Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

This film review of Star Trek: Into the Darkness merits so little of my time, so here are some simple bullets for your swift perusal:

* Visually beautiful
* Quality CG
* Progressive Scottish accent
* Ample opportunity for homoerotic innuendo
* Mediocre action scenes
* Embarrassing script
* Zero likeable characters
* Turn off tracking system? Star Wars anyone?
* Spock is a pompous, lego-haired (”It’s only lego-ical”) c@#t

Yep, that covers it.

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Django_unchained_banner

Quentin Tarantino hits the silver screen once again, deploying his familiar style in a hereunto unexplored cinema type, with the eagerly-anticipated Western flick, Django Unchained (“the ‘D’ is silent…”).

Though this may seem perhaps unfamiliar territory for the director, Tarantino is well-established as a director unafraid of new challenges, exploring new ground rather than simply rehashing old material. He’s the celebrated chameleon of cinema – and not just because he looks like a lizard.

Quentin Tarantino Chameleon

Chameleon – Tarantino

Tarantino has a penchant for genre deconstruction, comfortably immersing himself into entirely disparate cinema types with a confidence and eagerness. Of recent note is his dabble into modern military history with the Second World War counter-caust found in Inglourious Basterds. Less successful, in my Chan/Li/Lee/Hung loving opinion, was Quentin’s martial arts mishap Kill Bill. Now, we see him dive head first into the spaghetti western. The verdict? This spaghetti needs a little more meat.

For a film that approaches 3 hours in length, it’s surprising how linear and superficial much of the content appears. Now, I wasn’t expecting a thorough diatribe of pre-American Civil War slavery, but perhaps something more than a simple, and predictable, revenge narrative. The real problem is that Django Unchained is plainly too fanciful. From confused morality to the unconvincing romantic quest that drives the plot, there is perhaps too brittle a foundation for the audience to comfortably place their feet, spurs and all.

Take dentist come bounty hunter Dr King Schultz, a welcome return by Christoph Waltz. For a man whose compassion and support for the hero protagonist persists throughout the film, whilst also combating the racial hierarchy in the Southern states of America, there is an odd sense of calm surrounding his calculated murder of wanted criminals. It is interesting that Tarantino selected Waltz for this morally ambivalent role, particularly after his striking performance as Hanz Landa, a man whose undeniable hatred of the Jewish race suddenly dissipates at the end of Inglourious Basterds in favour of a quick deal. He is an opportunist through and through, much like Dr Schultz.

Schultz is a bounty hunter, mercilessly killing for financial gain; wealth is his ultimate goal. Though his targets are wanted criminals, and he does explain that he’s a man of the law, his efforts are entirely in pursuit of monetary reward, not as a result of some judicial desire for justice. This being the case, it seems incongruous that he would want to share his earnings, let alone risk his own life to help a man who he has no substantial affiliation with, particularly a secondary citizen, a slave. Schultz’s desire to partner up with Django is completely untenable.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the dentist is an old romantic. Let’s pretend he’s a virtuous hero, unable to ignore the plight of a devoted, loving couple. Then, and I emphasise, only then, can we begin to understand his motives. Clearly this isn’t the case in Django Unchained though, this fragile argument further damaged by the notable lack of any substantial reference to the relationship between Django (Jamie Foxx) and his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Though there are a few flashbacks to earlier events in the couple’s lives, they revolve entirely around a bumbled attempt to flee their masters and the bitter punishment when caught. This is certainly believable fuel for Django’s violent quest for revenge, but the audience never witnesses any real tenderness, any sincere depictions of love. And if we can’t see it, how can Schultz? Their relationship is presented as fact: they are in love, they are destined to be free together, and we must simply accept it, despite feeling that it’s been sadly skimmed over.

High on the frivolity list is QT’s incessant use of the word ‘nigger’ in Django Unchained. Though he’s argued that it’s used simply to authenticate the language used in the film as a construct of its time, one feels that perhaps he gets a little carried away. I don’t feel so strongly as to censor the word entirely, and I agree that it’s useful as a point of verbal emphasis and linguistic accuracy. But 110 times?! Enjoying your cinematic freedom a little too much eh Quentin? Jackie Brown (1997) only had 38 mentions of the racial epithet, that’s an increase of 4.8 n-bombs a year. Yeah, I did the maths.

Not seen Django yet? Stop here!

Towering over all of these criticisms however, is Django’s hugely disappointing ending. Really, the film should be 20 minutes shorter, which would have helped my bladder to no end. The entire film builds in anticipation of the final showdown, as the heroes confront the figurehead of white oppression, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Django and Schultz make their way to Candie Land, one of the largest plantations in the South, with blood on the hands and a hankering for more. When a covert attempt to rescue Broomhilda fails, an explosive action scene ensues, one which sees the death of 2 key characters. The end of the film is nigh, it has to be. Suddenly, Django is alone, up against the wall facing waves of Candie’s men. But, as conventional heroes always do, he survives. White jacket after white jacket is splattered with blood as Django claws on to life. And then he surrenders…. What? After the intense build up, he simply gives in?

And then he gets captured, sold into slavery once again, only to return to Candie’s estate for his final revenge – all in the space of 10 minutes! This dual ending seems completely pointless, entirely breaking the pace and fluidity of the film up until this point. It deflates the ending, resulting in a needless anti-climax. Was this supposed to be some sort of plot twist? If so, it came far too late and had too little consequence. Surely the final scenes couldn’t get any worse? Well yes, throw in a poor quality cameo from the lizard man himself, including a horrendous Aussie accent I might add, and we’ve hit bottom.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of positives in Django Unchained: momentum gathers early on and is maintained throughout the film (until the final scene, anyway); stylistically, the film adheres to Tarantino’s acclaimed style, musical score in tow; action scenes are gritty and relentless but powerful, brilliantly juxtaposed with pithy humour, not delivered so gloriously since his cult classic Pulp Fiction. Samuel L Jackson executes a first-rate comic performance as institutionalised house slave Stephen, while the Ku Klux Klan scene engenders some unexpected comic relief, effective in its rarity and sudden transition to slapstick hilarity.

Django Unchained. Decide for yourself.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 Banner

With trepidation I hesitate to admit that I’ve racked up an unhealthy 13 days on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2‘s multiplayer. Though this is likely to figure me as a target of ridicule (from Battlefield fanboy’s and the general populace alike), I still play it now. MW2’s multiplayer is wonderfully addictive; the varied maps are pleasantly spread across long and short range maps, they’re well designed and perfectly suited for facst-paced shooting action. It was flawless…. well, Commando aside.

With this is mind, I pre-ordered the Elite edition of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, eager to get my hands on what I entirely expected to be the next big waste of my life. It sold for a pricey £90, but knowing that it included access to all three DLC drops (all of which I purchased for Modern Warfare 2) and a yearly subscription to the Call of Duty Elite service, my fears were suitably assuaged.

How wrong I was.

So far I’ve racked up a measly 20 hours, my FPS addiction preferably satiated by the superior Battlefield 3. So where did it all go wrong?

Experimentation is the key. Rarely do I chastise a franchise for experimenting with a system that, let’s be honest, is a little stale. However, when reinventing a series that is so well-established, and loved, it’s vital to ensure that developers inject some new life whilst maintaining the key features that initiated success in the first place. This is where Activision let the ball, rather the grenade, drop.

For me it comes down to two key failings:

– General game design, and

– A misguided attempt to mimic the market opponent Battlefield.

Essentially, maps are poorly designed. The selection is far too limited, tailored singularly for close combat. Yet conversely, Activision have implemented new features that are more suited to the team-based range warfare of titles like Battlefield 3. The addition of a three tier Strike Package – formerly known as Killstreak Rewards – only serves to confuse a game that was celebrated for its simplicity. Whilst Modern Warfare 2 plainly offered offensive rewards for an achieved killstreak (including the likes of Predator Missiles, Sentry Guns and Pave Lows, now found in the Assault Strike Package), players now have the option of instead selecting from the Support or Specialist Strike Packages. Though this innovation is fresh and affords the player further specialisation of classes, what’s included is disappointingly redundant.

As you’ve guessed, the Support Strike Package is more defensive, targeted towards the benefit of your team including the likes of Ballistic Vests, EMPs and Recon Drones. The issue is that Call of Duty is NOT a team game. While inevitably the prospect of success is entirely subject to the joint efforts of each player in your team, there is no tangible team unity. You don’t cover comrades with suppressing fire, you don’t strategise plays, and you don’t work together –  beyond the vague direction that you are all shooting the same people. This makes these types of killstreak rewards entirely useless. I mean, who is going to choose an EMP instead of an Osprey Gunner?

And no, that’s not some kind of bourgeois hawk hunt.

At its core, Modern Warfare is a solo game. Yes, you are working towards team success in the long run, but when you earn a killstreak you are undoubtedly going to use it for your own benefit, that is to say, to extend your killstreak. This will take the form of Assault Package rewards like the AC130, rather than supporting your team with armour. What matters in COD is coming top, performing the best (KDR), regardless of whether your team wins or not. Tragically, this has been witnessed throughout Modern Warfare‘s online experience, with many players choosing to play strategy game types (like Domination or Sabotage) simply to achieve high kill ratios rather than working together to effectively execute the mission. It’s a one man army, this forming a primary reason why my loyalties have shifted towards EA’s uber shooter.

I will admit that the Specialist Strike Package, offering additional perks as you obtain uninterrupted kills, is a nice touch especially for those with a dedicated understanding of Modern Warfare‘s Perk system and how it impacts the game. However, unlocking a perk that slightly improves your aim or speed (until you die – unlike the other killstreak tiers) hardly compares to the immediate gratification of an enhanced kill ratio at the click of a button. It’s certainly interesting, but weighing up the potential benefit, the Assault Strike Package will always win.

There’s more though….

Some of the more quirky game types like Gun Game and One in the Chamber have been directly ripped from Black Ops, placed into a mixed server called FFA Gunplay which also includes the new All or Nothing. This manoeuvre in itself can be infuriating; after all, the three game types are so different and you may only be interested in playing one of them. I myself have a particular penchant for One in the Chamber, highly reminiscent of Golden Gun matches from Goldeneye 64. Black Ops managed to provide them all as single game lobbies so why is there the need to create a mixed lot Activision?

The biggest issue I have with these game types though is a product of the game’s general flaws. They’re unbalanced, infuriating and simply not fun. The maps are often too small and enclosed to provide suitable combat grounds for these particular game types, especially noticeable in Gun Game. Worse still, the idiotic lack of varied spawn points results in ridiculous respawn traffic, whereby you often find yourself appearing round a corner from an opponent or even directly in front of them. Clearly this is hazardous during one hit kill games. Whenever you respawn it becomes entirely necessary for the player to immediately check behind them which only leaves them vulnerable to attack from the front.

As a result of these significant failings, Modern Warfare 3 promotes a single strategy: Turtle Beach camping. With spawn points being haphazard and illogical, it makes little sense to sprint around the map awaiting inevitable death from behind. Instead you will find many people camping in a corner to ensure their posterior is free from spawn kills whilst keeping a wary eye in front of them. The additional use of a Turtle Beach headset enables the player to hear exactly what direction enemies are arriving from.

As you can imagine, this makes for a tedious online experience.

So twenty hours and £90 down. The verdict? Stick with Modern Warfare 2, you won’t be disappointed.

Safe Film Banner

Over recent years, mainstream cinema has taken a new action hero under its generously proportioned wing. He’s tall, he’s strong, he’s butch, and he’s British.

No, not David Walliams.

It’s East end beefcake, Jason Statham.

Safe Film Jason Statham

“Maybe I shouldn’t have had that burrito for lunch..”

Since his cinematic debut as Bacon in Guy Ritchie’s 1998 smash Lock Stock and Two Smoking barrrels, Statham has become a Hollywood darling, entirely synonymous with high-octane, brutal action. Perhaps it stems back to his role as mute, psycho goal keeper Monk in Mean Machine, who knows? Regardless of its origin, Jason can always been seen in a host of action-packed films, including the Transporter trilogy, Crank one and two, and most recently, and indeed most high profile, the Expendables series. He also voiced Sergeant Waters in the original Call of Duty and Tybalt in Gnomeo and Juliet – how’s that for masculinity!

New release Safe, sees Jason once again performing the role of an aggressively heroic Prince Charming (rather, Prince Harming), devoting his life to the rescue of another. It’s a cinematic archetype that’s worked for him in the past, but is perhaps getting a little tedious now. All three Transporter films situate Statham as a protector, delivering his human ‘packages’ alive and well, no matter what the personal cost. Talk about customer service, it’s Parcel Force meets Apocalyse Now.

Safe Movie Jason Statham

It’s ok Jason, there’ll be another train along in a minute!

His role as Luke Wright in Safe is a tired, Statham-shaped mould, unfortunately rendering the narrative of little significance. We’ve seen it all before:

– victim in trouble  > Statham becomes aware and assumes role of protector > they are attacked consistently > he ensures the victim’s safety –

We can fill in the rest of the story by ourselves. It doesn’t help that the narrative of Safe is treated with such superficiality and speed. Within the first five minutes we are thrust into the separate world’s of Luke and Mei, hastily presented with each of their predicaments (she has been kidnapped because of her knowledge of a secret code / his wife has been killed, because he knocked out a viral YouTube sensation in a cage fight, costing gamblers huge stakes – take that Tay Zonday, yoot bes’ be singin’ ’bout Chocolate PAIN from now on. Getme fam?) Though the film does marginally explore Wright’s ostracism after his battle blunder, there is no evidence of any kind of emotion as to the horrific murder of his pregnant wife. This is perhaps the greatest flaw of Safe; apart from a single moment where he considers suicide, Luke never really relinquishes the tough guy exterior. But hey, perhaps that’s Hollywood’s fault for type casting Statham so much, maybe he just can’t do sensitive?

Safe Film Mei

Cor bliMei…

Furthermore, the viewer is allowed no time whatsoever to sympathise with Jason’s rather staid performance, as the plot progresses far too rapidly. Similarly, Mei’s troubled home life is soon dismissed, instead replacing it with a somewhat absurd narrative regarding her photographic memory and a highly sensitive numerical code. It doesn’t really get any better from there….

For me, Safe was reminiscent of Luc Besson’s incredible thriller Leon, in so far as it depicts a young, vulnerable girl with sensitive information being protected from vast hordes of menacing villains, including crooked cops. Though, to say the film cowers woefully in it’s impressive shadow is a huge understatement. Where Leon details the life of a reclusive hitman Jean Reno, suddenly interrupted by a recently orphaned Natalie Portman, a glistening performance I might add, it manages to deliver a real tenderness. The blurred emotional, even sexual, boundaries between Leon and Matilda are genuinely heart-warming, and the viewer has a huge investment in the films solemn conclusion. With Safe, you just simply don’t care. Yeah you have the general desire for Statham to rise victorious, and for Mei (played by Catherine Chan) to remain unharmed, but there is no real connection to the plot or its characters. And for a storyline centred around survival this is a problem.

Also, the Russian mob boss looks like Lou Carpenter. Not quite Gary Oldman eh?

Safe Film Police

Reservoir dogs they ain’t!

The real trouble with Safe is that Jason’s brand of cockney militance is delightfully watchable. By all reasoned logic I should hate this film… but I don’t. I’ve always found Jason Statham a likeable chap, if somewhat two dimensional. Back since the Transporter I’ve been slightly in awe of him, first getting a glimpse of his ‘got to be photoshopped’ six-pack, which was entirely hidden from view in Lock Stock and Snatch. Moreover, as a huge fan of martial arts, it was particularly exciting to see a British film star begin to make a name for himself in the industry. The Transporter was brilliantly choreographed, with some wonderfully memorable fight scenes (of note, the bike pedal on oil-covered floor – it was like something out of Strictly Come Dancing!) Statham’s now worked with some of the finest names in the action and martial arts industries, including Sly Stallone, Bruce Willis and Jet Li. Go on moi san!

The choreography in Safe has more of a gritty realism than Statham’s usual fight scenes, but is still enjoyable. The scope of his acting however is severely limited, and the only thing less convincing than his accent is his ability to eat a sandwich on screen. The plot is indefensibly poor; but can it be any worse than Crank, a horrendous take on the Speed franchise?

And you thought Cruise Control was bad.

Safe, is just that, ‘safe’. It’s thoroughly watchable, with adrenaline-fuelled action permeating the entire film. You won’t find any intellectual discourses here and certainly won’t be challenged. But isn’t that the level of comfort you expect from a Jason Statham film?

Avengers Assemble Banner

Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to see perhaps the most hyped film of the year (dismissing Prometheus and Dark Knight Rises of course), Marvel‘s Avengers Assemble. Never has a film review been so necessary – I promise to make it as spoiler-free as possible.

Marvel film releases have been at best a mixed bag in the past. There are some great successes, Jon Favreau’s celebrated Iron man series perhaps the most obvious of late, but some horrendous failures too; Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy is particularly offensive on many levels. Bloody emo Spidey. Roll on Marc Webb‘s Amazing Spiderman I say!

Yet, with this rather volatile back catalogue, Avengers Assemble has been eagerly anticipated across the board, receiving rave reviews.

I was as excited to see it as everyone else, but had a number of concerns:

– Being a big budget comic book adaptation, will it deliver more substance than the conventionally expected visual competence using CGI?

– With six hero protagonists, will it manage to spread screen time evenly, treating all with necessary significance?

– Will Chris EvansCaptain America be as uninspiring and one-dimensional as in his solo film?

Wow… boy did it deliver! Multiple Thorgasm!

Avengers Assemble Cast

One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong…

Rarely do you come out of a film with a desire to watch the whole thing again immediately… you do with Avengers Assemble. I get the impression that it’s one of those films you could watch endlessly without it becoming tiresome.

Perhaps the greatest success of Avengers Assemble is that it manages the difficult task of dividing screen time between the many protagonists, doing exactly what Spiderman 3 couldn’t. Raimi’s third instalment introduced two villains, Venom and Sandman, resulting in a poorly conceived and lengthy plot that somehow manages to skim over each of their respective stories. Avengers on the other hand, takes double the amount of characters and delivers a generous helping of each, satisfying both cinema and comic book aficionados alike. Though little individual narrative is developed throughout the film for each hero, there is just enough of their personal back stories to introduce them, ensuring that the viewer is not lost.

Obviously Joss Whedon was helped by the fact that the heroes in Avengers Assemble are all interacting in one concise narrative, whereas Venom and Sandman featured in entirely separate storylines. In this respect, being an ensemble film, there is fortunately no real need for a developed examination of each character’s origins. Furthermore, for the most part they have been all been introduced already in other Marvel films, with the exception of the new Hulk and Hawkeye.

To remedy this, Whedon’s introduction of Hawkeye as a villain (I shall say no more..) works as an effective replacement for a back story, giving the viewer an insight into his abilities and an immediate sense of recognition.

Avengers Assemble Hulk

Ho ho ho… Green giant.

The cast of Avengers Assemble is absolutely wonderful. There are top performances across the board, paying particular attention to Robert Downey Jr’s familiar role as gloriously narcissistic inventor Tony Stark/Iron Man, and a surprise new appearance by Marc Ruffalo as Dr Bruce Banner/Hulk. Ruffalo’s performance is especially memorable, portraying the duality of a calm, collected intellectual subduing a beastly, undiscriminating aggressor. As a new hero on the scene (let’s ignore the poor adaptations by Ang Lee and Louis Leterrier), he stands out massively, with a role as huge and menacing as the green giant himself.  This effectively explains why Ruffalo has been signed for 6 Marvel films as the Hulk. On a less significant note, there is also a nice cameo from Cobie Smulders, forming a well-needed departure from the turd pile that is How I Met Your Mother.

Avengers Assemble Iron Man

Iron Man, the Swiss Army Knife of super heroes.

An impressive script sees each character playing off the others, providing some genuine moments of hilarity. Tony Stark is clearly king here… but unexpectedly, Viking god Thor manages to throw down too! At its heart, Avengers Assemble is a high energy action flick, proficiently mixing composition, acting and CGI. However, one of the greater triumphs is its comedic execution. From the taunts of Downey Jr, to the incredibly funny confrontation between Loki and Hulk (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it), the film captures the fists and the funny bones, ensuring that there is a level of accessibility for those being dragged to the cinema by their sons/boyfriends/husbands.

One criticism of Avengers Assemble is that perhaps there is not enough substance there, beyond the heavyweight action and sporadic comedy, to satisfy those uninterested in comics or action films – though, if you fall into this camp I don’t know why you would go to see the film anyway; it’d be like a fan of Scorsese going to see the latest Twilight banality. The plot is incredibly simple, sacrificed entirely for balls-to-the-wall action. This is certainly a necessity however; a more complex, layered film would have made the ensemble casting impossible to achieve successfully. I have to admit though, seeing this film without prior knowledge about the Avengers comic history, or at very least having seen a few of the characters solo films, may leave you a little puzzled at times, and certainly have a reduced appreciation for everything that’s happening. The subtle introductions of each hero make this pre-knowledge key to an understanding of how characters relate to each other, although the amazing action sequences and comedic rivalries can be appreciated regardless of this.

Avengers Assemble. It’s non-stop action from start to finish.

It’s constantly moving forward, without even a minute of lag or waffle. That explains why the two and a half hours felt like just fifty minutes. Wish I could say the same about more Marvel films…

Mobile games are designed to be simple, limited by storage, processor speeds and web accessibility. In their very nature, they are created with mobility in mind. They are to be used on that stuffy tube journey home, while you’re stuck in that long Tescos queue or sat helplessly at Starbucks waiting for that perpetually late friend to turn up – come on we all have one, if you don’t then it’s you!

Hence mobile gaming apps need to be very basic in design and functionality – perhaps this explains the market saturation with platformers. Innately platformers are a suitable genre for mobile gaming. They function perfectly with a limited control system and scrolling screens allow for large levels with small storage and loading times.

"He was a Skater Boy, she said see you later boy..." Fuck off Avril.

Yet, the cornucopia of such titles means that it can be difficult to create an app that significantly stands out. What’s needed is innovation and originality…

… Drop in Skater Boy for Android.

Upon hearing the title of this game unfortunate memories of a faux-alternative ”rock chick” come to mind… and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth (AND EARS), especially for those that actually skateboard and hate the fact that Avril ‘where are you now?’ Lavigne has become a superficial teeny bopper figurehead for the extreme sport.

Not that I have anything against her or anything….

In fairness, the name actually functions well as a title and as low level marketing. After all, you immediately have some grasp as to the concept and genre of the game simply from reading what it’s called.

The name also lends itself well to the artistic style of the Android app. ‘Skater Boy‘ doesn’t imply a gritty, urban skating game, one full of bloody injuries, excessive use of expletives and violent police chases. Instead it suggests the opposite: brightly-coloured visuals, gloriously dopey animation and child-friendly collectables in the form of stars and trophies. Forgive me if that sounds slightly critical, it was intended entirely as a compliment! Skater Boy is delightfully cheesy and makes no apologies for it!

Time to ollie over a tree and collect a trophy... as you do.

Where Skater Boy really stands out as a mobile app is the gameplay. Essentially it’s a simple, 2D side-scrolling platformer. Success is determined by completing levels within the limited amount of lives/bails (5), with additional bonus score at the end of each for retaining these lives and collecting trophies and stars along the way. Dotted throughout the levels are checkpoints providing the player with a saved state until their lives are fully extinguished.

The control system, as necessary, is brilliantly simple. As with many touch screen gaming apps, there are two on screen buttons, in this case one for pushing off (accelerating) and another for jumping. That’s it, it’s all you need to master in order to play this title.

Disappointingly for a game devoted to skateboarding, there is very little scope for creative skating. By this I mean, that you are unable to perform different moves with any real autonomy – when executing an ollie the game will often replace it with a kickflip, a tre flip or a 360 ollie, although this is entirely automatic. There is some agency to be found in the execution of grinds however (pressing jump mid air before you hit a grind will change the grind type), though again which moves are animated on screen in entirely forced. This linearity of moves list is somewhat distressing for a genre so saturated with alternating moves and techniques, but how this would be remedied in an app so simple is a different matter. In fact, Skater Boy manages to transcend this issue. At it’s heart, it’s an arcade game, able to appeal to a mass audience. Of course it doesn’t have the scope of more established skateboarding games like the Tony Hawks franchise, or the updated realism of EA’s widely-acclaimed Skate series. But it doesn’t try to, and in doing so can be enjoyed by absolutely anyone… that has the patience, that is.

Skater Boy menu screen - areas unlock as you collect stars.

It’s frustratingly addictive, ensnaring the player with its combination of speed, suspense and surprise. As the screen scrolls to the right, oncoming obstacles are suddenly revealed, including birds, witches on broom sticks, boars and water traps. There is no map so everything is completely unexpected as you attempt to predict what is coming up and how much speed will be required to clear it. It’s this element of staggered learning that so strongly draws the player in. As you progress through each level of Skater Boy, successfully avoiding obstacles and reaching checkpoints, you become determined to reach the end goal… and then, sudden defeat. You can’t help but get back on the horse, well the board, and try again, armed with updated knowledge of that level design and what you must do to avoid coming a cropper at the same place once again.

Skater Boy is refreshingly original, and beautifully simple. The graphics are cutesy and inoffensive, the controls smooth and intuitive, and the level design interesting and varied.

You might want to turn the audio off though; the soft rock guitar track is suitably alternative, but the constant yelps from your character as he bails soon become grating in their frequency… and they will be frequent.

I just wasted an hour and a half of my life watching perhaps the worst film I have seen in a long time, Year One. As a result, I refuse to spend much more time reviewing it!

Knowing very little about this film, beyond the fact that talented comedic actors Michael Cera and Jack Black were the main stars, dressed as cavemen, expectations were limited. I was open to be impressed however…

First mistake.

Second mistake: thinking to myself after 10 minutes, “heyyy, give it a chance”.

What a ripe pair. The fruit looks nice too.

Year One tells the story of bumbling duo Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera), unsuccessful hunter gatherers who fade entirely into the background of their tribe. This dubiously vague set up supposedly acts as a catalyst for what ensues. Within minutes of the opening credits rolling, Zed seeks out and eats ‘the forbidden fruit’ in a moment of biblical iconography that distresses. Please don’t shoe-horn some semblance of religious allegory in here, please Harold Ramis, not after your brilliant work on Groundhog Day!

Good news (not a pun, just a happy coincidence), religion isn’t unnecessarily squeezed into an odd corner of this film to add a ‘’deeper’’ layer of meaning – the whole thing is centred around it! What starts off as an uninspiring, poorly-written situational comedy, progresses (a word I use loosely) into an exploration of Old Testament history. In fact, that’s bollocks. Year One no more explores the themes, traditions, contradictions or religious controversy of the Old Testament than does the Westboro church explore San Francisco during Gay Pride. The biblical references (the Tree of Knowledge, Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac, Cain killing Abel) all function as nothing more than a method of establishing setting. Beyond single references to homosexuality, the gender and existence of God, and the nature of slavery, there is nothing intelligent enough to warrant a second thought. The trials our heroes go through only serve to promote the romantic conclusion at the end, an inconsequential conclusion at that.

Jack Black: Loud. Michael Cera: Meek. Typecast typecast typecast.

From the outset we are made unsubtly aware that our protagonists each have a love interest, forming some kind of predictable romantic thread that traverses the film. Yet, with little to no exploration of these desired relationships, the viewer is left with a feeling of sheer emotional detachment rendering them entirely apathetic as to whether the couples get it together by the end or not – though it was always guaranteed!

So that’s the premise slated, now for the acting. Black plays the role with typical gusto, but unfortunately is supplied with a character who is so unbelievably one-dimensional that he’d be far better suited to a three-cell Andy Capp strip than a Hollywood silverscreen comedy. Disastrously, particularly for Michael Cera, the accomplished actors are given roles that play exclusively to their typecasts: Zed is loud, oafish and undeservedly egotistical about his abilities and looks; Oh is a meek, mild-mannered teenager whose social awkwardness becomes a perpetual limitation. Sound like something you’ve seen before? Add to this forgettable cameo appearances from Vinnie Jones, Kyle Gass, Paul Rudd, and Chris Mintz-Plasse and you have a recipe for comedic failure.

Year One is a mixture of predicable slapstick comedy and unimpressive action sequences, all wrapped up in a severely undeveloped biblical theme. Simply put, it’s not clever enough to function as a religious parody, or funny enough to work well as a comedy. Instead of wasting your time with this flick, my suggestion is to watch Monty Python’s Life of Brian, an unparalleled success in both of these areas…

… or read the actual Old Testament. It’s more entertaining than watching Cera and Black deliver a poor script, and there’s no cockney interlude from Vinnie Jones. Win win.