I don’t tend to be fond of giving films 10 out of 10. I have this… mental block, I guess, around the idea. Can a film really be so good as to get a perfect score?

With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, the answer is an emphatic yes. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and I think I’ll run out of superlatives for it long before I finish this review. I won’t go into too much detail of the plot, but suffice to say, the story manages to be reasonably interesting, with some nice little nuances, whilst the film is jam-packed with visual treats, a lot of humour, and a surprising degree of emotion, particularly toward the end.

For all the outward signs of an epic space-faring advventure, Guardians 2 manages to feel quite intimate compared to the first film. It feels like the film takes place over a small radius. Central to the film is the theme of family, with various characters facing feelings of abandonment, sibling rivalry, and loss. Woven in are some great jokes (the trash panda reference is particularly funny), and some very amusing visual gags. The villian is probably one of the most interesting seen in the MCU to date, and Guardians 2 manages to tell a stand-alone story that isn’t influenced by the impending Infinity Wars films – as with the first film, the Guardians are who they are, without compromising for anyone else.

Every character has moments to shine – Quill, despite having spent most of his life in space, is still in many ways quite wide-eyed and, ahem, innocent, in some respects. Gamora is still seeking to put her past to rest, starting with her relationship with Nebula. Rocket is still looking to belong somewhere. Drax still harbours pain from his own past. Groot… well, Groot is just adorable.

Would I take children to see this film? That depends on the child. My own daughter would probably find some elements of it overwhelming and frightening, as Guardians 2 does move a touch more in that direction than the first film. The jokes are pushing the edges of what’s appropriate for younger children to hear. There is plenty of fantasy violence. It’s fair to say the 12A certificate is well-earned.

As a final thought, Guardians 2 continues to show us the length and breadth of the variety in the MCU. From the somewhat serious Civil War, to this, and all the steps inbetween, Marvel have crafted various films with completely different characteristics, and yet you can see how they all fit together, more or less seamlessly. You want to see morre of these characters, and you want them to succeed.

Like I said, this film gets 10/10. It is, quite simply, brilliant.

Mortality. Legacy. Two words which come to mind when thinking of Logan. This is the most raw, passionate take on the character, exposing his vulnerability and his pain as well as making him – and through him the audience – confront his past. Logan is Wolverine but he is also Logan – a man who has lived a long life, and a life full of struggle – here, he is tired, he is weakening, and he wishes to drown his sorrows at the bottom of a bottle. His last link to the world of optimistic heroes is Charles Xavier, by this point (in the year 2026) 90 years old and suffering from seizures that amplify his telepathic powers and have harmful – even lethal – effects on the people around him. Charles retains the essence of who he is – a man who wants to help people. Logan retains the essence of who he is – a man who wants to reject what the world wants of him, is outwardly surly, and bitter, yet deep down, retains a powerful sense of doing the right thing.

Charles is Logan’s conscience, and the two of them are moved to help a young girl called Laura, when she ends up involved in their lives through chance (or is it fate?). Laura is (to paraphrase Charles) very much like Logan, in more ways than one, and though part of Logan wants nothing more than to reject the image of himself and the time that represents, he cannot help but move forward, urged by Charles and by his own sense of honour to help this little girl.

I won’t divulge the main plot details, but both Logan and Charles are old, and facing sickness and death. They have both seen much death and their responsbilities weigh heavily on their minds. This film is about finding the means to move foward, even when they feel their strength is deserting them.

Hugh Jackman gives a powerful performance as a hurting, tired Logan, and Patrick Stewart reminds us all of his prowess as an aged Charles. Films of this nature tend to get overlooked for awards, especially major awards like the Oscars, but surely the performances of Jackman and Stewart are worth considering, for they are strong, brave performances, in a film that shows (like Deadpool before it) that 15-rated comic book movies can and do work.

9/10

It’s been nearly a month since I got my grubby paws on the Nintendo Switch and Breath of the Wild. Nearly a month to savour the experience that I had anticipated almost breathlessly since the first trailer for the game dropped last year. Breath of the Wild was a game that I was prepared to get a Wii U for, but thanks to my amazing Mum, I was able to get it on the Switch instead. As such, any thoughts and observations are based on the Switch version, which has slightly different controls to the Wii U version, so if you’re reading this, please bear that in mind.

So, where do I start? I’ve defeated Calamity Ganon twice, but doing so doesn’t mark the end of this particular adventure, thanks to being able to reload the game from an earlier point and carrying on. There’s still so much to do that I don’t know if I will ever be done. Breath of the Wild is the Zelda game that redefines the genre, and gives future developers of open-world games a lot to think about. Let’s start with that particular point.

The very first Zelda game, all the way back in 1986, offered players a freedom to go more or less anywhere, right from the start. This wasn’t necessarily a good idea, given the challenges that awaited the player, but the option to go anywhere and do anything was a liberating one. Since then, Zelda games have become increasingly formulaic, with The Ocarina of Time in particular accelerating this trend, pushing the franchise into a linear path. There’s no denying that The Ocarina of Time was a ground-breaking, brilliant game, but Nintendo became single-minded in their efforts to repeat that success, and whilst a number of the entries after that were good, they became stuck in a safe rut, which culminated in Skyward Sword. With Breath of the WIld, Nintendo have broken the formula.

After years of hand-holding in the form of various ‘assistants’ for Link (such as Navi, Midna and Fi), Breath of the Wild chucks players in and says ‘figure it out’. Whilst still in the Great Plateau I had a little assistance from the old man you meet, but after asking him the same question for a second time he firmly rebuked me – the message was clear – this game is going to be different.

Those differences are profound. Gone are hearts and rupees in the traditional sense. Killing enemies yields things that can be used in elixirs, and hunting animals and foraging for things to eat is a big part of the game. Experimenting with different ingredients is key to restoring more health or staving off extremes of temperature. Some foodstuffs can enhance Link’s stamina – others grand defensive or offensive boosts, among other things. Discovering these things for yourself is a lot of fun and feels very rewarding.

Another big change is the nature of the open world – you can go virtually anywhere that you can see, though some areas will be tough to get to without having first visited a few Shrines – Shrines are the means to expanding your hearts and stamina, so unless you’re a sadist (you can go from the Plateau to the final boss straight away if you want) it’s worth seeking these out. Related to the Shrines are the Towers – activating these reveals more of the game map, which in turn helps you to find points of interest. The Shrines are quite varied, with numerous challenges that require a bit of thought to figure out, but with all of them, the answer is usually hidden in plain sight. Any problem can be solved with a bit of patience – part from the combat challenges – these, naturally, require a bit of brute strength. Some Shrines are easy to find, whilst others require you to solve a puzzle just to find them – a great challenge involved giant statues of knights in the desert – I found this purely by looking at the map as I sought points of interest – as was the case with a few Shrines.

With tremendous freedom to go anywhere and do anything, came the challenge of how best to tell the story of this game. To that end, Nintendo have injected a few ideas and pointers that the player can choose to seek out, if you’re willing to put in the time to find out all the details. Some characters will tell you more of the history behind how Link ends up sleeping for 100 years – whilst you can also unlock forgotten memories by finding certain locations. The end result of this is quite revealing but I won’t say too much here.

Controlling Link and his various new abilities (like being able to climb and jump) takes a little getting used to – but given that you’re relearning pretty much everything else about the Zelda franchise, this is not necessarily a bad thing. You can still target enemies, but the manner in which you can control the camera and your weapons is a little different, especially if you’ve gotten used to the Wii’s motion controls. Once mastered, the game feels smooth, and handles quite well.

There’s not a great many different types of enemy in Breath of the Wild. Instead, there are variations on themes. The Bokoblin is the most common form of bad guy you’ll find, and they vary in strength, but the key factor is the weapon they use. They can pick up just about any weapon, and even throw rocks at you, plus they can carry shields, so be prepared for a variety of attacks. Plus, they will attack in groups as well. Often I would choose to avoid battle completely, given the odds, but you can exploit various things (from the landscape to the abilities of your Sheikah Slate) to deal with baddies.

Other enemies include the Wizzrobes (which date back to the very first Zelda title), Moblins (bigger Bokoblins) and Lizalfos, to name a few. Wizzrobes have different attacks depending on their type (electric, fire and ice), as do the Lizalfos. There are also ‘boss level’ enemies that you can stumble upon quite easily – which makes the game all the more entertaining – you have no idea what might be waiting for you at any given point. The gigantic Hinox is  a sight to behold, and how about the Stone Talus? Those things do not go down easy.

Because the AI behind the enemies is smarter, you have to be too – as mentioned, sometimes it’s better to avoid battle completely, and I did this quite often. Of course, sometimes it’s fun to fight – and I did this too. The great thing is, you have the freedom to do either – the game doesn’t funnel you down a specific path.

There aren’t many dungeons in this game – depending on how you define dungeon. I would say six, but given the relatively small scale of them, I’m tempted to say there are no true dungeons in the game (if we go by typical expectations of dungeons). In one sense this is refreshing – and you don’t have to do any of them (save one) to complete the main quest. However, having something meaty to sink one’s teeth into might have been nice. This is a minor nit-pick – the nature of the dungeons themselves is quite unique, involving manipulating the layout of them, and you can tackle them in more or less any fashion you wish. Each one has a boss fight at the end, but none of these were especially challenging once you figured them out. Since Breath of the Wild dispenses with the classic dungeon/item/boss relationship (you know the key item from any given dungeon is the means to fight the final boss in most cases), you have to think your way around the boss instead.

Can I take a moment to describe how beautiful this game is? Bearing in mind the Switch is not remotely as powerful as a PS4 or Xbox One, Nintendo have done a remarkable job in crafting a huge world, that is filled with various landscapes that feel alive. There is wildlife everywhere. Trees and bushes and grass that flows in the wind. Snow-capped mountains and scorching desert. Incredible landscapes marked with lakes and waterfalls and beaches and villages and monsters. Considering this game looks almost as good on the Wii U as it does on the Switch, Nintendo have shown developers of future adventure games like this what you can do if you push yourself. The graphics are married to atmospheric sound – creeping through The Lost Woods was a nervy moment, that looked and sounded every bit what you might expect someplace like that to be.

There’s so much more I could say. I could wax lyrical about this incredible adventure until I was hoarse. I still have a long way to go before I can say I’ve 100% completed this game. If you get the chance, play it, and do me a favour – make your adventure unique to you. That’s something that’s a possibility on Breath of the Wild – every choice you make, every direction you turn, is up to you. You won’t be steered into a particular path. Instead, take control and go wherever you want, when you want. In giving players that freedom, Nintendo have made a Zelda game that finally knocks A Link to the Past off its perch – which given how much I love that game, is no mean feat. If this is the future of Zelda, it’s a bright future.

 

It feels like we’ve been waiting for this film for a long time. The first trailer for Sing dropped late in 2015, and yet here in the UK, only saw release in early 2017. It’s quite unusual for such a long wait with a family film like this, but nonetheless, Sing is finally here – and it’s pretty good.

The setting is a city populated by various animals, and one of them, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) runs a theatre which is going through hard times. To address he organises a singing competition, there’s an error on the flyers regarding prize money, and each contestant has a few issues of their own to work out. Cue chaos.

One thing that surprised me are the strong singing voices of several members of the cast. Scarlett Johansson and Reese Witherspoon both have excellent voices, and so does Seth MacFarlane. Tori Kelly was rejected by American Idol, yet her own voice here is very powerful, and she is, in my humble view, the strongest singer in the film.

Overall, without giving too much away, this film has a strong feel-good factor. The message for kids is to follow your dreams, and to not give up, and that’s a good message. There are some lovely touches and the animation is very slick. 8/10.

The first of two sci-fi film reviews over the next few days, Passengers is the story of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) and Jim Preston (Chris Prattle) as a pair of passengers on an interstellar transport who are supposed to be asleep for 120 years – but are awoken 90 years too soon.

Well ok, it isn’t that simple. Jim is awoken by accident, the result of a collision with an asteroid, which sets into motion the events of the film. At first, the film neatly encapsulates the thrill of having an entire ship as a plaything, though Jim’s status as a ‘standard’ passenger restricts a few of his options. As time goes by, Jim is slowly crushed by loneliness and even considers suicide by airlock. 

His only companion (to begin with) is Arthur (Martin Sheen), an android bartender. Sheen’s performance as a gentlemanly machine is very good, and you forget he’s supposed to be a machine. However, for the character of Jim, after a year Arthur is not enough, and he craves human companionship. At this point the film takes a darker turn. Jim could potentially wake up anyone on the ship (aside from the crew), but a chance encounter with the hibernation pod of Aurora leads to him becoming obsessed with her, and eventually taking the decision to open her pod. 

With no way back into hibernation this is tantamount to a death sentence. There are ethical questions here that the film touches on a little, but not to any meaningful degree. Jim doesn’t tell Aurora he opened her pod, letting her believe it to be an accident, with the aim of getting to know her and hoping she falls in love with him – which eventually she does. The question here is over the latent entitlement complex clearly bubbling away in Jim’s character. He knows it’s wrong to wake Aurora (as it would be to wake anyone), but because he’s read her writings and watched a few video recordings she’s made, and decides he’s got the right to ruin her future on the chance she might be interested in him. When Aurora learns the truth she is understandably pissed, and as Jim tries pitfully to explain, she screams that he has taken her life from her. From that point on, she avoids Jim until malfunctions that have been plaguing the ship awaken a member of the crew (Gus, played by Laurence Fishbourne), who sets about trying to repair the ship. Fishbourne is only in the film briefly but he’s a good actor who lends gravitas to proceedings and accelerates the film toward its conclusion. Gus dies from complications relating to his pod’s malfunction and Jim and Aurora work to find out the cause of the ship’s problems, during the course of which Aurora (a little easily) decides she can’t live without Jim, and even turns down the option to go back into stasis (once they discover the means to do so), so they can be together. There are reasons – the degree of loneliness is something I can’t even comprehend – but Aurora’s about-face and sudden willingness to want Jim back in her life (even to give up her dreams) is a little too neat and tidy. 

The film is entertaining. It is sleek and stylish and worth a watch. I do wish it had pushed the morality angle harder. 7.5/10

The latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes us beyond the realm of our reality and twists the very fabric of matter and space – but is it any good?

Firstly, we must address the elephant in the room. Take nothing away from Tilda Swinton in her role as The Ancient One, but there has been understandable concern that her portraying a traditionally Asian character represents white-washing that particular role. Marvel are on record as saying they wanted to avoid Asian stereotypes, but they have also acknowledged the reaction from fans. It remains to be seen how they will handle similar issues in the future.

That aside, there are one or two glaring faults with the film that I wish to address right away – well, ok, one glaring fault – Benedict Cumberbatch’s American accent. No one can doubt his prowess as an actor – not only is he universally acclaimed for his portray of Sherlock Holmes, but he was also nominated for (among other awards) an Oscar for his role of tortured code cracker Alan Turing, and has received numerous other nominations and awards during his career. He is unlikely to receive any such nominations for his performance here, even though his performance isn’t bad per se. Maybe I am just being nitpicky, but his American accent wasn’t great, and felt very forced. Part of me wondered during the film if it would have been better for the character of Stephen Strange to be British this time around, in order to spare us the bad accent.

That said, the film, overall, works, though it feels a little flat. There isn’t really any moment that feels tense or dramatic (a growing theme with MCU films, as you know well in advance there will be a sequel or ensemble movie), but as is normal with these films, they are polished productions and the SFX is flawless. All in all though, Strange’s journey from high-flier, to desperate loner, to student, to master, all feels a little rushed. There might have been scope for this story to be broken down into two movies, but the demands of the MCU are such that they are rapidly gearing up for Infinity Wars, and unfortunately this doesn’t allow time for characters to develop in a more organic fashion.

It’s watchable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad film. Nor is it a great one. It is distinctly middle-of-the-road for me, and its main worth lies in that it continues to expand the MCU and build out their universe, rather than standing on its own merits. 7/10.

As promised, another review, hot on the heels of the last one! This time around it’s Trolls, and this is a very different film to Storks, but it’s still good.

Trolls is very much a musical, and it’s very bright and colourful. The trolls themselves are naturally inclined to party and sing, and their enemies (the Bergens) believe troll happiness is the key to their own – hence Bergens eating trolls to get their happiness! 

It’s a light-hearted, funny film and my little girl loved it. like Storks, it’s one worth watching again, and there’s enough going on to keep adults amused too. The kids are being spoilt with their movies this year!

The first of two consecutive family film reviews – Storks – is here! I know you’ve all been waiting for this one! The other film up for review is Trolls – which movie wins? In my view, it’s Storks, all the way.

This isn’t a put down on Trolls, which is a very good film in its own right, but I found Storks to be just that little bit smarter and funnier. In truth, they are very different, despite both being kids films, and so there’s an apples and oranges thing going on. My six year-old loved both films, but has declared Storks to be her favourite! 

So what is it about Storks that makes it different to the typical ‘lost soul finding one’s self’ tale (which is more or less what Storks is)? It’s the style of dialogue, which is punchy and imaginative. The characters are delightful, especially Junior and Tulip, and the scene where they desperately try to get the baby back to sleep is one every parent can relate to! The stars of the show are the wolves, though it must be said that the scene with the penguins was excellent too! 

I won’t hesitate to admit that the finale was quite sweet and moving. The film has heart, and is definitely one I could watch again!

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Ok, where do I even begin with this one?!

Sausage Party (I had to be very careful googling that to get the movie poster) is an animated adventure film, set in a supermarket, that deals with one sausage’s realisation that the promised land beyond the doors is in fact one great big lie. It’s also a film filled to the brim with swearing, sexual references and some very off-colour political humour.

As is now pretty much expected from animation, it all looks very slick and polished. The humour… the humour is twisted, and crude, and there’s a good chance it will offend at some stage – but behind all that lies a film I would best describe as ‘subversive’.

I’m not actually sure that’s the right word, but I can’t think of a better one right now. Sausage Party puts ideas of faith and truth under a microscope, as the characters – who have had unwavering faith in ‘The Great Beyond’ (paradise), come to suspect this might be one big lie. Confronted with evidence, some characters take it upon themselves to shove what they consider to be the new truth down everyone else’s throats – others rebuke the idea, preferring to believe in the Great Beyond, for that is easier. You can probably guess what they’re actually referring to.

There is subtlety here. It’s woven into the threads of a film that made waves for being brash and rude (which it is, it very much is!), but there is also cleverness.

I honestly don’t know if this is a film that can be easily enjoyed. If bad language offends you, don’t watch it, for it’s extremely heavy on the swears. In fact, my chief complaint is that there is an overload of swearing. I’m no prude (read my Greatest Ludus story, which is gradually going up on the site, and you’ll see that), but there were points where even I felt the swearing was getting out of hand. If sexual references offend you, don’t watch this movie. There’s a lot of that too (and the finale of the film goes nuts with this). If you don’t like close-to-the-mark political statements – well, there are a few of these as well.

Despite all that, I have to say that I actually enjoyed this film. It isn’t something I’d necessarily go out of my way to watch again, but I wouldn’t switch it off if it were on TV.

7/10

Firstly, many thanks to the people of Bella Italia for inviting us along to a fresh menu tasting! Free food is always a plus for me! 

My wife, daughter (who insisted upon wearing one of her princess dresses, and why not eh?) and myself were seated promptly upon arrival and surprised to learn that we would be sampling the complete range of new menu items that Bella Italia are considering. We were even more surprised when full-sized dishes were brought out! Given the occasion, this was very generous and drew an expression of delight:

So, on to the food. Round 1, the starters. 

In the red corner – Pizza bread:

In the blue corner – Risotto balls:

Which would win? Or would we have a joint winner? Would one dish do a Tyson Fury and retire for five minutes? 

The pizza bread was nice. It was good. It’s hard to go wrong with it. The risotto balls were amazing, but it wasn’t until after I’d eaten one that my wife informed me of the terrible truth – these were mushroom risotto balls!

It couldn’t be. Mushrooms are things of pure evil. How could such great flavour come from such a hideous thing? I didn’t want to believe it, but as I cracked open another, I realised it was true. 

But it was possible. I had actually enjoyed a mushroom dish. More than enjoyed. I had loved it.

My daughter by the way, being six, had the tomato soup off the kids menu, but it was more of a minestrone/vegetable soup. She enjoyed it, but it was different to what we expected. 

So, on to the mains, of which there were three:

From left to right: a chicken dish with spinach and ricotta ravioli, a mushroom ravioli and a panchetta tagliatelle. My wife had the mushroom dish and thoroughly enjoyed it – my attention was split between the other two. Chicken versus panchetta. 

This may be more a reflection of my pallette and taste than the food itself, but there was a clear winner. The chicken dish was excellent. In fact, the hero for me was unquestionably the spinach and ricotta ravioli. It was gorgeous. In fact, if this were to be offered up as a menu choice on its own, with a creamy cheese sauce, and sprinkled with a little basil, I would bury my face in the bowl. 

Finally, dessert. 

From left to right: Salted caramel gelato, chocolate orange gelato and banofee gelato. I don’t personally like orange in that sort of style, but the other two desserts were wow! I’d happily devour the restaurant’s entire supply of banofee. 

My daughter had some strawberry gelato which was for some reason amusing to look at:

Stop sniggering. 

So, how would I rate the visit to Bella Italia? Very highly. In fact, I give it the highest accolade a meerkat can give – a three-grub rating! My little girl also declared it the best restaurant ever!