Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Book of Life: Film Review

The Book of Life: Film Review

Vocal Cast: Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Ice Cube, Christina Applegate
Director: Jorge R Gutierrez

Imagine an animation where Tim Burton's Gothic sensibilities met with portions of computer Grim Fandango's aesthetics and the whole thing was meshed together with an infusion of Mexican culture and heritage as well as filtered through Guillermo Del Toro's eyes...

That in a nutshell is The Book of Life.

A story within a story, The Book of Life is the story of childhood pals Manolo (Luna) and Joaquin (Tatum) whose lives are intertwined by their love for Maria (Saldana). Their push and pull relationship catches the eye of two gods, La Muerte (Del Castillo) and Xibalba (Perlman) and forms the basis of a wager; if Maria chooses Manolo, La Muerte wins and if Joaquin wins her heart, Xibalba is triumphant....

The Book of Life is an unusual animation.

Its fiesta of Mexican culture, colours and vistas is a real blast to the eyes, and a sign that something different has been transposed to the screen as this Day of The Dead story is exposed to perhaps more culturally ignorant viewers.

Throw in some mariachi music themes of current stylings (such as Radiohead's Creep and Mumford and Sons I Will Wait) and you've got somewhat of a pinata of cinema that bursts vibrantly as it's cracked open on the big screen.

Utilising ancient Mexican mythology and fusing it with old Greek stories such as the Ancient Gods' squabbles and an Orpheus-like Quest are just the icing on this cake - which is perhaps just as well as the story isn't quite as strong as it could be, feeling in parts like it's been stretched somewhat thin.

The animation is sumptuous; a veritable pot pourri of wooden puppet CGI creatures mixes with the aforementioned Grim Fandango aesthetics when the movie heads to the Land of The Remembered to brilliant visual effect; purples, greens and other hues burst from the screen to make the resulting film feel like something we've never seen before.

Tatum adds another string to his acting bow as the animated blowhard Joaquin; Saldana brings wide-eyed sultry to Maria and Luna leads an everyday appeal as the sensitive bullfighter who can't kill but can deliver a killer tune. Perlman, del Castillo shine as Xibalba and La Muerte and Applegate blends it all together as the narrator / story hook.

The only bum note is adding in Ice Cube - his involvement seems to pander to the kids purely as his duffle-headed comments and goofball sensibilities sing out from the screen. It's a rare moment that misfires but sours part of this spicy mix.

All in all, The Book of Life is a vibrant chapter of different animation; its story may not be the strongest, but its visuals sing loudly from the screen and proffer something entirely - and welcomely - different.


Monday, 30 March 2015

Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae Preview

Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae Preview

Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PS4

I'll admit it - I've never been a player of the Final Fantasy series.

So it's perhaps fair to say that this makes me the target demo for Final Fantasy XV in some weird way because its legion of fans will already buy the game, but its success will lie in a wider audience embracing it.

With the game being in development since 2006, it's fair to say there's nearly a decade's worth of expectation hanging on this title and plenty of speculation over what may be ahead. As ever, with a demo (which is essentially what Episode Duscae is) it's hard to gauge where exactly this comes in the story point and at what stage of the game your character is.

It's possibly fair to surmise that it's early on, given how much combat training you're exposed to in the early stages of the demo before you head off to explore the open-world around you.

You control Noctis along with his friends Ignis, Prompto and Gladiolus - and as the game begins, you're waking up having been in need of getting your car serviced (for reasons unknown). But this work doesn't come for free and you need to find a fairly high amount of cash to ensure the work's done. So the group decides to hunt a bounty on a Behemoth to get rich quick.

Essentially, Episode Duscae feels like an open world ready to explore with these boyband look-alikes.

A lot of the demo is spent with Noctis fighting against Gladiolus, getting trained ostensibly for what lies ahead. It's all about reacting and working to the fight as well, harnessing the right moment to attack or to hang back and defend. Warping to points and warping to attack enemies gives you the boost of XP but saps your MP, and too much fighting leaves Noctis struggling for breath, wandering woozily around and prone to attacks without any ability to get back in the game.

Unlike previous Final Fantasies which have been turn-based, this combat is continual, with pressing down the square button, using a combination of L1 to defend being the best way to take on those opposed to you.

Once the basics of combat are unleashed and your training's complete, it's out into the real world (well, sort of) in Duscae's open world terrain, which is exceptional in many ways.

Graphically, thanks to the creatures littered around, it feels like you're taking a walk through Jurassic Park in the foliage, flanked by relatively harmless animals. But walk too close to them, and a red bar starts to stretch across your screen indicating combat is imminent. Fighting the creatures is relatively easy (simply hold square down to achieve continual kills) but a horde of too many can be difficult to match. My first encounter was with Sabretusks who were relatively tame and offered little resistance; the same cannot be said for robotic knights of the Imperial order who appeared from a drop ship to make my life somewhat chaotic thanks to their inability to die easily.

Setting up camp to rest after the melee of completed combat brought a relative respite to it all and a chance to see a series of side quests being offered for amusement within the open world. I'm hoping for a little more on the characterisation as the early interaction of the group feels a little forced and false with some terribly cliched and average dialogue peppering it all.

Final Fantasy XV offers some hope of something a little different; early word is that FF purists may have a few issues with what's ahead but it could also be a sign of something different for the franchise - either way we'll know when it releases very soon.


The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water: Film Review

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water: Film Review

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Clancy Brown, Matt Berry
Director: Paul Tibbitt

Proving you don't necessarily need to have a message to tout, the animated antics of Spongebob Squarepants on the big screen is nothing more than being here for a zany time.

It's back to Bikini Bottom for a second time in this latest that blends time travel, real life and animated antics into one zany goofball fritter.

It all starts when maligned restaurant owner Plankton tries to make off with Krusty Krabs' secret formula. Continually annoyed that the Krabby patties keep flying out of the doors, Plankton's determined to get his paws on it, and somehow manages to succeed.

However, that brings around the apocalypse (complete with bondage gear for Mr Krabs) and suddenly, Spongebob's world is transformed when he has to work with Plankton to reinstate what relative order there was before.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water is little more than zaniness thrown together with some touches of surreality.

If you're a fan of the Sponge, you'll know what to expect, and to be frank, this is nothing more than an extended episode of the show with a plot stretched so thin, it's practically non-existent. Instead, a series of brightly coloured gags, moments and insanity is poured forth from the screen in a non-stop barrage of lunacy aimed at winning you over.

Mixing in some of Ren and Stimpy's visuals works for the flick, and Antonio Banderas' live action performance as a pirate that's hiding more than you realise, there's little to rail against as the story pours forth. The simple message is one of teamwork, but to be frank, it's neither here nor there as the time passes. Though the motif of the story within a story nicely collides together at the end of the piece, in a touch that's welcome but hardly original.

Nods to The Shining, The Avengers and Mad Max all play out fine; but at the end of the day, this is a film that hits its nadir with the moment when Matt Berry appears and voices a dolphin from the future who shoots a laser from his blowhole and helps Spongebob and his pals to take on Antonio Banderas' pirate in real life. ( A move which recalls the animation style of The Simpsons' venture in the real world all those years ago)

Suitably lunatic, anarchic, occasionally subversive, mercifully short and stretched about as far as it can go, The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water will appeal to Spongebob's legion of fans; there's little new for those unaware of the inhabitants of Bikini Bottom even though there's just enough adult moments to amuse - but not on a par with the likes of The Lego Movie, the Toy Storys or the recent Shaun The Sheep Movie.

Goofball and day-glo, The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water will amuse the youngsters over the holiday - it serves its core audience brilliantly; nothing more, nothing less.


Sunday, 29 March 2015

Disney Infinity 2.0: PS4 Review

Disney Infinity 2.0: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by Disney

With Easter just around the corner, and the latest Avengers movie, Avengers: Age Of Ultron waiting in the wings for release, there seems like no better time to take a look at the Disney Infinity 2.0 set.

It's been around for nearly a year with some 20 characters available for purchase and every combo of your faves - from Hulk to Hawkeye, Iron Man to Black Widow - around to purchase.

Following on from the success of the first sets, there's little that's really changed with these sets; except for the fact that the Toy Box has expanded its horizons and given you more to build and more to play with.

The starter pack set comes with Thor, Iron Man and Black Widow and I also got Hulk too to mess around with. The figures are pretty standard renditions of the characters, more blocky than really developed but they have to be able to survive the handling by the little ones, so it's no surprise that they're durable rather than pitch perfect renditions.

It's the similar format too - these figures give life to virtual characters within Infinity stand (a la Skylanders and a la first set too) and then transfer to your screen for fun times ahead.

The play set game sees Loki unleashing the Frost Giants on Manhattan, in a twist on the first Avengers film. It's fun to play and gives you a sense of the epic nature of the set and the push towards bringing the Marvel Universe to life as per the plan of expanding the set out (will we get a Star Wars Infinity set now that they're part of the Disney stable too?) While Manhattan's relatively well transposed to the screen, it's lacking a little life and certainly doesn't have the graphic scope that was around for LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. There's definitely a feeling the game skews younger so it's probably one for parents to play with kids and to enjoy that way rather than a seasoned gamer trying to hit all the finishes. Skill points contribute to upgrading the characters, so there's stuff to do as well as fight the marauding ice giants.

But the real push of Disney Infinity 2.0 is to be found in the toy sets, where you can build your own worlds and really bring the Marvel Universe to light in a way which really does set the bar for these games.

Tools, templates and helpers can aid in your creation of a world within and it's certainly the feeling that Disney Infinity 2.0 is going more for an ease of access feel than a full on permanent tutorial. After all, these sets are aimed at families and younger minds, so accessibility and simplicity of use are key factors to ensure the durability and life of the sets.

All in all, Disney Infinity 2.0 makes the idea of gaming and building with these characters fun - with Easter holidays just around the corner, and sales on currently, there's really no excuse not to get hold of these sets and characters.

With a new Avengers film here soon too, it's likely that there will be plenty of awareness - and thanks to the genuine creativity of Disney Infinity, it is a great way to amuse minds of all ages with these sets.

Newstalk ZB Review - Shaun The Sheep, Get Hard and Cinderella

Newstalk ZB Review - Shaun The Sheep, Get Hard and Cinderella

This week with Jack Tame, it was all about Sheep, convicts and princesses.

For reviews of Shaun The Sheep, Get Hard and Cinderella and some awful puns, just click below.



Fast And Furious 7: Film Review

Fast And Furious 7: Film Review

Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Ludacris, Jason Statham

Review of the last Fast and Furious movie coming very soon!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

SPECTRE trailer is here

SPECTRE trailer is here

Bond is back.

The first new trailer for SPECTRE has just been unveiled, the 24th James Bond film.

SPECTRE hits New Zealand cinemas on November 12th.