Monday 30 September 2019

At Eternity's Gate ★★★★☆


When the 2019 Academy Award nominations were announced, there were few surprises. Bohemian Rhapsody picked up a bunch of nominations – and indeed wins – inexplicably, while other front runners like The Favourite, Vice and Green Book made their presence known in all the key categories. But one film snuck into the nominations without a whisper. At Eternity’s Gate picked up a Best Actor nomination for Willem Dafoe. Wait, what? Be honest, had you even heard of this film before Oscar season? And hell, I suspect some of you still haven’t heard of it. I know I hadn’t, and I pride myself on being pretty up-to-date on the film world.

The film follows the final days of beloved painter Vincent van Gogh, during the period of his self-imposed exile in Arles and Auvers-Sur-Oise, France. Whilst here, he develops his unique, colourful style while grappling with religion, mortality, relationships and eternity. It all sounds rather heavy – and frankly, it is. This is an extremely artistic film, fitting of its subject. The complex themes are dealt with in a very powerful and poignant way, and nothing is particularly spelled out for the audience. All of this requires a stellar performance at its core and thankfully Willem Dafoe is the man for the job – so, it is unsurprising that he picked up a nod at the Oscars.


Director Julian Schnabel has said “This is a film about painting and a painter and their relationship to infinity. It is told by a painter. It contains what I felt were essential moments in his life; this is not the official history – it's my version. One that I hope could make you closer to him”. Always a pretty troubling approach with a biopic, but here, it is understandable – and quite refreshingly brave. The key piece of artistic license taken by the film is presenting the final moments of van Gogh alternatively to the conventional account. While most agree that van Gogh died by suicide, the film – based on Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s biography The Life, supposes that it was unlikely van Gogh would’ve killed himself (noting the upbeat feel of his final work, and his belief that suicide was sinful and immoral). I shan’t spoil the film’s approach to van Gogh’s death but it does change how we think about the painter.

The film’s cinematography by Benoît Delhomme is truly stunning, inviting us to journey into a living, breathing van Gogh work. While it is nowhere near the same effect as the utterly phenomenal animated film Loving Vincent – it is a far more subtle approach – it is equally beautiful. Supporting work from Mads Mikkelsen and Oscar Isaac is stellar too, with the latter in particular shining as post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin. 

At Eternity’s Gate is a brave approach to biographical filmmaking, presenting an alternative theory as factual and building a film around it – changing everything we think we know about the great artist. This is a film that inspires further research on the subject and might just create a new appreciation for his work. I thought it was a fantastic little film and totally deserving of that surprising Oscar nomination – hell, it could’ve probably earned more.

★★★★☆
Sam Love

At Eternity's Gate at CeX


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Sunday 29 September 2019

Man of Medan ★★★☆☆


Man of Medan from Supermassive Games is the first entry into the Dark Pictures Anthology which is a series of smaller bitesize horror games set in the same universe. If you have played Until Dawn in any capacity then you will probably know what to expect – a choice-filled horror fest where playable characters can die at any moment.

Set mostly on a ghost ship out on the ocean, you control a group of mostly likeable characters as they try to solve the mystery of what is going on around them, all whilst being hunted by various antagonists. Saying too much about who these actually are is going to end up as major spoilers, so I will hold off on the descriptions too much. I’ll just say that there are both human and supernatural forces at play here who would very much like you to be dead.


As with a lot of horror games that come out, ‘Man of Medan’ unfortunately relies way too much on jump scares to bulk out the horror aspect. This is fun at first, with sudden noises or movements making you jump out of your chair. But after the first five or so it does begin to get a little tedious. I’m much more of a psychological horror fan, enjoying games such as Alien: Isolation or Layers of Fear – yes, these games do include jump scares, but they also use the environment heavily to create an atmosphere of constant tension.

Going back to what I mentioned earlier, the thing that makes Man of Medan quite unique is that any of the group of playable characters can die at any moment, either through the choices that you make or with failed quick time events. This is a branching story that will constantly change depending on your choices, and at the end of the game you could potentially end up having everyone dead (oops).

This would have more weight to it if I’d really got attached to any of the characters. Though they are mostly likeable, I didn't really feel an attachment like I did in Until Dawn. This might be because the game is a much shorter bitesize experience running at around 4 - 6 hours – Until Dawn spans around 10-15 hours in total. When one of my characters inevitably died during my playthrough, I was more upset about the potential gameplay sequences that I’d miss out on, rather than the fact that a character was now removed from existence. Of course, this does add to the replay value of the game as you can go through the game to make different choices, and with multiple endings available this is totally worthwhile for the completionists out there.

Along with the gameplay, Man of Medan is also very similar to Until Dawn in terms of graphical style, which holds up well. Many grotesque things happen in the story and it's disgustingly beautiful. My only complaint on that front is that you are mostly in one location for the game, except for a small prologue that mixes it up a bit. There isn’t much variety to be seen here, but I’m hoping this will differ for the next game in the series coming out in early 2020.


One of the most important parts that needs work done before the next game is the overall voice acting and interactions between the characters. The voices are mostly serviceable but problems start to arise when the whole team are interacting and having conversations with each other. They often feel wooden and stilted, like perhaps they weren’t all recorded at the same time (which is often the case, but you don’t want it to feel like that during playthrough). It can really pull you out of the experience and does not help to build up the atmosphere.

Man of Medan is a fun yet flawed horror jaunt - a short experience, but as it’s priced fairly, which fits in with expectations. If you enjoyed Until Dawn or any of the other Supermassive games then you will find a lot to like here… Just don't expect it to blow your mind and elevate the horror genre to a new plateau.

★★★☆☆
Hannah Read

Man of Medan at CeX


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Saturday 28 September 2019

GreedFall ★★★☆☆


GreedFall is the latest RPG to be released from the fairly indie developer Spiders and is available to buy now on most platforms (except Nintendo Switch). In the past Spiders has been known for having some very interesting ideas in their games but generally, they have never had the budget to really make these ideas blossom into compelling experiences.

Their previous game ‘The Technomancer’ has an awesome premise but the gameplay and graphics did not amaze, leading it to becoming average in most departments. Spiders is looking to break this trend with ‘Greedfall’ and, although still on likely a smaller budget than most AAA studios, they have finally been able to put out a much more well-rounded game then they have before.


The game takes place mainly on Teer Fradee in the 17th century inspired setting – it has some supernatural themes such as monsters and magic but is still grounded in reality when it comes to architecture and weapons. Teer Fradee is a recently discovered island and now several factions are trying to colonize it. A group of people are already settled on the island and, as you can imagine, things get quite heated between everyone.

You play as a diplomat sent to the island to find a cure for a disease plaguing your people, and along the way, you get dragged into a variety of different human and supernatural events. The scope of the game is a little smaller then what you might expect from an ARPG though - you won't be saving the world from some massive cataclysm, but rather taking on little stories set in the world which usually have interesting and sometimes unforeseen outcomes.

Gameplay-wise, ‘Greedfall’ is similar to the likes of ‘Dragon Age’ or ‘Mass Effect’. Most of the time you will either be talking your way through situations or killing monsters and/or people with a vast range of weaponry and skills. You could also take a third route by partaking in stealth. Each method can have different outcomes to the problems you are facing but much of the time it’s pretty much the same outcome, just exhibited a little differently.

The mechanics of fighting and talking are fairly interesting for the first ten hours or so but there isn't really enough to keep this going. Had the developers concentrated on just one route and made it a little more linear at times then perhaps the scenarios and stories would have had more impact. The game is designed to be played multiple times with different choices and classes that you can choose but, once finished, I didn't really feel inclined to go through it again to see those (despite enjoying my first playthrough).


Graphically the game is much more in line with a AAA game – the environments of the island and settlements are gorgeous and you just have to stop and screenshot every area. The only main issue with the graphics that I had was the animation of the characters and lip-syncing. The lip movement is especially bad and doesn't look associated with the words being said, which can really bring you out of the experience (one of my pet peeves). 

Spiders have created a much more fleshed out experience than in their previous games, but you can still see that they are trying to create a AAA experience with a smaller indie budget. If given more time to iron things out then I could see Spiders creating ARPGs in future that would rival the likes of Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. Unfortunately, ‘Greedfall’ just doesn't quite live up to the cult hype behind it leading up to its release.

★★★☆☆
Hannah Read



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Friday 27 September 2019

Bear With Me - The Complete Collection ★★★☆☆


I love a good pun, so I had to find out more about ‘Bear With Me: The Complete Collection’ – out now on PC, the game contains three episodes that have been released one-by-one since 2016, each following Ted, the pretty hardcore teddy bear detective (Miles Rand) with a sharp tongue and somewhat cynical outlook on life. In episode one he finds himself coming back out of retirement to help Amber (Mia Sable), an innocent and naïve young girl, find her missing brother Flint. The two following episodes continue the storyline but branch out from Amber’s house to the larger area of Paper City, giving loads of interesting and varied locations to explore. What differs ‘The Complete Collection’ from just buying the episodes separately is that the new prequel ‘The Lost Robots’ is included.


The story is a classic point-and-click, and you have the ability to play as both Ted and Amber (although you have no choice who to play – the game decides this for you). To find Flint you have to undertake a lot of investigating, which is mainly completed through clicking on objects and interviewing other characters, and there are many puzzles littered in between. Most of these puzzles are enjoyable but some are super frustrating, particularly later on in the game – being a linear game, if you get stuck you’ve just got to work it out (something I’ve now learnt that I’m not very good at).

I like point and click games as they’re a bit different to the many RPGs and open-world games that I’m usually attracted to, however, there’s one thing that always puts me off which is the gameplay speed. Unfortunately like many other games, ‘Bear With Me’ suffers with this issue – the pace of the two characters is remarkably slow, and one thing you’ll notice very quickly is how, when clicking on an object across the room, your character has to walk all the way over to it before they can interact with it. I found myself getting quite aggro at points – I’m a quick reader and explorer, so waiting for the game to catch up felt like a waste of my time.

The game makes up for this by having such an interesting and intriguing storyline though – whilst it’s a bit erratic in parts, generally, the story is well-done and there’s a fair bit of development, especially after the first episode. Episode one is somewhat clunky and tiring, however, this dramatically improves in episode two and three so it’s worth getting through it (it’s only around two hours long) just to get to the rest of the story. The prequel is also really interesting as you get to play as Flint and Ted, which adds loads more to the storyline of the three main episodes.

The best bit of the game is, of course, the humour – Ted and Amber are constantly exchanging hilarious lines with one another, and I appreciate Ted’s pessimistic and dry stance on things. There are loads of great characters and some are frankly hilarious, however, you’ll also find a few that feel like they don’t serve much of a purpose. The game is particularly good for those that love pop culture references as there’s plenty to be had, and it adds even more humour to an already funny game. On top of that, the game breaks the fourth wall quite a lot, and it’s done very well.


The other thing I really liked was the design, in particular, the attention to detail in each scene. The black and white aesthetic is stand-out and captivating, and those little details hidden throughout make you want to explore each scene and click on everything you can to gain as many visual and auditory delights as possible (even with the slow character speed). The style worked really well for the type of game, and it was this that managed to get me through such a slow start.

It's not perfect, but ‘Bear With Me’ is a fun little game that many people will enjoy – the humour is on point and the storyline gets progressively better as it goes on. I’d suggest playing it in small doses so you don’t get irked by the movement speed and sometimes confusing plot devices, but it’s certainly a good one to chill out with and have a bit of fun. 

★★★☆☆
Hannah Read

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Thursday 26 September 2019

CeX Walthamstow has REOPENED!



Walthamstow, your newly refitted CeX at 36 Selborne Walk, The Mall has RE-OPENED!
a
nd it’s packed to the rafters with games & gadgets! Feel free to swing by, say "hey!" and see the new upgrades to your favourite tech shop. Whether you’re buying or selling get the best prices at our newly made-over store, or online at webuy.com

For more info and opening times, visit HERE!




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Remnant: From The Ashes ★★★★☆


‘Remnant: From The Ashes’ is a third-person shooter ARPG from the creators of ‘Darksiders 3’, a game I reviewed last year as a solid four out of five. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the Root (tree-like enemies) have taken over the world with the goal of wiping out the last of humanity. It’s a strange game to review because it has so many mechanics borrowed from different games, but when you add them all together, it works surprisingly well.

After a few hours of playing you will start to see similarities between this and the souls like genre, whether that be from the challenging difficulty of the game or how you go about upgrading your equipment. I wouldn't say this is a blatant copy of ‘Dark Souls, but it takes the mechanics that worked well in those games and implements them into a completely different style of action game.


It borrows from games like Diablo, where dungeons are randomly generated from various tilesets created by the developer. This usually works well, but one of my main complaints of the game is that with this system in place you can come across very repetitive areas. In the first zone of the game, I went into two different dungeons that were almost identical in the way they looked, so it really is pot luck as to whether you will get an interesting seed when you first load the campaign.

The core gameplay is a third-person shooter and here it really shines. Whether you are facing an onslaught of enemies charging at you as you roll out of the way to find an opening to shoot, or perhaps facing off against one of the many excellent (and frustrating) bosses, the combat feels excellent to play. The shooting mechanics are sound and you never really feel like the game is being unfair. That's not to say you won't get angry though… many a time I’d made lots of progress only to be greeted by a horde of enemies that ended my life very quickly. When this happens you get sent back to the nearest crystal, similar to the bonfire mechanic in Dark Souls. 

One of the coolest things about the game is that you will never see all bosses and equipment in just one run of the campaign, which on first play takes over 20 hours. The game is designed to be replayed, rolling a new campaign each time on harder difficulty settings, so there are so many options for replayability here. I could also see the developers adding new tilesets and campaigns through DLC, which would keep players coming back for some time (and would also fix the issue of repetitive gameplay – hope you’re reading this, Gunfire Games!).

Onto the graphics - which are truly beautiful. It’s not a realistic game, but not quite cell-shaded either, appearing very much like Darksiders 3’s comic book style. You will travel from a ruined city to lush swamps and everywhere in between, and there are some gorgeous vistas to behold.  It isn't the graphical fidelity of a AAA game, but despite this I still found myself stopping to take in those wonderful overgrown cityscapes.


Throughout my first playthrough, even with the repetition, I really had a blast with the game - so much so that I can't wait to reroll my next campaign, trying out some new weapons and armour along the way. I haven't witnessed all of the bosses yet but I look forward to seeing what else the game has to offer. The lower price point and endless replayability means this game is well worth your time and money.

★★★★☆
Hannah Read

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Wednesday 25 September 2019

Wreckfest ★★★★☆


Wreckfest is the newest creation from the team behind the Flat Out games, and as you can probably guess from the name, it is all about the celebration of vehicular destruction! Not since the days of Flat Out and Destruction Derby has there really been a game that gives players the feeling of going on a rampage in the same way that Wreckfest does.

The beauty of Wreckfest is in its simplicity. Choose a race mode, start the race and try to survive ‘till the finish while destroying everyone else around you in a visually-stunning metal-filled explosion. The game has a few modes which boil down to either races or destruction derby events - you might feel that is limiting, but what else really do you really need from this style of game?  While sometimes lacking in variety, the graphical fidelity and detail of the destruction completely makes up for this.

Whether you are in a truck, car, or even kart racer the level of destruction is something to behold and is something unseen in racers such as Forza Horizon or GT Sport. Side swiping into an opponent and watching them flip into the air with parts of their car flying in every direction never gets old and is quite addicting to play, taking me back to my younger years on Burnout Takedown, where I spent many an hour destroying as many vehicles as I possibly could. There are loads of tracks to choose from, ranging from more serious GT-style circuit races to loop the loops that encourage as much destruction as possible.

My main complaint with the game is that the frame rate was a bit choppy, most likely due to the sheer amount of physics happening on the screen in any given race - it never got low enough to really affect my enjoyment. One thing to be aware of are the long load times between races, which can take you out of an otherwise absorbing experience. 

I would also say that, relative to other driving games, the offering seems to be a little bare-bones in terms of modes available. Games like Forza Horizon and GT Sport have absolutely massive stories and main campaigns. Forza, for instance, has a very large open world that is filled to the brim with things to do. While Wreckfest does have a career mode, when you compare it to similar games it does feel rather lacklustre.


What I love most about what the team behind Wreckfest, has done is that they have created a truly unique take on the racing genre that we haven't really seen for years, setting itself apart from its competitors in the current market. Like Forza did with the festival concept, Wreckfest brings something new to the table which is a real breath of fresh air. If you're looking for an original racer that straddles the line between realism and arcade, providing hours of entertainment, then Wreckfest is most definitely worth your money.

★★★★☆
Hannah Read



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Tuesday 24 September 2019

RAD ★★★☆☆


RAD is a roguelike brawler from Double Fine, best known for Psychonaut and Brutal Legend. Their previous games have already had a quite humorous element to them and RAD is no different, offering a comedic take on the roguelike genre. The game is set in the apocalypse after the apocalypse (for when one apocalypse isn't enough) and you are tasked with delving into the wasteland to find the items that may save civilisation.

How you do this is by following a formula that is tried and tested in the roguelike genre but with a few twists. As you play you will be going down through worlds (floors) that are randomly generated and have a boss at the end, which most likely sounds familiar if you have played games such as The Binding of Isaac and Moonlighter over the past few years.


The twist in RAD which makes it unique to other roguelikes is that the player character constantly mutates throughout any given run while exploring and killing enemies. You may start off every run by killing enemies with your trusty baseball bat, but within a few minutes you will mutate and from there, so many options are available to you, from growing a snakehead that can shoot acid to wings that enable you to fly around the maps.

The thing about the mutations is that they are completely random, making it a bit of a double-edged sword – you could end up with something incredible that helps get you through to the end, or you could get a passive or active effect that doesn’t coordinate well with your playstyle, ruining your run in a seemingly unfair way (especially if it happens later on in the game once you’ve made so much progress).

No matter what happens, it is inevitable that you will die a lot, be it to one of the many difficult bosses or the waves of little enemies you will fight. But this to be expected, so all you can do is pick up another character and try again. This shouldn’t come as any surprise to fans of the genre, as it’s this repetitive challenge that is so frustrating yet motivating at the same time. Like many roguelikes it has that real addictive quality of “just one more run”, so even if you’re about to throw your controller at the screen you’ll still find yourself on another playthrough five minutes later.

So far, so good. The main downside is the art direction – something which I’ll admit comes as quite a surprise. There is so much going on at times, and the colour palettes are a neon mess. Sometimes I found myself getting lost, confused as to where I was on the map due to all of the distracting imagery.  At times it resembled a canvas, covered with every colour on offer, which really pulled me out of the experience. Bright colours are not always bad as Nuclear Throne demonstrated, but the key difference was that it used colour and visuals to indicate where you were.


Secondly, the controls never really clicked with me. The dodge roll and attacking animations felt stiff and locked-in, meaning it was quite difficult to get out of the way of attacks effectively. It just hindered my overall enjoyment of the game.

In a world where there seems to be a new roguelike every week coming out (Undermine, and Dicey Dungeons have released in the last few weeks alone), it takes a special something to elevate a game to pull itself out of the crowd and be unique. RAD isn't a bad game per sé, but it never really gets better than “good”. It’s certainly worth your time, and you will get many hours of entertainment out of it… Just don't expect anything ground-breaking.

★★★☆☆
Hannah Read

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Monday 23 September 2019

Oninaki ★★★☆☆


Oninaki is the latest JRPG to come out of the relatively new Tokyo RPG Factory, a game developer and subsidiary of Square Enix. This follows on from two previous releases, I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear – both of which I think were excellent and enjoyable games. The two titles were traditional turn-based RPGs with certain additional mechanics that innovated those older styles and made for a much more interesting gameplay experience.

Oninaki is a total departure from these two, moving instead into a more top-down action RPG style of game, similar to the Ys series and Diablo. You play as Kagachi, a Watcher, who moves between the living world and the Beyond (essentially the world of the dead/underworld) battling using manifested Daemons and saving the souls of the Lost.


Now, the game itself has some pretty awesome ideas, plus a really interesting storyline that explores life, death, and reincarnation in a very anime-esque way. The problem is that, despite having those awesome ideas, the developers haven’t really done anything with them to elevate them to as great a level as they could be.

The first problem I noticed was the combat, which lacks the variety that it needs in order to make interesting. Of course, the idea of summoning Daemons to fight for you in battle sounds super cool, and there is variety within that aspect, but in reality, much of the combat is really just glorified button mashing. Some will enjoy this, but it lacks the sort of challenge you get from a more strategy-focused combat system. Further still, combat also becomes tiring after multiple instances of enemies either hitting you exceptionally hard (usually during boss fights) or dying instantly to every attack you throw at them. Fun for a while, but it gets dull (even to me, who will always choose story over combat).

Going back to the story – this is the strongest point of the game however, character development is not quite as well done as I had hoped. Our protagonist and detailed and interesting, but many other side characters are not, with some of them seeming like a bit of an afterthought. There’s a lot of interacting with the spirits which is great, but once you’ve got to the halfway point it starts to feel like they’re really just quest givers, rather than individual personalities that we should care about.

The quests are good, but I found that the majority were really focused around fighting – if that’s your jam then that’s great! There’s a distinct lack of puzzles within dungeons and out and about in the world though, and I think adding some more of these could have really helped to mix things up a bit.
One thing I really liked were the graphics, which were very simple in their design like previous games from Tokyo RPG Factory. Some may dislike this because they want something a bit more visually varied, but I liked them for two reasons – firstly, they’re beautiful, even without all the frills, and secondly, the lack of graphical intensity leads to a game that runs really well and isn’t demanding at all on the system. After some of the FPS nightmares that I’ve played recently, this felt like a dream!


The problem with Oninaki isn’t that it’s a bad game, because it really isn’t. It has a lot going for it, but it just doesn’t excel in any area. It’s distinctly and wholeheartedly average. Excellent ideas get buried underneath repetitive and mundane combat scenarios and, whilst the storyline is interesting, it’s not exceptional by any means (especially when you compare it to the previous games). Possibly one to pick up when the price drops.


★★★☆☆
Hannah Read



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Saturday 21 September 2019

Long Shot ★★★★☆


I’m not a massive fan of stereotypical romantic comedies. You know the ones, where the humour is cheesy and the content of the film tends to avoid major talking points in favour of a purely relationship-driven storyline. I get why they appeal, but I prefer something a little bit more original when it comes to love within film. ‘Long Shot’ (directed by Jonathan Levine) is one of those rom-coms that feels different to others in the genre, and I really appreciate it for that.


Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) is an opinionated, liberal journalist who ends up rage-quitting his job due to the newspaper being sold to a multi-conglomerate. Whilst at a party with best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), he stumbles across his old babysitter Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), now the smooth and refined Secretary of State who is soon to be running for President. Charlotte ends up hiring now unemployed Fred to become her punch-up speechwriter, and as they two get to know each other they realise that sometimes opposites really do attract.

Seth Rogen is generally a pretty funny actor however I’ve found his films to be hit and miss and I’m never quite confident that the humour as a whole is going to work. In ‘Long Shot’ he shines though, bringing hilarious one-liners throughout the film and excellent chemistry with Theron, who gives an equally excellent performance – not only funny but really highlighting the career disadvantages that are still present for many women today. There’s a whole host of commendable acting, from Bob Odenkirk as idiot President Chambers to a completely unrecognisable Andy Serkis as newspaper billionaire Parker Wembley (both of whom might seem familiar to you…)


The comedy writing is on point during the whole film, and the script tackles some really key themes, from career-focused women to the concept of selling out vs. staying true to your beliefs. There’s a powerful scene during the second half of the film, wherein a character realises that they have become too polarised in their opinions – I was glad to see real, current affairs highlighted in cinema,  especially those causing division. It was well done, as were the multitude of other scenes where we got to see the negative character traits as well as the positive ones (no Mary Sues here, which I’m always appreciative of).


I wouldn’t say it’s a film that’s meant to be taken too seriously  – while there are some powerful underlying messages, at its heart ‘Long Shot’ is really showing us that whole ‘Humpback of Notre Dame’ style plot where the seemingly undesirable character is the one the princess falls for. The difference is that it’s both modern and unique, with a great sense of humour and excellent character development thrown in as well. Whilst a couple of scenes are perhaps too silly or unrealistic, I found it overall a great watch, and a must for anyone that enjoys that particular Rogen style of humour.

★★★★☆
Hannah Read

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Friday 20 September 2019

A Dog's Way Home ☆☆☆☆☆


Another year, another bloody Hollywood dog movie. Now, I love dogs. They’re the purest, wholesome and loving creatures in this dark and twisted world and without them, we would be totally screwed. They remind us to be better people. But even as a dog-lover, I am sick to death of these soppy, overly sentimental dog movies. Have you seen A Dog’s Purpose, or A Dog’s Journey, or Marley & Me, or any of the other countless entries in this canine sub-genre? If you have, you don’t need to see A Dog’s Way Home. You’ve already seen it.

As a puppy, Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard) finds her way into the arms of Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King), a young man who gives her a good home. When Bella becomes separated from him, she soon finds herself on an epic 400-mile journey to reunite with her beloved owner. Along the way, the lost but spirited dog touches the lives of an orphaned mountain lion, a down-on-his-luck veteran and some friendly strangers who happen to cross her path.


And so ensues one of the most sickly-sweet 96 minutes you’ll have at the movies this year. Think Homeward Bound with a whole dairy farm’s worth of cheese piled on top. If you are lactose intolerant, even fleeting contact with this cinematic abomination will be enough to make you violently ill. 

OK, maybe I’m being a little harsh. A Dog’s Way Home knows its audience and panders to it effectively. If you’re the sort of person who loves these doggo films, you’ll probably have a great time with it. You’ll love every bit of observational dog humour (that you’ve seen a hundred times before), your heart will melt at every close up of puppies, you will loudly “awwwww” throughout. I am not the target audience for A Dog’s Way Home and I know that. It makes me feel bad reviewing it so aggressively. But hey, it’s my job to tell you whether a film is worth your time or not and honestly, I haven’t got a single good thing to say about A Dog’s Way Home.

That’s not to say that A Dog’s Way Home is the worst film ever made, certainly not on its own terms. But the fact is that so many other films have done exactly what A Dog’s Way Home is doing, and often better – so it makes it difficult to recommend. This is just the most derivative and cookie-cutter film of its type and its hard to have any respect when it's clear that the entire production team just totally phoned it in. This is a glorified TV movie which feels cheap and forced, overflowing with cliché and overly sentimentalised narrative beats designed to punch you right in the heart. 

A Dog’s Way Home is exactly what you would expect then, really. I don’t think anybody watching the trailer or even glimpsing at the poster for the film would’ve imagined it to be anything more than this. These dog films have had their day. Let’s stop pumping all of our money into these bloody films and instead donate to dog charities or give a rescue dog a loving home. Stop watching these forced dog stories – be a part of a real one. A Dog’s Way Home belongs in the dog-house.

☆☆☆☆☆
Sam Love

A Dog's Way Home at CeX


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Thursday 19 September 2019

Gears 5 ★★★★☆

Gears 5. It definitely rolls off the tongue easily, but has the gameplay been butchered to match the new streamlined name? 

Three years have passed since the release of Gears of War 4, and the Xbox has been crying out for new AAA experiences in the meantime. Microsoft is banking on it being a success, so much so that they’re letting Game Pass Ultimate members download it four days early in a bid to boost subscriptions to the service. It’s sure to add a significant amount of users in the run-up to Christmas, and the attention is well deserved.


Single-player is where the brunt of the focus lies with Gear 5, with the campaign coming in at roughly 10-12 hours. The player takes control of a new(ish) character in the series, Kait Diaz, as well as the returning JD Fenix. Narratively, the game is more layered and serious in tone, with more attention paid to the alien threat and the Gears themselves. You’re also paired with a drone called Jack, which can be upgraded with active and passive perks throughout the game as long as you pick up enough components. 

It’s been described as open-world, but Gears 5 is more like a quasi-sandbox with limited larger elements thrown in. You’re eventually given a vehicle to traverse valleys and deserts in later chapters, but the core gameplay loop of rolling, hiding behind cover and spamming the shotgun is still a trademark of the series. There are new weapons and enemies, and even more collectables, which can help to stretch out your time in single-player or co-op.

They’ve added a host of multiplayer options as usual, including Escape Mode, Arcade Mode and traditional multiplayer. Escape Mode is probably the most interesting, despite a simple premise. You’re split into a team of three rather than five, and it’s a struggle to survive on higher difficulties. You simply have to plant a bomb and escape, but the prospect of player-built maps means that you’ll never want for more maps.


It looks incredible even if you’re not playing on an Xbox One X, full of meaty action sequences and incredible lighting. It’s highly polished in most respects, and the voice cast only improves it further. Some users have reported save file corruption, and I faced everything from randomly getting kicked from any sort of multiplayer to having problems with the pathfinding for the robot companion. The bugs are being patched slowly, although that’s not helpful if you want to play it today.

Despite a few bugs, Gears 5 is much improved, dragging the series into 2019 with a range of changes that don’t spoil the overall experience. A heavier story helps to keep you invested throughout the campaign, and it hasn’t lost any of the unique flavour throughout multiplayer. For now, microtransactions are limited to skins, while they offer a free battle pass and free DLC maps, which is better than most. There’s enough familiarity to sate fans of the series, while the changes do help to make it more accessible tor everyone else.

★★★★☆
James Millin-Ashmore



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Wednesday 18 September 2019

The Isle ★★★☆☆


For as long as there is storytelling, there will be tales of the supernatural. As we get no closer to proving or disproving the existence of the paranormal, people will continue to be frightened of spooky happenings and bumps in the night. Combine that with isolation and a period setting and it seems like nowadays, you’re onto a winner. Director Matthew Butler-Hart has cashed in on this recent trend, co-writing this intriguing tale with his partner Tori Butler-Hart (who stars). This is The Isle.

When three shipwrecked sailors land on an abandoned Scottish island that has four sole residents, one of the men starts to question what happened. The residents of the isle are strangely reluctant to help the shipwrecked sailors get off this mysterious island, and soon the group find himself in a fight to save their own lives while trying to uncover the truth and escape. This is classic folk horror through and through, like the sort of tale you were told by the fire as a kid. After an explosive period of folk horror in the 60s and 70s courtesy of Hammer and filmmakers like Robin Hardy (The Wicker Man), we still get some frightening takes on the genre to this day – the most recent probably being The Witch.


While the film lacks the religious overtones and ritualistic sacrifice of The Wicker Man, there are certainly similarities. An isolated Scottish island with the most unhelpful and creepy residents this side of Summerisle, promising boats that never come and generally trapping our heroes on an island that would certainly get a low TripAdvisor review…from anyone lucky enough to escape. As the sailors gradually succumb to the evil of the island, we learn about the history of the place through flashbacks that explain a curse that owns the island. But this is not a big, showy horror – don’t expect money shots of monsters, gore and jump scares. This is a very understated gothic tale that with a very slow-burning and yet palpable sense of dread throughout.

The cinematography from Pete Wallington makes the island itself the film’s main character, as the isolation creates some of the most frightening shots of the film. That atmosphere is ominous and mysterious, complemented perfectly by Tom Kane’s haunting score and the film’s bleakly beautiful visuals. Performance-wise, the film leaves a little to be desired. Despite Varys himself Conleth Hill starring in the film, he can’t save it from an otherwise subpar cast. The cast certainly reflect the film’s budget and it does create for some cringey scenes which do feel a little made-for-TV, but that’s to be expected with these little films. The film is at its most frightening when there is no acting in it at all – it is the ominous landscape that offers the most frights.

The Isle is unfortunately nowhere near a modern classic like other similar recent films like The Witch, but there is still plenty here to enjoy – if nothing else, it serves as simultaneously a great and an awful advert for Scotland. Yeah, it looks beautiful, but it also looks bloody terrifying…On the whole, weak performances, a low budget and an iffy screenplay thwart the film from achieving its potential but there is enough here to send a shiver or two down your spine… 

★★★☆☆
Sam Love



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Tuesday 17 September 2019

The Mule ★★★★☆


Back in 2008, my father and I went to see Gran Torino at the cinema together. I remember it so clearly – we thought we were sharing a slice of cinema history together. Clint Eastwood’s final film, as it was marketed, on the big screen. Something that our years of watching Clint’s films at home together had been building up to. What a moment. 11 years later, I’m older, more cynical and bitter. And I’m reviewing Clint’s latest. If you’d told me 11 years ago he’d still be bashing out films in 2019, I would’ve told you to fuck off.


Based on the you-couldn’t-make-it-up true story of Leo Sharp, the film follows the so-called “Sinaloa Cartel’s 90 Year Old Drug Mule” as he is hunted down by the DEA. Broke, alone and facing foreclosure on his business, our ageing hero (Clint Eastwood, obviously) takes a job as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. His immediate success leads to easy money and a larger shipment that soon draws the attention of hard-charging DEA agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper). When Earl's past mistakes start to weigh heavily on his conscience, he must decide whether to right those wrongs before law enforcement and cartel thugs catch up to him.

First up, let’s talk about Clint. The man is showing his age, bless him. He looks so old now, it’s hard to believe he was once having stand-offs with Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach in The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. But behind those eyes, you can see it. You can see his entire life, career and pain. This is a very strong asset in Clint’s later performances and here, he is the best he’s been in some time. While on the surface, it isn’t a particularly new role for him – a scowling, gruff old racist – there is certainly something there. This is a role that would be perfect for Clint to bow out on; hell, his character even says “this is the last one” repeatedly in the film’s trailer, perhaps as something of a warning that it is his swansong? I doubt it, we all thought that 11 years ago. But regardless, it would certainly be an interesting way to end your career – as a 90-year-old drug mule. 

The supporting cast here is pretty stellar too – Bradley Cooper delivers a performance that is every bit as good as his Oscar-nominated work in A Star is Born, albeit far more understated. As the obsessed DEA agent on Clint’s tail, he is a man possessed by justice. He portrays just as much pain and desperation as Clint does in the lead, and the two make a brilliant cat & mouse pair. One scene in particular in a diner is just as tense and exciting as the iconic coffee shop scene in Michael Mann’s 90s thriller Heat. The film’s almost colourless visuals reflect the film’s themes of darkness, desperation and a greying moral centre – and the cinematography by Yves Bélanger is hauntingly beautiful.


On the whole, The Mule is a damn fine little surprise that is far stronger than I think anyone was expecting. The world panicked when Clint announced he was acting again in a drugs thriller, but the result is a surprisingly poignant study on old age and the lengths we go to in desperate times. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and hope this is indeed Clint’s farewell – what a way to go out.

★★★★☆
Sam Love



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Monday 16 September 2019

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 / 10+ ★★★★★


Can phone screens get any bigger? Ask Samsung & they’ll bowl you over with ergonomic phablets that won't give your wrist tendonitis! The Note 10 & Note 10 Plus launched last week. Tall, beautiful, multi-lens phones with curves in all the right places.

The Note 10 comes with a beautiful  6.3” Infinity O screen, that makes the display look almost bezel-less. The size of the phone will change your mind if you’re thinking it is one of those gigantic phablets, like the Note 9 from last year, but guess what honey, Samsung has shrunk the Notes! They are now smaller than last year but with more screen space & super comfortable for one-hand use. Somewhere between the Pixel 3 & Pixel 3XL in terms of phone size. The default configuration is the latest Snapdragon or Exynos processor with 256GB memory & 8GB RAM, expandable to 512 GB/12GB.


Samsung does put in 2D face unlock feature, which isn’t as secure as Apple’s 3D one & there's the in-display fingerprint sensor but a bit slower than what you’d notice on a physical capacitive one, usually present on the back of the phones. You’ll have a hard choice choosing from the 4 colours Aura Glow (favourite & also a fingerprint magnet), Aura white, Aura black, and Aura Blue.

The main reason why I love the Note? The magic wand - S-Pen! It’s like a remote for your toy that keeps getting smarter every year. New features include Air Actions to change camera modes with a wave of your hand & drawing circles to zoom in or out. You can also convert handwriting to text, not seamless but it works. Air doodles while shooting video/clicking pictures & also a Bluetooth selfie remote control. It’s now open for Developers to play with so expect more useful stuff soon. 

The phone is the Best selfie camera (10MP) out there, even better than the Pixel 3. There are tons of effects to add before taking the shots and no other phone offers them at the moment, except the S10 series of course. The hole cutout for the camera at the top & in the centre is small and you hardly even notice it after a few mins of usage. It’s much better than the punch hole front cams on the S10.

With 3 lenses at the back, a wide (12MP), ultra-wide (16MP) and telephoto (12MP), there is nothing that can’t fit in your screen without moving all over the place. It can capture amazing portraits and like always over saturates most photos but they are better-looking photos for social media than let’s say the natural, unedited photos on the Pixel 3. Turn on the Night mode though, and the Note 10 is miles away from the AI magic of the Pixel. Video stabilization is great, 4k is now unlimited recording. Live focus video is only available on the Note 10+ but should be on the Note 10 in a few months with a software update. 

In terms of performance, feel free to have 30 different apps open + games at the same time in the background  & you won’t notice any lags. Android 9 with One UI is well optimised and my personal favourite after the Stock Android due to the customisation options. Bixby user assistant still doesn’t excite me & DEX still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of seamless transitioning from phone to PC.  

You miss the headphone jack, but there is a bundled type C to 3.5mm jack. There isn’t any expandable storage as well but I guess 256GB should work for most, otherwise, you’ll have the “clouds” to look up to. Go for the Note 10 if you’re looking to upgrade & if your phone is more than 2 years old. This phone is a beast!

★★★★★
Pritesh Khilnani

Galaxy Note 10 at CeX


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Sunday 15 September 2019

Thunder Road ★★★★★


Last October, I spent a couple of weeks in the capital for the BFI London Film Festival. As I whiled away the hours seeing such future Oscar-hits as The Favourite, Green Book and others, one film eluded me – but I was hearing its name everywhere I went. It wasn’t any of the festival programme’s ‘big’ titles. It didn’t feature any big movie stars or a famous director. It wasn’t anything I’d ever even heard of before. It was a little film called Thunder Road. I kept hearing it. What was this mysterious film that everybody seemed so enraptured by?

Beginning as a short film in 2016 which was adapted into this feature-length version of the same name on a microbudget of $200,000 raised on Kickstarter, the comedy-drama stars writer/director/composer/co-editor Jim Cummings as a police officer from Texas who deals with the death of his mother while giving a heartfelt eulogy at her funeral. Finding himself on the edge, and trying to forge a stronger connection with his daughter, he keeps getting in his own way as he attempts to find light in the darkness of his life. There is no other plot to speak of – this is a character study through and through, focusing on the minutiae of life.


The film is almost a one-man-show, with Cummings present throughout the entire film as his mental state declines. It is difficult viewing – while it does often go for a zany, eccentric and humorous approach, there’s no denying that this is a powerful and poignant portrayal of a breakdown. Cummings’ performance is an absolute marvel – a tour-de-force that, in any other universe, would’ve been front and centre during all of the 2019 awards seasons. This is truly Oscar calibre work from a relative unknown who commands your attention with every frame, wildly portraying every emotion under the sun. The opening 15 or so minutes, which is effectively a remake of the short film on which Thunder Road is based, follows our hero has attempts to deliver a eulogy at his mother’s funeral. While amusing in places, it is upsetting. Should we laugh at him, with him, or not at all? It’s a difficult watch – but sometimes life is like that. We feel for this character we have only just met because he feels so alive. The film feels so real.

That’s not to say it isn’t cinematic – but there’s something about this film that is so powerfully engrossing and immersive that you will feel like you are watching real-life unfold. Playing out almost like theatre with no big set-pieces, Thunder Road is a truly mesmerising piece of work. I don’t remember the last time I was so engrossed and on the edge of my seat at such a quiet, understated film.

 Jim Cummings proves himself as an absolute master of everything he does on the production – writing, directing and acting being his key responsibilities. Everything about Thunder Road defies expectations and absorbs you with a powerful grip, not letting go until the final frame. I now understand why everybody at London Film Festival was so enraptured by this quirky and powerful mini-masterpiece. It truly is an exceptional piece of work and one that earns my highest recommendation. 5/5

★★★★★
Sam Love



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