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: ****

Zorba The Greek (1964) Movie Review

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While visiting Cyprus (Greek side) again this year for a nicely executed convalescence, I was introduced to this film through its main theme song, which played through the town of Protaras like it was part of the atmosphere – curiosity kicked in, and the rest as they say, was history.

So what’s Zorba The Greek about?  Well, first of all, it’s not set in Greece, it’s set in Crete (a small greek island).  Based on the novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis and directed by Michael Cacoyannis (A director from Cyprus), our story revolves around the relationship, relationships and misadventures of our 2 main characters; Basil (played by Alan Bates), an introverted Greek-English Writer from an uptight middle class background, who came to Crete in order to reopen a Lignite mine his father owned.  And Alexis Zorba (Played by the legendary Anthony Quinn), an unemployed musician with an enthusiasm for life and a simple desire to tag along with Basil for an adventure in his own right…that adventure being to become a miner for a new friend, a possibly see success in the region.  While in a small, rural, impoverish Cretan village that isn’t named (but filmed in Kokkino Chorio), both men find women they like – For Basil, it’s the strikingly beautiful woman known simply as “The Widow” (played by greek actress Irene Papas) and for Zorba it’s the French hotel owner, Madame Hortense (played by Russian-French actress Lila Kedrova).  As the film progresses, we witness the struggles that both men have to endure…But at the same time, we see how they respond to the circumstances of their surroundings.

Now to break it down…and dance.  Due to the fact that this film is over 50 years old, and more focused on reality, any mention of CGI and special effects in this review will be more or less non-existent or fitted under cinematography.

The acting in Zorba The Greek’s incredibly good – especially when you consider the quality of the extras in this film.  Much like a Sergio Leone film, everybody had “The right kind of face”, and many behaved and performed with a great passion, through happiness, sadness, and even silence.  Anthony Quinn is obviously the star of the show, putting on 1 of the most charismatic performances in the history of cinema (I really mean that).  Alan Bates was an excellent straight-man throughout, not only playing a character who balanced the passionate Zorba on screen, but also 1 who could learn from him.  The Widow, though quiet, expressed a great intensity.  And Lila Kedrova as Madame Hortense was…magnificent – easily the 2nd best actor/actress in this film.

The Characters are awesome – but there’s a reason why this film is called Zorba The Greek.  Anthony Quinn simply steals the show, and the movie would definitely be lesser without him in it.  Based on a real miner named Goigis “George” Zorbas, who became close friends with the movie’s novelist Nikos Kazantzakis – Zorba is a man of fleeting, change and experience.  Much like George Zorbas, Alexis Zorba is also a man of great tragedy – and it is through difficulty and sadness, that he learned to find things to make him happy (within the context of happiness being a choice and not a feeling).  It could be something as simple as a good meal or a good drink or finding the humorous side of things gone wrong, or simply people being alive.

The Story is really good, yet oddly unorthodox.  It’s a movie that flows a lot more like life itself than simply a beginning, middle and end.  The plot does exist, but it’s really well disguise under a series of events, with many not particularly connected to each other.  For instance, there is no relationship between The Widow and Madame Hortense, other than the fact that they are treated differently by the villagers.  As for the choices in macguffins and progression, it’s not your conventional story.  Much of it is not sunshine and rainbows, and it’s all within the context of the culture that the film is portraying…what I’m saying is, everybody has a reason in what they do, and the choices of our “heroes” can sometimes be rather antagonising to the villagers, and even to us (For instance, Zorba only reveals truth to Basil, such as his true thoughts and feelings about life, after-life and Madame Hortense).

The music…oh the music.  Minimalist, yes.  But so memorable and often sweet and cheery and…greek.  Especially the opening and the ending theme.  Now known as “Zorba’s Dance”, it’s an iconic tune normally associated with modern Greece.  variations of the tune have been played, often slower or faster, but still recognisable by the choice of notes and cadence.

The cinematography in this film is brilliant, with some excellent action scenes.  Not action movie action scenes, I’m talking about the comedic presentation of a boat in rough seas.

The locations are authentic, as it was mostly filmed in Crete, and therefore perfectly chosen.

Would I recommend Zorba The Greek?  Yes!  Absolutely!  It features a lot of adult themes and jokes without being too raunchy or dark about them.  It has a fantastic sense of humanity (For better or worse), as well as being a gritty social commentary about poverty, societies and social norms in general.  It shows “The old ways of doing things” as both a demonstration and a debate, and how, despite how terrible the people might be, we shouldn’t let them or circumstances, cause us to lose our zeal for life…at least for too long.  If I were to recommend a film for those looking to study character development – this would be 1 of a shortlist along with The Godfather 1 and 2, Amelie, Fight Club and any Coen Brothers film.  I would also recommend this film, oddly enough, as a way to cheer someone up – because it can be very relatable, even if you have never been anywhere near Greece or its Islands.  It’s a film that finds the beauty in life without sugar-coating anything or submitting to a disney formula (Which is great in its own right, but not here).

Acting: ****3/4 (***** for Anthony Quinn and Lila Kedrova)

Characters: ****1/2 (***** for Zorba!)

Story: *****

Music: *****

Cinematography: ****1/2

Locations: *****

Overall: ****3/4

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Houdini & Doyle (2016) TV Show Review

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I found this show on NOW TV, and it’s also available on ITV Encore (A channel that’s almost completely dedicated to British Murder Mysteries, and oddly enough has 1 of the best looking HD upscales I’ve ever seen on TV. 20-30 year old shows look like they happened in 2006! The 3:2 ratio gives it away, but still. Very impressive). Anyway, this strange pairing sounded very interesting, and with only 4 days to watch 10 episodes …Yeah, I took advantage of the situation, and the boat appeared to have set sailed by the time I was finished…until I found out it was on demand afterwards…still, it was a good marathon.

To add to the intense curiosity of this show, I found it to be inspiring for my own comic series (A detective series I’m working on at this time).

So, what’s the story of Houdini & Doyle about?  Well, it’s about the unusual mystery-solving friendship between the writer of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle (played by Stephen Mangan), the world-famous Hungarian American Illusionist and Stunt Performer, Harry Houdini (Played by Michael Weston), and the fictitious first female Police Constable in Scotland Yard, Adelaide Stratton (played by Canadian actress Rebecca Libbiard). Set in 1901 in London, shortly after Doyle’s book The Great Boer War was published – Houdini and Doyle are 2 celebrities getting caught up in a string of mysterious deaths and events, ranging from the possibilities of being killed by ghosts, murder victims being reincarnated, curses, psychics, Spring-Heel Jack’s existence, being scared to death, Aliens, Vampires, Poltergeists, and so on – leading to arguments and debates between Doyle and Houdini, to the embarrassment of Adelaide (Who is effectively their Scotland Yard appointed Babysitter), and the distain of both Chief Horace Merring (Played by “Lord Percy Percy” & “Captain Darling” from Blackadder, Tim McInnermy) and Inspector George Gudgett (played by Adam Nagaitis).

Now to break down the mystery that is its building blocks:

The Acting in Houdini & Doyle is…good. It’s far from bad, but it’s also not going to win too many awards for it’s quality. At it’s best it can be very good, especially during the sadder moments, but in terms of the on-screen chemistry, I’ve seen it done better in other shows of a similar premise, where the buddy-cop formula has been done really well (Houdini & Doyle’s relationship is well presented though). Also, while Stephen Mangan is good at playing englishmen from period backgrounds, we need to keep in mind that Arthur Conan Doyle was from Edinburgh – and an audio recording of Doyle in his later years indicates that while he lived in or around London, he never lost his Scottish accent. Which already creates a distance in authenticity – especially when you consider how Scottish accents are pretty well accepted on American TV through the likes of Scotty in Star Trek and Leo Fitz in Agents Of Shield (It’s only when you show them Rab C Nesbitt that they really need the subtitles). Michael Weston’s portrayal is more on the fact that he has the right look, is american enough to pull off the role, and is a good actor -and as for Rebecca Libbiard, I think she did a very good job, considering this is the biggest role in her career so far. Especially when you consider that the character she’s playing is also doing something for the first time, seemingly.

The Characters in this program, overall, are very good. Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini are 2 of the most fascinating people of the late 19th/early 20th century, and the thought of them being their own buddy-cop duo is awesome in their own fan-fiction way, and would make for brilliant novels, comics and cartoons…but maybe..just maybe…not live action…as much. In it’s own way, it does feel a bit cartoony, especially the way Houdini and Doyle are addressed privately by Chief Merring to Inspector Gudgett, and how they themselves (Merring & Gudgett) have quite few redeeming qualities and are in need of a second season for development.  One of the best aspects of the show is the discussions between Houdini and Doyle over what happened to a murder victim.  It goes beyond merely “One is facts-based, the other is fantasist”, and into an area of humanity that everybody would chose a side about – the topic of faith in the form of believing whether or not the supernatural exists.  Which is present is nearly every episode, with Doyle believing in every possibility within the context of religion and a world beyond our own, and Houdini (even though he’s an illusionist) believing that there is a scientific explanation for everything.  It also has some good humour mixed in, making it better than some other types of detective shows that take themselves way too seriously.

The big, overall Story is very good, and sometimes seems to tackle themes that are either unexplored for the time period or too ahead of their time in general. 1 theme in particular that’s explored is women’s rights, and the stress that Adelaide goes through as the 1st female Police Constable in Scotland Yard (due to the male dominated society around at the time) to live up to the expectations of “keeping up with the boys”. After seeing such a story being done better on Agent Carter, this exploration ended up taking a bit of a back seat for me…and the fact that the first proper policewoman wasn’t appointed until 1915, makes it all seem a little out of character with the period. But it’s a risk they were willing to take, and it has some great moments in it.

The music is good, but at times seems out of place (based on the choice of instruments chosen).  It’s light, quirky, and dark when it needs to be.

The Locations around Liverpool to represent the end of Victorian/Edwardian London were very well chosen and suit the outdoor scenes almost perfectly (Keeping in mind, Penny Dreadful do their “Victorian London” in Dublin).

The Production is done by the likes of Big Talk Productions (Who do a lot of movies by Edgar Wright, Black Books & Raised By Wolves) and is very good, as nothing looks cheap. Whoever were involved in the studio interior scenes, you did a great job.

The Art Direction was wonderfully stylish, and was clearly influenced by Guy Pierce’s version of Sherlock Holmes (The one with Robert Downey Jr)…and any other version of Sherlock for that matter…outside of Benedict Cumberbatch.

The CGI, especially when it came to presenting London, was both excellent and very stylish.

The Special effects had some good moments, especially when it came to some of the more monstrous looking creatures/physically ill people.

The cinematography’s really good, with some really beautiful wide angle shots.

In terms of historical accuracy, much of the show bends the facts to suit itself, and shouldn’t be taken as anything but entertainment or fuel for the fire of research. Houdini and Doyle did in fact meet in real life and become friends – but it wasn’t until 1920 when such a meeting had finally occurred, 6 years before Houdini and 10 before Doyle had both passed away (This show is set in 1901). There were also a lot of creative liberties taken when it came to the personal lives of both men – In real life, Houdini was married, had many siblings and lived with his wife. In the show he’s a bachelor who lives with his mother and his siblings live in America. Doyle’s home life had a little more accuracy to it, as he only had 2 children (out of 5) at the time, and his wife did have tuberculosis as well.

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A real photo of them together

Would I recommend Houdini & Doyle?  Indeed I do – But don’t set the bar too high. It’s light and it’s fun, with some nicely created mysteries that mostly try to please both sides of an argument.  The cases it does may not have been explored before within the context of a Victorian/Edwardian London Murder Mystery.  It has the look of Penny Dreadful, but with the light, quirkiness of shows like Castle and the “great unknown” of  The X-Files (You might even say that Doyle is effectively Castle and Moulder while Houdini is Beckett and Scully).  It’s also 1 that focuses primarily on Faith as a theme, which to me is a newer topic in the west, as most mysteries choose to be unbelievably bias…but this only chooses to be slightly bias.  The show can be very hit or miss, but it’s very watchable and not too complicated.  If you take it for what it is, it’s worth a look.

Acting: ***3/4

Characters: ****1/4

Story: ****

Music: ***3/4

Locations: ****3/4

Production: ****1/2

Art direction: ****3/4

CGI: ****1/2

Special effects: ****

cinematography ****1/4

Overall: ****1/4

The Conjuring 2 (2016) Movie Review

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This will be a slightly different review, because I’m not only reviewing a sequel, but I’m also reviewing a film that focuses on the same topic as another review that I’ve written.  This is The Conjuring 2.

Set 5-6 years after the events in the Conjuring 1, our story once again involves our 2 favourite characters from the prequel, the paranormal investigation couple known as Ed (played by Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (played by Vera Farmiga).  Our movie begins with 1 of the most famous paranormal cases that they were both involved in – The Amityville Horror.  In 1976, Lorraine tried to figure out what happened in the house, which leads to her re-intacting Ronald Defeo’s actions on that November 13th night in 1974 while in a trance.  What I loved about this opening is how they used a piece of reference material…the young boy, who appeared in photographs of the house, and wasn’t actually in the house.  Lorraine decides to follow the boy into the basement, where she meets a demonic-looking Nun, and a vision of Ed’s death.  Something that bothers her so much that they end up retiring from cases (but still lecture and take part in debates on the paranormal in universities and on TV).

Fast forward a year, we travel to London, England, where we meet the Hodgson Family, consisting of single-mum, Peggy Hodgson and her 4 children; daughters Margaret and Janet, and sons Johnny and Billy.  After Janet plays with a Ouija Board that she made with a friend from school (or at least someone she tried to be cool around) with Margaret (who dismisses it), strange things start to happen in their council house.  Stuff starts to get moved around, the electricity has a mind of it’s own, Janet starts conversing with “nothing”, and much like the mini-series I reviewed, The Enfield Haunting, the spirit of an Old, Evil Man is oppressing and scaring them.  When the Police witness the hauntings and find that this is something out of their abilities, they suggest help from the Church, who then approach Ed and Lorraine, telling them that they need to help this family.

Now to break it down:

When compared to the Acting in the Enfield Haunting, at times it’s better and at times it’s just different.  In the Enfield Haunting, I sort of preferred the presentation of the Hodgson Family (Overall), while in this film I much prefer the choice of investigators.  In this film, the Hodgsons are more like a typical, innocent American horror movie family.  In the Enfield Haunting, the kids are a lot more lively and like regular, cheeky children from London, especially Janet – this includes the difference in the actress playing Janet.  Eleanor Worthington-Cox was much better at playing a wee girl from London with an attitude, while Madison Wolfe did a better job playing a possessed little girl…if you know what I mean.

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Somebody has been left alone a little too long.

The Characters are what make this film work without being too comedic – Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga provide charismatic performances with moments of humour in between the scares, and with Patrick Wilson’s performance oddly enough reminding me of Michael Keaton, which was pretty cool.  Vera Farmiga’s performance has moments that remind me a little of Eva Green in Penny Dreadful and Marion Cotillard in drama roles.  I feel like I’ve gotten to know these characters more so again, and I’ll be up for a third 1 if possible.  The villains in this film are as good, if not better than the 1 that haunted the Perron Family in Rhode Island.  The Demon Nun, The Crooked Man, and the Ghost of Bill Wilkins (not a pleasant chap, whether you watch this or the Enfield Haunting) were all excellently portrayed.  You’ll also notice that Maurice Grosse appears in this (Main character in The Enfield Haunting) being played by Simon McBurney – compared to Timothy Spall, definitely looks the part more, and acting-wise, they’re both roughly the same.  Guy Lyon Playfair doesn’t appear in this version, but that’s okay – it would have been too crowded with him there as well.  Also, compared to the Enfield Haunting, you don’t see how badly bullied Janet is at school – especially over the news coverage they received about it.

The Story tells Ed and Lorraine’s side of the Enfield Haunting story, while The mini-series The Enfield Haunting, focuses on Maurice Grosse’s side.  Overall, it was a better story than both it’s prequel and the Mini-Series.  It uses the rule of pairs a lot – some could say it’s symbolic for Ed & Lorraine’s relationship and how anything that isn’t a pair is a sign.  Much like the Enfield Haunting, The Conjuring 2 chose to respect both opinions on the case – It provides the skeptics with their fill, while at the same time it provides the believers with theirs.  In the area of feeding the believers, it does use some creative license (The room of crosses wasn’t real, for instance), and the ending wasn’t documented, which leaves it open for interpretation.

Much of the music by Joseph Bishara (who also did The Conjuring 1) is oddly subtle…so subtle in fact that you would assume you were hearing cars outside the cinema (But listen closely and you’ll know it’s music).  For the most part, the music’s very good, and dynamic when it needs to be.  The film also features some good original songs too, including The Clash’s song London Calling (Which works for setting the scene of London, but is historically inaccurate as the song was recorded in 1979 & the film is set in 1977), ‘I Started A Joke’ by The Bee Gees, and of course, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” by Elvis Presley, with both the song itself, and as an acoustic cover played by Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren (Which he does really well and with tongue and cheek humour!).  Other times the music is very reminisce of ’70s Horror like The Omen and The Exorcist, other times I feel like I’m hearing the rare “Are You Afraid Of The Dark” intro from Season 1 Episode 5.

The Make-Up, Special Effects and design choices in this film are absolutely top-notch!  Literally, some of the choices they’ve made are so clever, you’re thankful they did them.  The demonic Nun (Who won’t be named for a spoiler-free review), though a bit of a cliche now, is terrifying (Bonnie Aarons didn’t have to do very much, but the shape of her face, plus all of the make-up, the Nun-outfit and the lighting, works brilliantly), as is the occasional presentation of the old man.  But in terms of decisions – The Crooked Man was 1 of the best, mostly because of the actor they chose – Javier Botet.  Botet has Marfan Syndrome – a physical condition that gives him very long arms, long fingers, long arms, long toes and a long spine that distorts the upper body’s shape.  This means that when it came to presenting this boogeyman creature with unusual movements – it wasn’t CGI.  Also, Madison Wolfe (who plays Janet Hodgson) was almost unrecognisable to the point that Patrick Wilson (who worked with her on a film before) didn’t know it was her.  Blonde, blue-eyed and American, She wore brown contact lenses, had brown hair and an English accent for the role, and appeared much more grown-up compared to how she looked 2 years ago when she played Woody Harrelson’s daughter in True Detective Season 1.  Quite a transformation.

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The CGI was good, but also pretty obvious, and at the same time it didn’t add to much to the scares.  It progressed the story without making a mess on the set, and I can appreciate that reason.

The Cinematography was for the most part excellent and artistic in approach.  It contained a combination between clever focus, the presentation of shapes within frame, such as a diagonal shot of the staircase.

In terms of Horror and scares, The Conjuring 2 doesn’t play tricks.  Instead of tricking the audience into fear, instead it chooses to build up every scare bit by bit.  No hiding cats and no people going ‘boo’, the only area that sees the film toying with you is in the timing, which is scary, even when you know it’s coming.

In terms of Historical accuracy -the film does take some liberties – especially by the third act.  Much of this area becomes a matter of “This is where the facts ended and the fiction goes at it alone”.  Within context, only those who were personally involved could say that this stuff really happened.  The movie makes this message clear, as did the mini-series, and that’s the main way you’ll receive new stories out of this case without choosing any sides.  However, the real Janet Hodgson did say that when it came to whether she was lying…She was telling the truth 98% of the time.

Would I recommend The Conjuring 2?  If you’re looking for a good horror movie, this 1 is a no-brainer.  I consider it to be better than both the Enfield Haunting and The Conjuring 1, and in terms of what it offers outside of the horror, it’s actually a good quality film in it’s own right.  Also, the prequel isn’t absolutely necessary viewing, so don’t feel like you have to wait until you watch The Conjuring 1.  If you like great horror, go see it.  To make it even weirder – This can actually qualify as a Christmas Movie.  I’m not kidding.

Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ****1/4

Story: ****3/4

Music: ****

Make-Up/Special Effects: *****

CGI: ***1/2

Cinematography: ****1/2

Scares: ****1/2

Overall: ****1/2

In The Heat Of The Night (1967) Movie Review

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To say the least, this is quite a memorable 1, as I’m sure some of you have heard the famous line “They call me Mr Tibbs!” – well, that’s this film, and now we’re going to talk about it.

Based on the book by John Ball and set in present day (1967) Mississippi, USA (in the fictitious town of Sparta, Mississippi), our story revolves around 2 main characters – Virgil Tibbs (played by Bahaman-American actor Sidney Poitier) and Police Chief Gillespie (played by the late Rod Steiger), who get involved in a very unfortunate murder case.  The murder victim?  Phillip Colbert – a wealthy man from Chicago who was planning to build a factory in Sparta, and in the process, bring a much needed prosperity and jobs to an otherwise backwards part of the state.  The murder takes place while Virgil waits to catch a train back to his hometown in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he is the number one Homicide Investigator in their respective police department.  While waiting for the 4:05AM train, Virgil is arrested by Sergeant Sam Wood for 3 reasons:  1. He’s out and about at that time of night, 2. he has a lot of money in his Wallet (From being paid $162.93 a week, which in today’s currency is $1,171.34 a week, which, if he worked without holidays comes to $60,909.68 a year), and of course, 3. because he’s black.  Assuming Virgil killed Mr Colbert for his money, he’s taken to the station, where Chief Gillespie attempts to arrest him without sufficient evidence, and then fails every time.  Gillespie is then put in a position that the racist in him had to put up with – Not only did the Philadelphia Police Chief say that Virgil should stay and help in their investigation (Against the wishes of Virgil, never mind the other policemen and the town’s folk) – but Phillip Colbert’s wife threatens to leave Sparta with all of the engineers if Virgil isn’t on the case (due to the fact that he’s the only 1 who is doing his job of trying to catch the murderer, while the rest of the force looks for an easy scapegoat).  From here, we have a murder mystery with convicting interests between Virgil and the town of Sparta.

Now to break the film down.

The Acting is excellent – Everybody does their part incredibly well, especially Virgil and Gillespie, but also Warren Oates as Sam Wood, who portrays the character as a really slippery scumbag (well, to be honest, nearly every white guy in this did a good Slippery Scumbag impression), and it’s difficult to top that performance.  As well as Larry Gates as Eric Endicott (A murder suspect who opposed building the factory), who did an awesome job showing a guy who “runs this town” go from a nice elderly man looking after a greenhouse, and into a man whose hatred for blacks makes him look like a 5 year old who didn’t get the toy he/she wanted…It was that face…that desire to kill this man for returning a slap, and knowing he can’t get what he wants anymore.  Because his preferred generation was dying, along with its social norms.

The Characters are varied…or maybe not so much.  Virgil is obviously the only sane man in town (with the exception of Mrs Colbert), Gillespie and Mayor Schubert sit on the fence of sanity, and the rest of the town is a typical southern town that instantly changes and loses all logic when a black man enters the room.  7 years later, Mel Brooks would turn these sorts of characters into a laughing stock in his film Blazing Saddles – but in 1967, this was still a devastating reality in some parts (Keep in mind, a year after this film was released, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated), and the actors brought out a lot of emotions, especially with the audience.  To say the least, the characters demonstrated the ugly face of racism with perfection.

The Story is…excellent, with little to no loopholes.  I was literally kept guessing as to what’s going on in the case.  But at the same time, the murder case isn’t everything about this story.  It tackled a lot of community problems, slowed down to show us the men behind the hatred (Or lack of, some are beasts whether they’re racist or not), and allow us to learn about both Virgil and Gillespie, which is important.  The scene were they end up getting drunk was a pretty important and power moment in the film.

Themes covered are pretty evident, along with some not-so evident ones at first glance – and at the same time I feel like I might spoil the mystery if I mentioned them here, so here are some of them:  Racism (Obviously), the changing of the times, the condition of this particular part of the country at this time, opportunities, the blurring of lines, class, lies, hatred, justice, truth, and 1 of the main 1s…the importance of a skill had or a skill developed.  Because 1 thing this film shows is that skill doesn’t fall on race.  It shows that privilege, respect and success are for the skilled, not solely for any particular type of chocolate.  So in the end, Virgil’s revenge on the white man for his racism came from his superior skills, which would have come from working hard and working smart.  It’s actually an excellent message within the story for anybody seeking revenge of any kind.

The Music was done by Quincy Jones, with the opening theme being sung by Ray Charles (Great tune!).  The scores incorporate a mixture of blues with dangerous-sounding strings and wood that were common in thrillers up until the late ’70s (and then used in more modern films for either a throwback or comedic effect), as well as slow strings.  There was also a good blend of Bossa nova, blues solos soloing, Jazz Bass, and music that would now otherwise be associated with blaxloitation films or used as samples in Rap music.  Either way, it’s a great sounding score that suits the film perfectly.

Cinematography-wise, the film was mostly straight-forward with some rather daring shots in their day.  Some of the editing can come across as a little choppy here and there, but most of it works really well.

The filming locations included some shots in Tennessee (particularly the cotton fields), but it was mostly shot in Sparta, Illinois rather than in the Mississippi…and for good reason.  After Sidney Poltier was nearly killed by a Klu Klux Klan member while in Mississippi, they chose not to film it there…and even though Tennessee wasn’t as bad, Poltier was still harassed by racist thugs in the state, and he kept a gun under his pillow at night…not a way you want to shoot a film.  So it all had to be done carefully.

The mystery itself is great, simple, but not blatantly obvious either.  Everything falls into place like dominos, with every possibility having a reason, and yet we still don’t know until the end of it.  A lot of suggestions can be made, based on how many murder mystery stories you read or watch – and if you haven’t read the book, then it’s even less obvious.

Would I recommend In The Heat Of The Night?  Well, it has been voted as 1 of the 1001 films you should watch before you die, so I say…Yes.  They’re right in suggesting this.  It’s an excellent film about the Deep South in ’60s USA from an African-American perspective, and one that can provide a lot of food for thought.  Definitely worth a look!

Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Themes: *****

Music: ****1/2

Cinematography: ****1/4

Locations: ****1/4

Mystery: ****1/2

Overall: ****3/4