Dexter: The Story So Far

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Dexter, deliciously dark Dexter, the serial killer with a heart returns once more, for one blood-soaked season, one last time.

Time is ticking for Dexter Morgan, ticking away one episode at a time, and when the severed hand strikes twelve, the red curtain will fall upon Dexter and Miami Metro’s finest. The question is: who will survive, and what will be left of them..?

It’s been a long road, a road paved with shrink-wrapped bodies and good intentions. Disturbed and dysfunctional, Dexter is haunted by his past, preyed upon by bloodstained memories of his murdered mother, and his need to satisfy his Dark Passenger, the clawing need, the voice within.

A blood spatter analyst by day, and vengeful vigilante by night, Dexter follows Harry’s code, his adoptive father’s rules which help quench his thirst for blood; never kill an innocent, and most importantly, never get caught.

Dozens have died dramatically over the past seven seasons, as Dexter killed friends and foes alike, preserving but a droplet of blood from their faces which he keeps as a collection of blood slides – trophies. The cheek of it. From the Ice Truck Killer and Miguel Prado, to Jordan Chase and the Doomsday Killer, Dexter has danced with death for days, as his life is spent under a microscope, in more ways than one.

And with an interior monologue dripping with humour and irony, Dexter has often stood shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Breaking Bad and The Wire.

And then there’s Debra. Oh dearly devoted Debra. Although averting the apocalypse, revelations came to light as Dexter’s dirty deeds were witnessed by his doting sister, and Miami Metro’s latest Lieutenant was emotionally ravaged. At the end of the last sanguinary season, Debra’s worst fears manifested with a twisted Sophie’s choice; kill her brother, or kill her boss.

‘Kill my boss?’ Homer Simpson once asked. ‘Do I dare live out the American Dream?’. Six months later, however, Debra’s dreams appear shattered in the wake of those damaging decisions, as she is evidently shaken to her foul-mouthed core.

Having quit her job at Miami Metro, Deb now works for a private investigation company, whilst consuming copious amounts of cocaine and alcohol. ‘You made me compromise everything about myself that I care about’, she affirms to Dexter. ‘And I hate you for it’.

As Dexter descends deeper into darkness, and his life spirals further out of control, vacillating rapidly between loving father and self-appointed judge, jury and executioner, the cracks again begin to show in his once immaculate countenance. Seeing Dexter’s Dark Passenger take control as he flies into fits of rage is so very reminiscent of the riveting Trinity Killer saga, and we all know how that ended.

With Angel Batista returning from the world’s shortest retirement (surprise, surprise), and the usual suspects Joey Quinn and Vince Masuka back at work, it would be business as usual, if not for the appearance of Dr. Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling), a neuro-psychiatrist who appears to know an awful lot about our predatory protagonist.

Although Dexter is unlikely to reach the lofty heights of season four once more, if the first episode of this final season is anything to go by, this is, and always was, a cut above the usual television show.

It would be an absolute crime to miss it.

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Review: Monsters University

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What’s that coming over the hill..?

Some people might argue that sequels are inherently fated to fail, forever doomed by the success of the original and inescapably lingering in their predecessor’s shadow. But for every Grease 2 and Speed 2: Cruise Control, there’s The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back. Pixar rather emphatically quashed such suggestions with Toy Story 2 and 3 – two sequels which (arguably) are as good, if not better than their animated ancestor. But is Pixar’s second monster mash a dead cert smash?

Pixar’s first prequel, Monsters University is an origin story of University adversity: when Mike met Sulley. Michael “Mike” Wazowski has dreamed of being the scariest scarer at Monsters, Inc ever since he was a little monster. Now a scare major, who isn’t majorly scary, Mike begins University and meets James P. “Sulley” Sullivan – a furry, blue giant who is riding the coattails of his family’s name. After suffering setbacks due to their fierce rivalry, Mike and Sulley must work together as they compete in the Scare Games, a frightening mini-Olympics. And with one huge, shiny eye on the prize, Mike assembles a bunch of mismatched monsters and devises scare tactics to give his fraternity a leg, paw and tentacle up on the competition.

The film just screams beauty; it’s a florid canvas dripping with a profusion of vivid colours and glorious textures and shapes. Some monsters ooze charm, others ooze wit, whilst some just simply ooze. And with an abundance of voice actors who are every bit as dynamic as these creatures great and small, from Billy Crystal and John Goodman, to Helen Mirren and Nathan Fillion, it’s as animated as animation can be. It truly is a resplendent realisation of Pixar’s imagination, which frequently tugs on the heartstrings, and is surprisingly even a little scary at times.

Unfortunately, the problem with Monsters University lies in this fact: whilst fans of the original might have matured over time, the plot and characters have regressed, and despite many amusing instances, it doesn‘t quite register the amount of laughter that powered the cinemas and the world of Monsters, Inc the first time round. And considering where Pixar left the story in 2001, it just doesn’t seem a logical narrative advancement. Instead, it almost undermines the former’s moralistic ending – when Monsters, Inc became Feel Good Inc – and the lack of the adorable little Boo is sorely evident.

But fear not, it is by no means abominable. Although Monsters University isn’t as incredible as The Incredibles, and doesn’t ascend to the lofty, heartbreaking heights of Up, it’s still miles better than Cars 2 and the usual kiddie flick, making for some solid family entertainment which children will adore.

7/10

Review: This Is the End

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Apocalypse now seems to be the modus operandi in Hollywood these days, with Oblivion and World War Z both authenticating Earth’s demise with some outstanding visual effects, whilst trailers for Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s latest Cornetto collaboration The World’s End are duly circulating meanwhile. Ergo, it’s not surprising that people might expect Seth Rogen’s apocalyptic black comedy to be a lazy attempt at milking the same proverbial cash cow. But quite the contrary, This Is the End is one hell of a funny movie.

Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen play Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen, two old friends and fellow thespians who are enjoying a chemically-enhanced reunion in Los Angeles, and decide to attend a house-warming party held by James Franco (played by James – well, you get the picture). A raucous affair, this is a twisted Gatsby-esque party, playing host to a plethora of famous faces. From Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, to Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, and even Rihanna, this is an outrageous drug-fuelled cocktail of well-known celebrities; it’s a who’s who of comedy’s finest (and Emma Watson), and everybody’s playing themselves. Oh, and what better to warm a house-warming party, than the great fires of hell itself.

Evan Goldberg has directed and produced some uproarious endeavours in recent years, from hilarious stoner films Knocked Up and Pineapple Express, to the bawdy coming-of-age classic Superbad, and This Is the End stands shoulder to shoulder with these comedy greats. Like Shaun of the Dead, it’s as meta as genre parodies can be, and with Seth Rogen taking joint (pun intended) helm with his directorial debut, you’ll be busting a gut as celebrity guts bust all over the Hollywood Hills. Indeed, as Jay, Seth, James and Jonah try to survive Judgement Day, at 106 minutes long, this superstar last supper is more flagrant with the deaths of big names than HBO’s Game of Thrones.

If you’re not a fan of Seth Rogen, don’t expect to be converted here. Like Superbad, it is crude, lewd and downright rude. A scorching barrage of one-liners and intertextual jibes, supplemented with enough gore, drugs and sexual references to ensure eternal damnation for each of the protagonists. Naturally, a few jokes are hit-and-miss, and it’s thoroughly immature, but for most fans, this is not the end of the world.

Like the biblical book referenced throughout, This is the End is a revelation, and a testament to Rogen’s comedy prowess. It is devilishly witty, and frequently side-splitting, both on and off the screen. An inspired turn from Michael Cera, in particular, had the otherwise innocent actor snorting copious amounts of cocaine, and the audience snorting out loud. And with some divine CGI and a heavenly cameo at the end to boot, this is a highly recommended watch.

Well I’ll be damned – who’d have thought the rapture could be so sweet.

8/10

Review: World War Z

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Dial Z for Zombies

Based (very loosely) on the 2006 Max Brooks novel of the same name, here lies Marc Forster’s take on the zombie genre. A genre well and truly done to – well – death. So the burning question that nobody asked remains: what does World War Z bring to this table of unimaginative set-pieces and brainless narratives? Very little, it would seem.

Producer Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a retired U.N. employee and doting husband and father who is drafted during a zombie pandemic of gargantuan proportions. Five minutes in, and the film begins promisingly, treating the audience to a fantastic exposition, demonstrating absolute pandemonium in Philadelphia as Gerry and his family fight through hordes of manic civilians. And thus, the premise is set: there are but 12 seconds of separation between the bitten and the biters. So far, so good.

Some horror films in the past have portrayed crowds of zombies, some even few and far between. Here we have masses, tidal waves of rabid bodies lurching forward ceaselessly, whilst others plummet from buildings like fleshy hail from the sky. It’s The Day After Tomorrow – zombie edition – and with the help of some surprisingly efficient CGI, it’s an impressive apocalyptic spectacle.

However, like the infected, the film suddenly appears to lose all sense of identity, especially during the latter half. Beginning as a conventional action-thriller, before mutating and manifesting as a survival horror more akin to 28 Days Later, this uneven pacing is undoubtedly representative of the troubled development of the film, and the ending, somewhat noticeably, appears tacked on: a severed appendage of post-production. Not to mention the fact that the plot will quickly eat away at fans of the novel, with an attention to its source material (or lack thereof) rivalling Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of I Am Legend.

To completely tear this film limb from limb would be unfair though; like The Day After Tomorrow, it is frequently entertaining. Despite prosaic supporting characters, such as Gerry’s escort soldier (who can’t help but channel Natalie Portman circa V for Vendetta), and enough generic conventions to make you groan louder than the crazed undead, it is a solid performance from Pitt, who carries friends, family, and indeed the whole film, offering salvation in light of its many flaws.

To suggest that such a genre deserves to stay dead and buried, like the ever-present Paranormal Activity series, isn‘t totally necessary. Indeed, the recent Playstation 3 exclusive The Last of Us proved to be a breath of fresh air, delivering harrowing realism and peerless character interaction like an emotional shotgun to the head. Unfortunately, World War Z manages to dig this genre a deeper grave with this gutsy, but ultimately banal attempt, best summarised in the style of The Simpsons’ Troy McClure:

I hate every zombie film I see,
From World War A to World War Z

6/10

Review: The Last of Us

The Last of Us

This is it. This Naughty Dog mutation of the action adventure genre echoes hauntingly of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, splicing survival horror with astonishing set pieces, creating a breathtaking post-apocalyptic dystopia which is inescapably gripping and unequivocally horrifying synchronously, giving birth to perhaps one of the most authentic relationships seen, not just in videogames, but in entertainment history.

Behold, The Last of Us. This Playstation 3 exclusive begins with an extraordinary exposition, ravaging your expectations and feelings almost instantly. An infection has all but decimated mankind, and society and architecture are in an inert state of decadence, as abandoned streets and cities become camps and quarantine zones. Humanity has been divided into the infected and survivors, factions that don’t exactly put the ‘civil’ in ‘civilisation’. One of these survivors, Joel, is entrusted with smuggling Ellie, a gutsy teenage girl, to a small band of insurgents called the Fireflies, a personified beacon of light in these dark times. Here is a man who has nothing left to lose. At least, not at first.

How strange – a few bullets and a health pack will leave you feeling armed to the teeth. Never before has a game felt so tense, as you want, need, to survive just one more minute. No matter what. Of course, this can be totally draining, particularly as your failings are exposed in a procession of gruesome deaths, each as brutal as the next. Trust me, these mushroom-adorned quasi-zombies are not fun guys. But despite how taxing gameplay can be at times, it is as infectious as the blood borne virus, and the need to endure and survive is shared, transcending the barrier between character and player.

Paced perfectly, it’s the infinitesimal moments interspersed throughout that encapsulate human nature, and propel The Last of Us from simple enjoyment to gaming nirvana. Like the tiny spores that ravaged this world, it’s the little things that have the most effect. There is a real sense of delicacy in character interaction glimpsed only briefly in the Uncharted series. From the rubble of these once populated cities blossoms a truly believable relationship, which flourishes further with every twist and turn of this narrative rollercoaster. The Last of Us is a Molotov cocktail of visceral reactions and raw sensations, a beautiful explosion of life, and this slow-burning relationship between Joel and Ellie is ripe with emotional depth. Naughty Dog have crafted a masterpiece, a prodigious effort which may be regarded as their magnum opus as the sun sets upon this console generation: a defining hallmark of the Playstation 3.

It is the people who grew up with Crash Bandicoot, laughed with Jak and Daxter, and relished the thrill of Uncharted who will come to appreciate The Last of Us the most. It is a mature culmination of Naughty Dog’s greatest hits, which scavenges the best elements from Heavy RainTomb Raider, and even that of 2013’s other gaming exemplar – BioShock Infinite. If you thought Elizabeth was a fantastic companion during your journey through Columbia, and a shining example of artificial intelligence, you’ll simply adore Ellie.

Honestly, the worst part of the game is knowing that this is it, and it won’t last forever. If The Last of Us was the last game you were ever going to play, you’d die happy. With gorgeous lighting and textures, and a rich spectrum of sounds, this is life, or at least as real as life gets. And at 16 hours short, it moves pretty fast – if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

10/10

Feature: E3 2013

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Exciting. Excruciating. Exhausting. E3 is back, and boy did it entertain. After months of rumours and insults being traded like bullets between companies and gamers alike, and of course – the Xbox One reveal, the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles prepared the battlefield for a mighty war, a gunfight of wits and technical prowess between two giants of the gaming industry. Oh, and Nintendo were there too.

As we wipe away tears of nostalgia, remembering those long nights playing Halo 3 with friends, and sigh with content at our first memories of Uncharted 2, it’s once again time to usher in the dawn of a new generation of consoles. Yes, this E3 was bigger and brighter than ever – an event which promised to deliver, and delivered promises which will tantalise gamers for years to come.

Remember the Xbox One reveal? In the wake of that infamous exhibition, gamers were left reeling in confusion and disappointment regarding the future of the massively popular Xbox 360, as rumours surfaced about changing DRM (digital rights management) policies and ‘always-online’ prerequisites. Indeed, Microsoft’s hesitance to approach these queries provoked more ‘Will they?’ ‘Won’t they?’ questions than Ross and Rachel from Friends ever did.

E3 Xbox One

Thankfully, Microsoft began their E3 press conference in style, showcasing the latest edition of the Metal Gear series, The Phantom Pain, and putting to rest plausible questions such as ‘does the Xbox One actually play games?’ With stunning graphics, photo-realistic at times, and open-world gameplay, wholly reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption (complete with desert and horses, naturally), Metal Gear Solid 5 set a lofty precedent for the rest of the show.

Of course, Microsoft can’t rely entirely on third-party developers, and exclusives such as the gorgeous driving simulator Forza 5 and the surprisingly realistic sequel Dead Rising 3 give credence to the fact that this is definitely a new generation, and it looks exquisite. As I present the award for world’s most unnecessary item of clothing to Master Chief, emerging in his armour from underneath a cloak, it is clear that with the plethora of exclusive IPs, such as Crytek’s Ryse: Sons of Romeand Project Spark, plus the continuation of the beloved Halo series, Microsoft might manage to win back the hearts of some loyal fans, albeit at the cost of £429.

E3 PS4

Enter Sony. Although the Playstation 4 was tipped to be a clear favourite with gamers after the details of the Xbox One were revealed, the decision to initially discuss Netflix and music features in the press conference had the gaming world on tenterhooks: ‘won’t somebody please think of the games?!’ viewers cried. But fear not: Sony delivered, and then some. Whilst people marvelled at the glorious graphics of exclusives Killzone and Infamous: Second Son, and RPG enthusiasts swooned at the announcements of Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts 3, it was the ‘commitment to independent creators’ that deserved the most applause, allowing developers to self-publish on Sony‘s system. A games console which truly caters to gamers. Of course, the rapturous applause came later, during the announcements that PS4 supports used games, and at its £349 release price. Overall, a show-stopping performance by Sony.

E3 Nintendo

And let’s not forget Nintendo, who despite falling out of the limelight somewhat over recent years, announced Mario Kart 8 and a newSuper Smash Bros, much to the envy of many gamers. Online gaming aside, Nintendo remain unparalleled in terms of frantic multiplayer and family fun, and with Wind Waker HD and new Zeldaand Mario games in the pipeline, the Wii U is worth keeping an eye on. With further appetisers such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Yoshi’s New Island for the 3DS, the handheld market looks to be in safe hands for the foreseeable future.

E3 Mirrors Edge 2

With EA also announcing the development of Star Wars: Battlefrontand Mirror’s Edge 2, and Ubisoft’s innovative Watch Dogs and next-gen shooter The Division also looking incredibly appealing, the real question will be which platform fans opt for to play these brilliant third-party games. With the PS4 costing significantly less, and boasting unrestrictive features and the fantastic Playstation Plus offers, the odds are in Sony’s favour. Despite the expansive list of new exclusives for the Xbox One, customers will be potentially unable to purchase pre-owned games, or even play them without an adequate internet connection. Not to mention the inability to disconnect Kinect, the ever-listening camera which will undoubtedly leave George Orwell spinning in his grave.

You can’t help but feel Microsoft haven’t simply shot themselves in the foot, they’ve blasted their feet clean off with a Spartan Laser.

Review: The Great Gatsby

‘Can’t repeat the past?’ Gatsby cries incredulously. ‘Why, of course you can!’ Quite fitting, then, that Romeo + Juliet director Baz Luhrmann should get the green light to reprise this literary adaptation of one of the Great American novels.

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Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of the same name, The Great Gatsby follows Nick Carraway (Maguire) a bond salesman who, in his ‘younger and more vulnerable years’ encounters the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio). A Trimalchio of the Roaring Twenties, very little is known about Gatsby, except his flair for throwing outrageous parties for a New York infatuated with conspicuous consumption.

More of a metaphor than a man, Gatsby’s American dream is reuniting with his lost love Daisy Buchanan (Mulligan), and Leonardo’s performance is exquisite, revealing all his quixotic passions and frailties with extraordinary tenderness. This is an entirely different Gatsby to Robert Redford in the 1974 film, but a truly great Gatsby nevertheless.

Credit where credit is due, Tobey Maguire embodies the modest narrator perfectly, rarely overplaying his role as Nick. A wallflower of sorts, he delivers Fitzgerald’s gorgeous prose so gently, you can’t help but hope for an unabridged audiobook. Stephen Fry, eat your heart out.

This is quintessential Baz Luhrmann; totally theatrical and often cartoonish, a circus of extravagance. But like the inhabitants of Long Island, however, these aesthetic beauties are meretricious. That is to say, wholly superficial. Just as Gatsby creates these glamorous parties as a self-constructed illusion, some may argue Luhrmann similarly constructs this dazzling dreamscape to masquerade the omnipresent sense of apathy. And rightly so. Quite frankly, it’s just difficult to care about the careless.

With an intriguing soundtrack to say the least, Gatsby features an amalgamation of artists ranging from Emeli Sandé to Jay-Z. Certain tracks like Jack White’s cover of ‘Love Is Blindness’ feel needlessly implemented for the sake of a montage, while others, such as Lana Del Rey’s stunning ‘Young and Beautiful,’ echo hauntingly throughout the film. An achingly beautiful piece worthy of the Jazz Age.

The literary pedantic who regard the novel as sacrosanct will inevitably be left exasperated with the new framing device and numerous narrative reinventions. Not to mention the proverbial clown car of miscast supporting characters (here’s looking at you, Isla Fisher) and a rather uninspired portrayal of Daisy by the otherwise brilliant Carey Mulligan. Fundamentally, if you hold as much hope in your heart as Gatsby, you’re bound to be disappointed. It’s good, but it’s not great.

Under the unblinking eyes of those unfamiliar with the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, however, this is a vibrant spectacle, and a timeless story of hope, perhaps best described as an unintelligent work of art, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

7/10