Legend

SKNR-Logo-1-1024x582-bicubic

by Joseph Saulnier

Have you heard of Legend? Not the movie from the mid-eighties, but the story of Ronnie and Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy, playing both brothers). Don’t know who they are, that’s okay, neither did I. But if you are across the pond and are reading this, you probably do. They Kray brothers are twins, and perhaps the most notorious gangsters in London history. Think John Dillinger, or Al Capone, of the UK.

Legend is a story of Reggie and Ronnie Kray’s rise to power as the top gangsters of the East End of London, and beyond. However, it is told from the point of view of Reggie’s wife, Francis Kray (Emily Browning). Though, the movie starts with her meeting Reggie for the first time, and it is really a love story of how she fell in love with a gangster that would not change his ways. There is nothing solely remarkable about the plot of the movie, but it is definitely captivating. I went into the film not knowing much about the Krays, but glad that I didn’t as it might have marred my experience.

Hardy, however, is remarkable in his portrayal of the Kray brothers. Each brother having his own distinctive personality, and even distinctive looks despite being identical twin brothers. Ronnie, as Francis describes him, is a one man mob trying to take control of London. The only catch is that he is paranoid schizophrenic and has trouble in social situations. This leads to a high distrust of people, and some intriguing scenes during the course of the film, especially interacting with Francis and his brother. Reggie is the intelligent, methodical brother who has bigger goals and aspirations than his brother, but his loyalty to his family holds him back. He has a deep loyalty, and even in the height of conflict would not take his anger, or disappointment, out on Ronnie. This did not sit well with Francis, who desperately wanted Reggie to go straight, but still agreed to marry him, even against the wishes of her mother.

There is no rise without a fall, but I won’t give too much insight into that as it will help the movie win you over if you know less. But Hardy and Browning were backed by a wonderful supporting cast including the likes of David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, and Chazz Palminteri. Hardy himself brought some levity to the more serious scenes, though there were times where I was taken out of the movie as Ronnie Kray had a slight tendency to sound like Bane, Hardy’s previous role in the Dark Knight franchise.

If you enjoy British films such as Rock’n’Rolla, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, or Trainspotting, you will definitely enjoy Legend. In fact, Legend is the first movie rated 18+ in the UK to break the box office record set by Trainspotting in 1996. That says a lot about the movie. Will I add it to my collection upon home release? The jury is still out on that, but it definitely was a great film and worth seeing.

4 stars out of 5

Need For Speed

SKNR-Logo-1-1024x582-bicubic

by Joseph Saulnier

Need for Speed starts with you, the player, coming into Ventura Bay to join a small group of unknown racers. Each race you complete successfully brings you, and your crew, one step closer to being recognized throughout the racing community. The races/missions you complete are offered by each member of your crew, with rewards/perks being based on their specific area of expertise. There are a total of five different ways to earn Reputation, which is NFS equivalent to XP. Speed, Style, Build, Crew and Outlaw are all contributing factors. As you complete the missions based on these factors, you’ll move closer to challenging a Driving Icon in the NFS world. Defeating a Driving Icon will not only earn you their respect, but also infamy.

Once I started cruising around the streets of Ventura Bay, I was blown away out the realistic visuals. The streets were reflective as they had the right amount of moisture from passing rain. And judging by the amount seen so far, this appears to be fictional city set in America’s Pacific Northwest region. The streets are filled with wet asphalt, but luckily the puddles found in races and just roaming around seem to be mostly for aesthetic purposes as my already poor driving ability wasn’t affected by them. Street lights, fluorescent signs, and headlights of oncoming vehicles all had a surreal look to it.

The NFS series has always offered a more arcade feel to vehicle handling with slight simulation mechanics, and this latest installment from Ghost Games is no different. The game has a nice variety of race styles to complete, although there was a heavy focus on drifting. Too much focus on it. There are only two or three race styles that focus on speed and precision driving, but there are roughly five different race types dealing with drifting. So if you prefer your car to have a lot of grip, you’re going to have to learn how to drift eventually.

After seeing how realistic this world looked, I completely understood why Ghost Games went with Full Motion video for the cutscenes. The FMV scenes helped in keeping the realistic illusion of the Bay’s streets. I found there to be a fair amount of production in the FMV scenes, which gave a very ‘Fast & Furious’ vibe to the game, although there were certain things that took me out of the experience. Any time I’m with a group of people, I found them all looking at me at the same time, regardless of who was talking on screen (which was never you). The attention in normal conversations tends to shift from person to person, and I felt like I had something on my face which no one wanted to tell me about. It also didn’t help that the acting was on par with B-movie standards of exaggerated caricatures.

The FMV scenes and the drift-focused racing weren’t the only things that took me out of the experience. You’re the new guy in town, but for some reason you are awfully popular with the bombardment of phone calls (including many conference calls) from you crew. No matter what you are doing, these calls came in. Even from the crew member whose event you were taking part in.

While I understand the culture that is being represented in NFS more than most, I was surprised to find there was so much drinking going on prior to races. I was invited to meet up at a bar, at a friend’s house for a party, and in both cases the obvious implication was seemed to be that everyone was drinking. This may be the future parent in me coming out, but I didn’t like the idea of my crew pounding down the drinks and then jumping behind the wheel.

The vehicles also left something to be desired. Though they were pretty much par for the course when it comes to NFS standards, they just aren’t as visually pleasing as you surroundings. This is made even more apparent when the CGI vehicle is injected into an FMV scene. It was similar to the visual style of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, which is one of my favorite movies, so I am a bit torn. Also, the selection of vehicles leaves a lot to be desired, but that could be the Volkswagen lover in me griping that the only VW selection is MKI Rabbit.

For taking a year off to work on this entry in the Need for Speed franchise, I was sure hoping Ghost Games would have given its reboot a more noteworthy return. While Ventura Bay is beautiful and there are plenty of missions to play, the constant distractions and lack of freedom of driving style I felt while playing it kept me away from enjoying it as much as I have previous iterations. If you’re a long-time fan of the series, you’ll definitely find something to enjoy about the game, but if it’s your first time behind the wheel of a NFS vehicle, you may want to check out some of the previous entries and sit this one out.

3 stars out of 5.

Creed

SKNR-Logo-1-1024x582-bicubic

Life for Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan) has always been a struggle.  He has moved from one facility to another under the care the state constantly fighting for his place in society.  When he is adopted by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), he learns that his father was actually legendary fighter Apollo Creed who had a dalliance with his mother and died before Adonis was born.  Flash forward year’s later, despite a life of privilege and a good job, Adonis yearns to be a boxer and follow in his father’s footsteps.  Unable to secure fights, he travels across the border to fight on the circuit in Mexico where he is undefeated.  When able to quench his conflicting emotions, Adonis moves to Philadelphia to live a simpler life.  He hopes to take pointers from his father’s chief rival and longtime friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), but is at first hesitant to reveal his true connection to Creed.  This is the promise of the new film “Creed”, which is a very worthy and in joy of all entry into the popular “Rocky” series. In older, more cautious and world beaten Balboa is hesitant to go back into the world that made him a household name, but eventually is determined to train the young boxer and in doing so both of them learn what it is to be a champion in and out of the ring.

There is the uplifting training and human stories that made the series so popular but what really keeps this from being a retread is the solid work of Jordan and Stallone.  Jordan is very much his own character and not trying to copy his father.  He is headstrong, impulsive, quick to anger, but also willing to listen to the wisdom of Rocky.  Stallone does perhaps his best work in a very long time in a supporting role by playing a more vulnerable and wise character that is not afraid to show his humanity.  This is a very welcome change for the actor who is best known as larger-than-life and unstoppable in many of the roles that he portrays.  I know it would be considered a long shot but this is the type of performance that veteran actors get award nominations for in a supporting role.

Of course Johnson is leading up to his big fight with destiny that will either make or break him against an overwhelmingly unstoppable opponent but the well-choreographed and paste fight sequences will have you on the edge of your seat and captivated much like the best sequences from the earlier Rocky films.

This was a very solid and entertaining film that should delight fans of the series as well as sports films in general and was one of the most enjoyable surprises of the year.

4 stars out of 5

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3

SKNR-Logo-1-1024x582-bicubic

The latest in the incredibly popular Call of Duty Series has arrived and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is a nice mix of old and new that goes a long way to combating those who say that each game is basically the same thing with new maps.

Set in a future where combat technology is now imbedded into soldiers, allowing them to hack systems, control machines, and release all manner of electronic warfare, Black Ops 3 is a very ambitious entry into the series. The game also has a great feature that allows players to customize their appearance, weapons, and special features in the campaign instead of just relegating that feature to the multiplayer portion.

As if that was not enough, the game also allows up to four human players to play through the campaign as one unit, which is great for those with new players in the Call of Duty universe in tow.

The campaign is a mixed bag as at times the story is convoluted and the virtual reality based campaigns towards the end become frustrating as well as at times overly difficult.

Graphically the game shines and it is clear that the artists spent considerable love and effort on the game. Just walking around the ready room before missions alone lets one see the incredible level of detail in the game. The levels are pretty impressive as well from secret laboratories in Singapore to high rise locales in Egypt; the future is truly captivating and terrifying as envisioned by Treyarch.

The campaign despite the issues I had with it is not really the selling point of the series, as the multiplayer is where the game truly shines.   With multiple formats of online play available as well as numerous maps and the ability to once again customize your weapon loadouts and killstreak rewards, comes a new class system. This allows players to play as a unique character with a special weapon or ability that becomes available to them after a certain amount of time.

While lots of fun, the old Call of Duty imbalances are there which become highly annoying.  For instance, you unload a magazine into the chest of an oncoming enemy point blank. You hear the hits taking place, and while being hit, they can stop, draw a bow, and shoot you dead, all the while taking a barrage of machine gun fire. This sort of thing becomes highly frustrating as does the never ending barrage of hackers with their aim bots and other annoyances.

The Zombie mode of the game is a true classic With Jeff Goldblum and other Hollywood stars providing their voices and likenesses to a retro-locale where players can battle the undead.

In all, the game is a nice step forward as if the story of the campaign matched the customization it would really be something epic. But fans of the series know what to expect and Black Ops 3 gives them what they love about the series as well as some new features to push the series forward.

4 stars out of 5.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

SKNR-Logo-1-1024x582-bicubic

All good things must come to an end and with the fourth and final film based on Suzanne Collin’s widely popular Hunger Games series, audience get a chance to say goodbye to their favorite characters.

Literally picking up mid-scene, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” features Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), dealing with the vicious attack from Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), after having his mind scrambled by the evil minions of President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Despite the desires of District 13 President Coin (Julianne Moore), for Katniss to stay behind the lines following a harrowing incident during a visit to the Districts, Katniss is determined to kill Snow, and sets off with a dream team who is actually working behind the lines to film propaganda videos.

Naturally things are not as safe as they seem and before long, Katniss and her team are not only dealing with the dangers of the Capitol, but with an unknown element in the form of Peeta who was assigned to accompany them mid mission.

Politics soon appear to be as big a danger to Katniss to the traps and deadly creations that Snow has devised for her, but undaunted, Katniss and her crew must face the dangers to restore freedom to the people.

The film follows the book well in the second half of the film but it does suffer from pacing and editing issues. The film takes a while to get to the action and then takes a rest and conversation route for the characters. This is followed later in the film which undermines a sense of urgency for the characters. What made the earlier films such a success was the social commentary and horrific fascination of great splendor while those around them suffer and starve to toil away to provide creature comforts to the elite class. There was also the fact that the children of the oppressed were forced to battle to the death for the entertainment of the wealthy as well.

This element is lacking from this film, as it is in many ways a road trip of sorts with a couple of action scenes tossed in. Lawrence does well with what she has but she is essentially like most of the cast forced to play out the string save for some powerful but all too fleeting moments.  Hutcherson shines as Peeta as you can see his torment as he strives to recover the personality and memories that are his and not fabrications, as well as his constant turmoil.

In the end the film unfolds not In a grand spectacle but rather pedestrian which while in keeping with the book, does seem disappointing compared to how good the series has been to date.

The film will satisfy fans but it does not hold your attention and fill you with suspense the way the first two films did, and despite its best efforts, is slightly below part 1. That being said, it is entertaining and does make for a satisfying end to the series, despite missing on the potential to do more with the material and characters.

3.5 stars out of 5.

 

Second Review By Joseph Saulnier

 

Have you read the book?  I don’t think that question will ever really go away.  As long as they are making movies that are based on written material, someone will always ask if you have read the book when you mention you have, or will, see a movie that’s based on one.  I think in the case of Mockingjay Part 2, the question needs to be asked, and you are not allowed to get annoyed by it.  Why?  Well, it’s such an immensely popular series that most people have, at least that’s what the people who have read it will tell you.  I think truly, it’s a pretty even split down the middle on who’s read the book.  But why does the question need to be asked.  Well, the answer will determine how you describe the movie to someone who has read the book, versus someone who has not.  So, I am going to try and make this review as spoiler free as possible, despite knowing that many of you (probably half, as I mentioned earlier) will already know what happens.

Mockingjay Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off.  Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is recovering from Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) attack on her, and President Coin (Julianne Moore) is still trying to push forward with her war against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol.  With the victors freed from the Capitol, and the remaining eleven districts beginning to rally behind the Mockingjay, the time to push forward is now.  Katniss, after seeing the effects of the torture with tracker-jacker poison has on Peeta, vows to kill President Snow.  But first she, and her military unit consisting of Gale Hawthorn (Liam Hemsworth), Cressida (Natalie Dormer), Castor (Wes Chatham), Pollux (Elden Hensen), and others, must make their way through the treacherous “pods” left littered throughout Capitol City by the very same Gamemakers that devised the Hunger Games.  It will not be easy.

All the familiar faces from Part 1 and the preceding movies return: Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), etc.  The list goes on.  We even see the late Philip Seymour Hoffman returning as Plutarch Heavensbee through the use of some pretty excellent CGI.  For me, though, the person that stole the spotlight every time they were on screen was Josh Hutcherson.  In the previous movies, I had no particular affinity for him in the role Peeta, but that’s not to say I didn’t like him for it.  He was just there.  He played the part well, but nothing stand out.  I could take him or leave him.  But in Mockingjay Part 2, he really got to flex his acting muscles and portrayed the inner turmoil that Peeta goes through as he is trying to decipher what is real and what isn’t, all while trying to decide if he really does want to kill Katniss or not.  I believe this film will open him up to many more opportunities as time goes by.

Ok, so I can tell you a lot about this movie.  How the editing was a little off at times, the sound/score was kind of weird, too.  The pace was good for the most part, but slow at the silliest moments.  I could tell you how the film actually followed the book quite well, but the action scenes just weren’t quite as heart pounding as I had hoped.  I could also tell you how the pivotal scene in the movie does its job and will give you all the feels in the world (just ask my guest who became very emotional as it took place), but the bottom line is this: none of that matters.  Many of you have seen the first three movies, and will see this one regardless of whether I tell you it was good or not.  You can’t leave a saga like this just hanging and never see how it resolves.  And boy do you want to see how this one does.

But I will tell you this.  It is a fantastic movie.  The action sequences were great, and it was brilliant to get back to them after all the political themes in Part 1.  There are some politics in this film, but it gets you right back to what you want to see in the first place: some post-apocalyptic ass-kicking.  See it in IMAX if you can, it just adds so much more depth to the movie with the sound and image.  And this one will most definitely be joining my collection upon home release.  (Even if I didn’t have the first three already).

4 out of 5 stars.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

SKNR-Logo-1-1024x582-bicubic

All good things must come to an end and with the fourth and final film based on Suzanne Collin’s widely popular Hunger Games series, audience get a chance to say goodbye to their favorite characters.

Literally picking up mid-scene, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” features Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), dealing with the vicious attack from Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), after having his mind scrambled by the evil minions of President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Despite the desires of District 13 President Coin (Julianne Moore), for Katniss to stay behind the lines following a harrowing incident during a visit to the Districts, Katniss is determined to kill Snow, and sets off with a dream team who is actually working behind the lines to film propaganda videos.

Naturally things are not as safe as they seem and before long, Katniss and her team are not only dealing with the dangers of the Capitol, but with an unknown element in the form of Peeta who was assigned to accompany them mid mission.

Politics soon appear to be as big a danger to Katniss to the traps and deadly creations that Snow has devised for her, but undaunted, Katniss and her crew must face the dangers to restore freedom to the people.

The film follows the book well in the second half of the film but it does suffer from pacing and editing issues. The film takes a while to get to the action and then takes a rest and conversation route for the characters. This is followed later in the film which undermines a sense of urgency for the characters. What made the earlier films such a success was the social commentary and horrific fascination of great splendor while those around them suffer and starve to toil away to provide creature comforts to the elite class. There was also the fact that the children of the oppressed were forced to battle to the death for the entertainment of the wealthy as well.

This element is lacking from this film, as it is in many ways a road trip of sorts with a couple of action scenes tossed in. Lawrence does well with what she has but she is essentially like most of the cast forced to play out the string save for some powerful but all too fleeting moments.  Hutcherson shines as Peeta as you can see his torment as he strives to recover the personality and memories that are his and not fabrications, as well as his constant turmoil.

In the end the film unfolds not In a grand spectacle but rather pedestrian which while in keeping with the book, does seem disappointing compared to how good the series has been to date.

The film will satisfy fans but it does not hold your attention and fill you with suspense the way the first two films did, and despite its best efforts, is slightly below part 1. That being said, it is entertaining and does make for a satisfying end to the series, despite missing on the potential to do more with the material and characters.

3.5 stars out of 5.

 

Second Review By Joseph Saulnier

Have you read the book?  I don’t think that question will ever really go away.  As long as they are making movies that are based on written material, someone will always ask if you have read the book when you mention you have, or will, see a movie that’s based on one.  I think in the case of Mockingjay Part 2, the question needs to be asked, and you are not allowed to get annoyed by it.  Why?  Well, it’s such an immensely popular series that most people have, at least that’s what the people who have read it will tell you.  I think truly, it’s a pretty even split down the middle on who’s read the book.  But why does the question need to be asked.  Well, the answer will determine how you describe the movie to someone who has read the book, versus someone who has not.  So, I am going to try and make this review as spoiler free as possible, despite knowing that many of you (probably half, as I mentioned earlier) will already know what happens.

Mockingjay Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off.  Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is recovering from Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) attack on her, and President Coin (Julianne Moore) is still trying to push forward with her war against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol.  With the victors freed from the Capitol, and the remaining eleven districts beginning to rally behind the Mockingjay, the time to push forward is now.  Katniss, after seeing the effects of the torture with tracker-jacker poison has on Peeta, vows to kill President Snow.  But first she, and her military unit consisting of Gale Hawthorn (Liam Hemsworth), Cressida (Natalie Dormer), Castor (Wes Chatham), Pollux (Elden Hensen), and others, must make their way through the treacherous “pods” left littered throughout Capitol City by the very same Gamemakers that devised the Hunger Games.  It will not be easy.

All the familiar faces from Part 1 and the preceding movies return: Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), etc.  The list goes on.  We even see the late Philip Seymour Hoffman returning as Plutarch Heavensbee through the use of some pretty excellent CGI.  For me, though, the person that stole the spotlight every time they were on screen was Josh Hutcherson.  In the previous movies, I had no particular affinity for him in the role Peeta, but that’s not to say I didn’t like him for it.  He was just there.  He played the part well, but nothing stand out.  I could take him or leave him.  But in Mockingjay Part 2, he really got to flex his acting muscles and portrayed the inner turmoil that Peeta goes through as he is trying to decipher what is real and what isn’t, all while trying to decide if he really does want to kill Katniss or not.  I believe this film will open him up to many more opportunities as time goes by.

Ok, so I can tell you a lot about this movie.  How the editing was a little off at times, the sound/score was kind of weird, too.  The pace was good for the most part, but slow at the silliest moments.  I could tell you how the film actually followed the book quite well, but the action scenes just weren’t quite as heart pounding as I had hoped.  I could also tell you how the pivotal scene in the movie does its job and will give you all the feels in the world (just ask my guest who became very emotional as it took place), but the bottom line is this: none of that matters.  Many of you have seen the first three movies, and will see this one regardless of whether I tell you it was good or not.  You can’t leave a saga like this just hanging and never see how it resolves.  And boy do you want to see how this one does.

But I will tell you this.  It is a fantastic movie.  The action sequences were great, and it was brilliant to get back to them after all the political themes in Part 1.  There are some politics in this film, but it gets you right back to what you want to see in the first place: some post-apocalyptic ass-kicking.  See it in IMAX if you can, it just adds so much more depth to the movie with the sound and image.  And this one will most definitely be joining my collection upon home release.  (Even if I didn’t have the first three already).

4 out of 5 stars.