Final Fantasy XV (2016) Video Game Review

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About 10 years…that’s how long this game was in development.  In the entertainment industry, they would tell you that a game like this was in Development Hell – meaning it has taken so long that the game doesn’t look like it will see a release.  Duke Nukem Forever had it, Persona 5 and Syberia 3 are on their way to leaving it behind in April, and Kingdom Hearts 3 still has it to this day (12 years after ‘2 came out).  It was originally going to be called Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a game that would be released as a spin-off to Final Fantasy XIII, which came out worldwide in 2010 – but it got pushed back…then ‘XIII had 2 sequels, a remake of Type-0, and the MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV, pushing this project back even further.  Then on the 30th of November in 2016, this game was sent out into the world, with me acquiring the Day One Edition and almost immediately buying the Season Pass to go with it…And now to ask the question; Was it worth waiting 10 years for this?

Set in the world of Eos, our story revolves around Noctis Lucis Caelum (whose name means Night Light Heaven in Latin), the 20 year old crown prince of Lucis, as well as 3 men who are his best friends – His guardian, the large, built, and charismatic Gladiolus “Gladio” Amicitia (Surname is Latin for Friendship), who is also a skilled outdoorsman with an impressive mullet.  His advisor, the serious, dry-humoured and highly educated military-tactician-for-when-you-need-one,  Ignis “Iggy” Scientia (latin for Fire Science), who is also the group’s main driver and their chef.  And lastly, Prompto Argentum (Latin for Quicksilver), Noctis’ best friend in high school, and the guy who is photographing everything and everybody.  At the beginning of the game, Noctis is going on a road trip.  One that allows him to see the world outside the Crown City, Insomnia, before he finally boards a boat to the floating city of Altissia (Latin for Highest) in the continent of Accordo (Accord in latin) to marry Lunafreya “Luna” Nox Flueret (Moon Night Foil?…hmmmm), an Oracle, the princess of Tenebrae in Niflheim, and Noctis’ childhood friend, in an arranged marriage designed to unite both the free continent of Lucis and the Imperial-continent of Niflheim.  All looks like sunshine, rainbows, and Top Gear/Grand Tour style situation comedy…until the 4 young men receive the news while waiting for the boat to Altissia…During a peace treaty meeting between Niflheim and Lucis – Niflheim attacked.  King Regis (literally “King King”), Noctis’ father, was killed, the crystal that protected the city from enemies was stolen, and the crown city was taken over by the imperials.  With the help of his party, as well as family and friends who managed to escape the city – Noctis goes on a pilgrimage to the tombs of ancient Lucian monarchs, to receive the royal arms – a collection of spiritual weapons that only the kings of Lucis can use.  And with them, reclaim the crystal and what is now officially his throne and his empire.

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Now to write about the various slices that make a whole:

The game offers voice acting in English, French, German and Japanese (I played in english) – the voices suit the characters very well with some minor flaws here and there that are questionable.  The main 1 being Cindy, the head mechanic.  While there were already a lot of complaints about her (Mostly from people who thought she was too sexy for her job), her highly characterised Southern-USA voice can sound a bit forced…I also don’t like how Gladio says “Ingredients” in the “Improve the Cup Noodle” side quest (That’s right, the man who looks like he hasn’t eaten a carb since childhood basically loves pot noodle)…it just sounds weird.  At times the townsfolk (or more specially the vendors and some side mission folk) can sound weird as well.  But overall, it was still mostly very good with the voices more or less being perfect for the 4 party members, as well as the main villain, who sounds like an english sci-fi baddie from the ’70s/’80s.  So you can’t go wrong there!

The Characters are for the most part very strong, with more character development available in the form of the anime Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV and any future DLC.  When Noct, Iggy, Gladio and Prompto are together, they can be incredibly funny!  There’s some very well written locker room humour here, especially as Noctis and Prompto end up as the butt of numerous jokes, while at the same time, when it gets serious, it becomes no laughing matter.  I also found Ardyn Izunia (the most flamboyant older gentleman in the village) to be a very intriguing and darkly charismatic character.  As for the likes of important characters who didn’t seem to get much development, like Luna’s brother Ravus, like I said, they are developed more in other areas of the FFXV Universe – because while they have their own stories to develop, this game isn’t the right piece to see them shine.

The Story is a large piece of the Final Fantasy XV Universe Jigsaw puzzle – Not everything is known about the story within the game, but there is more than enough to make the game stand on its own and have you hungry for more in the midst of your satisfaction.  With its emphasis being on Noctis, his friends, and the roles they play in the bigger picture, rather than the world’s entire situation.  The game covers a lot of important themes, as it is not only a road story about learning through experience and an overcoming the monster story – it is a strong coming-of-age story about a 20 year old kid, who, even as a 20 year old, has a lot of growing up to do before he can accomplish the most important goal in his life.  It places emphasis on the importance of simply carrying out the task, more so than how long it takes.  It’s all about the right time.  To be ready when you’re ready, rather than too early and not ready.  Along with this you have the themes of friendship and responsibility, and in the case of some characters, an inevitability, even with the best intentions.

The Music was composed by Yoko Shimomura, whose work includes the entire Kingdom Hearts series and the criminally underrated Nintendo Wii game Xenoblade Chronicles.  Since Kingdom Hearts is Disney meeting Final Fantasy, it would be fair to say that she is probably the best person to fill the huge void that Nobuo Uematsu left behind at Square Enix (Uematsu stopped composing Final Fantasy games after FFX).  She manages to bring a hint of Kingdom Hearts into the music, while at the same time she provides phenomenal “situation music”.  Every theme is in the right place.  Some simple but effective like the night time theme.  Others reminding you of your youth (like the early morning side missions that Noct goes on with 1 of the other guys, depending on where you camp, which sounds like it was done by Oasis or The Pillows, very ’90s.).  The main Final Fantasy theme (called Crystalline Chill on the OST) was beautifully remixed by Shimomura and used as the inventory theme.  There are 2 main songs, 1 includes “Somnus” which was composed by Shimomura but sung in Latin by Aundréa L. Hopkins, a song that goes back to a Final fantasy tradition of a main song being beautifully composed and sung in Latin.  The other was Florence + The Machine covering Ben E. King’s 1962 hit “Stand By Me” – and when you consider the influence of Rob Reiner’s movie Stand By Me (and Stephen King’s book), and it being about 4 boys, much like our main characters here…it’s beautifully done.

The Gameplay is everything that Final Fantasy XII could have been and wasn’t.  Within 10 minutes, you can start to explore the world around you, and it is massive!  Though it’s not like Grand Theft Auto in the since that you could drive any car and drive them off a cliff and survive a 1km fall if you’re levelled up enough.  Such an approach would be out of character in this game, since your only vehicle is the Regalia, which is Noctis’ car and was King Regis’ car, and therefore something to connect Father and Son (Interesting note, that car would apparently cost $440,000 in real life).  Along with the main story which lasts about 15 Chapters, there are a ton of side quests to go along with it.  A little like the Yakuza series, you’re provided with a lot of extra things to do, for instance, Noctis likes to go fishing, and the fishing mini-game is very well done!  You also have the options of bounty hunting, treasure hunting, dungeon exploring (which provide you with the other royal arms), secret bosses, photography projects, invading imperial bases, finding new recipes (cooked meals have battle and exploration gameplay benefits, so do buy cook books, do eat out often to give Ignis inspiration, and do go camping as often as using a motel.  Motels for grinding and aiding in level-ups, and camping for power-ups like extra health, strength, resistance, etc).  The actual battle gameplay, like I said, is exactly the gameplay that ‘XII could have had to make it even better.  It plays more like a Kingdom Hearts game, and if you run away you’ll leave the battle.  In general, I had a ton of fun in the battles with different ways of approaching.  The party system is unique, yet similar in places to Final Fantasy X-2.  There is no large party for you to mix and match for different battles.  Your party is full from the start, and there is no real magic skills this time.  Just healing items, and the ability to create elemental spells by absorbing the elements from certain rocks found near a camp and then playing with their ratios and mixing them with items (Note: There is friendly fire in this game, and it’s hilarious).  It’s possible to obtain new abilities to make your party more effective in battle, so do apply them.  As far as roles in the group are concerned – Noctis can do anything he wants (He’s your only playable character after all), Gladio is power attacks and occasionally Noctis’ shield, Iggy is the dagger guy and secondary mage if you give him a magic flask, and Prompto is the long range fighter preferring the use of handguns.  One thing I do absolutely adore is the approach to makes to gaining experience points and saving your game.  You bank your experience points in FFXV, rather than get them right after a battle.  And you can only see your characters level up when they go to bed!  Some could argue that this breaks up the game too much.  But in reality, I see it as an excellent way to play anytime.  Life can get busy, and with the day-night cycle in FFXV, you can play the game for about 30 minutes and then stop when you save your game at a camp or motel…and when you start playing again later, you start with a new day.  It’s quite nice!

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“Dude, we should totally go back to him, like, tomorrow”

The Art Style in Final Fantasy XV maintains the services of Yoshitaka Amano in the concept art and main menu art department and Tetsuya Nomura as character designer (and director too!), but other than this, it is quite different to other games in the series because it bases much more of its world on nature, real places and real things.  Much of the continent of Lucis is a combination of African Plains and the western United States.  Altissia is based on Venice, Italy, Lestallum is modelled after Havana, Cuba with elements of Malaysia and Morocco thrown in, and though it’s not as evident in the game, but more evident in the anime Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV, the city of Insomnia (Lucis) is based on Japanese cities and towns.  Some fans of the series have expressed annoyance at this, since some of it, particularly to Japanese fans of the series, was a little too close to home, especially Insomnia.  And in some ways, perhaps they’re right.  Final Fantasy games normally take you to strange lands that are unlikely to exist in real life.  But in Final Fantasy 15, it feels like you could find these places if you decided to go on holiday abroad.  It may not be like the Yakuza series were you could literally find these places in real life.  But you could find places that provide the same look and feel that this game expressed.  Perhaps as a way to say “Look…there’s a world out there that you can explore.  These places can be found if you want to have your own road trip with a bunch of friends.  They’re real.  They exist.  Think about it.”  On top of this, the fashion choices of the characters also exist.  Luna’s wedding dress was even designed in real life specifically for the game.  To say the least, its all pretty fascinating.

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Considering this game was scheduled for the PS3, they did a fantastic job in bringing this game’s graphics up to the PS4 standard!  It’s a little rougher around the edges when compared to Metal Gear Solid 5 and Uncharted 4.  But it still looks fantastic!

Would I recommend Final Fantasy XV?  Yes!  Some would object – but in my opinion, this is the best Final Fantasy game to come out since Final Fantasy X in 2001/2002.  The main characters are all very likeable.  The gameplay was refreshing yet feels like it belongs.  The story is simple in goals, yet meaty in execution, and provides a very satisfying experience.  It also brings out the right ‘feels’ when it wants you to have them.  The main villain is excellent.  The world is beautiful to look at and asks to be explored.  The humour in this game is some of the best that I’ve come across in the whole series!  The music is the best selection since Nobuo left, and in general, it was worth the recommended retail price.  With every pre-order you take a risk, and this risk was like a jackpot.

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Voice Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****3/4

Music: *****

Gameplay: ****3/4

Art Style: *****

Graphics: ****3/4

Overall: ****3/4

Zootopia/Zootropolis (2016) Movie Review

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Last year, around the time this film was on in cinema, life was pretty busy.  So I had to choose between this and Captain America 3: Civil War.  Today I have no regrets on that decision (it was IMAX) – but it doesn’t mean I didn’t want to see this film.  Fast forward nearly a year, this film, which made over a billion dollars at the box office without my contribution, became available to yours truly…What can I say?

First of all…what is the story?  Well our film’s star is a little European Rabbit by the name of Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, aka Snow White in ABC’s Once Upon A Time).  Judy comes from a family of Rabbits who run a farm in a land called Bunnyburrow, and ever since she was a kid, she wanted to be a Cop.  14 years (in Bunny years, which is about 2 years to us) after realising her dream, she packs up and leaves home for Zootropolis/Zootopia, where she trains to become the first ever Bunny Cop in a career field dominated by large predators and large herbivores.  Her early days on the job were anything but the dream, which included her being outsmarted by a Hustling Fox named Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman) and doing parking duty.  However her life completely changes, when she’s finally given the opportunity to look for a missing animal…an Otter, who was last seen by a Hustling Fox.

Now to discuss what they were feeding the zoo animals on screen:

The CGI and Graphics everything you expect from a big budget Disney film.  The animation was amazing, but oddly enough, it felt like a small step down…I have this feeling that I’ve seen it done better before, which is why I’m not suggesting perfection in this part.

The Art Style is very creative and beautiful to look at – taking the overall design style from recent 3D Disney movies (Tangled and Frozen) and applying them to animal character designs.  On top of this, there is much variety in the visuals, in particular the presentation of different City districts within Zootopia, ranging from the Rainforest district to the Arctic to the Desert and so on (as a way to show that animals are more comfortable in certain parts of the city.  Though they can go into other areas as well).  It’s all beautiful to look at, and in its own way, makes you want to travel more.

The Voice Acting has some great choices, with each one suiting their character designs brilliantly, while at the same time, being the occasional surprise.  Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy and Jason Bateman as Nick were perfect.  Idris Elba played Bogo the African Buffalo, aka the Police chief, Tommy Chong played Yax the domestic Yak (who, like Chong, is probably into herbal refreshments), J.K. Simmons as Mayor Lionheart the Lion, Alan Tudyk as Duke Weaselton the Weasel, pop star Shakira as Gazelle the singing Thomson’s Gazelle, and my favourite 1, Maurice LeMarche as Mr Big, the most fearsome crime boss in Tundratown (LeMarche also voiced a similar cartoon character in build, but not in voice…as The Brain from Pinky and The Brain…there was possibly an inside joker there).

When it comes to the roles that each animal is given, Zootopia is excellent, particularly in its presentation of both stereotypes and anti-stereotypes.  One thing that strikes me about Judy Hopps is how much of an inspiration they’ve made her – especially when it comes to how she approaches her dreams, as well as the work that’s given to her.  As the first rabbit to qualify as a Cop, she wants everyone to make sure they know she belongs there, and tries her best not to budge.  When her first job as a Cop is parking duty, she decides to use it as an opportunity to prove herself (“If I’m expected to do 100 parking tickets today – I’ll aim to do 200 by noon” is her attitude), and it’s oddly enough, setting a great real-life example.  Is she flawed?  Of course!  She had a childhood experience involving a Fox, which taints her view on Nick at the beginning.  At the same time, she’s a country girl in the big city and is bound to be more than a little naive about folk.  And as the film progresses, you begin to realise that looks and character don’t mean the same thing.

The Story is a ombination of different genres all working together in harmony.  The 2 main plots include a main character who is chasing after a dream by moving to the big city (basically Coyote Ugly if you’re old enough to remember that film…or Mulholland Drive if you’re a sick and twisted little puppy who drinks black coffee), and a Mystery story where animals are going missing and it’s up to Judy (and Nick) to find them, and find out who was behind their disappearances.  What Zootopia tries to do is tell its audience to not judge by appearances. As a Fox, Nick is often stereotyped as sneaky and selfish, when in reality, he became the stereotype when others told him he was born for the role and traumatised him for it.  Without going straight to the source, or saying their names, Zootopia also covers a lot of themes within social commentary.  It addresses the fact that Zootopia is made up of 90% Herbivores and 10% Predators.  Within the story it addresses that there was a time when Predators killed herbivores, but also that it’s something that isn’t practised anymore due to Predators evolving to only eat fish, bugs, cereal and fruit (seriously, this is all over the place).  Some could argue that this reflects the modern world, as technology becomes more widely available, healthcare gets better, the Internet makes even a TV show on a small Island have a worldwide audience, cultures and religions become both exposed to each other and either given their place or embraced or tolerated or all the above.  Others could argue that Zootopia is a metaphor for a major city with a large and highly diverse group of people, whether it be New York, Toronto, London or Paris to name a few.  That it’s about co-existence and working together, no matter the background.

The Music is excellent, and very suitable for the film.  It includes a song by Shakira called Try Everything, which is a genuinely lovely little pop song that suits the movie down to the ground in both tone and lyrical content.  Judy fails many times while on the job – but it’s still what she wants to do, and the song reflects that.  The rest of the soundtrack is an eclectic collection of scores (ranging from sad piano to exciting tampuras to upbeat african drums), reflecting each scenario while providing tunes that may be in 4/4, but give the illusion of different tune signatures.

Would I recommend Zootopia?  Yes.  It’s a very good, encouraging and uplifting film.  Perfect for any mood, whether you’re up or down.

CGI/Graphics: ****3/4

Art Style: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ****3/4

Underworld: Blood Wars (2016) Movie Review

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It’s a new year, and its been 5 years since I saw Underworld Awakening in 3D back in January 2012.  Much has changed, but how much of that change can be said about “Underworld 5”?  Lets find out…also, if you haven’t seen Underworld, Underworld: Evolution, Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans and Underworld: Awakening, then I suggest going away and then coming back…It’s an unwritten rule that I’ve written here.  You can’t have 1 without the rest.

Set once again in the Underworld Universe were Vampires and Werewolves are virus-ridden humans who “evolve” by receiving the blood of someone more powerful, our story sees Kate Beckinsale return in the role of Selene, a Vampire Death-dealer who has since evolved into a Nordic-Enhanced, Vampire-Corvinus Strain Hybrid…in other words, a Vampire who can walk in the sun without dying, and is as immortal as a vampire elder.  She is being pursued by both Lycans and Vampires.  The Lycans, led by Marius (Tobias Menzies), seek her because they want to find her daughter, and use her blood to make them all evolve into more dangerous werewolves (and in the process, wipe out the Vampires).  The Vampires on the other hand, have a mixed seeking of Selene.  Some to put her to death as a traitor, while others want her to build a Vampire Army to defend themselves against the Lycans.  As the last true death-dealer who doesn’t know where her daughter is, Selene has a lot of decisions to make.

Now to break it down

The Acting department obviously sees Kate Beckinsale return, as well as the return of Theo James as David, and Charles Dance as David’s father, Thomas.  Among other cast members include Lara Pulver (Irene Adler in Sherlock), Daisy Head (Anthony Head, aka Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s daughter), James Faulkner (Pope Sixtus IV in Da Vinci’s Demons), Peter Andersson (Gustaf Boren from Jordskott) and Tobias Menzies (Edmure Tully in Game Of Thrones)..in fact, there are a number of Game Of Thrones actors in this, whether they’re in between seasons or doing this gig afterwards).  Much like the rest of the series, the acting isn’t ground-breaking.  The film series’ reputation as a profitable B-movie franchise could be seen as a reason.  Nobodies’ winning any awards for quality – but at the same time, few, if any, would be eligible for a Razzie Award.  That’s reserved for the next Adam Sandler comedy.  Once again, Kate Beckinsale is the reason you’re watching this.

The Characters, much like in Awakening, are build around Selene for her journey and her development more so than their own.  While motives are mentioned throughout the film, few are actually felt.  David is developed further in this 1, thankfully, and even part of his backstory is explored.  The villains however don’t hold the same weight that Viktor, Markus and Lucian had on screen.  They’re okay – but they’re not in league with them.

The Story maintains a gothic Shakespearian-style narrative (Without actually using Shakespeare as a reference or declaring inspiration), and is once again an example of a jig-saw piece in need of the rest to complete itself. It’s not strong enough to stand on its own, as it relies on the exposition of its predessesors to cover up the potential plot holes or the jumped conclusion of plot holes.  Within context of its bigger picture, the story itself is quite tight.  It’s slower than some previous instalments, and at times may seem boring…hence it’s not a 5-star script.  One thing I do like about this script though?  It explores the film series’ lore even further, adding more to the story, and to Selene’s journey.

The Music was composed by Michael Wandmacher, whose work ranges from B-Movies to international versions of early ’90s Hong Kong flicks, to Madagascar 1 and 2…on the PS2 and Xbox, and the video games Twisted Metal, Singularity, and some of Bloodborne…His work on this film maintains the dark, gothic, techno (at times, Batman-eque) overtones of previous instalments, and stays in character with the series and has some scores that vaguely resemble some key pieces by Paul Haslinger.  This also marks the second time Paul Haslinger hasn’t done the music for an Underworld movie, as his trademark piano scores aren’t present in this instalment, nor were any, including Eternity By Day, recycled.

The Cinematography was by Karl Walter Lindenlaub, who at one point seemed to get some rather memorable movies to his name, including Stargate, Independence Day, The Princess Diaries, Maid In Manhattan, Black Book and The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian.  His work here was roughly on par with what you would expect from the franchise.  Full of nice panning shots mixed with some choppy editing in fights and chases.

The Locations are very nicely chosen, with many shots of Prague with some evident but very suitable use of green screen snowscapes and castles.

The CGI and Special Effects are more or less about the same as previous instalments.  It could be accused of not moving with the times and getting better – but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.  Some of the “vampire dusting” looks particularly impressive in this 1.  The green screen effect, though not perfect, is enough to submerge you into itself.  One thing that can be said though – minus some pretty cool death scenes, the fighting scenes themselves were a 6 or 7 out of 10 at best (Within the context of Ong-Bak, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Avengers Assemble  being 10).

Would I recommend Underworld: Blood Wars?  Yes…but only if you’re a fan.  If you’re not a fan, and particularly if you haven’t followed the story and known all of the little details and expositions, chances are you will burn his film on a petrol-fuelled barbecue before putting the fire out with much of one’s bodily fluids.  You’ve been warned.

Acting: *** (***3/4 for Kate Beckinsale)

Characters: ***3/4

Story: ***1/2

Music: ***3/4

Cinematography: ****

Locations: ****1/4

CGI/Special Effects: ****1/4

Overall: ***3/4

Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016) Movie Review

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The day before I watched this film I never even heard of it, until a friend recommended it on her Facebook, as it’s available on Netflix.  So here we are.  And a Happy Belated New Year this Friday the 13th.

Set in the New Zealand, primarily around the New Zealand Bush, our story revolves around a teenager named Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and his foster father, “Uncle Hec” (Sam Neill, aka Dr. Alan Grant from Jurassic Park).  Ricky arrives at the home of Bella (Rima Te Wiata), a woman who lives with her husband, Hec, on a remote farm where they hunt for their dinner.  Ricky, a juvenile delinquent, is told by his Child Welfare Services Officer, Paula (Rachel House), that this is his last chance at having a home, otherwise he goes to a Youth Detention Centre.  Ricky is accepted with open arms by Bella, but not so much by Hec, and in time Ricky feels he finally has a home.  This all comes crashing down however.  And soon afterwards, Ricky is told that he will be collected by Paula.  To which, he attempts to fake his suicide and runs away into the Bush with his new dog, Tupac.  When Hec’s reluctant rescue doesn’t go according to plan, the 2 end up stuck in the Bush for several weeks, leading to an interesting father-son style bond, and an unorthodox Thelma-&-Louise/Terminator style chase story.

Now to cut back on how much I’ve written Bush, and talk details:

The Acting was very good with much of it coming across as natural, even from the most eccentric characters.  Within the context of the story, Julian Dennison proved to be an excellent choice for the role, while the likes of Rachel House as Paula bring a comic element that adds to the slight surrealism of the film’s direction.

The Characters in this film are…absolutely hilarious.  A part of me wondered if the characters were written by an Irishman who had an ‘Idiot Abroad’ experience (How Martin McDonagh makes characters comes to mind) – but in reality, they were simply very funny and very charming characters with all of them having amusing and bizarre quirks.  Ricky is a Chav who is completely out of his comfort zone (in fact, I’m not sure he ever had 1 outside of his rapper aspirations), Bella reminds me of Marge from Fargo turned up to 11, Hec’s a grumpy old survivalist who has done too much to get in trouble again, Paula is like a mother bear chasing hunters, Andy the Policeman is laid back, like the rest of his force, the Minister (played by the movie’s director Taika Waititi) is delightfully terrible at his job, Kahu (Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne) and her Dad are complete wise-crackers, the 3 Hunters get all the wrong ideas, and of course, Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby).  It might be usual to say he steals the show – but he doesn’t.  There were no boring characters in this movie.

Based on the book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump, the Story is…wow.  Yes, the bare bones of the story have been done before.  But the film’s dressing is fantastic – reminding me at times of Wes Anderson or Martin McDonagh movies (without the really gritty vulgarity of the later).  The themes it covers, including acceptance, family, rebirth/reintroduction, coming-of-age, personal discovery, are all done with excellent show-don’t tell, while also demonstrating differences in sub-cultures within the country (Hec being a man of the land, Ricky being a boy of the City , Kahu and her Dad being Mãori who are nothing like the stereotypes, and the 3 hunters being somewhere in between it all).  Does the film have tragedy?  Yes.  It wouldn’t be called a Comedy Drama Adventure if it didn’t have low moments mixed in to balance the story and bring other key elements of humanity into the picture.  Death is also a featured theme as it’s paired up with rebirth/reintroduction without attempting a reincarnation message.  Overall it’s a multi-layered story that doesn’t come across as Oscar bait, which is a small part of the appeal.

The Music in Wilderpeople is 1 of the most eclectic that I’ve ever heard.  The original score is mostly done by Moniker, whose style is mostly ’80s synth, then there’s the folk song Makutekahu by Hamish McKeich at the beginning of the movie and Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne covering Bob Marley’s Turn The Lights Down Low.  The original soundtrack ranges from Nina Simone to Leonard Cohen, to the church song The Old Rugged Cross, to a unique version of Happy Birthday, to the Christmas song Carol Of The Bells (keeping in mind it snows in this film, and it’s summer time at Christmas time in New Zealand).  It’s all very memorable, at times used within the comedy, adding to the laughs, and in general, a fun, well used, but also meaningful selection that suits the different tones perfectly.

The Cinematography in this film is oddly underrated.  Some of the shots are brilliant!  In particular the movie’s intro along with its combination of Makutekahu, works really well, adding both an identity and a quirkiness at the same time.  Some of the hunting scenes, particularly the 1 involving Bella, was shot in such a way that she didn’t have to do anything.  It was effective storytelling, while at the same time, it came across as black humoured as well.  The Winter montage with Leonard Cohen playing in the background was also a very memorable part of the film that I had to rewind and watch again…okay, I do love that song.

The graphics and special effects, much like the cinematography, was strong enough to almost be overlooked, especially with its less-is-more approach.  The digital presentation of wild boars and certain birds in particular was very impressive.

The Location choices were all in the North Island, with the more urban areas being shot in Auckland and most of the film being shot throughout the various national parks.  It demonstrates the natural beauty of New Zealand that wasn’t as present in The Lord Of The Rings, and for this, I say it was a great idea to use them.  Beautiful country.

Would I recommend Hunt For The Wilderpeople?  Indeed I would.  I found it to be very, charming, very funny, but also very touching in its various subject matters.

Acting: ****3/4

Characters: *****

Story: ****3/4

Music: *****

Cinematography: ****3/4

Graphics/Special Effects: ****1/2

Locations: *****

Overall: ****3/4

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Movie Review

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Before we begin, lets consider what the general public might be aware of so far:  As of the beginning of Winter this year, this is hailed on IMDB as the 176th greatest film ever made (apparently better than Gone Girl, Stand By Me, Rocky and The Terminator). On Rotten Tomatoes, the only rotten review was from someone who accused it of using nostalgia as a weapon.  Die-Hard Star Wars fan and movie director Kevin Smith calls it the most fun movie he has seen in 2016.  And lastly, Facebook is loaded with comments that put this film on a high platform as something that did no wrong, and even acknowledging that its flaws don’t matter (Oh you better believe that’s a paddlin’!).  This information will change in time.  But now for the most important question in the world…what did I, a Browncoat and Movie Fan (notice I didn’t say Star Wars fan) think of this movie?  Well…

What’s our story?  It’s set in between Star Wars: Episodes 3 and 4 and revolves around a young woman named Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones).  Jyn is in an interesting predicament, as she is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the head engineer of a new weapon being designed by the Empire that has been dubbed “The Death Star”.  While being transported as a prisoner, she is rescued by the Rebel Alliance, who want her to go talk to a Clone Wars Veteran and former acquaintance named Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) – Saw reveals to Jyn a hologram her father sent him, saying that her Father had hidden a weakness within The Death Star that would destroy it completely.  After this, it’s up to Jyn, along with her new allies, Cassian Andor the intelligence officer (Diego Luna), Chirrut Îmwe (A blind warrior monk-figure played by Hong Kong Cinema Legend Donnie Yen), K2SO (A memory-wiped Imperial robot serving the Rebels, voiced by Alan “Wash From Firefly” Tudyk), Bodhi Rook (former Imperial Pilot played by actor and musician Riz Ahmed) and Baze Malbus (Rebel Warrior, heavy gunner, and friend of Chirrut, played by Jiang Wen) to retrieve the information and bring it to the Rebel Alliance.

Now to take the machine apart and discuss which pieces were from a Honda and which were part of a G-Wiz:

The Acting for the most part was good, and 1 thing you might notice is how international the cast was (only 2 out of 9 original characters are American, and the white 1 voices a black robot).  Among the cast you have some legends from throughout the acting (and nerdy) world, including Forest Whitaker, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen and Mads Mikkelsen (in his second major franchise movie this year, the other being Marvel’s Doctor Strange), mixed with actors who have had several indy films and 1 or 2 major films to their name and this is the next step up in their careers.  I had no problem with the veterans, in fact, I welcomed them.  The up and comers however were a mixed bag, with Felicity Jones as Jyn being the most confusing – I’m aware that this is a character who has “Seen things, Man”, but out of the all the actors in the film, she is the 1 whose performance screams “I’m acting!” – I’m aware that she has already made 3 other films this year besides this 1, and fair play, she got the role.  But when compared to Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker…there’s no comparison.  Also, Diego Luna as Cassian Andor is okay, but lacks…something…like, charisma…I’ll discuss Andor soon, but in terms of casting, I would have chosen Pedro Pascal for the role (Oberyn Martell in Game Of Thrones), because if you wanted someone who could play a Hans Solo role with a hint of South America, he would have been perfect.

The Characters in Rogue One are by far the weakest element of the film, and have about as much development as most of the dwarves in the Hobbit…not just the movies, but in general.  Reason?  Well compare them to the characters you love in Star Wars, particularly the original trilogy.  Jyn Erso is practically the female Jake Sully (main character in James Cameron’s Avatar, the most detestably boring hero I have ever experienced in Big-Budget-Action cinema), Cassian Andor is a much less funny Hans Solo, Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic (The Architect of The Death Star) provides no real feeling of threat on screen, and most other characters are just…bland, with the exception of 3; Donnie Yen as Chirrut, who created a unique and memorable character, Mads Mikkelsen as Gale Erso who created an evidently complicated but loving father figure.  And of course the 1 character who stole the show and stole it absolutely – Alan Tudyk as K-2SO.  He’s absolutely fabulous in this!  Easily the best and funniest character in the whole movie.  Good show!  The cameos in this are also great, and I’ll get to that soon.

The Story is unique for Star Wars.  The character goals are different with different agendas, and the decisions were rather surprising, all while maintaining the Bad News Bears element that is the Rebel Alliance taking on the Empire.  At the same time, the film chooses to be quite grey area, and even showing off a flawed and darker side to the Rebel Alliance.  I keep in mind that this story is set during a time when Jedi Knights became legends rather than a reality, and therefore it’s less about “The Light vs The Dark” and is simply a civil war, because all people have are a desire to Lord or a hope for freedom.

The Music is a combination of John Williams’ original score mixed with some new pieces by Michael Giacchino (Who this year has done the scores of a Star Trek movie, a Marvel movie, a Disney animated movie and a Star Wars movie – I don’t think that has ever happened before.)  The music itself is of great quality, but I do think it has blended into the background, as John Williams’ trademark score has overwhelmed its presence.  Williams’ score is a masterpiece, and to say the least, Giacchino has created a similar set that doesn’t sound alien to the franchise (see what I did there?).

Outside of K-2SO, the real star of the show is this film’s CGI and Special Effects.  In particular, this film’s ability to turn back the clock and even resurrect dead actors and place them back in their respective roles in the series!  My jaw literally dropped at some of these cameos, which are a truly pleasant surprise.  Excellent problem solving, excellent action scenes and explosions, and other fun and creative ways in which destruction can be presented within family viewing.  It’s proof that Star Wars is basically a slasher flick series if you’re rooting for the Stormtroopers.

The Cinematography by Greig Fraser is awesome.  It provides a wonderful display of the worlds within the Lucasverse, while maintaining strong visual storytelling that expands without dialogue, which it a very impressive skill.

The Art Style is pure Star Wars, which in itself was already really good and highly inspired. It manages to capture the visual essence of the franchise, so I can only say good things about it.

Would I recommend Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?…Sure.  If you’re a Star Wars fan, you probably already love this movie and have seen it 3 more times today, and I’m not going to take that away from you.  What it does well, it does amazingly, and where it should have done well, it’s disappointing.  I don’t believe the hype, and this is definitely not in league with A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back (2 films I can say as a non-star wars fan are phenomenal), but what it does show us is the capability that CGI can now bring.  We can now bring back our favourite actors, not just the characters with different actors.  It’s a very exciting time as a movie fan, and the action scenes were very good fun in this film.  I prefer Episode 7, but this is still a good movie.

Acting:***1/2

Characters: ** (but ****1/2 for K-2SO and the cameos)

Story: ***1/2

Music: ****1/2

CGI/Special Effects: ***** (I would give it a 6 if I could!)

Cinematography: *****

Art Style: *****

Overall: ****

Grim Fandango (1998/2015) Video Game Review

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Now we move onto a game with a ton of tragedy behind it…no, nobody died…okay, maybe it killed the Point-and-click adventure game for a few years, led to LucasArts, more or less disbanding with key people going on to form other companies (Double Fine Productions and Telltale Games) and this being their last project together, and is a game about a Mexican and Latin American interpretation of the After Life.  But as you can tell from the ‘2015’ in the title, there was a silver lining to this story.  When Grim Fandango was released that Halloween holiday of 1998, it was received unbelievably well – but due to it only selling a maximum of half a million units, it was a commercial flop.  about 16 years after it was released, it was announced that it was receiving a re-release on various formats, not just the PC (I played this on the PS4).  Giving video game fans who heard of the legend a chance to experience what career-critics have been referring to when it comes to ‘underrated’ and ‘quality’.  So how does Grim Fandango Remastered hold up?

Set in late October/early November (Mexico’s Day Of The Dead), our story begins in the city of El Marrow – the first place the souls of the dead go to after they croak, and centres around a travel agent named Manuel “Manny” Calavera.  Manny has terrible luck, which includes his attempts at selling tickets for the luxury sports cars, let alone the luxury cruise and of course, the big 1, the Double-N ticket for the number 9 train (letting the journey through the afterlife last 4 minutes rather than 4 years) – to people who receive what they deserve.  The better they were in life, the better (and faster) their travel choices are at travelling through the Land Of The Dead – and as you can tell, the fact that Manny is the travel agent and not doing the journey himself, suggests a lot about the man when he lived.  When Manny decides to steal a client (named Meche) directed at his competitor, Domino, and finds out that she definitely qualifies for a Double-N ticket, only for her to get the 4-year-trip anyway, Manny knows something is wrong.  When Meche disappears, Manny decides to try and find her with the help of Glottis, a demon mechanic who becomes his Chauffeur and right-hand-being (In this world, only Demons can drive cars), thus their road trip begins.

Now to talk about things that would take the journey length of the Number Nine Train to embrace:

The Graphics were very good in 1998, and today it would be acknowledged as more stylish than realistic (actually, no, to call this realistic would be daft).  With the ability to switch back and forth between the original 1998 version and the remastered edition, you’ll notice some differences.  The main 1 comes in the form of the character presentation, with cleaned up sprites and even shadows to go with them.  The backgrounds weren’t changed, and neither were the cutscenes, and in the process, it stays faithful to those who originally played it, while providing new players with a same but updated-visually experience.  With its age in consideration, it’s still looking very well.

The Voice Acting is great, consisting of Latino actors including Tony Plana as Manny, Maria Canals as Meche, as well as character actors such as Alan Blumenfeld as Glottis and Jim Ward as Hector, the main antagonist.  Tony Plana as Manny is incredibly funny and as some excellent lines.

The Characters in Grim Fandango are hilarious.  Some phenomenal dialogue comes from this game alone, highly irrevenent and deprecating.  It’s a type of humour that doesn’t rely on the times and it is universal from culture to culture, country to country, which is of great benefit.  Even the minor characters have a great quirks – to the point of laughing at how annoying they probably are to other characters.

Written by Tim Schafer as his last project with LucasArts, the Story is 1 with several layers.  On 1 layer you have the primary goal of (nearly) everyone in The Land Of The Dead, which is to go through the afterlife for 4 years until they reach the Ninth Underworld.  Then you have Manny’s goal of finding Meche, and then his goal to help LSA (Lost Souls Alliance, headed by the beret-wearing revolution-leader Salvador Limones) take down the regime that is exploiting good souls out of their golden train tickets through a rigged scandal set up by the fez-wearing Hector LeMans.  Along the way, Manny experiences several phases in his journey (he does the full 4 years), from being a travel agent to running his own club, among others, and Glottis experiences a journey as well, from being a Demon mechanic working in a basement, to something he never dreamed of.

The Art Style borrows primarily from 2 sources – Mexico’s Day Of The Dead and all of its merchandise, and Film Noir, more specifically from the likes of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.  Everything is stylised to the point of a literally timelessness beauty, and is visually lovely to look at.

The Music was scored by Peter McConnell and oooooh goodness is it awesome.  Borrowing mostly from South American folk, Big Band and Mexican music, it’s all a beautiful and colour blend of tunes that change with nearly every pre-rendered scene you’re in.

The Gameplay was originally played using Tank controls, and with the remastered version, Tank Controls are an option, while a newer, easier set of controls have taken over by default.

The Level Design does well in presenting us with different scenery as you progress – but at the same time, it becomes quite easy to get lost by Year 2, and some of the ways to progress forward can be either too abstract or they really require to think and remember everything within the limitations you’re presented in.  My advice is, if you’re stuck, explore everywhere, try to pick everything up, and then try to use everything everywhere…or be a noob and look it up, because this does have a good story.

Would I recommend Grim Fandango?  Yes.  It’s far from the easiest game to play, and each year (chapter) starts off easy, before getting the a point were you say “Huh?  What?  Why?  Why does that give me this and this does this?”.  But, it lives up to the legend, and it’s great fun.  Well worth a play, even if point-and-click adventure games aren’t your cup of tea or your sacred ceremonial bread to honour the dead.

Graphics: ***1/2

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: ****3/4

Story: ****1/2

Art Style: *****

Music: *****

Gameplay: ***1/2

Level Design: ****1/4

Overall: ****1/2

Arrival (2016) Movie Review

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Every so often a Sci-fi movie comes along that is just…different.  Many a’times it’s set in space or in a futuristic version of earth, action-orientated, packed with laser guns and advanced ships, full of politics and lots of clean, spiky, skin-tight uniforms.  But every so often a sci-fi movie is set on earth, closer to our time, and it tackles the possibility that there is simply a failure to communicate, rather than an aggressive takeover and demolition.  This is that movie.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve (who also directed an amazing film called Incendies), our story revolves around Dr Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams in her third movie this year), a University Lecturer and a Linguist (A scientist who studies languages to a deeper level than most), who, along with everybody else on earth, witnesses the arrival of 12 Alien Spacecrafts shaped like dried bonito blocks in 12 different countries around the world.  The day after everybody was told to go home, Louise returns to an empty college…because sometimes people living alone do that.  While watching the news on her computer, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) appears and provides her with an audio recording of the Aliens speaking.  Louise tells them that in order to help, she would need to meet the Aliens face to face.  Her request was declined…until she asks Weber to ask the next specialist a particular question.  That night, Weber returns for Louise and brings her, along with Theorhetical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and translators from the other places were the ships landed (hover over) on, to try and figure out what the Aliens are saying, and what they are trying to accomplish on earth….and whether they should be afraid.

Now for the stranger details:

The Acting in Arrival is very good with nobody being particularly hammy at any point.  It’s great to see Jeremy Renner getting work when he’s not playing Hawkeye, and Amy Adams has been putting on some very good performances lately.

In terms of characters, a majority of them are White Bread (I’m using that term broadly, it has nothing to do with whitewashing, so keep your privates and your bird flips to yourselves) – there’s not much in the way of Humour in Arrival – everybody is dead serious about everything, with the small exception of Louise in her scenes with her daughter.  What struck me the most about this film though, was the slow reveal of the aliens mixed with the music chosen…For the first time in a long time, I actually felt chills in the cinema from a non-horror movie.  They were very like the spaceships in War Of The Worlds, only moving and shrouded in fog…the aliens I mean.  It’s that fear of the unknown – something you would experience when watching The Thing or Alien.

The story is based on “Story Of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, and it could be said that it’s about Louise Banks at a turning point in her life just as much as it is about humanity simply trying to figure out what the Aliens want.  That there is more to this film than simply deciding how to react to this unknown race or species, but also whether a person would make certain decisions about life outside of this.  Yes – here is this looming possibility that spells out “death to humanity” or “Life is going to suck”- but then we ask ourselves “Despite this possibility…do we still plan to live out our lives and our dreams?”.  It is not your typical Overcoming The Monster story, and while I think it’s closer to 2001: A Space Odyssey (my least favourite Stanley Kubrick film) in essence than Firefly or Guardians Of The Galaxy, it’s still a well-made, engaging, but slow Sci-fi film.

The music is by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory Of Everything), who creates a very haunting score consisting mostly of piano, strings, loops, synthesisers, and chants within ambience.  It’s the type of music that makes you think, and brings you to a place in your mind were you feel alone, and entering a great peril – much like Louise Banks as she attempts to understand what the aliens are saying.

In terms of themes, the films asks some very interesting questions, and includes delving into something that could be seen as both a blessing or a curse, depending on how it’s approached.  I won’t say what it is – it has to be seen, as it’s well put together.

The cinematography is excellent.  Some truly fabulous shots here.  I can argue that the colour palette was quite heavily drained with lots of cool shades and few warm looking scenes, but it’s still very well presented.

The art style show us the present, but something about it feels like it’s 2021 or 2026 rather than 2016.  Which would make sense.  Some might question the art direction, but I do think there were a lot of good decisions made.

Would I recommend Arrival?  Yes.  It’s a very different sort of Sci-fi film with a different context within its journey and climax.  But somehow it manages to be engrossing despite the lack of usual sci-fi antics.  It asks a lot of questions and has you coming out thinking about them.  Is this my favourite or a favourite Sci-Fi film?  No, but it’s still very good, and even worth a second look at some point.  I still prefer a heavier emphasis on the fiction within science-fiction, but this did a great job in giving me something different.  Some will wonder why I’m not giving this 5 stars – and my answer is: compare characters to other enjoyable films.  Good movie, but bland and all-too-serious when it comes to their characters…Or maybe I’ve been floating around the Whedon-verse for too long.  Which makes this your problem and not mine.

Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ***1/2

Story: ****1/4

Music: ****3/4

Special Effects/CGI: ****1/2

Cinematography: ****3/4

Art Style: ****1/4

Overall: ****1/4