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Kong: Skull Island (Movie Review)

Kong: Skull Island is an American Monster film directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer, Nick Offerman: American Ham). Starring Tom Hiddleston; Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson,  John Goodman and John C. Reilly, it's the installment that introduces King Kong into Legendary Picture's own shared "Monster-Verse", that started with 2014's Godzilla (Aup, Marvel). Set in 1973, a squad of soldiers and scientists head off to an uncharted island in the Pacific, ending up encountering and running away from it's native creatures, Kong included. General Monster film featuring angry Sam L Jackson lines ensue.

Not being the biggest fan of Godzilla (the biggest monster-reveal tease ever), I was really hesitant guessing if I was going to enjoy the next in line of Legendary's Monster bonanza. Incorrectly assuming what the overall tone and feel would be, I actually had a good time with Kong: Skull Island but it was for all the wrong reasons.

Ruined Monkey Business

Right, starting on a positive note (because good vibes n' stuff), anything with action featuring Kong is great. His look, roar and the way he punches mortifying-looking skull lizard creatures in the face feels like the only things that justify the $185 million budget. Kong and select action sequences are beauties to look at and really creates hype for the inevitable face off with Godzilla in a future film.. That's the only thing I loved about Kong: Skull Island that actually seemed intentional.

Pretty action scenes aside, it's filled with unrealistic empty characters. Performances from the cast are as ok as you'd expect them to be, with it being filled with so many huge names and everything but they have to work with a script that made me cry with laughter. Not because it's funny but because it's dialogue in a huge, blockbuster film that sounds like it was copied and pasted from either a porn script or a spin-off for Sharknado. A particular scene with Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson really stands out. About 30 minutes in, after unexpectedly running into Kong,  a 128ft gorilla that no one would have ever imagined to have existed, Hiddleston and Larson's characters and some soldiers are getting their bearings. With nothing more than a couple of cheesy banter lines between Larson and Hiddleston, a solider reacts in the manner of "can we talk about what just happened?! A giant gorilla just appeared out of nowhere! why are you two so calm?!". All of the big contenders are as good as you'd expect them to be except maybe for Brie Larson just standing there and staring half the time. You can tell Tom Hiddleston's trying to bring out the British wit and flair we all love. Sadly, they have to work with a script that hurls the idea of believable, human characters out of the window. I couldn't help but laugh at the increased absurdity of the characters I was seeing, especially after going through what felt like a long-winded set up in actually getting to the island.

It can definitely be said you won't be bored through the entirety of Kong Skull Island. However, that's mainly because you're either smirking at the awkward dialogue, admiring the scenery and effects or you're trying to comprehend who's doing what and why. The large group heading to the island is split up into initially three groups upon arrival, thus taking you back and forth to these groups as to try to meet up again to return home. The group including, Hiddleston, Larson and John C. Reilly is the one I'd have preferred to follow on it's own because even though all of the film's characters and their motivations seem paper thin, these seem the least absurd. Samuel L Jackson and John Goodman's characters appear to have thrown common sense away and a side story with Tobey Kebbel (Fantastic Four, A Monster Calls, Black Mirror) doesn't really go anywhere, not being worth the time put in with a very boring pay off.

What had and still has me reluctantly chuckle is the clear struggle of identity. There's nothing wrong with a film's structure and dialogue being entertainingly cheesy and absurd as long as the tone is set up that way, not trying to be anymore than it actually is. Not trying to be The Godfather 2 when you're merely Fast & Furious. Skull Island oversteps it's bounds and you know it in moments like when you see John C. Reilly in what's meant to be an epic monster adventure film. What appears to be a matured rehash of his man-child role from Step Brothers, Reilly's contribution is just to serve some exposition, drowned in unfunny jokes and put you into another side story no one asked for. It's one of many elements that make Skull Island feel more like a parody than the real thing. Besides the monster fights. there are one or two action scenes with the humans that are really fun to watch but the logic behind what took the characters to that position in the first place seemed like the definition of lazy writing, literally using the story as a fragile tool to showcase flashy violence.

Final Thoughts

Even before the credits started rolling, I could see myself watching Kong: Skull Island again. I've already envisioned inviting a couple of friends round, popping open some beers and us all sharing in a mutual laugh in what a bad film really is, right before comparing it's quality to the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. Having such a huge budget is part of it's saving grace but it feels like all that money was injected into it by an accounting error due to the massive mess it is.

Once you accept that's what Skull Island is; a badly written showcase for some good effects, a few action scenes, cardboard characters and wasted acting power, you can easily have fun time with it. I could loop Samuel L Jackson's awkwardly hilarious and intense stare-offs with King Kong through fire for hours. Nevertheless, having to say that is what is really disappointing about this film. It had the potential; set-up, iconic character and gritty tone set by Godzilla make Skull Island's action scenes shine even brighter in a grounded yet gripping serious story. Instead, we get that drunk friend, who's always off his face, standing up to make a serious point about life before falling flat on his arse and spilling his drink on his crotch. That's sort of fun to watch too I suppose, if you're drunk as well.

Rating: 4/10

Shantae: Half Genie Hero (Game Review)

Four years ago - long before I met the Alt:Mag team - the chaps at WayForward started a Kickstarter campaign for their next big game. They raised $400,000 (roughly £330,000) in less than a month, and by Christmas 2014 they reached a final count of $950,000 (£780,000). The game was originally planned to release two months earlier, but thanks to the extra funds, it was delayed for another two

Erased (Anime Review)

Erased is a 12 episode thriller anime adapted from a manga series of the same name. Directed by Tomohiko Itō (Known for Death Note, Blue Exorcist, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Sword Art Online) that focuses on Satoru Fujinuma: a 29 year old failing manga artist working part-time in a pizza parlour. He somehow has this ability called revival which occasionally and unexpectedly

A Monster Calls (Movie Review)

Branching Out With Wonder

A Monster Calls is a fantasy drama film and an adaptation of the award-winning 2011 novel of the same name. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible), the film's crew is joined by the novel's author, Patrick Ness, as the writer. Centred around 12-year old Conor O'Malley, (Lewis MacDougall), A Monster Calls focuses on a dark time the

Assassin's Creed (Movie Review)

Christmas 2016 was one of the hardest I’ve had in my life. While everyone else enjoyed dinner with their families and partied their socks off, I had to deal with a broken oven, a party being cancelled, and a family fight. It would’ve been the worst if it hadn’t been for one gift to myself, which I had to wait until last Friday for. It was, of course, the Assassin’s Creed film. After showing for three weeks in America, the film finally came out in the UK. While many people hope it’ll break the so called “video-game curse”, my own hopes for the film were personal. Like any fan, I wanted it to be true to the games - but most importantly, I wanted it to rekindle my love for a series I nearly turned my back on. Did the film succeed?

Read on to find out. (SPOILER WARNING)

In 1988, nine-year-old Callum Lynch (played by Michael Fassbender) witnesses the death of his mother at the hands of his father. Cut to the present, and Cal is now a criminal about to be executed for murder. On the night of his death, agents from Abstergo Industries - the modern front of the Knights Templar - abduct Cal and take him to their headquarters in Madrid. There he meets Dr Sofia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) and her father, Abstergo’s CEO Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), who force him to use a machine called the Animus to experience the memories of his ancestors. Cal steps into the boots of Aguilar de Nerha (also played by Michael); an Assassin in 14th-century Spain and a sworn enemy of the Templars. Through the Animus, Cal inherits Aguilar’s fighting skills and plans to use them to escape from Abstergo. However, Sofia and Alan have their own plans - and they’re not all as noble as they claim to be.

I managed to catch the film last Friday, when cinemas started to show it during the day. However, it was moved to a different screen without my knowledge and I missed the opening scene (a prologue with Aguilar). I was lucky enough to get in the right screen just as the story began in earnest - and I’m glad to report my experience didn’t suffer for it. The film isn’t perfect, but I can honestly tell you it’s far better than every game-based film we’ve seen before. It’s true to the games - a given since it’s produced by Ubisoft itself - but it’s also brave enough to take risks to give us something different. Instead of re-telling the story of, say, Desmond or Ezio, Assassin’s Creed tells its own story with a new set of characters living in the games’ universe. It’s a bold move for Fassbender, who also produced the film, and his director Justin Kurzel, with whom he worked on 2015’s adaptation of Macbeth. Together, they take the best qualities of that film and put them into a larger budget: gritty visuals, fast-paced battle scenes, and a preference for physical effects. They go surprisingly well with the series, resulting in battles across time which are both brutal and beautiful. That said, the film isn’t without its flaws, some of which had nothing to do with the Creed’s transition to the big screen.

Whether you’re familiar with the series or not, the first thing you’ll love or hate is the protagonist, Callum Lynch. Despite his connection to the Assassins, Cal is a much darker character than Desmond, having been a criminal since his mother died. He also spends much of his time hating his father - even wanting to kill him - for it, so for many people, the fact that Fassbender is playing the role may be the only thing keeping them from hating him. After all, a criminal protagonist is harder to relate to than a bartender. But as the film progressed, and the reasons for Cal’s situation became clear, I began to like him. By the end, I was more invested in him than in any modern character from the games. It was a harder sell with the other Assassins Callum meets at Abstergo: Moussa (Michael K. Williams), Nathan (Callum Turner), Emir (Matias Varela), and Lin (Michelle H. Lin). Despite being part of the series’ nominal protagonists, Moussa and his friends go to extreme lengths to find out whether Cal is a friend or not. If you haven’t played the games, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re antagonists. This moral ambiguity is both a strength and a weakness - it makes the Assassins feel more human, but you won’t know who to root for until the end. It doesn’t help that Nathan, Emir, and Lin go unnamed in the film; I had to learn their names in the credits.

Another element of the film that will divide opinion is Aguilar’s story. In the games, you spend more time in the past than you do in the present, but here the focus is switched. Cal enters the Animus three times in the film, and these scenes - called “regressions” by Sofia - make up a third of its length. That means over half an hour is dedicated to Aguilar’s battle with the Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada and his right-hand man Ojeda. It may seem disappointing, but the quality of Aguilar’s scenes more than makes up for it. Justin Kurzel could’ve taken the easy route and filmed them all on green screen, but instead he went on location and used as many real effects as possible. Better yet, the actors speak entirely in Spanish and perform most of their own stunts. It’s amazing to watch because Aguilar and his friends do a lot of fighting, running, and jumping over rooftops without stopping to breathe - and unlike their modern descendants, their goals and motives are undoubtedly clear. The problem is you’ll need to pay attention when the hidden blades are drawn. Like in Macbeth, Assassin’s Creed’s battles are fast and furious, and if you’re not careful, you could miss an important moment. Some people may find them harder to follow, thanks to the film cutting back and forth between Aguilar and Callum in the Animus. Unlike in the games, where the Animus was a VR chair, the film’s model is a giant, robotic arm that forces Cal to re-enact Aguilar’s fights as he relives them. It’s an idea that’s well suited to film - even Ubisoft love it - but not everyone will like watching it in action. Finally, some knowledge of the Spanish Inquisition may be needed to fully enjoy Aguilar’s scenes. Unless you know your history on Torquemada, you will be disappointed.

Despite it being canon, the main thing that will bother fans and newcomers alike will be the way the film handles the games’ deeper elements. In the games, the Templars hunt for artefacts called Pieces of Eden, which allow them to control the minds of other people. The full story behind them was too complicated to keep in the film, so Ubisoft decided to narrow it down to reach a wider audience - the Rikkins are searching for one artefact, the Apple, and its history is simplified. It was the right thing to do, but the way the Apple was explained could’ve been clearer. Sofia and Alan refer to it as “the cure for violence”; a line newcomers will find confusing. Sadly, it’s one of many lines from Sofia which either baffled me or fell flat. Cottilard’s performance, and her caring attitude towards Cal, kept me invested in her. Sofia’s interactions with the Assassins not only made me question her role in the film, but also created conflict with her oppressive father. Alan Rikkin is one of only two characters appearing from the games, but whether you know him or not, Jeremy Irons’ performance won’t disappoint. Just bear in mind that the Rikkins aren’t your typical villains. In the world of Assassin’s Creed, typical villains don’t exist.

Assassin's Creed won't be the one to "break the curse", but it makes a huge effort to be better than every game-based film that has come before. It strikes a balance between being true to the series and walking its own path - and most importantly, it brought me back to the Brotherhood. I urge you to see it and judge for yourself. Safety and peace be upon you.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Movie Review)

Episode 3.9: The Empire Gets Organised

The new Christmas tradition. Another December, another trip to a galaxy far, far away. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an epic space opera film directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters), being the newest entry in the Star Wars film anthology. Stars include Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsen, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed,

5 Video Games That Get Festive

It's that time of year again folks. The decorations are up and the weather is cold, meaning I am wearing a hat all the time... half because it's freezing, the other half because of my receding hairline that I have become increasingly more aware of during these past months. Can't stay a youthful online magazine editor forever, kids.
Anyway, I was thinking that when it comes to video games Christmas doesn't really seem to be a thing. Perhaps it's because to make an entire game focused around a holiday that takes place during the space of one month of the year isn't really a good idea if you want your game to A) be remembered the entire year round when people have left the festivities behind or B) actually sell any other time of the year. While there aren't many games focused around Christmas and most that do exist are just crappy cash grabs, there are some games that don't focus on Christmas but include Christmas in some way. Here's a short list of some of the best that you can play as Christmas Day draws closer.

Overwatch (Various) - Winter Wonderland Event 2016
So recently I got into Overwatch and I am really into it. Actually let me rephrase that: I am obsessed with Overwatch. Great gameplay that differs from your run-of-the-mill first person shooter and characters that are not only memorable but easy to fall in love with too. Sure, the competitive mode is unfair and disheartening, but when you play this game with friends it can be a lot of fun, and proper team work and coordination is always the key to a successful match. Well anyway, last Wednesday on all platforms they just released a special update for Christmas that gives some of the maps a snowy lick of paint, characters have cool Christmas-themed skins and voice lines, and there is a highly addictive and fun snowball fight mini-game featuring Mei. It's just a shame that all of the fun and Festivities only last until January, but we all know Blizzard will be sure to gift us with more of the same next year!

Shenmue (Sega Dreamcast) - Christmas in Doubita
If you, like me whenever I play through the first Shenmue game, always have to unlock the cutscenes where Nozomi confesses her love to protagonist Ryo Hazuki, you probably utilised the 'keep failing the quicktime event where Ryo has to catch the security guard's torch' trick to push the date of the game forward quickly. This is because the Nozomi cutscenes take place any night after the 25th. Get to Christmas time on the game and you will see decorations down Doubita Street, and even a Santa Claus walking around that you can talk to... and can't forget the Christmas-themed music in the classic Shenmue-style. Shenmue was always an incredible game for atmosphere, even when it does Christmas in its own subtle way. Thank you Yu Suzuki.

NiGHTS Into Dreams... (Sega Saturn) - The Christmas NiGHTS Into Dreams... Demo Disc
While the main game of NiGHTS into Dreams... doesn't feature Christmas, this two-level demo disc that was given away with the Sega Saturn magazine in the UK goes all out with the festivities - but only in December. Put this demo in your Sega Saturn any other time of year and it seems to be just a regular demo for the regular NiGHTS into Dreams... but when your Saturn console's clock reaches the month of Christmas, you are greeted with jolly Christmas music and the character of NiGHTS gets a red and white makeover. Jump into a game and snow is falling, the loops look like wreaths and sometimes you can even see Santa and his sleigh in the background scenery. Beat one of the demo's two levels and you can play a matching puzzle to open presents that reward you with concept artwork and other goodies such as a device that checks the moods of the Nightopians in your main game, as well as being able to play one of the levels as Sonic in his first ever 3D appearance in a video game. If you don't have a Sega Saturn, I hear that they included this Christmas extra in the NiGHTS Into Dreams... remaster that is avaliable on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 (as seen in the screenshot below).

Bully/Canis Canem Edit (Various) - Christmas at Bullsworth Academy
Ah, Bully.. or as we in the UK knew it, Canis Canem Edit. A fondly remembered yet widely misunderstood game in which the main story of the game is in fact focused around beating the bullies who pick on weak and vulnerable kids as opposed to actually bullying them at the academy that the main character Jimmy Hopkins attends (granted, you do have the ability to be a douche in the game if you do so wish). Anyway, after you go to sleep for the first time during Chapter 3, Jimmy awakens to an announcement calling him to the Principle's office. The grounds of Bullsworth Academy are covered in snow and Christmas decorations can be seen everywhere. At the Principle's office Jimmy receives a horrid Rudolph Christmas jumper from his neglectful mother that when worn causes kids around him to make fun of him. Change out of it quickly and leave the jeers and Christmas behind you as you move on with the story. I always felt this game also has a great atmosphere, and this little Christmas moment is a nice treat, especially since I remember some fond moments of watching my cousin play this game around Christmas time.


Harry Potter & The Philospher's Stone (Game Boy Color) - Christmas Day at Hogwarts
This game is one I had as a kid that I will still vouch for nowadays as being an unexpectedly great movie tie-in, as was its sequel, which was also on the Game Boy Color. You can really tell that the developers went all out in attempting to capture the magical world of Harry Potter on Nintendo's handheld wonder, and they really pulled it off. There is just something to love about the simplistic yet detailed 8-bit environments of Hogwarts coupled together with some great exploration and RPG gameplay. Anyway, remember that bit in Harry Potter where Harry and Ron are about to open their Christmas and Peeves the ghost comes along and steals Harry's presents like the annoying twit he is? Okay, the developers had to take a few liberties with the story to keep the game lengthy but it's still cool that they tried to extend the Christmas part of the story, if just for a little while, without it just being limited to 'Harry and Ron opened their presents'. Instead you get to chase Peeves around an empty Hogwarts trying to find said presents. Now that I think about it, Hogwarts always seemed pretty lax on health and safety and what not, because if they cared about such things, surely they'd not have a giant three-headed dog chilling out in the third-floor corridor, lessons focused around digging up plant creatures with fatal cries and they'd restrain annoying ghosts trying to steal people's Christmas presents? I'm surprised Hogwarts wasn't shut down for endangering students... Merry Christmas!

What games do you know love to play at Christmas get into the Festivities? Let us know in the comments section below, or via our Twitter or Facebook pages. Merry Christmas all you awesome Alt:Mag'ers, and thanks for reading!

Everything We Know About Assassin's Creed: The Movie

Over the years, I’ve had a rocky relationship with the Assassin’s Creed series. I first became aware of the games at college, when the first game was updated and released on PC. However, my family’s computer could barely run it, so I had to settle for reading the books and playing the portable spin-offs. I wasn’t able to play the main games until I received my own laptop, but by then I was starting university and the series had reached its sixth instalment, Black Flag, leaving me little time to catch up. Then, in Summer 2014, an incident occurred which nearly drove me away from the Creed entirely. It’s been a long time since I last had the courage to put on a white hood, but to cut a long story short, I’m well on the way to doing it again thanks to two people: Justin Kurzel and Michael Fassbender. They are the director and the star of the upcoming Assassin’s Creed film from 20th Century Fox. It’s due to come out on New Year’s Day in the UK, but if you can’t wait, allow me to tell you everything we know about it so far.

Unlike other films of its kind, Assassin’s Creed won’t be a re-telling of the first game, but a new story set in the same universe as the games. The film will follow a new character, Callum Lynch (played by Michael Fassbender); a convict who is abducted by the modern face of the Knights Templar, Abstergo Industries. Under the watchful eye of Abstergo’s CEO Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), and Rikkin’s daughter Sofia (Marion Cotillard), Callum is forced to enter the Animus - a virtual reality machine - where he relives the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha. Callum learns that Aguilar was an Assassin, a sworn enemy of the Templars, operating in the Spanish Inquisition and acquires his skills in a bid to escape from Abstergo. However, Rikkin has his own plans for Callum - and if you’ve played the games, you know they won’t be good.

The Assassin’s Creed film has been over five years in the making and, although it’s too early to say whether it’s good or not, a great deal has been said about the cast and the direction it’s going to take. In addition to Fassbender, Irons and Cotillard, the cast includes Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films), Michael K. Williams (Omar in HBO’s TV series The Wire) and Ariane Labed (Marina in the Greek film Attenberg). The film is directed by Justin Kurzel, an Australian actor well known for his adaptation of Macbeth, and is being produced by Ubisoft and Regency Pictures. You read that right - the games’ creators are involved too. However, it isn’t the first time we’ve had a film based on a video game nor one with its creators on board. In the Summer we had Warcraft from Universal and Blizzard, and sadly, it didn’t do as well at the box office as they had hoped. The pressure is on for everyone involved to make Assassin’s Creed better than every adaptation that has come before it. Luckily, from what we’ve seen so far, they seem to be on the right track.

The first trailer debuted on the 12th of May and, despite an appalling choice of music, I was really impressed. The Assassin’s Creed series is famous for blending historical fact with believable fiction, and Justin Kurzel hasn’t ignored that. Rather, his style of directing seems to compliment it well. His last film, Macbeth, was acclaimed for its brutal battle scenes and period-accurate costumes. Even better, it was filmed on location with the bare minimum of CGI, and the actors performing their own stunts. Aguilar de Nerha’s story takes place in 15th century Spain, but surprisingly, Justin filmed on location with Michael and co. running, fighting, and leaping across rooftops for real. There were some stunts that Michael couldn’t do, but even so, Justin strived to film them with as few effects as possible - one of the best examples being the trademark Leap of Faith. For this stunt, Justin filmed stuntman Damien Walters performing the leap from an amazing forty-metre drop; one of the highest jumps filmed in the last thirty-five years. The background in the final shot will be CG, but if Justin sticks to his guns, it will be one of the few shots of its kind in the final film - in Aguilar’s story, at least.

If you’ve never played Assassin’s Creed before, you’ll probably be drawn in by the film’s cast alone. But if you’re a fan, it’s likely one name will matter to you more than the rest: Ubisoft. The series’ creators entered the film industry in 2011 just to make the film and, unlike with most adaptations, they have kept creative control of it. In other words, everything - from the film’s plot to the soundtrack - had to be approved by them. It also means the film’s elements will remain faithful to the games. That said, things had to change. Films and video games are two different mediums and when you adapt a story from one to the other, many elements need to change. Fortunately, the changes we know about have been approved not only by Ubisoft, but by the fans too. The biggest change we know of is the balance between the modern and historic storylines. In the games, we spend more time in the past than we do in the present. The film, on the other hand, will focus more on Callum’s story than Aguilar’s. Ubisoft decided to do this in a bid to improve on the series’ weaker elements, since the modern storyline has suffered since Black Flag. Whether you like it or not, it’s a good sign that Ubisoft are taking the games’ feedback on board and trying something new. It’s certainly helped for the Animus, which has had a major redesign. In the games, it was basically a bed or a chair where you experienced your ancestral memories like a VR game. The film’s model is a giant crane that lifts, swings and spins Callum around as he relives Aguilar’s life, making the same moves as he does. Justin made the change because he felt the Animus’ scenes would need to be more dynamic on film. Thankfully, Ubisoft approved - and they’re even planning to use the new model in future games. Finally, we know the historical scenes will be a touch more accurate thanks to one thing: the dialogue. While in the games, the stories of Altair, Ezio and Arno were told in English (sprinkled with curses in their native tongues), the story of Aguilar was filmed entirely in Spanish. Justin considered filming his scenes in English, but he felt that having Aguilar speak in Spanish would “add a richness and exoticness” to the film. Both Ubisoft and Regency embraced the idea, so the final cut will switch from English dialogue to Spanish when Callum enters the Animus - which, according to Ubisoft, will be for 35% of the film.

That’s all we know of the Assassin’s Creed film for now - but if you can’t wait until New Year’s Day to watch it, a novelization by Christie Golden will be released on 21st December. We’ll be writing a review of the film in the new year, so in the meantime, let us know in the comments (or on Twitter or Facebook) whether you’ll be watching it at the cinema!

Rock Bands and Record Players: The Psychology of Musical Sources in Anime

Note: This article contains potential spoilers for K-On!, Tamako Market and Toradora.

It’s not uncommon for Anime series to use music as a way to enhance the mood of a scene. In an episode of Tamako Market, for example, the title character meets with a classmate in a coffee shop. Asagiri had to spend the last afternoon with Tamako and her family. Despite her social anxiety, she managed to have fun and wants to thank her. Asagiri tries to gather the strength to express this, and she eventually does. To her embarrassment though, her words come out in an awkwardly loud voice. Seeing her reaction, Tamako comforts her with a kind smile and a playful “I did too”. The scene is filled with cute facial expressions and gestures. It’s also accompanied by a slow but beautiful piano piece. The music feels sad enough to increase our sympathy for Asagiri, and appreciate Tamako’s kindness; making the interactions even more adorable. Musical attributes like the instrument being played or it’s tempo are frequently attributed with this type of effects. But there might be another factor in play.

Tamako and her friends visit this coffee shop frequently. During each of these scenes, a record player is shown either being set-up or playing tracks from different genres. Explaining where the background music is coming from might have the purpose of presenting the owner as a sophisticated and wise individual. Which makes sense given the role of passive counselor he plays in the series. But there could be another reason. Film theorists believe that, when music is unexplained, it appears as an obvious attempt to manipulate the audience. Placing its source within the character’s environment should reduce this perception, making it more effective. The idea is supported by an experiment in which a chase scene in a mall was perceived as more tense, when the music sounded like it came from the building speakers (Tan, Spackman, & Wakefield, 2008) (1). It’s possible then that showing the owner picking up an album and setting it up made the referred segments in Tamako Market more emotionally intense. Sadly, directors can’t put a record player or a loudspeaker on every single scene. There are, nevertheless, other, less mechanic alternatives.

Tamako Market's team went as far as composing a sixties-style song, hiring a French interpreter and designing a fake album cover, just to give the right background to another, bitter-sweet scene.

It’s not unusual for series to include musicians among their cast of characters. Providing another method for inserting music into the story. Series about bands, like K-On!, have the advantage of being able to explain the presence of songs through rehearsal and concert scenes (2). The plot doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around music though. The fantasy drama Angel Beats!, for example, has a couple of characters capable of singing and playing instruments, ready to perform as soon as the plot allows it. Animated musicians don’t even have to be that skilled. In an episode of Tamako Market, the protagonist father is revealed to have composed a song for her late wife, while they were both in high-school. His performance, shown through flashbacks, is clearly amateurish. But instead of disrupting the story, it ends up making it more believable and endearing.

Including an animated performance might have other benefits. People tend to rate acapella or instrumental compositions better when they are able to see the interpreter (Wapnick, Darrow, Kovacs, & Dalrymple, 1997; Wapnick, Mazza, & Darrow, 1998). And while, in the case of instrumental melodies, this doesn’t make people experience more positive, tense or exciting moods (Vines, Krumhansl, Wanderlev, Dalca, & Levitin, 2011; Vuoskoski, Gatti, Spence, & Clarke, 2016), it can make the audience more interested on the music, or even happier, depending on how expressive the performer is (Broughton & Stevens, 2009; Vines, Krumhansl, Wanderlev, Dalca, & Levitin, 2011). The results suggest that the presence of a performer adds very little to the experience of music, at least in the case of single-instrument pieces. Interestingly, they also imply that, when their appearance does make a difference, it has something to do with the way they move.

 Unusually detailed or realistic movements during animated performances
might have an ulterior motive.

Musicians’ behavior tends to receive a special treatment by animators. Specially in music driven stories. The openings for series like Sakamichi no Apollon, K-On! and even Angel Beats! depict musical performances with an unusual level of detail and realism. In the intro for Angel Beats!, for example, some notes are accompanied by shots of Kanade’s fingers pressing specific piano keys. This type of synchronization could be making the referred notes more noticeable, facilitating the identification of features like tempo and structure. Two variables that seem to play an important role in the induction of tension and excitement through music (van der Zwaag, Westerink, & van den Broek, 2011), as well as on its enjoyment (Rolison & Edworthy, 2013), respectively (3). The referred sequence also displays the performer’s hands, torso and head moving in the same manner as an experienced interpreter’s would. The depiction of both fine and gross musical gestures might permit a vicarious participation in the performance. In other words: Being able to see in great detail how an artist produces music, could be allowing viewers to feel like they are singing or playing an instrument, in the same way watching an avatars hands turn a steering wheel make gamers feel like they are actually driving. There are plenty of reasons to believe that the additional effort put into these animations didn’t go to waste. But we should also remember that this particular technique hasn’t been properly tested. So it’s still possible that it has no measurable effects on the audience whatsoever.

Behavior isn’t the only attribute that could enhance the experience of music. Experiments have shown that sang or instrumental pieces are rated better when the performer is more attractive (Wapnick, Darrow, Kovacs, & Dalrymple, 1997; Wapnick, Mazza, & Darrow, 1998). A factor that can be particularly useful in a highly stylized medium like Anime. In Toradora, the female lead secretly rehearses a song for the school’s Christmas party. The dress and hairstyle she wears during her performance, as well as the delicate gestures she uses, contrast with the informal appearance and rough behavior displayed in previous episodes. The effort Tiga puts into her interpretation and the reaction this provokes in her friend Ryuji are probably intended to insinuate an increasing attraction between the characters. But her charming appearance could also have made the hopeful song seem more moving, and the scene more romantic. Putting the viewers in the right mood for the emotionally charged episodes that follow (4).

 Character designs could become particularly influential during musical performances.

Placing the sources of music within the characters’ environment has, apparently, various benefits. It can make soundtracks more persuasive, while also enriching the experience with the behavior and aesthetics of performers. What makes this technique so interesting though is that it can take various forms. Music can make a gradual appearance as street performer is introduced into a shot. It can also stop just as particular character takes her headphones off. All in synchrony with the development of the plot and the emotions being displayed. Source or Diegetic music, as it’s known, doesn’t just enhances the effectiveness of a soundtrack. It adds a layer of meaning to the scene. Something that can make the whole experience more engaging, moving and memorable for the audience.


1. The experiment revolved around a scene in Minority Report, which features a man and a young, debilitated woman, struggling to hide and escape from their pursuers in a mall. All while a slow-beat romantic theme is heard as coming from the building loudspeakers. The melody is probably intended to make the viewers think about a couple caring for each other. This contrasts with the rough and fast interactions between the protagonists, increasing the feeling of urgency and threat of the scene. Interestingly, the experiment found that when the music sounded like a normal soundtrack (with higher volume and quality than it would have if it came from the mall), the interactions between the characters were perceived as more cooperative and the scene as less tense. Our interpretation serves as an example of how mood incongruent melodies could contribute in a positive way to cinematic experiences. But, more importantly, the experiment suggests that, even when the mood depicted by the music is incongruent with a scene, placing it in the fictional world can still enhance its effects.

2. Sub-plots involving musicians can also justify the existence of particular lyrics and melodies. Around the final episodes of K-On!, for example, it becomes increasingly difficult for Azusa, to cope with the fact that her older friends will be leaving both the school and the band after graduation. As usual she tries to control her feelings, but in the day of their graduation this becomes almost impossible. It’s at this point where the girls reveal that they have composed a song specially for her. The piece, titled “Touched by an angel!” expresses the positive impact Azusa has had in their lives, and how much they appreciate this. The band proceeds then to perform the song in front of Azusa. Who, while still emotional, also appears comforted and thankful.

3. It might seem a bit incongruent that adding video to a musical performance provokes music to be rated better, while at the same time it doesn’t lead to more positive or exciting experiences. One possible explanation is that the mentioned studies used different types of stimuli (Wapnick, Darrow, Kovacs, & Dalrymple, 1997, used a singer, while Wapnick, Mazza, & Darrow, 1998 focused on violinists) and collected different measures (like low vs. high ratings of music performance, as well as valence and arousal of the experienced mood). Another cause for the different results observed is the use of relatively simple stimuli, like a single instrument performance. In the lab, this setting prevents the interference of external variables. However, it also makes it more difficult to generalize the results to Anime music, were different types of instruments and electronic techniques are used to create the composition. Finally, other variables like the effect of watching a beloved character compose, and perform music, haven’t been studied. So, there is both, space for speculation, and additional research to be done.

4. It should be noted that while Christmas is a more family oriented holiday in many countries, in Japan is treated as a romantic event, similar to Valentine’s Day.


Broughton, M., & Stevens, C. (2009). Music, enjoyment and marimba: An investigation of the role of movement and gesture in communicating musical expression. Psychology of Music, 37(2), 137-153. doi: 10.1177/0305735608094511

Rolison, J. J., & Edworthy, J. (2013). The whole is greater than the sum of its parts: Local and structural features in music listening. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind and Brain, 23(1), 33 - 48. doi: 10.1037/a0032442

Tan, S. -L., Spackman, M. P., & Wakefield, E. M. (2008, August*) Effects of diegetic and non-diegetic presentation of film music on viewers’ interpretation of film narrative. Conference Proceedings for the 2008 International Conference of Music Perception and Cognition (pp. 588-593). Hokkaido, JP.
[*Revised and expanded version provided by first author]

van der Zwaag, M. D., Westerink, J. H. D. M., & van den Broek, E. L. (2011). Emotional and psychophysiological responses to tempo, mode and percussiveness. Musicae Scientiae, 15(2), 250-269. doi: 10.1177/1029864911403364

Vines, B. W., Krumhansl, C. L., Wanderley, M. M., Dalca, I. M., & Levitin, D. J. (2011). Music to my eyes: Cross-modal interactions in the perception of emotions in musical performance. Cognition, 118(2), 157– 170. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.11.010

Vuoskoski, J. K., Thompson, M. R., Clarke, E. F., & Spence, C. (2014). Crossmodal interactions in the perception of expressivity in musical performance. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 76(2), 691-604. doi: 10.3758/s13414-013-0582-2.

Vuoskoski, J. K., Gatti, E., Spence, C., & Clarke, E. F. (2016). Do visual cues intensify the emotional responses evoked by musical performance? A psychophysiological investigation. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind and Brain, 26(2), 179-188. doi: 10.1037/pmu0000142

Vuoskoski, J. K., Thompson, M., Spence, C., & Clarke, E. F. (2016). Interaction of sight and sound in the perception and experience of musical performance. Music Perception, 33(4), 457-471. doi:10.1525/mp.2016.33.4.457

Wapnick, J., Darrow, A. A., Kovacs, J., & Dalrymple, L. (1997). Effects of physical attractiveness on evaluation of vocal performance. Journal of Research in Music Education, 45(3), 470-479. doi: 10.2307/3345540

Wapnick, J. Mazza, J. K., & Darrow, A.-A. (1998). Effects of performer attractiveness, stage behavior, and dress on violin performance evaluation. Journal of Research in Music Education, 46(4), 510-521. doi: 10.2307/3345347

The Nice Guys (Movie Review)

Nice Is The New Black

The Nice Guys is a 2016 American mystery-crime thriller action comedy directed and written by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3) and co-written by Anthony Bagarozzi. It stars Ryan Gosling (The Notebook, Drive, The Big Short) & Russel Crowe (Gladiator, Les Misérables, Man of Steel) as the leads. It also stars other well known actors such as Angourice Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David and Kim Basinger. Set in 1977 Los Angeles, Ryan Gosling plays Holland March: a private eye down on his luck. When he winds up in the midst of investigating the death of a porn star called Misty Mountains. Holland realises that a missing girl called Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley) is involved and accepts the job. This is how he ends up clashing with Kutner's hired enforcer: Jackson Healey (played by Crowe) as she does not want to be found. Once March & Healey realise there's more to this case than meets the eye, the two end up on a deeper investigation of sex & political corruption: making way for one of the most vitalising buddy-cop-but-not-a-cop films in modern times (if that's a genre at least). 
Releasing in May of 2016 against big summer contenders like Captain America: Civil War, Bad Neighbours 2The Angry Birds Movie, making only $57 Million Box Office in return for it's $50 Million budget was tragically inevitable for The Nice Guys. Tragic of course not because of failing in terms of quality compared to the franchise giants but because of The Nice Guys' dynamic performances; entertaining story & overall fun-filled originality in it's story making it one of 2016's best: deserving much more than it got in return. 

Gosling gives a hilarious performance as the confident yet idiotic Holland March.

Firstly, with Black making the decision to set The Nice Guys in the late 70's, it gives the opportunity to have a play around with the settings and the John Ottman-made soundtrack. This experimentation is pulled off magically, packed with bundles of beautiful wide establishing shots of the city. With an opening wide shot of 70's Los Angeles at night, you're welcomed with a very subtle yet still funky 70's beat of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" by The Temptations. Accompanied with realistic and quality set pieces (bright stripey jackets, large moustaches, bulky cars etc), you immediately get settled in for the era that you're witnessing this story in. Al Green; Kiss, Kool & The Gang, Rupert Holmes: artists whose songs are known for projecting a form of energy and soul, carry you on a cloud of funk throughout the two hour run time, giving each development of the film an additional jolt of excitement. 

The Nice Guys has so many gorgeous set pieces that whip you back to the 70's.

Onto what's probably the most unexpectedly great about this film: this casting of Russel Crowe & Ryan Gosling. After 13 years of Shane Black trying to get The Nice Guys from script to reality, both Crowe & Gosling accepted their roles within 3 days of receiving copies of the script when they realised they could be working with each other, Gosling even praised the script saying that it was even funnier when imagining Crowe as Healy. The reality is exactly the same as the story on casting suggests: these two are incredible in their roles and are more so working together. Performances by other main and additional cast members are satisfying enough to contribute to the action comedy tones but it's Gosling and Healy whose performances you'll be praising the most. 

Part of the new iconic duo, this is the best acting out of Russell Crowe seen in years.

Those who have only seen Gosling in his more serious roles, such as Drive or The Notebook, will be pleasantly surprised seeing him play the unlucky and hilariously cynical Holland March and even all the more delighted with Crowe's gritty but kind-hearted Jackson Healy. Seeing the premise and casting on paper, you may not think that Crowe and Gosling together on screen would work but it's half of what makes The Nice Guys so refreshing. Not only is the script bulging with fresh, witty dialogue but Crowe and Gosling bounce off each other so well, it's almost seamlessly natural as if they've worked together for years. The characters of Healy and March work so well together for another reason other than being played by two very talented leads: it's the fact unlike most buddy-cop comedies, despite initially clashing at first, the two characters are actually a lot alike. They've both had unfortunate pasts, problems with alcohol and both have conflicted moral compasses although their hearts are in the right place. There's even a couple of scenes with a bit of monologue in each, which will more or less leaving you chuckling by the end of them whilst simultaneously appreciating the banter-filled chemistry between these two astounding leading actors. 

These two in this protest scene: absolutely brilliant.

The pillars carrying The Nice Guys is a 50/50 balance between the talent of its leads followed by what the invigoration its story and structure brings to the fold of the film industry. It cannot be put into words what a wonderful change of pace this film is: not for the sole reason of not being based on any existing material or being the fourth sequel to a predictable franchise, it feels so rejuvenating because it's proof that a new, original idea can still work amazingly well. Without giving much away about the mystery plot, the porn industry is pretty much involved for the bulk of it. Don't interpret that as an aspect that takes away it's charm though as it only enhances the story. The script is written with witty; sharp dialogue, hilarious exchanges and quote-worthy lines. You'll be drawn into the mystery because of the humour at its forefront but by the second act, you'll be stuck into it, trying to figure out yourself what happened to the victims. Structure is founded with careful balance: finely journeying you through exciting, humour-sprinkled action scenes layered inbetween just the right amount of slowed down scenes. Reading a synopsis of the plot would make you believe The Nice Guys is a lot more serious and intricate, requiring more energy to watch the first time if not a second. However; it's paced so well, sandwiching together plot-propelling & sit-down detective-chatting scenarios that are all wrapped in a layer of hilarity, it's so easy to just slouch back and enjoy this unique adventure without having to think too much about it. You'll continuously ask yourself "what WAS this based on?!" before you follow with a conclusive "oh..." as you realise this potent, compelling piece of work came from nothing but inspiration and highly skilled writing. 

Kim Basinger still looks great by the way. Damn.

If I had to highlight any errors, if you could even call it an error, it would be the late introduction of a final villain played by Matt Bomer. He's great in the role, carrying a chilled charisma as an ice cold killer but nothing is seen of him until the third act. It can be seen why this was the case, in terms of keeping things fresh maybe, though it can't be helped that you'd wish you've seen more of him beforehand. Speaking of charismatic characters, a shout out has to go to Holly March, Gosling's on-screen daughter, played by Angourie Rice. Going against the child-character stereotype of getting in the heroic grown-up's way, this is a young character who actually adds additional flavour of what makes the The Nice Guys so pallet-cleansing. She's sassy, actually helps with the detective work herself and can hold her own, all alongside still providing that emotional compass every moral-questioning hero has.

It's always nice to see a child actor who isn't just there like a background prop.

Final Thoughts

Shane Black's last writing and directorial effort; Iron Man 3, was enjoyable but hardly breaking the barrier of unique, cinematic, craftsmanship. As if he went back to the drawing board to re-find his roots, Black has created something that will make those not familiar with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, know him for a reason other than churning out a passable Marvel sequel. During an era where nearly every film that isn't a sequel; reboot, sequel-hybrid-reboot and child-friendly CGI showcase is a 2-star horror film on Netflix, The Nice Guys is the 2016 answer for film goers who ask if originality still exists in new films. It's exciting; funny, has gripping yet engaging dialogue carried with two amazing leads and a refreshing story. It's settings, shots and soundtracks make it like you're watching a film from the 70's made with modern equipment yet still overloading with the gritty energy of that era. It's a perfect film. It's a masterpiece. It's soon to be a classic. Whenever you're in the mood for something different and a bit more mood-boosting than what's already out there, The Nice Guys will be the proof to you that original films can still surprise you, being one of the best of this year. 

Rating: 10/10

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