These are a few of my favourite things (2018)

It’s a new year, so what else to do but write a post about my favourite film, TV show and game of the last year. These aren’t necessarily what I think is the best in terms of technical skills involved or even story, but they’re the pieces of entertainment that I enjoyed the most personally.  I have 4 picks, one for each of the 3 formats, I mentioned above, and then the one thing that I really enjoyed the most.

Favourite TV Show of 2018 – Killing Eve

I had no idea what this show was, right up until the minute I started watching it. A quick read of the synopsis told me it was about a female assassin, but beyond that I was blind going in. The shows brilliant leads Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh are equally fantastic in the show, and the dynamic that is developed between the them and the rest of the cast really make this show tick.

It has a little bit of everything I like in a show, and crucially for me, it doesn’t take itself too seriously which is what didn’t work for me in another good show from last year The Bodyguard. The only contender to Killing Eve’s crown was Netflix’s Daredevil season 3, but honestly even that didn’t come close. If you haven’t got round to Killing Eve yet, it’s on BBC iPlayer and im sure its streaming worldwide somewhere, it really is too good to miss out on.

Favourite Game of 2018 – Assassins Creed Odyssey

I have shocked myself with this choice and I am kind of cheating, but I know what my favourite piece of entertainment of the year is and I don’t want to give something 2 spots on this list, so Assassins creed has found its way here. I loved Spiderman, I appreciate the masterful work in Red Dead Redemption 2, I have played more of Fifa and Destiny 2 this year, and Fortnite is a endlessly enjoyable experience, but no game captured my imagination quite like AC: Odyssey did. I chose to play as Kassandra, and within the first hour of the game i was absolutely in on her story and what she was trying to do.

From the first moments on the island of Cephalonia, to the last minutes of the game I was hooked and this game does that by giving you a lot of fun tools, a massive, busy open world with lots of quests, and letting you play your way in it. I had largely given up on Assassins Creed after not enjoying the new style of play in the previous entry AC Origins, but this has brought me back and I still play this occasionally now, after completing the 3 huge main Quests. This was a very tight choice between AC and Spiderman on PS4, but today, I’m picking AC when tomorrow I might pick Spiderman, they’re both that great.

Favourite Film of 2018 – Avengers Infinity War (SHOCKING) 

This is a very tough category for me, with so many great films in 2018 i had a real hard time decidi…. LOL JK it just had to be Infinity War. Yes Spiderverse was amazing, and there are a lot of brilliant drama’s around, but nothing compares to the event that was Infinity War for me. It may require 22 films of homework before you watch it, but the payoff is sublime. A movie of this scale and encompassing so many characters is an achievement never attempted before in cinema history and somehow the Russo Brothers, Marvel and everyone who worked on this film managed to pull it off.

There are moments in this film that make me smile, laugh, well up, and gasp in disbelief. I remember the thought in my head in the final act of “Are they actually going to do it, end it at that iconic point from the comics”. I thought that, and then they went ahead and did exactly that. No spoilers here, but by now everyone has seen it, that moment is one of my favourite movie scenes of 2018.

Favourite Piece of Entertainment in 2018 – GOD OF WAR (PS4)

Sony Santa Monica’s God of War is the single greatest piece of entertainment I have ever consumed. Not just 2018, but in my 25 years on earth. Nothing in video games compares to the feeling of calling the Leviathan Axe back to your hand after throwing it through an enemy. No game I have played looks better than this game, and No game, film or TV show has ever produced a 10-15 hour experience all capture in one, long, uninterrupted camera take.

God of War can be compared to a stage show with its small cast of engaging characters and easy to understand plot, at the same time as being compared to the biggest blockbuster games and movies of all time with its spectacular set pieces and bombastic action. I know a lot of people, older generations in particular, will never see anything part of God of War, and I wish I could change that. God of War for me goes beyond just being a game, it is entertainment and storytelling at its very best.

Thanks for reading my rubbish! Please share if you think anyone else you know might want to waste some of their time reading my thoughts.

ChAzJS

Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse Review

Animation has come on a long way in the last couple of decades, with films like Iron Giant, Toy Story and Tangled pushing the technology used by filmmakers to new heights. Spiderverse takes that technology and uses it to produce what looks, even from just 10 seconds of a trailer, like nothing we have ever seen before. 

 Just from the stunning visual style alone, I had to see this one as soon as I could. A talented voice cast and a screenplay by one of the people behind The Lego Movie (Phil Lord) all just added to the appeal of this film. Straight away, you know you’re in for something different to the usual animated film, and also a departure from the Comic-Book movies we are all accustomed to by now.

Everyone knows Peter Parker, they know his story, and this film knows that everyone knows it. The jokes at the expense of previous movies and an abundance of easter eggs all pay their respects to Marvel’s most iconic hero. Spiderverse is not about Peter Parker though, it’s about the next most well-known spiderman, which is probably not a very well known character, Miles Morales. Essentially this is the origin story for that character, with a host of other spider-things involved. If you have watched a trailer you know there are 6 spider-characters in this film, and somehow, they all work brilliantly.

The film expertly handles its very comic-booky plot, involving multiple members of the Spiderman rogues gallery on top of introducing the multiverse with hints at there being infinite possible versions of the spiderman we know. Somehow this doesn’t get over complicated, and the film moves at a good pace constantly bringing new information to light, clever character interactions and twists on the norm that will surprise people.

The fast pace, fun characters and startling visual style really do make this film incredibly exciting to watch. Every frame could be hung on a wall and admired, and honestly I don’t think i have ever admired an animated films technical aspects as much as this film. The use of different animation techniques slammed together on one screen really does pop and your eye is drawn to every moment something new happens on-screen. This style is at its craziest in the action scenes, with colour flashing everywhere, comic book style pop up words, excellent framing for each scene so you can clearly see what each character is doing.

This is a film where the creators have chosen animation and then let their creativity go wild. There are no limits to what can be done in animation, and this film makes full use of that range. In a world of animated films becoming more and more lifelike, this goes against the grain and says why not have a (very minor spoiler) Spider-pig drop an anvil on a man-scorpion. It may possibly be a little to bombastic for some, but I found this films sense of fun is infectious and loved watching it.

In a films that is under 2 hours long and packed with so much light-hearted entertainment, there is still a lot of time spent on developing the character of Miles Morales, and his struggle coming to terms with having the burden of super powers on top of the struggle he is already dealing with as he is coming of age and the dynamic between him and his father is a really beautifully done element of the film.

I am aware I am just gushing about how great this film is, and that’s because to me this is not just the best animated film of the year, it’s up there with the best films of the year in general. The vocal performances are all excellent, bringing to life every character in a well written script. The technical skill in the editing, directing and cinematography are astounding and I am struggling to remember a film I liked this much for a long time.

I don’t have any negatives, for the casual movie goer who isn’t into nerd culture too much, this film is a very fun ride with some new characters alongside one most people know very well. For comic book fans, particularly spiderman fans, this is everything you love about comics in movie form. Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse is awesome.

Good: This film. All of it.

Bad: People who don’t like superhero films won’t like it, but even then I can’t imagine you wouldn’t have a decent time.

10/10 – Homecoming, Spiderman PS4 and now this, Spidey is killing it lately. 

Aquaman Review

Warner Bros’ return to the superhero scene with Aquaman. Directed by horror aficionado James Wan and starring the manliest of all men Jason Momoa there was a big question mark in my head over this film. The nature of Aquaman’s story demand’s a lot of the film to be underwater, and the trailers looked a little CGI heavy even by today’s standards.

One great way to get an audience invested is by having good actors give great performances, and Aquaman delivers on that wholeheartedly. Hawaiian beefcake Jason Momoa is excellent in the leading role, making the whole audience either want to be him, want to be with him, or want a little from column A and a little from column B. His performance is helped by the humour in the film, allowing him to be a little more likeable than messrs Henry Cavill or Ben Affleck were ever allowed to be. More on the  wider DC Universe films another time, but for now, I’d say Aquaman is the most enjoyable character in the DC films of recent years.

Momoa leads the film, but this is far from a one man show. Nicole Kidman and Amber Heard stood out to me as excellent in their roles as Queen Atlanna and Princess Hera respectively, and I found the chemistry between Momoa and Amber Heard entertaining if a little cheesy at times. Willem Defoe and Patrick Wilson also feature prominently, both being solid if unspectacular. A shout out must be given to Dolph Lundgren, who shows hints of the form I’ve heard about from his performance in Creed 2, which I really do need to get out and see.

Excellent performances are one ingredient of a great film, but a good script and well paced plot is what can really make a film tick. Unfortunately, Aquaman falls short here for me. The plot is generic, yet somehow over complicated, I found myself surprised an hour and a bit in to discover we was only just getting to a part I’d seen clipped out in the promotional material that I’d figured would be early on. The film seems to go on a little long and I think there is a clear reason for this. There is a whole character that honestly could have been cut from the movie, and all we would have lost is a couple of action scenes and saved about 45 minutes of time spent rushing through a character who I felt could have been a key player in a sequel if done correctly. On top of this, some of the dialogue is borderline awful, and there is an awful lot of exposition and foreshadowing done early in the film. I understand the need for some of both those things, but it got a little bit heavy on both for me.

The action scenes we do get are all quite fun, especially in the first half of the film. Somewhat contradictory to what I just wrote, the action scenes I said could have been cut are arguably the best in the film. The problem is these scenes do nothing for the plot or the characters other than showing off Momoa’s biceps and abs, which may be impressive and he is really quite dreamy but.. I forget what I was saying… PLOT.. yes those scenes do not help the plot and that’s what makes good action scenes great ones!

The later action scenes, the ones the combine well with the story being told, are where I felt the CGI at its heaviest. For the most part, the underwater scenes look good, and it didn’t take me out of the movie in the scenes with dialogue between characters. However once the action scenes begin, particularly the final set piece, the film becomes a mess of colours and flashes with no real meaning. The final fight reminded me of the finale of Black Panther, with two clearly animated characters squaring off in a clearly animated environment with very similar styles and looks except colours. It felt a little like watching a fighting game to me, a very impressive looking one, but just a bit too much for my liking.

Warner Bros’ and DC are being very bold and trying to shift the tone of their cinematic universe. Aquaman is the first film made entirely after that decision, and I think the lighter moments really benefit the film. It doesn’t threaten Wonder Woman for the top spot in the DC universe, but it does deliver a fun romp through a fantastical world. Who’d have thought 10 years ago that I would prefer an Aquaman film over Batman V Superman.

Good: Momoa’s Arms, Chest, Shouders, Beard, Hair and Eyes. Great performances, cool world set up and some fun action, some great CGI.

Bad: Generic cliché plot, unnecessary time spent on a character, very CGI heavy may be too much for some people. Entire film is foreshadowed early on.

6/10 – Solid but not special. Momoa could make a Jacobs Cracker wet. (sorry)

 

Blade Runner 2049 – Review in time

I have no affinity towards the original Blade Runner. I understand the story and the Replicant/Human questions posed at the end regarding Harrison Ford’s character, but I decided to go into Blade Runner 2049 without watching the original again, to see how the modern version stood up on its own. 

Straight away, you can tell this film is beautifully crafted. Every shot dripping with the sci-fi noir style the original film is so celebrated for. Everything looks futuristic, but used, and this aesthetic creates some truly gorgeous shots throughout the entire movie. Every set, costume and light are perfectly placed, meaning this film should be watched on as big and as high-resolution a screen as you can. Accompanying the opening shots, after the text has explained the current timeline and the Human/Replicant relationship, we get the first hit of the powerful score this film has. Hans Zimmer’s touch is distinctive, and its perfect for this style of movie.

There is a word I have used a lot already, style. Blade Runner is incredibly stylistic, at times leaving the beautiful shots and sets on-screen for 10-15 seconds uninterrupted for you to soak it in. This choice of editing makes the film feel very slow, very deliberate. It’s a story about a replicant, Ryan Gosling, who is carrying out his duty as a “Blade Runner”, investigating the cases of old replicants who need to be shut down. We follow every step of this investigation, being shown rather than being explained to. This would normally make the film a little harder to follow, but I found it relatively easy seeing as the film isn’t subtle with how it handles the clues dropped along the way. For me the slow pace is a hinderance here. In moments I felt there should have been an impactful reveal, the slow unveiling of the secret meant the effect was lost on me, allowing me to already be piecing together the next step of the story, or just thinking about something else entirely.

The film reminded me in some ways of the first time I sat down to watch The Godfather. Both films are clearly brilliant examples of what filmmaking can be, but compared to most modern cinema, they are painstakingly slow. This is as much a criticism of these films as it is of modern cinema, and how today’s audiences are accustomed to the quickly edited, fast pace modern movies with less time for the film to slowly stroll from point A to B. If you can appreciate the slow canter the film plods along at, the story keeps you invested all the way til the end, and doesn’t necessarily answer all of the questions, in line with the 1982 film.

Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford lead the show, and both are genuinely brilliant. Gosling’s journey throughout the story changes the character’s perspective on everything, and seeing him try to process the events unfolding makes for compelling viewing. Ford reprises his role as Rick Deckard from Blade Runner, giving a great performance even in the relatively short time he is on-screen for. Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks play the antagonist roles, and whilst the former is solid and clearly at home playing an eccentric genius, the latter really shines in her role. Often butting heads with Gosling and his superior (played by Robin Wright), she is both intimidating and at times sympathetic.

Director Denis Villenueve is responsible for two of my favourite movies in recent years, the tense Sicario and the intriguing Arrival. His take on this franchise he attempts to show again he is the master of tension building and enticing the audience with threads of story. For the most part he succeeds, but this film felt slower, and dragged a little more than those two previous efforts.

Blade Runner 2049 is an acquired taste. Lovers of the previous film will likely adore this, and haters are inevitably going to hate. For me, sitting on the fence as I was, it sits somewhere between director Villenueve’s last two efforts. If you have a spare 3 hours and want something to really engage with, Blade Runner 2049 might be for you, but as I have said for all of Villenueve’s films, be prepared for what you’re getting into. In a world where big budgets mean plenty of action, quips and stunts, Blade Runner 2049 is a big budget film of a different kind.

Good: Excellent filmmaking on show, everything is truly top-notch. Performances, cinematography, set design all excellent.

Bad: Slow pace grinds to a halt at times, and I found the story to be a little bit predictable at times.

8/10 – It’ll be tough to replicate this… 

The last Villeneuve movie I reviewed I promised to get better on the puns, I am sorry for failing you all.

Venom review

Sony’s Spiderman universe without Spiderman kicks off with Venom. A character whose standard origin is tied closely to the web-swinging hero we all know. Obviously this film couldn’t do that but it has a great cast so I was kind of optimistic going in despite some odd trailers.

Led by Tom Hardy and with Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed there’s a lot of talent in this cast. Tom Hardy gives an odd performance, at times full crazy, at others he’s a different person entirely. And I don’t mean when he becomes Venom. He bends to fit the tone of the movie, but that hints at this films main problem for me.

Michelle Williams tries her best, some of the lines she has to say I was impressed she got through without laughing. Her role steers clear of the damsel in distress trope and I enjoyed the character enough. Riz Ahmed on the other hand, plays “generic evil billionaire 1” and the character has as no depth at all. Early on you get the “evil guy” vibe and it stays that way for the entirety of the film. I’m not sure if it’s just a poorly written character or if Ahmed just turned up to cash a cheque, but I didn’t enjoy the villain at all.

Back to the tonal issues this film has, I’m not sure what Venom was aiming for. It’s part horror, part comedy, part action, part romance, part decent, part terrible. As I said earlier, Hardy does fit the tone in each specific scene, which shows his range. It flitters about too much and this threw me off the film a little.

This is all from the last two acts of the film, as the first act is a slow crawl towards us seeing Venom. It serves the purpose of setting up Eddie Brock and how his life has fallen apart but it takes far too long for me. Evidenced by the fact I glanced at my watch to see how long it had been. Never a good sign in a film.

Once you get to Venom being introduced, we get some serviceable action scenes and some moments I genuinely laughed out loud at. The Venom/Eddie relationship is excellent and most scenes with them I found entertaining.

That’s the main entertainment in a film that’s plot had lost me long before it’s resolution. It’s very basic, one of the key points is not explained, and it ends in a CGI mess of a fight that would make Transformers 3 proud. I didn’t expect anything amazing from the plot of a Venom film but something a bit more interesting would have gone a long way to making the first and third acts pop more.

Could this film have been better even without Spiderman? Yes, easily. I don’t think lacking Spidey is the main problem, in fact parts of this film are enjoyable and if they could have captured that more consistently it would have been a very positive review. However Venom felt like a throwback to 2007, before the modern superhero craze. By that standard it is great, by today’s standards, it’s disappointing.

Good: Venom and Eddie’s back and forth is really fun to watch. Mid and Post credit scenes.

Bad: Uninteresting villain, boring plot, tone shifts everywhere and CGI final fight.

4/10 – Good potential, not delivered on.

Mission Impossible Fallout Review

Mission Impossible Fallout is the sixth film in the Tom Cruise led franchise and looks to continue on the last two fantastic entries. For the first time we have a returning director and a continuing story so it was interesting to see how well the story carries over.

First things first though, Tom Cruise is fifty-six years old. That fact makes all of the stunts and sprinting around even hi somehow outdoing it’s predecessor. There’s a section of this film, possibly over half an hour, of just chase scenes. Speeding through Paris and London in cars, boats, bikes, and on foot, the way this is all captured so beautifully and shown so clearly is exceptional and sets a new standard for action films. Director Chris Macquarie and his team do an amazing job with every set piece, and there are a lot of them sprinkled throughout so that level of consistency is something to be admired.

Returning with the evergreen Tom Cruise in his lead role as Ethan Hunt are Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Rebecca Ferguson. They serve as his back up and support team and they all show a vel of comraderie. All are good in the film, with Ferguson continuing to show she could potentially carry this franchise on after Cruise decides he’s too old for this (long way off I reckon). Missing from this one is Jeremy Renner, who couldn’t clear his schedule as Avengers was filming at the same time, only to then not be used in the Avengers film anyway so he missed out on both films. Bit of crap situation from all involved really but I have to say I didn’t realise he wasn’t there until afterwards when discussing the movie.

Joining for the first time is Angela Bassett in what will likely be the role that takes over from Alec Baldwin as the government official in the long term. Alongside her is Superman himself Henry Cavill in his second spy flick after the underappreciated Man from Uncle a couple of years ago. Cavill brings obvious physicality to the role but unfortunately his character didn’t have the depth I was hoping for. There’s a debut movie role for Vanessa Kirby, who is intriguing as a character that plays a side role here but may become more involved in future entries.

The other main cast member, and a crucial one, is Sean Harris returning as Solomon Lane. He was the undoubted highlight of Mission Impossible Rogue Nation for me, his quiet, creepy and calculated villain really giving something new to the franchise. He returns and is just as off-putting as before, but his motivations have now changed and he is more driven by a desire to get revenge on Ethan Hunt.

All of these interesting characters are mixed up in a simple plot, there’s three potential nuclear bombs and Ethan has to stop them going off. It is a pretty basic thing for a spy/action film but they do try to subvert your expectations in the challenge they pose to our protagonists.

The basic, easy to read plot is a little underwhelming and doesn’t deliver any real intrigue. I would liked more on Vanessa Kirby and Henry Cavills back story but that would have meant cutting out some of the action as this is already a long film clocking in at just shy of two and a half hours.

Mission Impossible Fallout features some of the best action sequences ever put to film, and that alone justifies the price of a ticket. Tom Cruise continues to defy the ageing process and deliver genuinely jaw dropping moments. Action movie fans will really get kick out of this film. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of Rogue Nation for me, as I liked the more challenging choices put infront of out characters, but it’s still an incredibly entertaining movie.

Good: for all action movie fans, mission impossible continues to deliver some of the best sequences in cinema today. Great musical score.

Bad: Predictable plot, antagonists not as compelling as I’d have liked.

8/10 – He’s fifty-bloody-six.

21st July 2008

I was 15 and I was sitting in my chair waiting for it to start. Watching the logos go past with so much trepidation and excitement I want sure I’d be able to last the whole film without leaving to pee. Once the film started, I barely remembered to breath for the next 2 hours and 32 minutes, let alone leave the cinema.

Ten years and countless viewings later, I can replay every key scene in my head as if its playing in front of me. The bank heist, the magic trick, the parade, the interrogation, the chase, the boats, the final confrontation.

I had never experienced anything like this in a cinema. A film that redefined an entire genre and made it cool to be a geek. I already was of course, throughout my childhood I was fascinated by the two characters I was watching on-screen.

Heath Ledger, initially shunned and mocked for being too much of a pretty boy and not fit for the role. He was playing a character that many thought had been done to perfection in the late 80’s. Somehow he defied the doubters and gave a performance that is the gold standard for an antagonist in modern films.

Leaving the cinema I couldn’t really get my head round enjoying a movie so much I wanted to see it again straight away. I’ve been going nearly every week for four years now and very few films have quite captured my imagination like this film did. It’s why I started following movie news and one of the films that made me want to write about the industry.

The Dark Knight was released 10 years ago. Right as the MCU was beginning, and before the Avengers had ever been considered a real possibility. Created by one of the best directors around, given the licence to do what he wanted with a DC character. There was no need for world building or setting up another film in the same cinematic universe. I don’t even think the term cinematic universe was coined at the time.

I know some people don’t have any interest in superhero films. I am a geek so I naturally love all this type of stuff. The Dark Knight is not just another superhero movie. It’s a story about two people with wildly different beliefs, presented as an action film with costumes and make up. It is, in my opinion, the best superhero film ever made. It is also my favourite movie of all time. So 10 years on, I thought now would be a good time to write something about The Dark Knight.

Today, as DC continue to stumble about in the dark chasing the Marvel Cinematic Universe, maybe they should look at their past for the template to succeed with their characters. To be clear, I don’t mean dark and realistic, I mean getting a super talented story-teller like Nolan and giving them the creative freedom to do what they think is best. Aquamans trailer should drop this weekend and perhaps that will hint at a good film, here’s hoping DC can find the winning formula again.