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Kung Fu Yoga

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Jackie Chan seems to be everywhere at the moment. It was only weeks ago that his period action comedy Railroad Tigers was in Australian cinemas, and that came a few short months after the release of the more contemporary Skiptrace. Before 2017 is out he will be starring in Martin Campbell’s action thriller The Foreigner, but this week he also stars in Stanley Tong’s Kung Fu Yoga. It is being widely touted as the first-ever Chinese-Indian co-production, and is Chan’s big theatrical release for the Lunar New Year.

It is also terrible.

The thing that few people discuss about a lot of Chan’s earlier popular hits such as Armour of God and Rumble in the Bronx is that, script-wise, they were pretty terrible. The storylines were simplistic and derivative. The characters were wafer-thin and the acting fairly ripe. As fans of Jackie Chan we didn’t care, as the outstanding and inventive stunt work more than compensated for shortfalls elsewhere in the film.

Chan is now 62, and his days as the world’s most talented stunt performer are behind him. That is not automatically a problem. In recent years he has excelled in projects where he has found new avenues, whether that is performing a mentor role to an ensemble cast in Railroad Tigers or attempting straight drama in 2007’s Shinjuku Incident. Where he seems almost guaranteed to fail is in those films that attempt to recapture the tone and style of his earlier hits. It killed his 2012 Armour of God revival Chinese Zodiac stone dead; now it does the same to Kung Fu Yoga.

Chan plays Jack, a prominent Chinese archaeologist persuaded by a mysterious Indian woman named Ashmita (Amyra Dastur) to track down and recover the legendary Magadha treasure – believed lost somewhere along the Chinese-Indian border during the Tang dynasty. With a team of associates he travels from China to Dubai and finally to India, all the while plagued by Randall (Sonu Sood) the descendant of the Indian warlord who tried to steal the treasure in the first place.

Kung Fu Yoga is a film 25 years out of date. The storyline is relatively nonsensical, and the action comes in fits and starts. There are a few moments where the inventiveness and cleverness of Chan’s action choreography jumps out, but in the main it is a fairly boring string of CGI-enhanced set pieces. That CGI is one of the film’s biggest drawbacks, with Tong banking visual effects cheques his film cannot afford. A fully animated prologue scene looks like something from a PlayStation game. Digitally created animals, including elephants, snakes, hyena and a vomiting lion proliferate, and never convince.

There is a lot of misplaced slapstick. The film generally has a disturbing tin ear for humour, which is a serious problem since it is supposed to be an action-comedy. Chan successfully manages a few laughs – literally nobody else in the cast does the same. Aarif Rahman is reasonably good as a rival archaeologist and treasure hunter named Jones – no guesses for where that name originated – but in all honesty he feels like his character should be starring in his own film.

Jackie Chan is a genuine legend in Asian cinema, and continues to make a range of interesting and entertaining films. Kung Fu Yoga is absolutely not one of them. Stanley Tong came out of a 12 year directorial retirement to direct this film – I think perhaps he should have stayed in bed.

 
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Moonlight

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If this gives you any indication, Moonlight has so far taken home Best Picture from the 2017 Golden Globes; Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography from the LA Film Critics Association; Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography from the NY Film Critics Circle and the NY Times Best Film of 2016. Whoa.

The contenders are pretty tough this year: Manchester By The Sea, La La Land, Jackie, Hell or High Water, Lion… it’s been a remarkably prolific year for Oscar-worthy cinema. But despite its many rivals, Moonlight is a clear stand out, being showered – drenched even – with praise and accolades left, right and center.

So what is it exactly that makes it so spesh? Sure, it’s extraordinarily well written, directed, performed, and executed, but more than that – it is an intensely important film that the world very much needs right now.

Moonlight chronicles the life of Chiron, known affectionately as ‘Little’, throughout three poignant and painful stages of his life. Played by three separate actors, Chiron is a young African-American kid; a Miami inner-city battler, struggling to deal with his dysfunctional home life during the “War on Drugs” era. The story of his struggle to find himself is told as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality in a culture that doesn’t accept it.

Though the film is only his second full-length feature (debuting in 2008 with Medicine For Melancholy), director Barry Jenkins handles this explosive material with the skill and discipline of a dynamite-defusing veteran. From the very first frame, Moonlight has a real nervousness to it, yet it’s never panicked or erratic, rather intensely focused and calm – in fact, uncomfortably so.

Here, Jenkins manages to create a world where everything is dripping with a thick layer of rage, fear and urgency, brought to the boil with such ferocious, unrelenting heat but never actually spilling over the edge. It’s a masterful move in drowning his audience in the emotionally and physically repressed world that Chiron inhabits – to a point of discomfort where you as the viewer lose control and white-hot empathy takes over.

This narrative would have been difficult enough in directing one lead actor, let alone three, where Jenkins and his main Chirons needed to, quite literally, work as one. It was a wildly tall order for the largely novice cast and director, but together they achieve something untainted by bad habits or past experiences.

Each iteration of the character faces different, but also shared challenges: socio-economic disadvantage, addiction, bullying, homophobia, social isolation, puberty, incarceration – and that’s the tip of the iceberg. Alex R. Hibbert (Little Chiron) Ashton Sanders (Middle Chiron) and Trevante Rhodes (Big Chiron) are a holy triumvirate of cinematic wunderkinds, each demonstrating such unbroken, power subtly in their portrayals. Alex R. Hibbert in particular – who, by the way, is only 12 – is a goddamn supernova. There are fully-grown adult actors who could not harness the restraint and force of this young talent. He is pure magic.

Moonlight is all at once painful and jubilant, acting almost as a therapeutic release for what has been a largely untold story around homosexuality within pockets of African-American culture. It is a heroic glimpse into a world that many had known nothing about, and is quite possibly one of the bravest films in cinematic history. Not to be missed.

 
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Live By Night

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Live By Night begins with a flashback sequence and a lengthy voiceover jam-packed with exposition – not exactly an indication of a filmmaker in control of their material. And so, after three tightly primed, perfectly constructed films as director (Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Argo), Ben Affleck finally gets caught up in the narrative tripwires with his fourth, which sees him shoot high, but not quite get there. That’s certainly not to say that Live By Night isn’t enjoyable, but there’s a flailing, uncertain quality to the storytelling that thankfully doesn’t carry over into the richly assured visuals. It draws you in and keeps you there, but when it’s all said and done, you’ll likely be asking yourself what it was all about.

Joe Coughlin (a swaggering Affleck) is a WW1 veteran turned stick-up man (“I went away a soldier and came back an outlaw,” he says in voiceover, locating the horrors of war and his subsequent distaste with authority as the instigators for his life of return-home crime) in Prohibition-era Boston. With the Irish and Italian mobs doing battle around him, Coughlin wants to stay independent, but is eventually drawn into the gangland war, taking on the Florida operations of the Italians, and instantly facing off against the KKK and other local criminal players in his fight for ultimate power.

On paper (the film is based on a book by Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River author, Dennis Lehane), Live By Night sounds like a trope-heavy rise-of-a-crime-boss tale, but the narrative  takes so many detours that it continually loses sight of the main road. While the array of supporting characters (Sienna Miller’s tough talking gangster’s moll; Zoe Saldana’s Cuban émigré; Chris Cooper’s religious sheriff; Chris Messina’s old school crim; Elle Fanning’s little girl lost) is consistently fascinating and strongly performed, their stories range from the under-developed (Saldana barely registers) to the flat-out strange (Fanning’s character trajectory feels like it’s been funneled in from a Flannery O’Connor story), and they constantly threaten to tip the film over. Live By Night looks great (the visuals come courtesy of genius lense-man, Robert Richardson) and feels right, but it’s ultimately akin to an elaborate Southern mansion built on swampland: it’s grand, stylish, and impressive, but its weak foundations lead to a lot of creaking and undue swaying.

 
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Resident Evil VII: Biohazard

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Sometime over the last two decades Capcom seemed to forget what made the Resident Evil video game franchise awesome. It wasn’t the gunplay or action movie-style cutscenes, it wasn’t the increasingly convoluted narrative or baffling plot twists and it certainly wasn’t whatever the hell Umbrella Corps was supposed to be. No, what made Resident Evil awesome was its “survival horror” core, a foundation of suspenseful, creeping fear and clammy-palmed desperation.

As the credits rolled on my first playthrough of Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, I sat back on the couch and let out a deep, shuddering breath. Over my 10 hour journey I’d been clobbered by a seemingly invincible madman, stalked by a cackling lady who controlled insects and eviscerated by my own psycho ex wielding a chainsaw. I’d fought shambling, ink-black creatures in dank sub basements and solved devious puzzles in elaborate death traps and throughout it all I was tense, on edge and often genuinely scared.

RE VII wastes little time immersing you in its grimy, horrific atmosphere. After an incredibly brief cutscene you’re thrust into the first person view of likable everyman, Ethan Winters, who has received a weird message from his missing wife, Mia. Ethan has traveled out of the city to the sprawling, unkempt rural property of the Baker family, which has clearly taken design tips from The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Initially unarmed and increasingly agitated, you’ll explore the filth-encrusted stink palace, descending into the cellar and that’s when the horror really begins.

res1A big point of contention for RE VII has been the shift from third person to first person POV. While initially jarring for longterm fans of the series, this proves to be an excellent move and increases the immersion to a huge extent. The early hours of RE VII, when you’ll find yourself with nothing but a pocket knife, handgun and very few bullets, is the literal stuff of nightmares. Every corner you turn around or door you push open can lead to a messy death, especially when the members of the Baker family are following you. As the game progresses you’ll get better weapons, including the shotgun – your new best friend – but you never feel particularly overpowered as your foes will find inventive new ways to end your existence.

Ironically for an entry that seems to be such a massive change in terms of perspective, the gameplay in RE VII most closely resembles the original 1996 classic, Resident Evil. You’ll find yourself in a focused environment, with puzzle solving opening up new regions and objectives, and you’ll constantly need to manage your inventory and backtrack through areas that were previously inaccessible. It’s classic Resident Evil through a grimy, first person perspective filter and it works to a revelatory degree.

The boss fights in particular are showcases of gleefully creative grindhouse gore and you’ll need to keep your wits about you to defeat them. This will be a recurring theme, in fact, as puzzle solving under duress is what Resident Evil does best. Are you able to craft some burner fuel for your flamethrower? Yeah? Well how about we send a hideous, clawing, insect/human hybrid creature after you at the same time? Let’s see how you fare now, professor!

res2That’s not to suggest everything in RE VII is stellar. The 10-12 hour playthrough time is a little on the short side, and while it’s nice to have an experience not artificially expanded with tedious filler I would have liked another 3-4 hours of content. Another sticking point is more subjective: there are no zombies in RE VII. They are instead replaced with a group of creatures known as Molded; filthy, slurpy, black things that gurgle and gibber and slide from ceilings and out of walls. They’re undoubtedly cool looking but RE purists may be disappointed that you’ll never fight off traditional shambling undead in first person.

Possibly the biggest bummer is the game’s third act. It isn’t bad per se but compared to the rest of the game it’s a little unimaginative. Like a lot of previous Resident Evil titles it mostly eschews horror for action and in a game that gets the horror so right for so long that’s a little disappointing.

That said, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard is easily the best RE title since part four. Capcom seem to have course corrected this sinking ship of a franchise and delivered an intense, nerve-shredding experience that delivers scares, gore and a satisfying story (almost) completely free of franchise baggage.

So grab your green herb and your shotgun, gird your loins and get ready to crawl into the murky depths of the Baker residence and beyond. Resident Evil is back and this time it’s up close and personal.

 
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REVIEW: Brothers of the Night

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“Soft boys by day, kings by night” goes this film’s misleading tagline. There’s nothing faux-sensitive about the daytime conversations of the titular ‘brothers’, and nothing remotely regal about their nocturnal activities.

This is an intelligently made documentary about a group of young Bulgarian Roma (gypsy) men, all of whom moved to Vienna looking for work – mostly to support their families – but have ended up as prostitutes. They’re referred to only by their given names (Stefan, Yonko, Nikolay etc.). The content segues seamlessly between interviews and subtly stylised re-enactments. The former take place as they sit around drinking, smoking and playing pool. There are graphic descriptions of what their (male) customers have wanted, and of the occasional frightening incident. Everything is related matter-of-factly and with no self-pity – just an element of bitter irony.

That said, candour seems to coexist here with an element of self-delusion. There’s a lot of talk about moving on, finding a normal job, “buying” a wife and the like. On the other hand, the recurring discussions about maximising income in the short term – how much the johns pay for various services, how to make the most Euros in one night – get tedious, however understandable they might be. Still, the ‘brothers’ are basically an affable bunch, and their camaraderie is touching.

In its own terms, Brothers Of The Night succeeds well enough.  It’s sad, but mercifully free of overt moralising, which makes the occasional stark statement – “I don’t know what my life is good for”, “Everyone is dead to me… – all the more affecting.  And, without giving the slightest sense of a sentimental cop-out, the relatively happy closing scene in a bar rounds it off very well.

 
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REVIEW: xXx: Return of Xander Cage

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Was anyone actually hanging for the return of extreme sports secret agent, Xander Cage? Were we really hungry for more of this franchise, which already changed leading men once when Ice Cube stepped into the top job in only the first sequel? Whatever, we’ve got one, and here’s the thing: it’s a lot of fun. In fact, xXx: Return of Xander Cage is the best xXx movie so far, if that isn’t damning it with faint praise.

What saves this film is its refusal to take itself too seriously. Right out of the gate we’re hit with cartoony pop-up character bios, cameos and cute in-jokes before we’re rapidly thrown into the thankfully simple plot. A McGuffin called Pandora’s Box can allow bad guys to drop satellites out of orbit with pinpoint accuracy. With the world being held to ransom, steely black ops spook, Marke (Toni Collette, vaguely uncomfortable with all this nonsense), recruits the only man who can get the job done – Vin Diesel’s titular extreme bro.

But wait – isn’t he dead? They actually made a short film, The Final Chapter: The Death of Xander Cage, to underline the fact. Well, never you mind, there’s no time for such trifling issues as continuity and plausibility when the fate of the world is at stake. Not being a man with much respect for the military hard nuts he’s been saddled with, Cage recruits his own team of rebellious operatives: Ruby Rose’s animal activist sniper, Rory McCann’s (yes, G0T‘s The Hound) paranoid stunt driver, and Kris Wu’s, uh, DJ? Sure, why not?


All the extra personnel are more than warranted, though, as the plot device has been swiped by a team of international super-thieves, including Ong Bak‘s Tony Jaa and Indian superstar Deepika Padukone, led by none other than Rogue One MVP, Donnie Yen. Thus the biggest suspension of disbelief problem you’ll have here is not the extreme stunts and the sometimes shoddy CGI, it’s the notion that Vin or, indeed, almost anyone, can go toe to toe with guys who have been kicking people in the head for a living for literally decades.

 

For all that Diesel is the star of the show – and the film goes to absurd lengths to portray him as a superhuman sexual tyrannosaur – he’s arguably the weakest link, mugging for the camera and delivering ludicrous tough guy lines while Yen radiates cool just by standing there. He comes across in a much better light if you can frame his antics as self-aware parody, but that may be a stretch. Still, he makes for a suitable point of focus and catalyst for things to explode around, and that is what we’re here for.

The action is huge fun, and while it never approaches the heights of, say, the recent insta-classic, John Wick, director DJ Caruso shows flair for staging, choreography and, most importantly, editing; while still well within the framework of modern rapid-cut action construction, you can always tell what’s going on. Again, though, CGI-assisted Diesel is no match for the likes of Yen and Jaa; that most certainly is not Vin skiing down a jungle mountain, while that most certainly is Yen (who is, lest we forget, 53 years old) destroying opponents in the boardroom fight scene.

Of course, if you expect any of this to come within spitting distance of “realism”, you’re gonna have a bad time, The xXx universe runs on the Rule of Cool, and any kind of narrative contrivance is allowable if it opens up the opportunity for a cool stunt or a fun cameo. If you’re okay with that, there are points that’ll have you cheering; if you’re not, you clearly wandered into the wrong cinema.

Return of Xander Cage is a far from perfect film, but it’s a fantastically enjoyable one. It rarely drops out of fourth gear, sprinting from setpiece to setpiece, too caught up in its own sense of fun to worry if any of this makes any kind of sense. That glib, rebellious attitude is infectious, and it’ll be a rare grinch who doesn’t want to come along for the ride.

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REVIEW: Split

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Director M. Night Shyamalan’s previous film, The Visit (2015) was such a charming return to form one couldn’t help but feel a sense of cautious optimism for his next effort. Apparently this hope was not unfounded and Night’s creative second wind (or Shyamalaissance if you will) continues with Split, a dark, Hitchcockian thriller with a sting in its tail.

Split’s premise is a simple one. After a supervised birthday party, three teenage girls are kidnapped in broad daylight. Popular girls and friends, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), and twitchy loner only-invited-out-of-sympathy, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) all find themselves at the mercy of Kevin (James McAvoy), who imprisons them together in a windowless room in an unknown location. It soon becomes clear to the trio of unfortunates that their captor suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) aka multiple personalities, and they literally don’t know who they’ll be talking to from moment to moment.

The use of DID as a plot device is a hoary old thriller trope that has been trotted out in Psycho, Raising Cain and a slew of lesser films, and in clumsier hands could have come off as silly or exploitative. Happily, Night’s direction combined with a stunning performance from James McAvoy makes Kevin and his 22 other personalities simultaneously an intimidating threat and a source of genuine pathos. Kevin’s personas range from a bespectacled neat freak, to a sensual femme fatale, to a confused nine-year-old boy and more, and they all talk of the coming of dark new personality known only as “the beast”.

It would be doing the film a disservice to elaborate further on the narrative, but needless to say there are plenty of tense moments and genuine surprises. While the film loses a little momentum in the second act, the final third is spectacular, and takes the story in new directions without relying on a gimmicky twist. Night’s direction is minimalist and moody, and the central performances from Anya Taylor-Joy (who was similarly fabulous in The Witch) and Betty Buckley (who plays Dr. Karen Fletcher, Kevin’s shrink) ground the more unlikely story elements. Ultimately, though, this is McAvoy’s film and the 37-year-old Scottish actor absolutely kills in this role, giving it everything he has and creating an unforgettable cinematic villain.

Split is a low budget, B-grade thriller elevated by taut, suspenseful direction and a stunning lead performance. Its treatment of mental illness is unlikely to win fans in the medical community, but as engaging, compelling escapism it’s a wild ride worth taking.

 
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REVIEW: Patriots Day

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Bringing the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings to the screen was always going to be a difficult task, but also a popular one. At one point there were three separate film projects based on the attack in development, and it’s easy to understand why: the combination of tragedy, heroism, patriotism, and the emergent “Boston Strong” movement is a heady brew, particularly for American audiences. It’s Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon director, Peter Berg, who has managed to get his project over the line first, working once again with his regular star, Mark Wahlberg, and the results are powerfully affecting while still occasionally drifting into the problematic.

Starting in the wee hours before the marathon and subsequent bombing, we meet a number of disparate characters, most of them based on actual people, and one who, particularly, is not: Wahlberg’s hard-drinking Southie cop, Tommy Saunders. That’s a bit of an issue, because he’s our chief point of view character, and it’s through him that we mainly experience the attack, the investigation, and even the capture of bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff). Apparently Wahlberg is there to represent all law enforcement as a kind of gestalt character, but it does gall a little that our way into this event is through a man who patently doesn’t exist.

Walhberg is supported by a strong roster of talent portraying the various actual participants in the events, among them John Goodman as Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis; JK Simmons as Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, who was instrumental in the judicial killing of bomber,  Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze); and Kevin Bacon as FBI SAC Richard DesLauriers. You don’t get an on-screen team like that together without getting good performances, and they all convey the drama, pathos and horror of the situation admirably.

The film also does extremely well in contextualising the lives of the people caught up in the event, letting us spend time with them before the crisis hits, including MIT Police Officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking), who was killed by the fleeing terrorists, and student Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), who was kidnapped by them. We’re not allowed to think of these people as faceless victims, even in the scenes where the street is littered with the injured and maimed – Berg focuses in on a handful of the victims and forces us to connect with them, heightening the emotion considerably.

For all the filmmaking nous on display – and on a technical level Patriots Day is an extraordinarily well made work – there are serious tonal problems as Berg and his team struggle to reconcile the demands of the meticulous real-life drama the film really wants to be, the action thriller Berg is clearly more comfortable staging, and that particularly American brand of patriotism (or even jingoism, if you’re feeling uncharitable) that runs through all of the director’s recent output. There are a number of moments when the truth of the moment presented is punctured by an on-the-nose line, such as a uniformed cop shouting, “Welcome to Watertown, motherfucker!” during the climactic shoot out. At others, we get a shot of fluttering stars and bars that lingers a little too long, or a demonstration of intense patriotic pride that verges on the uncomfortable. To a non-American viewer these things are jarring; it’s interesting to speculate if they are so woven into the fabric of US society as to be invisible, or at least unremarkable, to an American viewer.

There are also numerous departures from the recorded facts of the case, but perhaps that’s allowable – this is not a documentary after all, and the broad strokes of what is depicted hold up. The emotional impact of what we see on the screen is unimpeachable, but still it’s hard to shake the feeling that there is a better, more nuanced, and graceful way to tell this story. Patriots Day‘s faults never sink it, but what we’ve got here is a very good film, when it should have been a great one.

 
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REVIEW: The Last Guardian

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“Fuck you, you stupid fucking feathered fuckwit!” That’s me screaming at the telly and punching my couch while playing The Last Guardian. I’m not proud of myself.

“Oh how enchanting and lyrical. It’s lovely.” That’s me again, still playing The Last Guardian, mesmerised by the visual poetry unfolding.

“JUMP! Jump, you fucker, JUMP! I’m pressing JUMP! WHY WON’T YOU JUMP, YOU BAFFLE-WITTED PRICK? JUMP!” That’s also me, a few minutes later, hating The Last Guardian with every hairy fibre of my being.

Welcome to The Last Guardian review. Truly it was the extremely brief best of times and the frequent, enraging worst of times.

The Last Guardian is a game with baggage. Team Ico – the renowned developers responsible for Ico (2001) and absolute masterpiece, Shadow of the Colossus (2005) – began work on the title way back in 2007.

The game was delayed so frequently it became a running joke, like Half-Life 3 and Final Fantasy XV. Well, FFXV arrived and so has The Last Guardian and although this sounds strange to say about a game that has appeared almost a decade after its inception: it really needed further development.

The Last Guardian’s story, like all Team Ico efforts, is basic and told through visuals and actions, rather than extended cutscenes. You play as a young boy who wakes up in a gloomy pit, covered with strange tattoos and no memory of how he got there. You’ll soon find a huge winged bird/dog/cat hybrid, Trico, next to you chained up and injured. After pulling spears from the great beast’s hide, and giving him some glowing barrels to eat, you and Trico begin to form an unlikely alliance and try to understand the situation you’re both in.

The concept of a boy and his monster on an epic adventure is a good one, and Trico is an impressive creation. Beautifully animated and featuring an AI that makes him seem like a living creature, one can’t help but be impressed by the work of director, Fumito Ueda and his dedicated team.

That sense of respect dwindles, however, when you actually start playing the game in earnest. Put simply The Last Guardian’s controls are absolutely woeful. The little boy wanders around and staggers over objects just like a real little boy, but his imprecise movements, while visually impressive, soon become annoying when exacting jumps and fiddly climbing are required. Worse than the boy’s controls, however, is Trico. A few hours into the game you’ll be able to give Trico commands, to jump, stop, follow and so on. Trico actually heeding those commands, however, seems to be up to the mysterious whims of chance.

Now it’s true in real life one wouldn’t expect a wild beast to behave obediently but a game needs to have a sense of consistency. I lost count of the number of times I knew how to solve a puzzle but Trico simply wouldn’t obey and I was unable to progress. I’d punch the couch a few times, hurl obscenities and rage quit. Later on, I’d load up the game and Trico would do it on the first go. Needing to reset the entire game to get past a puzzle isn’t good game design, it’s a bug and a fiercely annoying one at that.

That’s not to say The Last Guardian is without its charms. When everything’s working properly there is a deep and abiding sense of satisfaction to be gained from solving a tough puzzle, or getting Trico out of a sticky situation. The problem is the game is so inconsistent it’s hard to tell whether you’re stuck because you haven’t found the solution or the game’s AI has just popped out the back for a smoke, and will return when it’s good and bloody ready.

It’s hard to be swept away by visual poetry when you’re rage grinding your teeth into a fine powder.

Ultimately The Last Guardian is an acquired taste. If you can handle inconsistent, buggy AI and awkward, cumbersome controls you may find something to love here – other people certainly have.

However, for me, The Last Guardian was mostly an exercise in enraging, furniture-abusing frustration only occasionally leavened by moments of magical whimsy.

 
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Sherlock S4E3: “The Final Problem”

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Warning: The following review contains spoilers.

Sherlock is over so quickly isn’t it? One week you’re celebrating its return and less than a month later, you’re waving it bon voyage. And after the last two weeks of plotting, it’s no surprise the fervour people had for this – the final episode of Season 4 and, potentially, the last episode of Sherlock for a very long time.

It’s little wonder that creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, writing together as they did for The Abominable Bride, wanted to give their supporters something to wave their flags to. Think of The Final Problem as the Greatest Hits of Sherlock, with choice cuts of your favourite moments repackaged into a handy 90-minute feast. Sadly, as pleasant as it is to see the two writers clearly having fun in their sandbox, the real problem for the viewer was trying to work out how the two previous episodes could justify such a lukewarm finale.

Having revealed a third Holmes sibling and putting the life of John Watson (Martin Freeman) in danger last week, we were given a rather rushed resolution as to the Doctor’s fate.

Apparently, Eurus (Sian Brooke), Sherlock’s evil sister, had merely stunned Watson and run away. An impossibility according to brother Mycroft (Gatiss) who insisted that she was trapped within a super-prison by the name of Sherrinford which was stuck on an island out to sea. All of which was a massive surprise to Sherlock, who had completely forgotten he’d ever had a sister. If that part sounds like a tough pill to swallow, The Final Problem produced a number of other headscratchers that unfortunately lowered the plausibility of its narrative.

Things started off strong with a small girl waking up on a plane in which all its passengers and crew had passed out. Answering a ringing phone in the hopes of calling for help, she’s greeted by the voice of the late consulting criminal, Moriarty (Andrew Scott). Elsewhere, having escaped the detonation of 221b Baker Street – another one of Eurus’ games – the Brothers Holmes and Watson break into Sherrinford to understand how the meddling sister is able to break out.

Before continuing, it should be noted that Sherlock has dipped its toe in the surreal before. Season 2’s The Hounds of Baskerville, for instance, attributed its hell hound to psychotropic gas. Indeed, the very idea of Sherlock himself is a flight of fancy in the real world. However, The Final Problem was something else.

Sherlock_s4_Ep3_006-strictly-embargoed-for-publication-until-0001-hrs-GMT-10.01.2017

As well as being superior to her brothers intellectually, Eurus was shown to be able to ‘reprogramme’ those around her and, as such, had unbelievably managed to take over her own asylum, giving her free passage to leave her island prison as and when she felt like it. Spurred on by a meeting with Moriarty several years prior – in a hilarious cameo by Scott –  she had decided to take her vengeance out on Sherlock for reasons that never feel satisfactory. Over the last few seasons, a lot has been made of the name Redbeard and its influence on Sherlock’s persona. Previously thought of to be a beloved pet, the final twist turned out to be something much sinister and had led to Eurus’ incarceration. Gatiss and Moffat try to turn what would be a childhood trauma for Sherlock into a reason for his thirst for solving mysteries. But as an attempt to give Sherlock back his humanity, it just didn’t convince.

Neither did the system of Saw-like problems Eurus put her siblings through, with a different room in Sherrinford leading to a new and deadly conundrum. As Eurus pulled her brothers’ strings, the continuing train of thought was ‘How can she afford to do all this? Literally, who is funding this person?’ and ‘Does anybody remember John had a baby daughter?’ When the girl on the plane was revealed to be Eurus in a mind palace of her own waiting for Sherlock’s approval, The Final Problem revealed itself to be trying too hard.

Thank heavens then for the positives that didn’t make this a complete washout. Take for example Molly, played by Louise Brealey. Criminally underused this season, Brealey brought much needed emotion in a scene that saw her bare her soul to Sherlock, whilst being an unwitting pawn in Eurus’s schemes. As we cheer on Sherlock’s sociopathic qualities, we often forget how they can deeply cut others. It was a wonderful moment, only somewhat surpassed by Mrs Hudson thrashing around to Iron Maiden in her slippers.

As the dust settled, Sherlock ended, as perhaps it was always going to, with a massive press of the reset button that allowed Gatiss and Moffat to bring a close to their 6-year story in a deserved self-congratulatory tone, whilst tentatively leaving the tiniest of margins for a possible return. And whilst this wasn’t the ending some of us will have been expecting, the journey to get this far has at least consisted of more highs than lows, with a heavy vein of experimentation throughout. For that reason alone, Sherlock is still, as a whole, a quality British drama.