Stuart’s Top 100 Games of the Last Generation Part Eight: #55 – #41

December 24, 2013

#55 – Street Fighter 4 (Xbox 360, 2009)Street_Fighter_IV

When Street Fighter 4 arrived in 2009, it gave the fighting game genre a much-needed shot in the arm.

Like I’ve said before, these games – led by the likes of Tekken and Virtua Fighter – had become over-complicated bores that only “enthusiasts” could enjoy.

But SF4 brought back a more simple style, with easy to remember move combinations and the ability for normal people to actually play it.

Sure, if you practiced you could become far better than a casual player (my brother put in the hours and became a lot better than me at it) but this was something fun for everyone.

#54 – Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (Xbox 360, 2006)

Call of Duty might be king now, but back when the Xbox 360 first came out, GRAW was the game to play.Ghost_Recon_Advanced_Warfighter_cover

Good maps, easy to set up death matches and – crucially – split screen online multiplayer for up to four people, GRAW was the first true classic game of this generation.

Mind you, it’ll be incredibly dated by now.

#53 – Project Gotham Racing 4 (Xbox 360, 2007)

Considering that Project Gotham Racing seemed like one of Microsoft’s top franchises, it was a surprise and a disappointment that it never saw a fifth incarnation in the last gaming generation.PGR4boxart

Like Street Fighter 4, PGR offered an alternative to the more intense and far less interesting games of its genre like Forza or Gran Turismo.

And while it wasn’t as sharp as the likes of the DiRT series in terms of gameplay, the urban settings and variety of cars made it a worthy inclusion to this list.

#52 – Orcs Must Die (PC, 2011)

Where Orcs Must Die differs from most Tower Defence games is that it offers a Third Person view rather than the more traditional Top Down one.OMD

Now that doesn’t make it the best one, but it’s certainly different and it makes for a more varied playing style.

It’s fun, it’s simple and it looks good.

#51 – Costume Quest (Xbox Live Arcade, 2010)

The term I would use to describe Costume Quest is charming.Costume-quest-cover

Just look at the box art!

But it’s also a neat little game, and the perfect example of the sort of thing that Xbox Live Arcade did best.

Playing through this seasonal RPG wouldn’t take long, but what time you did have with it was enjoyable.

#50 Buzz! Quiz TV (PS3, 2008)

This type of game seems to have died off now, which is a shame, but Buzz! Quiz TV was the genre at its peak.Buzz_Quiz_TV

While games like the original Buzz, Trivial Pursuit and Scene It were all ones that you could enjoy playing at any get-together, they tended to run out of steam once you’d burned through the questions after a few play-throughs.

Where Buzz! Quiz TV excelled was in the online mode. You could play against another party online or have a go at some of the quizzes that people had uploaded to the internet.

You could even make your own quizzes to let your friends play. Oh we had some fun with that one.

#49 – Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (Xbox 360, 2010)

A worthy attempt to bring a Mario Kart style game to other consoles, this game had plenty of recognisable characters and locations to race through.SandS

If I was to criticise it though, I’d say that it was too easy.

Really, no matter what happened to you during the race, the chances are that by the end of it you’d still win.

A nice try, but Mario Kart still holds the crown.

#48 – Plants vs Zombies (Xbox Live Arcade, 2010)

Whoever came up with the idea for this game clearly doesn’t play with a full deck of cards, if you know what I mean.PVZ

But what an idea it is.

Plants vs Zombies can be quite a tense affair, as you await enough sunbeams to buy more items, and it also requires a fair amount of strategy and reasoning.

Put simply, there’s a reason why it’s as popular as it is.

#47 – Tiger Woods (Xbox 360, various)

I go through phases of wanting to play golf games; I find them relaxing.TW

But I haven’t bought a Tiger Woods game for a few years now as there just didn’t seem to be any point. The golfers were always the same, and the courses seemed to be the same as well.

The main difference between each release was that sometimes EA decided to add or tweak a feature that made the whole thing seem a lot worse.

When they got it right though, it was the most realistic golf game out there.

#46 – Zoo Keeper (Nintendo DS, 2005)

Nowadays people would probably play Zoo Keeper and consider it a Candy Crush Saga knock-off, which is getting things arse-about-face.ZK

While not in any way as deep or as challenging as the Facebook favourite, Zoo Keeper allowed you to play against someone, which is reason enough to include it on the list.

You can still get this on your tablet/smartphone and it’s good for a quick game now and again.

#45 – New Super Mario Brothers Wii (Nintendo Wii, 2009)

Before I got the newest side scrolling Mario game for the Wii U, it seemed to me like the 2D Mario series was running out of steam.New_Super_Mario_Bros_Wii_Logo

That’s not to say that New Super Mario Brothers Wii wasn’t good – of course it was – but a Mario platformer shouldn’t really feature as low down the list as this.

Thankfully Nintendo got their act together again recently.

#44 – Guinness World Records: The Video Game (Nintendo Wii, 2008)

Last month we had people round to watch the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special, and then after it was done we wanted to play some video games.GWR

It’s telling that the game we chose to play was Guinness World Records.

Though not the sort of release that gets much mainstream attention, GWR offers a massive amount of mini-games to get through, and presents them in a way that anyone can get the hang of instantly.

There’s not much to it, but it’s enduringly excellent.

#43 – Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (Xbox 360, 2008)

Undoubtedly one of the most underrated and underappreciated games of the last genre, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is well worth your time.BKNAB

I guess one of the reasons people don’t talk about it in the same wistful way as the first two BK games is because it changed the formula to be about crazy vehicle building rather than pure platforming.

And I won’t lie, I would rather it had been that way too, but what we got was more than ok in my book.

It looked fantastic as well.

#42 – Super Paper Mario (Nintendo Wii, 2007)

While not a patch on perhaps the best game of the previous generation – Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door – this is obviously still a very good effort.Super_Paper_Mario_cover

I tend to find though that the Paper Mario games require a bit of patience to start off with though, and if I recall correctly, I actually gave up on this before going back for more a month or two later.

I’m glad I did.

#41 – Kingdom Rush HD (iOS/Android, 2011)

I got a text from a friend of mine saying he’d bought an Android tablet and was looking for some recommendations for games.kingdomrush

I instantly said Kingdom Rush.

I’d never actually played a Tower Defence game before I gave this a go last year whilst struck down with the flu, but I was hugely impressed.

Indeed, for a couple of days, Kingdom Rush was my life.

Notice though I said “A couple of days”. Replay value isn’t the best for this, and that’s why it’s only the third highest mobile game on my list.

And One That Doesn’t Make It – Total War: Shogun 2

I gave this game a go as it got such high reviews, but sadly, I just found it dreary and not in the least bit fun.5331Total-War-Shogun-2-packshot

Oh, and a PC resource hog too.

Not for me, thank you.

Get Involved In The Debate

Stuart Reviews Stuff is a free entertainment blog. If you enjoyed this or any other article on the site, please consider taking a moment to Like the official Facebook page. You can do that by clicking like on the side panel, or visiting the site here

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Five Things That Piss Me Off About FIFA 14

December 16, 2013

If you like football then the game with probably the most replay value – in that you can play it with friends and it’ll never get even slightly boring – is FIFA.

Having moved onto FIFA from the sinking ship of PES a few years ago, I’ve bought it every year and more than gotten my money’s worth from them.

And the same is true of FIFA 14. Though I’m still waiting for my mates to catch up and buy their PS4s and PS Plus subscriptions, I’m having a mostly good time playing online Seasons mode – or in other words, ranked matches – with random people online.

But that doesn’t mean the game is perfect; of course it’s not. In fact, it’s bloody frustrating at times.

So here’s a list of five things that are really grinding my gears with FIFA 14. Some are long term issues, others are specific to this new version.

1.  Gameplay Issues

While FIFA 14 has done a good job of improving certain issues – like for example the annoying one where throw-ins could almost always be intercepted – there are still plenty of niggles that remain.FIFA 14 Logo

For example, the randomness of Corner Kicks is still a thing. There are times where a corner will come into the box and no matter what you do as a defender, you can’t intercept it before your opponent heads it into the back of the net. And sure, sometimes you’ll benefit from it too – it’s completely 50/50. But it’s equally frustrating when you’re the attacking team and scoring from the corner seems to rely upon the AI moving your player into a position from which he can score. I’d love it if there was actual skill involved there.

There are other gameplay issues too.

What about the ridiculousness of the over-the-top through ball? I was playing against a guy yesterday whose only move was to hit a long ball from the back. Three times he managed to get a man through on goal to score, because the aut0-switching of defenders means that when control switches to your defender, he then stops his AI assisted run and is essentially taken out of play. Thankfully I won the game 5-3, but that’s not the point.

And then there’s the issue with poorer teams. I’d love to play as my team – Dundee United – but because they are only 2.5 stars, it means by the laws of football games these players are slow and untalented. You don’t get fast players anywhere but at the very top level it would seem.

2. Imbalanced Teams

I accept that when you play ranked games, people tend to want to play as the best teams.

But with FIFA 14 this is bugging me.

I’m not the sort of person who wants to play as Real Madrid or Barcelona all the time; I’d rather play as 3 to 4.5 star team.

What I’ve noticed though is that no matter who I pick, I end up playing against a higher star opposition.

So for example, if I play as 4 Star FC Shakhtar, I’ll never play against another 4 star team. Instead, I get put against teams like Liverpool (4.5 star) or Man City (5 star).

The most frustrating one was when I chose 3.5 Star Toulouse and ended up being put against Liverpool again. Because of the way FIFA works, I’m instantly in a position where it’s unlikely I’ll win if my opponent is in any way decent.

The only way to ensure you don’t get put against a noticeably better team therefore is, depressingly, to play as a team like Real Madrid.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

3. Inability To Mute Opponents

This isn’t a FIFA specific problem; it’s just that FIFA is the only game I’ve played much online on my PS4.

And I’m sure there must be a way to sort it, but I’ve yet to find the solution.

The problem? Players who decide to use their microphones while playing FIFA. And they always seem to be French or German.

Listen buddy, I don’t want to hear you have a conversation with your wife. I want to listen to sound of the actual game, not the sound of you.

I can’t even begin to understand the mindset of people who use the mic when playing against strangers anyway. Total weirdos.

The worst one was playing against some French dude who was playing FIFA while listening to loud French Hip-hop music. And it meant that I had to listen to that too, because the sound of the game was completely drowned out. He didn’t even utter a word either, which begs the question of why his mic was even on? I ended up having to just turn the sound down.

Come on Sony, give me a means of sorting this problem.

4. You Can’t Quit

Even if you quit a game of FIFA before you’ve kicked off, it gets counted as a defeat.

Now on the one hand, that’s fair enough. There’s nothing more irritating than rage quitters or – as was the case with the Xbox 360 version – players who’d quit if you scored before the five-minute mark of the game knowing it wouldn’t be counted as a defeat.

But there was a reason why players were able to quit in those first five minutes, and that was because of issues like lag or situations described above. If I start a game and find I’m a 3 star team up against a 5 star one, or if I hear the person I’m playing screaming down the microphone, or if the game is unplayable because my opponent has what appears to be a dial-up internet connection from the 1990s, I should be able to quit before a ball is kicked, no questions asked.

If I decide to quit after the game has started properly, then fair enough, but before it’s even started I shouldn’t be marked down for it.

5. People Who Watch Cut Scenes And Replays

I’m sure this will annoy almost everyone; the sort of dickhead who decides to watch every cut scene and replay.

Thankfully I haven’t been up against anyone who wants to watch the teams coming out yet, but watching extended replays of goals? That happens almost every time.

Now I have absolutely no problem with someone who wants to watch the replay of a good goal – a piledriver from 40 yards or an overhead volley is worth seeing again – but it’s the type of prick who wants to watch three different replays of a clumsy goal-line stramash or a basic one-on-one.

What’s wrong with these people?

Are they trying to noise me up or are they just weirdos?

There was one example of a guy who went 3-0 up on me and watched the replay of every single goal. And none of them were remotely exciting. When I scored my first and second goals to get back into it I just skipped the replays as I normally do, but believe me, when I scored my 3rd in the 89th minute and the winner in the 93rd, I made sure to milk every last drop out of those replays. It made my victory all the sweeter. The prick.

Are you a replay watcher or skipper? Be honest.

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Stuart’s Top 100 Games of the Last Generation Part Seven: #65 – #56

December 13, 2013

#65 Sega Superstars Tennis (Xbox 360, 2008)

tennis

Apart from local multiplayer, do you know what this generation lacked? It lacked fun and simple versions of Sports games.

The Nintendo Gamecube and Nintendo 64 were first class for games like the “Mario” versions of Tennis, Golf, Baseball and Soccer, but sadly – but for one example later in the list – none of them made their way to the Wii.

Meanwhile, over on the Xbox 360, we made do with the Sega games, and one such example was Sega Superstars Tennis.

Now like I said in the previous entry, tennis games are a bit samey, but what sets this above the likes of Top Spin and Virtua Tennis is that it’s cartoony simplicity often made it a more enjoyable game to play.

#64 Risk Factions (Xbox Live Arcade, 2011)RISK-Factions_XBLAboxart_160w

Just like Monopoly Streets, Risk Factions brought a classic board game to our screens.

Apart from being a better board game in my opinion, Factions also added a nice twist to the tried and tested Risk formula, with tweaks to the gameplay and ways to win.

It also has an easy but fun single player mode too.

Well worth your time.

#63 – Monkey Island Remastered (Xbox Live Arcade, 2009)Secret-of-Monkey-Island_XBLA

Though this is just an old game remade to look better and have character vocals, it still deserves its place in the list.

I don’t think I’d ever gone to the trouble to complete Monkey Island before I played it on the 360, but I enjoyed it.

Having said that, it’s not the best point and click adventure game out there, despite what shows like Charlie Brooker’s “How Video Games Changed The World” suggests.

Give me Day of the Tentacle any day.

#62 – Stick Stunt Biker (Android, 2011)ssb

Like I said in Part Six, as good as Trials HD is, there’s a far simpler version of the game that it a lot better.

And that is Stick Stunt Biker.

One of these games that you can play anywhere on your phone, for a quick 30 second blitz or for hours on end, Stick Stunt Biker is a lot of fun.

But it’s also frustrating. It can be difficult, and unlike Trials HD, there are no checkpoints; you mess up right before the finish line, you have to start all over again.

That just makes completing the tough levels all the more satisfying.

#61 – Beautiful Katamari (Xbox 360, 2o07)katamari

While Beautiful Katamari isn’t much of a departure from the original Japanese PS2 games, it still stands on its own merits.

Using only the left and right control sticks, your aim is essentially to roll up as many things in a ball as possible.

Now that might sound like a silly idea, but silly ideas are the basis for many of the best games ever made.

There’s just something wonderfully relaxing about starting off as a 1 inch ball and ending up with one so big that it engulfs the entire universe.

And it’s got a couple of superb pieces of incidental music too.

#60 – Words With Friends (Various, 2010)wwf_logo2

I had thought about not including Facebook games, but since my first experience with Words With Friends was using my phone, and since I’ve included other phone games on this list, it deserves to be here.

Taking Scrabble and making it portable so you can play online against friends anywhere on the globe using your phone, tablet or PC is ingenious.

The only problem with it is that people cheat.

And there’s no way of proving it.

So ultimately it just gets a bit tiresome.

#59 – 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character (PS Vita, 2011)RotatingOctopusTitle

Though this came out in 2011, I only recently got into it having downloaded it for free as part of my PS Plus membership.

This is what gaming should be, in my opinion.

Developers can spend so much time on making games look amazing, and so little time on making them enjoyable to play (*cough* GTA *cough*).

2d Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character looks like a NES game and it plays like it too, but that’s a compliment.halo reach

A throwback to simple-yet-challenging and charming gaming, it’s tough, but absorbing.

#58 – Halo Reach (Xbox 360, 2010)

This should have been the end of the story for the Spartan crew, but alas it wasn’t.

A tough, impressive looking single player game with what I thought was a satisfying conclusion; it did was many of the previous Halo games didn’t do, in that it added a bit of variety in location and enemies.

The multiplayer stuff was crap though.bioshock

#57 – Bioshock (Xbox 360, 2007)

When it first came out, Bioshock felt like a real step forward in gaming graphics.

Moreover, it looked different; the setting and atmosphere had a real freshness about it.

And above and beyond that, as limited as the game was in play time, and though it had no replay value whatsoever, it was still a well told story with strong gaming mechanics.

If only they’d left it there…

#56 – Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360, 2009)arkham

While I don’t usually like grim-looking games, Arkham Asylum is an exception.

And indeed it’s an exceptional game on the whole, with varied gameplay and interesting and familiar enemies to face.

Writing about it reminds me that I need to play the sequel. One of these days…

And One That Doesn’t Make It…

BioShock Infinite (Xbox 360, 2013)

I just don’t get the hype about Bioshock Infinite.bioshockinf

People loved it; it got top marks all over the internet and was touted as 2013’s Game of the Year.

Eh?!

Sure, it looked good, but it just wasn’t fun. It’s like they’d taken the original Bioshock, stripped most of the interesting stuff from it and lazily tried to extend the brand.

For me, the combat mechanics were dreadful, and it was one of these games that gave the impression that you had this amazing open world to travel through, but the reality of the situation was you were moving in exactly the direction they wanted you to.

Utterly boring and a waste of time.

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Stuart Reviews Stuff is a free entertainment blog. If you enjoyed this or any other article on the site, please consider taking a moment to Like the official Facebook page. You can do that by clicking like on the side panel, or visiting the site here

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Stuart’s Top 100 Games of the Last Generation Part Six: #70 – #66

December 11, 2013

#70 – Bit Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien  (PC – 2013)btr

From the same sub-genre of the side scrolling platformer as Food Run, Runner 2 is a game where the character is constantly moving and your job as the player is to get him past a series of increasingly difficult obstacles, whether it be by

jumping, sliding, crouching or shielding.

I found the gameplay challenging and more-ish, and where it really hit the spot for me was in the bright, colourful and well realised graphics.

A steal at £5 in the Steam Sale.

What a stupid name for a game thoughHeavy_Rain_Cover_Art

#69 – Heavy Rain (PS3, 2010)

There weren’t too many reasons to play the PS3 – especially if you had an Xbox 360 – but Heavy Rain was one of them.

Much like The Walking Dead, this is an interactive story, but unlike The Walking Dead, you feel as though what you do makes a difference.

And there’s more to it as well in terms of actually playing the game rather than just watching cut-scenes.mono

#68 – Monopoly Streets (Xbox 360,  2010)

It’s Monopoly for your console, plain and simple.

If you like the board game, you’ll like this, and what’s more, it allows you to play on your own or with friends.

Plus there’s none of that crap where you’ve lost any of the pieces or a bad loser ends up flipping the board over and storms off in a huff.

#67 – Top Spin/Virtua Tennis (Xbox 360)TS3

A tennis game is a tennis game.

They’ve been the same for years.

Oh sure, you can get a bad tennis game – like for example the painfully average variation in GTA5 – but the likes of Top Spin and Virtua Tennis have been providing quality court action for years. The versions that came out in 2008 are essentially the same games as the ones that game out in 2005 and 2013, just with different graphics.

To me, there’s nothing to separate them, and so I have them as a tie.

#66 – Trials HD (Xbox Live Arcade, 2009)Trialshd

I’m sure lots of you will be miffed at how low this is on the list – I know my brother will be – but while I enjoy Trials HD, I don’t find it quite as good as the majority seem to.

No doubt it’s very deep – for those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s a side scrolling BMX game where you must get to the end of a course, often involving ridiculous jumps or climbs – but I found the visuals to be a bit samey and the online multiplayer to be lacking in much substance.

It’s good, challenging fun though with a steep difficulty level. To get to the end of Trials HD is to feel as though you’ve achieved something.

There’ s a certain irony though that as in-depth as Trials HD is, a far simpler variation on the theme will appear in my next article.

Still, it’s a lot better than…

One That Doesn’t Make It: Joe Danger

I should prefer Joe Danger to Trials HD because it’s everything I like in terms of colour etc, but the gameplay just left me cold.

I feel as though I’m blind to what everyone else can see in it.


Movies: Frozen Review (or “Who’d Have Thought Kristen Bell Was Such A Good Singer?”)

December 6, 2013

So having just said in my review of Saving Mr Banks that I don’t go out of my way to see Disney films, today I went out of my way to see the first showing of the entertainment giant’s latest effort, Frozen.

Nothing like consistency then, eh?

Frozen Review: What’s It About?

Frozen – the 53rd feature-length presentation from the Disney Animation Studios –  tells the story of a fearless princess who sets off on an epic journey alongside a rugged mountain man, his loyal pet reindeer with whom he has a rather odd relationship with (some might say he’s mentally ill but I doubt that’s what they were going for) and a hapless snowman to find her estranged sister, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.

Frozen Review: Who’s In It?

Frozen features the voice talents of the likes of Kristen Bell and…er…some other people I’ve never heard of.

Frozen Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

Pretty highly. It gets 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, 8.1 on imdb from just under 10,000 votes and it’s getting universal praise in the press.

Frozen Review: My Thoughts

I was going to say that it’s been some time since I’d seen a film from the Walt Disney Animation Studios (i.e. not Pixar), but then I realised that I actually went along to see the 52nd one – Wreck It Ralph – earlier this year.FROZN_014M_G_ENG-GB_70x100.indd

Certainly it’s the first musical one I’ve seen from Disney at the cinema in a hell of a long time. We’re talking The Lion King almost 20 years ago.

So it was an interesting change.

I mean, sure, the plots of these Disney films are straight out of a cookie-cutter mould, with the basic format being “Protagonist goes on adventure with some kind of loveable/wacky sidekick”, and this was no different.

But that’s ok; I enjoyed it. The plot moved along at a reasonably brisk pace, the characters were all likeable and there were plenty of funny moments, with jokes for both the adults and children in the audience to enjoy. I actually found myself chuckling quite a lot through it – thanks in particular to Olaf the Snowman – which was a nice surprise.

And of course it had the usual soppy ending that you’d have to have a heart of stone not to enjoy.

It did have issues, in particular with the left-field reveal of the villain out of nowhere, but these can be forgiven.

Plot and dialogue aside though, there was also plenty more to enjoy.

For example, the songs were all pretty catchy and I was bowled over by how good a singer Kristen Bell actually is. During the film I felt the need to look up online whether it was her singing or whether Disney had replaced her for the songs with one of their Mousewitz slaves, but it was her, and she was excellent.

I did find it amusing though that a wholesome Disney flick featured a song about how it’s ok to break up a couple who are engaged to be married because they haven’t made their relationship official yet. That seemed to tip over the edge of immortality in a way you wouldn’t expect.

The other aspect I would go out of my way to praise is the animation, which was stunning. I’ve never seen ice drawn in such a realistic way. Honestly, you have to see it to believe how good it is; comfortably the most advanced animation I’ve ever seen. My brother loves water and ice effects in video games as they are often the hardest parts to do well; he’d be in heaven watching this.

Anyway, Frozen also comes with a fantastic support act in the form of a new Mickey Mouse animated short at the start called “Get A Horse”.

What starts off as a very old-fashioned black & white Mickey Mouse cartoon from the Steamboat Willie age – it’s presented in 4:3 ratio and even has Walt Disney doing the voice – comes with a twist. What is the twist? Well I wouldn’t want to spoil it for those who plan on going along to see it, because it’s a nice little surprise. And it makes great use of the 3D in which Frozen is presented.

It’s a bit strange that Disney have put this Mickey Mouse cartoon on first with no fanfare at all – I read earlier that it’s the equivalent of going to a Michael Buble concert and finding out Dean Martin is the support act – but that’s the decision Disney made. I imagine some people would pay to see Frozen just so they could see Get a Horse.

I’ve attached a preview clip below.

Frozen Review: Final Thoughts

Combining the best 3D animation of the present day with the traditional feel of a Disney Musical rarely seen since the 1990s, I found Frozen to be a surprisingly enjoyable film.

It’s not the best film I’ve seen all year by any means, but for its genre it was impressive.

Definitely one to see if you have the time, or have kids that need entertained for a couple of hours.


Movies: Saving Mr Banks Review (or “The Writers of Hitchcock Should Watch This And Learn”)

December 4, 2013

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a Disneyphile – their movies aren’t necessarily ones I would go out of my way to watch – but I love Walt Disney World and I have some pretty nifty memorabilia kicking about my house. Above my desk here for example I have framed old-fashioned attraction posters for Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain.

On top of that, I’ve always had an interest in the stories behind how films or TV shows are made. They tend to be – or at least have the potential to be – good period pieces that tell an absorbing tale.

So Saving Mr. Banks is one picture I’ve been looking forward to seeing…even though I haven’t seen Mary Poppins in almost 20 years.

Saving Mr Banks Review: What’s It About?

The true story of Walt Disney’s attempts to woo the writer of Mary Poppins – Mrs P. L. Travers – into handing over the rights to the movie.

Through a series of flashbacks to her childhood, we discover that the relationship between her and her father plays a major part in her hesitance to let Disney take the project on.

Saving Mr. Banks Review: Who’s In It?

Starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Travers, it also includes recognisable names like Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), B. J. Novak (The Office), Ruth Wilson (Luther – and it was bugging me not being able to placeSaving_Mr._Banks_Theatrical_Poster her in the cinema) and Hollywood stars Colin Farrell and Paul Giamatti.

So a pretty strong cast then.

Saving Mr. Banks Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

Well received by the critics, but with comparatively few votes on the big websites, Saving Mr Banks gets 7.5/10 on imdb and a 92% audience appreciation figure on Rotten Tomatoes

Thoughts – The Flashback Necessity

Earlier this year I was excited to see Hitchcock, as to me that was a story that had potential. But instead of focusing on how Psycho was brought to the screen – which was what it was marketed as – it instead wasted so much time on Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife, and as a result, what was supposed to be the main thrust of the plot took a back seat.

So that was in the back of my mind when going to see Saving Mr. Banks.

But thankfully, my worries were unfounded.

While Saving Mr. Banks devotes around half the screen time to flashbacks of Travers’s childhood in Australia at the turn of the 20th century and her relationship with her alcoholic dreamer of a father (the impressive Colin Farrell), it was necessary to the movement of the plot – as well as the motives and reasoning behind her manner in her adult life – and meant there was a continuous flow to the movie.

And those flashback scenes that showed the gradual decline of her father and the way the younger her coped with it, were actually quite emotional. Nicely done.

The Disney Stuff

Key to the quality of Saving Mr Banks though is the stuff set in 1960s Los Angeles at the Disney studios.

The first thing that struck me was the costume and set design, which seemed spot on. But would you expect anything less from a collaboration between Walt Disney Studios and BBC Films?

In particular, I thought the way they managed to transform Disneyland so it looked like it did back in the early 60s was fascinating. Even the little things like the more primitive cuddly toys were done right.

The casting too was top-notch, with Hanks and Thompson both playing their leading roles with aplomb. Though it’s difficult not to look at Hanks and just think “That’s Tom Hanks with a Walt Disney moustache”, you’ve still got to admire him as an actor. Looks aside, he’s completely different in this to his performance in Captain Phillips.

But it wasn’t just them; the rest of the cast all brought something to the table and it’s great to see Bradley Whitford – my favourite West Wing actor my a distance – back on our screens.

Aoart from all of that though, Saving Mr Banks succeeded where Hitchcock failed in my opinion in that it managed to be about what it said it was about; the story of the making of Mary Poppins.

That’s what drove the plot along, and that’s where the most interesting parts of the movie were. Travers’s objections to casting, animation, word choice, songs and even the colour red were intriguing – especially knowing how Mary Poppins turned out – and the exasperation of her American opponents at Disney to her objectionable behaviour was amusing.

If I was to criticise it for anything though, it would be that the ending perhaps didn’t reflect reality, with Travers ultimately being happy with the film. As far as I’m aware, she wasn’t – especially with the animation – and thus refused to work with Disney again.

But I suppose it’s a Disney film, so while they did a good job of showing the story from both sides up to a point, they were never going to finish it on the note of “Wow, Walt Disney double crossed her; what a bastard”. I mean…they refused to even show the man smoking – a key part of who he was and ultimately how he died – although they got round that by having him coughing his smoker’s cough as he approached rooms or when he was out of shot. And I bet they only agreed to that through gritted teeth!

Regardless though, it didn’t spoil the tone of the film or my enjoyment.

Saving Mr Banks Review: Final Thoughts

Going all the way back to the first movie review I did back in January 2011, I’ve stressed how important the Clock Test is. There’s no greater compliment I can give a film than that I was able to sit through it and stay captivated without checking my watch at any point.

And that’s what happened with Saving Mr Banks.

The time flew past.

I found it a highly enjoyable movie and would recommend it to anyone who appreciates good storytelling, period design or has an interest in the development of a film like Mary Poppins.

Great stuff.