England’s World Cup 2018 Squad – As Picked By John Websell

John was feeling lazy and couldn’t be bothered to write up his England 23 for this blog (boooo), however his pick for Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions squad can be seen below.

  1. Jordan Pickford
  2. Jack Butland
  3. Nick Pope
  4. Kyle Walker
  5. Kieran Trippier
  6. Danny Rose
  7. Ryan Sessegnon
  8. Phil Jones
  9. Chris Smalling
  10. Harry Maguire
  11. John Stones
  12. Eric Dier
  13. Jack Wilshere
  14. Jordan Henderson
  15. Adam Lallana
  16. Fabian Delph
  17. Dele Alli
  18. Jeese Lingard
  19. Raheem Sterling
  20. Harry Kane
  21. Marcus Rashford
  22. Glen Murray
  23. Jamie Vardy

But who do you think should go? Review all three of our squad’s, and let us know in the comments below.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Latest Posts

England World Cup 2018 Squad – Rich Websell’s Final 23

So following on from Paul’s final 23, here are my picks to go to the 2018 world cup finals in Russia next month, Gareth Southgate finalises his squad tomorrow and i’m fairly sure it will look a fair bit different to mine!

So first up the keepers;

Not a position we are exactly blessed in right now, but the three I have selected below are all capable of doing a good job for England in next month’s showpiece.

Jordan Pickford – He would be my choice to start in the first game against Tunisia, had a decent season with Everton culminating with him winning their player of the season award, good with his feet, and a decent shotstopper.

Jack Butland – A decent goalkeeper who despite having a difficult season with relegated Stoke City, should have done himself enough to earn a place in the squad, most likely as second choice behind the aforementioned Pickford.

Nick Pope – Had an absolutely brilliant season with Burnley, and in terms of stats, has been the best English keeper by some distance, have picked him ahead of the more experienced Joe Hart, as is in much better form, and this trumps experience for me, you need to send 23 players in at least some sort of form.

 

Now on to the defenders;

Just as with every position in the England squad, a rather alarming lack of depth is our Achilles heel, particularly in the centre of defence, so often in the past a position of strength, now really having to make do with promising youngsters and decent if not top class Premier League operators.

Kieran Trippier – Had a solid if unspectacular season with Spurs, an excellent crosser of the ball who is always willing to get forward, and does offer England real threat with this crossing delivery, weakness would be that he tends to be defensively massively exposed when coming up against real pace and quality, as Leroy Sane has shown twice this season for Man City.

Trent Alexander Arnold – A real breakout season with Liverpool, been a regular for his club side particularly in the latter part of the season, and like Tripper above, will be a real threat for the three lions going froward, alas also like Tripper his weakness is on the defensive side of his game, really struggles in the second leg of the champions league semi-final against Roma.

Kyle Walker – One of the first names on the team sheet, the only decision to make will be whether he lines up at right back or right centre back, which is where Southgate played him in the friendly against The Netherlands recently. Has been consistently excellent for Man City this season, as well as the previous few seasons with Spurs that preceded it. A pacey powerhouse, good going forward and defensively, with the only real weakness the odd lapse in concentration, which he has markedly improved on in the last couple of years.

Danny Rose – An injury hit season has left his world cup dream in some doubt, however his searing pace and his generally decent defending would see him on that plane in my opinion. Has played enough football to mean he should be match fit, and could maybe come into this tournament feeling fresh.

Ryan Bertrand – Solid if unspectacular choice, but a player who will never let England down, and has a decent season despite playing for a club fighting relegation. Adept going forward, with a good delivery on his crosses, only suffering a little on the defensive side like most of the players mentioned above!

Phil Jones – An Injury ravaged player, but he has managed to play fairly consistently under Jose Mourinho this past season, and has given pretty assured performances when picked. Big, strong, good on the ball and a natural born leader, these are qualities Southgate needs in Russia, and if Jones can manage to stay fit.

Harry Maguire – Coming off the back of A great season with his club Leicester City, Maguire deserves to be in this squad, and quite possibly to start the first game against Tunisia. A real unit, very good in the air, and also capable on the ball, just a worry about his lack of pace against the really top teams.

John Stones – Started the season off so well for the champions, unfortunately injury and a slight drop in form meant that after the turn of the year, Stones has found it difficult to force his way into Pep Guardiola’s plans. Still a classy operator who is probably one of the best ball playing centre backs anywhere in Europe, however a penchant for making silly errors is something he has yet to eradicate from his game.

 

Next up then, we move onto the midfield;

To be honest this is probably the weakest area we have in terms of real quality, especially in lacking that real start quality in terms of a ball playing central midfielder, a real shame in that Spurs Harry Winks has had the second half of his season totally ruined by an ankle problem, meaning he will almost certainly miss the World Cup.

Eric Dier – Still yet to find his best position, been rotated between centre back and centre midfield for both club and country in the last few years, I would say he looks at his best within a 3 man central defence, or as a destroyer in the centre of the park. Dier possesses a decent range of passing, and is strong in the tackle, however can be ponderous in possession at times and his positional sense needs work when operating at the back.

Ryan Sessegnon – My wildcard pick for the tournament, had an unbelievable season in the championship with Fulham, and looks like he could be the next Gareth Bale in terms of pace and power, and a knack of scoring brilliant goals. only 17, but can play anywhere on the left hand side, and with lack of options in that position for England, might be worth a punt.

Jack Wilshere – At the time of writing it looks like Wilshere will not be going to this summer’s showpiece, with early reports suggesting he has already been told of his omission. I believe this to be an incorrect decision (and this coming from a Spurs fan!) Despite his well documented injury problems, he has the ability in that midfield area, that few others eligible to play for England possess, i.e picking a pass from that deeper lying central midfield position, a loss of form in the second part of the season llook to have curtailed his hopes, but I would have picked him in my 23, if not necessarily starting.

Jesse Lingard – Had a great season with Manchester Utd, scoring important goals, and always looking like a threat in and around the opposition penalty area. Has come on leaps and bounds this season, and could well find himself in the starting lineup come June 18th.

Dele Alli – Has been I think unfairly criticised far too much this season, a lot of this stems from the quality he has shown in the preceding two seasons, however he has still returned an impressive goals and assists tally in all competitions, and if he and Kane can link up for country as they do for club so well, this could be a potent weapon for England in the tournament.

Ruben Loftus Cheek – A brilliant man of the match display for England in a friendly with world champions Germany at the end of 2017 really laid down a marker, despite suffering a substantial period out due to injury, he has come back with a bang and been an integral part of Crystal Palace’s massive upturn in form in the latter part of the season.

Jordan Henderson – A possibility to be captain this summer, fighting it out with Kane, Henderson has had a very good season with Liverpool, and is likely to be one of the first names on Southgate’s teamsheet. A real leader with a unheralded decent range of passing, he will likely be an integral part should England manage to go far.

Jonjo Shelvey – A player very unlikely to be picked, as has not been considered by Gareth Southgate in any of his previous squads, however he is the real in form player in that central midfield right now, not just out of England qualified players but in all of the Premier League. A great range of long and short passing, and a decent engine, with a questionable disciplinary record and lack of positional sense likely to count against him, I however think that an in form player like this would be perfect against Tunisia and Panama, in terms of unlocking tightly packed defenses.

 

And finally the forwards;

We actually get to a part of the team where England are actually pretty well stocked with top quality talent! It’s unbelievable stuff here Jeff;

Raheem Sterling – This player has had a quite frankly brilliant season for the champions Manchester City, scoring 18 premier league goals, by far his best return, and also registering a decent number of assists. Good to see a player finally fulfilling his undoubted potential,  and could form part of a high quality England attack.

Marcus Rashford – A player who can find himself a little hard done by throughout the course of the season, a great young talent with a knack for scoring important goals, like the two he registered against Liverpool, has the misfortune of playing under the perennial ‘young player killer’ in old Jose. Could still be a very important cog in this England team.

Jamie Vardy – Another player coming off the back of a very good season with his club, where he registered an impressive 20 premier league goals. Could be a real potent weapon coming off the bench, with that explosive pace and quality finishing.

Harry Kane – The undisputed leader of the England attack, and for me, the number one choice for the captains armband. Has had another remarkable season in front of goal, registering 40 in all competitions, this put’s him in the exulted company of Messi and Ronaldo, if England are to do well, Kane will need to fire, and if this happens, he could be adding a World Cup golden boot to his ever growing list of personal achievements.

 

So there we go, my squad in all it’s spirit of 66 glory; my England prediction is to get to the quarter finals, and probably lose on penalties, although after the shambles of the last two major tournaments, I think that would be a good result!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Latest Posts

England’s World Cup Squad – As Picked by Paul Websell

With Gareth Southgate set to name his 23 man England squad tomorrow for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the three Websell brothers have picked what we believe should be Southgate’s Three Lions, to give ourselves the best chance to get that last 16 showing we all know England are capable of.

Paul’s England Squad

1) Jordan Pickford – For me, Pickford has to be England’s number 1 in goal in Russia. One of the few positives for a pretty miserable season for Everton, Pickford has proven to be more reliable than any other English keeper (let’s pretend that performance against West Ham on Sunday didn’t happen), and suits Southgate’s style of play.

2) Jack Butland – Butland has been pretty inconsistent in goal for Stoke this season, but is an excellent shot stopper at times, and more than capable as Pickford’s backup.

3) Joe Hart – All the media reports coming out recently is that Hart won’t be picked, so this pick will be irrelevant, but personally I would have gone for Hart over Pope. Rachel Brown-Finnis convinced me on her BBC article (see below) and as the third keeper will almost certainly not see any game time, I can see the benefit of having an experienced keeper in the side for Pickford and Butland.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/43913489

4) Kyle Walker – As a right wing back or potentially at centre back in a back three, Walker is a must pick for Southgate.

5) John Stones – It’s a shame Stones hasn’t been playing week in week out in Man City’s title winning side, but in terms of overall quality the former Barnsley man is England’s best defender.

Hopefully Stones can finally live up to his early promise

6) Harry Maguire – For a man his size who looks so lumbering, Harry Maguire is surprisingly good on the ball, and has looked good for England whenever he has played.

7) Phil Jones – Injuries have hampered Jones’ chances of being an automatic pick in England’s team, but he is now one of our more experienced players, and while maybe not a guarantee to start, I think Jones should go to Russia.

8) Kieran Trippier – Tripper had a great season for Tottenham filling in for Kyle Walker since his move to City, and if Walker does shift to centre back for England, Trippier is likely to start.

9) Aaron Cresswell – West Ham fan bias aside, I think Cresswell is a good shout for England. He can play as LWB, or alternatively do a Walker and play as a left sided centre back. Deserves serious consideration.

It’s not just because he plays for West Ham… honest

10) Ashley Young – I have not always been Ashley Young’s biggest fan, but he has consistently played for United this season and at a top level, and having a versatile player in a grueling World Cup campaign could be a huge bonus for England.

11) Eric Dier – Like a few of my picks in this team, Dier can play in multiple positions, and is probably England’s best defensive midfielders going. He does seem to give the ball away too cheaply at times, but he has to go to Russia, and is likely to start.

12) Jordan Henderson – England need a couple of holding midfielders in their side, and Henderson can (although not very often) pick out a great pass. I would have him over Livermore, who is someone if picked, is indicative of England’s lack of quality in midfield.

13) Dele Alli – Would be one of a few players who are a guaranteed pick. Inconsistent at times this season, but he’s still only young, and if he can keep a cool head and finally form a partnership with Kane for England, could be key for a successful World Cup campaign.

14) Ruben Loftus-Cheek – England need a couple of wildcard players in the team, because there really is no point just having the same kind of players throughout your 23. I think Loftus-Cheek might bring a spark to what can be a rather ponderous team to watch.

Lets hope he can play as well as he did against Germany

15) Jesse Lingard – A player who at times looks absolute dross and at others looks like a world beater, Lingard could be the sort of player who gets England a vital goal when they are struggling with Panama.

16) Jonjo Shelvey – Would have loved Harry Winks to be fit, but after an injury hit season Shelvey might just be England’s best passer going, and could hopefully break a stubborn defence with a killer ball.

17) Ryan Sessegnon – A few months ago I would have balked at a Championship player getting in England’s team, but really why not? When the kid looks this good, and this exciting, I think the Fulham wing back is a risk worth taking.

18) Raheem Sterling – Excellent for City, consistently disappointing for England. But hopefully Pep’s influence on Raheem can see hm finally deliver for his country.

19) Marcus Rashford – A big fan of United’s wunderkind, who though lacking goals recently, always looks a threat if given the chance to shine. A goal against Watford on the last day helps as well.

20) Harry Kane – England’s easiest pick. Possibly came back too soon from injury, Kane is, simply put, England’s best player. For us to have any chance to do well, Kane needs to have a good tournament.

Whose name, is Harry Kane?

21) Jamie Vardy – Vardy is a natural goalscorer, and another easy pick for Southgate.

22) Andy Carroll – This may only be me, and has barely got a mention, but is Andy Carroll a wildcard worth betting on? Welbeck will bring you nothing Rashford, Vardy or Lingard can’t, and if England do need to go route one, Carroll can cause defences real problems, just look at what he did for the Hammers against Stoke. (I’m not just picking West Ham players, promise)

23) Mark Noble (kidding), Gary Cahill – I picked 22 players and could barely think of a 23rd. Christ England are lacking depth. But Southgate may need an extra centre back, and Cahill while not starting could bring some needed experience and leadership to a young Three Lions team.

Richard’s team to follow

Leave a comment

Filed under Latest Posts

Goldfinger (1964) Review

 

Theme Song

Performed by legendary Welsh singer Shirley Bassey, her eponymous tune is the first in the franchise’s storied history to accompany the opening title sequence: a tradition that would continue for all subsequent James Bond flicks, save for the Daniel Craig movies.

A decent tune made iconic by Shirley Bassey’s truly rip-roaring rendition, ask the average person to recite the words of a Bond theme song, and this would probably top the list. So impressed by her inimitable style were the producers, in fact, she was asked to return for two further films, giving her the distinction of being the only performer to record the signature track for three separate films.

9/10

The Film

Goldfinger sees the return of Sean (Ssshocking…positively ssshocking) Connery for his third outing as 007. Taking a much-needed break at a luxury hotel in Miami after blowing up an illicit drug laboratory somewhere in South America, Bond’s holiday is rudely interrupted by his old friend and CIA agent Felix Lighter (Cec Linder). He explains that M (Bernard Lee) has orders for the suave super spy to investigate fortuitously named bullion dealer Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) who happens to be staying in the same hotel. Never one to disobey orders… Bond shoos away his typically statuesque masseuse so as he can indulge in a bit of “man talk” with Felix (yes, that actually happened) and hash out the details of his next assignment.

It doesn’t take long for 007 to spot his target, who’s currently to be found cheating at cards with the help of Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), prompting him, in the most conspicuous example yet of Bond’s complete lack of subtlety, to “have a bit of fun” at the dodgy dealer’s expense; all while Miss Masterson watches on in amusement as Bond blackmails Goldfinger into an ignominious defeat. After indulging in a bit of hanky-panky (naturally), stopping to make a disparaging comment regarding the musical talents of The Beatles, James is suddenly knocked unconscious by Goldfinger’s golf-ball-crushing, amusingly named manservant Oddjob – awakening some time later to find poor Jill covered in gold paint and dead from skin asphyxiation, providing one of the more memorable (if scientifically inaccurate) deaths, if not scenes, in the entire Bond franchise.

Back in good old blighty, apparently unconcerned by his role in the late Jill Masterson’s death, 007 receives orders to continue the investigation into Goldfinger, and a meeting is arranged between the hero and the villain over a not-so friendly game of golf. Triumphing over his increasingly frustrated opponent thanks to a combination of his innate skill (yes, he’s a world class talent here, too) and a bit of schoolboyish trickery, the audience is treated to its first glimpse of Oddjob’s secret but deadly weapon of choice, his steel-brimmed hat, which he uses to decapitate an almost certainly priceless statue; a warning shot fired across Bond’s bows telling him not to meddle in old Goldie’s affairs.

Undeterred, 007 precedes to follow his prey to Switzerland in what has to be the seminal Bond car, the Aston Martin DB5, equipped with all the usual gadgets we’d expect to see from MI6’s finest – including an ejector seat (no Q wasn’t joking). Along the way, Bond finds time to engage in some banter with an attractive young woman named Tilly (Tania Mallet) who, it transpires, is the late Jill Masterson’s sister and is herself stalking Goldfinger looking for an opportunity to avenge her beloved sibling.

Unfortunately, her attempt at assassinating the portly gold enthusiast ends in failure; shooting so wide of the mark she nearly kills Bond by accident. It’s not the last we see of the would-be assassin however, as, during a covert assault on Goldfinger’s base, the pair cross paths once again; agreeing to work together to bring down the heinous villain and ruin his latest sinister plot. Sadly for Tilly, as they attempt to flee the compound, she trips the alarm, leading to a brief and ultimately unsuccessful escape attempt during which he rather conveniently gets to use all the gadgets in the modified Aston Martin’s arsenal; which includes launching a goon out of the vehicle’s passenger seat using its in-built ejector mechanism (you couldn’t make it up… well actually, it seems you could). This hectic scene culminates, sadly, with Tilly’s eventual death via decapitation, of all things (at the hands of Oddjob and his deadly hat) and Bond’s incarceration.

Awaking from his enforced slumber, Bond finds himself in a rather uncomfortable position: tied to a modified operating table with a laser beam inching ever closer to his unmentionables. Oh how womankind would have wept. Just before the laser reaches the no go zone however, 007 craftily bluffs his way to a reprieve, feigning knowledge of Goldfinger’s plot to persuade him it would be in his best interests to keep Bond alive for at least a little while longer (kill him, just kill him!)

“No Mr Bond I expect you to die”

Concussed for what must be the 3000th time, by this point, James is greeted by an altogether more pleasant site: the stunningly beautiful face of the equally brilliantly named Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). Goldfinger’s personal pilot who, it just so happens, has no interest in men (spoiler, this doesn’t last). Now a prisoner at Goldfinger’s exclusive stud farm in Kentucky (a fitting location for 007) Bond escapes… again and finds his way to a secret conference room wherein he hears the full details of the gold obsessed megalomaniac’s plan to knock off Fort Knox, with the help of some well-to-do American criminals he’s assembled. It goes without saying, their excitement at the prospect of the profits to come doesn’t last long when, before they’ve even finished toasting their impending victory, Goldfinger poisons them with the deadly gas he plans to use in his attack on Fort Knox.

Another tête-à-tête between hero and villain ensues, shortly after, during which, as is common practice in Bond films, Goldfinger reveals his entire plan to 007 which, in a nutshell, is to detonate a dirty bomb inside the gold depository vault, rendering Fort Knox’s gold reserves useless; giving the US bullion depository’s Chinese counterparts a substantial financial advantage and Goldfinger a tidy profit. Bond’s response? To aggressively seduce Pussy, whose flying circus was going to kill all the military presence at the fort using the aforementioned nerve gas and convince her to betray her employer. Presumably he didn’t mention what happened to Jill when she decided to stab Goldfinger in the back.

Now onside, Pussy’s circus sprays the Fort with a non-lethal gas instead, giving the US military time to play possum and surround Goldfinger’s forces once inside the Fort. Realising his original plan has been foiled, Goldfinger escapes disguised as a general, killing everyone (friend and foe) around him as he flees, leaving Bond handcuffed to the bomb and locked inside the vault with Oddjob. The ever-resourceful spy isn’t trapped for long, however, using a pair of gold ingots to extricate himself from his predicament before defeating his ridiculously strong, devoted, and exceedingly stupid foe by electrocution, as the hulking henchman goes to retrieve his METAL-lined hat from the highly-conductive metal bars in which it’s wedged.

Now free of distractions and with the help of both Felix and a bomb-defusal specialist, Jamessssh has just enough time to disarm the device, stopping the countdown at the 007 second mark. Phew, that was fortunate.

After saving the world yet again, Bond is then invited to the White House to meet the president for, I can only assume, a few celebratory Vodka Martini’s. But, on his way to this prestigious rendezvous, his plane is hijacked by larger than life heel Goldfinger (still in his US General’s get up, bizarrely). After a brief struggle over possession of the golden gun (different one, in case you were wondering), Goldfinger is finally disposed of when a gunshot compromises one of the plane’s windows, sucking the overweight nutter through the painfully small opening and into the clouds (what a way to go).

Bond and Pussy, who, her complicity in the original plot forgiven and forgotten, was naturally given command of the plane for this important journey, parachute to safety, conveniently landing safely on a remote patch of land where they have one final ‘sesh’ to close out the film.

Bond finally gets some pussy…

Summary

Goldfinger is a bona fide classic. Arguably the most memorable, it’s also one of the most popular; and for good reason.

Despite an over the top, and let’s be honest, ridiculous plot (knock-off Fort Knox… haha! Good one); silly names (Pussy Galore… Oddjob, Auric Goldfinger); some, shall we say, questionable individual scenes that haven’t aged well (his ‘seduction’ of Pussy Galore borders on rape, while the aforementioned “man talk” is horrendously inappropriate); and more narrow escapes than you can shake a stick at, the film works on pretty much every level. High-octane action sequences withstand comparison to many a modern film, with cinema’s coolest car and an iconic (if chronically idiotic) henchman providing bucketloads of character. There’s also plenty of tongue-in-cheek jokes to lighten the tone that are sure to bring a sardonic smile to your face, one of my personal favourite Bond girls in Jill Masterson, and an absolute belter of a theme tune.

This flick also sees the return of various much-loved characters, including Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, Bernard Lee as M, and of course Desmond Llewellyn as Q – alongside the man himself Sean Connery, who put’s in another effortlessly cool display as 007.

I actually think the overall plot of the previous movie From Russia With Love is stronger, however this movie is more fun than its predecessor, solidifying itself as the quintessential Bond Film.

Rating

That being said, and while it’s no doubt a classic, after watching it again the other day, I have to say it didn’t seem as good as I remember. So, although it symbolises what makes Bond such a unique and interesting series, I think I prefer From Russia With Love overall.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting old? Who knows. Nevertheless, this is definitely still one of the stronger films in the franchise and, more importantly, a seminal one in terms of the wider series – 8/10.

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, Latest Posts

From Russia With Love (1963) Review

Theme Song – Film number two of this epic franchise is composed by Lionel Bart, and sung by English crooner Matt Monro. Like its predecessor, Dr. No, this film is slightly different went it comes to the tune, in as much as the opening credits include an instrumental version of the song From Russia with Love without the vocals.

The song itself is decent – Matt Monro’s smooth, strong voice suiting the lyrics and tone of the song perfectly – performed by someone who, though very popular and highly regarded by his contemporaries at the height of his fame, I think it’s fair to say could be described as somewhat overlooked these days – 7/10.

The Film

Once again starring Sean Connery as James Bond, From Russia with Love see’s 007 dispatched to Turkey; his mission to gain possession of a Lektor decoding machine from the Russians. His assignment is complicated, however, by the presence of Soviet cipher clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), who claims to have fallen in love with Bond immediately upon seeing his file photo; an obvious honey trap, as both M and 007 himself recognise. Unfortunately for Bond, as the British have been trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to get their hands on a Lektor for many years now, they simply cannot pass up the opportunity, dangerous though it undoubtedly is.

Indeed, seeking revenge for the murder of Dr. No and the destruction of it’s Caribbean operations (as per the events of the first film), terrorist organisation Spectre has orchestrated the whole thing in an effort to eliminate 007, create tension between the British and the Russians, and, during the ensuing chaos, procure the aforementioned Lektor for themselves. With the plan decided and the wheels put into motion, the nefarious head of Spectre, known only as Number 1, puts Colonel Klebb, a former officer in the Russian counter intelligence service, in command of the operation.

It’s Klebb who recruits Romanova (who, it’s only fair to say, believes Klebb is still working for the Motherland) and muscular assassin Donald Grant (Robert Shaw) who, with his deadly garotte wire come wrist watch, are given the difficult task of killing 007. Unaware of the perils that await him, everyone’s favourite schhheeecret agent rendezvouses with station chief Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) in Istanbul, who swiftly proceeds to explain to Bond that he believes the mission is a waste of time and that, before he can act, he must wait for Romanova to contact him.

Despite all the different agendas at play, the beginning of the film really sets up the story nicely, re-introducing us to characters and actors who, even at this stage, were well-known to cinemagoers and would eventually become stalwarts of the franchise over the coming years; 007’s boss M (again played by Bernard Lee) Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). From Russia with Love also introduces us to Desmond Llewelyn as Q, a role he would go on to play for 36 years before his tragic death in 1999.

Whilst awaiting contact from Romanova, Kerim almost falls victim to assassination himself and thus decides its safest for both him and 007 to lay low for a while in the quietest, most secure location he can conceive: a gypsy camp. During their brief sojourn in the camp, Kerim’s would-be killers strike again, only to be foiled once again by a combination of Bond and Kerim’s gypsy allies. Shortly thereafter, once Bond has settled a dispute between two gypsy girls the only way he knows how – with his penis – and Kerim has murdered his hapless assailant, 007 finally meets Romanova: who’s, naturally, just chillin’ in his bed.

The two strangers waste no time getting down to business (giggity), unaware that Spectre are filming the whole thing in case they need to indulge in a spot of blackmail at any point, before thrashing out a plan to steal the Lektor and return it to good old Blighty which, rather fortuitously, goes off without a hitch. Or, at least, it appears to.

“I think my mouth is too big”.

You see, as they attempt to escape with their ill-gotten prize by rail, things take a turn for the worse and, for a few minutes, resemble Murder on the Orient Express, as Bond finds both Kerim and Russian agent Benz (the man who’d been caught tailing them after the trio successfully stole the Lektor and played by Peter Bayliss) dead in the former’s cabin; the cause of death appearing to be suicide (‘SPOILER’ ALERT – it’s not suicide). In actuality, Grant, who, for the last few minutes, has been impersonating the British security officer dispatched to liaise with 007, is the perpetrator of these not-so-mysterious deaths and after foolishly ordering red wine with fish (a sure sign of evil intent), captures Bond.

Brimming with confidence following his success, Grant commits the same faux pas that would shortly become a hallmark of the series, revealing the entirety of Spectre’s plan to a defenceless 007 (just shoot him!!!). This, as it always would, gives Bond the information he requires to complete his mission and, more importantly, the time he needs to concoct an escape plan; in this case, using the simple lure of gold sovereigns combined with a boobytrapped brief case to overcome his foe after a pretty brutal and intense fight which ends when Bond disposes of Grant using the latter’s own favourite finisher; the garotte come wrist watch.

With that particular obstacle out of the way, Bond and Romanova appropriate Grant’s escape plan, destroying a helicopter and squad of Spectre troops, in the process, thanks primarily to some conveniently placed oil drums and the apparent stupidity of their pursuers (seriously, every single henchman heads straight into the flames).

Upon hearing this news, an enraged Number 1 has Kronsteen executed via the rather amusing method of a poison-tipped shoe-blade, and gives Klebb one last chance to complete the mission.

Believing they’re safe, and comfortably ensconced within a well-appointed Venice hotel room, Bond and Romanova are attacked by the now desperate Klebb (disguised as a maid), who resorts to the fatal footwear demonstrated in the previous scene, after Bond relieves her of her gun. However, before she can really ‘stick the knife in’, as it were, Romanova shoots Klebb dead with her own pistol.

Mission accomplished! There’s just enough time for Bond and Romanova to take a romantic Gondola ride, with a bit of nookie thrown in for good measure, before the end credits begin to role accompanied by Matt Monro’s excellent soundtrack.

Bond didn’t get the point. (Pun intentional)

Summary

From Russia with Love’s most notable feature is perhaps the strength of its performances. Sean Connery is once again superb as main protagonist James Bond, bringing his trademark levity to the role with more amusing one liners and off-the-cuff remarks. More importantly, he’s aided by strong performances from the supporting cast – something Dr. No arguably lacks. Daniela Bianchi provides some glamour in the form of Bond’s love interest Tatiana Romanova (not the voice however; that was actually provided by Barbara Jefford), while Lotte Lenya puts in a strong performance as shrill, stern-faced Spectre agent Rosa Klebb. Though special mention must be made to Pedro Armendariz, as Bond’s womanising ally Kerim Bey, and Robert Shaw for his gritty portrayal of main heel Donald Grant, both of whom are excellent in their respective roles.

Personally, I would say From Russia with Love is a stronger overall film than its predecessor Dr. No. The plot is more rounded and realistic, telling a traditional espionage thriller with a characteristically tongue-in-cheek James Bond twist, while the characters are far more engaging.

It’s not quite as spectacular in terms of scenery and backdrop as the first film – a natural consequence of the change in setting from the sun-drenched beaches of the Caribbean to the historical cities of Istanbul and Venice – but we are at least treated to a picturesque train ride through the Balkans and (on an unrelated note) some pretty impressive action sequences.

Rating

I think it’s fair to say From Russia with Love looks a bit dated when viewed today, however, I actually think this is one of the stronger 007 flicks. Though some of the scenes might seem a little bit cheesy in comparison to the likes of the Bourne films, it does more than enough to keep the audience entertained throughout and is a brilliantly made and expertly shot film – 9/10.

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, Reviews

Dr. No (1962) Review

Dr No Main

Over the coming weeks and months, our brother, Richard, will be reviewing every (mainline) Bond film in chronological order. Enjoy!

Theme by John Barry – The first James Bond theme song is slightly different to all the others that followed in that it is essentially the original theme that would go on to be heard in the background of all official James Bond movies, and is not a song sung by a top selling musical artist of the time. Written and composed by Monty Norman & the legendary John Barry, the theme itself is undoubtedly one of the most iconic film tunes of all time.

8/10 (not so much for the music itself, but for the legend it helped to create)

The Film

So, onto the film itself.

Starring Sean Connery – the first man to don the tuxedo for the official film franchise – Dr No. is set amidst the stunningly beautiful scenery of Jamaica in the Caribbean, where Bond is sent on a mission to investigate the disappearance of a British MI6 station chief name Strangways, and whether this was linked to a joint operation he was conducting with the American CIA looking into the possible jamming of US rocket launches, from the area around a mysterious island known as Crab Key.

Dr No 2

The name’shhh Bond…Jameshhh Bond

Following the initial musical intro, the film begins with the aforementioned Strangways being shot dead by hitmen known as ‘The Three Blind Mice’, who then go on to murder Strangways’s secretary, who’s in the process of signalling London; this sudden loss of communication the event that prompts MI6 to assign 007 James Bond to investigate.

Our first glimpse of the man himself – and the first time we hear the famous line “my name is Bond…James Bond” – is in a casino; a place we would see 007 frequent a lot over the course of the franchise. In this scene, as in every other set in a casino, Bond is taking everyone to the cleaners, notably, in this case, a beautiful woman named Sylvia Trench (Eunice Grayson) – no prizes for guessing what happens afterwards: the first of what would become an insane amount of romantic if, shall we say a little pushy, trysts with stunningly hot women.

It’s a very gentile beginning in terms of pace. We’re introduced to various characters during the first half an hour or so: 007’s boss (the person simply known as M); Q (although, in this particular film, he’s referred to as Major Boothroyd), portrayed for the first and only time by Peter Burton – the role later, of course, defined by the late, iconic Desmond Llewelyn; CIA agent Felix Lighter (Jack Lord) whose mission is the same as Bond’s; and local fisherman Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), who had previously been working with Strangways.

But, even after Bond arrives in Jamaica to begin his investigative work, things never really get going until the end of the movie; we don’t even meet creepy-voiced antagonist Dr. No – played by Joseph Wiseman – until the last knockings of the film.

As we slowly but surely progress through the film, we eventually meet bungling geologist/henchman Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), who tries and fails a good few times to dispose of Bond, using everything from ‘The Three Blind Mice’ (the unfortunate trio who cop it in the spontaneously combusting car shortly thereafter) to a ‘man eating’ Tarantula that he secretes in James’s hotel room, wherein it meets it’s end via the butt of Bond’s soon-to-be famous Walther PPK (poor spider). Unfortunately for the good professor, his final abortive effort to kill 007 costs him his life.

At this point, having found traces of radioactivity in rock samples retrieved by Strangways from Crab Key, Quarrel reluctantly agrees to ferry Bond over to Dr. No’s highly fortified island to investigate further. And it’s here that we witness one of the most iconic moments in cinema history; buxom blonde beauty Honey Rider (Ursula Andress) emerging from the warm Caribbean Sea; a moment so incredible it inspires Bond to sing for the first and only time in the franchise’s history.

Dr._No_-_Honey_Ryder

Underneath the mango tree…

Conveniently connected to Dr No. via her father, Honey accompanies Bond and Quarrel as they traipse through the island’s radioactive swamp looking for a way into the nefarious doctor’s secret hideout. Before they’ve gone very far, however, they’re assaulted by an armoured, flame-thrower-equipped tractor; Quarrel is incinerated due as much to his own stupidity as anything else, while James and Honey are taken prisoner.

In typical James Bond fashion, after being de-contaminated and then drugged (I’m honestly not sure why this is done; to pass the time is the only reason I can deduce!), Bond and Honey join Dr. No for dinner which, like I said earlier, is actually the first time we see the film’s antagonist on screen. During this incongruous meal (perhaps, shortly after the fish course), we’re given a full account of the evil ne’re-do-well’s backstory; not just his motivations for disrupting the US’s plans for space exploration (because he works for a secret terrorist organisation known as Spectre; you know, the evil conglomerate that would provide the backdrop for most of Sean Connery’s adventures), but even why he has weird tin hands.

After a frankly amusing exchange during which Bond continuously irks Dr. No with disparaging comments about his sanity and goals of world domination, Bond is beaten by the guards and thrown into a holding cell, whilst Honey is taken away to an undisclosed location. Being the world’s greatest sleuth/luckiest human being ever to walk the Earth, it doesn’t take Bond long to escape his prison cell (via a conveniently placed and easily accessible ventilation shaft), and gain access to the main control room. Once there, Bond swiftly thwarts Dr. No’s masterplan by overloading the reactor, killing the Dr. in the process by submerging him in his own radioactive pool.

DrNo4

The man with the tin hands.

With the world safe and Bond’s mission complete, our randy hero finds Honey and escapes the island (with a little help from Felix), stopping halfway to safety for one final quicky. Ah, romance.

Summary

All in all, I would say this is a solid if unspectacular first outing for 007.

Sean Connery makes the title character his own, while the supporting cast do a decent job – particularly Kitzmiller and Jack Lord. However, though Ursula Andress certainly provides some eye candy, her performance is not particularly strong. Moreover, Dr. No is, in my opinion, one of the weakest in the entire Bond franchise, not helped by Joseph Wiseman’s lacklustre performance, with nothing to distinguish him from so many other megalomaniacal villains save his tin hands.

The plot isn’t anything to write home about either, and, as I mentioned at the very start of this review, the pace is rather slow. That being said, it certainly delivers some truly memorable moments, including the aforementioned Honey Rider emerging from the ocean, and some cracking one-liners.

And, though it’s admittedly a rather minor grievance, there are some rather conspicuous mistakes and production issues. First and foremost, there’s a very ‘of its time’ car chase which ends with the car chasing Bond somehow blowing up after falling down a hill, but there’re smaller things too, such as femme fatale Miss Taro seemingly mutable address or that highly amusing moment during one of the earlier fight sequences, for instance, which sees Bond swing with his right hand, only to end up connecting with his left.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh; the film was done on a very small budget and was shot in 1962, and yet is, in general, pretty well done.

Rating

Overall, I think a slightly above average rating is fair, due mainly, it has to be said, to its being the first in the series and thus the starting point of cinema’s longest-running franchise.

6.5/10

1 Comment

Filed under Film and TV

Notorious (1946)

Notorious IMDb – 221/250

My unending slog through this list returns to classic Hollywood this week and includes my first foray into Hitchcock cinema, with the 1946 film noir Notorious from 1946. (Not to be confused with the Biggie Smalls biopic from 2009, though the similarities are endless).

Starring legendary actors Carey Grant and Ingrid Bergman, and directed by perhaps Hollywood’s most famous director Alfred Hitchcock, Notorious tells an espionage story straight out of a James Bond flick, involving Nazis, dodgy bottles of sandy wine and a uranium sub plot, which struggles to maintain pace and interest despite a stellar cast and wonderfully written script, with Hithcocks signature style slowly starting to develop and improve, but not fully on show here.

The film starts slowly as it introduces the characters of Devlin (Grant) and Alicia (Bergman), and slowly builds up the key elements of this film; espionage, trust and a love of alcohol that seems prominent throughout much of American cinema at this period of time. (Devlin’s drink driving would certainly not be looked upon favourably now).

Alicia is tasked with being a spy for the American government, sent to infiltrate a Nazi organisation due to her previous relationship with one of its members, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains). Grant essentially plays Alicia’s handler, but the two in typical Hollywood style of the time begin to develop feelings between each other despite what was for me a startling lack of real chemistry. (Their kiss scene, though thought of as ‘erotic’ at the time and ‘groundbreaking’, seemed out of place and just strange to my modern sensibilities).

Two of Hollywood’s biggest ever stars, Carey Grant and Ingrid Bergman

While their relationship and love for one another felt exceedingly forced, (Alica’s complete devotion to Devlin bordered on the ridiculous), the espionage story was interesting, especially as Alicia ingratiates herself into Alexanders life, even going so far as to marry him.

The dilemma she faces and the danger she puts herself in makes her by far the most sympathetic character of the film, whereas Devlin, despite playing the manly hero at the end, really comes off as arrogant and unlikeable.

In fact Bergman is the clear star of the film over Grant in creating a character we can empathise with and root for, and Claude Rains as well does a fantastic job of managing to create a villain for the film who isn’t some over the top Nazi figure, but instead a character who in some aspects we can sympathise with, a character who seems trapped by those around him, including his tyrannical and shrill mother (Leopoldine Konstaintin), rather than a character of evil himself.

For a supposed film buff, this is rather embarrassingly the first Hitchcock film I’ve actually watched.

Sadly, the film really goes nowhere by the end. Like that feeling you feel when your favourite TV shows ends with a whimper (or a shot to black in one series’ case), Notorious ends feeling incomplete. While you could say the ending is ‘open ended’, I feel this is more of a cop out, as much of the story is left unexplained or unexplored.

Notorious is not one of Hitchcock’s best known works, and perhaps is instead a nice starter into my first taste of his work, but I was hoping for something better or at least something more memorable to make me think, this is why cinema loves Hitchcock. As it is, I just can’t see the hype. Perhaps later films such as Rear Window, North by Northwest or Vertigo might change my mind.

For me I will always associate Notorious with a film about Biggie Smalls and Tupac, not Nazis and uranium.

Notorious: 5/10

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts

The Truman Show (1998)

The Truman Show – IMDb 222/250

It’s a lovely bank holiday Monday, the sun is shining, the drinks are flowing, and I am inside writing a review for my IMDb 250. What a life.

My review this week is number 222 on the list, The Truman Show (1998), the comedy drama film starring Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, the first man legally adopted by a corporation, whose life is made into a reality TV show without his knowledge. With a wife and good job Carrey seems to have the perfect life, but he begins to slowly realise that his reality may not be as real as it seems.

I first watched The Truman Show when I was younger and was a big fan of it, for no other real reason than I thought it was a good film well told, so I was intrigued to see how I would see it now as a more mature (cough cough) adult. The first thing I really liked about the film which I didn’t truly appreciate at the time is simply the idea and concept of the film. Writer Andrew Niccol created a truly unique idea which is well worth exploring and debating.

In the last twenty years since its release The Truman Show has only become more relevant with the birth of reality television, social media and ideas around surveillance. Perhaps the father of all reality TV shows, Big Brother debuted (sadly) on British television just one year after the release of this film, and what it has birthed is ‘structured reality’ TV shows like Made in Chelsea, Love Island and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Structured reality, essentially meaning not reality in anyway shape or form, is similar to the life Truman lives, only he is an unwilling participant in the show. He lives a ‘simulated reality’, and the audience gets to watch him grow up and live his life.

This may sound like boring TV and ludicrous to watch, and when pitching the films idea to executives I bet director Peter Weir had a hard time explaining it, but as the last twenty years shows us, we can’t seem to get enough of other people’s life and ‘reality’, no matter how tedious or trivial it is. This film wonderfully depicts our early obsession with another persons life before the birth of reality television. I would call it a cross between 1984 and Keeping up with the Kardashians, with Carrey adding some Ace Ventura type comedy in the mixer too.

Did The Truman Show inspire reality TV like Big Brother?

Another interesting theme for me that The Truman Show explores is religion. Although Truman is the central character of the film and show, it is Ed Harris as the creator and ‘God’ of the show Christof that is more interesting to analyse.

He sits in a TV station in the sky looking down on his subjects as the ‘creator’, and this allusion to religion mixed with the idea of the media as a type of God is very interesting. When Truman is trying to escape from Christof and his created world he is attempting to escape his God or father figure, and Christof tries to dissuade him from doing so, trying to say that the real world is far worse than the reality he currently lives in. Without going into theology or depictions of utopias, its possible description as an atheist film, it is something worth looking in to, and gives the film an extra edge and piece of interest for me, and the film has been analysed before in its allusions to Christianity, which is worth looking up.

Ed Harris plays TV exec Christof, but he could also be an allusion to God – his performance earnt him an Oscar nod.

A key element to this film outside the thematic ideas and drama is humour.  I found it to be well executed, not taking away from its overall foreboding message regarding surveillance, the media and reality, but adding to it in its ridiculousness. The people around Truman have to stay in character, and their attempts to do this while he is clearly on to them is very amusing, and I particularly enjoyed Meryl Burbank’s (Laura Linney) attempts to advertise during inappropriate times with Truman.

However a lot of the film hinges on your opinion of Jim Carrey as an actor. For some you may find his over the top acting adorable or charming, whereas others may find it cheesy and grating (pun intended). For me I think he is well cast in films such as Liar, Liar, The Mask and The Grinch, but I can’t help feel he is a little poorly cast here. With a different leading actor this film could have been greater, and possibly easier to digest as a genuinely thought provoking piece of cinema rather than a comedy film with some dramatic elements and cool ideas.

Although the humour worked and the concept brilliant, I did feel its execution was lacking. Director Peter Weir struggled to keep the world together and the story fizzles out during the latter stages, and the emotional depth of the film was shallow, lacking any real punch or even much sympahty for Truman, which should have been easy. The focus instead was too much on Carrey’s antics and felt like a vehicle for him to get into serious acting rather, than a film about the medias intrusion on public life. I can see why it is in the top 250, but I feel there is another story to be told here which could be far superior.

The Truman Show: 6/10

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts

La Haine (1995)

La Haine – IMDb 223/250

As I continue you my painfully slow process of watching the top 250 films on IMDb as of June 2015 (2 years I have been doing this…. reviewed 27 films), I’ve found the time/motivation to do my next review, this time of the gritty black and white French film La Haine from 1995.

Described aptly by some as urban cinema, La Haine tells the story of three early 20s, ethnically diverse Frenchmen played by Vincent Cassel, Hubert Konde and Said Taghmaoui, as they spend a day traversing through a divisive and troubled Paris in the aftermath of a riot.

Unlike the Paris we see in Hollywood cinema, director Mathieu Kassovitz stays away from the idealistic vision we usually see of the city of love and instead depicts Paris as a gritty and impoverished place riddled with class divide, racism and societal conflict, highlighted by his use of the black and white filter which creates a moody and inescapable feeling for us as an audience watching our three young protagonists. 

The performances from the cast were really spot on. Cassel does an excellent job of portaying Vinz as a youth in turmoil. His hatred towards the police is relatively justified but his distrust leads to unnecessary violence and anti-social behaviour, but Cassel manages to create sympathy for a character who really acts as an antagonist through much of the film, and someone who will divide opinion on his motivations and beliefs, even more so now on a modern audience.

Vinz (Cassel) becomes obsessed with killing someone when he finds a gun, which further develops his aggressive and antagonistic attitude

But the majority of the sympathy in the story lies on the young laps of Hubert (Konde) and Said (Taghmaoui), who have to deal with racism and abuse on what seems like a daily basis, which is depicted to us most vividly in a deplorable scene when they are racially abused and humiliated by a group of sadistic policemen, fueling their anger and hatred towards those in authority.

Hubert though is the one who seems the most driven to escape the life he has been given, and understands their behaviour of violence and aggression towards their aggressors isn’t the answer. He states poignantly ‘hatred breeds hatred’, and in the last scene of the movie we see this play out first hand, but it is a recurring theme throughout the film.

The most telling aspect La Haine for me though was how relevant it still is in today’s society. As the world inexplicably continues to march towards right wing politics which looks to divide and segregate nations and its people, this film set in 1995 has these same issues playing out on screen.

In fact it mentions Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen who like her daughter was the leader of the National Front, an ultra right party in France looking for much stronger immigration rules and a push towards right wing politics. Really the characters of Hubert and Said would be seen by Le Pen as the kind of immigrants who she would believe are ruining France, thus creating the divide we see in the film between them and authority, and the divide we still see in today’s society.

Although I understood the point the film was making though and the France Kassovitz was depicting, I still found La Haine a hard film to watch.

I sympathised with all three main characters, but I didn’t like them. I understood the circumstances that they find themselves in but this doesn’t excuse their at times aggressive and obnoxious behaviour, particularly in the scene at the art museum where rather than being rebellious they were simply hostile and rude, and you couldn’t condone their behaviour. I found it hard to identify with any of the characters without constantly trying to justify their actions, and the black and white filter although adding to this effect of the dark underbelly of Paris, did give the film a drab feeling.

As a political piece of cinema La Haine hits all the right notes and perhaps Kassovitz wanted it to be a hard and uncomfortable watch, patricularly for someone like me who doesn’t have to face the hardships Vinz, Hubert and Said go through constantly, but personally I felt we don’t really get a character we can fully get behind, nor a story which truly develops or intrigues until the very last scene, when it was already too late for me.

La Haine: 6/10

If you’re interested in French cinema, check out my review of Three Colours: Red

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier review

Walking Dead main image

So much of episodic graphic adventure The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is right on the money. Following a group of mostly engaging characters, it tells an enjoyable story of family and loyalty brought to life by the striking, cel shaded art style that’s become synonymous with developer Telltale Games. It’s even got one hell of an ace up its sleeve in the form of everyone’s second favourite teen survivalist (after The Last of Us’ Ellie, of course), Clementine.

In fact, notwithstanding a couple of minor problems here and there, it’s difficult to pinpoint any truly glaring flaws with the finished article. Rather, like The Walking Dead: Season 2 and The Walking Dead: Michonne mini-series before it, A New Frontier’s biggest problem is an inescapable sense déjà vu.

Simply put, you can’t help but feel you’ve experienced many of these scenarios before.

Walking Dead image 1

Clem, like any self-respecting American teen, armed with a deadly weapon

Set roughly 4 years after the undead apocalypse ravaged the planet, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier chronicles the journey of protagonist Javier Garcia, who, along with sister-in-law Kate, nephew Gabe and niece Mariana, lives a peripatetic existence rather than settling in a single, potentially vulnerable location. That is, until a misunderstanding in episode one embroils them in a feud with the New Frontier; a community of not entirely unscrupulous survivors inhabiting the ruins of Richmond, Virginia, led by a tetrarchy which includes Javi’s estranged, hot-headed older brother David.

Over the course of the next 5 episodes, the narrative focuses on the Garcia family’s attempts to extricate themselves from the ministrations of this insidious and fractured society, and Javi’s desperation to keep his adopted family together.

When reduced in this way to its most basic form, the main premise hardly exudes originality, but when you factor in the various sub-plots – the most intriguing of which being the Javi-Kate-David love triangle – A New Frontier possesses enough to keep the average player invested in the tale. This is despite the odd misstep here and there, such as the actions of amiable EMT Elanor at the conclusion of episode 4 which, bizarrely, don’t appear to be affected by your previous behaviour towards her, Gabe’s unconvincing transition to adulthood or the presence of overtly ruthless thug Badger in a peaceful settlement like Richmond.

Walking Dead image 2

Clearly, the undead are also susceptible to teen angst

The absorbing if inconsistent narrative is mirrored in the cast of characters. Javi, Kate and David are welcome additions to the series, each bringing something a little bit different to proceedings. Revealed to have been a rather self-centred and irresponsible ex-baseball professional prior to Armageddon via regular flashback sequences, Javi doesn’t exactly fit the mould of a typical Walking Dead protagonist (not once does he utter “this is who we are now”), yet he still manages to shield his loved ones from the horrors that surround them. Kinder and more prudent, though similarly unprepared for parenthood, Kate resonates with the player in the same way as Sasha and Snow White from Tales from the Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us respectively, in that you’re rooting for her from start to finish and acutely aware of the perils she faces on a daily basis. Lastly, despite his fiercely protective nature which at times manifests itself in brutal fashion, David ultimately comes across as a decent man who’ll do whatever it takes to keep his family and friends safe.

However, aside from diminutive amazon Ava and enigmatic drifter Jesus (a familiar face to anyone who’s read the comic books or watched the most recent television series), the rest of the supporting cast don’t cut such distinctive figures, feeling rather like generic, updated versions of previous characters. That being said, the closest thing to a poorly designed character in the entire season is only really the stereotypically argumentative, pissy teen Gabe; a young man who’s seemingly oblivious to humanity’s plight and totally unappreciative of Javi and Kate’s efforts to defend him against the undead plague.

I’m aware I’ve only mentioned fan-favourite Clem in passing up to this point. Unfortunately, this represents her relegation to a supporting role in the events of A New Frontier – much to the chagrin of some players. It’s true there’re a handful of flashbacks that provide you with the opportunity to guide her actions directly and discover what she’s been doing since Season 2; the problem is these sections are as infrequent as they are brief. It’s a real shame Telltale Games’ decided not to explore her character arc in greater depth during these segments; watching her evolution from philanthropic adolescent to the jaded and pragmatic survivor Javi encounters in the first episode would undoubtedly have been a fascinating tale.

Walking Dead image 3

Farage as he would appear to Shallow Hal

Conversely, if Telltale’s failure to create a truly original story is a little disappointing, the lack of anything other than minor refinements to the tried and tested gameplay mechanics that so perfectly suit this style of game is extremely pleasing.

The ability to cultivate your own (relatively) unique story remains the biggest draw and, from that perspective, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier matches the very best Telltale titles; even Tales from the Borderlands. The signature dialogue wheels allow you to develop Javi and, to a lesser extent, Clementine’s character’s in vastly different ways from one playthrough to another, consequently changing the course of the narrative, their personal relationships etc. etc. Meanwhile, whether a result of the studio’s years of experience or the improved processing power of current gen hardware, the momentous binary choices that are the fulcrum of each episode likewise have the potential to generate fundamental adjustments to the wider story. For instance, one character (I won’t say who) died towards the end of episode 2 on my first playthrough, but survived the entire season on my second leading to completely new exchanges and situations, vastly increasing the replayability of this otherwise linear title.

Semi-regular quick time events – press X to crush this zombie’s head, press Y to shoot an approaching bandit, that kind of thing – affords some semblance of action amidst a torrent of conversations, though certainly not enough to impress anyone who prefers more bombastic fair. Other than that, you’re restricted to walking around specific, claustrophobically small locations here and there that, aside from the odd bit of expository dialogue, merely delay the start of the next big event.

That’s not to say A New Frontier doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Although I didn’t try it myself, crowd play (making its Walking Dead debut) is a thoroughly interesting concept that does exactly what it says on the tin: it enables let’s players to cede control of decision making to the audience in one of two ways. Firstly, the host can either reserve the right to have final say on all decisions if they don’t trust their viewers; secondly, a majority vote determines how events will unfold. Whichever option you select, crowd play’s greatest attribute is its ability to provide the kind of community experience that’s such an integral part of all Telltale titles.

Walking Dead image 4

Jesus and his disciples

Elsewhere, though not quite as captivating as Firewatch or Life is Strange, the familiar cel shaded style and vibrant colour palette brilliantly convey the desolation of human civilisation. Cities lay in ruins; the rusted shells of cars litter the landscape and nature has already begun to reassert its dominance over the earth. Besides, given The Walking Dead’s comic book roots, it’s a particularly appropriate aesthetic choice.

Appealing as the visuals are, it does limit the quality of the character animations. Javi’s gait is comically unnatural, his movements incongruously jaunty, whilst the combat animations are pretty inelegant and feeble in execution. Fortunately, the largely impressive voice acting and excellent sound design helps to compensate for the problem. I’m especially fond of the bleeding effect at the edge of screen and the swell of the orchestra whenever you find yourself in a jam, a feature that never fails to ramp up the tension.

There are a few minor, almost trivial glitches worth mentioning. For one thing, the game struggles to render zombies en mass every once in a while, causing a touch of rubber banding. Additionally,  don’t be surprised if you see a recently deceased character appear suddenly in the background of a transitional scene at certain points although, if I’m honest, the latter is actually quite amusing, if immersion-breaking.

Episode length, on the other hand, is a slightly bigger issue. Whereas the component parts of Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones: Season One would take a diligent player approximately 2 hours to complete, each of A New Frontier’s 5 episodes can be finished in a leisurely 90-minutes; hardly a reasonable return for your £25 season pass. It’s so frustrating when you think how straightforward it would’ve been for the developer to add an extra 30+ minutes with expanded Clementine sections or a couple of additional sequences.

I know they say you should always leave them wanting more in the entertainment business, but this is just ridiculous.

At the conclusion of episode 5, fans are reassured that Clementine’s story will be continued in an upcoming, as yet unannounced sequel. And, while I’m reasonably excited for this next chapter, I personally think the series would benefit from an extended break. Much as I enjoy all things Walking Dead, like the long-running television programme, things are beginning to feel somewhat stale and predictable.

Let’s be honest, chances are Season 4 (as I hereby dub it) will revolve around Clementine and a new group of more or less good people battling to fend off a rival gang of unscrupulous individuals, culminating in the death of at least one close companion.

For this more than any other reason, Telltale’s latest foray into the zombie apocalypse just about scrapes an 8/10.

Leave a comment

Filed under Games, Latest Posts