Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Review

Another year and another yearly review. So without further introductions:


Top 3 films of 2014

The Lego Movie

The trailers suggested that this would be good, but sometimes trailers can be deception (The Phantom Menace, I’m looking at you), as such I was very pleased to find out that this film ended up living up to and even exceeding the trailers the proceeded it.

I love Lego, always have and probably always will do and this was pretty much as perfect a film about Lego as you could possibly find, including a surprising and incredibly touching finale.

Guardians of the Galaxy

This is a film that took most people by surprise, but I always had a sneaking suspicion that this would be the surprise hit of the year and it ended up being just that and is (at present) the most successful film in the US of 2014.

Marvel have been pumping out some excellent films of late, with no apparent end to the quality that it is producing. Guardians of the Galaxy turned out to be a good old fashion Sci-Fi romp of old, with a great soundtrack to boot. It didn’t take itself too seriously and everyone who watched it was just along for the ride in what has got to have been one of the most fun films of 2014.

Gone Girl

This is at the top of my list for film of the year 2014. I have been a fan of David Fincher for many years, but have found that some of his films have been a bit lacking of late. What I loved about Gone Girl is that I knew very little about it. All that I knew was that it was the story of a wife who goes missing and that the husband is under the suspicion for murder, but in truth this is only part of the story and the fact that the remainder of the story was kept under wraps (when most trailers spoil such things) is commendable.

Even discounting the twists and turns in the story, this is a film with a very modern look at relationships and is both witty and clever. I hope that it does well come Oscars, but I think that this is unlikely. Rosamund Pike at least really deserves recognition for her role.

Notable mentions:

Almost made it into my top 3, but decided that Guardians beat it out.

Under the Skin
The most Lynch like film, not directed by Lynch, for a long time.

Scary and also thought provoking.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
A great Comic Book adventure.

X-Men: Days of Future Past
See above.


Top 3 games on 2014

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

This is my first real stab at an MMO, I’ve previously been put off by ongoing subscription fees, so I approached this by buying the PS3 version of the game (very cheap), then upgrading to the PS4 and getting 3 month’s worth of subscription (one month of which came free with the game). This ended up costing a little less than I would pay for a brand new game. I then looked to play as much of a could out of the game within this timeframe, with the hope of ending my subscription at that point.

What I found was a Final Fantasy game which reminded me very much of Final Fantasy XII (a game that wasn’t as widely accepted by most, but one which I really enjoyed). I would go as far to say that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, has probably been my favourite game since Final Fantasy XII and during those 3 months, I thoroughly enjoyed my time (but still have managed to avoid continuing my subscription).

PS The picture above is of my FFXIV character after I completed the game in full bard gear :-)

Alien Isolation

This is the first Alien game to live up to the Alien name, and instead of taking its inspiration from Aliens, it instead looks to Alien. This is much to do with the level of detail which has been put into the game, such as the computer consoles, music and the whole environment. I actually watched Alien again after playing the game and was amazed at the level of detail which had been taken from the film and incorporated so well into the game. This is a rare example of a film to move experience which really relishes its original source material.

The star of the game is the Alien however. Not only in how it looks, which is also spot on, but more due to it unpredictable nature and it ferocity. It is rare for a game these days to have a single foe which is so damn tough that you need to actively avoid it rather than take it on face on (which rarely ends well) and I much prefer this type of game experience than something where you mindless slaughter alien fiends. The game also had a little surprise in the last quarter of the game which I had not expected, nor was spoilt ahead of me playing, which was great.

Mario Kart 8

I love Mario Kart games and every time I think that Nintendo has honed the game to perfection (as I believed in the last couple of games), I’m proven wrong. Mario Kart 8 is the finest game in the series and is an utter joy to play. Nintendo have, in my opinion, managed to hit exactly the tight notes with this game. Whereby in previous games the weapons could seem overpowered, instead, if you are driving well they can slow you, but not totally destroy you place in the pack. There is even a weapon which can be stored to counter the dreaded blue shell, which is always a huge fist pump moment.

Added to the already incredible game are also DLC packs, of which I have already got the first (the second due in 2015). Whilst Nintendo have not been big on DLC in the past, this is both good value and also a great addition to the game.

My game of 2014 undoubtedly.

Notable mentions:

Persona Q
Just stated this, but am loving the reunion with the characters from Persona 3 & 4

Infamous: First Light
I seemed to prefer this expansion over the full game

The Wolf Among Us
Another great adventure from Telltale

A demo, not a game, but boy did it scare the hell out of me.


In previous years I have contained my comments to just Films, Gaming and Life (as my blog suggests), but for a change I thought I would add a few comments in relation to the content on TV.

Over the last few years, it is fair to say that TV programmes, in all their forms have been coming in leaps and bounds. This is aided, not hindered by the rise in subscription online providers such as Netflix and Lovefilm. Whereas previously TV was the domain for B list actors wanting to rise to film, instead actors have been actively pursuing TV work and real stars have come from TV.

The list of great programmes on TV is long, but I thought I’d highlight a few of the great series that I have watched recently.

Breaking Bad
I think I started watching this at the beginning of the year and got through it in a marathon session from beginning to end. A fantastic series throughout and probably one of the strongest TV series in a very long time.

Game of Thrones
I have continued to enjoy the stories from Westeros as they each play out.

American Horror Story
Again, caught up on series 1-3 of this, with series 2 being the strongest by far.

Black Mirror
Watched all of these (although haven’t watched the Christmas 2014 episode yet). Fantastic show with some real standouts.

House of Cards
Series 2 was as compelling as the first, with a very surprising moment in the first episode of series 2.


A few bullet points of memorable things in my life from 2014:

We all thoroughly enjoyed our very first cruise holiday, which was a fantastic relaxing break. I also think that Elliot enjoyed some freedom on the cruise, finding friends and spending time with them instead of being with Mum and Dad all the time. I think that we will likely cruise again in the future based on this experience and money permitting.

During the cruise again, I managed to fulfil an early life goal of purchasing some Lego from Denmark!

Elliot found out that his secondary school would be Elizabeth College and started this in September. We were pleased that Elliot managed to get to the school that he hoped he would go to and also that he seems to have settled in well, adjusting to a different pace of school life.

During a trip to London I went to the Shakespeare Globe, which is something that I have wanted to do for some time and really enjoyed the experience.

Again there are probably lots more that I have missed out, but that will have to do for the year. So finally, I just wanted to wish people a…


Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day Confession

Since Christmas has now passed I thought it time to make my Boxing Day confession. I have always been deeply disturbed by the lyrics of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”.

I see 3 possible explanation of this song, none of them particularly pleasant, bearing in mind that it is clear from what is said that “Daddy” is not present:

1: That it isn’t Santa, but instead a secret lover of Mommy, who has snuck in using the disguise of Santa. If so, shame on them!

2: It is actually Santa. In which case, I have to ask myself what other devilish trickery is Santa up to? Are all the Mommy’s in the world safe? Shouldn’t he be busy delivering present?

3: That Santa is really Daddy in disguise. This is the safest option and only suggest that either Mommy or Daddy have some sort of Santa fetish going on, which I can quite understand, as I have always found Mrs Santa outfits rather appealing.

The problem is that it isn’t explained, and the no knowing has been playing with my mind for countless years. Surely I can’t be the only person bothered by this, can I?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Most anticipated games of 2015 (and beyond)

So here we are again, at this time of year I like to think ahead to the coming year (and perhaps beyond), to games which are on the horizon which I am looking forward to and then list these in order to determine my most anticipated games.

Without spoiling anything, I note that this year this seems to be a lack of portable games on my list (Vita/3DS), which is surprising. Although there are some games for this system that I am looking forward to, at present there are not any that have been announced that I feel should be added at this stage. Saying that, I still have a large collection of unplayed games on my portable systems to keep me going for some time yet!

Starting from 10 to 1:

10. Final Fantasy Type-0 (PS4)

This is a game that I never thought I would be able to play. Released in Japan on the PSP, but never released outside of Japan, it is now being updated for current gen consoles (PS4 & XB1), which is surprising to say the least.

Whilst the graphics are probably not on par with a lot of current gen games, the game itself is meant to be highly enjoyable and fiendishly hard. I’m also just enjoying the though of a playing a Final Fantasy game that I haven’t touched previously. Now all I need is for Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core to be updated and I’ll be a happy man.

9. Splatoon (Wii U)

This is a new IP for Nintendo and it looks like a hell of a lot of fun.

It is unusual for Nintendo to go into the realms of a competitive shooter (in this case a third person shooter rather than a FPS), but it would seem that they are looking to do this in style. Interesting characters, mechanics and play modes would seem to set this aside from your regular online shooter, I just hope that the online infrastructure is up to scratch for this (something that Nintendo have often fell short on).

8. Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)

More and more has been shown of this game since its announcement, it is just a shame that it has been moved back from its initial launch date of the end of 2014. This would appear to be following in the same footsteps as the original game on the Wii, and the combat system also looks very close, which is a very good thing, as I found this to be an excellent system already.

The one failing of the original game was that the graphics of the Wii could not meet the scope of the environments that it represented. X appears to have addressed this and I hope that the characters and story are as compelling as the previous game in the series.

7. The Last Guardian (PS4 - probably)

This game has been on my list of most anticipated games for 5 years previous to this (at times at the very top of the list). Although there have been assurances from Sony that this game is still being developed, I’m really starting to get a sense that it may never see the light of day. I had hoped that something would have been shown at E3, TGS or VGA, but it was a no show.

As a result, this has slipped down to an all-time low at number 7.

6. Final Fantasy XV (Multi)

The game previously known as Final Fantasy XIII Versus.

There has been a lot shown of this recently and everything seems to suggest a large and interesting open world. I’m a little disappointed that the team is an all male team, as it is often (but not always) the female characters in Final Fantasy games which are the more interesting characters.

I’m interested to see how this plays though, as it would seem that this may lack the strategy that I like Final Fantasy games for and will be more of a third person combat game, but either way, hopefully this will help to restore the Final Fantasy name.

5. No Mans Sky (PS4)

I’m just loving the look of this game.

For some reasons this reminds me of a mixture of Elite and Captain Blood (and old Atari ST game). It is rare to have a game which celebrates exploration like this game apparently does. I do have some reservations about the game, one that despite how vast the universe contained in the game appears to be, that it is possible that it may seem a bit regurgitated and not have a satisfactory degree of variety and two that beyond pure exploration that there may not be enough to glue to game together.

I am happy to believe that this game will fulfil on its apparent potential and as such it stays at number 5.

4. Persona 5 (PS4)

The fact that this is being released on the PS4 is a great boost to the game. I would have got it on the PS3 either way, but I’m pretty much set into the newest generation of consoles and rarely get any PS3 games these days.

Of all the JRPG’s that I have played, the Persona games have to be one of my all-time favourites and to be truth I have only very recently got into them (after playing both 3 and 4). I just hope that this new version has the same charm and Japanese High School theme running throughout.

3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)

The first true footage of this came out of the VGA show recently and it certainly looks very impressive, but at the same time I was a little disappointed that it did not seem to be that much of a leap up from the previous games in the series.

Every game that has come out of Naughty Dog the last 7 years has been absolute genius, however, and I’m still really looking forward to next-gen entry into this fantastic series and believe that it will live up to the Naughty Dog name.

Based solely on the previous output, this has made it to number 3.

2. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain (Multi)

This looks pretty damn impressive, but I’m still slightly miffed at the split between this and Ground Zero’s, which despite how impressive it was, really was a paid demo.

It seems like an age now since the last Metal Gear Solid game, and this also looks to be taking more from Peace Walker than MGS4, which had many smart ideas which haven’t been used since.

More than anything, however, it was the demonstration of Metal Gear Online from the VGA’s which has reignited my interest. The original Metal Gear Online, which came together with MGS4, was one of the first real instances where I truly got into online gaming, so much so that I was part of a clan that took place in tournaments for a short while. Nothing has come out quite like Metal Gear Online since, and the new version looks to be a joy to play, with all the humour and variety that I would expect.

1. New Zelda (Wii U)

Yep Zelda is at the top.

The Legend of Zelda game series has got to be my favourite series of games, with the likes of the Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past being the finest games ever made. Even some of the lessor games in the series still remain very good.

It is clear that this game (which has been promised to be released in 2015) is looking to the likes of Skyrim for inspiration, especially in view of the large open world. It still does seem to have a style of its own, which is in line with recent Zelda games (the likes of Skyward Sword) and from the demo shown during TGS just a few days ago, is looking very impressive.

I’m hoping that a full trailer and a full reveal during E3 2015 will shed some further light on this.

Other games which I am interested in, which did not make the list:

Batman: Arkham Knight (Multi)
Fire Emblem Vs Shin Megami Tensei (Wii U)
Mirror’s Edge (Multi)
New Star Fox (Wii U)
The Witcher: Wild Hunt (Multi)
Battlefront (Multi)
The Forest (PS4)
Project Steam (3DS)

Games that I wish would be made, but it is unlikely or nothing has been announced:

Super Mario Galaxy 3
Shenmue 3
Half Life 3
Portal 3

Basically, it would seem, anything with a 3 at the end!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Oscar results

So here is a run down of how I did with my Oscar predictions:

Best picture
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street

WRONG: 12 Years a Slave

It really did look like it was going Graviy's way... Oh well! I'm sure in years to come Gravity is likely to be the film which is better remembered.

Best director
Alfonso Cuarón - Gravity
Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne - Nebraska
David O. Russell - American Hustle
Martin Scorsese - The Wolf of Wall Street


Best lead actor
Christian Bale - American Hustle
Bruce Dern - Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club
Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street


Best lead actress
Amy Adams - American Hustle
Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine
Judi Dench - Philomena
Meryl Streep - August: Osage County
Sandra Bullock – Gravity

WRONG: Cate Blanchett

Amy Adams was a bit of a long shot for me.

Best performance by an actor in a supporting role
Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper - American Hustle
Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill - The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club


Best performance by an actress in a supporting role
Sally Hawkins - Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence - American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o - 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts - August: Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska


Best animated feature film of the year
The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises


Achievement in cinematography
The Grandmaster - Philippe Le Sourd
Gravity - Emmanuel Lubezki
Inside Llewyn Davis - Bruno Delbonnel
Nebraska - Phedon Papamichael
Prisoners - Roger A. Deakins


Achievement in costume design
American Hustle - Michael Wilkinson
The Grandmaster - William Chang Suk Ping
The Great Gatsby - Catherine Martin
The Invisible Woman - Michael O’Connor
12 Years a Slave - Patricia Norris

WRONG: The Great Gatsby

I guess that I was misguided by the revealing outfits of Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence... 

Achievement in film editing
American Hustle - Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
Captain Phillips - Christopher Rouse
Dallas Buyers Club - John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa
Gravity - Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger
12 Years a Slave - Joe Walker


Achievement in makeup and hairstyling
Dallas Buyers Club - Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa - Stephen Prouty
The Lone Ranger - Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny


Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
The Book Thief - John Williams
Gravity - Steven Price
Her - William Butler and Owen Pallett
Philomena - Alexandre Desplat
Saving Mr. Banks - Thomas Newman


Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
Happy from Despicable Me 2
Let It Go from Frozen
The Moon Song from “Her
Ordinary Love from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom


Achievement in production design
American Hustle -  Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler
Gravity - Production Design: Andy Nicholson; Set Decoration: Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard
The Great Gatsby - Production Design: Catherine Martin; Set Decoration: Beverley Dunn
Her - Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena
12 Years a Slave - Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker


Best animated short film
Get a Horse!
Mr. Hublot
Room on the Broom

WRONG: Mr. Hublot


Achievement in sound editing
All Is Lost - Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
Captain Phillips - Oliver Tarney
Gravity - Glenn Freemantle
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Brent Burge
Lone Survivor - Wylie Stateman


Achievement in sound mixing
Captain Phillips - Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro
Gravity - Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson
Inside Llewyn Davis - Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
Lone Survivor - Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow


Achievement in visual effects
Gravity - Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug -Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds
Iron Man 3 - Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick
The Lone Ranger - Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier
Star Trek Into Darkness - Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton


Best adapted screenplay
Before Midnight - written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Captain Phillips - screenplay by Billy Ray
Philomena - screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
12 Years a Slave - screenplay by John Ridley
The Wolf of Wall Street - screenplay by Terence Winter


Best original screenplay
American Hustle - Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
Blue Jasmine - Written by Woody Allen
Dallas Buyers Club - Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
Her - Written by Spike Jonze
Nebraska - Written by Bob Nelson


So, counting these up, I got 15 right out of 20 predictions, or 75%. A pretty good score in my book and much better than last years predictions.

Although I have to say that I'm disappointed that Gravity didn't win best picture, even though it managed to snag most awards during the night.