Friday, November 30, 2012

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest LP

Remember that "Final Fantasy VI" Let's Play I was doing a while back?  Well, we kinda took a break from it, and I decided to play an RPG I'd never tried before, the largely forgotten, "Final Fantasy Mystic Quest".  "Mystic Quest" was made by Square's Osaka division in 1992, who up until that time had only made RPGs on the Nintendo Gameboy... and it shows.  The Super Nintendo is an incredible system and at the time was capable of stunning graphics, it was the home to gorgeous games that continue to be regarded as classics to this very day - "Mystic Quest" is not one of them.  The game appears to have been made on virtually no budget whatsoever with the most simplistic, repetitive, and horribly horribly dull RPG battle system ever made.  There's almost no story, no characters with any depth, very little exploration, no sidequests, and very little strategy.

Let me explain what "Mystic Quest" actually is:  repetition.  Endless endless repetition.  The game is at most ten hours long, and yet 90% of that is padding.  You'll spend most of your "Mystic Quest" experience wandering around blocky ugly labyrinths of dungeons with very tight corridors filled with an endless army of pathetically easy enemies blocking your path.  You can't skip these guys, you need to kill them to get them out of your way.  So you fight through the enemies endlessly, then kill a boss, then you repeat the process over again in another dungeon.  Its easily the blandest and most terrible 16 bit RPG I've ever seen, inexcuable in its dullness.  But yet somehow it has an amazingly rocking soundtrack....  I don't understand.  Honestly there's nothing to hate here, but there's nothing to love either.  Games are supposed to be fun, and this game is the absence of fun.

So me and some FFWiki chums LPed the game, and here it is, our entire experience in five long videos:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Eureka Seven Ao

"Eureka Seven Ao" is not going to be a series I will ever forget.  Unfortunately I have to live a far worse life now because I have seen this show.  I am going to carry a grudge against "Eureka Seven Ao", a mental vendetta of pure fury forever.  Even when this existence ends and I'm reincarnated, that future person or creature will feel at an elemental level a raging hatred of "Eureka Seven Ao".  Its going right to very depths of my psyche, along with the Star Wars Prequels and "Final Fantasy XIII-2".  I am as angry right now writing this review I as have been for anything I have written for this blog.  If not more so.  But I know until I write and tell the world how goddamn awful "Eureka Seven Ao" is, I will never sleep again.  I to vent, badly.

Its been many a year since I've seen a legitimately great anime series.  The last one I watched might have been the original "Fullmetal Alchemist", but definitely "Eureka Seven" stands as one of the best Japanese programs I've ever been fortunate enough to experience.  Its plot... very little sense, but those details didn't particularly matter to me because it had gorgeous animation, a great romance plotline, and above all else, incredible characters who I truly loved and wanted to see have a happy ending, no matter how confusing and bizarre.  "Eureka Seven" doesn't even try to explain what's going on until episode 30, before that it doesn't really have much of a plot at all, its just a teenage boy, Renton, having his first love with an alien girl.  It was sweet, I have nothing but positive memories about it.  I may in fact have enjoyed "Eureka Seven" more than any other person alive, I think I'm alone with how much I fucking love that series.  "Pocket Full of Rainbows", the Eureka Seven movie that gave me that image of a grimacing Nirvash-thing that I put on almost all my negative reviews, was a lazy slapped together fraud created entirely out of reused animation and a nonsensical plot that was indescribably bad.  That movie was little more than a con job to steal people's money.  So when it was announced last May that they were making a "Eureka Seven" sequel, I was excited, but I could already envision myself many months later furiously typing away into the oblivion, trying to channel my anger into keystrokes.

Well, we're here now.  You did it, BONES, you pissed me off.  Congrats.

There is no excuse for what went on during the course of "Eureka Seven Ao".  The show was never actively terrible, it never got to the point of being directly offensive, at least not until the end.  For at least half the running time, it was watchable, if nothing special.  But at some point I started to realize:  I have no idea what's going on in this series, and I don't particularly like any of these characters.  I think BONES realized the problem too, so at some point it feels like this show was rewritten.  And then rewritten again.  And again.  And then a third time.  So having watch all twenty-four episodes, I'm left with nothing.  I don't know what this was supposed to be.  I don't know what they were trying to achieve.  Its a mess.  A goddamn mess.  This is the "Highlander 2" of anime series.  Sequels usually suck, but "Eureka Seven Ao" didn't have to be this bad.  If only I had any idea what was going on.  If only the characters knew what was going on.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Twilight 5: Sucking Long

Oh wow, a Twilight movie sucked.  Astonishing.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that "Twilight 5" was utterly awful.  This was a series that began what feels like a lifetime ago with "Twilight", a vapid pointless idiotic movie with utterly unbelievable romance story between two terrible actors who seemingly could not stand the sight of each other.  I don't know how I could have forgotten how just incredibly bad the first movies were, they were technical trainwrecks, they were acting trainwrecks.  At some point they started getting better, to the point that "Twilight 4" was bizarrely watchable and pretty solid ironic entertainment.  And I was legitimately excited for this last one, since the last one actually had pacing, tension, body horror, and surprisingly decent acting from even Kristin Stewart.  Well, "Twilight 5" came back and reminded me why these movies suck.  This series is shit.

I haven't read the books, but I was told that "Twilight 5" was going to be a huge mess.  And it was.  I even knew the big twist at the end here, but I couldn't have predicted that this movie would be so friggin' bad.  Once again, there's no plot.  There is an attempt to build up a huge battle sequence between Michael Sheen's Army of Fruity Vampires and the Last Alliance of Good Vampires and Werewolves, but it takes about two hours for that to get started.  The first half hour is meandering pointlessness as the vampires get into various misunderstandings.  Then finally we set up the war plotline, and this requires about six hundred new characters to appear.  So we'll spend another hour establishing all these people are - because the series wasn't bloated enough with about two dozen pointless characters who never do anything.  We need a hundred more.  90% of this movie is boring boring boring nothing.  Its basically sleep-inducing.  Its not even cringe-worthy like the scenes between Bella and Edward, its just dull people that you don't care about doing little or nothing.  This is possibly the most unwatchable movie in terms of boredom of the entire year.

However, its almost worth it since at the end, director Bill Condon has his glorious revenge.  Bill Condon, unlike Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first , is no hack.  He's made legitimately great movies like "Dreamgirls" and "Candyman 2"... well scratch the last one, it sucked, but he still made "Dreamgirls".  This is a man who is much too good for this shit.  And he's had to spend two years of his life working on making Stephenie Meyer's ridiculous "saga" come to life.  So I'd be pissed too.  In "Twilight 4", he seemed to be giving it his all in order to make the work, and it was his filmmaking ability that made the movie seem watchable, along with how utterly Looney Tunes insane that movie got.  Remember Jacob falls in love with a Vampire Baby.  In "Twilight 5", he has given up.  He's slapped together a piece of crap, because he knows that no matter what he makes, the Twilight fans will love it anyway.  However, "Twilight 5" also features the greatest and most monumental case I have ever seen of a director playing a giant joke on his audience.  In one battle sequence Condon does more to show how pointless, idiotic, and worthless this series has been, is now, and forever will be then every word I've written on Meyer's work.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Life of Pi

Ang Lee is an author of an eclectic but well-respected series of films in several genres and languages.  He's done kung-fu, superheroes, comedy, Oscar bait, and movies about gay cowboys eating pudding.  Unfortunately, for all his critical acclaim, he has never actually made a good movie.  When it came to the basic action films, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" focused too much on social status and emotions instead of fighting, and "Hulk" tried far too hard to establish an emotional undertone to the Incredible Hulk, when really all I wanted was for some Hulk Smash.  "Brokeback Mountain", for all its controversy was still a painfully dull and generic forlorn love story, only with dudes.  Ang Lee's best movie, ironically, is the mostly mediocre "Taking Woodstock", and half that movie's charm comes from it being Dmitri Martin's only starring role.  Ultimately Ang Lee gives me the impression that he doesn't really get it.  He makes complex technically-competent, if not even beautiful films with grand emotions about rejecting society or giving in to furious passion, but oddly his movies are oddly inert.  They're about emotions, but they don't really have much emotion to them.  They try terribly hard to make an impression, but they never really seem to quite work.

"Life of Pi" is based upon the 2001 adventure novel by Yann Martel, which I have not read.  Personally I make a point to avoid reading books about upcoming interesting movies.  If the book is good, the movie will bungle the meaning and cut out too many important details, and if the movie is good, than that means I can appreciate the story and if I'm sufficiently interested, I can read the book.  Then if the movie is bad, like really bad, I can read the book and realize how badly the filmmakers screwed up*.  Personally I enjoy movies more than books, its just the kind of person I am.  "Life of Pi", luckily, seems to be a movie that managed to rather brilliantly fit in all of the most important pieces of meaning from the original novel, so I'd say "Life of Pi" as a movie is fulfilling enough that I can skip Yann Martel's novel.  Its also Ang Lee's first truly successful effort, he was bound to get it right eventually.

At its core "Life of Pi" is actually a rather clever parable about the nature of faith.  There is a frame story around the tale that Ang Lee included which deals with a fictionalized Yann Martel meeting his character, Pi Patel, and learning the man's story.  Pi tells his life story, where he was shipwrecked all alone on a lifeboat with a single companion, Richard Parker**, a Bengal Tiger.  This mismatched pair have to brave the endless deserts of the Pacific Ocean all alone in the middle of the endless blue.  Unfortunately, that pay-off is rather subtle and requires spoilers.  I'd have no choice in this review but to give it away, so I'd say you should watching "Life of Pi" first before reading further.  Not that you'll be very bored during the viewing, since again, its a story of a boy and a tiger lost at sea.  Its also a gorgeous movie with amazing visuals.  Ang Lee films nature beautifully, and the CG work on the tiger is perfectly photo-realistic.  Not a movie that should be missed.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

I mentioned this movie briefly during my review of "The Man With the Iron Fists" mostly as a counterpoint to how you could have a modern kung-fu movie with a complex plot and absurd action and still be good.  However, I feel that a two sentence blurb really didn't do any of the movies I mentioned very much justice, and "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" really needed a bit more of my special touch.  It also helps that this was the second or third best film of 2011*, and I did not even know this movie even existed until just August.  Let me correct this now.

Detective Dee (or "Judge Di") is a historical Chinese figure from the reign of Empress Wu during the Tang Dynasty, who served as her finest minister and helped legitimize her unique position as the only true female Emperor.  That doesn't really matter for this movie, because in the 20th century Detective Dee was found by the Dutch author, Robert van Gulik, who turned him into the Chinese Sherlock Holmes.  The film version that I'm speaking of seems to be a Chinese reaction to the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes series.  "If Guy Ritchie can turn Sherlock Holmes into a psychic boxer, certainly we can turn Detective Dee into a kung-fu master!"  So celebrated Hong Kong director Tsui Hark, best known for directing "Once Upon a Time in China", stepped up to the bat and made what is easily my favorite Wuxia film**, and one of the best Chinese films ever made in my opinion.

Typically the Wuxia genre features two things I really like and one feature I really don't, so the movies seem to begin with a lot of promise, then degenerate - for me - into unsatisfaction.  I love the action, but they're only there to keep the cheap seats happy, I love the deep political plotlines and complex characters.  However, I don't think I've ever seen a Wuxia film that ended well, they almost always seem to end not with a big action climax like I'd like, but instead the main character submitted to his death and then you realize that aside from the kung-fu, the rest of the movie was just dreary, not fun.  Like "Hero" ends with Jet Li letting himself get devoured by a million arrows, which I suppose fits the theme of the movie well and "Hero" is a movie I respect, but its also an action movie and letting your invincible badass character get killed with such ease feels like an anticlimax.  "Detective Dee" however, is a far more silly movie than "Crouching Tiger" or "Hero" or "Curse of the Golden Flower".  This one has talking deer, and animated puppet kung-fu fighters, and people getting spontaneously combusted, and people's faces magically shifting, and a giant Buddha statue the size of the Empire State Building.  Its a colorful detective romp that combines the serious drama of Wuxia, but tempers it in the thrills of over-the-top action and the suspense of a well-done mystery plotline.  Maybe I'm just a lowest common denominator nimrod but I'll take the simply thrills over the complex emotions.

Monday, November 12, 2012


James Bond is a character so iconic and so long-lasting in movie history that I hesitate to even call it a film franchise anymore.  Rather, its an institution, a tradition.  If "Skyfall" is James Bond's fiftieth anniversary in film, than that means that this franchise is older than both my parents, and is only a year younger than the President.  And now with six actors putting on the tuxedo and sipping dry martinis - shaken not stirred - its pretty clear that James Bond will last forever.  Hollywood is never going to stop making these movies, the tradition is simply too strong.  Just like the Batman franchise and Star Wars:  its only going to end when Western Civilization ends.

The new Daniel Craig movies were a major reboot of the Bond formula, which I'd say was sorely needed after the four Pierce Brosnan films.  I'm not a huge Bond fan or scholar, and since I'm a child of the Nineties I grew up with Brosnan as my template for James Bond.  However, today, I can't say his films were particularly great.  "Goldeneye" is easily the best, though "Tomorrow Never Dies" is very entertaining thanks to Jonathan Pryce's excellent run as the villain.  But by "The World is Not Enough" and "Die Another Day", it was obvious that the puns, the smugness, the ridiculous gadgetry, and the entire mood was all wrong.  The movies were still entertaining and profitable, but they were so goofy and light that they were impossible to take seriously, basically the "Batman and Robin" of James Bond.  Daniel Craig may be my favorite Bond*.  I recently rewatched "Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace" since they were playing on USA, and I must say, "Casino Royale" really is an incredible movie, I had forgotten how good it was.  Its quite a thing in your movie when the action sequences are the least interesting thing because you just want Craig to back to his brilliant romance with Eva Greene or the real tension on the poker table.  A lot of people really hate "Quantum of Solace" and I don't fully understand why.  It was, yeah, average, and  I thought it was a middling effort that could have been better, but it still had a lot of things I liked.  And I thought it was setting up better things to come.  That better thing is here now, and its called "Skyfall".

"Skyfall" is probably the best James Bond movie I've seen.  At the very least, its the one that's the most emotionally intense and goes deepest to James Bond as a character.  We've already seen Daniel Craig's Bond tested deeply by first falling in love with, and then losing, Vesper Lind, and he's dealt with getting revenge for that.  But "Skyfall" isn't merely testing James Bond, its putting pressure on the entirety of MI6, its an existential threat to Britain's entire traditional intelligence service, mirrored in James Bond's own mental and physical degradation, along with threats to Judi Dench's job as M.  Meanwhile the new Bond series brings forward its best villain yet.  Javier Bardem is funny, crazy, and somebody you really think could actually defeat James Bond and the entirety of British Intelligence.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Man With the Iron Fists

Now here is a movie that, by all rights, should have been one of my favorite movies of 2012.  Apparently my love for old Chinese and Hong Kong kung-fu fantasy movies is inexplicably shared by gangsta rappers.  So director RZA* went out and made his own 70s throwback action fantasy adventure.  Its part Wuxia, part chop-socky, part Grindhouse, part over-the-top anime, and part some other film genre that I've missed somehow, in there too just for good measure.  Basically its "Kill Bill Vol. 1".  The trailers, of course, were incredible, featuring a small army of wire effects, CG, and various ridiculous ways of fighting including a Gun-Knife, a man who can turn into bronze, and a suit made out of knives.  It looked like an insane romp through ludicrous action scenes and an epic storyline to go with it.  And it was.  However... there was a catch.  This movie is a mess.

One issue with "The Man With the Iron Fists" is that we really don't have a shortage of awesome Eastern kung-fu movies these days.  In the past decade along there have been plenty:  First of all there's "Kill Bill", which needs no introduction.  "Sukiyaki Western Django" is a true grindhouse movie brought to life with a rich colorful story, no fear of coming off ridiculous, and a bizarre time-paradox cameo from Quentin Tarantino.  "Kung Fu Hustle" is more or less a live-action kung-fu cartoon but still has incredible action and great characters.  "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" is an epic Chinese Wuxia action film that features a Tang-Dynasty Sherlocke Holmes and a deep story with plenty of twists and conspiracies - of the obscure movies I just listed, this is the one I recommend the highest.  And then just for good measure, you could always watch "The Good, The Bad, and the Weird", which isn't really a kung-fu movie but is instead a Western taking place in Japanese-occupied Manchuria.  And "The Man With the Iron Fists" usage of over-the-top action and colorful ways of dealing death can be found in virtually any anime ever made.  So there are movies that try to do what RZA was working towards and do it right, these are all great.  "The Man With the Iron Fists" is merely... entertaining, and nothing else.

Essentially "The Man With the Iron Fists" is my definition of a guilty pleasure.  The action is incredible, the visuals are interesting and unique, and the movie has its own sense of style:  hip hop meets kung-fu, its great.  However, the directing, the acting, the script, and even a lot of the characters are poorly implemented.  This movie is badly bloated with a huge storyline that is far longer and complicated than it has any right to be.  There are a lot of individual fight scenes and characters that work, but the overall whole is a wreck... However, its so over-the-top.  RZA tries everything to entertain his audience, going to every extreme to make this project work.  And with that, I'm basically left in a weird case.  This movie is not good, I can't say it works, however, I can't say that its not worth seeing and will not entertain.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Safety Not Guaranteed

Last year I had the specific misfortune to watch a movie called "Another Earth", an Indie "SciFi" movie that purportedly was about the possibilities of doppelgangers and alternate universe.  Instead it turned to be a slow miserable movie with excruciating pacing and miserable characters.  And the whole thing about alternate universes?  Just a tease, little more than a poetic metaphor for a painfully dreary drama starring two barely functioning depressives who spend so much time moping in its each other's arms that the movie forgot to actually take us to the 'Another Earth' as the title implied.  Then just for giggles, Lars Von Trier took the concept last year and made "Melancholia", a movie so bitter that the depression managed to sneak into the title.  So 2011 was a horrible year for Indie SciFi, all in all.  These are movies that nobody should ever be punished into seeing.

Luckily 2012 has been a far far better year for movies all around, so the movie I'm reviewing today, "Safety Not Guaranteed", is actually watchable, and is in fact a beautiful, funny, and deeply entertaining film.  Its the story of a reporter and two interns going to a beachside town in Oregon to investigate a bizarre wanted ad in the local newspaper offering a seat in some unexplained time travel adventure.  Who put this ad in?  Is this a joke?  Is he a con-artist?  Is this guy crazy?  Is the time travel real?  Where are they supposed to be going?  Why is the bitchy chick from "Scott Pilgrim" starring in this movie?  All these mysteries and more are the driving element in tension in the movie, though the latter question will probably be answered for you in ten minutes.

"Safety Not Guaranteed" isn't really a movie about time travel, its a drama film that just happens to feature a character with a dream so fantastic and absurd that he's almost childishly inspiring.  His plan at first seems to have as much chance of working as a cardboard box with the words "Time Machine" written on the side.  Instead this movie comes off as a study of characters dealing with growing up, or failing to.  There's a lot more romance than you'd expect.   Its ultimately a character-study, but not one like "Looper" where the study comes from a character literally against himself, its a linear narrative.  In the end, the characters choose the fantastic and impossible over dull regular existence.  The performances are great, the story is great, the directing is solid, "Safety Not Guaranteed" is an utterly solid movie.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why I'm Voting Obama

Consider this the official Planet Blue Presidential Recommendation - Barack Obama for President tomorrow.  And make sure you vote, even if you disagree with me.  In fact, especially if you disagree with me, because as the polls stand now Obama is going to have a very narrow victory tomorrow mostly thanks to the Electoral College.  Its going to be difficult to vote in New Jersey this year thanks to Hurricane Sandy, but for the most part power is back on everywhere relevant for me now a week around the hurricane hit.  Of course, I have to thank the President, Governor Chris Christie, FEMA, and every other agency that helped us out.  Its weird as hell for New Jersey to be playing the role of Florida for once, and I'd rather it not happen again.

Anyway, my vote for Obama, I'm sorry to say, is based on what has become the general trope of politics:  my guy isn't very good, but the other guy is worse.  The Economist last week recommended Obama last week for roughly the same reason, "the devil you know".  Historically it appears that Obama is going to stand as a mediocre president, perhaps even a bad president once his eight years are up, and frankly looking back I have to say we probably made a mistake back in 2008 when we didn't elect John McCain.  However, I ignored John McCain back then because he wasn't the same John McCain from 2000, he was playing the arch-Republican role.  And for the same reason, I'm snubbing Mitt Romney because he isn't the same Romney from his days as governor of Massachusetts.  Once upon a time Romney was a true moderate, brining fiscal prudence along with health care reform and shockingly, a strong environmentalist record, and these are all things the new Mitt Romney would like us to forget.  Even when Mitt Romney in the last debate tried to become the pious moderate (and accidentally ripped-off his opponent's foreign policy basically word for word) he still managed to come off as dangerously nationalist, talking of a massive increase in military spending and then, most disturbingly for me, and bizarre despite his claims of being a competent businessman who understands the economy, he wants to start a trade with China.

In his first four years, Barack Obama has been a disappointment, let's not mince words.  We all thought when we supported him and voted for him* that four years later we'd be in a much better place, economically, socially - we might be doing better internationally.  Obama had a very tough battle against the Republican Party to get even what he accomplished finished, most notably Obamacare, which is still an incomplete step towards complete health care reform.  We still don't have legislation that fixes No Child Left Behind, we still don't have immigration reform, we have a Wall Street Reform bill, but I'm not sure if its getting enforced properly.  The economy is in stable but weak, the deficit is rising, and I'm concerned about our international position.  If there were another reasonable choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, I'd probably vote for that guy.  If the Republicans had run a good candidate like Chris Christie or Paul Ryan or even McCain again, I would have voted for that side.  Four more years is a dangerous gamble for our country's future, but I believe Mitt Romney represents a far worse gamble.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Paranormal Activity 3 and 4

Last year I watched "Paranormal Activity 1" and "2" back to back for my Halloween post, and this year, it only seemed right to do the same thing.  Hopefully this means that I have reviewed every Paranormal Activity movie that will ever exist, because having seen all four of these things, I really hope that they stop making them.  It seems that now that the Saw series collapsed in spectacular fashion after the disaster that was "Saw 3D", Paranormal Activity has taken Saw's position as the yearly Halloween franchise.  And trust me, just like the Saw movies, Paranormal Activity is clearly running out of steam with the fourth installment.  And that's saying something for a film series that really never had much coal in the boiler in the first place.

Just to make sure that I wasn't totally insane in my distaste for the Paranormal Activity movies, I made sure to watch these movies in a very different environment than the one I used last year.  Last year I was over a friend's house mocking it with a group of friends, and only a few of us were actually scared - they were girls.  This year I watched in all alone in an empty room in the dark, and I was even less scared.  I actually did turn the lights on, but only to get enough light so I could work on a few Sudoku puzzles in a book of them I found for entertainment while Hurricane Sandy had knocked out my power.  And its actually Hurricane Sandy's fault that I'm reviewing these movies at all - if there had been power and local theaters were working this week, I might be here reviewing "Wreck-It Ralph" or "The Man With the Iron Fists" or "Cloud Atlas".  Instead I'm reviewing this.  And only just to fill up space on the blog, because I love you people, and I miss you all.

Now, I am coming on harsh with the Paranormal Activity movies, and that's only because I just watched the fourth one.  "Paranormal Activity 4" may be the worst one in the entire series, its easily the stupidest by far, and definitely the most infuriating.  However, I also watched "Paranormal Activity 3", which was actually a surprise since it only 50% sucked.  Stuff happened in that movie, it ended on a scary note.  If you have to watch any of these movies, watch "3".  Don't watch "4" and if anybody offers to take you to see "4" in the theaters, kick them squarely in the balls.  And if they're a girl, go, because you never know what might lead to what.  You know, keep those options open.  But anyway, Paramount, please STOP.  Stop making these movies.