Regarded as a genius from a very early age, you can see the seeds of Citizen Kane and War of the Worlds in this play that Orson Welles co-wrote about abolitionist John Brown, at the ripe old age of 17.
How do you create a great video game sequel? That’s the question that must have haunted the psyche of developer Team Ninja as they prepped a follow-up to 2017’s Dark Souls-esque smash hit Nioh. Do you expand the formula of the first game to such a degree that you risk alienating fans of the original? Or do you remain faithful to the prequel and brave the accusations of stagnation? It’s a tough balance to strike, but happily Nioh 2 can stand tall as an example of ‘doing it right’.
Nioh 2 is technically a prequel to Nioh, set mostly in the late 1500s (with some later chapters set further along the timeline). However, as with the first game, the story is a rather generic affair, existing only to give the player a setting and vague premise. You play the self-created character of Hide, a half-yokai Shiftling who is on an initially vague quest to fight enemy soldiers, evil yokai (demons) and grind for that perfect sword or pair of strides. Basically, it’s business as usual, with Hide doing main missions and side missions, getting stronger weapons, better armour, upgrading the frankly dizzying range of magical powers and swearing a lot when none of it makes a bloody difference against a big bastard boss who will definitely go down if you have “just one more go!”
So, yes, Nioh’s steep difficulty curve has absolutely returned for the sequel, but Nioh 2 offers so many combat options and such diverse build variety – not to mention the ability to summon help in on and offline modes – that there’s a good chance you’ll be able to bugger on through with a bit of patience. Performance-wise, Nioh 2 is a slick machine, offering the same fast-paced, often devastating combat where a single wrong move or mistimed attack can result in a messy end. The graphics are gorgeous, the animation crisp, with more enemy variety than the prequel, although the environments can start to feel a little samey as the game wears on.
Nioh 2 doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Which is a good thing, because people are pretty bloody fond of that wheel! It does, however, offer more combat and enemy variety, a large pool of weapons, a solid loot game and the ability to co-op more easily. It’s a long, sprawling, epic and tough as nails, but in a way that can be learned from and ultimately feels deeply satisfying.
There is a certain expectation for Western moviegoers when they sit down to watch Hindi cinema. Much as Hollywood has such ubiquity in the West that it is basically the industry, Bollywood-born masala film has a similar perception, and with that, a very iconic style of storytelling. Just the phrase ‘Bollywood musical’ is enough to conjure images that stick to the stereotypical vision of the region’s cinema. But then there are some that break away from the pack and deliver something a bit different. A bit darker. A bit more challenging. Tony is such a film.
Right from its high-octane rock-backed opening credits to its more sombre conclusion, the first striking thing about this film is its tone. Or, more specifically, that it can be pinned down to having one in the first place. Where the perceived standard is made up of a slurry of different genres and tones, that it feels like watching several films collide with each other, this one keeps its standing well within the psychological crime thriller. A playing with contrasts between the nerve-racking subject matter and the slow-burn pacing, what starts out as the story of an ill-fated meeting between four psych students and a serial killer turns into something far bigger. In that way, it maintains some of the region’s flavour.
The script’s lurid detailing of murderous psychology, the hows, whys and ultimate rationalisation for such actions already packs a heavy punch, but when combined with the plain-faced voyeurism of the titular Tony’s budding proteges, it nudges into commentary on its own genre. This brand of tied-to-the-perpetrator crime yarn, especially for Aussie audiences, is something that generates immense and profoundly morbid fascination. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk, poking at the audience that enjoys violent spectacle while still wanting them to engage with your own, but unlike Natural Born Killers or The House That Jack Built, it isn’t so overt that it becomes patronising. If anything, its subtlety makes it ring through and make the audience extra uncomfortable.
Tony’s scope is quite immense for the sort of story it tells. It also juggles ideas of justice, sin and forgiveness across a variety of aspects within Hindi culture, from religion to the state to law enforcement, even family in one of the more perverse examples of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” on-screen in recent years.
The film tackles so many heavy subjects that, admittedly, its reach goes beyond its grasp at points. But it still results in a dense tapestry that manages to engage and unsettle from end to end, with nary a dead spot in sight. It goes beyond showing greater consistency and quality control than a bulk of the Hindi films that make it over here, and even gives the West a run for its money in the process. It’s a triumphant serving of parallel cinema, and a damn tense ride to boot.
It’s a tough deal, but directors can often get drowned by the big splash that they create with their first film. In the world of cinema, the “sophomore slump” can hit brutally hard, as these unfortunate second-time filmmakers prove.
The third adaptation of a literary classic in recent months, following Little Women and Emma, The Personal History of David Copperfield is based on Charles Dickens’ novel and brought to the screen by Amando Iannucci.
Telling the story of its titular character from birth to middle age, the film follows Copperfield – played as a child by Jairaj Varsani and as an adult by the great Dev Patel – as he moves through life, the protagonist of his own quasi-autobiography.
Charting Copperfield’s journey, the film combines magical moments of childhood excitement, best exemplified by the hull of an upturned boat that has been transformed into the brightly coloured beach home of Peggotty’s extended family, alongside moments of utter misery, such as when young Copperfield finds himself unloved and bullied in the harsh confines of an East End bottle-making factory.
The Personal History of David Copperfield has a strong cast; Tilda Swinton’s Betsy Trotwood, Hugh Laurie’s Mr Dick, Rosalind Eleazar’s Agnes, and Paul Whitehouse’s Mr Peggotty are all well realised, while Ben Whishaw’s suspiciously obsequious Uriah Heep is near perfect. In much the same way as Iannucci’s previous film, The Death of Stalin, cast a variety of actors to play the heads of the Soviet Union without having them deliver their lines in Russian accents, David Copperfield uses a multi-racial cast to tell Dickens’ story. This, like in the director’s previous feature, serves to emphasise characterisation and dialogue, rather than banal naturalism, and it is an effective, striking technique.
There are visual moments, such as a trip in a cart travelling to Peggotty’s home, when the beauty of the British countryside becomes truly sublime. Similarly, the art and costume design are well realised. For fans of the costume part of costume drama the outfits may not be quite as boldly realised as in Emma, although Mr Micawber’s (Peter Capaldi) crimson coat and Copperfield’s suits in later scenes come close.
The narrative is primarily structured around a series of key sequences in our protagonist’s life – Copperfield the child, Copperfield at school, Copperfield in London, and so on – but while each is good, there’s a sense that the film is slightly too sketchy in places, and could benefit from a more focused over-arching and driving narrative. The Death of Stalin was something of a masterwork, and while The Personal History of David Copperfield does not feel as well realised as his previous feature, it should satisfy those who are enjoying the current crop of adaptations of classic novels.