Return to the Mushroom kingdom


nintendo_switch_logoWell I took the plunge and got myself a Nintendo Switch.  So what do I think of the device?  From the start it feels a very premium piece of kit.  The build-quality of the tablet and the joy-con controllers which attach to it are excellent.  It’s also quite heavy to hold in the hands and switching it on first time was exciting as the familiar Nintendo logo appeared, followed by the new Nintendo Switch icon.  Nintendo have a history of making quality consoles and this is no different despite what reports you may have heard on the internet.  My device seems free of dead pixels, joy-con sync-problems or wi-fi issues, but just to be safe I purchased a screen protector to ensure the supplied dock didn’t scratch the screen as has been reported.  On a side note I hate screen protectors and am historically crap at putting them on.  The tempered-glass one I got wasn’t too bad but it still took a whilst to get right and avoid any air bubbles.  Grr.

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In the run up to getting the Switch (I had a bit of a wait as initial stock everywhere had sold out after the March 3rd launch), I got myself a couple of Amiibos (Nintendo-themed character figurines which act as interactive NFC enabled devices for use in games) namely Mario and one of my all-time favourite characters, Toad.  It helped build the excitement as I also got myself a carry case and the official ‘pro-controller’.  Yes I confess, I’ve spent a lot of money on this but hopefully it’ll be worth it.

Using the device, it was easy to set it up to work with my broadband and to access the eshop (sparse with only a few games I’d find interesting (Shovel Knight, Snake Pass, Fast RMX) and the quirky design features, general simple but functional user-interface still pleased.  Once I put a game in though, my experience was elevated to another level.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I think by now most people will know how well received and acclaimed this latest entry in Nintendo’s ‘legendary’ franchise has turned out to be.  I couldn’t wait to get into it and am having a great time.  Firstly it’s gorgeous – I love cell-shaded, cartoon world art styles and this is one of the best representations of that look I think I’ve ever seen.  Has Zelda ever looked this good?  It’s a huge world too to explore and I’m loving travelling all over, meeting villagers, learning bit by bit about the over-arking story and doing simple side quests.  I also love the Shrines – trial based underground levels dotted throughout the land, sort of mini-dungeons full of puzzles and atmosphere.  I am only a little way into this so far but I am really impressed. 

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The big selling factor of the Switch though is it’s versatility.  It can be used as a handheld gaming system and works perfect for that.  It can be used as a home console too, and the transition is seamless and takes literally 5 seconds once you place the device in the dock to have the game appear on your TV screen.  It’s a gimmick that never gets old and I can see me using the machine in both ways.  Less appealing is some of the advertised multi-player, which with the 1-2 Switch game comes off as a left over idea from the Wii era with it’s gimmicky motion-controlled party games which might be fun but would get discarded fairly quickly in favour of ‘real’ games.  The versatility of the controllers to create multi-player split screen or two player games in your home certainly hark back to a by-gone era but as a primarily single-player gamer I doubt that functionality will get much use either.

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For now the Nintendo Switch is a system with a great deal of potential.  Early sales have been impressive so Nintendo is off to a good start … let’s just hope that in the future we still get the games for it, so that unlike many Nintendo consoles, it doesn’t end up gathering dust in favour of an Xbox or PlayStation system.  Only time will tell but for now consider me happy with my purchase.

Logan


Viewed – 21 March 2017  Cinema

It would be easy for me to write this off as just another Wolverine movie.  After all I didn’t entirely miss his (generally) absent status from X-Men Apocalypse, and well the character has been milked to death.  But from initial images showing a more grizzled, aged Wolverine and early positive hype I thought I’d give it a go.

Logan

No question though, Hugh Jackman was born to play Logan/Wolverine.  He has all the grumpy but likeable personality perfect for such a tortured character.  This latest take see’s him departed from his X-Men colleagues sometime in the future when many of them are believed dead and all he has for company between trips away as a grumpy limo driver, is an aged, half senile Dr Xavier (a heart-breaking Patrick Stewart).  So along comes a Mexican woman and a mysterious girl (a star making Dafne Keen) who she wishes for Logan to transport across the border to a ‘safe haven’ known as Eden, where more people like her and Logan himself are seeking refuge.  On their heels is a scenery chewing villain (Boyd Holbrook) and a megalomaniac scientist (Richard E Grant).

Dafne KeenWhat surprised me was just how brutal this latest Wolverine movie is.  We get beheadings, vicious stabbings and dismembered limbs-a-plenty and it seriously doesn’t hold back.  Some of the violence and the general tone here is light-years away from what I’m used to seeing in a comic book movie and it really helped this spring to life … especially in brilliantly executed (pun intended) action sequences that are amongst the best in the genre.  Director James Mangold has delivered a confident and mature road movie that is held together by three strong central characters and their slowly developing bond that makes this much more meaningful and powerful than I could have expected.  This is one of the most intense and gripping comic book inspired movies I’ve seen in a long time and in the closing moments I can honestly say Jackman deserved an Oscar nod.  But we know that won’t happen for this sort of material, unless perhaps you happen to die in real life (ahem…Heath Ledger RIP).

Simply put – go see this movie.

Verdict:  5 /5

Dark Water


Back in the day I was confident that the Japanese version of The Ring (aka Ringu) was the scariest movie I had ever seen.  However in subsequent years the reputation of Jap horror and it’s uprising has been diluted by a series of inferior American remakes and over-use of some of its tropes (there’s always a dead girl with long hair over her face).  So my attention waned.  Yet recently I’d been craving that ‘something special’ I had originally stumbled upon, and so I found myself lured back when I saw this get the special edition treatment.

Dark Water

Coming from the director of the Ring movies, Hideo Nakata my hopes were high and although I’m aware of the U.S. remake of the same name I’ve never bothered to see it.  Here we have a fairly familiar story of a single mother and her little girl, who move into a run down apartment building during a messy custody battle between the woman and her ex-husband.  Whilst there, it becomes clear there’s a strange presence, seemingly linked to a patch of water coming through the ceiling of the apartment.  Set in an eerie pastel-grey coloured building, the atmosphere is one of stillness and gently growing dread.  Performances on a whole are decent but it’s the story that intrigues, helped in no small way by Nakata’s masterly direction that fills the rather slow pace with discomfort and genuine creepiness.  I’ve said it before but something that is sorely lost when such movies get remade, is a sense of their setting, something that works particularly well here.  Something about how Japanese actors portray themselves, their formalities and customs and how they interact with one another can be ‘eerie’ at times, and it’s no different here.  The mystery at the heart of this is a good one and builds to an intense climax with at least one truly terrifying moment.  It may not be that far removed from what Nakata did in Ring, but how he makes something as familiar as water, constant rain or an over-flowing bath unnerving, is an accomplishment in it’s self.  One of the other great Jap horrors you might have missed … that’s well worth seeking out.

Dark Water ArrowAs expected from Arrow Video this is another packed Blu-ray release.  Image quality is a little underwhelming whilst clean but very soft, seeming to lack fine detail overall but does it’s job for what is purposely a dreary looking movie.  I should add that on the whole the subtitles are good but occasionally white backgrounds can cause some of them to become less clear to read.  Sound is much more impressive and helps build up atmosphere with good separation to make things like running footsteps and dripping water very effective.  We also get a detailed booklet in the case as well as the Blu-ray & DVD.  Extras consist of several featurettes including interviews with cast, as well as a couple more pieces, one being a new interview with Hideo Nakata, discussing his work and themes.  No commentary isn’t all that surprising, and along with dual sided cover art, this is another decent release.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5

Kong: Skull Island


Viewed – 14 March 2017  Cinema

I can’t say I was all that hyped for this but some friends were wanting to see it so I thought I’d tag along.  This latest exploration of the legendary franchise about a massive, mythical ape follows a group of geologists and a band of fresh outta ‘Nam marines as they travel to a newly discovered, unexplored island.  John Goodman leads the scientists, whilst Samuel L. Jackson leads the marines and along the way they bring in Tom Hiddleston’s tracker. 

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This began promising … a dramatic prologue set the stage and when introduced to Goodman, Jackson etc but for a slightly larger-than-life aesthetic, it seemed I was in for a good time.  Sad then, that not long after the team arrive at the island did it dawn on this viewer that there was something worryingly cartoonish to the performances and action, and despite some epic monster smack downs once Kong gets screen time and is punching helicopters out of the air etc … what initial potential any of these characters had is rapidly replaced with cheesy, clichéd caricatures displaying over the top attempts at drama, melo-drama and awkward-comedy, most of which miss their target.  When it’s trying to be serious it comes off as amusing (sometimes hilarious) and when it’s trying to be exciting it comes off as slow-motion Michael Bay dialled up to ten.  This caused me to gradually zone out as any character moments or parts where you’re meant to route for anyone except Kong, fell flat.  Even seasoned veterans like Goodman and Jackson came off hammy, especially Jackson who has a silly amount of lingering stares, complete with that bulging left eye, and Hiddleston is woefully miss-cast, struggling as the rugged hero-type despite (fake)tanned good looks and perfect hair.  Add to this Brie Larson who initially appeared as a ballsy photographer, but half way through descended into just another objectified pair of boobs.  Sigh. 

Thankfully we do get some reprieve from the mediocrity and cheese in a wonderfully dead-pan John C Reilly, and the effects and the locations are decent (bar some obvious green screen segments), which means it isn’t a total shot in the foot.  However like initial expectations, there’s very little to warrant this one existing in an industry that’s previously given us so much better.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

A Street Cat Named Bob


Viewed – 11 March 2017  online rental

A down on his luck busker who’s also a former drug addict, finds his life transformed when he’s befriended by a ginger cat.  This heart-warming true story follows the story of James Bowen, a guys initially living on the streets, scraping together money by performing with his guitar who has also been disowned by his father (Anthony Head) but finds solace in a mysterious cat who helps people see the good in him … including a neighbourhood girl (Ruta Gedmintas).

A Street Cat Names Bob

I loved how this movie played out.  Initially you’re watching the fly-on-the-wall story of this guy, a recovering drug addict, no-hoper who has a bit of a talent for busking.  However the inclusion of the cat, a lovely ginger tom could have tuned this into a cheese-fest but is handled well, including clever ‘from-the-cat’s-viewpoint’ perspectives that help to communicate the bond that is formed.  However this doesn’t sugar-coat the harsh reality of homelessness or drug addiction either, despite never getting all that hard-hitting.  Therefore this is generally a feel-good journey and performances across the board are solid, especially an easy to like Luke Treadaway as James who’s plight thoroughly grabbed me.  I also should add this brought a tear to my eye towards the end, and is filled with many charming and touching moments that really hit home.  It’s the sort of movie that also makes you think differently and open your eyes.

When you consider that all this happened as well, it’s quite remarkable and made me believe that in some shape or form, there’s a guardian angel out there for all of us.  If you haven’t guessed by now, I loved this probably more than expected.  A must-see.

Verdict:  5 /5