Monday, 30 August 2010
So, it's come to this: after 11 novels following the story of James Adams, Robert Muchamore's epic CHERUB saga has come to an end (of sorts). Is it the perfect send-off, taking that particular tie from Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows and Lord of the Rings? Will it be a colossal fan-pleaser as it brings James' story to a climax? The answers to those nail-biting questions fans have been waiting to hear since the announcement of the finale in 2009's Brigands MC (3.5/5) are no and yes respectively. Though there is undeniably a sense of closure to the tale in the last 20 pages and references aplenty are given to James moving on as the book opens, the mission itself is a bitter disappointment, basically consisting of tying the loose ends of last year's novel, then flashing back to a previously-unseen venture by Kyle Blueman (which could just have easily been another World Book Day novel like Dark Sun with some cameos from popular CHERUB icons), then to London for the titular mission, then finally back to CHERUB campus to round things off, with a couple of nostalgic locations thrown in for good measure as the book closes off. Despite this, there's a lot to be liked about Shadow Wave: the trademark humour Muchamore is known for is retained throughout, the plot is solid if uneventful, and the climax should at the least let James' fans know what happened to the main character after leaving CHERUB. The main detraction from the ending is the revelation that three more modern-CHERUB books will be released in 2011-13 with appearances from Lauren Adams, Zara and Amy Collins once more, so it doesn't feel like the true end, but perhaps that's what fans have been longing for with Shadow Wave anyway!
Well, I couldn't have called this one. Scott Pilgrim VS The World's ad campaign has trumped most of the other summer blockbusters' out right now, promoting a comedy with action, light romance and gaming references galore. Why is it, then, that despite all of these elements being present, this film simply doesn't hit any of the right notes? At least when The Expendables finally kicked into action, the pay-off came close to being worth it thanks to gratuitous blood and dismemberment- here, Scott's video-game inspired antics against his new girlfriend's seven evil ex's (don't call them ex boyfriends whatever you do) leave so much to be desired, only sporting some decent CGI but otherwise useless animation, sound effects and overall believability. And while I'm sure the writer would argue that's all part of the flick's attempt to mimick gaming classics such as Final Fantasy and Guitar Hero (yep- really.), and yes hardcore fanatics will revel in the noises picked from games of old, there simply wasn't enough film on offer here to justify a release in cinemas, and when movie-esque moments did occur, they were hideously over-dramatic and underplayed. But what really pulls Scott Pilgrim VS The World down is its incredible length: never have 2 hours passed more slowly than they did here, where the build-up to each ex turned out to be better than the battle, where the script continuously used comic panels to remind fans of the film's heritage, and where slapstick fights became repetitive to the point of irritance. Oh, and did you think after playing the irksome, bumbling twit in Juno and Superbad that Michael Cera might redeem himself here with someone more likeable? Think again.
Sunday, 29 August 2010
"It's this, or Grown Ups". I show a trailer for Dinner For Schmucks to my companions, wondering whether they will approve. "Looks silly." I hear one say, and immediately Adam Sandler's comedy hit Grown Ups (4/5) takes the lead whilst we are in the U.S. I vowed to watch Dinner For Schmucks, then, upon its release in the UK, and though it certainly didn't feel like a wasted journey, the overall result was a little less than I might have expected. Lead Paul Rudd simply isn't that likeable a protagonist for such a large-scale comedy with a fair few big names (Steve Carell, David Walliams and Zach "Alan in The Hangover" Galifinikas being just a few, though sadly the latter names only get minor cameos), detracting from much of the humour on offer here. In addition, idiot Barry's dead-mice collecting hobby is just plain creepy, and it made this reviewer wonder why something even more idiotic wasn't chosen. On the bright side, though, Carrel's Barry is a wholly more loveable character, easily gaining empathy from the audience in his final on-screen scenes, and becoming the more central focus as Dinner For Schmucks progresses. The aformentioned Dinner does take its damn time starting, which definitely will get criticism from viewers, but when it does actually begin then all havoc provokes, to the enjoyment of adult and child alike. Adam Sandler gets the upper hand, sadly, on the summer comedy race, simply because Grown Up's plot has less holes to pick at and a better all-round cast.
Apparently, Final Destination has been around longer than I can fathom, and this new 2009 flick in the franchise is essentially a modern reboot for newcomers. And what a gory horror The Final Destination is: heads sliced off; bodies dismembered and often split in two- you'd think this was The Expendables (2/5) or something! As per usual, the flick sees a group of friends escape certain death thanks to a handy premonition (funny how these things happen- and yes, there are a lot more to come), then finds them hunted by that unlikely force of nature, one by one. It's a classic horror premise, and though for the most part it's carried out quite well, moments of comedy and romance that would otherwise arguably add to the movie instead detract from the feeling you're meant to be getting scared here. Like Predators (2/5) earlier this year, it is widely dubbed a horror, and yet won't seem fearful to anyone over the age of 12 with a decent sense of maturity. Nevermind that, however, since all in all The Final Destination only lacks in fear, not fun, action or excitement, and will often have you on the edge of your seat (or is that Death making you do so...?)
Anything from the minds of South Park was always going to get some much-needed laughs from this reviewer, given that the aformentioned series is one of the funniest and crudest comedies currently on air, so it came as a surprise, then, that the writers didn't put Team America: World Police's comedic heritage to better use, focusing more on slap-stick and puppetry than on the jokes, references and innuendo its technical parent show is known for. World Police prides itself on taking the mick out of Thunderbirds, Flash Gordon and the like, but relies primarily on gags, for example a stereotypical terrorist (everyone say "boo"...) who pronounces his Ls as Rs, so think of "Hello" as "Herro!" and you can guess at the humour and laughter it often provokes. All the best of the cast from South Park lend their vocal talents here, and the soundtrack is as crazy and absurd as ever, along with some superbly done puppet animation and model explosions. Whether Team America: World Police will be your sort of thing is up to personal opinion- would you rather a film with laughs aplenty, references to make you well up, and clever satire as I would have? Those things won't be what you're getting here, so if you prefer slapstick, shallow gags and jokey fights, then World Police might just be for you.
Saturday, 28 August 2010
The second dimension to be revealed for this September's multi-platform release of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions was Spider-Man Noir. This universe will focus on stealth based game-play not too dissimilar to last year's sensational Batman: Arkham Asylum (10/10), with Spidey able to literally hang people from balconies, or sneak up from behind, pull the thug in with a web then knock him out. Noir uses a black and white colour palette mixed with occassional fireworks, adding variety and possibly giving your position away. This, along with 2099 (come back tommorow for more info on him), looks to be one of the less traditional Spider-Man experiences in Shattered Dimensions, and should be part of the reason if it turns out to be as good as everyone is hoping for. 13 days to go...
Yes, having just possessed Shadow Wave for a day and a half, I'm already 200 pages in to James Adams' final adventure (and know the name of what's coming next...head straight to the back page for an awesome reveal by Robert Muchamore). My impressions yesterday were that the first half of Book 12 would be fairly uneventful, and so far that's true of the book. Perspectives are switched quite constantly despite the fact we won't see James again after this, with Kyle taking the helm for much of the second hundred pages, and Kerry, plus new characters Aizat and Helena (whose roles I won't spoil) instead of our lead protagonist. The plot is oh-so CHERUB with destabilising governments, twists and turns involved, but that's part of what worries me. When I discussed Shadow Wave with others, I thought of the potential should Muchamore attempt to shake things up a bit, adding elements of darkness or real danger to the mix, in that this is essentially "The Deathly Hallows" for James. Right now, Robert Muchamore seems to be playing it safe, and believe me when I say that I'll mark CHERUB: Shadow Wave down quite a bit in my upcoming review (expect it tommorow evening) if there's nothing spectacular on show come the ending. Admittedly, it will be interesting to see how James' tale is rounded off by the climax, but right now this is just standard CHERUB-fare, and not living up to full expectations.
Friday, 27 August 2010
A hard one to rate, was Salt. Angelina Jolie is famous for so many roles, Lara Croft and Mrs Smith included, so this venture to play a caring wife, turned Russian spy seems to have come from nowhere: indeed, Salt certainly hasn't been pressed as one of this summer's top blockbusters, and much of my wanting to see it involved caution and intrigue at what lay ahead in the 100 minute flick. So the way I'll go about this is as such: the bad points first, then the good. The pacing here is off for reasons I can't quite fathom, especially since at times Jolie seems to want to go for a film not unlike one of the Bond or Bourne instalments, though this can add to a feeling Evelyn Salt thinks her methods out much like Robert Downey Jr's Sherlock Holmes. Plus, at times Jolie makes her character a little too diverse even for a spy, and while the moments of humour are far and few in-between, when Salt does get in some comedy it seems to be unable to decide whether it wants to pursue that genre of emotion. In addition, the film seems to lack heart and soul at times, simply being an action romp with some emotional twists. Now for the good news: those twists are finely handled, and for the most part will throw you off guard. When Angelina is working hard, she shines as this multi-layered antihero, and the eventually revealed adversary is a great Moriarty to her Holmes. Should this be on your "Must See" list for this summer? No, but there's no denying this is well worth a watch at home, and is a solid foundation for what could easily become a series on the scale of its competitors.
Metroid: Other M was unveiled at E3 2009 to critical acclaim: a blend of third-person platforming and first-person shooting, Other M looked to be an exciting new development for the age-old Nintendo franchise, advancing the stories set by NES classic Super Metroid and updated Game Boy title Metroid Fusion while providing fresh new game-play for fans to get excited about. Has Team Ninja's work come to fruition, in light of Other M's September release, then? Well, the first reviews by online critics seem to point heavily towards the negative- awkward switches between perspectives; tiresome Wii Remote D-Pad controls and a short life-span carried across from previous side-scrolling Metroid titles have thrown reviewers into simply rating this as an average third-person action/adventure title, and not the type this franchise is known for. IGN gave Other M an 8.5/10, stating it was only for veterans of the series desperate to gain more knowledge of Samus' past, and that while the cinematics looking amazing on Nintendo's motion-controlled console, the tedious game-play repetitions may push casual gamers away quickly. Many reviewers have stated that it was a brave move for Team Ninja to attempt such a blend of game-play, and a mixture have said it worked well or terribly. Should you buy Other M come September 3rd then? Right now, it would appear not, or at least not until it has come down significantly in price. Given that such great shooters as Halo, Medal Of Honor, Call Of Duty and Vanquish will be entering the limelight this autumn, it seems hard to recommend a retro side-scrolling shooter that only hardcore fans will truly get the most out of. Nevertheless, expect a review of Other M before the end of 2010.
There's a foreboding sense of climax right from the opening of the final CHERUB book starring James Adams as the central protagonist (and possibly the last main CHERUB novel ever, though I'll have to wait until I reach the back of the book to find out!), Shadow Wave. Mentions of Florida, college and relationships all seem to point towards some sort of major ending by Robert Muchamore, though given the end of the series hasn't been pressed as much in the novels as say, Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, I'm not expecting too much of a grand finale. The first 100 pages are fairly uneventful, though loose elements such as the Brigands M.C group from Book 11 are tied up in ways I shall not spoil. Sufficed to say, hardcore fans who've followed the series from The Recruit, even taking a look at the World Book Day release Dark Sun, will be heavily rewarded this time around, as key characters from the past quickly come back into play on Muchamore's metaphorical CHERUB chessboard, so even I was glad to have read The Recruit, Class A, Dark Sun, The General and Brigands M.C, in that I never have felt overly lost with the continuity of the franchise. It's a 400 page finale, so I'm currently a 1/4 of the way through, but you can expect a review in the next couple of days, and the full verdict as to whether this was a worthwhile end.
Given how imminent a new Spider-Man game is, and that one of the four "dimensions" included in it is the Ultimate universe, whilst round a mate's I decided it was a good time to go back to one of my favourite superhero PlayStation 2 games: Ultimate Spider-Man. The plot here is set a fair way into the 2005 revamped comic saga, briefly recapping how Peter Parker became the hero he is today, and his past with colleague Eddie Brock. All this leads to an unspectacular fight against Venom which teaches you the controls...for Spidey. What I had almost forgotten of this classic free-roamer was that at times you'll switch to Venom, consuming people and using your tentacles to stay alive in missions with hordes of cops and Silver Sable troops. Personally, having gone through what must have been a fifth or a quarter of the main storyline at my mate's, I'd still maintain that it's more fun to play as the webbed wonder than it is a menacing creature not unlike The Incredible Hulk. Graphically, Ultimate Spider-Man stays very close to its comic heritage, with many of the cut-scenes using comic panels to broaden the illusion you're inside the pages of a drawn book, however it still doesn't look amazing, though that's to be expected given the four or so years that have passed since release day. The voice acting for Peter and Mary Jane is incredibly tiresome, as are the rest of the cast, but this can be lived with in a still impressive, and possibly the best, Spider-Man game so far.
There's just two weeks to go until Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions is released onto all consoles, so here the countdown is beginning! The Amazing dimension will harken back to the days when our webbed wonder was first unveiled in Marvel Comics, so the style of graphics will be with black outlines, colourful scenery and superfluous enemies to fight. Spidey will sport his usual red-and-blue garments, and fight off Kraven The Hunter, Juggernaut (yes, from the X-Men saga!) and Sandman, along with Electro in a DS-exclusive brawl. His fighting style will involve using webs as weapons such as hammers and batons, and as with the Spider-Man movie games his levels will often involve web-slinging across large landscapes (sounds obvious, but not every dimension will include web-slinging, in fact Amazing may be the only one!). Amazing sounds along with Ultimate like a more standard Spider-Man experience than Noir or 2099, but that shouldn't stop it being nostalgic and outrageous fun!
Thursday, 26 August 2010
If you take a look back at my review of Predators, the 2010 somewhat revamp of the AVP saga, I rated it at 3/5...scratch that. Having seen the original, which Predators was in a sense based on and a play on, I'd mark Predators down to 2.5/5. Admittedly, Predator has times of severe boredom, and its pacing is too slow 99% of the time, but the build-up, teases and reveal of a lone Predator stalking Arnold Schwazeneger and co through an alien jungle are simply so much better than this year's remake that this more than deserves a much higher score. The soundtrack is noticeably retro, however not unlikeably so, whereas the actors, Schwazeneger included, give superb efforts not seen in the remake which really put it to shame given the 20-year difference. Special effects were obviously a little bit less advanced back in 1987, and yet the Predator and his weaponry simply look stunning for the time, and still a decent effort in modern day. Only the lacklustre explosions and man-v-man gun sequences let down the FX side of things here, which is more than could be said for Predators. Simply put, Predator is a fascinating look at 1980s-horror, and though it can't be said to be the most original, most fast-paced or most thrilling movie in recent history, it adds a much needed element of fear to the Predator race which was near-completely lacking in the 2010 hit.
Tuesday, 24 August 2010
Just this week, Medal Of Honor has joined the long list of war-based FPS titles that have received controversy in the media: a UK defence secretary declared the new game, due out this October, should be banned from retail in England due to its multi-player mode's character choices. Medal Of Honor follows fictional Tier 1 American operatives in the 2001-present Afghanistan conflict as they fight the Taliban on the battle-field, while players are presented with real-world situations such as hostages held at gunpoint or strapped to explosives which they must then disarm. The single-player mode, however, isn't what UK secretary Liam Fox has problems with: it's the multi-player, where in order to achieve online battles with people on both sides of the conflict, producer EA allows players to become the Taliban for matches. Fox commented that this was a disgrace given UK and US troops fighting in the conflict, but in my opinion Medal Of Honor is only trying to bring the franchise into modern day, and should be applauded for at least trying to emulate a realistic war experience which we can all relate to. In a few decades time, Afghanistan will not be considered a vulnerable war to look at, but instead be adapted into films and gaming just like World War II so frequently was in the 2000s. What does everyone else think of Fox's statement? My final other statement is that it's rated 18 for a reason, in that it's recommended for adults, but if teens are allowed by their parents to play it, then surely they are mature enough to know that this is just a game, and not what the real-life soldiers are going through right now?
It's happened, and this fan of Doctor Who is flipping over the moon: two video games based around the popular BBC sci-fi have been announced for release on the 29th October 2010. The first, Evacuation Earth, will see the Doctor and Amy (given realistic likenesses of Matt Smith and Karen Gillan) arrive at the Lake District to watch humans flee the planet Earth, only to discover a plot by the Daleks and Silurians to unearth a Time Axis underneath the world's core. This title will be released exclusively for the Nintendo DS. Meanwhile, the second game, Return To Earth, will take the Doctor and Amy up into space to rescue a ship with humans held hostile by Cyber-Men, who are also looking for the Time Axis and will clash with the Daleks to get it! Return to Earth will be released only for the Nintendo Wii. No news as of yet whether Arthur Darvill will reprise his role as likeable groom Rory Williams, but either way this is a great reveal all the same!
"It could be as good as A-Team". I keep telling myself this as I enter the cinema for The Expendables, an all-out action 15 rated flick starring action greats Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Bruce Willis and even the amazing Arnold Schwazeneger. If those two names get your spider-senses tingling, hold back a moment: Willis and Schwarzeneger only appear in a two-minute cameo sequence early in the film, and even that is nothing to get excited about. Mickey Rourke also appears a grand, whopping three times in The Expendables, but bar a somewhat touching scene about deaths and suicides (don't ask how it's touching, it just is) with Stallone, doesn't get nearly the same sort of screen-time as his stereotypical Russian role in Iron Man 2, only really included to make up the numbers. But of course, this being an action film, it's not about the acting, it's about the gruesome, bloody deaths we all came for. And yet, sadly, there aren't nearly enough of them to keep viewers happy. If anything can be said of The Expendables, it's that there simply enough of anything: comedy; romance; fight-scenes (too often far and few in-between); emotion, none of these elements come into play more than twice here, making for a film that, while undeniably epic at times, is nowhere near The A-Team's hilarious standard, and only provides light summer-holiday-flick thrills. Shame.
Monday, 23 August 2010
In the past ten years, Marvel Comics have adapted several of their super-heroes into film, the most successful versions being Spider-Man, the X-Men and to an extent the Fantastic Four (though the characterisations were better recieved than the actual plots of the two films). Now, Marvel has announced all three of those franchise will be re-booted in 2011 and 2012, the first as Spider-Man 4 was cancelled due to overdue scripting, the second as X-Men Origins: Wolverine was poorly rated for its lack of true nostalgia with regards to Logan's storyline, and the third as the Fantastic 4 franchise is apparently just in need of a reboot. The problem here? Film series which this generation have grown up with will be lost, and many teens will undoubtedly be confused as to why their favourite actors have been replaced and the plots of each hero re-started. Take Spider-Man: we're going to have to go through the whole transformation, Peter wishing he'd never got his powers things again when we've already witnessed them just a few years before. What are your thoughts on these newly-announced rebooted Marvel franchises?
Sunday, 22 August 2010
The third in the Halo tie-in novels, First Strike takes place after the original Halo game, showing Master Chief that there were a few Spartan IIs who survived the Fall Of Reach (which is a slightly better book at 8/10), and convincing him to take revenge on the Covenant for the fallen Marines killed on the Halo ring in the video game. Problem is, the aformentioned "First Strike" doesn't occur until the last 100 pages, by which point you'll probably be bored enough of the Chief's in-between-game antics to care all that much, only reading the 'final battle' for the sheer heck of finishing the book. Though the reuniting of the Spartans is nice given its context to Reach, it all feels a little unlikely, and the lead in to the next book, Ghosts of Onyx, isn't made very clear or emotional as for whatever reason the other Spartans leave the Chief. All in all, while it's by no means terrible, and serves as a nice bridge between Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, First Strike is definitely by no means essential, so should be approached with extreme caution regarding tedium.
It was an inevitably- a season such as this had to come at some point. In case you've just joined me and have no idea what I'm going on about, we're getting three consecutive franchise FPSes over three consecutive months this Autumn, and that can only mean one thing: REVIEW ANARCHY! Far from having to compare each shooter to other entries in the series, we're also going have to compare them to the other two games out this fall. So that means Halo: Reach; Medal Of Honor and Call Of Duty: Black Ops have to do big things to impress, and that's without comparison between the three. Will they all be just as good as one another and thus get the same score? I think we all know that isn't going to happen. Sufficed to say that before this year is up, everyone in the room will have one favourite shooter, and odds are the vote will be nigh-on unanimous. Now, I'm not saying for a moment that COD already has it in the bag, quite the contrary: Halo Reach should be an amazing sci-fi send off for Bungie's critically acclaimed Halo franchise, while Medal Of Honor should offer a realistic glimpse into the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Plus, each FPS will easily have its flaws: Black Ops will still be new look-COD; Medal Of Honor might be trying to squeeze too much variety into the FPS genre and Halo: Reach is 360-exclusive so may not get the full attention it seems to deserve. So which one will come out trumps? Right now, I think it's up in the air: Black Ops may look better than it actually is; Reach may not prove to be the ultimate Halo send-off everyone wants; and Medal Of Honor has never been an amazing FPS. Either way, you can expect exclusive reviews of all three come launch day(s), which are September 14th for Reach; October 15th for Medal of Honor and November 9th (though due to exams my review will be a week or three late) for Black Ops. Get ready to rumble...
Saturday, 21 August 2010
...well, sort of. This September, Sarah Jane Smith will return on BBC One for 6 new two-part adventures including encounters with vulture people, an alien planet, an old enemy, Jo Grant and the Doctor- all in just one of the stories! Death Of The Doctor will star Matt Smith in his new, slightly tweaked costume, and while it's hard to see, it's on the cover of these newly unveiled novels. Out 4th November, they will presumably come out near the end of Season 4, after The Nightmare Man (the first story) and Death Of The Doctor (the third) have aired on television. It should be interesting to see whether these books aimed at children provide realistic adaptations of these exciting SJA episodes!
Thursday, 19 August 2010
Spanning well over 30 years of history, the Star Wars saga is perhaps the most recognisably iconic film franchise ever, with its distinctive humming light-sabres, loveable characters and powerful Death Star battle scenes remaining a fond memory in every film viewer's mind even today. So, just how do you cover everything in the real world that has inspired or been inspired by Star Wars? Well, though you may not find absolutely everything, you'll get damn close with Year By Year: A Visual Chronicle,a brand new hard-back inside a slipcase which covers from 1914 (writer George Lucas' birth)to 2010 (Celebration 5 convention; Clone Wars Seasons 2 & 3; Force Unleashed 2; LEGO Star Wars 3, the list goes on and on), and features a stunning amount of detail into both real-world and SW-based events. For example, do you know how the Space Race, Nixon's resignation and the Kennedy Space Centre relate to A New Hope? Neither did I until I read this fascinating guide. It may sound like the height of sheer-geekiness to have bought this at its RRP of £35, but I fully maintain with its staggering cover-art (just wait and see!), excellent attention to detail, lavish design and content both humorous and nostalgic that this will be a package only someone who can't bear the films won't like, and even then all the historic insight would be enough to keep them interested. If you can get it even cheaper and are not willing to pay the RRP (yet it is absolutely worth more than £35, and will get a lot on eBay in years to come), or if you buy it full price, this package is essential.
The final volume of this year's season of Who, Volume 4 contains the four climactic episodes of the season: Vincent & The Doctor; The Lodger; The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang, as well as a free exclusive Top Trumps card and a special feature exclusive to DVD/Blu-Ray, The Monster Files. Vincent & The Doctor is a great story, mixing emotion, action and comedy in the way only Richard Curtis (Love Actually; The Vicar Of Dibley) can, and featuring a superb guest star in Tony Curran, with an incredibly moving ending investigating Van Gogh's tragic suicide. Meanwhile, The Lodger is a great example of Doctor Who trying to be different to its established sci-fi roots: from playing football to drinking wine, we see a lot of things our favorite Time Lord wouldn't usually do, making this more of a humour-based story than anything (light on plot and true drama). James Corden also helps make it a fun and enjoyable three-quarters of an hour, too. The finale of each season has always upped the stakes, but none more so than in Series 5, where, at the end of a thrilling 50 minutes of entertainment, Steven Moffat closed The Pandorica with the whole of creation destroyed and an alliance of the Doctor's old enemies trapping him inside the fabled box (not to mention River being killed as the TARDIS exploded, and Rory shooting Amy as he briefly converted back to his Auton roots, another shock twist no one saw coming!). But, then, to throw a whammy and do what most writers would not dare- cheat somewhat using time travel- is Moffat's true genius, making The Big Bang quite possibly the best Episode 13 yet (possibly: Journey's End and The End Of Time were probably on a par with it too). Is this DVD essential, however? No. We're so near the Series 5 box-set that unless you're desperate to see The Monster Files now, you should wait until all four of those features and all 13 episodes (plus new extras) come on the box-set this November. It's a great DVD, but wait until the amazing stuff.
It's safe to say I didn't have high hopes for The A-Team, the latest adaptation of the popular classic television series, now starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson and Sharlto Copley as the titular band of rag-tags put together in unlikely circumstances, then thrust into missions which are called "ridiculous" even by their acquaintances. The trailers gave little away of the plot, filling me with worry that the majority of the action-fuelled flick would simply be based around explosions and gunfire. I needn't have worried: though that is the case, the execution here is stunning, with brilliant special effects, a fantastic script with hilarious jokes aplenty, and an enthusiastic cast send this up with Inception and Toy Story 3 as the big must-watch hits of Summer 2010. Cooper, fresh from his role in The Hangover, provides most of the comedy here from his first appearance, but Liam "Qui-Gon" Neeson also does a fine job of keeping up the gags without becoming silly. Like I mentioned, there's little plot to be found here, but what there is of it is finely crafted, and holds several neat twists around the halfway mark. Predictably, this means that the scenes where the action lets up for moments of romance and/or plot developments (sometimes these come hand-in-hand, another tribute to just how brilliant this film is), viewers may- like me- find themselves a little bored and longing for more danger, but that was always going to happen in a movie such as this, and at some point you'll find that all that waiting was worth it and even supposedly minor comments mean big things for the film's climax. Having seen this just a day after The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2/5), I can safely say it puts that Disney recreation to shame, making The A-Team the must-see action film of the year so far, and undoubtedly this summer! Go and see it now, fool!
Wednesday, 18 August 2010
Arkham Asylum was helmed as one of the best games of 2009, and by most the best super-hero video game of all time, and with good reason: Batman's journey to the insane headquarters on the outskirts of Gotham plunged him into new depths of terror as the Joker conducted a plot of horrifying proportions, with the help of fan favourites Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy and the weirdly disturbing Scarecrow. Having traded it in for something that probably was nowhere near as good, and in the midst of the announcement that the sequel will be called Arkham City and released in October 2011, I thought now would be a good time to get the Game Of The Year Edition. The main addition here is that of 3-D, and sufficed to say I was startled at just how much depth it gave the characters on screen. Now, before you rush out and buy it alongside your copy of the original, know that the third dimension isn't as impressive (yet) as Toy Story 3 or Avatar, but it's a brilliant foundation to start on. We also get a handful of Challenge Maps which were either originally pre-order exclusives or free DLC, the best of which are the ones placed on Insane difficulty and tasking you with surviving for as long as possible in a map- an incredibly tense experience, I can assure you. The game itself remains intact and largely the same, but that's in no way a criticism: the story and game-play (and harrowing soundtrack) are completely what earn this title a 10. Sure, the final boss battle is an anti-climax (but I won't ruin it), and there is little replay value to the storyline once you know all of its secrets, but there's 20-30 hours of solid game time without the challenge maps, so this edition will keep you going for a while!
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
Fantasia is Marmite- either you love its whimsical melody and Mickey Mouse's wild antics as a Sorcerer's Apprentice or you think the premise is plain boring and find the whole experience rather tedious. While at times I tend to venture towards the latter, the concept of a modern recreation- now dubbed The Sorcerer's Apprentice- was interesting to say the least. And, with stars Nicholas Cage and Alfred Molina lending a hand to the latest real-world Disney motion picture, the pieces are certainly set for an epic tale. Why, then did the casting managers choose such a lame lead star? Jay Baruchel, fresh off his likeable role as Hiccup in this year's animated treasure How To Train Your Dragon (8/10), comes across as unexciting and predictable, which while Sorcerer's constantly tells us is part of the story, most viewers will find hard to enjoy watching this mid-20s adult portray an awkward teen such as David (a name which in itself is so infrequently mentioned I had to look up the name of the main protagonist before writing this having forgotten). Oh well, I hear you cry, at least we've got old Nicky and Alfred to liven things up? Nope, in fact at times Cage borders on sheer stupidity in his role as Balthazar, an apprentice of Merlin (though sadly not the loveable BBC incarnation, due to make his return this September), as does Molina as Harbrew. It's a god-send that The Sorcerer's Apprentice is wrapped up in just over an hour, since its predictable plot, rubbish casting and dull references to British and American folklore, only saved by a soundtrack not unlike the original Fantasia, has even me longing for the days of Mickey Mouse and Fantasia.
Sunday, 15 August 2010
Halo: Combat Evolved was a fairly standalone game until its sequels, but at the time Bungie realised its popularity and so commisioned three tie-in novels based before, around and after the sci-fi shooter. The second of these was a direct adaptation of the game, dubbed The Flood. It's a simple yet powerful read, transforming what you do in the game itself into written text with a sublime pace and mixture of characters from both sides of the conflict. As in Combat Evolved, we get little reasoning as to why the Covenant actually have built Halo and how they intend to use it (given that they would wipe their own race out in the process), but overall this doesn't detract from an easy but emotional novel which fares better than The Fall Of Reach for gaming fiction!
Genuine surprise. That was the first feeling that came upon me when I saw the reveal of the third LEGO Star Wars game and the series with which it would be based on- and with good reason, too: while original and at times emotional, the new animated Clone Wars series hasn't proved a hit with fans everywhere for the most part, with only some great revelations of plot-lines in the saga making up for a moral-based and otherwise predictable television show (though the appearance of Republic Commandos and Darth Maul's brother may liven up things in the third series, and every fan is waiting to know just how irritating apprentice Ahsoka Tano dies before Episode 3). But, thinking about it, the move is foreseeable, as most of us have wanted a LEGO version of the Clone War conflict ever since getting glimpses in the original LSW: The Video Game. Apparently, this new game will feature 20 levels, huge battle sequences between Clones, Jedi, Droids and Sith respectively, new space conflicts and the trademark humour the LEGO series has been known to inject into any franchise it touches. Given how well LEGO Harry Potter: The Video Game went down with critics (even getting a 9/10 here), its reasonable to get excited for LEGO Star Wars 3 simply because it seems can only go up from here. Don't hold your breath...yet!
Halo: Reach is literally just weeks away, so it seems only right to take a look at the final act in the sci-fi 360-exclusive FPS trilogy, given its acknowledgement as the best in the franchise so far- Halo 3: ODST included (8/10). Halo 3 takes place just moments after the second installment concluded, and forces the Master Chief into dark new territory as he ventures through crashed Flood ships (if you haven't played Halo before, believe us when we say that's a lot worse than it sounds), previously MEDC Earth countries wrecked by the war with the Covenant, and even onto the third Halo itself (as if the title wasn't a big enough giveaway). I got Halo 3 as part of a package with my 360 in 2007, so wasn't a brainiac with regards to Halo at the time, so can now say that, having played the trilogy in its entirety, the plot is definitely the best way to finish on (while annoyingly inconclusive at its climax), the graphics are pure, glorious high definition Halo, and the game-play is as compelling and accessible as ever. My only gripe (and this would have remained even in 2007) is that for the Halo series this doesn't break huge new ground (cue space combat being introduced in the new title next month): while it does achieve some landmarks, we've seen Scarab battles, Flood ambushes and ring-escaping via Warthog two times before, so it doesn't feel as fresh this time even with HD and a new plot to tie it together. Leaving this aside, however, Halo 3 is one of the 360's best titles so far (hopefully to be eclipsed by Reach!), and while not overly original, is easily the best in the franchise (so far...)!
Thursday, 12 August 2010
The original Camp Rock (8/10) had a memorable bunch of tunes, with its soundtrack (9/10) fareing even better with the lack of the melodramatic dialogue sequences featured in the film and any heavy emphasis on the Jonas Brothers, who- working together with Justin Bieber- have simply stole away too many girls in their time. In all seriousness, however, the sequel- Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam- has potential to overthrow the original as a full-hearted musical flick on Disney Channel on 17th of September, so its soundtrack has inevitably been released. It's On and Can't Back Down have been endlessly promoted by DC in the months leading up to the premiere of the movie, and while they are great tracks, the novelty will have worn thin if you've already heard them 1000 times on the channel. Thank goodness, then, that Brand New Day and It's Not Too Late provide some welcome emotionally-charged melodies not present in the original soundtrack/film, presumably with some great choreography to come in the actual motion picture. Nick Jonas' Introducing Me is a decent way of showing off the singer's solo talents, and given its rumoured context as a song to a crush will be interesting to see play out in the movie this Autumn. That outcome is present for most of the soundtrack: it will be the perfect companion to the movie (and the DVD, coming out just days after the premiere) this year, so can't really stand as its own much as an album due to some songs being so obviously based on parts of the film. Still, this is the better soundtrack of the two, and is worth a look if you're a fan.
Wednesday, 11 August 2010
The Ring Of Steel has been beaten to the post slightly by the Daily Telegraph's sharp-witted preview release of The Runaway Train, read by one of my personal favourite Doctors yet, Matt Smith. That particular freebie got 8/10 even without SFX or music backing (sure to be added in the October shops release), so admittedly this month's audio had a lot to live up to. Arthur Darvill does a cracking job of narrating a tale that doesn't even feature him (presumably taking place after he was erased from time at the end of Cold Blood as there isn't even a mention of him!), based around the Doctor and Amy heading to Scotland to help sort out a protest against pylons being put up. Wait, come back from rushing to the shops, because it gets even more exhilrating- the pylons come to life! If you've missed my sarcasm, well done, but this really isn't a very inventive premise by writer Stephen Cole. Like I said Darvill makes up for this on the whole by giving his all in voicing each character differently, but all The Ring Of Steel could have done with would have been some real inspiration from Cole to open the 11th Doctor audios with a Big Bang (maybe even Big Bang 3!), which sadly is lacking here. At £10, it's a little pricey unless you're a collector like myself, so wait for this good, but not excellent release to come down in price before you sit yourself down and take a listen!
Try as they might, no other fighter can ever eclipse the storming success of Street Fighter: ever since it wowed arcade-goers in 1987 with its fast-paced combat and spectacular graphical scheme, the franchise has continuously gone from strength to strength, to the point that in 2009 the fourth incarnation, released for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 and simply dubbed Street Fighter IV, was heralded as one of the best fighting games of all time. Hardened fans no doubt already know, then, that with every new version of SF comes a "Super" version with improved technology, better visuals, more characters and a different plot, and this edition is no different: Super Street Fighter IV is a harsh introduction to an intensely difficult series, but if and when you work at it you'll find yourself rewarded. As usual for this genre, the plot is very thin, but features some nice anime cutscenes to watch with the 30 different characters (all with different looks and feels). Each arena is stunning to take in, with lots of nifty background details to watch out for, though of course you won't have tons of time to do so as you'll be fighting for your place in the next match constantly. Like I said, SSFIV chucks you in at the deep end with no knowledge of the controls bar the instruction manual, and even that won't get you too far. Heck, I'm still learning some of the ultra moves! But nevermind, in the end Super Street Fighter IV is everything it should be, and deserves to be in every 360 and PS3 owner's game library this year!
Halo 2 was never brilliantly recieved, but in my mind it's the better game for the original Xbox: better graphics, a more blockbuster-esque story of galactic proportions and most importantly a better-paced all round adventure for the Master Chief to shoot his way through. The plot here revolves around the Chief's return to Earth on a cruiser, cut short by an impending Covenant invasion of the planet. Sequences from the Chief blasting a bomb into the centre of an enemy cruiser to his nostalgic escape from the second Halo via a Warthog and a large ramp aid Halo 2 in providing a game that doesn't stray too far from its Halo heritage, yet ramps up things a notch in every respect so that the player gets more general enjoyment. The main complaint levelled at this sequel was it just felt like build-up for the trilogy's conclusion, Halo 3 (9/10), but looking at the plot and game-play I'd say it feels like an installment of its own. Admittedly the vehicle and character models still aren't great, and some locations just look plain boring, but these shortcomings don't derail an ultimately better game than its predecessor, and deserves a look once more before Halo: Reach hits this Autumn!
Before novels, action figures, sequels or films were even contemplated, Bungie gave itself the task of establishing a huge sci-fi shooter franchise on the original Xbox in 2001, launching Halo: Combat Evolved to a wealth of success. Now, looking back, Combat Evolved has some retro graphics for an FPS, and while with many titles that could be seen as a complement, here at times the Grunts, Elites and Jackals of old just look plain ugly. Plus, at the time there weren't many truly awesome sci-fi gaming yarns, so Halo made its mark simply by having one which was out of the ordinary, but in 2010 we can see it was by no means extraordinary: you'd think that the tale of the Master Chief escaping a planet's destruction (see Halo: Reach this Autumn), only to find a ring with similar atmosphere to Earth that is destined to destroy all life in the universe and then have the soldier tasked with its destruction and the safekeeping of the cosmos would be an amazing plot, but it doesn't work for the most part, and many levels feel far too dragged out. In all honesty, I would probably give Combat Evolved a much lower score even were it released with HD graphics as the first in a new series today, but considering it established such a huge franchise and one of the best shooters ever (Halo 3- 9/10), it can be forgiven of its flaws.
Medal Of Honor: Airborne was released in 2008 amongst a wealth of WW2 shooters (one of which was Call Of Duty: World At War, 8/10), and now when you look at it against some modern shooters such as Modern Warfare (8/10); Battlefield Bad Company 2 (8/10) and Modern Warfare 2 (9/10), it's easy to see its major shortcomings, and in a world of so many FPS titles, major shortcomings are no longer easy to look past. Airborne is set in the final days of the Second World War, and sees you as part of a team of paratroopers dispatched to flank the enemy in major battles (one of which is Normany- again. Sigh) via parachuting into the battlefield. It's a novel idea for shooters, to be sure, but one that is executed with the utmost sense of tedium- 'chuting into the warzone after every death gets tiresome, and fast. To its credit, enemies gamers kill in Airborne stay down so that when you land there won't be Nazis on all sides, though respawning foes do rear their ugly heads around every corner. Medal Of Honor games have always been known as the trademark WW2 titles for linear, scripted drama sequences, and in giving the player so much freedom Airborne loses even some of this. It's hard to call the latest entry in the franchise terrible because it really does nothing wrong, rather it feels somewhat lacking. That being said though, it isn't worth its £20 RRP simply because the Call Of Duty equivalent for 2008 (and earlier in many respects) outclasses with its emotional campaign and lengthy Zombie mode.
This year's Predators flick got a tentative 3/5 (or 6/10) here at On Screen, as we described it a gory but ultimately too fan-orientated flick for casual viewers, but one that would doubtless "reignite the passion lost by the terrible AVP semi-sequels". The latter statement was perhaps uncalled for, since the original Alien VS Predator film is in many ways a better watch than the 2010 continuation of the latter creature's franchise. At first, it seems to play out quite similarly to this year's sci-fi horror, banding together an unlikely group of troopers to explore an unknown location for evidence of alien life (the only differentiation being that in Predators, the team didn't get a choice!), but quickly a fearsome battle escalates between two factions: Aliens and Predators, with the humans merely trying to survive it. This concept alone is an exciting one, and while AVP doesn't always execute it brilliantly for the most part there is a lot of wholesome terror to be had here. The CGI is excellent, once again a fair bit better than Predators (weird considering this film is six years older...), making both species look unique and futuristic, and creating a good sense of atmosphere in the final battles. The climactic twist is obviously meant to lead straight into Alien VS Predator: Requiem, which I'll watch soon, and gets the tension up one last time effectively before going to credits. At that point, Alien VS Predator isn't nearly as bad as I'd been informed by critics and reviews, and so warrants a look for any fan or horror-enthusiast!
Little do some know that The Karate Kid was a successful franchise before the 21st century, inspiring younglings everywhere to go out and find their calling as fighting masters...or something alone those lines, so clearly this 2010 reinvention had reason to come about and do so once again for our generation. As an aside to that, however, we're introduced to one Jaden Smith as the titular protagonist (though he's never called that bar in a now-deleted scene from the trailers), who bears a disturbing resemblance facially to his father Will "Can-Do-Attitude" Smith, but should definitely be considered a different person untohimself as he is a true star, showing great chemistry with co-star Jackie Chan while ascending the ranks of Karate (or if we're being pessimistic Kung-Fu) and preparing for the ultimate showdown. Predictably for this genre, essentially, of sports, there are twists towards the film's climax making Dre (Smith) consider not competing etc etc but some, such as Mr Han (Chan)'s true nature, which is startlingly dark for a PG flick and so surprising I won't spoil it here, are genuinely compelling to watch play out. The Karate Kid is a whopping 140 minutes long, and believe this reviewer when he says that no viewer will be totally engrossed enough to come out of the cinema and say "Wow, that went fast", as its pacing is often far too slow and even Smith and Chan's likeability can't stop this feeling of tedium in the middle section. So, perhaps it isn't an essential piece of box office film, but the new Karate Kid is easily the best feel-good flick of this Summer's line-up, and a solid start for what could be a brilliant franchise (again).
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
Halo: Reach looks to be the biggest sci-fi FPS in a good while, with Bungie already calling it "the ultimate Halo game", and Microsoft prepping it up as the big hard-core title this Autumn (alongside Kinect as the big development in 360, but more on that later), so I thought it a good idea to enhance my knowledge of the conflict of Reach before entering that particular adventure on screen. Step forward Halo: The Fall Of Reach, the first of seven novels chronicling the events of the first two games and some of the moments after the trilogy's end. The Fall Of Reach tells the tale of Spartan 117's (aka John) rise to become the Master Chief through snippets of his life in the UNSC Marine Corps, eventually showing us his entering of the MLONJIR armour (his iconic character in the trilogy) and the death of his friends and race of Spartans on Reach. The story itself is often invigorating, offering glimpses of what first led to the conflict with the Covenant, and how the alien enemies managed to find this defence colony, but where this novel finds its problems is in its title: little information or perspective is given with regards to Reach, and so it feels like this should have been called "The Build-Up To The Fall Of Reach", only giving minor details of what actually happened on the planet's surface towards the end through radio communications and comm signals. It does, however, provide a fully interesting romp, and deserves to be read as to the companion to Halo: Reach, which will surely give the full experience of what really happened on Reach!
Sherlock was only given a three-episode run this year thanks to an uncertain BBC and Steven Moffat's other commitments (writing the Christmas Special and five episodes of Series 6 of Doctor Who is very time-consuming, you know!), which is heartbreaking when we examine the finale- The Great Game- an episode which puts to use all of the series' strengths (the chemistry between the leads; Sherlock's "science of deduction"; the tension and build-up to Moriarty's reveal; Mark Gatiss as Sherlock's brother e.t.c) and masks any weaknesses that might be present. The final 10 minutes in particular are some of the best television I've seen this year bar none (definitely on a par with, or perhaps better than (...?) the Series 5 Who finale!), completely enthralling with the powerful discussion between Holmes and Moriarty, and ending on a cliff-hanger which will easily force every viewer to hope with all their heart that a second season is commissioned for early 2011 so they can find out the story's conclusion as soon as possible. But of course, there are 80 other minutes of greatness here, and they work to the story's favour, providing Sherlock's darkest case yet as people are rigged to blow and the titular icon is forced to work out each mystery by Moriarty. I genuinely didn't expect one of these rigged victims to die, so that surprise twist also threw me hugely, adding to The Great Game's overall effect. While The Blind Banker dampened my enthusiasm towards this amazing drama, the finale has definitely got me applauding Moffatiss, and eagerly awaiting the DVD release (featuring the scrapped pilot episode) and thus the inevitable Series 2!
After a great start at reimagining Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective, you'd think Sherlock could only go from strength to strength, but sadly that isn't the case with the second episode of the three-part BBC drama: writer Stephen Thompson makes lousy use of the extensive 90 minute running time, frequently stopping and diverting from the main plot (which it has to be noted is often too complex even for a wannabe Sherlock to understand) for minor moments of romance and comedy which generally feel needless. Once again, Freeman and Cumberbatch are excellent leads, giving off believable reactions to the case and the former giving more depth to Watson than seen before in the Winter 2009 film adaptation starring Iron Man's Downey Jr or indeed in Conan Doyle's novels, but even the memorable cameo of Gemma Chan (a.k.a Mia in The Waters Of Mars) can't ultimately save a bland and somewhat by-the-books middle part.
Robert Downey Jr proved earlier this year that Sherlock Holmes could be reinterpreted excellently as a modern hero (while it was a period thriller set in the 1700s), and with a sequel to that particular motion picture on the way in Summer 2011, it seems Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss wanted to bridge the gap with a unique TV series set in the 21st century- and thank goodness, too, as it's superb. A Study In Pink quickly sets up the relationship of John Watson (Martin Freeman), a scarred but intelligent ex-soldier of the Afghan war, and Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch), a man capable of deducting things from scenes in seconds, while giving tantilaising hints about Sherlock's brother and future arch-foe Moriarty. The taxi driver surprise at the end is unexpected for the most part, and not dissimilar to some of the revelations in Arthur Conan Doyle's original adventure. The chemistry between Freeman and Cumberbatch is superb and very diverse, while the cameo from writer Gatiss is hilarious and a fun distraction from an admittedly dark BBC drama. Given its heritage from the head writer of sci-fi Doctor Who, it isn't surprising Sherlock features bearing similarities to that just-finished series, but these are more welcome than anything, and left lots of promise for the other two episodes.