Sunday, 29 September 2019

Killers Anonymous ★★☆☆☆


Killers Anonymous, directed by Martin Owen, has an interesting premise – a group of killers meet regularly at Killers Anonymous to share their stories and work on, well, not killing. On the night of an attempted assassination of a U.S. senator, touted to be the next President, things suddenly aren’t as they seem and the group try to unravel who in the group is responsible for the attack.


It’s certainly possible to over-do a film, and sadly ‘Killers Anonymous’ has done just that. You’ll notice immediately how stylised it is… While I’m usually a fan of stylised films (‘Baby Driver’ springs to mind, which I loved), there’s a difference between those that I love and this one, and that difference is that the other ones are done well. Some of the shots in ‘Killers Anonymous’ are executed perfectly and are pleasing to the eye, however, the majority come across as clunky and overused. Take a conversation at the start of the film between characters The Man (Gary Oldman) and Jade (Jessica Alba), for example… a distant overarching view combines with wildly close-up face shots that seem to serve only to disorientate the viewer. I loved the colours and the mood of the style that Martin Owen went for, but the movement and sometimes puzzling set-up within certain frames was detracting and made it feel gimmicky, perhaps more like something you might see during an A level Media Studies project.

Talking of puzzling, the plot was what really got me. It sounds like it’s going to be a classic whodunnit but it’s not, and if I’m honest I’m not really sure what the point of the plot was, or what the writers were trying to prove. It feels like it’s attempting to be really clever, but it didn’t come together like it should have done, and by the end, I didn’t really feel like I cared. It’s a shame really because some parts I was really engrossed in – especially the first half, where some of the killers stepped back into the past to describe their first kill. This was the only part of the film where I felt like I connect with the characters – once it got into the actual plot the development didn’t impact me as much and it felt like I was watching a bunch of strangers involved in something I wasn’t overly bothered about.

Saying that I can’t fault the acting of the film, which I felt was very good and the connection between the characters felt believable. I particularly liked MyAnna Buring as Joanna, the leader of the support group, and Tim McInnerny made an excellent creepy doctor that just loves to watch his patients die. Leandro, played by Michael Socha, was my favourite character, especially after his backstory was revealed, and Elliot James Langridge and Tommy Flanagan were also good as Ben and Markus respectively. I wish there had been a lot more Gary Oldman though – what he did he did very well, but his character seemed to spend most of the time looking through a pair of binoculars, and I feel like Oldman should be utilised for more than that. It was the fact that he was starring in it that made me think it might be worth a watch, so I was disappointed, to say the least when he turned out to have such a small amount of screen time.


You can probably tell I wasn’t overly impressed with ‘Killers Anonymous’ – while the actors did what they could, it fell short on plot and editing. There may be something there for people that love hyper-stylised films, but if you’re hoping for a strong, memorable plot then this probably isn’t for you.

★★☆☆☆
Hannah Read



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Saturday, 28 September 2019

Shaft ★★★★☆


Everyone knows ‘Shaft’ from the ‘70s – originally played by Richard Roundtree, John Shaft was a three-movie hero that all the kids wanted to be. In 2000 came a sequel in which the John Shaft we focus on is now the original Shaft’s nephew, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and now we’ve got an even more modern ‘Shaft’ film… Not exactly a sequel or a reboot, but rather a spin on the original concept of the film. 

This time around its Shaft Jr.’s turn, played by Jesse T. Jr., who is the abandoned son of Jackson’s Shaft, now the son of Roundtree’s Shaft (thankfully the confusion stops there). Shaft Jr. is a caricature of the modern-day male millennial, an FBI data analyst with a strong stance on guns and a love of coconut water. After his friend Karim (Avan Jogia) dies of a heroin overdose that Shaft Jr. and childhood friend Sasha (Alexandra Shipp) suspect is down to something more sinister, Shaft Jr. finds himself now in a world of drug deals and violence, and reluctantly gets back in contact with his Dad as he may be the only one able to help.
You may have already read reviews of ‘Shaft’ to find them filled with claims that it is homophobic, racist, and all sorts of other things down to Samuel L. Jackson’s old-school character. Shaft, again rather caricature-like, is your classic old-fashioned man with the belief that masculinity is down to how many fists you’ve sparred with and women you’ve refused to apologise to. He’s not quite with the times like Shaft Jr. is, seeing homosexuality as perhaps a bit of a weakness and men who aren’t hyper-masculine as slightly defective. This is where many of the jokes come into play, with the two men struggling to see eye-to-eye on a variety of things. I’d hardly call it homophobic though… More highlighting how ridiculous these sorts of beliefs are and showing that are not, in fact, correct like Shaft thinks. 
I’m glad I ignored the reviews and watched the film anyway, as it’s well-written and full of some high-octane scenes that make for great entertainment. Whilst, not all acting is excellent, Samuel L. Jackson makes Shaft his own, getting so into character that it’s hard not to be convinced. It’s classic Jackson, and he sparkles as always. Usher also makes a great Shaft Jr., not overplaying his considered weaknesses and instead embracing his personality and standing strong with his beliefs. Again, I’m not seeing why everyone is so wound up when our protagonist is actually such a positive and modern character. 

The humour, albeit not very politically correct at times, made a refreshing change from some of the films of late, taking me back to those iconic films of the ‘70s and ‘80s that really didn’t hold back. It’s got a sort of ‘Starsky and Hutch’ vibe to it – it’s silly and probably not all that likely in a real-life situation, but each scene is entertaining and a good set of casting helps to bring the story to life and excuse some perhaps unlikely scenarios that film-realists might not gel with so much. 
If you like a good action/comedy film then I’d recommend this one for lots of laughs and some good old-fashioned conflict, too. If you’re easily offended then maybe steer clear… No film will please everyone.
★★★★☆
Hannah Read

Yoshi's Crafted World at CeX


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Friday, 27 September 2019

Child's Play ★★☆☆☆


In the great pantheon of pop culture villains, there are some that will just live forever. You’ve got your Michael Myers, and your Jason Vorhees, and your Freddy Krueger. And you’ve got your Chucky. Everyone’s favourite homicidal ‘friend till the end’ doll has been around since 1988 and has gone through quite a development. From his humble beginnings as a straight horror character, through the film’s first sequels as a wise-cracking slasher, into the film’s later campy sequels where he became a comedy character and back out the other end into horror again. Much like Krueger, he’s done it all.


But now, some buffoon in Hollywood has decided to reboot the franchise and start fresh with a new creative team, voice actor and feel – despite the fact the original franchise is still ongoing. That’s pretty rare, huh? Rebooting a franchise that is still very much alive? Original creator Don Mancini has totally disowned this reboot while he continues to work on the next level of the OG Chucky franchise. Rightly so…because this one reeks of desperation. 

Straight out of the gate, this new Child’s Play goes in a different direction to the original/ongoing franchise by changing up what makes Chucky tick. While in the originals, Chucky was a host for the soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray, this time he is simply a malfunctioning smart-device, after having all his safety features switched off by a disgruntled sweatshop worker who was fired while putting the doll together. Very much a modern horror for our times, this is clearly aimed at the techno-fear generation and puts our homicidal doll into the “internet of things” – he is synced up to all home appliances and even electric smart-cars, so of course, he can cause a lot of shit.

Narratively, the film follows a similar path to the 1988 original – Chucky falls into the hands of Andy Barclay, a lonely young boy from a broken home who becomes best friends with the innocent-seeming doll before things go tits-up. Despite everything wrong with this film, I cannot fault the narrative structure – it is a respectful retelling of the original plot. Sure, there are some minor changes, but the characters are faithfully reconstructed for the most part. The biggest issue is Chucky himself. Apart from looking bloody ridiculous and totally not scary (although I am glad they kept the effects largely practical) – his voice is wrong. Brad Dourif is, and always will be, Chucky. Here, he is recast with Mark Hamill – a terrific voice actor, sure, but not Chucky.

But the film’s main downfall is that once we get into the killing, it just becomes a bog-standard torture porn schlockfest with very little creativity or effectiveness in the attempted scares. The film does not frighten as the original did, and nor is it funny like the later sequels – it is somewhere in between; not scary, and funny for all the wrong reasons. It is humorous just how much this new Child’s Play gets wrong, primarily the design of the psycho doll himself. If your Chucky looks (and sounds) wrong, then your whole film is destined to fail.


I was disappointed in this Child’s Play – not just as a Chucky fan, but as a horror fan. This is a needless and soulless reboot that doesn’t get anywhere near justifying its own existence and only serves as a reminder of how good the original franchise is in comparison – which is saying something, because, and even as a Chucky fan, I can admit that the originals are a bit shit. 
Steer clear of this totally unnecessary reboot and stick with Don Mancini’s originals. They’re flawed, but at least their twisted heart is in the right place. 

★★☆☆☆
Sam Love

Child's Play at CeX


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Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Green Book ★★★☆☆


Another year, another Best Picture winner. But as with every year, a few months since the win, does anyone care anymore? Is anybody still talking about Green Book? Easily one of the most controversial wins in the history of the Academy Awards – a win that caused Spike Lee to jump out of his seat and attempt to leave the ceremony in disgust – this one is certainly infamous. Let’s take one last look at Green Book before it is lost forever in the annals of cinema history, destined for a lifetime of being a pub quiz trivia answer that absolutely bloody nobody will be able to remember.


The film follows Tony ‘Lip’, a bouncer from an Italian-American neighbourhood in the Bronx, and the time when he was hired to drive Dr Don Shirley, a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South. On their journey, they must rely on "The Green Book" to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism and danger - as well as unexpected humanity and humour - they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime. So, yeah, on the surface, it’s already not exactly original. But the lack of originality here is not the issue.

The issue with Green Book is just how much it perpetuates the white saviour narrative trope to a point that almost feels like a parody. The film makes a hero with a heart of gold out of Tony ‘Lip’, and it’s no surprise whatsoever that this film is written by the real-life Tony’s son. This is a “Look how amazing my dad was” film through-and-through, despite many reports to the contrary that in actual fact, a friendship between him and Don never blossomed and he remained a racist. I don’t know if that’s true – I wasn’t there – but a lot of people, including Don’s family, came forward to confirm this. It doesn’t surprise me. This is Hollywood, after all. Never let the facts get in the way of a good, heart-warming white story! 

One thing that cannot be argued with is the acting power of the two lead actors. Both Viggo Mortensen (Tony) and Mahershala Ali (Don) put in powerhouse performances and have a chemistry between them that cannot be denied. Scenes between the two characters as they bicker in the car over food, music, history and other subjects are great – mixing comedy and drama wonderfully. It’s just a shame they never bloody happened. The whole film around these performances reeks of a missed opportunity – with such incredible work from the cast, it’s such a shame that a better final product was not crafted around them. Instead, we are left with a frustratingly underwhelming, overly sanitised and downright predictable ‘true’ story that continues an upsetting trend of the white saviour.


In a year that also gave us BlacKkKlansman, it’s simply criminal that this film won all the accolades and public appreciation – I guess that’s down to the fact it’s a much more easily digestible, dumbed down and accessible portrayal of the period to be spoon-fed to the masses. But crucially, it is offensively sanitised and downright inaccurate, shitting all over what was a very harrowing period and turning it into a feel-good comedy. But again, I haven’t a bad word to say about the two leads. As such, Green Book hits the road with a very generous.

★★★☆☆
Sam Love

Green Book at CeX


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Monday, 23 September 2019

Holmes & Watson ☆☆☆☆☆


Oh my. Holmes and Watson has achieved a very impressive feat. It has managed to be even worse than the critical and audience panning had led me to believe. I’d heard the horror stories about this absolute cinematic disaster but I was sure they couldn’t all be right. Nothing is that bad. But my goodness, the legends are true. Holmes and Watson is just an abomination of writing, acting, directing, editing…everything. There are no positives here whatsoever. But let’s talk about Holmes and Watson, the winner of four of 2019’s Razzie Awards – including Worst Picture.


For those of you who have avoided all knowledge of this disgrace even existing, do yourself a favour and get out of here. Save yourself. Knowing this exists will only make your life worse. Nothing good can come of knowing Holmes and Watson is out there. Run.

Still here? OK. Well, the film follows Detective Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson as they join forces to investigate a mysterious murder at Buckingham Palace. It seems like an open-and-shut case as all signs point to Professor James Moriarty, the criminal mastermind and longtime nemesis of the crime-solving duo. When new twists and clues begin to emerge, the world's greatest sleuth and his trusted assistant must now use their legendary wits and ingenious methods to catch the killer before the Queen becomes the next victim.

Reading that now gives me hope. Forgetting that it’s a comedy, I look at that synopsis and think “hey, a new Holmes film, that could be good”. The Robert Downey Jr/Jude Law ones were great. But this is not great. This is not even remotely good. Despite reuniting the Step Brothers themselves and former Talladega Nights teammates, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, this is not fit to lick the shit off those former films’ boots. 

So just what about Holmes and Watson is so bad. Well, it’s difficult to put into words. First of all, for a comedy, it is painfully unfunny to a point of agony. Whether the jokes are puerile and juvenile to a point that even schoolboys would cringe, or they’re considerably dated, or just downright offensive, there are absolutely no laughs to be had. The performances from our leads are just bizarre in how shockingly awful they are – Ferrell’s English accent, in particular, is almost impossible to listen to without feeling sick and angry in equal measure that a whole film has been built around it. John C. Reilly, the far superior actor in the pair, fares slightly better but still doesn’t come out smelling of anything other than shit. A shame, as Reilly had otherwise a brilliant year – The Sisters Brothers, Stan & Ollie and Ralph Breaks The Internet were all terrific.


A supporting cast of Ralph Fiennes, Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Rebecca Hall, Kelly Macdonald and Hugh Laurie are all completely phoning it in and making a remarkably tiny effort that it would take a microscope to see. The direction and structure of the film are abysmally amateur, the screenplay from Etah Cohen (not Ethan Coen) is an absolute travesty and the whole thing just looks and feels cheap. 

This whole review has actually been pretty generous because to tell you how I really feel about Holmes and Watson would be a much angrier and inappropriate rant. Instead, I am trying to be civil. As such, I will end by discussing a good point of Holmes and Watson so that my review hasn’t been entirely negative. There’s a really good bit in the film when it ends. That’s all I’ve got. Steer clear of Holmes and Watson, you owe it to yourself to not put yourself such a cinematic disgrace.

☆☆☆☆☆
Sam Love


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Sunday, 22 September 2019

Late Night ★★★★☆


Here in the UK, the late-night talk show circuit isn’t exactly a cut-throat world. We have Graham Norton and we have Jonathan Ross. That’s pretty much it. Over in the states, however, they have Kimmel and Fallon and Conan and Corden and countless others. It’s an enormous business, with the hosts themselves being the stars. Thus, for UK viewers, Late Night might be a little lost on viewers – we simply cannot relate to the late-night talk show world, and with the entire narrative built around it, will the film find a UK audience?


Late Night follows Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), a legendary late-night talk show host, as her world is turned upside down when she hires her first and only female staff writer (Mindy Kaling, who also writes the film). Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision brings about unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women who are separated by culture and generation become united by their love of a biting punchline. The film is refreshing in its narrative; while there is a minor romance in the film, it is so subtle and understated that it is barely worth mentioning. The film is a bromance between two women and is all the more charming and heartwarming for it. 

As with every single film she stars in, the film just belongs to the fabulous Emma Thompson. As the cold, biting Katherine, she slowly reveals a heart below the tough exterior and turns what some actors would make a pretty one-note character into a deep, complex and layered woman. Mindy Kaling is on fine form as always too, doing the Mindy Kaling shtick she’s become known and loved for. A supporting cast includes the ever-brilliant John Lithgow, Veep’s Reid Scott and Hannibal’s Hugh Dancy. A stellar cast – which, in itself, is always a pretty huge make-or-breaker for this kind of character-driven comedy.

But it’s Kaling’s script that is the main attraction here, tackling vital and timely themes in a light-hearted and digestible manner that does not detract from their importance, but rather makes them more accessible and understandable to a mainstream audience. The film deals with issues of workplace equality – particularly sexism and racism – in such a confident and assured manner, without shoving them down our throats and choking us with sentimental political correctness. Under the fluffy comedic surface though, the film is a very sharp and thought-provoking social satire and commentary on modern workplace culture.


Late Night probably isn’t going to be a future classic. I don’t think people will really be talking about it an hour after they’ve seen it, but it’s a warm and pleasing little film that confidently deals with some very important and complex themes in a way that feels fresh and confident. I enjoyed the film immensely thanks to the typically fantastic work from Emma Thompson and both Mindy Kaling’s performance and a sharp script. But whether I will remember any of it in a few weeks remains to be seen. If you’re a fan of any of the cast members or the heartwarming comedy genre, there’s a lot to like in this charming and understated little film of friendship and acceptance.

★★★★☆
Sam Love

Late Night at CeX


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Saturday, 21 September 2019

Replicas ☆☆☆☆☆


We are living in the Golden Age of Keanu Reeves. This year has brought us a third John Wick film, his voice in Toy Story 4, the announcement that he will be appearing in Cyberpunk 2077, and all manner of Keanu memes. What a time to be alive. But despite all that, Keanu has still been finding time to make some pretty abysmal films for our viewing pleasure. The last Keanu film I reviewed was Exposed, which – shockingly, time flies – was released in 2016. It was awful. And today’s film, Replicas, isn’t much better…In fact, it’s probably worse, and that is saying something.


William Foster (Reeves) is a brilliant neuroscientist who loses his wife, son and two daughters in a tragic car accident. Utilising cutting-edge technology, William comes up with a daring and unprecedented plan to download their memories and clone their bodies. As the experiment begins to spiral out of control, Foster soon finds himself at odds with his dubious boss, a reluctant accomplice, a police task force and the physical laws of science. Critically panned, and making an estimated loss of $22 million dollars, Replicas isn’t exactly going to win any praise…from anyone. Even Keanu’s most loyal fans will cringe.

The premise itself is interesting. That is probably the only positive I can say about this film. The concept of attempting to remake dead family members from memories and cloning is interesting, and with the right writers and director behind it, could make a stunning little sci-fi film. But with The Day After Tomorrow writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff behind the camera and a screenplay written by the amusingly named Chad St. John, this is a lame duck, totally dead in the water within the first 20 minutes. Not so much an exciting sci-fi and more of a dull and complex study of the bureaucratic side of cloning one’s dead family in a basement, Replicas reeks of a missed opportunity throughout. In my head, I can see a much better version of this film existing – maybe somewhere in a parallel universe – but it certainly doesn’t exist here.

Overly convoluted, boring and muddled; Replicas is not a fun or remotely entertaining viewing experience. Like so many bad films these days, it isn’t bad to a degree that is fun to watch with friends and ruthlessly mock – instead, it’s just upsetting to see talent wasted and money thrown away on something that is just so needlessly bad and instantly forgettable. After riding 2019’s high of Keanuness, I hope Reeves will never succumb to making shite like this again. He’s better than this. 


I just want to finish up by sharing a laugh with you at this delightful little excerpt from Replicas’ press release. “Cinema is a medium of the imagination so it’s always been the perfect format for portraying bold new concepts. Replicas twin themes of robotics and cloning have been seen in many classic films over the years, showing that if you combine a daring sci-fi story with thrilling action it often leads to on-screen success.” There is nothing bold or new about Replicas, and on-screen success is certainly nowhere to be seen. Everything about Replicas is wrong – from casting Keanu Reeves as a scientist, come on, he’s an action hero, to the plot-hole filled narrative and cliché abundance – and it all adds up to make this one to avoid at all costs.

☆☆☆☆☆
Sam Love

Replicas at CeX


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Friday, 20 September 2019

Second Act ★★★☆☆


Living in a sleepy little seaside town, I don’t often get the opportunity to visit a multiplex – so, when I do, I make a day of it. I’ll usually try and catch a few films back-to-back. A few months back, I had a few hours to kill between films I actively wanted to see, and I found myself in a screening of Second Act. I had no idea how I got there. It was the sort of film I usually wouldn’t be caught dead watching. And yet, there I was. I took it like a man and stayed for the duration, which in itself was a surprise. But the biggest surprise of all? It wasn’t that bad.


Convincing you of that fact is going to be near impossible, but I’ll try and put into words how this charming little film actually entertained me and left me with big ol’ feeling of “don’t judge a book by its cover”. 

Jennifer Lopez stars as Maya, a 40-year-old woman struggling with frustrations from unfulfilled dreams. Until that is, she gets the chance to prove to Madison Avenue that street smarts are as valuable as book smarts and that it is never too late for a – wait for it – SECOND ACT. Still reading? Wow. I respect your patience with me on this one. So basically, Maya’s best friend’s young son makes a Facebook page for Maya which is just riddled with bullshit about her supposed endless qualifications and general perfection. Off the strength of that, she bags an incredible job – but of course, it’s only a matter of time until all the lies come tumbling down and she’s out on her iconic arse. Refreshingly, this is NOT a rom-com! There is some romance to be had, but it’s with Milo Ventimiglia, so it’s pretty understandable. The man-crush is real.

Anyway, this is just a charming and fun little film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Most of the jokes genuinely land and the ridiculously simple plot is so unchallenging that you can totally switch off your brain. This is cinematic comfort food of the highest order, snuggling the viewer up like a warm sweater and gently whispering that everything’s going to be ok. There’s no violence or cynicism and certainly no reminders of how bloody awful the world is right now. This is just Jennifer Lopez doing her thang in New York City for 90 minutes, and I’m here to tell you that I think that’s what you need right now. I can see you shaking your head and hovering over the x on this tab, muttering to yourself “I’ve read enough of this shit”, and hey, I don’t blame you. If anybody else had told me all of this about Second Act I’d probably tell them to fuck off.


But, dear reader, trust me. Second Act is just what you need right now. There is absolutely nothing remotely intellectual or high-brow about this film. One of the film’s biggest laughs comes from Jennifer Lopez unintentionally telling a powerful Chinese businessman that one of his colleagues’ anal glands need milking. Yeah. This one’s not going to win any awards (except maybe Razzies) and it’s certainly not going to be remembered this time next year. Hell, this time next week the world will have forgotten about Second Act. But today, right now, give it a chance. Switch off your mind and admit to yourself that we all need a shit film every now and then. It relaxes the mind better than any drink or drug could. 

★★★☆☆
Sam Love

Second Act at CeX


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Wednesday, 18 September 2019

VICE ★★★★☆


If there was one crime at this year’s Academy Awards, it was the choice for Best Actor. Don’t get me wrong, Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury performance was great – he totally nailed the role and did his absolute best with what the film’s pretty abysmal script allowed. Any other year, I’d applaud the Academy’s decision and agree wholeheartedly with his win. But in 2019, the decision was way off. You see, Christian Bale was also nominated for his mind-blowingly good and surely future career-defining role performance as Dick Cheney.


Adam McKay’s Vice explores the epic story of how Cheney, a bureaucratic Washington insider, quietly became the most powerful man in the world as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today. But while most filmmakers would deal with Cheney’s dark rise to power in a tedious, slow and over-stuffed jargon-filled epic, McKay does the unthinkable. He takes the story of one of US politics’ most dangerous and controversial figures and turns it into a hilarious, albeit dark, comedy romp. 

However, the film hasn’t exactly won this praise across the board. One of the most polarising films of recent memory and certainly as controversial as its subject himself, Vice split critical reception down the middle with some finding it to be “a clumsy display of political hatred” and others finding it to be an “entertaining nihilist biopic”. When you’re dealing with a political figure and leaning so heavily in one direction – Cheney is portrayed as something of a pantomime villain here, with Christian Bale thanking Satan for inspiration for the performance when picking up his Golden Globe – you’re bound to rub people the wrong way. It is, like Thanos, inevitable. 

But without getting into the murky waters of politics and remaining totally neutral on that side of things, I still applaud the film wholeheartedly for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is absolutely no doubting the balls on Adam McKay to make a film like this when his subject is still alive and kicking, not to mention the fact that Cheney still has many supporters. Taking such a controversial and infamous figure and turning his life into a dark comedy is a ballsy move. We can agree on that, surely? Furthermore, the concept of making what any other filmmaker would make as a straight-faced drama into such a blackly comic ride is such an innovative and ambitious take on the genre that it warrants respect. Sure, some parts don’t exactly hit the landing – some of the more meta-jokes (such as the early ending credits sequence and the Shakespearean bed scene) do come off as a little forced – there’s still a lot that works.

Some have also criticised the film for being too patronising. The film’s narrator often reduces the political lobbying and backstabbing into more accessible and simplified explanations, making movie-goers with an interest in politics feel a little pandered to. But hey, I say go for it – there’s enough complicated and for lack of a better word “serious” political movies out there, I’m all for a simplified and easy-to-watch romp. That being said, while the political manoeuvrings may be easy to watch, the darkness certainly isn’t. 

Vice does occasionally drop the comedic delivery in some of the film’s darker moments and is all the more powerful for it. Naturally, there are no jokes to be made around 9/11 or the war in Iraq, and these sequences are dealt with maturely. They are, in fact, all the more frightening as a result – a montage of real photos from the aftermath of terrorist attacks are harrowing and uncomfortable to view, with this sensation heightened by the preceding scenes’ sense of humour.


But as I said at the beginning of this review, the film just belongs to Christian Bale. A supporting cast of Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell and Steve Carell all shine, but Bale’s transformative performance as the intimidating and complex titular vice president is nothing short of phenomenal. This is a performance for the ages that will surely go down in history as Bale’s finest, and one that was far more deserving of the Best Actor Oscar than Rami Malek. But hey, what do I know, I’m not part of the Academy. They’re just not returning my calls…

On the whole, Vice is sure to go down as one of the most controversial and divisive films of the decade, but it’s certainly up there with the best. The staggering ambition and innovative nature of the film - and the lead performance from Bale – make this one an absolute belter. You may not agree with the film’s political leanings, but you can’t fault the craft. 

★★★★☆
Sam Love



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Monday, 16 September 2019

The Wedding Guest ★★☆☆☆


Ever since his breakthrough role in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, Dev Patel has been climbing ever since with roles in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Chappie, The Man Who Knew Infinity, Lion and more. He is a truly terrific actor and has elevated every film he has been into a higher level – Lion, in particular, was a bit pants really, but he was terrific. In any case, his performances have often been supporting, and he’s rarely had a lead that he can really sink his teeth into. Enter The Wedding Guest. But while that title might suggest a romantic comedy, this is anything but…


Before we get into the plot, this review does contain some minor spoilers so tread lightly! We begin the film as Patel’s enigmatic character prepares for a mysterious trip: packing, renting a car, buying guns. Upon reaching his destination – a wedding in Pakistan - he breaks into the compound, kidnaps the bride-to-be, and gets the hell out of there. We learn that the man has been hired by the woman's other lover, a gangster, to give her one more chance to choose the man she wants to be with. But one thing leads to another and the kidnapper and the woman hit the road together on the hunt for somewhere to hide together…forever?

Honestly, The Wedding Guest stinks of a missed opportunity. One recurring critical comment across almost all of the reviews I’ve seen for the film make the argument that it is a romantic comedy without the romance or the comedy. Feels about right. If this film starred, I don’t know, Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Lopez, you can imagine it making a pretty slick romcom. A hired gun kidnaps a bride-to-be from a loveless marriage and the two form a hilarious romance while on the run from armed goons and cops. Sounds charming, right? The Wedding Guest, however, is totally devoid of any humour or even romance in a lifeless and gritty thriller that does not make the characters’ decision to run away together feel even remotely earned or believable. There is so little spark in their relationship as it is portrayed that it feels like we, the audience, have missed something crucial in their blossoming romance. Maybe some vital scenes ended up on the cutting room floor…This is the feeling that remains when the film is over – did I miss something?

Frustratingly, the whole thing just feels lifeless and without any real point. The thriller elements aren’t really particularly thrilling, the romance isn’t particularly romantic. One cannot fault the lead performances of Dev Patel and Radhika Apte, who plays the bride-to-be. They’re both terrific, with Patel especially giving us his most mature, brooding and mysterious role yet. The faults evidently lie in the screenplay and the direction, which both fall at the feet of the usually incredible Michael Winterbottom – the man behind an eclectic resumé including The Killer Inside Me, 24 Hour Party People and the Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon Trip series.


The Wedding Guest is a totally underwhelming, hollow and lifeless thriller that does absolutely nothing particularly interesting or exciting with a genuinely quite promising premise. An unfortunate misstep from an otherwise astounding filmmaker and writer. 

★★☆☆☆
Sam Love


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Sunday, 15 September 2019

Yoshi's Crafted World ★★★★☆


While Yoshi may now exist primarily as a meme in the heads of the kids of today – admit it, you’ve chuckled at one of the Yoshi’s Island memes,  this delightful little platformer acts as a reminder of what Yoshi was, and is, in the eyes of gamers. He is an icon, an old friend, and I was sure glad to spend some time with him again in his Crafted World. Yoshi’s Crafted World is an extremely straight-forward and often deceptively simplistic little game, that is formulaic to the point of being wholly unoriginal, and yet still easily one of the most enjoyable games of the year.


First off, Yoshi’s Crafted World is one of the easiest games you’ll probably ever play. Being accessible to all ages means there is very little challenge here for younger gamers and almost no challenge for us grown-ups. Enemies are almost entirely passive, just wandering around the level without paying much attention to the dinosaur strolling around killing their friends and shitting them out as eggs. That’s totally normal in the Crafted World so they’re not concerned until you twat an egg at them and give them something to think about. Anyway, the game isn’t challenging. You can blitz through the 40+ stages without breaking a sweat and without dying once, but that’s not the point of the game. This isn’t a game that aims to challenge you and push you to your limits like Dark Souls. This is a game to be enjoyed and savoured as the colourful scenery takes you back to a simpler time.

The stages are all rammed full of collectables, incentivising repeat playthroughs to find every single one and discover the hidden secrets in each level – of which there are plenty. There is plenty tucked away in each stage to enjoy time and time again, which creates a wonderful feeling of value and replayability. The game's visuals are an utter delight too, continuing the ever-popular theme of games existing in worlds that have been made up of fabrics and cardboard. Think Little Big Planet, and you’re somewhere close. I guess the clue is in the name of this one, but the arts and craft feel is what stands the game out from its contemporaries and gives it such a charming aesthetic. The sound design is equally delightful, with Yoshi’s nostalgic sounds delivered in great abundance.


Yoshi handles really well too, moving around flawlessly and also giving you the option to aim his weaponised eggs not only ahead and behind you, but also into the background and foreground of the layered stages. A delightful little touch. Yoshi’s never handled better than this, and it sure is a delight to play – making the game’s total lack of any sort of challenge feel all the more prevalent.

Yoshi’s Crafted World is a delightfully simple and easy game to play, which sometimes is just what the doctor ordered. This one doesn’t require mental power or quick reflexes, hell, you could probably 100% it in your sleep. But it’s a charming and nostalgic escape into a colourful and charming land – which sounds pretty good right about now. 

★★★★☆
Sam Love

Yoshi's Crafted World at CeX


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Saturday, 14 September 2019

Alita: Battle Angel ★★★☆☆


Alita: Battle Angel, the latest film from Robert Rodriguez, is based on the original manga Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro in the ‘90s and is a sci-fi and action mash-up which will appeal to cyberpunk fans. Set in a futuristic reality after an epic war that destroyed all but one of the precious sky cities, Zalem, society is now heavily split into two peoples – the elite, that live upon Zalem enjoying life, and the ones that got left behind in Iron City, desperately trying to make it up there whilst living (quite literally) on the scraps thrown away by the superior city.


Whilst searching for spare parts, Dr Dyson Ido (Christoph WChay Clarkaltz) comes across the live remains of a cyborg, which he takes back and restores. He names her Alita (Rosa Salazar) as she has no recollection of her past life, however, she cannot stop thinking about who she might have been, especially with bad-boy-but-also-good-boy Hugo’s (Keean Johnson) intrigue and Ido’s overprotective nature playing a part. Her quest for identity comes at a price though, and she soon finds herself tangled up in far bigger things.

The premise of ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ is not outstanding but it’s intriguing enough to draw one in. Unfortunately, the storytelling cannot be described as the highlight of the film – it’s tangible enough in the first half, albeit cliché, but once you get to the second half it’s hard not to notice that it’s really all just a set-up for the sequel, as a nicely wrapped-up ending just isn’t possible in two hours. This is something I’ve seen with quite a few manga-based films set in wildly different realities such as this, as there’s just so much for the audience to take in and learn and one standalone film won’t cut it. 

Despite the storyline not being as exciting as one had hoped the characters, whilst generic and again clichéd at points (in particular the evil ones) are interesting enough to follow, and Alita, in particular, is fascinating – she’s CGI, but given the warmth and emotion of a real human being which is not always seen in CGI-heavy films. It’s hard not to root for her, especially after one scene where one particularly arrogant bad guy gets proven to be an idiot (something I will always enjoy watching). 

Whilst the other characters are likeable and have plausible backstories, it really was Alita herself that had me gripped. Waltz does a very good job as Ido, as expected, and Hugo was a relatable character but highly predictable and his involvement with Alita made it all feel very YA (I’m also convinced he’s the younger version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The film didn’t quite seem to know who it was targeting, switching very quickly between lovestruck teenagers defying the rules and brutal cyborg battles with more than one head separating from its body.


That’s the thing that I really enjoyed about ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ though. The action is excellently done, with breath-taking CGI battles that really showcase the talent of the team behind it. Some shots were absolutely memorable – Alita swirling her way through a dozen spiked metal tentacles mid-air is one that won’t leave my mind anytime soon. It’s little touches as well, like a three-armed man at the start playing a 12-string guitar, where the use of CGI really enhances the world and creates a believable and mesmerising visual experience.

The storytelling certainly isn’t the selling point of ‘Alita: Battle Angel’, but I’m hoping that the sequel will be the remedy to that. The action and worldbuilding is a real feat though, so if those are your priorities then this one is still worth watching.

★★★☆☆
Hannah Read

Alita: Battle Angel at CeX


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Friday, 13 September 2019

A Plague Tale: Innocence ★★★★★


A Plague Tale: Innocence, developed by Asobo Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive, is a dark and sinister story-driven adventure game set during the Black Plague in France in 1348. You are tasked with trying to survive in an unforgiving world where you not only have to confront and deal with the knowledge that more than half the population are dying in the streets, but also combat the Inquisition at the height of the Hundred Years War.


You play as Amicia de Rune, who is looking after her sickly brother Hugo and trying to survive in France. The Inquisition are after Hugo for reasons unbeknown to you, so it will take all your wits to survive and keep the enemy away from both of you. The story is an interesting one full of twists and turns, and you’ll meet many a curious character along the way which helps to keep the experience fresh. It’s a thrilling and heart-wrenching personal tale of two siblings trying to survive despite all the odds stacked against them.

‘A Plague Tale: Innocence’ is such a refreshing surprise in a world of what feels like it consists solely of 30-40 hour open-world games and first-person shooters. (no disrespect to either genre, but there are rather a lot of them).  The game will take you just over 10 hours to complete and is more akin to a game like the ‘Uncharted’ series which sadly just aren’t being developed much anymore.  The gaming community always will want more and more content in-game, especially if it can be updated online, so a developer and publisher releasing this sort of game gives me hope that there is still a place for it in the modern gaming world.

At its heart, the game is focused around stealth as you play a character with limited combat abilities. There’s a lot of hiding under tables and sneaking around the streets of archaic France to avoid encounters with not just humans but also the real fatal enemy in the game...Rats! We’re not talking a few rats, either – there are millions of them spreading disease across the country, swarming around in vast numbers (hundreds, sometimes thousands) ready to kill you straight away and send you all the way back to your last checkpoint. I’m usually a fan of our furry tailed friends but I’ve never felt quite so much disdain towards them since playing ‘A Plague Tale: Innocence’.

The best way to combat the rats is with light, from whatever source that may be, as they will generally scurry away once they see it. This can be used to your advantage when fighting the Inquisition too, as a well-placed rock to an enemy holding a lantern, for example, will set the rats upon them in a truly grotesque manner, which I must admit is quite entertaining to initiate.

The game is absolutely stunning graphically.  It is sometimes quite sad seeing the world filled with dead bodies piled up in the streets but it is impactful because it looks almost real, and in a way gives a quite strong idea of what living in such a time must have been like. The serene beauty of the French landscape can be observed in quieter moments that really lend to the style of the game.

I wouldn’t say that the game is particularly re-playable after your first play-through as it’s so story-driven unless you’re going for the full set of achievements or trophies. However, it’s priced at around £40 currently, which is less than many of the AAA games currently on the market.


As a full product, I can only say that ‘A Plague Tale: Innocence’ is a must-buy. These sorts of games are few and far between nowadays and I do hope that the game sells well, even with it being quite short compared to games out recently such as ‘Rage 2’. “Quality over quantity” is definitely appropriate here, and even though you won’t be playing it for very long, you’ll enjoy every minute of it. 

★★★★★
Hannah Read

A Plague Tale: Innocence at CeX


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Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters ★☆☆☆☆


I believe that when you can't see the pain and anxiety forced upon you but everyone else can, you're in an abusive relationship. If you can see it but no one else can, you're in a cult. Out now is the incredibly disappointing sequel to the awful Godzilla that everyone seems to love and I can't see why. Starring Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, and Millie Bobby Brown, among others Godzilla: King of the Monsters is technically a movie.


Emma Russell is a Paleobiologist which is, just stupid. Her entire career is about finding the in-stasis monsters from the Godzilla universe and poking them with a sonar vibrator that stimulates the giant beast into a zen-like state for a small period of time. For some reason, they think this is a success. It was permanently asleep, and now they have a giant pet they have to keep an eye on. A puppy will eat your slippers when it's grumpy, Ghidorah will eat your university campus. 

Emma, unable to predict what's going to happen, brings her young daughter Madison, within an inch of death which gets them both kidnapped by some bad guys called BLAND, BEIGE, AND STUPID INC... or something. On the other side of the coin and world, Madison's father is dying to kill every one of the monsters. Unless it doesn't serve the plot, then he suddenly acts like he can read their minds and loves them all. The personification of Godzilla and all the other Zillas is cringeworthy and dumb! Every. Single. Time. 

The amount of time people put each other in extreme danger in this film for absolutely no reason is astonishing. Obviously, I'm not gonna nitpick my way through the script for bad dialogue in a monster movie, but if I was going to nitpick my way through the script for bad dialogue in a monster movie, it would look a little something like this: 

Man: We can't go in there, we are going to die!
Woman: Well what should we do?
Man 2: I'll go in.
Woman: Ok.

Sure it's paraphrased and edited for spoilers, and it's a monster movie so I get it, it's about Monsters fighting. Is it though? Is it really about that? Here's the biggest issue I have with Godzilla: King of the monsters. The amount of time dedicated to people wanking on about whatever nonsense they can think of like someone was handed a finished game of Words With Friends and mistook it for the script is so much more than the time dedicated to the titular character. The amount of Monster Fights in this movie about Monsters Fighting is next to 0. These motherfuckers need to watch some anime.


We can care about the humans and the monsters by inverting the screen time allotted to both. Or if you make the script anything other than absolute dog shit, maybe we'll care about the people. I know that it's difficult to write a script that's why I angrily rant about movies here instead, but even I know that you can't just jump from one emotion to the next at increasing levels of intensity without any stimulus unless every cast member is Nicholas Cage. Avoid this nonsense. (I was gonna say Monster Failure, but it doesn't even deserve a pun that bad) 

★☆☆☆☆
David Roberts



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Saturday, 7 September 2019

Castlevania Collection ★★★★☆


Castlevania is celebrating its thirty-third anniversary this year, and as part of the Konami fiftieth anniversary rollout, we have been blessed with the Castlevania Anniversary collection on PS4 and Switch. Made up of eight games of varying quality, Castlevania Anniversary is a must-have for nostalgic fans and a great introduction for people like me that have intended to play one of the games for the past thirty-three years and got distracted by puberty and Sonic 2.


I love Metroidvania games and have been playing through the Metroid games as a historical exercise lately, the early games of which are hard as balls! Castlevania started off as an absolute masterpiece that is incredibly challenging but not as Nintendo Hard as Metroid. This makes the Castlevania collection stand up as a perfectly playable game in modern era Earth.

Most of the games in the collection are an absolute must play, especially Kid Dracula which until this collection had never been released in the west. The Gameboy games have none of the charm of the 8-bit and 16-bit equivalents and aren't worth playing at all. You'd be better off smashing away at your DualShock 4 with the tv off. 

The original, Simon's Quest and Super Castlevania are masterpieces, each of which makes other really hard games that come to mind that I am sick of comparing things to, look like Pokémon go. The formula was so well developed back in the 80s that it has inspired countless video games since, and though the highlight for Castlevania was the PS1 game Symphony of The Night (which is irritatingly absent), there's a lot to be got from this collection.


Kid Dracula, as the name implies is a much more child-friendly game, and while not easy, is much more straightforward and joyful, and betrays its Japanese roots much more with the animation. For the low low price of whatever it costs, you can expect to get your money's worth in a few hours, and with multiple characters in the 16-bit era, you'll not be left wanting. The only reason you'll want to play the Gameboy games is to get the trophy for Castlevania collection (playing all games once). 

I can't believe I took so long to get into these nonlinear platformers, but the only thing shy of having played them as they were released is to play them in this collection. With save states and a marvellous collection of tv filters for your preferred level of immersion, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection is a must-have. 

★★★★☆
David Roberts

Castlevania at CeX


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