Godzilla (2014): or The Post-Nolan Monster Movie

If you have avoided reading anything about his movie, avoid this review; it will have spoilers in for you. For those of you who have followed the spoilerific PR overload, there will be nothing spoilerific here for you. I don’t think.

So, Godzilla. What is it all about? Primarily, we follow the Brody family, including father Bryan Cranston and son Aaron Taylor-Jonhson, as they attempt to get to the bottom of a government cover up, before coming face to face with several enourmous monsters, Godzilla included. That is it in a nutshell. It sounds like the set up for an entertaining monster mash, but is it?

Before getting to the positives, of which there are many, lets start with the black cloud hanging over any potential enjoyment of the movie. It takes itself far too seriously. The movie does not seem to enjoy itself. It has three huge creatures causing havoc but, in general, in the dullest way possible. The movie avoids showing too much monster, which is to be applauded, but the payoff when they do appear is lacking; bar one or two moments … Godzillas’s atomic breath and the acompanying lightshow for one. Compare that to Pacific Rim, a movie that delights in pitting monsters (alien and man made) against one another and finds new ways to make each battle thoroughly entertaining.

The positives though … The scarcity of Godzilla. It is a strange thing to say, but when a movie throws nothing but crash, bang, whallop at you it becomes a little mind-numbing. Hello Michael Bay.  Godzilla manages to avoid this by avoiding showing him, or the other creatures, too often. More often that not we only get a glimpse here and a glimpse there, usually in such a way as to emphasise the size of the creatures, or the lack thereof of the human leads. The movie certainly leaves you anticipating the big wide shots where you get to see the Godzilla et al. If only these shots were as satisying as the build up. All of these scenes are helped by excellent effects. No men in dodgy rubber suits here.

The cast are all throughly enjoyable to watch. Bryan Cranston acts up a storm as you would expect him to do, Aaron Taylor-Johnson has bulked up immensely, Elizabeth Olsen (the most talented Olsen sister) manages to avoid just being the token screaming female and Ken Watanabe is Ken Watanabe, fantastic accent and all.

Spoilers. The biggest negative (besides the previously mentioned lack of payoff) are how much the PR machine for this movie spoiled it. How good would it have been to head into the movie expecting just Godzilla only to find out that there are not one, but two other monsters. Knowing about them going in ruined the ‘hatching’ scene in the Japanese nuclear reactor. To have expected Godzilla only to be surprised would have been excellent. It is not the first time over exposure has spoilt a movie, and it will not be the last.

The movie is also far too ‘gritty’. Far too grey. This is part of what makes the move a little too po-faced. Too much is exposed by dust or cloud. Where are the colours? A leaf could have been taken out of Guillermo del Torro’s book with the movie being set in an LED wonderland like Hong Kong. This would have given everything a little more vibrancy. Serious war movies should be gritty. Monster movies should not be.

So, the movie as a whole is very good. It is very well made, as you would expect of the director of Monsters (a marvellous movie shot on a shoe-string budget) and Godzilla looks fantastic. He is bigger than usual, yes, but skyscapers are somewhat bigger than they were in the past, he has to be bigger to remain imposing. Were the monster mash payoffs somewhat better, somewhat more fun and exhillerating, then the movie would be excellent. Unfortunately it falls agonisingly short.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0831387/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

 

 

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The Lone Ranger (2013): or The Marmite Movie

Looking around online this movie seems to be viewed one of two ways, critics love it, or hate it. There seems to be very few balanced, middle of the road, opinions. I suppose this this can be laid at the door of expectation and how reverential peopel feel the movie should/shouldn’t have been. Many of the reviewers on the American side of the pond, quite probably, were brought up with one version of the Lone Ranger or other; the all-American, archetype. I have only vague recollections as the hero from my youth it must be said, mainly of the whole thing being a little too clean, goody two-shoes, sensible and boring for my taste. It is perhaps why I so thoroughly enjoyed the movie. For the most part it is a little bonkers. For the majority of its running time it does not take itself too seriously (see my review of Fast and Furious 6 for to see how I dislike po-faced action movies), though it does have bizarre framing story that, on the whole, is a huge tonal shift when compared to the majority of the story.

What is it, then, that makes the movie so much fun? First and foremost, Tonto (Johnny Depp) and The Lone Ranger himself (Armie Hammer) build up a very entertaining rapport. Outside of maybe a couple of performances I am not a big Depp fan, so I was pleasently surpsised at how much I enjoyed his performance here. Is the movie skewed so that the movie should really be called Tonto, probably, but that is what happens when you need the money men to back a movie, you put your big stars front and centre, story be damned. Hammer plays the, generally, straight man to Depp’s crazy very well, and he is a very likeable screen prescence to boot. It is a shame that the movie performed how it did, as it looks unlikely we will see these guys pair up again in a sequel.

Shotgun. Leg. Those two words are a good point all on their own. Helena Bonham Carter has an ornately carved ivory shotgun leg. That is all there is to say about that.

What about the Rangers trusty steed silver? How does he fare? Very well as it turns out. He is probably now my favourite celluloid horse. How many movies give a white horse a large white stetson. And how many horses could pull that look off?!? Black Beauty couldn’t that is for sure. The movie successfully gives him all of the personality that the best Disney animal sidekicks have, and he doesn’t even speak; except perhaps to Tonto, but he is a little ‘odd’ so maybe we should just discount that. Maybe. He also has his part to play in all the best action scenes, inexplicably turning up where you would not expect a horse to turn up; with his appearances being all the more amusing for it.

And those action scenes sure are a lot of fun. The final rollercoaster, train based, action swequence in particular is a highlight. Imagine the mine cart section of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but on two full sized steam locomotives – one travelling backwards – throw in a bit of slapstick, some excitement, some adventure and then soundtrack it with the William Tell Overture. If anyone says that that piece of music doesn’t bring a grin to themselves and make them want to ride a horse around the room Monty Python style, then they are lying.

Before I am accused of lacking balance, I think I should include one or two negatives. I have touched on one of them already, the tone. For the majority of the movie it is very much a light-hearted, kinda campy (in a 60’s Batman kind of way) and every bit the summer blockbuster, but, from time to time, particularly the framing device, it becomes a little maudlin and grim. The villain, for instance, is shown eating the heart of the heroes brother – or at least you see as much as a 12 (PG-13) rated movie will let you; though truth be told in days gone by it probably would have bumped the rating to 15. The story does veer off into pseudo-philopohical nonsense on occasion too. All these detours on the tonal road do is add length to the movie (clocking in at nearly two and a half hours!) that is not neccessary. I think if these detours were removed, it may not have had quite the number of detractors it does. A number of them may have a point when they say that, at times, the movie doesn’t really know what it wants to be. And that length. Summer blockbusters do seem to be creeping up in length, but two and a half hours …

Anyway, in summary. A highly entertaining movie. I am dissapointed that I missed it in cinemas last year, but am lucky enough to have a reasonable home entertainment system to make the most of the spectacle. And it is a movie of spectacle, made for big screens and bigger sound systems. Check all pretentions, and your thinking cap, at the door. They are not welcome or needed for this movie. Jujst turn off, tune in and have a blast.

Have you seen it? What do you think? Am I way off base? Was it as bad as many critics seem to think? Is it as good as I think? Let me know.

 

 

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Last Exit to Nowhere – Geek Clothing Paradise

I am the last person who, realistically, should be talking about fashion, or style, or clothing. But on this occasion I shall make an exception. I have been picking up the odd t-shirt from Last Exit for years now, and they have never failed to dissapoint.

Their style is ‘subtle geekery’. In many instances most people would never even know that the t-shirt, hoodie or cap you are wearing is even vaguely geeky. But those in the know would spot the reference a mile away. And this is the brilliance of them. Many geeky items of clothing have quotes scrawled across them which become inane after you have looked at the even just twice, or just have the name of the franchise, badly, printed in bold. These items tend to be terrible and are best off avoided. Last Exit take a different approach. Their own words describe them best; they ”create unique hand screen printed T-shirts that pay homage to the most memorable places, corporations and characters in cinema history.”

I am going to highlight three of my favourites, as examples of their brilliance.

First up, is their Jaws, Amity Island t-shirt.

Image

http://www.lastexittonowhere.com/shop/product/amity-island/

This is a t-shirt that could so easily be disregarded as any old generic, ‘fake holiday destination’ t-shirt. But it is so much more. I have had the most unexpected people come up to me to ask, ”is that from Jaws”, and upon my affirmative answer have broken into a huge grin as it brings back memories of the movie.

Next up, is a personal favourite simply because I watched the movie over, and over again as a wee nipper. It is their Short Circuit, Nova Laboratories t-shirt.

Image

I would add a link but they do not seem to sell this anymore which is a shame. Whenever anyone asks about this one and I mention the movie, and its lead character, Number 5 (he only becomes Johnny in the sequel remember), they can’t help but quote, ”is alive”. It may not be the most famous of movies, but there is a lot of love for it. Also, Steve Guttenberg. Who does not like Steve Guttenberg?

My last choice (and it is difficult to reign myself in and stick to three) is their Back to the Future, Marvin Berry design.

 

Image

http://www.lastexittonowhere.com/shop/product/marvin-berry-and-the-starlighters-regular-t-shirt/

”You know that new sound that you’re looking for …”

Shockingly, I have yet to pick this one up. It is something I shall surely be rectifying soon enough. Band t-shirts are popular, but this takes it to another level. It would make a good companion for another t-shirt they offer based on Spinal Tap’s record label. Another shocking omission from my wardrobe.

But don’t take my word for it. Numerous famous people have come out as huge fans of the guys at Last Exit. Sam Witwer (Smallville, Battlestar Gallactica and many other geek friendly franchises) seems to be photographed in one of their designs on a monthly basis, Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Paul and Simon Pegg’s – who is also a fan – BFF) also seems to have had his fair share of pictures taken in their designs. Scroll down on the link below to find even more glowing tributes from those in the film industry.

http://www.lastexittonowhere.com/about/

Anyway, that is enough of that. Do you know of anywhere that sells fantastic film clothing like this? What designs do you think would work particularly well? Sound off below.

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Fast and Furious 6: or The Neverending Runway

So this movie has been out a year, though this is my first viewing since its cinema release, so I shall keep this short and sweet.

I think the first thing to acknowledge about these movies is that they clearly take place in some alternative universe where the rules of physics packed up their bags and left long ago. Not that this is a complaint. It gives the filmmakers license to go crazy. And go crazy they do.

At no point is this movie going to stimulate you mentally, but it will certainly leave you grinning from ear to ear. Every crazy car chase you enacted when you were young with your Matchbox cars is gleefully played out on screen, culminating in what is certainly a ‘unique’ final sequence; probably only out done for action scenes in 2013 by the finale to Iron Man 3. And even then it is a close toss up.

The movies biggest strength, though, is the fact that it does not take itself too seriously. There is nothing worse than a po-faced action movie. A wry smile and a bit of heart (no matter how cheesy) go a long way; continuous action can become mind numbing to even the biggest children among us.

The only two complaints I can really think of are that it is a little too long at over two hours, and, that in order to top this they may have to go a little too far with the next one; because if there is a mantra that this franchise seems to live by it is that each sequel has to be bigger and more ludicrous than the last.

What say you? Does it go too far? Not far enough? And is The Rock the most charismatic star working in Hollywood right now?

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1905041/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

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South Park: The Stick of Truth – Review

Licensed games have a patchy history. Occasionally something brilliant comes along – the Batman Arkham and Chronicles of Riddick franchises for instance – but usually you get a spluttering mess. South Park The Stick of Truth has the honour to be called not just a good licensed game, but a great one. But why?

The key part of any licensed experience is that it must evoke the feeling of the franchise. South Park (herein known as SP to save me typing South Park over and over again) gets off to an excellent start in this regard thanks to looking exactly like the cartoon. If someone walked in to see the game being played, they would question why you were holding a controller just to watch the TV. Bringing it closer to the show still is the fact that it is written by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. And then probably the smallest, but one of the nicest, touches, is that each time you load up the game it opens with a little jingle just like when the show comes back after a commercial break.

Having said all that, a SP game would be nothing without humour that is actually funny. The game succeeds more often than. The best episodes of SP are those that focus on a target and then skewer it mercilessly. This focus and this satire is what has made SP as popular as it is. In comparison the game is quite scattershot in its targets, with no one focus. This is very much a double edged sword. It allows the game to poke fun at everything and anything, my particular favourite is a running joke about how ridiculous audio logs in video games can be. It can mean that some of the crude humour has no direct target and so lacks any context and therefore any humour. Saying ‘poop’ alone is not funny. Saying that, it is all a moot point if you aren’t already a fan of SP’s particular brand of humour. If you don’t like the show you will hate the game.

Moving past the humour, there is no point in a game being funny if you do not enjoy actually playing it. Thankfully the game is entertaining to play. It is essentially a rather simplified RPG, with very simplified turn based combat. It is almost like they have taken the gameplay from a ‘babies first RPG’ and then added the least child friendly skin to it they possibly could. In combat you have several different options for instance, a melee attack, a ranged attack, a ‘magic’ attack and a summon attack. By magic I mean fart, and variations on that theme. The most used of these being the Skyrim referencing ‘Dragon Shout’. The summons themselves are very funny, though the humour obviously diminishes with repeated use. Jesus with a machine gun may be funny once, twice at a push, but no more than that. In open world gameplay there are lots of things to see and do. Plenty to interact with. You will find yourself visiting all the locales from the show; the school, Tom’s Rhinoplasty, Cartmans house, Canada, to name but a few. You are in for a treat when you reach Canada. You will not find yourself getting bored for its 15 hour runtime.

But what about the story? If the humour is there and the gameplay is there, you still need a driving force. Thankfully the story delivers exactly what you expect of SP. Just a few of the story beats it manages to cover elves v humans, aliens, Nazis, zombies, underpants gnomes and Manbearpig. No one element manages to outstay its welcome.

A big talking point in the lead up to the games release what that certain scenes had been censored in Europe. Personally I had no issue with this. For those who do not know, the scenes censored include an anal probing and an abortion. I cannot say I felt I missed out by not getting to give someone an abortion. You may disagree. Censorship is a thorny issue, though, an definitely a topic for another time. To sum this particular issue up, it does not take away from the game at all.

I haven’t really dwelt on any negatives so far, but they are there. As alluded to with the summons, the humour can become repetitive. Most characters only have two or three stock phrases during battle, or if you talk to them outside of battle, and once you have heard each one of them for the tenth or twentieth time, you may wish they would just act like mutes. It is an issue all comedy video games have, and as a common grievance you would have hoped that the developers would have included a little more variety in speech.  A strange annoyance I encountered was slow down. On more than one occasion the game started to chug a bit and the frame rate took a hit. In a game with high end graphics this can be understandable, but for a game that is as simplistic as this it is just bizarre.

In summary then, this is a game for those who are already fans of the franchise. It will not convert those with a dislike of the crude humour and language. The gameplay is solid, but is not a reason to buy the game; the reason to buy falls firmly in what the license brings to the table. So for SP fans, pick it up and prepare to have your funny bones tickled.

Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments box below…

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Gadget Show Live

Gadget Show Live 2014 had a lot to live up to. In 2013 the show floor was packed full of fantastic stuff, not least of all was dancing robots! And I would love to show you a video of those dancing robots (dancing to Gangnam Style no less) but unfortunately it is on my old phone. Which died. And apparently I never uploaded it anywhere.

Anyway, back on topic! The live show was also pretty spectacular. So this year it had to try and one up that. On the whole, it did just that.

Starting with the live show, everyone in attendance could very well be world record holders come Monday morning which is pretty neat. The record? The largest interactive game of Tetris. The whole arena had to wave their hands around and clap in order to move the tetronimos around and clear one line. Just the one. The time recorded was 18.13 seconds. It is something that they are doing for each live show over the weekend, so fingers crossed that they do not get a better time! The theme of the show was based around the fact that The Gadget Show is ten this year, so they had a retrospective of the biggest tech/innovations each year over the last ten years. It was amazing to see, for instance, how excited they were getting over wi-fi being this amazing, futuristic thing, and now it is something that we take for granted!

The highlight was quite possibly a performace by a group they announced as ‘Dance Mob’. They performed in LED suits in a pitch black room, something that was very effective. Particularly effective was when one would turn their lights off, move across the stage and the relight themselves. Because the room was practically pitch black it gave the impression that they just teleported from one place to another. As an idea of what this was like, watch this YouTube video of a similar group …

On second thoughts, maybe it was a fantastic demonstration of Occulus Rift. They pulled a lady out of the audience and put the Occulus Rift on them. They started in a grotty looking room but when they opened the door it turned out they were at the top of a very high building and they had a small plank to walk to cross a gap. Now either the lady chosen gave an Oscar worthy performance, or she was genuinely petrified of the fall. I rather think it was the latter. It shows how incredibly immersive a virtual reality experience Occulus Rift can provide. I would like to say I had a chance to experience this on the show floor, but the queue was unsurprisingly huge and I just didn’t have the patience. I may be British, but I hate to queue.

So, the show floor itself. It was incredibly busy. Maybe too busy. Definitely a step up in popularity since last year and a fantastic demonstration of just how important technology has become to everyone and how something that on the outside seems quite geeky is being embraced by people from every demographic. As mentioned, because of this the queue to try the Occulus Rift was enourmous, as were the queues for all the more interesting things, particularly the video games on offer, with the largest being for Titanfall and anything Xbox One related. Owing, presumably, to the fact that Microsoft were a headline sponsor Playstation didn’t really have any presence which is a major coup for Microsoft given the sheer voloume of people who will have visited the show by the time it’s run has come to a close. They also had a huge presence with Windows 8 and Surface. It really is a fantastic little tablet, it always seems so much nicer to use than an iPad; though as a Windows Phone user it could simply be that I am more at home with the Windows 8 interface than iOS.

I think one of the nicest little gadgets that I found was something from a company called Ownfone. It is a mobile that is small and very simple. It has just four or five large buttons that you label with specific people and they are the only people you can call. There is no number pad, no screen, nothing complex; it is just a small box with a direct line to five or six people. On their website one of their targets are parents, so that their kids can have a mobile for safety without giving them an expensive smartphone to run up huge data bills, or lose, or, more likely, break. Given the proliferation of smart phones among younger children (something that is insane, but something to discuss another day) this effort is to be applauded. If I was a parent, which, thankfully, I am not, this would be the phone I would buy.

https://1stfone.myownfone.com/

As a little coda to my day, there was an antiques event happening in the next hall down from the gadget show. I had a ticket so I went in. It could not have been more different. From noise and crowds to silence and peace. From the future to the past. I think that I stood out like a sore thumb, in jeans and t-shirt. The Gadget Show had a Subway stand and a pick and mix. The antiques show had a champagne bar. Really. There were some really neat things there, particularly a couple of the Japanese stores. But the prices. Oh my the prices. They had the armour from a Samurai warrior coming in at a cool £4000. If only I had that kind of money burning a hole in my pocket.

Anyway, the moral of the story is, next time The Gadget Show Live visits your corner of the world, go. Go and have a blast.

UPDATE 14/04/2014: So it turns out that another group beat 18.13 seconds with a time of 5.11 seconds. It is a fix I tell ya, a fix! It would have been quite fun to be part of a world record too!

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The Amazing Spiderman 2 Regional Premiere

So, tonight was the world premiere of The Amazing Spiderman 2, broadcast simultaneously in cinemas across the UK; a pretty neat idea to help build buzz for the movie. And as one of those lucky enough to attend, the least I can do is spread that buzz. For better or worse.

So is it for better … or worse? It is mostly for better. Mostly.

Lets start with the worse. The villains, Electro and the Green Goblin (though the Goblin name is never uttered). They seem to be there as a side salad to the main meat of the story; Peter Parkers reationship with those that he loves. They give the film its most spectacular moments, but they are far too broadly drawn, and easily beaten, to be either threatening or sympathetic. Electro comes closest to gaining ones sympathy being the outsider as he is, but his treatment by others, the driving force for him becoming the villain, lacks any subtlety and is far too ‘on the nose’ to draw any real emotion from the audience. Each person who puts him down may as well be sporting a Dick Dastardly moustache. The Goblin on the other hand could have been sympathetic given more time, if his story had been spread over two movie for instance, but as it is his character arc is hugely rushed. The writers also do not know whether to paint him as hard done by or spoilt rich kid. And if the writers do not know who their character is, how are the audience meant to know?

Although the next negative doesn’t affect the movie per se, I am going to mention it anyway. The premiere was presented in 3D. It added nothing to the movie. Not even in the ‘first person’ moments in which we the audience get to see through Spideys eyes as he swings acrobatically through the urban jungle that is New York. Those scenes would have been just as entertaining in 2D.

Hopefully you have not been put off the movie at this point as there are plenty of positives. Those spectacular action scenes I mentioned really are just that. Picking Electro as one of the villains was a brave move as it required a lot of CGI to pull off, but pull it off they did. His climactic battle with Spiderman certainly eclipsed anything in the first movie, and definitely anything in the Raimi/Maguire trilogy.

The performances of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are probably the highlights of the movie. Garfield is perfect as Spiderman, even better than he was first time around. He is clearly having a lot of fun with the roll; hopefully Sony will see fit to pay him enough to keep him around for many more movies to come. His is a Spiderman that people can relate to; he relishes the abilities he has and the good he can do like most of us would in his position. Stone is the perfect partner for him. Her Gwen Stacy is not just a damsel in distress and is certainly not overawed by Peters abilities; she more than holds her own, joyfully reminding Peter – a character we know to be quick the science whizz – that she was the number one science student at school. Their relationship is what keeps the movie going, and keeps it funny and enetertaining even in those moments where things slow to a crawl.

Paul Giamatti. He is a plus point all on his own. He always is no matter what role he plays, and no matter what movie he appears in. His hammy Russian accent would probably sound ridiculous on anyone else, but on him it is brilliant. His preparation seems to have been Michael Bay’s Armegeddon … ‘this is how we fix things on Russian space station!’

Before this becomes a novel, a summary. I think the phrase, ‘less than the sum of its parts’ fits quite nicely. Garfield and Stone are ace. The humour is brilliant. The action scenes ‘sparkle’. But weak villains and a generally weak story let the side down.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1872181/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Anyway, sound off below if you agree or disagree!

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