Thursday 31 May 2018

The Greatest Showman ★★☆☆☆

In recent years, the musical film has come back into fashion. I guess it goes back to 2008 when Mamma Mia took the entire world by storm, making over $550 million profit and generally kicking the genre back into the public eye. Mamma Mia showed that a big-screen musical could be popular and rake in the big bucks, and in the years since, we’ve had a pretty steady stream of them. While some of them have done something fresh and original with the genre like La La Land, the majority of them have just a one-trick-pony gimmick film with little substance behind the catchy chart-topping tunes. The Greatest Showman is no different. If you’re a devout Greatest Showman fan or apologist, you might not agree with my thoughts…

Before we get into the film itself, let’s start with the glaring fact that makes the premise alone hard to swallow. The film is a fictionalised biopic of P.T. Barnum, the titular greatest showman who wowed the world with his circus of fun and frolics. But for those who don’t know, behind the curtain Barnum was a total shit who beat and exploited his ‘freak’ subjects and animals and was just generally a shady sod. But in this Hollywoodised telling of his life, he’s the hero of the tale. Yes, the film very briefly demonises him by making him consider an affair (which never happened) and, in a short scene, dismiss the ‘freaks’ he was supposedly trying to support. But no mention is made of his truly hideous side. This alone made me uncomfortable. Audiences around the world have been paying to sing along with this uplifting and colourful film based around the sort of bloke who, nowadays, would be on Crimewatch. We should not be celebrating him. His creation of the circus as we know it may be influential, but he should not be made out to be a legend.

All that aside, the film itself just isn’t much good. Important elements seem painfully rushed and without conclusion – for example, the short scene I mention above in which Barnum dismisses his clan. This should’ve been an important scene. Barnum gets a taste of high society and doesn’t allow his ‘freaks’ into his party. Ouch. Should be a big scene. But after the ragtag bunch of quirky heroes break into their self-acceptance “This Is Me” banger, all seems instantly forgiven. Other parts seem too fast – Barnum’s childhood is covered in minutes while his potential affair is dragged over half an hour. The pacing was just all over the place, and character development was none existent in many key players.

But at the end of the day, you’re here for the songs. And I’m not trying to sound like some hip, alternative arty-farty bugger when I say they’re totally unoriginal and tedious. This Is Me is Let It Go reincarnated, while all the other tunes are just generic and predictable fluff that did not have one iota of staying power in my mind. While La La Land’s Another Day of Sun is still in my head to this day, I can barely remember a note of most of The Greatest Showman’s tunes.

The cast try their best with the material and I’ve never had a bad word to say about Hugh Jackman, but the film just felt empty and dull. Explosive colours and pounding musical numbers aren’t enough to make a film work…but, I’m just one guy. While I’m in the majority of critics who can see past the film’s glossy overcoat to see the shit underneath, audiences worldwide have been eating it up and buying the soundtrack like there’s no tomorrow. And that’s great – if you enjoy it, I’m almost jealous that you can find pleasure in it. But for me, this is just bottom of the barrel entertainment that sits in the shadow of far superior films in the genre.

But I will say that the lavish visuals, costume and make-up are very well done. Bravo to the production team. It’s just a shame your hard work was wasted on such tosh. The Greatest Showman does not live up to its first song’s title, nor does the despicable Barnum deserve such a loving tribute. 

Sam Love

The Greatest Showman at CeX

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Tuesday 29 May 2018

Father Figures ★★★★★

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. This is a bad one, ladies and gentlemen. Comedy is really struggling these days. For every 10 comedies forced upon us, only 1 is every any good. Father Figures, Owen Wilson’s latest, is just an abysmal disaster from start to finish. But the problems began way before the film was even released. Where do I begin…

In 2011, Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to a comedy script by Justin Malen entitled ‘Bastards’. Paramount dropped out shortly thereafter and Warner Brothers stepped in. By the end of October 2015, the film had been cast. On December 5th, 2015, the film finished shooting. It was due to be released late 2016. The film was screened to test audiences and was savagely torn apart. And so, the release date was pushed back so reshoots could take place. These reshoots ran over, and the film’s release was pushed back again. It was finally released on December 22nd, 2017…to universal critical destruction. The film also had to be renamed ‘Father Figures’ due to the original title ‘Bastards’ causing offence…despite trailers being circulated carrying the latter name.

The moral of the story is…be like Paramount. Drop out of projects like this. What a waste of time and money. The budget of this film was $25 million. 25. MILLION. I know you’re simply desperate to learn more about this film. I can almost hear you crying “tell us what it’s about” from here. Well, ask and you shall receive. 

The film follows Kyle (Owen Wilson) and Peter (Ed Helms), brothers on a mission to discover the identity of their father. As they travel the US, they find multiple ‘suspects’ in the mystery of who it could be, played by such legends as Christopher Walken, J.K. Simmons and Ving Rhames. Hilarity ensues as these men recount stories of Kyle and Peter’s mother’s sexual prowess, and people fall over, and…oh, I can’t even begin to sound remotely enthusiastic about this film. Maybe 10 years ago, it would’ve been great. Back when Owen Wilson was bankable and shit comedies weren’t so shit. Nowadays, people expect a little bit more.

The film often tries to become a study of brotherly love and family, but fails at every attempt – and then immediately ruins what little chance the sentiment had by following it with a scene involving children urinating on Owen Wilson or something even less mature than that. Not one of the jokes lands, nor does any of the heart. This is just a vacuous and uncomfortable watch that would’ve been torturous at 80 minutes, let alone 2 bloody hours. Overlong, unfunny and painfully forced, this is a disaster for all involved.

I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. I’m going to go and have a shower and scrub this film off me. I don’t ever want to think about it again. Shame on you, cast. I expect this sort of behaviour from Owen Wilson but not you, J.K. Simmons. And certainly not you, Christopher Walken. I’m not angry. I’m disappointed. Father Figures is a disgrace to comedy, a disgrace to cinema, and a disgrace to humanity.

Sam Love

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Sunday 27 May 2018

Bayonetta 1&2 (Switch) ★★★★☆

One year on from the debut of the Switch, the release of the Bayonetta series as a bundle makes for another must-buy on the hybrid console. While isn’t much that is noticeably different about the rerelease, it’s the perfect chance to sink your teeth into another adventure if you missed out the first time around. For anyone who hasn’t experienced Bayonetta 1&2, this is an opportunity to get to grips with two stylish stories that translate well on the smaller screen.

The first was available on multiple platforms, but the decision to stick with the Wii U for the 2014 sequel meant that it was unavailable to most gamers. Sales were reasonably disappointing, and it was forgotten despite receiving numerous Game of the Year nominations. If you’re coming in blind, it’s a hack-and-slash game where you fight demons, but it’s more complex than that. As the witch Bayonetta, you’re taken through an insane story, with everything from the levels to the enemies sure to raise both eyebrows and heart rates consistently.

Bayonetta is an expert fighter, and one of the last of her kind. The story doesn’t make much sense without reading guides and watching videos afterwards, but it’s all about the gameplay and the overall aesthetic. You’ll be flying around the battlefield in no time, chaining attacks against giant enemies at a relentless pace. Obtaining new weapons and skills will help to improve your capabilities, and there’s a lot of scope in terms of customisation. 

A display of 720p is the same as you’ll find with the originals, although both run at 60fps whether the console is docked or being used in handheld mode. This means that it looks great either way, while you’ll never suffer from any issues relating to performance. Controls are actually improved, making use of the layout of the Switch and the increased framerate. It makes combat more satisfying no matter how you prefer to play, and you won’t be able to blame anything other than yourself for missing combos.

As a two-for-one package, it’s great value, and it’s hard to find any flaws. Each game should take about 10 hours to complete, and there’s a co-op mode that can be accessed locally as long as you have two copies. Amiibo support allows you to unlock a range of new outfits and items, including in-game consumables and Nintendo themed costumes.

Aside from the above, that’s your lot in terms of improvements. Unfortunately, you’ll only get the physical edition of the second game if you get it in store, with the first available as a digital download. If you’ve seen it all before, Bayonetta probably isn’t worth going over once again. There hasn’t been much added to the overall package, although it is pretty unique when you look at the rest of the Switch’s catalogue.

It’s hard to get excited about yet another rerelease, but this one does deserve another chance. As a spiritual successor to Devil May Cry, it stands up to the test of time, and it’s deserves most of the praise being heaped on it by the majority of games media. There’s also the matter of a third in the series, currently in development exclusively for the Switch. Finishing off the first couple is the perfect way to prepare for another round of mayhem, although there’s no release date pencilled in as of yet.

Final Verdict: Bewitching!


James Milin-Ashmore

Bayonetta 1&2 (Switch) at CeX

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