Review: Last Vegas

Billed as The Hangover for pensioners, my first cinema trip this year was to see Last Vegas. With a central cast of Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, the “Flatbush Four” head to Vegas to celebrate the marriage of Billy (Michael Douglas) and his 31-year-old fiancée (of course), where they meet Diana (Mary Steenburgen), a lounge singer in a casino.

The bulk of the film feels very predictable, with the first 30 minutes introducing the characters and their respective problems. The tone of the film is light, and there doesn’t ever seem a doubt that each problem won’t be left resolved. Some jokes you can see coming a mile off, and in a world where the shock factor seems to be the highest indicator of laughs, a change of pace on that front is not necessarily a bad thing.

Once the foursome arrive in Vegas, the predictability continues with gambling, parties, scantily clad women, and rather creepily, the Flatbush Four judging a bikini contest of girls young enough to be their grandchildren.

One gripe I do have is that what should have been the films biggest laughs, were left a little stale for me as they were featured in the trailer, which by the time the screening rolled around, I had seen more times than I care to count. The average cinema-goer doesn’t go to the cinema quite as often as I do, and judging by the laughs the gags still got, I was perhaps the only person who felt these certain jokes had become over-worn.

With six Academy Awards between the four main actors and Mary Steenburgen, the film is expectedly well-acted. Robert De Niro in particular stands out, stealing most scenes he is in, providing the emotion throughout the film as well as plenty of laughs.

Leaving predictability and perversion aside, Last Vegas is still a pretty good comedy film, more than matching recent comedy films I’ve seen (Anchorman 2 not standing). Whereas some recent comedies have jokes which are few and far between, Last Vegas keeps the jokes coming, and all feel well-timed and at the right level.

7.0

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Review: 400 Days

My journey with the Walking Dead began with Telltale Games’ standout game series, released in spring 2012. I’d always meant to start watching the show, start reading the books, but it was the game that really launched me into it.

The game really was everything I’d ever wanted from a game. I remember as a kid picking up a pre-owned copy of Final Fantasy IX, just because it was cheap, then becoming ridiculously excited in the opening scenes. You were asked a question, then given a choice with what to answer with. A choice! The game was giving you options!

From that moment on, I always looked out for games that gave you options. To me, there was (and even, there is) nothing more exciting than shaping the plot of a game. To get a different experience to someone else makes the games more realistic, in my opinion. People’s lives aren’t the same, so why should their game lives be?

The Walking Dead game strikes me as the perfect example of why choice-based games are brilliant. No choice specific trophies means that a platinum was possible even for a trophy whore like myself. The Heavy Rain trophy list meant you couldn’t just stand by your decisions – you had to play through and opt for decisions you’d never made before, but with the Walking Dead, you really have to live with the consequences of your actions.

Brilliant voice acting and a fantastic storyline really made me love the Walking Dead game. In a list of my favourite games of 2012, it would definitely be in the top five, if not taking the top spot for itself.

It was set to be a long wait between season 1 and season 2, when the 400 Days DLC pack was announced.

The DLC is set at various points after the initial outbreak of walkers, and is from the viewpoints of five different characters. The game mechanics are exactly the same, unfortunately down to the lags at crucial points. The five character viewpoint shows you how the outbreak has affected those from all walks of life, from the schoolboy to the criminal.

As an introduction to new characters, 400 Days works perfectly, giving away just enough of each character’s pasts to leave you intrigued. My only criticism, lagging aside, is that by spreading the already short DLC across five characters, you don’t really have much time to really grow attached to any of the characters. Sure, after playing there are characters I have a soft spot for, but none of them come close to the torch I was holding for Lee or Clem at the end of the first episode of the first season.

What I really love about 400 Days, and about the series as a whole, is the immediacy with decision making. This can lead to some decisions being made that you will later fully regret, but what a parallel to real life!

400 Days has fully whetted my appetite for the Walking Dead game franchise once more, and I know will spawn many more conversations between my friends once they get round to playing the game. I look forward to seeing how the new characters will deal with the wide world, and just where they’re headed to and what’s waiting for them there.

8.5

Review: Monsters University

Glastonbury festival is universally known for having something for everyone. As a film lover, I’m always interested in what’s on offer at the Glastonbury cinema, the Pilton Palais. Unfortunately, as most of it clashes with the musical acts, I don’t see many films there; in fact, of the two times I’ve been to Glastonbury, I’ve only seen two films at the Palais, both Pixar offerings.

Historically, Glastonbury has a way of obtaining the rights to early previews of Pixar films. In 2008 they showed Wall-E, and back in 2010, when I went, the Palais hosted a preview screening of Toy Story 3, six months before the film was due for general release. This year it was the turn of Monsters University, Pixar’s first prequel.

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Previous experience with the Toy Story 3 screening had taught me that these previews tend to garner a huge crowd. Not wanting to miss out, we turned up over an hour early for the showing and waited it out in the queue with the daily paper. Sitting in the queue and subsequently the tent, you really soak up the atmosphere; lots of excited children, and plenty more excited adults.

The film got off to a bad start with some technical difficulties (which also occurred later on too), but where a cinema audience might have complained, the festival viewers remained in high spirits with the children keeping themselves entertained making monster noises.

Once the film finally got underway (and later technical difficulties aside), it was much more than I hoped it would be. What could easily have strayed into an unnecessary Cars 2-esque sequel, was actually a charming new exploration of much-loved characters a la Toy Story.

Monsters University creates a real shift into the perception of characters. I’ve never been much of a Mike fan, seeing his character in Monsters, Inc. as a bossy control freak, who frankly, was a bit of a jerk. Monsters University really changed my opinion of Mike, and also Sully who goes from a loveable giant, to the atypical college burnout, who constantly butts heads with Mike.

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As the film and plot unravel, it is interesting to see the dynamic between Mike and Sully change, as the two go from rivals to develop the basis of the true friendship we all know from Monsters, Inc. The viewer is left with a deeper understanding of what drives the characters in the first film, including Randall, though he does not feature heavily in Monsters University.

The film is a great addition to the Pixar catalogue, and got me a lot more interested in the Monsters, Inc. world than I was before. The film is funny in all the right places, and as tense in parts as animated films get. Any reservations I had about the film were quickly dissipated as the film went on, and I have been telling anyone who will listen just how good the film is.

8.0

Review: Lawless

“If you enjoyed Public Enemies, you’ll love Lawless”. Never has a sentence filled me with so much dread. I can’t bear Public Enemies. I thought it was really awful, and have often cited it as one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. I always try to go into the cinema with an open mind, I’ve often been surprised by films that I have previously had low expectation of, but with Lawless I just couldn’t shake off the looming Public Enemies shaped cloud threatening to ruin my evening.

Lawless depicts the true story of the Bondurant brothers, a entrepreneurial trio involved in bootlegging moonshine during the prohibition. Starring Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf as the principle characters, Lawless also boasts an impressive supporting cast, with Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska as love interests, Guy Pearce as the main antagonist, and Gary Oldman as gangster Floyd Banner.

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As Lawless commenced, any fears that I was about to waste another two hours of my life on a true story gangster-esque film were dissipated. One of my main problems with Public Enemies was that not much happened during the whole film, there seemed to be plenty of Christian Bale chasing Johnny Depp around and not a lot else. Lawless couldn’t be further from this. I found the plot of the film to be perfectly paced, with the right amount of romance and comedy moments.

Comedy in a “serious” film is always a minefield, too much and no-one takes the rest of the film seriously, too little and it can be seen as too dry. Lawless does comedy perfectly. Tom Hardy plays his role brilliantly, as the brooding head of the family, and it felt like most of the comedic moments came from him. Hardy proves once again just how great an actor he is by communicating more in single syllables and noises than most people can in a sentence, and often receiving the most laughs.

Whilst the film does have its laughs, it can never be said that it is anything remotely close to a comedy. The comedic interludes between the graphic scenes of violence provide a stark contrast, proving what a difficult era the Bondurants lived in.

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As a whole, I loved the film. The setting was perfect – breathtaking views and authentic Western towns. The film also benefited from being perfectly cast, with the tension really obvious between LaBeouf’s character and his two brothers. I could really empathise with each of the characters, an ode to their development throughout the film. In fact, at one point when Guy Pearce’s Charlie Rakes turns up, there was an almost pantomime audible gasp throughout the cinema – showing just how much fear everyone had for the lives of the Bondurants. I can’t remember the last time I was more pleasantly surprised by a film, 21 Jump Street perhaps.

My only gripes with the film itself lie within the opening scenes – the accent took me a little longer to get used to than I’d like, but that’s my problem rather than the film itself, and I didn’t miss out on any important details and quickly adjusted to it. The biggest problem I have is with the films trailer. I think it’s incredibly unrepresentative of the screen time each actor gets; Gary Oldman being a prime example. However, if the only problem I can pick with a film is that its trailer was misleading, then I think I’ll let it off.

7.5

Review: Ted

This past weekend, I went to see Ted, the feature-length directorial debut of Family Guy and American Dad creator, Seth MacFarlane. Based on what I’d read previously to seeing the film, I was excited. Critics promised the film was funny, that the trailer didn’t do it justice. I hadn’t thought much of the trailer, so I was relieved to hear that the film would surpass it in terms of funniness.

All I knew of the film before seeing it was a loose plot synopsis, and it’s three main stars, so as a huge Community fan, it was a pleasant surprise to see Joel McHale pop up in the role of a sleazy boss to Mila Kunis’ character, Lori. Cameo appearances continued to be a recurring theme throughout the film, and as the comedy failed to live up to expectations, were probably my favourite thing about it.

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As expected from MacFarlane, there are a lot of parallels between Ted and his TV shows. Full of references to American culture, it will be something fans are used to, but the more obscure references will leave non-American fans cold.

As an occasional Family Guy watcher, and an even more occasional American Dad watcher, I feel like I knew what to expect from Ted. Where it could’ve been controversial and edgy, I’d already seen it done before, and better, in MacFarlane’s previous work.

Leaving the cinema, Ted left me with a strange feeling. I laughed at it, sure, but was I laughing at the film, or the girl with the most infectiously amazing laugh who was sat behind me? Usually with comedies, I’ll come out, remembering my favourite jokes for days to come, but this feeling is absent with Ted. I remember the jokes very vaguely, and seem to remember enjoying a particular cameo more than some of them. Even more surprisingly, the things I found wrong with the film haven’t even stuck in my mind. As a strange paradox, this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the film. At no point did I feel like it was dragging, or that I was bored, I just found it to be quite mediocre and entirely forgettable.

5.0