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Game of Thrones S7E1: Dragonstone

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

Season six of Game of Thrones was all about catharsis. After a slow start, a bunch of things that had been a long (loooong) time coming all occurred. Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) finally got his well-deserved comeuppance at the hands of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), via the medium of fists and hungry hounds. Sansa’s sly smile as she walked away from a screaming, partially ingested Ramsay was a darkly triumphant season highlight. The alliance between Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) bore fruit in the form of a fleet of ships, delivered by dickless wonder, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan). Oh and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) turned an entire oppressive religion into a pretty plume of green flame, which was rather wonderful in a ruthless, homicidal sort of way.

Put simply, Season seven has a lot to live up to – so how does the first episode shape up? Let’s have a look at what happens, first.

We open with one of the strongest cold opens imaginable. Walder Frey (David Bradley) is serving an opulent feast for all his dirtbag relatives, most of whom played an integral part in that fan-shocking massacre, The Red Wedding. “But wait,” you – the confused viewer – say, “didn’t that bloke die in the season six finale?” Indeed he did, and after Walder proposes a toast – and everyone drinks – it soon becomes clear that Walder is in fact Arya (Maisie Williams) in disguise and the wine they just quaffed is poison. All the guilty die choking and coughing blood, and Arya informs the blameless survivors that “the North never forgets,” and to tell them that “winter came for house Frey”.

Opening titles and high fives or fist bumps all around.

The next thing we see is the army of the dead, led by the Night King (Richard Brake), heading closer to the realm of man. And what’s that, skeletal-faced zombie giants? It’s like a snowy Slayer album cover and it’s amazing. We move from this vision to see Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) arriving at The Wall. He informs those present that the White Walkers are on their way. Bran’s cheery like that. Great fun at parties.

Elsewhere Jon is holding a big old staff meeting. He needs more dragonglass to take on the army of the dead, and starts delegating jobs and positions for the coming battles. Also feminism has hit the seven kingdoms, and man and woman alike will be drafted. Sansa speaks up one time too many and we can see the tension between the siblings. Afterwards Sansa affirms her love for her brother, but tells him he needs to be “smarter than Ned or Robb”. They were both good men, who made terrible decisions and were killed for it. Sansa’s not wrong, being righteous and honourable makes little sense unless tempered with pragmatism. Jon, you’d do well to listen to your sister. You certainly wouldn’t want her as your enemy…

Meanwhile at King’s Landing, Cersei and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) stand atop a map of Westeros and lament their position. They’re surrounded by enemies on all sides and Cersei has plans to form a new alliance. Cut to: exterior and a fleet of Iron Island ships arrive. It’s Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) who addresses Cersei as she sits on the Iron Throne. Euron is a cheeky bugger and manages to throw shade at Jaime, and flirt outrageously with Cersei. Cersei coldly turns down his marriage proposal, but Euron is undaunted. He will return, he claims, with a priceless gift, but what gift? Tyrion? A fleet of ships? A PS4 Pro? It remains to be seen. What we do know, however, is that Cersei is wasting no time grieving for her children. “We’re the only Lannisters left,” she tells Jaime, amending: “the only ones who count.”

Meanwhile Samwell Tarley (John Bradley-West) is finding life in Oldtown’s Citadel library is not quite as bookish as he’d like. In fact, between serving food, cleaning out bedpans and weighing internal organs, he’s rather disillusioned. He asks the Archmaester (wonderfully played by Jim Broadbent) when he can read the restricted texts and help save the world, but the Archmaester just smiles and tells him to calm his tits. Humanity has survived chaos before, the Archmaester opines, and it will do so again. The maesters must record everything and keep history alive, basically like a high fantasy Wikipedia. Sam agrees but sneaks some of the restricted books out, reading the GoT FAQ he finds out there is more dragonglass in Dragonstone, which – you know – he probably could have guessed. The clue’s in the name, Sam, have a word with yourself.

Meanwhile Arya runs across an Ed Sheeran in the wild (but doesn’t kill him, what the hell, GoT?!) and Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) appears to be on a path to redemption. Both plot strands are fine, but really are just killing time for the episode’s final moments.

In a sequence that is evocative as it is free of dialogue, Daenerys arrives at Dragonstone. She smiles and her dragons fly around the severe-looking castle. Danys touches the ground, walks through the gates, enters the throne room and finally the room where another familiar-looking map sits, gathering dust. Tyrion stands by her side, her other followers outside the room, and finally she speaks, saying: “Shall we begin?”

Dragonstone is a strong episode and perfect for a season return, especially with the cold open and ending. It’s probably not an episode to revisit time and time again, but it economically and effectively reminds us of all the main players, reinforces the conflicts and the stakes, and sketches out an idea of this season’s arc.

It’s an exciting time to be a Game of Thrones fan, with the story reaching its conclusion next season, so we’re expecting big, game-changing, seismic events to occur and we’ll be here to talk about them. Welcome back, GoT! Please don’t kill Arya.

 
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Diablo III: Rise of the Necromancer

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A corridor full of slavering monsters greets me as I enter the dark crypt. They’re not much for formalities and charge forward, an ungainly horde of teeth, claws and homicidal intent. I sweep my hands over the ground, raising bloody spikes from the floor to impale my foes. They die badly, screaming and baying. Another wave of enemies approaches and this time I conjure the corpses of the first wave to rise, rise and attack their living compatriots…

Rise of the Necromancer is Diablo III’s first major content drop since 2014’s Reaper of Souls expansion. Gallingly, it doesn’t add any story content, but as the name suggests it does introduce a class new to Diablo III: the Necromancer.

The good news is the Necromancer is one of the best classes in the game, hewing closest to the Witch Doctor in terms of skills, but otherwise quite unique. Turning corpse piles into vengeful spiders or spears, summoning wraiths to do your bidding and literally raising the dead from the bloodied battlefield to fight alongside you feels wonderfully morbid and shockingly powerful. Fans of Diablo’s darker, gothic aesthetic will really dig on this class, and the many combinations of powers you can equip on your way to level 70 and beyond.

The bad news is that there’s no new story content in which to launch your brand spanking new necromancer, making the $21.95 price tag feel a little steep. Don’t get me wrong, if you have a regular Diablo III crew running Greater Rifts you’ve probably already purchased this bad boy and are enjoying it mightily. If, however, you’re looking for the next sizable chunk of content to make Diablo III feel brand new, you’ll likely be a little disappointed.

Ultimately Rise of the Necromancer is lots of fun, but a little slight. Still, this is a game released in 2012 that still manages to feel engaging and addictive, so maybe it’s time to jump back in and desecrate a few corpses.

 
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Wish Upon

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After the surprising – some might say inexplicable – success of The Conjuring spin-off, Annabelle (2014), director John R. Leonetti has re-entered the realm of evil inanimate objects with Wish Upon. Swapping out an evil doll for a cursed music box, Leonetti once again delivers a film almost utterly devoid of genuine scares, although Wish Upon does offer more laughs than Annabelle, even though most of them are unintentional.

The story focuses on Clare Shannon (Joey King), a typical teenager who misses her deceased mum, Johanna (Elisabeth Rohm) and is consistently mortified by her dumpster-diving daddy, Jonathan (Ryan Phillippe). One fine day Jonathan uncovers a pretty-looking music box and gives it to Clare, unwittingly granting the youngster seven wishes, all of which come at a terrible cost. Naturally.

The notion of Faustian pacts in horror is as old as the hills, and done well can deliver thought-provoking thrills. Wish Upon, however, deftly manages to avoid doing anything even vaguely interesting or evocative with the subject matter. This is a movie in which Clare’s dog dies, and she’s allegedly heart-broken, but in literally the next scene uses the magic box to wish for the boy she’s crushing on to like her. Because, you know, fuck that dog!

Ryan Phillippe spends the mercifully brief runtime looking gruff and confused, possibly wondering what he’s doing in this dross. Similarly the always welcome Sherilyn Fenn is given a thankless support role as the amiable neighbour lady. Joey King, who was so effective in The Conjuring, gamely acts her heart out but with a role this inconsistently written her efforts are all for nought.

Wish Upon can never really decide if it wants to be an allegorical teen morality tale or a (strangely bloodless) riff on the Final Destination movies, and consequently fails at being either. There are a couple of effective moments during the third act, and the ending is gratifyingly brutal, but ultimately Wish Upon is an (almost) fascinatingly flat waste of cast, premise and your time.

 
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Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy

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Sit down, youngin’, and let us tell you a tale of yesteryear. Twas a time called the 1990s. The fashion was grunge, the movies were talky and the internet was dial-up. Mascots were all the range on consoles. Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic and the PlayStation… well, the humble PlayStation featured the adventures of a gurning, cross-eyed bandicoot named Crash…

Yes, the wave of remasters continues, following on from Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, The BioShock Collection and WipeOut: The Omega Collection, we now have Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, which features remasters of the PS1 classic platformers.

The plot, such as it is, features Crash – a genetically engineered bandicoot in jean shorts – who has to stop the evil plans of the nefarious Dr. Cortex (a scenery-chewing mad scientist) with the help of sentient tribal mask, Aku Aku and sister, Coco. How does Crash accomplish this? By making his way through various themed levels of platforming of increasingly difficulty, of course! This was a game made in the ’90s and that’s how we solved things back then.

Nostalgic reboots like this can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Certainly Vicarious Visions have done a spectacular job of making that which is old look superbly slick and new again, but the gameplay of the Crash trilogy – particularly the first entry – has not aged terribly well. The controls are a tad clunky and lack a fine precision, making a number of sections more than a little frustrating. That said the second and third entries – Cortex Strikes Back and Warped, respectively – are impossibly charming in parts, with the goofy music, colourful graphics and silly animations causing grins and indulgent chuckles in equal measure.

If you can remember playing Crash back in the day, and those memories are fond, you’ll likely have a good time with the N. Sane Trilogy. It’s slight, simple and silly but that’s kind of why we liked it in the first place. Newcomers to the character, however, may be slightly baffled as to the appeal and then go and “dab” or go to a “planking party” off their heads on “the Molly”. Get off my damn lawn, you whippersnappers!

 
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It Comes at Night

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Your enjoyment of It Comes At Night is dependent on one key factor: expectation. Have you seen the creepy, old school horror-style trailer? Have you read the gushing buzz from film festival screenings calling it the “next big thing” in genre cinema? If so, there’s a good chance you won’t enjoy It Comes At Night, despite it being an extremely effective movie. You see, It Comes At Night is being sold as a pulse-pounding, edge-of-your-seat horror flick and that’s simply not the case.

The truth of the matter is, It Comes At Night is a slow-burn family drama with thriller moments and a tone more in keeping with apocalyptic feel-bad flick, The Road. The good news is it’s a very good example of that subgenre.

The story focuses on a small family comprised of father, Paul (Joel Edgerton), mother, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), who live in a well-fortified house at the edge of thick, imposing woods. The world has been beset by some kind of extremely contagious disease – the effects of which we see in a grisly opening sequence – and hunger, paranoia and desperation hang thick in the air. One night a stranger, Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into the house and so begins a tale of distrust and tragedy, moodily directed by Trey Edward Shults (Krisha).

Everyone in It Comes At Night does stellar work. Joel Edgerton in particular delivers one of his best performances as a dad who will do anything to protect his family. Christopher Abbott is also wonderfully effective as the stranger we’re not sure we can trust. The shadowy lighting, the score, and spare cinematography are all effective in creating a genuinely unsettling air of tension.

Ultimately, though, the film is a little lacking in the subtext department. This is a straightforward story about the lengths people will go to while protecting their kin, which is well-trodden territory, and at times feels like The Road in a house. If that kind of existential drama sounds like your jam, you’ll likely have a good (read: profoundly depressing) time with It Comes At Night. Just don’t go expecting the horror-thriller implied by the trailers and title, otherwise you might walk away disappointed. Frankly, the scariest thing about It Comes at Night is its marketing.

 
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Claudio Simonetti: Music to Die For

Ahead of the upcoming 40th anniversary screenings of Dario Argento's giallo classic Suspiria, we dug into the vaults and unearthed this interview with composer Claudio Simonetti, of Goblin, who created the film's iconic score.
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Farpoint VR

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My breath is hitching in and out, my palms sweaty, but I dare not loosen the grip on my gun. It’s kept me alive… so far. I’ve fought through waves of tiny spider-like creatures, goop-spitting monsters and large, armoured crustaceans using a combination of machine gun, shotgun, guided rockets and grenades. I approach a massive cave entrance and hear a hideous, screeching from within. Then something starts making its way out of the darkness. It’s so huge the ground around me trembles. I aim my gun upwards and wait for the beast to approach…

This is Farpoint, the new PSVR game that seeks to fulfill the role of killer app, and mostly succeeds. The premise is a simple one: during a routine transport in space you and some scientists you’re meant to be helping get sucked into a massive space anomaly. You land on an uncharted planet and have to save the scientists and yourself.

This is all a rather generic sci-fi premise, and were Farpoint a typical First Person Shooter, it’d barely register. However Farpoint is VR, with the snazzy Aim Controller, so it’s a whole new world of immersive shooting. When the spiders start crawling down the walls, or alien snipers shoot at you from afar – you’ll be living every second of it, the entirety of your peripheral vision taken up with sandy vistas, luminescent caverns or ruined spaceship hulks. The graphics are crisp and steady, the audio intense and all encompassing and the feel of the gunplay is tight and responsive. It’s not quite at Destiny-levels of firearm satisfaction, but in terms of VR it’s utterly unmatched.

The Aim ControllerFarpoint is intense. So intense, in fact, you’ll probably only play for an hour or two at a time, considerably lengthening its 5-7 hour playtime. There are also challenge modes and a decent number of co-op missions to add value. There are so many well-executed set pieces in the game, you’ll feel like you’re living a Blu-Ray box set’s worth of trashy, but engaging, sci-fi movies. The story falters in places, however, and the difficulty level is surprisingly high, which may turn off some VR casuals. That said, the boss fights in particular are extremely satisfying to complete and give a genuine sense of accomplishment. That big cave-dweller in the opening paragraph? Epic victory earned the hard way.

On a personal note I did frequently sweat during my playtime, but never felt the lurching nausea that unfortunately accompanied Resident Evil VII’s VR mode. The Aim Controller is lightweight, responsive and feels good in your hands. Here’s hoping developers will contribute more games to support the hardware.

Ultimately Farpoint is perfect for early adopters of PSVR but is it a system seller? Honestly, when combined with Star Trek: Bridge Crew VRit’s certainly making the fancy peripheral a hell of a lot more appealing. If a VR sci-fi shooter sounds like your kind of thing, then Farpoint is a bullseye.

 
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Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR

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The Klingon Warbird decloaks before me and the heroic crew of USS Aegis. They don’t look friendly. I give the order to scan.

“They’re arming torpedoes!” Helmsman Jase yells.

“Should I raise shields, Captain?” Asks Tactician Adam.

“Give ‘em both barrels, boys! Fair up the clack!” I growl, all manly and tough-sounding.

The torpedoes shoot from the ship, streaking towards the Warbird. Direct hit! But the Warbird’s still moving, and two more have decloaked either side of us.

“Well… shit.” I mutter as enemy torpedoes blast towards us.

”Raise shields, chuck a doughie and get us the fark out of here!” I shout, hoping against hope we’ll be able to warp to safety in time.

Today may indeed be a good day to die… because, after all, we can just try the mission again.

Welcome to Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR – the new Ubisoft VR game that may be the killer app the PSVR needs. The premise is simple: you’re part of the bridge crew of either the USS Aegis or The Original Series’ version of the Enterprise. With three other friends you can occupy the engineering, helm, tactical or the captain’s chair.

Your enjoyment of Bridge Crew is dependent on two major factors. The first: mates. You’re going to need them, preferably three (to fill all four seats), although you can manage with a three-person crew. The second: Star Trek. How do you feel about it? While you by no means need to be a superfan (I’m certainly not), having some familiarity with the show will definitely add to the enjoyment of the game.

The five main story missions are of a decent size, and offer a mounting challenge, with mission 4 in particular being a white-knuckle ride. There’s also a mode that randomises events so you can keep playing long after the story is done. You can also access a set-accurate version of ToS’ bridge but it’s an absolute confusing nightmare, and for hardcore trekkies only.

The graphics are solid, if occasionally a tad clunky, the sound design is excellent and the mechanics of the game are smart and strategic in ways that give the proceedings a lot of depth. But ultimately, it’s the social interaction with you and your mates that gives Star Trek: Bridge Crew its feeling of joyous escapism. You’re taking fire from some enemies, so do your raise shields or run? You’re hidden in an anomaly, do you leave it to rescue the federation vessel or continue hiding to stay safe? You’re beaming survivors aboard but an attack begins – do you stop beaming to save yourself or take the damage heroically? All of these hard questions and more will be answered – often very swearily – in real time by you and your crewmates.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR is a hoot with friends, although not much fun by yourself. The clever interaction of crew roles is such a fresh take on familiar material and offers hours of genuinely exciting, thoughtful exploration and tense battles. The one negative here is: what about The Next Generation-era Trek or even Voyager? Battling Borg with your buds would be a hoot and we can only hope for future DLC.

In the meantime, however, if you have sci-fi savvy mates and either PC or PSVR – you need Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR in your life. Make it so.