Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Gareth Edwards captures the feeling of Star Wars in a movie whose genre far far removed from the franchise.

Rogue One tells the story of Jyn Erso, the daughter of a family influential to the creation of the Death Star. Many years after our first introduction to her Jyn is used by the Rebel alliance and it’s from here that she learns of her connection to the Death Star plans, the might of what those plans can do and why she, along with her band of fellow rebels, has to stop it.

The story starts very quickly, introducing Jyn, her family and her initial motivations in very quick succession. In fact it’s a little too quick, as many of the motivations of early characters get lost or misunderstood. But as the story moves on it’s key focal moments become much clearer and by the middle of the second act many audience members will be rooting for the hero’s of the piece.

Visually the film is one of the most striking things put to screen in 2016. It is utterly gorgeous. Star Wars movies are known to be bursting with all sorts of life and characters and oddities, creating a sense of something alien in a way that only Star Wars movies can. But this film manages to recreate that world with a much more desolate set of scenes. The opening sequence is a perfect example of this: An alien planet with no living creatures or agriculture save from one family in a muddy home. The entire scene Is shot with three main colours on the palette and it uses them perfectly. This scene sets the tone for the entire movie. This is Star Wars but it’s darker, grimier and more grounded than you’ve ever seen.

The score for the film is similar to that of the visuals. It’s new and different, but it feels right. It’s interesting to note that this is the first score for a Star Wars movie which has not been touched by John Williams. Instead Micheal Giacchino is the person responsible for this score and it is fantastic. It emulates Williams enough to evoke everyone’s child hood memories of Star Wars sounds. But it also takes risks with Williams trademark sounds and does so to fit the more mature tone of the film. An educated ear will be able to tell the difference but even then will respect the intentions of Giacchino’s score.

The biggest issue the movie faces is in it’s pacing, the beginning of the story happens far too quickly and the movie keeps up this fast pace. So the films initial hooks are left a little flat. It could be argued that the movie is hoping for the audience’s prior knowledge of the franchise to do some work here, but none the less, there’s a first act that requires slightly more screen time than Rogue One is able to give it.

However, what it does manage to do is take the Star Wars franchise and turn it in to a fantastic Sci-Fi war movie. It’s utterly gorgeous to watch and listen to despite it being not quite perfect in telling a story. Gareth Edwards deserves a huge amount of credit for stepping in to such lofty unfilled shoes and doing a very good job.


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story scored: 8.7/10

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: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Harry Potter and the 1920’s spin off.

The first spin off of the behemoth Harry Potter franchise lands in cinemas and, though it has some flaws, some of them pretty major, it turns out to be an intriguing start in to what could be (if the studio is to be believed) a major new thread of movies.

Fantastic Beasts tells the story of Newt Scamander, a man who is a wizard zoologist, who brings his case of fantastic creatures to New York in the hope of re-homing a lost animal. Unfortunately whilst there his case manages to open itself and his beasts escape across the sprawling city. The ensuing chaos results in a conflict between a number of magical factions and a group of anti-wizzard protesters.

Where the original franchise was steeped in unavoidable lore and occasionally awkward, MacGuffin-based, storytelling. Fantastic Beasts has, at its heart, a much more personal, and human conflict, as many of the characters that get caught up in it aren’t trying to be hero’s or aiming to fulfil some kind of destiny. Instead they’re simply trying to go about their business and it’s their everyday life that becomes magical, rather than having an isolated magical world to drive the story foward. As a result of this, the inventive settings, props and costumes feel far more grounded and believable, which in turn allows the story to be much more emotionally engaging.

Though the narrative does get caught up in its own twists and turns a few more times than is necessary. With so many different groups of characters, finding balance is a notoriously hard thing to do, and Beasts falls a little short in giving every character adequate screen time or valid motivations, but there’s enough here to make you want to watch as the story advances, and make you root for one of the central characters.

Speaking of central characters there are three that deserve specific mention, the first is Queenie Goldstein, who is a mind reading witch, Potter’s firstly outwardly flirty and sexual character. In any other film this sounds cliché  but she’s written believably, with genuine emotion and she fits in well with the films more mature tone but more on that later. The second is Jacob Kowalski, who steals every scene he’s in. He is a constant positive force in an overly dark film, without him the movie would be much harder to watch. This is made even better by Dan Fogler’s commitment to physical comedy in the role, his facial expressions are reminiscent of classic Laurel and Hardy which fits perfectly in to the setting of the movie.

Unfortunately, such praise can’t be given to  Redmayne, who plays protagonist Scamander. He bumbles through the film playing an almost stereotypical “English-man in New York”, this works when the character has an obvious under lying strength but Redmayne only ever taps in to this once. For the rest of the film he commands absolutely no power on screen and it’s the ensemble behind him who do more to advance the plot.

Though As with every Harry Potter movie, it is the staging of it that stands out as the highlight of the production. Fantastic Beasts is set in the late 20’s and the film feels incredibly authentic. The visuals are dark and washed out, but not in a way that hides the character of the era. The sound track taps in to traditional sounds from that time, with muted horns and swinging piano, if anything it would have been nice to hear more of this and less of a traditional Harry Potter score. The thing that stands out most about the staging though is the costume design, every hat, jacket and shoe feels as though it could have come from the time itself and is weathered very believably, every item of clothing feels well worn and lived in.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is a more mature movie than has been seen in the Harry Potter franchise to date. It’s more sexual, much darker, much creepier and it could have been much more intense if it just had a little more balance, one or two less twists and a far better leading man. There’s enough here to enjoy on the first or second viewing, and the film is clearly well made, it just doesn’t quite reach the high bar of the stories told in the franchises past.


6.9/10

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

The Best Of October’s Releases.

The Best Of October’s Releases.

Green Day: Revolution Radio.

Bang Bang was one of the heaviest, meatiest first singles Green Day have released since 2004’s American Idiot, it was full to the brim with Acid and fire and it was the perfect way for the band to introduce Revolution Radio, because acid and fire are what this record is made of. Revolution Radio is full to the brim with all the things that make Green Day great. Biting lyrics penetrate every track whether it’s the rousing chorus of “I put the riot in patriot” from opening track Somewhere Now, all the way to the more personal but still punchy “fuck you, I’m from Oakland” of Youngblood. With the current state of society at large many were looking to Green Day for American Idiot 2, a reprise of their political anger, another groundbreaker for a generation of political lost souls to rally around. Does it break that new ground? No, but it doesn’t really need to, as once again with a guitar, a bass, a drum kit and three of the most talented musicians in punk; Green Day have recaptured the fighting spirit that put them on such a pedestal over a decade ago and made it relevant for a generation of people who are growing up with Social Media, right wing fanaticism and Trump Campaigns as a part of their daily lives. The record itself says it best: “we live in troubled times”.


Enter Shikari: Hoodwinker

Take To The Skies; Shikari’s first record is barely ten years old. Which is a pretty difficult fact to swallow when you consider that, since then, Enter Shikari have put out 3 other studio albums, 2 compilation albums, more live recordings then you can shake a chaos pad at and many many one off singles. Hoodwinker fit’s in to that last category, a one off single to keep your taste buds flowing whilst Shikari hibernate in a distant studio coming up with Album number 5, and blimey, what a track it is. Heavy doesn’t even come close to describing this behemoth of a song. Beginning with a pounding bass guitar and drums combo it leads quickly to Rou Reynolds bellowing “This is the voice of god” in the lowest register he’s been heard screaming at in years. Shikari always know how to leave your earlobes wanting more and Hoodwinker is no exception, from its thundering intro to its playful ending Hoodwinker is another example of Shikari demonstrating how they are very much the kings of the UK’s heavy music scene.


Telltale’s Batman: Episode 3.

Telltale are indisputably some of the best video game story tellers in recent memory, their episodic formula is well known to produce tense and emotionally driven stories where player’s join the dots to make the experience even more personal, and as a result of this, even more harrowing and Episode 3 of Telltale’s Batman is no exception. One of the things that makes Telltale’s stories so good is their ability to write characters who are varying shades of grey. Who’s morality and trustability is hard to nail down and who, as a result, are far more human and far harder to decide between. Episode 3: New World Order, picks up after one of the toughest early decisions in any of Telltale’s games to date and over the next few hours players watch as Batman and Bruce Wayne’s world is torn down from around them. Doing all the running you can to stay in the same place is a very unpleasant feeling but Telltale always manage to keep the carrot dangled close enough to the players face that they want to keep pushing forward. It’s interesting to see this dark brooding hero be put in such a powerless position and it’s a dynamic that works perfectly with Telltale’s bleak approach to storytelling. If you have any connection to the world of Batman you will undoubtedly love this series and the tense situations it puts you in as both the playboy billionaire and the caped crusader.


Did you enjoy anything on this list or think I missed something off it? Feel free to leave a comment on this article or get in touch with me. I hope you’ll look forward to the next list in this series, at the end of November/beginning of December. Thanks for reading!

The Best Of September’s Releases.

The Best Of September’s Releases.

Before we begin: I missed august! I’ve done every month this year so far and was super down that I couldn’t do august but technical issues got in the way. Fear not though, normal service has returned and so without further ado, let’s get back to the very best of September:


Green Day – Bang Bang: Official Music Video.

Green Day always impress, their musical talent is off the charts and their sense of badass style goes before them. But perhaps the most impressive thing about them is that this is an outfit that has been playing music for nearly 30 years and their still relevant today. If you needed proof of that, look no further than the Bang Bang music video. The song is written from the point of view of a mass shooter and the video is a reflection on the current state of news style media and the glorification of crime. If that deep, heavy topicality doesn’t interest you then the song certainly should, its 3 minutes of staggering, thundering punk with some of the best drumming ever heard from Tre Cool, which is quite a thing in itself considering his considerable talent with a pair of sticks. Green Day are back with their best album in years (I’m on my sixth listen of it as I write this) and Bang Bang was the perfect way for them to announce their return.


EGX:

whilst June is the biggest month in the year for gaming worldwide it’s September that takes that crown for the UK as Britain’s biggest gaming show EGX brings its reliably giant line up to an arena show floor. This year some of the highlights on said show floor included: Dishonoured 2, The PS4 Pro and more VR demo’s then you could shake an Oculus Touch at. But as usual it was the Indie section that held some of the most fascinating demos and so rather than try and explain them all, I’ll let the Developers themselves tell you about the games through the medium of Games Up Podcast:

Listen to our Indie Interviews here.


Prepare To Try: Season 2:

Prepare To Try season 1 was an absolute triumph, it was a funny, engaging and well realised show that made every viewer yell with triumph at the climax of Rory Powers’ challenge and Season 2 has been just as good. Gav, Dan and Rory are just as fun to watch, the game they play is just as engaging and the sense of triumph in the last episode is positively palpable. If you like a good YouTube series or your trying to get in to Dark Souls, or you just want to watch three funny dudes a for a couple of hours a week, then Prepare To Try (both seasons) comes highly recommended.


Did you enjoy anything on this list or think I missed something off it? Feel free to leave a comment on this article or get in touch with me. I hope you’ll look forward to the next list in this series, at the end of October/beginning of November. Thanks for reading!

The Best of July’s Releases

The Best of July’s Releases

July, for the first time in a while, was a month full of good releases, narrowing it down this month was a tough task but without further ado here are the best releases of July:


Overwatch: Ana Amari

Ana Amari is the first piece of post Launch DLC for Overwatch. As such a lot of pressure rested on her head, would she play into the pre-existing delicate balance of Overwatch? Who would she counter and who would counter her? Luckily Ana fits in to the roster perfectly. She adds to the variety of characters and brings a new element of game play to the support category  for those who didn’t feel comfortable within it already.

For a deeper look into what makes Ana Amari great take a look of Games Up’s review of Ana Amari.


Good Charlotte: Youth Authority.

I ran outside to see/it’s not 2003” sings one half of the Madden brothers on one of this album’s singles “40 oz dream” and yet it is. This album is as 2003 as possible because for the first time in over a decade Good Charlotte have re-embraced the genre that made them: Pop Punk. But this band are not young anymore, let’s not forget that Good Charlotte are 21 years old and still mostly made up of its original members. Youth Authority is a homecoming parade from a band who are playing better than they ever have, the drums are on point, the guitars are in sync and the structures and mixing are as good (if not better) than any previous album from this band. Good Charlotte have always been a bit of a musical underdog, never quite receiving the praise they deserve. They’re frequently seen as the poster boys of a laughed at genre, but albums like this show that Good Charlotte are still some of the best musicians in the business and they deserve your attention now more than ever.


Bojack Horseman: Season 3.

Animated comedy is something that will be considered a viewing staple for certain generations thanks to innovators like Matt Groening and Seth MacFarlane. But creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has made something that stands apart from its cartoon peers. Bojack Horseman found it’s home on Netflix only 2 years ago but it’s gone from strength to strength. It’s brilliantly funny as a biting satire of American celebrity culture, and it’s attention to detail makes every single one of its major jokes feel impactful to the shows future. It’s a genuine pleasure watching such an A list cast make a mockery of Hollywoo (and no that’s not a spelling mistake). But what sets Bojack Horseman apart is its ability to experiment with its own formula and tie in genuine tragedy to its acidic comedy. The fourth episode of it’s third season, for example, is set entirely underwater and this setting effects everything from the story to the music and dialogue. This kind of experimentation mixed with its genuine feeling of bleak tragedy makes Bojack Horseman one of the most interesting animated comedies in recent years. It won’t deliver a laugh a minute but it will leave an impact on you and that’s very special.


Did you enjoy anything on this list or think I missed something off it? Feel free to leave a comment on this article or get in touch with me. I hope you’ll look forward to the next list in this series, at the end of August/begining of September. Thanks for reading!