for Silicon Valley CEO Laird Mayhew (a fully committed James Franco), a tats and all stoner slacker whose infatuation with Zoey Deutch's Stephanie is evident from the start. When Stephanie diverts the family on their Christmas vacation to spend the break getting to know her new other half.

But this is the last thing on Ned's mind with his paper company facing extinction and now his beloved daughter shacked up with the wrong man, the scene is set for conflict as Laird tries to win Ned over...

Why Him? sets its stock out in its first scene - there's a hint of raunch, a liberal dose of foul language and a feeling that low hanging fruit is the easiest option to go for.

From the uptight Cranston to the free and easy Franco, each commit fully to their roles but are never asked to deliver much by the lazy script.
The sense of opposition isn't trowelled on and any conflict is tantamount to nothing more than a few forced in scenes and moments which fail to garner much drama or humour.

Fortunately, Keegan-Michael Key's estate manager Gustav delivers the lion's share of some gags with some strait laced deadpan performance moments giving the film the energy it needs and the laughs it so desperately craves.Along with one scene where Ned tries to fend off his stoned wife (Mullally), there are a few scenes that genuinely offer some laughs and unexpected pleasures.

And there are no scenes which offer any depth to the main characters - particularly Zoey Deutch's Stephanie whose apparent rift with her father is given no rhyme or reason, and therefore no dramatic weight.

But they're too few and far in between in this patchy comedy that underuses all of its team players. There's a nice side element of the old versus the new conflict as is demonstrated by Ned's being in paper, Laird's being in the internet and Ned rolling out a Pink Panther reference that's lost on the younger end, but there's not enough to give any meat to the relatively thin bones.

The young and old conflict may be there and is woefully under-exploited - Why Him? ends up being a lazy, unfunny comedy that misses the mark so often and drags that the only nagging thought you're left with as you leave the cinema, is a resounding "Why me?"

Styx: Shards of Darkness: PS4 Review

Styx: Shards of Darkness: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by Cyanide Studios
Styx: Shards of Darkness

The last set of goblins that were sneaking about to be recalled were those pesky ones in the Lord Of The Rings.

So it's with some glee that Styx: Shards of Darkness perpetuates the sneaky nature of the goblins and continues to build on that reputation in this fun and foul-mouthed game. With a very basic story, you take control of the Styx, and have to infiltrate the Dark Elven city of Korangar to find out why the dwarves have teamed up against your race.

Using a variety of tricks, such as clones, and traps, such as acid related shenanigans, this take of Assassin's Creed is quite eminently playable and fun in a disposable way. With the stealth mechanics and the simplicity of execution, Styx is actually a game that makes it frivolous and flippant as you traipse around portions of the world trying to achieve your aims.
Styx: Shards of Darkness

Ropes, grappling hooks, the chance to turn invisible and plenty of others come to mind for Styx to help you achieve this, and while the game's ease of execution means you can dive right in, it does also mean that it's actually quite simple and easy to fail in your ambitions, leading to replays and growing levels of frustration.

Styx, as a character, is also fun. Loading screens see him taunting you and death scenes see him mixing in both film references and cocking snooks at other games to give the game a sense of flippant meta-touches which prove to be both amusing and clever. As the fourth wall is smashed with regularity, you actually get a growing bond with your goblin, even if he has the tendency to flip you off for doing so.
Styx: Shards of Darkness

Ultimately satisfying, but also extremely gratifying when this character gets offed, Styx: Shards of Darkness is a game that's as foul as it is fun.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Film Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Film Review

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Debicki, Karen Gillan
Director: James Gunn

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
It's a tough ask to discern how exactly you follow up one of the freshest films in an ever-expanding Mavel Cinematic Universe catalogue of superheroes, fantastical figures and weighty mythology.

The 2014 worldwide $773 million smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy's riposte by way of its first outing was to largely confine a lot of what had become Marvel's stuffy staple to the sidelines and present a bright blast of technicolour goofiness, set it all in space and against a backdrop of 70s music tunes.

Loud, brash and above all fun, Guardians Volume 1 was the perfect tonic to the growing tedium of the MCU, injecting humour into a ragtag bunch of reprobates who quickly became family.

So, how do you follow that up?

Like that tricky second album syndrome that blights so many artists, James Gunn and Marvel's answer is - let's do it all again and throw more music and more humour at it.

But, disappointingly in parts, that sadly doesn't quite make this sequel quite as spectacular.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

With the central themes of family and familial conflicts thrust largely to the fore, the sequel concentrates on two simple storylines. When Rocket rips off the group's latest employers, they're forced to go on the run.

Stranded on the planet Berhart after their betrayal's discovered and the Milano, their ship, crippled, the issue of Chris Pratt's Starlord's parentage comes to the fore when his father (played with 80s style gusto by Kurt Russell) mysteriously shows up....

It's not that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is a bad film, it's simply that it feels like it's squandered some of the promise and good will of the first.

Visually, Gunn and his team have assembled a truly vibrant universe. From its opening moments where a squid-like creature takes on the gang spewing out all the colours of the rainbow from its mouth, to the gold-covered race The Sovereign, via planet vistas adorned with hues of reds, blues and greens, there's plenty visually to admire and wallow in. And once again, music is the sixth Guardians character, with sounds from the 70s and 80s providing a proliferation of grooves and moves among the CGI.

But the film too often falls back on its humour as a constant crutch to punctuate scenes, and it becomes repetitive and irritating. 

Whether it's the constant bickering between the Guardians, or Bautista's literal Drax saying inappropriate and initially amusing things or members of the Ravagers making comments, there's way too much of this throughout to do anything other than a) feel lazy and b) set your teeth-grinding. And whilst it was part of the fun of the first, the sequel adds much more than is necessary.

Equally, if it's not the humour, it's the reliance on the Baby Groot ex Machina to help with the story. Though, admittedly, Groot's cuteness and abject tendency towards adorable are initially very appealing and amusing. (The aforementioned fight is brilliant in its execution thanks to a combination of ELO's Mr Blue Sky, an out-of-focus battle in the background and a shimmying couple of inches tall tree character).
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

As the film goes on, the over-use of the humour tends to scupper the more obvious emotional edges of what transpires. If everything's a joke to everyone all the time, it really does make it hard to care about what happens to these self-professed a*holes and the various predicaments they face.

More successful are the quieter moments of the film.

There's a distinct profoundness to some of the more humane scenes involving the ongoing conflict between Saldana's Gamorra and Gillan's Nebula, as well as Pratt's portrayal of a man who just desperately wants to know who his father is. Add in a nuanced turn from Rooker's Yondu, seeking redemption, and there's more than enough meat to keep the narrative running and just enough to provide distraction from the incessant hilarity that's injected at every turn.

It's here that Gunn excels and imbues some love for the wise-cracking characters we came to care about in the first film. He achieves the required poignancy with ease, and masterfully delivers it. 

But in among the day-glo colours, superb visuals from the WETA Digital team and 80s references (The Blob, Journey To The Centre of the Earth, arcade games and other Easter Eggs too fun to spoil et al), it's these kernels of emotional truths which resonate in Guardians Vol 2 and which give it the heart it so desperately needs and so perfectly achieved in its first outing, setting them above the usual smash and grab CGI world destructions that have become the Marvel denouement norm.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

But they're nearly overwhelmed by everything else that transpires on screen; and while it felt fresh the first time around, the over-insistence on a "More, more, more" ethos means it comes dangerously close to destroying the good-will it had previously generated.

With a third outing for the Guardians of the Galaxy already signed up, it's no stretch to say that this latest, with its flaws and occasional bloat, is a good time at the movies, and a cut above the usual blockbuster fare.

However, all of that candy-blast and sugar-coated reliance on humour prove sufficiently corrosive to Gunn's stated intentions of going deeper with the characters; and, worryingly, if they don't ease up on those elements in the third outing, it could end up inducing a diabetic cinematic coma to audiences.

Drawn To Death: PS4 Review

Drawn To Death: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Part of the PS Plus line up for April

We've all spent time doodling, passing away those endless hours at work or at school employing our creative juices in an all together more fruitful pastime.
Drawn To Death

This latest, from David Jaffe, takes the pencil-drawn shenanigans to the next level and places it all in an arena shooting match, that's an online 4 player experience.

It begins in what feels like a VR Experience as you find yourself in a classroom, with the teacher droning on in front of you. But glancing down at the doodles on your book and the silly scribbles below, brings the world of the ballpoint pen scrawl to life.

Taking you into the game, you get to play a character that looks like a Sid Vicious punk dragged through a 2000AD prism and sprayed in Viz like sensibilities. Tutored by a frog that fires insults your way, the opening levels give you the basics on how to shoot, spray bile and survive, before you end up in an arena and fighting others.

Drawn To DeathDrawn to Death's visuals are pretty incredible when you consider that basically, they're just paper drawings brought to life via computer. They manage to stand out from the background, and feel like they have depth even though your mind tells you this can't really be possible.

As you enter the arenas and take on others, the game's juvenile disposability comes to life and the game's cheaper and simpler premise makes the whole thing more playable than it should be. Chasing others around an arena and using an array of weapons to take them out while racing to the top of the leaderboard makes the game's simple MO its one pleasure.

Sure, the childishness comes through, but the game's in keeping with its puerile point of view. From drawing women with melon shaped breasts to general abusiveness, this is a game that feels like it's been torn from the mind of a teenager.
Drawn To Death

While occasionally some of the matches suffer because of different weapons being better than others, the playability of the game itself helps over-compensate for its own failings. If you're willing to put up with a degree of repetitive gaming and also a fairly shallow experience, then Drawn To Death is for you. If you're looking for more depth in an online shooter, then there's plenty more fodder in the PlayStation Store for you to unload cash upon - but given this one is free as part of PlayStation Plus for April, you can't really complain.

Troll and I: PS4 Review

Troll and I: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Developed by Spiral House

It had such potential, but, unfortunately, Troll and I never quite reaches the heights it's aspiring to, thanks to a muddied combat system and graphics that don't give the game the best look.

Loosely, the story concentrates on Otto, a boy who's separated from his mother after tragedy hits their village. Forced out into the wilderlands and to fend for himself, Otto finds he's ultimately not alone with the discovery of a friendly Troll.
The pair team up and have to perform a series of quests and missions, guaranteed to showcase the co-operative bond and capabilities of the game.

However, what it actually offers is simply a case of switching between the two once they've teamed up to perform limited moves.

With his Derek Zoolander clipped way of talking, Otto's not the most verbose of characters and his penchant for muttering a limited amount of catchphrases soon grinds gears than inspires wanting to spend more time with him.
Equally, with the troll looking reminiscent of a dread-locked ET, the characterisation doesn't perform very strongly in this piece, which is a real shame.

Limited moves for both, along with crafting, make Troll and I feel like a budget game rather than a big scale adventure with heart and soul that was initially promised in the trailer.
It doesn't help that graphically the game looks like something from the PS2 era and the baddies look unfinished in their design. But it's frustrating in the extreme as there's clearly a great adventure to be had here, with this sub-par rip off of the buddy dynamic not really cutting it from the get-go.

Early scenes see you having to duck and dive, hunt and trace around, but the game's difficulty curve throws a substantial spanner into the works with moves you make not being recognised. That further exacerbates frustration as the game seems intent on ensuring repetition of mistakes despite you trying all different ways to achieve your goal.

Crafting brings a bit of an edge, but there's little else to collect in the world, other than weapons which perform adequately, but not sensationally.
Troll and I: PS4

It's a shame as there are some moments that really hang together for Troll and I - its adherence to the folklore and friendship aspect of the game makes its premise eminently playable and there's pain to be felt when either side of this buddy-friendship is hurt.

But ultimately, Troll and I's frustrations and sub-par rendering make it feel like a head-smashing experience and an exercise in what could have been.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Parappa The Rapper: PS4 Review

Parappa The Rapper: PS4 Remastered: Review

Platform : PS4

It seems like a year of the remaster is hitting PlayStation again this year.

And in some ways, that's no bad thing.
Parappa The Rapper:

There's no denying the excitement of the relaunch of a remastered Crash Bandicoot and Wipeout, two personally influential franchises on this player alone.

From out of the reaches of nostalgia comes Parappa The Rapper, 20 years later, about a street-wise rapping dog creature thing in an orange beanie getting schooled on the art of rap.

To the credit of this remaster, it's actually a small file, and a relatively cheap, fun piece of a blast from the past. The game first showed in 1996 and was of course the trend-setter for many of the reactive button and music mashers we saw hit the console generation for years to come.
But the remaster, aside from offering a few remixes, does little else to warrant an immediate purchase.

Some of the problem lies with the cut scenes which have been left in their original PS One format, and as a consequence look fuzzy and faded. Why they weren't given a spit and polish isn't quite clear, but aside from the idea of nostalgia and rose-tinted glasses, it's a bit of an oddity.
Parappa The Rapper:

Especially when the rest of the rhythm game looks so crystal clear and polished. The sequences where you have to rap, and keep up are sparkingly clear and stand in direct contrast to the cut scenes which look muddied and old.

But the gameplay itself, along with the catchy as hell music, haven't changed for the worse.
And it is annoyingly catchy - there's no way that you can't get swept along with Master Onion's rallying cry - Kick, punch, it's all in the mind; these are iconic words from an iconic title.

Parappa The Rapper Remastered isn't exactly a massive fail - its core gameplay is still intact and its simple mechanics make the title still a family favourite.

It just feels a shame that the game's not exactly embraced the next gen console and traded more on nostalgia than necessity.

Sherlock: Season 4: Blu Ray Review

Sherlock: Season 4: Blu Ray Review

The game's back afoot in this latest and, possibly final, clutch of three stories from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.
Sherlock Season 4

Benedict Cumberbatch returns once again as Conan Doyle's detective, in the modern day setting - and with his partner Martin Freeman's Watson married and with kid, Holmes is at a bit of a loose end.
However, as the first story kicks off, everything's about to change for the duo with the apparent return of Moriarty and a major conspiracy underway.

As ever, the stories are beautifully shot and put together, but this time around, the three stories are somewhat of a mixed bag as they get tied up in their own knots. Certainly, the opening episode isn't as clever as it thinks it is, and there's an argument to say the third episode really feels a little indulgent (but has some great moments).

More successful is the second which showcases Toby Jones as a baddie Culverton Smith and whose obsequiousness and general slimy demeanour really rattles things along.

At its heart this year, Sherlock is a more personal story and is really a stronger look at the relationship between Holmes and Watson. If the series ends here, it feels like it's possibly time, with a lot of the bulk of these stories feeling more like they're pandering to fans rather than a wider audience.

That said, when it fires, as it frequently does, it's still infinitely superior to anything on TV, thanks largely to the acting talents of the leads.