Review of John Wick

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Are you a dog or cat person? I suspect that when it comes to moviegoers most film audiences prefer canines. How else can you explain that when a person dies in a flick no one cares, but if a pooch gets harmed the entire cinema goes mental? The makers of John Wick have tapped into this passion for mutts to divert attention away from how barebones their movie’s plot is. Guy takes on evildoers who have done him wrong? Yawn, how cliché. Huh, what’s that? The bad guys killed a puppy? How heinous! Okay, now I am invested. I can’t wait to see those jerks get their just desserts… and suffer they will because anyone foolish enough to pick on John Wick’s “doggie” is in for a ruff-ruff time.

OVERVIEW

John Wick is a former assassin who gave up the life of a contract killer after he found love and got hitched. Unfortunately for him his missus has since succumbed to the ravages of cancer. John would be alone now were it not for his adorable pet beagle Daisy, who was gifted to him by his departed wife. Some time after the funeral John decides to take his vintage Mustang out for a spin. The vehicle is thirsty for gas, after a cruise through a local airfield, so he decides to stop at a nearby petrol station. There he encounters a Russian mobster who expresses a desire to purchase John’s flashy automobile. Mr Wick declines the offer, but sadly for him the Ruskie gangster just won’t take no for an answer.

When dusk hits the above mentioned Mafioso breaks into John’s house accompanied by a group of henchmen. They proceed to rob John’s car, beating the titular hero to a pulp in the process. During the attack Daisy, who valiantly tries to defend her master, is also slain – tipping John over the edge. After exhuming a stash of firearms John sets off to claim retribution. New York’s most prominent criminal syndicate stands between John and his target, but that doesn’t matter. John is a one-man army who could reputedly take down the Boogeyman. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen that worm-munching wrestler in years. I guess it really is true that the Boogeyman fell to Wick’s badassery.

VERDICT

My rating for John Wick is four stars. Despite being a by the numbers revenge caper it manages to entertain thanks to its thrilling action set pieces. The film is directed by a pair of stuntmen and man does it show. Unlike other blockbusters you can actually follow what is going on and admire the stunning martial arts choreography. The flow of combat is not interrupted with quick cuts or shaky cam, which is a huge relief. Watching stuff like the Hunger Games can induce seasickness, as the director throttles the camera in order to disguise his cast’s lack of fighting prowess. Thankfully those tricks are not required when your movie is fronted by Keanu Reeves. Anyone who has watched the Matrix trilogy is well aware that Keanu is no slouch when it comes to fisticuffs.

Despite a modest twenty million dollar budget John Wick courts the services of several big name stars. Willem Dafoe makes an appearance as a veteran sniper and Ian “Lovejoy” McShane plays an affluent chap who owns establishments frequented by members of the underworld. Out of all the actors I especially liked hotel concierge Lance Reddick, as he made me chuckle on several occasions with his deadpan replies. Really, apart from the anaemic plot, the only thing I can criticize John Wick on would have to be its anticlimactic finale. After giving us spectacular car chases and a bloody nightclub based gunfight the whole thing culminates with Keanu beating up a geriatric guy. Well technically his opponent is only a few years older than John Wick, but Keanu looks a lot younger in comparison. In the words of Bill & Ted, Keanu looks “excellent” for his age.

Review of Super Mario Run

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What’s this? It appears to be Super Mario on a non-Nintendo system. Hmm, I don’t like the looks of this and who can blame me? Last time the jumping plumber ventured his way onto third party hardware we got the Philips CD-i abomination that was Hotel Mario. Nintendo are however desperate for extra revenue, after the Wii-U’s disappointing sales, and have therefore decided to dip their toe into the mobile market. At first glance Super Mario Run appears to be a fully-fledged platformer, but in reality it is an auto-runner. Just like playing Mario Bros with a busted D-Pad, in this game Mario continuously traipses forward. Controls are limited to jumping at the appropriate time. Tap the screen to leap over pitfalls and squish the gormless turtles that have pledged fealty to King Koopa.

OVERVIEW

Super Mario Run sees the titular Italian stereotype traverse over twenty-four levels in order to reclaim the delicious cake that Bowser has pilfered. Oh… and he also has to rescue Princess Peach from his clutches, but who cares about that when scrumptious dessert is on the line? Just like in a regular Mario game there is coinage to collect and power-ups to find, including those delightful toadstools that trigger gigantism. Unlike other Mario titles you aren’t given a set number of lives, but rather a finite amount of bubbles. Whenever Mario sustains critical damage, rather than perish, he will safely float away to another location. Watching Mario drift across the sky in a bubble is reminiscent of his younger years, back when Yoshi was tasked with babysitting a toddler version of Nintendo’s mascot.

The main campaign can be cleared within two hours, so what is there to do after that? Not much other than design your own version of the Mushroom Kingdom. By using the coins collected during Mario’s journey it’s possible to construct buildings and purchase decorations for your land. Erecting some structures will also require labour in the form of Toads (no not frogs, the humanoid shrooms who serve Peach.) Recruiting Toads requires that you compete in rally mode, where you challenge the ghosts of other players in a race to nab the most gold within a strict time limit. The simulated PVP adds some welcome replay value to Super Mario Run, although I must say that seeing your stockpile of Toads deplete when you suffer a loss sucks. How dare you penalize me for losing? This is supposed to be a lighthearted platformer not frigging Dark Souls!

VERDICT

My rating for Super Mario Run is three stars. I’m not a massive fan of auto-runners, but overall this game is fun to play in short bursts – whilst I wait for my Fire Emblem Heroes stamina bar to replenish. Seeing Mario appear in a runner game is weird though. Dashing through stages and grabbing all the gold items you come across sounds like it would be a better fit for Mario’s former rival Sonic the Hedgehog. I suspect Mario fans will enjoy this mobile release more than I did, although the simplified control scheme may not be to everyone’s liking. The jumping mechanics are solid and I have no complaints with how the height of leaps is proportional to how long you press down on the screen. I do however wish that there were a way to manually change direction. Missing out on a valuable collectible just because you can’t backtrack a few steps is annoying.

It will be interesting to see how Super Mario Run performs financially. Entitled mobile gamers, who have been conditioned to expect entertainment for free, may complain that the asking price is too steep for the limited content on offer. I myself will admit that replaying the modest selection of levels over and over can get stale after a while. Thankfully it is possible to freshen things up a bit by tackling the stages with different characters. Princess Peach for example becomes playable upon successfully completing the story. She can’t take advantage of the mushroom powers, but on the plus side she can use her dress to glide. Wow, I had no idea that female garments bestow flight to their wearers. Makes me want to try my hand at cross-dressing… although to be honest I don’t have the legs to pull off a skirt.

Review of Robocop (2014)

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If we all recycled refuse to the level that Hollywood recycles movie ideas the Earth would be a far cleaner place. Last Sunday I finally got round to watching Robocop, a 2014 remake of Paul Verhoeven’s eighties classic. Set in the year 2028, Robocop takes place in a world were OmniCorp manufactured automatons serve as peacekeepers in war torn regions. Hoping to capitalize on the lucrative US law enforcement market, OmniCorp chief executive Raymond Sellars proposes using his company’s mechanical soldiers to replace flesh and blood cops on the beat. His plans are rejected however by senators who don’t like the idea of machines dispensing justice. Politicians don’t trust computers, which is why I don’t expect self-driving cars to get approved anytime soon. Never mind that KITT can navigate roads far better than your average female driver.

OVERVIEW

Loopholes are a wonderful thing and corporations love exploiting them (just ask Starbucks who avoid paying tax via creative accounting.) When OmniCorp is banned from making a robotic police officer they settle for the next best thing – a cyborg. Detective Alex Murphy becomes the titular Robocop after his body is blown to smithereens by a concealed explosive. Alex’s flesh body is replaced with an artificial one, clad in black armour. That should confuse the Black Lives Matter mobs. We can’t attack this pig – look at his metal skin, he is one of us! Anyways, the reborn detective sets off to apprehend the evildoers who maimed him. In between all that OmniCorp tries using chemistry to turn Robocop into a mindless puppet and Murphy tries readjusting to married life, despite the handicap of no longer possessing a schlong.

Although I can commend Robocop’s trio of writers for adding depth to what could have been a straightforward revenge flick, the movie’s marital moments didn’t work for me. Joel Kinnaman (Alex Murphy) has zero chemistry with his onscreen bride, played by the sexy Abbie Cornish (I wouldn’t mind eating out that Cornish Pasty if you know what I mean.) When compared to the original Robocop this 2014 reimagining also suffers in the action department, due in part to its tamer age rating. I have to wonder how Robocop 2014 would have looked had it been filmed after Deadpool came out and proved to studios that R rated movies can be profitable. Robocop’s gunfight scenes are “shot” well enough (no pun intended) but they lack the visceral gore that made its predecessor so much fun to watch.

VERDICT

My rating for Robocop is three stars. Judged on its own merits the movie is quite entertaining. The problem with remakes however is that they inevitably get compared to the original. Fans of the eighties Robocop will argue that there is little reason to watch this reboot, as the first film is vastly superior. Not only is the absence of blood splatter noticeable, but the franchise’s trademark satirical humour has gone AWOL too. This new Robocop treats itself far too seriously, although Samuel L. Jackson does manage to add some levity to proceedings. The hater of serpents on aircrafts plays the role of a biased news anchor named Pat Novak. His portrayal of the character pokes fun at how partial modern media stations can be. The Novak Element vignettes were eerily similar to how some channels reported the recent US election and Brexit.

Despite its failings Robocop isn’t terrible and can claim to be much better than some of the other reboots Hollywood has attempted. I liked how this iteration of the character is more mobile than Peter Weller plodding along in a heavy suit. The movie is also enhanced by some strong performances. Michael Keaton is great as the charismatic CEO who places profit above ethics. The star of the show however has to be Gary Oldman who plays the doctor responsible for developing Murphy’s prosthetics. Throughout the film he is forced to wrestle with his conscience. Should he offer the best treatment possible to his patient or sacrifice him to create an obedient weapon capable of eradicating crime? Who knows, I just hope he can rebuild me into a cyborg too. I’ll need a new body because female readers are likely to murder my ass for that earlier driving remark.

Review of Fire Emblem Heroes

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I finally got round to playing one of Nintendo’s iOS releases, namely Fire Emblem Heroes. Due to my lack of a mobile phone I never got into the Pokémon Go craze that swept the globe. Neither did I partake in Super Mario Run, because I am not a fan of the auto-runner genre. Fire Emblem Heroes was a day one download for me though, as I have been a fan of the series ever since I played Fire Emblem 7 on the Gameboy Advance. There’s no risk in trying out this portable strategy RPG given that it costs nowt to install. I welcome entertainment that is gratis in these financially tough times. Just the other day I discovered that the cost of my favourite leafy vegetable has doubled due to a poor harvest. Well enough grocery moaning, lettuce get on with the review.

OVERVIEW

Fire Emblem Heroes puts players in the role of a tactician who must stop a loli sorceress from seizing control of Askar – a magical kingdom that houses gateways leading to the various Fire Emblem worlds. To triumph budding generals lead their troops against enemies whose ranks include clumsy maids and big-breasted ladies who ride atop wyverns (I wouldn’t mind Camilla riding my dragon hurr hurr.) All the tactical goodness one would expect from a Fire Emblem title is here, although some of the gameplay mechanics have been streamlined to better suit mobile audiences. Battles for example are waged on maps that are just one screen big and player controlled armies are limited to four warriors per skirmish.

One feature absent from Fire Emblem Heroes is permadeath. Units who perish in battle will revive once a level concludes, although incapacitated heroes will lose out on any experience accrued during that mission. Thank goodness that death is temporary because new soldiers are recruited by using up precious summon orbs. Said orbs are awarded for completing story levels and after that you’ll need to fork out real money to obtain more. If you are a cheapskate it’s possible to enlist the aid of low rank characters by completing daily challenges. Two star heroes aren’t great, but can be promoted in exchange for feathers obtainable via PVP. If you plan to promote someone to rank five be aware that you’ll need to collect more feathers than an OCD Assassin’s Creed player.

VERDICT

My rating for Fire Emblem Heroes is four stars. Despite its bite sized design Heroes manages to deliver the fun tactical combat Fire Emblem is renowned for. I like how levels can be speedily completed within minutes, but still retain a degree of strategy. Although more casual that other titles in the series you’ll still need to position troops correctly to take advantage of the infamous weapon triangle (archers are strong versus flying units, lancers deal bonus damage to swordsmen, lizard beats Spock etc.) Fans of the franchise will also enjoy how it is possible to amass an army comprised of stars from previous games. Who you enlist via summoning is totally random, which will annoy some people but I am okay with the character lottery. As an avid Hearthstone player I am well acquainted with the system of paying for RNG determined rewards.

Will I still be playing Fire Emblem Heroes a year from now? Only time will tell. I suspect grinding levels, dealing with the stamina bar that limits how much you can play per session and being pressured into buying orbs will wear down my enthusiasm eventually. All that said, at the time of writing, I have been playing Heroes for almost two weeks without spending a dime. Even if I elect to abandon the game tomorrow that’s terrific value for money. One could cite any number of full priced games that fail to retain a player’s interest for that long. No Man’s Sky for example gets stale far quicker than Fire Emblem Heroes and The Order 1886 has less content despite its hefty price tag. Forty quid for something that can be completed in a few hours? Bah, I could buy several lettuces for that fee.

Review of Double Dragon 4

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To coincide with the thirty-year anniversary of Double Dragon the folks at Arc System Works have just released Double Dragon 4 on Sony’s current gen console. Double Dragon is a series I am well acquainted with because it introduced me to the world of side scrolling brawlers, courtesy of its sluggish Amstrad CPC 464 arcade port. Since then I have gone on to enjoy Double Dragon games on the original Gameboy, Super Double Dragon for SNES and Double Dragon Neon on PS3. Double Dragon 4 hopes to tap into the nostalgia old farts have, by mimicking the visuals and gameplay of the Nintendo Entertainment System trilogy. Unfortunately for beat-em-up fans Double Dragon 4 not only reacquaints us with 8-bit graphics, but also the frustrating mechanics found in many retro classics.

OVERVIEW

Fighting games aren’t known for their stellar storytelling and Double Dragon 4 does nothing to buck that trend. The game begins with the Lee brothers travelling the land to expand their flourishing dojo empire. Sadly for Billy and Jimmy the tour has to be put on hiatus when a group of thugs assault them. The hoodlums in question serve a pair of martial art practicing sisters who wish to prove that females can be mighty. Any social justice warriors hoping to cheer the feminist crusade of Double Dragon 4’s villains shouldn’t get too excited though. When the attack on Billy and Jimmy fails the evildoers resort to the sexist scheme of kidnapping Marian. Nothing has changed since 1987. Once again the damsel in distress needs to be rescued by men.

Anyone who has played the NES version of Double Dragon 2 will feel right at home with Double Dragon 4. Over the course of twelve short levels one or two players walk about smacking any ruffians they encounter, be it with their fists or by using the weapons found littering the landscape. Occasionally the fisticuffs are interrupted by annoying platform segments were players have to circumvent traps, which isn’t easy given Billy and Jimmy’s poor agility. Despite being accomplished Kung-Fu warriors the brothers Lee amble along at the pace of a fatigued slug and can barely leap higher than an elephant wearing lead sandals. The frustration continues in the combat sections whenever you are pitted against multiple foes. Countless lives will be lost as there is little recourse against enemies swamping you from both sides simultaneously.

VERDICT

My rating for Double Dragon 4 is a two and a half out of five, which equals the score I recently awarded Power Rangers: Mega Battle. Out of the two games I would argue that Power Rangers has the better gameplay, as its combat system requires a modicum of strategy. Battling Double Dragon’s cheap AI on the other hand consists of spamming the overpowered hurricane kick and sticking to the top or foot of the screen were hits don’t register. Whether you enjoy Double Dragon 4 or Power Rangers more comes down to personal taste. In its favour Double Dragon possesses old school charm and a huge roster of playable characters. Once the one-hour long story is completed access to Tower mode is granted, where a multitude of new fighters can be unlocked.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed Double Dragon 4 more if I could have found a chum to join me in some co-op multiplayer action. Two gamers fighting side by side would have alleviated the irritation of being unfairly gangbanged from both flanks. At the end of the day however I have to say that DD4 doesn’t live up to the hype. Whether fault lies with Arc System Works’ level design or the antiquated combat not withstanding the test of time is up for debate. Either way I would only recommend Double Dragon 4 to diehard fans of the franchise… and even then I would suggest waiting for a discount. Ultimately Double Dragon 4 is a disappointment, but hey at least it isn’t the worst thing ever to sport the Double Dragon brand. If you want to see something truly terrible give the live action movie a gander.

Review of Justice League Dark

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Justice League Dark is an animated movie set in the headquarters of DC Comics’ all-star superhero team, during that one time when no one got round to paying the power bill. Just kidding! This direct to DVD film actually focuses on a band of crime fighters who are gifted in the mystical arts. Over in the States Justice League Dark lived up to its name because the ratings board deemed that its content deserved an R classification. I guess the folks over at Warner Bros are keen to ride on the coattails of Deadpool, who has previously sold gangbusters despite its mature age rating. To be honest though I didn’t think that the violence or language in Justice League Dark was all that bad. No one even gets laid… presumably because the writers want to avoid the backlash caused by Batgirl doing the horizontal mambo in a prior release.

OVERVIEW

This twenty-seventh entry in the DC animated movie franchise begins with several citizens committing atrocities. One man tries to murder his family, a panic stricken lady is seen mowing down pedestrians with her car and a young mother attempts to toss her new-born off a building. Was the parent in question simply trying to dispose of the smelly nappy affixed to the child? Nah, the aforementioned trio are the victims of an enchantment, which makes them believe that they are being assaulted by monsters. Batman, despite being the world’s greatest detective, dismisses the possibility that supernatural forces are responsible – even though the DC universe is rife with magic. An encounter with Deadman (a heroic spirit who can possess others) however convinces the Caped Crusader to reassess his views on the matter.

In order to investigate the root of the paranormal delusions Batman recruits the services of busty magician Zatanna, rhyming demon Etrigan and a spell-casting shyster known as John Constantine. The highlight of Justice League Dark is seeing these lesser-known characters get a moment in the spotlight. Batman is a big name, but his role in the movie is rather limited. I suspect he merely tags along with the group because it’s a proven financial fact that plastering the Dark Knight on a DVD case equals more sales. Constantine gets the most screen time, even if he is a reluctant team player. The British anti-hero is more of a lone wolf who specializes in manipulating others (not even Swamp Thing is immune to his swindles.) John is however convinced to follow the righteous path by former flame Zatanna. I guess he has a fetish for fishnets and top hats.

VERDICT

My rating for Justice League Dark is three stars. To be honest the movie is one of the weaker DC animated films I have watched in recent years. It’s worth renting if you like superhero cartoons, but I wouldn’t recommend purchasing it. The movie reminds me a little of Suicide Squad. It’s entertaining enough thanks to the action and funny one-liners, but the plot itself isn’t great. When it comes to grading those films I can be more generous with Justice League because it has the sense to wrap things up around the seventy-minute mark, moments before tedium begins to set in. Suicide Squad on the other hand felt like it was wasting my time with its bloated two hour running time. Margot Robbie in hot pants will distract me for ninety-minutes, but after that my mind will wander and begin to notice the scripts many flaws.

One big disappointment I had with the film would have to be the voice acting. I’ll forgive Deadman’s annoying accent because he is a comic relief character. Jason O’Mara as Batman cannot compare to the likes of Kevin Conroy or Troy Baker though. Constantine’s voice actor lacked passion too, which is odd given that Matt Ryan who fronts the Constantine television series was the guy in the recording booth. Perhaps I found Justice League Dark to be mediocre because I prefer vigilantes who fight street level crime or superheroes whose origins lie in science. When it comes to magic I can never get invested, because no matter how dire things get our heroes can escape with an incantation or wave of a wand. Magical Deus Ex Machina annoys me like old school magicians. They make me want to pull my hare out.

The Case of Hana & Alice Review

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One thing you cannot accuse director Shunji Iwai of is rushing out a follow-up flick to capitalize on the popularity of the original. Take the Case of Hana & Alice for example. This animated feature is a prequel to a live action movie that came out way back in 2004. Over the course of one hundred minutes it regales us with a tale, which explains how the titular pair went from being frosty neighbours to the best of friends. Man, how I wish I could be Hana. Then I would have an excuse for uttering the immortal line “I’ve been living next door to Alice… Alice? Who the fuck is Alice?”

OVERVIEW

In case you are wondering who the F-word Alice is, Tetsuko “Alice” Arisugawa happens to be a transfer student. She has relocated to a new town after her parents got divorced (fact of the day, Japan has a divorce rate of 36% whilst in the States over 50% of marriages end with a breakup.) Anyways, Alice’s first day at school doesn’t go well because she elected to sit at the cursed desk situated in the middle of her classroom. See kids, this is why all your anime heroes always choose the vacant spot next to the window. Thankfully for Alice the place where she parked her posterior doesn’t doom her to a life of misery. A fellow pupil named Mutsu cleanses Alice’s soul with an exorcism. After a rocky start Alice is welcomed to the fold and becomes a prominent member of the local track team.

Curious if the desk is genuinely jinxed or if the whole thing is just one big urban legend, Alice decides to investigate the curse’s origins. Her sleuthing uncovers that a chap named Kotaro Yuda, who was allegedly murdered by a jealous lover, used the furniture in question years ago. Wow, given the nation’s high divorce rate and how violent ex-girlfriends can be I am starting to realize that being single isn’t all that bad. Anyways, as luck would have it Alice’s neighbour Hana used to sit right behind Yuda in class. When the two meet however Hana is unable to confirm if Yuda is deceased. In order to determine the truth our young heroines concoct a plan to stalk Yuda’s father at work, hoping that observing his movements will reveal if his son still resides in the world of the living.

VERDICT

My rating for The Case of Hana & Alice is four stars. It’s an ideal film to watch whenever you need a pick me up. The early scenes have the serene quality found in slice of life shows and later, when things liven up, viewers are treated to moments of amusing calamity that are sure to elicit a smile. It’s neat how animation has allowed the original film’s stars to play younger versions of their characters, even if they are now thirteen years older. Alice is the better adjusted of the two and quickly acclimatizes to life in a new school. Not even bullies of the opposite gender can stand in her way. Hana is more brainy, but lacking in social skills. A prank that went awry has turned her into a recluse, although its hinted that she’s never excelled at mingling with others. For heaven’s sake, she thinks gifting a marriage licence to a guy on Valentines Day is romantic. Take it from me Hana; blokes will pick chocolate over commitment any time.

As someone who has not watched the 2004 Hana & Alice, I can’t say if the events of this prequel enrich the live action film’s content. What I can attest to however is that the movie works just fine as a standalone feature. I can highly recommend checking it out, even if the visuals may not be to everyone’s taste. Just like Flowers of Evil, rotoscope techniques were used to bring Hana & Alice to life. Many critics have complained that anime made from tracing live action footage doesn’t looks right, but to be honest I didn’t have any problems with the film’s aesthetics. Given the choice, I’d pick a rotoscope anime over one featuring crude CG any day. A rotoscope Alice dancing ballet is far more artistic than the abominations you can witness in the new Berserk or the PS2 level graphics found in Appleseed XIII.