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Alan Wake Remastered

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Stephen King casts a long shadow over much of popular culture. Books, obviously, are where the Maine man’s influence is strongest, but also film, TV and even video games. Nowhere is this more clear than the critically lauded title Alan Wake, a love letter to Stephen King and the horror genre in general, given new life in the recently released Alan Wake Remastered.

Alan Wake tells the story of, well, Alan Wake. Ol’ mate Al’s a mystery writer who has been suffering writer’s block for two years. He and his missus, Alice, head over to the idyllic, but creepy, Bright Falls for some downtime, but it soon becomes clear Alice has an ulterior motive to try and get Alan’s creative mojo back. Things don’t go as planned, however, and Alice gets kidnapped, and Alan gets amnesia. Plus, there are a bunch of shadow people to fight and various weird twists and turns straight out of a trashy, compulsive paperback.

Alan Wake first released on XBOX 360 in 2010, and while Alan Wake Remastered is certainly the prettiest version of the game available, you won’t be confusing it with a brand new title. The animation is a little stiff, the textures are a little drab and the gameplay mechanics themselves feel very 2010. That said, it’s an undeniably compelling story, with solid writing, and while it lacks the polish of developer Remedy’s more recent Control, there’s a lot to like here.

Wandering through creepy locations, getting into blues with scary shadow-shielded gronks, and discovering tantalising story hints in the meta narrative – it’s all compelling stuff. And, if you’re looking at it in the context of a remaster, you’ll likely have a good time. However, if you’d rather just play something newer, prettier and streamlined? Control is an absolute cracker as well, and canonically appears in the same universe.

As we said earlier, Stephen King casts a long shadow over much of popular culture and when the result is something like Alan Wake Remastered? That’s not a bad thing.

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The Old Ways

Home, Home Entertainment, Horror, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Catholic horror cinema has seen something of a resurgence over the last near-decade off the back of the Conjuring series (although it may be on its way out, if The Devil Made Me Do It is any indication). But, much like with the prevalence of Catholic doctrine in the Western world, its persistence in modern cinema can give the impression that this is the only way that the natural and spiritual worlds are understood. It grips the spotlight, while its myriad of offshoots around the world, linger in the shadows. Offshoots like Brujeria, a Mexican witchcraft practice that owes as much to the traditions of the indigenous population as it does to those brought over by colonisers.

It is Brujeria which forms the core of this film, a very different look at the standard exorcist horror flick.

As shown through the psychological lens of main character Cristina (Brigitte Kali Canales), the way her reactions and Marcos Gabriel’s writing establish the scepticism of the story is quite effective. First shown bound by the wrists and with a sack over her head, the audience is put in the same position as her, fearing the circumstances that led to this. And throughout, there’s a continual Flanagan-ian tinge, where questions are asked about how much of what is shown is actually happening.

But as the narrative progresses, and more of Cristina’s own history is made evident, the question of how much is real fades away and is replaced by another, potentially even scarier question: Is she still meant to be here?

While framed with Brujeria tradition and an emphasis on demons made corporeal, the film’s structure is closer to the cold turkey scene in Trainspotting than it is to any recent films involving exorcism.

Cristina’s own figurative demons of addiction and childhood trauma are refracted to depict rehabilitation and demonic possession in a similar light: You’ll lie all you need to to get out of being helped, but it’s only with confrontation that the healing can begin.

It adds interesting textures to the larger story, which is made up of two-thirds psychological detail and one-third proper buckwild horror cred. And as captured by Canales’ amazing performance, ramping up the on-screen charisma to match the raw watchability of the film around her, it makes for an invigorating character arc with relatable chuckles and even a genuine moment of fist-pumping badassitude.

The Old Ways is a refreshing change of pace for one of horror cinema’s favourite cliches, imbuing it with equal parts gripping character work, chewy thematic subtext, and a cultural aesthetic that deserves more shine than it usually gets in this part of the cinematic world. It’s a story of personal triumph that, both in-story and on our side of the screen, serves as an example of persevering not just for one’s own sake, but so that others can be helped to overcome their own demons.

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Our African Roots

Australian, Documentary, Home, Review, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

In the documentary, Our African Roots, author/journalist Santilla Chingaipe brings to life the stories and details of Australia’s Black African history. While everyone knows of the First Fleet, they may not be aware that there were at least ten men of African descent who arrived onboard in 1788.

This documentary, part of SBS’s Australia Uncovered series, highlights just a few people in our history who were of African heritage and how they have contributed to Australia’s history.

John Randall, John Caesar, William Blue, John Joseph, Fanny Finch, William Davies, and Ernest Toshack are a few people from Australia’s history who helped shape the country today. They are all of African descent and while many of us would not have heard the names before, this documentary highlights the struggles and accomplishments which they achieved in our history.

John Randall’s ability to hunt with a rifle set him apart from the local indigenous community. He could then be viewed as someone coming from being oppressed to being an oppressor. Slave and convict labour was very profitable, but in Australia, almost immediately, convicts began to resist. Our first convict bush ranger wasn’t Ned Kelly but John Caesar in 1789, but he wasn’t as highly celebrated as Ned Kelly simply because of his race. William (Billy) Blue is credited with creating the first licensed ferry service. Governor Lachlan Macquarie was friends with Billy and saw him as the ideal type of reformed convict.

The Eureka Rebellion in 1854 is a well-known event in Australian history. John Joseph allegedly fatally wounded the British officer who was leading the offensive. He was arrested and charged for high treason in Victoria’s Supreme Court but found not guilty. Fanny Finch was a single mother of four and the first known woman to cast a vote in an Australian election, on the 22nd of January, 1856. She was able to do this due to a loophole in the suffrage law which stated that any rate paying person was able to vote. The loophole was closed in 1865 when “persons” became “men”.

In 1901, the Immigration Restriction Act passed into law, which marked the beginning of the White Australia policy. At a 1916 conscription rally, Billy Hughes says to go and fight for White Australia in France. While the enlistment laws stated that the person must be of European descent, because of high losses at war, race was ignored when people were enlisting. This is where William Davies goes to fight in Gallipoli. Ernest Toshack was a cricketer during 1946-48 and was part of the ‘Invincible’ team with Don Bradman, nicknamed “The Black Prince”.

Due to the White Australia policy, most of our non-white history is not shared with Australians, and this documentary keeps these historical figures alive in an entertaining way, with the potential by-product of allowing us to escape our racial past and to progress towards a truer multicultural society with a shared history for all.

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Home, Home Entertainment, Review, sci-fi, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The life of Fred Fitzell (Dylan O’Brien) is, on the surface, an unremarkable one. He’s got a steady 9 to 5 in data entry, he married his high-school sweetheart Karen and together they spend their time discussing the minutia of everyday realities, such as which shade of red to paint the bathroom.

It’s steady, calm and predictable. Safe. That is until Fred finds out that his mother’s illness has progressed past the point of a cure; now, any time he sees her could be the last. The news is doubly heartbreaking given Fred’s mother no longer has any recollection of who he is, the deterioration of her memory making a true goodbye feel hopeless.

As Fred deals with his own memories of childhood, his mind keeps flashing back to thoughts of Cindy (Maika Monroe), a girl who vanished in high school after a psychedelic street drug called Mercury started doing the rounds. Tracing increasingly unreliable memories back to his old high school, Fred tries to uncover the mystery of what exactly happened to Cindy and how it all connects to the horrific visions that have begun to haunt his daily life.

At the core of the film, writer/director Christopher MacBride (The Conspiracy) offers up an intriguing deconstruction of the concept of linear time as a prison. Unfortunately, that premise is really all that the screenplay offers. Rather than exploring the implications of Mercury as a drug that can break the constraints of reality, MacBride takes us on a journey of dull office meetings and looming high school deadlines, interspersed with enough chaotic jump cuts that the film warrants an epilepsy warning.

There’s a fog of disconnection hanging over Fred, long before he’s even aware of the existence of Mercury, which feels like wasted potential given the energy O’Brien brings to the rare scenes in which he’s allowed to truly play out his emotions. He’s gloomy and detached as an office drone and equally as gloomy and detached as a high schooler, the only real difference being his teen self’s unfortunate hair.

The same can be said of the supporting cast. It’s difficult to understand the pull Fred feels toward this group of dead-eyed misfits. Even Cindy, supposedly the mysterious, unattainable one, is given little to do beyond sit in corners and look wistful.

We do catch occasional glimpses of the psychological thriller this could have been: one particular scene with Fred menacingly swinging his baseball bat at an intruder, who may or may not be a figment of his own imagination, is masterfully shot using a mix of security camera footage and flashes of Fred’s own waking terrors, bringing a moment of true tension to the jumbled mess of shock and disassociation we’ve seen throughout.

The score, composed by Pilotpriest, succeeds in creating a dark, unsettling atmosphere, but while Flashback does its best to be a high concept film questioning the effects of free will on reality, its ambition is sadly lost in the dreamlike haze of its chaotic narrative.

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Diablo II: Resurrected

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There are two types of people who are going to play Diablo II: Resurrected. There are the old school fans, the kids who played the hell out of the iconic dungeon crawler back in 2000 and have been extolling its virtues (endlessly) to this day. Then there are those of us who played our games on consoles, usually in bong smoke wreathed loungerooms, who only really became aware of the Diablo franchise with the console release of Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition in 2014. And friends, those two groups are going to have very different reactions to this one.

See, Diablo II essentially created the modern ARPG (Action Role Playing Game). Using a canny mix of dungeon crawling, gear farming and build diversity, it basically set the bar for all the ARPGs to come. Minimal story, maximum grinding and endless piss-farting about with friends, Diablo II is the granddaddy of them all. The problem? Granddaddy is real old, and even with the superb visual presentation offered by Blizzard’s remaster, the game’s systems are positively archaic by 2021 standards.

Inventory management, juggling potions, changing your gear and inserting runes are all needlessly fiddly and clunky. Old schoolers will tell you this is faithful to the feel of the original, and they’re not wrong, it’s just that without the patina of nostalgia firmly in place, the process feels positively obtuse.

The thing is, despite clunky old systems, some launch bugginess and semi-frequent server issues, Diablo II: Resurrected is pretty damn fun at times. The aesthetic is pleasingly grim and gothic (as opposed to Diablo III’s more cartoony vibe), the score is an all-timer and the missions themselves are genuinely engaging and compelling. It’s bloody, it’s repetitive but you get into a dark groove, particularly when you find a class and build that suits your style. It’s just, without the quality of life changes modern ARPGs have across the board these days, it sometimes feels like the game gets in the way of your good time.

So, we’re back to those two groups again. Old school fans will no doubt drink in the retro glory of Diablo II: Resurrected, and enjoy seeing the game as pretty in reality as in their rose-tinted memories. Those who never had a crack in 2000, will likely be a little put off by some of the title’s pricklier systems, however if you’re mad keen on ARPGs, it’s probably worth persevering with this iconic, albeit flawed, blast from the past.

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Hating Peter Tatchell

Home, Home Entertainment, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week 1 Comment

Adorned in a loud green long-sleeve shirt that strikingly contrasts against the remarkable Moscovian architecture, perennial civil-rights activist Peter Tatchell stands nobly in front of a wave of Russian authorities ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The spindly Tatchell glides into the shot, knowing exactly his mark as if he were walking a runway. He speaks of bold ambition; bringing to the forefront news of the injustices experienced by the LGBTQI+ community.

Risking life and limb in the pursuit of freedom proves yet another day for the rebellious Tatchell, with this scene in particular showcasing many of the provocative qualities Tatchell has acquired in his fifty-three years of ‘civil disobedience’; a wisecrack he takes in great stride.

Directed by Christopher Amos and executive produced by Elton John (who also briefly features), documentary Hating Peter Tatchell explores the career of a dominant, albeit antagonistic, voice in the fight for LGBTQI+ rights.

From his precocious days as a schoolboy in Melbourne to his protest-ready antics on the streets of London, Tatchell’s career has been long engulfed in controversy. Where Hating Peter Tatchell bites hardest is in its dissection of provocation as a tool for awareness. Tatchell has built a profile out of flagrant attempts to attract attention; a feat he is more than ready to defend at the mere mention. How broadcast media shapes community values and standards is one embracingly hijacked by Tatchell; his desire to be heard is matched in its intensity by his agitational behaviour.

Chats with regarded British figures, the highest profile of which being the articulate Stephen Fry and Ian McKellen (that latter making for an exceptional interview), observe the depth which Tatchell’s influence crossed into the media, reinforcing his standing as a prominent figure in the LGBTQI+ civil rights movement.

Some of the film’s wobblier moments come through in how the film posits the difficulties had by Tatchell in his family life to their influence on his activism. His relationship with his mother ends up becoming a metaphor for progression; an effort that feels somewhat half-baked given her conclusion verges on tolerance as opposed to acceptance.

However, you take to Tatchell’s moxie – provocateur or trailblazer – there is no denying him as a person of gall. The film’s big evaluation of the effectiveness of ‘rocking the boat’, unlike Tatchell’s strong-mindedness, remains open-ended, and speaks to the enduring nature of an advocate who continues to chip away at systemic homophobia.

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Kena: Bridge of Spirits

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There’s something profoundly gratifying about seeing a new game developer punching well above their weight. At a time when some of the larger companies are blurting out bloated, cynical sequels weighed down by oodles of microtransactions, a slick, streamlined title like Kena: Bridge of Spirits feels like a breath of fresh air, despite its many homages to games past.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits has you play the part of Kena, a young spirit guide who looks like she’s just popped out of a fantasy-infused Pixar flick. Kena has a magical staff that can bonk enemies on the head or turn into a bow, a group of adorable little doers inexplicably called Rot who can help her solve puzzles and stun foes, and some other powers you’ll unlock as the game progresses. It’s very quaint, charming and absolutely gorgeous to look at.

Seriously, Ember Lab – with their debut game – have created a title that rivals many of the AAA contemporaries in recent years. Sure, it’s no Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, but it’s a beautiful and smooth experience. Controlling Kena, you’ll solve puzzles, best pretty simple enemies and then get completely nuggeted by some of the genuinely challenging – but rewarding – boss fights that pop up at various points in the story.

Kena feels like a throwback, or an homage, to platformer/puzzle games from years past. There’s some Zelda in there, a bit of Jak and Daxter, a soupcon of Okami and so on. At times, the whole caper feels less like a brand spanking new game and rather, a beautiful remaster of a title from 2005. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

On the downside, the controls can feel a little stiff at times and the titular character gets very little development. This is odd, because some of the stories of the spirits you help shepherd to the afterlife are quite resonant, even emotional, whereas Kena remains a bit of a blank.

Still and all, it’s worth repeating: this is a game from a small studio, with FIFTEEN EMPLOYEES, who managed to craft an experience that looks, feels and plays like a big budget title in all the best ways. If Kena: Bridge of Spirits is what Ember Lab does with their first shot, we absolutely cannot wait to see what they do next.

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Lost Judgement

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The Yakuza games of which there are, it seems, several thousand, are an engaging, often unwieldy series of titles following assorted ne’er-do-wells in their various criminal enterprises. They’re chockers with quirky side quests, wandering perverts, time-wasting mini-games and more lore than you could shake a katana at. They also offer a rather high bar of entry for audiences who haven’t kept up with the series.

The Judgement series, a spin off from the Yakuza games, seemed an opportunity for developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio to spread their wings a little. A new focus, this time working with rather than against the law, and (mostly) new characters is a great way to shrug off some of the series’ bloat. And with 2018’s Judgement they got off to an imperfect, but solid, start with a slightly more focused adventure that just needed a little more innovation. Well, now the sequel Lost Judgement is here and if you were hoping this series might grow into something a little more ambitious… you’re not going to be deeply satisfied, hey.

Lost Judgement puts you once again in the isn’t-he-a-bit-old-for-that-leather-jacket-and-sneakers of Takayuki Yagami, a private detective who likes justice almost as much as he likes hair product. This time around, Takayuki and his associates deal with a case involving murder, high school bullying, organised crime, and enough convoluted plot twists to make Christopher Nolan go, “oof, crikey fellas, that’s starting to feel a bit forced.”

The bulk of the action takes place in the Kamurocho and Isezaki Ijincho districts, and other than a few tweaks, the gameplay is identical to the previous Judgement game. That is: you’ll lob around, have seemingly endless conversations, get pointed towards a new location, do some shallow-as-hell investigation mini-games, and get into fights all over the shop. Basically, the same as Yakuza, except with the law (sorta) on your side.

While it’s probable that Yakuza didn’t make you feel like a real Yakuza, it seemed within cooee of the concept. Lost Judgement on the other hand often feels like a reskin. You’ll pay lip service to investigations, but ultimately, it’s a point and click affair. Plus, you’re meant to stop high school bullying… by belting the shit out of actual teenagers! Seriously, it’s such a disconnect you’ll find yourself either cackling with laughter or turning the damn thing off.

The thing is, Lost Judgement is okay. The story is solid, if unnecessarily protracted, the graphics are decent, the combat slick, if a bit messy. If you like this kind of game, you’ll probably have a good time, but it’s literally nothing new. Nothing you haven’t seen before. And for the second part of a new series with all the potential in the world? That feels like a bit of a letdown.

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Comedy, Home, Review, Streaming, This Week, True Story Leave a Comment

Inspired by true events, this buddy comedy turned crime caper follows two women’s unintentional rise to the top of a criminal empire built on fraud, theft, and extreme couponing.

House of Lies, Veronica Mars, and The Good Place co-stars Kristen Bell and Kirby Howell-Baptiste team up for their fourth collaboration, this time as Connie Kaminski and Jojo Johnson, frustrated suburbanites who take their love for saving pennies a step too far and find themselves running a nation-wide grocery store coupon scam which somehow nets them over $40 million dollars.

It’s the kind of story that you read in the headlines and think “they should make a movie out of that”. The concept is entertaining enough — two friends feeling so desperately undervalued in their everyday lives that they accidentally mastermind their way into a life of crime — but while writer/director husband and wife duo Gita Pullapilly and Aron Gaudet (Beneath the Harvest Sky) have a strong background in drama, they seem hesitant to touch too deeply on any kind of emotion or social commentary; downgrading issues like Connie’s failed pregnancy to throwaway scene-filler, and instead favouring cheap gags about the consequences of regular bowel movements during a stakeout.

The easy, well-established chemistry between Bell and Howell-Baptiste does wonders in keeping the audience’s attention from wandering. There’s a relaxed, natural flow to their banter that contrasts perfectly with the irritable sparring of the film’s other duo, Paul Walter Hauser’s uptight, rule-abiding loss prevention officer, determined to bring Jojo and Connie down for their crimes, and Vice Vaughn, the long-suffering but surprisingly warm-hearted USPS investigator.

Unfortunately, despite the amusing premise and the best efforts of a likable cast, the film remains fun but ultimately forgettable.

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Aliens: Fireteam Elite

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The world abounds with mysteries, questions for which we may never know the answers, but surely one of the biggest – one that keeps many awake at night – is: why can’t they make a decent Aliens game? Now, don’t get us wrong, there have been good games based on Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 sci-fi horror flick Alien. 2014’s Alien: Isolation is a stone cold classic of survival horror that remains daks-browningly scary to this day.

However, Aliens – that classic 1986 action sequel directed by James Cameron – never seems to get a fair shake. We’d be here all day if we listed them all, but the most recent – and notorious – misstep based on the movie was Aliens: Colonial Marines. This 2013 disaster promised much and delivered little, ending up being an ugly, unimaginative, buggy and boring mess. The good news about Aliens: Fireteam Elite is that it’s significantly better than that universally despised flop. The bad news? It’s still pretty average.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a third person shooter that takes place in several iconic locations from the Aliens franchise, with some Prometheus mixed in for good measure. The action revolves around a three person fireteam – either player controlled or single player with bots – and it essentially plays out like a horde shooter, with wave after wave of snarling xenomorphs descending upon you like biomechanical seagulls on hot chips.

You and your fellow marines can occupy different classes and use various abilities to either make killing easier or buffing/healing your teammates and every level will end with a massive bullet sponge boss. And, uh, that’s it. That’s the game.

To be fair, Fireteam Elite doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. Developer Cold Iron certainly aren’t trying to sell this as a thrilling narrative experience, and what the game says on the tin it delivers. It’s just… isn’t this all a little unambitious? The shooting is… fine, the graphics are okay, there’s some joy to be had the first few times you mow down a horde of nasties but after a while the mind-numbing repetition kicks in. It’s kinda fun, for a while, with mates and a few adult beverages but then, most things are.

Look, at the risk of damning it with faint praise, we’ll say Aliens: Fireteam Elite has its moments and it knows what it is. However, if you’re looking for something that really captures the frenetic thrills of Aliens, that edge-of-your-seat excitement, then you’re probably going to be mostly disappointed… mostly.