Update


Well it’s been a bit of a quiet week as far as this website’s concerned and I’ve had a few distractions what with life and work etc that has meant I haven’t had the interest to really watch any movies.

On the other hand, I have been playing games and trying to get as much out of my shiny new Xbox One X as I can.  One game I’ve played at length so far is Far Cry 5 – a real showcase for the system, with high quality texture detail, fantastic lighting, bright, sunny vistas, lush forests and quality NPC animation as well as a huge world to explore.  The only real puzzling aspect is the rather bland water (games like Witcher 3 and Sea of Thieves do water so much better).  The gameplay is fairly par of the course for open world games, but is quite engaging, helped by some movie quality shoot-outs and plenty of atmosphere with the ability to approach most tasks however you see fit.  The backdrop of a religious cult taking over a southern community is both topical and intriguing, and something not that explored in other games.  I’ve also dipped in and out of older games in my possession like Gears of War 4 (which looks stunning), Mafia 3 (finally the game runs smoothly!) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (probably the best looking game I’ve played on the X so far).  In addition to these I’ve recently got hold of the five times Bafta award winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice which is a different kind of hack and slash game, where the focus is less on combat and instead that of the fragile psyche of the lead character and her journey into a hellish underworld to free her lover’s soul (I think), and explores aspects of mental health quite unlike any game I’ve played.  It’s also gorgeous.  This former PlayStation 4 exclusive looks fantastic on Xbox One X and is another showcase for the system, especially once you start getting further into the game.

Hellblade

Hellblade on Xbox One X

I’d like to blog more about games and am thinking of doing a post on favourite games of all time, although it won’t be a top ten.  I also have much interest in game-graphics and with such boundless power these consoles have now it seems, why do we still see games like Far Cry not have mirrors in bathrooms (usually they’re broken and therefore non-reflective…really?) it’s a pet peeve but I’ve seen them done perfectly in much older games (Max Payne 2 comes to mind) without a hitch.  Mafia 3 attempts them but they are all messed up (even still after the X patch).  Do game developers really struggle with this seemingly simple thing??  By now things like mirrors, realistic weather and convincing water effects should be a given … some games pull it off great (check out the still industry leading rain effects in Watchdogs).  The snow and blizzard effects in The Division are also great, but most games never seem to cover all things to the same level, excelling in some areas but letting themselves down in others.  It’s rarely the complete package.  So are we still a little ways off fully impressive looking games that just simply nail everything as far as realistic effects creating convincing real-world representations?  It’s clearly more about development shortcomings and less about the graphical power at hand.

Below are two examples of great looking graphics,

captured directly from the Xbox One X

Quantum Break   Witcher 3

With Gaming PCs, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X now available, and hints of next-gen around the corner … when will such graphics reach a standard where nothing, and I mean nothing seems out of place and the overall impact is jaw-dropping.  We’re close I know it.  Just not quite there yet.

Craig.

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Ready Player One


Viewed – 11 April 2018  Cinema

I went into this not knowing much.  However, for as long as I can recall I’ve been a huge fan of much celebrated director Steven Spielberg, and usually seek out his movies when they land.  Yet this particular effort seemed like something different whilst at the same time an accuse for Spielberg to throw his hat back into a field he’d pretty much pioneered.  Did he still have it to deliver blockbuster spectacle once again?

ready-player-one

Set in 2046, a society lives in the slums governed by rich corporations who run everything whilst the general public turn to a virtual world for escape.  One such player, Wade Watts (Ty Sheridan)  finds escape from his real world problems by entering the ‘oasis’ a vast online game where the only limitations are one’s imagination, where all your favourite pop-culture, video-game and movie obsessions run wild.  Following the death of the world’s creator, the reclusive, eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance) it transpires he has left an ‘easter egg’ and if a player can find it, he will own it all, worth trillions.  Of course a shady government organization lust for such power also, and so a race to unlock the game world’s secrets is on.

Art3misThis was an interesting cinema experience.  The theatre I was in was fairly bare considering the movie had not long been released, and it got me thinking well, this isn’t a sequel, a remake or a comic book movie.  That’s a shame that cinema going has become that marginalized, but I guess it’s inevitable and probably why Valerian bombed at the box office.  I predict a similar fate for this, which would be disappointing because this was refreshing, imaginative and most importantly – a barrel load of fun.  At it’s core it’s kind of a cross between Wreck It Ralph and The Matrix, with a sprinkling of Tron for good measure.  The writer of the book it’s based on clearly had many influences, and the wealth of references, cameos and nods to movies, games and music is exhausting.  Initially I had trouble getting into the movie – it’s a bit of an avalanche of information and visual excess … but once I adjusted I was along for the ride.  The rag-tag team of ‘resistance’ who team up to beat the game are a likable bunch especially Bates Motels’ Olivia CookeBen Mendelsohn also makes for a suitable boo-hiss villain and I got a kick out of each character’s video-game alter egos (think avatars from games like World of Warcraft or Destiny).  This is a movie that plays to the geek in us, it seemed to work for me as a gamer and a movie geek but I can see it possibly dividing audiences as a result – and well, all that recognisable imagery doesn’t exactly serve the story.  However with amazing sequences like a section in the Overlook Hotel from The Shining and lots of spectacle and fun characters, I had a great time with this.

Tired of superhero movies?  See this.  Want something different?  See this.  Love geek culture?  See this.  Simple as that.

Verdict:  4 /5

The X Factor?


Yeah, I’ve been eyeing this up for a while but was never that sure whether to make the leap or not.  What am I talking about?  The Xbox One X of course.  I always felt that Microsoft upgrading their Xbox One console made more sense than Sony upgrading theirs.  Well, the PS4 ever since it’s release had been riding high on the simple fact it was more powerful than Microsoft’s console and hit that much desired 1080p HD resolution more consistently than the Xbox One could.  So along with Microsoft’s woes with the largely ignored Kinect, a lack of sheer horsepower made it the less desirable console.  It placed the machine in second place and well, the damage was done.  So to grab back some momentum and close the gap in graphical power… the much anticipated Project Scorpio for me, made sense even if shelling out for another console was less appealing.

Xbox One X

Now since Sony’s own PS4 Po has been released, I was impressed to see that even with such competition Microsoft could still make the more powerful machine – something admittedly they should have done from the start, but er… better late than never, eh?  I’d had the original Xbox One for getting on for 5 years and so thought it may be time to upgrade, seeing as I were more and more games taking advantage of the enhancements afforded by the X.

gears_of_war_4So my first impressions from about a day of having the Xbox One X  It’s a much sleeker looking, compact machine, dwarfed by the enormity of the original machine in comparison, but also weighs a fair bit more as a result.  How they managed to cram almost 5 times more raw power into a much smaller machine boggles the mind (it’s even smaller than the PS4 Pro) and doesn’t come with an external power-brick either (same as the redesigned Xbox One S).  So it’s a nice looking machine but how does it operate?  That’s a tricky one to answer.  Without comparing both machines side by side, the graphical upgrades aren’t immediately obvious.  The games I’ve tested thus far include Far Cry 5, The Witcher 3, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Gears of War 4.  All feel extremely smooth and look very sharp.  Lighting, particle effects and texture detail all seem excellent so it’s difficult to grumble, but how much better?  I’m still unsure.  But there does seem an improvement.  These games were already graphical powerhouses (although Far Cry 5 I got with the console) and some have required huge update patches to bring the enhancements.  Certain games also give handy menu options to toggle such things as visuals, frame rate or fixed 4k support.  However, I am using a 32” 1080p TV so seeing the true 4k beauty isn’t possible – but by my eyes each game looks great.

Xbox One X controller

It’s early days, but owning a new Xbox has made me want to get back into the platform after being distracted by the joys of Nintendo Switch.  So I will be returning to Xbox games I have yet to complete and checking out recent and forthcoming releases, especially the ones that really show off what the machine can do.  So far I’m impressed, but like the transition from DVD to Blu-ray the real joy of this system will only come with time.

Craig.

Once Were Warriors


Viewed – 03 April 2018  Blu-ray

I remember really liking this gritty drama back when I watched it in the mid nineties.  It made a bit of a name of actor Temeura Morrison, who went on to play Jango Fet in the Star Wars prequels amongst other movies.  This tells the story of a New Zealand Maori family headed by Jake, a charismatic tough guy prone to violent outbursts and a liking for alcohol.  However it’s his wife who keeps the family together whilst he gets drunk with his friends at the local bar, and it’s her we follow as this brittle family try to stick together during increasing hardships.

Once-Were-Warriors

An authentic look at suburban Maori life and the society they inhabit, with local gangs and homelessness and the constant threat of violence.  It’s gripping and has a resemblance to movies like Boyz N The Hood and Menace to Society whilst at the same time having it’s own aesthetic and sense of time and place.  The good times are portrayed with more than a little cheese however with characters breaking into singing to portray happiness, but it’s the hard times the movie excels at and doesn’t shy away from the horrors of domestic abuse.  This is unflinching stuff, elevated by some decent performances especially from Rena Owen and an electrifying, career defining turn from Morrison.  However support actors come off as rather amateurish and you get the impression, perhaps for realism the director may have cast one or two non-actors.

This remains a tough watch even today and makes for a engrossing and thought-provoking experience.  Another gem from the 90s that you may not be that familiar with but is well worth you time.

The Blu-ray, to my knowledge the first time the movie has been given the HD treatment, is pleasing but underwhelming.  I found the image, whilst clean seemed overly soft, and the rather drab colour palette used doesn’t help.  However it’s still the best the movie has probably ever looked.  The soundtrack is in both uncompressed 2.0 stereo or DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and delivers clear dialogue and impactful music when used.  Extras consist of a detailed ‘where are they now’ documentary, an interview with director Lee Tamahori and a trailer.  Not too shabby.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Night of the Living Dead


Viewed – 31 March 2018  Blu-ray

Criterion Collection

Growing up in the 80s and 90s I had a taste for zombie movies, and cut my teeth on movies like Return of the Living Dead parts 1 & 2 and even obscure oddities like The Video Dead.  However the much celebrated godfather of the genre, George A Romero mostly passed me by, and I hadn’t been that taken by Dawn of the Dead.  You see, I was more into the practical effects, and a sillier vibe to proceedings rather than the much talked about social commentary and seriousness of Romero’s approach.  So of course I never even got around to the 1968 genre-defining original that started it all.

Night of the Living Dead zombies

Although not the first zombie movie, for it’s time it seemed daring and streets ahead of what had been seen before (with the unusual casting of a black lead actor).  It presented a new type of horror that wasn’t set in a haunted house or the Carpathian mountains … but in a world we exist in, with familiar locales and normal people beset by extraordinary events.  When a young woman witnesses her brother get attacked in a grave yard by some strange man, she runs for safety, and eventually holds up in a seemingly abandoned house, where she’s soon joined by a man who quickly takes charge of the situation.  There the two barricade themselves in and gradually witness the undead march on the house.  Will they survive the night?

Night of the Living DeadDirector George A Romero presents a striking and effective, if rather rough around the edges experience, helped immeasurably by unconventional camera work and a claustrophobic setting.  His editing and direction cranks up the intensity, with a group of characters all offering up different viewpoints.  Performances aren’t that great however, and I found myself irritated by how pathetic female characters were, especially the character of ‘Barbara’ despite a strong introduction.  Yet working with a very low budget, applying at times experimental guerrilla film making techniques this still somehow achieves genuine shocks and an unpredictable narrative filled with creepy imagery.    With this taken into account and despite it’s age and at times amateurish performances … I had a better time than expected, which proves just how much it set in place, and still stands as the blue-print for what was to follow.

NOTLD CriterionThe Criterion Blu-ray is jam-packed with extras, but firstly I’ll say the classy black & white 4k-restored image presented in 1.37.1 ratio (yep we get black bars either side of the screen) is vivid and detailed.  It’s grainy but not overly so and generally creates an effective almost film-noir look that I appreciated.  The soundtrack whilst only in it’s original mono is sharp, has clear dialogue and the various moments of orchestral score (taken from believe it or not, stock library audio) is used well and at times creates a welcome Hammer-horror / 50s b-movie aesthetic.  We also get two commentaries, both from key members of the cast and crew, recorded in the 90s, and there’s several new featurettes / interviews covering the impact the movie has had on popular culture (with interviews with Frank Darabont, Guillermo Del Toro and Robert Rodriguez) along with archival footage.  For fans of the movie, this feels like the definitive release, and anyone who has never seen it before, especially if you are a fan of the genre horror – this is the version to own.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5