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?

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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

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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.

A pirate’s life for me!


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Well I managed to pick up Sea of Thieves, the much anticipated Xbox One console exclusive from Microsoft and Rare.  Since it’s release last week the game has been getting some mixed reviews.  Whilst it’s vibrant graphics, sea-fairing and pirating mechanics have been praised, it’s rather simplistic fetch quest gameplay has not.

I have been away from my Xbox of late, preferring the wealth of enjoyment I’ve been getting from my Nintendo Switch, and apart from the occasional dip in and dip out of Destiny 2 on Microsoft’s console, I’ve barely touched the machine.  So I saw Sea of Thieves as a way to get me back on what was once my preferred platform of choice.  My experience with the game thus far has been mixed … like many.  First impressions were not great, as I was thrown into a game on board a galleon with several other players and hadn’t a clue what I was doing.  Suffice to say my not-so-welcoming-crew mates put me in the on-board jail and well, I couldn’t do much other than quit out.  After that I tried out the single player, which with no story and no tutorial was pretty much an experimentation, trying to learn the ropes etc.  Not often does a game tell you NOTHING until you figure it out yourself.  I have for the most part been enjoying the single player however; doing activities at my own pace, setting off on voyages, reading maps, digging up treasure, returning to an outpost – and then having another ship attack me and steal all my treasure.  Bastards.

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However it’s the atmosphere that is unique to me and also thrilling.  Setting sail and looking out for other players so not to get spotted.  Battling the ocean waves then finding my destination, dropping anchor and swimming ashore to take down skeletons of long dead pirates in the hope of finding some loot.  It’s an experience I don’t think I’ve ever had in a game and it keeps pulling me back, be it alone or as part of a crew.  The game also has real visual charm to it as well as simply stunning water effects and realistic weather.

Sea of Thieves mapHaving played as part of a crew, communicating to each other via headsets, watching each other’s backs and steering the ship – it’s clear this game excels when played with friends.  However Rare have nailed the feel so well that it’s not unappealing to either set out alone or on a ship full of strangers (as long as they are welcoming).  Some of the gameplay could be built upon and Rare are promising improvements and additions in time to come, so hopefully this will be a game that evolves.  For now, although a little simplistic, Sea of Thieves offers up an experience quite like nothing else available.

If you have Xbox Game Pass or are looking for something different, I say give it a go.

Switch anniversary and the year ahead


Hi everyone.  I’ve not posted like this in a while.  Life’s been pretty busy start of the year despite me managing to cram in rather a lot of movies to review.  Also there seems to be some good stuff on the horizon for me, and thought I’d give it a little write-up.

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First it would be remiss of me not to mention that today marks the first year anniversary of the Nintendo Switch, a console I have fallen in love with and over the past twelve months has given me so much fun and enjoyment.  Highlights of course include The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, but along with this smaller titles like Rayman Legends and Steam World Dig 2 have also been a lot of fun.  The portability, versatility of this system can not go un-mentioned either and it’s a unique joy to play it in bed, sitting in my living room or in front of my bedroom TV on a larger screen.  Having the best of both worlds.  In the process, the Xbox One and PS4 have fallen by the way-side and not the Switch is my go-to console of choice and with games on the horizon like Donkey King Country Tropical Freeze and Yoshi, I can see it staying that way for the foreseeable future.

IMG_0286I’m of course also looking forward to seeing Garbage again in concert in September.  It will mark the 3rd time I have seen my favourite band live and well, I’m still pinching myself that I actually got to meet them as well back in 2016.  This tour will mark the 20 year anniversary of their second album ‘Version 2.0’ and as it’s my favourite album of theirs where I went from liking the band to being a real fan, this concert where they’ll play every track and every b-side released at the time … fills me with excitement.  I’ll be meeting up with a few like-minded friends when I am there so it should be a great experience for me again.  Incidentally, lead singer Shirley Manson was recently honoured by UK publication NME with their first ‘icon’ award which was presented to the Scottish singer at their annual NME awards in London.  As a long time fan this was a very proud moment for me.  I have said it before and I’ll keep saying it .. Garbage don’t get the recognition they deserve and it’s awards like this that feel even more special simply for that fact.  Well done Shirley!  Currently they are working on album #7 with a hope of a release in 2019.

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In other news, I’m currently watching several TV shows, including new seasons of Homeland, X-Files, The Walking Dead and Mr. Robot, the latter I consider one of the best shows available right now.  Speaking of TV shows, I was pleased to see a brief return of one of my favourite cult shows over Christmas, namely The League of Gentlemen, which was only three episodes but it was bliss.  The creators, Mark Gatiss, Jeremy Dyson, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton then followed this up by announcing a tour, of which I rushed to secure tickets.  Strangely enough it’s scheduled for two days after I see Garbage.  What a weekend that will be!  Their brand of humour is rather dark, character-driven comedy that is probably an acquired taste, but I love it.


As far as this blog is concerned, I want to vary the content a little and might do special posts of certain subjects, like favourite actors, movie genres etc and more stuff on video games and music.  I’m unsure what form that will take as I want to make it as interesting as possible, but I continue to love writing this blog and it keeps my love of writing alive.  Hope you all manage to get something from it too.

Until next time.

Craig.

My 2017 – a look back (part two)


As I learnt writing the last look-back, 2017 has been a pretty packed year as far as entertainment is concerned, and there’s been plenty of highlights over the months.  So continuing this little bit of nostalgia, I thought I’d give a portion of this to my music highlights of the year, of which there have been many.

In the summer, Garbage made a return to the stage going on the road with the iconic Blondie for their co-headlining ‘Rage and Rapture’ tour which over 20+ dates travelled the United States and from what I hear was a roaring success.  During the tour Garbage released a stand alone single, the politically charged ‘No Horses’ accompanied by a powerful, hard-hitting video (see below).  It was another belter of a track from my favourite band, but wasn’t the only highlight of the year for me…

PVRISIndie electro-rock band PVRIS returned with their second album ‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell’, and it was a step up from their impressive debut and cemented them as a new, unique voice in my music landscape.  Add to this British four piece Wolf Alice also delivered their second album ‘Visions Of Life’, and like PVRIS it was an improvement over their debut and a haunting, artistic experience full of emotion and effective songs that has made them one of my favourites.  A couple of more veteran artist also released new material and although I don’t listen to everything out there, I am glad to have discovered Paramour with their fun, energetic album ‘After Laughter’ proving worthwhile.  I was also happy to see the return of possible my favourite female solo artist Kelly Clarkson and her latest release ‘Meaning of Life’ really impressed and proved this singer still had it after her previous, otherwise forgettable ‘Piece by Piece’ album.

Well back to the movies and such…

July to December

As the blockbuster season continued, I didn’t get around to all the big hitters but was pleased to see the latest of one of the best franchises around right now, War For The Planet Of The Apes which again proved powerful and exciting with stunning effects.  Less engrossing but still fun was the rather hypoed but run-of-the-mill Baby Driver.  Adding to the disappointment was the surprisingly un-engaging Christopher Nolan WWII drama Dunkirk which for a war movie directed by one of the best around, proved strangely boring and lacking in character or spectacle.  It sure was ‘pretty’ though.

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Get Out was a rather unsettling thriller and an interesting take on the racial tension subject, and hyped book adaptation Girl On The Train was an enthralling mystery with a great central performance from Emily Blunt.  One of my favourite directors, Park-chan Wook returned with The Handmaiden, an erotic period movie that although a tad drawn out was an engrossing love-triangle thriller.  Mark Wahlberg’s based on true events thriller Patriots Day was also powerful and gripping, whilst Jake Gyllenhaal sci-fi thriller Life was particularly effective and scarily-relevant.  August finished up with one of my personal horror highlights of the year, the far better than it should have been sequel Annabelle Creation.

Twin Peaks

Around this time I also watched the highly anticipated and very long awaited new season of Twin Peaks.  This was probably one of my most perplexing, strangely gratifying and definitely unique experiences of the year.  David Lynch’s magnificently bizarre and utterly surreal 18 episode ‘TV event’ is still something I am trying to piece together in my head even months after finishing it.  I had the box set for Christmas so may well be diving back in.  That ending though….yeesh.

French cannibal horror / coming of age drama Raw  proved effective if disturbing and distasteful but has certainly stuck in my head.  However, the latest entry in a once beloved saga, Alien Covenant was very underwhelming, having more in common with the tiresome Prometheus than the Alien movies.  Then I stumbled upon Netflix movie Gerald’s Game, a surprising, engrossing and creepy-as-hell Stephen King Adaptation.

I finished (at least the story) of the highly acclaimed and heavily hyped The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and as if testament to just how much fun and appealing that game was and still is to me, I still find myself going back to finish every shrine, find every weapon and do at least the majority of side-quests.  I even recently purchased the season pass.  Yeah I can’t get enough of this game.

Super Mario Odyssey CappyThe highly anticipated Blade Runner 2049 disappointed, with a plodding pace, forgettable visuals and was only marginally saved by a good turn from Harrison Ford.  However all was not lost as November rolled around and the much anticipated Super Mario Odyssey was finally released … and proved to be everything I had hoped it would be.  Add to this I finally got my hands on the highly acclaimed Japanese animation Your Name which proved to be a decidedly clever and thought-provoking body-swap drama.

So we come to December and particular stand-outs were Despicable Me 3 and the otherwise maligned Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  Bigger name movies like Spider-Man Homecoming and even Star Wars The Last Jedi didn’t fair as well for me but still had their moments.  With Christmas upon us again, I always enjoy writing these look backs and considering the movies that will eventually make up my Top Ten.  I’ll have that particular post out on New Years Eve, so please drop by then and check it out.

I also managed to get my hands on a new phone.  Previously and for about 3 years I’ve had the Samsung S6.  However now I have the recently released iPhone 8, which I’m loving so far and along with my iPad, that’s me all Apple’d-up going into the year ahead.

So there we have it.  That was my 2017 in two big entertainment nutshells.

Roll on 2018.

Craig.