Monday, 22 December 2014

Big Hero 6: Film Review

Big Hero 6: Film Review

Voice cast: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, TJ Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr, Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell
Director: Don Hall, Chris Williams

Stand by for a new animated character to find its way into your hearts.

Following the success of Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, Disney ventures into the animated world of Marvel with Big Hero 6, a story about a boy and his robot.

Prodigy and robot wizz Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) is spending his young life in a Robot Wars style arena, clearly talented but wasted. His older brother Tadashi, though, pushes him into using those talents to work in the robotics world like he does.

But one small tragedy later and Hiro has lost all interest.

Until he discovers the robot that his brother built, Baymax - a big hulking white stay puft of a creature that's sole purpose is to cure Hiro. However, Hiro, along with Tadashi's co-workers, adapt Baymax to help track down the evil that's haunting San Fransokyo.

Big Hero 6 is perfect family animated fare for the Christmas holidays.

With gorgeous backgrounds (San Fransokyo mixes San Fran and Tokyo as you'd expect from the name to breathtakingly beautiful effect) and some truly joyous animation, the film is nothing short of fun, hilarity and heart.

For at least the first hour anyway.

Those initial 60 minutes or so concentrate of the mechanics of the burgeoning relationship between Hiro and Baymax and imbue the screen with a gooey warmth and humour that's infectious and reminds you why animation and visual gags can work best when stripped back to their basics. Their bond is beautiful and will touch your heart thanks to a simplicity of emotive moments and strong writing; Hiro with his big Japanese anime style eyes and Baymax with his simple two eyes joined by a line give everything you need to know with a minimum of exposition and with humour that's spot on.

So, it's a shame that the movie becomes a bland middle of the road superhero origin piece as Hiro puts together a team to track down the bad guy who's running amok in San Fransokyo wearing a Japanese kabuki mask with one of Hiro's inventions.

While this section of the movie is perfectly fine and is gorgeously animated, it lacks the emotional feast that's been served up prior to the standard visuals and plot machinations. As it veers away from the fun and unique, Big Hero 6 becomes formulaic (even derivative of the Avengers and its conclusion) and forgettable.  Further examination provides discrepancies in the plot and the villain's raison d'etre and reveal is muddily handled, with a final showdown feeling like something we've seen a million times before in the genre.

At its heart, Big Hero 6 is a movie about loss, dealing with it and moving on - and it's here that it truly triumphs (even with some Stan Lee visual gags). While the formulaic nature of its denouement and origins story may rankle, the first adaptation of this Marvel comic still impresses even if it doesn't feel as fresh as it should.

(Make sure you get there early too to catch the beautiful short Feast, about a dog whose relationship with food is charted through the relationship of his owner and his love life. Inventive and adorable, it's the perfect computer generated fare).


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Penguins of Madagascar: Movie Review

Penguins of Madagascar: Movie Review

Vocal cast: Tom McGrath, Christopher Miller, Christopher Knights, John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch, Werner Herzog
Director: Eric Darnell, Simon J Smith

The Penguins spin-off from the Madagascar series couldn't be a more perfect piece of screwball insubstantial entertainment for the kids in all of us.

Skipper, Rico, Private and Kowalski head out into the big wide world but soon find their lives are in danger when an old enemy, an octopus called Dave (voiced with glee by John Malkovich), appears on the scene. 

Forced to team up with the North Wind, a splinter spy group headed up by Benedict Cumberbatch's wolf, the penguins must try and save the day from Dave's bitter campaign.

Penguins of Madagascar is frenetically silly, ADD entertainment of the highest order which packs in silly gags for the kids and some adult moments for the rest of us.

From the Werner Herzog documentary crew trailing penguins opening through to Dave's use of Hollywood star names to bark out orders (Hugh, Jack, man the pumps being just one example), the film's clearly got its heart in the zany camp rather than the long -term emotional fulfillment area.

Which is probably a good thing, because the paper-thin story only falls apart around the two-thirds' mark as it hits a lull that is only noticeable due to the lack of throwaway gags and globe-hopping antics.

Coupled with a tacked-on last minute "message" about how looks aren't important and it's what's inside that counts as well as being a valued member of a team, the final third of the Penguins of Madagascar loses some of its prior zippy pacing as it heads towards the finish line.

Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich are terrific in their respective roles; Malkovich's suitably rubbery voice gives some tentacles to Dave and Cumberbatch plays a little looser with his smart and superior TV personalities to give his Wolf (aka Classified) the uptight yin to Skipper's looser yang.

All in all, Penguins of Madagascar may well appeal to the kids of all ages thanks to its scattergun silliness, its off-the-wall zaniness and puns, but it's not quite the soaraway animated success that you'd expect - merely a distracting diversion to start 2015.


Saturday, 20 December 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings: Film Review

Exodus: Gods and Kings: Film Review

Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Ridley Scott

It's perhaps apt that Exodus: Gods and Kings is dedicated to Ridley Scott's deceased brother Tony, given that this story is about the bond between brothers.

Christian Bale is Moses, and Animal Kingdom star Joel Edgerton is his apparent brother Ramses in the year 1300BC as Scott's retelling of the classic Sunday school tale is doled out.

With Moses willing to do anything for his brother and apparently being preferred as the King of Egypt by King Seti (John Turturro, who appears only in a handful of scenes), his world is rocked when he discovers the truth of his lineage.

Exiled by Ramses and with the bond seemingly shattered for good, Moses rises up against the Egyption Pharaoh as God's messenger urges him to let his people go-go. But the quest for freedom continues and the clashes bring a series of terrorist-like raids, the personal cost for Moses could be too high.

Emotionally withdrawn and relatively bland in execution, Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings may tell an epic story, but it draws it on a canvas that's lacking any real flair.

An extremely flat execution of Moses' exile, the almost Keith Richards' like Ben Mendelsohn as Hegep, and a pre-ponderence of guyliner prevent Exodus: Gods and Kings from achieving any feeling of grandeur over its 150 minutes run-time.

The one sequence that finds Exodus coming alive is the depiction of the plagues unleashed on the Unbelievers. It's here the CGI comes into its own as Scott effortlessly brings into reality the horror of vengeance. Likewise, the parting of the Red Sea is creatively impressive and smartly executed, with a deftness of touch that's somewhat lacking throughout.

Bale and Edgerton start off strongly but with a lack of character development (creatively, there was nowhere for those involved in the writing to go without bringing down a series of plagues on themselves), they soon pale and fail to reach the emotional highs which are needed to help Exodus soar out of the ordinary. A few off-kilter humorous moments involving the seers - including a cameo from Ewen Bremner - add some levity to the ponderous proceedings.

As a 21st century realisation of a timeless story, Exodus: Gods and Kings is sorely lacking.


The Imitation Game: Movie Review

The Imitation Game: Movie Review

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Rory Kinnear
Director: Morten Tyldum

Perhaps it's fitting that a movie about the cracking of the Enigma code tries to serves up the cracking of a character who's an enigma himself to many.

Benedict Cumberbatch is Alan Turing in this biopic that never really scratches the surface of the character as it chooses to concentrate on Turing and his peers trying to save the day at Bletchley Park during World War II.

The film starts with Turing being investigated by police (headed up by sympathetic Rory Kinnear) after a burglary at his home - Turing's stand-offish behaviour and insistence that nothing's been stolen actually provokes the police to dig deeper into the case and his background.

While the kernel of the story focuses on Turing's initiation into the Bletchley Park world and his inability to work with others thanks to a sense of superiority, flashbacks to Turing's early days and love at a boarding school and flashforwards to the police investigation dizzy up the narrative, that's swamped with newsreel footage of the war effort and Hitler's relentless push towards dear old Blighty.

And that's the majority of the problem of The Imitation Game.

The first half of the film is formulaic, by-the-numbers Oscar-baiting period piece which lacks a frisson of excitement and a depth of character. While Cumberbatch soars as Turing (more on that in a moment), those who swirl around him are lazy stereotypes ripped from a Boys' Own novella.

There's the suave mysterious head of an unknown MI6 (Mark Strong), the suave cad that clashes with Turning (played by Matthew Goode), the military leader who answers to nobody but Churchill (Charles Dance) and the woman who's better than the men (Keira Knightley) - all of these are simply sketched dancers who pirouette around Turing's troubled genius and ultimately, end up dancing to the mad man's tune.

But amongst it all is a truly impressive character turn by the chameleonic Benedict Cumberbatch. To say that he inhabits the role and overtakes the screen is a massive understatement. Essentially playing a variant of Sherlock's intellectual superiority, inability to suffer those whom he perceives as fools and arrogance with a dash of A Beautiful Mind's genius thrown in, Cumberbatch's fiery genius Turing tears up the screen - but at the cost of those around him unfortunately, who thanks to formulaic underwriting fare less well.

And it is parts of the writing that really make the film suffer; the flashbacks to the youth and flashforwards narratively don't mesh and integrate as well as they could, leaving a dramatic frisson and depth unexplored. Equally, Turning's homosexuality is merely subtly hinted at which is fine for some but for a picture that aims to expunge history's view of him seems like a major oversight thanks to hints and broad brush strokes. The single moment of drama only comes with the cracking of the Enigma code - though you suspect here the drama is piled on for drama's sake and artistic licence.

The Imitation Game really feels like an imitation of a formulaic biopic; there are manipulative moments of swelling music that seek to orchestrate your feelings and the decision to hold off from truly delving deeply into its subject proves to be a crippling flaw. It's only thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch's dizzyingly mesmeric turn that the film rises out of a potential mire.


Friday, 19 December 2014

Dr Who: Series 8: Blu Ray Review

Dr Who: Series 8: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by BBC and Roadshow Home Ent

The Doctor will see you now - but perhaps, you're not ready.

In this latest season, Peter Capaldi takes over from the relative zippyness of Matt Smith to bring a darker and slightly grumpier take on the Time Lord.

In this string of adventures, the Doctor's faced with a very old enemy, some old friends and a series of new stories (which are of varying quality). From the opener, Deep Breath to the closing Death in Heaven, there's plenty of scope this time around for difference.

Capaldi is scratchy, almost unlikeable as the Doctor, with his TimeLord spending most of the series pondering whether he's a good man or not; it's an interesting idea and one that certainly warrants exploration particularly given some of his actions throughout, with moments making him appear callous and cold. It's a shock to those who've appreciated the man as the enduring hobo with a love for humanity, but it's good to see the writers going elsewhere.

However, this series belongs to Jenna Coleman, whose Clara has a more interesting journey, and a narrative which is compelling and sees her open to a warmer writing and a more approachable nature. Sadly though a love interest thrust upon her doesn't quite hit the mark and doesn't hit the emotional high for what's needed come the end of the season.

Notable episodes are Listen, which sees Moffat go back to basics, Flatline which is really Coleman's tour de force and Dark Water which deliciously sets up a finale which doesn't quite deliver.

All in all, an interesting year for ideas but in the execution the TARDIS hasn't quite hit its mark. Year 2 of Capaldi's reign could be a very interesting one indeed.


Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham: PS4 Review

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by Travellers Tales / Warner Bros Interactive

It's back to the world of the little blocks and the superheroes we go with Lego Batman 3 - but this time around, the DC Universe comes into play.

Batman and Robin are the main heroes of the game, but there's just a little more scope this time around as Brainiac shows up and takes on the Lantern team as well. It all kicks off with Bats and Robin innocently hunting down Killer Croc in the sewers before things take a turn for the predictable with the appearance of the Joker.

However, when Brainiac comes into play, that's really when the game starts to move its focus outside the world of the Caped Crusader and is all the better for it. It's your usual LEGO fare though; break the items, collect the studs, collect the characters, but it's the wealth of material this time around which really adds to the universe feeling well populated and the characters really taking the positions they rightfully deserve on their stages.

Collectable suits work for them all too; and with plenty of collectible material, a heap of upcoming DLC and so much to do, there's a chance that this could be a little overwhelming in total. But that's the thing with the LEGO Games - they never lose sight of their humour throughout and adding in little Adam Wests to be saved from the game is also a nice touch as well.

With a Bat Mite character from the past on hand to help you out, there's never really the danger that you'll become totally stuck with the game - and sometimes thinking laterally and literally will help as well.

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham may not break the little plastic mould; but it's great childish fun for the DC fan and anyone who's serious enough about platforming game. With so much to do and so many options to redo it, the chances are you'll keep playing this for a long time to come.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Game of Thrones: Fire and Ice: Episode 1: PS4 Review

Game of Thrones: Fire and Ice: Episode 1: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by Telltale Games

It's to the world of Westeros we go for Telltale Games' latest TV based outing. (The last being the very successful Walking Dead series)

And once again, the studio proves that by dedicating its MO to storyline over any other kind of CGI shenanigans or slight of hand tricks, that there's gold to be had in the roleplaying elements of the series.

Using their tried and tested point and click way of gameplay, the series concentrates with the House of Forrester, a family not yet introduced in to the TV Series but mentioned very briefly in one of the novels, A Dance With Dragons.

Once again, choice is a relative illusion in these outings as every single decision you make has consequences; taking on the role of a squire Gared after witnessing the start of the events of The Red Wedding (to those spoiler phobes, this is not a game to appreciate without some knowledge of what's passed already). And herein lies some of the thrill of Game Of Thrones: Fire and Ice: Episode 1 - the way TV event from the show pass through and intersect, as well as characters.

In terms of look and feel, Game of Thrones doesn't quite have the graphical pull of the previous outings from Telltale Games - while it looks and plays like a Game of Thrones novel, the fact it looks more cartoony than previous outings (which were based on graphic novels and fables) gives the piece somewhat of an odd feeling. However, as ever with Telltale's MO, it's about atmosphere and story. And once again the studio's got it spot on.

The greatest success of Game of Thrones: Fire and Ice: Episode 1 is the way it effortlessly adds to the world of Westeros which you already know. Deepening the experience was never going to be easy, but given the twists and turns that this journey starts off on (best to be relatively unspoiled) it's fair to say future episodes are going to build on that world and totally engross you in the upcoming way it plays out.

I for one cannot wait.