Friday, 30 September 2011

Game Review: Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Game Review: Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
Released by THQ
Platform: PS3
A video game starring the awesome character Mark Strong is never something to be sniffed at.
And so it is with Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.
Strong stars as Captain Titus, leader of the elite fighting force, The Ultramarines. He and his troops are called in to help fight off the menace of a marauding Ork force - and pretty soon, the troops (and by extension, you) are engaged in a battle of brutal force.
I'd like to give you more of a plot here but to be honest, while there's a simple one at play, there's little else to the game except fighting off hordes of slavering, slobbering orks - who either shoot or hack at you.
Essentially though, this third person shooter will rise or fall on whether you enjoy this kind of gameplay; sure, there's plenty of fun to be had from simply massacring everything around you with either a gun or an array of chainsaws but there are some frustrations too.
That initial rush of killing joy soon begins to wear off as you realise that's predominantly what the game has on offer and the fact you are unable to deviate from the route mapped out for Titus and explore the world, means in some ways you are trapped.
Conversely though, that's outweighed by the fact there are some nifty weapons (combat knife, bolt pistols) on show and you need to use smarts to progress through levels rather than just killing everything in sight.
Strong adds a degree of credibility to the game with his voice over and some of the cut scenes are almost cinematic in scope - but at the end of the day, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is fun to play if you're willing to leave your brain off and simply go on a spree of violence.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Lion King 3D: Movie Review

The Lion King 3D: Movie Review

The Lion King
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, Nathan Lane
So, a limited big screen 3D release of Disney's award winning tale is unleashed.
And I'm not entirely sure why it's getting either a bit of 3D treatment or a limited release ahead of its Blu ray debut - but best to put that marketing cynicism to one side I think.
It's the African based tale of Lion cub Simba (played by Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick) who will become the Lion King of Pride Rock after the natural death of his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones).
However, jealousy rears its ugly head when Mufasa's duplicitous brother Scar (Jeremy Irons) moves against him, bitter at Simba succeeding him as king.
So when Simba's framed for his father's death, he's forced to flee Pride Rock for good.
But when hyenas ravage Simba's homeland and a former friend Nala inadvertently finds him, he decides to return home and claim what's rightfully his.
It's hard to knock the majesty of the Lion King up on the big screen (particularly for those who've not seen it before - and there will be young kids who've not, as well as a few adults) and it's hard to stay cynical at the reasoning for the release when Tim Rice's brilliant songs rear their musical heads.
Nearly 20 years on, this still has charm, even if the animation is showing its age a little; it's primarily to do with the story though - covered as it is with shades of Biblical overtones, Shakespeare and the humour within.
There's certainly plenty on this emotional ride - as well as scares for the younger end of the audience - to keep the whole family engaged but I'd question the use of the 3D as it adds nothing to the original experience and seems useless.
At the end of the day, The Lion King 3D needs only to shout about its story to get bums on seats - it doesn't need bells or whistles because thanks to a fantastic ensemble, a variety of toe tapping medleys and a great story, it remains a roaringly good piece of entertainment.

Hakuna Matata indeed.

Zookeeper: Movie Review

Zookeeper: Movie Review

Zookeeper

Rating: 4/10

Cast:
Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, An array of vocal talents for talking animals

Director: Frank Coraci

Kevin James continues to mine his everyman shtick in this latest, a comedy about a zookeeper.
James is Griffin, who, at the start of the film has his proposal rejected by Leslie Bibb's Stephanie (the love of his life).

Cue five years later, Griffin's now head zookeeper and relatively content with his lot in life. Until at his brother's engagement do (at the zoo, naturally) his ex shows up and Griffin realises what he may have lost.

So determined to better himself, Griffin decides it's time to leave the zoo - and take a high earning job elsewhere to ensure he's not seen as a failure.

And that's the moment, the animals plot to keep him - and break their code of silence to reveal to him, and he alone, that they can talk&.

What to say about Zookeeper?

If you like pratfalls, talking animals, a creepy Asian zookeeper (step forward Ken Jeong), flat set pieces which lack fizz and sparkle, occasional laugh out loud moments and an array of stars (Stallone, Cher to name but two) talking as animals, then stop reading right here and pre-book your ticket for Zookeeper.
Granted the younger end of the audience is likely to enjoy this and there's a nice message about staying true to yourself and believing in yourself, but Zookeeper is pretty much your standard middle of the road fare.

James trades well on his everyman role once again but this time around, there's little for him to work with here - there's certainly no sophistication on display in the script but some of the younger end of the audience will love it in places (particularly the whole friendship he has with a gorilla, and a talking monkey too).

At the end of the day, if you want to see Kevin James being given advice on getting women from a group of animated animals who're prone to putting him in a succession of embarrassing situations, believe the kids will have a good time and you're prepared to leave your brain at the door, then Zookeeper is the one for your hard earned cash.





Dr Who: Paradise Towers: DVD Review

Dr Who: Paradise Towers: DVD Review

Dr Who - Paradise Towers
Rating: PG
Released by BBC and Roadshow

This four part serial from 1987 is not one of Who's finest hours.

When Sylvester McCoy's 7th Doctor takes Bonnie Langford's Mel to Paradise Towers to relax, the pair finds themselves in a world that's fallen into ruin.
Overrun by gangs and with a series of sinister goings on, the Doctor realises he must save the day - once again and overthrow a vicious evil lurking deep within Paradise Towers.

This adventure is a difficult watch - even for fans of the show.

McCoy spends a lot of the story gurning and Richard Briers is barely much better as the fascistic Chief Caretaker of the block; it's a serial which verges on tedious rather than entertaining.

Extras: Thankfully, these are a slightly higher quality bunch (almost as if those behind the release knew how weak it was) with a doco looking back at the making of the serial; a vignette on how McCoy was cast as the Doc and an interesting three hander where Sophie Aldred, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton reflect on their time as Who companions.

Rating: 4/10 

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Grand Designs S8: DVD Review

Grand Designs S8: DVD Review

Grand Designs Series 8
Rating: G
Released by Roadshow

Kevin McCloud continues his quest to follow self builds in this latest batch of Grand designs.

Basically, the series doesn't veer too much from its successful formula with McCloud usually a bit suspect of the work done within the constraints of the English weather. But with eight episodes and a variety of houses under scrutiny, there's plenty of inspiration to marvel at.

You'd have to wonder if the show's producers are running out of volunteers but it's clear within the likes of a Scandinavian style house in Cornwall and loft hidden in a field, there's plenty of ingenuity around. Inspiring and watchable, this latest series is a clear example of it's not broke, then don't fix it - except with homes and projects that need a bit of extreme DIY.

Rating: 7/10 

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Big Lebowski: Blu Ray Review

The Big Lebowski: Blu Ray Review

The Big Lebowski
Released by Universal Home Ent
Rating: R16
Thirteen years after its initial release, this Blu Ray release of The Coen Brothers' seminal film remains an essential watch.
Jeff Bridges stars as "The Dude" who finds himself slap bang in the middle of a kidnapping after a case of mistaken identity. Things become further complicated when one of the Dude's friends plots to keep the cash for himself.
Quirky and appealing still after all this time, The Big Lebowski is the epitome of a cult film; panned on its initial release, it's become part of the hallowed world of the film lover.
A great collection of extras including docos really adds to the appeal of this set and give it the feel of an ultimate release for one of the most iconic films of the past 20 years.
Extras: Docos, making of, behind the scenes of the dream sequence

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Thick Of It: DVD Review

The Thick Of It: DVD Review

The Thick Of It: Series one and Two

Rating: M
Released by BBC

The TV series which spawned the truly brilliant In The Loop film, this is a satire about the inner workings of the British government.

Starring Chris Langham as an inept minister, the series focuses on the fictional ministry of social affairs where policy changes as quickly as the weather. Episodes see the department forced to come up with policy in 40 minutes, focus groups and cabinet reshuffles. But it's a case of the entire cast underplaying their roles, combined with shaky cam that give this a verite feel and deliver such mirth.

However, it's Peter Capaldi as the vicious potty mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker who shines in this series which will appeal to those who loved Yes Minister and who love smart UK comedies.

Extras: Commentaries, bonus scenes, script guides.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Brighton Rock: Blu Ray Review

Brighton Rock: Blu Ray Review

Brighton Rock
Rating: R16
Released by Madman Home Entertainment
It's always hard to redo a film when another version exists that's deemed a classic.

This version of Brighton Rock (based on Graham Greene's 1939 novel) has had a few tweaks.

Set against a backdrop of unrest between the Mods vs Rockers scene, the action takes place in Brighton; a Brighton of the sixties where gangs of dissenting youth and mobsters roam the streets, taking to anything they don't like with violence.

Pinkie (played with resentful ferocity by Sam Riley) is one of those involved in a gang; he's more likely to crack a skull than a smile - and he finds himself wrestling with power and greed after he commits a murder.

Things get more complicated when Rose (a stunning Andrea Riseborough) finds herself unwittingly in the middle of evidence linking Pinkie's gang to the murder.

So Pinkie seduces the naïve Rose - as he tries to ensure she doesn't talk...
But Rose's boss Ida (Helen Mirren) knows something's not right - and soon finds herself embroiled in this tale of gangland by the sea.

Brighton Rock is dark and gloomy - both in tone and in lighting.
This story of shivs, shingle and shocks may take a while to resonate with audiences - and many of the older persuasion will take a lot to be convinced anyone can improve on Richard Attenborough's performance.

In many ways, Pinkie's supposed to be the archetypal anti-hero but he's very difficult to root for (sample moment - he decides whether Rose loves him by pulling the legs off a spider). He's cold, blessed with a permanent scowl, callous, ruthless and in Sam Riley's hands, menacingly watchable.

Likewise Andrea Riseborough's Rose is simply the soaraway success of this - brilliantly fragile, stupidly naïve and yet endlessly optimistic, she sums up much of the uncertainty of youth - and in the final scenes she will break your heart.

The problem with this Brighton Rock is it's a little slow to get going; and with the darkness pervading the script as well as the onscreen action, some may not be willing to give it the time to let it wash over them and get engrossed.

Extras: A packed second disc with makings of, commentary with director, interviews with the cast, anatomy of a scene - a decent bunch for consumption

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Devil's Rock: Movie Review

The Devil's Rock: Movie Review

The Devil's Rock
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Craig Hall, Gina Varela, Matthew Sunderland, Karlos Drinkwater
Director: Paul Campion
Horror and Nazis combine in this Kiwi flick.
Hall stars as Captain Ben Grogan, who along with his comrade Sergeant Joseph Tane (Drinkwater) is on a top secret government mission to destroy positions on the eve of D Day.
But when the pair end up on an apparently deserted bunker in Guernsey, they find more than they can handle - a series of bodies with entrails hanging out, a sole Nazi officer and a woman chained up.
However, it soon transpires that there's more to this story than meets the eye and Grogan finds all manner of problems and fears within...
The Devil's Rock is a pacy attempt at a good psychological horror; in many ways, the tense quiet opening as the pair negotiate the beaches is a traditional tale of any duo who find themselves in a minefield.
But when they get inside the bunker, it's here Campion abandons a lot of the war tenets and heads into horror territory as we hear screams, shots of tortured and mutilated bodies and see blood all over the walls.
Yet, it doesn't veer into OTT territory either with Campion preferring to give the film a more intimate and psychological feel as Hall and Sunderland's characters match wits and engage in verbal sparring initially as part of a two hander conversation. Gina Varela manages the right level of seductive menace as the Devilish woman chained up as the film heads into Exorcist meets Saving Private Ryan boundaries.

There's a lot of gore in this outing and that may put some off but as a well researched horror which is based on a degree of fact, it really does offer something a little different to the genre and may impress more than you'd initially expect.

Robot Chicken Star Wars III: DVD Review

Robot Chicken Star Wars III: DVD Review

Robot Chicken Star Wars III
Rating: M
Released by Madman Home Ent
Once more unto the breach of Star Wars gags in this latest spoof series from the Robot Chicken team.
Taking the usual format of plenty of speedy sketches, this latest doesn't really deviate too far from the mould to be honest.
This time around, the guys take aim at the likes Obi Wan working Jedi mind tricks on himself in the mirror, C3P0 taking Spanish lessons, and follows the antics of Gary The Stormtrooper.
I guess really, it comes down to whether you're a fan of Star Wars and can recognize the targets this motion capture animation takes aim at - certainly if you are, you'll get a lot more out of it. But even the most casual Star Wars fan is likely to raise a few giggles from this 45 minute episode.
Extras: A very generous helping with over 3 hours of nuggets of deleted scenes, animatics and commentaries. Plus a Sunday in the boardroom with the real George Lucas gives you an insight into how accepted this parody and mockery has become.

Rating: 7/10 

Fair Game: Blu Ray Review

Fair Game: Blu Ray Review

Fair Game
Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Entertainment

Naomi Watts and Sean Penn reteam for a third time in this movie based on a true story.

Watts stars as CIA agent Valerie Plame, who works at the highest level within the government. The film begins in the aftermath of September the 11th, with the CIA trying to substantiate claims over who's behind the terror attacks and get the evidence needed to support the US government's stance on a war with Iraq

But when Plame's husband, Joe Wilson (a fiery and defiant Sean Penn) writes an opinion piece in the New York Times in 2003 that the intelligence was manipulated to fit the White House, Plame's cover is blown.

She's revealed to the world as a CIA agent, endangering operations she has in play and lives she has promised to protect.

Not only does it endanger everything she's worked for, but the personal cost on the duo and their young family is crippling.

Fair Game is intelligent film-making, blessed with strong central performances.

While it takes a while to get going, the clever use of archival news footage from that time within the film sees a taut political drama start to unfold. The shaky camera work adds a grittiness (and at times, it must be said, a distraction) but it's really Watts and Penn who shine here. Penn, in particular, gets to vent his spleen well in the character who rages against the injustice - but a more quiet and restrained Watts brings the emotional intensity needed to balance that.

The initial humour ends very quickly as the story changes (on returning from a fact-finding mission to Niger, Wilson's character says he "doesn't feel very 007 right now") and soon, the drama has taken the front stage.

Engrossing and with an ending that certainly packs a powerful emotional punch, Fair Game is an interesting and gripping look into the old David and Goliath argument

Extras: Commentary from Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson give this a level of credence it deserves

Rating: 7/10 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena: Blu Ray review

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena: Blu Ray review

Spartacus: Gods of The Arena
Rating: R18
Released by Madman Entertainment
The prequel to the series Spartacus: Blood and Sand sees John Hannah and our very own Lucy Lawless take centre stage in a 6 hour miniseries.
Hannah is Roman Batiatus, an ambitious man who wants his champion Gannicus to take his rightful place in the arena and earn the house the fame it deserves. But Batiatus, along with his conniving wife Lucretia (Lawless) will do anything to get there - and quite frankly, as politics and rivalries stand in the way, that's a good thing.
It leads to a heady mix of glorified violence, steamy and raunchy sex and a healthy dose of betrayal, lust and mistrust.
Spartacus Gods of the Arena has been described as a guilty pleasure and that's pretty much on the mark; the fight scenes are incredibly well choreographed and simply put, there's never been anything more brutal, more bloodspattered and more watchable on the small screen.
Hannah impresses as the lead and Lawless, along with Jaime Murray, add a level of cunning to the overall production.
If there's to be a criticism in this tale of politicking and honour among the gladiators, the series does recycle its plots a little toward the end of the run, but it's such a powerful run and a compelling pleasure, that you almost forget that.
Extras: A raft of special features with some really interesting looks at how it was all put together and the Blu Ray offers extended episodes (shame you can't watch the cut down ones as well)

Rating: 8/10

Black Books: The Definitive Collection: DVD Review

Black Books: The Definitive Collection: DVD Review

Black Books - The Definitive Collection

Rating: M
Released by Shock

Collecting together all three series of this UK sitcom with Dylan Moran is a sensible move.

Packaging it up in a collectors' book box set, is an even better one.

Moran plays Bernard Black, the eccentric bookshop owner who is only interested in being drunk and abusive to customers; Bill Bailey plays his sidekick Manny and Tamsin Greig is a fellow shopkeeper who falls in with their insane ways.

There's so much to love about this comedy from the creators of Father Ted; it's lunatic, funny, bizarre and a little nuts to be honest - but it's eminently watchable and well worth your time.

Extras: A Whole wealth which have previously been available on other collections but with a new doco, this feels like the ultimate collection which fans will adore.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, 16 September 2011

Game Review - Resistance 3

Game Review - Resistance 3

Resistance 3
Released by Insomniac Games
Platform: PS3
Third time is the charm, right?

In this latest from the prolific and much loved Insomniac Games and the Resistance series, it's four years since the end of Resistance 2.

Sentinel Joseph Capelli has given up fighting the Chimeran menace. Now he's in hiding with other survivors, including his wife and young son.
But when Dr. Fyodor Malikov arrives with the opportunity to deliver a blow to the occupying Chimeran force, Capelli must leave his family and journey the harrowing road from Oklahoma to New York City.

However, the Chimera menace is everywhere to be seen along the way - and Capelli needs to be smart and sensibly armed if he's going to win the day.

A first person sci fi shooter with a 1950s setting, Resistance 3 is playable, terrifying and engrossing to say the least.

But it's not just a case of shooting and running, hoping that tactic will save the day. You actually have to be a little bit smarter than the average gamer and work out how best to use weapons so you don't deplete your ammo while on a killing spree; it's also wise to use your brain to realise when it's best to hide and when it's best to try and avoid the Chimera.

However, that's not always easy - and when some of the Chimera, such as the ones which are essentially suicide chemical blobs target you, sometimes you just can't get away fast enough.

Weaponry such as a Deadeye sniper rifle, a nitrogen freezing ray and various types of grenades all get upgraded with constant use - and so ultimately, Capelli becomes somewhat of a fighting force.

The online components of Resistance 3 are also a boon too - by logging on, you can join others to work together to get rid of the Chimera or try to seize areas in combat simulation games such as steal the flag etc. The player cooperative facilities are a great asset to the game and also give you a chance to feel that the gameplay in Resistance 3 is actually global rather than one man taking on the might of the marauding baddies.

The developers though, have wisely chosen to ground the whole game in a human element as Capelli does whatever he can to protect his wife and young son. It's a nice touch with adds a bit of heart to the cutscenes and a poignant urgency to the campaigns as you immerse yourself in this world.

All in all, Resistance 3 is one of the best FPS games I've played - time to sign up and join to protect the future of the world!

Rating: 8/10

Source Code: Blu Ray Review

Source Code: Blu Ray Review

Source Code
Rating: M
Released by Hopscotch and Roadshow

From the director of last year's brilliant Moon, comes a new sci fi thriller which has heart and soul as well as intelligence and action.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Captain Colter Stevens, who finds himself on a train and facing a woman Christina (Bridget Monaghan) he's convinced he's never met before.
To make matters worse, he looks in a mirror and sees the face looking back at him is not his own.

Before he's got time to make head or tail of what's going on, a bomb destroys the Chicago bound train - taking him, and all the passengers with it.
When he wakes up though, he finds himself being questioned by the military (led by Vera Farmiga) and trapped in a capsule.

They explain he's got just eight minutes on the train to find out who is responsible for bombing it and send him back in - and will keep doing so until he's successful.....

Source Code is perhaps one of the best scifi thrillers ever made - but more than that, it's a compelling film which is grounded in humanity rather than just scifi.

Duncan Jones seriously impressed with Moon and he builds even more here with this thrilling and exciting ride. It's a fiendishly intriguing premise which throws you right in at the beginning by giving you few clues and so immediately you empathise with Stevens as he tries to find out what's going on.

Gyllenhaal is mightily watchable as Stevens; as the truth unravels, you understand and really feel his puzzled viewpoint; the thing is, it's all due to Gyllenhaal and his steely determination mixed with vulnerability.

But credit must also go to Monaghan; her Christine becomes the emotional touchstone on the train and the reason Stevens keep coming back - she helps give the story the humanity it needs to keep it from simply being a thriller with a large dollop of sci fi.

The other star is the script - initially complex and layered, it rewards an intelligent audience who are willing to take the ride and embrace the mystery of what's going on on the train as well as what's going on with Stevens.

Source Code is one of the best films of 2011 - it's intelligent, ferociously good film making, and a brilliant experience which rewards with multiple viewings.

Extras: Cast and crew interviews, commentary with Jake Gyllenhaal and writer Ben Ripley

Rating: 8/10 

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Friends With Benefits: Movie Review

Friends With Benefits: Movie Review

Friends With Benefits
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson
Director: Will Gluck
Haven't we already done this before with No Strings Attached starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman in the past 12 months?
Well, sort of.
Mila Kunis stars as corporate headhunter Jamie who first meets graphic designer Dylan Harper (Justin Timberlake) when she's trying to get him to relocate from LA to take a job with GQ in New York. Harper's initially reticent to take the post as he's not convinced the move is the right thing for him. But Jamie takes him for a night on the town and that persuades him to up sticks and move to the Big Apple.
But Harper doesn't really know anyone and so he latches onto Jamie and the two become friends.
Who then decide a little casual sex won't necessarily be a bad thing - as long as it doesn't lead to complications....
As romantic comedies go, Friends With Benefits is a bouncy, fun, light, frothy cappuccino of the genre; it's got a pacy opening and some zingy funny dialogue - as well as young things exposing a fair bit (and butt) of flesh.
That in mind, it's actually got a fair bit going for it - in particular, Kunis who cut her comedic chops on TV sitcom, That 70s Show. She outshines Timberlake in comic timing, playful sexiness and great delivery of some punchy oneliners while batting those big seductive eyes. It's not that Timberlake's terrible, just that he's not on the same level as her when it comes to the comedy and ends up more goofy than plausible.
There's a bit of a lull when the film relocates from the fun of NY to Harper's more serious home family situation in LA and despite another brilliant turn from Richard Jenkin, the energy dip nearly becomes critical for the movie.
A good solid ensemble cast, including a cameo from the superb Emma Stone, a hippyish free loving Patricia Clarkson as Jamie's mother and Woody Harrelson as a gay sports editor at GQ makes this something a little less predictable for the rom com genre. Sure, there's a bit of dissecting of the tenets of the rom-com world by the pair as they scoff at the banalities and predictabilities of Hollywood's romantic world view (even former Grey's Anatomy starlet and now romcom stable Katherine Heigl gets dissed), but it's all part of the overall mix.



All in all, despite the blatantly shoe-horned in product placement and repeated flash mobbing, Friends With Benefits will surprise you - it'll make you laugh when you don't expect it and actually leave you with a fluffy glow as you depart the cinema.

The Help: Movie Review

The Help: Movie Review

The Help
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer
Director: Tate Taylor
Taken from a best selling novel published in 2009 by Kathryn Stockett, The Help stars the very talented Emma Stone as Skeeter Phelan in the time of the Civil Rights movement in 1960s America.
The film follows Skeeter's relationship with Aibileen (Viola Davis), an African American maid who's been raising white children for many years. It also charts her time with fellow maid Minny (Spencer) whose outspoken nature has got her fired from several positions.
Skeeter's just finished university and decides the way into journalism is to try and pitch an article about the maids and their relationships and tales of working with the prejudices and racism of 1960s America.
But as the story unfolds, it appears all kinds of relationships are about to be tested in Jackson, the heartland of the American South.
It's into inspirational and formulaic chick flick territory we go with The Help - a tale that covers all the bases from the time with a solid performance from a good ensemble.
Once again, Emma Stone demonstrates why she's fast becoming Hollywood's go to girl for slightly feisty chicks with a heart; she's very watchable in this as her character trail blazes the fight against racism; Viola Davis is stoic as the long suffering Aibileen who is the victim of prissy bitchy Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) the leader of a snooty pack of women and Octavia Spencer brings a smattering of humour to the maid who takes vengeance on Hilly after years of mistreatment.
That's the thing with The Help; it does exactly what it says on the tin. While it's a little overlong and could have done with a hint of editing, this tale of empowerment and standing up, mixed with a dash of social commentary, is what you'd expect and is the perfect mother and daughter kind of outing - or a good night out for the girls.
Emotional and moving, The Help is a sturdy showcase of talent with some great performances- however, with a slightly more experienced eye behind the camera, it could have transcended from something a little middle of the road to something a little more sensational.



Upside Down - The Creation Records Story: Movie Review

Upside Down - The Creation Records Story: Movie Review

Upside Down - The Creation Records Story
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Alan McGee, Oasis, Primal Scream, The Jesus and Mary Chain
Director: Danny O'Connor
For those in the know, Creation Records will be responsible for many a favourite band and an exceptional tune.
And even for those not in the know, it's likely you'll have heard of the likes of Oasis, Primal Scream to name but two.
This doco focuses on the label's founder, ginger haired Scot Alan McGee, who was instrumental in shaping a lot of the early music scene of the late 80s and early 90s.
Using the standard talking head format of the doco genre, it mixes in a heady cocktail of archive footage of the early days in Scotland, the rock and roll sounds of the suburbs and interviews with the bands involved.
O'Connor's style is to leap about from one thing to the next as he charts the rise of the label and its successes in the UK and abroad.
Thankfully, he's got a charming and rogueish central character, McGee, which keeps you relatively engaged throughout and makes for an intriguing look at the record industry and the times which it helped create (the likes of Britpop and the shoegazing music scene).
It's a very traditional documentary and really offers nothing new on that front, but fans of the music of the time will be drooling at the insights into why the label imploded, why McGee was such a trendsetter and why many bands are so grateful they got the start they needed and wanted.

As a piece of music history, Upside Down - The Creation Records Story is one for fans and perhaps a few non fans alike to relish.

Win Win: Movie Review

Win Win: Movie Review

Win Win
Rating: 8/10
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Melanie Lynskey, Jeffrey Tambor
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Paul Giamatti once again dons his slightly sadsack look for this indie quirky piece about a lawyer Mike Flaherty whose small business is facing a bit of a financial struggle.
Flaherty also moonlights as the coach of a small high school wrestling team - and they're struggling as well.
So, when he sees a cash lifeline from an elderly client, he decides to cash in and becomes the oldster's guardian.
However, that backfires when the grandson Kyle Timmons (Alex Shaffer) shows up and Flaherty's family takes him in. And when Mike realises Kyle can wrestle, suddenly it's all looking up.
But the fragile world is shaken up when Kyle's mum (our very own Melanie Lynskey) shows up, straight out of rehab...
Win Win is the definition of indie. It's from the director of The Visitor and The Station Agent and is once again another powerhouse performance from Paul Giamatti who seems to excel (and is in danger of being typecast) in these world weary character roles.
It's also wryly funny and heartfelt with great performances from Lynskey, who manages to turn a relatively loathsome character into something a little more nuanced and plausible - and Shaffer in particular who manages to get the teenage awkwardness down to an art form. He is a real discovery of a first time actor.
It's the ensemble which works well - Giamatti and Ryan impress with their humorously laconic relationship; Tambor and Cannavale are funny as the assistant coaches and as the house of cards crumbles that Flaherty's created, McCarthy does a good job of handling the situation rather than reducing it to mush.
There's a little case of the film sagging somewhat after an hour or so -but when they throw in a frankly hilarious wrestling scene, you're prepared to forgive it.



All in all, Win Win is a breath of fresh air and a quality indie with an impressive cast.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Paul: Blu Ray review

Paul: Blu Ray review

Paul
Rating: R13
Released by Universal Home Ent
Aliens, geeks and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost back on screen - how can it go wrong?

The duo from Hot Fuzz, Spaced and Shaun of the Dead reteam (and write) this comedy about two guys, Graeme and Clive who head to geek mecca Comic Con after years of dreaming of making the trip.

Sated on the nerd fest that is Comic-Con, the duo then decide to roadtrip around the States, taking in some of the best UFO spots in America.

On a remote highway, the hapless pair chance upon Paul, a grey alien (voiced by Seth Rogen).
The little chap needs a helping hand to escape the government and get home - so Graeme (Pegg) obliges - and the great alien road trip begins.

Throw in a couple of FBI agents chasing, an accidental kidnap of Kristen Wiig's Ruth from an RV camp and a shadowy figure trying to stop them, and you've got the recipe for the rest of this scifi-geek-steeped-pop-culture film.

Eschewing many sci-fi references (ET, Close Encounters, Aliens, Star Wars et al), Paul is likely to appeal more to a certain sector of the audience than others.

That said, don't let the scifi bent of this witty (at times puerile) script put you off.

The trademark bromance chemistry between long time working partners Pegg and Frost continues to amuse on many levels and ensures Paul is a good night at home.
Extras: Featurettes, bloopers, trailers, Simon's silly faces&.

Rating: 7/10 

Monday, 12 September 2011

Game Review - Rugby World Cup 2011

Game Review - Rugby World Cup 2011

Rugby World Cup 2011
Released on Platform : PS3
In case you hadn't noticed, there's the small matter of the Rugby World Cup currently on the go.
As the whole nation heads descends into rugby madness, it's certainly a contagion which is infecting the gaming world as well with the latest tournament now being released onto the consoling world.
Well, I say the latest tournament but to be honest, this one is lacking a little Kiwi action with the All Blacks being signed up exclusively for another game, meaning this tournament feels a little lacking in the current action.
You have choices to make on many levels in this - be it on the team front, strategies, penalty kick choices, tournaments or one off games, there's certainly enough options to keep you busy.
Enlisting in a tournament means you have to go through the process of progressing through stages and how far you go, will all depend on who your opponents are. The earlier stages are of course easier and when you get to the finals, as you'd expect, there's a possibility of a real fight on your hands.
As for gameplay itself, well, to be fair, it's a playable affair - if an unspectacular one.
As ever with these kind of games, the crowd background adds very little to the atmosphere because they're sort of blurred out and relatively undefined.
Coupled with a generic commentary, the signs are there for a bit of a yellow card to be honest given these factors fail to immerse you deeply into the game.
On the pitch itself, the players are glimpsed mainly from the back of the head and on the rare occasion when they do face camera, the graphics are fairly blandly put together and look akin, in places to Mr Potato Head.
Thankfully, while these niggles aren't ideal, they don't detract too much from the game play itself which, even the most inept and uneducated to the sport will be able to grasp.
Overall, this official game is a bit of a disappointment; it's certainly one to wile away the hours in between watching the coverage on TV ONE and on tvnz.co.nz but it's not quite worthy of a placing in the upper echelons of essential sporting console games.

Rating: 6/10

From Time To Time: DVD Review

From Time To Time: DVD Review

From Time To Time
Rating: G
Released by Roadshow
Based on best seller The Chimneys of Green Knowe, From Time To Time is a ghost story mixed in with family intrigue.

When thirteen year old Tolly (Alex Etel) is sent to live with his grandmother (Smith) at her country estate, he becomes obsessed with the family secrets which are embroiled in the home.
Tolly discovers he can move between his world and the past - and begins to uncover family secrets of the estate which have lain dormant for years

From Time to Time feels a little out of time to be honest - it's certainly enchanting in places and has some wonderful effects as Tolly travels from the present to the country home of the past.

Doors open and suddenly Tolly's back in a past brought to life by wonderfully evocative colours and society life.

But it's all a little plodding in places - it feels a little Secret Gardenish as they negotiate different times and along with simple acting and no real emotion from the lead, it's hard to become engaged in this tale.

Which is a shame because Fellowes manages to eke out maximum spookiness from the old mansion, wrings out the best from his locations and gets a great performance from Maggie Smith.

Rating: 5/10

The Housemaid: DVD Review

The Housemaid: DVD Review

The Housemaid
Rating: R16
Released by Madman

Just what is it with rich families?

So much money, so much opulence and luxury - and clearly so many issues -this remake of a Korean classic sees a young divorcee given the role of a housemaid in the Hoon family house.

The man of the house suddenly starts taking the master and servant a little too far (despite a daughter and heavily pregnant wife) and soon, all manner of problems are on the way as she becomes pregnant.

Soon the mother in law is poisoning her daughter and the duo plot to get her our of their lives for good-and however they can.

It's quite a slow building film but one with some racy moments and some wonderful visual touches; there's plenty of starched white around as well-from snow to shirts, this is a house which stinks of repression.

But it's a believable story, well told (aside from the final few scenes which take away some of the overall feel of what's gone on).A strong thriller and one which you can sink into and watch unfold thanks to the strong central performances

Rating: 6/10 

Misfits S2 - DVD Review

Misfits S2 - DVD Review

Misfits Season 2

Rating: R18
Released by Roadshow and BBC

A second season of the brilliant series about five outcasts given superpowers when a storm strikes them as they work to fulfill community service obligations.

This time around, a masked superhero is stalking the gang and it appears many others have gained powers in the storm - and are making life difficult for them.

As ever, a mix of crudity, humour, great oneliners and some smart stories give Misfits the chance to rise out of the mire that sometimes can be superhero shows.

In this seven episode series, there's a bit more heart on display as well as some gross out moments; the writers have gone further to give the gang a bit more depth and the Superhoodie storyline surprises on many levels.

Throw into that mix, a bold final episode which gives the gang the chance to change their powers and you've pretty much got a blank canvas for the upcoming series - Misfits continues to excite and amuse in equal levels and it's well worth investing seven hours of your life in.

Rating: 7/10

Friday, 9 September 2011

Battle Los Angeles: Blu Ray review

Battle Los Angeles: Blu Ray review

Battle Los Angeles
Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Entertainment

Do you like alien invasion films?

Do you like plenty of shooting?

Do you like a minimal plot which sees a leader looking for redemption after the loss of troops in former combat?

Do you like stuff blowing up?

If you've answered yes, then move along, this review won't matter to you. Because right after you've read the title, you'll be firing up the DVD.

It's about a platoon of marines recently returned from combat, who've suffered the loss of their own thanks to the decisions of Aaron Eckhart's staff sergeant.

24 hours later this crew of gung-ho grunts (including one who's about to marry, one who's got post-traumatic stress, one who's a marine on the brink of retirement - just the regular collection of cliches) is heading into battle when a series of meteors land at strategic points around the world.

Pretty soon, it's clear this is an invasion force - and the marines are one of the last lines of defence in the war against this unnamed extra terrestrial army.
It's got the tenets of a B movie, a war film and an FX spectacular thrown in - as well as the predictable Iraq allegory (the aliens are after our resources; they use water for fuel ... subtle it may not be).

But visually, its style is impressive - it looks like a war film with its handheld cameras, verite style following the marines as they try to save civilians from behind enemy lines (which resemble war-torn streets of Iraq). It really gets you into the heart, paranoia and uncomfortable nature of battle.

If you're after an adrenalin-filled spectacle for two hours, full of bullets, bangs and boys (and slightly dodgy alien FX), then it's for you - ultimately, it's not adding anything new to the genre but is distracting enough.

Extras: Behind the battle, Aliens in LA, Creating LA - reasonable pieces

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Change Up: Movie Review

The Change Up: Movie Review

The Change Up
Rating: 5/10
Cast: Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Olivia Wilde, Leslie Mann
Director: David Dobkin
Mitch (Reynolds) and Dave (Bateman) have been buddies since they were in third grade in school together.
Whereas Mitch became a failed actor and womaniser, Dave worked hard all his life, married, had kids and is working for a law firm.
However, Dave's not happy with his life, believing Mitch has the perfect carefree existence; ironically, Mitch believes Dave has the perfect life, with adorable kids and a loving wife (Leslie Mann). So when the pair go out drinking one night and end up peeing in a fountain, they wish they could swap places.
And in a flash, that's exactly what happens - but, surprise, surprise, both of the guys learn the lives they're so jealous of, aren't exactly as rosy as they imagined.
The Change Up is a body swap comedy from those behind Wedding Crashers and The Hangover. So, pretty much, right there, you should know what to expect - moments of guilty, gross out humour and nothing too sophisticated. The tone is set in the beginning sequence when Bateman's Dave is woken at 3am by babies needing a nappy change - and it goes horribly wrong...Throw in formulaic comedy and you've pretty much got this film down to a tee - except for a few redeeming factors.
Jason Bateman finally plays against his usual laid back roles and has a whale of a time as Mitch; it's great to see him really doing some laugh out loud acting and there are moments of genuine mirth as he becomes a bit more loose and screwball. The scenes where he has to try and feed his pair of twins and carries them like sacks will resonate with many and amuses greatly.
Likewise Ryan Reynolds impresses in his performance as Mitch/Dave; both the leads bring smart assured performances to what is a very traditional, and formulaic body swap film. Olivia Wilde continues to carve her way towards a prosperous screen career with her role as Dave's sexy colleague and Leslie Mann does well as a quietly desperate housewife.
Sure, the inevitable moment comes when the duo have to grow up/ face their deep epiphanies, but thanks to a fairly mediocre script which uses their plights as a construct to hear some home truths, you can see what's coming a mile off.

At the end of the day, if you're prepared to leave your brain at the door and fancy an uneven comedy which relies on gross rather than smarts for guilty laughs, then the Change Up is the perfect solution for a night out.

Dr Who: Earth Story: DVD Review

Dr Who: Earth Story: DVD Review

Dr Who - Earth Story

Rating: PG
Released by BBC and Roadshow

An odd two disc collection, this brings together a tale from the 60s and the 80s.

A William Hartnell black and whiter, The Gunfighters sees the Doc, Steven and Dodo in the Wild West in the days upto the OK Corral and is notorious for featuring a song in the serial which scored notoriety among the fans. It's an average kind of piece and clearly William Hartnell's relishing the time in a western.

The other tale is the two part Peter Davision tale The Awakening which sees the Doctor stuck in 1984 fighting a war game. And the game's turning vicious thanks to an evil entity feeding off the hatred. A relatively short jaunt, it still holds up ok to 21st Century eyes.

Extras: The centerpiece is a new doco on the pressures facing Hartnell's third year in the role (a year which would eventually see him leave). It's a fascinating glimpse into the production worries facing
the series and is a welcome addition to the meaty range of extras. Others include commentaries, production notes and a couple of other behind the scenes pieces.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Dr Who: Series 6 Part One: Blu Ray review

Dr Who: Series 6 Part One: Blu Ray review

Dr Who Series 6 Part One - Blu Ray

Rating: PG
Released by Roadshow and BBC

Matt Smith returns as the 11th Doctor in this latest (truncated) series of seven episodes.

Continuing the formula which has proven so popular, show producer Steven Moffat's crafted a clever way to hook viewers in this year with this split season - starting with the Doctor's apparent death, the story arc over these seven episodes is strong and culminates in the apparent solving of who Alex Kingston's River Song is.

While the opening two parter isn't one for non fans as it weaves show mythology with pacy American adventure, it's certainly a gripping start - all of the main quartet acquit themselves well. New villains The Silence are incredibly spooky and scary and while later villains aren't as terrifying, the story telling is solid but the seventh episode creaks under the weight of expectation

Still it's not a bad run of adventures - you just can't help feeling the best's being kept for the final batch of six.

Extras: Disappointingly only two minor featurettes - again, best being saved for the full season set.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Final Destination 5: Movie Review

Final Destination 5: Movie Review

Final Destination 5
Rating: 5/10
Cast: Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Miles Fisher, Ellen Wroe, Jacqueline MacInnes Wood, Tony Todd

Director: Steven Quale
Fifth time's the charm for the franchise?
When a group of workers head out on a coach on a business retreat, Sam (D'Agosto) has a premonition the vehicle he's on is going to be pulled off a suspension bridge which will collapse. The vision's so powerful, Sam persuades seven of his coworkers to get off and run for their lives.
While the bridge does indeed collapse, the eight of them reckon they've had a lucky escape...however, when one by one, they're picked off and die in mysterious ways, it's clear Death's marked their card and is determined to collect.
Final Destination 5 has some good points and some bad points - while the bridge collapse scene is spectacularly well done, the rest of the deaths seem a little forced and it feels like the writers are starting to feel the strain of inventing new ways to off a largely unknown cast.
That said, some of the scenes, including one where one poor girl gets a fatal laser eye treatment, are likely to have you squirming in your seat and the addition of 3D means a variety of objects spike out at you on the screen. But the gore is mainly more amusing than frightening and Quale does a good job of stretching out the tension so that by the time the final death scene comes round, you've been waiting for it for a while.
A clever addition to the series, as explained by Death's emissary Tony Todd, is that if you're marked for death and you kill someone else, you're given back your life is unexplored for the potential dramatic tension that it has and is wasted as a great new twist which would have had some scripting legs. Equally, the ending is impressive and to discuss that any further would venture into spoilers territory - but it shows there is some thought gone into the latest film.
Sadly though, with a relatively bland cast of at times wooden actors and some frankly average dialogue, any real tension between the group feels forced and unrealistic, leading you to struggle to care if they are offed or not by the Grim Reaper.

Ultimately, if you're after a few comic moments, a bit of suspense and blood splashing onto you courtesy of 3D, then Final Destination 5 will tick your boxes. Everyone else will just hope the franchise is now finally laid to rest.

Senna: Movie Review

Senna: Movie Review

Senna

Rating: 8/10

Cast: Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost

Director: Asif Kapadia
You wouldn't expect a film about Ayrton Senna to be so moving unless you were a Formula One fan.

You would be wrong.

This doco, simply made using archive footage of races, interviews and home movie footage is one of the most rewarding films of the year.

It tells the story of his life -mainly on the track to be honest - and his rivalry with fellow driver Alain Prost, the Frenchman with whom discord became all out war.

But what emerges from Kapadia is an intimate portrait of a focussed and driven man who's knocked around by the system because all he wants is success and isn't willing to play the game.

Scenes of racing, some of which come from cockpit cameras are scintillating; there's footage of drivers' meetings which have been hitherto unseen and hint at some of the conflict felt by Senna as he butted heads with the powers that be; and of course, there's a wealth of footage from races thanks to videoing done at the time. By not using the traditional talking heads in a studio format, Kapadai's interlaced dialogue over footage of Senna - and it's a nice touch which immerses you more in Senna's life rather than taking you out and transporting you back to the studio every five minutes.

Throw into that some family footage, scenes of holidays and truly, Senna is a wonderfully multidimensional picture of the man who was a star on the tracks and a role model to so many Brazilians who were living through some truly horrific times back home.

The whole film is a truly emotional journey as it becomes a fascinating battle of wills, tactics and rivalry as the feud between Senna and Prost heats up.

Add in the final section of the film which deals with Senna's death in Imola in 94 and it's just heartbreaking, leaving you a wreck after the preceding joyous celebration of the legend.

Ultimately this doco is one of the best of the year; at the end, I left having been through the gamut of emotions and brimming with interest at a subject I didn't remotely care about when I initially sat down to watch this.

Senna is well worth your time and you can expect to see it next year on pole position come award season.

Hanna: Movie Review

Hanna: Movie Review

Hanna
Rating: 7/10
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Jessica Barden
Director: Joe Wright
With a soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers, you would expect Hanna to be something a little bit cool.
And by golly, it is.
The Lovely Bones' Ronan is Hanna, whom we first meet in an icy wasteland as she hunts a deer with a bow and arrow. As she stands over the body, she tells it "I just missed your heart."
Within seconds of that, she's being attacked by a man - Erik (Eric Bana) - who turns out to be her father, training her for potential assassin work.
When Hanna decides she's ready to head out into the real world and not the snow covered wastelands of Finland, she's soon on the run from CIA officer Marissa Wiegler (Blanchett) who'll stop at nothing to bring her in and down.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Hanna's also got an assassin (Hollander) on her tale and winds up with a free loving family on their global road trip...
Hanna is effortlessly cool and stylish - though at times, it feels a little like that's at the expense of the script. It's almost as if someone's storyboarded some stunningly great images and ordered the director to shoe horn them in where possible. That said, while they do stand out, it's a real point of difference in this thriller which is welcome.
An absolutely pulsating and blistering soundtrack from the Chemical Brothers is brilliantly used; one sequence of a break out from a jail is akin to one of the Brothers' early music videos; it's frankly at times a welcome assault on the eyes and ears and will look like nothing else you've seen this year. It's hard to believe this is from the director who brought us Atonement and it really does show a skill at work and there's plenty on screen which you won't forget once the credits go up.
While Hollander, Bana and Blanchett are impressive in their roles (Blanchett appearing the coldest and disconnected as a ruthless CIA officer), this film is once again the showcase of star Saoirse Ronan, whose fragile looking but ass kicking teen assassin is the perfect mix of vulnerability and hard as nails attitude. With fiercely blue eyes, a gentle voice and a pitch perfect performance, it's easily her film to carry off - and she does it easily.

I'll freely admit Hanna won't be to everyone's tastes (there are some lapses in the logic of the script) - but if you fancy a hitman on the run thriller with an eclectic feel and awesome soundtrack, this is really something you'll cherish and love.