Saturday, 6 July 2019

The Secret Life of Pets 2 ★★☆☆☆


The Secret Life of Pets 2 is a decent kids film, and I’ve seen my fair share over the past couple of years. I’ve arguably seen a few too many, and I made the mistake of rewatching Up a day before watching Pets 2. The balloon-fueled drama filled my mind for long intervals during the latter, and it made it hard to judge the more recent animation by any fair metric. In comparison, Pets 2 is a hastily cobbled sequel that doesn’t match up by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not completely dire.


The original Secret Life of Pets was a massive commercial success back in 2016, earning $875.5 million from a budget of $75 million. It’s no wonder Illumination decided to make a sequel, even if they didn’t really have a compelling story to tell. Your children will be happy to hear that *Max and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are back for the second instalment, which now has a trio of stories. 

The main arc sees the cowardly pooch in the lead role struggling with overprotectiveness as toddler Liam begins to grow up. Side plots involve Gidget (Jenny Slate), who is busy trying to rescue Max’s favourite toy from a crazy cat lady’s house, and Kevin Hart’s rabbit superhero Snowball who decides to rescue an abused white tiger. He’s assisted by Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), and Harrison Ford joins the cast as surly sheepdog Rooster. The A, B and C plots eventually intertwine with fairly amusing consequences.

*Louis C.K no longer reprises the role of Max, given the multiple sexual harassment allegations he faced in 2017. Instead, Patton Oswalt takes up the mantle.

Most of the runtime is dedicated to showing Max attempting to get used to the child that his owners have thrust into his life. He soon becomes too anxious and is forced to wear the “cone of shame” as he struggles to adjust. It’s easy to empathise with his inability to deal with upheaval, but it isn’t really explored deeply. (Which is fair enough, given the target audience is younger children.) Each branch of the story is watchable, although it does start to lack direction by the midway point. You’ll watch a series of events happen in each of the plots, and there are a fair amount of laughs in between. Action sequences see monkeys and cannons in a circus-themed battle towards the end, but it does feel a little lopsided considering the talents of the cast.


It’s not a low-budget animation by any means, but it doesn’t compare to a typical Pixar offering in terms of humour, emotion, storytelling or visual quality.

Fans of the first should be happy enough to see their favourites return, and most children will be satisfied by the time the credits are rolling. So will most adults, but probably for different reasons. It’s worth mentioning that for such a short film (86 minutes), I lost count of how many times I glanced at my phone to see how long was left to go. It’s still half decent overall, but Pets 2 doesn’t really improve on the original in any meaningful way.

★★☆☆☆
James Millin-Ashmore



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Friday, 5 July 2019

Batman VS TMNT ★★★★☆


After the terrifying graphics and shoddy delivery of Michael Bay’s ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ in 2014, I’ve not ventured much further into the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ franchise. I’ll admit, I had to pause for a moment when I saw ‘Batman Vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’. I’d completely forgotten that there was a whole comic miniseries dedicated to this concept, and seeing it again made me realise just how bizarre the mash-up sounds. DC’s serious and brooding Batman mixed with Nickelodeon’s hyped up and pizza-loving turtle brothers… Could this really work?


Set in Gotham, Batman (Troy Baker, who also voices The Joker), Robin (Ben Giroux), and Batgirl (Rachel Bloom) are investigating a series of high-tech thefts from various research centres in the area. The evidence suggests ninjas, however, Batman and team aren’t exactly sure who they are. Leonardo (Eric Bauza), Donatello (Baron Vaughn), Raphael (Darren Criss), and Michelangelo (Kyle Mooney) are hot on the scene having arrived from New York City, and they conclude that this mysterious bat-cloaked figure has something to do with the thefts. After a couple of misunderstandings, the brothers and the Bat realise they’re both on the same side, and team up to stop the thefts from threatening the very existence of Gotham.

I actually can’t believe how well this animation has worked out – it could have fallen completely flat, but director Jake Castorena and writers Marly Halpern-Graser, James Tynion IV have done a seriously good job here. The turtle brothers are brought to life in the film, their personalities shining through the script. This doesn’t take away from the Batman feel of it though, with that side of things equally strong. The two teams having to pair up is quite interesting and, although this type of plot (two completely different styles working together) has been done thousands of time before, it actually feels fresh.

One thing I really appreciated was the commentary from the turtles as they travel around Gotham. Their constant observations reinforce exactly what the audience is thinking – Gotham is a seriously weird place. The way they bounce off the Gotham residents leads to character development on both sides, and there’s so many memorable one-liners that inject lots more humour than you might expect, plus of course lots of slapstick from Michelangelo which I thought wouldn’t work but really did.

The other thing that really stands out is the fighting, with excellent choreography that demonstrates different fighting styles on both sides. It really brings the animation to life, from the scene where Batman and the turtles fight to a gripping battle between Batman and one of the main antagonists towards the end of the story. I found that it was much more well-choreographed than other animations in the DC universe, and because of the turtle brothers’ martial fighting style, more attention is paid to this than usual. Sometimes I find the fighting scenes to be a little lacklustre and dull compared to the more story-progressive parts, but this was certainly not the case this time around.


‘Batman Vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ was an animation that I didn’t have massively high hopes for and if I’m honest, was a little bit worried about. Thankfully it far surpassed my expectations, delivering a seriously fun and refreshing crossover that managed to make a fairly average plot into a story I’d happily recommend to fans of either universe.

★★★★☆
Hannah Read



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Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The Sinking City ★★☆☆☆


Out now, ‘The Sinking City’ is an open-world action-adventure horror game played in the third person. The game is created by Frogwares, who are probably most known for their work on their ‘Sherlock Holmes’ series of games. They are an indie studio and mainly develop what you would call AA games, which typically have a much smaller budget than most large developers.


‘The Sinking City’ is their first real foray into the horror genre - not just any horror, but the wonderful Lovecraftian style.  I was quite hesitant at first when I began playing as I was sorely disappointed ‘Call Of Cthulu’, another Lovecraftian horror that was out last year. Upon beginning the game the style and detail in the world is immediately apparent, and if the developer has done one thing right it’s that the game is gorgeous and really evokes Lovecraft.

Of course, like many games in this style, you play as a detective trying to solve mysteries and you are always treading the line between sanity and insanity in your own mind whilst suffering from terrible visions. If I’m honest it felt a little bit like deja vu as this is a theme and story that has been tried many times before, not just within gaming but other forms of media as well. Luckily, the characters of the game and the twisting story was compelling enough that it was able to pull ahead of the crowd and feel a bit more unique than it could have done.

The real issue with ‘The Sinking City’ is that the actual mechanics of playing the game feels very… off.  The combat feels like an afterthought, perhaps something that was tacked on – as if the developer needed the player to be doing something in-between cutscenes and dialogue. Frogwares created such a stunning and detailed world in the fictional city of Oakmont, but what you actually end up doing in the city feels lacklustre. This is worsened still by the fact that the protagonist is supposed to have a long military history, so frankly I expected him to have better combat skills than the ones displayed.

Even as you gain skills throughout the game you never really feel powerful in any way.  Thankfully the difficulty setting of normal, which most players will play the game on, is quite easy and the A.I didn't give too much of a problem on there, but it’s not too good for those who want both a challenge and the feeling that they’re really doing well.  There was also a lack of enemy types and boss characters throughout, which I felt was actually quite odd considering the genre.


It really does feel like the developer would have been better suited to creating more of an interactive story type game instead of an action open world. I’m not suggesting that aspirations aren’t a good thing when developing a game, but perhaps this also would have suited their budget better.

Ultimately, the story and characters of ‘The Sinking City’ are the one shining light in an otherwise underwhelming experience. The game is being sold at a price expected for AAA games and feels a bit too much for me. If it was priced at around £30 then I think this would be well worth the asking price, but I can’t recommend the game for anything more than that. Wait until it’s on sale, or buy second-hand instead.

★★☆☆☆
Hannah Read



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Monday, 1 July 2019

Judgement ★★★☆☆


‘Judgment’ is the latest game published by SEGA and is a semi-open world action-adventure game set in the same universe as the ‘Yakuza’ franchise. The ‘Yakuza’ franchise has a cult following (and rightly so) and is lauded for its story and strange activities that you can do in the world. This isn’t the first time a spin-off has been made from ‘Yakuza’ as there games such as ‘Yakuza: Dead Souls’ and of course ‘Fist of the North Star’. Although they were all serviceable for what they were, the spin-offs never reached the same level of acclaim as the mainline games.


‘Judgment’ may be set in the same world as ‘Yakuza’ but it is vastly different story-wise.  Instead of playing as Kiryu (a retired Yakuza trying to get away from the crime world) you play as an ex-lawyer turned detective who is trying to solve a case of serial killings. As a detective, you’ll find that you will be doing very similar things that you would be in ‘Yakuza’.  There are many cutscenes, as to be expected, and the game looks stunning when compared to ‘Yakuza 6’.  In between this, you will spend 50% of your time fighting and 50% exploring and doing detective work.

If you have played a ‘Yakuza’ game before and loved the fighting then you will no doubt enjoy this one. In a similar vein, you fight with the several styles that are available and will be hitting many enemies in the face with bikes or other various items – something I must admit I don’t really get bored of! 

In a way, this is slightly off-putting at first because ‘Judgment’ isn’t the bombastic and sometimes crazy game that ‘Yakuza’ is.  The story is very intimate and there are fewer explosive events leading into each other.  Mixing what is a serious story with the over the top combat of ‘Yakuza’ is somewhat jarring.

That being said the fighting is so much fun that you can end up getting lost in it, desperate to look for fights and increase your skill as you explore Kamurocho. And of course, away from the main story, there are some hilarious and intriguing side missions to complete that I won’t spoil here. It’s not as bizarre as ‘Yakuza’, as I’ve mentioned, but there are certainly some interesting aspects to it.


The other half of the game is more detective-style, with many parts focused around accusing others and making objectives in a courtroom-style situation and unfortunately, the mini-games and actions that you do aren’t nearly fleshed out enough for them to matter.  None of the things you do really add to the overall experience in any positive way and end up feeling like an add-on to a ‘Yakuza’ game to make itself seem unique. I also felt that it was all a bit too familiar – like with the ‘Yakuza’ series, ‘Judgment’ is set entirely in Kamurocho and I think being able to visit some other locations would have helped to spice it up a bit and keep it fresh.

The game itself is very fun to play, especially when you are doing what the ‘Yakuza’ developers do best (fighting), but unfortunately, the game does fall flat in several areas and I found this to impact how I enjoyed the game. If you are a fan of the ‘Yakuza’ series though there is definitely lots to love here and I could see this game developing its own kind of cult following – just perhaps not quite as big as its older brother.

★★★☆☆
Hannah Read



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Friday, 28 June 2019

Take your games to infinity... AND BEYOND at CeX!


Toy Story 4 is out today so we are paying tribute to the great Pixar movies with our latest ad!


Don't forget about your old toys - Take your games, consoles, gadgets & tech to infinity and beyond at CeX! 

Get the most cash for your stuff or exchange for something you really want in stores nationwide or online.


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Monday, 17 June 2019

Creed II ★★★☆☆


Remember in 2015 when Creed came out? Everybody, including me, wanted it to f*** off so badly. We did not need to see Rocky again, and as that was to be his 8th outing, it reeked of desperation from ol’ Sly Stallone. But then it came out and was actually bloody good. Sly took a backseat to let Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed became a new icon for the sports film genre while Rocky acted like a muscly old Yoda. It was only a matter of time before we were force-fed a sequel, and that day came in 2018.


Creed II is better than you expect but doesn’t hit the heights of the first. That’s to be expected really, as Creed had the element of surprise. Nobody expected quality from it. But that’s not to say Creed II is a failure. The film follows a fight over 33 years in the making, as Adonis Creed meets a new adversary in the ring: Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago, the powerful athlete who killed Adonis' father Apollo Creed. For fans of the Rocky series, this is a pretty iconic and historic plotline to continue now, all these years later. 

But it does feel a little lazy – the film’s narrative is pretty reliant on a “hey, remember that?” approach. Nothing about it feels particularly fresh. The strict adherence to the franchise formula gives it a very much cookie cutter approach where each plot beat can be seen coming a mile off, but I guess that applies to every Rocky film. Every sports film, even. But it’s a time-tested approach that resonates with all ages and all generations, so I guess it falls under the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category.

The film certainly looks and sounds like one of quality. It’s a stylish and solid piece of filmmaking throughout with some terrific performances and some good direction from Stephen Caple Jr who picks up the duty from Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler who serves as an executive producer here. But being the 9th film in the series, the whole thing just feels a little past its sell-by-date. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the film, but there’s nothing to make it feel particularly remarkable either.


On the whole, Creed II isn’t going to win over any newcomers to the Rocky saga. This is strictly fan-service to people who have been following the characters for a while – the central plot of this film, the rivalry between Drago and Creed, is pretty meaningless to anyone who hasn’t spent time with Rocky and his gang before. But hey, these sporting movies are comfort food, aren’t they? For the most part, they’re mindless background entertainment at the end of a long day. If that’s what you want from Creed II, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed at all. 3/5 

★★★☆☆
Sam Love



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Sunday, 16 June 2019

Escape Room ★★★☆☆


I’m awful at escape rooms. As my girlfriend will happily confirm for you when I get confused by a puzzle I rage. I would’ve loved to have been staff at the Telford escape room I last played, watching my anger unfold on the CCTV…But despite this, I do love them. They are such a unique and fun way to spend an hour and a great opportunity for team building. But I would’ve been absolutely f***ed in Escape Room, directed by Adam Robitel.

The film follows six adventurous strangers who are invited to travel to a mysterious building to experience an innovative new escape room - where players compete to solve a series of puzzles to win $10,000. What starts out as seemingly innocent fun soon turns into a living nightmare as the four men and two women discover each room is an elaborate trap that's part of a sadistic game of life or death, structured around each player’s dark past.


The film is basically Agatha Christie does Saw, with a group of strangers invited to a mysterious and frightening venue and forced to fight for their lives. But honestly, I love shit like this. I will happily defend the Saw franchise to anyone who will listen. Sure, it’s rubbish, but there’s no denying the layered universe the films created is so full of unpredictable twists and turns that you have to respect it. Escape Room tries to replicate this and honestly, it isn’t far off. The plot packs some real surprises and innovative and exciting death scenes, but being rated PG-13 in the states does suffer somewhat for a lack of violence. I’m not sadistic, but I like a bit of gore in my horror. The deaths here, although interesting, leave a little too much to the imagination for my liking.

But a film like this succeeds or fails on the strength (or lack thereof) of the characters, and I’m happy to say that Escape Room boasts a pretty good cast with lots of interesting material to work with. Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis and Nik Dodani portray our mixed group – there’s a selfish banker, an escape room expert, a quiet victim, a young student…all the usual archetypes. But they’re made more interesting than usual here and the chemistry between all of the cast is very solid.


But unfortunately, I felt like the film missed some pretty big opportunities. The big reveal at the end of the film isn’t explored nearly enough, obviously paving the way for a sequel but leaving viewers of this first film with too many questions. There are, obviously, plot-holes (this is a modern horror after all) and some pretty poor dialogue. The lack of gore can be distracting, and there are some scenes that will have you screaming at the TV in utter disbelief of why our characters are making certain choices. But all of this amounts to the norm for the genre and doesn’t detract too badly from the final product. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s fun and thrilling. Escape Room was an entertaining little thrillfest – not without its flaws, but certainly, an entertaining way to kill 90 minutes. 

★★★☆☆
Sam Love



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