Thursday, May 31, 2012

Skies of Arcadia

I sometimes imagine what would have happened to the world of JRPGs if "Final Fantasy VII" was never made.  FFVII is easily one of the most influential RPGs ever made, in fact, I'd argue that it marks a major turning point of the entire genre towards what we today consider to a "Japanese RPG".  Before RPGs were generally cartoony affairs whose main influence was old games of tabletop RPGs, especially Dungeons and Dragons.  Final Fantasy especially often erred more towards wacky and silly than dramatic, but all that changed when FFVII came around.  Misato Kato brought in a whole host of new ideas, creating a much more complicated and darker story than had ever been attempted before, with a new immense quality of cinematic storytelling.  On some level, the new anime-esque drama went to Square Enix's head, and now unfortunately they've been attempting to create a new cultural cornerstone with every new title, instead of just making games.  Those results have been mixed.  That's what mainstreams JRPGs were before FFVII, just games.  And FFVII, how every you want to judge it, actually made JRPGs something much more.  Some series, like "Dragon Quest" skirted right on by totally unchanged, but others, like the "Chrono Trigger" series, underwent immense changes in tone and scale to fit the new paradigm.  FFVII changed the world.

"Skies of Arcadia" is like a game that's wandered out of an alternate universe where "Final Fantasy VII" never happened.  If I were to directly translate the often-silly sensibilities of a SNES JRPG directly into the third dimension, "Skies of Arcadia" is what would probably come out.  Released in 2001, "Skies of Arcadia" was born right in the age directly following FFVII, when RPG plotlines had pretty much reached the utter limit of complexity and weirdness.  Instead of the usual variations on "Evangelion"-esque psychedelic SciFi that dominated games like "Xenogears" and the last disc of "Final Fantasy IX", "Skies of Arcadia" went straight back to the storyline conventions that had made JRPGs such an important genre in video game history.  This plotline is completely by-the-numbers to the point of nearly being cliche:  you have a group of adventurers fighting an evil Empire out to conquer the world by collecting various multicolored orbs of power.  Also there's an amnesiac mysterious girl who almost certainly holds the fate of the world in her innocent head, and a white-haired pretty boy from her same mysterious nation that is definitely going to be the Final Boss.  Everything is tried, everything has been done before, but also, its totally classic and beautiful.

This leads me to my real point, "Skies of Arcadia" is an awesome unpretentious game.  It knows exactly what is it:  a game, out to entertain.  We aren't mired down in love story plotlines, the hero is not filled with any self-doubt, and instead of moody frowns, pretty much everybody is smiling and laughing.  There's a reason "Final Fantasy XII" was inspired just as much by this game as it was by previous Ivalice titles.  Its because "Skies of Arcadia" is a true underrated gem.  A great game.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Men in Black 3

So here's a big shocker:  "Men in Black 3" is a good movie.  I had pretty much zero hope for this thing, and shockingly, it managed to pull itself together into a movie way more decent than it ever deserved to be.

"Men in Black" as a franchise has never exactly been a huge cultural game-changer.  Much like franchises like "Mission: Impossible", "Men in Black" is a series the largely exists for studios to plop out new movies every half a decade to drum up some easy quick money.  Are there really "Men in Black" fans?  Would anybody be particularly offended if "Men in Black 3" were to fail?  Is there any vested emotion in this movie's release?  I mean, I was a fan of "Men in Black 1", it ran through my VHS player a lot when I was the kid.  Was it a movie I loved?  Not really.  And I didn't care when "Men in Black 2" came out.  "Men in Black 2" sucked by the way, I rented it three years later, and it was just a total waste of everybody's time, including mine.  Even mentioning it in that last sentence was too much respect for that completely pointless movie.  However, "Men in Black 3" is one of those rare cases where the studio actually managed to think up a decent script, had some good ideas for a new story involving these characters, and made a rather good movie.  This is easily the best "Men in Black 3" that could ever exist.

Still, let it end here.  Do I want a "Men in Black 4"?  Heck no.  For all the good this movie has managed to accomplish, it pretty much shows there's no future here.  Tommy Lee Jones had to be replaced for 90% of this movie's running time with Josh Brolin playing Tommy Lee Jones playing Agent K.  Can Will Smith handle the franchise on his own?  I have my doubts.  This is easily the most emotional "Men in Black" movie yet, managing to get past the typical silly alien stuff and uncover a real heart at the end.  It wound up being more than just a   Its a feat I doubt the movies will manage to repeat.  Please, don't embarrass yourself, go home.  But aside from misgivings about this franchise's future, "Men in Black 3" may be the best "Men in Black" movie yet.

Monday, May 28, 2012


In a just universe, it would have been "Transformers 4" to eat the miserable bullet of being the next big Blockbuster flop.  Unfortunately, instead, we live here, so "Battleship" gets to be the second film bitten by the Taylor Kitsch curse.  Why did "Battleship" fail?  That should be obvious.  Everybody thought it was a terrible idea.  Why make a fun little children's board game into a ridiculous alien invasion movie whose main artistic inspiration is the cinematic-styles of Michael Bay?  This is a movie that only seems to make sense according to the greedy math of a cigar-smoking Hollywood executive:  "Michael Bay stupidity + board game that everybody loves + navy = profit!"  Turns out... not so much.

Now, on some level it would be easy to hate "Battleship" for its very existence.  Its trying to be a Michael Bay movie... and it fails to do even that.  However, failing at being "Transformers" means that the movie ultimately is somewhat watchable and is not horribly annoying and stupid, so "Battleship" actually avoids being the Worst Goddamn Movie Ever Made and instead becomes merely mediocre.  If not, perhaps, just a little fun.  If you're walking in expecting a turd sandwich, you'll find its actually a cheeseburger, and cheeseburgers, though terrible for your digestive system, are edible.  Don't get me wrong, "Battleship" is NOT a good movie, oh God no.  I'm actually proud of the American people for being too smart to fall for this crap*, maybe its a sign that finally the "Transformers" formula has been recognized as a fraudulent imitation at making real action movies.  Or maybe the collective American shared consciousness has an irrational hatred of Taylor Lich, I dunno.

But let's get down to turkey:  "Battleship" sucks.  It doesn't suck from beginning to end, it doesn't suck at its very soul.  This is a movie that only exists to be very stupid entertainment, and that's so nicely innocent and harmless compared to the "Transformers" movies attempts to destroy Western Civilization.  There are too many things wrong with this movie to recommend.  Its like a big doggy that knocks you over trying to lick your face.  Can you hate that?  He's just trying to be lovable... and failing.  Aren't the "Transformers" movies just trying to entertain also?  Perhaps.  I don't believe that for a second, though.  "Battleship" is trying to just entertain, so its not evil entirely.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Beyond the Black Rainbow

Stanley Kubrick.  David Cronenberg.  Andrei Tarkovsky.  John Carpenter.  Dario Argento.  George Lucas.  Alejandro Jodorowsky.  "Beyond the Black Rainbow" is probably the ultimate game of "spot the influence".  I mean, we got one part "THX 1138", a dash of "2001", some "Solaris" seasoning", two cups of "Darkstar", and just a pinch of "Scanners".  There are so many tastes to this meal, your mouth can't even keep track of what its eating.  Only one problem:  for all the flavoring and spice, this meal is still bland as crap.  I think I'd rather have some McDonalds instead and go watch "Battleship".

The trailer for "Beyond the Black Rainbow" was just too amazing for me to possibly ignore.  I already had a lot of movies on my plate in 2012, but "Beyond the Black Rainbow" shot immediately right up to second-place, right behind "Batman 3".  This looked like a brilliant celebration of the dated classic styles of 70s and early 80s SciFi, and I guess it still is.  Only, its celebrating the wrong SciFi movies.  Instead of juicy stuff like "Altered States" or "Scanners" or even "A Clockwork Orange", it borrows waaay too much from "2001: A Space Odyssey", which happens to be one of my least favorite movies of all time.  Take it this way:  the movie "Solaris" has a great middle section with some brilliant rather disturbing SciFi.  But at the beginning of the movie, there's a ten minute sequence of an aerial shot of highways*, which is really boring, makes no sense, and has nothing to do with anything.  "Beyond the Black Rainbow" takes inspiration more from the highway sequence than the plot.  Its a pretty movie, I can respect its style, but its still really really really painfully slow.  You can have the trendiest most awesome 80s sensibilities that you want, but you still need characters and movement.

"Beyond the Black Rainbow" isn't quite as bad as Terry Malice-style bullshit.  But its down there in the realm of modernist artsy-fartsy nonsense.  There is a plot to this movie, for example, and there are scenes, and dialog, and its all at least a linear narrative.  Unfortunately, the characters are either totally insane or comotose, so there's really nobody to hook onto, every scare is muted by the unending dullness of the movie's pace, and amazing imagery can't make up for what is ultimately just a really mediocre boring movie.  Its creepy, its got a nice atmosphere, the retro style is cool, but that's all mere decorations.  Its not a good movie, and that's what counts.

House Finale

For the last five years, I've watched "House".  If you didn't know that about me, you know it now.  I am now out of the "House" closet.  Well, I really wasn't ever in the closet on this one, I really just never got much of a chance of to talk about it.  Anyway, for about half a decade, this has been just about the only primetime TV show I've bothered to watch.  Because look at those Hugh Laurie puppydog eyes!  Who can resist that?  Awww, whose a good Hugh Laurie!  You are!  Oh, yes you are!  Oh, yes you are!  Good, boy!

Lately, however, "House" has been in a fairly spectacular decline.  When did "House" jump the shark?  That's a question for historians to ponder over for years, I think.  But it is clear that fish was hopped, nobody can dispute that fact.  Its pretty clear to me that the producers ran out of interesting medical mysteries by roughly season 5, and then completely ran out of things for TV's most beloved misanthropic drug addict doctor to do about two episodes later.  First they blew up the entire old cast of the show, replacing them all with increasingly less interesting people every few seasons.  That didn't quite work.  This last season has actually been utterly unwatchable thanks to the newest staff, one of which is a twelve-year-old Asian girl who don't think actually knows how to act.   So they tried having House go crazy.  That worked for a shocking finale, but it didn't quite have legs.  Then they had House fall in love with his boss, Cuddy.  That led to an excruciating season where House and Cuddy argued back and forth over how to make their relationship work, often focusing on braindead things like "do we even have anything in common?*"  Cuddy dumped House, he drove a car through her window, he went to jail, etc.  He's back now, I haven't been watching this season all that much, but it really seems like the show was collapsing under its own weight.

So now "House" ends, not on a triumphal note, but on a sheepish acceptance by the producers that if they go any further, this trainwreck will start to kill people.  Pull the plug now before it gets any worse.  As for the final final episode?  It was... meh.  "House" often has been able to end on truly shocking sudden notes, most notably season 5 when House thought he had sex with Cuddy, but actually had gone completely insane.  This time, House has to decide whether to live or die.  So I guess this was kind of a symbolic representation of this show reaching rock bottom in quality by having its star reach rock bottom in his life?  Who knows?  Either way, its over, and we can somewhat be grateful for that.

Nazis at the Center of the Earth

There are good movies.  There are bad movies.  And there are movies you have to see because of the title alone.  "Nazis at the Center of the Earth" is a movie that lays out its premise, its tone, and its entire worldview right from the title.  This is the kind of movie that you go around telling everybody that you've seen, just to see their reactions.  And as for awesome movie titles go, this is the best I've seen since "They Saved Hitler's Brain".

"Nazis at the Center of the Earth" is perhaps the latest movie from the Asylum, the cheapest B-movie company on Earth.  I say "perhaps" because these guys make a movie approximately every two and a half seconds, by the time I finish this review they'll probably already have released "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies".  You may remember the Aslyum from last year's "Titanic 2", a movie that sadly could not offer the fascinating hilarity that its title promised.  "Nazis at the Center of the Earth", as usual, is a mockbuster, this time of the German film "Iron Sky", which would be more appropriately be named "Nazis on the Moon".  "Iron Sky" isn't out yet in the United States, so if you're looking for a movie where National Socialists invade the Earth from a preposterous direction, "Nazis at the Center of the Earth" will nicely fit that bill.  And shockingly, confounding as a matter of fact, this is actually a really really good movie.  This isn't just a silly title to throw around at parties to impress people as to how awful your taste in movie is, this is actually a lot of fun to watch.  Saying this is the Asylum's best movie is kind of damning it with faint praise, since that means you're comparing it to such crap as "Mega Python vs Gatorsaurus" but really, this is their best movie.

Here's the thing:  most Asylum movies mean well, but they're never all that well made.  I don't review them very often because its sorta like making fun of the test scores of a kid with down syndrome, really, you have to admire them for even being able to make movies in the first place.  "Nazis at the Center of the Earth" was made for less than 200 thousand dollars and shot in twelve days, and trust me, it shows.  Most of the time their movies are just horribly boring, punctuated occasionally by random moments of disgustingly bad CG.  "Titanic 2" was perhaps the most dull movie I've reviewed here, rivaled only by "J. Edgar".  But maybe the Nazis are the Asylum's muse because this time they managed to find just the right mixture of silliness, horror, and total awesomeness to make it not only watchable, but entertaining.  Also, Jake Busey is in this.  You'll just have to find a way to make peace with that fact.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Final Fantasy XIII-2 DLC Special

Here's that post where I complain about trends in Final Fantasy!  *thumbs up*

So it has now been three months since I've played that wretched abomination of a game called "Final Fantasy XIII-2:  The Legend of Curly's Gold".  If you recall my response to that game, I hated it so much that even three months later I still refer to it as a "wretched abomination of a game".  Ever since my experience with Motomu Toriyama's latest unspeakable catastrophe, I've found myself increasingly morbidly fascinated by the slow trickle of DLC stuff.  Mostly in the now-clearly delusional hope that one of those DLC items would happen to contain the real ending of the game.  As we all know, FFXIII-2 does not have an ending.  And as we all equally should know, all video games need to have endings.  Preferably clear unambiguous endings where the heroes succeed and you're left with the warm knowledge that you didn't waste thirty hours playing some lazy half-assed piece of shit developed by cynical bastards who stopped giving a shit about their flagship RPG franchise seven years ago.  Sadly, that's not the case.

Ultimately I had no choice but to once again return to the sordid tale of FFXIII, because just this week, Square Enix released the last bit of DLC for the game.  This, as far as I know, is actually going to be the very last thing released for the entire FFXIII saga, barring of course the seemingly inevitable FFXIII-3.  So far most of the DLC has been rather harmless.  You got a battle against some old Final Fantasy veterans like Ultros and Gilgamesh, a fight against Lightning in her original costume, a really stupid Sazh-based poker game, and costumes, lots and lots of costumes.  But this last DLC, "Requiem of a Pretentious" is actually the very last event to occur in this game, so its the closest thing to an ending we may ever get.  And guess what?  This ending is just as horrible and inconclusive as anything else.  So if you spent six bucks on this bullshit (like I didn't*) you were left just as unsatisfied as ever, perhaps even more so.  All in all, FFXIII-2 in its complete form adds up to something like one hundred dollars, assuming you bought it new.  And the game still sucks.

So let me do a brief post explaining why this new DLC is horrible.  Because it will be cathartic.  Also, let me begin by saying this:  Motomu Toriyama, please retire.  You do not make good games.  You are a shame to your entire family.  Go do something else.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Outting Obama

This week the number one issue in America has been Gay Marriage, though at first I didn't think I'd need to write a post about it.  I was with lots of people on Tuesday when North Carolina's surprisingly horrible voting population decided to throw a constitutional amendment against Gay Marriage, thus cementing years of prejudice and shame for that state.  But that's nothing new, states all across the country have been putting in place these bans, and one day we'll all have to suffer the accusatory eyes of our grandchildren when they come home having learned about this sorry issue in their school history class.  I wonder what explanation North Carolina voters will be able to come up with when trying to explain why they acted in such reprehensible ways?  "You don't understand, it was another time!"  "We thought God was telling us to."  "We were misled by the Republicans."*  I'll have a clear conscious, my grandkids could read this exact post and know I'm clear of history's judgment.

But what really made this week interesting was President Barack Obama's decision to appear in public and declare himself a supporter of Gay Marriage.  Previously Obama has claimed that he was either against Gay Marriage (and even more previously claimed to be a support in the 90s), then he claimed to have his views "evolving" in what everybody knew to be bullshit political talk for "I'm support Gay Marriage, and I'm going to be open soon enough, just when its most political expedient to me".  This week in a rather bold move Obama, gathered all of America together, looked us right in the eye, and said "Yes, I'm Gay... for same-sex marriage".  You have to give him credit here, even if this was a crass political move, or something he wasn't planning on doing directly, I don't really care about motives.  Obama is a politician, not a saint, his integrity means little to me as long as he does what needs to be done.  And supporting Gay Marriage is what needed to be done.  This is a huge step, when the most powerful man on Earth tells the world exactly what we need to be told.  Yeah, North Carolina won a minor battle for the Right Wing, but they lost a huge battle here, when the Presidency legitimizes homosexual couples and their way of life.

Of course, there was a response.  The one that's most interesting to me was Mitt Romney's, since he jumped immediately into "no same-sex marriage for anybody!"  So Mitt, I guess you wanted my vote in November, huh?  Yeah, I don't think that's going to happen.

* Given the current trajectory of the Republican Party into downright fascinating levels of absurdity, to the point that respected moderates like Rick Lugar cannot hold their place against Tea Party fanatics, I wonder if there even will be a Republican Party by the time we have my hypothetical conversation with our grandkids.  Mitt Romney actually could be a real option for President... only he has to flip deeply into extreme Conservatism just to appear viable by the Republican base, and even then they still hate him.  Its really a shame, an entire half of our political thought in this country has been highjacked by crazies, which even in the best case scenario of their total defeat leaves me worried about a solely Left-run future.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

So here's what I hope will be a nice short simple movie review to a nice short little family comedy.  Its "The Pirates! Band of Misfits", the latest in the long-running "Pirates of the Caribbean" series.  Now, I've loved the "Pirates" series from the beginning, and I even loved last year's rather mediocre "Pirates 4", but I was pretty skeptical when Gore Verbinski decided to abandon every major character, including people's champion, Jack Sparrow, and then switch the series' style over to stop-motion animation.  Some fans got so mad they did the unthinkable:  they complained on the Internet. Johnny Depp seems to not be taking it well, just watch "Dark Shadows" to see how low he's sunk.  But I for one, was pleasantly surprised.  This stop-motion British children's comedy thing might just be the rejuvenate spark "Pirates of the Caribbean" needed.  "Pirates 5" was shockingly enjoyable, you should see it now.

...Wait sorry, I seem to have written the first paragraph of this review in some bizarro pocket universe.  Let me correct my dimensional perspective and do this seriously.

"The Pirates! Band of Misfits"* is a UK stop motion animation film by Aardman Animations, who you may better know as the guys who did "Wallace and Gromit".  I don't really know Aardman as well as I should, but they've made a few movies that I've liked, especially 2006's "Flushed Away".  By the way, funny story about that one, "Flushed Away" was only made because Aardman was told that because of the popularity of "Pirates of the Caribbean", nobody would want to see a pirates movie, which is what they were originally going for.  Now that "Pirates of the Caribbean" has exactly zero avid fans left (besides yours truly), they finally got to make their dream project.  So you got pirates, a thing I like, and irrelevant British humor, I thing I really like, and finally David Tennant, a thing I REALLY like to the point of questionable heterosexuality, plays Charles Darwin.  What more could you want?

And indeed, I left this movie wanting exactly nothing.  "The Pirates!" seems to be pretty low on the pop culture radar, it isn't some huge cultural event like "Avengers" or whatever.  Its just a fun little movie.  Really funny, really clever, really silly, and it just leave you happy inside.  A sweet thing, like "The Muppets".

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Avengers

Right now "The Avengers" has hit 200 million dollars in box office sales in the first weekend, and I believe it.  I went to see this movie today, Sunday afternoon, and apparently so did the rest of my entire hometown, because my theatre was packed.  Crazy packed.  I'm talking a line stretching out to the parking lot, and shows sold out for hours.  Like, holy damn, this is a Sunday.  This isn't a midnight release of a "Twilight" film.  I haven't seen a movie threatre so packed since "Inception" two years ago, and actually, "Avengers" wins.  So it looks like Disney is going to have a nice happy surplus of cash to get back everything they lost from "John Carter of Mars".

So I think somewhere on this blog I muttered in one of my depressive episodes following my disappointment with "Thor" or "Captain America" that "Avengers" was going to suck and I had no interest in seeing it.  Well, I was being a snob and a terrible person, so I'm going to stop that right now.  Ultimately I guess I don't really have any problem with Superheroes per se, its just that Superhero movies are typically the most mediocre of the mediocre blockbusters.  Let's review:  "Daredevil", both "Punisher" movies, both "Fantastic Four" movies, "X-Men 3", "X-Men Wolverine", "Captain America", "Iron Man 2", and all three "Spiderman" films, all mediocre.  Or you get something like "Green Lantern", which is just so bad you wonder if the move you're seeing is some kind of sick joke made by the Joker.  Seriously, any moment during "Green Lantern" I was certain the movie would cut to a blank screen with the words "HAHAHAHAHAHA" written on it, and then Joker laughing gas would be pumped in from the vents.  That only could have made that movie better, come to think of it.

Luckily "the Avengers" is not a bad movie.  Or even a mediocre movie.  It was actually good, shockingly good.  A lot better than I dare would have believed considering last year's crop of Marvel films.  Yeah, there was a part of me wishing this movie would be a miserable trainwreck considering that "Captain America", a movie I wanted to love, sucked primarily because it only existed as a two-hour trailer to this film, but I won't be.  I'll be a better person and be glad that a decent movie got made that everybody in America can enjoy.  This is basically as good of a movie as ever could have been made about the Avengers.  And remember, if America wasn't out breaking box office records "The Avengers", they could be out watching a Transformer film or the certainly-shit "Battleship", that's coming out in two weeks.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Motherfucking Dark Knight Rises Trailer

"Batman 3" was already the biggest movie of the year for me.  Now I know this week I'm supposed to be going gaga over "The Avengers", and don't worry, I'll do my patriotic duty and watch that film on Friday.  It actually looks a lot better than I thought it would be.  But I'm finding it hard to give a shit about Marvel's silly comic book sideshow of a superhero movie.  Because this is "The Dark Knight Rises" trailer.  And it looks HARD CORE:


Now if that doesn't look like the greatest movie ever made, I will eat the Youtube video embedded into this post right now.  I had my doubts that "Batman 3" wasn't going to be as good as "Batman 2".  I never doubted that it wouldn't be a solid satisfying movie, but I figured that nothing could top the Joker, and that this would just be a "Return of the Jedi" to "Empire Strikes Back"*.  But this trailer is suggesting otherwise.  Looks like the stakes have somehow been ramped up even higher!  Did you see that bridge go up?  The flying Batmobile!!?  Bane cutting a plane in half??  It looks like Gotham is quite truly screwed this time, and Batman is going to even farther than he's ever gone to save it.  This is going to be amazing.

Can't wait for July 20th folks.  This is a movie than I need to see on a midnight opening.  。◕‿◕。

* And before you stark bitching about Ewoks, "Return of the Jedi" is an awesome movie and a great ending to the Star Wars trilogy.  Anybody who thinks otherwise has my permission now to fuck right off.