Mitchel Waite © 2020

Category : Reviews

Interstellar [2014] Review

We’ve reached “one year from now” that closed the teaser trailer for Christopher Nolan’s epic sci-fi space voyage, Interstellar. Unfortunately, we had to wait the old fashioned way on Earth time rather than finding a wormhole to the end point. I went into an opening night screening and came out 166 minutes later a different cinema viewer. I walked out the cinema with my jaw in my hands. When I finally managed to regain cognitive motions, the first words to escape my mouth were, “F***. Me.” Interstellar and its themes are mesmerising, epic and down right beautiful.

Naturally, there be spoilers ahead.

I’m a huge fan of Nolan’s work. Outside of The Dark Knight trilogy my favourite Nolan film is The Prestige. How far are you willing to go to be better than your rival? I feel that’s a consistent theme throughout his work. With The Dark Knight it questioned what extent we would go to triumph over terror. Interstellar questions what lengths we would go to for survival. I was worried that the hype would ultimately be too much with Interstellar. However, it’s another ambitious and cerebral film with its visuals (somewhat) grounded in reality, primarily by avoiding CGI whenever possible. The future isn’t stylish and grandiose but instead utilitarian and worn out. As expected, this isn’t a standard film about saving the planet. Interstellar follows in the ambitious footsteps of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is an epic space voyage to places thought beyond human reach, and Matthew McConouhguy is the explorer. Along with the amazing TARS to help him (question: when will we have the action figures!).

What I love ultimately about the film is that it’s a story about a father wanting to preserve a future for his daughter and keep his promise to return home to her (not to sideline the son or anything). There are some loose parallels to Inception whereby Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, just wanted to return home. He was willing to do what is necessary. It’s a testament to the human spirit. Then there’s the question of when Cooper and Murph will reunite. The closing scenes left a lump in my throat and the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. It was both somewhat tragic and optimistic at the same time. Although I would have liked to have seen more of a reunion between Cooper and Murph. She’s had two father figures leave her (the second being Professor Brand), I felt that the emotional envelope could have been pushed a little more here.

Interstellar is a film that asks a lot of questions; some existential and some moral, returning a lot of satisfying answers and leaving the right things ambiguous. Nolan never spoon feeds the audience unless he must; interpretation is the key. That’s the genius of his films. He trusts the audience to think for themselves, and thankfully the studios trust him. I’ve read, spoke with and heard people frustrated by the plot holes and scientific accuracy. Then there’s the others who I simply have no time for; before I could even fully open the door when leaving the screening, someone instantly brought the claws out for Anne Hathaway (“You take that back!”). At the BFI IMAX too, I thought they could screen these people out at the ticket desk. I’ve always been fascinated when science fiction films play with timelines and intersect them, much like Lee Smith’s editing. Interstellar has a field day with this and plays with relativity, wormholes and the 5th dimension. Even a week after viewing it I’m still contemplating the theories of the overall timeline. I don’t always need a film to provide me with defined answers of where the characters end up, just the sign posts will do. I can take it from there…

Matthew McConaughey shines and hits the right notes as a father and a space pioneer. The McConnaissance is still in full swing. Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck and a well-cast John Lithgow (from 2001‘s follow up, 2010) all bring their A-games. A real stand out is Mackenzie Foy (young Murph), who really excels in a heartbreaking scene when she asks McConaughey “when” is he coming back. A pleasant surprise was to see Matt Damon emerge from cryosleep as Dr. Mann, “the best of us.” I thought it was a clever idea to introduce a big name actor at this point of the film to keep engagement high.

Needless to say, Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is another superb entry into his epic discography. His scores are characters in their own right. There are a couple of other tracks used in the trailers too that are of equal standing, and I mistook them for Zimmer’s until I read the track listing fully. Unfortunately Nolan’s long term Director of Photography, Wally Pfister, was away working on his own directorial debut, Transcendence. Hoyte Van Hoytema created some beautiful shots, maintaining that real and gritty look that is associated with Nolan’s films. The special effects are really something too, and the scope of them is on par with Kubrick’s 2001 (‘relatively’ speaking, see what I did there). Big, bold and epic space movies have unfortunately been absent from my box office showings. Some have come along, such as Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, but these have been few and very far between. Maybe this is a result of studios remaining safe in the Marvel effect, who knows. It’s difficult not to mention it again, but I’m glad that I’ve been able to experience this generation’s A Space Odyssey.

Captain America The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier [2014]

So, the hangover from The Avengers has kicked in (or Avengers Assemble, but come on we all know what movie ticket we’re buying here), and Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 have come along to sooth our heads and rehydrate us for Marvel’s Phase 2. Just before audiences are served something new with The Guardians Of The Galaxy landing this summer, the Cap just wants to grab our attention with BOTH FISTS.

The First Avenger received a small amount of criticism in 2011 for being nothing other than a stepping stone for Marvel to set up The Avengers the following year. I’m not going to sit here and write against this point, but I think that it had more of its own good merits to be a stand alone superhero movie. With Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Spider-Man and the DC Universe all fighting in contemporary times, it was refreshing to see the 1940s ‘romantic’ era of comic books. Steve Rogers is a good ol’ fashioned patriot fighting for freedom, charging in like Sir Galahad, and Johnny Storm (ahem, sorry) Chris Evans fit the bill perfectly. I also really enjoyed the introduction of HYDRA; a Nazi faction obsessed with the occult and dark sciences, it had an Indiana Jones-esque feel to it, along with video games like Wolfenstein. I didn’t really think Red Skull had the charisma of other villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in its writing, which is a shame when you have Hugo Weaving in the driving seat. The First Avenger had its fair share of down points, but overall I enjoyed it.

Fast forward to 2014 and The Winter Soldier has dominated the top of my Twitter trend list for a solid week, and is still there. This is a darker and somewhat grittier Captain America in terms of its style. Instead of the romantic and colourfully rich 1940s setting we are now in shaky-cam modern urban streets and military sites. The Russo brothers have directed this without relying on the CGI fallback of most blockbusters, and that pays off immensely for me. Yes, shaky-cam action sequences are present but the sequences are choreographed so well that you can actually tell what’s going on. It’s used to heighten the tension rather than induce nausea from Bourne copycats. When Black Widow is trapped or the Cap bleeds, we’re right there with them. The famous shield also gets put to more purposeful use here, being thrown like a frisbee and knocking out enemies and jet engines a hell of lot more. As you can see, I liked this!

The Cold War cloak and dagger elements (such as Redford’s deception) wasn’t really sold to me, you could kind of see them coming. But the darker elements such as when we meet Zola’s transcendence into a big super computer was a surprise for me and quite eerie (in a good way). Pleased to see the return of arch nemesis HYDRA too.

The characters in The Winter Soldier are all given a great amount of screen time too. Supporting characters aren’t shoved into the background so the producers can tick another Marvel character off the list. The chemistry balance between Captain America and Black Widow works surprisingly well too; his moral ideals bounces off of her “do what is necessary” nature. In all of Scarlett Johansson’s outings in the the Marvel films, this was her finest yet. Even Nick Fury had some time to develop (in a BIG way too). All in all it gave a sense of community to previously silo’d characters. I really liked the Winter Soldier as a villain too. Menacing, dangerous and looking damn-right cool. He wasn’t sidelined as a cog-in-the-wheel thug like Bane unfortunately turned out to be in The Dark Knight Rises. Whilst Robert Redford turned out to be the one pulling the strings, Bucky still remained an equal threat. Anthony Mackie’s Falcon was a brilliant and integral part of the team too, who didn’t seem sidelined like Hawkeye.

If I haven’t given away many spoilers so far, this is the part where it gets big. The Winter Soldier shakes up the Marvel Cinematic Universe big time. Nick Fury fakes his death, escapes to Europe and burns his eye patch (gasp, already!), and then SHIELD collapses! (OMG). This ultimately proves that the Captain America movies aren’t just stepping stones for the big ensemble pieces, and Marvel aren’t afraid to quit while they’re ahead. SHIELD has been around since Iron Man and has lingered in post-credit sequences since. There’s going to be a lot of internet chatter on the direction of the series before the next instalment. Hopefully The Guardians Of The Galaxy will shed some more light? (I’m not sure if it’s possible in the timeline, as I’ve never read any of these).

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier is a hugely enjoyable entry in the Marvel series. Lots of good action, explosions and shield-throwing make the obligatory comic book movie lines welcomed (“If they’re shooting at you, they’re bad!”). Some say it’s the best entry yet. It’s certainly at the top of my list at the moment. But there will always be a need for some Hulk-smashing or Tony Stark charisma on those Netflix nights.

The Last Of Us

The Last Of Us [PS3]

Naughty Dog just keep on going from strength to strength. They’ve truly utilised the full power potential of Sony’s PlayStation 3, and the results are mesmerisingly beautiful with their latest output, The Last Of Us.

As the player, you are thrown head first into the downfall of an apocalyptic USA as single father Joel. After seeing a his home town become overrun by the mysterious zombie-like Cordyceps spore virus, we flash forward 20 years later where he encounters 14 year-old Ellie. They get thrown together and we find out Ellie may be the key to curing the virus and finding a vaccine, and they set off cross-country to find the Fireflies. The character relationships in this game are the real reason for its critical but somewhat cult success. The father-daughter bond between Joel and Ellie and the struggles on their journey are the most heartfelt and believable ever created in a video game.

The first thing that will strike you with this game are the graphics. As with the Uncharted series every pixel is so rich, detailed and smooth that a small part of you could almost weep. The world created by Naughty Dog, even though a deserted one, breathes with so much gritty realism and life. There are particles in the air, flickering lights, leafs blowing on the ground and water leaking from pipes. It’s ironic that given the circumstance of the setting the game’s locations are visually beautiful (in an eerie way). Over the seasonal timespan of a year we travel through “alternative” America; Boston, Lincoln, Pittsburgh, and Salt Lake City (not your typical New York City or L.A.). To me, being set in these smaller communities adds to the realism and emotional impact off the story, as in some way this could be happening in your town.

The gameplay and mechanics in The Last Of Us is as solid as a rock. Whilst there is a heavy pre-install required and initial long loading times, the cutscenes are seamlessly integrated allow the story to have great fluidity. Whenever Joel brushes against an object or wall he will react differently according to it’s size. There are countless other little touches that amazed me as the player, such as having to shake the PlayStation controller when the batteries are low on your torch or Joel raising his hand to his eyes when you walk out into daylight. The simple and intuitive player mechanics aren’t going to change the world, and they’re not meant to otherwise it would detract our focus from what’s happening on screen. It feels like every topic to immerse the player just one more level has been implemented by the developer.

The Last Of Us in an important entry in the gaming catalogue. Its well-written characters and tense story along with its powerful visuals completely immersed me in the world. Whilst being distributed as a video game it paves the road for a a new form of storytelling. The emotional impact is greater than the vast majority of Hollywood’s post-apocalyptic exports, the only one with a similar tone being The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel. The cinematic scale of the game compiled with it’s poignant soundtrack (notably from the same composer of Babel and Biutiful) at times made me forget that I was actually playing a video game. One in particular [spoiler] was during Joel’s do-or-die escape around the hospital corridors with Ellie in his arms at the end. There are moments like this in The Last Of Us that will stay with you long after the completion trophy chimes. If you haven’t picked up this title just yet, I highly recommend that you add it to this year’s Christmas list.

FarCryBloodDragon_1

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

This is THE most outrageously fun and random game I have ever played. It’s riddled with more 80’s sci-fi action film references than swiss cheese has holes. There isn’t much to say to give this review any depth as it is pure, guilty, nostalgic fun. In an alternate 2007 during the aftermath of a nuclear war between the US and Russia, you play Rex Power Colt, an elite cyborg commando (voiced and modelled on Michael Biehn) who is tracking down a rogue agent, Sloan. That’s pretty much that. Along the way there are references to Predator, RoboCop, The Terminator, Blade Runner, Aliens, Miami Connection and even Rocky IV (there’s a comprehensive list of all the references over at Collected Cinema). They range from weapons, mission names, montages, soundtrack influences and quips from the hero character himself.

There’s plenty of content that your £9.99 gets you in Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon (FYI, you don’t need to purchase Far Cry 3 to play, this is a stand alone mod). Aside from the open world main objectives there are weapon upgrades, collectibles (VHS tapes, TVs, documents), Blood Dragons to kill and enemy bases to capture. Probably around 6 hours of content in total. The action is fluid and as you’d expect if you’ve played Far Cry before. You can choose to go loud or go quiet in your attacks, and you can take control of jeeps, boats and jet skis. This games looks outstanding too, the art direction is fantastic with it’s overdose of moody neon glows and polished graphics. The stand out aspect for me is the soundtrack; it flocks in about every single piece of nostalgia from Brad Fiedel’s Terminator soundtrack to Rocky IV’s.

Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon is a fun and hilarious stand alone game that’s worth every penny of it’s £9.99 price tag. Whilst some may be confused by the game’s marketing, leave every assumption you have at the door and make sure you play this game. If there’s any game that cries out for a sequel after you’ve completed it, it’s this one.

FarCryBloodDragon_2

Man Of Steel

Man Of Steel [2013]

Why the world needs Superman.

Krypton’s greatest son has dropped back into our box offices this weekend with an almighty sonic boom. Zack Snyder is behind the lens, along with Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer on executive producing and writing duties. Whilst the film takes a much more darker and sombre tone to it’s predecessors, what it loses in bravado it certainly makes up for in scale. Right from the very moment to opening titles dissolve we are thrown into a doomed distant planet of Krypton. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) realises his people’s fate and decides to launch his newly born son, the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries, to the distant safety of Earth. Along with baby Kal-El he includes the planet’s genetic codex, an item which General Zod (Michael Shannon) seeks to acquire for his own gain once he escapes the destructing planet. Zod and his team are apprehended as they watch Kal-El’s pod launch and are banished to the Phantom Zone. The pod escapes as Krypton implodes and hurtles toward Earth, crash landing in Kansas to be found by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane) and, well, you know the rest…

This films starts very strong. Other directors of summer blockbusters have attempted to throw the audience in without a chance to breathe, but Zack Snyder achieves this effortlessly. No stranger to the action or comic book adaptation, he presents glimpse of Krypton not given the right amount of screen time it deserves before in the Hollywood exports. Every child of Krypton is genetically created with a pre-determined purpose in an organic chamber, but Kal-El is the first natural birth to occur on the planet in centuries. He is free to determine his own path and have a luxury that no other Kryptonian has; choice. We get a chance to understand where the Man of Steel hails from and what he seeks to understand, and it’s a thrilling and emotional sequence by the time he leaves the doomed fate of his parents behind. However, Snyder only likes to allow the audience a brief amount of screen time to try and catch their breath.

The non-linear plot that follows certainly has the benefit of avoiding all of the rudimentary origin stories that we’ve seen before. Screen time isn’t wasted with the Kent’s discovering Kal-El’s crashed pod once again. I’m a big fan of this method of story telling as it engages the audience so much more; we’re given pieces of a puzzle to put together. Clark Kent/Superman is such a fascinating character to study. He’s torn between two personas from two very different, but good willed, father figures. The Clark side has been raised as a farm boy with high moral values and to hide his superhuman powers for the greater good, whilst the undiscovered Kal-El side is intriguing but advised to use the god-like powers to lead mankind. It’s nature versus nurture. Which father figure does he lean toward more? Was his real father a good character or bad, and is his DNA coded for the same future? Clark seeks to know himself and whilst roaming the earth as a nomad, he feels that finding his people will answer the questions that have been plaguing him for so long. For me, the heart strings were tugged when Jor-El made the hard decision of letting Kal-El go, and Jonathan Kent doing the same during the tornado sequence. This film is as much about ‘what a father is’ as well as discovering who you are. It’s quite fitting that the film was released on the same weekend as Father’s Day here in the UK.

Henry Cavill brings the gravitas and responsibility that the role requires. He stands tall and you can sense his goodwill and empathy, and he physically embodies the Superman physique. Hats off to his dedication and the fact that no smoke and mirror “ab suits” were needed. The suit itself looks great in the muted dark colours, with notable influences from the Action Comics style. Amy Adams shines as Lois Lane, playing here as ballsy as the character has always been. I was really disappointed with the character in Superman Returns, I thought she was more Mary-Jane Watson than a go-getter Pulitzer prize-winning reporter. Although the real stand out performance is Michael Shannon as General Zod, whom he plays with pure and absolute conviction. Every line spoken by Shannon has a feeling of serious intent behind it. His message demanding the surrender of Kal-El was a brief switch in genre to horror and very effective. Antje Traue is also beautifully menacing as Zod’s second in command, Faora, and is reminiscent of Blade Runner’s Pris and X-Men’s Mystique as statuesquely dangerous.

The Terence Malick-inspired macro shots work beautifully during Clark’s early years and really ground the character. There’s also an echo of the Dr. Manhattan imagery from Watchmen (Snyder’s 2009 superhero magnum opus), when Lois and Kal-El are standing opposite each in the desert. Man of Steel is also action-heavy as you’d quite rightly expect from Zack Snyder, and there is a slight feeling of CGI overdose as you near the end of the 148 minutes. The scale of this movie is HUGE and quite rightly so. I wasn’t keen on seeing yet another finale of a city under attack but it somehow manages to create more destruction. Think of the formula for the Metropolis showdown as Matrix Revolutions + Transformers 3 + Avengers Assemble. Kal-El is thrown through an entire block of skyscrapers and the screen is painted with rubble and explosions. As for the somewhat controversial ending with instead Zod kneeling before Superman, I thought it was surprising and intriguing. Superman doesn’t kill, but why? He was forced into a corner by Zod and is immediately haunted by the decision.

I was worried that the pressure of a DC Universe film would intrude on the individualistic story of the film. I prayed to God that there wouldn’t be an end credits sequence like the Marvel films, but I thought the subtle DC easter eggs were well placed (such as the Wayne Enterprises satellite and the Lex Corp tanker/building). The closing scenes of the Kent’s proudly watching a young Clark play around in a red cape, and present day Clark embarking on his induction at the Daily Planet (along with the perfect “Welcome to the Planet” line) was inspiring with Hans Zimmer’s score pounding in the background. Man Of Steel isn’t quite the in-depth character and morality study a lot of us hoped for, but it is a valiant entry amongst the ocean of Superman interpretations. I’m already looking forward to the sequel.

Assassin's Creed 3 (Boston)

Assassin’s Creed 3

As gamers are becoming more and more tired of annual instalments of AAA titles, especially of certain FPS military shooters, Ubisoft have managed to narrowly escape the crossfire of these conversations. Assassin’s Creed 3 is a frustrating, glitchy and unevenly paced game for the first 40% or so of the main story. After the lengthy learning curve and when Connor finally gets down to business, the game reaches the same heights of playing as Ezio in AC2.

The story of AC3 is one of the series most compelling yet. [Spoilers!] Set during the American Revolution of the late 1700s, the main character you take control of is Connor; a half British, half native American who is inducted into the Brotherhood of Assassins. However, you begin the game as Haytham, who is part of the British chapter of the Templars and is dispatched to new American colonies. Once across the Atlantic he gets romantically involved (briefly!) with a native American, and in turn, conceive Connor whom the player will eventually take control of.

18th century Boston and New York look look amazing, as well as the Frontier and sea locations. Each of them breathe with life more than ever before and zap you with their pulse. The snow locations and changing weather cycles add a freshness every time you drop in to each place, and little things such as the snow slowing down your pace polish it off nicely (in a similar fashion to GTA’s detail). The naval battles are easily the best part of this game for me, and it’s offers a nice variation to the gameplay. You can either escort an ally vessel, attack an enemy fleet or sail to a remote island following a treasure map (my personal favourite).

Overall, Assassin’s Creed 3 is a great game once you pass it’s very frustrating first chapters. It pushes the envelope in terms of graphics and immersion, although I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. It gives the impression that the developers had to overlook certain fundamental bugs to meet the release date and decided to rely on firmware updates to fix them. For AAA titles such as this, consumers long for the time when this option wasn’t at the developer’s disposable (don’t get me started on planned expansion packs). However, AC3 will be enjoyed by fans and newcomers to the franchise.

Trance 2013

Trance [2013]

How does a man top the feat of masterminding of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony? Not easily. That’s why I feel critics have been too harsh on Danny Boyle’s lastest feature film, Trance. Hype can be a dangerous thing if it spirals out of control, especially if you’re Britain’s golden boy and all eyes are on your next move. However, I like to go into a Danny Boyle film with a casual feeling and, I hate to say it, not expecting much. I love the visceral images he projects on to the 40ft high screen and the smashing together of genres unexpectedly. Sunshine is a great example of this; I went in with the pretense of a disaster film and I was literally clinging to my seat for dear life when it switched to a survival horror. Everything the reviewers seem to hate, I actually really enjoy the most.

James McAvoy (echoing Ewan McGregor 2.0) is a fine art auctioneer who is mixed up as the inside man of Vincent Cassel’s £25m heist. After Cassel ends up with nothing more than a bag containing an empty frame, he employs Rosario Dawson’s hypnotherapist to delve into McAvoy’s amnesiac mind to recover it. Over the course of the 101 minute running time you really are throwing the dice of which of the 3 central characters to trust. It’s so engaging that I was constantly questioning everything while at the same time keeping track of what was real or not. It starts as a heist movie and then evolves into a psychological thriller. Everyone delivers a marvellous performance, and Cassel oozes with Parisian cool whilst showing a menacing side too. Some viewers may find the characters to be two dimensional as we are just thrusted into their situation. But if we spent screen time viewing their daily routines and getting to know them, the toeing and throwing of trust is lost.

Anthony Dod Mantle’s visuals are mesmerising, and appropriately so. The multiple reflections suggest a world that can’t be trusted and the neon glows show the sinisterness of this London noir. Each digital frame is crisp with rich detail with calculated camera movements to back it up. The transitions are slick and seamless keeping the pace of the film constantly high. This film can get quite graphic at times, especially when Vincent Cassel emerges from behind the kitchen counter with half a head missing in one of the trance sequences. Underworld’s Rick Smith is on techno soundtrack duty, but in my opinion John Murphy’s Sunshine score can never be beaten. The film has all the DNA of Boyle’s early 90s features compiled with the new techniques he’s developed along the way to the Oscars with Slumdog Millionaire.

I didn’t deconstruct Trance straight away after walking out of the cinema. But a great film will stay with you hours/days/weeks after the screening. Maybe it’s not meant to make sense. Not every single has to be a number one, but this definitely reaches the top 10.

Die Hard 5

A Good Day To Die Hard [2013]

Die Hard has returned with a fifth installment  and this time McClane gets entangled up in a terrorist plot whilst tracking down his estranged son in Moscow. A Good Day To Die Hard is not a good film, even as a standalone action film (that was painful to say). Director John Moore and screenwriter Skip Woods have turned John McClane into a cranky, 2D, “I told you so” character, and completely left out the wise-cracking and quick thinking blue-collared hero elements that made the character iconic. They have clearly not studied their source material well enough. I was pretty uninspired by the direction the producers were taking during its production, and some of Skip Woods’ dialogue is pure cheese (“Damn you, John. Damn you.”). I thought it was strange to hire John Moore, who, for me, wasted a fantastic opportunity with Max Payne to take a great video game adaptation and break the curse. This is a director who, with the slight exception of Behind Enemy Lines (which makes me think the producers picked him purely because he was the only one on the table who has filmed in Russia before), currently has a CV of poor remakes and adaptations. But as always I trusted the producers and thought innocent until proven guilty.

Then again, this is an action film, so ‘best screenplay’ from the Academy isn’t where the filmmakers are looking to get recognition. It’s meant to be an engaging roller coaster ride for the Saturday night multiplex. But even from the start, it doesn’t excite. Shaky-cam and Die Hard just doesn’t gel. It’s not meant to be as gritty as Bourne; it’s meant to be OTT balls-to-the-wall action. Even Bruce Willis seems bored to be there with the script he’s been given. Where has the physical improvisation of using a fire hose to jump off an exploding skyscraper, or using the airport moving walkway to get your gun back gone to? The action is still ambitious in this film (such as the car chase), but it paints a picture that Moscow is like rebel-controlled downtown Mogadishu. The bad guys drive around the city in their armoured truck, changing the architecture as they please whilst firing off random RPGs. Sitting through this, I felt exactly how some people must have felt watching 4.0 (such as my girlfriend :p). Skip Woods has just rehashed the broken family card with this installment  and even now I can’t remember what was at stake for McClane aside from protecting the prisoner. The villains didn’t really have any intention, or at least it wasn’t that clear.

Nakatomi Plaza, Dulles Airport, New York City, the United States…… and Russia. The stakes rise every time as the Die Hard series progresses. However, with A Good Day To Die Hard they seem to have regressed somehow (what actually is the imminent threat?). I just hope John McClane doesn’t end up in space next time. If Die Hard 4.0 was meant to right the wrongs that Die Hard With A Vengeance made (a film that I feel is actually great), then they’re back at square one. I’m sorry, Bruce, but this film just didn’t feel like Die Hard to me. I was checking my watch way too many times during the screening.

Hitman Absolution

Hitman: Absolution

Agent 47 has emerged from hiding for the first time in 6 years since Blood Money, much to a divided reception. The Hitman games are for those who have a lot of patience and don’t mind the trial-and-error style of playing, with the reward of achieving a ‘silent assassin’ rating. Those elements are still present in Absolution, but the construction of the levels appear almost against that style the games are know for. The long, sprawling and open plan arenas (such as infiltrating a hospital) have been replaced by much shorter and objective-specific levels. The developers must have felt the need to update the formula to keep it fresh and entice a few newcomers. However, the story really is the weakest I have ever seen in a video game. It just doesn’t work; the enemy characters are so vulgar and despicable (which we get, is the idea) you just simply don’t care about watching them. Thankfully, the gameplay itself is enough to forget this and you don’t necessarily even need to follow the story to get an idea of what’s going on. The levels are pretty much self explanatory as they’ve always been; get from ‘A’ to ‘B’ or assassinate ‘X’. Fans will be glad to hear that the stealth element is still very much back with a bang, but some may feel it’s too much like Splinter Cell than before. The in-game achievements increase playability, as there are multiple ways you can kill your target.

Graphically, Hitman Absolution is outstanding (to a similar standard of Rocksteady’s Arkham City). The moody film noir locations look stunning with blue and red police sirens diffusing through the heavy rain. Interior locations are grimy and have a high level of detail as do the character models. Agent 47 can interact with pretty much every object lying around. He can throw a wrench to create a distraction or pick up a book and deal some heavy-handed justice to goons. This is one of the many things of Absolution which is darkly enjoyable. This seems to have had a lot more focus on art direction than previous games to create the bleak but rich environments. For example, when Agent 47 takes down a enemy with a gun before he alerts others, a slow motion camera is briefly triggered. The style is as dark as ever, echoing that of Hitman Contracts in many places.

Before playing Absolution, the idea of the new ‘Instinct Mode’ completely threw my interest off this game. However, after playing a few levels on a Professional difficulty (which does not recharge Instinct) and realising there’s no area map available, the Instinct Mode is a good replacement. In previous games you were able to plan a route via the map and see enemy NPCs, but now you have to use Instinct to see barely further than the room behind the wall, which can make for some tense situations. There is a mini-map to show you nearby NPCs, but this doesn’t detail and of the area at all; it’s more like a sonar. Once Instinct is fully depleted on the ‘Professional-Hard’ setting it will add some more once an objective is completed. When it’s at zero you can still see enemies through walls, but the ability to plot their walking path is gone.

Contracts Mode is a new online addition to the series. Players can choose from a selection of online assassination contracts which are based on the single player levels, but the target objectives are different. You can either create your own (in which you must play and succeed in before it being valid to submit to the community) or play a handful of developer created ones. Contracts Mode is a nice addition for those wanting a break from the campaign levels for a while.

Hitman Absolution has turned out to be a great addition to the series, much to the dismay of the action-heavy ‘Nuns, Guns & Agent 47’ trailer to some fans. It’s a different pace to the previous games, but I can assure you that this is still very much a Hitman game. If it weren’t for the really second-rate story and uneven length of a few levels, I’m sure this would be hitting the 5-star mark.

The Town

There Needs To Be More Films Like….The Town

Hopefully this will become more of a regular category on my blog, as I currently write more about new releases than those in retrospect. The Town, adapted from the novel Prince Of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, went on general release in 2010 and was directed by and starred Ben Affleck. Set in Charlestown, Boston (a blue-collared neighbourhood that claims to have produced more bank and armoured car robbers than anywhere in the world) it focuses on Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his crew following the after effects of their recent bank heist in the film’s opening.

The first film that springs to mind when thinking of this is Michael Mann’s 1995 film Heat. It’s difficult not to make any comparisons with this genre of crime film, especially with the action. Thankfully, The Town stands up on its own two feet. Whereas Heat blurred the line between cop & crook, The Town keeps the two sides of the law polarised and concentrates more on the latter. While it may seem strange to be rooting for a criminal who begins dating the very woman his crew took hostage in the film’s opening, it actually somehow works!

Ben Affleck’s initial cut was reported to be around 4 hours long, staying true to the source material. Then it was submitted to the studios at 170 mins, which was still deemed too long. As a result, some of the action was cut as was some subplots that allowed more character development. I’ve still yet to watch this extended version on blu-ray. The theatrical version is Doug’s story. He’s battling to get out and put Charlestown in his rear-view mirror, whilst walking an extremely tight line between the FBI and his own crew. This is where Jeremy Renner is the hidden “gem” of The Town; he plays Doug’s childhood friend and psychopathic crew partner. Renner’s unpredictable performance is outstanding and Oscar-worthy, you really fear what this guy will do next. Rebecca Hall delivers some great scenes too and has great on-screen chemistry with Affleck. Blake Lively is very surprising good in this film and literally transforms in comparison to other roles that you typically see her in, such as Gossip Girl. John Hamm isn’t quite the obsessed FBI Marshall as the plot’s premise insinuated. I feel there must have been some key character development scenes dropped in lieu of the film’s run time. Pete Postlethwaite is the local crime boss pulling the strings, and really pulls out a menacing performance as the man you certainly don’t want to say the wrong thing to.

The Town’s heist scenes are hard-hitting and the build up to the superb finale heist at Fenway Park is well paced. Ben Affleck really captures Boston in a way that makes the city a character in itself. Typically it’s New York or Chicago for the gritty visuals, but Boston provides something fresh to this new sub-genre of crime film, along with Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. My favourite scene has to be the one between Doug and Gem after Doug says he’s escaping Boston to head down south to Florida. The Town is a wonderfully crafted crime thriller with likeable characters and a great setting. By far Ben Affleck’s finest film to date (the latest being Argo), and I highly recommend picking it up if you haven’t seen it already. My next viewing of this will be the extended version, and I’ll be sure to add something to the end of this article when I do.