Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Priest: Blu Ray Review

Priest: Blu Ray Review

Priest
Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Entertainment
Paul Bettany and our very own Karl Urban star in this latest outing.
For centuries man has been at war with vampires. And with the vamps hunting them to near extinction, there was only ever one line of defence - the priests.
But after the vamps' defeat, the priests were abandoned and reintegrated back into society.
However, when an apparent vamp attack kills the brother of one nameless priest (Paul Bettany), he has no choice but to hunt down their daughter and break his vow, risking all out war...
Priest isn't a bad attempt at a western crossed with vampires.
There's plenty of imagery from the wild west (including a final set piece on a train) and the bleached look of this post apocalyptic world, along with some quite cool comic style pre titles, give it a bit of different feel. But some wonky CGI and some frankly laughable dialogue see it unable to rise from the dead.
Which is a shame as Bettany is good as the monosyllabic priest and Nikita's Maggie Q and Karl Urban also are solid as supporting cast (even if the latter chews a bit too much of the scenery).

Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Melancholia: Movie Review

Melancholia: Movie Review

Melancholia
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgaard, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Director: Lars von Trier
Not sure about the wisdom of releasing a film about the end of the world just before Christmas...

This latest from Lars von Trier is a sumptuous piece where to be frank, very little happens but everything is affected.

Centring on Kirsten Dunst's depressed Justine's wedding day, the film sees her starting the day in a good mood and sliding into a depression as the night goes on-despite being wed to True Blood's Alexander Skarsgard.

It then switches to after the wedding where there's more of a period of gloom around - thanks to the fact a planet called Melancholia is passing by the earth - and with some fearing it'll hit, you've got cosmic fears on a very personal level as the level of doom rises on an ultimate scale.

From the opening sequences which are gorgeous eye candy - some of the best ever committed to celluloid - and which set a mood of uncertainty, Melancholia is a sumptuous experience (which admittedly some may find hollow).

But it's a mesmerizing and divisive watch - much like Tree of Life earlier this year was.

Dunst seriously impresses, providing her best work as the depressed bride who rallies when the end of the world comes - but equally as good is Charlotte Gainsbourg as her sister who's helpless to save her and who's futile attempts to try and save their already strained relationship.

As it leads to a downbeat ending which blows you out of your seat, this is a mind-blowing film.

Dr Who: Complete Season 6: Blu Ray review

Dr Who: Complete Season 6: Blu Ray review

Dr Who Season 6
Rating: PG
Released by BBC and Roadshow
Matt Smith returns as the Doctor in this box set of the latest season to hit the small screen.
And this time around, after a few years of teases from head honcho, Steven Moffat, we finally get some answers as to who River Song is, what part the travelling companions the Ponds play and what lies ahead for the Doctor.
It's a heady rush of a season which packs in some great adventures in its 13 episode run - but also some slightly less convincing ones as well.
But all in all, the quality is eminently watchable and each adventure zips along with gusto.
However, when the pace slows and the writing comes out, the actors have their chances to shine. Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan who play Rory and Amy Pond are astounding in the heartbreaking episode The Girl Who Waited, which centres on Amy accidentally being abandoned by the Doctor and Rory. This is the stand out ep of the set and is an emotionally charged ep which is a little scifi and a little human as well.
Matt Smith can do no wrong as the Doc but some of the writing in places feels a little haphazard and seems to service the ongoing season long arc rather than provide quality episodes when it should. Thankfully, there's a feeling of resolution at the end of the season and so maybe the writers next year will be able to provide some stronger standalone material.
Extras are a mixed bunch too - sure, there's extra scenes which have been filmed for between episodes, but the inclusion of the cutdown versions of the behind the scenes companion show are pretty much a waste of time in this format. It's to be hoped the quality of the additional content is upped in future releases because it does feel a little tired currently.

All in all, Who fans will want this set to complete the collection - but newcomers may feel a little lost by how ensconced this latest run is in its own mythology.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Torchwood: Miracle Day: Blu Ray Review

Torchwood: Miracle Day: Blu Ray Review

Torchwood Miracle Day
Rating: M
Released by BBC and Roadshow
How did it go so wrong?
After the stunning mini series of Children of Earth, it was a question of how the writers would top the quality of this Dr Who spin off.
And the answer is they didn't.
The previously Wales set serial has now gone global over this ten episode run - and some American newbies are along for the ride too. Mekhi Phifer stars as FBI Agent Rex Matheson who begins an investigation when one day without warning, people stop dying.
His hunt for answers lead to the abandoned Torchwood team who disbanded at the end of the last series and went underground.
But it turns out the head of Torchwood Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) has more to do with what's going on than anyone could realise.
The problem with Miracle Day is that there's not enough story and plot to sustain the suitably intriguing premise over 10 whole hours. It means some of the episodes feel like padding and plod as a result.
There are flashes of brilliance but they're too sporadic and not enough to give this mediocre serial the punch and deftness it actually needs.
Extras are a decent bunch though - with the web exclusive comic being one of the best of them (and giving the overall release an extra point) - but if this is how Torchwood finishes for good, it's a sadly anaemic and lacklustre end.

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Footrot Flats: Blu Ray Review

Footrot Flats: Blu Ray Review

Footrot Flats
Rating: PG
It's the 25th anniversary of the release of the animated tale from Tom Scott and Murray Ball, which of course is now an iconic Kiwi film and NZ's first ever animated full length outing.
Starring Peter Rowley as Dog, the faithful mutt of the cartoon series who worked on the farm with owner Wal (voiced by John Clarke), there's a whole list of talent mixed in to this - with guest turns from Rawiri Paratene as Rangi, and Billy T James as a takeaway chef, it's really a nostalgic collection of the best.
The story is really very thin in comparison to animated films these days; Dog tries to help Wal when he tries out for the All Blacks, falls for local female dog Jess and takes on the dastardly Murphys, who are stealing stags from Wal's friend Cooch.
In some ways, Footrot Flats has aged in quite a way but there's still a lot to love about this - it's a collection of rural snapshots and comic situations and quite deadpan humour, such as when Wal takes prospective girlfriend Cheeky to the takeway for a meal out - "Forget the expense love, you can have chips with everything".
Dated but charming, Footrot Flats is quite a nice throwback to New Zealand of yesteryear.

Extras: Commentary

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Luther S2: DVD Review

Luther S2: DVD Review

Luther S2
Rating: M
Released by BBC and Roadshow
A 4 hour long BBC drama starring Idris Elba, who gained fame for US crime series the Wire.
He stars as London detective Luther who's back for another round of investigations following the murder of his wife. He's an obsessive, possessed, and sometimes dangerous detective in the violence of his fixations. But Luther has paid a heavy price for his dedication; he has never been able to prevent himself from being consumed by the darkness of the crimes with which he deals.
He's back in action just as a masked serial killer, wearing a Punch (from Punch and Judy) mask is out randomly killing people and out to make a name for himself
Soon Luther's caught in the net and the case gets very personal and comes very close to home
Dark, bleak, a little bit sinister and scary, it's an intelligently put together show with a great central performance from a weary Elba as Luther. He's kind of the genius you can relate to but there are no flashes of brilliance here and there and a lot of burning and frustration as he investigates. It's slow but also slow burning and there's a hell of a twist at the end of the first episode which makes you want to watch the second very quickly.
Compelling and gripping, Luther's well worth investing your time on a rainy weekend.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Green Lantern: Blu Ray Review

The Green Lantern: Blu Ray Review

The Green Lantern
Rating: M
Released by Warner Bros

So another superhero franchise looks to take flight.

This time, it's the turn of the Green Lantern to try and sprinkle box office magic and ensure a future for the series.

Ryan Reynolds is cock sure pilot Hal Jordan, who despite his plucky exterior and all American clean cut image, is scarred by daddy issues, having seen his pops blown to pieces when a flight went wrong.

Jordan finds himself chosen by a green light one day (I know - bear with me) after an alien from the Green Lantern corp - a sort of green wearing space police - finds himself dying on the earth.
You see, the corp is trying to fight Parallax, an entity so evil it intends to wipe out the universe and take vengeance on the Green Lanterns, threatening the balance of power and tipping it in evil's favour

The Green Lantern is an FX heavy slightly off kilter attempt at launching the franchise. It lacks a real emotional centre and has some completely absurd dialogue thrown in for good measure.
Apparently, green is the universal colour for will and yellow is the universal colour for fear. So now you know.

And yet, it's not the massive failure you may expect having seen the very underwhelming trailer; Reynolds is very watchable as Hal and brings a level of performance which is engaging and believable; similarly for his role as Sinestro, Strong (one of the best character actors around) brings the gravitas to the mentor. Blake Lively continues her ascent from Gossip Girl, playing a ball busting pilot and business woman and Taika Waititi cracks a few lines here and there as Jordan's engineer friend.

But the problem with the Green Lantern lies with the evil side of the story; Peter Sarsgaard's Hector Hammond, who's Jordan's nemesis and infected by Parallax early on, seems to simply become the equivalent of Frankenstein's monster as he lumbers around the screen, howling and becoming the Jekyll character. Sure there are jealousy and daddy issues for him to deal with, but it's a one note performance from Sarsgaard which doesn't deliver by any stretch of the imagination.

All in all, I don't think The Green Lantern has enough to really stand out in the superhero crowd; it lacks the grittiness of a Batman, the everyman appeal of a Superman and the fun offered up by this year's Thor.

Rating: 4/10 

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Orator: DVD Review

The Orator: DVD Review

The Orator
Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Ent

The Orator (O Le Tulafale to give its Samoan title) arrives with a certain amount of prestige behind it.

The tale from first time director Tusi Tamasese has been submitted for consideration as Best Foreign Language Film for the 84th Academy Awards®, to be held in Hollywood on the 28th of February 2012.

It's the story of Vaaiga, (Tausili Pushparaj) who's been banished from her ancestral village - she's now living with little person Saili (a stunning turn from debut actor Fa'afiaula Sagote) who's angered neighbours near their home by refusing to move the graves of his parents.

Vaaiga's brother Poto (Tanielu) is also causing problems for this small family; he's sick and wants her to return home.

However, Poto's wish has disastrous consequences for all of them.

Quite frankly, if you fail to be moved by The Orator, you don't have a pulse.
Lusciously shot and beautifully subtle and nuanced, this entirely Samoan film is one for the heart as well as the eyes.

This isn't all about highly compelling slow-burning drama; there's a rich vein of subtly dry humour running throughout - mainly thanks to a Samoan rugby team - which gives the weightiness of the script a much needed touch of lightness.

Ultimately though The Orator is simply strong measured storytelling and impressive acting; it's engrossing, heartfelt and in its final scenes, profoundly moving.

Extras: Short film and trailer

Rating: 8/10 

Monday, 12 December 2011

Captain America: Blu Ray Review

Captain America: Blu Ray Review

Captain America - The First Avenger
Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Ent

So, another film from the Marvel juggernaut heads our way ahead of the release of the super powered The Avengers next year.

This time, it's the turn of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) aka Captain America to take the centre stage ahead of the launch of the franchise.

Rogers is a weedy, asthmatic runt of a man whose quest to sign up for the American army and take on the Nazis is continually turned down because of his imperfect physique.

Overhearing one of his pleas to join up, Rogers is co-opted by Dr Abraham Erskine (a brilliant character turn from Tucci) into a platoon run by Tommy Lee Jones' Colonel Chester Phillips which is aimed at creating a super soldier to win the war.

However, at the same time, Nazi Germany is gearing up for takeover with the help of the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) who's using technology from Odin's world and the might of his underground organisation HYDRA to push the weapons as far as they can go...and take over the world.

Well, let's get the good out of the way - Chris Evans is very good as the all American pie hero Rogers/ Cap America; he brings a real extra dimension to what is essentially only a one dimensional character. Rogers' whole mantra is "I don't like bullies - I don't care where they're from" and it doesn't really make for an in depth character to root for. Plus the Captain could do with a dash of something to prick his pomposity, be it self deprecation or a bit of sly humour.

Credit has to go to the digital team who've done a great job of digitally shrinking Evans down into his weedier version pre-transformation - the work is seamless, visually impressive and ranks as one of the best effects committed to celluloid thus far this year.

The whole Captain America affair is a kind of Boys' Own derring do, Saturday matinee piece of patriotic fluff. As a set up piece and origin story, it's slight and feels inconsequential to the likes of Thor, Iron Man et al. It does score points though for a song and dance routine...

There's nothing inherently wrong with this slightly cheesy, cornball, slow mo action shots explosion fest but it does feel like it's been shoehorned into release schedules to ensure everything's in line for the Avengers. It's only credit to Chris Evans that the film manages to work.

Extras: A very solid bunch here - featurettes, deleted scenes, commentaries - well worth an extra rating

Rating: 7/10 

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2- Blu Ray review

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2- Blu Ray review

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Rating: M
Released by Warner Home video

The final part of the final Harry Potter film is unleashed on the world - and with it, the end of a saga which has entranced a world and created a multi million dollar lifestyle for creator JK Rowling.

As you'll remember from the first part of the Deathly Hallows film, Harry, Hermione and Ron set out to find the Dark Lord's Horcruxes (a sort of magical object which gives Voldemort his power) and destroy them - in the hope that that will end this battle once and for all.

This film takes up right after the end of the last, with Dobby the elf despatched, the battle lines drawn and Harry aware the ultimate battle is nearing a final perhaps fatal end.
But as the fate and destiny of Voldemort and Harry Potter play out, the path leads back to Hogwarts and to a dark secret which will finally settle the score between the Wizarding world and the Muggle World...

Quite frankly, what a stunning, magical epic and emotionally rewarding end to the long running and much loved saga

It's a truly unexpected film - there are moments of absolute silence where the acting simply takes the foreground and the soundtrack goes silent and thematically, there is much to engage the grey matter (although a spiritual flight of fantasy does feel a little unnecessary and meandering even though it's a metaphysical jaunt into Harry's psyche- and don't even get me started on the "19 Years Later" epilogue which is cloying and sickly saccharine and ultimately unnecessary and disappointing).

This is the Harry Potter film I've been waiting for in many ways; perhaps, it was inevitable that it would be the final film which got it right, but as a closing chapter, it's near perfect and is the best send off it could ever have been given.

Extras: A shedload of stuff as you'd expect for the last one - featurettes galore and additional scenes

Rating: 8/10 

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Bad Teacher: Blu Ray Review

Bad Teacher: Blu Ray Review

Bad Teacher
Rating: R16
Released by Sony home Ent
You'd think a raunchy comedy involving Cameron Diaz as an apathetic, pot smoking, drinking and uncaring teacher would be a natural sequel to Billy Bob Thornton's Bad Santa.

But I'm sorry to say this film is probably about as far away from that as you can get.

Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a just retired teacher at a school, who's dumped by her fiancee after she's accused of gold digging by her would be mom-in-law. So facing a lack of cash and determined to get $10,000 for a boob job so she can net a sugar daddy, Halsey heads back to middle school and tries to cruise by and simply earn the cash she needs for surgery.

When Justin Timberlake's Scott Delacorte starts up as a supply teacher alongside Elizabeth, she senses he's got a bit of cash to splash and an inheritance to dig her claws into.

Throw into the mix Jason Segel's gym teacher, Russell who's got a crush on Halsey and it's a case of problems ahoy in the classroom.

Vulgar and crude can work - and in some parts of this film, it is laugh out loud funny as the foulest things come out of sweet looking Cameron Diaz's mouth - but there's little else on show in this "comedy" which exploits Diaz's sleazy looks and body for "laughs". (There's even a scene with Diaz wearing very short shorts and hosing herself down at a charity car wash while a rock song plays loudly in the background.)

Don't get me wrong, this has its moments and Segal, Diaz and Timberlake get by on the screen but the laughs in this flat comedy are few and far between - sure, there are some great one liners which cause mirth but it's not enough to get you through the film without it feeling like it's sagging. Diaz works as hard as she can but she can't save it

Extras: More raunchy footage, deleted scenes, gag reels, outtakes

Rating: 5/10 

Friday, 9 December 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2: Blu Ray Review

Kung Fu Panda 2: Blu Ray Review

Kung Fu Panda 2
Rating: PG
Released by Universal Home Ent
The big fat cuddly Karate kid of the animal world, Po is back in the sequel to the multi million grossing Kung Fu Panda.

This time around, Po, along with the Furious Five his kung fu gang, are forced to face off against Gary Oldman's peacock Lord Shen.
Shen was banished from China's Gongmen City after wiping out the pandas whom he believed would be responsible for his downfall thanks to misunderstanding a prophecy
But he's back and harnessing the power of fireworks to take back the city he was kicked out of.

Meanwhile, Po's on a dual quest - not only one to vanquish Shen, but a personal one to find out who his family were; however, his search is haunted by flashbacks as he nears the truth - can he find inner peace and do what needs to be done to save himself and his friends?

Kung Fu Panda 2 is an animated joy to watch; this time round, the creators have gone deeper on many levels.

Firstly, the animation is stunning and with frenetic and frantic kung fu fight scenes, there's visually so much to take in. Throw in some beautiful nods to Oriental artistry and shadow puppetry for ancient tales from their past and there's truly something to marvel in. But it's the clever use of different types of animation which make this - Po's quest in China is in computer animation and then for flashbacks to his childhood, they've used more traditional hand drawn animation - it's these flourishes which add to the richness of the story.

Secondly, the characters have been given a bit more depth this time round - no doubt thanks to the involvement of Guillermo del Toro; sure Black still brings his goofy wacky vocal ways to Po, but thanks to a push to give him a bit of an emotional journey to go on, there's more humanity on display too - which is rewarding
With an ending which tugs at the heartstrings, and hints at a third film to make this series a trilogy, Kung Fu Panda 2 is the perfect mix of fun and heart; it's perfect filmic fodder for the upcoming holidays
Extras: Commentary, panda stories, learn to speak Chinese - a reasonable bunch for a great story

Rating: 8/10 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Puss In Boots: Movie Review

Puss In Boots: Movie Review

Puss in Boots
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris
Director: Chris Miller
Fresh from his starring role in the Shrek films, Puss in Boots finally gets his own spin off tail (apologies - I mean tale) in this computer animated outing, unleashed in time for Christmas.
Set before Puss met Shrek and Donkey, it tells of how the Ginger haired man Spanish kitty cat came to be an outlaw. Puss is a wanted beast after his part in a robbery with his pal Humpty Dumpty (Galifianakis) but is determined to clear his name by tracking down the legendary magic beans.
However, they're currently the property of Jack and Jill (Bob Thornton and Sedaris) but that doesn't stop the kitty trying to get possession of them. But what Puss hasn't reckoned with is the appearance of a female feline, Kitty Soft Paws, who tries to snatch the beans.
When Puss learns Kitty is allied with Humpty, the trio teams up to steal the beans, make a beanstalk and steal the Golden Goose and live happily ever after...
Puss in Boots is a riot fest. Sure, it's nothing fabulously new or original in terms of groundbreaking animation or story telling but it is good old fashioned fun, with a mix of lunacy thrown in for good measure. Clearly the writers have been on the catnip to get a story like this together.
With lines like "What can I say? I was a bad kitty" as Puss leaves a one night stand behind, it's clear you're going to get some tongue in cheek scripting and a humourous feel to this origin story which explains how the cat got the boots and became the hero.
But once again, Dreamworks has shown why its animation arm is so good - the backgrounds and scenery shots which frame Puss' antics are so gorgeous on the eye (thanks to the real 3D effect as well) and so breathtaking, it's just yet another reason to celebrate a golden age of deft and ambitious animation.
Hayek and Banderas make a neat duo (again) and Galifianakis is a good foil in Humpty; but the winner here is the overall pieces of the puzzle.

Whether it's throwaway lines, visually dazzling moments, gags which are thrown in for amusement (stand by for the return of Puss' wide eyed cuteness - but in a whole new context) or just sheer lunacy, there's much to love in this unfurling of the near purrfect myth of Puss In Boots.

New Year's Eve: Movie Review

New Year's Eve: Movie Review

New Year's Eve
Rating: 4/10
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Lea Michele, Zac Efron, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank, Jon Bon Jovi, Josh Duhamel, Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert de Niro, Katherine Heigl, Sofia Vergara, Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Ryan Seacrest, New York
Director: Garry Marshall
Ah, New Year's Eve - the end of another 12 months and the endless possibilities of another 12 ahead.
But in reality, it's always a desperate scrabble to find a good party or make sure you're somewhere with a loved one.
So into the fray of New Year and with an ensemble cast that seems to have just about everyone involved comes the latest from the guy who brought us the slightly sappy Valentines Day. This latest is the intertwining tale of several New Yorkers coming together on that night, weighed down with expectation - and is once again, into chick flick territory we go.
All of the various stories are captured here; from Hilary Swank's Claire Morgan, who's in charge of ensuring the ball drops tradition in New York's Times Square goes ahead to Jessica Biel's Tess Byrne who's about to give birth; there's also Ashton Kutcher's New Year hating grinch Randy who ends up stuck in a lift with Lea Michele's singer Elise; and there's Robert de Niro's Stan who's dying alone in hospital - and Katherine Heigl's Laura who was dumped by Jon Bon Jovi's rockstar Jensen...the list really, really does go on. But to be fair, it's a truly stellar cast gathering for this romantic drama. And once again Sofia Vergara is playing the same role she does in the ever brilliant Modern Family.
The bottom line with a film like this is pitching it to the right audience - and I am not the right audience. And the right audience who were in the screening of this actually loved it. The intertwined nature of the stories actually works reasonably well. Sure, many of them are predictable and inevitable eg, two people in a lift who initially have differences but find common ground, a mum who finally bonds with her daughter, a father looking for forgiveness at the end of his life - you can see what's coming a mile off in this sentimental schmaltz fest.
When you're faced with a film which throws out the line "Second chances - they don't expire till midnight", you know exactly what you're going to get. And when it's set in New York and one of the characters has a wishlist of things to do, you can guarantee there'll be an ad for the city in some form or other...There's so much talk of that famous ball dropping in Times Square during this flick, it's almost as if the writers dropped the ball when it came to an original script.
On a final note though, the product placement is this is utterly shameless - and the closing shots which include a poster for an upcoming release from the same studio probably takes it to a new level.
Overall, personally, I found New Year's Eve one of those bland, nicely put together, over indulgent and quite manipulative at pulling at your heartstrings films which get made by Hollywood studios from time to time - but like the much (rightfully) maligned Valentines Day, it'll find its audience.

It just won't include me.

A Cat in Paris: DVD Review

A Cat in Paris: DVD Review

A Cat In Paris
Rating: PG
Released by Madman Home Ent

One cat + two lives = lots of laughs and loveliness in this sublimely hand drawn animation from France.

Dino is the perfect pet - by the day delivering lizards to her master Zoe but by night, she's aide to a cat burglar who runs atop the roofs of Paris.
However, Zoe's bereft of a father figure after he was murdered by local gangster Costa and her mother, the chief of police is determined to track him down and tie up the local art thefts which have been going on - but the two things are connected by one feline...

Beautifully presented with heart, warmth and humour, A Cat in Paris is an universal treat.

There's some original animation on show, more than on a par with anything CGI can achieve and the inventiveness sings from the screen as the story unfolds.

With an eye on fun and an adventurous story, this beautifully told tale is one for all the family and can be enjoyed by all ages-it's not very often one says that about film these days and it's great to do so about Cat In Paris.

Extras: English version (stick to the French one though), featurette and trailer

Rating: 8/10 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Game Review - Tekken: Hybrid

Game Review - Tekken: Hybrid

Tekken Hybrid
Rating: M
Platform: PS3

Released by Sony
So the granddaddy of the fight genre returns in a packed set.
Tekken Hybrid boasts a Tekken 3D movie, Blood Vengeance, Tekken Tag Tournament HD and a playable (if brief) demo of Tekken Tag Tournament 2: Prologue.
Tekken's not really moved on much from the arcade days where you'd bruise and wear out your fingers, jabbing buttons and move a joystick from side to side, while trying to smash in the face of your opponent.
And it's a shame to say there's little new added into this pack to be honest; while there's nothing inherently wrong with the gaming which has been remastered from its PS2 version, it's little more than a two on two fight against the clock as opponents like Roger the Kangaroo, Devil, True Ogre, Hwoarang et al face off against each other. Throwing in the option to tag in and tag out is a clever touch as well which gives it a feel of something a bit more akin to a street brawl.
Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed the games on several levels; be it due to the quality HD upgrade, or the pure one on one face to face fist fight or the survival mode where you plough on fighting to win as many bouts as you can in one go; it's just that I didn't see the need to go back to the game once the system was turned off. Which is a major blow for any game really.
The demo prologue is relatively playable too but a little too brief and feels like an extended teaser taking in characters from the film Blood Vengeance and is clearly a set up for a future release. It's a nice package though for fans of the genre with a bowling game thrown in too, but all in all this is a little too much of a leave you salivating for next release kind of piece, which is a bit frustrating. Unless you're a massive Tekken fan, of course.

Rating: 6/10

Game Review - Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7

Game Review - Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7

Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7
Platform: PS3
Released by Warner Games
Once again, and for one final time in this series anyway, it's back to the world of the bricks we go.
Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 is the latest from Travellers' Tale Games, who've excelled in this series of Lego crossovers - from Star Wars to Indiana Jones, Batman to Pirates of the Caribbean, there's little they can't do in this arena without a few cheeky moments and some relatively easy gameplay.
This latest collects together the final chapters of the Harry Potter franchise and is an extremely rewarding game for you if you're going to put in the hard yards.
Once again, Harry has to collect studs, solve puzzles, collect spells and rescue other students in various elements of peril in this pulled together storyline from the final three books. Each chapter's broken down into other chapters and there's certainly plenty of reasons to go back and replay each one as you try to achieve the true wizard level on each by collecting as many Lego studs as you can and collect Gold bricks and school emblems which are scattered fiendishly throughout. Add onto that the need to get every character unlocked from within the game and you can see why it's fiendishly addictive.
But what is also apparent is just how charming it is as well. There's certainly a lot of humour throughout with the cut scenes, despite the darker nature of these final chapters of the Potterverse. It also makes it a joy to watch these scenes rather than pushing buttons to get them to hurry on. There's plenty of detail to the backgrounds and the worlds in which Potter finds himself and one early flying sequence on brooms through London's skyline is just brilliantly good fun.
All in all, Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 is one of the perfect Christmas presents for this year; while it's true to say the LEGO series is aimed a little more at the younger end of the market, it's certainly bound to give all ages hours of entertainment thanks to its charming feel and clever, deeply rewarding gameplay.

Rating: 8/10

Game Review - Saints Row: The Third

Game Review - Saints Row: The Third

Saints Row - The Third
Rating: R18
Released by THQ
Sometimes, when you're playing a game, you really just have to put any grip on reality into the far recesses of your mind.
And with Saints Row - The Third, it's more about hyper reality than any other kind.
An open world action game - kind of like Grand Theft Auto in many ways, but a little more violent and intellectually lacking, Saints Row The Third is actually a hell of a lot of fun.
It begins with the Saints gang being forced into a neighbouring suburb and from there on, it's all on as the new gangs on the block find their quest for turf is to be threatened on many levels.
Sure, there's a series of missions and things to be done but man, you sure can have a blast (at times literally) doing them.
Saints Row - The Third doesn't really take itself too seriously; it's so over the top that it's ludicrous and any prudes will really not want to be playing a game like this. But to be brutally honest, it's pure intellectually challenged escapism, with character, humour and plenty of bang for your buck.
Within minutes of starting this game, you're plunged into scenarios which see you taking hostages and shooting your way out of situations as well as flying through the air trying to save colleagues and smashing through aeroplanes to try and land them. It's a real visceral thrill and engrossing right from the get go.
Throw in the chance to customize your characters, downloadable content, multiple outcomes for missions and the option to go online and have others involved in the mayhem and you've pretty much got a recipe for pure escapism and unlimited hours of juvenile entertainment.

Rating: 8/10

Super 8: Blu Ray Review

Super 8: Blu Ray Review

Super 8
Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Ent
Small town America - Ohio to be precise - in 1979: Following an incident at the town mill, young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is left bereft of a mother.
Joe's solution to cope with the loss is to throw himself into his friends' movie-making project; despite his police deputy father's insistence that once summer is done, it's off to camp for him.

When the group ends up filming their amateur zombie flick at a train station one night, their movie-making is rudely interrupted by a massive train crash, which they soon realise was not an accident.
To make matters worse, when the US Air Force move in with the might of the military and people start disappearing, they begin to suspect something is seriously wrong....and something nasty is loose in the town
Super 8 is clearly a film that wears its influences on its sleeve - and those are many; the fact it's by Amblin Entertainment (Steven Spielberg's production company) shows all the way through - with the whole film having a feel of the Goonies, Stand By Me, ET, Close Encounters et al inevitably dripped throughout.

Yet, you really shouldn't be put off by the fact it's a film about an alien loose in small town America; at its heart Super 8 is a nostalgically tinged relationship film with broad strokes of tenderness brushed through.

There's a wonderful camaraderie between the young kids as they make their film - how Joe copes with the loss of his mother and falls in love for the first time with Alice (the prodigiously talented Elle Fanning) and plenty of intimately played character moments throughout

Super 8 is a great piece of cinematic entertainment with some beautifully played intimate human moments; if director JJ Abrams had pulled back a little on the influences and symbolism and added a bit more subtlety, this ride would have been perfect; as it is though, it's one of the better thrills of the year.

Extras: Commentary, docos

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 5 December 2011

Meek's Cutoff: DVD Review

Meek's Cutoff: DVD Review

Meek's Cutoff
Rating: PG
Released by Madman Home Ent
Slow cinema,this drama from Kelly Reichardt sees three families braving their way through 19th Century pioneer life as they traipse through the Oregon plains with no clue of where they're going and placing their only hope in the shaggy bearded leader Meek.
It starts with two trucks going through water and ends with no real resolution but it's a fascinating peek into a life from yonder,where the journey was wracked with uncertainty and worry.When these would be settlers capture an Indian,tensions increase as rations dwindle,tempers fray and suspicion abounds.
Beautifully shot with cinematography which will leave you breathless,this is superior film from Reichardt which benefits immensely from Bruce Greenwood and Michelle Williams' superior involvement;their interaction fuels much of the film.
We learn little about either the men or the women but the film compellingly draws you into their plight. Sure to provoke debate at the end,this is one to be seen and appreciated on its cinematic merits.
Extras: Doco

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Hangover Part II: Blu Ray Review

The Hangover Part II: Blu Ray Review

The Hangover Part II
Rating: R16
Released by Warner Home Video

The Wolf pack is back in the sequel to the comedy that really redefined the R rated film genre.

This time, it's Thailand-bound as the gang come together for the wedding of Stu (Ed Helms).

Despite Stu's initial fears about heading out for some drinks with the boys on the eve of the wedding, he's persuaded to go for one with them - and brings along his teen soon to be brother in law, the over-achieving Teddy.

But when they wake up confused and hungover in a sweaty room with Teddy missing, no idea how they got there and with a severed finger in the room, it's a desperate race to find Teddy and get some idea of what went down.

However, that journey brings them into contact with gangsters, the seedier side of Bangkok, a chain smoking drug dealing monkey and a whole heap of trouble....
Simply put, The Hangover Part II is the same film as the first - but just relocated to Thailand.

While in principle that's no bad thing, it's fair to say that director Todd Phillips holds back from really upping the gross stakes for the sequel (though there are some out-there odd moments.)

Sadly though, it's more of a case of hearty chuckles throughout, rather than full-on belly laughs, as the humour serves to be the punchlines for the set-ups rather than being dished up every second.

The main trio are once again on form - and essentially the same as the first one: Bradley Cooper has the right amount of devilish glint to lead them; Ed Helms gives good repressed as he tries not to give in to the fun demon in him and Zach Galifianakis throws on the right amount of irritation and weirdness to steal scenes he's in with either a glance, some background antics or a well-placed line

Yet for all The Hangover Part II's beats and high moments (which are scattered throughout), it doesn't recapture the glory of the first; that's not to say it's not a fun time at the flicks, just a fair amount of deja vu.

Extras: DVD is a little light but the Blu ray has a whole stack of extras and is worth a little extra investment

Rating: 6/10 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Jig: Movie Review

Jig: Movie Review

Jig
Rating: 6/10

Cast:
Brogan McKay, Julia O'Rourke, John Whitehurst, Joe Bitter, Various competitive mums

Director: Sue Bourne
Irish Dancing sounds like an odd idea for a doco - but you'd be surprised to realise just how prevalent the sport is.
This doco from Sue Bourne takes to the highly competitive world of the jig, a multi generational sport which has everyone competing - both on and off the mat.
Choosing to follow rivalries, Bourne's piece takes a look at what motivates the young children to follow Michael Flatley's lead. There's little need really to explore what it is which gives them the push; most of the kids have the desire to win the world championships and their parents back them all the way.
By letting the kids narrate most of the doco and following them (as well as occasionally catching up with the parents), Bourne's doco has a disarming charm and is beautifully shot.
There are plenty of shots of practice dancing and a whole heap of shots of the young girls wearing the Irish dancing equivalent of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding outfits as they prance around in make up, wigs and expensive costumes.
You get the views of parents who give up all their wages to ensure the kids can take part, kids who're friends with their rivals first and teens who've resisted the call of their peers to take part in "normal" pursuits like going out partying and drinking. And yet, there's a feeling that this doco goes on a little bit longer than it should.

Sure, the dancing's incredible but there are few moments of real insight. When Bourne concentrates her camera on the parents watching and you see them moving while their kids dance for 2 minutes at most, that's when you really appreciate how much everyone's invested in this. Sadly though, there aren't enough moments like that throughout - and while there's a degree of contagion from the kids' enthusiasm, it's not unfortunately not enough to want to see this on the big screen.

Red Dog: Movie Review

Red Dog: Movie Review

Red Dog
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Koko the dog, Josh Lucas, Rachael Taylor, Keisha Castle Hughes
Director: Kriv Stenders
Based on an Aussie true story of legend, Red Dog is a family treat as we head towards the Christmas hols.
But it's not your average "melt your heart, we've got a dog onscreen" kind of film.
Set in Dampier, in Western Aussie, it's the story of Red Dog, a Kelpie Cattle dog cross, who at the start of the film is about to be put down in a bar. In walks truck driver John (Luke Ford) who intervenes just before the pooch is laid to rest.
As the residents of Dampier retreat to the bar, John begins to hear from the publican Jack (Noah Taylor) how the dog's impacted on all of their lives - from miners to the publican himself; and he recounts how when Red Dog, as he affectionately became known after being covered in desert dust, came into their lives, they were all touched in different ways.
There's a warmth to Red Dog which may melt even the most cynical of hearts. If you just can get past the copious shots of a dog walking on the road, looking with its head on its side and running in slow mo in something akin to deleted scenes from TV series The Littlest Hobo.
There's also a fair amount of heart and gentle humour tucked away in this dog's tale too - Red Dog was a dog for everyone whether it's hitch-hiking on the local bus or listening to various miners unloading their hearts to him, it's clear there's affection for this canine wanderer.
But more than that, there's a very Australasian feel to this flick; one miner, Jocko (a big guy with a handlebar moustache and who'd rather have a stoush to sort something out than a chat) is a source of amusement and some of the best lines. Plus if you factor in Red Dog's nemesis, Red Cat, there's something for all animal lovers here.
There's also the inevitable heartbreak - both human and animal - and it's at this point, that I defy anyone who's shared a connection or devotion to a dog to not have a tear in their eye.

Ultimately, Red Dog has a low key charm which swerves it firmly into the sentimental territory rather than the mawkish mire which usually cloys these kinds of outings. Simply told and produced with a heartfelt earnestness, it may have you heading to the SPCA to see if you can adopt a pooch as soon as it's over.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Arthur Christmas 3D: Movie Review

Arthur Christmas 3D: Movie Review

Arthur Christmas
Rating: 8/10
Vocal cast: James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Ashley Jensen
Director: Sarah Smith
Ah, Christmas.
A time of strained tensions, screaming kids and festive goodwill to all.
That and Christmas-themed movies.
Add to that list, the latest from Aardman Animations, a computer generated tale about James McAvoy's Arthur Christmas, the second son of Father Christmas (Jim Broadbent). Arthur's job at the North Pole is to reply to the letters sent by the kids asking Santa for presents - whereas his older brother Steve (House's Hugh Laurie) is there to co-ordinate the elves as they deliver billions of presents in one night.
But this Christmas, something goes a little awry and one present's left undelivered. As far as Steve and Santa are concerned, it's no major but Arthur's unhappy that one kid, in Cornwall in the UK, will miss out on the magic of Christmas if they don't get their new bike.
So, along with the retired GrandSanta (Nighy), Arthur sets out to ensure this Christmas won't be ruined. But the adventure of a lifetime is a little more than the worrywart Arthur expected.
Arthur Christmas is a bright, joyous, festive treat which will keep the kids happy during the up-coming break. But there's also just enough to keep the adults amused too with a script that's smart in scattered places (one kid writes to Santa: "If you live in the North Pole, how come I can't see your house on Google maps?").
McAvoy brings a weediness to his Arthur which contrasts nicely with Laurie's efficient Steve and Broadbent's been in the job too long Santa. Nighy is amusing as GrandSanta and there's a nice running theme about different generations and expectations as well as a sarcastic vein pumping through.
But for every sentimental moment within Arthur Christmas, there's an equal moment of sheer lunacy which gives the film a slightly unpredictable feel which is very welcome amid the usual festive schmaltz. There's also a sign Aardman's taking on Pixar with a nod to one of its other characters contained subtly within as well - fans of animation will be delighted by that.

Arthur Christmas is to be enjoyed; with the magic of Christmas in its heart and a fair few ho ho hos, it's certainly something that will remind you of the joys of the holiday.

Immortals: Movie Review

Immortals: Movie Review

Immortals
Rating: 5/10
Cast: Henry Cavill, Freida Pinto, Mickey Rourke, Luke Evans, John Hurt
Director: Tarsem Singh
Swords, sandals, slow mo fight scenes and a lot of blood.
Nope, it's not 300 - it's from the producers of 300 that we get Immortals, the tale set in Ancient Greece.
Henry Cavill (the future Superman) plays Theseus, a peasant living in a small village and suddenly facing the marauding hordes of King Hyperion. Hyperion, played by a scene chewing Mickey Rourke, is trying to find a mystical bow to free the evil Titans from Mount Tartarus.
The Titans were imprisoned by the gods of Greece and believed by Hyperion to be the deciding factor in a war against the Olympian gods (headed up by Luke Evans' Zeus).
Teaming up with an oracle (Slumdog's Pinto) and a thief (Stephen Dorff), Theseus leads the charge to try and save the world both above and below from the disastrous consequences of an onslaught by Hyperion's hordes...
Immortals is a flat, emotionless piece, blessed with some truly outstanding visuals.
It treats the mythology of Greece extremely lightly but Singh does actually give a nice twist to some of the tales of Theseus - including the clash with the Minotaur.
Dialogue itself is largely uninspired and most of the film is painfully slow and lacking in any initially gripping moments.
But throughout the film, Singh uses visuals to jawdropping effect - he swoops in and out of CGI rendered scenes, gives us more slow mo then speeded up fight scenes and shows heads being smashed and turned into bloody explosions.
And it's this which really brings the film to life - a final fight sequence between the gods and the Titans is absolutely stunning and is one of the finest recreations seen this year as the attack happens. With sped up shots, slow moments and impressive FX, this is the film's major saving grace in a relatively spectacle free affair.
Of the leads, Cavill's good, Rourke's just a mumbling despot on a killing spree and Pinto's largely wasted - but quite frankly in these kinds of films, you're here to see buffed up bodies, impressive FX and scintillating fight scenes.

Immortals offers up an uneasy mix - moments of manic energy coupled with stilted and slow storytelling make it an unfortunately unsatisfying night at the cinema.

Rest for the Wicked: Movie Review

Rest for the Wicked: Movie Review

Rest for the Wicked
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Tony Barry, John Bach, Ian Mune, Sara Wiseman
Director: Simon Pattison
It's off to the rest homes for this detective story.
Tony Barry stars as Murray Baxter, a cop going undercover to finally get his oldest rival, Frank (This Is Not My Life's John Bach). Baxter's been pursuing his prey for years but has never had enough goods to seal the case and send Frank down.
But convinced heading into the rest home where Frank lives will help him gather the evidence he needs, he's prepared to risk it all.
However, when Murray gets to Knightsbridge Gardens, another couple of deaths occur and he's convinced Frank's behind them and that it's only a matter of time before his nemesis slips up...
Rest For The Wicked is probably a film for a generation in its twilight years. With a cast mainly recognizable from their long body of work in the Kiwi industry and a current Go Girls star, there will be a lot of familiar faces in this gently comic piece.
Tony Barry is venerable and dignified in his lead role and brings a gentleness to the dogged Murray who just can't put his grudge against Frank behind him; Bach is equally as impressive as the slightly sinister Frank who oozes a menace and calm that makes it hard to see if he is actually the bad guy or not.
As for the rest of the rest home cast, I'm not sure some won't be offended by their portrayal as a slightly batty, over sexed and comical bunch; there's one old gentleman who goes on about Australia and two elderly ladies who are out to seduce Murray.

There's a twist in the tale, which to be honest, you can see a mile off - but Simon Pattison does a reasonable job of guiding us through this tale. From its wryly amusing opening sequence of Frank as a Dirty Harry type taking down the inhabitants of a P Lab before making off on his mobility scooter to its ending, there's a whimsical feel to the film, which while not fully captivating, does allow its elderly cast to prove, once again, talent knows no boundaries.

The Whistleblower: Movie Review

The Whistleblower: Movie Review

The Whistleblower
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave, Benedict Cumberbatch, Monica Bellucci
Director: Larysa Kondracki
Rachel Weisz stars in this drama which is inspired by true events.
Weisz plays Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska policewoman who, desperate for cash, accepts a position as a peacekeeper in Bosnia. Well, for $100,000 for 6 months work, you would take it, wouldn't you?
But once she gets there she finds her task of rebuilding a country in ruins becomes even more difficult when she discovers a massive conspiracy involving the UN, sex trafficking and a major cover up.
The Whistleblower is not an easy film to watch. It's gritty, grimy and uncomfortably harrowing viewing in some places. A lot of what's done to these poor individuals is implied rather than explicit and it makes it hard to view.
That aside, Weisz is good as the morally straight Bolkovac in this solid film - she gives the struggle and turmoil a plausible face and something to latch onto during this occasionally rocky road. Granted, you could end up feeling Bolkovac is a little naïve going into this expecting miracles when it comes to saving everyone, but there's a real pluck about her fight as the mire of human corruption rises up and festers around everyone in the UN like a bubbling cesspit.

A mix of mistrust, solid thriller and dark film-making makes the Whistleblower an earnest and worthy - if undramatic - night out and one which will make you question what you really believe about the UN.

Submarine: Movie Review

Submarine: Movie Review

Submarine
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Craig Roberts, Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor, Gemma Chan, Yasmin Paige
Director: Richard Ayoade
Richard Ayoade aka Moss from The IT Crowd has a stunning directorial debut in this coming of age tale set in Wales.
Craig Roberts is duffel-coated 15 year old Oliver Tate, a teen who's in love with a schoolmate and whose obsession with the state of his parents' marriage may end up sending him to an early grave.
Tate is an awkward kid -he reckons he's the bees' knees and is in denial with the reality that he's uncool and socially backward. However, that doesn't stop him from beginning a relationship with Yasmin Paige's Jordana.
Sally Hawkins is the mum, Noah Taylor the depressed dad and Paddy Considine, a mulleted mystic and ex-flame who could cause the rift between Tate's parents to grow.
Tate decides to try and get the family to rekindle their relationship and love - with sometimes depressingly humorous consequences.
Moments of laugh out loud dry humour are interlaced with stylish and stylistic film making, freeze frames and jump cuts as Ayoade shows he's a serious talent to be reckoned with.
Deft,delightful and deliciously dark at times, this is a sensational debut and one which showcases the very best of the international talent.

Submarine is a joy and a delight which cries for you to love it - perhaps a little too hard at times, but it's difficult to resist its many charms.

When A City Falls: Movie Review

When A City Falls: Movie Review

When A City Falls
Rating: 8/10
Cast: The people of Canterbury
Director: Gerard Smyth
Sometimes, a film makes itself.
So it is with When A City Falls, the documentary film about the series of earthquakes which rocked Canterbury this year and last, and changed our worlds as New Zealanders forever.
Christchurch resident Gerard Smyth really didn't have to do much when they hit - he simply picked up his camera and let the documentary make itself.
Basically made over an 12 month period and beginning with blue skies and daffodils on the Canterbury plains, Smyth follows the events which unfold in the Garden city and nearby. As Smyth's own voiceover at the start of the film intones: "This is a film I could never have planned to make".
But what emerges is a grippingly, emotional piece on the human condition and how we as human beings respond in times of tragedy and personal loss.
Also, what comes out is a deeply humbling study of what makes us Kiwis and showcases the very best of human nature.
Smyth's strength in this film is the people around him. He's smart enough to realise that this story is powerful enough to not need voiceover and limits it to simply asking questions.
These are images from the quake which have haunted (and continue to do so) many; but When A City Falls also benefits greatly from this approach by letting the people involved tell the story rather than a pompous voiceover. That works wonders by giving it a more original feel and an immediately identifiable stranglehold on your emotions
Plus when the footage of that fateful day on 22nd February is shown, the powerful ferocity of what unfolds is even more affecting because the screen simply shows what happened.
Countless faces are caught in crowds, moments framed by time and the film-makers; and the people Smyth uses are nameless but their stories are universal and instantly recognisable as well as heartbreaking, humbling and inspiring.
That's the thing with When A City Falls - there are a million stories to tell and a million voices to be heard with an event such as this. And it would've been easy to let it descend into doom and gloom.
But what's been done here ends up being uplifting in spirit and unique as we follow everyday people trying to live their lives and cope with what nature dealt to them thanks to help from strangers, their communities and from further afield. The fact Smyth's had unfettered access to what was going on means a lot of the footage is new to many of us but horribly recognisable in many ways.
Also, Smyth and his team choose to tackle some of the problems from the quake; be it the arguments over heritage buildings' destruction, people's shops torn down by accident and even heads to New Orleans and San Francisco to proffer up some help for the region.
When A City Falls won't be an easy watch for those involved in this - but I'd suggest it offers a little piece of healing up as it demonstrates quiet dignity and moments of resilience and pure humanity that will shine through.

Truly inspirational and utterly important, this doco demands to be seen and will ultimately stand as a testament to Cantabrians and this nation as a whole.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Game Review: Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3

Game Review: Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3

Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3
Released by THQ
Platform: PS3
Fighting games are pretty common these days with the likes of Street Fighter pretty much KOing the competition.
So the latest contender, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 emerges onto the scene and you'd think there was very little else to add to the genre. And to be fair, you'd have a point.
But this smack 'em up is a good solid entertaining fare with players being given the chance to play as the likes of She Hulk, Captain America et al from the Marvel universe as they take on each other in a fight to the death.
However, this time rather than being just one player against a horde of many, there's a chance to pick three fighters to form part of a tag team against three opponents. Sure the usual fights are there and the chance to punch all kinds of buttons to achieve all kinds of combos, but being part of the tag team means you're usually given a better chance to defeat the opposition. Add into that mix, aerial combos, moves you can bust out under an X factor move (a more powerful and longer burst of fighting goodness) and there's enough to keep you, your friends and the online community amused.
While graphically, the game is as good as ever, it's nice to see the comics of Marvel embraced in a very cool way into the gameplay. Characters come to life, cartoon style words are employed on screen and the whole thing starts with a comic flick book - it's a nice nod to the genre it's taking from and gives the game a feel of authenticity rather than a super quick cheap cash in.
Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 won't redefine the wheel in many ways; however, what it will do is entertain you and keep you amused in equal measure - and wanting to kick your friends' asses in new and exciting ways.

Rating: 7/10 


Monday, 21 November 2011

Game Review - Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Game Review - Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Released by Sony Entertainment
Platform: PS3
It's been a strong end to the year on the gaming front, with the likes of Batman Arkham City redefining the third person adventure genre.
And now, into the fray comes Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.
The latest from Naughty Dog is simply a cinematic wonder and a game to engross yourself in.
There's plenty of storyline here and to be honest, to reveal too much of it would really take some of the surprises away from you. It begins with Nathan Drake being caught in a bar brawl in England and it doesn't let up from there, taking in planes, deserts, and many more worldwide locations.
Throw in flashbacks and other bits and bobs, and there's plenty to absorb yourself in here.
But the thing is with Uncharted 3 is just how good it looks; every cut scene's been lovingly put together, with plenty of detail and plot worthy of a good cinema script. Add in some amazingly good graphic work and you can begin to see why this is such a visually impressive experience.
Gameplay wise, it's just as good - granted, there are a few frustrations as some missions give way to trying to work out exactly what you're doing, making it just that bit trickier to ascertain what's expected of you. But the challenge is certainly an enduring one and one which raises the bar for the Uncharted franchise. Regardless of whether you play a one person game or take the multiplayer option, there's certainly a lot to keep you entertained and challenged for hours.
I can't wait to see what they do next with this blend of Indiana Jones and console gaming - it's one hell of an experience, one hell of a game and one hell of a contender for game of the year.

Rating: 9/10 

Game Review: Rayman Origins

Game Review: Rayman Origins

Rayman Origins
Released by Ubisoft
Platform: PS3
I've never encountered Rayman before - even though he appeared on the scene back in 1995.
However, if this latest platformer is anything to go by, I'll certainly be seeking out some of his former outings.
The side scrolling game, which can accommodate four players in total, sees Rayman having to fight off enemies in levels, gather up "Electoons" (a kind of emoticon but I'm guessing they couldn't use that exact name), Lums (a kind of firefly creature with a sunshiney glow) and free the Nymphs of the world after an Underworld granny is disturbed and unleashes her minions upon them.
And that description will tell you everything you need to know about Rayman - if you'd not met him before.
The cartoonish graphics are perhaps best described as demented and reminiscent in some ways of Ren and Stimpy; however, Rayman Origins is very, very playable and ever so slightly addictive in its madness. Whether it's bounding around collecting lums, blasting grannies or climbing on mosquitos and shooting through the skies, there's a collective lunacy to this French based game which is highly endearing and utterly addictive.
Each level has several aims within - you have to either collect a certain number of Lums, achieve a time goal or get through unscathed. It means each level rewards multi plays and if you're just short of a target number, you'll bound right back into it straight away.
Rayman Origins is at heart, a really good fun platformer - with the multi player options, different animation and ease of play, it's great fun right from the get go for gamers of any age - and for those who've never been part of the franchise, it's a great leaping in point.

Rating: 8/10 

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Cars 2: Blu Ray Review

Cars 2: Blu Ray Review

Cars 2
Rating: PG
Released by Sony Home Ent and Disney
So, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his pal Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) return in this sequel to the 2006 smash about animated cars.

This time round, there's more racing mixed in with a heavy side of industrial espionage.

When McQueen's goaded into taking part in the World Grand Prix by the flashy racing car Francesco (John Turturro), he pulls together a team to help him win the day. On that team is hillbilly tow truck and long term friend Mater. But through a series of mix ups, Mater finds himself involved in Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and his quest to break an industrial spy ring
And that causes rifts between the two friends - can the rocky road to winning bring them back together in this global adventure?

There's nothing wrong with this sequel - it's bright, it's flashy and its animation is once again top notch (particularly the absolutely incredible global backgrounds which are brought to life)- and it's great entertainment for the young (and admittedly the young at heart.)

But I felt a little let down at the end of it - the adventures of Mater take top billing and sideline McQueen to the pitstop and I think in some ways, that's where it lacks a little heart and warmth as you'd come to expect from a Pixar flick. The film's very much a derring do tale of spies and espionage but it suffers a little from a lack of comedy as it treads the usual "embarassed by my buddy abroad" and "Culture clash" ground. There are laughs and some smart visual gags here and there, but I think this one's more aimed at the younger end (and the kids at the screening loved it) than the whole gamut as other Pixar films are wont to do.
Extras: Commentary, brilliant Toy Story short and little else

Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 19 November 2011

My Afternoons with Margueritte: DVD Review

My Afternoons with Margueritte: DVD Review

My Afternoons with Margueritte
Released by Warner Home Video

Gerard Depardieu stars in this gently Gallic rustic piece about friendship.

He plays Germain Chazes a man who starts the film kicking down a door after being ripped off for doing a job.
On a walk back home he meets Margueritte (Gisele Casadesus) a kindly old lady and a friendship is slowly born through a shared book and a love of stories, as well as feeding the local pigeons

My Afternoons with Margueritte is a gentle and pleasant piece which is as breezy as a summer cloud.

It's a sweet piece about the regrets of the past - Depardieu, looking incredibly portly and like Obelix from the French comics, is affable and loveable enough as he negotiates a monstrous mother who along with school has held him back for years as various flashbacks explain. Equally his friendship with Casadesus is easy and understandable as they continue to meet - it contrasts nicely with the harsh ribbing he takes from friends at a local cafe.

There's a sweet vibe to this film which wafts you along with it in a very simple way. It may not be the most memorable of pieces but it's certainly uplifting and heart warming as it plays out before you.

Rating: 6/10 

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Inbetweeners Season 3: DVD Review

The Inbetweeners Season 3: DVD Review

The Inbetweeners Season 3
Rating: M
Released by Hopscotch Ent and Roadshow
All good things have to come to an end.
So it is with the series The Inbetweeners. Well, as you'd expect when a show's based on high school kids.
In the final batch of six episodes, Will, Jay, Neil and Simon all return for more humiliation and innuendo as they enter their last year at school. This time, fashion shows, visits to uni and a camping trip form the basis of their outings - and once again, the writing feels fresh, funny and as rude as ever before.
The chemistry between the main quartet is startlingly good and the writing's as sharp as ever in this final run. Thankfully those involved saw the sense in finishing this now while the going's good.
Extras: A good solid bunch and a nice wrap up to these three releases.

Rating: 7/10 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Project Nim: Movie Review

Project Nim: Movie Review

Project Nim
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Nim The Chimp, Bob Angelini, Bern Cohen and Renne Falitz
Director: James Marsh
In 1970s Manhattan, a newborn chimp was taken from its mother and deposited in a family home as part of an experiment to see if said chimp can pick up sign language and construct sentences.
Nim was the chimp - and the effects of what happened forms the basis of this engrossing and horrifying documentary from the team who made Man On Wire.
Don't worry, it's not a precursor to Planet of the Apes, more of a look at how far we can go sometimes as humans and it's terrifying in many ways.The doco uses home movie footage and pictures and modern day interviews to construct a well told tale and a journey which will occasionally leave you agog as to what was achieved,what was abandoned and what the cost was to our humanity and those whose lives Nim was part of.

This doco is utterly mesmerizing, heartbreaking and also wondrous in its narrative style - disappointingly,some questions are left unanswered but what emerges is a tale of betrayal, mistrust, anger and a chimp who changed lives. A remarkably good doco Project Nim is a stylish and engaging piece looking at the human condition.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One: Movie Review

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One: Movie Review

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One
Rating: See below
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner,
Director: Bill Condon
So it's finally here.
The final film of the Twilight Saga franchise - well, the first part of it anyway - heads onto Kiwi cinema screens amid mass expectation from the fans, and to be frank, a little indifference from anyone who's not a Twihard.
This time around after years of anticipation, it's all about the wedding of human Bella (Stewart) and sparkly vamp boy Edward Cullen (RPatz). Well, that and the monstrous after effects...
Despite protestations from occasionally shirtless wolf shapeshifting boy and former partial love, Jacob (sulky Lautner), Bella marries Edward and the pair head away for Rio de Janeiro to celebrate their honeymoon and consummate their long drawn out courtship.
But when Bella becomes pregnant, the ramifications for the fractured relationships between wolves and vamps bubble up to the surface again and with the uncertainty of what the unborn child will do to an already strained truce between the two races, these two have more than post wedding blues to deal with.
It's really quite difficult to review this latest installment of the Twilight Saga as a critic because quite frankly, like the final Harry Potter film earlier this year, it's simply reviewer proof and will do the box office business whatever the naysayers say.
Over nearly two hours, to be honest, very little actually happens; there's a wedding and a lot of skulking/ brooding and worrying/foreshadowing about the future, complete with scenes on their honeymoon which are lashed with copious emo style music and with swirling camera motions and long draping shots of the duo. The dialogue is once again, as you've come to expect in the Twi-saga wooden, stilted and sounds terrible when voiced. Comments like "I won't kill you; that's too easy - you deserve to live with this" and "You only killed monsters - you saved more lives than you took" simply come across as laughable and do nothing to give any real depth to the film itself. Along with the moment when the baby's name is revealed as Renesmee, to hear characters spouting "It's beautiful, it's unique" and trying their best to be earnest is just laughable.
But I'm guessing any Twihard fan will consider these moments romantic and dramatic; and will swoon over Edward telling his new wife "Last night was the best night of my existence", because you're meant to remember what it's like to be romantic and in love. Granted, Kristen Stewart gives a good performance as her awkward doubts and fears over devoting her life to one man for eternity give way to the horrors of the unborn child destroying her from within. And the effects which accompany her descent into ill health are well presented and shocking. As for Taylor Lautner's sulking Jacob and RPatz's brooding Edward, they're both not offering anything at all and are quite stilted in places. The wedding scene at the start is actually well done and beautiful but a swirling soundtrack and Condon's propensity to lash every scene with music makes you feel a little like you're being beaten into submission.
While the scenes of fighting vamps and wolves were quite strong and well done in previous films, this time around, they're gloomy and hard to watch as they all take place in the dark. Plus one scene where a pack of wolves carry out a mental confrontation which is pivotal to Jacob is quite frankly likely to give you the giggles. Equally the love scene which is supposed to be intense and violent as is befitting their nature is now just a series of moments, soft focus cutaways and primarily the punchline to a joke.
I think where some of this film's failing comes from is its accessibility (or lack thereof).
Whereas the final Harry Potter film was entirely watchable if you'd not seen what had gone already, Breaking Dawn - Part One feels in places, quite impenetrable. The whole thing is clearly aimed at those who've been with the franchise all the way; and those who don't know their vamps from their wolves, their Cullens from their Quileute may feel a little lost.
Ultimately, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part One is going to be loved by the fans of the franchise for what it actually delivers; this is, after all, what they've been waiting for as it all finally ends. They'll love what transpires on the screens from their heroes and heroine as they're invested in it; and it's likely the end of the first part will have them frothing in a frenzy about what the second half will bring next year. Anyone else who watches this film may feel that this series has been going on for too long, is running a little short on creative ideas and that it's time it was staked and turned to dust.

Rating: Twihards: 8/10; Non-Twihards 4/10

Tucker and Dale vs Evil: Blu Ray Review

Tucker and Dale vs Evil: Blu Ray Review

Tucker and Dale vs Evil
Rating: M
Released by Warner Home video
Tucker and Dale Vs Evil is likely to be the new cult hit.
A comedy horror with aspirations to do for hillbillies what Shaun of the Dead did for zombies, it's got a neat premise.
Tyler Labine (of Reaper) and Alan Tudyk (of Firefly and anything cool) are the Tucker and Dale of the title; a pair of hillbillies who're just heading into the woods to do up their vacation home. But when they get nearly run off the road by a group of college kids, enemies are made.
The hapless duo find things get worse when they save one of the girls from drowning and take her back to their cabin - soon, her friends are, in their words, "in a suicide pact" and "killing themselves on my property."
Simple misunderstandings lead to hilarity and horror in equal measures - and you'll never look at a hillbilly again in an unsympathetic light.

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Transformers 3: Blu Ray Review

Transformers 3: Blu Ray Review

Transformers Dark of the Moon
Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Ent

Back for a third time, the Autobots and the Decepticons continue their life long robotic battle.

Thrown into the middle of this eternal scrap between good and evil is Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky who's struggling to get a job and is becoming resentful he saved the world (twice) for little lasting reward.

This time when it appears a deciding component in the struggle's been found in a spaceship which crashed into the moon around the time of Apollo 11's landing in the 60s, both sides scramble to try and seize it.

But it soon transpires the whole thing could signal the end for them - as well as us...

Transformers Dark of the Moon is a typical Michael Bay gig; there are explosions aplenty, set pieces and plenty of swooping shots of planes and choppers as they head into war.

Happily though Bay has dialled down the frenetic pace of the last film which saw scenes of utter mayhem and robots transforming at such a pace, you could barely keep up with it.
This time it's less of a blur and means the couple of major set pieces are absolutely stunning - including a chase scene on the freeway and an attack piece inside a building. It gives the effects a little more space to breathe and visually sends your eyes on one hell of a journey.

As for the humans, Shia makes good fist of whining Sam and shows he can carry an action film- however, that's not the case with the rest of the supporting cast - particularly Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Sadly with her, it's a case of bringing in some eye candy to titillate (as the camera lingers lovingly over her form at every chance) because the moment she starts speaking, it's starchly wooden and
robotic. She manages an improvement towards the end though which is a relief - even if it's a minor improvement.
Of the heavily crowded ensemble, John Malkovich and Ken Jeong have cameos which are blown away by Alan Tudyk's supporting turn.
In many ways on screen, this third film is way too bloated - with an overly long running time which starts to sag, the older end of the audience may feel their attention span drift - though the kids will love it.

Rating: 6/10


Waiting for Superman: DVD Review

Waiting for Superman: DVD Review

Waiting for Superman
Rating: PG
Released by Universal Home entertainment

Waiting for Superman is a doco about the American education system and its failings.

From Davis Guggenheim (who brought us An Inconvenient Truth) its USP is that this doco blames weak teachers for the failing students rather than the system itself.

Choosing to follow a clutch of kids from all sides of America and their families who want the best for them educationally, it manages to humanize the issue. Throw into the mix some inspirational teachers who're trying to make the difference after realizing what's wrong and some damning evidence (and some anecdotal) about where it's going wrong and you've got a fairly potent mix.

Mix in animations and clips from the School of Rock and The Simpsons and Waiting for Superman aims to get its message out to all - many will appreciate what it's saying; some will feel, once again, that the doco maker is following his own agenda.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Game Review - Sonic Generations

Game Review - Sonic Generations

Sonic Generations
Released by Sega
Platform PS3
Has it really been 20 years since the little blue hedgehog first appeared on the scene?
I vividly remember the first time I played the original Sonic The Hedgehog and being blown away by the speed of the game and the fun of it all.
So, 20 years on, there's another game out and this one embraces the last two decades of Blue Hedgehoggy goodness.
In Sonic Generations, Sonic himself is celebrating his birthday when out of nowhere, a creature known as The Time Eater appears and sucks Sonic and his friends into a series of portals and scattering them across history. As Sonic begins hunting for his pals, he encounters the younger version of himself and the two of them have to team up to ensure their mates can be saved and the bad guys beaten.
Melding levels from all of the Sonic releases from the past 2 decades is quite a novel approach to this game; throw into that mix, the chance to play as Modern and Classic Sonic and all of the spin skills, bouncing, grinding and jumping they've had throughout their career and you're pretty much looking at the ultimate Sonic Game.
As well as various game levels to complete, there are side challenges as well and the whole gameplay experience for Sonic Generations really does feel like a compendium of gaming. There's the nostalgia factor at play here too - as you burn around different levels, you really do remember why it was that you fell in love with Sonic in the first place; even if occasionally, you remember the frustrations of the latter era of the games.
With tremendous graphics, bright colours, a somewhat irritating series of tunes, Sonic Generations is a timely reminder of why and how the Hedgehog changed the gaming landscape. It's a fun, frivolous and affectionate tribute to a legend and a timely reminder that sometimes the simplest of games are the most playable and enduring.

Rating: 8/10 

Game Review - Disney Universe

Game Review - Disney Universe

Disney Universe
Released by THQ/ Disney
Platform: PS3
As the Christmas rush continues, there's ever more pressure on the dollar and from the kids to keep their gaming needs satiated.
Enter then, Disney Universe, the latest contender for your cash and their time.
As a visitor to Disney Universe, it all looks like a sweet place to visit - Disney characters all around and general peace and love as good ole Uncle Walt would have wanted. But the Disney universe has been invaded by bad guys and it's now upto you to save the day. You get to dress up in a costume from Disney movies and take on each challenge. Each level is divided into three sub levels and you have to go into each one, perform a few tasks, save a trapped visitor and generally collect as many gold stars as you can.
And that's pretty much it to be honest.
But it's enduringly cute and relatively playable (if you can put up with the repetitive nature of some of the levels). The puzzles are simple and with arrows telling you where to go and what to do, even the most novice of gamer can achieve something in this. There are also power ups available and plenty of costumes to utilise (from the likes of Monsters Inc, Wall-E, Mickey Mouse et al) so there's always something to keep you amused. And with the chance to build up each costume via every level, there's certainly enough challenges ahead.
The only real problem of this rather cute little platformer is that it does feel a little samey level after level; thankfully the option of multi player competitions and some online content give it a bit of a longer shelf life but all in all, Disney Universe is a relatively sweet and simplistic game which may well keep the kids (and the big kids) amused over the upcoming Christmas break for a short while.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Dr Who S6 Part 2: Blu Ray Review

Dr Who S6 Part 2: Blu Ray Review

Dr Who S6 Part 2 Blu Ray
Rating: PG
Released by BBC and Roadshow
So the second half of this truncated season of Matt Smith's latest outing as Doctor Who comes out - and with it the creaking heavy weight of expectation from fans that writer Steven Moffat actually has an idea of what he's doing.
With the first episode of the 1st half of the season indicating that the Dr would die, there was a sense of foreboding in this set. Throw into that, the truth behind Alex Kingston's River Song being revealed at the end of the last run and there's certainly a lot for them to live upto.
Thankfully, it does - with the opening episode Let's Kill Hitler showing how they've got a lot creatively to give, there's certainly plenty of life left in the time lord yet. This shorter run of 6 eps does suffer a little in terms of story telling with some of them not being as strong as they could be. But with a final ep that proves the wait was worth it in terms of story and emotional core, the pacy run feels satisfying in many ways.
However, it does feel at times that a lot of the story telling and arcs from the past 3 years have run their course and it's really time to change tack for the future. Once again though, Matt Smith knocks it out of the park as Doc 11 and Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill certainly get stronger material to work with.
Extras: Disappointingly very few - may be worth holding off for the entire season set due before Christmas

Rating: 7/10 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Beginners: Movie Review

Beginners: Movie Review

Beginners
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Melanie Laurent, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Goran Visnjic
Director: Mike Mills
Sad, sweet, melancholy and extremely moving, Beginners sees Ewan McGregor as Oliver,dealing with his father's death (played brilliantly by Christopher Plummer)from cancer.
Just 5 years before his death, his dad came out and began a new lease of life at 75 with a younger man (ER's Visnjic) ;and it's this which inspires Oliver to do the same as he starts a cautious courtship with Anna (Melanie Laurent).
With flashbacks interspersed with some wry narrative tricks and snapshots of life then and now, Mike Mills has made a truly warm and affectionate picture which is subtle and astoundingly good. McGregor's barely been better and Laurent is the perfect romantic foil for him. This is a romatic pair who work really well together and the warmth of the narrative hits you in the heart when you least expect it.
Swinging back and forth helps it all come together and the end could see you in tears.

Plus throw in a cute dog as well who says it all in subtitles, and it's easy to see why this is recommended. Quirky, heartfelt, endearing and human, it's a rare treat late in the year and one which should be relished and cherished.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Batman: Arkham City: PS3 Review

Batman: Arkham City: PS3 Review

Batman Arkham City 
Released by Rocksteady and Warner Bros 
Rating: M 

Wow. 

Simply put, there's very little else to say about this new release which once again puts you back into the Bat Boots as the Caped Crusader.

Expanding the world that was created in Batman: Arkham Asylum was always going to be a difficult task, but developers Rocksteady have made a game which incorporates the world of the Batman so seamlessly with its mythology that it becomes one of the best playing experiences around. 

In terms of plot - Bruce Wayne is captured and dumped behind the locked walls of Arkham City, a prison area of Gotham City. It's here the dregs and the deranged members of society are dumped - along with some of the Bat's deadliest foes -including his nemesis, Joker. 

So when Wayne awakes from his kidnapping, he's understandably keen to get out - and that's where the Batman comes in. Armed with help via comms from loyal butler Alfred, Batman's got to find out what's going on in Arkham City and how it can be stopped... 

The plot may sound a little generic but for fans of the Batman mythology, it's a shame to spoil the surprises and characters which crop up as the game progresses. 

As a playable landscape, Arkham City is just stunning; the world's been beautifully realized and feels like a pastiche of crime films and Blade Runner. Coupled with the cinematic touches and cutscenes, there's so much to immerse yourself in here that you really can lose yourself in Arkham City. Throw in top notch voice work from those who've been involved in the franchise for a very long time and you're aware this is a labour of love from the developers' point of view as well as a player's. 

Using stealth attacks, gliding, an array of Bat gadgets, there's plenty on show for you to build up your armoury, your stamina and your skills and the game really does reward continuous playing. As well as the main storyline, there are side missions too which pepper Gotham City and give you a bit of a breather from what needs to be done. 

Easily one of the games of the year, Batman Arkham City is one hell of an experience and one of the best entrants into the Batman genre; it embraces and expands the mythology and is a totally exciting and entertaining proposition for any gaming fan.