Uncharted: Golden Abyss (2011) Video Game Review

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We’re nearing an end here people…This is the second last Uncharted game that I’ll be covering for a while.  After this, it will be Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and when Uncharted: The Lost Legacy becomes available…well, you know the gist of it.

Released about a month or 2 after Uncharted 3 came out on the PS3, The Golden Abyss was 1 of the first games for the Playstation Vita, and 1 that stood out for utilising the Vita’s unique controls.  What’s our story?  Well, it’s a prequel to Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.  Before Nathan ever met Elena, Chloe, Charlie, Eddy Raja or Harry Flynn (or so it seems), he knew Jason Dante, a smart-mouth used-car salesman archetype who happens to be pretty rich and capable of hiring an army as part of his work as an explorer (He also reminds me of the actor Saverio Guerra).  The other is Marisa Chase, who happens to be Dante’s partner, but who also doesn’t trust him.  The game is set in some old ruins in Panama, where Chase is trying to retrace her Grandfather’s steps.  Her grandfather, Vincent Perez, had found an amulet that was connected to the site and could lead to treasure.  However it becomes clear that Dante was doing more than he let on, as he reveals his partner isn’t Chase, but rather the paranoid, power-hungry warlord known as Roberto Guerro.

Now to discuss what parts are golden and what are of the abyss…or somewhere in between:

First of all, the graphics.  This game is the definition of what it means to play a PS3 on a handheld console.  It is very, very impressive, even to this day.  We’ve come a long way from Game Boy Color.

The art style could be best determined as this:  This is a Handheld game, therefore to save space, it is sometimes better if you have less to look at.  In this case, it comes with the visual variety.  Part of the appeal to Uncharted games is that the setting and backgrounds are constantly changing, with many numerous scenarios that could act as “levels” (or Chapters).  We would be given the insides of houses, museums, city streets, ancient ruins, mansions, beaches, mountains, jungles, trains, airports, undergrounds, rain, snow, shine, day and night, from seemingly all over the globe, and they make each game very different due to the chosen locations.  What makes The Golden Abyss different to the rest of the series in this area is the fact that you get the jungle, ruins, rivers, the inside of storehouses, small villages, caves, and cutscenes of Chases’ museum-like home…and that’s it.  The other games are a wild goose chase around the globe, and feel as such.  Here, our characters know that any treasure they’re looking for is in this area, but it’s a matter of ‘where, right here’.  Some could even argue that this feels like it begins in the middle of an Uncharted game, but the fact that the 1st half or so is a flashback will say otherwise.  Is it still a pretty game?  Yes, and it looks fantastic on handheld.  But the lack of things to see  when compared to the rest of the series could make the game feel a bit long.

The characters in general are at least as good, if not better, than Uncharted 1.  But it’s not in league with 2, 3 and 4.  It’s nice to see more of Drake and Sully, but this feels like a filler episode for these characters.  If 1, 2 and 3 (and 4) were their big, big adventures, then this was 1 of their more typical heists.  Nathan and Sully’s banter was the highlight of the game’s dialogue.  Jason Dante is a good “pest/asshole villain” in the sense that you wouldn’t mind shutting him up and dislike his decision to wear endangered species on his feet.  Chase isn’t a bad female lead, and is very different to Elena and Chloe in the sense that what she is involved in is literally out of her league – Unlike Elena and Chloe, she has little experience in fighting, and is very much book-smart.  She can even come across as a bit naive and a daydreamer – at times walking the thin line of confident and stupid…Which can be argued as a quality of Nate – but Nate is a professional in the other necessary qualities.  Guerro is your typical paranoid, power hungry maniac who would be a dictator in a corrupt government on some island south of Florida or India who would plaster his image on every street corner, and fit in well as El Presidente in the Tropico game series.  Not much else to say about him.

The voice acting, despite the lack of pauses in dialogue, is actually very good.  The writer could be seen as to blame more so than the actors, but they went with what they were given and did very well with it.

The story is good, but at the same time an element of it feels…like fan fiction.  Amy Hennig, 1 of the 3 original writers, was the story consultant, but it was actually written by John Garvin, who is also the director of the game.  Nate and Sully are about 70-80% accurate when compared to the trilogy, and while banter plays a role in the series as a whole (aiding in the enjoyment factor), the banter in this game feels…forced.  Yes there’s sarcasm, tall tales, locker room jabs and deprecating humour, but here it felt like it was being thrown as fast as possible against a wall.  In ‘Fortune, ‘Thieves, ‘Deception (and ‘End…finished it recently), there is a delicate balance between the narrative dialogue and the character-developing chit-chat, but here the chit-chat is…fast…very fast.  There are few pauses in between lines and if their minds matched their mouths, they’re thinking as sharply as Doctors and improv comedians.  It doesn’t have the same weight as the main series in terms of danger, highs and lows.  But it’s a decent side-episode that follows (most) of the usual formula…minus the round-the-world chase.

The music is once again by Greg Edmundson, and most of it is recycled from the trilogy.  It’s still fantastic though.

The gameplay is good, and likes to utilise the various characteristics that the Vita brings, including the ability to either tap your jump by pressing your finger on the screen at where you want to go, or by simply using the analogue stick.  You’re also given the mini-games that include cleaning dirt off items by rotating it with the back of the vita and cleaning it by rubbing the Vita’s screen with your finger, as well as creating charcoal rubbings of the stone patterns.  You also have to swipe your finger across the screen in the right direction as part of a sequence in order to perform a successful melee attack.  Outside of simply exploring the areas and fighting the traditional way, much of these gameplay qualities come across as very gimmicky, and not necessary.

Would I recommend Uncharted: Golden Abyss?  Yes – but I don’t recommend it in the same way I would recommend the Uncharted trilogy.  Is it a good reason to get a Playstation Vita?  It’s 1 good reason – but Gravity Rush, Persona 4 Golden and several digital PSP games would make it much more worthwhile.  Is it a necessary part of the Uncharted Series?  I don’t think so.  But is it a good instalment to the Uncharted series for those who can’t get enough Uncharted?  Yes.

Graphics: ***** (For the Vita, **** in general)

Art Style: ****

Characters: ***1/4

Voice Acting: ****1/4

Gameplay: ***3/4

Story: ***

Music: *****

Overall: ****


Syberia (2002) Video Game Review


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In April 2017 (as of this review), after 13 years of waiting and 8 years of development hell, fans of the series finally get the third chapter to this story, and to celebrate 15 years since the release of the first chapter of the series on PC, I’ll be reviewing Syberia.

Created by Belgian comic book artist Benoit Sokal, Our story is set in the early months of 2002 and revolves around a young woman named Kate Walker.  Kate is a Lawyer from New York who is on a business trip to Valadilene, a remote village in the French Alps that’s best known for its Spring-Automaton Factory (as well as the frequent use of Automatons in the everyday life of the residents).  On the day that Kate arrives, the funeral of Anna Voralberg, the owner of the Automaton factory, was taking place.  As of her demise, a Toy Factory in America wants to buy the Voralberg business, which is why Kate is there – to try and get a signature, go home to her fiancé, Dan, and get a good pay day out of it.  However…not all is as it seemed.  It is then revealed in one of Anna’s last confessions that her younger brother, Hans Voralberg, who supposedly died decades ago, is in fact alive, well and far away, and is officially the sole heir of the factory.  Now the goal has gotten enormous – Kate must find Hans – a man whose father was ashamed of because of mental disability (from a fall that gave him a permanent mental outlook of a 12 year old)…but is also the man who invented incredible automatons everywhere he went and expressed his fetish for Mammoths on top of that.  This leads to Kate boarding what was Anna’s Automaton train (which Hans invented), and along with the Automaton Train Engineer, Oscar (Also a Hans invention), she travels east, possibly in the direction of Siberia, and stops along the way when she has to wind the train up again and gather clues of his whereabouts.

Now to discuss the various bits and pieces:

First of all, the Art Style of Syberia, and the imagination that went into it, is by far the show stealer of the entire game!  I absolutely adore this game’s world and its visuals.  Consider this; Steam Punk mixed with Art Nouveau!  It’s like a match made in heaven, and I love it!  I love the fancy, curved building styles, I love the University that has Dinosaur and Ice Age displays in their halls and a full blown Botanic garden as part of the train station.  I love the creepiness of the antagonist figure’s lair, as you can sense both the madness and loneliness of this individual.  I love the Spa Resort and its intense isolation…There isn’t a visually dull moment in this entire game

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Look at that office!

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And this entrance!

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And these houses!

The Graphics were good for their day, with Kate and Oscar being the best looking character sprites.  But today we see just how rough around the edges it is.  The characters still have their visual quirks present, but at time you’ll be reminded of Sprites that came out during the later PS1 period, more specifically, Final Fantasy VIII comes to mind in terms of occasional visual quality.  When compared to Deadly Premonition, at times, you might even suggest that they are on par in places…and those are 2 games that came out 8 years apart.

The Animation can be divided into 2 parts, the cutscenes and the in-game; the cutscene animation was really good for what was possible in 2002, and while it looks like a PS1 cutscene today, the actual visuals it presents are still mesmerising.  The gameplay animation on the other hand left a lot to be desired and is incredibly clunky, especially on the console version.  I wouldn’t call it laziness, it’s simply a lesser emphasis or a buffering transition, much like the charming but choppy Sherlock Holmes games that frogware are still making.

The Gameplay follows the formula of the Broken Sword series, and its quality sometimes depends on what platform you’re using.  As a point and click adventure game on the PC/Mac, it’s a pleasure.  But on a console level, you’ll find yourself running into a lot of invisible walls and tread-milling against furniture.  On top of this, I’ve experienced an interesting difficulty spike – 1 were out of the 4 areas you explore, the second 1 is by far the most difficult because the area comes across as so vast and you’re backtracking so much between different parts of the level.  But at the same time, it’s possible that by levels 3 and 4, the learning curve levels out a bit as you get good at the game and the unusual demands of some characters become a normal part of progress.

The Voice Acting is 2 or 3 parts good and 1 part bad.  Kate Walker, Oscar, the phone call characters, and some of the more memorable characters were well done.  The only complaint that could be made was the transitioning of the dialogue.  Other than that, it was great.  The worst voice acting?  Definitely the NPCs in the Barrockstadt.  The best is Kate herself.

The Characters could come straight out of a Jean Pierre Jeunet, Terry Gilliam or Wes Anderson film.  They’re incredibly quirky and “delightfully french”…or maybe delightfully Belgian if we’re treating Sokal like he’s Hercule Poirot.  Kate herself is a likeable character, and as the story progresses she becomes more and more sarcastic and accepting of the absurdity of her adventure.  Oscar has his C3PO moments, and part of the humour between him and Kate comes from him indicating that he isn’t designed for anything other than what he’s designed to do..and has moments of double standards.  Their relationship is very like Captain Kirk and Spock in Star Trek, which adds a nice touch.  It’s also intriguing how Kate grows while so far away from home.  Just by the phone calls from her fiancé, her co-worker, her boss and her mother, you learn a lot about her – and as it all progresses, you notice the dilemma she’s experiencing.  This 1 job is costing her home life, her relationships, and she might get fired, and at the same time she is experiencing an adventure that she didn’t think would be possible when she arrived in France…it’s pretty well executed.

The Story is that of the quest – Kate is searching for Hans after finding out that he’s alive, and is doing everything she can to finish her job (her skills as a lawyer make her a strong persuader and negotiator), which also leads her on a journey of personal discovery and development.  Throughout the trip, she experiences sacrifice – mostly in the form of her home life back in New York.  It brings up the question of whether you should take the personal decisions and accept the risks, or go through the motions of what others expect you to do (in this case, all the time).

The Music is wonderful, and memorable, and capable of setting the scene while having a whimsical aura about it.  I’m even listening to it now as I write this.

Would I recommend Syberia?…Yup!  It has its flaws, and it has aged in several different areas.  But there are other areas that make for a timeless experience, and since it’s set in 2002, we can argue that it’s more of a period piece that mixes realism with surrealism.  Highly recommended if you want something different, and also recommended if you want a very good adventure game.  Syberia 2 is proving to be as interesting and fun, so you’ll hear more about that soon.  So, if you have a PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS2, Xbox, Mac or Nintendo DS…consider a look.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **1/2 (****1/4 in 2002)

Gameplay Animation: *1/2

Cutscene animation: ****

Gameplay: ****

Voice Acting: ****

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ***3/4 (2017) **** (2002)

Final Fantasy XV (2016) Video Game Review


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.



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!


“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.



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.


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


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


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


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


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.


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: ****