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Movie Review: Alien: Covenant (Lights, Camera, Action!)

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Alien: Covenant (UK Rating: 15)

From famed director Ridley Scott comes a new instalment in the Alien movie franchise, titled Alien: Covenant. The movie is a sequel to the 2012 movie Prometheus, which starred Michael Fassbender, among others. Fassbender returns alongside Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Watchmen), and Danny McBride (Tropic Thunder, Eastbound & Down). Scott is known for his suspenseful horror, and according to some people, his lack of skill in telling stories. Since some previous Alien movies were panned, one might wonder: how does this instalment fare?

Alien: Covenant starts off with the crew of colonisation vessel, Covenant, travelling on a seven-year journey through space to find a specific habitable planet. Somehow, a neutrino burst came completely unexpectedly and damaged some power-collecting sails. Once everything's been fixed, and after getting no time to mourn their lost captain, new commander Oram (Billy Crudup) decides this is the perfect time to shirk their duty to humanity and go to a different planet that's closer by. Why? Well, because nobody wants to go back into the dangerous cryostasis pods, that's why! Logic. Making decisions in a time of emotional distress and possible residual feelings of being dazed from cryosleep is not a ridiculous plot point at all! The 2000 colonists they are bringing along apparently don't get a say in their future - the future of humanity. They are just faces without names, almost literally lifeless.


 
It seems there are no scientists on-board, as it is quickly decided to go to the unknown world and evaluate its colonisability… by going on an unnecessary fieldtrip. It's noted there is no wildlife, but this bothers no-one. After risking death and failure of the mission by going through the dangerously unstable atmosphere, the crew neglects to put on protective suits, because only pansies are affected by viruses, spores, rugged terrain or what have you. Remember, they didn't know the planet was mostly devoid of life. They do have small, wiry band-plasters to combat that pesky alien acid, though. That makes up for risking the lives of 2000 colonists in the attempt to rescue the ground team without even being sure they were in severe danger…

The movie eventually goes off on an odd tangent about David, an android survivor of a previous mission living (or is it functioning?) on the planet. He thinks humanity does not deserve to live, providing very meagre reasoning for that conclusion, not to mention seeming completely out of character for an android that no doubt comes to conclusions based on reasoning and pre-existing programming. Having the capacity to feel is fine, but why must that lead to an evil mind? Isn't there basic framework in place that allows David to think logically and critically, and serve mankind?

This shallow concept is suddenly broken by an awkward sexual encounter between David and his 'brother.' It's probably a reference to David's love of himself, his egocentrism, but it falls flat because no reference is made to him loving himself. It's made clear he sees himself as more than just a servant (possibly a god), but what does that have to do with anything? David's loving encounter with his android successor is out of place because they had only just met and have no history. They had barely spoken. Philosophical depth is nowhere to be found, and the android subject does not relate to the plot.

Moving from the characters to the acting, nobody's performance stands out, except Fassbender's, who is mesmerising as David. The introductory scene showing him as a fairly blank slate really does sell him as a logical-seeming and eerily dead-eyed android oddly content with his lack of flaws. The main character (Daniels, played believably by Katherine Waterston) dresses and comes across as a bootleg Ripley, without any character development to become tough as nails. She is established as fairly logical and honest, but at the end she suddenly acts fearless and almost aggressive. It's strange, as the situations she's in don't usually call for such a demeanour. This is more a problem with the writing than the acting. Where was her fire back when the captain decided to break off the mission?


 
Speaking of the situations or set pieces, as the movie goes on, it becomes clear the suspense didn't come along for the ride. It's not surprising when things go awry in the unknown environment. The dread of previous instalments is gone. Heck, even the Xenomorph doesn't live up to expectations when eventually arriving late in the day, lacking menace, merely being easily lured by the clanging of a steel pipe and deceived by the most simplest of avoidance tactics.

It's not just that there's no suspense, it's that there's little action, as well, but the action is mostly just bland and blurrily captured. Seeing crew members get killed brutally by small and vigorous versions of Xenomorphs is nice, but when each crew member is a face without a soul, it's hard to care. Lastly, it becomes even harder to care when the plot holes break immersion. Seriously, what is up with the badly built ships? Why does the planetary rover/spaceship's windshield break after two or three bashes, when it could withstand a destructive atmosphere and tumultuous weather before? It's made for travel in space and on foreign planets, but they couldn't afford some more protection?

Alien: Covenant is filled with plot holes, characters devoid of… character, and it's completely absent of suspense. It favours action and is all the worse for it, with much of it lacking impact. It misses that up-close and personal disturbing feeling that past Alien films are known for. A confusing interlude with androids, one of which looks on dully at the discombobulated ravings of his brother, does not elevate the story. The focus on set pieces, like alien eggs, face-huggers, and chest-bursters, feels like a way to cash in on gore-lovers' enthusiasm. What a bore.

Anime Review: Amagami SS (Lights, Camera, Action!)

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Amagami SS (UK Rating: 15)

Christmas is very different in Japan. Not so much spoiling kids with far too many presents and a big break from work or school. It's a more romantic time of year. For protagonist Junichi Tachibana, that time of romance has become sullied due to a heartbreaking experience. He rushed off to meet his date on Christmas Eve and ended up being stood up. It's an event that has bothered him for almost two whole years and now, as Christmas approaches, once again Junichi finds himself at the heart of numerous romances. This complete collection comes courtesy of MVM and is out now.

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This romantic comedy from studio AIC is a very faithful adaptation of Enterbrain's visual novel dating sim. The story takes each of the potential love interests and dedicates an arc to each girl. There are six main girls in all, each getting their own DVD of four episodes to tell their story. It's an approach rarely seen and one that should be used more to show each of the routes from the game instead of trying to pile them all in at the same time, and then giving no real closure, or worse still giving the bad endings for all girls bar one.

Six different main girls, each very different and individual… The first potential love interest is Haruka Morishima, Junichi's senpai from the final year, a rather odd older girl who loves puppies and kind of treats Junichi as such… Next up is Kaoru Tanamachi, the classic tomboy friend, short-tempered, violent and bouncing fantastically off Junichi in playful comedic ways. Then there is Sae Nakata, a younger girl who spent most of her life in girl-only schools, so is very shy around boys. Her arc is quite unique as it has a fourth-wall-breaking narrator commenting on the story. Not just any narrator, either, but iconic voice actor Jouji Nakata. Ai Nanasaki is next, a friend of Junichi's young sister Miya, a member of the school swim team and old beyond her years, often playing the mother role to her younger brother. Rihoko Sakurai is a long-time friend of Junichi; she's addicted to sweets and snacks, so is repeatedly trying out diets to stay in shape while overindulging in junk. She's always had a crush on Junichi and is a lovely girl. Finally, there is straight-laced and serious class rep, Tsukasa Ayatsuji.


 
Six very different girls and six very different romances - each charming and down-to-earth; every aspect of this slice of life series is down-to-earth, in fact. The characters are realistic in both their designs and in their actions - from their personalities and method of speaking, to the character designs and colour palette. It's rather refreshing to have no over-the-top screaming or slapstick violence, and no bright pink hair or glowing eyes. Instead warm - if dated - colours and designs that rely on distinctive features to set characters apart, instead of "the girl with the pink hair." The series is from 2010, however, so at points it certainly looks its age. It's also a Japanese-only release with some pretty standard extras, although there's a nice bonus with two extra episodes - a single episode dedicated to a crazy stalker that explains Junichi's traumatic experience at the Christmas two years prior, and one episode for the special relationship between Miya and Junichi.

With so many of this type of anime available, it's hard to set them out from the crowd and often it's difficult to give them a chance. Despite this, the down-to-earth and realistic nature of Amagami SS makes it a breath of fresh air compared to all the over-the-top crazy harem series out there. Fans of romantic comedies, and romance sims in general, would be wise to give this one a shot.

Anime Review: Fairy Tail Part 14 (Lights, Camera, Action!)

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Fairy Tail Part 14 (UK Rating: 12)

Tournaments are the bread and butter of Shonen series and Fairy Tail itself has already had a few such arcs, one rather recently, in fact! This, though, is a little different. This is more than just a series of one-on-one fights; this is more like a grand gladiatorial event. The Grand Magic Games uses special events like races and tests of ability both magical and physical. Natsu and team have some big competition in these games with old friends and old foes both coming out of the woodwork to compete, not to mention a dark force lurking in the shadows. This latest collection contains episodes 154 to 164, courtesy of Funimation via Anime Limited and is out now. For those keen to check out earlier releases, Cubed3 has also reviewed Part 12 and Part 13.

Before the time-skip, Fairy Tail was the strongest guild in all of Fiore, but now it has become the weakest. A laughing stock that has placed last in each of the previous games, and worse still even though its heavy hitters have now returned from sanctuary outside of time, they have been gone for so long that the world has moved on and they are no longer the powerhouses they once were. They had a chance for a last minute training camp, but that was lost, too… wasted on a party in the Celestial realm, where a single night counted as three months in the real world. Now the games are about to begin and the guild will be entering as severe underdogs.

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The first part of the games is an elimination competition to limit the amount of teams from over 130 down to a measly eight and, during this initial event, some of the other major groups are shown off. Each team is made up of five members of a guild and amongst these teams there are some new threats, along with lots of familiar faces from previous arcs. Blue Pegasus has entered a team consisting of their three bishie host boys, Ichiya and a mystery competitor in a Bunny Suit, Lyon is heading up a Lamia Scale group… and then a shocking return for Markov here, too, as his son's Dark Guild Raven Tail appears! Now a legitimate magic guild… There are plenty of newcomers, too, along with the new number one guild, Sabertooth, a guild that includes two Dragon Slayers. The strongest and most surprising group to appear, though, is made up of the redeemed Jellal, Ultear, and Meredy. The trio has formed its own guild and is investigating the games as in previous years they have sensed a dark magic like Zeref's emanating from them.

This introduction to a new arc is a fantastic encapsulation of Fairy Tail as a whole - filled with shonen battles, slapstick humour and, of course, plenty of fan-service. There's always been a ton of fan-service in Fairy Tail and this collection is no exception, with one of the episodes seeing the former pin-up models of Mirajane and Jenny pair off in the games; their match immediately turns into a pose-off. This, in turn, results in most of the female cast getting involved - members from all of the guilds posing in bikinis and sexy outfits.

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The extras on the disc are the same as previous instalments: both an English and Japanese dub, commentary with some of the English dub cast for two episodes, trailers, and clean opening and closing. As an extra bonus, and as with most of the Fairy Tail collections, this part includes a behind the scenes feature. This time it focuses on Lucy and the actress that portrays her, Cherami Leigh. A 15-minute piece shows Cherami watching the Japanese dub, and then recording her parts along with "Funimating" in progress, cutting the footage so that it fits better with the English dub. It's better than most of the features of previous collections but still with too much of a scripted reality vibe.

A really enjoyable start to this new arc, Fairy Tail Part 14 introduces some promising new characters, with some returning fan favourite villains from ages past. After the time-skip, fans have been waiting for a great arc to live up to what came before and it looks like it's finally here! The first two days of the tournament are over by the final episode of this collection and only five days remain. The upcoming episodes promise to be filled with more battles and competitions to enjoy, not to mention an ominous prediction of disaster that lurks over the conclusion of the games.

Anime Review: Red Sonja - Queen of Plagues (Lights, Camera, Action!)

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Red Sonja - Queen of the Plagues (UK Rating: 12)

Alongside Conan, Red Sonja has been an icon of dark fantasy violence since her creation in 1973. There have been plenty of versions since that time but this one comes from seminal scribe Gail Simone and Dynamite comics in 2013. Whatever the incarnation, some elements are always present; the trademark chainmail bikini, the flaming crimson locks, and the bad-ass, drunken, surly attitude. This story is a new re-telling of Sonja's origin, the comic of which received much acclaim and the fandom was excited to see an animated adaptation… until it was announced to be a motion comic. This is a medium that rarely delivers what the fans deserve. Can Red Sonja be in the minority that receives a good motion comic?


 
Those new to the franchise may glance at the busty, almost naked redhead on the front cover and expect a cliché fantasy tale filled with twisted artwork. Well, admittedly there is plenty of cleavage and half naked ladies throughout, but that backdrop belies the strength of the heroine. Instead, Sonja is a strong, independent, and inspirational she-devil with a sword; even more so in Simone's adaptation. That story tells the tale of Sonja's childhood, and how she watched her people and her family slaughtered right before her eyes. The gentle girl who couldn't take the life of a stag in the hunt was transformed into a killing machine. Sonja tracked down the ravagers who tore her life apart and travelled the world making a name for herself - until she ended up thrown into a dungeon, her death guaranteed. There were four score prisoners thrown in there, two made it out…

The only survivors of this nightmare were Red Sonja and a woman who became her sister in that pit; when the corrupt king who ran the pits was overthrown by a benevolent one, the pair was freed. Many years have passed since that time when the story picks back up, and Sonja is called back by the kind who saved her. His kingdom is under attack, his people suffering from a plague, and Sonja is his last hope. She has to train a kingdom of civilians to fight against a dark horde of marauders and half man-half fish demons. Even worse, at the head of the army sits Dark Annisia, Sonja's sister from that hell.

Motion comics take the digital version of the original art of the comic manipulate it to give some semblance of animation. Moving the mouths like a ventriloquist's dummy, the bottom lip moving in some attempt to match with the script. Warping parts of the body by swelling and shrinking parts of the image or moving joints in arms and legs to animate combat. There was a series of Marvel motion comics, adapting the Marvel Knights line that managed to look half decent, but other than these, it's rare to see motion comics done well. This one looks awful throughout - speaking faces look like dolls, combat looks silly, numerous scenes strip out all of the quality of the art, removing faces and details from the majority of the story. This art is stunning in the comic and it's a travesty to see what it has been turned into here.


 
As bad as the art and animation are, the voice acting is even worse. Taking the titular role of Red Sonja is veteran voice actress (and magician!) Misty Lee. Sadly, Misty's performance here is quite uninspired, but at least it has a little passion in it. This sub-par rendition is still ridiculously better than every other voice actor in the movie. They are absolutely appalling, to the point that it sounds like an amateur production, something that would be found on YouTube as an unofficial voiceover; it's truly terrible. There are moments that are so horrendously bad that it's truly cringe-worthy.

Gail Simone's story is superb and it deserved so much more than this lacklustre, low-quality adaptation. The art is butchered, the animation looks ridiculous, and the voice acting is so bad it almost starts to feel like a parody. It would have been better for Red Sonja - Queen of Plagues never to have been made, as if anything it actually sullies the original.

Anime Review: Seoul Station (Lights, Camera, Action!)

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Seoul Station (UK Rating: 15)

As seen in the Cubed3 review, Train to Busan is an amazing film, a superb revitalisation of the zombie film, an exhilarating ride with characters the audience actually cares about, and a truly compelling story. The prospect of further stories in this universe is a very promising one, especially when they are helmed by the same person that directed Train to Busan. Seoul Station is exactly that; an animated prequel to the movie, written and directed by Yeon Sang-Ho himself.

Set before the initial outbreak, the story opens on a homeless man, stumbling through the streets outside the titular Seoul Station. As he hobbles along, a bite wound on his neck bleeds profusely. A friend and fellow homeless person tries desperately to get him some help but is shooed away from anywhere he goes. This hatred towards the homeless becomes a key element of the story. Just as Romero linked the racism and prejudice of the time to the zombies of his formative Night of the Living Dead, this story does the same with the homeless - showing not just everyday people's disdain and disgust for the homeless, but also that of the government. That old, bitten, homeless man may very well be the beginning of the outbreak, but he's not the focus of this story. This story is about a daddy who lost his daughter; a man named Suk-Gyu, and a girl named Hye-Sun.

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Hye-Sun is a teenage girl who ran away from home and ended up working as a prostitute to survive. She thinks she's finally gotten away from that sort of life after meeting a boy named Ki-Woong and moving in with him. The problem is that Ki-Woong is a loser. He's jobless and spends most of his time at cyber-cafes. He can't even pay the rent and, eventually, he tries to put Hye-Sun back to work… advertising her as a prostitute online. This advertisement makes its way to Suk-Gyu who had been trying to track her down for a long time and he immediately heads out to find her. There's just the small matter of the impending zombie apocalypse in-between the two.

Suk-Gyu and Ki-Woong end up together, trekking across the country, trying to reunite with Hye-Sun, while she finds herself travelling through the dregs of Korean society to reach them. The state of the homeless is a huge part of the film and an eye-opening one. From the opening scenes, all the way to the fantastic finale, they are treated as less than hum by not just the populous, but also the government itself. It gives an interesting glimpse into Korean culture.


 
The art style is very evocative of Sang-Ho's previous work, The King of Pigs. Korean animation is noticeably different from the more famous Japanese anime but it looks great here; a little more comic book than classic anime, with more realistic faces, a more realistic world. The zombie designs, in particular, are fantastic and match up with their live action counterparts. The wide, rage-filled eyes, the chattering teeth behind pulled back lips, and the signature bulging veins almost bursting through the skin.

An excellent accompaniment to the spectacular Train to Busan, from the interesting social commentary on the state of the homeless in Korea to the truly surprising finale, Seoul Station is filled with quality. The action scenes are great and the tension is kept high throughout the entire film. There is a considerable flaw with the film, however - the characters. The trio of "main characters," Suk-Gyu, Hye-Sun, and Ki-Woong, are all horribly flawed, not particularly likeable and repeatedly do things that are completely inscrutable.

Review: Dynasty Feud (PC)

40 characters, eight clans, and a whole lot of brawling awaits in Dynasty Feud.

Review: Vanquish (PC)

Put Gears of War, Max Payne, and Halo in a blender, add a dash of Platinum Games' magic, and… Vanquish - now for the PC.

Review: NekoPara Vol. 3 (PC)

A story about a harem of horny, pre-adolescent-looking cat girls. Still interested!? Okay, then, NEKOPARA Vol. 3 it is!

Review: Oh...Sir!! The Insult Simulator (PlayStation 4)

You, sir, are a shrubbery wrapped baboon whose unpleasing hats offend scared orphans who need livers, and everyone at Cubed3 knows it!

Review: LoveKami: Useless Goddess (PC)

The "How to Train your Goddess" manual in the form of an oh-so-generic visual novel.

Review: BitMaster (PC)

A vibrant-looking and 'dynamic' twin-stick shooter, powered by Unreal Engine 4. Can it provide more than a cheap thrill?

Review: LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Universe in Peril (Nintendo 3DS)

With the recent announcement of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2, Cubed3 looks back on the 3DS version of the original.

K-Pop Korner - The Best of Korean Music
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