No Mans Sky (2016) PC first impressions review

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The much anticipated and mired in controversy No Mans Sky is finally out. Every time I saw this game promoted I wondered “besides walking around procedurally generated planets, what do you actually do in this game?” Now that I’ve given it a bit of a spin, I now know and I’m underwhelmed to say the least.

Before I give this game a lashing, I will start with the positives. The first positive is that the retro pulp sci fi aesthetic is really cool with the bright colours and weird worlds and the scan line filter and all that. The next is that the procedural generation tends to work pretty good, at least on a cosmetic level for the planets and from what I’ve played, have yet to see creatures that are totally nonsensical. However, the wonder of this wears of very quickly. The third is that the soundtrack seems pretty nice. Also, I am running it at high settings at 1440p and seems to be performing decently for me, as well as having a decent set of graphics options. As an aside, the lack of multiplayer doesn’t really bother me, although it would have been nice.

But that is about the extent of the compliments I can give it. The game is lacking in satisfactory mechanics and loop. You start the game on your own unique planet and you need to find the necessary materials to repair the ship and craft the items to repair the ship. Once you’ve done that, you’re free to pilot the ship, and travel to other worlds so that you can continue to mine and craft things to improve your equipment so you can better mine and craft things. There’s other shit to do like finding landmarks and learning an alien language but it doesn’t seem tied into the game or narrative (which is non existent) other than some far too vague lore that prevents coherency. Piloting the ship is also so basic that flying about in space becomes boring. There are barely any NPCs and there are so few spaceships and what little there are seem to be window dressing that don’t engage the player in any meaningful way. When I go into hyperdrive, I can take my hands off my keyboard and only have to pay the barest minimum of attention to what is happening.
First person shooting is also present in the game, but it’s so underdeveloped. All you do is hold M1 at the sentinels or aggro’d creatures. No crouching, cover, ADS, enemies with interesting AI. Nothing. In short, the combat mechanics here don’t seem to add anything to the game and feel like a mere formality rather than a necessary and coherent feature of the game.This game wants to be played for hundreds of hours, but it can’t. The mechanics are just so dull when looked at individually or as a whole. I think I have figured out what this game truly is: another indie walking simulator in disguise that is only barely above these walking simulators.

To make a long story short, the game is a bore. The mechanics are so dull and uninspired that the procedurally generated planets just can’t carry the game. And because the ambition of the game is so broad in scope, there seems to be a failure of any coherent design. The redeeming factors are mostly only aesthetic and in terms of features, the game seems like an Early Access title, except you have to pay full price. I very much wanted the game to be good, but it simply did not turn out good. In it’s current state, No Mans Sky is a No Mans Buy.

3.5/10

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Suicide Squad (2016) Review

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The latest film from DC and Warner Bros is a very polarising film. Suicide Squad is sitting at a 7.2 user ranking on IMDB, 41% on Metacritic and 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. What’s wrong with the critics? Are they Marvel shills? Is the movie actually that bad? I’m not a Marvel shill or comic book fanboy of any stripe and I’m here to tell you that the movie is ok.

Suicide Squad had lots of potential. But for those of you who are somehow previously unaware of the basic premise of the film, the idea is that a rag tag crew of DC universe bad guys in a black ops type group in order to fight other metahumans (aka supervillains or heroes) causing trouble in order to get reduced prison sentences or other luxuries.  They are injected with a device that if they try and escape, they get killed. This symbolises the creative leash on the necks of the film makers.

The plot from there gets quite generic: an ancient evil gets loose while assembling a weapon of mass destruction to cloak the world in darkness as revenge for humans not worshipping them any more. There is also a giant blue laser in the sky, but this is slightly subverted by there being no fighting in the sky, which is actually a relief in a movie like this. The main aspect of the plot that separates it from other similar movies is the low trust relationship between the squad and their handlers, which does add an effective layer of tension and some occasionally good banter between the squad. However, the nature of films like this is them being an ensemble cast but much (but not quite all) came from Deadshot (Will Smith) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) who emerged as the clear protagonists of the film. All the characters had their personalities and their moments, with Boomerang (Jai Courtney) being a good comic relief. Ayer’s direction for him must’ve been “be Australian.” But overall, most of the other characters, except for Harley Quinn as well, faded into the background.

The film was also front loaded with what was basically quick origin stories for our main ensemble, which were mostly good, although it felt a little rushed because DC are late to the cinematic universe party and want to get that set up in as few films as possible. But regardless, they had a fun little rock and roll sort of vibe that I wished carried throughout the film, rather than degenerating into something that was mostly well produced, but still fairly standard comic book film fare. I just had a good idea for a Harley Quinn origin film: a faithful adaptation of her origin story fleshed out in a film that is for the most part similar in tone to Silence of the Lambs. In terms of edginess, Suicide Squad had about two scenes that were edgy but in kind of a shitty Hot Topic kind of way instead of a fun or interesting way.

Performance wise, the absolute madman Jared Leto as the Joker does a pretty good job with the material he’s given even and the rather sparse screen time. Will Smith as Deadshot plays Will Smith and while I do not know too much about the comic book versions of the characters, but I have my suspicions that Will Smith was insistent on rewrites to get Deadshot to how he is in the final product. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn does an ok job. She gets the crazy and sexy look right and sometimes her voice sounds exactly like Harley does in Arkham games, but it’s inconsistent and slips, which I will assume is unintentional.

The biggest problem with Suicide Squad is that it has a concept that suggests, or rather demands an unconventional approach, but it was instead played safe. It’s not a badly made film, just disappointingly safe and because of that, doesn’t quite carve out it’s own unique identity.

5.5/10

Cosmos (2015) Review

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Where to begin with Andrzej Zulawski’s Cosmos? It’s a film that seems difficult to describe in a way that is both easy and concise. The most likely reaction from most viewers will be one of “what the hell did I just watch?” At first glance, it seems like an odd comedy, but it defies genre, in my view, even though according to the rather sparse Wikipedia page for this film quotes the film makers as describing it as a “metaphysical noir thriller” which hardly helps in understanding it, since the film tries to resist easy categorisation.

The plot of the film, which is rather basic, goes a little something like this: Witold, a law student, has failed his final exams and so has to resit them, so he goes on a retreat in order to study, accompanied by his friend, Fuchs, who has taken leave from his work as a fashion designer. They encounter strange things, such as a sparrow hanged on blue string nearby or the owners of the guest house. Witold also falls in love with the recently married Lena, who is the young daughter of one of the owners. There’s a bit of mystery, a bit of comedy, especially in dinner sequences or Witold’s episodes of over emotional convulsions. There’s plenty of references to Sartre, Shakespeare (one of which is a reference to Romeo and Juliet) and many others which are perhaps lost on me or containing puns that don’t quite work in the English subtitles. But all the plot points trail off,things inexplicably occur such as the aforementioned convulsions or Leon’s often incoherent speech which the characters seem to understand perfectly, yet has no explanation. Conventions of narrative structure and various genre rules are tossed out the window so even if you don’t have much expectations as to what the film is about going into it, those will be tossed out too. However, where the comedy works, such as at the dinner scenes or certain expressions or what is more or less the conclusion of Witold and Fuch’s investigation are genuinely funny. All the performances in the film are highly expressive, perhaps to the point of intentional overacting and high energy, which serve to emphasise the absurdity of the experience.

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Trying to understand this film

One example of how film conventions are thrown out the window is that usually in films with alien environments or bizarre characters, our protagonist is usually an everyman, our window in the world (think Neo, Sarah Connor, Luke Skywalker, Henry from Eraserhead) but Witold is not an everyman in the way he behaves and all the literary references he makes, whereas Fuchs makes fun of him, doesn’t understand most of the references and his behaviour is much less visibly absurd, yet the film is more or less from Witold’s perspective.

I’m going to try and avoid giving too much of a protracted attempt at analysing the meaning of the film except to say that it’s a fundamentally absurd and meaningless film; deliberately opaque so that the only meanings possible are ones we ascribe to it, but even then it would be impossible, or at least very difficult, to ascribe a unified meaning to the whole film. Hell, even within the film it has multiple endings! It’s deliberate obtuse and I found myself frequently baffled, yet on my toes and captivated. We might be able to relate and two or three sequences to each other and construct a multiplicity of meanings or lack thereof, but this is not a project I wish to undertake here. Perhaps the grand meaning of  the film is just the basic absurdist premise. I don’t know. Feel free to construct your own meaning of the film. It’s not a film for everyone, but if you’re feeling up for a highly abstract film, you might have a good time. I sure did.

8/10

Ma vie de Courgette(2016) and Being 17 (2016) Review

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Ma vie de Courgette is the latest film from the not-so-well-known French director Claude Barras. This film is about a young boy who, after accidentally killing his mother gets sent to an orphanage, following his experiences and the friendships he makes along the way after the children there being initially hostile.

The stop motion here is of incredible quality, with expressive characters and highly detailed visuals creating an immersive experience. What is even better here is the story, with each kid coming from an unfortunate background and having their own distinct personalities. There are many moments that are highly emotional, contrasted with excellent comedy that utilises the personalities of the characters in slapstick forms, as well as those stemming from the naive childrens understandings of adult behaviours.

Clocking in at 65 minutes, the pacing of this film is perfect and is a genuinely heartwarming film. There’s not much else to say about the film except that it’s wonderful and you should see it.

9/10

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Being 17 is the latest from French director Andre Techine, which is about two high school boys who are antagonistic towards each other, one an adopted child of farmers and the other from the nearby town. The film follows their relationship as it changes.

Techine here takes his time investing each character, even the minor characters, as genuine human beings, but at times the film still feels like it drags occassionally. There are plenty of scenes of the sort of realistically awkward adolescent fighting that typically occurs in high schools. The film is also visually fantastic, with each act  taking us through different seasons, starting with winter and the cold, rural mountainside being truly great.

The two boys learn to tolerate each other and become friends and eventually (spoilers) lovers. This part, which became the focus of the second act going into the third act and I felt this romance was a bit contrived and degraded the film. While this didn’t come totally out of nowhere, at least with character Damien’s (picture left in the image above) advances onto Tom (pictured right in the image above), the coming-to-fruition of this relationship in awkward kissing and gay sex scenes was out of place and felt very forced. Up until then, the film was a very good drama.

While this film is very well made and visually interesting, the film becomes undone with it’s unnecessary same sex romance plot. If you don’t like films with this sort of content, stay far away, but if that is your cup of tea or you don’t mind this sort of thing, you’ll probably like the film more than I did.

6.5/10