Wednesday 17 August 2016

Batman (1989) - A Retrospective

With Suicide Squad once more pitting Batman against his most famous adversary (however brief) The Joker, I thought that the time was ripe to examine their two other famous silver screen clashes. Namely, Batman and The Dark Knight. So, Batman, Tim Burtons 1989 film receives the retrospective treatment first!

Batman is a film that was long in development and had numerous scripts, actors and directors attached. Actors as diverse as William Defoe, David Bowie, John Lithgow and Robin Williams were linked with The Joker before Jack Nicholson took the role and made it his own. Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford and Daniel-Day Lewis were similarly attached to the title role of Bruce Wayne/Batman before Michael Keaton ever got close to signing up for it. Various possible storylines had The Penguin joining The Joker as a second villain, Barbara Gordon being involved and the emergence of Robin by the films end. Despite all of these possible castings and the storylines we could've had, I think it's fair to say that we ended up with a Batman film which did the source material and character justice.

Michael Keaton may seem an odd choice for the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in much the same way that Ben Affleck was. However, like Affleck, Keaton delivers us a superb version of the dark knight. His Bruce Wayne is very much a playboy, aware of his own wealth and someone who is perhaps more Batman than he wants to believe. When he dons the cape, he is a Batman that offers us a fresh take. It is worth remembering that prior to Batman, the only live action version of this character was Adam Wests! Keaton's Batman couldn't be further from him with not a hint of campness or colour.

The Joker contrasts perfectly with Batman in many ways. He is colourful and bright and brilliantly insane. Here is a Joker which stands the test of time and is perhaps more like Heath Ledgers later version than we remember. The Joker is a killer, the craziest of psychopaths. Whether he's frying someone to death with a hand buzzer or spearing someone else through the throat with a quill, here is a Joker who is dangerous. The difference between Nicholson and Ledger? Nicholson does it with a smile and a laugh. In these days of multiple cinematic versions of The Joker, this one is often referred to as the clown and that's true. He's more terrifying because of that. He's unpredictable. Batman still remains the only Batman film to only feature one comic book bad guy and there is a reason for that. Who else could share the lime light with The Joker. This is something I'll discuss in further detail when I write my The Dark Knight retrospective in regards to Two Face.

As far as style goes, Batman is very much a Tim Burton film although obviously before he got his hands on Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's deeply gothic which works well with a character such as Batman. This gothic feel, with the darkness and foreboding works well when The Joker comes into play. His sudden unpredictability and splash of colour bringing a sudden contrast to proceedings. It all works to make The Joker more larger than life and dangerous than he actually is.

Although Batman isn't my personal favourite Batman film, it's easy to see why it tops many lists. The Joker is an absolutely great character and Nicholson plays him to perfection. There is a motive behind his actions and his unpredictability is terrifying at times. While he may seem too comic bookish in this post-Nolan-Trilogy days, he still holds up as a truly dangerous adversary to Batman. Talking about Batman, Keaton is a worthy actor to don the cape. Physically he may not be a perfect Batman but character wise Keaton gets him just right. Later on of course we would get a tougher Batman courtesy of Christian Bale and a crazier Joker courtesy of the late Heath Ledger. That wouldn't happen for a further nineteen years though and in the meantime Batman pretty much set the superhero standard.

Saturday 13 August 2016

Kenny Baker 1934-2016

I came to the Star Wars films quite late, not watching A New Hope until I was pushing twenty years old. In my head it was sci-fi and too spacey. However, I gave it a go and instantly fell in love with the original trilogy. What I loved about the films, especially A New Hope was the relationship between C-3PO and R2-D2. It was essentially a double act where we never knew what one of them was saying! I think it's fair to say that both of these characters are Star Wars. As we've seen, the films work without many of its iconic cast but both C-3PO and R2-D2 appear in all of the seven films we've had so far and would be conspicuous by their absence.

Kenny Baker took on the role of R2-D2 in 1976, playing the role for the following twenty nine years in six films. It's fair to say that his role as the titular droid made him a household name among the franchises cult following. While this particular role will always be associated with him, it's important to remember that it wasn't his only role. Throughout his fifty five year career, Baker also appeared in Flash Gordon, Time Bandits, The Elephant Man, The Goodies, Willow and Labyrinth.

Unfortunately, Kenny Baker died last night just ten days before his 82nd birthday after a long illness. His final role was as a consultant on the seventh Star Wars film The Force Awakens. It seems that even Star Wars isn't safe from the curse on the celebrity world that appears to be 2016!

Kenny Baker

1934 - 2016

Friday 12 August 2016

No Mans Sky - Review

My first game review, ever. Normally I try and stick with films or television but I think the game I've chosen is worth having a bit of a talk about. No Mans Sky is epic in its scope. A billed 18 Quintillion planets just waiting to be explored! To put that into perspective, if you were to visit every planet and spend one second on each, with no travel time between, it would still take you 5 billion years to do it!

So, with a game of that magnitude, where do you start? Well, you start on a random planet at the edge of the universe with a crashed ship and broken multi-tool (your multi-tool is like the swizz army knife of weaponry. You use it to scan, mine and kill things). Once you've fixed your ship and left your starter planet the universe is quite literally your oyster. You can pretty much do what you want although the central goal is to make your way to the centre of the universe. You can do this however you choose to. You can follow the coordinates of the in game galactic map or you can forge your own route through the stars. Along the way you can upgrade your suit, your ship and your multi-tool while coming into contact with a variety of different alien species.

The variety of wild life is extraordinary 
First and foremost, No Mans Sky is an exploration game. At least that's what I take it as. There's different elements like survival, combat and trading involved but exploration is what draws me in. The planets are procedurally generated using a complex system of numbers and equations. For this reason, each and every planet you land on is different. Some even have moons. Some are incredibly hot, others are ice cold. Others are toxic while some are dead wastelands. It is that wonder, when you first head to a planet that draws you in. Until you land you truly don't know what you will encounter. Of course, you do have clues as you approach. Red planets tend to be toxic or hot, white ones are generally covered in snow and ice. Seas and Oceans can also be made out from the depths of space.

Once you land on a planet, the wonder continues with the animals you encounter and the plant life.
Some of the scenery is the best I've seen in a game
The species of wildlife vary greatly with some being dangerous while others are docile and friendly. This, alongside the planets varying weather systems and climates is where the survival aspect of the game come in. Don't refuel your hazard suit and a toxic dust storm can kill you.

With all of this new discovery comes the opportunity to name your finds whether they be star systems, planets, planetary landmarks, flaura or fauna, all can be named and uploaded to the universe encyclopedia. For me, this did wear off quite quickly although not before I'd renamed one particularly hostile planet 'Hell Hole' and some of its creatures 'Evil Hell Spiders'. It is still a great idea though with your named discoveries being saved for others to find and see.

Some of the space stuff is great and offers a more action
packed alternative to the quieter planet stuff
Aside from the planetary exploration, you spend an awful lot of time in space. Whether it's making your way through an asteroid field back to a space station or fighting off space pirates, you'll rarely be bored. You can also attack trade freighters should you choose although this quickly attracts the attention of the in game police (referred to as sentinels these exist both in space and on planets and attack you based on a GTA style wanted level).

Personally, I'm really enjoying the game. There are repetitive moments, such as the mining aspect, but the sense of wonder when landing on a new planet or moon is great. Although there are no missions to speak of, you are directed to certain places which gives the game a sense of direction. While I don't think you could ever truly get bored with No Mans Sky (especially with Hello Games working on free updates constantly) I do think that it has a certain novelty value which could wear off. However, three days in and I'm still hooked and eager to visit yet another different planet. One thing I need to say before wrapping this up is that there are issues with the graphics and performance. On more than one occasion I've launched from a planet only to wind up in space almost instantly. Also, the graphics arent the best. However, with the pure magnitude of the game I can forgive these small problems. There are no load screens (apart from when you jump to a new star system) and you feel truly like you are in charge of your own destiny. Also, Hello Games have given us a whole universe to explore for gods sake!

Suicide Squad Review - Possible Spoilers!!!

The critics would have you believe that DC is making truly awful films right now so I'm going to begin this review with one simple piece of advice. IGNORE THEM! They've obviously got some gripe with DC so do not trust them and should you go to see Suicide Squad, do so as the makers intended, as a fan. Right, so now I've got that out of the way, time to get down to the serious job of reviewing this bad boy....well a whole bunch of them.....and a couple of bad gals thrown in.

Waller puts forward her case
The basic plot of suicide squad is that U.S. Intelligence Officer Amanda Waller (Viola Davies) has spent a lot of time rounding up the "worst of the worst" with a little help from a couple of well known heroes (we see Batman taking down Harley Quinn and Dead-shot while The Flash makes a cameo to catch Captain Boomerang). Her idea is a simple one. Following the (spoiler alert) death of Superman, she wants to use bad-guys to catch bad-guys thus giving the government built in deniability. If anything goes wrong then they can just blame the bad-guys. Still follow me? Well our rag tag team of baddies get called into action quickly when Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) goes rouge and that is basically the plot. As I understood it at least.

So, initial thoughts? Personally I really enjoyed it. It was a fun film as opposed to Batman Vs
Boomerang and Quinn are standouts
Supermans grimness. It was funny with Captain Boomerang and Harley Quinn offering the most laughs. It does have its problems though and I'll cover these first to get them out of the way.

The plot is bad. I loved the idea of seeing these characters in this shared universe together but it felt like the plot was there to service this idea rather than the other way round. My biggest gripe with Batman Vs Superman was that it felt like the writers had this great idea to get these characters together and then needed to come up with a threat big enough for them to actually have a challenge. That's what Suicide Squad felt like at times. The plot felt like an after thought.

While I wasn't impressed with the shallow plot, I was impressed with the characters themselves. Jai Courtney was perfect as Captain Boomerang as was Will Smith as Deadshot. Margot Robbie was a stand out too and not just because of those short shorts. It's clear that Robbie and Smith are the two biggest names here because they spend the majority of the movie centre stage. This does have the effect that the other characters never capture our attention the same way. Diablo (Jay Hernandez) possibly comes closest due to his extended back story and conflicts with what he is seen as due to his powers.

One of the plus points is the love story between Harley Quinn and her puddin', The Joker. While
The Joker and Harley Quinn, a love story for
the ages.
comic book purists may have one or two complaints with it, I liked it. It offers hope for a 'Harley and The Joker' spin off and also showed a different side to the clown prince. Previous film versions of the character have given us The Gangster Joker (Jack Nicholsons iteration from Batman) and The Anarchist Joker (Heath Ledgers version from The Dark Knight). Leto gives us a different take entirely. A Joker who is still very much a bad guy but who actually may be in love.

Leto offers a new portrayal of
The Joker
I'll admit to having severe reservations over Jared Leto as The Joker but he kinda proved me wrong. I actually liked his iteration of the most famous comic book bad guy ever. His is the most comic book Joker we've seen and Leto gets the voice (and laugh) nailed. However, the short time we get with him was probably enough. He always had the potential to over shadow the film and in a way he does but not in a bad way. He's always there in the background (due to a sub-plot involving his attempts to 'rescue' Harley) which offers a nice little departure from the main plot.

I loved the film and can forgive the bad plotting because it's been a while since I've truly enjoyed a film as much. I actually like what DC are doing with their extended universe because it's different to Marvel. I love The Avengers films and what they are doing with their whole MCU but I wouldn't want that for DC. Theirs is a much darker universe with Batman at its centre, a man they call the Dark Knight for a reason. See it on its own merits and what ever you do, don't compare it to Marvel or pull it up on its flaws because "That's not what Iron Man was like". Suicide Squad is not that kind of beast!

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Preacher - First Look

What the hell is happening? This is a phrase I find myself uttering on more than one occasion while watching Preacher  the latest show on AMC. Although it's six episodes in, I'm still not entirely sure what is going on. From what I can gather, the main story line revolves around a preacher called Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) who gets possessed by this spirit called Genesis. It has the effect that Jesse can make anyone do anything with the power of his voice. Soon, a couple of Angels (played by Tom Brooke and Anatol Yusef) arrive on the scene tasked with retrieving Genesis. They are joined by an Irish vampire called Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) and a mysterious bounty hunter (Graham McTavish) as well as a vast assortment of supporting characters. It is a truly mental series. Saying that, it is also one of the funnest shows I've watched in a long time.

Joseph Gilgun battling an angel with a
chainsaw. What more do you need?
Joseph Gilgun is a true standout for me. I'm a bit of  a fan of his anyway having loved him in Misfits and This is England. I even liked him as Eli Dingle in Emmerdale! It's great to see him get his big break in a huge American production such as this one. The two Angels are also great and some of their interactions with Cassidy are absolutely brilliant. As the title character, Dominc Cooper is well, Dominc Cooper. He's an established actor and the role of Jessse is one he can really sink his teeth into.

Almost too similar to the
If the show has any downsides it could be that there is often just too much going on. The story line is a very simple one initially, a preacher gets possessed by a spirit that gives him the ability to make people do stuff with the power of his own voice. The trouble is that there's other stuff going off alongside this main plot that doesn't appear to have much of a connection, at least not in the earlier episodes. Also, and this isn't a criticism as such, the show is often cartoonish at times. IMO The Walking Dead led the way in how comic books should be adapted for television. While you can't actually tell that that show was born as a comic book, with Preacher it is all too obvious. Like I said though, that's not a criticism, just a general musing. Perhaps, this is how comic books should be adapted and The Walking Dead got it all wrong?

Preacher is a complicated beast to try and talk about because, if I'm honest, I'm not entirely sure what is going on with it. However, that's not to say that it isn't a great show. It is one of the craziest shows around at the moment, a show that doesn't take itself too seriously. Utterly bonkers is a way I've described it before. In a world of The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Outlander, shows with outlandish plots but a serious outlook, it's good to have a bit of bonkers to throw into the mix too. It's also good to see a show that's got legs. Already, Preacher has earned itself a thirteen episode second season order!

Preacher is currently airing on AMC in America. In the UK, you can catch it on Amazon Prime with new episodes added every Tuesday.

Tuesday 5 April 2016

The Walking Dead Season 6 Finale - First Thoughts - Negan's Here!!!

 So, Negan is here! Billed as being the biggest, baddest villain to ever grace the pages of the comic book, Negan has been teased for the best part of six months now. One of the reasons for the anticipation, of course, was that in the comic books he brutally beats Glen to death with his baseball bat. That same entrance was promised in the series and yes, he beat someone to death with his baseball bat following an epic ten minute monologue by the brilliant Jeffery Dean Morgan. I say that he beat someone because we still don't know who his victim is. Yes, we were left with possibly the biggest cliffhanger in the shows six year history. It's a cliffhanger which has been met with a lot of anger by the shows fanbase and I can understand why. I was angry myself but, after a bit of thought, I can accept it and even forgive it.

Rick is a broken man as Negan taunts him!
Finales are tricky things to get right and not all shows manage to get it right all of the time. The only show which I can think of that consistently got finales right was Lost but maybe I'm biased. A good finale has tension and risk but above all it has conclusion. A season is just a chapter and the finale is the end of that chapter. It needs to justify the viewers investment in the previous sixteen or so episodes. In my opinion the finale of this season of TWD ticked those boxes. It brought to an end the story of Ricks downfall. From the season opener when he planned this huge operation to divert a huge herd of walkers wawy from Alexandria to the finale, on his knees in the dirt as Negan beat the holy hell out of one of his group. That was what this season was all about and when you see it that way you can see how good the finale was.

The true brilliance of the episode was in Negans introduction, something which stretched the whole episode. Ricks group were herded towards the eventual ambush with efficiency and what's more he never saw it coming. There is no doubt that it was all planned by Negan and perhaps even Maggies mysterious illness. There is a theory that Maggie was poisoned by someone in league with the saviours in order to force the Alexandrians on the road. When he did finally make his grand entrance with ten minutes to spare he did not disapoint. He exuded charisma and even though he killed someone, I can forgive him that.
The charismatic Negan

Rick and his group deserved what they got. They killed saviors on the logic of 'get them before they get us', knifing them as they slept in their beds. You can understand Negan being pissed off and you can understand his need for vengeance. In fact, lets be honest, Ricks group probably got off lightly! Can Negan even be considered a baddie in light of this? Surely he's only a better version of Rick. Rick has done a lot of bad stuff and the only reason we route for him is because he's the hero of his story. Had we followed Negans story from the start then Rick would be the bad guy in all of this! Two characters who are basically two sides of the same coin.

So, that cliff hanger! Personally I hate cliffhangers. I love television and I don't like waiting for six months to discover what happens next. I want to know now goddamit! Saying that, I do accept that they serve a function and I think that in TWD's case, this season finale cliffhanger will serve its function very well. In order to justify ending the season in that way, we will get an outstanding season seven premier. Also, we have been promised that Negan will be sticking around for a good while and I for one can't wait to see what he has in store for us!

Monday 31 August 2015

Fear The Walking Dead: A First Look!

So Fear The Walking Dead, is it any good? Well, yes, yes it is. It's far from the finished article and it's not quite up to the standard of its parent show The Walking Dead but still, it's very good and it's still better than most other tv shows. The trouble is that The Walking Dead has set such high standards that trying rank something alongside it is near impossible. It's almost like trying to compare a footballer to Lionel Messi! Of course, there is little else to compare Fear The Walking Dead to considering a) both shows are by the same people, b) they are both about the same subject matter and c) they are both set in the same universe. Sure, the time lines are slightly different but the fact that both shows occupy the same universe is pretty much inescapable. In terms of the timeline difference, Fear is set around the time that Rick Grimes is in a coma somewhere near Atlanta. Remember those strange coma visions Rick has right at the start, where civilisation is breaking down? Well here we get to witness it in all its glory and its not pretty.

The first episode is strange in that it's not what you'd expect a premiere to be. There are no big set-pieces, no hoards of walkers tearing apart a horse, infact theres very little walker action at all. This is a continuation of The Walking Dead so it doesn't really need to start fast, it can afford to take its time especially when you consider that it's already bagged a second season order. Also, the fact that its set right at the beginning of what we already know is to come means that a certain amount of care is needed. This is an apocalypse at ground level, where rumour and conspiracy is rife. A world where shaky YouTube footage of a walker attack heralds a world to come. The world we've become accustomed to in The Walking Dead is a world where danger lurks around every corner and Fear is perhaps a victim of that, more so in the first episode. It's also strange seeing a living, breathing cityscape, Los Angeles providing the setting.
One of L.As first walkers begins to rise...

Another thing we've become accustomed to in regards to The Walking Dead is the slow burn episode. The series has utilised this tool many times and it seems like it will become a feature of Fear The Walking Dead too. While the first episode is slow, the second episode notches things up a gear as civilisation begins to break down. It's quick and it's brutal as the lights of L.A. begin to go out.

The cast is quite strong although it's perhaps too early to root for any of them just yet. They are all fairly likeable though and the seeds of character development are already being sown. It's clear that we will see a hard development with some of them. They are seeing a new world emerge with different rules where its all about survival and family. The theme of family and protecting those close to you is something which becomes evident in the second episode as Madison (the mother) prevents her daughter from helping a neighbour for fear that she will get bitten. I personally questioned the use of fear in the title but it's clear how that one word is central to the whole show. This is a world where people don't really know what they are dealing with. Fear seeps from the characters and it effects everything they do.
The two leads (Madison and Travis) attempt to find answers

All in all, despite a slow start to the series, it looks like it will be a strong companion show to The Walking Dead. Despite the different setting and different characters, this is still very much a Walking Dead series and so die hard fans should be satisfied. Because it begins at the start of the 'zombie uprising' it should also introduce new viewers to The Walking Dead universe. No prior reading of comic book source material is required here and you can actually watch it as a stand alone series as opposed to a summer Walking Dead fill in.