Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Top 15 or 16 Movies of 2016

2016 was a bad year if you weren't looking properly. There was plenty wrong with the world and plenty wrong with the world of cinema. But that was only from a certain point of view. There will always be bad movies, and there will always be mediocre movies. A lot of the worst movies of the year were unfortunately also the most visible. "Batman v Superman" got a huge release while most of the movies on my Top 15 did not. That is not fair, but it also means you have to work harder and find things worth loving in life. Or in the theater as the case may be.

Unfortunately the Top 15 List this year is telling me something. The sad fact is that I am officially an Adult. You can put that word in brackets and a scary font. [A-D-U-L-T]. A lot of the movies on this list are indie or relatively unknown or just more artsy, and is that really a surprise? The fact is that most bad movies, or even most mediocre movies, are bad in a very boring way. I don’t need to see that "Ben-Hur" remake to know it’s awful. I’ve seen this kind of garbage before. I'm sixty-six come last week, I've lost count how many years I've been writing this blog. I'm not even interested in reviewing bad movies anymore. I saw something like thirty to thirty-five movies in the theater last year. I've done it all too many times already, and frankly am just too old to waste it on trash. A lot of the movies here are stuff I would not have recommended when I started this blog, or things I probably much interest in. However, there is also a lot of stuff that me, no matter age, would love.

The final list does not have a single superhero movie, or even a single sequel. Frankly, 2016 was a year where blockbusters held no interest to me – and I’m not alone  there. People were decrying the death of cinema at the end of the summer because nobody could work up the self-contempt to pay money for "Now You See Me 2". Most of the big budget movies last year just flew me by. There was a Tarzan movie last year?! How? Why?? So 2016 really left audiences with no choice. If you loved cinema, you had to go weird, you had to eat your vegetables. You had to really dig. And behind all the dirt of the sequels and the bad reboots and the utterly generic, there was a lot of gold to dig up. In 2016 you really needed gold at the movies.

2017 doesn't look much better, so this list is my small contribution to maybe making your year better. (And of course, utter egoism, as always):

Friday, January 6, 2017

Top 10 Games of 2016

I’ve never written a Top 10 Video Game List before. Seems way overdue.

Until 2016 I just never had the money or the time to play as many games as I could. I also was pretty stuck in my ways. I knew exactly what kinds of games I wanted to play and didn’t want to break too far out of that box. If it wasn’t some Japanese RPG or "Putt-Putt", I was probably not going to try it. At the beginning of this year Yahtzee wrote in his Extra Punctuation column that gamers should get out of their comfort zones in 2016. I took his advise to heart and spent the winter playing a filthy Polack gaijin RPG in "The Witcher 3". I spent the summer playing dirty western first person shooters. I really wanted in 2016 to try to see the full width and breath of what the gaming industry had to offer, both big and small. Here are my findings.

Now that said, I couldn't play everything. So many of the big budget games this year looked utterly boring, so I ignored them. Life is short, nobody has time to waste on regurgitation like "Far Cry: Primal". "Mirror's Edge" is a classic, "Mirror's Edge: Retaliation" has been turned into the standard open world game that everything else is now. (You'll notice, AAA open world games failed to make this list entirely.) But I also missed things I wanted to play, like "Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE", "Firewatch", "Superhot", "Dragon Quest Builders", "Oxenfree", "The Witness", and who knows, maybe "Titanfall 2" could have surprised me. I'm just one person, there seems to be an infinity of time at the beginning of year. By the end you realize there really isn't.

So without further ado, here the games of 2016 that I'm glad ate my time:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rogue One - Still a Star Wars Prequel

"Rogue One" has its head in the right place, at least.

Currently Disney is threatening the world of pop culture with a superweapon whose power is beyond imagination: an endless series of Star Wars sequels and spin-offs for the rest of our lives. If you want a picture of the future, imagine Darth Vader’s boot stamping on a human face – forever. So it is good that "Rogue One" looks and feels like a very different kind of SciFi movie. This is not grandpa George Lucas' space opera.

Rather than the operatic joy of a typical Star Wars episode, "Rogue One" goes for a more dour and gritty view of the universe. It is stylistically darker and more serious than even "Empire Strikes Back" or "Revenge of the Sith". The heroes do not get huge action scenes and victories. Giant weird monsters and fun quips are missing. This is a Star Wars film without an idealistic Jedi hero. It shows just how essential those Joseph Campbell protagonists are, because without them, this series ends up in a much uglier and more desperate mode. With a cast of badly broken people and morally gray decisions, "Rogue One" gives us a view of the hard underside of the Star Wars universe.

But what I really love about "Rogue One" is the design of this movie. Most Star Wars cinematography is very plain, if even deliberately retro. No other film series can get away with cheesy side-wipes anymore, but Star Wars can. "Rogue One" uses a digital camera rather than film to create a grimmer tone, but also beautifully complex shots. This is the best looking Star Wars movie by far. The typical bombast of the John Williams score is replaced. We don't even get an opening crawl. Director Gareth Edwards makes it clear he's telling his own story without the old formula.

So far so good. The only problem is that "Rogue One" forgot to have characters.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Last Guardian - A BlueHighwind and His Dog

There have been three games that I have been waiting patiently for in my little corner of the world. Two of those games came out in the very first week of this month. The last, "Kingdom Hearts III", will probably be released in my lifetime. Hopefully. But it’s definitely a weird feeling. All of a sudden I have very little to complain about at future E3s. I can’t be automatically disappointed at Square Enix for not showing "Final Fantasy XV". I can’t wonder if "The Last Guardian" was secretly cancelled. That part of my life is gone.

The world has become somehow a less magical place now that all my dreams have come true. That’s probably the worst lesson of becoming an adult. It is more enjoyable to want than to actually have. I spent six years on the Final Fantasy Wiki working to become an Admin, and when it happened I felt no joy. If all of a sudden tomorrow somebody hired me away from my day job to work full time as a video game/movie commentator/reviewer… whatever thing I am, I imagine I’ll be disappointed in that too. Because once you’ve achieved your goals you realize how hollow they really were. Life just becomes all the more empty.

And what do you know? It’s also appropriately Christmas, the time of the year when we get all kinds of bullshit and junk that somehow never satisfies us.

It should come as no surprise that both "The Last Guardian" and "Final Fantasy XV" have not lived up to expectations. After you’ve spent six or ten years waiting for a game, they can never match the emotional investment you’ve already put into them*. "Metal Gear Solid V" last year turned out to be badly flawed in story and excellent in gameplay. But after years of watching perfectly directed trailer after perfectly directed trailer, that was not enough. "The Last Guardian" and "Final Fantasy XV" are both not enough in their own ways. I’ll cover both on this blog before the year is done.

But "The Last Guardian" is much much shorter, so I beat that one first. Thus it gets the first review: