Mass Effect Andromeda and how The Witcher has ruined me

Since its release, Mass Effect: Andromeda has received a very mixed response from gamers, who just aren’t happy with Bioware’s latest offering. Based on the original hit trilogy, Andromeda is the fourth instalment in the science fiction video game franchise.

Taking place in an entirely different galaxy, Mass Effect: Andromeda introduces two new protagonists to the mix, Sara and Scott Ryder. Their aim is to establish new worlds for mankind, as they leave the Milky Way to discover new technology and new opportunities.

As they explore this uncharted galaxy, the Ryder family discovers something that threatens the very existence of life in Andromeda. To examine and combat this deadly threat, players will have to discover new worlds with the aid of their very own squad.

After completing the main story along with a huge selection of side-quests, is it fair to say that Andromeda deserves some of its unfavourable reviews? With an average 4.7 on Metacritic, it almost seems like this is Bioware’s worst Mass Effect yet.

But does Andromeda even stack up to the previous three games? Is it a complete trainwreck? It’s hard to say, but here’s my verdict, based on a playthrough with Sara Ryder.

Andromeda begins its expansive journey by literally throwing the player onto a new planet, as Sara follows her father to discover a strange abnormality. An N7 Pathfinder, Sara’s father Alex is voiced by Clancy Brown, and he provides an example of just how cool N7 recruits are. Just like fellow N7 Commander Shepard, Alec simply kicks alien ass.

When players begin the game, there’s a clear sense of mystery and adventure. Set with intrigue, players will be enveloped by the terrific atmosphere that the game presents. Ryder is quickly paired up with fellow human Liam Kosta, a response specialist who later becomes a valuable teammate.

At first, Bioware nails that all too familiar feeling that the franchise is renowned for. Harking back to when Shepard first encountered Saren, or when the Collector’s attacked in ME2, Ryder’s brief incursion on this new planet feels new and exciting.

But then, you notice something the second you pull a gun on the enemy. Where’s the detailed combat wheel that every Mass Effect game has featured? Suddenly, the ability to control my teammate has been removed entirely.

Yes, for some inane reason Bioware have done away with that truly solid system that enabled players to coordinate a plan of attack. Instead, they’ve replaced it with a poorly designed and ultimately forgettable system for equipping abilities just for Ryder. It seems like a huge step back.

Whereas Mass Effect previously allowed players to construct their characters’ story around whatever class they begin with, Andromeda allows the player to swap their profiles on the switch. This may make for some interesting combos, but it sort of feels a bit cheap.

Thanks to this weird decision, players now have way too many powers to select or boost. Excluding specific enhancements, there are roughly 24 different powers that can be equipped. Having previously played as a biotic god before, it did seem wise to select throw, singularity and overload for good measure, but there are just too many options to choose from.

However, Ryder is much more mobile than Commander Shepard has ever been, thanks to the inclusion of a new snazzy jetpack. Allowing the player to boost forwards or upwards, it does get you into those hard to reach areas, and it adds a quick getaway solution when facing enemies. It also makes a nice sound, so there’s that.

Along with the departure of controllable teammates, Bioware also decided to rid the player of customisation options for the entire team. ME2 didn’t necessarily have an amazing variety of options, but the ability to equip different weapons for different characters allowed for further freedom.

Oddly enough, this just isn’t an issue for Ryder. If anything, you’ll notice there are just too many options for the main character. There are four sets of armour for Ryder to wear, including the helmet, chest, arms and the legs. You can research and develop these armour pieces, but there’s a countless range of different designs.

Remember how annoying the inventory system was for the first Mass Effect? Well, buckle up, because congratulations should be awarded to the development team for somehow managing to create an even worse system than ever before. With long lists of options and modifications for weaponry and armour, players will just end up getting lost in the midst of the menus.

There really is just too much, and it doesn’t help that most armour pieces can be upgraded at least ten times, as long as players have the ridiculous amounts of resources. Those resources are acquired soon after you leave the first planet, and brace yourselves – as you have to probe for them!

If players thought ME2’s system was monotonous, they’ve seen nothing yet. This time, you have to travel long distances on various planets until a mining area is unlocked. Once it’s unlocked, gamers will still have to drive around until a rich source is discovered! Whoever thought this was a good idea, needs to rethink their positioning in the industry.

Players will notice that when evaluating planets, they’ll spend most of their time in this new six-wheeled vehicle. Thankfully, it can traverse planets with ease, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that most of the exploration is done in the damn vehicle.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of using the Batmobile in Batman: Arkham Knight will know that it was an unnecessary addition that took over a majority of the gameplay, and in Andromeda players will be using it for around two-thirds of the game. Oh, it doesn’t have guns by the way. You have to awkwardly exit to engage in combat.

Some planets are lush with wildlife, but there’s no need for Ryder to travel across empty desert dunes to get to a certain point on the map. In some cases, most areas feel just as empty as some of the lifeless planets from the first Mass Effect! You know, the entry to the franchise which was released in 2007.

Players will soon realise that they’ll encounter the same enemies on different planets as well and that the galaxy severely lacks a diverse ecosystem. There is a reason for this which is explained much later in the story, but it feels like a bit of a cop out to save the designers a bit of time.

Still, one of the most important questions remains unanswered. How is the new ensemble that helps out our main protagonist throughout their journey? Well, they’re surprisingly okay. As is tradition with Bioware, they have managed to include a mind-numbingly boring human character into the mix, but it’s not a terrible effort.

If players are playing Mass Effect properly, they won’t be focusing on the humans in their squad anyway. Everybody remembers just how painfully dull James Vega was, and now the biotic Cora can now join his ranks as an ultimately forgettable, one-note character. Instead, players should shift their focus to the new Asari and Krogan for example.

During the playthrough, two members never left my side; Peebee and Jaal. An Asari with an interest in ancient technology, Peebee seemed like the perfect choice. She’s certainly different compared to my top-tier wife Liara, but her impetuous attitude is a welcome change of pace. Obviously, she became my romance, because she’s Asari. Duh.

Jaal belongs to a new species in Andromeda, the Angara. His personal story in Andromeda has the most weight and taking him along for missions felt essential. Having Jaal and Peebee travel hostile worlds with Ryder also provided some pretty entertaining conversations between all three characters.

Considering that these new teammates will constantly be compared to the original trilogy’s characters, Bioware has done an alright job. It was a mighty task to introduce a new squad that follows in the footsteps of Garrus, Wrex or Tali, but they made a commendable effort. If anything, Jaal may become a favourite for some and heck, even Liam has his moments.

What some players will immediately realise is the significant lack of well-known voice actors. The main VAs in the game are perfectly fine, but the original trilogy with rife with big names; Keith David, Martin Sheen, Carrie-Ann Moss and Seth Green. Hell, Seth Green was in every game and Yvonne Strahovski voiced a teammate.

There’s only one recurring character who has a recognisable voice, and that’s doctor Lexi. Voiced by Natalie Dormer, she makes a few appearances during cutscenes and is often found in the medical bay. Considering the franchise has been known for boasting such big names though, it feels like a bit of a disappointment. If anything, it used to add a certain gravitas to the series.

Specific quests need to be chosen carefully, as there are just too many fetch quests dotted around the numerous planets. It is unfortunately slightly reminiscent of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and often completing various quests can feel like a massive drag.

However, what is utterly baffling is Bioware’s decision to incorporate a major plot point in one of the tedious collectable quests. Something that can be entirely missed throughout the game, adds an extra layer to Andromeda’s story, which should’ve been prominently featured at some point of the game. For fans, it’s almost essential viewing.

It cannot be stressed enough that all of the allies’ quests should be tackled because they result in some of the better writing witnessed in Andromeda. Funnily enough, the two humans aboard Ryder’s ship have some of the more entertaining loyalty quests, with Liam’s having some funny, sharp dialogue throughout.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the final quest. The main villain that has plagued Ryder during the game, the Archon, is a terrible attempt at creating an interesting character. For a franchise that has given us Saren, the Collectors and most importantly the Reapers (here’s looking at you Harbinger), the Archon completely fails to deliver.

Bioware appeared to have missed the memo for creating villains in Andromeda, as the Archon is hardly intimidating or even remarkable. The writers have supplied no interesting backstory and no sympathetic reasoning for his cause. He simply hates other species because Bioware forgot to come up with a valid reason.

Some may deem it unfair to constantly compare Andromeda to the previous trilogy, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Andromeda has been in development for years, and the last entry was released in 2012. The first entry is almost ten years old now and it even that does a better job with the animation!

Shepard will always be the greatest of all time, but at least Ryder is somewhat serviceable. She’s inexperienced, and that is reflected during the game. She’s burdened with a mighty task, and her development is somewhat entertaining to watch. Hopefully, later games will fully expand on her story as well.

It is rather difficult to recommend Mass Effect: Andromeda to gamers, let alone fans of the franchise. It might not deserve some of the sheer hate that it’s currently receiving, but then it’s part of a genre that has been almost perfected with the original trilogy and games like The Witcher 3.

Perhaps we have been spoiled in the past, but thanks to games like The Witcher 3, a new standard has been set in the RPG genre. Developed in less time than Andromeda, CD Projekt delivered something that was rich with great storytelling, solid animation and superb attention to detail.

Yes, it’s all Geralt’s fault. After having spent numerous amounts of time on the game, taking in the beautiful landscapes and defeating monsters whilst romancing a hot sorceress, I realised that I had experienced a game like none other.

It’s funny because at first, I hadn’t appreciated The Witcher 3 for it’s worth when I started the game. With time though, it soon became clear that this was a game developed with a clear love for the material and its characters. Both of the downloadable content offered even stood up against full video game releases.

CD Projekt ruined my gaming experiences with the RPG genre because it completely set a new standard. Perhaps not every game developer should aspire to be like CD Projekt, but it wouldn’t hurt. When you get a franchise like Mass Effect which is adored by thousands, it should be treated with care.

Bioware reportedly handed down the fourth game to a different development team, whose previous work on the franchise was Mass Effect 3’s unnecessary multiplayer, along with some of the downloadable content. Of course, most of the team behind the previous games are no longer with the company, but it just seems utterly bizarre to see it handed down the development line.

Maybe to some, it came as no surprise to see the mixed response for the game. Dragon Age: Inquisition ruffled some feathers, but here it feels like Bioware completely dropped the ball on one of their biggest franchises.

For fans of the series like myself, it’s a massive disappointment to see that Andromeda failed to deliver. Bear in mind, it isn’t the worst game in the world and I didn’t particularly hate the experience. It just felt very lacklustre, especially for a Mass Effect game.

So, does Andromeda actually deserve the criticism? Yes and no. Some might find some elements of the game enjoyable, so check it out when it’s cheaper. Also, Bioware has responded to the criticism and they’re apparently listening. So there’s that. That does not condone some of the abuse that the developers have received, however.

Anyway, I’m going to talk Saren out of working for the Reapers again to be reminded of how great science fiction games can be. Shepard.

Top 20 Films of 2016

It’s been a long time coming, but here are the Top 20 Films of 2016! This year has served up some truly great cinematic treats, whilst others may have left a sour taste for days, if not weeks. Blockbusters have yet again seen a boom, and Warner Bros still haven’t managed to find their footing since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Still, plenty of people paid money to be disappointed, as both Suicide Squad and Batman Vs. Superman displayed.

Disney really took over the box-office this year, with at least five of the top ten box-office earners all being Disney titles. Also, a staggeringly large amount of people paid to see The Secret Lives of Pets. Some cinemagoers even praised it. There’s a strong possibility they walked into a screening of Zootropolis and assumed that was the same film.

Regardless of box-office numbers, a lot of films flew under the radar for many. A few films in this list had terribly limited releases, so they suffered from a lack of exposure. If anything, this list is here to help that. Also, all films listed are based on UK theatrical releases alone. No exceptions are made to festival screenings, or even films that somehow weren’t even released in the UK. Here’s looking at you, Anno’s Godzilla (do check it out, it’s great).

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the list.

20: Welcome to Leith

Directed by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, this documentary focuses on the small North Dakota town of Leith and its unwelcome guests. With a population of roughly 16 people, the small community is threatened by the appearance of white supremacist Craig Cobb, who attempts to build his very own Neo-Nazi community within Leith.

A truly uncomfortable watch, Welcome to Leith provides a fascinating insight into an ugly part of society, which is highlighted with some extremely close interactions with everyone involved. It’s raw, attention-grabbing some truly captivating and scary viewing.

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19: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Directed by David Yates, Fantastic Beasts is the first of many spin-offs from the Harry Potter franchise. Set in the 1920s, British ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander finds himself stuck in New York, right in the midst of the secret wizarding world. As it turns out, not all is right behind the scenes of New York’s cobbled streets, as Newt befriends part of the community to help thwart the looming dark presence of evil.

Fantastic Beasts is a pleasant return to the wizarding world, as David Yates manages to recapture some of the wondrous visuals and charismatic characters that the franchise is renowned for. It really comes as no surprise,  as Yates filmography does already consist of four of the Harry Potter films.

It’s a telling sign that this is J.K. Rowling’s first foray into screenwriting also, as the script still feels like it is part of the same universe. The story may be a little straightforward, but the performances from Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell are truly exceptional. It’s a real pleasure to see Colin Farrell in such a role, which we deserve to see more of.

One of the reveals in the film may leave a sour taste for some viewers, as will the proposition of four more sequels, but David Yates Fantastic Beasts feels like a warm, welcome return to a home that many have missed for some while now.

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18: Deadpool

It’s a weird feeling, but for the first time in years, Fox Studios surprised cinemagoers this year by producing an R-rated, enjoyable superhero film that was nothing like their back catalogue of tired mutant movies.

Deadpool had been stuck in developmental hell for years, but with the help of Ryan Reynolds and director Tim Miller, the film was finally released in spring to a roaring response. It quickly became the highest grossing R-rated film of all time (when unadjusted for inflation), receiving critical acclaim from almost all major critics.

The plot is simple enough. Hired mercenary Wade Wilson attempts to cure his body of cancer with the aid of an experimental procedure, which leaves him disfigured and without the love of his life. Swearing revenge on who ruined his life, Deadpool tries to put together the missing pieces of his personal puzzle.

Thanks to constant pushing from Ryan Reynolds, his role as Deadpool is now synonymous with the actor. Deadpool is hysterical, tightly put together and is unfortunately now set to possibly disappoint cinemagoers with its countless sequels and spin-offs, because that’s the Fox Studios way.

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17: Kubo and the Two Strings

Possibly one of the greatest achievements in 3D stop-motion capture, Kubo and the Two Strings is the tale of a young, gifted boy who attempts to locate a mystical piece of armour to aid his fight against vengeful spirits.

It’s the fourth film from Laika, who have cemented themselves as one of the best animation studios specialising in cinema today. Kubo and the Two Strings features the voices of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and Ralph Fiennes, to name a few. McConaughey is one of the stand-out voices in the film, whose work as the comical beetle provides some of the funniest scenes throughout.

Kubo and the Two Strings’ script might not necessarily be its strongest suit, but the sheer amount of talent showcased with the animation means the film truly needs to be seen to be believed, as scenes are exquisitely brought to life. The storyline is typically dark in places, but then that’s part of Laika’s traditional storytelling appeal.

Unfortunately, the film fell under the radar for some this year, with the lowest opening yet for a Laika production. However, it is still one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of the year, and it’s never too late to seek out this magical tale of mystery, action and drama.

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16: Zootropolis/Zootopia

Renamed Zootropolis for a UK wide release, Disney’s 55th animated feature was a surprising entry this year. Directed by both Byron Howard and Rich Moore, Zootropolis focuses on the young Judy Hopps, a young, optimistic police officer who starts her career in an urban utopia.

During the first days of her career as a member of the force, she finds herself in an unlikely partnership with the con artist Nick Wilde, as they both try to uncover the disappearance of several animals. Disney picked the ideal voice actors for both characters too, as Jason Bateman channels Wilde perfectly, alongside Ginnifer Goodwin as Hopps.

Zootropolis managed to successfully tell a story about speciesism amongst animals themselves, whilst managing to feature memorable characters and some entertaining scenes, for all ages. Whereas other studios completely failed this year with their cutesy animals (here’s looking at you Illumination Entertainment), Zootropolis completely knocked it out of the park.

It may come as no surprise that director Rich Moore previously directed some of the best ever episodes of The Simpsons, including Marge Vs. The Monorail, Cape Feare and Homer’s Night Out, to name a few. That comedic talent is clearly witnessed in Zootropolis. Zootropolis is brimming with charm, and per the typical Disney standard nowadays, the animation is flawless.

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15: The Nice Guys

Unsurprisingly, The Nice Guys features all the trademarks of a Shane Black movie; a murder mystery, an unusual mismatched pair of protagonists and of course, attractive women. Thankfully, The Nice Guys also follows the same standard of Black’s previous films, and here his formula is perfected.

The film features Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as the two main leads, two detectives who conduct their work very differently. Somehow assigned to the same case, both detectives are in search of a missing teenager.

The script is rife with witty dialogue, and the plot takes some interesting and surprising developments, keeping viewers on their toes throughout. It’s a role that Crowe has desperately needed for some time, as it showcases a range we’ve not seen enough of.

It’s a great little movie, and the 70s setting really helps to reinforce Shane Black’s vision. Regardless of what some may think about Black’s work on Iron Man 3, it’s evident that he’s a gifted writer and director. Here’s to his next film, the sequel to Predator, where the alien has to inevitably team up with an unlikely buddy to solve the mystery of the missing porn actress.

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14: Moana

Yet another animated entry for the 2016 list, Moana is Disney’s 56th animated feature film directed by both Ron Clements and John Musker. Renowned for their work on some of Disney’s greatest films, such as Little Mermaid and Aladdin, it comes as no surprise that Moana is just as enjoyable as their previous efforts.

Moana looks absolutely beautiful, and it may possess some of the best songs from Disney in years. Starring Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson as Maui and Auli’I Cravalho as the main lead, Moana, the film follows her journey to put a stop to the curse that threatens her home and livelihood.

It’s also a breath of fresh air too, as Moana features absolutely no love interests whatsoever. The film is peppered with a wide variety of scenes, consisting of Mad Max inspired action sequences and a visually striking underwater scene featuring one-half of Flight of the Conchords, Jemaine Clement.

The animation in Moana reminds viewers of just how far cinema has come since the days of Toy Story. It’s beautifully animated, tightly put together and it ultimately boasts some of that traditional Disney magic.

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13: The Revenant

There’s no denying it; The Revenant is a technical masterpiece. Set in 1823, director Alejandro Iñárritu based his film on Michael Punke’s novel of the same name, which describes the life of American frontiersman Hugh Glass.

Winning 3 Academy Awards earlier this year, The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the protagonist Glass, and Tom Hardy as the main antagonist, John Fitzgerald. Left for dead after being badly mauled by a bear, Hugh Glass has to fend for himself as he undertakes the arduous task of returning home.

Filmed using natural light and under severe weather conditions, The Revenant is a testament to how skilled Iñárritu is with his craft. Scenes are stunningly composed, as the film portrays just how unforgivable life was back then. Whilst Leonardo was recognised for his performance as Hugh Glass, Tom Hardy’s role as John Fitzgerald is arguably much stronger, as Hardy truly embodies the character of Fitzgerald.

The Revenant is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, and it does deserve every accolade it’s received so far. After Birdman and now The Revenant, people are more than excited for Iñárritu’s next project.

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12: Room

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Room boasts Brie Larson’s most captivating performance yet. Based on the book of the same name, Larson plays as Joy Newsome, who has been held captive with her 5-year old son for years. The film follows their attempts at escaping, and how they cope with the outside world.

Room is essentially split into two chapters, with each one showcasing the acting abilities of Larson and Jacob Tremblay, who has a spectacular performance as the young son, who acts completely unaware of their harrowing situation. Tremblay’s character feels real, and there’s a real sense of a relationship between mother and son here, which is a welcome surprise concerning younger actors.

The first half of the film acts a tense thriller, whereas the second provides a more sober, emotional hook. Abrahamson has provided cinemagoers with a unique story of survival of love this year, which is not to be missed.

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11:  Captain America: Civil War

It should come as no surprise to see that Civil War makes it into the top 20 this year, due to directors Joe and Anthony Russo returning to the Captain America franchise for one of the biggest events in comic book history. The second highest grossing film of the year (after Finding Dory), Civil War managed to juggle over a dozen characters, whilst presenting a thought-provoking story and phenomenal action.

There are many layers to Civil War’s story, but the main focus is the decision from the United Nations to oversee and control the Avengers, in response to their emergence correlating with major disasters. Creating a divide within the team, an international incident involving Captain America’s old friend Bucky Barnes adds tension and further division amongst close allies.

Civil War had a lot of elements that could have gone wrong; a complex idea, dozens of characters, the introduction of Spider-man, and even Ant-Man’s inevitable change into Giant Man. However, the Russo brothers accomplished all of that, therefore making comic book fans dreams come true. Characters were well balanced, Tom Holland’s performance as Spider-man was the greatest yet, and the film even ended on a surprisingly dour note.

In some ways, Civil War felt like Star Wars’ Empire Strikes Back, as it established new characters whilst developing old fan favourites. It was an incredibly put together film, providing Warner Bros yet another example of how to produce a superhero blockbuster. Maybe they’ll get it one day.

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10: Arrival

In the past few years, director Denis Villeneuve has proved his work as a skilful director. His past films, Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario have had Villeneuve tackling all sorts of genres, but Arrival is his first attempt at science fiction, and arguably his best directorial piece yet.

Based on a short story, Arrival stars Amy Adams as linguist Louise Banks, who is hired by the U.S. army to help discover why 12 extra-terrestrial ships have landed on Earth. Joined by Jeremy Renner’s Ian Donnelly, both Louise and Ian decipher the alien messages in a race against other nations who are unsure of how to act towards these possibly hostile invaders.

Arrival is a surprisingly smart and sophisticated science fiction film, and it succeeds where 2014’s Interstellar miserably failed. The film challenges the usual format of sci-fi feature films, with a strong focus on philosophy and language. It is much more reserved than typical alien invasion films, and that, in turn, makes it a welcome breath of fresh air.

Adams is at her very best here, and Villeneuve is slowly turning into a director to follow very closely, especially considering he’s at the helm of the next Blade Runner.

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9: Nocturnal Animals

Despite the unnecessary first five minutes, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is an intense, stunning and titillating piece of filmmaking. The film is interwoven into two storylines, with Amy Adams starring in one role and Jake Gyllenhaal in two. In the film, Adams is Susan Morrow, a successful art gallery owner who receives a manuscript written by her estranged ex-husband, Edward.

Devoted to her, this twisted novel she reads is brought to life with the use of several actors; Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. As she’s consumed by the book, the story is interlaced with flashbacks of her relationship with Edward.

The layered script is flawless, allowing for some great roles to be played by both Shannon and Taylor-Johnson. Jake Gyllenhaal is on form as he usually is, but the combination of personating two characters is the icing on the cake for fans of his exceptional work.

It cannot be understated how well composed some of the scenes are, but then Tom Ford has a keen eye for cinematography. His previous film, A Single Man, presented viewers with a thirst for more, and hopefully Nocturnal Animals will set a trend for the gifted filmmaker.

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8: The Hateful Eight

The second Western in a row by renowned director Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight concerns eight strangers who seek refuge at a haberdashery from a deadly blizzard. Each with their own unique background, these strangers may have their own nefarious plans that involve the bounty hunter and his prisoner.

There’s a varied selection of actors in The Hateful Eight who have appeared in Tarantino’s films before, such as Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and even Zoë Bell to name a few, and they’re all on form here.

Of course, The Hateful Eight could be considered typical Tarantino exploitation schlock, but that’s part of the appeal. Tarantino’s characters are often outrageous, especially in the case of Jackson’s character Marquis, and the script is laden with sharp, snappy dialogue. It has all of Tarantino’s staples all over it, and there’s simply nothing wrong with that.

As is the norm with Tarantino and his love for cinema, The Hateful Eight was shot on film. However, his use 70mm film caused a flurry of disagreements between UK cinemas and the distributor. Making at least half of what Django Unchained made at the box office, The Hateful Eight was surrounded by controversy, the new Star Wars, and an obscene amount of pirating. Still, it was another great addition to Tarantino’s filmography, and it’s not to be scoffed at.

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7: Swiss Army Man

Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Swiss Army Man proved to be one of the weirdest entries in UK cinemas this year. Starring Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse and Paul Dano as a suicidal misfit, Swiss Army Man

Even as a dead man, Daniel Radcliffe can still act, and his relationship with Paul Dano’s Hank is unusual and charming. Acting as a Swiss army ‘man’, Hank utilises the cadaver of Radcliffe in weird and wonderful ways to survive in the wilderness.

It’s hard to define Swiss Army Man in a specific genre of film. It’s not an action or adventure, or really a coming-of-age drama. It’s unlike any other indie film that has been showcased this year, and despite its weird content, it’s strangely delightful and full of heart. Also, it has Paul Dano recreating the Jurassic Park theme to a gawping, dead flatulent Radcliffe, so what more could cinemagoers ask for?

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6: Everybody Wants Some!!

No matter what decade it is, director Richard Linklater manages to capture it perfectly within his pictures. His latest, the 2016 comedy set the eighties, Everybody Wants Some!! follows a selection of college baseball players who are interested in two things; baseball and women.

Everybody Wants Some!! doesn’t follow standard storytelling conventions. It throws viewers straight into the eighties, as it showcases what life was like back then with a carefully put together ensemble cast. Each character feels real, as they have their own identity and background, and they’re all perfectly portrayed.

Linklater’s films are like marmite for some people but do not be mistaken as this film is the ultimate frat boy comedy, and it feels like it was ripped right out of the era it is attempting to recreate. The main character Jake Bradford, is played exceptionally well by past Glee member, Blake Jenner. His function is important, as the lead role gets a taste of what the eighties were made of.

It boasts a superb soundtrack, and one standout scene involves five of the baseball players rapping to The Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, all before attempting – and failing miserably – to pick up women outside their dorm rooms. Everybody Wants Some!! is a nuanced, appealing little picture, and we should all be so thankful to have Linklater as a director.

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5: Green Room

Visceral, suspenseful and downright sickening, director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room was one of the best horror movies of the year. Appearing out of nowhere, this horror film starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart, told the story of how one punk band becomes a target after witnessing a murder at a Neo-Nazi bar.

Trapped in the green room after witnessing a stabbing, they’re held hostage by Darcy Banker, the leader of the local group of skinheads. Played by Patrick Stewart, Darcy is a force to be reckoned with as he will stop at nothing to ensure that the police aren’t involved.

Green Room is unapologetic as the tense showdown kicks into gear, harking back to an earlier age of brutal exploitation films that always left no one unscathed. It’s taut, well-acted and surprisingly unforgivable, as the thrills keep coming.

Nobody ever expected Patrick Stewart to play such a role, and it helps add that extra layer of menace to his role. Of course, this is also one of Anton Yelchin’s last roles that he got to act before his untimely death this year. He’s one of the best parts about Green Room, and it’s a pleasure to see him star in such an unrepentant and thrilling movie. Viewers will be left in shock at the demise of some characters, and at some of the lines uttered by Stewart’s mouth.

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4: Train to Busan

Let’s be honest here. There hasn’t been a decent zombie flick since Shaun of the Dead, except for the Spanish horror films, REC and REC2. Thankfully though, that changed this year with the South Korean film, Train to Busan. Heavily pushed for an international release, Train to Busan is directed by Yeon Sang-ho, starring Gong Yoo and Ma Dong-Seok.

Gong Yoo plays the lead role as Seok-Woo, a divorced workaholic who takes his daughter to see her mother in Busan. They board the Korea Train Express, and as their train departs from the station, a convulsing, sick woman boards the train. As it turns out, she’s been infected with a zombie plague – and she’s not the only one.

Train to Busan is a pure survival horror, which takes place prominently on board a train. The confines of the train really push the survival aspect of the film, and the film is bolstered with some strong storytelling, that has a heavy reliance on relationships, selfishness and sheer horror.

There’s clearly a social commentary that is touched upon throughout the film, which is mixed into horrifying action sequences. Viewers will be left rooting for the main cast, whilst managing pure hatred for one of the minor characters. Train to Busan has some great performances, some solid zombie action and make-up, and it should come as no surprise that the film is now the highest-grossing Asian film of all time in China. It’s unique, action-packed and emotional. Not to be missed.

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3:  10 Cloverfield Lane

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Josh Campbell, 10 Cloverfield Lane sports one of John Goodman’s most captivating performances of his entire career. Alongside Goodman who plays the questionable Howard Stambler, the film stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle and John Gallagher, Jr. as Emmett.

After a traumatic car crash, Michelle finds herself locked up in a cell inside Howard Stambler’s underground bunker. Despite Howard reassuring her that he’s helping her recuperate and that the US is under attack from an unknown military force, things don’t appear to be totally above-board. Is Howard who he says he is? Has there been an invasion? And who is Emmett?

Trachtenberg’s film is a tremendous, nail-biting display of tense drama and John Goodman’s jaw-dropping performance. It’s simply engrossing from start to finish, with some terrific cinematography that’s even on display in a confined bunker.

Of course, because it was a Bad Robot production, there was a strong viral marketing campaign that attracted a lot of fans. It was slightly different to the last one, but tonnes of fun whenever a new clue turned up. However, not much else can be said about the film, as spoilers need to be avoided for total enjoyment. That’s not a detriment to the film, but just a necessary precaution.

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2: The Witch

The directorial debut of Robert Eggers, The Witch follows a Puritan family who has a tragedy involving their youngest. Set in 17th century New England, the youngest child Samuel mysteriously vanishes during the eldest daughters care. What follows after that, is the emergence of a witch in the woods, who sets to dismantle the family in wicked ways.

The Witch, which is stylised as ‘The VVitch’ is inspired by old folklore and witch trials, which occurred for years in New England. It’s the most impressive debut by a writer and director this year, As Eggers has provided cinemagoers with a true horror masterpiece.

The genre relies all too often on found footage or jump-scares nowadays, but The Witch succeeds by having a genuinely creepy vibe to it, that’ll send shivers down spines. The period of time is perfectly captured, down to the authentic language, clothing and of course, the devout religiousness of families back then.

Some audiences may dislike its slow pace, but it constantly builds tension that can be felt by the viewers, as the family are torn apart by the evil that surrounds them. It closely follows the horrifying folklore it is loosely based on, as it finally ends in one of the most jaw-dropping sequences in cinema.

It’s always a pleasant change to see the genre mixed up by films like this, as it waves goodbye to tired conventions and tropes. The Witch is deeply unsettling at times, it is exquisitely shot and it will probably be greeted by a furore of horror fans which will simply dismiss it. Don’t. It’s a truly thought-provoking piece of work.

1: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky Baker is a bad egg. He lives the skux life, and there is no hope. That is until he is taken in by foster mother Bella and her husband, Hec. Ricky’s life is then turned around for the better, up until his foster mother suddenly passes away. After he runs away from his new home and the child welfare services, Ricky and Hec soon become part of a manhunt in the New Zealand bush.

Directed by Taika Waititi, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is dripping with charm, humour and two solid lead performances, by the young Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker and everyone’s favourite onscreen palaeontologist, Sam Neil as the cantankerous Hec. If ever New Zealand needed an advertisement for their beautiful landscapes or even a new national anthem, they need to look no further than this flick.

Waititi was responsible for directing one of the funniest films of 2014, What We Do in the Shadows, and also has screenwriting credits for this year’s Moana, and furthermore is currently adding the finishing touches to Thor: Ragnarok. He is without a doubt, one of the most talented directors working today.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s script is simple enough, and it is littered with dialogue that will be quoted for years to come. Ricky and Hec attempt to get along with each other in the bush, whilst encountering a number of dangerous hazards and weirdos, and their relationship is a touching one that evolves during the movie.

It’s a nice treat to see Sam Neil in a lead role again, and he’s utilised properly for the first time in years. Julian Dennison’s performance as Ricky Baker is a breakout role for the young actor too, and he’s sure to stick around for some time. It’d be criminal not to have Dennison in any other film, especially with his comedic timing.

There just isn’t any other movie this year that leaves viewers with such a warm feeling, as Hunt for the Wilderpeople is set to be a poignant and hilarious classic. A solid cast, beautiful cinematography and an annoyingly catchy soundtrack make this film the best movie of the year, if not the past few years. It’s very easy to return to Hunt for the Wilderpeople, to revel in its unique characters, the scenery and touching story. But that’s enough adjectives for this review. One’s enough. It’s simply majestical.

 

Top 8 Comics of 2016

This year showcased a wide variety of original graphic novels and comics for almost everyone, as the industry witnessed some brilliant storytelling and stunning artwork. There might have been a few blunders along the way, but cynicism towards the industry waned thanks to the release of some truly remarkable titles.

This short list is comprised of some of the best publications of the year, from a number of different publishers. If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out some of these comics, then please support the creators by enveloping yourself in their carefully crafted universes. It’s not too late to hop on either, as a few of these titles will are continuing into 2017.

8. JUGHEAD

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Archie Comics successfully rebooted back in 2015, and since then the publisher has seen a plethora of new talent working on their beloved characters. One of those new creative teams that have achieved something special is the dynamic duo of Ryan North and Derek Charm.

Starting off with issue nine in September, North and Charm built upon the foundations laid by Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson. To continue with a new direction for the title, North introduced everyone’s favourite teenage witch, Sabrina, into the equation.

Her first introduction into this new Riverdale, Sabrina helped take the comic to new heights. Jughead was suddenly funnier than ever before, and there was a new degree of charm to it. Falling head over heels for Sabrina, the burger-loving Jughead unsuccessfully begins to date the mysterious, quirky teen.

Of course, when Sabrina doesn’t get her way with Jughead, her dangerous magic comes into play. Jughead is a delightfully fun and hilarious read, and Charm’s artwork is the perfect choice for the story. It’s a late contender for the year, but it’s one to look out for in 2017.

7. DOOM PATROL

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Another late entry into the year, Gerard Way’s reimagining of Doom Patrol has proved to be successful, entertaining and most importantly, just as bizarre as previous entries. With splendid artwork from Nick Derington, Way has managed to create a title which is accessible to new readers, whilst welcoming the old ones back into the fold.

This new series is part of the Young Animal imprint, which is an attempt to replicate DC’s Vertigo for a new audience. So far, it’s proved to be a hit, and it doesn’t hurt that Way’s 1.5m followers on Twitter have been dedicated to following any of work post-My Chemical Romance.

Doom Patrol embraces the bizarre with fresh faces, in the form of ambulance driver Casey Brinke, and her eccentric singing roommate Terry None. Thrown into a world of weirdness, Casey gets to meet familiar Doom Patrol members, whilst discovering a mysterious past.

It’s a title that doesn’t follow standard storytelling structure, and it should be approached by those who want something wholly different to the usual superhero fare witnessed on the shelves. It’s early days yet, but Doom Patrol is set to be one hell of a ride.

6. MEGG & MOGG IN AMSTERDAM (AND OTHER STORIES)

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Written and illustrated entirely by Simon Hanselmann, Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam is the sequel to the funniest book of 2015, Megahex. However, despite being sold as a comedy to many, Hanselmann’s second graphic novel touches upon all too familiar subjects; anxiety, depression and cat’s anuses.

To escape the daily struggles of life and to fix their failing relationship, Megg and Mogg decide to travel to Amsterdam to enjoy its many vices. Of course, they can’t go anywhere without their friends, the insufferable Werewolf Jones and the empathetic Owl.

Hanselmann’s work has a beautiful, vibrant colour palette which really adds a nice dynamic to the many stories involving drug binges, sex, and mental health issues. There’s really nothing quite like Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam right now, and it’s almost criminal to miss out on one of the most unusual books of 2016.

5. DARK KNIGHT: A TRUE BATMAN STORY

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DC has offered Batfans plenty of material to read this year, but it was this year’s original graphic novel that really took the spotlight. A True Batman Story is an autobiographical tale, written by Paul Dini with artwork from the hugely talented Eduardo Risso.

During his career as writer and producer of the hugely successful Batman: The Animated Series, Paul Dini’s life was dramatically altered after suffering a brutal assault one evening in Hollywood. This book recounts his recovery process and how his life was changed, with the visual aids of Batman and his loved villains.

A True Batman Story takes a completely different approach to telling a story which fans are used to, but that’s what makes it stand out from the rest. Dini’s narration of this horrible event in his life is an insightful look into his personality, and Risso’s art really helps bring that era of Batman back to life. For fans of the best animated series ever, this is essential reading.

4. KAIJUMAX: SEASON TWO

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The first season of Kaijumax surprised a few readers last year with its vibrant colour palette, its cutesy monsters and shockingly adult themes. Set up as a serious prison drama involving kaiju, writer and illustrator Zander Cannon continued to impress and astound his readers with Season Two.

The comic continues its focus on the main fugitive Electrogor, who is stuck in a world that doesn’t want anything to do with kaiju. After his escape from prison, Electrogor plans to the cross the Pacific rim in hope of reuniting with his children. However, during his journey, he encounters kaiju parolees, drug addicts and Lovecraftian monstrosities.

It’s a must-read for kaiju lovers, as Zander Cannon infuses his sheer wealth of kaiju knowledge into this book, whilst maintaining a fine balance of humanity within. Readers will be rooting for Electrogor to reach his kids, whilst being fascinated with some of the weird subplots supplied throughout.

Kaijumax is a grand achievement, where Cannon has managed to take a successful first season into entirely new territory. It’s action packed, dramatic and even upsetting in parts. Kaijumax is not to be missed.

3. HEAD LOPPER

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Imagine Adventure Time’s colourful visuals, mixed in with some of the elements of the Hellboy universe. Sprinkle some solid storytelling on top, with a side of beheadings, and you have Andrew MacLean’s breakout hit of 2016, Head Lopper.

Fantastical, colourful and downright entertaining from the first page, Head Lopper surprised loads of readers this year. It quickly turned into a critically acclaimed title, and within four issues, MacLean had established a universe that was here to stay.

The story follows the fearless warrior Norgal and the incessant, nagging severed head of Agatha the Blue Witch. Hired to slay the sorcerer that wreaks havoc on the Isle of Barra, Norgal faces a number of dangerous, blood-thirsty beasts.

Head Lopper is unarguably Image’s best title of the year. It’s tight, focused and enjoyable throughout. MacLean’s art is a visual treat for the eyes, all perfectly framed with every page. The graphic novel collecting the first four issues boasts a grand collection of extras, including a new story, sketches and notes from the talented creator.

2. TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

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IDW’s greatest publication to date, Transformers MTMTE wrapped up this year to reboot with the Lost Light. Written by James Roberts with artwork from series regular Alex Milne, More Than Meets the Eye is a title that has never faltered once in telling a rich, compelling and emotional story.

More Than Meets the Eye follows the crew of the Lost Light, a space vessel in search for the legendary ‘Knights of Cybertron’, a mythical group that once existed on the Transformers home planet. Led by the cocksure Rodimus, his merry team of odd, dangerous and sometimes drunk Transformers get involved in madcap adventures in space.

Writer James Roberts throws his characters of MTMTE into uncharted territory throughout, and with his innovative writing and Milne’s highly detailed artwork, the title succeeds where every other Transformers comic has failed.

For some, the prospect of reading a Transformers comic may be daunting, especially considering how meaty Roberts’ dialogue can be, but once that effort is put in, new readers are rewarded with some of the best writing seen in the industry today.

The comic tackles several themes, such as politics, relationships, religion and most importantly for the Transformers, identity. It’s given birth to the first ever gay relationship in the franchise, whilst simultaneously creating a community of fans that like to take the characters into their very own, r-rated adventure…

More Than Meets the Eye is a masterpiece within the comic book industry, and James Roberts should be applauded for his ability to craft such an interesting, thought-provoking and exciting read. Comic book readers, roll out and read it already.

1. GIANT DAYS

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Having established himself as the king of slice-of-life comic books, British creator John Allison treated his devoted readers to BOOM! Studios publication, Giant Days, way back in March 2015. Since then, alongside artists Lissa Treiman and Max Sarin, the series has evolved into one of the best comics on the shelves right now.

The setup is delightfully simple; Esther, Daisy and Susan are three women who are beginning to start the rest of their lives. During their time at university, the three main characters are faced with mystery moulds, complicated relationships, soggy festivals and a surprising amount of carpentry.

Despite not sounding like the most intriguing plot, Giant Days is brought to life with Allison’s technique for sharp, snappy dialogue and perfect characterisation. Every single character in Giant Days feels real, and they’re brought to life with some absolutely solid artwork.

Taking over from Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin has managed to perfectly match the writing talents of Allison. His style is unique, providing exaggerated expressions and dynamic posing throughout the book. Panels are carefully constructed, and it appears that Sarin improves with every issue.

Allison allows a great deal of development for Giant Days, and hopefully the series lasts for many years to come. The artistic goth Esther, the quiet Daisy and the abrasive Susan all go through the motions in the comic, and it would be absolutely criminal to leave their life story after graduation.

It’s a real treat to see a UK based comic thrive, as Giant Days appears to be amassing more readers with every new issue. If you haven’t treated yourself to 2016’s best comic of the year, then do so already. You deserve it.

X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

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Another tired entry into Fox’s mutant money-maker, Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse simply reminds us why Marvel Studios formula works so well. After defeating Magneto and squaring off against robotic killing machines, the X-Men now have to unite to defeat the world’s first ever mutant, the deadly Apocalypse.

Bryan Singer’s fourth X-Men film stars most of the cast from previous films, but this time round there are some fresh faces thrown into the mix. A young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) all appear as new recruits, along with the arrival of the ancient Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac).

Unfortunately for Fox, their source material for Apocalypse isn’t necessarily strong. First appearing in X-Factor way back in 1986, the imposing adversary received poor treatment in the comic books over the years. Regardless of his strong origins, it wasn’t long before he became a complete joke, and Marvel’s pure product of the 90s, ‘Age of Apocalypse’, didn’t help matters.

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Since his incarnation, Apocalypse has been regarded as the main arch-enemy of the X-Men, despite having some of the weakest storylines in the books. The concept has always been interesting, but the execution lacking. The last attempt to make something out of Apocalypse probably appeared in the animation X-Men Evolution, and the video game, X-Men Legends II.

So, it’s a damn shame to see that such a mishandled character is given to one of the most talented actors of this generation, Oscar Isaac. Renowned for his incredible work in Ex Machina and A Most Violent Year, actor Oscar Isaac is completely wasted as Apocalypse, becoming the weakest villain in the X-Men movies to date.

The problem with X-Men: Apocalypse‘s main antagonist is that he casually strolls into the 80s without any real motivation. Locked away for thousands of years, he awakes from his slumber and demands that the planet belongs to him and his species. With little to no backstory whatsoever, we simply end up not caring what his intentions are. We’ve seen it all before.

Also bearing a striking resemblance to Ivan Ooze, this Apocalypse cheaply gains his Four Horsemen in a mere matter of moments, leaving no room for exposition for any mutant whose name isn’t Magneto. Once his Four Horsemen finally get into action, they’re treated like an afterthought.

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The Four Horsemen in the comics used to be a ruthless group of individuals, and these transformations used to have severe ramifications for some heroes. Angel’s transformation into Archangel, for instance, is an interesting plot point and provides a great dynamic for the team. In X-Men: Apocalypse however, Archangel is essentially a mutant with no real impact or character. Oh, he drinks a lot? Better make him evil.

As a whole, the film essentially suffers from its wafer-thin plot, which relies too heavily on just a small handful of blasé characters. It is unforgivable that Jubilee appears for such a short amount of time, whereas Jennifer Lawrence manages to phone it in as Mystique for the majority of the film.

Looking back at the X-Men franchise, Fox’s handling of Mystique has progressively worsened as the films have been released. For a mutant that was once proud in showing her true identity, it’s a shame to see Mystique disguised as a normal homo-sapien throughout X-Men: Apocalypse.

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Jennifer Lawrence reportedly disliked the make-up process for Mystique, which explains some things, but it doesn’t excuse how lazy her acting is throughout the film, especially during the final act. The Oscar award-winning actress may have that star power to pull people in, but having her as the main focus in this new trilogy lessens the importance of others.

X-Men: Apocalypse pointlessly involves destruction on a massive scale, which would make even Zack Snyder blush. Thousands, if not millions of people die in the wanton destruction caused by Magneto and Apocalypse, but there’s absolutely no weight to it whatsoever. This poorly put together sequence has literally zero ramifications, and it involves some of the most average CGI seen in the genre today.

It’s at this very point in the film, where all care is thrown out of the window. Perhaps cinemagoers have been treated too well by Marvel Studios, but films such as Captain America: Civil War break free from the norm. They help transgress the superhero genre with new storylines and ambitious filmmaking, whereas X-Men: Apocalypse copies the same old formula which has been dished out for 16 long years. Nothing’s new and remarkable here, and that’s why it fails.

We’re at this point now where the superhero film as a whole either fades away or evolves into something else. Marvel Studios have arguably accomplished this transformation by allowing their films to encroach upon other genres, but other films such as Batman vs. Superman and X-Men: Apocalypse do no favours by becoming pure box-office garbage.

Perhaps it is time for Fox to find new blood because Singer has yet to really push the X-Men into the right direction. Deadpool easily managed to find the right balance of action and humour, and it even featured a nice X-Men uniform. Here, the boring and bland leather outfits make yet another appearance, and it’s a telling sign that it’s time to move on.

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However, despite these criticisms, it isn’t the worst entry in the franchise so far, but it’s certainly not far off. There are some great little moments during the film, such as Quicksilver’s phenomenal scene which is accompanied by Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams. There’s also one cameo that will appease some fans, but others may be put off it. Either way, it’s a nice inclusion to such a muddled film.

The potential is there in X-Men: Apocalypse, but it is squandered by too many inane decisions and lazy writing. The CGI is some of the worst seen in the franchise to date, and the horrible outfits need to go already. The new additions, such as Quicksilver, show that fresh ideas are desperately needed.

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Oddly enough, there’s a scene in the film where Jean Grey leaves the cinema with her friends, after watching Return of the Jedi. She remarks on how the third film in a trilogy is usually the worst, and despite this being a clear dig towards Brett Ratner’s abysmal X3, Bryan Singer should probably realise that this is by far his worst entry to date.

Despite some strong additions to the film, such as Scott Summers and Jean Grey, X-Men: Apocalypse is a terribly average film. At a time where we should be expecting fresh and exciting filmmaking within the genre, we receive X-Men: Apocalypse instead. The news of yet another X-Men film set in the 90s should be exciting, but quite frankly, it now isn’t.

Who is the ‘King of Strong Style’, Shinsuke Nakamura?

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On January 30th, Shinsuke Nakamura wrestled his last match in New Japan Pro Wrestling. In over a decade with the company, Shinsuke established himself as a megastar, setting a trend amongst fans and becoming one of the most charismatic and skilled athletes within the company, let alone the entire world.

He is set to star in WWE’s developmental program NXT, which has welcomed a plethora of talented wrestlers who have made a name for themselves in the indies and within various well-known promotions. Shinsuke’s first match will be against the face of NXT – Sami Zayn, at NXT’s next PPV event in Dallas.

The match will undoubtedly be one of the best performances of the night, but there’s a selection of fans that haven’t seen his unique look and unmistakable talent. He’s relatively unheard of, but here’s a rundown of why Shinsuke Nakamura, the King of Strong Style, is set to be your new favourite wrestler.

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Born in Kyoto, Japan in 1980, Shinsuke started off his amateur wrestling career in high school and soon found his footing quickly. He was winning junior qualifying classes all over until he passed a newcomer audition for NJPW in 2001. Just one year later, he was inducted into the New Japan dojo and had his first match against Tadao Yasuda.

It was easy to see the appeal of Shinsuke even then, and New Japan had faith in his abilities by allowing him to become the youngest IWGP Heavyweight champion in history, beating Hiroyoshi Tenzan, only a year and four months after his initial debut. His combination of strength, speed and expertise made him a favourite amongst fans, and various matches against several MMA fighters cemented his place within the company.

After vacating the title after an unfortunate injury, Shinsuke later teamed up with Hiroshi Tanahashi, one of New Japan’s current and most popular wrestlers. They had a successful run together, which later ended up with them feuding. However, after disbanding Nakamura challenged a wrestling superstar to the ring; Brock Lesnar.

Shinsuke’s defeat to Lesnar was followed by his announcement that he was departing from New Japan to hone his skills. There were rumours about a brief stint in WWE but nothing came to pass, and before long Shinsuke returned to the company following an urgent need of talent. Lesnar had abruptly left, and the founder Antonio Inoki was reportedly forced out following a sharp decline in business, which was a result of his focus on MMA and foreign talent.

Nakamura and Tanahashi then took centre stage, and paved the way for NJPW. Both feuding for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, Shinsuke failed to acquire the belt until two years later at Wrestle Kingdom II (the NJPW equivalent of Wrestlemania). A month later and despite a triumphant win against the great Kurt Angle, Shinsuke later dropped the championship to Keiji Muto – also known as The Great Muta.

One year later, and Shinsuke Nakamura had decided to form a stable called ‘CHAOS’ with one of the NJPW’s biggest jokers, Yano Toru (a wrestler so talented, he can sell his very own DVDs whilst putting on a match simultaneously). Their goal? To bring back ‘strong style’ into NJPW.

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It was around this time when Shinsuke debuted his devastating finisher, the Boma-Ye. He cleaned house during the G1 Climax tournament 2008, crediting the move as the one which later fractured Tanahashi’s orbital bone. However, Shinsuke failed to the win the annual tournament, later redeeming himself in 2009 by winning the IWGP Heavyweight for a third time in his career.

With this new move-set behind him and his endless charisma, the King of Strong Style managed to defend the title for two years. However, he suddenly lost the title to Togi Makabe (a wrestler who takes his inspiration from Bruiser Brody) and was briefly sidelined with an injury. This lead to a chase for the title yet again, involving Tanahashi with some truly incredible matches.

If there was a spot to be filled in the company, Shinsuke would fill it. He would be paired up against wrestlers from different companies which NJPW had employed, and numerous different champions. Still, he hadn’t claimed a title until 2012, where he won the IWGP Intercontinental for the very first time. He defended the title for an extended period, against the likes of Kazuchika Okada (think Ric Flair, but 28 and not creepy), Karl Anderson and Shelton Benjamin.

A rematch with Shelton Benjamin resulted in a loss for the great Shinsuke, but he later reclaimed it and nominated none other than Tanahashi to wrestle in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 8. Unsurprisingly, as was the case with their back-and-forth feud, Tanahashi took the win.

Invasion Attack 2014 was a superb PPV for NJPW, which saw Bullet Club members The Young Bucks betray their leader, Prince Devitt (Finn Balor), and Shinsuke won the Intercontinental title from the clutches of Tanahashi. Again, their feud had been going for years, but their performances were entertaining nonetheless.

NJPW followed with a North American tour, which coincided with Ring of Honour for a joint PPV, titled War of the Worlds. Featuring the likes of A.J. Styles, Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger and Okada, War of the Worlds showcased one of ROH’s biggest stars Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens), in a match-up against Nakamura.

Some hardcore wrestling fans were more than aware of Shinsuke and his amazing capabilities, but it wasn’t until Jeff Jarrett pushed his partnership with NJPW to promote Wrestle Kingdom 9 to an American audience that people started to take notice. Utilising one of the greatest commentators of all time, Jim Ross and some other guy called Matt Striker, Jeff Jarrett helped push the identity of such fabulous wrestlers as Okada, Tanahashi and Shinsuke, to name a few on the stacked up card.

One of the matches on the PPV involved newcomer and fiery upstart Kota Ibushi, who had attacked and challenged Shinsuke to an Intercontinental title match. Sick of Nakamura’s prominent place in NJPW, Ibushi wanted to take his role and further the career of younger talent. Of course, Shinsuke was more than happy to oblige.

Unsurprisingly, it was a sure-fire hit amongst those who were new to the promotion. Declared match of the year by many, Shinsuke’s match with the young and talented Ibushi helped further their careers and cemented Ibushi as a wrestler to keep watching, as he was destined for greatness.

After losing the title to Hirooki Goto, Shinsuke took part in the 2015 G1 Climax and lost to – you guessed it – Tanahashi. Thankfully for Nakamura, he did regain the Intercontinental for the fifth time and was then confronted by the newer leader of the Bullet Club, the phenomenal A.J. Styles.

It was a match-up that fans had wanted to see for some time. Styles had rejuvenated himself in NJPW, by challenging Okada in his first match and later claiming himself as the leader of the Bullet Club. His match up with Shinsuke Nakamura was inevitable, but no one could’ve guessed what was to transgress after Wrestle Kingdom 10.

It was rumoured soon after across message boards, that A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, along with members of the Bullet Club, were to be picked up by the WWE. It almost seemed unfathomable. A.J. Styles made sense in the scheme of things, but WWE taking one of NJPW’s hottest talents just seemed too crazy to be true.

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Surprisingly, it was. On January the 6th, during an interview with Tokyo Sports, Nakamura confirmed his departure from NJPW. It was shocking news that NJPW were to lose one of their most essential wrestlers. With a career in NJPW spanning over a decade, it seemed that Nakamura wanted to continue his path with the WWE. At the age of 36 though, it was understandable. He had accomplished multiple reigns within the company, and it was time to look elsewhere.

Thankfully, NXT is the perfect place for him. Japanese talent such as Kenta (Hideo Itami) and Kana (Asuka) have fared rather well so far, with Asuka doing tremendously. If handled just as well, we could very well see Nakamura facing off against fan favourites. As long as he doesn’t get injured, that is.

In his time in NJPW, he went from being a ‘Super Rookie’ to becoming the King of Strong Style. He was a trendsetter, who brought forth a unique style. He has a brutal move set in the squared circle, which rivals many. His Boma-Ye for example, is one of the most impactful and stiffest moves in the ring as well. His 2006 break allowed for him to bulk up and change his skillset for the better, introducing moves such as the ‘landslide’ to his repertoire.

It’s funny, because when viewers witness Shinsuke for the first time, they see a goofy looking wrestler, with a half-shaved head and legs clad in bright red leather. But then, he moves. He moves and then suddenly, he’s captivating and insanely appealing. When he revealed his look featuring the shaved head, it wasn’t long before NJPW fans started appearing at shows with the same hairdo as well. He is to say, a trendsetter in the world of wrestling, which is not something that has been seen for some time.

He has been dubbed as ‘Swagsuke’ by fans, and there’s no surprise to see why. Just watch any one of his entrances at Wrestle Kingdom, and you’ll bear witness to a wrestler who moves in a remarkable fashion. If anything, he’s become so popular with his unique look and strong style, that he’s even featured in Japanese music videos (and surprisingly Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’).

Throughout his tenure with NJPW, Shinsuke still managed to keep things fresh. He switched up his move set, changed his look and despite wrestling Tanahashi almost as much as Orton and Cena, he still managed to keep his matches exciting. That is a testament to his abilities.

He just knows how to tell storylines in the ring remarkably well, and his match at Wrestle Kingdom 9 with Ibushi exhibited that perfectly. You could tell that Ibushi was the young underdog trying to make an impact against the arrogant veteran, with their movements in the ring telling that story, as they continuously mocked each other and stole moves.

Daniel Bryan has shown interest in a match, but whether or not the WWE will ever clear him remains to be seen. Hopefully, he faces off against Finn Balor to begin with, pushing himself straight to the top of the NXT card. His charisma is infectious and NXT viewers will be enamoured with his appearance on the show. He’s had previous experience with Kevin Owens and Finn, so it makes sense that he faces off against the likes of those within his first few months, at least.

It was evident during his last appearance at NJPW that he valued by his friends in and out of the ring for all those years. His close friend Okada was in tears and the overwhelming response from fans left Shinsuke emotional. He is without a doubt, a one of a kind wrestler. Talent like this doesn’t come around all too often, and WWE will have to carefully plan his place within their company. Hopefully, if all goes to plan – we’ll even see him rematch against Brock Lesnar. We can only hope.

Here’s to Shinsuke Nakamura’s next chapter in his illustrious wrestling career. May he Boma-Ye his way through the roster and become recognised for his quirky personality and extraordinary talent in the ring. He oozes charisma and through injuries and a turbulent time in NJPW, he proved himself again and again. He is without a doubt, one of the best wrestlers on this planet. YEAOH!

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The Top 25 Films of 2015

2015 has been a tremendous year for cinema. There’s been something for everyone; nail-biting drama, indie treats, explosive action and a massive return for one of film’s biggest franchises of all time. It’s been quite a year, so without further ado, here at the top 25 films of 2015, based on UK theatrical release alone.

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25: Ant-Man

After the rather disappointing Age of Ultron this year, Marvel’s Ant-Man was a welcome change of pace. Despite Edgar Wright’s unfortunate departure, director Peyton Reed and Marvel Studios still managed to produce an entertaining film on a much smaller scale. The film boasted some marvellous special effects, and Paul Rudd’s casting was an inspired choice. The final sequence alone might just be one of Marvel Studios funniest scenes to date.


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24: Trainwreck

A return to form from Judd Apatow, Trainwreck was a refreshing take on the romantic comedy. Starring Amy Schumer and Bill Hader, the film focuses on Amy, a successful journalist who doesn’t believe in monogamy. Drinking too much and partying too hard, Amy’s outlook on relationships is changed when she is assigned a piece on a sports doctor, Aaron Conners (Hader).

Trainwreck succeeds where so many other romantic comedies have failed because Schumer brings a realistic character onto the screen. She’s a strong, unconventional female lead, and Trainwreck included some truly hilarious scenes, with one specific bedroom sequence featuring WWE wrestler and entertainer, John Cena.


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23: The Walk

Philippe Petit’s miraculous tightrope walk across the Twin Towers was documented brilliantly in Man On Wire, so when Robert Zemeckis announced that he was directing a dramatized version of the events, the news was met with cynicism. Once Joseph Gordon-Levitt was cast as Petit, it felt like the tired Hollywood cliché of adapting foreign characters with American actors.

Surprisingly, despite the concern, Zemeckis’ The Walk managed to impress this year, with striking visuals and tense drama, all aided by a great cast. Gordon-Levitt somehow channelled Petit perfectly, down to his accent and mannerisms. The Walk fully realised the potential of cinema, by apparently causing vertigo amongst several cinemagoers. It was a wonderful blend of human emotion and powerful moments, capturing the breath-taking event in all of its glory.


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22: John Wick

Unforgivably released a full 7 months after its US opening, John Wick was a surprising treat in the form of a neo-noir, gun-toting action movie. Featuring Keanu Reeves as Wick, the film took its inspiration from anime, martial arts films and Hong Kong action cinema. It is a b-movie in its purest form, with a unique setup; a retired hitman seeking revenge for the death of his dog.

John Wick is relentless, and it’s a welcome return from Reeves who has been sorely missed in the past few years (47 Ronin didn’t happen). John Wick made such an impact this past year that a sequel is now in the works. Hopefully, no pets are harmed next time.


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21: Song of the Sea

One of the most beautiful animations of the year, Song of the Sea is a story about family and loss. Young Ben and little sister Saoirse go an adventure to free the Faeries and help send them home, but they encounter dangerous obstacles on their path. It’s a wondrous tale which is visually stunning, and suitable for all ages. Taking heavy inspiration from Irish folklore, Song of the Sea stands as being the best animation of 2015.


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20: Jurassic World

Set 22 years after the events of Jurassic Park, this fourth instalment in the much-loved franchise turned out to be a pleasant return to form. After missing the mark with The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3, new director Colin Treverrow helped take elements from Crichton’s first book, and then produced a film that fully realised John Hammond’s original vision.

Utilising one of the hottest actors of this year and past, Chris Pratt, Jurassic World successfully managed to further the franchise whilst appeasing fans of the original. It was essentially a love letter to Spielberg’s film, but it still managed to be completely entertaining on its own level. Also, the raptor chase sequence was one of this year’s highlights.


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19: Love and Mercy

Featuring both Paul Dano and John Cusack as the talented musician Brian Wilson, Love and Mercy is a biopic about Wilson’s battle with psychosis whilst attempting to craft his next masterpiece. A touching drama played brilliantly by both Dano and Cusack, the film also stars Elizabeth Banks as Melinda, an essential part of Wilson’s life.

It’s brilliantly put together, with the potential of having at least four Oscar award-winning performances from the cast. Unlike many other musical biopics, Love and Mercy touches upon the problems the creative mind can be faced with, especially in regards to Wilson’s emotional battle with his father, his own mind and his future. A superb bit of cinema, which really makes viewers appreciate the musical talents of both Wilson and The Beach Boys.


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18: The Overnight

Pushing the limits of American sex comedy, The Overnight stars Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche in a film which is hysterical, unpredictable and full of wit. Newcomers to the city, Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) are invited by an eccentric pair for dinner. However, once the kids are put to sleep, the night takes a surprising turn.

The Overnight is a shocking comedy, which tackles its subject with tact. It’s a ballsy film which is not to be missed, as it features one of Adam Scott’s best performances to date. Sporting one of the best soundtracks of the year too, The Overnight is not to be missed.


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17: Sicario

Featuring an all-star cast of Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, and Josh Brolin, Sicario is a nail-biting, heart-pounding thriller. Sicario tells the story of how promising FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) is enlisted to help take down the Mexican drug cartel. An unforgiving look into the drug trade in Mexico, Sicario’s story is gruelling, dark and twisted.

Whilst Blunt’s character is the main focus of Sicario, del Toro’s performance is simply captivating and a big hook for the film. Sicario provides some beautiful cinematography, providing a swift punch to the gut during its second half. It’s simply stunning, stylish and unforgivably raw.


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16: Inherent Vice

Full of delightful performances all round, Paul Thomas Anderson’s stoner 70s mystery film may not be appreciated by some audiences. Running at 149 minutes, Inherent Vice is never truly coherent. However, it is still wholly enjoyable and it has all the right makings of a cult film.

The film follows Joaquin Phoenix as ‘Doc’, who investigates 3 different cases at the same time. Whilst doing so, Doc ends up embroiled in the criminal underworld. Adapted by the book of the same name, Anderson’s film is a true testament to the director’s skills. Maybe in a few years, Inherent Vice will be truly recognised for its magnificence.


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15: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Super stylish and action-packed, Kingsman: The Secret Service tells the story of how one troublesome youth is turned into one of Britain’s finest secret agents. Yet another adaptation from Mark Millar’s comic books, Kingsman: The Secret Service was superbly directed by Matthew Vaughn and supported by Jane Goldman’s great scriptwriting.

Starring Colin Firth like never before, Kingsman: The Secret Service also helped boost Taron Egerton’s star power. It revels in its ridiculousness, with quick cuts, insane scenes and crude humour that ultimately makes for one hell of a ride.


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14: A Most Violent Year

2015 was the year for Oscar Isaac, who kicked off the year with this superbly shot and nerve-wracking drama. The story revolves around Abel, a fuel supplier whose moral compass is tried during attacks on his company. Starring alongside the great Oscar Isaac is Jessica Chastain, who plays Abel’s troubled wife Anna.

It’s an absorbing drama, which brilliantly portrays Abel’s inner battle with himself and his challenge to stay true to his beliefs. A Most Violent Year is a gripping story, told wonderfully with some outstanding performances from both Chastain and Isaac.


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13: Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

Similar in theme to last years The Fault in Our Stars, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film about teenagers dealing with cancer is a charming, emotional journey which will resonate with this generation. Me, Earl and the Dying Girl presents realistic teens, who can be awkward, self-loathing but ultimately kind-hearted.

Unfortunately, the film failed to deliver in cinemas, taking a paltry $6.2 mil compared to The Fault in Our Stars’ $124.9 mil, which is disappointing considering Me, Earl and the Dying Girl feels more human than any other cancer drama in recent years. It’s passionate about its subject, without the need to have too much emotional weight.


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12: Still Alice

A harrowing tale of one woman’s struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s, Still Alice was a heartfelt drama which gave an honest look into the horrible disease. Julianne Moore played Alice, a linguistics professor in her most understated and best role to date. Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart also give their all as Alice’s loving family members, as they perfectly portray people dealing with someone else’s illness.

Julianne Moore won the Oscar award of Best Actress for Still Alice, which comes as no surprise. Delicately approached, Still Alice is a touching drama that will affect many who have encountered the horrible disease.


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11: The Martian

Directed by Ridley Scott, The Martian was a superb sci-fi drama which focused on Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney, an astronaut who is stranded on Mars. Being mistaken for dead, it’s up to NASA to find a way of retrieving their man, whilst he attempts to survive on the red planet.

Perhaps Ridley Scott’s best film in a long while, The Martian has a great balance of drama, humour and emotion. It feels like the first proper sci-fi film about Mars exploration, without the need to rely on aliens. Ridley Scott was even assisted by NASA concerning its scientific accuracy, helping turn The Martian into one of the most realistic, and enjoyable sci-fi romps in recent time.


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10: MI: Rogue Nation

The fifth instalment in the franchise and arguably the strongest addition yet, MI: Rogue Nation was directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who mixed elements of previous films into one incredible package. MI: Rogue Nation had Ethan Hunt now on the run from the CIA, as he tries to prove the existence of a secret evil organisation.

MI: Rogue Nation was simply terrific, and McQuarrie helped further the use of strong female characters in action movies. Chock full of breath-taking sequences, the latest Mission Impossible has really set the bar high for future sequels, as it also proved that Tom Cruise is still an excellent leading man.


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9: Spectre

The second Bond film directed by Sam Mendes, Spectre was the 24th film in the series and Daniel Craig’s finest outing yet. Quite similar in regards to MI: Rogue Nation, Bond finds himself as a rogue spy against an evil corporation, named SPECTRE. Starring Christoph Waltz as Blofield, and Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann, Spectre was undeniably a greatest hits selection of past James Bond films.

Despite mixed reviews upon its release, Spectre is an enjoyable, action-packed picture. Christoph Waltz was the perfect Blofield, and the plot was an interesting allegory about the state of surveillance in the UK. It had stunning cinematography, tense car chases and Dave Bautista as the muscle. It had all the right makings of a Bond film, making Mendes’ two films some of the best in Bond history.


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8: Birdman

Directed by the great Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman tells the story of how Michael Keaton’s character Riggan Thompson, is struggling to put together a Broadway play. Mostly recognised for his work as the iconic superhero Birdman, Riggan is looking to recover his career and family, whilst fighting with his own ego.

It’s a fascinating critique of the superhero genre and blockbusters as a whole, and it’s Michael Keaton at his very best. It was one of the most ambitious films of the year, especially in regards to its technical prowess. Taking home 4 Oscar awards earlier this year, Birdman was truly a work of art.


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7: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

On its way to becoming the biggest film of all time, J.J. Abrams Star Wars sequel thankfully managed to appease the hordes of fans whilst managing to be a great family film in its own right. With returning cast members from the original trilogy, The Force Awakens introduces three new characters, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) into the franchise.

The Force Awakens successfully establishes a whole new generation of fans, as it’s the quintessential sci-fi blockbuster. Finding a brilliant balance between comedy and action, Boyega’s Finn and the loveable droid BB-8 are the main comic relief during the film. Adam Driver, who stars as Kylo Ren, also manages to accomplish what Hayden Christensen failed to do so in two films; provide the audience with a tormented, believable character.

The action sequences are wonderfully composed, with dogfights and lightsaber duels feeling real. Star Wars: The Force Awakens could’ve gone so wrong, but thankfully Disney and Abrams steered Star Wars into the right direction again. Here’s to the next film, and the countless spin-offs.


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6: Slow West

A Western that fell under the radar for many, John Maclean’s directorial debut was a visually stunning, beautiful piece of work. The film follows Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jay Cavendish, who is on the search for his Scottish lover, who now resides in the American West. On his travels, he meets a bounty hunter named Silas, played by the great Michael Fassbender.

For fans of the Coens and Wes Anderson, Slow West is not to be missed. It’s a unique Western that easily exchanges from comedy to violence at a moment’s notice. Visually striking, oddly dark and accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack, Slow West is a phenomenal journey that it is worth seeking out.


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5: Ex Machina

Written and directed by Alex Garland, Ex Machina had tremendous performances from Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac. The film begins with Caleb (Gleeson), being handpicked to take part in a Turing test with artificial life, in the form of Ava, an android.

Ex Machina slowly descends into darkness, exploring the themes of AI brilliantly. Garland may be one of the best scriptwriters in the industry, and his directorial debut is a shining example of his talents. Eerie, mysterious and suspenseful – Ex Machina is a provocative sci-fi film, with an exemplary cast, and fascinating story.


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4: It Follows

An astonishing entry in the horror genre this year, It Follows turned out to be one of the most original and smart films of the year. After having sex with her partner, 19 year old Jay is tormented by an unknown force which will stop at nothing to kill her. To prevent her death, Jay must pass on the curse by having sex with another person.

It’s a bizarre and twisted idea, with a heavy basis on STDs. Featuring a solid synth soundtrack, the film plays with typical genre conventions and tweaks them, therefore providing chills down the spine even after the film has finished. David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is the best horror film of 2015, complemented by the finest soundtrack of the year too. Here’s to Robert Mitchell’s next ingenious idea.


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3: Whiplash

One of the most dramatic and intense films of the year, Whiplash should provide towels due to the exertion and sweat that occurs during the film. Starring Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons, Whiplash depicts the relationship between a promising drummer named Andrew (Teller), and his abusive teacher, Terence Fletcher (Simmons).

It’s a compelling character piece, which takes the viewer through an exhausting journey, where Terence’s volatile personality deeply affects Andrew. It’s an intense ride from start to finish, featuring one of the most exhilarating endings of this year.


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2: The Lobster

Perhaps the most thought-provoking film of the year, The Lobster stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and Léa Seydoux. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster has a truly unique setup; single people are given 45 days to find love, or they’ll be turned into an animal of their choice.

It’s dark, twisted and never has a film this year left viewers questioning their own lifestyle. Truly astonishing film-making, The Lobster is also unlike any other film that has been made. Its dark humour might not be for everyone, but its absurdist themes make for an exceptional piece of work. It didn’t have a huge release this year in cinemas, so do make sure to track down The Lobster and give it the love it deserves.


1: Mad Max: Fury Road

Unsurprisingly, George Miller’s explosive blockbuster is the best film of 2015. Featuring Tom Hardy as Max, and Charlize Theron as the dominant Furiosa, Mad Max: Fury Road presented forth a truly fiery, rampant and extreme action blockbuster like none other. The film follows Furiosa, who flees from a cult leader whilst holding valuable cargo. As she attempts to escape, she’s unwillingly joined by Max.

Utilising practical effects and an extensive use of pyro, Mad Max: Fury Road had some absolutely jaw-dropping action sequences, as cars would explode into balls of flame and bodies would be flung across the barren wasteland. A whole range of different methods were used to accomplish the visuals throughout, providing the unique look that Fury Road displays.

The most praise for the film goes towards the character of Furiosa, who completely abolishes the archetype of women in action movies. Not only is she on the same level of Max, but she might just be the main star of the entire movie. Charlize Theron absolutely kills it as the most badass woman of the year.

Fury Road’s soundtrack really upped the tempo of most scenes, with Junkie XL providing thunderous beats, ripping guitars and bellowing horns. It perfectly encapsulates the feel of the film which Miller was going for.

George Miller’s carefully crafted piece of work now holds its place as one of the best action movies of all time. No small feat, Mad Max: Fury Road blazes through its post-apocalyptic wasteland in stunning fashion, from start to finish. It has it all; remarkable cinematography, a simple but effective storyline, a kicking soundtrack, strong female lead and the best action scenes in years.


 

I Find Your Lack of Women Disturbing, Disney Store.

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Around this time last year, Disney Store came under fire due to the severe lack of Gamora merchandise in the Guardians of the Galaxy range. All of their clothing featured most of the members of Marvel’s superhero team, but Zoe Saldana’s ass-kicking alien was nowhere to be seen.

Despite complaints, Disney hardly bothered to handle the situation. They made no changes to their existing range, and they failed to listen yet again when Marvel’s Age of Ultron hit cinemas. The Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson, was lost in the shuffle of muscled men and robots.

A recent campaign sparked interest online in regards to this issue, with the focus shifting towards the confusing lack of Princess Leia products in store. With Leia being regarded as one of the strongest female characters in sci-fi, her absence from Disney Stores seemed baffling.

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Due to this backlash spreading like wildfire over social media, Disney had no option but to respond to this criticism. They vowed to produce more products featuring Leia, hoping to diversify their selection of ‘boy’ toys, such as Jedi dress-up costumes, toys and various other items.

Whether or not this change will happen remains to be seen, but this problem has infringed on the recent television series, Star Wars: Rebels. Set before the events of A New Hope, Rebels has been a pure treat for SW fans. Viewers of all ages have engaged with the varied selection of individuals, and Disney has yet again stifled customers with what’s on offer.

Rebels’ range of goods in Disney Store varies from articulated figures to beach towels, and yet, Disney’s blatant ignorance means that two of the best female characters in the show – the adept pilot Twi’lek Hera and weapons expert Sabine – are nowhere to be found.

It’s inexcusable really, as to why a beach towel would consist of three males and a droid, completely disregarding two females who have their own separate identities. On a beach towel, of all things.

A beach towel.

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Fans of collectible figurines don’t fare too well either, with Sabine and Hera only found in a two-pack range of figures. In a line consisting of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker (who isn’t even in the first season), it’s really confusing to see why Sabine and Hera have been lumped in with a Stormtrooper each. Are they not important enough to have their own toy?

Perhaps Disney bought Marvel and Star Wars to cater towards the young male audience, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of females in their Star Wars and Marvel lines. In doing so, Disney Stores are potentially losing business from boys and girls, and collectors themselves. Here’s a surprising fact for Disney and Hasbro; boys can desire characters such as Black Widow and Princess Leia to play with, and girls shouldn’t be stuck with such a pitiful amount.

Investigating further into the Star Wars franchise and the representation of women (or lack thereof) is another discussion entirely, but why is it that girls are stuck with Princess Leia in her slave costume too? A quick search online supports this issue for parents, when their child is confused as to why they can’t have the original Princess Leia in stores. Perhaps if more female figures were available, there wouldn’t be this problem.

In a world which has come to embrace geek culture, more and more children are being brought up as comic book readers and fans of sci-fi. A change needs to happen now to cater towards this lost audience, and Disney/Hasbro are not helping effect this change in a positive way whatsoever.

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To put it one way, it isn’t really hard to design products that could appeal to any gender. SW: Rebels has a plethora of new characters and vehicles, mostly inspired by Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars concepts from the 70s. Hera is the main pilot of the Ghost in Rebels, and Disney and Hasbro could easily produce that vehicle with Hera included. Toys aren’t rocket science.

The shelves of Disney Stores have an assortment of Disney Princess costumes, but where is Sabine’s Mandalorian armour? Not all girls want to be a damsel in distress, and hell, boys could even armour up as Sabine. Boba Fett was a Mandalorian, after all.

This may seem like the small complaints of a random animated television series, but there’s a much bigger problem here. Star Wars: Rebels garners at least a million viewers per episode worldwide, with the one-hour special reaching 6.5 million people alone. It’s not as if Rebels is unheard of, and it’s not just Rebels which has been effected by Disney’s poor judgement.

Disney needs to shape up with their merchandising, because after the criticisms regarding Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Ultron and Star Wars, they’ll soon lose out in more potential purchases from fans. There’s more to life than princesses and handsome men, and once in a while someone might want to be the fiercest woman ever seen in the Star Wars universe.