Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans (2009) Movie Review


Before we begin, if you haven’t seen Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, you might want to see those first before reading this.  Even though this is a prequel, I’ll explain why.  So, there will be some spoilers here and there.  You’ve been warned.

Here we are; after Underworld: Evolution ended on what I would call “The Terminator 2 ending”, in other words it was solid enough that the series could have ended there, a prequel to the series was created.  So what’s the story?  Well, first of all, there is no Selene.  So there is no appearance from Kate Beckinsale outside of a voiceover and some archive footage.  Instead, our protagonist is Lucian (Michael Sheen), the first and the leader of the Lycans (Half-Werewolf/Half-Human, within the series’ theme on evolution, Lucian was the next step up from William Corvinus’ Werewolf archetype by being son of a Werewolf and a human).  Lucian, along with other Lycans, are the slaves and guardians of the Vampire Clan, who are ruled with an iron fist by the elder vampire, Viktor (Bill Nighy).  By day they guard the Vampires while they sleep, and at night they get on with keeping the place tidy and (In Lucian’s case) Blacksmithing their werewolf-killing weapons.  Many of the Vampires treat the Lycans like dogs (no pun intended), with the small exception of Sonja, Viktor’s daughter, who has fallen for Lucian in a (once again) Shakepearian fashion.

Now to discuss some features

The Acting, once again, is either average or above average, and it’s evident that Michael Sheen is a very good actor who shows off a good range.  At the same time, some continuity has been lost, due to the actress who plays Viktor’s daughter Sonja.  In Underworld 1, Sonja is blonde and played by hungarian model Jazmin Dammak – Here she’s brunette and played by english model Rhona Mitra, who is best known for being the live-action model of Lara Croft from the video game Tomb Raider.  If it’s because Dammak couldn’t act, I could understand.  But at the same time, Rhona does have a (slight) resemblance to Kate Beckinsale, which plays into an important piece of reference from Underworld 1.  All-in-all, it’s all okay.

The Characters are good – we see how some characters develop, as well as the difficult decisions they feel they have to make.  The lack of Kate Beckinsale could be seen as a small turnoff, but it does quite well without her.  It was nice seeing more of Lucian after the impact he had on Underworld 1, and it’s interesting seeing more of Viktor, who shows a lot more of his ruthlessness and antagonising decisions coming to play.  What is demonstrated is a fear of change among those capable of living long.

The story…My issue with the story is its predictability.  If you’ve watched Underworld 1, you know what happens to Lucian and Sonja, making this story a combination between a remake of a scene, a play out of Underworld’s exposition, and a few new details, such as how Lucian meets Raze, his second-in-command.  It’s within a particular time period, after the Head Vampires started using the “1 rules, the other 2 sleep” approach, focusing on how the Vampire/Lycan war began, and not in other areas of the Story arch’s history.

The Music features a returning Paul Haslinger and creates an atmospheric score that does add to the movie, but not as much as it did in Underworld 1, unfortunately.  Nothing from it had me looking for “this tune” or “that tune” this time.

The cinematography is designed in such a way that the film could be presented in Black and White, and after giving it a go, you know what?  It’s the best thing about the whole film.  Really good lighting went into it.

The Special effects are good, especially with the use of lighting throughout the film to cover up the flaws.  The same goes for the CGI.  Both are very good, even with the new generation of graphics that spawned that year (James Cameron’s Avatar).

Woud I recommend Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans?  For curiosity’s sake, it’s not a bad film.  But its main problem stems from the fact that if you have seen Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, then you already know the story before watching it.  The most relevant part of the film was already shown in Underworld, and the exposition was already provided as a means to take the series forward, rather than have us go back.  It’s not a necessary viewing, but it’s not bad viewing either.  Much like Batman: Arkham Origins in the Arkham franchise.

The Acting: ***1/2

The Characters: ***1/2

The story: ***1/4

Music: ***

The cinematography: ****

Special effects: ***3/4

CGI: ***3/4

Overall: ***1/2

Underworld: Evolution (2006) Movie Review


By clicking on this review, it suggests that you have seen Underworld, this film’s prequel.  If you haven’t seen Underworld, I would suggest in stopping here and go to watch it.  Because both the film and this review will contain numerous spoilers, as I provide both backstory and context to what takes place.  So…Underworld Evolution.

Our story begins in 1202 with some exposition about the Vampire/Lycan war, as we see Viktor, Markus and Amelia (the 3 head vampires mentioned in ‘1) chasing down Markus’ twin brother, William Corvinus, the first Lycan.  You see, Markus became the first Vampire after being bitten by a Bat while William became the first Werewolf after being bitten by a Wolf.  And as mentioned before, Vampirism and Lycanism are products of a virus in this film’s universe rather than a supernatural curse.  Due to the fact that William was unable to change back into human form, he is subdued by the Vampires after his rampage through a small village nearly gave him ‘pups’.  Despite Viktor’s desire for William’s death, Markus says “Kill him, and you kill me as well”.  Viktor then reluctantly suggests that William should be locked up for all eternity – which is what they do.  Fast forward to the aftermath of Underworld 1; Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman) are on the run from the Vampire Clan, who are searching them both down after Selene killed Viktor and Michael had awaken as the first Vampire/Lycan Hybrid.  Their Bonnie and Clyde lifestyle seemed to be going smoothly as they search for the truth behind the war – until the blood of the Lycan Scientist who was killed in the Vampire Clan’s Head-Vampire Chamber had awoken Markus from his slumber – and because Markus is of the Corvinus Clan, he went from being the first and therefore most experienced Vampire, to being the second ever Hybrid.  Leading Markus to begin an ethnic cleansing spree, and therefore chasing after Selene and Michael.

Now to talk about the various components that make up this hybrid.

Due to having over twice the budget of its prequel (never mind the advancements in visual effects in 3 years), the CGI and Practical effects have improved and are a definite step-up.  The use of cold filters and noir lighting have also helped in its presentation.

The Acting, much like its prequel, is not world class, but it’s still good and it’s still presented within the context of fun.  Kate Beckinsale shows off more of her range in this, as Selene becomes more vulnerable and challenged, and the addition of Tony Curran as Markus was a nice touch.  Out of all the main actors, once again, Scott Speedman was among the most flawed.  But he wasn’t all bad.

The Characters have been met with improvements in this film, as we continue to see Selene and other characters develop further.  Selene is demonstrating a vulnerability that she didn’t have in Underworld 1, partly due to the fact that she no longer has a home to go to in the morning, and Michael ends up taking the role as carer, as he doesn’t burn in the sun.  Also the fact that Markus is now a hybrid like Michael, and unlike every other Vampire in this universe, is capable of flying like a bat, and is many centuries more experienced than the rest – the threat that the couple experience is only heightened to a greater extent.

The Story in Evolution isn’t as tight as ‘1, and it relies heavily on how much you know or remember from the previous story.  It remains Shakespearian in nature as it revolves around a loose but highly dysfunctional family in the Corvins and the Vampires and people saying no to obviously sensible choices due to how love is obviously corrupting their judgement (Ha!).  It’s a very different story to ‘1 – and you know what.  That’s a good thing!  Also, the title “Evolution” hints greatly at the most major themes, including “Journey” “Searching” “Growing” and obviously “Evolving”.  It’s something that happens to numerous characters throughout the film, and since I’m not going to spoil it, you’ll have to watch it to see who.

The Music, this time, was done by Marco Beltrami (who also the the music for Wes Craven’s 1st 3 Scream movies and the first Resident Evil movie with Milla Jovovich) left a lot more to be desired, to be fair.  Paul Haslinger’s piece “Eternity and a day” is present in 2 scenes, but the rest of the music is very generic and unremarkable when compared to what Haslinger did for Underworld.

The Cinematography is as strong as ever, with the use of Eastern European/Russian-looking forests and snow was a great way to make it stand out from its prequel.

Would I recommend Underworld Evolution?  Yes.  But only under 1 condition.  Underworld 1 and 2 were originally written as 1 script.  You can’t enjoy Underworld Evolution properly unless you saw (and enjoyed) Underworld.  Everything makes a lot more sense and you give a damn about the characters a lot more after Underworld.  Also, while it’s not as tight in its story, it’s still nearly as good.  As for the critics who gave it a bad rating – this may have been your problem.

Story: ***3/4

Characters: ****1/4

Acting: ***3/4

Music: ***1/4

Cinematography: ****

Practical Effects: ****1/4

CGI: ***1/2 (****3/4 in 2006)

Overall: ***3/4

Underworld (2003) Movie Review


Since it’s October, I figured it would be a good idea to review some darker films, primarily on the spooky, horrific, sci-fi-ey or gothic nature.  Meaning that I’ll mostly be talking about anything related to monsters or aliens.  With the mention of Underworld 5: Blood Wars being released next year, I said to myself “You know what?  Lets do this.  Lets revisit 1 of my favourite film series – or more specifically, revisiting Underworld 1, 2 and 4, and watching Underworld 3 for the 1st time (It’s a prequel and I felt that I didn’t need to see it to watch Underworld 4).  So lets take this opportunity, and the next few weeks, to cover a definition of cult film series.

Set in (at the time) the modern day, somewhere in Eastern Europe (Most likely Hungary or Romania), an ancient war goes on at night when few to nobody are looking – A war between Vampires and Lycans (Werewolves).  Our story revolves around a Vampire named Selene (played by Kate Beckinsale), who is part of an offence force known as The Death Dealers, a group of Vampires tasked with hunting down the last of the Lycans and wiping them out.  According to their history books, the Lycans were defeated when the most powerful Lycan, Lucian, was killed by the vampire known as Kraven.  Or so it seems…until Selene catches onto some interesting details.  During the Death Dealer’s scouting phase (Before a huge gun battle in the subway), their photographs indicate that the Lycans were following someone.  A human by the name of Michael Corvin, the possible descendent of Alexander Corvinus, the first Immortal.  What role does Michael play?  You’ll find out if you watch the film.

Now to look under this movie’s world.

Background-wise, Underworld is the very definition of ‘in medias res’ or “In The Middle Of Things”, it has a rich history and lore built into itself with a lot of adjustments to everything we know about Vampires and Werewolves.  For instance, Vampires and Werewolves are not supernatural beings, but rather they are the product of a virus that is spread through biting.  The Vampires rarely hunt people, because they now drink synthetic/cloned blood from their own production companies (Similar to True Blood in a way).  Many of them live in a big mansion were most of them are socialites and politics in a bureaucracy, and also the Vampires have 3 leaders with 1 ruling while the other 2 sleep (In the case of this film’s story, Head-Vampire Amelia is coming to the Vampire Mansion to awaken Markus and pass the role on so she can take a nap for a few centuries).

The Story is…interesting.  Because of the absolute ton of lore and backstory that director Len Wiseman pulled together, simplicity occasionally goes out the window.  A lot of exposition is presented on top of what’s already going on, while at the same time, both the flow and the events are very Shakespearian.  Everybody has a history and an agenda, and there are Vampire politics, and it’s all crammed into the film – which, in cinema, can be easily overlooked due to the flashy visuals, beautiful people (mostly) and surface storytelling, which comes across as focusing mostly on Selene and Michael as part of a Romeo and Juliet story archetype (She’s a vampire and he’s…not a vampire.  Sounds familiar, but trust me, this is much, much better.  Kate Beckinsale doesn’t need to sparkle).

The Characters are actually very good.  As I mentioned before, everyone has backstories and agendas.  Kate Beckinsale as Selene has developed a cult status from how she looks and how she proceeds with her actions.  The woman is a complete bad-ass, while possessing an appeal that makes her a timeless crush.  To this day, I can’t imagine anybody playing the character, which is why I’m happy when she returns for sequels.  Michael Corvin, much like Selene, is a figure of tragedy – and despite his phenomenal potential in the eyes of the werewolves, he just wants to run away and not be hurt again.  Lucian has a lot of complications that I will not mention in order to avoid spoilers, Viktor is impressive and also complicated, and Kraven is good as a dislikable individual.

The Acting is perhaps a bit mixed.  Kate Beckinsale as Selene, Bill Nighy as Viktor and Michael Sheen as Lucian were great and easily the best parts in the film.  Scott Speedman as Michael Corvin was good, as were nearly everybody else, but in truth, I could see others in the roles.  Shane Brolly as Kraven certainly had the look (Angry Northern Irish Trent Reznor), but he did sound like a Northern Irishman imitating an englishman, and showed little outside of being an angry and frustrated character in every scene he appears in.  To put it simply, his default setting was “Entitled Male-Bitch”, a step in the Viserys Targaryen direction.

The Music by Paul Haslinger is memorable and oddly sophisticated in places, ranging from haunting piano scores to eery techno mystery, to more aggressive themes.  Piano scores (with orchestras) that stick out include “Eternity and a Day” which is a beautiful piano piece that enters an orchestrated sound of the high in transition, followed by the nervousness of the great unknown ahead.  As well as “Keep watch over the night” that can be described as mixing Goth into quiet adventure.  It blends beautifully with the film’s visuals.  As for the “Official soundtrack”, most, if not all of it, does not appear in the film.  The main 1 that can be heard is “Coward” by Renholder, which is a cover a song by Black Light Burns (an industrial band fronted by Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland).  It fits the film perfectly and is a head-banging way to end it.

The presentation of Underworld walks the thin line of being a product of its time and an embodiment of Gothic cool.  Keeping in mind that between 1998 and 2004, leather trench coats, leather trousers and shiny shirts meant you were the coolest cat in the room (something I look forward to see making a come back).  It was during a time when The Matrix was  white hot and both Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel were in production.

The Cinematography’s actually very good.  Stylish and at times inspired.  Aspects of Spaghetti Westerns come to mind, and the presentation of the surprises within the action were really well shown (Such as a very particular escape-route that Selene creates).

The CGI has become dated by today’s standards, but this is more due to the upscale from DVD to Blu-Ray.  Blu-Ray brought out the scenes with evident green screen, which looked better on DVD.  Also the presentations of environment destruction and transformations have lost some of their realism with the resolution increase.  But at the same time, it’s still as good, if not better than a lot of “Terribly Good” Syfy movies.  Also, they did use actual monster make-up for the werewolves.  When you compare them to the CGI werewolf that appeared in a Kate Beckinsale film after this 1, Van Helsing, you learn to really appreciate good practical effects.

Would I recommend Underworld?  Yes, but it depends on who you are and what you’re in the mood for.  If you first saw this as a teenager (like I was) and were watching it again later in life, you’ll find that it’s like watching a different film.  On the surface, it’s presented as a hip and cool Vampire/Werewolf movie from 2003 that tells a simple story, and yet it flows with an odd rhythm.  But later on, you begin to pay attention to all the details and realise that there is a deep story there.  How well this story was executed will depend on you, because the blend between the sophisticated and “the cool” is at times a bit clunky.  When you’re younger it’s an easier watch, but when you’re older it becomes a more complicated viewing and perhaps not for relaxing.  I still enjoyed it.  But I enjoyed it differently.  It was a more challenging film than I remember.

Story: ****

Characters: ****1/4

Acting: ***3/4

Music: ****

Cinematography: ****

Practical Effects: ****1/4

CGI: *** (****1/4 in 2003)

Overall: ****

When Marnie Was There (2014) Movie Review


Some of those who know me, know that the last 8-9 years would have been a bit different if I hadn’t been introduced to Studio Ghibli in Christmas 2007, and tonight I experienced a bittersweet sense of closure when I watched what is (so far…I really hope it’s just ‘so far’) the last Studio Ghibli feature film. Yes, it came out in Japan back in 2014. But the Blu-Ray release only happened in the UK yesterday (3rd October), and luckily for me, it arrived that afternoon. 80% of my plans were be completely dropped to watch it. Metal Gear Solid 5, Uncharted 3 and Parks And Recreation – these didn’t happen last night. This is what a Studio Ghibli film is capable of. It allows you to step back from busy play time, and experience something beautiful. So…When Marnie Was There

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Who directed Studio Ghibli’s Arrietty in 2010) and based on English author Joan G. Robinson’s book of the same name (which follows a Ghibli trademark of incorporating Hayao Miyazaki’s anglophilia into their films), our story revolves around Anna Sasaki, a 12 year old girl living with foster parents who is easily 1 of the most introverted and shy female leads that the Studio has ever produced (Most Ghibli women are either extroverted and/or quiet and powerful). Unhappy with her foster parents and not telling them her feelings, Anna suffers an asthma attack when a teacher is about to look at her drawing, but is then distracted by a kid getting hurt on the jungle gym. The doctor treating Anna’s asthma suggests to her adopted mother, Yoriko, that Anna should get fresh air, so Yoriko sends Anna to the countryside to stay with her relations, Setsu and Kiyomasa Oiwa. While there, Anna finds an abandoned house off the marsh, which comes alive after 5pm and can be walked to when the tide is down. This is were she meets a young blonde girl named Marnie.

Now to talk about what’s there.

The animation is excellent. Truly excellent. But it doesn’t have Miyazaki’s presence, and it shows. Since starting retirement number 6 in 2013 (Yes, he has retired 5 times before that), you can sense a difference in Ghibli’s work, even in the animation department (Since Miyazaki would have applied himself in some way to many Ghibli films he didn’t direct, whether it be as a writer or producer or planner or animator). At times it seems a little choppier, and it doesn’t have any animated scenes that make you really go “wow!” (By Ghibli standards) outside of perhaps the opening scene.  Ghibli’s standards in this area are, for me, particularly high.  So if any other anime studio produced this, it would receive 5 stars.  In this case, it would be a little less.  Although, to add some bittersweet information, this was the last film to be completed by long-time Studio Ghibli animator Makiko Futaki, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

The Art style is as beautiful as always. Top-notch from Studio Ghibli and as good looking as their best work.  Everything had the right mood, the colours were extremely vibrant, and the textures of decaying architecture, as well as nature remain a legendary part of the Studio’s presentation.

The music was not done by Joe Hisaishi, because once again, Hisaishi was Miyazaki’s first choice composer.  This time it was done by Takatsugu Muramatsu, whose work has mostly been in TV Dramas in Japan more than anime.  He did a very good job in creating a lovely, but quite unremarkable score.  The highlight of the music though, comes in the form of Priscilla Ahn’s song “Fine On The Outside”, which has lyrics that are practically a song about Anna and/or Marnie.  A truly beautiful singer-songwriter piece, and a haunting way to end the film, as it’s capable of bringing tears.

The Voice Acting has some interesting choices in the english dub, including Hailee Steinfeld (remake of True Grit with Jeff Bridges) voicing Anna, Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper in Madmen) voicing Marnie, John C Reilly as Kiyomasa Oiwa (Yoriko’s relation), Ellen Burstyn (Sara Goldfarb in Requiem Of A Dream) as Marnie’s Nan, Geena “My face is awesome, even now” Davis as Yoriko, and Kathy Bates as Mrs Kadoya, to name the most well known actors on this side of the language barrier.  I thought they did a very good job in selection, and the voices were very well done.

The characters are quite a range, with some common staples here and there.  Much like other Ghibli films, there are very few genuinely antagonising characters outside of Marnie’s Nan and her Maids, in fact everybody seems capable of being lovely if they haven’t been shown in that light in this film.  What’s most important though is Anna as a protagonist – whose transformation is done especially well within the context of an extremely introverted young girl who questions whether anybody actually wants or loves her.  One other thing that can be pointed out is Marnie’s character design…She is basically Alice from Alice In Wonderland, and she possesses some traits that are similar to that character.  Such as her desire to escape her own world.  Do I have a favourite character?  Yes – that would be Sayaka, a little bespectacled girl voiced by Ava Acres (The little girl in the infamous Agents Of SHIELD season 2 episode “Melinda”).  She adds a bit of fun to the scenes she appears in.

The story provides a very solid mystery, allowing us to ask ourselves whether Marnie is an imaginary friend, or if there’s something much deeper.  You’ll have to see it for yourself.

The themes in When Marnie Was There…wow…this is a film that really knows where to hit you. Because a major theme in this film is “quiet rejection”. Even if you have loving parents or foster parents, you can still feel rejected. And even if classmates in school aren’t bullying you, you can still feel rejected by default, simply by them not providing invitations or inclusion in conversation circles. Also the fact that Anna is a Japanese girl with naturally blue eyes, she constantly feels “different” or “out of place”. Her rejection from the world around her is passive, rather than active.  And her relationship with Marnie, and in time, those around her, gradually transform her into a different person. In its own way, I would call this film a love letter made film-reel. The message it sends is that people are to be loved. Even if they don’t feel it.

Would I recommend When Marnie Was There? Yes! This is 1 of those films that transcends barriers. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like anime, this is a film that would appeal to anybody. Because it’s a very human film about a very real problem that everybody experiences in some form or another.  It’s not Studio Ghibli’s best film, but it’s still absolutely excellent.  And so far, it’s a good note to (hopefully not completely) end on in Studio Ghibli’s legendary run.

Animation: ****3/4

Art Style: *****

Music: ****1/4 (***** for Priscilla Ahn’s song at the end)

Voice Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****1/2

Themes: *****

Overall: ****1/2

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009/2015) Video Game Review


2 years after the beautiful-looking, beautiful-sounding, fun-full playing, but slightly shallow-in-story introduction known as Drake’s Fortune came Among Thieves, a follow-up in story, and an opportunity to give us more of our favourite characters.  So…Among Thieves

Our story begi- best opening to a video game ever!!…or at least 1 of them.  It literally starts off with a bang, to the point that I’m not even going to mention it.  Play it and see what I mean.  So anyway, our story revolves around our hero, Nathan Drake, being given a new project to work on from old associate, Harry Flynn (Wise-cracking Australian thief), and his driver/girlfriend Chloe Frazier (Basically a naughty raven-haired Lara Croft with Lauren Bacall speaking in an Australian accent and goods that are very hot to handle).  What is the Project?  To steal a Mongolian Oil Lamp (which was once in possession of Marco Polo) from a Turkish museum, which contains information on the whereabouts of Shambhala, the legendary city mentioned in Tibetian Buddhist and Hindu texts.  After retrieving the lamp and finding the secret, in an obvious fashion, Nathan experiences a swerve, not by both of his partners, just Flynn.  After spending months in a turkish prison, Sully makes his return to the game to bail him out, and along with Chloe, go on an adventure to Borneo, to look for Marco Polo’s fleet and therefore get back on the road to finding Shambhala before Flynn does with his boss, the terrifying (and presumed dead) Serbian War Criminal known as Zoran Lazarević.

The Graphics, even today, look beautiful.  The scenes that feature the Tibet landscapes are legendary, and the chapters in the game where Drake was on a train…You would almost forget about fighting because you begin to realise “They have actually animated a train journey into a game’s level, and it’s unlike any approach that’s ever been done before!”  In the past,train levels would have been presented at certain angles with some movement in the background to save space on the disc, usually from a side-scrolling point of view…but this…this game took that to a whole new dimension!  The most detailed aspects of Final Fantasy VIII’s train scene was a cut scene, but this was in the actual gameplay!  That’s how amazing this was.

The Art Design direction took what Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune did well, and blew it out of the water…then it expanded further than that again, by providing scenarios that go beyond the Jungle, including cities, rural villages and the mountains in Tibet.

The Voice Acting sees the protagonists return to full form from where they left off, as well as feature a lot of new voices that perfectly match their respective character designs.

The Characters are awesome.  The protagonists are even better now than they were  in Drake’s Fortune, as they’ve developed a lot since then and the voice actors bounce dialogue off each other like they were some cinematic superhero clique.  The addition of Chloe Frazier to the protagonists added a little extra flavour to the dialogue, and the villains…compared to the villains in Drake’s Fortune, Among Thieves is so much better!  Unlike Gabriel Roman, Atoq Navarro and Eddy Raja, who are simply doing it for the money and without a care for the consequences of El Dorado’s power – Zoran Lazarević’s heroes include Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot…so you know what this guy’s like already (Plus, you wouldn’t want to meet him in real life in any situation.  Even watching him play tea party with a daughter would be unnerving).  Also, Harry Flynn’s a funny guy – you might hate him, but at least he’s actually charismatic in a snaky way.

The Story…oh the story.  If you thought the opening to Drake’s Fortune was good, then wait until you see the opening of Among Thieves.  Then wait until you see the journey you’re taken on.  By the time you’re finished, you’ll have done so much and seen so much, that a 2nd play through feels oddly fresh, as it becomes like returning to a faraway place for a holiday.

The Music is once again done by Firefly composer Greg Edmondson.  Five stars.  Next.

The Gameplay of Uncharted 2 not only does everything that made its prequel great, but they’ve also added even more depth to it (Think Arkham City to Arkham Asylum).  At times, I experienced a small jump glitch, but they were very rare and not an inconvience.  At the same time, even on easier difficulties, the Enemy AI is oddly quite intelligent, which adds a lot to the game. Also, there is no lives feature, so feel free, much like in Drake’s Fortune, to try and try again until you get it right.

The camera work is perfect, and the cinematic choices used in the cutscenes were perfect.

Would I recommend Uncharted 2: Among Thieves?  YES!  Absolutely!  Even though it’s a sequel, the story is strong enough and written in such a way that it is capable of being a standalone game.  The story is a vast improvement over Drake’s Fortune, the villains (a problem in Drake’s Fortune) are ten times better and more interesting, the locations are not only of a greater variety, but their presentation is just awe-inspiring, the gameplay is a step-up in quality yet again, the music and atmosphere are perfect, the voice acting is perfect and the camera work is also perfect.  They didn’t call this the tied 3rd best game on the Playstation 3 (along with Batman: Arkham City and below GTA 4 and 5) for nothing, and even today, it deserves its place as a masterpiece in media, let alone video games.

Graphics: ****1/2 (***** in 2009)

Art Design: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Music: *****

Gameplay: ****3/4

Camera: *****

Overall: *****

The Visit (2015) Movie Review

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The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable; these are 2 films that solidified a young M. Night Shyamalan’s reputation as someone who would go on to be the next big name director in the 21st century.  The future was very bright as of the year 2000…Then he made a hilarious film called Signs that was meant to be a horror thriller…Then there was an ordinary film with an okay twist called The Village…and then…Lady On The Water (Pretentious trash)…The Happening (Hilarious pandemic-based horror thriller)…The Last Airbender (An insultingly bad live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender, 1 of the greatest American cartoons ever made)…and After Earth (A Will and Jaden Smith film that was the polar opposite of The Pursuit of Happiness)…After directing 4 of the worst films from the last 10 years, you are right to assume that M Night Shyamalan possibly sucks…But are we truly right about this?  Lets look at his latest film; The Visit.

Before we begin, consider this:  This film cost 5 million dollars!  Nearly 10% of the budget he needed to make The Happening.  On top of that…this is a very, very different film to what he has ever done before.  It cost him $5,000,000, and it shows.  Because this is the 1st time M. Night has ever used the Found-Footage Horror movie approach to make a film (Blair Witch?  Paranormal Activity?).  All he needed was the actors, the locations and the script.  The film doesn’t even have any copyright music or film score, so in it’s own way it’s also a take back on the Dogme ’95 movement.

So what’s the story?  Well, it’s about 2 teenage kids, 15 year old Becca Jamison (played by 17 year old Australian actress Olivia DeJonge) and her 13 year old brother Tyler (played by 14 year old Australian actor Ed Oxenbould), who are going to go stay with their grandparents (Who they have never seen or met until now) for 5 days, while their mother Loretta (played by Kathryn Hahn) goes on a cruise with her new boyfriend.  The siblings decide that as “future documentary film makers” they should film everything that happens in their 5 day trip, hence why this is a found-footage film.  Set in a Pennsylvanian Winter, they arrive by train to meet their Grandparents before appearing at the family home.  The grandparents are awesome – telling them that they can do what they want, and eat as much as they’d like.  But they need to be in bed by 9:30pm every night…or at least don’t leave their room.  And don’t go into the basement which is full of toxic mould.  So in true story fashion, they have to break the rules and see what they mean.

Now to break it down into pieces:

The Acting in this film was actually very good.  Ed Oxenbould as Tyler was a little annoying at times, but that’s just the character he’s playing, and he did show some skill.  Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie were really good as “Nana and Pop-Pop”, and Deanna Dunagan showed an excellent range of emotion without any cutaways from the camera, which was great stuff!

The Characters are good, but also kind of annoying.  The older sister is presented as being a 25 year old trapped in a 15 year old’s body, while the younger brother is…well…Perhaps he’ll be the next Eminem in 2020…or he’ll make Vanilla Ice today look like Dr Dre straight out of Compton.  The grandparents are well presented with the small detail of Nana being a hippie in her youth as a good way to justify her quirks, and the horror are also well presented…oddly realistic, and even quite funny.

The Story, at least on paper, and along with the acting and location choice, is probably the best part of the film.  It’s pretty tight, with some small loopholes that will sadly lead to spoilers if I mentioned them.  It’s simple, but nicely put together and makes a lot more sense than usual.  Also, yes, it has accomplished its Horror Comedy approach quite well – especially in the 2nd viewing (something Shyamalan films are known to make people do).

The choice of Pennsylvania in winter was well made – providing a small aspect of…Stanley Kubrick, to the story…yes.  M Night is showing some shades of Kubrick in this.  Or at least that’s my opinion.

The Cinematography is…easily accessible.  Since it’s a found-footage film, all that’s required is a really good cameraman.  It’s not in league with what Kubrick and Sergio Leone were known for.  But when you have $5 Million to shoot a professional level movie and the likes of The Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity proved the approach can be successful, it adds to the effect.

Would I recommend The Visit?  Sure.  It’s actually pretty well done and took me by surprise, but it’s also a film that requires 2 viewings, as it comes across as weird in the first viewing.  It’s easily M. Night’s simplest film – It doesn’t try to be overly innovative or intelligent, instead it chooses to be a lot more straight forward in its storytelling with emphasis on developing the kids as characters, as well as the grandparents and the evolving horrors.  To say the least, this might be M. Night Shyamalan’s 3rd best film…in fact that’s exactly what it is.  But in my opinion, there is 1 way to make this film’s experience even greater…by releasing 3 versions of this film:  The final cut, which combined Horror and Comedy, The Pure Comedy Cut, and The Pure Horror Cut, and sell them in a 3-disc Box Set.  If anybody with connections to this film’s marketing is reading this:  Consider it.

Acting: ****

Characters: ***1/4

Story: ****1/4

Locations: ****

Cinematography: ***1/2

Overall: ***3/4

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (2007/2015) Video Game Review


With Uncharted 4 already out, I figured I would start (or in my case, restart) playing all of the games in this series again – starting with the game that began them all; Drake’s Fortune.

So what’s the story?  Well, it revolves around our main character, Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter whose goal in life is to go searching for some of the greatest mysteries in the world and obtain them…Because it’s an exciting line of work and he has bills to pay, and isn’t willing to do anything else to pay them (Because dreams have an element of risk that make them worth trying).  After uncovering the coffin of his ancestor, the english explorer Francis Drake, Nate finds out that Francis faked his own death (no remains inside), and left clues to the location of the mythical treasure known as El Dorado.  So, Nathan, along with a journalist looking for a story, Elena Fisher, and his old mentor, Victor “Sully Sullivan,  set out to find it…and experience much trouble along the way.

To add an extra mention, I’m reviewing the PS4 upscale of this game, which is more or less the same game, only it has nicer textures and flows wonderfully at 60 frames per second (and possibly more).

Now to dive into the details.

The Graphics still hold up very well today, but when this game originally came out in late 2007, it was 1 of the best looking video games in the world, along with Assassin’s Creed 1 and Crysis ( or at least it had the best water texture at the time).  Even today you can’t go wrong with how this game looks and makes you feel just by looking at it.

The Art style attempts to be realistic in both background and character design, and especially for the time, it really succeeded.  Today it very much looks like a PS3 game (a great looking PS3 game for that matter), and with the likes of its sequels and Quantic Dream games such as Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, which came out on PS3 a few years later, it has dated a bit.  But it doesn’t take away from how beautiful the game still looks, with it’s bright greens, beautiful skylines, touchable looking masonry, and of course a realistic looking darkness when you start going through catacombs and temples.

The Characters are…mixed…at least in this instalment.  The characters themselves aren’t enormously developed, though Drake and Sully would be great craic to hang out with in real life (They’re a good humoured bunch).  And the villains are…terrible, and among some of the most typical stereotypes in any entertainment medium.  Seriously, the villains are as 1-dimensional as they get, and none of them come across as particularly threatening (Which, if your villain is 1 dimensional, is criminal in its own sense).  Nathan Drake himself is a great and likeable character, even this early in the series’ development.  Naughty Dog decided they didn’t want to make him like Schwarzeneggar or Rambo – but rather, more like a regular guy with good survival skills on an adventure bigger than himself.  Comparisons have been made with Tomb Raider, but some of the inspirations to the character are clear when mentioned, including Johnny Knoxville, Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, and even Cary Grant.  There’s even a slight Nathan Fillion feel to the character as well, but no one mentioned it.  Sully reminds me of Walt Disney in appearance and is a great, comedic father figure to Nathan, while Elena Fisher is very much in “Season 1” mode, as an adventurous but naive journalist who hasn’t really experienced the nitty and gritty of her job…until this story takes place.  Our 3 main villains are Gabriel Roman, Atoq Navarro and Eddy Raja…and like I said, none of them have any redeeming qualities, they’re just greedy prats thinking about money, with Eddy Raja being the most annoying.

The Story in Uncharted 1 is, sadly, the weakest part of the whole game (Probably more so than the villains…okay, maybe not, they’re roughly on par).  It’s very simple, but it’s not that well executed or tight, and some of the more exciting parts of the game are very anti-climatic.  Nothing about it stood out in particular, as much of the game was more like an exhibition of the art work, and of “things to come”.  It was all new and interesting – and while it’s a good platform towards the sequels, it’s not the best game on it’s own.

The Gameplay very much borrows from the likes of Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider (and possibly Prince Of Persia), from its exploration features, to its treasure hunting, to its gunplay and melee, to its use of parkour to get around.  The gameplay itself is excellent and more or less bug free (I’ve found no flaws), however there have been times when I’ve jumped at a wrong angle and then had to go through a whole climbing level all over again.  Other than that, I have no objections, it’s still great fun to play.

The voice acting’s good, particularly from our heroes, whose voice acting choices are perfect for the characters they play.  Despite the quality of the villains, the voice acting’s still very good for them as well.

The Music is by Greg Edmonson, who also created the soundtrack for Joss Whedon’s show Firefly and the score for Mike Judge’s cartoon King Of The Hill.  You can hear a lot of Firefly similerities in this game’s score, and with that, the game’s music has an intense “love” factor from me – as it suits the sound of adventure perfectly.

Would I recommend Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune?  No doubt!  Despite the unfortunate story and 1-dimensional villains, it’s still a really good game.  It’s beautiful to look at, the heroes are likeable, the music is awesome and the gameplay is incredibly good fun.  It’s a game deserving of its sequel, and soon I’ll let you know about that 1 as well.

Graphics: **** (****3/4 in 2007)

Art style: *****

Story: ***

Gameplay: ****1/2

Voice Acting: ****1/4

Characters: *** (****1/4 for Drake, Fisher and Sully, ** for the Villains)

Music: *****

Overall: ****