Tuesday, March 31, 2015

April 2015 - Look Ahead(?)

Hey, it's April!  Have you met April?  She's a lovely month.  Young, full of hope, with bright green eyes, and ready for life.  Please treat her well, she's kind and confident, but also very innocent despite her proud ways.  Mistreatment of months is now a crime punishable by federal prosecutors.  I knew a guy who slapped July 2011 once, he won't be out of prison for another six years.  So be good to April, and she'll be good to you, and we won't have to get any Grand Juries involved.

Anyway, here are the movies and video games coming out in April 2015... I think:

Predator: Pilgrim Hunt (April 3rd) - So finally a fourth... or maybe sixth Predator film, the long-running 80s franchise dating all the way back to the hallowed muscled days of Schwarzenegger himself.  I was rather easy on Robert Rodriguez's previous film in the franchise, "Predators" but I am not really a big fan of just rebooting the franchise again.  Especially since this time, the Predators are not fighting modern action stars, but rather are going back to 1692 where they will be fighting Puritans at the Salem Witch Trials.  Somehow the idea of Michael Cera with a pitchfork is less of a serious threat than Schwarzenegger with a machine gun, you know?
--Chances to be Good:  40%.  "Alien vs. Predator" was silly enough but "The Scarlet Letter vs. Predator" is just too much.

The Astronaut Loner (April 3rd) - Well, here's your big arthouse movie of the month, this one from Lars von Trier.  Michael Cera stars as a cantankerous misanthropic astronaut in terrible old age make-up living seven million light years away from Earth, spending his days mostly refusing to answer his phone.  Stuck somewhere in the Horsehead Nebula, Astronaut Cera sits lonely, bitterly recounting to himself how he was cheated out of five dollars from the girl at Panera Bread.  Later he befriends a cute alien friend, and they get married.
--Chances to be Good:  10%.  Since this is von Trier you know explicit sex is going to happen, and probably some disturbing scenes of self-mutilation too.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Insurgent - Timid New World

"The Divergent Series: Insurgent" is not a movie any parent would be afraid of their teenager watching.  It is safe, inoffensive Young Adult entertainment, carefully managed to be as blandly competent as possible.  I cannot imagine the book series by Veronica Roth is all that more compelling.  The marketing around this title is "The Hunger Games" but with even less teeth, a gray harmless fiction, enjoyed mostly by kids who do not know any better.  God help the YA industry when these kids discover that Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, and Robert A. Heinlein exist.  We can only dream of the day that all of these baby's first SciFi novels and their film adaptations end up in the trash where they belong.

I did not even bother reviewing the first film in this series, "Divergent" when it came out last year.  I assumed that the movie would be turgid floppy mediocrity.  But I made another assumption:  that nobody else would care.  These days with advertising campaigns so heavily manufactured on social media, I do not know if people legitimately like the Divergent Series or if it is just inflated manipulation.  Certainly "Insurgent" has had the most intense marketing of the year so far.  You cannot escape this film even if you want to not care.  So last week I finally bothered to watch "Divergent 1" - which turned out be everything I expected:  competent but forgettable.  Let's discuss the sequel.

"Insurgent" takes place in a post-apocalyptic Chicago just up the road from "The Hunger Games"' PanAm.  This is Dystopian Society No. #3442*, where all of humanity is segmented into five different clans based upon their role.  No created universe is complete without long complicated world-building details that ultimately add very little depth to the overall simplistic plotline.  Each clan has an elaborate stylish name, such as the Amnity who are hippie Amish farmers or the Dauntless who are soldiers or the Candor who are scum-sucking lawyers.  Our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) is a former Abnegation, the boring gray bureaucrats, who changed her Job Class to Dauntless.  But ut-oh, she's actually a Divergent, the special magical Chosen One who does not fit into any of the categories.  So she is wanted by the evil Erudites, the wicked science class, who need her to open a McGuffin Box to complete their scheme to conquer the Factions, and naturally is also the only one who can stop their plans.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Frozen Fever - Do You Want to Build a Cash Cow?

A fevers is an immune response to an infection within the body, raising your temperature to burn out the disease and supercharge your immune system.  'Infection' is probably a good way of putting the deluge of "Frozen" media and the resulting pop culture obsession.  Every child in America has been brainwashed into loving this movie and watching it constantly on repeat on DVD (or whatever people use to watch movies now).  Even I am a victim in loving that movie for having great music, memorable characters, and an original perspective on Disney Princesses.  I am a slave to the magic of Elsa and Anna.*

"Frozen Fever" is the short film that Disney released with their live-action feature length, "Cinderella".  This is a short so profoundly awful that I am starting to wonder if maybe I should join the growing chorus of "Frozen" haters.  Do you remember those straight-to-VHS 90s sequels that Disney used to puke out, whoring their movies to the lowest and slimiest of cheap cash-ins?  This is that, but luckily only five minutes long.  Consider this on the same artistic level of "Cinderella III: A Twist in Time" - with heavy incest subtext.

The story this time is that it is Anna's eighteenth birthday and now that she is legal, Elsa is putting in way too much trouble to make her birthday special.  The plan is an elaborate "date" (their words, not mine) around town, following a red string of fate to various gifts, including a big sandwich.  Elsa puts in so much effort that she gives herself a fever and then acts very drunk and loose.  During a mediocre song the Snow Queen starts sneezing, creating little baby snowmen creatures, who mostly pop around and do nothing.  Then Anna takes Elsa to bed, gives her personal loving care, and they admit it was the best birthday ever.  Then begins the filthiest, loudest lesbian sex scene since "Blue is the Warmest Color".

"Frozen Fever" is forgettable.  This exists for no reason other than to blatantly reuse left-over models from the original.  A shot of Anna in bed with messy hair has been exactly copy-pasted from the 2013 movie.  It isn't funny, I forgot the song featured in this short almost instantly, it has nothing to add to the story.  Disney has made plenty of silly and lively "Toy Story" shorts, yet they failed entirely with this "Frozen" cash-in.  "Frozen Fever" is enough to make you worried about "Frozen 2", because it seems they have already run out of ideas for these characters and this universe.  Seriously guys, unless you're going for an NC-17 rating, you had one good movie, please do not spoil it.

* I dare you, no double-dog dare you to make a joke about 'Letting it Go'.  Just try me.

Cinderella - Where Cynicism Goes to Die

Goddammit, Disney.

"Cinderella", the original 1950 animated film is as pure and beloved as a Golden Age Disney classic should be.  Attempting to remake that movie is hopeless, you are inevitably going to lose by comparison.  So is there any particular new twist one can put on the original fairy tale in order to do something new with the concept that has not been done before?  Well, if you want to be slightly more realistic and try to add more feminine agency into the story, you have the 1998 film "Ever After" starring Drew Barrymore.  If you want to make it spunky and comedic, there is the 2004 Anne Hathaway movie "Ella Enchanted".  If you're going to deconstruct the story you have "Into the Woods".  I guess that leaves only disturbing body horror, but unfortunately the Koreans have that covered too.*

Kenneth Branagh solves the artistic question of his new "Cinderella" movie by doing nothing new at all.  All the other moves in this live action fairy tale wave that we have been riding for about four years now have had some new idea going into them, be it ripping off Twilight for "Red Riding Hood" or giving the villain the title role for "Maleficent".  Branagh will not have that, he's going to have his ball, glass slippers and all.  He looks Walt Disney in the face, and says "yes, I am going to take you down, old mustachio'd rumored-to-be-antisemitic man.  I'm going to remake your movie on your terms, and I might even do it better.  Once more into the breach, dear friends!"

Therefore 2015's new "Cinderella" movie has no particular reason to exist.  It does not offer a new perspective, it has nothing new to say about the story that Walt did not already say, it cannot justify its existence in any way.  So it doesn't matter what this movie does, it has to suck by definition.  Yeah, the characters can be charming, the mood can be reverential and endearing, the pacing could be perfect, and the art style immaculate but I have to hate this movie because it says nothing and means nothing.  So I will go kicking and screaming into this review, gritting my teeth while I admit bitterly that "Cinderella" is a great movie.  Even though I hate the entire for it, the fact is that Branagh actually pulled it off, making the first truly memorable and great film of this year.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Super Smash Bros. 4 - Royalty Rumble

Once upon a time, fighting games were cruel, unforgiving titles only for the hardest of the hardcore gamer.  Games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Darksiders, and countless others were not mere entertainment:  they were battles to the digital death.  No nonsense, no tricks, just two players both at peak physical condition battling each other for glory.  These were games that required training under elderly sages in hidden Tibetan temples.  All so that you could master obscure combinations of buttons that might fire off a special attack.  Long hours of introspection under waterfalls to uncover the emotional discipline to pull off unbreakable combos would leave unprepared children feeling in tears from the arcade cabinets.

That all ended in 1999.  That year Nintendo unleashed a little party fighting game on the Nintendo 64, featuring cameos from its greatest and most profitable gaming series.  Mario, Link, Pikachu, Samus, and others battled in four-on-four matches in sprawling stages.  Special moves were pulled off with the ease of pressing B and a direction, making fighting games accessible to any newbie.  Rather than the deadly concentration of a black belt, "Super Smash Bros." rewarded luck, randomness, and cleverness.  The best player did not necessarily have to win, rather it was the one that grabbed the right item and could best manipulate the situation.  There were still plenty of frames to skip, physics exploits to learn, and combos.  But "Smash Bros." was above all the People's fighting game.

Super Smash Bros. has thrived and grown in popularity with each passing console generation, adding as many new fans as it adds characters to its roster.  The other fighting games now sit either growing more niche or more desperate for attention.  At this point the Smash Bros series is the only fighting series that really matters anymore.  So when a new game in the series comes out, it is not some small release, it is an epic event that tops out any new Nintendo console.  "Super Smash Bros. for Wii U" and "Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS" are two games with very long titles.  They are also the newest games in the Smash series, and thanks to their royal bloodlines, now rule the fighting game world by default.  But does heritage alone merit this domination?  Are they worthy of their throne?

(I'll save you the suspense:  Yes.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

CHAPPiE - Going Into Reruns

Neill Blomkamp's career is starting to fall on a very thin line between "unique personal style" and "just making the same stupid movie over and over again".  When his first film, the South African apartheid metaphor hiding within an alien SciFi film, "District 9" came out, his work was fresh and new.  His love of grungy shantytown backgrounds and practical-looking mechanic designs was fascinating.  Then he made the far dumber "Elysium"*, also about dirty brown slums and greasy machinery melees.  Blomkamp is now breaking exciting new ground with "CHAPPiE", a movie about a stark robotic creature fighting angry South Africans in a filthy favela.  I'm noticing a pattern here, I think.

But am I being fair right now by implying that Blomkamp can only make one kind of film?  Certainly I could not ask David Cronenberg to stop making movies fetishizing the corruption of the flesh and the thin line between life and death.  So if Blomkamp really cannot do anything more than rusting heavy metal action in dusty ruins, recreating the final fight scene from "District 9" three times now, does he get an excuse?  If his imagination cannot conjure up a better villain than a redneck with a serious temper problem, can I fault him for that?  Well, maybe I can.  Other directors would try branching out to new styles, to new genres, and new stories.  It doesn't look like Blomkamp is going to be leaving the Townships or greasy technopunk any time soon.

Maybe I would be more forgiving if Blomkamp were more consistent.  "CHAPPiE" is a difficult movie to actually rate as a whole.  It is hard to go wrong with a movie about a cute robot with the mind of a child learning about the world around him and overcoming angry soldiers with bad mullets.  Yet Blomkamp balances out that good with bland characters regurgitated from his previous films.  Not one human in this story is particularly likable.  Then there is a surprisingly bloated and weirdly complicated plot for what should be a straightforward film.  "CHAPPiE" is easily Blomkamp's messiest film in terms of construction, a tragically ironic flaw for a creator so in love with engineering.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

PAX East 2015 Catching Up

Okay, let's discuss the events of last weekend.

There are posts currently "in production" as we say in the biz when we're trying our best to fool readers in believing that we did not just spent a week relaxing and having an easy time after a nice weekend trip to Boston.  I assure that instead of writing I was not enjoying the Starz On Demand collection of James Bond movies.  Nope, it never is more fun to watch a terrible Roger Moore movie after an eight hour shift at work than to do something constructive.  I've been working desperately hard every single second.  Yup.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I'm back after PAX East 2015 and I figured I would share some of my experience and what games seemed like fun.  Originally I tried to do this this post as a Vlog with my new camera... but even I cannot stand to look at my face for twenty minutes.  (Especially when Daylight Savings Time kicked my ass this year and I have awful circles under my eye.)  So instead we're going to do things the old fashioned text way - and only a week late!

Since Wikia was so nice to send me out there, I had the opportunity to take part in two events.  First of all I was in an interview for "Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" on the main Twitch stage on Saturday.  That was interesting moment in my life since I happened to know very little about the Witcher series and was playing along the best I could.  The game does look awesome though, I was not in any way saying anything I did not believe.  Apparently I did a very good job, and I've received very positive feedback.  The other event was Quizards Live, a fan quiz where I competed against two other Wikia Admins and the audience to win fabulous prizes.  I came in second, because I could not remember the name of the goddamn time travel machine in the Assassin's Creed games, but if you want to watch here's the twitch stream.  There I won a new video card and a terabyte harddrive, both of which I'll put to good use creating more content for you good Space Monkey people.

Now continue reading for the rest of my PAX story:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Playing With Goomy

I recently came into control of a video camera. This is me testing it out with one of my PAX East 2015 purchases:  one of my favorite Pokemon from Gen VI, GOOMY!  ^_^


A more serious PAX East reaction post along with our usually-scheduled programming will be up soon enough.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Pokemon Omega Ruby - Emerald is Still Better

I've been catching Pokemon and raising them to be my personal army of cute warriors for most of my life.  My name as a tamer of Pokemon has rung across six nations, brought fear into the hearts of gym leaders around the globe, and annoyed the hell out of many a Younger Joey who learned that his Rattata was not actually in the top percentage of Rattata.  Obviously therefore when a Pokemon adventure is offered, I jump at the chance.   Time to once again gather a team of six Pokemon, usually including Milotic and Gardevoir, and go out to conquer once again in the name of Blue, Pokemon Extraordinaire, a legend in his (or her) own time.

Late last year "Pokemon Omega Ruby" and "Alpha Sapphire" were released for the Nintendo 3DS.  I was sure to scoop up "Omega Ruby" at my first opportunity.  "Alpha Sapphire" was not played for the purpose of this review, but you can consider all comments on "Omega Ruby" to refer to that title as well.  I devoured the main campaign within a week - a leisurely pace for the Poke Maniac who once beat Pokemon Silver in two days during a trip to Orlando.  And immediately after completing the game along with the post-game coda storyline, I put "Omega Ruby" back in its case, and have not touched it since.  It sits proudly on my game shelf on top of a growing pile of quality 3DS video games, and yet, I cannot be bothered to ever play it again.  In fact, following my short run with "Omega Ruby", I went right on back to my long-delayed Nuzlocke campaign in "Emerald"*.

"Omega Ruby" is now the third Pokemon remake.  The previous remakes are "FireRed" and "LeafGreen" which remade Generation I, and "SoulSilver" and "HeartGold", a remake of Gen II**.  Those previous attempts managed to outshine their ancestor's entirely.  I have not played a GameBoy version of Pokemon since grammar school thanks to "FireRed".  "SoulSilver" remains one of the best Pokemon games ever made, rivaling the mighty "Pokemon X".  A video game remake, unlike remakes of films, are nearly always superior:  superior in graphics, superior in gameplay, and superior in amounts of content.  However in this review, we are discussing a game where that is not the case.  "Omega Ruby" is the first remake to not supplant its predecessors.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 2015 Look-Ahead

Wait, February is over?  Already?  That was strange, it only lasted four exact weeks.  Anyway, now that it is over, we have a new month, one that is called "March".  The Planet Blue court mystics and witchdoctors tell me that this month will see the end of winter, a day where night and day will be the same length, and a couple of weekends where most of the nation will be drunk to celebrate a foreign holy man who hated snakes.  There's also a rumor about the End of Days floating around here, but that's probably nothing.

For this blog's purposes, however, March will see new movies and video games!  So let's Look-Ahead as we always do.

"CHAPPiE" (March 6th) - Hey, a remake of "Short Circuit"!  ...You all know "Short Circuit" right?  ...It was a movie.  ...In the 80s.  ...There was a robot named Johnny 5 who came to life.  Whatever, you all need more culture, okay?  Anyway, "CHAPPiE" comes to us form Neill Blomkamp, the visionary who gave us "District 9" and the total hack that gave us "Oblivion" "Elysium".  It stars Blomkamp's favorite actor, Sharlto Cooper as Chappie, an emoticon-faced robot that comes to life and has to fight an angry Hugh Jackman.  Blomkamp is also obsessed with practical-looking greasy metal machines, and Chappie is obviously one of his creations.  This is a lot cuter than anything he has made before, so it is something of a gamble.
--Chances to be Good:  70%.  This is one of those movies where my honed swordsman instinct on movie quality has no real answer.  It could be brilliant, it could be "Oblivion".

"Unfinished Business" (March 6th) - I have no faith at all in Vince Vaughn at this stage in his career.  The more boozed-up washed-out middle aged failures he plays the less I am convinced this is an act, and the more he depresses me.  Luckily he is sharing the screen with a young Dave Franco, playing Mike Pancake, who actually seems to have some fun clueless energy.  Also there is a Tom Wilkinson for some reason.  The plot is that three businessmen must close a deal in Europe and everything goes wrong in the typical bawdy comedy way.
--Chances to be Good:  50%.  This actually does not look too bad.  Not really all that funny, but not that bad.  Nobody is screaming at least, so it is more tolerable than most comedy trailers.