Archive for February, 2015

My Take on the Big Films of the 2015 Oscars

So now I’m caught up on this year’s Oscars, but rather than break down what I thought of every award like I’ve done in the past I’m going to quickly run down my thoughts on the handful of Oscar-nominated films I’ve actually seen, because I just need to put something to the keyboard before I can move on.

Serious movies, yay!

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Won: Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Best Original Screenplay, Best Directing (Alejandro G. Inarittu), Best Picture
Nominated For: Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Actor (Michael Keaton), Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton), Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone)

I wouldn’t quite give my personal Best Picture nod to Birdman, but the sheer number of ways in which it tosses up a unique gimmick and nails it means I can hardly begrudge it the adulation it receives. The script is a tad pretentious, to be sure, but the movie does a lot of things very well, and any other winner in the Best Cinematography category would have been a tragedy. Emmanuel Lubezki, whose exemplary work in Gravity certainly did not go unnoticed, makes the film feel like it’s all one continuous take, and he does it extraordinarily well. I feel like the movie should have won some kind of audio award for its amazing improvised drumming soundtrack, and Edward Norton should count himself unlucky that he was in such a strong field for Supporting Actor.
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The Imitation Game

Won: Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated For: Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), Best Actor (Benedict Cumberbatch), Best Supporting Actress (Keira Knightley), Best Directing (Morten Tyldum), Best Picture

A fascinating real life set-up provides the stage for everyone’s favourite Hollywood name to dominate the screen as genius social outcast Alan Turing, the man chiefly responsible for creating a machine capable of decoding the encrypted radio messages sent by the Nazis every day of the Second World War. The Imitation Game balances an exploration of the troubled man beneath the arrogant, awkward exterior of Turing and the grave task he and his team have to complete, all the while avoiding the temptation to run for too long. The script, however, is the real star, thoroughly deserving of its Oscar. From its hilarious opening interview to its heartfelt final conversation, the film is tight, concise and entertaining. I’m not sure why Knightley was nominated, though. She doesn’t get a whole lot to do.
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Whiplash

Won: Best Supporting Actor (J.K. Simmons), Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing
Nominated For: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture

I only just watched the much-hyped Whiplash today, and it is indeed very, very good. J.K. Simmons’ monstrous turn as the short-tempered Draconian jazz teacher who torments a young drumming prodigy is well-deserving of his Oscar win, and indeed all the other awards he picked up for the role as well. Miles Teller, as said prodigy Andrew Neiman, gives one hell of an intense performance too, and his drumming, combined with some incredible award-winning editing by Tom Cross, lights the film on fire in the breathtaking final 15 minutes. Palpable tension permeates Whiplash, and its narrative is as unpredictable as Simmons’ venemous character. Great stuff.
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Interstellar

Won: Best Visual Effects
Nominated For: Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score (Hans Zimmer)

This one is the least fresh in my mind, as I saw it when it was still in cinemas last year. To me Interstellar was disappointing enough to sneak onto the tail end of my Top 10 Disappointments list of 2014, not because it’s a bad film (it isn’t), or even a boring one (it isn’t), but because its uneven tone and frequently distracted shifts of focus make it seem a little out of place alongside Christopher Nolan’s excellent suite of individual films in the past, chief among them Memento, the Prestige and Inception. It does have strong visual effects, but I believe Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the more deserving nominee from that category.
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The Grand Budapest Hotel

Won: Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), Best Production Design, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Costume Design
Nominated For: Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, Best Directing (Wes Anderson), Best Picture

This charming movie was released a very long time ago in Oscar terms, which renders its incredible nine nominations a little surprising, though nonetheless deserved. I only saw it last week, so the film is still vivid in my memory, and it is positively delightful. It would actually be my pick for Best Picture out of the Academy nominees, with Whiplash a close second. Its near-complete sweep of the major visual awards is hardly surprising, as its endlessly creative aesthetic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Quirky, star-studded, memorably acted (particularly in the cases of Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum and the shape-shifting Tilda Swinton) as well as mercifully brief, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a Wes Anderson movie through-and-through, and you should definitely watch it.
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Big Hero 6

Won: Best Animated Feature Film

I just want to say that while I think How to Train Your Dragon 2 deserved this award more (It was my second favourite movie of last year, after all), I am still very happy about this. That’s all.

 

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Notable Nominees/Winners I Haven’t Seen at Time of Writing

The Theory of Everything

American Sniper

Boyhood

Still Alice

Selma

Foxcatcher

A Decade of Dual Screen Splendour

Turns out I couldn’t do my normal Oscars thing this year because of work commitments, which saddens me. Nevertheless, as pathetic as it might sound, I’ve been waiting for this very day for years now, just so I could put this article up.

The original model – A thing of stunning beauty that made you want to throw up a little with just one look.

It is truly astonishing that a decade has already passed since the release of the Nintendo DS in Australia. On this very day in 2005, almost three months after its American release, the Big N bestowed a truly ugly yet quietly revolutionary portable gaming device on the PAL region for the first time, with a European release to follow a few weeks later. This hefty silver beast came packing not one but two screens, one of them touch-enabled, along with an unassuming microphone for voice input, more buttons than Nintendo had ever put on a handheld before, a built-in instant messenger app and full backwards combatibility with Game Boy Advance games. It was a thoroughly weird hunk of plastic and metal (this was still years before the iPhone, after all) that initially appealed to little more than Nintendo’s faithful.

I was one of said faithful, and my sister and I were there on launch day to pick up our first run versions of the DS, complete with that bundled-in demo cartridge of Metroid Prime: Hunters tantalisingly known as “First Hunt”. Between such a tasty graphical showcase and the joy of Super Mario 64 DS, Nintendo’s fresh console represented a huge step forward in graphical muscle over the GBA, and my teenage eyes lit up at the prospect of what experiences could possibly be on the way for the bizarre clamshell. Many of my friends were bewildered at the very sight of the monstrosity and my attempts to explain its appeal initially sucked, but I didn’t particularly mind if the system wasn’t popular, visually pleasing or particularly comfortable to play for long stretches – I knew it would bring great games to the table.

Well, I was right about that last part at least.

After all, just shy of 18 months later the DS Lite was released. Bringing with it brighter screens, a much smaller form factor, swathes of games with a wider range of appeal than ever before and some deviously clever marketing, the infinitely better version of the DS grew steadily in popularity until it exploded into the mainstream alongside the Wii in the latter half of the decade. The rest is history – the DS became Nintendo’s highest selling console of all time and the success of simple touch screen games paved the way for a smartphone gaming revolution. And unlike with the Wii, the release of so-called “casual” games on the DS did not affect the ongoing creativity and quality of meatier games on the system. All throughout the console’s life cycle, from the original model to the Lite to the camera-enabled DSi to the supersized DSi XL, great games just kept coming out. Some of my favourite videogames ever made their home on the DS, and so without any further rambling, here are my personal favourites. No less than 20 of them, in fact.

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20. Trauma Center: Under the Knife

I’m going to start with the entry on this list that I’ve most recently discovered. As good an argument as any for the extraordinary staying power of the DS’ unique library, I started playing this gem only a few months ago after picking it up for dirt cheap on a whim. And it’s awesome. Though typically weird for an Atlus game and just as typically difficult, the first in what is apparently a series of Trauma Center games is engaging and rewarding in a way I’ve not seen in any other videogame. The relatively unique stress of performing surgical tasks while your patient’s vital signs rapidly tick away, all against the backdrop of an insane science fiction story, feels fresh even in today’s wonderful climate of creative indie experiences.
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19. Metroid Prime Hunters

Though I have much stronger nostalgic feelings for the aforementioned demo of the game, the full version of Metroid Prime: Hunters was certainly nothing to sneeze at. Arriving over a year after said demo, Hunters built on the experimental foundations of the Gamecube’s Metroid Prime 2: Echoes to deliver a gorgeous competitive multiplayer-centric title where the campaign was just the thing you played when you had no buddies around. With a diverse selection of alien bounty hunters from which to choose, each packing a different transformation for mobility and stealth, Metroid Prime Hunters was crammed with ideas way ahead of its time, and honestly represented a concept too ambitious for the limits of the DS hardware. I’d really like to see a sequel on a console with more than one directional input. People who claim the controls of the 3DS’ Kid Icarus Uprising stopped them from playing probably never owned Hunters.
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18. WarioWare Touched!

A quirky launch title for the DS, WarioWare Touched! was my entry point into a Nintendo franchise I now regard as one of my top five of all time. I was positively floored by how much fun could be garnered from a stack of basic-looking microgames lasting mere seconds with only the vaguest of instructions to point the player in the right direction. Touched! was one of the absolute best indications early in the DS’ life of the insane potential of touch screen gaming (it even did Fruit Ninja before Fruit Ninja) and its incredibly bizarre personality shone through every manic twist and turn. There are better WarioWare games out there, but this one is really special to me.

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Mega Ultra Blast Cast Ep.37 – What does a game’s length mean to you?


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With the recent controversy over the length of The Order: 1886, Shane,Delaney and I knuckle down and get stuck into a heated debate over the importance of game length on the latest episode of the Mega Ultra Blast Cast! We also talk plenty about our experiences with Evolve, the gigantic Spiderman news in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the rumoured live action Zelda TV show, the amazing first gameplay trailer of Persona 5, the “2-1-3” sequel theory and whether a zombie apocalypse could actually happen in today’s world. It’s hard-hitting and real – it’s the Mega Ultra Blast Cast.

If you feel so inclined, go for a run, take a scenic drive, jazz up your afternoon commute or just curl up on the couch and play some games while you listen to the opinions of three jazzed Sydneysiders.

You can play the whole episode right off this page if you like:


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Or you can go to the Soundcloud site/app and listen from there:
https://soundcloud.com/mega-ultra-blast-cast/mubc-37-what-does-a-games-length-mean-to-you

(To download and listen offline, follow the link and then click the download tab)

As always if you enjoy what you hear please share the cast with your friends – Until next time!

Movie Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service

Back into the swing of things with a nice tame film review! JK Matthew Vaughn.

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Starring:
Colin Firth, Samuel L Jackson, Michael Caine
Director:
Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class)
Rating: MA15+
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As far as spy movie send-ups go (and there are many), Kingsman: The Secret Service is not the kind of straightforward spoof you might expect going into the cinema. Yes, it’s got fine suits and fancy James Bond gadgets and a larger-than-life villain, and it certainly pokes fun at those things, while also kind of doing them really well. But it’s also a Matthew Vaughn film through and through, which means if you didn’t enjoy his irreverent, stylishly ultraviolent, occasionally uncomfortable 2010 film Kick-Ass, it’s unlikely you’ll fall for KingsmanHowever, if that movie was your cup of tea, you can expect a good time with the Brit’s latest.

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Mega Ultra Blast Cast Ep.36 – All Hail Heroes


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We’ve cut back on our rambling on the Mega Ultra Blast Cast to just one hour (exactly!) for Episode 36, where we serve up just the kind of sunglasses analysis/Aerosmith references/breakdown of Shane’s love life that you’ve come to expect. We also dissect the new Fantastic Four trailer, talk about the sheer adventure game goodness overflowing from our metaphorical plates (yes, Grim Fandango is back, and it’s gooood) and, of course, talk about Heroes of the Storm, only this time I can actually contribute to the conversation, because I’m finally playing it!. Also, listen in real time as Delaney bleeds most of his excitement for the upcoming Zelda Majora’s Mask remake within the space of about five minutes, plus we talk about the Oscar-nominated Birdman! You won’t regret spending this hour with us, unless you do, in which case I’m kinda sorry, but there are no refunds. Because this podcast is free.

If you feel so inclined, go for a run, take a scenic drive, jazz up your afternoon commute or just curl up on the couch and play some games while you listen to the opinions of three dehdrated Sydneysiders.

You can play the whole episode right off this page if you like:


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Or you can go to the Soundcloud site/app and listen from there:
https://soundcloud.com/mega-ultra-blast-cast/mubc-36-all-hail-heroes

(To download and listen offline, follow the link and then click the download tab)

As always if you enjoy what you hear please share the cast with your friends – Until next time!