2016: Album Of The Year

2016: Album Of The Year

Following on from Movie of the year it’s now time to run down the best music released in 2016 but before that here are some special mentions.


Enter Shikari: Singles.

Enter Shikari haven’t released a full new record since last year’s The Mindsweep, they did, however, release a small selection of new music this year and it was fantastic. Redshift started the year off with a softer, pop rocky ode to the universe and Hoodwinker closed the year out with a stomper of a track, one of the heaviest Shikari have made in a while. they couldn’t be put in any slot on the album of the year list but they more than stand up with the best music here, keep it up Shikari!

Busted: Night Driver.

Their first album in 13 years Night Driver is a departure from the teenage pop rock sound that defined this band for the opening years of their career. This album starts off with smooth synths and goes from strength to strength. It’s an uninhibited pop record and goes to prove how good this genre of music can be when it’s made by damned good musicians.


5: Panic! At The Disco: Death Of A Bachelor.

Death Of A Bachelor is the first official record where Panic! At The Disco means Brendon Urie and that means Death Of A Bachelor is the product of Urie’s creative process alone. For the most part this is a damn good thing. Panic!’s fifth album is made of a combination of modern pop rock and Sinatra-esque, 50’s style, swing jazz. On paper it’s an odd combination but Urie’s smooth voice does a fairly good job of pulling this all together. The only real failing of the album is that it doesn’t commit to that crooner style more. None the less it’s a fantastically produced collection of songs that shows just how talented Urie is as a musician.

 

4: Little Bribes: Obstacles.

Little Bribes are, in no uncertain terms, one of the most interesting independent bands of the last few years. Full of energy and buzz, it’s rare that you hear a band both so heavy and so authentic. Their debut E.P. released this year is chock-a-block with catchy, guitar driven music, the likes of which will have you humming and head banging along in no time. The best way to describe Obstacles is: If Taking Back Sunday made their best, heaviest record yet, but recorded it in a garden shed. And if that description doesn’t tempt you to listen to this band, who knows what will. Little Bribes are a fantastic breath of fresh air which they’ve managed to bottle perfectly on Obstacles. They very much deserve your attention.

 

3: Radical Face: The Leaves.

Every record from Radical Face’s The Family Tree has been an easy inclusion on each of these lists and The Leaves is just as deserving. The Leaves is the final part in a series of albums designed to tell the story of a family during turn of the century America with a super natural twist. This time round the album features more obvious use of electronic instrumentation and even stronger use of percussion than its predecessor. One of the most defining things about The Family Tree has been its subtly haunting tone and The Leaves captures that ethereal sense perfectly for a final time.

 

2: Good Charlotte: Youth Authority.

Good Charlotte are one of the most underrated bands on the planet and Youth Authority is absolute proof. The album starts off with bright vibrant guitars, on point drums and vocals that catch your attention and for the next 12 tracks it just gets better. Perhaps the best thing about Youth Authority though is the way in which it genuinely captures the feeling of pop punk from the early 2000’s. A genre that Good Charlotte arguably helped to define. This record is fun, fast and joyous and if you grew up listening to this kind of music, you owe it to yourself to hear Youth Authority.

 

1: Green Day: Revolution Radio.

By the end of 2016 people were calling for Green Day to release American Idiot part 2. What they didn’t know is that Green Day already had. Revolution Radio is one of the most mature, politically motivated records Green Day have ever made. But mature does not mean quiet as this record is also the most lively, punky album the band have put out since their classic rock opera of 2004. Green Day deserve this year’s top spot because of how perfectly written, performed and produced this album is. From the very first song it’s tone and message is consistent and on point. Every piece of instrumentation is as good as Green Day have ever been and the album flows from track to track perfectly. Revolution Radio is by far the best album of a very dark year.


This is the last blog I will publish in 2016, if you’ve taken the time to stop and read anything published on this blow in the last 12 months thank you so so much. See you in 2017.

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2016: Movie Of The Year.

2016: Movie Of The Year.

2016 was far from a champagne year for film, but among a year of some fairly major flops there were some damn fine releases and here are the best, but first some honorable mentions:


Hail, Ceasar!

The Cohen Brothers do a damn good job of capturing the feeling of cinemas golden age. As an original work it struggles but as an ode to an era of film making past it’s something quite beautiful.

10 Cloverfield Lane.

Dan Trachtenberg uses tense claustrophobic shots to tell the story of a woman fighting against a man who is either her captor or her saviour. Twilight Zone-esque and full of palpable tension it’s a fantastic first step into Hollywood produced by JJ Abrams.


  1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Rogue One is a dark, dense and gritty story that takes place within the Star Wars universe. Rather than focusing on a force user, Jedi or “chosen one” character the story instead focuses on a Jyn, the daughter of a family tied to the construction of the Death Star. Rogue One is more focused on giving a genuine feel of humanity and strife to the rebellion. These are not just characters on the “good side”, they’re desperate individuals pulling together to fight a foe who seems totally insurmountable. Rogue One takes a beloved franchise and twists it to feel new, interesting and gritty in many of the right ways.

 

  1. Deadpool.

Deadpool is easily the most memorable movie of 2016, it is one of the funniest films released in the last few years due in no small part to the incredible, 4th wall breaking performance of Ryan Reynolds. Deadpool’s commitment to dark humour and a mature tone helps to separates the movie from its super hero peers, making Deadpool feel fresh and vibrant in a genre that felt somewhat bloated this year. It’s brutal, messy, sexy, gory and hilarious from start to finish exactly as you’d want a Deadpool movie to be.

 

  1. Captain America: Civil War.

Civil War switches up the usual Marvel formula by replacing the traditional Macguffin based antagonist with a deep, tense and human drama driven by the politics of The Avengers. The film’s plot is fantastically smart and just when you think it’s running out of steam it surprises you with another card it’s been playing close to the chest. It’s action is beautifully choreographed so that every member of its giant ensemble has their own recognisable fighting style and can be picked out and followed amongst the fast paced, giant scale battles. Civil War manages to make a Marvel film feel fun and action packed but also tangibly tense and like it has real consequences. It’s a brilliant action movie that manages to stay two steps ahead of its very excited audience at all times.


So the best of the year has begun, next up is 2016’s album of the year. Thanks for reading!

Review: Get Better: A film About Frank Turner

Review: Get Better: A film About Frank Turner

A well-made film that leaves you wanting more, mostly for the right reasons.

On a purely mechanical level Get Better is fantastic. It’s a rugged but clearly passionate documentary that has a genuine air of honesty about it. the captured shots are often playful and filled with an energy that you’d expect considering the subject matter. Visually the film is a little rough around the edges  but it  manages to combine enough recent footage with archive footage to touch on every major milestone you’d want to see in an account of Turners (to date) career.

One of the ways in which the film really shines is, appropriately, in the use of music. Director Ben Morse clearly knows Turner’s back catalogue inside out and does it serious justice. For example: when a studio track is shown over shots of the band in concert, it’s clear that the images which are used have been carefully chosen to capture the feel of the track being heard.

But even better still is the underlying score, for which versions of Turner’s original tracks have been slowed down, tweaked and recorded instrumentally. Hearing familiar songs played in a different way to evoke a new emotion can be a powerful hook In to a scene and it’s cleverly used here in a film which demonstrates how powerful music can be.

But whilst the documentary is created fantastically it’s the source material that causes the biggest issue. To put it simply: It ends far too soon.

A documentary of this form usually tells the story of a person or event reaching the peak of their success or notoriety. But this film does a good job instead of, quite literally, highlighting and demonstrating Turner’s steady Rise. This is definitely to be respected but as a result there is no crescendo, it always feels as though Turner (and Morse alongside) are destined for bigger things.

Is this bad? No, the film clearly does what it sets out to do: it tells the story of Turner’s career up to this point and there’s obviously a story to be told. Managing to go from rooms of 6 people to headlining Wembley is damned impressive. But no matter how good the documentary is, there’s always a feeling that there’s a third act over the horizon, a sudden gasp or rug pull or dynamic change that just doesn’t happen.

To call a documentary ahead of its time is highly presumptuous. So it’s a testament to Turner, his music and Morse’s portrayal of him that this documentary feels like it ends too early to truly record his best moments yet. If you’re a fan of Turner’s work, or good music stories it will undoubtedly leave you wanting more. Now all we have to do is hope Turner and Morse go on to even bigger things, so they can give this film the third act it deserves.


Get Better: A Film About Frank Turner scored 7.7/10

Review: The Accountant

Review: The Accountant

A brilliant film that makes no cents.

Ben Affleck, JK Simmons and Anna Kendrick lead a stellar cast in a movie that is very much worse than the sum of its excellent parts.

The Accountant is about a child born with autism, raised in a broken household by a family that isn’t entirely what it seems, who grows up to be (after some unexplained prison time and a weird scene in the jungle?) a head hunting criminal account who can cook the books or bust the skulls. Unfortunately a turning point in the middle of the movie marks a sharp turn from violent but human drama to mindless action thriller, both sides of the movie are fantastically crafted but they fail to present a concise directorial vision and instead simply blur each other into an unsatisfying mess.

The first half of the movie is very performance driven and Ben Affleck is fantastic in the lead role. As protagonist Christian Wolff he is likeable and trustable, and ultimately a good man using bad means. Affleck doesn’t go for an over the top stereotype, instead portraying such a debilitating condition with precision and a genuine sense of respect.

Performances are absolutely on point, Alongside Affleck is Anna Kendrick who feels warm and friendly  in a film where a great deal of the content is not. Unfortunately the script doesn’t use her to the best of its ability and when it does her character is often ham-fisted into the scene. For example the romance, which quickly becomes a nonsensical central plot element. The film does a good job of building a feeling of mutual trust between these two characters, but ultimately ends up driving towards an unnecessary and inconsequential romance, Kendrick and Affleck play it perfectly, but the audience is left wondering why it’s there in the first place.

Although where the performances shine, the editing does not. Scenes don’t linger long enough and sudden, un-needed cuts often make the dialogue feel artificial. meaning that whilst there is clearly great acting on screen its undermined by a lack of scene to scene pacing and a general feeling of disconnect between the screen and the audience.

Interestingly the entire movie is shot more like a horror than an action. The outside world, other people and organisations are often presented as cold or clinical despite being filled with set dressing and lights. Conversely Wolff’s house is empty and bare but feels welcoming and homely. All of this is tied together with the use of a number of intense, close up shots that give the whole first half (but only the first half) a real sense of claustrophobia, not for the audience but for protagonist Wolff and the world he finds himself in.

And then we reach a point where the film changes.

The second half is an all out, brutal and visceral action movie where Wolff is less recognisable for his personal hurdles and more for his actions and victims. This half of the movie should be where threads are tied together and resolved. But it ends with more questions than answers and it spends most of its time building to a crescendo that never really comes.

It must be said that the actions is spectacular, brutal and well choreographed. It’s also beautiful to watch. This is down to the stellar Cinematography and directing. Scenes are simultaneously cold and beautiful. Floaty and fluid, but grounded and violent at the same time. Unfortunately all of this talent is built on the shaky ground of the story and no matter how beautiful the shots on screen are, it’s never enough to pull the movie out of the hole it digs itself into.

But worse still is the cluttered closing scenes which muddle the films message even further. The morality of the characters is hard to pin down as they all try to do good things in very bad ways and often the motivations for these methods and decisions are lost in the jumbled plot. Meaning that if the film does have a positive message it gets mislaid among too many head shots and boring revelations. Then the final scenes which attempt to highlight a deep message instead feel tonally mismatched. I’m sure the director of the piece meant well, but the movie deals with delicate situations and contrasts them with heavy violence. In a more balanced film that could lead to something beautiful, but here it leads to either nothing, or something very negative indeed.

The accountant is an incredibly well made movie built on very wobbly foundations. It’s so easy to praise its excellent actors, director, cinematographer camera work and so on. But no matter how much praise you shower, it’s still a confusing, messy unsatisfying film. Perhaps it’s the intention of the director to make the movie feel disconnected and uneasy but intention or not, you’ll still leave your seat either sighing or bemused, if not both.


The Accountant scored: 5.2 / 10

Review: Midnight Special.

Review: Midnight Special.

Alton Meyer is a child gifted with god like abilities in a movie that turns out to be more midnight than special.

Midnight Special follows two men, Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) as they try and get young Alton away from a government agency, who have unknown but undoubtedly malicious plans for the young boy. For the most part the story is a strong, gloomy tale of a family doing all they can to survive. It struggles a little in its pacing and never quite lands its intended emotional punch, but for the majority it’s compelling enough. That is until the story takes a sudden left turn in the last act, which utterly derails the work done up to that point. it’s a sudden, jarring story and tone shift and it leads to an ending that’s underwhelming and feel, frankly, cliché.

Visually Midnight Special is lacking. The film has an American Gothic vibe running through it, with many of the scenes taking place in quaint, small town locations that sometimes feel intentionally claustrophobic. For the most part the camera work is framed well but the films use of colour is underwhelming and washed out. Its often frustrating as the film takes place in some beautiful natural locations. But with colour pallets that lack the necessary nuance, these locations just feel bland and uninteresting.

One of the highlights of the film is the portrayal of Alton by Jaden Lierberher, he’s a quiet, mysterious child who’s sudden moments of supernatural activity feel both believable and unnerving. One particular moment where he is believed to be speaking in tongues is a highlight of the film, it sends a chill down your spine, both because it’s shocking and creepy, but also because its coming from such an otherwise innocent character. It’s not often that the performance of a child actor is the strongest part of a film, but Lierberher deserves all the praise he can get.

One of the biggest issues with Midnight special is that it struggles to balance out all the different genres it’s trying to fit into. It’s got touches of thriller, horror, political commentary, family drama, science fiction and more. Some of these fit the story better than others so the movie is not always playing to its own strengths. In trying to tell a story on such a large scale it sometimes misses the brilliance in its smaller, more intimate and unnerving moments. This becomes more and more of a problem as the movie builds towards its sudden, underwhelming ending.

Midnight Special is a movie that tries to do too much with a strong core. At first it’s a compelling, intimate family drama with an interesting super natural twist. It never quite reaches the bar in terms of emotional resonance but it’s certainly captivating. But then a sudden, and unwanted story twist leads to a cliché ending that baffles the audience and sours a lot of the strong moments up to that point. There’s a kernel of brilliant here, but overall Midnight Special is a movie that becomes the victim of trying too hard.

Midnight Special scored 5.1/10

Is EGX The Next Big Gaming Trade Show?

The gaming industry is getting bigger and bigger and as it grows, so too does its calendar of trade show events. With EGX increasing in popularity every year perhaps it’s time to wonder whether the UK’s biggest gaming expo could be about to break into to the gaming mainstream.

EGX started in 2008 and has gone from strength to strength in the years since, in its first year the show was attended by 4000 people. This year the show was attended by 75,000 people. The huge increase in attendance has been matched by support from developers, both triple a and indie alike. This year the show floor saw a huge list of playable games, as well as sessions from major developers and appearances from video game personalities. This, more than ever, is a sign that the gaming industry is paying attention to and wants to be a part of EGX.

One of the most notable personalities at this year’s event was Shuhei Yoshida, who both appeared at the show and gave a talk as part of the annual dev sessions. Yoshida was not the only major gaming personality at the show however. There were also appearances and talks from the likes of Naughty Dog, Creative Assembly and David Bateman (the voice of Agent 47 in the Hitman games.). These are big names in the gaming industry and they drew big attention and crowds to EGX and the bigger the show gets, the bigger the personalities it will attract. Whilst it doesn’t have a bill the size of something like PAX its 2015 programme was certainly impressive and that programme is growing with every year.

Another thing that EGX has in its favour is that its open to the public. With gaming becoming a more popular industry by the day, the general public, the people who are buying the games, are being shown more and more by developers. And, in most cases*, there is no better marketing for a game than playing it. This means EGX is another in the list of the many opportunities for developers to go out and let the consumers demo the games in the hope that they will buy the full release.

It seems like there are many reasons why EGX could be verging on being the next big gaming trade show. It’s getting strong support from Devs and gaming personalities alike, its seen large amounts of foot fall over the past few years and that foot fall only seems to be growing. There’s just one problem and, unfortunately for EGX, that problem is the same problem faced by many other Mid-level gaming expos. Many in the industry believe that we are getting closer and closer to expo saturation point, in short: there are too many trade shows.

The problem with the growing number of gaming trade shows is that there is only ever a certain amount of fresh, interesting content to be seen at them. Already shows like EGX see developers bringing previous builds (Gamescom builds, for example) of their software to the show. Eventually this means that the amount of brand new content that gamers want to see and get their hands on is being spread across many expos. The same can be said of game reveals and exclusive show floor features. The wow factor is being grasped at by many different Expos and it’s hard to see how any one of them comes out stronger for it.

Ultimately if any trade show is going to become the next big one id say EGX has a good chance, its scaling itself up well year over year and developers, both indie and triple a, seem to enjoy or value it enough to show it support. The bigger question perhaps is not whether any one trade show will break into the big leagues, but whether the big leagues can take any more players.


*Unfortunately, not all games work as well, when demoed, as we are lead to believe they would through trailers and screenshots. Meaning that in some instances playing the game at a trade show would be a more negative experience than just watching the trailer on a big trade show screen.

Opinion: Assassins Creed’s variety is both its biggest strength, and its biggest flaw.

With the newest entry in the Assassins Creed franchise out tomorrow Id like to share an opinion that’s been causing me to feel less and less enthusiastic about the series: It may have too much variety for its own good.

One of the most exciting parts of the annual Assassins Creed hype cycle is the reveal of the new game. Rumours and questions inevitably start flying about, where will it be set? Who will the main character be? What will the launch trailer look like? It’s thrilling to speculate and cross fingers for the dream A C setting, it helps to invigorate the fan base and keeps the games at the forefront of the Triple A scene.

But with the franchise being an annualised one, a new setting is turned out every year. By the time you’ve finished one game, you’re already anticipating and guessing the next. This can lead to Assassins Creed games feeling like a whistle stop tour of their settings rather than a deep investment in a period of history. Assassins creed, has for some years now, been perfect at historical fantasy fulfilment, with the franchise simulating everything from the American and French revolutions to the age of piracy. but is this coming at the cost of emotional investment in the worlds, characters and stories that the games feature?

Many fans will tell you that their favourite character of the series is Ezio, who appeared in several of the games. It could be suggested that by tying the player to one character in multiple games, the player would feel more connected to the settings that character encountered. Ezio’s journey through the series meant that rather than a total overhaul every year, players instead got to experience the continuation of a story they loved in a new setting and this meant connecting to and valuing that setting was easier.

The conflict of focused storytelling versus varied, enticing new locations and characters is one the series has been dealing with since Assassins Creed 3 and is likely to be dealing with for some time to come. But this is not the only issue caused by the variety of the franchise.

Something else that has to be considered is the differing mechanics of each game. Since the original Assassins Creed the developers of each game have tried to remain, to an extent, historically accurate. This means that the mechanics of each game have been informed by the time period the game takes place in.  This often makes the game play feel authentic and enhances the believability of the environment the game is set in.

However that means that the mechanics from one game to the next can differ greatly. The mechanics that a player learns and loves will not necessarily be present in the next game, in fact they may absolutely no bearing on the way the next game plays. This means that whilst the game play may feel authentic it may also alienate players who enjoyed specific mechanics and it runs the risk of damaging the experience for veteran A C fans.

Assassins Creed has relied, for the past few years, on the excitement generated by its choice of setting. Whilst the historic fantasy of the games is undeniably thrilling I worry that this constant refreshing of the franchise will be damaging in the long term. We don’t have long to wait to find out whether Assassins Creed Syndicate will be counted among the franchises best but one thing is for sure. It won’t be long until we start hearing speculation as to where and what Assassins Creed 9 will bring to the table.