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US Box Office Report

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Mon, 21/04/2014 - 08:53

Captain America: Winter Soldier rules for a third weekend, Johnny Depp proves to lack Transcendence and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 swings to top internationally

By Rich Matthews

Holding strong for a third successive week Marvel/Disney's latest smash hit, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, took in $26.6 over the Easter weekend to hurl its domestic box office past the $200m mark as it also nears $600m globally ($587m).

Meanwhile, Cap's biggest upcoming domestic threat, Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 webbed a hefty $47m from its first weekend in the international market before its swings into North America on May 2.

Fox's family animation Rio 2 stayed at number two, grossing $22.5m for a US tally of $75.4m, while its foreign gross neared $200m to take it's global haul to $275m.

The remainder of the top five was made up of three new releases, with Sony's religious Heave Is For Real overperforming with $21.5m while Johnny Depp's Transcendence, produced by Christopher Nolan and directed by debut helmer and Nolan's usual director of photography Wally Pfister, veritably bombed with only $11m, Depp's worst showing since 2010's flop The Tourist – and with an international total of $17.4m, Warner Bros $100m sci-fi flick will have its work cut out for it. That's three turkeys in a row for Depp, so the next adventure for Jack Sparrow can't get put of port fast enough. Lastly, at five, Marlon Wayans spoof A Haunted House 2 took a so-so $9.1m.

Places six to 10 were populated by Kevin Costner football drama Draft Day ($5.9m, US total $19.5m), YA mini-hit Divergent ($5.8m, $134m, $209m), horror Oculus ($5.2m, $21.2m), Darren Aronofsky's biblical Russell Crowe vehicle (teehee) Noah ($5m, $93.3m, $290.7m), and the chart's third pious picture God's Not Dead ($4.8m, $48.3m).

Next weekend Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton get jiggy with cuckolding vengeance comedy The Other Woman and Paul Walker's Luc Besson-scripted final film Brick Mansions take pot shots at Captain America. Then, from May 2, it's all about Spidey.

IN OTHER NEWS

10 most overrated films of all time | The Telegraph

Tarantino stages reading of leaked film script | The BBC

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon prequel to be filmed | The BBC

Morgan Freeman compares top Hollywood directors | Yahoo Movies

Frozen now the sixth highest-grossing movie of all-time | ComicBook.com

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Screenjabber Podcast: Locke and load

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Fri, 18/04/2014 - 17:23

Join Doug Cooper, Peter Johnson, Amon Warmann and host Stuart O'Connor for reviews of what's new in UK cinemas this week: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Magic Magic, Locke, Wrinkles and Rebel Without a Cause. Plus Katie Wong gives us a preview of the upcoming Sundance London film festival.

You can listen to and download the podcast – or subscribe to it on iTunes ... plus you can follow us on Twitter and join us on Facebook.

PubQuest: We're looking to take the Screenjabber Pubcast on the road, and want your input. Know a great pub in London we should visit to record the show? Drop us a line and let us know.

WriterQuest: We're seeking some more writers, particularly those who want to cover video games for us. Please get in touch if you're keen.

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Screenjabber Wrestling Podcast 2: Streaks and Geeks

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Sun, 13/04/2014 - 21:08

It’s time to talk about the post Wrestlemania fallout! Tom Mimnagh is on hosting duties, as he is joined by James Nicolaou, Harry Harrison-Sumter and Mike Loukoumis to talk about everything from the ending of The Undertaker’s streak, Daniel Bryan’s big win, the NXT call ups, and the untimely passing of The Ultimate Warrior in the second edition of the Screenjabber Wrestling Podcast.

Listen to and download the podcast

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Screenjabber Pubcast: Raiding for a girl like you

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Fri, 11/04/2014 - 19:55

Join David Watson, Doug Cooper, Stuart O'Connor and (briefly) special guest Ben Mortimer for a beer and a chat about next week's big release — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — as well as reviews of what's new in UK cinemas this week: Pioneer, The Last Days on Mars, The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears, Calvary, The Quiet Ones and The Raid 2.

You can listen to and download the podcast – or subscribe to it on iTunes ... plus you can follow us on Twitter and join us on Facebook.

PubQuest: We're looking to take the Screenjabber Pubcast on the road, and want your input. Know a great pub in London we should visit to record the show? Drop us a line and let us know.

WriterQuest: We're seeking some more writers, particularly those who want to cover video games for us. Please get in touch if you're keen.

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PREVIEW | Wolfenstein: The New Order

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Mon, 07/04/2014 - 16:31

Original gaming Nazis go 21st century

By Steve Boxer

Wolfenstein: The New Order’s reinvention of the original first-person shooter successfully melds the best of old-school gameplay with modern production values – and explores one of the great “what-if?” scenarios

In games terms, you can’t get more seminal than the precious, ancient examples that spawned entire genres – especially if the genre in question happens to be the first-person shooter, which even now occupies a (some would say unhealthily) dominant position in the industry. On that basis, you could propose 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D as one of the most important games ever since it was, simply, the original first-person shooter – instantly rendering the otherwise side-scrolling, sprite-based technology of the day redundant – and it launched developer id Software into stratospheric realms.

But the legend of Wolfenstein 3D and its successors Doom and Quake played out in a previous millennium – id Software is now owned by Zenimax Media, parent company of publisher Bethesda, and its revered leading light, John Carmack, has left the company to concentrate on his Oculus Rift headset. So the decision to revisit the world of Wolfenstein, via the game Wolfenstein: The New Order, could be seen as brave at best and foolhardy at worst.

Reworking an icon

At least Bethesda’s approach to Wolfenstein: The New Order makes an awful lot of sense – as opposed to the muddle-headedness which led to the last attempt at a Wolfenstein-exhumation, 2001’s lame, generic Return to Castle Wolfenstein. For a start, The New Order hasn’t been developed by id Software, but instead was farmed out to Swedish developer MachineGames, staffed mainly by ex-luminaries of StarBreeze, most noted for making Chronicles of Riddick and The Darkness. Both of which, conspicuously, were praised for having much more substance than the average FPS, particularly in terms of storyline and atmosphere.

Jens Matthies, MachineGames’ Creative Director, is acutely conscious of the responsibility involved in remaking such an iconic game: “We are huge fans of Wolfenstein 3D, and we wanted to make sure that we stayed true to the spirit and legacy of id Software’s original with everything we did in The New Order.” But the key part of that rather bland statement lies in the phrase “Spirit and legacy”.  Because, luckily, MachineGames has also taken some liberties with The New Order.

Classic “what-ifs?”

One thing that games do better – at least in principle -- than any other entertainment medium is to allow imaginative and lengthy exploration of “what-if?” scenarios. And Wolfenstein: The New Order explores perhaps the mother of those: “What if the Nazis had won World War II?” Most of its action takes place in a 1960s world subjugated and ruled by the Nazis – who, by then, have developed robot dogs, drones, giant genetically and cybernetically-enhanced super-soldiers, and all manner of equally twisted means of asserting their iron grip. The original Wolfenstein 3D famously featured Nazis as the baddies that nobody could possibly have any empathy with, thereby establishing what has become a wearisome gaming cliché, but The New Order atones for that by having as much fun with a Nazi theme as is humanly possible.

Matthies acknowledges that MachineGames threw itself into that aspect of The New Order – which evokes echoes of the sheer lunacy that was The Darkness – with glee: “We tend not to limit ourselves creatively. Wolfenstein has always been about the over-the-top and outrageous, so The New Order carries on in this great tradition. The game is incredibly wild, and we are very proud of this.” Indeed, the game’s imaginative exploration of a world ruled by the Nazi Party – in which horror (early in the game protagonist BJ Blazkowicz encounters his nemesis General Wilhelm Strasse, aka Deathshead, and witnesses the sort vileness that would have ensued had Josef Mengele’s work been allowed to come to fruition) and blackish humour (a run-in on a train with a Rosa Klebb-style Nazi and her unutterably camp toy-boy) mix in absorbing fashion.

When pressed about what makes The New Order different from countless other first-person shooters Matthies, unsurprisingly, is keen to talk up how it manages to shoe-horn a proper storyline into the relentless action: “It delivers a mature and personal story matched with stellar shooter mechanics, yet still grounded in the gameplay roots that made shooters fun in the first place. I think it blends brawn and excess with wit and heart. The level of integration between the gameplay and the narrative is of a style rarely seen in a FPS.” Which is certainly true in this age of predominantly multiplayer first-person shooters.

Next-gen meets old-school

But Wolfenstein: The New Order remains resolutely single-player-only – thereby opening itself up to accusations of being hopelessly rooted in a thoroughly superseded age of gaming. Matthies defends that decision disappointingly wishy-washy manner: “We feel it’s our duty to deliver the best possible experience to the gamers out there, and focusing on single-player allows us to realise our vision – to make single-player the best it can be.” But at least that shows integrity on MachineGames’ part: tacking multiplayer elements onto games merely in order to tick boxes is even more unforgivable.

So how long will it take to play through Wolfenstein: The New Order, and where will any replayability come from? Matthies says: “We have tons of secret areas and collectibles, in keeping with the Wolfenstein tradition, but the biggest reason to replay would perhaps be to explore the alternate timeline. Early on in the game you make a significant choice, which alters the vibe of the rest of the game to some degree. We think of it as an alternate ending, but instead of just having a different ending-cinematic, it affects the game as a whole. An experienced player doing a speed-run could probably beat the game in 10 hours, but a player who likes to explore the various locations and the deeper game systems can easily spend 15 hours or more on a full play-through.”

Hands-on

We played through the first three chapters of the game, and Matthies’ contention that: “We think that Wolfenstein: The New Order is both old-school and modern in the best ways,” appeared to hold true. It swiftly became obvious that the ways in which it remains true to the original game should please first-person shooter connoisseurs. Difficulty levels, for example, are strikingly high: enemies are plentiful, well armed and endowed with decent AI, so it pays to make use of the ability to take cover and lean out of it. But as a counter to that, BJ Blazkowicz is endowed with an almost comically destructive armoury – pretty much any gun, no matter how big, can be dual-wielded from the off. And those guns can be loaded with different types of ammo – the more exotic, the more scarce, naturally – plus upgraded with silencers and the like.

As in the original game, you have to collect more or less every bullet left on dead enemies, along with every shard of their armour (in the true Wolfenstein spirit, once your armour has been used up, you’ll start taking health damage, although you can “overcharge” your health beyond 100 per cent). It’s vital to search for health packs and armour, and although it’s far from being an open-world game, it never feels like it’s rail-roading you, with plenty of secret areas to explore, often stuffed with rewards like ammo stashes. There’s also a system of Perks (the ability to throw back grenades being one that we acquired).

Unsurprisingly, the story features prominently in the earliest stages, giving MachineGames the opportunity to throw in all manner of gameplay variations, such as turret-shooting from a plane; avoiding falling objects and shooting through windows while scaling a building; and the odd bit of switch-pulling puzzle-solving. Once the game settles into its stride, though, it demonstrates a decent flow, with intense fire-fights punctuated by more exploratory and story-advancing sequences. Some areas take a more open-world approach, requiring some tactical thinking. For example, you often encounter densely guarded Nazi command posts, in which it pays to employ stealth to take out the senior officers, as they will keep on calling for reinforcements as long as they remain alive.

Stealth features to a surprising extent – it’s also a good idea to creep around in order to scope out secret areas containing ammo stashes before entering into a full-on fire-fight. And of course boss-battles abound against all manner of fearsome and freaky foes, which initially seem incredibly daunting, until you manage to formulate a coherent plan of attack (which is how bosses should be). Little humorous touches abound, even in the midst of fire-fights – you can snatch a health boost from eating food left out for the attack-dogs you just had to dispatch, for example.

Past video game attempts to blend the most striking virtues of old-school shooters with modern production values have usually fallen short and sometimes been completely disastrous (the mess that was Duke Nukem Forever springs to mind). But Wolfenstein: The New Order is a rare beast which manages to pull off that feat with distinction. 21st-century gamers may scoff at its lack of multiplay, but if they actually played it, they would find a storyline, sense of flow and challenging, absorbing gameplay which combine to make modern attempts at single-player modes in first-person shooters feel cursory and one-dimensional. Wolfenstein: The New Order won’t go down in the annals as a great game, unlike its illustrious predecessor. But it is a decent attempt at rewriting history – both in its subject-matter and its reinvention of a seminal franchise.

Wolfenstein: The New Order will be released on May 23 for PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. Each copy of the game will also include access to the Doom 4 beta programme.

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PREVIEW | EverQuest Next Landmark

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Sun, 06/04/2014 - 20:35

By Nick Cowen

Developer SOE | Publisher SOE | Format PC
Price Free-to-play | Certificate TBC | Release date May 2014

While World Of Warcraft may be the reigning champ of the Massive-Multiplayer-Online (MMO) genre, it’s worth remembering it wasn’t the first of its kind. The MMO dates back to the mid-90s and a sizable list of games of this type pre-date WOW by some considerable distance. You might not ever have heard of a few of them (barring current heavyweights such as Guild Wars and EVE Online), but they beat WOW to the punch nonetheless.

One of them, EverQuest, is in the midst of something of a renaissance. First released back in 1999, the EverQuest series’ forthcoming title, EverQuest Next, is currently in closed beta. What makes it somewhat buzz-worthy, is that the developers of the game have admitted that they’re having to turn to the players to learn about the tools they themselves created in order to build the game.

The reason for this is that EverQuest Next gives players access to Landmark , which is basically the creation tool-set that the developers use. Sure, players can run about questing and battling elves and orcs, if that’s all they want to do, but the game also offers them the opportunity to create new parts of the in-game world. Imagine World Of Warcraft crossed with Minecraft and you’re starting to get the idea.

What’s all the more impressive is that some of the creations that players have come up with have out-and-out stunned the game’s creators. At a preview event Screenjabber attended in the Pewter’s Guildhall in London (of all places) the developers at Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) regaled us with stories about player creations that blew their minds. One player created replica to scale of the Eiffel Tower. Another built a skyscraper and a couple of bi-planes to buzz around it. One planted an intricately detailed Gothic cathedral in the middle of one the game’s deserts while another built a massive, multi-tiered windmill with three cones of spinning blades.

The reason the developers were bowled over by this is because they hadn’t yet examined the true potential of Landmark’s tool-set. How, for example, were players creating curved, intertwining gatefolds on a wall, when the building blocks in Landmark were just that – blocks with sharp right angles. After contacting several of the players about their creations, they were told that they’d found exploits in the seemingly rigid tools.

Landmark’s tool-set is fairly easy to get your head around. Players can add and delete blocks at the touch of a button and they can also gouge out parts of the environment and repair it at their leisure. There’s a paint tool they can use to colour in their creations, but, most important of all, there’s a sanding tool, which they’re able to use to smooth the sharp edges of the game’s building blocks. This tool, we were told is one of the aspects that gives Landmark such versatility.

As we watched the demo, the developers created a block in the middle of the screen. They then cut square shaped hole right through the centre. Then, using the sanding tool, they smoothed down the edges and cut the block in half. Interestingly, this process had made the hole at the centre of the block shrink on a slight gradient. Once the sides of it had been prised away, the developer showed how they could be used to make curved building parts.

If all this sounds complicated, then don’t worry – if you choose to join the beta (and you can on May 1st) – the heavy lifting has already been done for you. A lot of the players who have been involved with the beta have copied, saved and shared their emergent improvements on Landmark’s tool set, so using the game’s copy and  paste function, you can stack up a structure pretty quickly.

Furthermore, you can even make money with your creations. You can build a dungeon filled with treasure and monsters and then charge players an admission fee to raid it. You can create skins and designs and flog them; the SOE executives at the preview told us the story of a college kid Stateside who’d made close to $12,000 off his creations.

While this is all quite fascinating, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee Landmark’s success. We’ll have to wait until release until the jury’s out on that. In the meantime, though, EverQuest’s tool-set looks incredibly appealing. If you’ve ever felt you’ve wanted to place your on stamp on an MMO but that your creative juices were corked, Landmark may be the fix you’re looking for.

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US Box Office Report

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Sun, 06/04/2014 - 19:35

Captain America: Winter Soldier storms to top spot with record April opening

By Rich Matthews

The Avengers' halo effect continues apace, with Disney/Marvel's sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier setting new April records with an domestic US opening of $96.2m. Add that to an international gross of $207.1m and Winter Soldier has already taken $303.3m worldwide, only $67m off the original Captain America: The First Avenger's total final gross of $370m.

Thor: The Dark World also profited from the success of the $1.5bn The Avengers, boosting its box office to $644.7m worldwide, compared to $449m for the first Thor in 2011. With Winter Soldier grossing $10m more in its first bow than the Thor sequel, you can expect it to easily double the original's final tally, especially given Cap 2's glowing critical reception, and establish itself as Marvel's third biggest movie, after The Avengers and Iron Man 3's $1.2bn.

All of this bodes well for both Marvel's second 2014 release, their biggest gamble yet, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Big Event of The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron next summer - Disney must secretly be eyeing the £2bn mark for its mega-sequel in 2015. Either way, The Winter Soldier has effectively kick-started the summer box office a whole month early, warming up the coffers in time for the still-early first swing of Sony's Marvel property The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on May 2 (which takes Cap's lead and opens in many international territories on Good Friday).

Marvel's success seemed to spring some leaks in Paramount's biblical epic, Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky, which declined 61.1 per cent to take $17m for a domestic total of $72.3m and a worldwide gross of $178m. The Russell Crowe vehicle may well have trouble staying afloat now at the US box office, but waters may be fairer internationally for some time.

Meanwhile, Lionsgate/Summit's YA adaptation Divergent isn't measuring up to either Twilight or The Hunger Games, but nonetheless held on at number three with a gross of £13m ($114m US, $136.4 global), and religion flick God's Not Dead kept the fait to add a further £7.7m to its collection plate ($32.5m). Wes Anderson's ensemble indie comedy hit The Grand Budapest Hotel added more than 200 extra locations to its run and $6.3m to its total gross (£33.4m US, $87.7m worldwide), but Disney sequel Muppets Most Wanted took nearly an identical amount for a disappointing $42.1m domestic tally and only $52.2 global.

Rounding out the top 10 at positions seven to 10 were Dreamworks Animations's Mr Peabody & Sherman ($5.3m, $102.2m, $238.7m), Arnold Schwarzenegger "comeback" flick Sabotage continuing to flop more than a floppy drive ($1.9m, $8.7m), Aaron Paul's video game adaptation/Fast & Furious knock-off Need for Speed ($1.8m, $40.8, $184.3m) and Liam Neeson busting-balls-on-a-plane thriller Non-Stop ($1.8m, $88.1m, $90.2m).

Next weekend is Fox's animated sequel Rio 2, while April 18 sees Johnny Depp getting his sci-fi on in Wally Pfister's mind-scrambling Transcendence. All the while, the Spider-Man sequel waits in the (s)wings to kick off summer proper on May 2.

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Screenjabber Wrestling Podcast 1: Come what mania

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Sat, 05/04/2014 - 16:59

On the eve of Wrestlemania 30 in New Orleans – the granddaddy of them all, the showcase of the immortals, the celebration of life – Screenjabber's wrestling crew Tom Mimnagh, Daniel Akinbola, Mike Loukoumis, Harry Kweku-Harrison and James Nicolaou discuss the biggest show of the year, the state of WWE, including the Daniel Bryan and Triple H match and how that could affect the landscape of wrestling, as well as a whole lot more.

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Screenjabber Podcast: There's Noah counting for taste

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Sat, 05/04/2014 - 14:49

Ahoy, mateys! This week join Peter Johnson, David Watson, Amon Warmann and host Stuart O'Connor for reviews of the new UK cinema releases Noah, Divergent, Rio 2, Honour and The Double.

You can listen to and download the podcast – or subscribe to it on iTunes ... plus you can follow us on Twitter and join us on Facebook.

PubQuest: We're looking to take the Screenjabber Pubcast on the road, and want your input. Know a great pub in London we should visit to record the show? Drop us a line and let us know.

WriterQuest: We're seeking some more writers, particularly those who want to cover video games for us. Please get in touch if you're keen.

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Documentary on work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson announced

Posted by Stuart OConnor | Thu, 03/04/2014 - 19:31

Network Distributing has completed a major new film about the work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the documentary Filmed In Supermarionation. The culturally iconic puppetry and animation technique developed by Gerry and Sylvia, Supermarionation was used in all their programmes throughout the 1960s – including Stingray, Captain Scarlet and, most famously, Thunderbirds.

Directed and produced by Stephen La Rivière (The Story Of Upstairs Downstairs, We Were The Champions), Filmed In Supermarionation is a screen adaptation of his book of the same name telling the story of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s TV productions using a wealth of previously unseen archive footage, new interviews with those involved, and clips from the shows themselves.

Filmed in Supermarionation will be released in atumn 2014.

Network managing director Tim Beddows said: "Having grown up with the series they created, I’m thrilled to present the story of how Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and their team of extraordinary filmmakers brought the most spectacular children's television to audiences around the world. They were genuine pioneers and it's a testament to their skills that, decades on, the shows continue to thrill new generations."

Director La Rivière said: "Despite being made in the 60s the Supermarionation shows have continually found new audiences. A large part of this is down to the incredible care with which they were made.

“For a long time it's been my hope to make this film and tell the pioneering story of the small team of filmmakers behind these shows; a team that was so desperate to make 'proper' grown up films that they utilised all their ingenuity to push forward the then limited arts of puppetry and special effects and in the process inadvertently changed film history."

Network also holds the UK home entertainment rights to Four Feather Falls, Supercar, Fireball XL5 and The Secret Service, all classic examples of the developing Supermarionation technique.

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