Paul – Review

‘Paul’ preview held at the Prince Charles Cinema – Tuesday 8th February 2011 (With Introduction from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost)

After a quick photo opportunity (above) where the entire audience donned ‘Paul’ masks (that’s me, third row, at the end on the right – Hi!) the audience were treated to a brief introduction from stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost who gave a little background on the making of the film but were cut short by microphone problems, although they did have the opportunity to reveal The Prince Charles Cinema’s darkest (cutlery based) secret before the film started

Synopsis

Friends and Geeks-in-arms Graeme Willy (Pegg) and the writer Clive Gollings (Frost) head to the US to attend Comic-Con and then out on a road trip in a rented RV to take in the hottest UFO spots in America, where, after an altercation with some unfriendly locals, a chase and a car crash later they run into Paul, an alien escaped from Area 51 trying to get home

Sci-Fi fans Willy and, eventually, Gollings are convinced to help Paul escape the clutches of the pursuing Special Agent Zoil (Jason Batemen), bungling FBI Agents Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio) and, following the accidental kidnapping of his cycloptic creationist daughter Ruth (Kristin Wiig), bible bashing Moses Buggs (John Carroll Lynch)

From then on it’s a race against time to get Paul safely back to his pick up point before any of the chasing pack, or someone even worse, can stop them

Summary

I loved Spaced – probably mostly because I recognised a lot of Pegg’s character Tim, in myself at the time with a love of gaming, comics, Star Wars and zombies and I had a potentially deranged painter living in my basement – but Spaced set a very, very high bar which, for me, neither Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz have managed to come close to.

Paul is a very different movie and is played more for laughs than either SotD or Hot Fuzz, indeed it is laugh-out-loud funny on a good few occasions, but it also feels better paced with an almost non-stop volley of gags, taking in every sci-fi reference and anal probe joke it can possibly get away with and a few digs at religion that it might not

The cast is a true who’s who of US talent that includes Superbad alumni Joe Lo Truglio and the excellent Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig, Glee’s hilariously hateful Sue Sylvester, Jane Lynch, the always brilliant Jason Bateman and a scene stealing Jeffery Tambour as Adam Shadowchild, Willy and Gollings literary hero

Of course, the real star of the film is Paul himself and if the character wasn’t believable on-screen, the film wouldn’t work. Thankfully, Paul is brilliantly brought to life by Double Negative Special Effects (who also handled recent blockbusters such as Inception, Iron Man 2 and the final 2 installments of the Harry Potter saga) and is thoroughly believable in every scene. Add Seth Rogan’s world-weary voice into the mix along with some gollum-esq facial capture and Paul comes alive and you could almost believe that he’s been trapped on this rock for 60 years

My only problem was the nagging feeling that there is a better film in here, screaming to get out, that may have been stifled slightly by committee. It suffers in some parts, falling back on a constant barrage of often unneccessary ‘comedy’ swearing for cheap laughs and the love triangle is slightly uncomfortable.

7/10 – My god, its full of stars, but it’s not quite out of this world

Paul is in UK Cinemas on February 14th ad US Cinemas on February 18th

Never Let Me Go – Review

‘Never Let Me Go’ at the BFI Southbank – Monday 6th February 2011 (With Q&A with writer Kazuo Ishiguro)

The opening film of the 54th London Film Festival (in October 2010) get its long-awaited UK cinema release this coming Friday, 11th February and was shown earlier this evening as part of the BFI’s current series of preview events

Warning: The main plot point of this film is mostly quite well know, but I have decided to remove any reference to it in my brief synopsis – but there may be some minor spoilers below

Synopsis

Never Let Me Go follows the lives of 3 friends, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) through three stages of their lives in an alternative version of recent history which shows a world where, following World War 2, instead of science being used to advance the arms race, it has instead been used to advance the field of medicine

The film is split across three acts, the first of which follows the three through their early years at Hailsham, a boarding school that is quickly revealed to hold a special purpose, where the caring Kathy befriends outsider Tommy only to lose him to her more self involved best friend Ruth, which sets up the love triangle central to the film

The middle section of the film moves forward to our trio, now all 18, being moved out to ‘The Cottages’ a rural living area where older pupils from Hailsham mix with pupils from other similar schools around the country, and for the first time experience life outside of the institutions where they have spent their lives so far while waiting to fulfill their purpose, but during the time here tension causes Kathy to leave her friends for the first time.

In the final act, we move forward almost 10 years, with Kathy now a carer, travelling around the country supporting donors as they undertake procedures and await completion. By chance Kathy encounters Ruth in hospital and through her meets Tommy again and is given the chance to recapture what she once lost

Summary

Never Let Me Go is a thoroughly stunning film in its writing (screenplay by Alex Garland) and subtle direction (Mark Romanek) but more than anything this film has some outstanding acting performances, most notably from Andrew Garfield who shows remarkable talent to capture the essence of a 12-year-old in the adult version of the awkward, quiet man-child Tommy

Carey Mulligan is also excellent in the dual roles of the adult Kathy, both the emotional centre and stoic stiff upper lip of the film, as is Keira Knightley in the smaller role of Ruth

Special mention, though, must go to the three actors that play the 12-year-old versions of our characters, who carry the first third of the film, particularly Isobel Meikle-Small as Kathy who is most recognisable as the young version of her adult counterpart along with Charlie Rowe as young Tommy and Ella Purnell as the young Ruth. With excellent support from Sally Hawkins and Charlotte Rampling, Never Let Me Go, has the best overall cast performance in recent memory

Never Let Me Go is a science-fiction drama for adults with the type of subtlety and nobility that a more action orientated film like The Island could old ever dream about.

Film 9/10 – Stunning and hauntingly, depressingly, beautiful

The Q&A with Kazuo Ishiguro, the writer of the original novel on which the film was based will be available shortly via the BFI website

http://www.bfi.org.uk/live/

Epic Edition Fail?

During late December 2010, Epic Games and EA announced that there would be two special editions of the upcoming first person shooter, Bulletstorm. A ‘Limited Edition’ for Playstation 3 and PC owners and an ‘Epic Edition’ for Xbox 360 owners which would come with the added bonus of an invite to the Gears of War 3 Beta

The best news – If you pre-ordered Bulletstorm, you would automatically be upgraded to Epic Edition for 360 and Limited Edition for PS3 and PC. In an even more shocking move for European gamers, who have become accustom to missing out on the best offers, it was revealed that “this program is worldwide”

As posted here: http://forums.epicgames.com/showthread.php?t=754904

As a huge fan of the Gears of War series, this was great news and reminded me of when Crackdown launched in early 2007 with the Halo 3 Beta. If I’m being honest, Crackdown sounded good but I really bought the game for the Halo 3 Beta. It turned out that Crackdown was an utterly brilliant game in its own right and one I still play over three years later (I will find those last 2 green orbs dammit!). If Bulletstorm turned out to be half as good as Crackdown then it would be a bargain purchase and, fortunately, the hugely fun Bulletstorm demo has already put any concerns to rest on that front

So I pre-ordered from Shopto.net. Not the cheapest, for once, but the most reliable supplier that I’ve used for getting games on release day

However, over the past few days news has started to appear on various forums that UK retailers including Amazon, The Hut and Blockbusters have had to remove the Epic Edition from their websites because it is now exclusive to 1 retailer – Game

Even worse news is that Game appear to be charging a premium for the Epic Edition, charging £44.99 (and £39.99 for the standard edition which, according to Gamestracker, is the 21st most expensive price currently – http://www.gamestracker.com/buy-bulletstorm-compare-prices-xbox-360.htm)

It appears that the contents of the PS3 and PC ‘Limited Edition’ and Xbox 360 ‘Epic Edition’ are, with the exception of the Gears of War 3 beta, exactly the same containing:

25,000 Experience Points
Visual Upgrades for the Iconic Leash
Deadly Peace Maker Carbine
Additional Boots and Armor

So, are Game seriously trying to charge an extra £5 for access to the Gears of War 3 Beta – for what is, for all intents and purposes, a demo?

What’s concerning is how completely this goes against the announcement from EPIC and EA

(Click to Enlarge)

In that in the original announcement, they stated that:
“Both the Standard and Limited/Epic Editions are available at the same MSRP/RRP (Recommended Retail Price)” – If this is the case why are Game charging more for the Epic Edition?
“All Bulletstorm pre-orders, no matter where you order(ed) from, will be the Epic Edition (Xbox 360) or Limited Edition (PC and PS3)!” – so, why are major retailers like Amazon removing their listings?

The big question is “are UK gamers going to get shafted again after all?”

I understand that EPIC are looking onto this now. Hopefully this is all some down to some very poor communication and not some underhanded profiteering on Game’s behalf and, as originally promised, all Xbox 360 orders will be fulfilled as the Epic Edition.

Crysis 2 Demo

In a crowded few days for shooters with the over-the-top fun of the Bulletstorm Demo (XBL and PSN), Modern Combat: Domination (PSN) and Breach (XBL) here are my first impressions the Crysis 2 demo that hit Xbox Live (exclusively) on Tuesday

Let me start off by saying that I havent played the original Crysis – my home PC wheezes in the face of fancy high-end graphics and once took a 3 day nap when I dared trying to launch a browser-based game – so this mini review is treating Crysis 2 with fresh eyes

The demo contains one multi-leveled map ‘Skyline’, which is set across the rooftops of a small cluster of New York buildings with a helipad, green houses a roof garden and large indoor gym facilities. You also get 2 game types – the first is ‘Instant Action’ which is your standard first-to-50 kills 6v6 team deathmatch and the second ‘Crash Site’ is a time based zone defence match which is only unlocked once you reach level 6

You start with 4 the fairly standard class options (Assault, Scout, Sniper and Gunner) and a further 5th Custom Class is unlockable as you level up

You go straight into your first game with no tutorial so you may spend the first few games getting to grips with the control layout but probably the two most important buttons are the Left and Right Bumpers which enable your Nanosuits special abilities, Armour Mode and Stealth Mode respectively

Armour mode is essentially a shield which will offer you a few extra seconds of protection against enemy fire while Stealth mode turns the wearer mostly invisible, except for a Predator like distortion effect, giving you the ability to hide in plain sight and sneak up on unsuspecting enemies but your invisibility drops immediately if you open fire. Both modes are limited by an energy bar which rapidly depletes when either mode is engaged (and is also depleted by sprinting and power jumping), so careful use is required unless you want to be left vulnerable at the worst possible moment

Crysis 2 appears to have learned a few things from the Call of Duty series with the addition of Kill Streak rewards. There are 3 rewards available in the demo. 3 Kills gives you ‘Maximum Radar’ which makes enemies visible on your mini-map, 5 Kills give you the Hammer of Dawn style ‘Orbital Strike’ and 7 Kills gives you a ‘Ceph Airstrike’ which summons an A.I controlled hovering gunship.

The good thing about the kill streaks in Crysis 2 is that you can’t just earn them by getting the kill, instead downed enemies drop their dog tags which only you can collect and only when you do collect them does the kill count toward your kill streak. This seems to work really well as it encourages a more run-and-gun open play style rather than reward camping.

As with most recent shooters, as you play, you gain XP from getting kills and completing certain objectives and this contributes to both your overall rank and to your abilities with the XP spread between your armour, stealth and power, depending on how they are used (capped at level 3 in the demo) and give you access to unlock further weapon and ability enhancements

Obviously it would be hard to talk about this game and not mention the graphics which are, as expected, very nice but a 5-year-old console isn’t going to match up with the previously groundbreaking visuals that you could expect on a state of the art gaming PC. Don’t get me wrong, Crysis 2 is still one of the best looking games on the Xbox 360 so far but there wasn’t the ‘wow’ factor I had hoped for

The game itself is fun, especially exploring the limitations of your armour ability, like seeing if you can make that long jump between buildings and there is pure satisfaction to be had in landing a knee drop multikill or using the stealth suit to sneak up on an enemy and snapping their neck. Unfortunately, there are a few problems that are currently diminishing some of the excellent work that has gone into making the game.

Spawn points are a definite issue here especially around the greenhouse area where there seem to be three main spawn points which can all to easily be camped on by a player with good use of stealth. There also seems to be a slight problem of players spawning directly behind an enemy which I’m sure is hard to control on maps of this size, but can be very frustrating when a potential kill streak is ended due to the AI picking a bad spawn point and again this seems most common around the greenhouses.

Weapons in general can appear to be very hit or miss on occasions with some questionable hit detection and one odd design choice, which I assume was dictated by the limitations of a control pad, is having grenades mapped to the right side of the d-pad which can be cumbersome in the heat of battle and although it potentially removes some of the grenade spamming issues that plague the likes of COD, here it makes grenades a much less effective weapon.

Summary

Crysis 2 is an enjoyable game but the demo doesn’t offer anything that we haven’t seen elsewhere before, expect maybe slightly prettier, and unfortunately being released on the same day as the Bulletstorm demo has made this feel slightly stuffy against Bulletstorms’ more vibrant and innovate approach to first person shooters

Despite some minor disappointments with the Crysis 2 Demo, the full game is still two months away from release and I am quietly confident that, if some of the key niggles can be ironed out, there is a very impressive game waiting to unleashed that we just haven’t seen the best of yet

EA have announced a ‘Game with Developers’ event this Saturday, 29th January with full details here: http://www.ea.com/crysis-2/blog/game-with-devs

Bulletstorm Demo


With the Bulletstorm demo hitting Xbox Live today (and available tomorrow on PSN) here are my quick first impressions

The demo allows you access to a short skill shot ladder level (your target completion time is 6 minutes), here know as ‘echo’s, called Collapsed Building. Our host, Grayson Hunt walks us through a brief introduction video showing you the 3 main weapons available to you in the demo, the PMC (Peacemaker Carbine), the Flail Gun and of course your trusty pistol – each of which has a more deadly but limited secondary fire option. You are also shown the leash and kicking moves. The leash is an energy whip which can be used to grab an enemy and pull them towards you or in its thumper mode, bounce them off the ground and into the air for all new skill kills opportunities.

As you race into the first room, you are greeted by two enemies and you don’t just want to pump them full of lead like you would to the dead eyes drones in any other shooter, suddenly there are options – do I use the leash and drag that guy over here and headshot him at close range, do I use the thumper to launch him into the air, do I use the secondary fire on the PMC to burn to a crisp and what about that panel in the ceiling over by the other enemy, what happens if I grab that with the leash?

..and that’s the beauty of this demo – on your first run through, you’ll be testing out the weapons and seeing what crazy skill kills you can get, but then at the end of the first run through you have a 1 or maybe 2 star score – how can you do better? So you go again, this time trying new weapon combos and instead of shooting that guy by the ledge, maybe you’ll kick him off this time to see what happens. Ohh better score, but still only 2 stars and 7000th on the leaderboard! What the hell! How did he get that score! No way!!! and you go again…..

Bulletstorm looks to be a game that wears its Gears of War influences proudly on its sleeve, with the demo level hugely reminiscent of a later level in Gears of War 2 and even your main character could be Wolverine in Marcus Fenix’s armour, but it’s gaming influences are broader than that with enemies seemingly imported from Borderlands and (in the full game) Killzone, the high score replayability of The Club and the uber-gun-porn-for-laughs sillyness of Serious Sam.

Summary

The demo only shows off the Echos competitive mode but if the same level of good old-fashioned fun and inventiveness can be sustained right through the single player game and the co-operative Anarchy mode (and throw in access to the Gears of War 3 beta on the Xbox 360 version) then this looks like an essential purchase for me

Moreish like a chocolate coated crack bar – Daddy like!

Photo Blog – These are a few of my favourite things..

As i’m still struck down with terminal man-flu and my posts havent been as frequent as i’d hoped, I thought I would share a very quick couple of pictures of some of my favourite Japanese bits and bobs which I either got in country of have picked up since

This was a gift from my Japanese teacher – a Cherry Blossom and Green Tea flavoured Kit Kat. On our travels we noticed many ‘unusual’ flavours (Blood Orange, Green Tea, Tomato Soup off the top of my head – there seemed to be different flavours in different parts of the country)


This is the JR Rail Pass, which allowed you free access to pretty much all public transport. Absolutely essential if you are planning on seeing as much of the country as you can. The picture doesn’t do the pass justice and is pretty much a work of art (using the famous image of ‘The Great Wave of Kanagawa’) and makes British Oyster cards look a little depressing.


This is a postcard that I picked up near Kamakura, which is home to many beautiful temples and the amazing statue of The Great Budda (Kamakura Daibutsu) which is the second largest in Japan. But Kamakura also loves cats! I loved the cheeky smile on this postcard so much that I decided to bring it home and frame it (I haven’t yet had a go at translating the text)


On the theme of cats, the flyer above is for a Cat Cafe that we visited during one of the fun evenings we spent in Shinjuku, where we paid about 800 yen (about £6) to spend an hour in the company of some of the most well groomed moggies I’ve even seem. Due to cramped living conditions, it is not always possible for people in the bigger cities to have their own pets, so this is the ideal place to unwind after a hard days work. Very relaxing, although I wanted to take them all home with me

Incase you are interested the website is here: http://catcafe.jp/


..and end on a geeky one! This is a pair of Luke Skywalkers Lightersaber chopsticks that my wife got for me for Christmas – haven’t had the chance to use them yet!

anyway, just a couple of pictures for now and I’m off back to my sick-bed!

Oyasumi Nasai

Man Flu

Flu season you dirty, dirty bastard – thanks to you It’s been more than a week since my last blog

Temperature – check
Headache – check
Achey joints – check
Tiredness – check
Spontaneous napping syndrome* – check

So far you owe me:

1 weekend
2 Japanese lessons
1 viewing of ‘The Social Network’ with Q&A with Aaron Sorkin

Feeling sorry for myself – check