Review

“Ant-Man” film review

In short, Ant-Man was more enjoyable than I thought it’d be. In fact, it’s excellent. While Avengers: Age of Ultron almost collapsed underneath its sheer girth with all the characters and plot threads, Ant-Man benefits greatly with just four core cast members, all new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It works very well as a stand-alone film, just like Guardians of the Galaxy. There are nods to the other movies and of course its original source material, but they don’t confuse audiences who aren’t a follower of this mega-franchise.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a former systems engineer who just left prison after serving a sentence for petty theft. After he discovers a suit that allows him to shrink in size but also become physically stronger, he becomes a part of a “save the human race from their own demise by stopping a weapon getting into the wrong hands” plot that becomes much bigger than him (ha!). Guiding him is scientist Hank Pym (Michael Dougles), who became the original Ant-Man in the ‘60s after mastering the [INSERT SCIENCEY-FICTIONEY STUFF] that makes the shrinking ability possible. His estranged daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), along with his former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) have taken over Pym’s company and pushed him out. There are fantastic side characters, but these are the four that matter.

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During this heist movie, arguably the biggest theme is family, especially with father figures. Lang’s wants to be the hero his young daughter thinks he is (she’s currently in the care of Lang’s ex-wife and new fiancé), and Pym has a strained relationship with his daughter and Cross, who Pym once saw as “the son he never had”. Cross despises Pym yet at the same time wants his approval so badly, that he’s willing to revive his mentor’s dangerous secretive technology.
All the personalities are brilliant. You root for Lang, because he made a terrible mistake and wants so badly to make everything right. Cross’s demeanour may be one of the most bloodcurdling in the entire MCU, yet he’s not some crazy super villain trying to conquer the world. Pym’s arc with his daughter becomes the most satisfying in the picture, and both are just bad arse characters.

You may be sick of origin stories at this point, but I doubt most non-comic book fans had even heard of Ant-Man, so watching him learn how to shrink in size, control ants and attack targets so much larger than him is simply thrilling to watch. The script and ideas are on point, and the sight of a vicious fight scene at microscopic size on a Thomas the Tank Engine train set was hilariously awesome. Despite the stakes of the heist hinging on a potential dangerous weapon, the characters are so good you just worry whether they get out alive, rather than if we all do.

Ant-Man is a superb motion-picture. For some, the superhero featured in this film seems a tad lame, but trust me, just go see the movie and you’ll change your mind. A great script, great cast, great action and a running time that doesn’t drag on at all, just go see it.

Rating: 4.5/5.

“Jurassic World” film review

*Minor spoilers* The original Jurassic Park was one of the first movies I loved as a kid. My parents had no qualms about me watching it, compared to say, Jaws, because dinosaurs don’t exist anymore and thus it would be less scary. Although I literally just read an article that said scientists may be able to recreate living dinosaurs within 5-10 years. Thankfully we have four Jurassic movies to show why that could be a bad idea.

Welcome to Jurassic World. Taking place 22 years after the first movie (did Lost World and III not happen???), humanity seems to have dinosaurs under control, well at least they think they do to have another crack at a theme park, with more kid-friendly rides and the whole shebang. A young boy named Gray (Ty Simpkons) and his teenage brother Zach (Nick Robinson) go to Jurassic World, not just because Gray is obsessed with dinosaurs, but also to spend time with their aunt, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is Jurassic World’s operations manager. Being head of operations, Claire doesn’t have time to show the boys around because she’s trying to attract corporate sponsors to expand the park, so she gets her assistant to show them around. Meanwhile, Claire is showing velociraptor trainer Owen, (Chris Pratt) their new “asset”, a genetically modified dinosaur hybrid, the Indominus Rex, when it manages to escape and starts to wreck havoc on the island, and the boys are in danger.

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By the way, I really hated Howard’s character. The movie must have tried to build sympathy for her by presenting someone trapped by the corporate world interfering with his family life, but it’s hard to feel that when she (and many of the other characters) have almost no reaction to their co-workers deaths. The only who does is Pratt’s character Owen, – who is highly likeable in many ways – he didn’t just train the velociraptors, he connected with them like family pets. He may be the only one who doesn’t describe the dinosaurs as “assets”. The fact that he remains sympathetic to Claire makes my blood boil. Rather than a protagonist, I see her on almost equal footing as the so-called villain Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), who wants to use the dinosaurs for military purposes; and the sole returning character, Dr Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) who designed the creature to be a killing machine (but he did what he was told I guess). I swear the next Jurassic movie better chuck her in a jail or something.

So yeah, those were the main problems I had with Jurassic World, but it’s still a great movie. It’s exactly what moviegoers will want to see. The pacing is strong, a testament to good editing. You get the awesome special effects and you get dinosaurs interacting with humans. You can tell production really enjoyed inserting John Williams’s iconic score from the original film for that establishing shot of the theme park. The spectacular reptilian battles will satisfy those disappointed with last year’s Godzilla reboot for not having enough epic monster fights. By the way, the climax of the movie is what changes it from a good movie, to a great movie! You’ll see for yourself.

Jurassic World is laden with references to the first movie, a bit of humour, and unsubtle social commentary. That social commentary, aside from the obvious “this is why science shouldn’t clone dinosaurs”, I picked up fairly easy. A critique of capitalism, as those at the top decided bigger and more dangerous creatures would boost profits, is what led to the big crisis, as well as taking away from Claire’s family life. The militarisation of these dangerous creatures is also placed in the limelight, a possible allegory to other very dangerous weapons. Is the movie a slap down on American capitalism and militarisation? Or am I just thinking about this too much? Well, that’s I got from it.

Most people aren’t going to care about any messages that may or not be there, they just want a great popcorn-munching and movie-viewing session. The issues I have with Jurassic World ultimately do not ruin a very enjoyable experience. The box-office is going nuts for this, and it’s easy to see why, it appeals to everyone – the fans, the critics and general public, and it’s just plain fun.

Rating: 4/5.

New Super Mario Bros. 2

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New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a direct sequel to New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS, and a follow-up to the Wii title, New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Like most Mario games, the plot involves Mario trekking across the Mushroom Kingdom to save Princess Peach, who has been kidnapped by Bowser. This is tradition, and no-one really cares about the plots in 2D Mario platformers. Gameplay is very much like the other 2D Mario platformers. You run, jump, stomp on enemies, go through warp pipes, become bigger after grabbing a Super Mushroom and shooting fireballs after picking up a fire flower. The goal is to reach the end of the level. There are a number of worlds with many levels in each, with the last level in a world ending with a boss battle. If you’ve played a 2D Mario platformer before, this will instantly feel familiar.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 looks, feels and plays exactly the same way as the previous games in the New Super Mario Bros. series. The game places a huge emphasis on coin collecting, much more so than previous games. So much emphasis in fact, that all the levels have much more coins than usual and are designed to allow as much coin collecting as possible. You can jump through a gold ring which will temporarily turn your surroundings into gold. So kicking Koopa Troopa shells with this effect on, for example, leaves a trail of coins for you to collect, and stomping on Goombas gives you a bunch of coins. There’s also a gold block that goes on Mario’s head that generates coins as he progresses through the level until it runs dry. The only real new power-up in this game is the Gold Flower that essentially turns Mario into the Golden Child for the rest of the level (unless he takes damage). He fires golden fireballs that turn blocks and enemies into more gold for him to collect. Every coin you collect, even if you die (but not if you quit), will add to a grand total that you can see on the main menu and level select screen. The game’s ultimate goal is for the player to collect one million coins. At least Super Mario 3D Land had the decency to explain why there were so many Super Leaves, whereas this game doesn’t even give a hint to why there’s so much gold. With so many coins around, isn’t the Mushroom Kingdom going to experience a hyperinflation crisis that will easily surpass the Hungarian pengo in the 1940s?

A new mode in the game, known as Coin Rush, is one way the player can collect a plethora of coins quickly and easily. The mode picks three random levels, and the player has to guide Mario through them without time running out and collecting as many coins as possible. The records will be exchanged through the 3DS’s Streetpass feature. Having Spotpass on allows your personal coin total to be added to a worldwide grand total. The Coin Rush was fun the first few times I did it, as well as provided a challenge the rest of the game lacked, but the novelty wore off fairly quickly.

In fact the novelty wore off the entire game fairly quickly. New Super Mario Bros. 1 came out six years ago, and nothing has changed besides a 3D effect and a Coin Rush mode. Oh, and I completely forgot to talk about the 3D effect. I know this is a 2D game with 2.5D graphics, but it could’ve done a lot better, especially as it’s a first-party Nintendo game. All it does is make the foreground three-dimensional and blur out the background. I left it off most of the game to save battery-time. The game is also way too easy. You still get extra lives every time you collect 100 coins, so with the extra emphasis on coin collecting, I had over 100 lives when I beat Bowser. That world was the only time the challenge ramped up, but only a little bit. There wasn’t even a point in having lives at all.

There’s multiplayer too, just like the Wii title but with half the players. You can co-op with a friend for the entire game and have the coins collected added to both your totals. And it really restricts you to following one player, which is strange when players have their own screen! I missed the competitiveness of DS title’s multiplayer. I must admit I enjoyed this game’s co-op a lot more than I thought I would, because it’s for everyone. You can work together just fine, but you can also muck around just fine too (with so many lives there’s no issue there…). It depends on what kind of friends you have. When I played with my friend, we worked together at times but killed each other to get power-ups and it was actually quite fun. Having it online would be cool though, I don’t see why they don’t do it, because then I would have more reason to play the co-op.

I think Mario is officially being milked now. Why now, you ask? And hasn’t Nintendo been milking their mascot since games such as Super Mario Kart, Dr. Mario and Mario’s Time Machine? Well, those games were spinoffs that had their own distinct gameplay from the main series of Mario games, and with the exception of the latter, they were good games. Mario is not just the mascot of Nintendo; he’s not just the most recognisable video game character in history; Mario is the pinnacle of Nintendo’s innovation.

When you think back to the first Mario game, the arcade hit Donkey Kong in 1981 that was revolutionary as one of the earliest platformers, and featured one of the first instances of cutscenes to advance the game’s story. Then 1985 saw the release of one of the best-selling video games of all time, and one of the most revolutionary too, Super Mario Bros., saved the video game industry from certain death. It also had precise controls, huge cast of characters, and was one of the first games to have an ending, instead of just being about how high the score can go. It changed video games forever. Later on, Nintendo revolutionised three-dimensional video games with Super Mario 64 in 1996 and motion controlled action games with Super Mario Galaxy in 2010.

It wasn’t just the main Super Mario series that saw the portly plumber bring innovative, intuitive and accessible gameplay. Guinness World Records crowns Super Mario Kart, the first in the Mario Kart series, as the best game ever (based on initial impact and lasting appeal, apparently). While I wouldn’t place Mario Kart as the best series ever, the series is definitely groundbreaking in its own right. Many of the Mario sports titles, such as my favourite, Mario Tennis, are just really good games. The Mario RPGs made the genre a lot more accessible as well as introducing a number of gameplay innovations that made them so much fun to play. All these games injected Mario flavour to a great extent. The New Super Mario Bros. sub-series has overstayed its welcome however.

New Super Mario Bros. came out in 2006 with a clear purpose, to give the fans a new 2D Mario platformer. It was the first 2D Mario platformer since 1992’s Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins on the Game Boy. It did leave a big impression on me and the rest of the gaming community, and it deserved all its praise. Sure, it had more of the same general gameplay introduced in the original Super Mario Bros. game, but it had a bunch of new features too, such as a head-to-head battle mode. It didn’t feel like the sequel to Super Mario World, but felt like a tribute to all the 2D Mario platformers released on consoles, by incorporating many from these into the game. It even had some elements from Super Mario 64, such as wall jumping and triple jumping. There were some new power-ups too. The blue shell didn’t add much, but at least it was something we hadn’t seen before. The Mini and the Mega Mushroom were game changers, and I think it’s what that game is remembered for the most. My point is, it was a great game with excellent design that introduced 2D Mario platformers to a new audience and reminded the veteran Mario gamers why we loved these games in the first place.

Then the Wii title came out, I haven’t played much of it, but I do believe it had a reason to exist. Obviously the most significant thing is for the first time you could play a 2D Mario game with 3 other people at the same time. It also brought back Yoshi and introduced a few new power-ups. Other than that, it was really similar to DS game, but it had a good reason to exist as it broke new grounds for the Mario series. The 3DS follow up on the other hand, has failed to convince me it needed to be made.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a great game with excellent controls and level design. The problem is that the core gameplay hasn’t evolved at all. The minor adjustments made it fun for a while, but after 8 or so hours of game-time, I just had enough, with my coin tally sitting at 60,000. C’mon Nintendo, give us something original! I’m not buying the upcoming New Super Mario Bros. U, because it looks just like the Wii title, just with more levels…In the meantime I give New Super Mario Bros. 2, a score of 3/5 because it feels more like a level pack than a fully-fledged sequel and I got tired of playing this game as I’ve played it before. If you haven’t played Mario 2D platformers to death, just for you I’ll give this game 4/5…4.5/5 if you’ve never played one ever and I’ll heartily make a recommendation.

For those interested, here’s my review for the previous Mario platformer on the 3DS, Super Mario 3D Land https://stefanb33.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/super-mario-3d-land/

Tenacious D – Rize of the Fenix

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Hi everyone! This is my first blog post – hope you enjoy it!

Tenacious D are a seriously awesome comedy rock band, consisting of Jack Black and Kyle Gass. Fans are used to waiting a long time for new material from The D. Their debut self-titled album came out in 2001 and was a hard hitting F-bomb filled delight, which became most famous for the song “Tribute”. Five years later, the band released The Pick of Destiny, a soundtrack album to the accompanying film of the same name that starred the band. Unfortunately, the movie was a box-office bomb, which is a shame but perhaps not surprising because it only appealed to Tenacious D fans. This year, the band is back with a vengeance with their third record, Rize of the Fenix.

I am pleased to announce that Rize of the Fenix will not disappoint fans, and will draw in new believers. The opening title track is…an absolutely perfect opening title track. It’s self referential in nature, and consists of three parts as the band describes its return and rise to power once again. This song will make any fan be glad that The D are back. The next track, “Low Hangin’ Fruit”, can be described as a delicious, innuendo-filled, classic Tenacious D track. It rocks hard, and one can even dance to it.

The next track is a skit, and there’s another skit a few more tracks in. Both skits are funny, but neither of them are as creative or as memorable as the skits on the first album. Many of the skits on that album were based on concepts such as “One Note Song” and “Inward Singing”. Of course it’s not the skits that matter, but the songs.

There are some more really good songs on Rize of the Fenix, such as my personal favourite, “Roadie”. “To Be The Best” is the best one-minute song I have ever heard, and is a fantastic nod to the 80’s. It reminded me of Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best”. There are also some filler tracks, such as “Throw Down” and “They Fucked Our Asses”, which lack the creative spark of the other songs. The two bonus tracks aren’t anything special, though “Quantum Leap” is pretty catchy.

Overall, I highly recommend this album to everyone. Tenacious D fans will definitely love it. The album is better than The Pick of Destiny. While the skits are not as strong as the ones on the debut, the songs are just as good, if not better. If you have never gotten into Tenacious D and are unsure if you would like them, watch the music video below for “To Be The Best”. I think it will speak for itself, and I promise that if you like it, you are officially a Tenacious D fan.

I rate things out of 5, including halves. 0.5 is the lowest score. I give Rize of the Fenix 4/5. The bonus tracks did not impact the score. See the tracklist below, the ones in bold are my track picks.

1.

“Rize of the Fenix”  

5:53

2.

“Low Hangin’ Fruit”  

2:31

3.

“Classical Teacher” (Skit)

3:23

4.

“Señorita”

3:08

5.

“Deth Starr”

4:46

6.

“Roadie”  

2:58

7.

“Flutes & Trombones” (Skit)

1:28

8.

“The Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Kage”  

5:05

9.

“Throw Down”

2:56

10.

“Rock Is Dead”

1:44

11.

“They Fucked Our Asses” (“They Chucked Our Basses” on the clean version)

1:08

12.

“To Be the Best”  

1:00

13.

“39”

Deluxe edition bonus tracks
14. “Quantum Leap” 3:50
15. “Rivers of Brown” 1:23

5:16