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Untouchable

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As the lawyers for disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein keep managing to push back his long awaited sexual assault trial – the latest postponement sees the trial commencing in January next year – a smart documentary by British filmmaker Ursula Macfarlane continues to remind us why Weinstein managed to escape incrimination for so long.

Together with his brother Bob, their Miramax film company achieved an extraordinary breakthrough in the late ‘80s when they would became one of the most influential producers in the American film industry thanks to a string of hits with sex, lies and videotape, My Left Foot and Cinema Paradiso.

While Bob kept a back seat, Harvey became a self-styled visionary and mogul. And, ultimately, a bully and a monster.

In his own words, we hear Weinstein describing himself as “the sheriff of this shit-ass fucking town” before putting a journalist in a head-lock on the streets of Manhattan – witnessed by about 100 paparazzi and press.

The fact that said pictures were never published anywhere proves his words to be true.

He owned the town.

But that was then, and this is now, and his years as an alleged sexual predator have given birth to an emboldened #MeToo generation of women who refuse to be silenced anymore.

Weinstein’s fortunes came crashing down under a barrage of allegations – harassment, blackmail, sexual assault, rape – published in both the New York Times and New Yorker magazine in October 2017.

Premiering at Sundance earlier this year, the documentary’s title is a nod to how Weinstein literally made himself untouchable and was able to bury his unsavoury private life for so long.

Macfarlane’s documentary answers a lot of those questions based on the testimony of former employees, investigative journalists and the courageous female prosecutors.

Untouchable avoids #MeToo’s most famous accusers like Asia Argento or Rose McGowan, focusing on lesser publicised victims Rosanna Arquette, Paz de la Huerta, Caitlin Dulaney and Erika Rosenbaum.

Macfarlane – a former BAFTA nominee for her titles Breaking up with the Joneses (2006) and One Deadly Weekend in America (2017) – also interviews key journalists Ronan Farrow, Megan Twohey and Ken Auletta.

Their testimony is compelling and also shows the audience how Weinstein escaped prosecution for more than three decades by using lawyers to pay off his victims who, in turn, signed non-disclosure agreements. He furthermore hired Black Cube, an expensive private investigation company ran by former Mossad operatives.

Financed by Weinstein’s deep pockets, Black Cube spied on his accusers and hunted down photographs of his victims – looking happy in Weinstein’s company at glamorous parties – to cynically be used as evidence to refute their claims.

Almost as traumatised as his victims are former employees – like Zelda Perkins – who could no longer stay on his payroll after learning the truth. Perkins even outlines how legally binding non-disclosure agreements meant that his victims couldn’t even reveal his abuse to their therapists for fear of retribution.

As early as 1998, one victim was paid US$250,000 in return for her silence while, at the same time, Weinstein was feted as a genius for producing The Piano, Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love.

Since 2017, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault or rape. Untouchable reminds us that nobody can escape the truth forever.

 
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The Surge 2

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The Surge, from developers Deck13 Interactive came out in 2017, and carved a bloody, biomechanical niche as “scifi Dark Souls”. This slightly reductive description was, nonetheless, broadly accurate and the title performed well enough to justify a sequel. Well, The Surge 2 is here and while it’s not a spectacular masterpiece that addresses all the shortcomings of its predecessor, it’s still a pretty damn solid effort and shows improvement on most fronts.

The Surge 2 puts you in the boots of a survivor in Jericho City, a sprawling metropolis that is suffering in the aftermath of a bizarre surge that has rendered much of the population bugshit crazy; both human, robotic and combinations of the two. The only way to survive is to fight and the only way to fight is to upgrade. This entails ripping the limbs off your enemies and using their mech enhancements to build up your own armour and weapons, all the better for improving your chances of living just a little longer. The concept of a bonfire (in this case a Medbay) where you can reset and upgrade, but also respawn all the non-boss enemies, returns and while it remains derivative of FromSoftware’s most iconic title, it’s executed well enough to justify its existence.

The plot is a little more epic in scope this time around, although it’s mainly delivered through wooden NPC dialogue, and frankly, isn’t much chop. What does work, however, is the way levels loop back on themselves, with densely packed, smallish areas being home to all manner of secrets and shortcuts. Combat, too, feels more fluid this time around and while it’s not immune from jankiness, there’s a pleasing rhythm to the way the various weapons work and a surprising amount of potential build diversity.

Playing The Surge 2, and indeed the previous Surge title, feels a bit like watching a lower budgeted genre flick that’s rough around the edges but has a decent script and a bunch of good ideas. More specifically, 1995’s underrated cult hit Screamers, which is also about robots getting a bit too handsy with us fleshbags. The special effects/graphics are a bit shonky, the acting/voice acting is a tad stiff but the ideas shine strong and, if you’re a fan of the aesthetic, you’ll likely have a grand old, limb-tearing time on the mean streets of Jericho City.

 
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Borderlands 3

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The original Borderlands (2009) was an engaging cel-shaded looter shooter with an original premise and a unique sense of identity, playing out as sort of a Mad Max variant, stuffed with pop culture references. Borderlands 2 (2012), arguably the best in the series, followed and honed the premise, but added characters you actually care about and a fantastic villain in the form of smarmy sociopath Handsome Jack. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (2014) followed and felt like a bit of a step back, although still fun, and then Telltale Games’ Tales from the Borderlands (2014-15) proved there was a place in the wastes of Pandora for a little depth, nuance and, most shocking of all, legitimate pathos.

It’s no surprise, then, that anticipation has been so high for the latest entry, Borderlands 3, and now that it’s finally here we can reveal the result is… pretty damn fun.

Borderlands 3 introduces four brand spanking new playable characters. There’s Moze the Gunner, with a D.Va-style summonable mech, Amara the Siren, who hits and quips hard, FL4K the Beastmaster, a bloodthirsty AI who can use animal friends, and Zane the Operative, an Irish assassin with a range of clever tricks.

All the characters have extensive skill trees and lots of potential for build diversity, and most styles of play can be accommodated. This deadly foursome are thrust into a typically insane adventure, featuring returning Borderlands characters and brand new baddies, The Calypso Twins – basically homicidal streamers.

There was a real opportunity here for Borderlands 3 to continue Tales from the Borderlands’ trend and offer a deeper, more clever narrative. Sadly, this is completely squandered on a very by-the-numbers plot that ranges from forgettable to downright annoying. Every single character SCREAMS, seemingly constantly, and the ubiquitous fourth wall breaking can become a real grind, particularly in the game’s final third which is protracted beyond reason.

Borderlands 3 is like watching Deadpool if every single character was Deadpool and shouting their dialogue for 30 hours. It’s… not ideal.

On the plus side, Borderlands 3 has honed its shooting to a delightful degree. Gone are the floaty physics from games’ past, with a more Destiny-like feel to the boom sticks, with satisfying feedback and a meaty heft to the weapons. Being that most of the game will be running around equipping new guns, this is exactly what Gearbox Software needed to get right and it does so with much alacrity. Graphics, too, have been polished and while the cel-shaded look is never going to reach retina-stroking levels, it’s engaging and visually distinct from other games on the market.

The same, however, cannot be said for all the technical aspects, as frequent pop-in, lag, glitches and bugs galore plague Bordy to a worrying degree. This occurred mainly while playing with friends, but even solo there are a lot of rough edges here. No doubt these niggling issues will be addressed in coming patches, but it’s worth noting the launch of this title hasn’t been the pearler 2K Games was likely hoping for.

Ultimately, Borderlands 3 is fun. It’s fun despite the aggressively noisy voice acting, despite the frequent glitches and terrible UI and despite the overlong, unambitious story. It is, quite simply, an absolute hoot to team up with your mates and shoot mad bastards in the face holes and flog their guns. The technical issues will likely be improved, the story and voice acting will not, and if you’re okay with that, then Borderlands 3’s blistering ballistic thrills are probably a good fit.

 
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Monster Hunter World: Iceborne

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Monster Hunter: World was released in 2018 to a stunning amount of success, critically and commercially. The notoriously fiddly Japanese franchise has always enjoyed a sort of niche fame, but for the first time ever, general audiences were coming to the party. Now, this is often the point where good games go off the rails, as the need to satisfy a wider market dilutes what made the IP special in the first place. Happily, this proved not to be the case with MHW, and the title retained its notorious difficulty and staggering depth of RPG elements, while adding relatively easy online functionality and many quality-of-life improvements. Now the first major expansion is here, Iceborne, and it brings a lot to the party, and it’s all pretty bloody great.

Iceborne continues the cheerful, but ultimately inconsequential, Monster Hunter: World story and introduces a new (and better designed) hub called Seliana and enormous exploration area, Hoarfrost Reach. As the name suggests, the Reach is an icy environment which necessitates winter clothes and hot drinks to prevent stamina depletion. As expected, it also means a shitload of new monsters are available to hunt, kill, and craft new weapons and armour from their various bitties. It’s basically Monster Hunter business as usual, with a new Master Rank difficulty and a few new moves added to each weapon. Oh, and you can use your slinger as a grappling hook now, to fly over and weaken parts of the monster you’re battling. While individually these changes and additions don’t feel like much, when combined it feels like you’re playing the best version of this game thus far.

Of course, once the main story is complete, Iceborne is all about the endgame and grinding for better armour, weapons and decorations. This is a game, after all, where fights can go for 45 minutes+ and even after all that time, end in failure. That aspect of the franchise hasn’t been diluted at all, and it’s something that won’t be for everyone. Finding the best builds for specific fights, joining them up to take on increasingly powerful enemies and carving new weapons to experiment with, is just as engaging – and pleasingly logical – as always and if you enjoyed that in MHW, it’s even better here. That said, Iceborne is a lot better with capable friends to help you. Certainly, you can request help from randoms, but nothing beats the sense of well-oiled camaraderie, as you best genuinely arseholey creatures like the returning Tigrex or the blade-tailed Glavenus.

Ultimately, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is a massive, involving and game-changing expansion to one of 2018’s best games. It’s something of a niche proposition, so do your research before you make the leap to make sure it’s your jam, but fans of challenging, methodical, satisfying and strategic combat should be on this like Scoutflies on monster shit.

 
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Nekrotronic VR Experience

Our roving reporter got a first hand demo by the filmmakers themselves, of the Nekrotronic VR experience, and he also got the goss about their hopes for an R rated Star Wars!
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The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan

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2015’s Until Dawn from developer Supermassive Games was an ambitious attempt to create the experience of a trashy horror movie in which you, the player, could influence and change the outcome. Featuring a stunning performance from Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), gorgeous visuals and a lively and inventive story, it was a surprise hit that spawned a VR spin-off and prequel. 2019 ushers in the next major project from Supermassive, The Dark Pictures Anthology project, where a series of standalone genre efforts will try to recapture that Until Dawn magic. Man of Medan is first cab off the rank and while it certainly has its charms, it lacks the lunatic thrills of its predecessor.

Aside from an extremely effective prologue set during WWII, Man of Medan is a contemporary tale about four Americans who hire a boat to go diving in a submerged wreck, hoping for adventure or gold. What they find, instead, are vicious pirates, bad weather and a huge, rusting hulk of an abandoned ship… that might just be haunted.

The concept of a ghost ship lost at sea is wonderful, and for its first half Man of Medan is extremely effective and atmospheric. Voice and motion capture performances are stellar, and the moody lighting, graphics and audio are top notch from the get-go. However, around the back half, and we’ll keep it vague here to avoid spoilers, a twist occurs that desperately undermines the narrative to such a degree that it never really recovers.

Until Dawn also featured a divisive twist, but it was in keeping with similar genre efforts, whereas Man of Medan’s game changer feels like it’s been lifted from an Uncharted sequel. This means that no matter which ending you get – or how many of the cast you manage to keep alive – the proceedings feel extremely anticlimactic.

On the plus side, Man of Medan is still enjoyable, and the addition of a co-op mode adds a new layer of intrigue, further enhancing the feeling of an interactive movie. You’ll certainly be engaged through the 4-6 hours it takes to complete a playthrough, but the achingly deflating (and frankly predictable) twist in the back section pretty much ensures that you won’t be making multiple runs.

The good news is the next Dark Pictures entry, Little Hope, looks fantastic so hopefully the project will get back on track in 2020. However, it has to be said, Man of Medan doesn’t quite live up to its supermassive potential.

 
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Control

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Office jobs are scary and weird, it’s an indisputable fact. You lob up to a strange, utilitarian space, spend hours with people you don’t necessarily like and pretend to care about various menial tasks and bureaucratic bullshit; all so you can make enough money to continue existing as a productive member of society. That’s to say nothing of the interdimensional beings who want to colonise your brain with their strange, unknowable consciousness and make you their slave. That last example is, perhaps, a problem unique to the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), the main location in Remedy Entertainment’s newest brain-bending game, Control.

Control, at its most basic, is a third person action adventure that puts you in the shoes of Jesse Faden, a spunky young woman with a mysterious past and a couple of big secrets. Jesse is on the hunt for her missing brother, and her investigation has led her to the FBC, a gargantuan building whose dimensions seem to shift and change… and why are there so many office workers levitating limply in the air? Surely that’s an OH&S violation. It soon becomes clear that spooky, potentially world-ending shenanigans are afoot, and before the first act concludes Jesse is made director of the FBC, witnesses extremely scary events and develops telekinetic powers. From there, Jesse must investigate the Oldest House (the name given to the building) and unravel the mystery of The Hiss, the enemy that seems to have possessed so many unfortunate humans.

Plot-wise Control is a staggeringly ambitious effort, with a storyline that features wonderful twists, meaty lore and a sense of mood and place that rival the likes of David Lynch and David Cronenberg. Black upside-down talking pyramids, levitating, glowing-eyed ghouls and morphing sections of building are used to terrific effect, offering both fear and awe in equal measure. Gameplay-wise, things are a little more generic, with the game feeling a lot like other third person action/adventure titles; although to be fair, when Jesse develops the ability to telekinetically hurl objects at her enemies and limited flight, you’ll find yourself changing up your tactics accordingly. Still, the main reason to play Control is the story, which you’ll do so in about ten hours, and it’s absolutely worth the effort, even if the ending(s) are a little confounding.

Ultimately, Control is a stellar story, absolutely dripping with atmosphere and jaw-dropping imagery and while the gameplay is a tad familiar, fanging office furniture at your enemies with your mind never gets old, and the labyrinthine depths of the Oldest House are bound to stick with you long after the credits roll. And hey, maybe chuck a sickie and spend some time in a slightly less terrifying office.

 
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Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden

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What is it about games where you scavenge for scrap in the ruins of the past, why are they so damn satisfying? Is it the catharsis of confronting the fear of society’s collapse in a safe environment or perhaps a frisson of sick glee at watching what happens to the world after it burns? Whatever the reason, the post-apocalypse is a provocative backdrop for media and used to great effect in tactical adventure game, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden.

Mutant Year Zero puts you in the trotters and flippers, respectively, of Bormin (a gruff pigman) and Dux (a duck bloke), as they embark on a quest handed to them by The Elder, the wise overseer of The Ark. The pair swiftly becomes a trio, with more characters introduced along the way, with various different skills that you can swap out as needed. This is a good thing, because the world of MYZ is deadly, brimming with insane Ghouls, homicidal robots and deadly cults, all of whom would be delighted in doing unspeakable things to your body meats.

Gameplay-wise, MYZ can be broken down into two distinct modes: exploration and combat. Exploration is when you lob around the various areas on the map, searching for scrap, weapon parts and loot. You can use what you find to beef up your gear back at the Ark, or spend it on much-needed med kits and grenades. Combat is the inevitable result of what happens when you run into the antisocial elements of the wasteland and takes place in a turn-based system similar to the likes of XCOM or Divinity: Original Sin. It should be noted that combat is tough, especially in the opening hours, so using stealth pre-battle to silently kill as many enemies as you can is not only recommended, it’s essential to survive. Each mutant has various powers they can use – wings to gain a high vantage, thick skin to absorb damage, mind control to even the odds – which adds new layers of strategy to the proceedings as the game progresses.

Graphically, the game’s isometric view is perfect for the material, and the character models brim with little details that sell their mutant origin. The enemies, similarly, are well designed and slickly animated, lending the game a sense of polish that’s genuinely surprising from a relatively small studio like The Bearded Ladies. Story-wise MYZ is a delight, and while your eventual playtime may only be 15-20 hours (comparatively short for the genre), it’s all killer and (mutant year) zero filler.

Ultimately, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a slick, engaging and cleverly designed romp through humanity’s desiccated ruins. Brimming with engaging characters, a vivid world and tense, tough combat it’s an intense joy to play and one of the best examples of the tactical adventure genre. Plus, you can give your pigman a jaunty top hat so, you know, obviously a timeless classic.

 
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Daughter of the Wolf

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There are endless ways to tell a compelling story in an icy environment. A common element is tension, and this is often what keeps us coming back for more. David Hackl’s (Saw V, Into the Grizzly Maze) Daughter of the Wolf is no such film.

It follows Clair Hamilton (former MMA superstar Gina Carano), an ex-military specialist whose son is being held hostage. She must use her father’s (Richard Dreyfuss) inheritance for a ransom to get her son back, before it’s too late…

The story, while familiar, could have been executed really well. Unfortunately, it just comes off as underwritten, with little personality, and reeks of a generic rush job.

Visually, it is quite stagnant, the desaturated colours making it look lifeless. The editing is at times unintentionally comical and doesn’t allow the audience to take the narrative seriously.

The film is a slow burn but there are multiple jarring tonal shifts that take you out of the experience. The script also suffers from repetitive and melodramatic writing. This isn’t helped by some over the top, hammy performances.

Apart from that… Gina Carano does a decent job with the material – her character has little substance and while there are flashbacks that give the audience insight into her past, they don’t help us invest in her struggle. Supporting player Brendan Fahr  (Wynnona Earp) has good moments and on-screen chemistry with Carano but unfortunately, this is underutilised.

The film uses wolves as symbolism and while the ambition is admirable, it just comes off as confused and goofy. These scenes feel forced and cause the narrative momentum to stop. The ending of the film is also a head-scratcher.

Daughter of the Wolf could have been an outstanding film in the right hands. As it is, it feels like a project that was simply a paycheck.

 
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Once Upon a Time in London

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If you like burly men with brylcreemed hair shouting at each other in ‘Laahdan’ accents and continually reminding you that, despite their nefarious ways, they’re simply gentlemen who look after the people what lives here, then you are in for a treat with Once Upon a Time in London.

Starting in the 1930s and set over the course of three decades, director Simon Rumley recounts the real lives of two of the biggest names in old London town: Jack Comer and his protégé Billy Hill. Comer (Terry Stone, who also co-writes the screenplay) was a hardnosed racketeer who, if the film is anything to go by, was a big believer in putting the boot to someone who overstepped the line. Which would appear to be everyone in London apparently.

Hill (Leo Gregory) was a wiseguy who knew what side his bread was buttered in any given situation. He practically woos Comer over with a fan letter he sends during an extended period in prison. Soon, the two men are working together, but it’s not long before allegiances get in the way of business.

On the surface, Once Upon a Time in London looks suitably glossy, giving its best against the likes of Brian Helgeland’s Legend. Particularly in the early part of the film where it evokes the Woodbine tinged era where the death penalty loomed heavy over the criminal class, meaning it was better to be done for maiming a person than killing them outright.

Taking a break from the violence, there’s a surprisingly sweet little moment where everyone, regardless of where they are on the criminal food chain, is shown to be brought together by the end of the Second World War. And it’s fair to say that both Stone and Gregory certainly look the part as a pair of miserable desperados.

However, the film’s issues outweigh the strengths. The screenplay never gets its hook into an actual narrative that serves either character. We just bounce back and forth between them yelling at each other and yelling at their girlfriends, wives and colleagues. Also, strangely for a film that spans as many years as it does, there’s minimal attempt to make the cast look like the age they’re supposed to be portraying. When Comer is called up for duty during the war, it’s hard to suspend disbelief that the 40-something Stone is in his late 20s. And whilst no one has to look exactly like their real-life counterpart – Roland Manookian, for example, resembles a young Udo Kier rather than Mad Dog Frankie Fraser – it seems a strange creative decision to have the pinnacle of British thuggery, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, barely look like brothers, let alone twins. Mild complaints, maybe, but when they all dogpile on each other it distracts.

And what really frustrates is that Rumley manages to let a more interesting narrative thread slip out of his fingers before the opening credits have finished. Comer was a man proud of his Jewish heritage. So, when noted fascist, Oswald Mosley, came onto the scene, Comer rallied up the troops to take him on at one of his Blackshirt demonstrations. Unfortunately, the film merely shows Comer giving an impassioned speech about taking down Mosley before the credits start and we forget all about it for the rest of the runtime.

A shame because that’s your film there; a veritable army of despicable morals up against a motley crew of hardnosed crims. It could be lean, mean and biting. Literally, everything that Once Upon a Time in London isn’t.