4K Runner: An Xbox One X review.

The Xbox One has had a hard time of it in recent years, early teething problems, unpopular creative decisions and a decided lack of exclusive AAA titles threatened to ostracise the Microsoft faithful and resulted in the Xbox One holding a second place to Sony’s Playstation 4 for the majority of its lifetime. Last year saw the release of the Xbox One S, a smaller, streamlined redesign of the Xbox One with native support for 4K video and the ability to upscale older Xbox One titles, with this however also came the promise of something muncher bigger on the horizon, it’s name at that time, Project Scorpio, now known to us as Xbox One X.

The Xbox One X is a tantalising prospect to the avid gamer, the most powerful games console ever constructed, capable of delivering native 4K video output and the ability to convey HDR colour, an impressive 6 teraflop GPU to facilitate games that will convey a new benchmark in realism and immersion, to give an unparalleled gaming experience unlike any other in the console gaming market, outmatching Sony’s PlayStation Pro in graphical processing power and its lack of 4K blu-ray support, but here’s the rub, it ain’t cheap. Firstly, to enjoy Xbox One X you will need a 4K television with HDR-10 capability to completely enjoy what this remarkable console has to offer, anything less would be fairly pointless if you are about to part ways with a good £500 for a new console only to connect it to a TV that won’t do it justice and that is the next issue, the Xbox One X on its own will set you back £450, this may sound expensive on paper but when you factor in the power of this home entertainment system, the fact you will also have a 4K blu-ray player to boot, it is actually great value for money. Now if you have the capability to support Xbox One X, should you invest? If you own only an original Xbox One then wholeheartedly yes, if you stumped for an Xbox One S there may be less of an incentive to upgrade again so soon.

When playing a game for the first time on Xbox One X, it is an astonishing experience. I loaded up and tried both Gears Of War 4 & Assassins Creed: Origins and the 4K effect is jaw-droppingly palpable. The visuals are remarkably clear and astonishingly vibrant thanks to HDR doing its thing. Simple things like traversing the desert in AC:O to see heat shimmer and plumes of sand blow in the wind is incredible to behold for the first time, I really can’t emphasise this enough, it’s a new benchmark in console gaming. Yes, 4K upgrades files for games are large and if you have a broadband limit, as a contributing factor, this may not be the console for you but the effort is most certainly worth it. The machine works fast, load times on some older games is significantly improved, it is whisper quiet even when working full pelt and takes up significantly less storage space beneath your TV than it’s older counterpart. The added bonus of the machine acting as a 4K blu-ray player cannot be discounted either, I watched The Revenant through it as a test because it is such a beautiful film anyway, it is utterly jaw-dropping in 4K and the Xbox One X does the task admirably despite early complaints to the contrary which Microsoft promptly resolved with an update.

In my humble opinion, the Xbox One X is going to do huge business for Microsoft, it really is an incredible piece of technology and if you have the TV and money to spend on it, you could do a lot worse in a new console purchase. It is still early days for the Xbox One X and the dawn of true 4K home console gaming but my god has it made one hell of a first impression.

Advertisements

From Strength To Strength: A State Of The MCU Address.


As some of you may remember, earlier this year I wrote a similar post regarding the DC cinematic universe, it only seemed right to examine their closest rivals with the same scrutiny. It can be argued, and is, a lot, that the MCU is much better than the DCCU, better conceived, better realised, a generally better output and success quota if you will. On an artistic level, I can’t possibly comment to that effect because I just don’t think it’s strictly true personally, however, on a gradient of continued commercial AND critical success, Marvel Studios continues to lead in leaps and bounds. To comment on the MCU’s continued success it would only be right to go back into it’s recent history to examine why this is the case, to do that, we should probably go back to 2008.

Marvel has had its own movie studio since 1993, then known as Marvel films, not that it would have been massively noticeable prior to the late noughtees, after many years of licensing it’s best content out to other studios, Marvel took the plunge of reinvigorating their own ailing film studio by announcing the production of an Iron Man movie, this would be the first of many Marvel Studios productions and the beginning of their pre-planned phase release schedule. A year later, Marvel was purchased by The Walt Disney Company which heralded a big turning point for the future of the MCU. In Marvels ‘Phase 1’ portfolio we were given film outings of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and tied it all up with the formation of The Avengers. Using phase 1 for origin stories afforded Marvel the luxury of allowing a new audience to become familiar with these characters and end it all with a big event movie featuring all of them. With the odd blip, the phasing plan was a resounding success. As we know, this is a model that DC have used in dribs and drabs for at least 3 of their flagship characters in the lead up to Justice League but it has been nowhere near as concentrated or focused as when utilised by Marvel Studios, it has been a massive part in their success.

Since then Marvel have actively reacquired much of their licensed out I.P and taken their phasing approach to new and increasingly successful highs, the current phase 3 output seemingly placing a full stop to the MCU as we currently know it and very little announced past that other than a new Guardians Of The Galaxy. With a trend of assessing, augmenting and evolving their output as they go, it wouldn’t be remiss to assume at least some thematic changes for the MCU in the upcoming years. 

When we try to look for other reasons as to the secret of the MCU’s continued success, one prime reason is undoubtedly their partnership with Disney. It has afforded them the best writers, directors, creative minds, technological magic and support the industry can offer, the same can be said of the Star Wars franchise. For all the fanboy booing at the time of its announcement, it can not be denied that this union as has been fruitful and massively rewarding for studio bigwigs & fans alike.

The MCU output continues to go from strength to strength and if they continue along the same evolving path they have been treading this past 9 years, i don’t see that changing any time soon. Sure, actors will come and go from roles as contracts expire or creative divergences are given license (female Thor is on the way, mark my words), new or lesser known onscreen characters will be allowed to take flight to see if they can soar to the heights of Guardians Of The Galaxy or Ant-man but as long as writing, direction & flight of fantasy remain paramount, it will remain to be the same MCU that we love for many years to come.

Thor Ragnarocks!: A Thor: Ragnarok review.


Directed by: Taika Waititi.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Anthony Hopkins

Plot: When a sequence of events unleash the all powerful Hela, Godess Of Death and Asgard is plunged into turmoil. Thor finds himself captive on the other side of the universe and must attempt to somehow save his home.

Another year, another addition to the Marvel cinematic stockpile. This time Kiwi director Taika Waititi, previously known for the excellent What We Do In The Shadows & last years incredible Hunt For The Wilderpeople takes directorial duties for this third cinema outing for our favourite Asgardian. Thor hasn’t had an easy time in his own standalone outings, a solid yet flawed debut and a decidedly lacklustre and joyless sequel kinda started to make Thor look like the red-headed stepchild of the MCU, can Thor: Ragnarok readdress that balance?

Thor: Ragnarok is without doubt up there with the strongest films in the MCU, it’s up there with Iron Man, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and dare I say, gives Guardians Of The Galaxy a run for its money. This is no mean feat and it is all thanks to the wonders of Taika Waititi’s direction. Waititi steers Thor: Ragnarok with a sure hand, deftly weaving characters & elements from classic Marvel story ‘Planet Hulk’ into the narrative, expertly handling action sequences alongside his trademark flair for delivering brilliantly funny, irreverent humour. Thor: Ragnarok is without doubt the funniest Marvel film to date, and I’m not talking lame, stifle a giggle funny, I’m talking gut laughs, on more than one occasion spread across the length of the film, it really makes Ragnarok an absolute joy to watch. The laughs are just the delicious filling however, they are held up by some brilliant action sequences and great performances all round. 

Chris Hemsworth has consistently carried the character of Thor and made it his own, he looks to be having an absolute blast in Ragnarok, flexing his comedic muscles as well as his ample real ones. Cate Blanchett hams things up admirably as Hela and Tom Hiddleston & Mark Ruffalo add their dependable support as always. Jeff Goldblum is on hand to Jeff Goldblum the shit out of his role as The Grandmaster to predictably charming & wonderful results. Waititi threatens to runaway with his own film with a scene stealing turn as ‘Planet Hulk’ favourite Korg who is consistently one of the funniest things in the whole film. There are some genuinely surprising and brilliantly delivered cameos thrown into the mix also but the less said about them the better so as to preserve the moments.

Thor: Ragnarok is an absolute triumph, not only does it make up for prior Thor standalones, it also cements itself as one of the best instalments in the MCU to date, Marvel fans will know that is a pretty bold statement but it’s true, 17 films in and Thor: Ragnarok sits near the top of the pile as a thrilling, colourful, boldly delivered and achingly funny slice of superhero cinema. 

One Louder: A Stranger Things Season 2 review.


***SPOILER WARNING***

Only read on if you have either watched Stranger Things: Season 2 or don’t mind major plot points being spoilt as I will be discussing at length new developments this season. You have been warned.

Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLochlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Sean Astin, Paul Reiser.

Plot: One year after Will Byers was rescued from The Upside-Down by his friends, he starts to experience strange visions that lead him to believe The Upside-Down may not be done with him just yet. 

A little over a year ago a phenomenon was born, Netflix placed on to its streaming platform a 9-part science fiction drama with a heavy focus on popular culture & 80’s nostalgia. Suffice to say, Stranger Things was a resounding success and signified a seismic shift in the way shows on streaming platforms were viewed. Fast forward a year and Season 2 has arrived to a fervent reception but does it live up to its first season or has difficult second album syndrome set in? Stranger Things: Season 2 succeeds in delivering on the promise that the first season gave in abundance. Doing what all good sequels should do, Season 2 expands on the story woven in it’s opening season and goes bigger on the scares & action. This seasons additions of new characters has been mostly hit and a little miss, the expansion of the Upside-down’s denizens particularly The Mindflayer has been awesome and new relationships forming between the established characters has yielded some great results also.

Getting first onto new characters, The characters of Bob and Dr Owens were both excellent, Sean Astin’s relentlessly chirpy yet effortlessly likeable nerd Bob was a nice addition as Joyce’s new boyfriend, a role it would have been nice to see expanded upon on Season 3 but alas, it was not to be, ending up regrettably as Demogorgon food and possibly becoming this season’s Barb, I am expecting to see some justice for Bob hashtags anytime now. The ever brilliant Paul Reiser as Dr Owens was also a great addition this season, initially feeling a little like his character in Aliens, Carter Burke, with some shady motivations early on and ultimately turning out to be a pretty stand up dude by the season close was a nice little convention defying arc. I wasn’t really sold on Max, every tomboy cliché wrapped up into one and plonked on a skateboard with very little else to do, with some more interesting character development other than being a tired trope, she may become a character I’m more invested in, right now? Meh. As for her brother, Billy, what’s wrong with this dude?! So angry! Is it because he looks more than a little like Buffalo Bill from Silence Of The Lambs? Possibly, I think he’s just a lazy antagonist clone to make up for the decision to make Steve slightly less of a douche this season, Billy MORE than makes up for it, arch-douche of the highest order.

We are given some reliably strong performances from the returning cast members with some interesting relationships forming this season. The central characters of Mike, Lucas, Dustin & Will all enjoy the same level of cohesion as last season, their back & to camaraderie is still present and feels even stronger this season now these characters are familiar to us. An unlikely teaming of Dustin & Steve has been on of the unexpected high points of this season, Steve almost taking Dustin under his wing and offering sage advise to the lovable nerd, unexpected and strangely sweet. The strongest turns this season belong to El & Hopper, now living a secluded ‘father & daughter’ life away from the outside world in an effort to keep El safe, that dynamic is an absolute revelation, Millie Bobby Brown & David Harbour act their arses off this season and to see the evolution of that relationship going forward is going to be very interesting. 

The expansion of the Stranger Things universe this season with respect to The Upside-down and the beings that reside there has been pretty cool, particularly the introduction of The Mindflayer, a gargantuan Lovecraftian nightmare of a creature, used sparingly but with great effect and the final reveal of the season letting us know we haven’t seen the last of it was pretty sweet. The Demogorgon’s return on mass this season along with a baby Demogorgan raised by Dustin called d’Artagnan or Dart for short, kinda like adopting a little hairless, mutated wolf cub, you think you have him tamed but he could bite your face off at any moment. 

Stranger Things: Season 2 is excellent, it really is, it takes what came previously and runs with it in new and interesting ways. If I was to nitpick for something to gripe about this season, they do try and re-play on some of the beats from the first season on occasion, the communication through Christmas lights in season 1 is replaced with drawings in season 2, El and her Eggo’s turns to Dart being partial to Three Musketeer bars. It’s clutching at straws to gripe about those things, it genuinely is and that’s all I have to be honest. If you loved Season 1, you are going to love Season 2, it thrills & entertains in the same way whilst expanding and evolving as any great TV show should, roll on Season 3.

Stranger Things: Season 2 is currently available to stream via Netflix.

Sweets To The Sweet: A look back at Candyman.


“Dare you say his name 5 times?” read the tag line to the 1992 horror Candyman, giving the world a new cinematic bogeyman and an interesting spin on the then moderately untapped horror concept of urban legends. At a point where Freddy, Jason & Michael Myers were getting very old indeed with increasingly diminished returns in respect to quality, it felt like the perfect time for some new blood, enter Clive Barker.

Candyman is actually adapted from a short story by Barker originally called The Forbidden, a tale of a university students hunt for an urban legend know as Candyman to base her thesis on only leading her face to face with a supposed myth. The short story was part of one of the authors lengthy Books Of Blood compilations and was clearly a concept fit for adaptation. The setting of the original story, as with his novella Hellbound Heart which later became Hellraiser, was Liverpool, Barker’s hometown. As is usually the case when Hollywood becomes involved changes were made. The story was swiftly appropriated with a U.S setting instead of succumbing to the inconvenience of shooting in the U.K. Along with a change in the characters ethnicity & being gifted with a credible backstory, the story was given a new setting, being that of the Cabrini-Green housing projects of Chicago, a fearful, crime-ridden concrete slab in the Near North Side of the Windy City. A bleak, desolate and utterly perfect surrounding for a horror movie.

Candyman gave the world something that it hadn’t really seen before in it’s adaptation, something that hadn’t really existed outside blaxploitation flicks like Blacula, a black movie monster to rival that of Freddy or Jason. Candyman however i feel is a much more sympathetic antagonist, a man done wrong seeking revenge against his oppressors, robbed of a life with the one he loved and so forced to exact his terrible revenge in the afterlife, it’s actually quite Shakespearean. It was a decision that was met with some concern on the part of the films producers that the premise was inherently racist in nature which was also presented to the NAACP for their opinion. The NAACP were non-plused as to what the issue was, why can’t a black man be a horror villain? This is a man who was horrifically tortured & killed and now seeks bloody revenge, he’s not some lazy, evil ethnic stereotype, he is a fully realised character with begrudgingly sympathetic motives even though his retribution is terrible, that’s more than Kruger ever got, some humanity.

Candyman always to me felt of a higher tier than most disposable horror films of the time, it felt of a different class. Was it the writing? Hats have to be tipped to Clive Barker for conceiving of such an idea. Was it the quality of actor they got to play such a role? Tony Todd is mesmeric as Candyman and his deep baritone voice sounds simply hypnotic in this film. Was it the wonderfully baroque score by minimalist composer Philip Glass? I love a good film score and the score for Candyman is pretty high on my list of top all time horror scores. As is always the case with great cinema, Candyman is the sum of its parts, take one away and the overall effect would diminish, that is was as well realised as it was is a testament to all involved in creating one of the more original and classy horrors of the early nineties.

Dread & Breakfast: A The Innkeepers review.


Directed by: Ti West.

Starring: Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis.

Plot: The Yankee Pedlar Inn is closing its doors for the final time and desk clerks Claire & Luke are waiting out their final shifts with minimal guests. With boredom setting in, amateur ghost hunter Luke suggests looking into the Yankee Pedlars past.

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? Those who are regular readers of my blog know that I myself am an absolute sucker for a good ghost story. If a film has the capacity to chill whilst telling me a worthwhile & entertaining story, I’m generally onboard, so with that in mind, The Innkeepers was right up my street from the off.

The Innkeepers is the follow up effort from The House Of The Devil director Ti West who with that prior film made somewhat of a name for himself as “one to watch” in the world of independent horror cinema. With The Innkeepers, West most certainly keeps the quality up in my opinion though not in the opinion of a lot of reviewers when the film was released, criticising it for an incredibly slow pace in the first half much to the films detriment, this is a criticism I do not share. Yes the pace is slow to begin with, deliberately so, the hotels ghost story is told, the suspense is built expertly in my opinion with paranormal events occurring sparsely, slowly escalating rather than just throwing out jump scares at you willy-nilly. When the scares do come they are effective, at times ethereal and other times downright creepy, particularly towards the end of the film. 

The secret to the effectiveness of the scares in The Innkeepers is the sense of banal normality that bookends them. The two leads, Sara Paxton & Pat Healy gel together so well, their conversations so naturalistic, a proper work husband & wife who’s likeable demeanours and often funny yet affectionate barbs at one another remind us all of our own work place partner in crime who makes the working day that little easier to stomach. Because we have been presented with two affable, relatively normal lead characters, the sparse moments of supernatural peril become more palpable, their payoffs much greater. We don’t want harm to come to these guys because they are essentially us, That is where The Innkeepers truly works its magic in my opinion. Factor in some memorable and I feel, truly creepy ghosts and you are on to a winner.

In closing, The Innkeepers Is a funny, creepy, slow build ghost story with a great payoff for those that persevere. Don’t be put off by any bad press that this film may have received upon release, it is most certainly worthy of your time this Halloween, or anytime for that matter.

Top 5 zombie movies.

Horror is a broad blanket term in relation to film, there being many subgenres with varying degrees of fandom, one of the most popular arguably being zombie horror. Usually set in a world not too dissimilar to our own other than the shambling, moaning hordes of the undead baying for human flesh that is. Now certainly there are divergences in formula between director, be it Romero’s use of social commentary, Danny Boyle’s introduction of a running variant and the likes of Edgar Wright & Peter Jackson injecting some humour into the usually overly serious proceedings, at their core the theme is usually the same, the dead walk and have inherited the earth. This is quite a tricky Top 5 for me to put together because I am a huge fan of the genre, some of my choices may be surprising, some of my omissions may be shocking but it is a Top 5 I am happy with. Without further ado, here are my Top 5 Zombie films.

Honourable Mention: Train To Busan.


This South Korean zombie flick was a welcome shot in the arm for the zombie film as it put some much needed originality back into the genre. The premise of zombies on a train may sound silly but Train To Busan is thrilling, brutal and brilliant.

5: 28 Days Later.


This 2002 British offering from director Danny Boyle also boasted in being the first feature film to be shot particularly on digital camera allowing quick setups of deserted London streets & landmarks to add to the films desolate feel, it was remarkably effective. Spawning an equally impressive sequel 28 Weeks Later in 2007, it flew the British horror flag admirably.

4: Braindead.


I had to include a comedy on this list and it was very close between this and the equally brilliant Edgar Wright film Shaun Of The Dead, Braindead for me pips it to the post narrowly for it shear OTT excess. Soooo much blood! Also some bonkers invention and impressive physical effects work delivered with a tongue firm in cheek. Class.

3: Zombie Flesh Eaters.


Perhaps one of the most notorious films on this list for its ‘that one where a zombie fights a shark and that woman’s eye get stabbed’ moments, it also features some of the most impressive zombies and zombie effects to ever grace a screen even if the films dubbing is dodgy as hell.

2: Dawn Of The Dead.


Probably a film that would be at the top of anyone else’s list and I do have a lot of love for DOTD. A truly impressive horror sequel that easily betters its original even being released a full decade later. As with Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn is steeped in social commentary namely that of out of control consumerism and our ingrained need for material possessions. Rightly regarded as a classic, Dawn is regarded as one of the greatest horror movies ever but not my personal favourite.

1: Day Of The Dead.


My top spot goes to the black sheep of the original Dead trilogy, an unfairly judged, flawed modern horror masterpiece that takes the themes of it predecessors and pushes it to greater extremes. Day Of The Dead is the most grim and utterly nihilistic of the 3 original Dead films and give us a glimpse into a word where communication with ourselves has almost completely broken down rendering people just as dangerous as the dead. There is too much I can say about this film and I shall in my next written piece.