27 January 2017

xXx: Return of Xander Cage review

It's been a couple of days since I saw xXx: Return of Xander Cage now, and I still can't decide if it's the most self-aware film I've ever seen, or the least. It's either a brilliant self-parody of a Vin Diesel movie or the ridiculous next step in what a Vin Diesel movie is, a knowing nod and wink to the audience or an earnest but horribly misguided attempt to give Vin Diesel a new ensemble action franchise to lead. You could quite easily walk away from xXx: Return of Xander Cage with either interpretation, and ultimately, which it is doesn't really matter - regardless of if xXx: Return of Xander Cage is so bad it's good or just good, it's still a lot of fun to sit through.

The story sees extreme sports enthusiast/spy Xander Cage come out of hiding in order to help the NSA retrieve a piece of technology called the Pandora's Box from a group of terrorists who are also all extreme sports enthusiasts. If that synopsis doesn't paint a pretty good picture of what to expect from xXx: Return of Xander Cage, how about this: the film opens with a scene that sees a footballer successfully stopping an armed robbery by kicking a napkin holder at the robber's head.

25 January 2017

Hands on with the Nintendo Switch

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to go down to the Switch launch event in London. Along with other members of the public I was lucky enough to try the few games that have been revealed for the console and get some hands on time with the unit itself. The potential it has and my excitement for the system were somewhat dampened by the big presentation Nintendo held a few days before the event. There were too many variables that weren't addressed and the lineup of games wasn't that big, especially the amount that are being released early on. I thought the overall concept of the Switch was still great but that was shown to us last year. Apart from information regarding HD rumble (of which they didn't really explain) and a few new games, there wasn't much content to back it all up. As a brand new home console from Nintendo they could have gone in a very different direction that I'm sure would greatly please more dedicated gamers.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the direction and quality of games they are showing off with a few niggling issues that are holding back my overall excitement levels. It was only on the train ride home from the Switch event where the true potential of the system hit me. Having those console experiences on the journey would be game changing. The quality of the screen and controllers. The ability to play multiplayer games with just the unit itself. The ease of popping off a controller and giving it to a friend.

But then of course my mind wanders to the questions of battery life, range of games and storage space and the doubts and issues build up again, but for a moment I saw the possibilities of what the Switch could open up. A handheld that happens to be a console is such a straightforward yet clever idea that it seems unbelievable that no-one has pulled it off yet. Along with the quality of Nintendo's first party games, it could take off with a whole different audience who weren't even aware of the Wii U's existence.

Let's get straight into the games along with a quick grade to see how they stack up against each other.

23 January 2017

Split review

M. Night Shyamalan is a difficult director to pin down. Neither the "next Spielberg" he was once touted as nor the entirely talentless hack he has often been painted as, he's a director whose wildly inconsistent filmography means that he's pretty much the definition of a "hit-and-miss" filmmaker. Fortunately, his latest movie Split is more hit than miss, a small scale horror/thriller that's fairly entertaining throughout, showing us a Shyamalan who is willing to embrace his genre roots in a way that plays to his strengths as both a writer and as a director - and something that I'd like to see more of in the future.

Split follows three teenage girls - Claire, Marcia and misfit Casey - as they are kidnapped and held prisoner by Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man who suffers from severe Dissociative Identity Disorder due to childhood abuse. As the girls attempt to escape they meet a number of Kevin's personalities, including the obsessive compulsive Dennis and 9-year old Hedwig, and slowly learn that the reason they were taken was to witness the emergence of "The Beast" - the incredibly violent 24th personality in Kevin's body who aims to purge the world of the impure, starting with them.

18 January 2017

Live by Night review

I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed. Live by Night is the first film for a very long time that I've truly regretted seeing in the cinema, and although that sounds incredibly negative (especially considering some of the dross I've seen in recent years), you have to understand that statement is more due to my own personal feelings about Ben Affleck as a director than it is the quality of the film itself. I've greatly enjoyed all three of the films that Ben Affleck has previously directed, and have been rooting for him for some time now - something that only makes Live by Night all the more saddening, a black mark on an otherwise respectable directing career.

Based on the Dennis Lehane book of the same name, Live by Night tells the story of Bostonian bootlegger Joe Coughlin during the Prohibition era. Following hospitalisation and a three year prison sentence at the hands of Irish gangster Albert White, Joe starts to work for rival Italian Mafia boss Maso Pescatore in order to get his revenge, moving down to Tampa, Florida to run the Mafia's rum empire and coming into conflict with the KKK in the process.

11 January 2017

La La Land review

Despite having been looking forward to La La Land, the latest film from Whiplash writer/director Damien Chazelle, for some time now, the first two musical numbers had me more than a little worried that I wasn't going to enjoy it. The opening to the movie, a colourful, well-choreographed sequence on a gridlocked highway, felt entirely incidental even while it was happening; the follow-up to that, which sees Emma Stone's character Mia and her friends getting ready for and then attending a Hollywood party, was far too reminiscent of something like Hairspray or Grease for my tastes. It wasn't until the third number, a truly old-school song and dance titled "A Lovely Night", that La La Land really clicked with me - at which point I was completely hooked by a film every bit as good as you've probably already heard.

La La Land is a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, a romantic musical that disproves the empty-headed sentiment of "they don't make them like they used to" with ease thanks not just to the songs, dances, structure and tone that makes La La Land completely unique in modern cinema, but also the sheer sense of craft on display throughout. There isn't an aspect of La La Land that isn't highly polished, from Justin Hurwitz's wonderful score to the dance choreography to the vivid cinematography, all of which help La La Land pop from the screen in a way few films manage to do even once, never mind multiple times.

6 January 2017

Assassin's Creed review

At this point, I can only conclude that there is an actual, honest-to-God curse on those who attempt to adapt video games into films. It's not a shock that there have been a lot of bad video game movies - most of them are relatively low-budget flicks designed to take advantage of the brand name and nothing more - but Assassin's Creed, much like last year's Warcraft: The Beginning, had real potential. Director Justin Kurzel had previously worked with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard on his very well thought of Macbeth, so seeing the three of them reunite for this felt like something of a statement, a declaration of intent - and yet somehow, Assassin's Creed has still ended up being an entirely terrible movie, one lacking even a single redeeming feature.

Based on the video game series of the same name, Assassin's Creed follows Callum Lynch, a death-row inmate who is the last descendant of 15th Century Spanish assassin Aguilar de Nerha. Following a fake execution, Callum is held against his will by the Abstergo Foundation and used as a test subject in a machine that allows people to tap into their "genetic memories" and relive the lives of their ancestors - something that the Abstergo Foundation hope will lead them to the Apple of Eden, an ancient artefact that would allow them to control free will and "cure violence".