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Justin and the Knights of Valour – Review

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Something strange happens when watching this film. For the first sixteen minutes, there are uncomfortable limitations in the animation that only its spectacular art direction and the detailed textures make it possible to overlook. Too much story information is setting itself up. Far too many characters are introduced. It’s tricky to keep track of who is who. The character’s names, most of them long and complex, are not repeated enough to learn.

Giving the artists the benefit of the doubt, the plasticity of the character renderings is balanced by the expressive nature of the poses, likely a result of very strong storyboards. But relative “weights” of characters and objects don’t always ring true. The story teeters between “been there, done that” and “should I care, since I’m lost anyway.”

But then, 16 minutes and 45 seconds into the film, Justin and the Knights of Valor (available on DVD and blu ray on July 22nd via Arc Entertainment) really begins where it should have. Young Justin (voice of Freddie Highmore) starts on his way to the training grounds, first stopping at a pub housing the film’s most interesting characters—Talia, a likable barmaid (Saoirse Ronan), and Melquaides or “Mel” (Little Britain’s David Walliams), a “mystic” with two personalities.

Mel is the most amusing character in the movie. He talks to his “other self “ like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, but he can move so fast from one place to another, he often is seen literally as two people. It’s a pure animation conceit, and very clever.

When Justin leaves the pub and resumes his journey, this is where film’s title should come onto the screen. Next, we meet Justin’s trainers, another set of better-realized characters (voiced by James Cosmo, Charles Dance and Barry “Dame Edna” Humphries). Though we’ve been here before in Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and The Karate Kid, the sequence still works, with amusing side gags including a room sized miniature chess-like tableaux that is constantly in danger of being destroyed.

There is no denying that this film feels derivative of How to Train Your Dragon, but it has no genuine magicians, fairies or dragons (except for a ridiculous makeshift fire-breather). Justin must accomplish his quest on his own. The story puts one more in the mind of The Sword in the Stone (T.H. White’s, not Disney’s).

Here is a an exclusive clip from the film.

The film’s “presenter,” Antonio Banderas, gives a fine comic performance in the role of charlatan Sir Clorex, the type of macho buffoon that Patrick Warburton practically patented. But with a few exceptions, the film tends to lean toward characters who are act silly but aren’t largely funny. Considering that this was made in today’s more sensitive age, it’s disconcerting there is such a stereotypical character in Sota (Rupert Everett). Did Everett know that his character would be animated in such a mincing, Monty Python way? Sota continues to be a broad caricature in the second half of the film, but his flouncing isn’t as pronounced.

No kidding, you could cut out the first 16 minutes and 45 seconds and have a very entertaining motion picture in which most of its shortcomings are less pronounced. All the plot points are repeated and clarified, including a very nice two-dimensional retelling of the story of Justin’s grandfather. Characters come along when they should, in due time—and their names are given more frequently as the film progresses.

The climactic battle is inevitable and predictable, but nevertheless exciting and suspenseful. Because Justin has to train and learn rather than get assistance from magic or sidekicks, the movie sends a strong message to kids about seeking goals with hard work and no shortcuts.

Ilan Eskeri’s score is suitably sweeping to buoy the action and breathtaking visuals; a handful of contemporary tunes recall the tunes in Treasure Planet. While incongruous to the storybook setting, the songs are not intrusive. Had this film begun at 16:45, one ballad that provides a “heart moment” would not slow the film at all, but would only make the viewer more invested in Justin’s situation.

Watch Justin and the Knights of Valor from the beginning and it’s a passable diversion with technical issues that are hard to ignore. But watch it from 16:45 and it becomes a more solid film in which its shortcomings are overshadowed by the brisk pace, nicely balanced character interaction, and—while still not an A-lister by any stretch—a handsome and engaging entertainment.

Farming Simulator 15

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Farming Simulator 15 from developer Giants Software follows the previous series release two years ago with various improvements ranging from a redesigned user interface to reworked physics. This year’s release fortunately solved some of the series’s previous problems, but oddly ignored some issues that should have been addressed. Ultimately, farming and simulator enthusiasts will be happy to know that Farming Simulator 15 is an overall massive improvement over past series releases.

The most noticeable improvements when first starting the game is the new graphics and physics engine which for the most part solved the realism issues found in past games. Tractors and other vehicles in the game no longer wildly flip over or get stuck on every small incline in the environment. While not perfect in every scenario, the overall movement of vehicles in regards to speed and weight feels far more realistic during farming activities. In regards to the graphics, numerous visual elements have been improved such as vehicles now have interior cabins with working instruments and screens as well as farming vehicle exteriors collect dirt after working in the fields.

Other major improvements in this year’s release includes a redesigned user interface that presents a far more modern approach to displaying various menus and indicators such as vehicle speed and which vehicle tool is currently selected. With one keyboard click, players can access the complete shop menu in which to purchase vehicles and equipment from clear and separate categories. The newly improved user interface is a major step in the right direction for the series in becoming a modern and polished simulator experience. The developers have also introduced the gameplay element of woodcutting that enables players to utilize both chainsaws and woodcutting vehicles to gain money from chopping trees and then transporting the logs to sellers. With the woodcutting being a new gameplay element there are unfortunately some issues in the process of actually cutting and moving the wood. While the game has all of the proper vehicles and equipment for the process, the difficult part is in operating them and adjusting to the odd log physics after the trees have been cut down. Even though not being quite polished, the woodcutting is a nice addition if players need a diversion from continually planting and harvesting fields. Lastly, the game includes a multiplayer component which allows for up to 15 players to farm alongside one another with all of the same vehicles and features from single-player.

The gameplay is on the open ended nature in that players first select from either the United States or Nordic inspired worlds and then are thrust onto a farm in which they own a few fields and various farming vehicles and equipment. After a few brief tutorials, players are given complete freedom on how they want to acquire money to first pay off their bank loan and then eventually expand into buying better vehicles and more fields to farm. The game world does include a day and night cycle in which a variety of missions and daily deals on vehicles and equipment cycle through during the week. In addition, a weather forecast is provided to players to plan for rain or storms that may hinder farming progress. While players can complete every farming activity by themselves, they do have the option to hire workers that can automate certain processes such as sowing a field or harvesting corn. This complete freedom provided to players can either be a welcome feature or hindrance based upon knowledge of both the gameplay mechanics and farming basics.

With all of the graphics and gameplay improvements, it was unfortunate to discover yet again that the game provides hardly any guidance to beginning players. While players can run through some quick tutorials such as plowing fields or harvesting crops, the game does little else in providing guidance on the actual basics of farming. Players that are unaware with farming will have a difficult time in determining the different terminology used such as sowing and plowing and which order the various farming tasks much be completed. Simulator games should always contain the mandatory element of being easy to pick up and learn without requiring any external research. Farming enthusiasts wont have any difficulty in finding their way through the various gameplay mechanics of Farming Simulator 15, while players new to farming and the series will have to learn through repeated trial and error.

Owners of past series releases will most definitely want to upgrade to Farming Simulator 15 as the improved graphics and physics engine alone make for a much more enjoyable gameplay experience. In addition, the redesigned user interface and woodcutting gameplay are both great additions to the series. Players new to the series should be more cautious as their gameplay experience will require patience in learning the basics and processes of farming. Ultimately, Farming Simulator 15 is one of the series’s best releases that previous fans and farming enthusiasts alike will want to put on the top of their holiday wishlist.

Farming Simulator 15 is a great addition to the series that includes a massively improved graphics and physics engine in addition to redesigned user interface and woodcutting gameplay. Players new to the series and farming will require patience and trail and error in learning the various gameplay mechanics. Farming Simulator 15 earns a strong recommendation for both series fans and farming enthusiasts.

Rating: 8.5 Very Good

Film Review: ‘Dracula Untold’

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'Dracula Untold' Review: A Tale of


There’s nothing new under the moon in “Dracula Untold,” a decorous but dull origin story that attempts to turn history’s most famous vampire into a kind of male Maleficent — a misunderstood husband/father/ruler who turned to the dark side out of the noblest intentions. What next? “Freddy Krueger Meets Dr. Freud?” Lavishly mounted by first-time feature directorGary Shore, minus the cheeky good humor that propelled his 2006 creature-feature short “The Draft,” this Legendary-Universal co-production (which opens today overseas, 10 days ahead of its domestic bow) looks to scare up only modest Halloween-season biz amid competition from Warners’ “Annabelle” (out Oct. 3) and U’s own “Ouija” (out Oct. 24).

Like Bram Stoker before them, screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (the forthcoming “Gods of Egypt”) take their inspiration from the real historical figure of Vlad Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler), a 15th-century Transylvanian prince, taken hostage as a teenager by warring Ottoman Turks and trained in their military ways (events recounted here in a visually striking prologue comprised of three-dimensional static images). We then pick things up a couple of decades later, where an adult Vlad (Luke Evans, suitably glowering and downcast) has returned to his people, who maintain an uneasy peace with the ever-looming Turks. When the new Sultan, Vlad’s childhood frienemy Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), demands 1,000 Transylvanian youths as conscripts for his army — among them, Vlad’s own son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson, cementing a very conspicuous “Game of Thrones” vibe) — the war-weary prince sees no option but to defy the Sultan’s demands. And so the outnumbered, out-sworded Transylvanians prepare for battle.

But lo, all hope is not lost for ye who enter here — here being a mountain cave stumbled upon by Vlad and two adjutants, wherein lurks an ancient ur-vampire (a lip-smacking Charles Dance) who, after making mincemeat out of the prince’s traveling companions, offers him a special trial membership (who knew?) in the cult of the undead. Drink his blood, says the vampire, and for three days Vlad will possess the strength of 10 men, along with a voracious craving for human blood. If he succumbs to that temptation, then vampire he shall remain for eternity. If he can resist, then at dawn on the third day the curse will be lifted.

This being an origin story whose outcome is pretty well known, “Dracula Untold” doesn’t really have anywhere to go from there, save for a couple of frenetic, large-scale battle scenes designed around Vlad’s newfound ability to shape-shift from human form into a colony of bats — a special effect that wears out its novelty while Shore is still playing with it like a shiny new Christmas toy. (Most of the time, it looks like a flurry of dirt particles in front of the lens.) The only real suspense here isn’t so much whether as when Vlad is finally going to sink his pearly whites into the jugular of his devoted wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon, so pale, trusting and beautiful that one knows it can’t possibly end well for her). Well, that and how a creature with a marked aversion to wood can continue to spout Sazama and Sharpless’ dialogue.

Whereas Francis Coppola’s 1992 “Dracula” (a veritable golden oldie in today’s short-term cultural memory) was a baroque, high-fashion free-for-all, “Dracula Untold” opts for the stately, staid approach, and even at a mere 85 minutes (sans credits) it’s something of a bore — neither scary nor romantic nor exciting in any of the ways it seems to intend. The Irish-born Shore, who’s also logged a lot of hours as a commercials director, certainly knows how to frame an attractive shot, and cinematographer John Schwartzman has accommodated him lushly by shooting in 35mm anamorphic widescreen. But the movie never finds its own style, or feels like more than a mashup of outtakes from “Thrones” and the entire Peter Jackson catalog (with a nifty but fleeting infrared vision effect borrowed from the urban werewolf classic “Wolfen”).

“Dracula Untold” is too high-minded to let go into the kind of energetic, B-movie escapism a director like John Carpenter or Paul W.S. Anderson might have brought to the same material, while the material itself is too thin to support the heavy-handed Wagnerian approach. The result is finally something neither here nor there — a vampire movie with nothing at stake.

22 Jump Street Review

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22 Jump Street - 2013

Sugar-rush entertainment … Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum in 22 Jump Street.

Could it be the Godfather II of bromance action-comedy sequels? 22 Jump Street is the outrageous and very immature follow-up to 21 Jump Street, proving that the next in the franchise series doesn’t need to be awful. This it does by breaking out the gags, the stunts and the cheekily self-aware riffs like there’s absolutely no tomorrow. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (from The Lego Movie) direct, and the screenplay is by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel and Rodney Rothman, from a story devised by Bacall and Jonah Hill.

It certainly provides that rarest of things: relaxing enjoyment. In all its uncompromising goofiness, 22 Jump Street brings onstream a sugar-rush of entertainment. Reviewers’ noses too often wrinkle up at comedies – unless, of course, burdened with darkness or surrealism – while horror and superhero pictures, no matter how moderate, are greeted with cowed respect. Here, on the other hand, is a movie that made me feel guilty for laughing quite so much. There is sometimes something inspired in its screwball craziness. It features a line about Cate Blanchett which pretty much justifies the price of admission on its own.

Reading on mobile? Watch the trailer here.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are back as the appalling Schmidt and Jenko, two grown men in their late 20s who are police officers co-opted into a top-secret undercover division, posing as teenagers in high school to root out drug dealers. The first movie was based on the 1980s TV show with Johnny Depp, where the premise was taken reasonably straight; in the film it is played for laughs and kidulthood satire. Now Schmidt and Jenko return, and the idea is that they have graduated to college. They must go in deep, posing as undergrads to … to root out drug dealers. Their superior officer, Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) announces this weirdly similar assignment in the manner of a jaded Hollywood executive who is hardly able to believe that the first story has spawned a new one.

And when Schmidt and Jenko report  for duty at another disguised disused church, across the road from the old one, their commander is once again Captain Dickson, played by Ice Cube, who is just as scornful of his team, but thrilled at the fact that their HQ is now kitted out with all sorts of pointlessly flashy furnishings.

Schmidt and Jenko duly show up at college, and naturally find that they really do discover themselves there. Superjock Jenko, with his cubic head and permanently hungover face, finds fulfilment such as he has never known on the football team, and his course on sexuality is moreover very rewarding. He bonds with fellow player Zook (Wyatt Russell), while Schmidt is deeply hurt at his buddy’s new “bros before lesser bros” policy and what appears to be the end of their friendship. Meanwhile, Schmidt goes to excruciating poetry slams and finds a tender new relationship with sensitive arts major Maya (Amber Stevens), a liaison that is to lead to all sorts of problems at work.

Finally, Jenko suggests to Schmidt that they “should investigate other people. Sow our cop oats.” And all the time the youngsters wonder at the crinkly lines around our heroes’ eyes and how old they look. Hill and Tatum have a great double-act going; I’m tempted to invoke the memory of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, only both are interestingly subdued, and Tatum is no straight man; he has a gift for comedy.


The two leads have what can only be described as a thwarted heteroerotic relationship, challenged by the quasi-grownup demands of college. Schmidt’s love life brings him into conflict with Maya’s roommate Mercedes, played by SNL writer Jillian Bell, who absolutely steals every scene – dead-eyed and contemptuous at all times. She is brilliant in a later sequence featuring a fist-fight with an awkwardly sexual undertow, an example of what the script calls “Mr-and-Mrs-Smith-ing”.

There is a great deal of supremely watchable and funny silliness in Schmidt and Jenko’s new life together in their college dorm room, especially when they have to bond with the twins who live in the room over the hall, Keith and Kenny, played by the Lucas Brothers, whose synchronised way of speaking is winningly strange.

As for the prospect of more Jump Streets, the idea is comprehensively trashed at the beginning and end of the film in some very sharp self-reflexive satire, which uses up loads of perfectly serviceable ideas and generally burns its franchise boats. They don’t want to wind up like some sort of two-man Police Academy. Fair enough. It was very funny while it lasted.

Sony Xperia Z3 Review

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Sony has released not one but two Z3 handsets recently. The other is the Z3 Compact, but this one is the hero device — bigger, but does that mean it’s necessarily better?

The Xperia Z3 looks similar to its predecessor, with the same glass back and front on a metallic casing. But this time the edges are a little more rounded, taking the edge off the overall ‘slabness’ of what is, let’s face it, a pretty hefty phablet. That’s a welcome addition, as is the sliver sliced off the thickness bringing it down to a whisker over 7mm and the 9g reduction in weight.


Screen & chassis
The screen size remains the same at 5.2 inches, though the resolution has been beefed up to 1,920×1,080 pixels. It’s strikingly clear and sharp, using Sony’s telly technology to deliver deep contrasts and vivid colours. The pixel count may not be as high as some, but Sony’s defence that the supposed (very small) improvement in picture quality delivered by resolutions significantly higher than full HD just isn’t worth the price of reduced battery life does seem to hold some water here.

Like other high-end Xperias, it’s waterproof and dustproof, capable of surviving a freshwater dunking of up to half an hour in 1.5m of fresh water — meaning it can survive much more than getting splashed a spilled drink or an accidental dip in the bath.

Software & processor
The Z3 is running the very latest 4.4.4 version of Android KitKat with the usual design tweaks from Sony, plus a whole slew of extra features, including the Lifelog health tracker, Sony Select — which pulls together various apps — and PlayStation, so you can play your PlayStation games on your phone anywhere around your home.

The quad-core processor is clocked at 2.5GHz and backed by 3GB RAM. That means it’s fast, basically, and it delivered a score of 42,276 in our usual AnTuTu benchmark test. That’s not quite up there with Samsung’s latest Galaxy designs like the Alpha or Note 4 but it’s still impressively slick and powerful, whipping through menus and balancing a handful of apps simultaneously with no sign of slow down.



At first glance the 20.7-megapixel camera appears to be the same as the Z2’s, but closer inspection reveals that there have been some improvements — the lens is a little wider and the ISO sensitivity has been bumped up to 12,800. This being Sony it has plenty of options to play with, including Smile Shutter and face registration, as well as a wide range of modes and effects like timeshift video and background defocus.

The wider lens, along with that additional ISO sensitivity, plus Sony’s Exmor RS sensor all make for better quality snaps in low light, but the autofocus isn’t quite as fast as we’d like and we often found ourselves with a frustrating wait of a second or two while it got itself together. In general, the auto settings could often be a bit hit and miss, especially if you’re in a hurry, but if you’re prepared to take some time to play with the settings, the Z3’s camera has plenty to offer, with realistic colours and plenty of detail to reward your patience. And of course, the physical shutter button on the side means you can take underwater shots too.

The Z3 comes with 16GB of in-built memory, which might not sound like much to app fiends, but you can add up to 128GB via microSD card.

The 3,100mAh battery held up very well in our testing, and if we didn’t quite the full two days that Sony suggests, we were close enough to believe that with a little care it can easily be done. And for a high-end, demanding handset like this, that’s impressive.

Sony has been revising its Z series and it’s getting steadily better. The distinctive blocky shape has been softened and the specs remain impressively high, with a terrific screen, powerful processor, waterproofing and outstanding camera. And of course, if you already happen to have a PlayStation at home, your next quality handset is really just a choice between the Z3 and its Compact cousin.

The Anomaly Movie Review

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If something doesn’t feel quite right about British sci-fi thriller The Anomaly, it’s because the script should have spent longer in development. As a director and producer (this time not a writer), Noel Clarke proves that you don’t have to throw a lot of money at the screen to create the right atmosphere, but it takes more than a few nifty camera tricks and digital effects to draw an audience in.

Clarke also has the starring role, as Ryan, an apparent hostage who wakes up in the back of a van where a boy called Alex (Art Parkinson) is begging for his help. Ryan has no memory of how they got there and barely a grasp of his own identity, although judging by his skills in hand-to-hand combat, he’s not your average civilian.

The shadow of Jason Bourne looms large, not least in the many fight scenes, except that Clarke has been a little too tricksy. He speeds up and slows down the action against the thumping beat of synthesised music, but rather than feeling raw and immediate, the effect is stagey with the fights overly choreographed (bad guys unnecessarily dancing up walls) and his camera never gets in amongst the action to make a visceral impact.

Alexis Knapp and Ian Somerhalder in The Anomaly

Alexis Knapp and Ian Somerhalder in The Anomaly

The world that Clarke creates is more eye-catching. London is still recognisable in the not-too-distant future (a few additions to the skyline and some airborne billboards), but Ryan repeatedly blacks out and wakes up in other far-flung places, including New York. He is only in his right mind for ten minutes at a time and so much hopping about, having to muscle his way out of tight corners, becomes monotonous. The main focus for Ryan is his search for Alex and yet he can’t make progress without first finding out what is happening to him. Fortunately, most of the clues fall into his lap.

A steely-eyed American (Ian Somerhalder of Lost) is the one face that keeps popping up wherever Ryan happens to be, and evidently is in control of his fate. A grand conspiracy begins to unfold (through unlikely confrontations and expositional dialogue) in which Ryan is a very expendable part and the truth he seeks has catastrophic implications for the future of all life. At the same time, the filmmakers skirt around the big issues that might have given this film some much-needed substance, so the answer to the question ‘What is the Anomaly?’ feels overblown rather than profound.

The people who populate this dystopian future are similarly lacking in dimension. Alexis Knapp is the stereotypical ‘tart with a heart’ who is thrown into the mix, ostensibly to remind our man of what being human is all about, which is difficult when you’re dead behind the eyes. Her primary function is just to sex up the action. Meanwhile, Brian Cox is wasted in a small role that could have been played by a jar of organs and Clarke, despite making things happen behind the camera, is not a convincing action hero. The Anomaly has all the ingredients of a winning formula, in the wrong measures.

Are you Here Movie Review

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A comedy with no laughs. A drama disconnected from any known reality. It’s tempting to diagnose “Are You Here” with schizophrenic genre disorder. But that just sounds like an excuse to cover up what it really is, an unmitigated mess that feels the need to present yet more iterations of that tired Hollywood species known as man-child run-amok-ous. Sometimes it tries to be a “Broadcast News”-style comedy, with Owen Wilson as the type of smarmy philandering moocher he has done countless times before. The difference here is that he is a local TV weatherman in Annapolis, Md., who makes Bill Murray’s on-air forecaster in “Groundhog Day” seem like a paragon of repeated virtue. Wilson’s Steve Dallas is a regular one-man rodeo all right—full of bull and proud of it. He has a constant need to have a potential bed partner at the ready at all time—be it co-worker, casual pickup or prostitute.

He also has a propensity to peep at his shapely across-the-way neighbor as she disrobes in front of her windows each night, and not in a Jimmy Stewart non-creepy way. Then there is his charming habit of pretending to be able to pay the bill with his worthless credit cards and his constant use of mind-altering substances even on the job. Other times, “Are You Here” appears to be a portrait of a dysfunctional family in the vein of “August: Osage County” when Steve’s best—and seemingly only—friend, Ben, learns that his father has died and the funeral requires a road trip to rural Pennsylvania. To mention that this hirsute near-hermit, manic-depressive idealist and fellow pothead residing in a mobile shack whose interior decorator was obviously the Unabomber is played by Zach Galifianakis is akin to stating the obvious. There is even a hint of “Witness,” as Amish folk occasionally materialize and then quickly take their leave in a possible attempt to add some existential folksiness to the over-reaching muddle that unfolds onscreen. An enveloping plot of sorts exists, one that involves the ever-popular contested last will and testament, but it struggles to tie the overload of random themes together. The most astonishing fact about “Are You Here” is not the casual insertion of a pseudo-incestuous sex scene that no sane person would ever want to see. Nor that there is an actual chicken running around with its head cut off at some point.


Or even that a talent so above this enterprise as Amy Poehler agreed to play Ben’s sister, a miserable shrew defined by her harsh eyeliner and seething dissatisfaction tied to her inability to have children. No, the most shocking thing is that Matthew Weiner is the perpetrator behind this sad enterprise. It took the much-lauded creator of TV’s “Mad Men” and invaluable contributor to “The Sopranos” eight years to bring this foolhardy venture to theaters. “Are You Here” is not his actual feature debut—that would be a tiny 1996 effort titled “What Do You Do All Day?”—but it’s the first to see the light of day. As a frustrated would-be movie director, it feels as if he’s dumped every brainstorm he ever had on the screen, including a prominent farmhouse kitchen sink, with little desire for self-editing. And shame on the man behind such complex female characters as Peggy Olson, Joan Harris and Sally Draper for inventing such a passive creature of desire as Angela (Laura Ramsey, who appeared in “Mad Men’s” “ The Jet Set” episode), Ben and Terri’s impossibly young, earth-mama stepmother who swans about in filmy white ensembles even though she lives and works on a farm. She exists only to fulfill the fantasies of men, including Wilson, Ben and his father, who felt compelled to provide extensive nausea-inducing details of their sexual history in his will.

I have to give credit to Weiner for one achievement: He makes some sharp casting choices among his supporting ranks. He has obviously watched series other than his own, considering that he is smart enough to hire Paul Schulze, so good as pharmacist Eddie on “Nurse Jackie,” as Wilson’s boss and Lauren Lapkus, the female prison guard Suzanne on “Orange Is the New Black,” as his fawning co-worker. But if Matthew Weiner weren’t Matthew Weiner, there would be no way this script would attract the likes of director Peter Bogdanovich (who also did “The Sopranos”) as a judge and Edward Herrmann as Ben’s therapist or convince Jenna Fischer of “The Office” to show up in the final 10 minutes or so in a nothing role. Maybe Weiner deserved this chance. Maybe he has gotten it out of his system. But maybe he should be more concerned about putting together a satisfying finale for “Mad Men” next spring (he already told “Rolling Stone” he is anticipating mixed reviews) rather than tilting at such a flimsy windmill of a movie.

Behaving Badly Movie Review

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Title: Behaving Badly

Director: Tim Garrick

Starring: Nat Wolff, Selena Gomez, Mary-Louise Parker, Elisabeth Shue, Dylan McDermott, Heather Graham, Ashley Rickards, Cary Elwes, Patrick Warburton, Jason Lee

Running time: 98 minutes, Rated R, In theaters August 1st

Awkward teenager Rick (Nat Wolff) lives a somewhat crappy existence. His alcoholic mom (Mary-Louise Parker) just tried to commit suicide and left notes for everyone she knows, scattered around the dining room where the family confers. His older brother Steven (Mitch Hewer) is a typical jock in the closet. His older sister Kristen (Ashley Richards) strips to save money for a last ditch attempt to get into a university. His best friend Billy is an even more awkward individual, and a chronic masturbator. Billy’s mom Pam (Elisabeth Shue) and Rick are having an affair. Rick makes an impossible bet with a mafioso’s son and fellow student Karlis (Nate Harley) that he can’t have sex with the virginal Nina (Selena Gomez). Rick then gets in trouble with the Lithuanian mafia, a sleazy catholic priest (Jason Lee) and Jimmy (Dylan McDermott), the owner of the strip club. In the meantime, he manages to get revenge on his deviant neglectful father (Carey Elwes), just because why not?

The Good: …yeah, you’re going to have to give me a minute while I make something up. Oh okay here’s one– the only part where I actually laughed out loud was when Dylan McDermott’s character is doing his dishes and picks up a rubber dildo, washes it and sticks it in the dish rack with his plates. At one point I think he actually stifles a laugh while he’s doing it, but it was still funny.

The Bad: Holy sh-t where do I begin? This film is a tornado of bad dialogue, bad acting and just a hodgepodge of unlikely events crammed into 98 minutes. Rick is followed by a “saint” that looks like his mother in a bad wig. A saint? Is that the best you could come up with? Why not call her his conscience or fairy godmother, something more acceptable than a slutty looking saint. Most of the dialogue was probably written in a couple of hours on a coke binge after watching Risky Business – there’s a total blatant rip-off scene towards the end. Most of the actors didn’t seem comfortable with what they were saying, so they just mumbled or spat it out as fast as possible.

Mary-Louise Parker did the best with what she was given, and I can give her a little bit of credit for that.; but honestly, stop doing favors for people, especially something like this. The rest of the actors should feel a little bit of shame; you’re better than this…well, the bigger names are better than this.  This film was shelved for 2 years, and all I can say is, it should’ve stayed put.

Total Rating: D-

Reviewed By: JM Willis

Behaving Badly Movie Behaving Badly Movie Review

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Sunset Overdrive for Xbox One Review

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Sunset Overdrive visually pops, like the Easter Bunny on an acid trip. Its bright colors, punk-rock attitude, and nose turned up in the direction of authority all meld together wonderfully.

This distinct style transcends aesthetics, and actually aids in Sunset’s most successful and often-used mechanics. Like most any open-world game, the mission structure here has you talking to a character at point A, making your way across the map to point B, and engaging in some activity that usually results in being sent to collect a reward at point C. While that structure might sound monotonous, Sunset makes the very act of traversal a constant joy instead of an obligatory trudge. I rarely found myself using the fast travel system, because this is a game that’s about the journey as much as the destination.
Narrative conceit be damned, your hero or heroine can, using nothing but their own two feet, bounce off anything remotely buoyant, dash through the air, and grind on all manners of power lines, billboards, and anything that presents a right angle. In fact all of this is encouraged thanks to a punitively slow regular ground running speed, the rewards of a smart combo system, and an ridiculous abundance of monsters, soldiers, and robots. Seriously, if you find yourself on the ground for more than 10 seconds, deprived of your godly mobility, chances are you’re going to end up dead shortly after that. But Sunset wisely avoids harsh punishments with quick respawns with amusing animations that lovingly pay homage – in clever ways – to dozens of classic works, from Portal to Terminator to Night of the Living Dead.

As long as you keep moving and refrain from lingering on the ground, Sunset’s combat proves to be deep, entertaining, and rewarding. I loved fighting enemies like the giant Hurkers, as each encounter felt like a mini-boss fight in and of itself. There’s a great sense of tension in trying to stay moving while maintaining the high ground. And thanks to Sunset’s deep and varied arsenal, I found myself creating some really interesting combos: I’d start off by peppering the area with freeze bombs, which bought me enough time to lay down a field of Acid Sprinklers, and finish it all off with a cascade of exploding teddy bears.
IGN Plays Sunset Overdrive – Death Becomes Her
While all of that looks and feels awesome in motion, it definitely isn’t easy. The controls in Sunset aren’t simple: by the time you gain a full suite of weapons and traversal abilities, your hands will be getting a serious workout trying to manage them all. But while it certainly felt cumbersome initially, leading to a stretch of hours where my fingers always felt just a fraction of a second behind where my mind was, I eventually acclimated to the complex system and even grew to appreciate it.

For sure, by the end of the campaign, I still found myself having to work to navigate this hand-eye-coordination spaghetti bowl when I had to grind on a wire, kill a horde of monsters below me, hop off, switch weapons and kill an airborne bat-thingy, and air dash towards the nearest bounding so I could wall-ride around its outside. But while it might be a bit complicated, the result of mastering the system and eventually being able to make it across the entirety of the city without ever setting foot on the pavement is wildly satisfying.
That prior example of insanity is just one of hundreds that I remember fondly. I love telling other people my stories about my time in Sunset Overdrive, because they seem to be just that: my stories. If I wanted to put on a wolf mask and fire off explosive teddy bears at a group of robots, I could do just that. Sunset treats its open world as a canvas for you to express yourself aesthetically, through movement, and of course, through combat.
Why Dying is Awesome in Sunset Overdrive: 18 Different Respawn Animations

It also felt personalized by the fact that weapons and abilities are upgraded based on how often you use them. The more I bounced across the city, the more opportunities I had to add an explosion to my jumps. Everytime I killed a robot with an Acid Sprinkler, I inched closer to upgrading both my weapon, as well as my skills against robots. Not only does it reward your playstyle, but it also encouraged me to experiment with other weapons in order to see how they’d evolve over time.
Combat reaches new levels of insanity when you hop into Chaos Squad, Sunset Overdrive’s eight-player cooperative multiplayer missions. These unfold as wave-based siege defenses where you’re given a brief amount of time to lay traps and coordinate with your buddies before all hell breaks loose. The ensuing spectacle of blood, guts, lightning, ice, lasers, and giant fireworks is insanity of the highest caliber. But while Chaos Squad is a neat diversion, it didn’t grab me quite as tightly as the single-player campaign managed to.
Weaving in and out of this self-expression is also one of most consistently funny scripts in recent memory. From pop culture deep cuts to fourth-wall-breaking remarks about the nature of video games, I found myself genuinely laughing at Sunset Overdrive throughout the entire campaign. The voice work is great, the supporting cast is varied and interesting (spend 30 seconds with the robot dog and it’s tough not to fall in love), and I found myself weirdly obsessed with uncovering the events that led to this apocalypse.

Sunset Overdrive is big, gorgeous, and a hell of a lot of fun. Never has getting from point A to point B in an open-world game provided so much enjoyment. It provides some of the most fun, frantic, and fantastic gaming I’ve had on the Xbox One. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to once-again adorn my wolf mask, leap off the highest ledge I can find, and fire an explosive stuffed animal at that group of angry robots.

A Million Ways to Die in the West Review

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A Million Ways to Die in the West Movie Liam Neeson Seth MacFarlane Charlize Theron A Million Ways to Die in the West Review

No doubt, there’s a market for films like A Million Ways to Die in the West and longtime MacFarlane fans (as well as raunch-comedy lovers) should find plenty to enjoy in the Western spoof.

A Million Ways to Die in the West follows lovable (and sarcastic) sheep farmer Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane), as he attempts to get his life together after being dumped by his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried). While Louise suggests she needs time to “work on herself,” it isn’t long before she begins working on well-to-do business man and mustache aficionado, Foy (Neil Patrick Harris) – adding further frustration to Albert’s already negative view of life on the Arizona frontier. Discontent with the rigors of life (as well as risk of death) in the Old West, and without anyone one but his best friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and a set of curmudgeonly parents to keep him in Old Stump, Albert begins plotting a move to San Francisco – until fate intervenes.

After Albert saves newcomer Anna (Charlize Theron) during a bar fight, the mysterious (and tough) young woman takes an interest in her sheep farming rescuer – promising to help Albert win back the heart of Louise if he agrees to stay in Old Stump. However, it isn’t long before Albert begins to forget about Louise, realizing that Anna is his true love – that is until her outlaw husband, Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), suddenly appears in town thirsty for revenge.

A Million Ways to Die in the West Movie Seth MacFarlane Charlize Theron A Million Ways to Die in the West Review

Known best for his work creating, writing, and voicing animated series (including The Cleveland Show, Family Guy, and American Dad), Seth MacFarlane has spent a significant amount of time behind the camera – with only minor guest appearances on live-action TV. Two years back, the filmmaker took a bold step into feature film directing with Ted – the critically-acclaimed story of Mark Wahlberg and an unsavory CGI teddy bear. Now, MacFarlane is stepping outside his animated comfort zone once again, with a starring role in his own Western farce, A Million Ways to Die in the West. The result is a somewhat mixed bag: while MacFarlane is fine in the leading role, the larger film doesn’t excel beyond standard raunch comedy bits woven together by a familiar and underdeveloped story of self-empowerment.

In general, A Million Ways to Die in the West is a harmless collection of chuckle-worthy gags that should please the Family Guy crowd, but falls short of capturing the same heart and laugh-out-loud moments that made Ted a hit. Without question, the film borrows heavily from satire greats (especially Mel Brooks), presenting a solid farcical tale  told from the perspective of a disillusioned and hyper-aware protagonist. Still, while there are traces of comedy greatness in A Million Ways to Die in the West, MacFarlane lacks the same restraint as his comedy heroes, often taking the low road to laughs with overindulgent raunchy jokes.

Neil Patrick Harris Amanda Seyfried A Million Ways to Die in the West A Million Ways to Die in the West Review

The approach might work on Family Guy, but MacFarlane presents the story of Albert and Anna with a bit more sincerity. As a result, in a movie that prominently features erect sheep genitalia and a bowler hat brimming with diarrhea, it’s a rough disconnect when the filmmaker attempts to force tender moments onto cartoonish characters living in a flippant Western world.

Nevertheless, MacFarlane’s self-described “nerd” protagonist is an entertaining focal point – thanks to a subtle juxtaposition of modern day colloquials and sensibilities in a movie that otherwise commits to its 19th century setting. Allowing Albert (and Anna) slightly more awareness than the rest of the cast, the filmmaker successfully reflects on the quirks and absurdities of the time period – without violating the core premise. For that reason, MacFarlane and Theron spend most of their time poking fun at old timey photos, Victorian ball gowns, and racial stereotypes – whereas the rest of the cast is expected to play their caricatures with a straight face.

Giovanni Ribisi Sarah Silverman A Million Ways to Die in the West A Million Ways to Die in the West Review

Liam Neeson phones-in with his best impression of a movie outlaw, but Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman chew up the scenery as loving couple, Edward and Ruth, who are faced with the timeless challenge of balancing career goals and a relationship – made even more complicated by the fact that Ruth is a (very busy) saloon prostitute. Amanda Seyfried offers an amusing turn as a shallow 1880s girl speaking in familiar 21st century platitudes, but Neil Patrick Harris steals most of Seyfried’s scenes as an ostentatious (albeit moneymaking) facial hair entrepreneur and overall prick – who also happens to slip in a How I Met Your Mother easter egg.

If you are a MacFarlane fan this is a movie  that you must watch. It has a quality case and a story line that makes the movie an easy recommendation.