LATEST ARTICLES

Review – Last Night in Soho

0

By Nick L’Barrow

I will confess… I wasn’t the biggest fan of Edgar Wright’s 2017 film, Baby Driver. In fact, I walked out of that movie quite disappointed. After the slew of success with the entertainingly brutal and bloody Cornetto Trilogy and the hilarious, video-game-esque Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, it felt wrong that Baby Driver was such a misfire in my mind. I just couldn’t understand how a movie by Wright could be so stylistic yet so incredibly average story-wise. However, I wouldn’t let one movie out of Wright’s filmography turn me away from his future work. When I initially heard that his new film, Last Night in Soho, would be more of a horror/thriller, I was certainly intrigued, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of ‘cautious optimism. I stayed away from all trailers and as much marketing material as possible (I would even close my eyes and plug my ears in the cinema when the trailer showed before other movies, looking like an insane person). I even stayed away from the reviews when it premiered at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. And boy, am I glad I did because Last Night in Soho is a strength-to-strength piece of cinema from the British filmmaker that feels like the movie event many cinemagoers have been longing for since the start of the pandemic.

Eloise (or Ellie, as she prefers to be called, played by Thomasin McKenzie, Jojo Rabbit) has been obsessed with all things pop culture-wise since the 1960s. Movies, music, and fashion are at the forefront of the dream life she wishes to live. Having to move from her small town of Cornwall to London to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer, Ellie rents a room from an elderly lady in Soho. Feeling an odd connection with the room she is staying in, during her first night’s sleep, Ellie is mysteriously transported to the 1960s, where she has visions of an upcoming yet troubled singer called Sandy (Anya Taylor Joy, The Queen’s Gambit). As her dreams become more lucid and sinister, Ellie unwillingly begins to merge her two worlds, fantasy, and reality.

It’s almost a standard for movies today, but the less you know about where the story of Last Night in Soho goes, the better your viewing experience will be. This is an engaging and intriguing story that goes in many unexpected directions. Still, the script was co-written by Wright and 1917 screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns, which genuinely draws you into the film’s mystery and begs you to let the story unfold in front of you and enjoy your time at the cinema. The script uses visual and thematic horror elements to create an account that serves as a cautionary tale about obsession, with a side of genuinely sinister character motivations that bring a consistent feeling of tension throughout. There will undoubtedly be moments and aspects of the film that won’t work for everyone, especially in the third act. However, within the movie-logic and artistic liberties taken by Wright and Wilson-Cairns, the craziness of the finale is satisfying and enjoyable.

Edgar Wright has created a visually intoxicating film that will captivate your senses. A trance-like element within the cinematography with neon lights and mirrors (reflection being a prominent theme within the story) creates the dream-like feeling of the scenes set in 1960s Soho. Every shot is a magical painting, carefully constructed for its place within the story. The use of mirrors is phenomenal and adds a sophistication to the film, both technically and thematically. There wasn’t a moment during Last Night in Soho that I wasn’t enthralled by what I saw on screen. However, the film highlights a dance sequence that expertly and flawlessly transitions between our two lead characters (Ellie and Sandy) dancing with the same partner. This may well and truly be Wright’s most visually beautiful film to date, and that’s saying something considering his visual filmography leading up to this point in his career. It just must be seen to be believed!

In her first actual leading role, Thomasin McKenzie is outstanding as Ellie. Ellie is reserved and quiet, but she is also filled with a firm tenacity. When it is opened after a few hallucinatory encounters with Sandy, it really allows McKenzie to thrive in this performance. Anya Taylor Joy is stunning as Sandy. Encapsulating the seductiveness that was seemingly required of a singer in the 60s to succeed while also hiding her own ferocious tenacity behind the performer’s mask brought some incredibly thrilling moments during her character’s arc. And finally, Matt Smith (Doctor Who) pulls off the charm-filled manager who offers Sandy the world on a platter but undoubtedly has more sinister intentions, with ease, and allows his acting chops to fly with some genuinely intense moments later in the film.

Last Night in Soho is capped off with an outstanding soundtrack. Never shying away from his love of music and how it’s used in the film, Edgar Wright has orchestrated equal amounts of spine-tingling and upbeat nature with the music used in this movie. Whether it’s eerie musical notes or the song’s lyrics setting up the scene’s tone (and inclusive of a beautiful rendition of Petula Clark’s Downtown performed by Taylor Joy herself), the music is just as much an important character within the movie.

While its ending may divide some audiences, I believe that Wright has created yet another incredible film with Last Night in Soho. This movie diverts from his usual action-packed-comedic outings in turn for a genuinely thrilling, always visually stunning tale that is captivating both technically and thematically. Helmed with outstanding lead performances that will lure you into the trance-like dream of a story and not let you go until the movie is over, Last Night in Soho feels like the movie that we have been waiting to return to cinemas for.

Letter From The Editor – Covid 19 Policy

0

As the country opens back up again, our hub in Victoria are still locked down. You will notice that we have been posting reviews of Tenet, The Secret, Unhinged and a couple of movies that are coming out this week.

We are a national website with writers in NSW, QLD and VIC. Our counterparts in these states will be providing these reviews in line with Novastream’s Covid Safe policy which includes only reviewing films where an online screener has been provided by the studio, if required in person we are asking our writers to attend a drive-in theatre as a priority. If these options aren’t available our cinema screenings are restricted to those who are practicing covid safe practices and have a Covid Safe plan in place.

If you are thinking of heading to the movies in the next few months we recommend checking the Corona Virus Government information here https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert before making a solid decision to head into a cinema.

Much like you we can’t wait to get back to the movies and catch up on all the great films we missed during these lockdowns. There are tons of great films coming out on VOD if you don’t feel ready to venture out and we are committed to reviewing these and letting you know the best things to stream.

We hope you are all staying safe during Covid-19.

Fast & Furious: Hobbs And Shaw

0

The Fast & Furious franchise knows its market very well: explosions, action, cars and a storyline you don’t need to follow. Hobbs & Shaw is the first in the series of planned spin-offs and to give a little injection before the next Fast & Furious film hits the screens in 2020. While it’s a far cry from its origins, Hobbs & Shaw is the fresh overhaul the franchise needed.

When a highly deadly virus threatens to fall into the hands of Brixton (Idris Elba) a mechanically modified human, it goes into the hands of an MI6 operative Hattie (Vanessa Kirby).

Things turn south when Hattie is framed for taking the virus while Brixton hunts her down. Brought in to help stop the virus from being spread is Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) from Las Angeles and Shaw (Jason Statham) from London.

With a checkered past, Hobbs and Shaw not only fight to save Hattie and get the virus into quarantine, they also fight and bicker between each other.

Taking the fight to Samoa to get the help of Hobbs brother and his unique ability to build and rebuild things, the battle of all battles goes down all the while without any guns.

As to be expected there are some nice cars and some pretty cool vehicles as a whole. And for the most part, they get driven fast. Mind you, there is an obvious lack of the two compared to some of the other Fast & Furious films.

There is some amazing special effects and stunts throughout the film. From a helicopter lifting 4 cars trying to weigh the chopper down. To the automated motorbike that seems to be able to shapeshift depending on the circumstances.

Where this film stands out is in the good old fight scenes. The choreography is rather spectacular and doesn’t feel staged at any point. This is a downfall with most of Johnson’s films where his fight scenes are a little like The Rock fighting in WWE.

Hobbs & Shaw isn’t a film that requires a particular level of acting. However, Johnson and Statham bring just enough for it to be a good performance from them both. The performance that overshadowed the two was from Idris Elba (Thor, Prometheus, Star Trek Beyond) who plays Brixton.

Elba plays a mechanically modified human who happened to need the modifications to survive a shooting from Shaw some years back. Elba plays an angry and calculated character that seems to not only struggle to answer to someone else but also thinks he is above any authority. He has so much going on physically and also mentally that he overshadows the other actors in the same scene.

The other scene-stealer is that of Vanessa Kirby (Mission Impossible – Fallout, The Crown, Everest) who plays Hattie. She plays down the sexiness yet seems to ooze appeal. Kirby manages to pack in as much emotion to her scenes to bring her character to life without relying too much on humour.

Overall Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw takes a product that has been working for some years and given it a little fresh lick of paint. The great thing is it doesn’t pretend to try anything new or do anything too differently. It’s just a bit of fun with some nice cars and some good action.

Review – Toy Story 4

2

The announcement of a fourth Toy Story chapter, felt like an easy cash grab for Disney, after the huge success that was the concluding Toy Story 3. After watching the first trailer and synopsis, I still wasn’t sure if this was gonna work. So being a bit cautious of seeing these beloved characters coming back nine years after we said goodbye to Andy, I can say – no need to be afraid. The toys are dusted off and look better than ever!

The film opens with a flashback to a rainy night where our toys are still happily living with Andy. Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) are getting ready to rescue RC-racer – a radio-controlled toy car – that’s been stuck in a gutter and is about to be dragged into the sewers, if not saved in time. This is an exciting opening to get you right into the story and remind you of the bond these toys have with each other. “No toy gets left behind“, like Woody says multiple times throughout this franchise. This scene also shows how close Woody and Bo’s relationship just was, which gets torn apart moments later when the lamp that houses her and her sheep is given away.

Almost a decade later, after Andy has passed his beloved toys to young Bonnie, we see her playing with all of them, although Woody gets pushed aside more often as time passes. He gets left in the closet with some of her baby toys. But when Bonnie has to attend her orientation day for kindergarten, Woody sees an opportunity to sneak into her backpack to look after the nervous girl. In class, a selfish kid grabs Bonnie’s art supplies and drops some in a bin, where Woody jumps in to save some of it – along with bits of rubbish – which leads to Bonnie creating Forky (soon discovered to be a toy, voiced by Tony Hale), a spork with popsicle-stick feet, googly eyes and pipe-cleaner arms. The family has a new member.

Bonnie adores Forky, but having an existential crisis, this spork knows it’s trash and feels like his only destination is the trash can, his safe haven. Woody, so longing for a purpose, takes it upon himself to keep rescuing and returning Forky, which will only get harder when Bonnie and her parents embark on a road trip in an RV. A journey on which we will meet carnival toys (Ducky and Bunny – voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), a Canadian stunt-motocross action figure (Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom – the coolest and most breathtaking toy ever created) and a manipulative vintage doll (Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby) who’s stuck living in an antique store, ready to do whatever’s needed to live a blissful life. 

The emotions run high, with stunning animation and imagery all around. New characters that will win over your heart and make you laugh out loud with the funniest one liners. Did I really expect anything less, after three exceptionally strong films in this franchise?! Shame on me.

Toy Story 4 is an adventure full of subtle messages and metaphors, that carries on the legacy of its original trilogy. Disney/Pixar has done it again – a sequel that not only works as an ending, but also as a new beginning. When we get to chapter 5 (because let’s be real, this is gonna kill it at the worldwide box office), these characters will have seen so much more than just the walls of Andy/Bonnie’s room and have experienced what “letting go” really means.

Toy Story 4 is playing in Australian cinemas this Thursday!

Review by Seth Eelen

Review – Xmen Dark Phoenix

0

It’s time to say goodbye to our favourite mutants, after 19 years of films the franchise is coming to a close with a re-telling of the Dark Phoenix story. If this sounds familiar it is because they attempted to do this in 2006’s X-men : The Last Stand and while it didn’t go down to well with fans, Fox have given the story line a movie of its own to send the X-men off ready to be rebooted by Disney somewhere in the future. What should have been a fond and memorable farewell turned out to be a forgetful throwaway film with great performances with a mediocre story that suffers from horrible pacing issues that make it feel like 2 or 3 different films smashed into one 100 minute disappointment.

It is set a couple of years after Apocalypse with the X-men in generous public favour with action figures, screaming fans and a hotline phone direct to the President of the United States. When a spaceship launch goes awry the X-Men head into space to assist when Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is exposed to a cosmic power that enhances her mutant powers making her more powerful than anyone else on the planet. When Jean starts acting erratic her X-Men friends Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) Beast (Nicholas Hoult) jump in to try and help her control the power, however things don’t go according to plan and when Jean is confronted by a mysterious alien played by Jessica Chastain who is trying to take over Earth and eradicate humans Jean must decide if she will use her power for good or evil.

Elsewhere Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is riding high on the fame of their recent relationship with humans. He is shown revelling in the joy of being on talk shows, hosting benefits with wealthy clientele, on the cover of books and action figures. A good portion of the story explores his history with Jean and how he found her after the accident as a child. The first half of the film explores the relationship of and what can happen when trauma is suppressed rather than dealt with. It really explores the idea well and loops in the other characters, particularly Raven and Beast, who are the last of the” First class” still hanging around the X mansion. Showcasing a different side to Xavier was a risky move, I don’t know if this trait is ever explored in the comics, here it does feel a little surprising in keeping with this character. That being said showing a more human side to Charles was interesting to watch.

Perhaps the best part of the film is Lawrence, her performance as Raven is flawless. She is constantly the voice of reason, in particular one fitting line “The women around here are constantly saving everyone else, we should be called the X-Women” which on a side note did get a cheer from the crowd in our session. If this wasn’t enough character drama, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is sought out by Jean after she feels betrayed by Charles. He is running a commune separated from the rest of society. He is joined by hair braid whip man and another mutant who can read and control minds. When they feel the weight of what Jean can do through a helicopter battle, Magneto rejects her as well causing Beast to join his side in an attempt to kill Jean for her recent decisions.

It’s really from here that things go downhill. The film moves at a sluggish pace with sprinklings of action pieces littered through them. If it wasn’t for the solid performances it would be a complete wash. This then changes gear again in the third act with an epic train battle and final showdown that struggles to be as epic as the final scene in the final X-Men movie should be. The train sequence is far too long and while some of the CGI looks incredible, others look like a direct to VHS movie from the 90’s (Storm). Most X-Men films are epic in scale and have weighty action that coincide with the story. Here the story is told with an odd pacing that doesn’t ignite to be either good or bad, it just falls kind of flat. The train wreck scene really feels like it is a different film and with the epic battle being wrapped up pretty quickly, it rarely lingers long enough to leave a memorable impression.

The visuals in this film are great, the Phoenix effects that run through Jean and encompass her are beautiful to watch (and may just remind you of another recent Marvel superhero). The train scene while being shown at night is nothing short of spectacular. The way that Magneto rips the train apart trying to destroy the aliens is a lot of fun to watch and every mutant gets their moment to shine. It is a fast and furious fight scene with great cinematography by Mauro Fiore set against the night country side. In a lot of blockbuster movies night action scenes can be blurry and hard to see, fortunately this film avoids that delivering dazzling action sequences that effortlessly float between inside and out of the train.

While the special effects are spectacular, the script is severely lacking. In fact, I would even go so far as to say if they have spent more time on the this than the special effects it would have been a much better film. The first half of the film has a solid story exploring themes of trauma, abandonment, fame and family. It is balanced quite well for this portion of the film and is actually intriguing to see how it all wraps up. Where it falls is the obvious re shot second half of the movie that kind of throws these out the window for spectacle.

X-men : Dark Phoenix had the potential to be a big farewell to these characters we have loved (and hated) for the last 19 years. Regrettably a good story was compromised for spectacle and the film suffers from poor pacing and a generally flat tone. Fortunately the actors deliver solid performances, in particular Lawrence and Turner steal the show here showcasing the boundaries of family and fame. Fans of the series may be disappointed by the lacklustre finale (particularly if compared to the 90’s TV series plot line of Dark Phoenix)

Review by Alaisdair Leith

Review – Godzilla : King Of The Monsters

0

After the lacklustre reviews and reception to the previous film, the spectacle still made enough box office dollars to greenlight a sequel and kickstar a “Monsterverse” with Skull Island and a pre-announcement of Godzilla Vs Kong for 2020. This time around we get a broader cast with Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown coming into the mix. The teasers have promised us a slew of monsters with Mothra, Rogan and the three headed Ghidorah. While this had all the promise of epic action monster filled mayhem, the film instead spends way too much time focusing on the humans and their confusion and trapsing around the globe to different dig sites chasing an eco terrorist. All of this results in the biggest disappointment with a small portion of the film focusing on the monsters and way too much time on the one dimensional human characters with a really weak and stereotypical script.

The film is set in the current day with 5 years since the last installment. The world is rebuilding after Godzilla saved the human race from the titan attack. The agency tasked with tracking down all of the Titan sites Monarch are monitoring and securing the other titans who seem to be thawing out, defrosting and uncovered as the world is searching for Godzilla after he mysteriously disappeared after the events of the first film. Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) are living in a rainforest in China trying to figure out how to communicate with Mothra. When Emma is captured by the eco tertrorist Jonah (Charles Dance) who is trying to release the titans to cleanse the earth of the plague of humanity, it is up to the crew at Monarch and her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) to free her and stop the titans from being released and destroying the world. Oh and Godzilla is in there somewhere as well right?

My biggest issue with this film is the awful script filled with stereo typical cliched lines, predictable scenarios and one dimensional characters we spend way too much time with. Instead of setting the monsters free and watching them fight, we are subject to an endless slew of human interactions that offer nothing of significance to the story apart from exposition machines. Oh and there are a couple of monster fights that fill out maybe 20 minutes of this 2.5 hour film.

The score is grand and sweeping from Bear McCreary. MCCreary incorporates themes from Akira Ifukube’s previous work in Japanese traditional Godzilla films. While this is definitely the highlight, the unique roar that was given to Godzilla in the first film has all but disappeared in this version. The long roar with the winding wail at the end was such a thrill to hear in the cinema in the previous film and is a definite missing component in this sequel.

The creatures themselves are gorgeous. The attention to detail on Mothra is particularly when she opens her wings is breathtaking. There is a detailed colour and patterns that are completely mesmerising. This is accentuated when she emerges from the waterfall and the combination of light, water and colour transforms the screen. By comparison the three headed dragon Ghidorah looks cheap and awful. There is a particular scene in a football field with Madison that looks horrible now and will definitely not age well. It’s a shame because in far away shots Ghidorah looks amazing, partricularly when lightning is pulsing through it. There is a shot in Mexico that pans out next to a large cross that looks incredibly beautiful. And then there’s Godzilla. the big guy looks pretty much the same as the previous film. The lightning/radiation effect that pulses through his body and tail does look much mroe detailed this time around, and there are a few underwater scenes where he looks odd floating in the water.

There have been films in the past that show too much of the monster and then some that expertly show just enough to have great balance, but also well rounded and interesting human characters. Regrettably this film doesn’t know which one it wants to be and drifts somewhere in the middle, delivering an incredibly underwhelming experience. The end of the film does build the hype for the Kong Vs. Godzilla film due out next year, but after this underwhelming installment it may be back to the drawing board for Godzilla films if they can’t get the balance right.

Godzilla : King Of The Monsters is in cinemas Thursday May 31.

Review by Alaisdair Leith

Review – Missing Link

0

Animation juggernauts like Pixar and Dreamworks duke it out for the best CGI animation, hell even Sony and Warner Bros are trying to get a piece of the pie, Laika studios are delivering some incredible stop motion features with previous work including Coraline, Paranorman Kubo And The Two Strings and The Box Trolls. This time around they are embarking on a worldwide adventure with different locations and an all star voice cast with beautiful eye popping animation to deliver a solid film that is arriving at the perfect time for school holidays.

The story revolves around Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) an adventurer in Victorian London who is trying to earn his way into an exclusive mens hunters club headed by Lord Piggott-Duncby (Stephen Fry). When Frost receives a letter advising that the Sasquatch creature has been spotted in Washington, he sets off to finally prove that it exists and earn his way into the club. Upon arriving he meets the sasquatch Link (Zach Galifiankis) who just wants to head to the himalayas to reunite with his Yeti cousins and find his family.

Along the way the are joined by Frost’s acquaintence Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) who go on a trans atlantic journey through the UK and India to reach the Himalayas and return Link to his family. Sounds easy right? Well to top it off they are also being chased by Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) who wants to claim and kill Link and Sir Lionel Frost.

The story is quite layered and has a lot of moving parts that explores privilege, race, friendship, revenge and family. It sounds like a lot of heavy themes for a kids movie, yet it is told with such heart and having a character who is very wide eyed and innocent like Link helps the heavy parts land softly while still being effective.

Visually the film is flawless. The colour palette used in all the different locations and characters are nothing short of spectacular. The level of detail in a scene in the Indian jungle is jaw dropping. There is also a little behind the scenes of this at the end credits that is definitely worth sticking around to see. The characters themselves are great with Link having so much detail who self-describes his colour as more Autumn than brown. The variety of locations from dark and detailed castles to the icy valleys of the Himalayas, this is definitely Laika’s most ambitious work to date.

The voice talent in this film matches the great detail put into the animation. With Jackman and Galifaikas providing solid lead performances. This is only enhanced with Saldana joins the crew and the trio provide some of the best voice work in an animated film to date. Emma Thompson has a great role as the leader of the Yeti tribe and is allowed to flex some of her comedic muscles. Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry and Timothy Olyphant allow the film to truly be hilarious with their wacky characters.

There is so much to love and adore about this movie and the proven track record of solid films that Laika are producing. This is director’s Chris Butler’s second time directing (after Paranorman) and has truly raised the bar is both visuals and storytelling. This may be the film you haven’t heard of, but it is definitely the film to take the whole family to these holidays.

Missing Link is in cinemas April 8.

Review – Kingdom Hearts 3

0

Reviewing a game like Kingdom Hearts 3 is no easy feat. This monolothic game could be tackled from so many angles, as I am not a Kingdom Hearts fanboy, despite playing the previous titles, I thought it was best to tackle this game like I do any other normal game review with a fresh pair of eyes and my skepticism about Disney becoming a dictator in the entertainment industry aside to rejoin Sora and the gang for a sequel that has been 14 years in the making. While it did start off slow (extremely slow!) with three painful intro cinematics, each finishing with the Kingdom Hearts 3 title (just in case you know I fucking forgot what I was playing) it wasn’t until I moved to the third world that the game really kicked into gear and showed why the lengthy wait was worth it. It’s not all good news though, the writing is awful, like god awful, with slow and static awkward pauses in between characters in cinematic scenes and WAY too many of them at that, it was only the unique mix of characters, worlds and theme park rides from varying Disney properties that save this game from being a complete disappointment. Ever wondered what would happen if Uncle Scrooge opened a bistro in Traverse Town with Remy from Ratatouille? No? Me either…While these kind of crazy combos are interesting to watch play out during the game, the worlds are so empty and void of population they feel lifeless. Kingdom Hearts 3 is extremely ambitious but regrettably is a bit of a waster opportunity. 

Players take control of Sora, who again must team up with Donald and Goofy to travel through the universe via a Gummi ship to save the world from the Darkness and Master Xehahort who wants to unlock the one keyblade to rule them all and let the Darkness infest every world. It’s nothing new or revolutionary but this is a game where Disney characters team up with Final Fantasy characters so we can’t exactly expect depth here. Together you travel to different worlds inspired by recent Disney hits like Tangled, Frozen and Toy Story while diving into the Marvel universe with Big Hero 6. Sora and friends do run into a lot of characters from these films, disappointingly the gaps between back and forth dialogue is irritatingly slow and completely detracts from any emotional (and nostalgic) impact it tries to have. This also goes hand in hand with the script for the story, it is extremely painful and nauseating to endure, if the graphics weren’t so good, it would be a complete wash. The person who thought it was a good idea to give extended dialogue to Donald Duck really needs to be fired, the painful process of trying to figure out what he is saying is just irritating. It feels like the studio has forgotten that the majority of people playing this game have grown up with the series and are now adults wanting to propel the series forward, alternatively it will work if the audience who grew up with it now have kids and can share the experience with them. 

As mentioned previously, graphically this game is incredible, particularly as you explore the various Disney properties, in particular Toy Story was a stand out looking identical if not better than the movies do. Each world has been maticulously created and while there are some items and treasures to find, the lack of native population or NPC’s is quite disappointing. This led to the worlds feeling empty and bleak which was strange considering how much effort and love has clearly gone into their creation. The Pirates Of The Caribbean world was surprisingly good, enabling Sora to command a ship and explore. While this is no Black Flag, it does come at a welcome time for some variety in the otherwise monotonous gameplay. There are quite a few iconic Disney scenes played out during the game which tug on the old nostalgic heart beats but don’t offer anything of value to the story. Seeing Elsa build her castle in the Frozen stage to the orchestral version of Let It Go will have your little ones flocking to the screen, but the lack of meaning to the story is a little wasted. Sora is detailed to perfection, as are his keyblades and special moves, it is a pity the same cannot be said about the camera. Often when I was mid-battle and a giant robot pushes me into a corner, the camera refuses to move to allow me to see who is pummeling me from behind. It does happen several times through the game so it did become a regular annoyance. 

The combat system for this game is varied and pulls from many different games in the series that keep the actual gameplay fresh and addictive. You have the opportunity to purchase several different keyblades, each of which have their own unique powers and abilities. You can also equip multiple ones which allow you to quickly change between them in battle to effectively destroy enemies as quick and as painless as possible. There are the usual team up moves that involve active members of your party for effective battle slams and a new mode that brings in a Disney theme park ride. Now this could be a little controversial for Australian’s with the water ride resembling the now defunct one from Dreamworld being a weapon. You can also summon the pirate ship and the tea cups from the Mad Hatter. It seemed like a strange and cash in thing to do, but it turned out to be a lot of fun and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Each world and character has different team up moves which keeps a great variety during the game. Teaming up with Buzz and Woody to strap onto a rocket and dive into enemies is definitely the stand out. 

The game’s story clocks in at around 40 hours and while this may not be as big as other open world games, the quality of the graphics and combat system are enough to offset the time alloted. This is the kind of game you play through once and probably won’t feel the need to go back to (unless you are a trophy hunter or collectible fiend) While it is definitely only a one time wonder, it is definitely worth the trip. The scope of what is on offer and the ambition of this crazy combination of franchises that if you totally lean into works on a few levels. While this game has had quite a few years to perfect and craft its story, I was disappointed that the story was the weakest part and with SO many cut scenes, it really should have been given more care. 

Kingdom Hearts 3 is a step forward graphically and for its combat system, however the story does set the series back a few pegs. Hopefully Square Enix can spend some more time on the story for the next instalment and hopefully we won’t have to wait so long for the next one. 

Kindgom Hearts 3 is available on PS4 and Xbox One.

Review by Alaisdair “Leithal” Leith

Competition – Cold Pursuit

0

Want to win a double pass to see Cold Pursuit? Head on over to our socials now to enter! Via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @novastreamau

Watch the trailer here

Women in Gaming

1

There’s a lot of heat around the way women are represented in games as well as our place in the gaming industry. On the whole, people are glad to see a growing number of women playing and making games, but there are still some struggling with acceptance. And while some games do an admirable job of creating strong female characters, a lot of the major titles are still lagging behind. But even disregarding the gender equality issues explored in the media lately, there’s no doubt that women in gaming face certain challenges. As a woman who’s played games her entire life, and is working towards a career in the industry, my life has been shaped by issues of identity within the community.

The biggest issue I’ve faced as a woman who plays games isn’t sexism or abuse – I’ve been harassed by a guy online once and a lot more people came to my defence than screamed at me to add them. The hardest part of being a gamer has been expressing my passion for the medium to some of the most important people in my life. My mum didn’t love that I played so many games as a kid, and I think she was a bit shocked when I told her I was going to be studying them at uni. None of my closest friends are gamers, and for the most part I’ve stopped talking to them about games. Not because it makes me feel excluded but because I know they have no idea what I’m talking about! So for a long time I didn’t have an outlet for discussing video games, and I always desperately wanted one.

The life-long desire to share my love of gaming is a big part of what made me want to become a video games journalist. These days, some of my happiest moments come from the times I send Novastream reviews to my mum. Since I’ve started writing for the site, every article has given me a chance to share a part of myself with all the non-gamers that I love.

Anya is every bit BJ’s equal in Wolfenstein: The New Order
Anya is every bit BJ’s equal in Wolfenstein: The New Order

I’ve also struggled with the sense that I need to justify my interest in gaming, as a career choice but especially a hobby, because I’m a woman. Writing my dissertation on video games gave me a chance to show that all the time and effort I’d put into games was worthwhile. Months of tireless work and a lifetime of investment paid off when I could point to respected academics like Janet Murray, Miguel Sicart, and Tom Bissell and explain how I was expanding on their work. My Honours supervisor is an amazing and inspiring woman, but she had no idea about games or what made them special. When she was interested in my research and acknowledged video games as a powerful narrative form, I remember feeling a huge sense of pride, relief, and success.

But this is still hard for some people to grasp. The other day I was telling a neighbour about this article and she asked why any nice young lady would like video games? The reason is simple: they give me an experience that nothing can match. I love immersing myself in fantasy worlds, and games offer this escape in a way no other medium can. It’s doesn’t matter that I’m a girl – I just love being told stories and getting the privilege to participate in them!

Sadly, the stereotype that games are a man’s medium is still prevalent in our society. Last year I wrote a uni assignment on the rhetoric at work in the Gamergate controversy. When I started research I thought the issue was silly but working towards a real solution, but by the end of the essay I was convinced it had devolved into a screaming match between two sides who wouldn’t take no for an answer, no matter the consequence for the industry. The whole thing seems ridiculous and harmful, and I want nothing more to do with it. That being said, of course I believe that games should work to portray more realistic and positive female characters. And, happily, some games do an outstanding job of this! Anya and Caroline in Wolfenstein: The New Order are just as integral to the resistance as BJ, and Frau Engel is a terrifying villain without compromise; Lara Croft burst back into our lives as an unstoppable whirlwind of ability and strength of will in the rebooted Tomb Raider; a female Commander Shepard in Mass Effect is the saviour of the galaxy and lacks nothing that a male Shepard possesses. In fact, BioWare games in general are brilliant examples of gender equality. Mass Effect 2 shows off Miranda’s sex appeal every chance it gets, but she isn’t defined by it: she’s incredibly smart, a formidable player in galactic intrigue, and a powerful ally for Shepard. Dragon Age: Inquisition features a cast of ambitious and talented women, as Novastream’s own Zahra discussed. Characters like this make me proud to be a girl gamer, because they give me positive female characters to identify with and form connections with.

Miranda
Miranda’s as threatening as she is beautiful

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of problems with the representation of women in games. Women in GTA V are only ever prostitutes and “bitches” put in the game for a male audience’s violent comedic outlet. The Witcher 3 has positive female characters, but the sex cards in the first game are a childishly hyper-sexualised approach to women. Geralt having sex with lots of women makes sense in a narrative context, but there’s no in-game justification for his collection of the middle ages equivalent to naked snapchats. The cards only serve to appeal to players, and young male players at that.

For the first time in the franchise’s AAA release history, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate will feature a playable female character (Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation gave us Aveline as a playable character, but the fact that this instalment was relegated to a PS Vita release should show how little effort Ubisoft put into this attempt at gender equality). However, a report from Kotaku claims that Evie will only be playable for roughly 20% of the game. I understand the marketing logic behind this choice, with the series having a predominately male audience, but with the demographic of the gaming industry constantly shifting to include more and more women, this won’t be a valid excuse for much longer.

I felt pretty gross getting this screenshot but at least I didn’t shoot the dancer once she was done
I felt pretty gross getting this screenshot but at least I didn’t shoot the dancer once she was done

Personally, I don’t often get offended by gender imbalanced in games, but even so, I’d love to see them continue to change. There are more and more women getting involved in all aspects of the industry, and I’m sure they’d agree when I say that I want more realistic women in games, both to represent us and for us to identify with. This isn’t a case of wholesome versus sexy – I love seeing a kick-ass lady flaunting what she’s got – just don’t make a woman’s appearance her defining characteristic.

The gender imbalances in the gaming community had a big influence on the kinds of friends I made when I was younger. In primary school I was very much a tomboy and I had more guy friends than girls, mostly because I recognised boys as my chance to talk about video games. But I realised in my last years of high school that playing games and doing girly things aren’t mutually exclusive. I still don’t have a lot of female friends who game, but all my ladies are amazingly geeky about something. I met Lauren when she saw my Star Wars pencil case one day at school, and she owns what I’m sure is the world’s largest collection of Marvel shirts and lounge pants; Bridgette knows more about Girls than Lena Dunham herself and may even love Han Solo more than I do; I get roughly one snapchat a week from Jess who can’t wait to show off her new art supplies; Mel has the most intense reactions to TV shows and we spent our afternoons after school binging on Veronica Mars and Fringe. I love seeing them geek out about their thing, and even when we’re not talking about video games it satisfies the part of me that wants to express a passion for something.

Lara Croft has no time for looking glamorous when she’s fighting for her life
Lara Croft has no time for looking glamorous when she’s fighting for her life

That being said, games have also been the cornerstone of some of my strongest relationships. One of my best friendships in high school started when I asked a guy to help me build a computer, and we were inseparable for years. I met some of my closest friends at college when they saw the giant KOTOR poster on my wall, and Mass Effect 3 is what led to my boyfriend and I going on our first date (we made a bet that whoever finished the series last would take the other out for coffee. I won, but I think that was his plan all along). So even though a mutual appreciation for games isn’t as important to me as I once thought it was, they’re still an important part of my life.

Games are an amazing medium that welcome anyone with open arms. There’s still work to be done to achieve equality in games, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be positive experiences for women. Being a gamer has given me some amazing experiences in life. I’ve made lots of friends playing games, and I’ve become a part of some very friendly and supportive communities. But no woman – no person – who plays games is defined by that interest. Girl gamers aren’t spectacles, we’re just people who want interactive and immersive experiences. When these experiences get gender representation right, they can lead to some powerful responses. So I’m going to keep striving for equality in games for as long as I’m involved in the industry, and I’m excited to see where we end up in the next few years.

 

Article by Alana Young

Twitter: @alana_groffle

Review – Ant Man

0

antman2Marvel continue their reign of the superhero hits with the latest original film Ant Man. The film has been consistently plagued with problems since it began, the great director Edgar Wright departing the film after “creative differences”, Joss Whedon saying Wright’s script was one of the best things he has ever read, new director Peyton Reed (Bring It On and The Break Up), rewrites by Paul Rudd and then finally a confirmed release date. It is an exhaustive list that has had fans (and myself) concerned about the quality of the movie, but rest assured while this isn’t one of Marvel’s best, it does continue with the standard of superhero movies that populate their shared universe.

Original Ant Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is feeling his age and when his tech is stolen by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym recruits Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) a thief, to break into Cross’s facility and steal back the suit. Joined by three unfortunately cast racial stereotypes, things don’t go to plan and Lang must don the suit to stop Cross/Yellowjacket. Now I know what you’re thinking a private corporation stealing technology to take over the world..Groundbreaking…and you are right, it definitely is the biggest weakness of the film.

The villain is non threatening, non sensical and ridiculous, the the point where if you took YellowJacket out, this movie would stillantman3 work and probably be a lot more enjoyable (although without the mind blowing action scenes!) There is no exploration of major motivation for YellowJacket and Cross does bring his all to the role, but Jacket comes across as a bit silly and non-threatening.

Rudd is perfect as Lang, one minute you are laughing and the next swept into a massive action sequence with hight stakes and you can feel the tension. This is something that Marvel movies can do really well, and this is probably one of the best examples of it, I put this down to Rudd and his story arc. He has gone to prison, he struggles financially and has a struggling relationship with his daughter, in a self sabotaging cycle, he is easily the most relatable Marvel hero in the universe so far. This is a character that Rudd portrays perfectly and his interaction with Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) is a mirror of Lang and his daughter and is beautifully developed and has such great detail given. Michael Douglas is perfect as Pym and seems to be continuously winking to the audience through his joyous and easygoing role.

antman4Effects wise this film delivers,the early trailers left a lot to be desired and I was concerned about the final product, however Industrial Light & Magic have again proved how they can make just about anything work and look spectacular. The action sequences in this are mesmerising, and a scene involving a water droplet  and Ant Man is glorious to watch on screen (especially in 3D!)

This movie was a hard one, it has taken 10 years of production to get here, and while it is no Guardians Of The Galaxy or Iron Man 3, it does something that the previous films have struggled to, deliver a relateable character who the audience can identify with and keep everything grounded in a crazy situation. While Peyton Reed is direction, Edgar Wright still has writing credits and fans of his work will spot his influence in the movie. This may not be another billion dollar franchise, but it is solid superhero entertainment and I was surprised at the ride this movie took me on.

Ant Man is in cinemas on Thursday

Review – Jurassic World

4

jp1Can you really believe it has been 22 years since the original Jurassic Park film graced our screens? Well apart from making me feel REALLY old, it also made me realise how much I have missed this universe. Adding Chris Pratt and bringing Steven Spielberg back into the mix made me feel like this could be the right mix to bring the franchise back. After months of teasers of teasers, trailers and clips, the movie is FINALLY here and Joss Wheedon’s fears about the movie being 70’s sexist are laid to rest with a truly kick ass feminist hero who saves the day.

Jurassic World is intended as a direct sequel from the first film, thankfully ignoring the first two! Jurassic World is now a fully functional theme park on Isla Nublar, and are gearing up to introduce their first dinosaur hybrid the Indominous Rex. When the dinosaur escapes from its isolated enclosure, the park must be evacuated with the help of park director Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and dino expert Owen (Chris Pratt) while also finding her two nephews Gray and Zach (Ty Sympkins & Nick Robinson), who are trapped inside the park.

It was difficult to assess this movie from an unbiased point of view, I have been a constant lover and ambassador of this jp2franchise from the start and even forgave the horror of Jurassic Park 3, in hopes the franchise would flourish into something new and reminiscent of the first film, and director Colin Trevorrow delivers exactly that in this direct sequel to the first film (his words!)

The real issue is with the large amount of footage that has been shown before the film, they tend to show most of the action parts of the film, giving the impression that this is non stop from the start of the film, so if you are heading into this with that expectation, you may leave disappointed. As in the first film, the film actually holds its main two lead actors through Gray and Zach, and we get to see the park and all its attractions through their eyes. This technique reeks of Spielberg and the score soaring over the top of this over-blown and absolutely gorgeous cinematography is a visual feast that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

jp3Being introduced to the Indominous Rex so early in the movie, I was concerned that we wouldn’t get to see the “good dinosaurs” and how they would operate in a theme park environment. The petting zoo is one of my favourite scenes of this movie and is handled so beautifully both pre and post catastrophe, it is one of the many highlights of the film. Fans of the original film will swoon with the many references, set pieces, objects and verbal nods that are splashed unapologetically throughout Jurassic World. It is given the respect and adoration that it deserves and uses this a piece to fuel the story forward and try and show the past from the present and how much things haven’t really changed.

Secretly I was hoping for a sneaky Sam Neil or Jeff Goldblum surprise cameo, but alas none were found, fortunately the new characters bring a sense of new world to the film and with Zach & Gray standing out as the two male leads, it really is all about Claire and her attempt to control the uncontrollable and the lengths she will go to, to save lives once all hell breaks loose. There is a fantastic scene with Claire running in heels to save the day and kicking girl power butt in a feminine and strong way that is so refreshing from the masculine women heroes that litter blockbusters lately. While Owen, everyone assumes is the hero of the piece, is kind of the back character here, he serves as an information point for the dinos. and basically looks after the kids while Claire kicks ass, the complete opposite of what the trailer would have you believe.

Visually nothing has changed, this film is as stunning and detailed as the first, the environments are lush and inviting jp4and the cinematography makes you feel like you are inside the park experiencing the events. One thing they managed to get right was the balance between humour and absolute terror, I found myself clinging to the bottom of my chair in a few spots and the feeling of suspense and tension that the first film prides itself on is also used effectively here.

Overall Jurassic World is the hyped up monster that it advertises, it uses a fairly typical plot combined with outstanding visuals, spellbinding cinematography and actors who know the genre and bring their A-game to deliver this summer’s hottest blockbuster. Fortunately there is a lot of substance here and if anything can bring the Jurassic franchise back from extinction, this film is the perfect trigger to bring a new generation into the world of dinosaurs.

**If you are planning on taking little children/kids to see this film, I would advise to maybe do a screening first or talk to some other parents who have seen it, the action scenes are quite intense and could be disturbing as there is a lot of graphic blood splatters and the scenes can be quite intense.

What did you think of Jurassic World? Let us know in the user review and comments below

Review : The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

2

Before you read any more of this review, I’d like you to take a moment to appreciate how incredibly strong-willed I am to have stopped playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for long enough to write it. I’m proud of me.

The reason I’m so impressed with myself is because this is my dream game! I’ve been waiting for it since the minute it was announced, and waiting for the announcement for even longer. I followed its development like a hound, and I had ridiculously high expectations.

And it exceeds my expectations!

The Witcher 3 is a tour de force that’s set new standards for the RPG genre. This game gets so many things right: it’s gameplay mechanics are smooth and intuitive (after some tweaking of the default key bindings), its narrative is gripping, its combat is challenging yet rewarding, and it puts you into the role of Geralt, the master witcher, in a way that makes it easy to totally lose yourself in the fantasy. The characters are wonderfully constructed, especially the women, and the relationships that Geralt can form with them are emotionally powerful and moving. I’m definitely in love with Geralt and Yennefer. The music is beautiful and haunting, and communicates the state of the world and its events with ease. All of this works together in The Witcher 3 to welcome you with open arms to become a part of the world.

The Witcher 3 puts you in the shoes of Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf, a professional monster slayer for hire. War has broken out in the Northern Realms, but all Geralt wants to do is find his daughter-figure Ciri. She’s been gone a long time, living in another dimension, but now she’s back, and being chased by the Wild Hunt – a cavalcade of ghostly riders who bring death in their wake. Geralt is also on the trail of his long lost love Yennefer, who’s the closest thing Ciri has to a mother. Together, Geralt and Yennefer travel across the Northern Realms searching for Ciri. It’s a grand adventure across vast continents and against the clock.

witcher3_en_screenshot_screenshot_34_1920x1080_1433341640As a long-time fan of the franchise looking for one more adventure with her favourite characters, the story is what’s most important to me in Wild Hunt. Finally, here is a game that strikes a perfect balance between story and side-quests. When I spend an entire play session on side quests I never feel like I’m neglecting the story. Part of this is because Geralt isn’t trying to save the world. He’s not the most important or powerful person in the Northern Realms, he’s just a professional trying to save his daughter, and along the way he comes across people who need his help.

The other reason there’s very little disconnect between the two is that side quests are treated with as much respect as the story missions. The cut scenes are as detailed as main story ones, and conversations with lesser NPCs are still as beautifully animated as ones with main characters. Side quests feel important in this game because they’re shown to have a meaningful effect on the world and the narrative. Above all, every side quest contributes to building the game world: your choices, even the ones that seem inconsequential, can have a huge impact on the world, so choose carefully and be prepared for the fallout. Save a man from being killed by drowners and you may come to regret it when you find he used his freedom to slaughter refugees.

In addition to meaningful side quests, Wild Hunt gives witcher contracts a new sense of importance. Instead of sending you to kill ten wolves or collect five vampire fangs, The Witcher 3 pits you against particularly fierce monsters that have a backstory and a reason for existing. You won’t get sent to clear a harpy nest, but you will be asked to save a village from a noonwraith who happens to be the spirit of a girl who was murdered there. Witcher contracts are separate from regular side-quests and require you to conduct an investigation that may include asking witnesses, examining the surrounding areas, and hunting down a beast’s lair. The investigation is just as important as the eventual encounter with the beast, which makes you feel smarter while also driving home how intelligent Geralt is: he knows all there is to know about monsters and how to kill them, and now so do you!

Working through the new and improved witcher contracts also constructs a more complete understanding of the game world. By taking on these jobs you’re shaping the world: the villagers’ survival is implied to hinge on Geralt slaying the monsters, and by removing the threat to their settlement you’re making sure the world carries on.

witcher3_en_screenshot_screenshot_28_1920x1080_1433341635Most, though not all, of these contracts result in combat. So thankfully the combat in The Witcher 3 is wonderful, having been massively improved since its predecessor. I rolled my way through The Witcher 2 and looked ridiculous (but had fun – “wheee!”), so the new dodge ability is a welcome introduction. And those of you with sign-based builds will adore the alternate form of each of Geralt’s magical abilities. Overall, the combat is challenging and will punish you if you’re impatient, but it’s easy to master and once you do, you can weave your way through fights without getting touched and look magnificent doing so. While you can get away with hacking and slashing your way through this game, it isn’t the most efficient technique, and you won’t have as much fun. The combat demands that you pay attention and learn how to fight properly, but it rewards you with a sense of mastery and power.

The Witcher games are based off a series of novels and short stories, and where the first two games created independent narratives, Wild Hunt brings in iconic characters and plot lines from the books and knits them into the world of the previous games. The Witcher 3 acts as a continuation of the books, but one that benefits from the new narrative and world established in the previous games. CD Projekt Red has done an amazing job adapting characters like Ciri and Yennefer and Dijkstra into the new medium. They all look and sound amazing, and there’s none of the unpleasantness that comes from an unfaithful adaptation. It’s the most loving adaptation I’ve ever seen, and also one of the most intelligent.

But the developers went above and beyond by giving Ciri her own playable sections. Being able to play as Ciri is not only a fun gameplay change, it’s an effective storytelling method. As you progress though the story you’ll meet certain individuals who met with Geralt’s adopted daughter. Instead of simply listening to them tell their story, you take control over the events being retold. Hearing about her journey is one thing, but being in control of it empowers players and expands the world of the game beyond Geralt.

witcher3_en_screenshot_screenshot_21_1920x1080_1433341630Ciri is faster and weaker than Geralt, and her dodge is replaced by a blink ability. She can’t use signs but she can blink from one enemy to another on the battlefield in a devastatingly beautiful display. Her sections are very linear, and without a skills tree or inventory they’d get boring as a whole game, but used sparingly as they are they’re a wonderful addition to the game.

The Witcher games have always been set in large maps, but with Wild Hunt’s move to an open world came a map approximately 32 times larger than all the locations of the second game combined. With such a massive space to fill, it would have been easy for CD Projekt Red to populate it with bland copy-pasted landmarks and repetitive events. Instead, the world of The Witcher 3 is one of the most vibrant and exciting I’ve ever experienced!

There’s something amazing wherever you look, which is doing terrible things to my sleeping pattern. It’s scarily easy to tell yourself “I’ll just check out that tower over there and then I’ll go to bed,” and suddenly realise it’s somehow 3am.

And there’s so much to explore! Say goodbye to Dragon Age: Inquisition’s mosaic pieces and shard collector quests, to the bottles and planting flags, to the logging stands and quarries. I love Dragon Age: Inquisition and collected most of these, but they always felt separated from the world, as if they’d been dropped onto the map on the last day of development. In Wild Hunt, every landmark is built into the terrain logically, and every point of interest offers some task for you to achieve. Whether it’s clearing a monster nest, exploring a cave, rescuing prisoners from bandits, tracking down a great treasure and slaying its guardian, everything feels significant for the world.

On top of the way it’s constructed, the world is gorgeous! Don’t worry if your PC hardware is beginning to fall behind the times – The Witcher 3 is beautifully optimised and chances are you’ll still be able to make it shine. Part of this is thanks to the fact that the developers are still improving it. So far they’ve released four patches that have given lower-end GPUs a performance boost, fixed bugs, and implemented changes that the community has called for. With a game that offers so much content and boasts so many hours of gameplay, it’s relieving to see the developers dedicated to supporting its longevity.

witcher3_en_screenshot_screenshot_15_1920x1080_1433341626Certain gameplay changes have also been made to accommodate for the open world. This time around you’ll only need to brew potions once. After that, you’ll have a stockpile in your inventory which can be replenished by meditating for at least an hour with a strong alcohol in your inventory. This means no scrounging around for that one last petal, which was annoying enough in the first two games and would be beyond tedious in Wild Hunt. Potion effects have been reworked too. In The Witcher 2 the Swallow potion gives Geralt a 10 minute vitality regeneration buff, which was long enough to last for the entirety of pretty much any encounter in the game. In The Witcher 3, Swallow only lasts 20 seconds. To balance this out, potions in Wild Hunt aren’t as toxic to Geralt, and he can consume them during combat. Taking potions in preparation for battle worked well in the previous games, when the location of monsters was more structured, but this methodical approach isn’t practical in an open world with beasts hidden behind every corner.

Also facing roster changes is Wild Hunt’s selection of mini-games. Gone is the love-it-or-hate-it dice poker from the previous games. Welcome instead Gwent, a Hearthstone-esque, Magic the Gathering-esque card game that I can sink whole nights into if I’m not careful. Gwent is a 1v1 game that simulates two armies meeting on the battlefield. You can play against almost any merchant and certain main story-characters, and defeating opponents earns you a tidy bag of coins and a card to add to your collection. Building your deck by winning cards gives the mini-game a real sense of progression, and when you’ve progressed far enough you can take part in Gwent tournaments. I hope that one day we get a multiplayer Gwent tournament, because the developers have put so much work into this mini-game that it’s almost like they’ve made two whole games and sneakily bundled them together.

There’s not a lot to fault in The Witcher 3. Most of my issues with it are actually backhanded compliments. The lack of a photo mode is disappointing – because the game is so beautiful that I spend 30% of my time in it taking screenshots and just gazing at it in wonder. An updated inventory with more tabs and filters would be nice – because there’s so much amazing gear to find that it can take a while to sort through. I wish there were markers above the NPCs you’ve already defeated in Gwent – because I’m so addicted to building my deck.

witcher3_en_screenshot_screenshot_37_1920x1080_1433341642Aside from that, I have no criticisms. This is a game made by people who love what they do and want to give people the best game imaginable. I’m so glad CD Projekt Red took their time and delayed the game. The wait was hard, but it was worth it to be delivered this masterpiece of an RPG that just keeps getting better.

The Witcher 3 is a powerful roleplaying experience that serves up a complex and emotionally persuasive narrative. It treats its characters with respect and its players with even more respect. The world of Wild Hunt is a grim place to live, and your actions can be its salvation or its ruin. It’s impossible to be involved in these kinds of ambiguous and far-reaching decisions and not feel a connection to the world and its characters, and this is where the game shines. Above all, The Witcher 3 makes me believe that I am Geralt, I am a part of these character’s lives, and I am a part of this world.

Review by Alana Young

Twitter: @alana_groffle

What did you think of The Witcher 3? Let us know in the comments below

Interview – Ben Aldridge on creating authentic chemistry with Jim Parsons in romantic-drama ‘Spoiler Alert’

0

Based on Michael Ausiello’s best-selling memoir, Spoiler Alert is a heart-warming, funny, and life-affirming story that follows the 14-year love affair between entertainment journalist Michael (Jim Parsons) and his photographer partner, Kit (Ben Aldridge). Through Kit, Michael discovers the family he was robbed of as a child, from Kit’s small town parents (Sally Field and Bill Irwin) to their extraordinary circle of Manhattan friends. And while Michael imagines his life unfolding like the plot of one of his favourite romantic comedies, even he can’t predict the twists and turns that will transform and deepen their relationship.

Leading up to the films Australian release on February 9, I was lucky enough to chat with Spoiler Alert’s star, Ben Aldridge, to discuss building his on-screen chemistry with Jim Parsons, filming emotional scenes, and improvising for a comedy director!

Nick: Ben, it’s a pleasure to meet you! I loved this movie, so thank you for taking the time to chat about it with me!

Ben Aldridge: I’m glad you enjoyed it! That’s great to hear.

Nick: I want to jump right into this by bringing up the title of Michael Ausiello’s book – Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies. What do you think the most heroic trait of Kit’s was?

Ben Aldridge: That’s such a great question! No one has asked me that before. I know from Michael’s [Ausiello’s] point of view, that Kit was someone who refused to be a victim during his battle with cancer. He remained really positive. He didn’t want to be pitied.

They both share that as people, even Michael. Both of Michael’s parents passed away, and there’s a sense of… you can’t pity him because he doesn’t play into that. He doesn’t want you to feel sorry for him, and it was exactly the same with Kit’s battle with cancer. I suppose that would be viewed by many as heroic.

Nick: With mentioning Michael there, he is played by Jim Parsons in the film, and you both have fantastic chemistry together. It feels like such an authentic romance. How much of that love did you see on the page between Michael and Kit, and what was the process like working with Jim in order to bring that onto the screen?

Ben Aldridge: I think in terms of the page, when I was reading the book, they have such a playful chemistry. But there is a lot of that that doesn’t make it into the film. I think we were worried about playing it too “cutesy”, but they [Kit and Michael] had such a language. They had these nicknames for each other, and they had their own way of talking, much like many other couples do.

So, I think want Jim [Parsons] and I wanted was this kind of playfulness. The fact that they make each other laugh. But we were thinking: “Well, is this more of a drama? Or a drama with some comedy bits?” But I think Jim is an incredible comic actor, and he’s also an incredible dramatic actor. I personally wanted the comedy to come from the fact that they find each other funny, rather than looking to the audience and being like: “Laugh at this line now!”

In terms of Jim and I managing that chemistry, we actually started a pen pal relationship. As soon as I knew I was going to play Kit, I was working on something in the UK, and we weren’t going to get a chance to meet up in New York before our first day on set. But we started this pen pal thing just so we could get to know each other. And we really did, it was a candid back-and-forth of questions, and looking at our own sexuality when we were younger, our parents, our partners – we really got to know each other. We became really good friends and loved working with each other.

Nick: It’s interesting you mention that language Kit and Michael had, because I think the most powerful scene of the film is in the restaurant after Kit’s official diagnosis, and they take the photos of each other. So much is said between the two characters, but with very little dialogue. Can you talk me through that day on set and how you prepared for such a crucial scene in the film?

Ben Aldridge: So, that’s something that actually happened at that restaurant. They have the photos from that day! I think we didn’t talk too much about it, and we had our own feeling that this was a sacred moment on set. We were in the real restaurant, and I was using Kit’s real camera. Michael had saved Kit’s camera, so it was really powerful to be taking that photo with the real thing.

Often Michael would tell us that Kit made sense of life via his camera. It was like part of him was making sense of the world, and also slightly distracting him a little bit from reality. So, I think for Kit, this was him capturing the moment for what it is. And Michael hardly reversed the camera back onto Kit. He was intimidated to take a photo of him! And then, what is so powerful in that moment, is that Michael picks up the camera and does the same thing.

It’s the moment that Kit is realising his own mortality. He’s looking around the restaurant going: “This could be it”. And it’s a real, loving moment, but it’s also the beginning of them grieving. It was quite an intense scene to do.

Nick: I can imagine, and I don’t want to bring this chat down too much, but this is the sort of film that will provoke audiences to ask questions about their own mortality. What impact will I leave when I die? Or how will I react when someone I know dies? Is that something you find inevitable to question when you’re playing such an intimate role like this?

Ben Aldridge: It’s funny, but I didn’t think about myself. I was so moved and I had so much empathy for Michael and Kit’s situation. And we had Michael Ausiello on set every day as an executive producer, so there was this constant tethering back to the fact that this is a true story. I think I just felt for them so much.

I don’t know what I’d do, and I hope I don’t have to experience this. But, when I first read the book, I wrote to Michael afterwards and told him that I think this book has taught me to love better. I definitely found it to be a very inspirational love story, for sure. That’s undeniable.

Nick: Another thing you mentioned in the answer before was the Kit used photography to understand the world better. And on the flip side, Michael uses television as a coping mechanism. What role has fiction played in your life to help you cope with something, or to better understand a situation?

Ben Aldridge: I’m really drawn to the theatre, and movies, and reading, because I want to be moved. I want to feel something, and I want to feel exhilarated. That may sound weird, but I really want to be moved to tears if I understood something or if I’ve learned something. Maybe it’s given me something to think about.

That’s why I love watching stuff. And it’s probably part of the reason why I wanted to be a part of this team. To create something that might have an effect on people. Fiction has played a role in my life as an escape, or a means of learning about something you didn’t know before.

Nick: I’d love to wrap it up on a slightly lighter note. I really wanted to point out how impressed I was by your Risky Business like slide into the room during the first Christmas scene. Did you hit that on the first take? Or did you have to do a couple before nailing it?

Ben Aldridge: [laughs] There is a few versions. There was a version where I actually slid off-screen into the next room. We did play around with that a fair bit. But I am going to blow my own trumpet here – it wasn’t scripted. That was my offering. My bit of improv!

We were in the location with socks on for quite a while, and I was sliding around all the time. Then when we started blocking that scene, I wanted to do the slide in this little arrival moment. I am particularly proud that it made the cut! Anytime you do a bit of improv with Michael Showalter [director], whether it’s lines you come up with or he throws at you, anytime it made it into the cut, it was god. It’s a vulnerable thing to try something. Sometimes it doesn’t land, but I was happy with this!

Nick: I was equally as impressed! Ben, thank you so much for chatting with me today. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when I watched it, so I think you’ve created something really special here.

Ben Aldridge: Thank you so much, Nick.

Thank you to Ben, and to Universal Pictures, for the chance to chat about Spoiler Alert – in Australian cinemas February 9.

Review : Harley Quinn : A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special

0

Wow, this one….. This one is definitely something else and I don’t have anything to prepare you for the ride we are about to take so let us just get straight into it! 

Harley Quinn: A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day is the latest animated special from DC Animation within the same world as the Harley Quinn animated series. Harley and Ivy are spending their first Valentine’s day together and in true Harley Quinn fashion it has to be the best Ivy has ever had! Joining in on the fun is a couple of other not-so-lucky souls hoping to cash in on the mushy holiday along with snippets from some more well-known couples from the DC Universe telling us how they got together. 

This may be an animated feature but let me stress to you from the start this is one for adult animated fans, no kids allowed. 

DC’s animated TV shows and movies have been a staple for me for many years now. They hold a certain allure and can tell the sort of stories that are too fantastical to tell in a live-action setting plus more of those out there storylines from the comics can be adapted much easier. One character I have much preferred the animated version of is Harley Quinn. Harley is bat shit crazy, there is no other way to describe it, and yet she holds a certain allure in that she does what she thinks is the right thing in the most intense way for those she cares for. 

Queue a Valentine’s special. Harley is out to make sure that Ivy is going to have the best Valentine’s day ever! Even if Ivy is more than happy to hang around home, watch some TV and have some fun that isn’t enough! A dinner date, heist attempt and fireworks display later Harley has one more thing in mind to finish off Ivy and her Valentine’s day…..

In true DC style sometimes things just go a little too well and now everyone in the city is sharing in the Valentine’s Day spirit.

Harley Quinn: A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day is a quick fun romp to help try and recapture some of that lost fun that Valentine’s day is apparently about and a fun ride it is. There are some very questionable moments that had me laughing out loud, a good little hit of action and a few moments with Bane that I am sure will never leave my memory. 

Not meant to be taken seriously and just here for a bit of fun, A Very Problematic Valentine’s day is here to spread some unrestricted love to all who want or need it. 

Coming soon to Binge in Australia be sure to keep an eye out. 

 

Interview – ‘Spoiler Alert’ director Michael Showalter on earning the audiences laughs and tears

0

Based on Michael Ausiello’s best-selling memoir, Spoiler Alert is a heart-warming, funny, and life-affirming story that follows the 14-year love affair between entertainment journalist Michael (Jim Parsons) and his photographer partner, Kit (Ben Aldridge). Through Kit, Michael discovers the family he was robbed of as a child, from Kit’s small-town parents (Sally Field and Bill Irwin) to their extraordinary circle of Manhattan friends. And while Michael imagines his life unfolding like the plot of one of his favourite romantic comedies, even he can’t predict the twists and turns that will transform and deepen their relationship.

Leading up to the films Australian release on February 9, I was lucky enough to chat with Spoiler Alert’s director, Michael Showalter (The Big Sick, The Eyes of Tammy Faye) about his relationship to comedy and drama, plus working with the real life Michael Ausiello to create the authentic feel on screen.

Nick: Mr. Showalter, I just want to start of by saying that I am genuinely a huge fan of your work. I own They Came Together and Wet Hot American Summer. They were formative comedies for me growing up and I try and show them to people all the time! So, talking to you today is a real privilege for me.

Michael Showalter: Ah, that’s really sweet. Thank you.

Nick: I wanted to kick off by looking at the title of Michael Ausiello’s book, and specifically it’s title: Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies. I’m curious to find out what you thought Michael and Kit’s most heroic traits were respectively, and how you wanted to convey that on screen?

Michael Showalter: I think what I love about them as characters, in the story and in general, is the idea that in life, incredibly tragic things occur. Life is very hard. And Michael, Jim Parsons’ character – and Kit [Ben Aldridge] as well – they’re dealing with really tragic, sad, difficult circumstances. I think what’s heroic is the way they deal with it. Their ability to see what is really important to them and what is really important to the people around them. And the way they handle it is through humour, and grace, and honesty. I think that’s something to aspire to.

Nick: Like you said, this a truly tragic story. But, even in that tragedy, there is still so much heart, joy and humour throughout the film. Given your background in both comedy and drama as a filmmaker, what do you find harder to pull off – making an audience laugh, or making an audience cry? And what is the most satisfying feeling when you do get it right?

Michael Showalter: That’s a great question. Um… they’re both hard. I think in both cases you need to earn it. You have to get the audience on your side and on your page. You need to lead them to whatever that is.

Obviously, this movie is a tear-jerker and there’s a lot of things about it that are really sad. But we didn’t just want to play the sad song and know that alone was going to get us the reaction. We really wanted the audience to feel like they know these characters, and that they were crying because they felt like they were losing Kit. Like they themselves were part of the story.

The easy way with movies is that you can use editing, or a song, or a close up, or a push in to elicit a response. But in both cases, I think it’s important to try and earn that laugh or earn those tears.

Nick: I think the scene that felt most powerful to me because of how the relationship was built up, and with that emotion earned, is the restaurant scene after Kit’s initial diagnosis. What you do as a filmmaker in that scene, with the use of silence and the taking of photos, was so powerful. Can you take me through that day on set, and how you prepare Ben and Jim for a scene that emotional?

Michael Showalter: Yeah, it’s a scene where Kit gets his diagnosis that he has stage four cancer, and that he’s going to have to start chemotherapy. It’s a complete shock for them. They’re not prepared for that at all. And after they go to the doctor, they go to Benny’s Burritos, which is a popular Mexican restaurant in New York City.

It’s an interesting scene because even though this massive thing happened in their life, you’re still in life. They’re ordering there regular food, asking each other what they’re going to have and Michael says to Kit: “you’re going to get what I always get you”. It’s a thing where everything’s changed, yet nothing has changed.

And in the book, it was an interesting choice to have them cope with what’s going on. In this very strange way, they are just taking photos of each other quite flirtatiously. But ultimately, it’s this really heartbreaking moment because they’re starting to confront the seriousness of this situation. So I felt like I wanted to tackle that moment and do it in a way that feels different. A scene where they’re not speaking, but still taking the photos of each other just felt like a really interesting way. And Jim and Ben are brilliant in that scene.

Nick: One of the aspects of Michael that I found interesting is how he uses fiction, mainly in this case television, as a coping mechanism with the trauma in his life. What role has fiction played in your life to help you cope with or understand something better?

Michael Showalter: I mean, I totally relate to that aspect of the story. Michael is a TV journalist. He grew up in New Jersey in the 1980s, and was going home after school everyday and watching TV. And that’s exactly the same with me. I grew up in New Jersey in the 80s, going home after school everyday and watching TV. So much of what I learnt and know about the world, I learned from watching TV.

And I think part of growing up is in a lot of ways unlearning and starting to actually make that distinction between the stories we see on television and in film, and then what is real life. Distinguishing how those two things are different.

I think this movie explores that Michael needed to make peace with reality, because for him, TV was an escape from reality. I like to think in my work, I kind of explore those two things – what stories in TV and movies tell us versus what really happens in real life. And often times, they’re not the same.

Thank you to Michael Showalter for his time to chat about his film, and to Universal Pictures for setting up our chat. Spoiler Alert is in cinemas February 9.

The Last of Us Episode 4 Review

0

What a week it has been since we were left a whimpering mess after episode 3 and the story of Frank and Bill. Episode 4 “Please Hold My Hand” brings the focus back to the main story of Joel and Ellie continuing their journey towards the Fireflies. 

Having been through the painful death of Tess and then finding Bill and Frank it is now more evident than ever that Joel and Ellie are alone on their journey to find the Fireflies and that small glimmer of hope that there may be a cure for the Cordyceps fungal infection. By now if you have played The Last of Us you realise that the story on screen is keeping a very close pace with the game. Episode 4 takes a few liberties and expands upon the next hurdle that Joel and Ellie must face. 

After some truly heartfelt moments on the car ride between Joel and Ellie we really start to begin to see the relationship unfold between the two. We watch as this bond is beginning to form where Ellie is no longer just cargo but is fast becoming something more to Joel. 

Corny jokes aside Joel and Ellie are forced to make a bit of a detour that sends them into Kansas City. The city once housed a FEDRA controlled quarantine zone but is now overrun with a group of largely hostile survivors led by Melanie Lynskey’s Kathleen, a character created for the show. Kathleen is both ruthless in her tyrannical leadership of the survivors and is using her power to hunt down members who she believes are at odds with the ways of the new regime. Joel and Ellie have unwittingly strolled into the middle of a war they are not a part of and there could be some trouble ahead from more than just the infected. 

Episode 4 brings us back to the feel of the first two episodes, a gritty dark and foreboding landscape with danger at every turn and Joel and Ellie doing their best to just survive it.
Lynskey is harrowing in her portrayal of Kathleen and being someone who we are used to seeing in a bright and bubbly light she can be a little unsettling at times. 

While moving away slightly from the source material Episode 4 still carries with it the same tone of this next section of the game. A shift from Pittsburgh to Kansas City doesn’t hurt the story but further expands it with what is happening in these pockets of survivors throughout the US. New and expected characters turn up and we get a bit of an insight into their lives and the fight just to make it through each day. For fans of the game, keep your ears out for Tommy, I was looking away and didn’t expect him to turn up when he did, the voice alone was enough to snap focus back to the screen. Jeffrey Piece is used well in his supporting role acting as a bit of second in charge to Kathleen but also being her sounding board and a bit of a leveler. The expansion on the story was good in that it didn’t take away what was happening nor did you know exactly how it was going to play out. It is just another reason why The Last of Us is shaping up to be one of my top shows of all time.    

The Last of Us is available to stream now on BINGE, new episodes drop every Monday.



Review – SpongeBob Squarepants : The Cosmic Shake

0

After the huge success of 2020’s Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated for modern consoles, the team at Purple Lamp Studios have delivered a sequel that progresses the series forward with gorgeous graphics on the Nintendo Switch system that combine with some fun platforming that rips open the multiverse for Spongebob and co. and incorporates some new Bikini Bottom characters into the mix. The fun platforming through the various universes offer a different side of each character, while still staying true to their core. Fans of Bikini Bottom young and old will love the show’s voice actors voicing their characters in this game. Spongebob Squarepants : The Cosmic Shake is the most fun I have had on the Nintendo Switch in a long time! 

The story focuses on Spongebob and Patrick meeting the mermaid Kassandra who gives them a bottle of mermaid tears to use for blowing bubbles. Unbeknownst to the pair that mermaid tears have magical qualities, they go wild as expected and start ripping holes in the universe, creating a bunch of rifts that suck the residents of Bikini Bottom into. The underwater town is covered in cosmic jelly and overrun with creatures. Kassandra needs the pair to collect as much cosmic jelly as they can while jumping into each rift to rescue their friends and save the universe. 

While it may feel like oh great another property doing a multiverse thing, this game warrants the premise by creating hilarious alternate versions of fan-favourite characters like Mr Krabbs, Sandy, Mrs Puff and many more. There are many in-jokes for fans of the series and movies, while still being entertaining for newcomers with its out-there style and universally loved humour. 

 

Visually this game looks absolutely stunning on the Nintendo Switch system. I played in both docked and hand-held mode and found the colours to look incredibly vivid and detailed on the OLED Switch system. The cut scenes are incredibly cinematic and look similar to shots from the movie series, while still retaining the original animated styles from the TV series. Each Elseworld has a theme and it’s easy to forget a lot of the times that this world is set under the ocean. The wild west world in particular feels right out of a spaghetti western with its inhabitants, saloons, shoot outs and my personal favourite, riding a seahorse in place of a (land) horse. The developers this time have removed the laginess of the water effect to allow for seamless gameplay that allows characters to move more freely and help the detail of each world feel alive. 

The platforming element of this game is solid. Each level offers a variety of different things to do apart from just reaching the goal. There are plenty of side missions to do for inhabitants, new areas of the worlds to explore and collectibles. Apart from collecting tons of cosmic jelly for Kassandra, there are a ton of characters to interact with in Bikini Bottom who offer side quests and open up the main world to reach previously unreachable parts of the homeworld. Controlling Spongebob is easy enough, in this game he does get a homing attack (similar to 3D Sonic games) and timing jumps across high-moving platforms provide the game’s most laborious of difficulties. Fortunately, you collect pairs of underwear and Patrick will come to your rescue when you don’t time your jump properly and plummet to almost certain death. 

My only complaint about this game is that it is not available on next-gen consoles. While it was a lot of fun to play on the Switch again, admittedly it’s been a breath between good experiences on that console, having a shiny new Spongebob platformer on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S would have been a great thing. It is only a minor complaint, and the many people who have last-gen consoles will enjoy having a new game release built completely for those systems. I didn’t notice any performance issues on Switch. There was no screen tear or long loading screens (just to reiterate I played on the OLED model Switch). 

Spongebob Squarepants : The Cosmic Shake is a huge step forward for the series. Purple Lamp Studios have taken the great elements of Battle for Bikini Bottom and improved on them in this game. Making Spongebob the only playable character and giving his new abilities and moves, really allows for the focus to be on the main character and others like Patrick and Sandy to deliver a great performance. The Bubble Board is among one of my favourite new additions to this game and I cannot wait to see what they come up with next. While the game is currently not available on next-gen consoles, if you have a Switch, I would argue that this is a fantastic addition to your game collection for both young and old. 

Spongebob Squarepants: The Cosmic Shake is available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch. 

Interview – Jim Parsons on exploring the mysteries of complex people in ‘Spoiler Alert’

0

Based on Michael Ausiello’s best-selling memoir, Spoiler Alert is a heart-warming, funny, and life-affirming story that follows the 14-year love affair between entertainment journalist Michael (Jim Parsons) and his photographer partner, Kit (Ben Aldridge). Through Kit, Michael discovers the family he was robbed of as a child, from Kit’s small-town parents (Sally Field and Bill Irwin) to their extraordinary circle of Manhattan friends. And while Michael imagines his life unfolding like the plot of one of his favourite romantic comedies, even he can’t predict the twists and turns that will transform and deepen their relationship.

Leading up to the films Australian release on February 9, I was lucky enough to chat with Spoiler Alert’s star, Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) to discuss his friendship with the real Michael Ausiello, working with Ben Al dridge, and how at this point in his career he is focusing on exploring the mystery of people.

Jim Parsons: Hello, how are you?

Nick: I’m well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to meet you and talk about this beautiful film. How are you today?

Jim Parsons: Thank you, and I’m very good.

Nick: That’s good to hear! Like I said, I genuinely loved this film. I saw it a few weeks back, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat today.

Jim Parsons: Oh, thank you. That’s very kind.

Nick: I’m fascinated by the title of Michael Ausiello’s book – Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies. I’d love to find out what you believe Michael and Kit’s most heroic traits are, respectively?

Jim Parsons: I think in terms of the story, which I know more about Michael from this story than I do about him in real life, but I think Michael’s most heroic trait is his refusal to stop trying to help Kit, and being there for Kit during the journey he had with cancer.

I think it was an extremely interesting aspect to me, because whether he knew it or not, there’s a part of Michael trying to do what he was too young and didn’t have the autonomy to do when his mother died of cancer. There was this deep love for Kit, and we really wanted to honour that. I think it’s also a second chance at a tragic situation, to help in ways that he couldn’t before.

And God, Kit’s most heroic trait… Kit’s most heroic trait to me is his willingness to dive into any situation that strikes his curiosity. I think Michael had fear and control issues that kept him from doing the same, and he was very fortunate to find a person like Kit did. There was such a balance to that. There was a bravery that Kit had about living life in general, and he dragged Mike into events and situations that he wouldn’t have done, were it not for Kit.

Nick: You mentioned something there that I hadn’t thought about in regard to Michael’s control issues. And ultimately, this is his story that you are telling, so there is a level of bravery in relinquishing that over to you. I know you were very aware of the book before the film, but how did the film come about and what is your relationship like with Michael Ausiello?

Jim Parsons: Michael had asked me to host a Q+A at a Barnes & Noble for the book, and so I read it in preparation for that. And my husband and I were on vacation together when I read it, and he watched me read it and saw how devastated and moved I was by it. So, he actually asked if it would be a good movie, and I really didn’t know. I mean, it’s certainly a good book and it touched me deeply. Then he read it and said it would make a great movie. It was really his idea.

So Todd [Jim’s husband] approached Michael at the Q+A at Barnes + Noble and said we we’re interested in optioning this, and I know there were some other offers along the way, but Michael went with us. He was a really good partner the whole way along. He was brave and willing to give up his story over to a team of creatives to make a movie out of it.

The biggest gift he gave me personally, was allowing me to find the difference between him and what was now going to become the character of him. He was never anything but grounded about that, and in retrospect, that was a bigger gift than I knew at the time. He rightfully could have made things more difficult at times, and he just never did. He never lost his sense of clarity, and maybe it has something to do with the fact that he has an insider seat on the industry, so it’s not a mystery to him what’s going on. Whatever it was, it was a very healthy attitude that he had.

Nick: This is a truly beautiful story, and even though it is based around a tragic event, there is still so much humour, heart and joy within it. As someone who has done both comedy and drama over your career, I’m curious to find out what you find more difficult – making an audience laugh, or making an audience cry? And which one is more satisfying when you get it right?

Jim Parsons: Oh God! I don’t know that I could tell you which is more difficult! I will say that certain types of comedy, like the type I did on the TV show for 12 years, it’s quite regimented in its timing.  Where there’s a little more leeway in more dramatic moments. In some comedy, there is a lot of space and leeway, but I wouldn’t necessarily say either one is more difficult.

At this point in my life, I am enjoying exploring the more – not just dramatic – but the mysterious depths of what is two humans relating to each other and letting that happen, as opposed to trying to get to a punch line. There is such a great joy in doing something and hearing an audience laugh. It’s harder to hear them reacting to a dramatic scene, but there’s not doubt when somethings worked in a comedy essence.

Nick: I’d love to touch on what you said about ‘exploring the mysterious’ aspect of relationships. The most powerful scene for me in the film, is the restaurant scene after Kit’s official diagnosis, and Michael and Kit take the photos of each other. You and Ben [Aldridge] have phenomenal chemistry throughout the film, but the acting you both do here is incredible. You both do so much by saying so little. Can you talk me through what that day was like on set, and your preparation with Ben to get those performances on screen?

Jim Parsons: It was heavy. It was a joy as an actor, having been given the gift to tell this person’s story. And this scene in particular was very emblematic of that feeling we all had through the film. In real life, Michael and Kit actually went to Benny’s Burritos after that diagnosis, and they really did pass that camera back and forth like that.

But it was [Michael] Showalter [director], who was really the one who focused on the aspect of not much happening. He verbalised how he was just letting us float in that awkward, stunned time. They’ve just been hit by this ten-tonne weight of information, and it seemed to turn into a scene where Michael wanted to take control of the situation. He wanted Kit to tell his parents, but Kit wasn’t fully buying into that. But during the scene, he finally accepts it. It’s the beginning of taking the next steps in this process.

I remember so distinctly that feeling of being off camera with Ben, and every take we would walk in and take the same seats, do the same thing, take after take. And it was very quiet. Ben would usually put a hand on me right before we were going to go. It was really intense, but it was such a pleasure to show what it is for two people to grow closer through these really hard moments. Where they get this profound connect that sometimes only a tragedy can give you. It was a strike of good fortune that the other actor involved was so eager and able to dive in to it with me the same way.

Nick: That was so well put, Jim. I really appreciate that answers and your time today! I could talk to you about this all day!

Jim Parsons: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to meet you.

Thank you to Jim Parsons for his time, and to Universal Pictures for setting up the chat. Spoiler Alert is in Australian cinemas February 9.

Interview – Jonathon Groff and Ben Aldridge on the excitement of working with M. Night Shyamalan for ‘Knock at the Cabin’

0

While vacationing at a remote cabin, a young girl and her parents are taken hostage by four armed strangers who demand that the family make an unthinkable choice to avert the apocalypse. With limited access to the outside world, the family must decide what they believe before all is lost.

Knock at the Cabin is from visionary filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, Knock at the Cabin stars Dave Bautista (Dune, Guardians of the Galaxy franchise), Tony award and Emmy nominee Jonathan Groff (Hamilton, Mindhunter), Ben Aldridge (Pennyworth, Fleabag), BAFTA nominee Nikki Amuka-Bird (Persuasion, Old), newcomer Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn (Little Women, Landline) and Rupert Grint (Servant, Harry Potter franchise).

Leading up to the  release of Knock at the Cabin – in Australian cinemas on February 2 – I was lucky enough to chat with the films stars Jonathon Groff and Ben Aldridge about the excitement of working with M. Night Shyamalan, and the process of finding their characters.

Nick: Jonathon, it’s a pleasure to meet you! And Ben, it’s so good to talk to you again! How are you both?

Jonathon Groff: Hi, nice to meet you.

Ben Aldridge: It’s great to see you again, Nick!

Nick: I really appreciate you both taking the time to talk about this movie! You’ve both worked with really prolific directors over the last few years. But when this script comes to you, and M. Night Shyamalan’s name is all over it – what was your first reaction? And was that a big part of making you want to do this film?

Ben Aldridge: Yeah, so, the email landed in my inbox, and I saw it was a self-tape, which full disclosure are sometimes a bit: “eugh”. Oh, I mean it’s one of my favourite things to do [laughs]! Obviously, I want auditions because it leads to work and pay!

But I opened it and I saw ‘M. Night Shyamalan’, and of course you don’t get told what it’s about. You have three scenes to try and piece together what it’s about. And I saw all these lines about people looking at their watches, there was a gay couple talking about adoption, and I couldn’t piece it together at all.

Then, I did the tape and did a zoom with Night about a week later. I did a three hour call with him and he still wouldn’t give me any information on what the movie was about! And then, three days later he called and said that he would like me to be in his film, then he gave me 24 hours to read the script. And reading the script was shocking for me because I was seeing the story piece together. I was reading the violence. It was the closest thing of having it be like Andrew and Eric’s experience of this all unfolding. I was wondering what the white bags over the heads meant. I was really intimidated by it. He [M. Night] has given me the acting challenge of my life here, and I’m not going to say no to that, but I am going to feel a little bit scared of it. And that fear kind of continued right through to now, to be honest. I’ve always loved his films and was very excited to work with him, and see how he goes about that. He has a really unique process.

Jonathon Groff: Night was really the big draw for me as well. I love going to the movies, and the director is almost a character of the movie, especially when someone has such a specific stamp. When you’re doing a film, you are really living inside the mind of the director. So I was interested even before auditioning or reading the scenes. Then ultimately, with the script and the book, I wanted to be inside Night’s brain and see how it worked, and experience that process.

It was an incredibly unique, specific process, unlike any I’d had before. He didn’t disappoint in that regard. He’s incredibly articulate about exactly what he wants. The punctuation, the words of his script, the shots – he has it all pre-planned. You don’t even rehearse on set. The cameras are already positioned and then you do a kind of precision acting. It was really exciting.

One thing you mentioned Ben about first reading the script was the fact that it’s about a gay couple. What was the feeling like of seeing this story about a same-sex parent family at it’s core?

Ben Aldridge: It’s important to me, and it excites me! Only in the last three years have I really been playing queer characters, and that’s been a new layer to my work. I think I relate to these characters in a slightly different way, but a very emotionally authentic way.

I think what this film does is that it could’ve been any loving family of three. It just happens to be two gay dads, a single-sex parent family with their adopted daughter. The film speaks to the fact that is has a universal language of love. It’s a loving family in this situation. It doesn’t ever erase the queer narrative. In fact, I think it honours the queer experience with a gentle touch with the direction of what these characters have experienced with the parents or potential homophobia. You get moment of that, and I love the film for that.

Jonathon Groff: I think you put that perfectly. You covered so much!

You both have backgrounds in different forms of theatre and stage work, but you’ve both spoken about religious experiences in the past. Was any aspect of either of those elements helpful in preparing for these roles?

Jonathon Groff: It’s funny, Night told me when we met that he came to see Hamilton, and he wrote my name down on a piece of paper. I mean, who knows if he’s telling the truth! Because he’s good a telling tales [laughs]. But, when he met me at the audition, he told me that he wrote my name down, so I think that was part of what got me in the room.

We didn’t really discuss my half Mennonite side of my family, my religious upbringing. He talked about what he wanted from the movie, and then just asked me to do my best at delivering the performance he wanted, that he had seen in his mind.

There is this kind of instinctual gift that Night has with people and with energies that is specific to hi. Even though he wasn’t asking us specifically about our backgrounds, I think he knew the energies that were required to bring those characters to life, and I think he picked the right people for all seven of us, truly. I remember Kristen’s [Cui, Wen] audition, and her unique personality that matched so beautifully with a scene with Leonard [Dave Bautista].

Ben Aldridge: Night works in a way where we had two weeks rehearsal in a theatre warehouse. What you would do is sit down and read the script and talk about how you relate to it and your experience understanding it. It can be a bonding experience, sharing and getting underneath the skin of the script. He shares his love of his characters, and he’s thought about them so much. He relates the film, or the script, or even us through his vision. He will talk about his family and his experiences and thoughts!

Thank you to Ben and Jonathan for their time and thank you to Universal Pictures for giving me the chance to chat with them! Knock at the Cabin is in cinemas February 2.

Review – Knock at the Cabin

0

His name is synonymous with ‘the twist ending’. The Sixth Sense, Signs, and The Happening (of which the twist was that Mark Wahlberg was actually convincing as a teacher) – all the original works of the equally praised and criticised filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan. After his hot streak of films in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Shyamalan unfortunately had a slight speed bump in his career, producing films such as The Last Airbender and After Earth. And while there may be die-hard Shyamalan enthusiasts who have now retrospectively found some diamond in the rough of those films, there was a time in which it was thought the peak of Shyamalan’s filmmaking career had truly come and gone.

Then in 2015, his found footage horror film The Visit sparked interest from the mainstream audiences, only for a true comeback to be solidified when the critically acclaimed and box office smashing Split won audiences over. 8 years on and 2 more films, plus the terrifyingly great Apple TV+ series Servant, in the bag, Shyamalan is ready to up the ante, the tension and the brutality in his adaptation of the novel, ‘The Cabin at the End of the World’ from writer Paul Tremblay, Knock at the Cabin.

While vacationing in a secluded forest cabin, Wen (Kristen Cui), a young girl, innocently plays in the yard while her parents, Eric (Jonathon Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge) enjoy some relaxation on the back patio. Wasting no time getting into the meat of the story, Wen is eerily and slowly approached by a intimidatingly large presence, emerging from the tree line ahead. Introducing himself as Leonard (Dave Bautista), he attempts to put Wen at ease by admitting he is there to befriend her, but also that he needs her to understand that she and her parents will have to make an incredibly important decision that day.

Scared by the looming presence of Leonard, and with the sudden addition of three more people emerging from the depths of the forest with makeshift, medieval-like weapons, Wen runs to Eric and Andrew, who barricade themselves inside the cabin. However, it’s not long before Leonard and his self-labelled ‘associates’ forcefully enter the cabin and ultimately take this unassuming family hostage.

Leonard’s associates include the rough-redneck Redmond (Rupert Grint), the fast talking and frenetic Ardiane (Abby Quinn), and the sympathetic nurse Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird). Towering over the hogtied family, Leonard puts forward an impossible and intense ultimatum – that one family member must be chosen to die, or the apocalypse will take the lives of everyone on Earth.

Shyamalan thrusts the audience immediately into the tense tone and atmosphere of Knock At The Cabin. Leonard’s initial encounter with Wen starts the movie at about an 8 on the ‘intensity meter’, and there is barely a second of breathing room as Shyamalan crafts a story and world that just feels more and more relentless as each reveal and twist plays out on screen. This film is the definition of heart-racing, white-knuckling cinema, and in all honesty, it’s Shyamalan’s best film since Unbreakable in 2000.

But it’s not just Shyamalan’s fantastic use of tension that makes this film great (even though it is the genre he is most well known for, and he uses all his best tricks in this film to make the feeling so apparent), but on a technical level, Shyamalan’s direction is one of a filmmaker who has put all his years of experience in this craft on screen. There are long takes that move around the cabin, with blocking showcasing actors both in and out of the location that add to the anxiety inducing, non-stop energy that this film carries. Shyamalan also more often that not chooses to show the brutal violence sparingly, leaving a more disturbing impact on the reasoning behind each use of violence. Whether is sweeping shots back and forth that build the anxiety, or tense, still close ups creating a sense of unease, Knock At The Cabin is the work of a director who has perfected the art of terror and tension.

The content with in the story also lends to being one of the darker toned films in Shyamalan’s filmography. While I have read Tremblay’s original novel as of yet, a quick read of the synopsis was enough see what liberties Shyamalan had taken with his co-written screenplay adaptation. And while there are far more disturbing and shocking elements in the novel, Shyamalan seemingly still manages to capture the atmospheric dread of the source material with a constant feeling that no one is safe, and that doom comes for all, no matter what decision is made.

The characters of Knock at the Cabin are truly fascinating, specifically Leonard, who may seemingly come across as a brooding threat and that’s it, but there is a complex layer added to his character in moments of authentic empathy. Leonard has an odd compassion for Eric and Andrew when he constantly reminds them that he understands what a difficult position they are in. Leonard often corrects the couple when they make accusations that this is a hate crime due to their sexuality, citing that he was brought to them unknowing who they were, but led by visions of the cabin itself. And while it would understandable that the initial audience reaction is that Leonard is just a delusional religious extremist, there is a nuanced softness in Bautista’s performance that will pull and push at your read on Leonard as a character. This is undoubtedly Bautista’s best work as an actor, using both his physically prowess to intimidate, but also using more reserved and timid demeanour to psychologically mess with both Eric and Andrew, and us as the audience.

In fact, acting wise, there are no weak performances in Knock at The Cabin. Groff and Aldridge are able to show off a side of them we haven’t seen, donning the heroes under duress, with a slight touch of action-men for good measure. Rupert Grint exudes disgust both physically as a character who looks like how you would assume they smell, but also as he leans fully into the disgruntled and rude Southern-rural American type. Ardiane is the character that gets pushed to the outer rim the most, but Abby Quinn still gets a fantastic scene to shine. And finally, Nikki Amuka-Bird’s fantastic performance as Sabrina will add even more complexity to the story, because he character is incredibly conflicted about what is happening, despite her strong beliefs in what their mission is.

Knock at the Cabin will have you gripped from start to finish. This is undoubtedly M. Night Shyamalan’s most tense and thematically darkest film to date, but it is also up there as one of his best. It’s a gripping story, anchored by Dave Bautista’s best performance to date, and is absolutely one not to be missed in the cinemas!

Knock at the Cabin is in cinemas February 2.

Interview – M. Night Shyamalan on maintaining tension in new thriller ‘Knock at the Cabin’

0

While vacationing at a remote cabin, a young girl and her parents are taken hostage by four armed strangers who demand that the family make an unthinkable choice to avert the apocalypse. With limited access to the outside world, the family must decide what they believe before all is lost.

From visionary filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, Knock at the Cabin stars Dave Bautista (Dune, Guardians of the Galaxy franchise), Tony award and Emmy nominee Jonathan Groff (Hamilton, Mindhunter), Ben Aldridge (Pennyworth, Fleabag), BAFTA nominee Nikki Amuka-Bird (Persuasion, Old), newcomer Kristen Cui, Abby Quinn (Little Women, Landline) and Rupert Grint (Servant, Harry Potter franchise).

Leading up to the films release in Australian cinemas on February 2, I was lucky enough to chat with acclaimed filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Split) about adapting the novel, shooting in a single location and his evolution as a director!

Nick: Mr. Shyamalan, it’s a pleasure to meet you and I really appreciate you taking the time to chat today

M. Night Shyamalan: Thank you very much. Also, cool shirt, man!

Nick: [laughs] Thank you, thank you! This is one of the very few times that you’ve adapted from existing source material. I’m interested in finding out what you process is like as a screenwriter when it comes to choosing what you’re going to stay faithful to in the book, and what you’re going to put your own personal twist on?

M. Night Shyamalan: You know, I think it depends on the source material and its relationship to the current culture. It’s funny, Stuart Little was my first adaptation and instead of a straight adaptation, I made up a whole new thing that really was inspired by that wonderful classic. Then my last movie [Old] was inspired by a graphic novel, but I was more inspired by the images and then I came up wit the plot.

But in this case, this was kind of a third version. I was inspired by the premise and a lot of the set up. Then the book takes a very sharp left turn, and I felt very strongly that that wasn’t the way I wanted the story to proceed. So, in this case, I changed the title of the movie to signal to the audience that it’s not a straight adaptation of the book.

It really felt ground-breaking to see a gay, single-sex parent family at the centre of this film without the marketing making a big deal out of that fact. Was there much thought given to that initially as that hasn’t really been done in a mainstream, thriller film like this before?

M. Night Shyamalan: It’s something I feel really proud about because I didn’t really think about it. This is just a family, and this is just a love story. And I relate to it very deeply as a love story. In fact, it may be the love story that I relate to the most out of all the stories about love that I’ve told! It’s actual people, and what their genders or sexuality is, is irrelevant to this conversation. It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s just this family and their love is relatable on every level. People around the world have had this reaction of seeing themselves in this family. How beautiful is that, man?

Looking back at your entire filmography, how would you describe the evolution of your relationship with the macabre, supernatural and twist-like elements that your filmmaking style is often synonymous with?

M. Night Shyamalan: You know, sometimes when I talk at these junkets, I feel like I learn something about myself. You’re basically like my therapist! I get to talk to you and let my feelings out. And I’ve realised that I am inherently, a very emotional guy. I’m a very sentimental guy. My first two movies I did, I was 21 and 24, and the emotions of those stories were very much so “on the sleeve”. I couldn’t talk to audiences properly for some reason, because I was only showing light, and love, and sentimentality.

But when I decided to go into genre filmmaking, which was with The Sixth Sense, at 27 [years old], then I had a darkness to balance out that light. And when that balance came in for the audience, I found I had more emotional stories and talk about emotional things, but balanced against the genre. And I think that balance feels more true to the audience. I’m able to take that darkness now– I love it – that’s inside of me and, you know, deal with it. It has stayed with me all these years and it makes me able to talk to the audience in a more powerful way!

Knock at the Cabin is set in a very limited location, and I’m sure shooting in a location like this would’ve been very complex, but you still managed to make the film feel incredibly dynamic. Did you face any challenges making such an energetic film in such a limited space?

M. Night Shyamalan: Thank you! I think that was part of what I was trying to allude to when I was thinking of the shots, and how challenging it was to evolve what the characters were feeling. How scene 38 is different to scene 80, even though their all sitting in the same place. They’ve separated the two husbands in their belief system, they’ve seen violence. The child has got to a different place in her arc.

So, it was a really interesting exercise in subtilties of a point of view changing. That within the nuance of being a hostage victim, there’s always threat, but it’s arcing, especially as time is running out. And how I wanted to visually convey that took a long time to get right. It’s the longest story boarding process that I’ve ever done! Just as long as the scripting. It took about four-and-a-half months!

Thank you to M. Night Shyamalan, and to Universal Pictures, for the chance to chat about Knock at the Cabin, in cinemas February 2.

Review – The Estate

0

UK based filmmaker Dean Craig created what I believe to be one of the funniest comedies on the 2000s with the original Death at a Funeral. The dry British wit, the extraordinarily ridiculous premise and set pieces, plus some laugh out loud funny performances rounded out a truly great comedy! Unfortunately, his latest comedy film The Estate shows that even if you have the foundations of a good comedy, doesn’t necessarily mean lightning is going to strike twice.

When the news of their terminally-ill, but incredibly wealthy aunt, reaches sisters Macey (Toni Collete) and Savanna (Anna Faris), it seems all their financial problems will be solved… after a little bit of sucking-up and winning over their notoriously hard-to-please relative. Macey’s dream of finally opening her own business seem not too far out of reach, until the sisters discover that other members of their family, Beatrice (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Richard (David Duchovny), have the same idea.

Craig’s script has the bare bones structure of the classic trope, in which a family fight to get what they think is rightfully theirs, but learn along the way that family sticking together and sharing will make them happier. The writing is on the wall right from the get-go, and no matter what Craig tries, whether there even was an attempt to subvert the trope, this tried and tested formula is so predictable, that not even the unfunny attempts at outrageous crude humour can save it.

Each joke falls incredibly flat, and the try-hard delivery of some of the performances doesn’t help either. There’s nothing funny about a wife trying to force her husband to have sex with her Aunty for the money, because we’ve seen it before, and done better. There’s nothing funny about finding out that the aunt’s old high school flame is now a run-down alcoholic, yet there’s still an attempt to get them to marry for the money, because it’s already been done before! Even when the film pulls out it’s last trick from the barrel and has the family fondling a passed out man’s penis in public, trying to get it back in his pants – which should be a laugh out loud moment – gets nothing but a simple sigh because there is no interest in the shenanigans by that point.

The two-dimensional characters aren’t worth investing in. Each one is as unlikeable as the next, leaving you wondering why you should care if these insufferable maniacs get the money or not. The chemistry between the main four – Collette, Faris, Duchovny and DeWitt – makes some of the more unbearable moments digestible, because they are of the calibre of actor that can shine up a turd just enough to make you quickly question: “Is this actually a turd?” But then, Craig’s script pulls you straight back out of that stream of thought with another ill-advised joke. It really makes you question what (outside of money) was the reason these actors signed up to a film like this.

Craig has proven himself in the past with hilarious and fantastic screenplays, but having rushed out a film like this in the same year that another lacklustre and critically maligned comedy of his, The Honeymoon, was released, you can’t help but wonder whether taking some time off to refine his potential could be worth it.

The Estate is streaming on Prime Video from February 3.