Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Re: Core: XBox One Review

Re: Core: XBox One Review

Platform: XBox One
Developer: Comcept and Armature Studio

Melding a sort of Tomb Raider vibe while crossing it with some Force Awakens' style Rey heroine and throwing in a Ratchet and Clank ethos works for the large part of Re:Core.

Set on the far away colony of Far Eden, you are heroine Joule Adams, who awakens after a cryo-sleep to find that not everything is how it should be. With her trusty robot dog Mack by her side, you take control of Joule as she travels across Far Eden, trying to right what's gone wrong - and facing off against robot baddies in the sand.

Solving puzzles and taking on combat is essentially Re:Core's MO, a game of such fun, that even its hellishly long loading times can't diminish (Though the developer has revealed that these are strictly in their crosshairs and a forthcoming patch will fix this). As you power through the desert, the game's graphics truly stand out and the sandy world feels like the kind of place you'd easily re-visit.

But Re:Core is also about combat and pulling out the cores of the machines that attack you to help you either power up your own weapons or to take on the upgrades of Mack and other bits and bobs around the world. Facing off against enemies that have cores within them is all about ensuring a degree of combat strategy. Fight with different coloured weaponry to break down their defences and then grapple their cores out of them, it's a method that's both engaging and reflex provoking. Press too hard on the R3 stick and you'll end up snapping the robotic tug of war and falling flat on your ass.

There's a degree of repetition in the gameplay as the missions roll around, but it's enjoyable enough fluff as you battle flying bats, spider creatures and track down missing robots to help you in your quest.

Mixing platforming trials and light combat work well for Re:Core and while it may lack a little oomph to keep its place in the gaming pantheon as we head the triple A storm that hits this time of year, this XBox One exclusive is certainly a good way to spend the rainy school holidays.

Hardcore Henry: DVD Review

Hardcore Henry: DVD Review

Rating: R18
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

How you may feel about Hardcore Henry will largely depend on how you feel about being subjected to extended action from a  first person viewpoints.

Waking up in a lab Henry has been brought back from the dead by his scientist wife; given a robotic arm and then shot at, it's straight into survival mode for Henry as his life and wife are put in jeopardy. With a clutch of killers on his tail, it's survival time for Henry...

A pure shot of adrenaline filled lunacy and clever use of its POV camera work, Hardcore Henry feels like you're in a VR version of a video game. Unrelenting it definitely is and while it borders dangerously close to causing nausea, a lot of Hardcore Henry shows just how committed to its MO it is. Haley Bennett and Sharlto Copley deserve kudos for their part in this (and Bennett shows why she's being touted as a rising start) , but the real star of the piece is director Ilya Naishuller, whose vision is nothing short of singular.

One of a kind cinema experiences are very rare these days, and Hardcore Henry is certainly that. It won't be for all tastes but for those willing to strap in for the ride, it's a hedonistic and mental reward.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Film Review

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: Film Review

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Terence Stamp, Eva Green, Samuel L Jackson, Chris O'Dowd, Ella Purnell
Director: Tim Burton

It should in theory work, as it has all the kooky elements of a Tim Burton caper – unusual kids, an unusual setting and some spooky bad guys.

But Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is mired in a lengthy set-up that takes forever to tie all its ends together and even get started, crippling it for the first hour.

For those unfamiliar with American author Ransom Riggs’ number 1 best selling novel and its Harry Potter-esque trappings, it’s the story of Jake (Enders’ Game Asa Butterfield who brings a degree of intensity even if his character is saddled with exposition) who heads to Wales after the grotesque death of his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp).

Jake was close with his Grandpa, who used to regale him with night-time stories of the oddball children who’d live at a school under the watch of Eva Green’s Miss Peregrine. Believing the stories to be true, Jake stumbles into their world in Wales and marvels at the peculiarity of it all.

But what initially appears to be dream-like soon turns into a nightmare with something stalking the children and their charge to carry out a terrifying scheme…

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children mixes the macabre and the Burton vibe with a degree of visual aplomb as the allegory for Jewish persecution and child alienation is brought to the fore.

There’s eccentricity all over the place but thanks to a disjointed flow and some middling acting from some of the younger charges under Burton’s watch, the piece never quite achieves the levels of quirkiness it’s aspiring to.

Samuel L Jackson gives good scenery-chewing as the ultimate bad guy menacing the kids, Eva Green is barely there as the slightly plummy, stuffily British toothy pipe-smoking schoolmarm (Scary Poppins, anyone?) and Butterfield manages the awkward emotions of Jack quite well and is fine, but nothing more; it never fully gels in the way it should on the human front, thanks to a convoluted plot and a muddled attempt to get there.

Even Burton’s touches on this feel muted, almost as if a darker approach proved a little too out there for the audience it was aiming for.

It’s a shame the Beetlejuice vibe is played down as the Gothic gallows humour that appears in places is a welcome touch, and the more comic touches add to an air of oddity that's crying out to be set free, but which withers under such underwritten side characters.

Nowhere is this more evident than a brilliant showdown on Blackpool’s pier (of all places) with animated skeletons taking on stretched Slender-men style shadow creatures. It’s inventive, meshed with touches of both Burton and Harryhausen as the bony bodies bounce manically around. (A similar stop-motion scene with two doll puppets, a la Toy Story spider-babies, fighting to do the death is equally as welcome.)

It’s certainly dark, and the more nightmarish touches may explain why Burton had to reign it in for a more Addams Family vibe (but without the jokes) and an ongoing gag about why Florida is so horrific to so many.

The darker touches work well too – the inherent sadness of the war, the displacement of children, mental health problems and parents summarily dismissal of their child's illness, the impressive visuals as the Nazi bombs drop towards the house, the persecution of Jews by human monsters, they all lurk below the surface, but never fully bubble upto the top, almost as if there are fears the audience wouldn’t engage.

Ostensibly lashed with timey-wimey sensibilities and more confusing moments, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fascinating could have been movie from Burton; the offbeat touches meshing with the more gruesome edges to form a queasy cinematic experience that frustrates rather than thrills. It could have done with more of its danse macabre ethos, and a little more ooky rather than just kooky to ensure this children's home is one you'd want to check into again.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Newstalk ZB Review - Bridget Jones' Baby, Don't Breathe and Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Newstalk ZB Review - Bridget Jones' Baby, Don't Breathe and Hunt for the Wilderpeople

This week with Jack Tame, I discussed what to expect when Bridget's expecting in the surprisingly delightful Bridget Jones' Baby; I took a look at new thriller Don't Breathe and also took on the home release of Hunt For The Wilderpeople, the $12.15M grossing NZ hit and the 6th biggest Kiwi film of all time.

Take a listen below

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Dad's Army: DVD Review

Dad's Army: DVD Review

Broadcast between 1968 and 1977 on the BBC, David Croft and Jimmy Perry's sitcom staple Dad's Army was a much loved series about the Home Guard that captured the zeitgeist and pomposity of authority at a local level.

The 2016 film version of Dad's Army is a curious beast, coming 45 years after its last cinematic outing and unlikely to garner a new fan base and likely to appeal only to an older generation, already versed in the ways of Mainwaring, Pike and the catchphrases.

With World War II drawing to a conclusion and with the Allies poised to make one final push, the small seaside town of Walmington-on-Sea becomes a hotbed of activity for the Home Guard. With a female journalist (a wannabe vixenish Catherine Zeta Jones) visiting and winning over the troops led by Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones), there are fears there's a spy operating in the area.

Mainwaring and his woefully inept men are tasked with tracking down the spy... is this a job Dad's Army can get right?

There's something willfully old fashioned and extremely reverent about the Dad's Army movie.

From its "You have been watching" end credits nod to the TV shows of the 70s and 80s to Toby Jones' nigh-on perfect encapsulation of Arthur Lowe's pompous and self-officious Captain Mainwaring, there are plenty of moments for old fans to revel in. (Including a cameo from one of the few surviving members of the show).

But the problems extend beyond the faithful line that's adhered to throughout.

Simply put, it may coast by on affection, but there's barely enough plot to fill a 30 minute episode of the series let alone pad out a 100 minute feature film, despite everyone's best intentions.

Dad's Army feels terribly old school, a throwback to Ealing comedies with the screwball elements of the show toned down for a wider audience. But in doing so, the film fails to either capitalise on anything more than nostalgia. In fact, it feels very much like a plot from the TV series writ large but inessentially brought to the big screen.

Thankfully, the casting of the film is spot on.

Toby Jones is excellent as the pompous buffoon Mainwaring, getting the inflections of his voice down pat and bumping up some of the slapstick as well as delivering a comedic turn that benefits brilliantly from timing and plays to his strengths. He manages to turn something in that is as reverential as it is stand-alone and delights by giving the film its lead that it needs. Others, such as Courtenay, hit the beats of their characters from the past with ease; Gambon's dodderiness as Godfrey is amusing as much as it is grating. 

Sadly, the script is not up to par and creaks in places as much as some of these old timers' joints potentially do too. With the smarter women played as nothing more than hen-peckers and the men as fools, it feels like a pantomime from the 1970s, a Carry On film without the grace of the innuendo to propel it through, and an excuse to shoe horn in some of the show's catchphrases with no more grace than a wink and a nod to the older end of the audience.

It's hard to see exactly who Dad's Army will appeal to. 

A younger generation will avoid it, scoffing at its corniness and its yesteryear sensibilities; and the older generation, brought up so relentlessly on the continual servings of the 9 series, will feel it lacks something concrete and is nowhere near as good as it could be, given the immense talent of the ensemble involved.

It's entirely pragmatic to believe this nostalgia tinged wannabe broad appeal flick has nothing short of good intentions but its gentle and under-padded comedy unfortunately doesn't quite cut it in a savvier cinematic world and with audiences now used to subtler comedic fare.


Friday, 23 September 2016

The Huntsman: Winter's War: DVD Review

The Huntsman: Winter's War: DVD Review

If the latest entrant into the Huntsman franchise is to be believed (Liam Neeson's sonorous voiceover at the end hints of more to come) then the series seems to be in danger of losing any identity it has.

Meshing Merida from Brave, a sort of Tolkien-esque quest complete with dwarves and throwing in a snifter or two of Frozen's plotThe Huntsman - Winter's War somehow fails to really eke out any real USP of its own.

This time around in a sort of prequel cum sequel (it's a tad confusing), the once upon a time concentrates on the sisterly relationship between Theron's Ravenna and Blunt's Freya. When Freya suffers a tragedy, her latent ice-queen powers are unleashed and she flees the kingdom to wreak her own terror.

Recruiting stolen children into an army of Huntsmen, Freya's forbidden any kind of love - but when Hemsworth's Eric and Chastain's Sara defy her wishes, they're banished from each other. 

Seven years later and Eric, along with Nick Frost and Rob Brydon's dwarves. are tasked with finding the Magic Mirror before it falls into the clutches of the Ice Queen....

Missing Kristen Stewart's Snow White in only the slightest fashion, The Huntsman 2 - Winter's War is nowhere near the level of film that it could be or that a sequel should be.

Tonally lurching between comedy dwarves / banter to love torn apart drama doesn't serve it well and actually makes the whole piece feel unsure of itself and also leaves it lacking in any kind of emotional stakes.

Despite some incredible production designs and costuming (though Charlize Theron's returning Ravenna looks like she's stepped out of an emo L'Oreal ad at the end of the film), the film's only saving grace is its Tarsem Singh-esque visuals and FX work which is restrained and left for set pieces.

It doesn't help Hemsworth and Chastain have little chemistry - not to mention bizarre Scottish brogues - and feel like their Sara and Eric's love story doesn't even hit home with them as they move into Romancing the Stone territory style squabbling. At times, you're never quite sure whose story it is either - is it Sara and Eric, is it Freya and Ravenna; they're all blurred and blended up together in a mixture that feels under-cooked.

On the plus side, the CGI is used sparingly and is saved for Ravenna's almost Spider-Man Venom like attack on the Huntsmen and a creation of a Goblin also impresses. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan was in charge of the FX the first time around, and he does a good solid job of ensuring it doesn't overwhelm proceedings, but he has little to work with other than some nicely choreographed fight sequences.

And to be fair to the dwarves' dynamic, Sheridan Smith and Rob Brydon work well in terms of banter and humour; Frost and One Chance's Alexandra Roach add a softer sweeter touch to their interactions.

All in all, The Huntsman - Winter's War may have promoted its co-lead and his raffish Hemsworth charm to lead, but by not providing enough to work with and muddling other portions, the whole underwhelming thing feels like it's failed the Mirror, Mirror test before it's even started.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Forza Horizon 3: XBox One Review

Forza Horizon 3: XBox One Review

Developed by Playground Games
Released by Microsoft Studios
Platform: XBox One

There’s nothing like the open road.

A clear stretch of terrain, the wind in your hair (or whatever you have left) and the thrill of just flooring it.

And that’s what once again Playground Games has tapped into with yet another brilliant iteration of its Forza Horizon franchise. This is a game series that has excelled and revelled in its arcade nature and as a result, has sped ahead of the rest of the pack.

This latest version heads from Europe and relocates down under in good ole Aussie (and there’s even a cheeky nod to giving NZ a wave in one of the throwaway lines) and while the game is pretty much the same as it always is, it’s got some new additions to the pack.

Obviously, this being Australia, utes are thrown into the racing mix – but there’s also the chance to decide where the festivals should take place as you are now a director of the Horizon festival and can decide on which locations to open up. But those opportunities only come if you garner enough fans to your cause – and that, of course, means some pedal to metal racing to keep everyone impressed.

Winning races has its usual benefits – from gaining credits, and XP – it’s all necessary to access newer cars, increase your fan base and also, excitingly help you recruit other drivers and their drivatars to the team.

It’s small touches like this which make Forza Horizon 3 feel so fresh and just so damn playable.

Graphically, the game is top notch, with the grunt of the Xbox One really hitting the spot and making great fist of the backgrounds and the Aussie terrain. Whether it’s racing through swamps, smashing through people’s white picket fences (honestly, they were just asking for it) or being mid-race when the rain starts to fall, Forza Horizon 3 looks the best throughout, with no falling frame rates or freezes.

Personalisation is major pull of this iteration of Forza Horizon 3 – from choosing your own name at the start to deciding where the festivals will take place on the massively wide open road map, this is a game where you clearly are in the driving seat.

With over 350 cars at launch and dozens more likely to come, there’s plenty of reason to drive on in and ride off into the distance. Whether you fancy a long term players session or just a quick couple of races, Forza Horizon 3 satiates on all levels. 

It’s hard to critique the game, given the ease of efficacy of it all and the attention Playground Games have given it; it’s a game that’s fun, frivolous and celebrates the fun of racing – in short, it’s everything and more a Forza Horizon 3 game should be.

(The multiplayer component of Forza Horizon 3 will be road-tested when the game is publicly available on September 27th to give it a true test of its online compatibility)