Features

Agent Prince’s Month in Review – May 2018

Welcome to my first month-in-review segment, where I will take you through all the noteworthy strands of entertainment sampled in the last month or so. There is no set criteria here. I like to keep things conversational to give you, the reader, a feel for my experiences. Without further delay, here we go!

Video Games

god-of-war-20180402115205God of War (PS4, 2018)

Developer: SIE Santa Monica Studio

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

The big headline here is the new God of War finally arrived. So far I’ve managed around a few hours of game-time, and have arrived in the first new realm. So far I’m in total admiration for the visuals. The detail is incredible, and I don’t even have a PS4 Pro or a 4K television. Other than that, so far I’m finding God of War a little bit pedestrian. The initial pacing is a bit hit and miss – 2 major bosses right from the get-go halts into simple exploration and wandering. The introduction of bosses/enemies with health-bars feels like a betrayal of the series somewhat. The combat feels disjointed but is improving with much-needed purchasable upgrades. As is the whole experience. For those screaming at this page, it is of course getting better, and I’ve little doubt the slow burn is simply building up like a brewing volcano. I certainly hope so. Regardless, I’m still getting used to this reboot that I’m currently subtitling: What if Thor Was In Resident Evil 4.

 

Kratos

God of War III Remastered (PS4, 2015)

Developer: SIE Santa Monica Studio

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Before the arrival of the latest God of War, I decided to delve back once again into the remastered PS3 classic. Donned with my trophy-hunting cap, I bludgeoned my way through the campaign for what I believe was the 4th time. Godly possessions were collected, as were the trophies. All that’s left now is Titan Mode and Challenge of Olympus, of which the latter is definitely just that. I’m an impatient husband and father of two; I don’t see myself persevering through the challenge just yet.

As for the game itself, it’s the most threadbare of the trilogy in terms of plot. Put simply, Kratos has only 1 goal: Murder all the Gods of Olympus. In the most angry way possible. For 2 whole games he’s been dicked around with false promises and lies by Zeus and many others, died and turned back the clock, so now he’s just had enough. And you think some of your days are bad. It results in probably the most brutal action platformer committed to code. It’s a cathartic epic that is eye-poppingly fantastic.

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Ratchet & Clank (PS4, 2016)

Developer: Insomniac Games

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

A recent addition to PS Plus, this reboot of the acclaimed series by Insomniac Games combines the gameplay elements that made the PS3 games a lot of fun. Along with upgraded visuals and lots of cinematic sequences, it’s pretty much a re-telling of the original game. After just a couple of hours in, it certainly comes across as a much more polished product than any of its predecessors. It does however feel a tad over-familiar to said-previous entries, with the accompanying cinematics proving to be quite dull and uninspiring. Early doors so far though.

TV Shows

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Barry (HBO/Sky Atlantic)

Created by: Alec Berg & Bill Hader

Bill Hader’s Barry has certainly been the highlight of my television month. Hader plays Barry Berkman, a disgraced marine-turned hitman who is struggling to find meaning in his life. His next job takes him to Los Angeles where he finally finds acceptance, through a performance community who all share dreams of stage acting. Barry is trying to juggle both, the former far more begrudgingly.

Even with just 8 episodes, Barry is simply brilliant. Bill Hader flawlessly displays the perfect transition of a man who was lost within himself, only to be hit by the spark of life. Stephen Root, the marvellous Milton in 1999’s Office Space, is Barry’s very personable handler. No spoilers at this point, given it is a relatively new show. It is poignantly performed, wonderfully written, and delightfully directed.

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Designated Survivor (ABC/Netflix)

Created by: David Guggenheim

Who wouldn’t want to see Jack Bauer as President of the United States? Well now you can. Minus the gun-toting and torture-receiving of course. Kiefer Sutherland plays Tom Kirkman, who unwittingly becomes the President of the United States after a terror attack destroys all congress members. Seems far-fetched, but it is actually possible – Tom was the nominated cabinet member to remain distant during the State of the Union address, known as the Designated Survivor. Although in the line of succession to be POTUS, he is way down the list, serving as HUD (Housing and Urban Development) secretary. A position you may be familiar with in real life politics, thanks to the Trump-elected, frivolous office refurb expenses-claiming, horrendously boring-voiced Ben Carson. This of course leads to a President who is inexperienced, initially naïve, but determined to unravel the conspiracy of the bombing. Oh and don’t forget rebuilding congress and the country.

Kirkman’s key staff also gel well together and provide plenty of amusement in moving and affectionate ways. After all this is certainly not Veep. Cast highlights include Italia Ricci, previously of Supergirl, as a very likeable trusted advisor to Kirkman, while Kal Penn steals every scene he is in, as Kirkman’s speechwriter and later, press secretary. Penn also served as political consultant on the show, given he had previously worked for the Obama administration. Twice.

In the recent wave of TV network cancellations, Designated Survivor was unfortunately cancelled after 2 seasons. It is currently up in the air whether another network, most likely Netflix who broadcast DS in the UK, will pick it up. I sincerely hope so, as it has a mild 24 feeling to it, not just because of Sutherland, either. Sean Callery provides a very functional and suspenseful score throughout. There is even a reuniting of a former 24 love interest for Sutherland (no spoilers here).

Now I’m well aware that I’ve given this segment much more time than those before it. But in Designated Survivor’s initial episodes a lot happens. It’s an initial hook that works, but it also develops into a top level insight into American, and more specifically White House, politics. Its only issue is sustainability – it draws out certain developments for too long purely due to its 20+ episode production. But I for one would love it to be picked up elsewhere, even if it’s just 1 more season to complete Kirkman’s story.

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Runaways (Hulu/Syfy)

Created by: Josh Schwartz & Stephanie Savage

The latest Marvel television incarnation has arrived, in an adaption of Brian K. Vaughan’s 2003 Runaways series. It is currently in the middle of its UK run on the Syfy channel, having already finished in the US, much like the earlier recommendation in HBO’s Barry.

It centres on a group of teenagers and their families with the latter’s mysterious actions peaking the interests of their siblings. The parents’ suburban perfections are all a front for a cult known as The Pride. As the teens develop into young adults, they must band together against The Pride, whilst also dealing with manifesting mutant powers.

After six episodes the tension is building rather nicely. In an arguably over-saturated genre, Runaways finds a perfect balance, more so than the source material. It doesn’t overdose on darkness, keeps the proceedings fun, and includes very earnest performances throughout. Between this and The Gifted, Runaways, well, runs away with it.

Movies

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Director: Anthony & Joe Russo

Producer: Kevin Fiege

The latest Marvel movie is also the biggest Marvel movie of all time. Already. It has also rapidly become one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, currently sitting at #4 as of 18th May. And is still showing at cinemas right now (go see it). But is it a worthy of such esteem?

Well, considering money and movies today is completely bonkers, with only The Force Awakens, Titanic and Avatar above it, then money is certainly no judge on the quality of a movie. I am no Avatar fan by any means, but that’s a conversation for another time. But that’s enough of that. One thing is certain, Infinity War is a titanic Marvel movie.

I won’t go too much into the plot here; Thanos seeks all the Infinity Stones for his shiny gauntlet in order to cleanse the Earth of half its population. Oh wait, that is the plot. And while that may be, there is a lot going on for the entire 2 and a half hours of this movie. Multiple locations, a ton of characters and a gauntlet of sequences means it never lets up. It’s the ultimate in plate-spinning displays, and none of them fall.

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Coco (2017):-

Director: Lee Unkrich

Producer: Darla K. Anderson

Music: Michael Giacchino

Pixar’s latest, a take on the questions of life, death and culture, is a feast for the emotions as well as the eyes. It’s a hugely thoughtful narrative of seeking out your dreams, respecting loved ones, and the importance of truth.

Miguel’s family has banned what he covets most – music. Despite the ban, which has lasted generations, Miguel travels to the land of the dead to find his would-be great-great grandfather, the legendary Ernesto de la Cruz, to seek his blessing to pursue his own musical dreams. Problem is, Miguel’s time is running out, as he faces becoming one of the undead himself if he doesn’t get back to the real world in time.

Coco is a beautiful movie. It’s certainly Pixar’s best original work in years, given the safety of franchise sequels in recent years. The end play of the movie in particularly is one of Pixar’s very best. The animation is superb, the characters resonate, and the insight into Mexican culture is perfect. It boasts a beautiful soundtrack in both its score and of course the award-winning spectacular original song Remember Me. Unlike many of Pixar’s recent productions, as soon as Coco was finished I wanted to watch it all over again. Pure Disney magic.

 

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Midnight Run (1988)

Director: Martin Brest

Producer: Martin Brest

Music: Danny Elfman

This Robert de Niro number may not be his first movie to come to mind, but it is up there with some of his best. It’s an unlikely odd couple comedy that boasts amazing antagonistic chemistry throughout. De Niro plays bounty hunter Jack Walsh, who wants out of the game after one final job: bringing in former mafia accountant Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin) from New York to Los Angeles. Problem is, the F.B.I. are also after him, as is his former boss.

The De Niro/Grodin relationship takes centre stage here, as they get to know one another on their long journey. What ensues is an unravelling of De Niro’s past as well as a race against time to collect his $100,000 pay out.

Midnight Run is now 30 years old. And while it may look its age it is no dated experience. If anything, it is the opposite. Grodin is hugely charming as the captive, and De Niro’s abrasive attitude makes for a perfect mix of indifference. And a fair amount of language.

Danny Elfman’s soundtrack is brilliant. Before his collaborations with Tim Burton, this is one of his best standout efforts. Directed by Martin Brest (Beverly Hills Cop), there are some great set pieces here, particularly the satisfying end game. You’ll find little complaints anywhere about the ending. Highly recommended.

And with that, this is the end of this month’s entertainment catch-up. Any thoughts? Feedback and comments are welcome. I also hope you enjoy these recommendations. Until next time, ta ta for now!

 

 

 

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