Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Before I Go To Sleep: Movie Review

Before I Go To Sleep: Movie Review

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne-Marie Duff
Director: Rowan Joffe

Based on the SJ Watson novel and from the writer / director of the underrated The American and Brighton Rock, comes this mind games/ head trip high concept thriller.

Kidman is Christine, a severe amnesiac, who wakes every day having had the last 24 hours of her life wiped out after a traumatic car accident, which left her battered and beaten. She wakes up each day with her husband Ben (Colin Firth), who patiently explains what's going on.

But each day, unbeknownst to Ben, Christine gets a call from a Dr Nash (soft spoken Mark Strong) who tells her to find a camera in her closet which has videos on explaining what's been happening. Along with these video diaries, Christine begins to get memories come flooding back - as the truth starts to slowly unfurl.

Recalling Memento to begin with thanks to its wall of photographs and written post-it notes around the house, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was a case of similar territory.

Essentially a three-hander, Joffe opts for a psychological build up where the pendulum of truth and mistrust swings back and forth on Ben as Christine delves deeper into her own past and makes discoveries she's not prepared for.

Kidman delivers a variety of wide-eyed and horrified and shocked looks as the various situations demand of her but just manages to convince of the emotional rollercoaster she's boarded daily. Equally, Firth goes from fully supportive to fully shifty and back again in as many turns as the movie spins on its axis. And Strong is his usual solid self as the doctor who offers help to Christine, unasked for and therefore inviting questions over his motive. But none of the actors really ever shine through; they're solid enough, but don't dazzle.

The problem comes with the denouement of this movie (don't worry, no spoiler ahead) which is somewhat inevitable given how nobody really shows their hand until late in the piece. As it's a three-hander, and based on a book, whereas the twist may be slightly more plausible on the page, it's difficult to execute on screen given that a late in the day addition would throw implausibility into the mix.

In among the maudlin and melancholic tone, Before I Go To Sleep works on the mind games front and does keep you guessing throughout, before its totally OTT ending throws any sensibility out of the window. It's a shame because the suspense built up and the back-and-forth questions are quite effective during the thriller; sadly though, the moment it ends, you're suffering from the same affliction as Christine, because it's relatively unmemorable.


inFamous First Light: PS4 Review

inFamous First Light: PS4 Review

Released by Sucker Punch
Platform: PS4

The inFamous series has always been a blast.

And with its PS4 iteration aka Second Son, it became a neon soaked mix of colours and fluid gameplay that really set the bar high for the next gen console.

So, it was inevitable that developer Sucker Punch would return to the franchise with this latest spin-off, the standalone DLC Infamous First Light, which concentrates on Abigail “Fetch” Walker, who featured in Infamous Second Son with Delsin.

“Fetch” is a young punkish Conduit, whose ability to absorb neon, gives her a superspeed and ability to blur around Seattle like some kind of female version of The Flash. Giving you complete control of the female character – and setting her up with the antagonist Augustine (who appears in the first game) – gives the franchise a firm female footing.

But First Light is all about exploring Fetch’s memories from inside the evil DUP prison, with you exploring a pivotal time in her youth that set her on the path that she’s destined for (there’s no good or bad karma here, which is a refreshing touch, but also one that sees the franchise lose a little of its reason for a second playthrough). With her older brother Brent in the possession of a gangland criminal called Shane, Fetch finds her position compromised and forced on missions to try and get ever closer to the rescue of Brent.

InFamous First Light takes about four or five hours of play through to complete – and it’s a shame that it’s over so briefly because it really is tremendous fun. The story element is as you’d expect; race round the city, collect a few things, blast a few things, deal with the gangsters running amok in the city and stay alive. But in among this, you get to collect floating blobs of neon called Lumens which lurk in the skies or on the side of buildings to help you build up your powers. Dust clouds of neon litter the streets too, and when you start racing about, these serve as speed portals to help you reach your targets. It’s a great way to rush from point to point, but is also an indication of how fluid Sucker Punch has made the game, with no glitches on show. In fact, the speed of the game is one of the real bonuses of this DLC, which feels like it’s upped the ante for graphics work. In fact the neon trails, neon graffiti and blasts of neon which eminate from your hands are an utter joy to behold – the visuals really soar on this.

Occasionally, the story stumbles, you lose powers for no real reason other than to progress the story; flashbacks occasionally interrupt the flow of the game and from time to time, elements of repetition creep into play.

But, the introduction of Curdon Cay, a battle arena where Fetch builds on her powers is a real boost to proceedings; essentially, it’s here that you can turn on the game after completing the main story and simply shoot away to your heart’s content, tackle challenges and try and boost yourself onto world leader boards. If you’ve got Second Son, you can also play as Delsin, a touch which is welcome (no sign of Cole though) – this gives the game a bit of welcome after life when the campaign’s done, though it’s only single player at this stage (maybe a multiplayer would really open the world up)

All in all, InFamous First Light is a great addition to the franchise; its speed, fluidity and visceral visuals really give you a lot to enjoy. It’s just a shame it’s not a full game.


Monday, 1 September 2014

Into The Storm: Movie Review

Into The Storm: Movie Review

Cast: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies
Director: Steven Quale

The law of averages says a disaster film has to contain the following elements:

Nature in its full FX fury, people exclaiming they've never seen anything like it, people making extremely stupid decisions which are life-threatening in the face of danger - and a journey of redemption in the face of self-sacrifice.

Thankfully, Into The Storm contains all of those - and very little else.

Set in America (where else), in the city of Silverton, there are more than actual tornadoes going off over one day - there are emotional tornadoes lurking at every turn.

The action focuses on a group of storm chasers, headed up by Matt Walsh's Pete, whose number also includes The Walking Dead star Sarah Wayne Callies' Allison. With the threat of funding being ripped from them after a miserable season, Pete's determined to get the money shot, putting the desire to succeed ahead of the feelings of his crew.

Elsewhere, Richard Armitage's school teacher Gary is trying to pull together the class for an outside graduation, while negotiating problems with his sons, Donny and Trey. And finally into that mix, there are a couple of Jackass loving, Youtube video creating daredevil idiots who are wandering around Silverton, filming.

All of this is the calm before the storm hits...

Into The Storm is exactly what you'd expect - as outlined above, it hits all the tropes and expectations of the genre but falls apart massively when it comes to the one-dimensional characters and their problems. Everyone's practically toting a hand-held camera in this as well, as the powers that be try and use the found footage genre to their advantage, but which slows the pace down as everybody stops to record every few minutes.

Visually, when the storms hit 30 minutes in, the FX work is stunningly well-realised and the destruction is calm and measured, rather than relying on overtly OTT shots (even if potentially some of the science may be a bit shonky). There's a relief when the storms finally hit, because the build up is slow, plodding and distinctly uninteresting. However, Quale (Final Destination 5) chooses to keep cutting away from the destruction (or it just peters out inexplicably) which frustrates, but keeps within the found footage genre. Additionally, the sound was incredibly under-utilized with the effects sounding like they were in a wind-tunnel rather than the fury of nature.

There are hints that sequels are planned (one scientist intones that these storms happen once every few years, rather than once every lifetime - and what could happen if it hits a city like LA or Chicago?) but it's possibly tele-event material ahead for this franchise, rather than long term accolades like with Twister. If the series could find some danger and an edge (it refuses steadfastly to kill off one character when the emotional weight of doing so would lift this much higher up) it could deliver more. (Kudos to the writer who penned the line delivered to Sarah Wayne Callies' character that it's like a zombie apocalypse out there...)

Ultimately, Into The Storm blows a lot of hot air, but delivers a washed-out fizzer rather than a weather-bomb.


The Past: DVD Review

The Past: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Madman Home Entertainment

From the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi comes this award winning drama, starring The Artist's Berenice Bejo (who collected an award for this role).

It's the story of Marie (Bejo) who asks her husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) to return from Tehran to Paris to finalise their divorce. But when he returns the web of relationships spun over the years dangle precariously and dangerously thanks to problems between Marie, her new man and their daughter.

The Past is a subtle film that benefits from the performance of Bejo, who traverses fragility and strength cleverly and with ease as the movie plays out. It's the nuances of the tale which hook you in and Farhadi's grip on naturalistic direction which impresses.

It's a psychological drama in many ways that may not hit all the bases for a general populus but for lovers of Farhadi's art and craft, it's unmissable.

Extras: Interviews and trailer

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Wolf Creek 2: Director's Cut: Blu Ray Review

Wolf Creek 2: Director's Cut: Blu Ray Review

Rating: R18
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

Mick is back.

After haunting up peoples' worlds in the 2005 movie Wolf Creek, there's been a long drink between these films.

Based on actual events and likely to be an advertisement for the Aussie outback which no-one wants, Mick Taylor returns to scare up another set of unsuspecting backpackers. This time around, Mick initially terrorises the police as he goes pig hunting, before turning his attention to two German backpackers. When he's forced to kill one of them, another goes on the run, inadvertently bringing a Brit traveller into the horrific games and brutal fight for survival.

Wolf Creek 2 is deeply unpleasant in parts, though, it has to be said nowhere near as bad as the first film which spawned this Aussie menace. With the initial police sequence appearing to be something more out of parody than fright, it feels like the tone is a little sillier than before with Mick reduced more to a caricature than an horrific figure. After the start though, the film shifts back into familiar horror and Wolf Creek territory as the game gets increasingly more concerted and perverse.

While Wolf Creek 2 won't be for all tastes, it's certainly a horror that knows what it wants - but by throwing in sarcastic quips from Mick after his killings, it feels cheaper than before, but still as effective.

Extras: Commentary: Making of, deleted scenes


Friday, 29 August 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Blu Ray Review

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Blu Ray

Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Ent

The first Captain America movie in 2011 was an impressive introduction to Steve Rogers and his patriotic derring-do, but left the nagging feeling that maybe the Captain was a little wet behind the ears and a weak link in the Avengers' admittedly strong chain.

Thankfully, this sequel blows that perception out of the water and hits yet another major home-run for the Marvel World.

Struggling to adjust back into modern life, Rogers soon finds his life thrown into turmoil when an assassination attempt on one of S.H.I.E.L.D's higher ups takes place. Thrown into the web of intrigue and in the midst of a deepening conspiracy, Rogers is forced to team up with Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow to get to the bottom of what exactly is going on.

However, the Captain's not sure who he can trust - and when an old enemy, The Winter Soldier, shows up, things get even more complicated.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
is a sequel that fires on all cylinders and offers up a blockbuster experience that's simultaneously old-fashioned yet also current. Meshing superheroics and action with a spy / conspiracy is a great mix for the film and the audience alike. Throwing in references to other Marvel events so casually means that the film-makers have ensured their loyal fans aren't ignored and the casual viewer isn't alienated (even if a knowledge ofCaptain America: The First Avenger proves to be a bonus point).

But it's not just a clandestine conspiracy and threats of a New World Order that propels this Marvel movie to greatness - it's the richness of the development of the hitherto slightly weakerSteve Rogers. Questions over transgressions from the past, whistle-blowing, the age old debate over civil liberties and the feeling of alienation in a modern day world all give Evans a chance to flesh out the character that needed a darker moral edge, while proffer him the opportunity to question his position in it all. It also helps sell the whole lack of trust angle that's so crucial to this film working - there are enemies within this time around. Evans also impresses in the action stakes with some serious kick-ass action sequences being pivoted by the man himself (and his shield frisbee).

While some of the twists can be seen coming a little way off and are slightly predictable, the action sequences  and occasional quips more than make up for it. High-intensity, adrenaline filled and yet carefully measured, the scenes work very well - and offer something new without resorting on CGI antics to have the desired effect. A beat-down in a lift, a completely original freeway chase and an opening sequence on board a boat that would make Captain Phillips blush, all combine to provide a real tonic to the genre, while grounding it in a kind of reality that's broadly appealing.

Of the supporting (and vulnerable) characters, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow gets a beefed up role as she's sent on a road trip with the Cap, and Robert Redford's veteran S.H.I.E.L.D bigwig Alexander Pierce keeps you guessing which side he's on. Samuel L Jackson provides the requisite level of cool as Nick Fury giving the character an arc that will no doubt have reverberations for the S.H.I.E.L.D universe as a whole. Marvel universe continuity gets a nod with the introduction of Agent 13 (aka Revenge star Emily Van Camp) and the Winter Soldier himself, who appears to channel the Terminator in terms of his relentless pursuit (no spoilers here, but the mythology follows the line - even if the eventual reveal of who the Soldier is can be seen a mile off thanks to some over laboured flashbacks). A great addition to the team is Anthony Mackie, whose Falcon gets the lion share of the best lines, but who proves to be a vital asset to the team.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a blockbuster of the highest order - accessible, wildly entertaining and truthful to its own canon, it's proof the Marvel juggernaut shows no sign of stopping.

Extras: On set with Antony Mackie, deleted scenes, inside look


Thursday, 28 August 2014

CounterSpy: PS4 Review

CounterSpy: PS4 Review

Developer: Dynamighty
Platform: PS4

The Cold War is heating up again on the PlayStation 4 with the release of spy thriller, Counterspy.

In this side-scrolling stealth 2D platformer, you play a spy, slap bang in the middle of hostilities, but positioned on neither side. Briefed by C.O.U.N.T.E.R, your mission is to retrieve a series of launch codes, take out the bad guys and save the day by deactivating any potential nuclear launch.

The problem is that as well as collecting intel by searching cupboards, there are also bad guys for you to have to either take down or shoot - as well as the Nuclear clock counting down to Def Con 1 putting the pressure squarely on your shoulders.

Each time you die, the clock ticks ever closer to that launch, and if you run out of chances to run down the clock, then it's all on as there's just 1 minute for you to race through the level, silence any baddies and stop the clock.

CounterSpy is tremendous fun; the minimal visuals as you negotiate both sides of the Cold War are brilliantly realised, with your silhouetted agent slinking and grooving between targets. Employing stealth moves and tactics are really the order of the day, because each mission gets harder and each starts closer to the end of the doomsday clock.

Stealth kills work best, with the soldiers being unable to call in the fact there's a spy loose, but you have to be clever with these; moments when you wander through a camera's field without realising can raise the Def Con Level and cause all manner of chaos without you realising. Likewise, choosing to mow down all the baddies with a machine gun may seem like an obvious solution, but this does alert others to your presence.

Each level is randomly generated, which means that any game can't be cracked in the manner of a traditional platformer with no guarantees of what lies ahead. It's a clever touch, because even though there are only a few variety of levels, the fact they're not the same adds much to the game and prevents too much repetition.

Part of the thrill of CounterSpy (aside from the collecting of weapon blueprints to unlock new weapons and formulas to help you deal with enemies) is how fiendishly addictive it is - each death is avoidable and so the pull back into the game is inevitable. That's despite the glitches within.

It's not all bells and whistles though - a few moments in CounterSpy drag the game down a notch. Several times the game froze at the start of the level for no reason whatsoever, leaving the spy stranded and doing nothing and this gamer frustrated as he elected to quit the mission. Equally moments within the game saw combat moves on 3 baddies at once hit by glitches which meant the takedown cut scenes were smattered by a hail of bullets, meaning that health levels suffered for the start of the next. (Though this can play to your advantage, as you can disarm the end of levels computers by taking a hail of gunfire).

Overall, CounterSpy is great fun; a reminder that simplicity is king and that sometimes the most hours can be lost at a gaming console for the smartest of premises.