Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fanwank Corner: Securing Gaming's History

In 1995, Quintet, a subsidiary of the Japanese role-playing giant Enix created an action role-playing game called "Terranigma".  The plot of the game was specifically designed to be a contrast to the violent focus of so many video games - the player would travel around the world map of our own Earth and through fighting through dungeons and beating bosses, resurrect the world in which we live.  Basically you're playing as God, only God is a spiky-haired early Nineties JRPG protagonist, and runs around in baggy M.C. Hammer pants.  "Terranigma" is probably one of the most underrated JRPGs ever made, a completely unique experience featuring amazing art design, a fantastic score, and extensive cutscene montages based on the film "Koyaanisqatsi", which pushed the Super Nintendo hardware to its limits.  Nothing like "Terranigma" had ever been made before, and really, nothing quite like it has ever been made since.  It is an entirely unique piece of art.

My point is that "Terranigma" is an obscure title.  It was only ever released in Japan and the PAL territories, and even then, its place in history has been overshadowed by the other great RPG titles on the SNES, such as "Final Fantasy VI", "Chrono Trigger", and "Dragon Quest V".  Enix by 1995 had shut down its localization department entirely, and "Terranigma" was one of the last Enix titles to leave Japan until the merger with Square in 2003.  Even then, it only sold about 200,000 copies, which was probably a financial success for the time, but not a super hit.  It didn't inspire a massive franchise of sequels, its never seen a re-release or remake, its not available on PSN, Xbox Live, or the Nintendo EShop.  Quintet itself has not existed in any form since 2002.  If Square Enix has preserved the source code to "Terranigma", I would be honestly shocked, since they already lost the assets to Kingdom Hearts, a much younger PS2 game, and one of their best sellers.  Essentially Square Enix has given every indication that this game is no longer worth their time, energy, or money to preserve or support.  That being said, its not impossible to play "Terranigma".  You can still find physical copies of the cartridges for around fifty dollars on Amazon, probably in very good condition.  You would need a European SNES or a Super Famicom to play it though.

Really, "Terranigma" is just an example - one of thousands of games made between the 1970s and today that were released, had their impacts, were beloved by gamers, but are not supported in any way.  Obviously though, the situation is not so bleak - "Terranigma" is freely available online, with very little difficulty.  Simply download the brilliant SNES emulator, ZSNES, and then download the ROM, and within a half hour if you have a slow connection, you could be playing "Terranigma" today.  Therefore our history is safe, the game is preserved for as long the Internet exists, which should be roughly congruent with the survival of human civilization.

Only one problem - everything I just described is entirely illegal.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Devil's Due

How do I adequately explain just how terrible "Devil's Due" is?  Simply calling it "the Worst Movie of 2014 So Far" will definitely not do the job, we're only a month deep into the year.  I need something that will perfectly encapsulate how stupid this movie is, really prove how completely pointless and utterly lazy every single detail was in "Devil's Due".  Hmmm.  Oh, I know.  In the poster there, you can see a symbol that this movie claims is Satanic, which the Devil worshipers draw over everything, and is supposed to inspire fear.  Its a 'C' with two lines drawn through it.  Which by the way, has never ever been a religious symbol - ever.  But it is a very common symbol... in Europe.  Because its the Euro Sign!  € is a currency symbol, its as evil as $ or ¢*.

Even Satan, the root of all evil, Lord of Lies, the great tempter, enemy of all things holy, must be embarrassed by his association with "Devil's Due".  In the last half-century or so, he's hardly been shy about appearing in horror movies, or planting his seed within fictional women to birth the Antichrist.  The Devil has to be proud of his portrayal in the 1968 Roman Polanski film, "Rosemary's Baby", a brilliant classic of the horror genre that focused on character development, feminine fears of childbirth, and the more universe phobia of elderly Jewish neighbors.  "Devil's Due" in contrast takes that same storyline, and removes everything that was interesting, creepy, or disturbing.  Then somehow it even loses interest in its own storyline and concept, and for the last half of the movie transforms into a clone of the Paranormal Activity movies.  So now in January we get to have two of those.  Trust me, unless you've committed some terrible betrayal upon your loved ones in the past and are looking for some kind of metaphysical punishment to inflict upon yourself, you will want to see "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" over this.

Now you might accuse me of hating "Devil's Due" simply because I think its a rip-off of "Rosemary's Baby".  But if there never had been a "Rosemary's Baby" and this was an entirely original plotline, "Devil's Due" would suck.  If this was the first film ever made, it would suck.  Imagine that, coming into a movie theater as a tabula rasa, never knowing that pictures could move.  You are open to all kinds of wonder, and now are seeing a wondrous modern technology for the first time.  And then the movie you see is "Devil's Due".  Even in that scenario, this movie would suck.  For all eternity, no matter what happens, "Devil's Due" will be terrible.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I, Frankenstein

I, bored.

"I, Frankenstein" comes proudly from the mind of Kevin Grevioux, the original writer of the Underworld franchise.  Apparently in the confusing and divided times in which we live, that is supposed to be a selling point.  Somehow or another Underworld managed to eek out four entirely mediocre films, each one more forgettable and pointless than the last, all on the selling point of seeing Kate Beckinsale's malnourished tiny ass in bondage leather.  Maybe some people were legitimately interested in the ongoing war between vampires and werewolves set in the eternal night of some unspecified city, and I guess they would be the intended audience for "I, Frankenstein", if such a thing exists.  But there's no Kate Beckinsale, no malnourished ass, no bondage leather, but there is perpetual night in an unspecified city.  So obviously this movie is going to make a fortune, right?

Instead we have Aaron Eckhart playing an amazingly tanned and handsome version of Frankenstein's Monster.  Yes, this is not the awkward, moaning, green-skinned creature of Universal Studios canon.  Perhaps Grevioux and director Stuart Beattie were trying to be slightly more accurate to the Mary Shelley novel, where the Monster is articulate, if not even a genius, and extremely dangerous.  But as for having leading man good looks and a toned muscular chest that would get even your grandma wet?  That sort of defeats the purpose of the whole concept.  Frankenstein is supposed to be mankind's unlovable, ugly child, entirely innocent but cursed with a nightmarish appearance and origin.  Its a classic SciFi story, totally wasted by this movie.  This particular Monster, or "Adam", or "Frankenstein"*, tries to keep up the angst of never being able to fit in with normal human society, when really, it just seems like he's either been in a car accident recently or goes to weird rave parties.  Its one of those paradoxes that only an extremely stupid movie would inflict upon itself.  You need a grotesque monster for a hero, but you also need to sell sex appeal, so let's give him a chisel jaw and making him angsty.

The plotline is basically the Underworld universe, only with demons and gargoyles replacing vampires and werewolves.  This means unfortunately that "I, Frankenstein" is as close we're going to get to seeing a big screen adaptation of the "Gargoyles" cartoon in the near future, and its absolutely terrible. The movie wants to be a pulpy B-movie mix of action and fun, but almost nobody seems to be enjoying themselves.  Everything is so damn serious, as if this bullshit about holy gargoyles was as dramatic as a World War.    Its all mediocrity all across the board, without any entertainment value, and only occasional bursts of passable action.  "I, Frankenstein" is a perfect simulation of Alzheimer's, there's so little of worth here that you'll find yourself forgetting all about seeing the movie within moments of leaving the theater.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fanwank Corner: Is a Gaming Netflix the Future?

The big news of January, at least in the gaming world, is Nintendo's recent announcement:  its flagship console, the WiiU, has failed.  Rather than a predicted nine million units sold, it has not managed even a third of that.  With that, Nintendo is predicting an operating loss of twenty-five billion yen, or nine million US dollars.  That would be the third straight year of Nintendo losing money, never a good sign for a major international corporation, who usually, you know, try to make money.  The WiiU is beloved by critics, but mostly ignored by the gaming populace.  I don't own a WiiU*, most likely you don't have a WiiU either.  Its not the fireworks explosion that the original Wii was.  Its a dud.  A Dreamcast.

Now there are any number of reasons for why the WiiU is failing.  It isn't distinguished enough from the old Wii.  Nintendo's drought of Wii games was too long and made consumers forget the brand.  Much of the Wii's success came from its gimmicky motion controls, which appears to have been merely a toy fad, which has ended.  The WiiU second screen is not the same kind of wild original concept for entertainment that every member of the family can enjoy.  The biggest and best gaming releases, particularly "Super Mario 3D World", have come too late, when its been entirely eclipsed by the hardcore gaming platforms, the PS4 and XBone.  Zelda is entirely MIA.  But here's the real problem as far as I can tell:  console gaming is ending.  The PS4 might be wrecking profits right now, but that's only because its managed to appease the hardcore gaming crowd and the idiots who will buy anything in order to get a new Call of Duty.  But its not sustainable.  The big consoles might get a nice long run, but in a decade, maybe less, we're going to see the end of console gaming.  Console makers can already barely manage to justify the purchase of the new systems they're already producing.

Nintendo was the first hit by these changes in the market because its probably the most conservative.  In many ways, the Eighties have never ended for those guys.  And as awesome as the prospect of a perpetual 1988 is for me, the rest of the world seems to prefer 2014 for some reason.  We've seen the problems already with the N64, the GameCube, the Wii.  Great systems, but always suffering from chronic droughts in games, weaker graphics**, great starts but slow finishes, and a lack of third party support.  What are you going to buy?  A WiiU, with barely HD graphics, old-looking gaming, and a silly-looking controller.  Or a PS4, with cutting edge hardware, and the newest and best games.  The old-school gaming crowd isn't going to carry you forever, Nintendo.  And PlayStation's crowd isn't going to carry them forever either.  Trends are changing, technology is coming together, focusing towards a single entertainment devise that will combine television, gaming, the Internet, music, and communications.  The XBox One is already pretending to be that singularity device.  Nobody believes them, but they're trying, Microsoft sees where history is heading.  So what is the future of gaming in a world that inevitably will not have room for consoles?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks

Walt Disney was easily one of the greatest pop culture innovators of the last century, devoting his entire life to expanding family entertainment and building an empire built on fulfilling the dreams of children.  He was a pioneer in animation, doing more than anybody else to define feature-length animated films, and created a pantheon of beloved cartoon characters who remain icons to this day.  As a filmmaker, he scored a phenomenal fifty-nine Academy Award nominations, with twenty-two wins - two records that might stand for the rest of time.   Furthermore, Disney pretty much invented the concept of the amusement park with Disneyland and later Disneyworld, which remain premier resorts and fabled fantasies of every child's imagination.  The company named for him remains a cultural powerhouse, now owning ABC, ESPN, all of Marvel, the Disney Princesses, Kingdom Hearts, Star Wars, and of course, Mickey Mouse.

Yet for whatever reason, the only thing I ever hear about the man is that he was an anti-semite, and a Nazi collaborator, and a supervillain who froze his brain, and is currently building an army of cyborgs beneath Disneyworld, which will rise out to the surface and conquer the world.  I suspect this is an ironic response to Disney's own intensely cultivated squeaky-clean image.  For years he appeared on American television and in the media as a kindly uncle, a wizard of movie making, with no aspiration other than to make people happy.  Its too funny to imagine him, right after dropping the hokey saint act, lighting up a cigar and making backroom deals just like any other Hollywood scumbag.  As it turns out, Walt Disney did not freeze his head, he was cremated.  He was not an Anti-Semite, at least no more than any other White Protestant American born in 1901.  He never collaborated with the Nazis, he only met Leni Riefenstahl one time because he admired her brilliant directorial eye*.  And his cyborg army project was abandoned in 1958.

"Saving Mr. Banks" is primarily the story of author P. L. Travers, the creator of the Mary Poppins books, negotiating with Walt Disney to make the 1964 musical film, for some reason also called, "Mary Poppins".  You probably know of that movie because everybody on the planet has seen it, or more likely some substitute grammar school teacher played it one day instead of English class because Mrs. Yautz was hung-over and forgot to write a lesson plan.  Tom Hanks' portrayal of Walt Disney is widely regarded as the most impressive part of the movie, earning him his seven-thousandth Oscar Nomination.  Coincidentally, the Disney company made this movie about their founder, using Hanks to once again show his classic squeeky-clean image.  This Disney is a man who just wants to make a fun movie for his daughters, and is also a folksy confessor, rabbi, and psychologist all wrapped into one, digging through P. L. Travers' psychological scars, to ultimately make the classic movie.  The character is almost certainly too idealized, but its better than the Nazi robot master of popular joke.  "Saving Mr. Banks" is halfway fluff, only barely decent, but it seems to have the best intentions, despite some glaring flaws.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Kill la Kill

Is it just me, or has anime sucked lately?

I think its been about two years since I've seen an anime series I legitimately loved:  "Macross Frontier" back in the ignorant Dark Ages known as Spring 2012.  Since then I've had the misfortune of watching various shows that were never actually completed, the occasional drunken calls to my ex-girlfriend, "Bleach", and the personal low point of my entire blogging life, The Anime That Shalt Not Be Named.  Oh and... um... "One Piece", that's a lot of fun.  The less said about all that, the better.  Perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with the entire industry.  Maybe the creative power that once brought the world such masterpieces such as "Eureka Seven", "Samurai Champloo", and "FLCL" simply have disappeared, the industry itself has sold out.  Or maybe I've just grown older, more sophisticated.  This is a genre mainly targeted at teenagers, after all.  I'm a young adult now, I've been through a lot, my tastes might be more grounded, serious, and introspective.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!  Oh, I can't finish that paragraph without laughing.  Here's "Kill la Kill", a currently-airing, anime about a schoolgirl who fights ridiculous bad guys while wearing barely any clothing with absolutely no grounding in reality.  And its one of the best cartoons Japan has made in a long time.

If there's an particular cancer that is killing modern anime for me, its called "high school".  I'm not saying that high school cannot be a dramatic time for a lot of people, and that interesting stories cannot be told within a high school setting, only that too many animes take place in high schools lately.  Most of my favorite animes take place in either outer space or some fantasy setting, usually with a giant robot somewhere in the mix, not a Japanese high school.  I've been to high school, I wasn't impressed, I mostly spent my time nose-deep in a book.  Hell, in my younger years I used to watch anime to get away from high school.  Luckily "Kill la Kill" is totally different.  It takes place in... a high school.  But one in which there appears to be no classes, none of the usual cliche cast members*, and there are no life lessons.  Instead the school is a battleground full of superpowered freaks and a maniacal plot to conquer the world with magical clothing.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Best Movies of 2013

(Originally I wanted to make this a video post.  However, I'm currently suffering some truly incredible and cataclysmic computer problems, which meant that a few days of recording, sound, and video editing have been for naught.  So I'm just going to post the script, which will make this a text post, and throw in some pictures here and there.  I wanted to make a huge wonderful production.  Instead its just this.  Sorry.)

2013 has come and past.  We're well into 2014 now.  Well, so says Western Civilization.  The Chinese say its 4710, the Jews say its 5774, the Byzantines would say its 7522, but they're all dead now, so who cares what they think?  By any account though, I am late.  Everybody else has posted their Best Of List, and I'm just that terribly behind the times.  Even the Academy has its list out for the Best Picture Nominees.  We have a whole new year, whole new possibilities, and I can't stop being nostalgic for two weeks ago.  What can I say?  I don't work very quickly.

I gave this list a lot of thought, in fact, entirely too much thought, since I was planning it out since July at least.  That means that its definitely the best Best Of List you'll ever read, but unfortunately its hopelessly compromised by the fact that I haven't seen every movie that came out in two-zero-one-three.  Yeah, I know "Captain Phillips" got very good press, but I just did not care to go see it.  Maybe "Grown Ups 2" is a modern masterpiece, I doubt it, and I'm happy to never find out.  Also, these are MY choices, they don't have to determine your opinions about anything.  I have my own biases, fetishes, and cultural programming, you have yours.  Neither of us probably have true free will, but who cares, we got some great movies to talk about!

Anyway, first, the Honorable Mentions, five movies that were very good, but I just did not think were worthy of the final list, for whatever reason:

Spring Breakers
American Hustle
Despicable Me 2
Beautiful Creatures
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

And now that I've proven myself a complete moron by slighting "American Hustle", the future Best Picture winner, here's the true list:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Legend of Hercules

(Don't let the image fool you, this is a real major motion picture.  I just used the Japanese poster because the American version is more boring than high school social studies.)

It isn't often living in the times that we do, ones of mountains of computerized special effects and massive studio oversight, that you wind up seeing a theatrical release that seriously looks like it does not belong in a movie theater.  The world has always had its B-movies, but generally over the decades they've been pushed out into grindhouse theaters and eventually straight-to-video, or worse, the Syfy channel.  With special effects as cheap and as sophisticated as they currently are, even amazingly cheap movies like "Skyline" can manage to have a visual spectacle on par with a movie with ten times the budget.  "The Legend of Hercules" is the equivalent of a major gaming studio releasing a game that is truly unplayable on current gen consoles.  You just never see that kind of thing anymore.

Awww... how adorable, "The Legend of Hercules", you thought you were a real movie.  I'm going to be up front right now, this movie is atrociously bad.  But its so incompetent, so clearly cheap, so badly made on every single level without a single sense of irony, its almost charming in a very stupid masochistic kind of way.  Me reviewing this movie with the same standards that I would give say, "The Hobbit", is like a major theatrical critic giving a brutal review to a sixth grade production of "The Tempest".  Come on, guy, they're just kids, they can barely read William Shakespeare, give them a break.  And here I am too:  come on, Blue, they're just idiots, they had to film this movie in some horrible shithole in Eastern Europe, for a leading man they had to get a minor character from Twilight, give them a break.  However, on the other hand, it is a movie that gets just about everything wrong, and how much good will can I extend?  I'm not a saint, I'm a blogger, and when I smell shit, I see shit, I know I have a shit movies on my hands.  Please get me a napkin or something, its gross.

The tragic part is that this movie is directed by Renny Harlin, a decent enough director of Nineties action nonsense, behind such movies as "Die Hard 2", "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master", "The Long Kiss Goodnight", and of course, the movie were Samuel Jackson got eaten by a shark, "Deep Blue Sea".  You'd think a man who has been working in the film industry for very nearly thirty years now, would be able to put some kind of competency behind the camera.  But its simply not here, "The Legend of Hercules" looks and feels like a movie made by amateurs, filled with a virtually unknown cast, and a script so bad it ranks as one of mankind's most awful crimes.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Kenneth Branagh and Tom Clancy are two people who I never expected to do a movie together.  Technically though, they never have, as Tom Clancy has joined that little Republican Fantasyland in the sky.  Kenneth Branagh might as well have joined him, as the energetic flourish he once brought to the Shakespeare movies of his youth seems to be completely dead and buried.  You'd think the mixture between Classical Theater and Neo-Conservative Techno Thrillers would result in an interesting kind of movie, at least one that was unique and memorable, but no.  This is Kenneth Branagh in his "Thor" mode, completely pedestrian and generic*, just barely putting in a complete effort.

That really describes the whole movie, its barely completely, there's nothing really wrong with any piece, but so what?  There's nothing here that you'd really want to see.  Tom Clancy was a bit of a nut, but he at least wrote interesting books that ignited the imagination of an entire generation of politicians - those very same politicians who lead us into the Iraq War and began the paranoid nightmare that the War on Terror has begun.  Let's ignore those implications, and just focus on the man.  He wrote books that a lot of people loved.  Sometimes they were right on the money, such as in "Clear and Present Danger" when Clancy guessed exactly what was going on America's covert drug wars in Colombia, and sometimes they were completely of their mind, such as when Japan built a new Empire and started World War III**, which led to a crazed kamikaze pilot to fly a commercial air liner right into the Capitol Building.  That was written seven years before 9/11.  Apparently though nothing Tom Clancy had written quite fit the studio's needs for "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", because this is an entirely new story.  And no matter what your politics, you are going to truly miss ol' Tommy before the end of this movie.

This is the fifth Tom Clancy film to be adapted to the screen, all of them focused on his brilliant CIA analyst, Jack Ryan.  After portrayals by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck, the job of playing Clancy's primary superhero, a man who starts at the CIA, becomes a millionaire, becomes President, and builds a Conservative paradise across the globe, goes to Chris Pine, AKA the guy they want us to believe is Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek films.  Chris Pine might look like nothing more than a pretty face with barely any acting talent right now, but so did Ben Affleck in "The Sum of All Fears".  Maybe ten years from now Chris Pine will direct and star in a Best Picture winner, but I doubt it.  Either way, whether you like your Ryan in the Alec, Harrison, or Benjamin flavors, you will probably find "Shadow Recruit" to be the worst movie yet.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Fanwank Corner: Story Engine

I'm thinking this will be a weekly feature here on this blog, or at least a recurring one.  I don't think every post needs to be a review, right?  So Fanwank Corner posts will be where I will engage in some heavy fanwankery, and perhaps come up with some truly brilliant ideas... probably not.

My post on "Fire Emblem: Awakening" yesterday got me thinking.  As interesting as the brutal Hun-like slaughter of anonymous enemy units is - Fire Emblem is a game that takes no prisoners - almost more interesting is the possibilities opened up by the relationship value system.  Inevitably some players will discover the system on their own, learning that their units can suddenly decide to marry each other, almost in an automated story, though most will probably read the manual, study GameFAQs guides, and create a massively detailed plan for the perfect Bene Gesserit eugenics program, thus birthing a race of Kwisatz Haderach units who will devastate any foe.  The min-maxing wanking of those people is not really what interests me, RPG players have been doing that for decades.  What more interesting is this idea of an automated relationship generator.

Because what it means is that in a small way Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have developed a Story Engine*, a self-creating system in which every player's experience is entirely different depending on every campaign.  Basically every video game that bothers to have a storyline creates its story in the same way that an author would write a book, movie, or non-interactive medium.  There's a beginning, middle, and end, non-player (or in the worst cases player characters) will act and react in pre-determined ways moving the planned story forward.  There's nothing wrong with that concept, its been the method of story creation for all of history.  This is because up until computers, it would have been impossible to have characters independently make any decisions at all, and stories had to move forward in a linear path.  Now with video games, I wonder if perhaps it is now possible for stories to write themselves.

Obviously what we're dealing with here is not going to end up as Shakespeare, at least not until the technology grows more advanced.  Essentially all it would be is an independent module for Character Interaction, probably best suited as an aspect of an RPG but perhaps, if strong enough, could be the game itself.  The basic concept isn't too far away from the Fire Emblem system, as Characters fight together, they begin to interact.  However the Nintendo system really only unlocks pre-written conversations between the Characters, not that different from a Romance Simulator that many Otaku players love, but it isn't really quite as organic and self-creating as what I'm imagining here.  The Story Engine would be conversations occurring spontaneously between Characters, as their relationship goes from friendship to romantic to hatred, in a much smaller and simplified simulation of real life human interaction.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Hundreds of years ago, if you were a peasant, life generally sucked.  The only form of mass entertainment was prostitutes and church services.  Nobody could read, movies were not invented yet, and you spent your entire life breaking your back sharecropping barley, while most of your income was stolen by lords and the Church.  I think the only reason Europe spent so much of its time gripped in war was because everybody was so bored.  What, are you going to spent another ten years eating stale bread, rotten meat, and screwing the same frumpy wife?  No!  Let's go to France, burn down some villages, enjoy the maidens, and come home with the spoils of war.  When farmers saw that the Magyars had burned down their millet fields, they probably jumped for joy.  Viking raids were like a Hollywood blockbuster, a Crusade was a Superbowl.

War only really became hell in the last century or so, when standards of living rose so high that the alternative, peace time, was actually tolerable.  We don't need to sail all the way to Acre to slam a Saracen's skull open with a morningstar, we have a 3DS to make the journey for us.  Because let's face it, we might all be glad to live in the most peaceful age in human history, but peace time is still pretty damn boring.  That's why we need games like "Fire Emblem: Awakening", to recreate that classic old-timey feeling of slaughtering your enemies that our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were lucky enough to enjoy.  Yeah, this series is extremely cartoony and children-friendly, so the enemies nicely evaporate rather than gush vital fluids, but you're still a fantasy Alexander, conquering the barbarians, stealing their Bullion, and ruling... technically in the name of peace and justice, but we all know this about the instincts of the Id, not the ideals of the Superego.

I've been a fan of the Fire Emblem series since "Shadow Dragon", the remake of the original Famicom game, was released on the Nintendo DS back in 2009.  In the intervening years, Nintendo has been unfortunately rather inconsistent with its North American releases, entirely leaving "Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem", a sequel to "Shadow Dragon", to rot in a Japan-only release.  Then, to nobody's surprise, they saw their sales drop, and they threatened that if "Awakening" did not sell mountains, the series would be dead forever*.  Luckily the game did sell mountains, its widely regarded as the best JRPG of 2013.  And since I am chronically behind the times, like sad high school wanna-be who only picks up the latest fashion fad the moment everybody else bores of it, I only started playing it in 2014.  Ultimately, I have to agree, this is a fantastic game, innovating the series formula, but never abandoning its roots.

Friday, January 10, 2014


The words I want to type right now are something along the lines of "that movie sucked so much ass that it has digested the entire fecal matter of four major East Coast metropolitan areas".  But I can't do that, because that will make me a mean grumpy asshole, another moron with a laptop who is too stupid to understand high art, and thus worthy only of scorn and the Back button on your brower's dashboard.  I'm just a nerd whose daily dose of video games and porn has calcified his brain, probably a virgin too who never had a real relationship, and thus cannot appreciate what Spike Jonze was trying to do here.  Maybe instead of a blog, I just need a couple of tickets to "Transformers 4", one for my fat ass and the other for my bloated ego.  Every critic on Earth loved "Her", its ended up on nearly every Best Of list for 2013, which is why of course, I wouldn't comprehend this movie, because my mental circuitry is focused only on cheap, marketable thrills, and I wouldn't know what art is even if somebody where shoving the Winged Victory of Samothrace down my throat, past the Hot Pockets and the cheap beer.  Right?

I've been looking forward to seeing "Her" for months now, and I came into this movie truly expecting something soulful, romantic, and inspiring.  Instead I found myself crushingly bored, checking my watch every minute, and truly suffering as few movies manage.  Every moment the movie continued, I wanted to not be watching it.  Around the hour mark, when I started truly hoping the movie was nearly over but in fact was less than half way through the movie, I started naming Byzantine Emperors:  Justinian the Great, Phocas (the really not great at all), Romanos Lekapenos, Basil the Bulgar-Slayer, Michael the Drunkard, Constantine the Dung-Named, etc. etc.  Its truly the sign of an awful movie experience when suddenly you're reminiscing about dead empires, rather than really drinking in the fictional world of entertainment that the filmmakers have created for you.  Say what you want about the Eastern Roman Empire, it was never boring, battling Arabs, getting sacked by Franks, saving the True Cross from the Persian grasp.  Where is a movie about all that?  Instead we have this, "Her".  They should have called this movie "Her, the Dung-Named".

The concept here is fascinating, at least.  "Her" is a movie depicting about fifteen years into our future where artificial intelligence has grown to the point that not only can you communicate directly with your computer, but now its developed its own personality, voice, and soul.  The hero, Theodore*, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a sad divorced extremely lonely man who buys a new Operating System with a personality-creating algorithm within.  This system creates Samantha**, voiced by Scalett Johansson, a witty and warm digital woman who brightened Theodore's terrible existence, and eventually they fall in love.  So its a love story mixed in with the recurring science fiction theme of artificial humanity, its very exciting stuff.  Though if you want to be crude, you can describe this plot as "man falls in love with Siri".  So there was a lot of potential, even to make a weird comedy, unfortunately, the movie that resulted was slow, plodding, and generally just miserable.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

Everybody wants to be famous.  But how many of us are willing to risk failure to even try?  Of that smaller subset, how many succeed?  For every successful superstar we see in pop culture, there is an army of several million wanna-bes and never-weres who tried their hardest and followed their dreams to reach that very same place.  And ultimately failed.  For every "Mumford and Sons" you can probably find six thousand hard-working serious musicians traveling the country, fighting for any gig they can receive, desperate for their one chance at stardom.  For every Christopher Nolan, there's a legion of film school graduates, working their best to film anything, dreaming to get the chance to make even the worst lazy shit, as long it means general audiences can see their work.  And don't even get me started on the novelists.  They're the most legion and most utterly sad collection of them all.  When a lot of people risk failure, a lot of people are going to get exactly that:  failure.

"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the story of one of those failures.  In a typical Coen Brothers story (I think we should just invent a word for this, "Coenesque") the lead, Llewyn Davis, begins his journey as a starving homeless musician in the East Village of Manhattan, couch surfing amongst his friends that he has not yet alienated, and ultimately ends up exactly in the place, having gained absolutely nothing.  Davis is the surviving half of a folk music duo with his late partner having leapt off the George Washington Bridge before the story even began.  He plunders around 1961 New York and eventually Chicago for one final shot scoring some measure of success in the burgeoning folk music scene, and inevitably gets nowhere.  Even worse, his attempts to quit the game are blocked by misfortune and bureaucracy.  Then he's back, borrowing coaches and playing the same clubs, only with an empty pocket and several more opportunities lost forever.

This is also, of course, a Coen Brothers movie.  There isn't a terrible deal of humor to be found in this movie, its hard to classify this even as a cosmic comedy as "A Serious Man" was*.  Rather this is them at their most moody, with an air of depression holding over the entire movie, mirroring Llewyn's own fatigue and defeat.  There's still a milieu of the occasionally wacky characters, ones who could only exist within a Coen Brothers movie, such as a pair of arguing half-deaf Jewish small-time record producers, and John Goodman playing a fat heroine-addicted Jazz player who sleeps for days.  There's also a recurring symbol of a stray cat that Llewyn chases after throughout the entire movie, whose ultimate meaning is completely lost on me, if it even has one.  Its such an obvious symbol but its meaning is so obscure (is Llewyn the cat? is it failure? is it hope? is it the success Llewyn will never have?) that it makes me wonder if its some kind of inner joke between Joel and Ethan.  Ultimately though, "Inside Llewyn Davis" is one of the best movies you'll see in 2013... which is going to be difficult now, since its 2014.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Polynomial Activity: The Marked Ones

So this is how the 2014 movie season begins:  with the latest entry in an already obsolete found-footage horror series.  Yeah, I know, you've already clicked away to read up on something more interesting, but give me the benefit of the doubt here.  "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" isn't just a truly awful movie that it completely forgettable, but its also amazingly stupid and has probably destroyed its entire franchise.  That is, if Paranormal Activity even had any life left considering "Paranormal Activity 4"... so I guess technically that means with "The Marked Ones", this series is on the rise.  Merely being stupid and terrible makes "The Marked Ones" something of a comeback!

I personally have never liked the Paranormal Activity movies.  At least at the beginning, the first few movies seemed to have something of an inventive premise, being very slow tension-building movies leading up to a final explosion of rage and fear.  But the sad fact is that most of the tension of these movies are built around the jump scares, with audiences storing tension waiting to be happily shocked by something jumping at them.  My idea of scary is not staring at a bedroom for an hour pissing myself because there might be a monster waiting behind the corner.  Fortunately - for me, not for fans - "The Marked Ones" is a movie that completely dumps the series modus operandi to instead create an action-packed and considerably more fun found-footage movie.  Unfortunately - for both me and the fans - it isn't very good.

Lately on this blog I've been watching nothing but amazing, original, truly inspiring movies that make me cherish both writing these reviews and life itself.  So thank goodness for "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" because I haven't had something really bad to rant about in months, and I'm going stir crazy.  What, am I supposed to be mad at "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", a movie so innocently stupid that you just want to adopt it and make it your family pet?  No, what we need it some nice proper cynical crap, just like this movie.  If you thought the overall storyline of Paranormal Activity was ad hoc and incredibly stupid, then you have seen nothing yet.  "The Marked Ones" takes this series into truly excited and uncharted territory, of now being hilariously awful.  I wanted a movie I could go see and then giggle all the way home at the amazingly ill-conceived production I just witnessed, and guess what?  I got it.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

What exactly is it about the Holiday season that reminds people of crooked scam artists and arch criminals?  First we had "American Hustle", now we have "The Wolf of Wall Street".  I'm expecting Santa to come down the chimney and shake me down for protection money.  I guess the only people who are going to see a movie on Christmas day are cynical, lonely assholes anyway, so who cares if we drop a few Hard-R bombs right on top of our holiday manger?  500 uses of the word "fuck" means that this is definitely a movie you will not want to bring your newly-born Savior to, but "Frozen" is still playing, and I know Jesus will love that.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" is one part the conclusion of director Martin Scorsese's twenty year journey of crime epics, beginning with "Goodfellas" and continuing with "Casino" and "The Departed", and one part the crescendo of a recurring trend in 2013 films, the dark soul hidden within the American Dream.  We've seen it before with "Spring Breakers" where the nihilism of the party scene was laid bare as pure self-destruction, and again with far less talent and nuance with Michael Bay's Worst Movie of 2013, "Pain & Gain", then once more with a Sofia Coppola film which I never quite got around to seeing called "The Bling Ring".  Those movies however, cannot even hope to reach the levels of excess and depravity that is "The Wolf of Wall Street", a biting movie that stars not misfits or young people on the fringes of American society, but the very Masters of the Universe*, who created this obsession with wealth, fame, and watching the world burn beneath your glorious feet.

Wall Street is merely crass materialism of modern society writ large.  It is a machine that exists outside of morals, humanity, civilization, God, and reason, it does only one thing:  generate money for those who know how to play the game.  I won't go as far as to say it steals money away from the rest of the world, as the complex world of more abstract capitalism, such as stocks, credit, investment, and bonds, is a necessary organ for modern industry and society to function.  The wolf within "The Wolf of Wall Street", played by Leonardo DiCaprio in now his fifth protagonist role under Martin Scorsese, is not creating anything.  This creature, named Jordan Belfort, is less a wolf, and more of a parasite, exploiting the complexities of the market, the dreams of gullible people to make money, and the shroud of invincible wealth and power itself to run a lifestyle of unending obscenity.  His crimes are no less terrible and severe than those of the gangsters of previous Scorsese productions.  The only difference is that Belfort is upper class, and can hide behind illusions of propriety and the myth that his hard work and talent earned him his money.  He doesn't need to use a gun to steal, he has a spread sheet and some phony inflated stocks, which are far more effective and socially-acceptable methods.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Worst Movies BH Saw in 2013

Happy New Year.  You knew this was coming.  2013 started off as one of the worst years in movies I have ever suffered... then September rolled around, and its generally been awesome movie after awesome movie.  But still, here is my Bottom 10, the ten worst movies I had the misfortune of seeing last year.

Next week sometime, after I've seen "The Wolf of Wall Street", "Inside Llewyn Davis", and "Her", I can finally make a Best Of List.