Monthly Archives: December 2016

My Top 10 TV Shows of 2016

I only did a top 5 last year but I felt I’d watched considerably more this time, so a top 10 seemed more appropriate.

Minor spoilers for all shows – no real specifics though, don’t worry.

10. Gotham (Season 2 Part 2/Season 3 Part 1) Gotham has often been considered the problem child of the DC universe – it isn’t part of the Arrowverse or the movies and thus sits awkwardly in the middle. Its tone tends to be wildly uneven – one episode gave us the hilariously OTT ending of Butch blowing up a villain with a Bazooka while another had the incredibly tense sequence where the Mad Hatter forced Jim to choose which of his two love interests was shot. However, this year has seen arguably its best run of episodes yet, with a superb Mr. Freeze origin story, a very sweet romance between the teenage Bruce and Selina, a great main villain in season 3 in the Mad Hatter and the winning combination of Penguin and Riddler, who are arguably the best villains on any superhero show right now. The show has miss-stepped a fair few times (the godawful Gordon in prison episode, two lacklustre season finales) but overall its showing great promise, and the first six episodes of season 3 were simply amazing.

9. The Grand Tour (Series 1) Clarkson, Hammond and May’s return may be a mixed bag of the hilarious and the cringe worthy, but overall its been a very welcome addition as well as the main reason to fork out for Amazon Prime. There’s been a few duff moments (particularly in the second episode ‘Operation Desert Stumble) but overall its given us all of the comedy, cars and catastrophe we wanted. It goes without saying, its completely trounced (and savagely mocked) the travesty/pile of excrement which was the Chris Evans version. Serves the BBC right.

8. IZombie (Season 2 Part 2) Anyone who’s not tried IZombie due to the stupid sounding title should really give it a second thought. The unique plotline it has (Zombies gain temporary memories/personality traits from the brains they eat, which allows main character Liv to solve the murders of people who end up in the morgue she works in) really opens up a wealth of storytelling potential, while also leading to some great comedy (the episodes where Liv eats the brain of an erotic novelist spring to mind, though there’s plenty of others with great comedy from similar ideas). The second half of season two in particular ramps up the drama element as more of the main cast find out about Liv’s true nature and the company that created the Zombie outbreak comes under the spotlight. Roll on season 3!

7. The Great British Bake Off (The final series that anyone will bother watching) Second only to the terrible Top Gear reboot in the list of BBC cock-ups this year was the loss of Bake Off to Channel 4 (seriously, who the fuck will watch it with no Mel, Sue, Mary as well as having to put up with sodding ad-breaks). I may have been a late-comer to the series, but the sheer charm of it all won me over and as it is it’s unofficial swansong, I thought i’d include it in my list. Full of the brilliant Mel/Sue interplay with the contestants, lavish desserts and culinary disasters (Andrew forgetting to put the oven on was hilarious) it also gave us a real character in Selasi (to cool to put into words) contestants who were easy to root for in Andrew and Benjamina and my personal favourite, pout-queen Candice Brown (too sweet for words – simply adored her!). This series was the perfect send off to a teatime treat of a show.

6. Legends of Tomorrow (Season 1 Part 2/Season 2 Part 1) The Arrow/Flash spinoff took a few episodes to get going in 2015, but it blew it out of the park in 2016 and surpassed both its parent shows (I sense a pattern emerging – expect Supergirl to be high on this list next year!). The first season gave us a thrilling climax as the team contended with the time masters and Vandal Savage, and the second gave us one of the best supervillain team ups in history as Malcolm Merlyn, the Reverse Flash and Damien Darhk joined forces (Legion of Doom!!!) It also has some of the most colourful characters from the Arrowverse in anti-heroes Snart and Mick (Captain Cold and Heatwave), Captain Rip played by Rory from Doctor Who!! (usually amusingly muttering ‘oh bloody hell…’ as the teams plans fall apart every week) and Sara/White Canary, who continues to be one of my favourite superhero characters (who else can seduce both the Queen of France and girls in Salem in the same episode? Her becoming temporary captain also really gave her character some great material this year. A very silly superhero show, but isn’t that just what we need after 2016?

5. Black Mirror (Series 3) The first of 3 Netflix series in my top 5, Black Mirror’s move from channel 4 to Netflix looks increasingly inspired. Not only has it got rid of ad-breaks and freed up the episodes running time, but increasing the series length to 6 episodes seems to have improved the quality rather than detracted from it. Even weaker episodes like ‘Playtest’ are still worth watching, while there’s some classically dark instalments with clever stings in the tail like ‘Shut Up and Dance’, for those who want more of what series 1 and 2 gave us, as well as new concepts and episode formats. The highlight for me, has to be ‘San Junipero’, sad and heartwarming in equal measure and a very neat sci-fi idea. Overall though, its a sublime run of episodes and well worth your time.

4. Game of Thrones (Season 6) Thrones might not have had a particularly consistent run of episodes (a real slow-burner mid-season with a bit too much padding, particularly in the Arya and King’s Landing storylines) but who cares when it still gave us exactly what we wanted in a kick-ass and explosive finale, a scintillating clash between Jon Snow and Ramsay, Daenerys being awesome for the first time in a while and the sheer horror of the white walkers attack leading to the tearjerking ‘Hold the Door’ moment. If season 7 can keep up the work of episodes like ‘Home’, ‘Battle of the Bastards’ or ‘The Winds of Winter’, then we’re sitting pretty for a thrilling penultimate series.

3. Orange is the New Black (Season 4) Orange is the New Black has got stronger every season and the fourth series doesn’t buck the trend. Despite being arguably one of the darkest series we’ve had from the scriptwriters, it balanced comedy and tragedy as effectively as ever. Any series that combines tear-jerking mental health plotlines and that horrifying twist at the end of episode 12 with laugh out loud moments such as the unlikeliest threesome probably ever seen on TV (I won’t spoil it, its so much better if you aren’t expecting it) is clearly onto a winner. Well done OITNB, yet again you’ve been one of the Netflix highlights this year. Just not as good as…

2. House of Cards (Season 4) After a mixed third season, House of Cards turned things around and delivered what may be its best season so far. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright’s acting was first class as always, but this time the writing was on par with their performances as the shows version of the US presidential election provided great drama and plenty of shock narrative twists. The way they utilised characters from previous seasons like ex-president Walker, Lucas Goodwin and Raymond Tusk was both expertly done and a real treat for long-term fans. I’ll credit them for not simply caricaturing Trump and Clinton either, instead giving us Joel Kinnaman’s Republican candidate Will Conway who seems like the ideal potential president, but has weaknesses/flaws that become apparent over the season, and was a far more engaging type of figure for Francis to face off with as he was continually at a PR disadvantage. Bring on season 5!

1.The Americans (Season 4) The most consistent series on television was a stand-out this year as the Russian spy pair/American married couple dealt with more problems than ever before as their lives increasingly teetered on the edge of unravelling. Dylan Baker was the stand-out guest star as a Soviet sympathiser working in an American viral lab, while the main cast was as great as ever, particularly Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, Frank Langella and Alison Wright. The Jennings had to deal with their daughter’s struggle to accept their true identity, the loss of one of their closest informants and missions they worth becoming increasingly uncomfortable with. A slightly lacklustre season finale aside, it was a flawless run with several shock character exits and plot twists, can’t wait for the final two seasons of this thrilling if slow-burning drama.

Missing out on the list was Arrow (still rebuilding after a so-so year), Flash (ditto, Zoom was the most disappointing villain I’ve seen from DC’s TV universe), Red Dwarf (promising but not back to its best yet) and Jessica Jones (too much padding). There are some shows I haven’t got round to watching yet (Supergirl and Westworld for example) and some I just don’t watch (like Walking Dead).

As for the disappointments of the year, my worst offenders have to be the Chris Evans Top Gear (for obvious reasons – what a TWAT!), Doctor Who spin-off Class (very pointless – even Torchwood Series 1 was less awkward) and Luke Cage, which completely wasted its potential and contrived to make sure whichever style of show you like, you would hate half the season. (Congrats Marvel, you have made something worse than Agents of Shield… can’t you just give us Jessica Jones season 2 already?!)

My TV Awards 2016

Best Actor: Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)/Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)/Robin Wright (House of Cards)
Best Supporting Actor: David Tennant (Jessica Jones)
Best Supporting Actress: Lori Petty (Orange is the New Black)
Best Episode: The Winds of Winter (Game of Thrones)
Best Hero: Sara Lance (Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Villain: Ramsay Snow (Game of Thrones)
Best Scripting: The Americans
Best Direction: Black Mirror
Best Soundtrack: Game of Thrones

If you’ve got your own list or disagree with mine, feel free to comment below. Happy New Year!

My Top 10 film moments of 2016

I’ve missed a few of the major films this year (notably Arrival slipped by me) so instead of doing a top 5 films I’ve instead decided to pick out my favourite moments from films this year, as even the weaker blockbusters like Dawn of Justice had their moments. Enjoy.

Warning: Minor Spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One, Major Spoilers for Batman vs Superman.

10. Jacob and Queenie (Fantastic Beasts) While Newt and Tina were the lifeblood of the film, Jacob and Queenie stole every scene they were in and were undoubtedly its soul, and their pairing was both sweet and believable. Jacob’s smile at the end when Queenie strolls into his bakery and seemingly restores his memory is the icing on the cake for arguably two of the best characters JK Rowling has given us. They better be back in the sequels!

9. Wolverine’s Cameo (X:Men Apocalypse) The X-men series is always accused of over-using Wolverine, and somewhat ironically, his best two appearances have now been cameos (him telling Xavier and Magneto to fuck off in First Class and here, where Wolverine’s psychopathic rampage through Stryker’s bunker reminds us of just how badass/terrifying/awesome the character is). Hugh Jackman now is so intrinsically associated with the character I doubt anyone else will be able to play him for a good 20 years (and they shouldn’t, hopefully next year’s Logan is a worthy send-off to both the character and the actor). Anyway, while Apocalypse was a very fun movie, this was the sequence that will stick in my mind the most.

8.Doomsday battle (Dawn of Justice) Doomsday may have had a completely different origin from the comics, but his threat level was actually genuinely impressive for a superhero film in 2016 (he wasn’t easily beaten in 5 mins in a final confrontation – looking at you Enchantress in Suicide Squad and Kaecilius in Doctor Strange!!!) as Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman team up to stop him and barely survive… and Superman doesn’t. We all know he’ll be back in some form for Justice League but his heroic sacrifice, backed by Hans Zimmer’s haunting ‘This is My World’ still made this a very emotional moment. Also nice to see a superhero film where not every hero makes it out alive (basically EVERY MARVEL FILM EVER apart from X-men), bold move DC, bold move. Even if the first half of the film was a total mess, you did nail the ending.

7. Inside the Case (Fantastic Beasts) The beasts were appropriately the centrepiece of the film, from the cheeky niffler to the amorous Erumpent to the magnificent Thunderbird, with those and many others stunningly showcased in the heartwarming sequence where Next shows Jacob around the inside of his travelling case where he keeps the animals for their own protection. A very sweet interlude in this loveable film.

6.Vader Returns and Kicks Ass (Rogue One) After the tremendous battle of Scarif sequence, Rogue One could have easily ended as the Death Star opened fire. But it didn’t, instead giving us the best scene with Darth Vader since ‘No, I am your father’. Vader’s first scene in the film where he threatens Krennic was tense/awesome in its own right, but the second is full-on terrifying as Vader is unleashed on a group of rebels and scythes through them with brutal ease. It might be the best 40 seconds of cinema in 2016, hell maybe ever. If it wasn’t so short a scene it would have been much higher up the list, but still, damn that that was awesome!

5. The Fight in the Cistern (Inferno) Inferno may have been a relatively weak film, but was saved by its riveting climax as a betrayed Langdon allies with the WHO to try and stop a viral breakout in a cistern in Istanbul. Hans Zimmer’s superb track ‘Cistern’ really makes this a heart-stopper and the divergence from the book really leaves you with no clue how it will play out as Langdon and co fight with Zobrist’s extremists. Hell of an action scene.

4. Everything K2 does (Rogue One) K2 was easily the best character in Rogue One (not that that was easy or anything) and made the film sassier and more hilarious that I’d have ever expected it would be. His constant deadpan humour and the brutal way he took down imperial soldiers were the icing on the cake in one of the best films of the year.

3. Airport Battle (Captain America: Civil War) Civil War was the best superhero film of the year, and its highlight was the fight between Team Cap and Team Iron Man in a deserted airport, which was both highly amusing and seriously cool. Spidey and Ant-Man arguably stole the show, but every character got a chance to shine even if, as usual with Marvel, there weren’t really any lives at stake here. Still, this was a high point of an excellent film – shame they bottled out on giving it a memorable ending afterwards, but still, perfect popcorn cinema here.

2. Batman takes down Superman (Dawn of Justice) Despite the controversial way the fight ended with the whole ‘Martha’ scene, the fight itself between the two giants of the DC universe was the high point of the film. Batman uses a state of the art battlesuit and some Kryptonite gas-grenades to not only pose a genuine threat to superman, but after a titanic struggle, actually beats him. The whole ‘Man VS God’ thing the film was going for paid off beautifully here, even if the film as a whole still has a wealth of problems, this scene alone was worth it.

1. The Battle of Scarif (Rogue One) Wow. Now that is how you do a finale! The battle between the Rebels and the Empire had everything: awesome visuals, high stakes, tension and good direction. An epic way to cap off the first Star Wars spin-off film and without doubt the best sequence in film this year. Well done Gareth Edwards, Felicity Jones et al, this was simply amazing!

I’ve seen a fair few films that don’t have appearances here (Deadpool, Star Trek Beyond, Doctor Strange etc.) but I couldn’t think of any stand-out moments in those films – they are entertaining throughout, but there aren’t any moments of greatness. Suicide Squad was too poor to merit a place here, and I haven’t seen many other films this year, so there may be some omissions.

My Film Awards 2016:

Best Film: Rogue One
Best Director: Gareth Edwards (Rogue One)
Best Script: Captain America Civil War
Best Special Effects: Doctor Strange
Best Soundtrack: James Newton Howard(Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
Best Actress: Felicity Jones (Inferno/Rogue One)
Best Actor: Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool)
Best Voice Actor: Alan Tudyk (Rogue One)
Worst Actor: Jesse Eisenberg (Dawn of Justice)
Worst Actress: Holly Hunter (Dawn of Justice)
Worst Script: Suicide Squad
Worst Director: David Ayer (Suicide Squad)
Worst Soundtrack: Suicide Squad
Worst Film: Suicide Squad (noticing a pattern here? Well done DC…)

My Top Games of 2016

As with last time, this isn’t specifically 2016 releases but rather games I’ve been playing for the first time this year (though all of them have had recent releases). Spoiler-free.

6. F1 2016 (PS4) Formula One, like FIFA, realises a new game every year. Unlike FIFA fans I don’t waste my money buying every single one (Hell, I’ve only purchased 2010, 2012 and 2016) but F1 2016 got strong reviews and looked amazing, and given the lack of racing games on current-gen consoles atm, I gave it try. Boy was I glad I did. As an F1 Simulator, its all you could ever want, with practice, qualifying and the race all tuneable to your personal preferences (you can use aids like automatic gears and racing lines but they are easily switched off if you want the whole experience). Practice sessions now have a point (unlike previous entries) with 3 optional practice programs/mini-games that help you learn the circuit and earn resource points which you can use to upgrade your car. The random weather effects have never looked better or felt more real either (heavy rain is now genuinely challenging). Another welcome addition is the ability to save mid-session, even while on the racetrack, which makes longer-distance races and realistic qualifying sessions less of a challenge. The only slight problem is the AI difficultly, which can jump between difficultly levels somewhat steeply (particularly between Hard and Expert) but its easy enough to fix by altering the game settings in other areas. Admittedly the racing might seem a bit bland if you’re just looking for a fun racer, but for an f1 fan, its a thrilling recreation of the actual sport. Overall, a great F1 sim, though not one that will win you over if you aren’t a f1 fan already.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5. Batman: A Telltale Series (PS4) I’ve really got into Telltale games this year (for those who don’t know, they’re basically interactive episodes which play out dependent on the choices you make in game, with the main gameplay usually composed of quick-time events in the action sequences). The Game of Thrones one from 2014 interested me (as life-or-death choices/plot twists work well in that universe) and Tales from the Borderlands was a hilarious 5-episode romping spin-off from the game series. But its their 5-episode Batman tale that ends up in my games of the year, simply because it does something better than ANY of the Batman films (even the Nolan trilogy) in the way it focuses on the duality of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Its the best I’ve seen it covered and surprisingly the Bruce segments are in a way more memorable that Batman’s as Bruce gets embroiled in a scandal involving his deceased father’s connection to mob boss Carmine Falcone, while supporting Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign. The Batman combat segments vary in quality (an early fight with Catwoman is underwhelming, but fights with new villain ‘Lady Arkham’ late game are very tense) and the best combat sequence in the game is actually where Bruce and Selina Kyle get in a downtown bar brawl. The game has Catwoman, Two-Face, Penguin and Joker (who has a small role but will probably return in the inevitable sequel) in addition to the ‘children of Arkham’ who serve as the main antagonists. A great story makes this the Telltale game to pick if you want to give the series a try. Can’t wait for their Guardians of the Galaxy game next year!

Rating: 4 out of 5

4.Bioshock: The Collection (PS4) We’ve had a fair few remasters this year (Skyrim, The Ezio Collection and Modern Warfare) but the Bioshock Collection has to be the best value of the lot. I brought it to get my hands on the DLC for the third game, Infinite and the collection is simply a delight. Bioshock looks amazing and the sequels are nothing less than cinematic in graphics quality. Several issues involving longer loading screens have been dealt with as well. It doesn’t include 2’s attempt at multiplayer but that’s probably for the best. If you missed this series first time round, don’t repeat that mistake – its a riveting shooter/rpg with a great storyline and superb dlc.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4) Uncharted’s fourth entry (and the final one with Nathan Drake) fixed a lot of the problems I had with the third one. The gameplay wasn’t sacrificed for the sake of the story this time, and this time the story was far more engaging. The exploring element factored in some of the Last of Us’ features such as optional conversations and collectable journal entries, adding considerable replay value. The fact this was theoretically a series finale also added much tension to the story, with the incredible graphics and cinematic score from Henry Jackman making this feel like a movie even more than the previous entries did. A few minor problems aside (the final third of the game is slightly too long and the final boss fight isn’t the best – admittedly a problem most uncharted games have) it’s one of the best in the series if not the best. Should they return to the series, it also gives us a new character  suited to carry on the adventures and if they don’t, it gives me even more confidence for the Last of Us 2.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. Ratchet and Clank (PS4) Part-reboot, part remake of the first game, Ratchet and Clank was a joy to play. It was sheer fun – the guns are as wacky and varied as ever, while some very memorable missions (collecting brains for a blarg scientist has to be the highlight) are complemented by the insanely good visuals. The film may have been a disappointment but this is one of the best games in the series, even if the difficultly is minimal, you’ll have so much fun playing it that it might just be the best way of relaxing 2016 gave gamers.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

1. Shadow of Mordor: Game of the Year Edition (PS4) Ironically, Shadow of Mordor feels like the best Assassin’s Creed game we’ve had in years. The free-climbing, execution style kills, stealth gameplay etc. all feels like what we loved in games like AC II and Brotherhood, while the Lord of the Rings setting and innovative Nemesis system reals adds another level to things. Melee combat is very similar to the Arkham games (if not a touch better implemented) and the whole game feels like a sublime mesh of those two titanic gaming series. The challenge factor is decent too (though not anywhere as high as something like Dark Souls) as failure is punished by your enemies levelling up, to such an extent that if you bugger things up in the early game restarting isn’t the worst idea. The Nemesis system is particularly punishing, as the Ork who survives the most encounters/kills you most often will continually ascend in rank and power till you dispatch him. The dlc included with the GOTY version is worthwhile, the Beast-Lords campaign, while only a few hours long, adds an enjoyable if more of the same storyline with a few interesting monsters like the wretched Graug and the Ghul Matron adding additional challenges, while the Bright Master dlc fills in some backstory to the events of the main game while bringing Sauron to the forefront as never before. Overall, the main game itself is stellar, and the GOTY edition is a fine addition to your collection. Appropriately enough, Shadow of Mordor is my favourite game that I played this year, and i’d thoroughly recommend it to fans of LoTR, the Arkham Series or Assassin’s Creed!

Rating: 5 out of 5!

2017 hopefully should be a good year for games, with hyped sequels such as Injustice 2 and promising new entries like Vampyr. Personally though, I can’t see past Mass Effect: Andromeda… the game we all need after the last 12 months! If we’re lucky, COD might finally remaster MW2, accepting they can’t do any better. Regardless, should be a promising year, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting news on when the Last of Us 2 might come out (end of next year if we’re lucky?).

Star Wars: Rogue One Review

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen and James Earl Jones.

The first half of this is spoiler-free (the only facts mentioned are bits included in the 3 main trailers – and the trailers gave very little away). I’ve included a massive spoiler warning at the halfway point. So first up, the basics.

The force is strong with this one.

Its far superior to episodes 1 and 2. Its better than Return of the Jedi or Force Awakens. It either surpasses or matches 3-5 depending on what order you tend to place them in. Its that good. However – whether you enjoy it as much as I did is dependent on 1 major factor – that you can see past the fact this isn’t a normal Star Wars film.

To explain: there’s no opening crawl (only the ‘in a galaxy far, far away tagline’).You get location descriptions telling you what planet you’re on. John Williams isn’t composing (and very little of his themes are part of the score). There’s about 2 minutes of lightsabre action in the whole thing. The main villain isn’t a Sith Lord. Its missing or barely utilising a lot of the main Star Wars tropes. This may sound like heresy to Star Wars nerds. Indeed it might jar you a bit in the first half of the film. But in the second half you won’t care because you’ll be having far too much fun. The last hour in particular is as good as anything the series has ever given us.

The acting is stellar throughout, with Felicity Jones delivering a Daisy Ridley worthy powerhouse of a performance as lead character Jyn Erso. (Star Wars is getting a great track record with female action heroes – well, ignoring Natalie Portman anyway!) The other rebels in the Rogue One team are all memorable, with Luna’s morally conflicted Cassian, Ahmed’s nervous defector Bodhi and Jiang Wen’s badass mercenary Baze making a believable band of rebels. However its Donnie Yen’s spiritual warrior and Alan Tudyk’s reprogrammed imperial droid K2 who will really stick in your memory. K2 May even be the best robotic character Star Wars has ever given us (yes even including R2 and BB8). He’s certainly the funniest. The humour in general is one of the film’s main strengths. Its VERY sassy in places, with a mixture of deadpan humour and physical comedy from K2 the icing on the cake. You will not have laughed this much during a Star Wars film before (except maybe at the awful dialogue and effects in the prequels. Fortunately the CGI in this is exceptional and barring one or two clunky speeches, the dialogue’s not bad either).

The supporting cast are just as stellar as the main, with Ben Mendelsohn’s ambitious, power hungry, imperial officer Krennic being one of the most memorable non-Sith villains in the series (he certainly puts General Hux from Force Awakens to shame, and is a far better-developed character than say, Dooku or Grievous). Mads Mikkelsen is good as always as Jyn’s father, despite his lack of screentime. The returning characters from Revenge of the Sith and a New Hope were also nice to see (lots more on them later).

As for the production itself, director Gareth Edwards deserves a lot of credit, the film looks amazing from start to finish, the action set pieces and battle scenes in particular standing out – the final battle on Scarif is awe-inspiring. The set design and CGI blend nicely in a way the first two prequels failed to achieve – we’re talking Revenge of the Sith level visuals with Force Awakens level realism – its more than a winning combination. The script is also, very, very good, giving us the right mix of ‘more of the same but something new’ than Force Awakens lost by playing it too safe. Its all self-contained as well, there’s no mysteries that won’t be explained till a future film to annoy you (again, looking at you Force Awakens!). The one thing that doesn’t quite work is Michael Giacchino’s score. The soundtrack itself would be very good for another sci-fi or action film, but underuses John Williams existing themes more than it probably should have, and in the first half in particular, this may vex you. It is a very good score, but not really a star wars one.

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS INCOMING!

Now onto specifics.

Let’s start with Vader. First off – that base was on Mustafar?!!? Talk about feels! His two scenes in the film were both awesome uses of the character – he hasn’t been that intimidating since Episode V! The scene with him at the end in particular… that is how lightsabre combat should be done! There was only two minutes of it but god it rocked!

That said – Vader wasn’t the only returning bad guy who stole the film. Grand Moff Tarkin, appearing for the first time since New Hope, lent a real sense of menace to proceedings (and will doubtless make you look at his character in Episode IV with total loathing). All the more surprising given his actor, Peter Cushing, has been dead for twenty years. Instead his likeness is CGI implanted over Guy Henry’s performance, and while this could have been a disastrous gimmick, it actually looks pretty decent and really adds another level to proceedings and gives Krennic’s character an equal to face off with. It really elevates Tarkin from a one-shot character to one of the series’ signature villains.

Giving Bail Organa a cameo was a nice touch even if he didn’t do much – this film is the perfect way to tie Revenge of the Sith and New Hope together, and touches like that add to the experience. There’s some pretty famous faces on the rebel council too (Barristan Selmy from Thrones and Anderson from Sherlock! Too many fandom crossovers!) The CGI-Leia may not have looked as good as Tarkin, but giving her the final word seemed appropriate.

Now the ending. In an era where every bloody Marvel film refuses to take any risks with character deaths *COUGH * CIVIL WAR! *COUGH* and Doctor Who showrunners repeatedly wimp out of killing off companions (Moffat and Davies!!!) the bleakness of the ending was all the more shocking, even surpassing Revenge of the Sith’s second half for emotional distress. I expected that not everyone would make it, but I didn’t expect that even Jyn and Cassian would die as well (there goes my theory about Rey’s parentage. Bugger.) Arguably though, the film is much stronger for it and I doubt you’ll forget the final scenes anytime soon (even Krennic staring up at the Death Star had a tragic feel to it). The whole ‘sacrifice for the greater good’ and ‘hope against impossible odds’ themes are proper Star Wars, and this film had both of those in spades, and the ending combines both to create something truly special. Well done scriptwriters, you aced it!

Overall, like Revenge of the Sith, it has its problems but for the most part I don’t give a damn. Yes, some of the dialogue is clunky and the music doesn’t fit all that well, but at the end of it, the humour, charm, top-notch acting and phenomenal action scenes are what this will be remembered for. That and its bleak ending. Not perfect, but pretty close.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 – A flawed masterpiece.

I think this may be my second favourite Star Wars film. As good as New Hope and Empire Strikes Back are, I’ve only gotten this level of excitement from Revenge of the Sith. Only the fact its not a true Star Wars film keeps it below that.

Wow Episode 8… now you have a REALLY tough act to follow. May the Force be with You.

Final thought: this is what Suicide Squad should have fucking felt like. The two films have equally praiseworthy ensembles and are part of a much bigger film universe, but Rogue One aces the humour, good script, exciting set-pieces and interesting plotline where Suicide Squad failed repeatedly. Someone please make sure David Ayer watches this before he makes the Suicide Squad sequel!

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton and Colin Farrell

Warning: Spoilers!

I went into this with reasonably low expectations (it felt like another needless Hollywood cash grab, like splitting the Hobbit into 3, and I wasn’t that enthralled by the trailers). My main point of reservation was basing a Harry Potter spin-off around a character only briefly referenced in the books, in a setting that surely wouldn’t match the lustre and wonder of Hogwarts. There seemed far more obvious candidates for a spin-off than Newt Scamander (looking back at James, Lupin and Sirius’ time at Hogwarts for instance). All things considered though, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.

Eddie Redmayne’s winning performance as  Newt makes for a lead character you never hesitate to root for, with his clumsy and socially awkward, yet wise and caring personality in some ways reminding me of Matt Smith’s Doctor. The other leads are also brought to life well, Katherine Watson’s downtrodden auror Tina instantly wins your sympathy, while her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) is a talented legitimens who is both adorable, funny and immensely likeable. However, surprisingly, its the muggle (or No-Maj) Jacob Kowalski who along with Newt is the heart and soul of this film – he’s extremely funny and charming and his friendship with Newt is perfectly portrayed. Indeed, the humour is probably the best thing about the movie – its easily the wittiest thing JK Rowling has written. Dan Fogler’s comic timing in particular, is perfect, and the adorable Niffler steals the show at every opportunity. The magical creatures in general are a high point of the movie, all are memorable and Newt’s love for them shines through beautifully.

It doesn’t all work, the second Salemers subplot doesn’t really go anywhere (Samantha Morton’s character seems especially pointless – unlike the Dursleys, her hatred of magic is never satisfactorily explained nor is her performance particularly memorable). The casting in general, while good with the four leads, lacks the magic touch that made the Harry Potter ensemble so special. Colin Farrell as Graves really lacks the sense of menace that a Voldemort, Bellatrix or Umbridge brought to the role of lead villain. Johnny Depp may only be on screen for 1 minute as Grindelwald, but he doesn’t look or feel like a natural choice for the role, and most of the supporting American No-maj characters in particular seem very, very bland.

One thing that does excel is James Newton Howard’s score, which is easily up there with Nicholas Hooper and John Williams’ work for Harry Potter (far surpassing Alexandre Desplat’s). The visuals are equally amazing, the various magical creatures all looking believable and outlandish at the same time, while the magic is still as enrapturing as ever. The only thing that doesn’t really excite you is the New York backdrop – it’s just no comparison to Hogwarts and is so overused in movies and TV at the moment that as a setting it feels a bit of an unoriginal choice. Nevertheless, I don’t mind it being set in America, as giving us a view of a new part of the wizarding world was interesting and the 1920’s time period was memorable by itself.

I know some people who didn’t like this because its too different from Harry Potter, and yes, that is true, but it has great potential as a series regardless, and Rowling hasn’t lost her touch at writing an engaging story. In short, the humour, charismatic leads, adorable creatures, stunning magic and the sheer charm of the thing are more than enough reason to give this film a chance and judge the spin-off series on its own merits.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Overall a charming, funny and often magical return to the Harry Potter universe, even if the acting isn’t as stellar as the original series in places and the American setting doesn’t quite have the special feeling you got from Hogwarts. Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler are a classic odd couple double act, and I sincerely hope Kowalski, Queenie and Tina return in the sequel.

As promised in my look back at the Harry Potter films, here’s my view of what happens if I had to place the books/films in order, including Fantastic Beasts in the film list:

Books:

1. Prisoner of Azkaban
2. Half-Blood Prince
3. Goblet of Fire
4. Deathly Hallows
5. Chamber of Secrets
6. Philosopher’s Stone
7. Order of the Phoenix

Films

1. Deathly Hallows Part 2
2. Goblet of Fire
3. Order of the Phoenix
4. Prisoner of Azkaban
5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
6. Half-Blood Prince
7. Chamber of Secrets
8. Philosopher’s Stone
9. Deathly Hallows Part 1

As you can see, apart from the first two entries, the films adaptations shift my perspective a lot! Overall I must say I slightly prefer the films in all cases bar two (Prisoner of Azkaban and Half-Blood Prince – which I love so much no film version was going to match them), while Fantastic Beasts sits comfortably mid-table.

I’ll be on a temporary break from reviews for two weeks due to university coursework, but I’ll be back around the 17th with my review of Star Wars: Rogue One!

Harry Potter:Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows (Parts 1+2) Review

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Obviously spoilers.

In my view, Half-Blood Prince was Rowling’s redemption from the decidedly sub-par Order of the Phoenix. The overarching main story is far better plotted, it doesn’t seem overlong, the right mix of light and dark themes is back, we get a good Quidditch subplot for the first time since Prisoner of Azkaban; in short, there’s a lot to love here. The pensieve sequences are interesting as is the character of Horace Slughorn, while the Harry-Ginny and Ron-Lavender pairings manage to be more interesting than Harry-Cho ever was (and about half as frustrating). Dumbledore’s death, heartbreaking though it was to read, seems not only narratively justified (unlike with Sirius in the last one) but also merited by the whole book foreshadowing and building up to it . All in all… there’s almost nothing I can think of to criticise here. The only downside in the whole book is the mistake Rowling made in the series as a whole: pairing Ron and Hermione (or specifically making Hermione have a crush on Ron – the other way round is significantly was more believable). As that’s a fault of the series though, I won’t mark the book down for it.

The film’s choices of what to cut and what to keep seem misguided for the first time in a while. It needlessly adds two (not very good) action sequences in the opening attack in London and the assault on the Weasley home. What exactly was the point of these? The threat Voldemort poses to the muggle world was far better presented in the chapter ‘The Other Minister’ which starts the book, while the Weasley’s home is rebuilt without so much as a passing comment in the next film – so why should we feel sad about it? The fact that it takes out the book’s final battle between the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters in Hogwarts makes it very underwhelming by comparison, and the previous two action sequences if intended to make up for this are very poor compensation.

Fortunately, the rest of the film has its heart in the right place. The emotion is something it gets spot on, with Radcliffe, Watson, Felton, Rickman and Gambon all giving winning and by various levels heart-breaking performances as the film builds to arguably the saddest moment in the series. Dumbledore’s death is exactly the gut-punch it needed to be, superbly aided by Nicholas Hooper’s track ‘Dumbledore’s Farewell’ which ties with ‘Professor Umbridge’ as his best work for the soundtrack (indeed the entire score is memorable and, while lacking the grandeur of John Williams, is arguably my favourite score in the whole series). Jim Broadbent is perfect as the amiable if misguided Horace Slughorn (whoever the casting director was for this series hopefully got paid A LOT! They never put a foot wrong!) and Ron’s romance with Lavender Brown feels believable (unfortunately a hell of a more believable than the Ron-Hermione pairing in the film, but that’s totally the books fault, so I won’t blame the film for it as well). Its also arguably one of the funniest entries in the series, as all the teen angst makes for some great romantic comedy (Rupert Grint is brilliant as Ron under the spell of a love potion, Harry taking Luna as a date to Slughorn’s party was always going to be hilarious) which makes the film a very odd mix of lightness (in the first half) and darkness (in the second) but somehow, they get the balance right and the two halves complement each other well.

Book Rating: 5 out of 5!

Film Rating: 4 out of 5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The final book in the series covers new ground, but not all of it works that well. The first half in particular is awfully slow paced, and the lack of the Hogwarts setting for 2/3 of the book makes this feel like a far less magical entry. The interim between the Ministry of Magic and Gringotts sequences really lags, and having Ron turn his back, however temporarily, on Harry and Hermione feels like a real disservice to the character. Speaking of disservices to characters, a lot of character deaths feel largely pointless, particularly Dobby, Tonks and Lupin. Obviously you need character deaths for any sense of threat, but there were literally hundreds of others to pick from. Its by no means a bad entry in the series, with Snape’s characterisation, Harry and Voldemort’s confrontation and the whole Deathly Hallows idea deserving a lot of praise. As a series finale though… you just feel it could have been better.

The decision to split the final film feels more justified than some multi-part stories (cough *3 hobbit films* cough) but it has an unfortunate side effect in that all the weak parts of the book are in the first half of the film, and despite some cool scenes (the sky chase, the ministry of magic escape), there aren’t enough good set pieces to hold your attention, and apart from one or two instances (Harry and Hermione in the Graveyard, the Polyjuice potion sequence) the character moments don’t spark that much either. Coupled with the fact that the film features THREE major character deaths, none of which have as much of an impact as they should: Mad-Eye’s is off screen, Hedwig’s is never mentioned again after it happens, and Dobby’s is let down by Alexandre’s Desplat’s extremely underwhelming score (save Obliviate, Snape to Malfoy Manor and Godric’s Hollow Graveyard, the music really isn’t that memorable – the first and only time in the series this occurs). The film is further hampered by the lack of an obvious place to split the book (no big moments in the book work as cliffhangers) unlike say Mockingjay, which at least had an immensely good twist to end part 1 on. Voldemort seizing the Elder Wand was a cool scene, but hardly a memorable way to end things, (not that I blame them for choosing it, the skirmish at Malfoy Manor wasn’t substantial enough to work either).

The second part is a completely different beast, which not only gets going that much more quickly (Gringotts is a great sequence in it’s own right), but is enthralling from start to finish. The score from Desplat is MUCH better too, with loads of memorable tracks (Statues, Broomsticks and Fire, Courtyard Apocalypse, Severus and Lily, Voldemort’s End etc.) – he may be no John Williams, but Desplat excels at making the action sequences pack an emotional punch. Visually, the Battle of Hogwarts is stunning (and is more believable than the book version – I also appreciated the final battle more, even if it was a shame to lose some of the excellent dialogue between Voldemort and Harry). Snape, Malfoy and Neville are probably the standout performances among the supporting cast (any answer as to why Rickman didn’t win more awards for his performance as Snape?)while Radcliffe is at his best throughout as Harry. Hermione doesn’t get as much to do as I’d like (though at least she gives Harry a proper goodbye when he goes into the forest to die – what the hell Ron?) and Rupert Grint’s contribution is mainly notable for providing two of the best lines (That’s my girlfriend you numpties!/If we die for them Harry i’m going to kill you!) but otherwise Ron is just as sidelined compared to the other two as he has been in all the later films save Half-Blood Prince. Overall, however, the film is pretty much perfect as a finale to the series (it bests Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit etc. as an example of how to be a satisfying finale while also not wasting half an hour of the audience’s time wrapping things up – Peter Jackson PLEASE take note).

One last question: why the hell doesn’t Harry point the Elder Wand at the broken castle and say ‘Reparo’ before he snaps it? Harry is a moron.

Book Rating: 4 out of 5

Part 1 Film Rating: 3 out of 5

Part 2 Film Rating: 5 out of 5!

Now there is only one question to answer: how will Fantastic Beasts stack up in comparison? I’ll include two lists ranking all the books and the films in order in that review, so watch out for it tomorrow!

Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix Review

Part 2 of my look back. Spoilers, but seriously, how have people not watched/read these??!?

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The fourth book in the series was almost as memorable for me as the third, with the Triwizard tournament, Quidditch world cup and Professor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody providing some very iconic moments in the book. Narratively, it’s probably the second most important book, only exceeded by the finale. A lot of stuff happens here that pays off in the last three books: we’re introduced to the Death Eaters and some members of the Order of the Phoenix, Fudge turns against Dumbledore, Harry’s training for the third task prepares him for his future leadership of the DA and most importantly, Voldemort finally returns to power. Rowling’s careful plotting never stumbles, nor does she ever fail to tell an engaging story. By far the longest of the first four books, it does get a bit too bogged down in the interlude between the first and second tasks (while the Yule Ball is important for the character development of Harry, Ron and Hermione, it gets more prominence than it needs). Moody serves as a worthy, if not equal, successor to Lupin, with the DADA teacher once again being the stand-out character of the book, while Hagrid’s Care of Magical creatures classes are even funnier this time round, with Blast-Ended Screwts and Nifflers. And to top it all off, Malfoy gets turned into a ferret. Need I say more?

For me, this is the first time they nailed one of the films and struck the right balance between being true to the books (unlike Prisoner of Azkaban) and cutting enough to avoid having too many cumbersome subplots and unnecessary scenes (like Chamber of Secrets). The set pieces are amazing (the First and Second Tasks being two of the most striking in the series), the costume and set design are perfect (the outfits of the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students are particularly memorable) and the scene in the Graveyard between Harry and Voldemort is arguably the best interaction between the hero and antagonist in the entire series. The casting is spot on as always, with Brendan Gleeson nailing the role of Alastor Moody, Ralph Fiennes giving us the most menacing of his four appearances as Voldemort and David Tennant showing hints of his aptitude for playing villains (later used to far greater results as Kilgrave in Jessica Jones) in his brief role as Barty Crouch jr.. Hell, even Robert Pattinson isn’t bad as Cedric Diggory – getting the slightly arrogant but still likeable vibe I got from the character in the books.

All that said, the film does have one or two issues in adapting the fourth book (the Third Task is nowhere near as memorable as it was in the novel), the decision to not show the Quidditch world cup is bizarre (I can only suspect the other set pieces used up too much money) Sirius’ role is considerably reduced and Dumbledore’s OTT reaction to Harry’s name being in the Goblet is infamously misplayed (whether that is down to Gambon, the director or the scriptwriter I don’t know, but everyone pokes fun at it when comparing the books to the films). That said, those are the only problems I have with it. The film improves on the book as much as it fumbles some points from it, so overall, I’d say the two are pretty equal.

Book Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Film Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

For the most part, my views of the books and films have been pretty consistent. This is one exception – I really don’t like the book, but by comparison the film is marvellous.

Why don’t I like the book? Several reasons: its too long (the longest in the series at over 700 pages), too depressing (even books 6 and 7 have more moments of lightness, this one is more bleak than some game of thrones novels) and it kills off one of my favourite characters (in what I would argue was a very unnecessary and underwhelming way). There’s a multitude of narrative issues: the whole Harry-Cho romance is frustrating rather than engaging, there’s a real lack of humour and lightness compared to previous entries (thank God for Fred and George – their antics are about the only reason I ever smiled while reading this book) and a few odd plot choices (would Dumbledore really have chosen Snape to teach Harry Occlumency? Knowing of their mutual hatred like he did its a very baffling decision – up there with hiring Lockhart as a blunder that someone as wise as Dumbledore really shouldn’t have made). My biggest gripe with the book, however, has to be Sirius’ death. Rowling considered killing several characters at this point in the series, including Mr. Weasley and even Ron (I still maintain the minority opinion that killing Ron mid-series would have been easier to deal with and more narratively rewarding – especially because it would have got rid of the awful Ron-Hermione pairing), but Sirius’ demise feels both premature and foolhardy (only my love for Half-Blood Prince as a novel made me partially forgive Rowling). He had far greater potential than he was ever used for (if he had to die, I personally think it should have been in book 7 instead of Lupin/Tonks, whose deaths are nearly as pointless as Sirius’ in this book) and his death serves little function (can’t you leave Harry one fucking father figure??) – if the purpose was to demoralize Harry going into the last two books, I’d have preferred having him reconcile with Cho and then killing her off in the ending. Much better – alas that’s what fanfiction’s for 😉 Anyway, pro-Sirius rant over.

Why is the film so much better? Again, several reasons: it cuts out of lot of unnecessary subplots such as Umbridge banning Harry from Quidditch, the whole St Mungo’s sequence and Umbridge’s failed attempt to forcibly expel Hagrid, all of which added to the relentlessly depressing nature of the book (did Rowling have a bad year while writing it?) The film injects a sense of fun into the DA meetings (helped hugely by Ginny and Neville’s expanded role and the spot-on casting of Luna Lovegood – Evanna Lynch is simply wonderful). On casting, Imelda Staunton nails Umbridge as a character – you can tell she’s having a whale of a time throughout, particularly in her interactions with Snape and McGonagall. Helena Bonham Carter also makes the most of her role as Bellatrix Lestrange, who in some ways is a far more despicable character than Voldemort himself. The new director David Yates settles into his role comfortably, and despite the lack of grand set pieces like in the last film, it’s very visually impressive (the set design for the Ministry of Magic is particularly memorable). Nicholas Hooper takes over as composer, and the Professor Umbridge theme ranks as one of the best pieces in the series, even if the score as a whole is merely effective rather than memorable. My only problem with the film is how little of the fight in the ministry in the book (one of the redeeming parts of the novel) makes it into the film. Given it’s the second shortest entry in the series, surely they could have found 10 minutes to include more of Harry and his friends putting their DA training to use/the Order of the Phoenix battling the death eaters. On the flip side, they got the Voldemort/Dumbledore fight and Harry’s possession sequence perfect.

Book Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Film Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next up, the final two books and three films tomorrow, before my review of Fantastic Beast on Sunday!