The Amazing Spider-Man 2 | Review | Film

Andrew GarfieldWeb-slinging isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The struggles of being a teenager (played by 30-year-old Andrew Garfield) are bad enough without evil villains turning up to mess with your on again, off again relationship.
Spider-Man isn’t having an easy time of it either, with many in New York City, including the conspicuously absent J. Jonah Jameson, Editor of the Daily Bugle, calling for his arrest as a vigilante.

Swinging into action

The Amazing Spider-Man 2The thing which sets this series of films apart from the memorable Toby Maguire trilogy, has always been depth of character, and every big-hitter here takes things up a notch from the previous film.

Garfield is excellent at playing a teen, and puts across Peter Parker’s internal conflicts about right and wrong expertly – though possibly the run time didn’t quite give him a chance to really develop things due to the sheer amount going on in the film as a whole.

Therein lies the first issue with the film: it is full to bursting. Whether it’s villains (technically three-ish, but really only two a bother), subplots (numerous) or supporting cast (who all do a great job), you have to stay on your toes not to miss anything.

A big part of the plot is Peter’s quest to find out what happened to his parents, as hinted in the trailer, but sadly it feels too rushed to feel genuinely resolved. Those expecting a long voyage through Richard Parker’s mysterious research and fantastical revelations will be left disappointed.

The trailer was borderline misleading in some areas as a number of lines you’ll remember from it didn’t make the final cut of the film, causing you to question where they would have fitted and it really begins to take you out of the film.

That said, the casting makes the more surreal aspects of the film, such as the creation of Jamie Foxx’s Electro, believeable, and Dane DeHaan (of Chronicle fame) in particular is an outstanding portrayal of Harry Osborn.

Harry isn’t having a great time of it either, since he is suffering from a degenerative, fatal, hereditary disease and is convinced only Spider-Man’s blood can help him overcome it. As you might expect, things quickly escalate.

Fight the power

Electro (Jamie Foxx)In fact, Electro is the big bad for the most part of the film, and Foxx makes you really identify with him as a misunderstood victim (up to a point anyway) which really gives gravitas to what could easily have just been a CGI showoff piece.

The story begins with us meeting Electro when he is just an electrical engineer at Oscorp, unappreciated and unnoticed, until his life is saved by our favourite swinging hero and he quickly develops an obsession.

When he gets into an accident, which anyone could see coming a mile off, he becomes Electro, a being seemingly made of energy with a strangely familiar to look to those who’ve seen Watchmen.

Emma Stone as Gwen does well with the comparatively little screen time she has, and even moves the character on, but the romance feels sidelined in favor of action. In fact the action even has it’s own tiny-version-of-hero-fights-evil á la Iron Man, but it’s slightly less cheesy.

Peter Parker and Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2The film then, is altogether a good superhero flick. There’s lots of action and excitement and strong characters, but in the end the frantic nature of the films plot and trying to do too much means there is no slow build for the characters, no time for the villains to grow naturally before they are just destroying everything in sight just because.

The final coda is a thinly veiled trailer for the next film rather than something designed to wrap things up which is also a shame as it cheapens the film slightly as a result. That said there is undoubtedly some exciting and interesting things on the horizon, whether that’s in Spider-Man films themselves of spin-offs.

It’s an enjoyable film to occupy for the Easter break, and probably will sit nicely between parts one and three, but on its own it dangles slightly and doesn’t quite go as deep as you might have hoped.

Rating: 3/5

James Michael Parry

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Internet security: Are your passwords good enough? | Opinion | Cyberculture

HeartbleedEvery other day you’re told to change your password, and now the internet comes along and says that almost every major website has been compromised by a crippling security flaw – you just can’t win.

Of course, there’s an element of overreaction and drama to things like this. Websites are hacked what seems like all the time, but the Heartbleed bug has hit more than most. Mashable puts across what you should do more eloquently than I can (short version, there’s a few you’ve heard of, but in the UK it’s only a couple), but the bottom line is it’s always good to have a think about your password security.

Think secure

A password is a simple concept. Think of a word which means something to you but no one else would guess. Of course in the good old days you could (almost) get away with ‘Password’ or ‘Password1′, but these days you need to be a little more savvy, and, frankly, unpredictable.

How many of you are using passwords right now which are based around your pets name? Your child’s name? Your birthday? Or even you’re mother’s maiden name? Now think about how easily someone could get hold of this info…plus, if you have a public Facebook account then you’re basically doing their work for them.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, because people choose ‘memorable’ words and phrases as secure answers, but in fact it might be more sensible to choose something completely random and unrelated to you instead.

Passwords

How strong is a ‘strong’ password?

You can go too far the other way, meaning your password is impossible to remember and therefore you end up resetting it every time you try to log on. If you think you have the memory for it, you could try a strong password generator, which then you remember with a handy mnemonic.

For example, a strong password might be: Iow2ts2b18!bop, which as a sentence could be: I once went 2 the shops 2 buy 18! bags of peas. This is a random example (please don’t use this password!) but you get the idea. A really strong password would have more punctuation and more capital letters in it of course, if in doubt, add a few numbers in the middle of the word for good measure.

Another alternative is take a word you know well and reverse it to turn that into a mnemonic, of course that is less secure than a completely random word or name, but it might be easier to remember.

The key really is to be sensible, there’s no point in coming up with an incredibly elaborate password if you can’t remember it. I remember I changed some passwords recently and quickly lost track of which was for which site.

Two-step verification from Google AuthenticatorTwo-step verification

In terms of the Heartbleed sites, many of them offer two-step verification. What this does is asks you to log in with a password and a security code which is created by an app on your smartphone or tablet.

You can have the website remember a specific device so you don’t need to use the log-in process from you’re phone every five minutes, but the benefit is if someone does hack your account information then tries to log on as you somewhere else then they won’t be able to (in theory at least, there are some determined people out there).

It’s a fairly simple process, in that the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple (for example) have their own two-step process in place, go to your security settings on your account for those sites to find out more. If you ever wondered what ‘Google Authenticator’ is, then that’s what it’s for (see the video below for a quick guide), personally I would recommend it.

As a disclaimer, I would not claim to be a password or security expert, and if you have genuine concerns that your account on any site has been compromised, contact that site immediately. In all likelihood though, you are very unlikely to be targeted specifically, it’s more likely that your data gets scooped up by a targeted attack on a high profile site, and keeping your passwords fresh eliminates the security risk from that.

It might not be very exciting, but would you really want someone logging on to your email and sending malware to you entire address book? It isn’t likely, but it’s the sort of thing which could happen if you don’t do something about it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to change my password and promptly forget it.

James Michael Parry

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Review | Film

Captain America: The Winter SoldierPatriotism is a tough label to get around. For Captain America the character is forever typecast by his very name. Lucky then that the character Chris Evans portrays as the Captain has far more depth than it should.

Captain America: The Winter SoldierSince the first Captain America, the world has changed. The idealistic beginning of this symbol of hope and courage have become all too real as the aftermath of Avengers Assemble have taken their toll. Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D (so, SHIELD…) are pre-preemptively taking out terrorist targets, which cause the Captain to have something of a morality crisis.

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is much happier not following the rules, and spends much of the film learning why they can, in fact, be some use after all. Fury himself even gets some time to develop as a character, at last becoming more than just a cool guy with an eye patch.

Newcomer The Winter Soldier, whose origins you either suspect or may already know, gets no such luxury however and sadly suffers for it, impressing on skill but not substance. Whether his character will grow in a future iteration of the franchise remains to be seen.


The stakes are higher this time around, thanks to a relic of the past coming back to haunt in true comicbook style, and the action rises to the occasion well. The drama shys away from the likes of romance for the most part, instead pushing ahead with the subject of morality, and plays the hand strongly, but still with a healthy dose of care from the audience about the characters.

There’s no magic or alien involvement in this Marvel story (though the technological accomplishments possible in 1945 seem a tad unlikely) so it’s up to the Cap to take on his enemies with nothing but his iron will and his insanely indestructible shield.

Captain America: The Winter SoldierThe story might be a stretch, but you can’t deny it is simplicity at its heart and this works in the film’s favor for the most part – there’s little risk of scenes dragging on too long and you losing interest.

News that Evans won’t be continuing, while not a complete shock, does surprise when you consider how naturally he falls into this role – especially after already playing a well-known Marvel character only a few years before.

Since then Evans, like his choice of characters, have come of age and taken on more responsibility as an actor. He brings a subtle physicality to the role, not wearing it on his sleeve like Hugh Jackman but undeniably well built, so much so that you can almost believe his opening mammoth sprint.

In all there’s a lot to enjoy about this film so long as you can immerse yourself in Marvel’s increasingly complex world, but at the same time resist the urge to ask questions like ‘So, where’s Iron Man while this is going on?’ and ‘No way The Hulk would sit around and let that happen’.

Whether the character has the mileage for the third film, after the difficult second compilation album that is The Avengers: Age of Ultron remains to be seen. For now, it’s a fun and enjoyable film which hits the tone just right to move things on, and leave you wanting more.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

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Dark Souls II | Review | Gaming

Dark Souls IIDark Souls III died. So many times.

It was to be expected of course, the original Dark Souls was notoriously difficult, and this sequel is reportedly even harder.

As a newcomer, I had heard tales of such dastardly game design, a system which teaches players how to play the game by punishing them with death at every turn. Foolishly for a time I thought this truth may have been exaggerated, but this quickly changed as soon as I took my first steps in the game.

A path filled with danger

Shortly after the opening cut scene, which sets up a story filled with light and dark, dead and living, good and evil, I found myself in a field. Grass gently blowing from an unsettling wind I heard a rustling. At first one, then more wild dogs appeared, pursuing me.

I turned to flee, but didn’t watch my step, and quickly found my way to a bottomless pit. From here, the fate of my character (Dave) did not improve dramatically (on the upside though, I did earn my first achievement).

Once you have got over the constant fear of death – as much as is possible for any vaguely rounded human being – the biggest thing to hit you about DSII is how open it is.

Death, is only the beginning

This is not an open world game per se, but it does leave the player to make their own way in the world, in what is often a very hostile place. A tutorial area introduces you to the basics, briefly, but once you are out of the woods and into Majula, the least prickly of the game’s areas, you are left to chose your own path.

Early on, I found myself taken down a passageway beneath a church. The journey seemed innocent enough, but when I reached the other side I was faced with a heavily armored warrior (possibly made of armor) blocking my path.

Dark Souls IIAfter countless attempts to slay him and escape with my life I succeeded, but alas, another of his company waited for me around the corner to put an end to my foolish optimism.

The game begins, as many RPGs do, by asking you to pick a class. Nothing out of the ordinary perhaps, would you choose the warrior, a sturdy all-rounder, or a specialist such as the swordsman?

In a universe which entertains both giants, dragons and magic there are many dangers and no character has any real advantage overall. In the end I opted for the magic-wielding sorcerer, equipped with a staff and the Soul Arrow spell, but with little else to hold the forces of evil at bay.

Do your homework

Another area where novice/incompetent (delete as appropriate) players may struggle is getting to grips with the game’s various items. Herbs may be familiar to the Resident Evil player within you (in fact the game as a whole has a feel reminiscent of Resident Evil 4), but countless other items require significant scrutiny to make sense of, even to understand the descriptions offered by the game.

Even harsher is the fact that if you miss one lone NPC you can miss the means to level up your character entirely, the realisation of which makes you all the more attentive and persistent to the mutterings of any character. You’ll eagerly press A after every line to see if there is more of the story to tell.

The currency of the game is souls – you are undead after all – and whenever you die those souls remain, waiting to be reclaimed when you walk over the spot where you once fell. These souls buy you items as well as levels and there will be times when you re-play areas to boost the number of souls you have.

Bonfires are one of the core mechanics, another one of the few things I knew about before picking up the pad, and they continue to be your small, warm corner of safety amid a land of horror.

Dark Souls IITransporting between them is painless, and you can power them up with the right materials. The trouble it isn’t always obvious where they are, meaning you can be drawn into an area not knowing what is effectively a save point is hiding behind a stray tree.

Not that you are ever safe, as even simple refuge has a sting in its tail – whenever you rest the basic enemies around that area immediately respawn.

The game is technically well put together, with great graphics even in the twilight of a hardware generation and particularly effective lighting affects, offering dynamic shadows which are key to some gameplay elements and brutal sound effects which offer a more realistic edge to the clanging steel of the likes of Soul Calibur.

Stockholm Syndrome?

Hard work has gone in to make you lose yourself in this world, to believe that all hope is lost and that you must embark on a quest for salvation for souls, whether it be a simple hollow man or a towering tree giant (hint: risk = reward).

For some the difficulty will be too demoralising, and at times it does slip into irritation rather than challenge, but in all the balance is struck well. If you fancy an even tougher challenge, and are, in fact, a masochist, then there is a covenant in Majula which offers to top up the difficulty.

The game has a lot to offer, but it like a treat surrounded and obscured by barbed wire: to reach its tasty centre you must suffer through its trials and earn it. I have never been a gamer who falls into RPGs with anything less than extreme difficulty, but, strangely, something about DSII has me longing for more, daring me to pick up the gauntlet once again, and it’s an experience done so well that I am more than tempted to try again…and again.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

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Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures Xbox 360 | Review | Gaming

Pac-Man and the Ghostly AdventuresIt ain’t easy being yellow. Pac-Man first came chomping onto arcade machines back in 1980 and after a number appearances over the years, he’s back to set new records in chomping, munching and guzzling.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly AdventuresIn many ways, Pac-Man is a homage to the over-indulgence of society, constantly eating anything that moves, whether it be a tasty treat (cherries, lemons or, in this game’s case, hamburgers) or various enemies.

Since his 2D hayday Pac, as he is trendily known as, has developed a few new skills to help him with this 3D platforming adventure. The titular ghosts are as you might expect, each with their own move and colour coordinated appropriately so you can anticipate their attacks, although in some areas their over-enthusiasm to hurt you can lead them to charge at you, miss, and fall off the map to their death – despite floating in midair for the most part.

Design

Technically otherwise though, there’s little to complain about. The visuals look clean, bright and colourful – everything you would expect from this children-focused title – and the camera does a reasonable job of keeping up with your twists and turns.

That said, there’s little in the way of a tutorial, and some of the mechanics require fairly precise timing on button presses to pull off, which may be too much for younger gamers. The frustration of repetitive deaths is irritatingly present, since it is a platformer, but there are enough mechanics going on to keep things fairly varied.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures

Gameplay

The gameplay is very very similar to games like Mario Galaxy or Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, although sadly the game doesn’t have the imagination of the former or the style of the latter, making it feel like a bit of a copycat, attempting to cherry-pick the best elements of both.

Standard Pac-Man can double jump, dash forward with his trademark chomping noise – which can be chained together through multiple enemies – and ‘scare’ the ghosts with an overly dramatic “Boo!”, turning the enemies into the blue, vulnerable iterations which hark back to the original title.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly AdventuresThere are times when the game tries to take the character further, in the form of themed power-ups. Most of these are limited and some make movement an extra challenge, the camera doesn’t help here as when jumping (or bouncing) across platforms it isn’t possible to move the camera up to bird’s eye view so you can judge how far you need to go.

Collectables in the game are limited and the only explanation for what they do is offered through fleeting loading screens. One of the neatest is a homage back to Pac’s early days through arcade machines in the hub world, a school, which you can play with tokens once you have completed enough levels to unlock them.

Plot

Story-wise the game is based on the TV series of the same name, which sees Pacopolis (yup, really) attacked by ghosts after the seal on the Netherworld was broken by accident, releasing evil antagonist Betrayus and his ghostly army. Sadly we don’t get to see too much of Betrayus in the game until an underwhelming stand-off at the end, instead being subjected to increasing size and complexity of ghosts, which can largely be run past or ignored to clear an area.

The game is split across six zones, largely elemental (fire, ice etc.) and each has around six levels within it, each taking about 20 minutes to complete – unless you die lots of times on a frustrating floating platform section – making a 12 hour game in theory if you max out every level, but there’s not much to compel you to re-play.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly AdventuresThe game is fairly well put together considering its intended audience, though mum and dad might need to help out more often than not, and is fairly entertaining for a short spell, but don’t expect this game to push the boundaries in any way and certainly it won’t deliver the sort of memorable experience you might have got from something like Mario Galaxy or Banjo Kazooie.

Rating: 2/5

James Michael Parry

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The Lego Movie | Review | Film

The Lego MovieLego (never Legos…) was a big part of my childhood – as it turned out, this continued when I went to work for Legoland Windsor – but however hard I tried I was never good with following the instructions. One man who is great at following instructions though, is Emmet, star of The Lego Movie.

In many ways, the fact that this story is about and told in the medium of Lego, is irrelevant (you could have swapped them out for any creative toy you could imagine) as like all good films, it has characters that you care about.

Emmet isn’t special, something which the film continues to remind us within an inch of our lives, but he is likeable as a protagonist for our story. In a nutshell, the Lego city Emmet lives in is run on instructions and, as you can imagine, the result is a society which works very efficiently. Construction is uniform, everyone likes everyone, likes what they hear, likes what they watch – and it is incredibly dull.

Enter the Rebellion…ahem, I mean the Master Builders. These alternative thinkers literally remake the world for their own ends, seeing the world as a collection of bricks which can be rearranged into anything they can imagine.

Emmet does not have such powers, which cues an immediate familiarity with our hero for others who struggles trying to dig out that blue six-er from the bottom of the toy box that you really needed to complete this model of an X-wing.

Released right around half term in the UK, there’s no doubt that this film is primarily aimed at children, but really it can’t help but appeal to the child inside every would-be Master Builder (I know, I know, vomit away).

The Lego MovieBrushing all of that aside though, there is a good film left standing proudly in its own right. The jokes work pretty well, despite one plot point slightly relying on the fact that people are aware that Krazy Glue is a brand of superglue. Luckily the plot holds together (again…sorry) without this nugget of information and leads Emmet on an exciting adventure complete with more cameos than you could reasonably expect from any other film.

The voice cast is talented, particularly the A-listers hiding away in supporting roles. Morgan Freeman brings a surprising amount of humour and attitude to a role which could be a very typical mentor-type affair.

Batman, everyone’s favourite minifigure, is gifted with the most fun writing, playing off his recent incarnations on screen in a way which would be impossible to do in any other way than in Lego form. Will Ferrell is just as good as you might expect, but the gold really should go to Liam Neeson for his portrayal of Good Cop/Bad Cop. I was waiting for a Taken reference to pop up, but alas.

Emmet himself (Chris Pratt) is particularly well balanced, and never seems phoney or superficial as a character, something key to making the slightly bizarre storyline work.

The mishmash of other characters actually steer away from the stereotypes for the most part, offering a bit more oddness and character than they needed, and the film is all the better for it. A particular highlight is the slightly deranged Unikitty, ruler of Cloud Cuckoo Land – yup, seriously.

The Lego MovieIs this a film worth seeing then? Yes, but if you hate Lego it isn’t going to win you ever, if it ever could. Disregarding the interlocking brick system entirely the film performs more than adequately for a kids film and takes a solid step into serious film territory.

In all an experience perfect to enjoy for what it is. It might not change your life, but it can be that little reminder to take things a little less seriously that everyone needs from time to time.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

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Google Nexus 5 | Review | Technology

Google Nexus 5Mobile phones are a fleeting concept. After only a decade and a half, or so, they may have risen to be the most often carried device on the planet – even above a simple wrist watch – but their reign is wrought with dangers.

The rise of tablets (and even phablets) puts the humble mobile’s position under serious threat. To survive then, the cutting edge of smartphones must offer things you can’t do on any other device, or at least not as easily, and a lot more besides.

Enter the Nexus 5, Google’s third foray into the world of phones (admittedly through the proxy of LG, who make the device). With a five-inch screen and genuinely rectangular features, it’s not the most original nor compact of devices, vying for a share of an arena which is already overpopulated.

The Nexus 5 is, in fact, the fifth phone in its family – far from a certainty with Apple churning out two per year and all – and the design of the phones may not have moved miles in looks, but the technology LG have packed into the 5 is a force to be reckoned with.

Have a break…

Google Nexus 5The phone comes pre-loaded with the vanilla version of Android 4.4 Kitkat, a slick, clean interface which works very smoothly. The defaulting of the Hangouts App for SMS is slightly limiting, since any contacts without Google+ don’t integrate particularly easily.

Fortunately one of the biggest benefits of Android is that there are so many excellent quality third-party apps out there and Contact+ fills the void quickly, easily and cleanly, leaving no cause for concern.

Certain features such as lock screen widgets and other customisations are quite hidden away inside the options menu, but with some searching, tweaking and some choice downloads the experience crosses its ‘t’s and dots its ‘i’s effortlessly.

Please connect your charger

Google Nexus 5Battery life is the failing of countless modern devices, with bigger, higher definition screens draining them faster than ever. The Nexus 5 has a few features which it is worth sacrificing some battery for, such as Google Now, which offers up to the minute updates for whatever you search for and wherever you go.

Integration with all of the Google Apps is stronger in this model than any other Android device I have personally used, including Samsung’s Nexus 10 (though in really in every other respect both devices are excellently matched). Equally the apps themselves perform very well, especially the Nexus’ iteration of Google Chrome, which delivers the internet more quickly and easily than a handheld device should be able to muster.

In all then a device which isn’t the greatest phone ever, the camera is still a tad slow even after an update and a few ideas miss their mark. Most importantly though, this phone does what it was designed to – to showcase the potential of what Android can offer, which is an operating system more complete, versatile and featured than iOS7.

James Michael Parry

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Titanfall Beta first impressions: Should you buy Titanfall? | Hands-on | Gaming

TitanfallYou might think that it’s all getting a bit robot-mad around here at present, but in my defence this is one of the most anticipated games of the year, particularly on Xbox One (though, of course, it’s worth pointing out you can play it on 360 and PC as well).

The Titanfall Beta began on Friday 14 February. So, “What’s it like?!” I hear you ask. In a nutshell this game takes the first-person shooter genre and adds another level to it, in this case the one I’m talking about isn’t the massive robots – although they do change up the gameplay considerably – but playing vertically.

Making your way around maps designed to allow pilots to take advantage of going up and down as well as side to side makes the experience incredibly refreshing. Plenty of other games have done this before, no doubt, but here the execution is excellent, lumbering titan-like strides ahead of even seasoned franchises with killer multiplayer like Halo.

Being a Beta, there is only some much which can be taken away, and as such my reactions are still held in check a little with the anticipation of the full whack we are due on March 11. That said, even with limited modes (just a standard deathmatch, king of the hill/conquest and Titan v Titan) the gameplay takes first place.

Graphical fidelity will be less than the full version of the game too, but still the game looks solid. It’s missing a few water effects which players may have become used to and other touches, which may be included at retail, but the animation is strong and not juddery considering the amount going on on screen.

TitanfallA lot of blabbing has been done over both resolution and also the number of players per side. Firstly, the frame rate, which I personally think is more significant to gameplay, does well despite the game being online-only and secondly, the number of players feels right for the size of the maps so far, particularly when all the titans are in play.

The feeling of being in control of a titan is so powerful at times that you quickly forget how vulnerable you are as a colossal, reasonably slow-moving target. Maneuverability feels quite familiar, in that the titan is an extension of its pilot – we aren’t talking Pacific Rim scale after all, the titans are the size of a two-story building.

Dodging and sprinting make a big difference, though it takes a while to adjust the bulk and avoid getting stuck on lampposts and other debris. It almost seems a shame that this game isn’t one of the umpteen titles being developed on Frostbite 3, as destructive environments would really push this title to the next level.

Of course, it would quickly become increasingly difficult for pilots, so perhaps that’s why developers Respawn decided to not go down that road.

The two maps available in the beta give a hint of the excitement to come, reportedly these only scratch the surface, as you would hope, and the loadouts system seems promising. The default loadouts alone give enough variety to keep the gameplay interesting, particularly since you select titan and pilot weapons, equipment and abilities separately.

One area which will be uncovered in the full version is how the narrative is woven into the game, since it is multiplayer only, but even without that set-up, the Beta is well served by its comprehensive but not overly-long tutorial training.

In all Titanfall will definitely be a game that all Xbox One owners should want at the very least, not because it’s the first exclusive which PS4 owners will really start to feel some jealousy over (and then buy on PC), but because it’s a game which begins to flex the muscles of the system and bring fresh ideas to the table.

James Michael Parry

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Robocop (2014) | Review | Film

RoboCop (2014)The return of RoboCop was something noone asked for. The 1987 original is a piece of cinema history, as elegant as only storytelling from the 80s can be. So why watch this remake?

The short answer is if you want to a watch a film which, judged on its own merits is passable, but when compared to its older brother fails to live up to its name in almost every way.

The story begins, as before, in a futuristic Detroit – although the 80s version of the future, as usual, is cooler than what we’ve ended up with. This time the scale is more focused on the global threat of terrorism and the loss of American lives, lovingly set up by Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson).

There’s no doubt that the film is aware of the irony in its Robocop_2014_posterdepiction of both Pat and the gun-loving Yanks he represents in using a one-dimensional view of the world to see a robot army crawling over Tehran as ‘freedom’.

The origins of RoboCop as the monotone-voiced cyborg we know and love have changed. Not only is Alex Murphy not shot to pieces, but RoboCop himself has no amnesia to tangle with, just a spot of drug therapy – which conveniently fixes itself when the plot requires it.

Lead Joel Kinnaman (known only from TV series The Killing) does a remarkably uninspiring job of bringing Murphy to life. It’s the nature of a reboot to compare to the original, but Kinnaman plays things far to safe to offer any stand-out moments whatsoever, and as a result you feel as if it could have easily been a completely separate film and it might have even be better off.

Some of the changes seem petty as well, such as Murphy being transformed by ‘OmniCorp’, now a subsidiary of ‘Omni Consumer Products’, rather than OCP itself, which means there’s no board of directors to tangle with, just Batman…I mean Michael Keaton.

The iconic ED-209 robot is also tragically sidelined, wheeled (or tiptoed?) out for only a couple of key scenes and there was no chance for them to offer their customary warning whatsoever.

Film should move forward, rather than look back. The best remakes undeniably build on what has gone before in the franchise rather than re-treading old ground.

With this release, no new ideas are brought to the table. Murphy’s relationship with his son is held up as an overly significant plot point, but it has no pay off, and his wife’s distress while touching at first quickly grows into a distraction.

Murphy's relationship with his family takes centre stage...when it suits the plot.

Murphy’s relationship with his family takes centre stage…when it suits the plot.

Not enough time is spend with the film’s main villain, Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow), and instead the audience warms to secondary antagonist Rick Mattox (Jackie Earle Haley), who is unfortunately sidelined before he gets a decent throwdown with RoboCop.

The suit design inexplicably offers a single human hand, not even its relevant arm, as if to make some sort of statement about the importance of contact and humanity, but instead comes off looking oddly asymmetrical and you are frequently left wondering why.

In fact that thought is something of a theme for the film altogether – just why? Everything about the film is forgettable and uninspired. The acting talent of the supporting cast, including Keaton and Oscar-nominee Gary Oldman, struggles to shine amid a script which offers no relief from the inevitability of a film made for profit rather than love.

If you are about 12 years old, then there is genuinely some excitement to be had here (not to the standards of a stronger Doctor Who two-parter, but hey), and the action is decent enough when it happens, though the shaky cam is enough to give you a bit of a headache if you watch too hard.

In all RoboCop is a film which fails to re-capture audiences imaginations, as if someone tried to play Heath Ledger’s Joker with none of the audacity and ended up with a paler, tamer, and far less bloody version of the film we know and love.

Rating: 2/5

James Michael Parry

If you fancy an alternative, check out indie title Our RoboCop Remake instead.

Posted in 2014, film, James Michael Parry, James_Parry, journalism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five must-see Netflix shows you should watch right now | Feature | Entertainment

NetflixStreaming is now more popular than ever and, regardless of your device, Netflix is the king as far as streaming TV goes. Don’t go thinking we’re on the payroll, no doubt there are better equipped services out there for films in particular (Lovefilm springs to mind), but that aside, with Netflix branching into original content and signing a deal with Marvel and even Dreamworks for brand new content, the future is rosy.

Now then, is a good time to get on the bus, so with that in mind allow us to present five shows you should get under your belt right away:

The Thick of It

The Thick Of ItWith Peter Capaldi about to step into the shoes of the most famous role in television (love it or hate it, you know it is), the time is now to get to know the actor. Capaldi’s turn as spin doctor Malcom Tucker is a masterclass in intimidation.

As British TV shows go, The Thick of It is one you could have missed back in 2005. A political fly-on-the-wall style show along the lines of Yes, Minister but injected with 2000′s satire and plenty of venom.

Simple ideas well-executed are often the best and in this case as the show changes it manages it without losing its flair.  The rest of the cast are good fun, particularly a pre-Mock The Week Chris Addison.

Castle

CastleWe all love Nathan Fillion, or we should, and Richard Castle is a role which he wears like a glove. The detective genre is nothing new, but the way Castle is executed makes it a class above – the humour it particular is perfectly balanced on the chemistry between the two leads.

A compelling mix of action, drama and comedy, Castle follows the escapades of crime writer Richard Castle and Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) as they solve real life crimes together.

The supporting cast are equally well-rounded, and bring life to what might otherwise be a fairly procedural drama. The overall story arc as the series continues ramps up, though unfortunately the best is yet to make its way onto Netflix itself. That said the first two seasons are a very strong start.

House of Cards

House Of CardsLittle more can be said than the excitement expressed in our recent Ten most anticipated titles of 2014, but don’t forget Netflix is the only place you can find the show – unless you pick up the DVD of course.

Just in case you missed it, the short version is that House of Cards is a political drama like no other. Completely unlike The Thick of It in almost every way – apart from quality – the show follows senator Frank Underwood on his rise to power, as he struggles to the top regardless of the consequences or what he has to do to make it.

With the entire series dropping at once on February 14th, you could even squeeze in a re-watch if you’ve already seen it to get you in the mood.

Spooks

SpooksThe coming of Spooks and its studio Kudos marked a landmark in British TV in that it was the first time you know the name of a production company by style and quality alone, and it’s even on the BBC.

Following the goings-on of Military Intelligence 5 (that’d be MI5 then…), Spooks is a high production value show which puts characters at the centre of its stories. It created a name for itself when it killed off one of the regular cast early in the first series – from here it flew in continued to change things up, refusing to let itself go stale over a run that lasts a decade.

In fact, it is one of the most re-assuringly long UK shows in recent years, and acted as a springboard for others such as Life on Mars and Kudos’ own Hustle. Most satisfying of all, watching the show in full is a journey through the technological and cultural changes of a post-9/11 Britain.

Black Books

Black BooksBritish comedy is an institution, and in many ways you either get it or you don’t. There is a wealth of it sitting on 4oD alone, and Black Books is one of the strongest examples of a show which is small, but perfectly formed.

More focused than the madness and reference-filled journey that is Spaced, Black Books is a simple sitcom starring Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey and Tamsin Grieg. The characters gel together well and reflect the personalities of their actors, and at just three seasons the show stays just long enough to avoid overstaying its welcome.

A particular highlight is an episode in which Bernard Black (Moran) and Manny (Bailey) write a children’s story, with typically hilarious results. There’s also plenty of familiar guest stars cropping up now again to boot.

***

Of course there’s more than enough to keep you going from now until the end of time, so what are you waiting for? Head to netflix.com to find out more, at only £5.99 a month it’s one of the best options on the market, but don’t take my word for it – give a free trial a go.

Top shows to add to your watch later list, or to plan in some time to get into, are: Breaking Bad, Firefly, Archer, Hustle and Star Trek: The Next Generation

James Michael Parry

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