Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: Ted

Version I Watched
: VOD rental, theatrical edition.

History: This is the feature length debut of Seth MacFarlane who is previously famous for shows like Family Guy and American Dad. The film was made for approx. $50 Million and in return it earned over $500 Million worldwide, roughly half of which was earned in the states alone. This currently is the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. While nothing is currently in the works Seth MacFarlane has expressed interest in a sequel.

Personal History: This was my first viewing. Can't say I knew a whole lot about it before this, but my interest was high knowing MacFarlane's history.

Review: I don't know how hardcore of a Family Guy fan I am anymore. Like most males between middle school and college aged over the last decade I have watched a lot of it so I am very familiar with it. I have also enjoyed the show immensely on again and off again. There was a period when I didn't really watch it at all because I was tired out of the direction it was going. But time spent away from it allowed me to appreciate it more. However I guess I wouldn't say I'm a huge fan of the show anymore. It still has enough that makes me laugh despite having a bunch of stuff that annoys the hell outta me.
Why am I talking about Family Guy? Isn't it obvious? While I think Seth MacFarlane is a talented guy he doesn't have a ton of variety in his work. At least what he does and what he's good at is really good. I can't count how many times he's made me laugh uncontrollably, practically falling over. This goes for Family Guy and American Dad, but not for Cleveland Show because... fuck that show. It's terrible. So Ted is expected to be a lot like Family Guy. History has repeated itself multiple times already and it's bound to happen again. Really it's hard not to compare Ted to Family Guy unless you've never seen Family Guy before. Is this bad? No. Actually quite the opposite cause TED IS HILARIOUS!

I'll get it out of the way first, Ted sounds a lot like Peter Griffin. I actually felt like he fluxuated between Peter and Brian with most of the time sounding like Peter. Hard to get out of your head unless, like I previously stated, have never seen Family Guy. I will also touch on how many Family Guy veterans are in this movie as well. A big one is Mila Kunis (Meg on Family Guy). I always felt her role on Family Guy was really ironic, too, as I'm sure most people do. Here's this amazingly gorgeous woman playing a homely, chubby, hated young girl in a cartoon. Oh well, that's the power of writing. Then also in Ted there's appearances by Patrick Warburton (Joe), and even Patrick Stewart who has played multiple roles on the show. In this case it's just similarity in voices and that's it. Good way to cast your regulars.

Ted does do a lot of things on it's own, though. I don't want it to sound like it's nothing but a live action version of a Family Guy episode (which it essentially does most of the time). For starters, Mark Wahlburg is a knockout in his role. His performance as an insecure man-child who is overly attached to his childhood teddy bear is excellent. I actually believed throughout a lot of the movie that he loved Ted more than he loved Lori (Mila Kunis). But while we're on the subject I briefly want to touch on the relationship between him and Lori. I just don't get it. Her character strikes me as the type who would have dumped him a long time ago because of the way he acts. If after four years your girlfriend still puts up with you sitting around most of the day smoking pot with your buddy, showing up to work late, and being a general bum then you better MARRY THAT WOMAN! Otherwise she is going to dump you any day now. Then again we're talking about a movie where a wish brought a teddy bear to life so I'm willing to let a lot of stuff go.
One nice attention to detail pertained to Ted's history. I liked how the fantasy of the story meshed with the reality of the story. A teddy bear coming to life is something that would not stay in secret for very long. So when Ted became an instant celebrity. He of course had the inevitable downfall like many celebrities who are famous for what they literally are. But at least it was addressed that he was famous for being a living teddy bear, if not briefly, which included an excellently edited piece like he was on Johnny Carson (I love it when movies do this. Much like Forrest Gump or the brilliant Death of a President). However I do wonder how there were no instances of people running into Ted and freaking the hell out cause he's literally a living teddy bear in modern times. There's no way the entire general public could know who he is especially if he was a brief celebrity. The only other thing I can think of is that living plushies is now a new norm in this world or he's a local celebrity. But since neither of these details are established it just seems odd how normal everyone acts around him. If anything I imagine every so often someone would react the same way John's (Mark Wahlberg) parents did when Ted first came to life.
Speaking of, I loved the intro to this movie. I had a special appreciation because in it John's father was played by Ralph Garman of Hollywood Babble-On fame (and Sharktopus). Still I thought it was a great back story about an outcast kid who can't even make friends with the kid who gets beat up all the time. Finding a friend in a toy is a common occurrance for a child especially when they're lonely. It's the perfect concept. And I think it transitioned into adulthood for John brilliantly. If someone where to joke around with me how a kid like this would be grown up and still attached this is exactly as I see it. I especially liked Thunder Buddies. I'm just imagine a young boy laying in bed alone with no one else but his teddy bear (alive or not) scared out of his mind chanting the Thunder Buddies chant. I get it. I see it happening. It's very young boy-ish.

So far so good! It's got a great set up, realistic in a way for what it is, has me laughing within moments of the movie starting, we're good to go. As it continued I did realize how crazy predictable the script got. I mean, like really predictable. It had just about every trope from a buddy comedy where a girl is in the mix and the lead role needs to grow up. Even the average viewer will be able to see where the story is going two steps ahead. Of course John is going to make a stupid mistake despite good intentions which will cause him and Lori to break up/have problems which will then lead down a path to something bad happening to Ted allowing it all to come together in an ending where everything is just peachy and wonderful. This didn't ruin the movie. It just limited it to what it could have been. Is it structured because it's a safe bet? This is MacFarlane's first feature so I guess it's understandable that it would structured in such a way. But he has such a big fanbase that it seems like he could go nuts with a full movie and it'd be successful. It's already R-rated so why not go a little nuts with the plot outside of what's expected? Or was it's because that's just how it turned out? Certainly a possibility. It's just really strange that he would write such a straight forward script when Family Guy tends to be a lot crazier in it's execution.
Another BIG problem I had with this is something I can't stand with most comedies in general. There's a time period where everything becomes super serious and it's usually a really awkward jerk in that direction. This is no exception and I CAN'T STAND IT WHEN COMEDIES DO THIS! Now there's just as much a place for drama in comedy as there is comedy in drama. The difference is that I don't remember the drama in There Will Be Blood dropping suddenly in the third act so Daniel Plainview could get stuck in a slapstick routine where he's constantly slipping on a banana peel and other assorted objects. When you make a comedy you should make it funny through and through, not force drama down the throats of unsuspecting viewers. Keep little pieces of drama in there for the sake of character development. However the people who paid to see your movie paid to see it and laugh as much as possible. Now Seth, when you ****SPOILERS**** decide it's time to make it seem like Ted may be gone for good after he is torn in half only to have it turn out well in the end anyway like the rest of us predicted ****END SPOILERS**** then it's an awkward turn for the style you were going for.

Despite these downfalls Ted still made me laugh more than most comedies I've seen recently. Even though it has all the low points of the Family Guy humor it had all the high points of Family Guy humor and then some. One of my favorite scenes was essentially a copy/paste of a Family Guy scene, but it was so fantastic! Watching Ted and John fight in the hotel room with the cartoon-ish sound effects and over the top throws and blows was incredible! Then of course there's the scene early on when Lori comes home to find that Ted hired four hookers and there's a literal piece of shit on the floor because of a game of truth or dare. Ted does more right than wrong. I can imagine sitting through this wonderful piece of comedy over and over again. I also look forward to picking up the DVD one day and see what the extended cut is like.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming: RPG MANIA!

My favorite gaming console right behind the Sega Dreamcast would be the first Playstation (I refuse to call it the PS1 or PSone), and my favorite gaming genre right behind survival horror but ahead of platformers would be RPGs, I do like both Western and Eastern RPGS but I tend to prefer JRPGs. So PS1 and JRPGs. This is a fantastic combo. One thing I liked about the first Playstation was how many RPGs there were on the system. And while it wasn't my introduction to the genre it is where I fell in love with it. I did play a bunch back in the day like Wild Arms and Finaly Fantasy VII, of course, but I'm still catching up on a lot of classics and supposed classics.

I recently got my hand on a bunch more of these RPGs on top of some of the RPGs I already have. So over an indefinite amount of time I want to invite you to RPG MANIA! Some of the games I'll be covering over the next coming months will include: Arc the Lad, Arc the Lad II, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy Tactics, Parasite Eve, Xenogears, and so on and so forth.

These games range in time to beat from not too long (Parasite Eve) to insanely long (Xenogears) so when certain ones come out will depend on what's going on at that time and if I'm able to get through enough of it to justify a review. As you may have figured from one or two of my previous reviews I don't actually finish all the games I review when I put up a review. I will eventually cause I'm a completist, but I just try to get through enough to get a good enough chunk of info for a review. Also, my initial focus is on Playstation RPGs, but I may cheat a little bit and review some for other consoles or were originally on other consoles. This first cheat would be Persona 3, which I promised ages ago.

I haven't decided which RPG I'll review first but hopefully it won't be too long before you do see it! Enjoy! And also be on a look out for some recent Dreamcast imports I picked up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming: D

Availibility: Was released on Playstation, Sega Saturn, 3DO and PC. No ports or re-releases have been done.

Version I Played: Playstation version. Although the cover art I used was the 3DO cover art cause I really like it.

Review: This one is really hard to review. It's truly a product of it's time. D was released at a time when CD-ROM games were first coming out. This provided better sound, visuals, and full motion video could be included now (aka FMV). The biggest was the FMV. That's not something that could be done on a cartridge. Any cutscenes on a cartridge had to be done through creating a video with in game graphics. Now it could be done by pre-rendering CG video or even including actual movie footage/create a movie for the cut scenes. In other words this was the dawn of a lot of new bad ideas that will live on for a long time. Honestly a lot of the things that came up in this era of gaming are now looked back on as a big joke. The technology was sorta there only it was used in a sloppy way. Since it was so new nobody knew how to use it properly. They were considered revolutionary at the time but this was at a time when bits sold systems (for the most part) and people were still very concerned about the visuals and tech behind a system. So a lot of these new games with FMV were sold on the technology. In the grand schemes these wound up being more like tech demos of what could be done in the audio and visual department, only not the gameplay. As a result a lot of these games aged very poorly. That's why it's so difficult to review games like D. It did not age well. When this game first came out it got rave reviews. When people do a retrospective they call it horrible. That's why I need to review this one in the context of it's time. I know it hasn't aged well, but I will try to look at it in the way it was presented to a world who didn't have the gaming we do now. I do this out of respect.
I actually kinda remember when this game came out. Keep in mind I was anywhere between 8-10 years old so my memory fails me in some respects. There were only a few things I remember. One is the box art (The non-3DO cover art) cause it depicted a  black and white photo of a shadowed woman's face with what appears to be bloody tears. I also remember seeing some screenshots but never saw any video on it or played it. I had no clue what this game was really like only that it looked scary. Well, scary for a kid at least. This was a T rated game! OooooooOOOOOOooooo! Well unlike the hundreds of other games I've breezed past in stores and in magazines this is one that stuck with me throughout the years. I know it was because of the horror aspect. A couple of the screenshots I saw were decayed corpses with spikes through their bodies, much like it shows on the back cover. That kind of stuff will stick with ya for a while well over the typical platformer or shoot em up. I eventually picked it up when I was in high school. When I played it finally after all these years of waiting what I got was only partially what I expected. I will say I was not disappointed after all these years of waiting.
The story of the game goes like this. You play a young woman named Laura. One night your father, who is a doctor, goes crazy and kills everyone in the hospital he works in. Despite it being a crime scene you go into the hospital to investigate. While there this bizarre portal opens up and transports you to this giant, old mansion and the game begins. From here you have only two hours to complete the game. No saves, no checkpoints just straight through. By today's standards this seems strange but really there were a lot more games back then that required it than they do now. But it also could be classified as an adventure game which requires sometimes extensive thought to figure out the logic in the puzzles the game presents. So that type of game would typically have a save system so you don't have to go through the same puzzles over and over. Well, in this game you do if you don't get it done in time. A bizarre choice for this type of game but I think it works in a way. It gives a sense of urgency to get through the game, providing you with more of a fear of losing the game for taking too long. Also I think it may have been done to extend the replay value of the game. Once you know the solutions, or most of the solutions it won't take long to go through the game because it is really short.
Before I continue with that, though, I want to touch on the gameplay. This game took full advantage of the new technology by putting FMV into the game. The developer, WARP, took literally full advantage of this technology by making the entire game out of FMV videos. Thankfully this isn't in the same style as Dragon's Lair (although there is one sequence of the game that does turn into that). How it works is that there's predetermined positions you can move to and every time you hit the arrow button toward the next spot there's a brief video sequence to show the travel. Think Myst but with more animations. It's because of this free-ish flowing movement that I hesitate to call it a point and click adventure like Myst but I can't think of anything else to call it. It's technically a point and click but you use the arrow buttons on the controller instead so it feels more FPS-like but I dare not call it an FPS cause it's nothing like that except it's perspective. Because of the animated transitions between moves it does make the game move very slowly. If you go up the stairs into a far off room and need to bring a key back down the stairs and across the hall, only you didn't get the right key you needed, it's gonna take a while to get back to where you were. You can't skip any of these videos. So if you also select the wrong area or key item multiple times you may be looking at the same animation multiple times. Outside of the repeats you'll run into the slow pace of the game is actually really nice. I find it to be very atmospheric. Horror really should never be fast paced so this gives the game a prime surrounding for what it wants to accomplish.
So the game is a bit slow. How are the puzzles? An adventure game like this should at least have decent puzzles. Well the puzzles are alright. I don't have a ton of experience with adventure games outside of the Myst franchise. Most recently I have been playing through Phantasmagoria which does require a certain level of thought to understand the game's logic and complete the puzzles in there. D on the other hand has much simpler puzzles. Part of that could be because I believe this was intended for home consoles (despite making it's way to PC anyway) and this is an era when console games were far more simplified compared to the games coming out on PC. Also I think it was limited ironically because of the technology boost. Keep in mind that for the time this game looked amazing visually. The graphics were a knockout cause before this some of the best looking 3D in gaming was Star Fox which looks like paper mache. Having this power did sacrifice the variety a lower tech game would have. So while this game was on three Playstation discs (Although after digging around I found out the other consoles only needed two discs) because of how much space it takes up the game can only ever last two hours without potentially restarting the game. Whereas on this same console there would be Final Fantasy Tactics. A game with minimal 3D and mostly 2D sprites but is on a single disc and allows for tons and tons of hours of gameplay where no game could be done the same twice because of the variety (pretty much). Unfortunately this was a common theme in this technological advancement. So with that said the creators couldn't afford for the game to be more complicated or include more content because that would require more video, which would require more space, which would require more discs, and next thing you know it's another two or three discs. Then you start looking like Riven which had five discs because of the detail in the imagery. So even with the game coming out on three discs (which is usually a sign of a long game) it won't be as extensive an experience as you may hope.
Now the puzzles come in three varieties. There's pretty clever thinkers, the obvious and easy ones, and then the tedious ones. I'll give an example of each respectively.
One clever thinker was an early one in the game. Early on you find a blank piece of paper in a dresser. If you take it back down the dining room table where there's a large bowl of water and place it in there it'll reveal your next clue. The only reason I knew how to do this right away is because it somehow stuck with me after reading the clue in a magazine many years ago. Not too hard but I felt was clever enough to justify saying so.
An obvious and easy one is to use a numeric code you find on a door. When you find the number you go back to another room where you can enter the code. After it's open you get a key. Not much else to say.
Now there's also the tedious ones. The best example I can think of this is a moment late in the game when you're required to use a crank to rotate the round room you're in to different areas. This is the type of room with one door and depending on how many times you twist the crank you'll either turn around and see a full brick wall or a new door to a different area. A simple-ish puzzle, but also time consuming and very tedious. I say this because this is when the technology of the game get in the way. Unlike in an FPS where you roam free as quick as you'd like or even in a game like Myst when it's just images that are quick and easy to click through but in this game you are forced to sit through animations with every moment you make. So once you get to this crank you start by turning it (takes a couple of seconds), then when you want to check if you've turned it enough times you back up (another second or so), turn around (take a couple more seconds), then if it isn't in the right spot you need to turn back to the wheel (a couple more seconds like before), move back toward the crank (you see where this is going), and start turning it again (yawn). This is such a long process and will drive you to a walkthrough online if you haven't already. Also even if you know how many times to do it, it's still a long process. Sometimes you need to turn the crank anywhere between five to nine times! Add on not knowing when to stop and you're looking at the spot where you are close to running low on time or will be mad you ran out of time later because of this problem. There's only one part in the game that is worse than this spot and that's because the part I want to talk about is more frustrating than boring.
Earlier I mentioned how there's at least one spot in the game similar to Dragon's Lair and thank the Lord there's only one spot like this because it's the worst part of the game. During the crank yanking portion of the game you go down a hall filled with suits of armor and a deep pit at the end. What happens is one of the suits of armor comes alive and you're forced to fight. What follows is what would now be known as a QTE cut scene. No problem, right? No. This is so unresponsive and you're going to see yourself fall down that pit over and over again even on the first button press. I don't know if it's the Playstation controller or not but I think that it would have trouble recognizing the buttons I was hitting. Either that or the timining I hit it was off even though I was hitting it when it prompted me to. I never played the Saturn or the 3DO version so I don't know how well those controllers worked in this scene but the Playstation controller (and I was using a PS3 controller in my most recent playthrough) wasn't doing a great job. Either that or it's the game.
I really hating shitting all over this game because in the end I really do like it a lot. It's also really hard to look at it properly as I keep saying because of what it is and when it came out. It's just so sad how horribly this game has aged. You could almost see it as obsolete withing a couple years of it coming out. It was very of it's time but seemed to make enough change to warrant a sequel some years later. I think if I got it when it came out and I was of a more mature age I would have adored this big time. This type of game and it's atmosphere is right up my alley. It's got a silent protagonist who doesn't bombard us with exposition and therefore she remains very mysterious yet pure. You do have a real sense of being alone in this bizarre world which makes it even creepier cause you wonder what's going to happen next and what will come out of the next corner, if anything, but you're pretty sure there will be, but you can't be sure, and you're crapping your pants in the process! I think that's why I like this game so much. It's horror done in a very Japanese style it gives you an overwhelming sense that something is out there that wants you dead but wants to torment you first. As opposed to American horror which would be jump scare after jump scare. Althought I suppose that was done because of the tech limitations again but I can guarantee you that an American studio would have found a way to include more jump scares.
I think this is a horror classic. It's like almost nothing else out there. if you can get past how poorly it has aged and take it in within the context of the time then I think you'd have a great experience. However the best way to get into this game was to have lived through the era it was born in. Sadly many people would not appreciate what is great about this game especially in modern gaming. I would never try to push this one on anyone unless I knew for sure they would find some level of interest with it. Of all the people I've known who are gamers I intentionally presented this one to only one person and they did appreciate it on a similar level I did. Minus the poorly written plot at times I think this would make a great horror film as well. Just translate it almost straight and into a ninety minute film, heck it could even be a shorter one and still be good, and there ya go! I suppose it could also expand on an extra portion of the game where you find out more about Laura and a dark part of her past. Ah yes, the main reason to play through again after beating it the first time. To unlock the full video that exposes SPOILERS that Laura killed at ate her mother because she is a descendant of Dracula END SPOILERS.
As an added bonus I found a complete walkthrough of the entire game! It's technically the 3DO version and is the director's cut, and it's in Japanese so the little dialogue there is, is in Japanese. Strangely the text is in English. Regardless of these facts the differences aren't something that are easily noticed. This is essentially what the version I played was like. And a little piece of trivia. You'll notice the title says D's Diner, which was the original title in Japan.

If America Made It: Outside of concept designs and methods of execution I can't imagine this would be a lot different. These types of games were a bit deal in the advent of CD-ROM games. I guess the differences would have been more on the end of jump scares, and it may have been a point and click adventure style instead of the constant FMV approach WARP did.

Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Version I Watched: Redbox rental copy.

History: Was released in American theatres on June 22nd 2012. It was made with an estimated budget of $10 Million. The worldwide box office brought in just under $10 Million making this film a financial failure in the box office. A fun fact with this film is the woman who leaves Steve Carell's character at the beginning of the film is played by Nancy Carell, his real life wife.

Personal History: This is my first viewing. I had never even seen a trailer for this one. All I knew about it was the poster and a synopsis, but that was enough to get me interested.

Review: As I stated in my personal history section of the review, there wasn't a whole lot I knew about this one going into it (which I think is helpful in most films unless you're going into a sequel). There was enough to get me interested, though, based entirely on specific elements alone. For first it game me the impression of a quirky, funny perspective on the end of the world. Also one of the stars is Steve Carell who I have liked in almost everything he's done. Even dating back to The Daily Show before he hit it big with The 40 Year Old Virgin. I even really liked Dinner With Schmucks, a movie not a lot of people seemed to like. Lastly it's from Focus Features who for the most part seem to have a level head on releasing great movies. This is the same company that has produced amazing films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lost in Translation, and Coraline. There was some irony in the fact that these details are also the reason why I was a little worried about how it would turn out. Between the theme of the apocalypse, Steve Carell being really good at dramatic acting as he is at comedic acting, and the fact that it's released by Focus Features means one thing. It's gonna be a dramedy and dramedies can be really hard to pull off. I remember going through a point where I was really into them and looking back I think it's entirely because they were different, as pathetic as that sounds. So going into this while I was still interested I kept my expectations low out of worry with how it would turn out blending the comedy and the drama. No sense dodging it any longer. Time to find out if this did the trick. I do want to talk about many specific things throughout the entire film rather than generally speaking so spoiler alert.
Well I liked the way this started. It didn't pussy-foot around the apocalypse. It didn't give hope that it wouldn't happened. It just straight up said it's gonna happen and there's nothing that can be done. Excellent way to start this out cause it tells you the tone without tossing you around deciding what it wants to be. So with the world for sure going to end everything goes to hell. Dodge's (Steve Carell) wife leaves him not that she finally has an excuse (some excuse, huh?) cause she never really loved him, the world is slowly shutting down, suicide, insanity, safe to say the world is going nuts. Somehow Dodge still goes on with his daily life for a while. He goes to the gym, goes to work, and goes about his daily duties as normal. This all seems really strange with, you know, the end of the world coming. I think almost everyone reading this would blow off work to be with family and/or friends and to do things they always wanted to do. Finish off that bucket list the best they could. Keep in mind all planes at this point are grounded so my bucket list of visiting Norway and Japan couldn't be fulfilled as I'm sure your wish to finally go to Italy or the land down under. Now the weirdest part about this depressing beginning, it's hilarious! The comedy of this dramedy really come alive with a dark sense of humor in the first half. The doom and gloom scenario is being played out greatly exaggerated and it actually caused me to laugh out loud multiple times. One of my favorites being Dodge's housekeeper who keeps coming back to clean his apartment as if she doesn't know the end times is coming.
This of course all changes after a girl comes in the picture. Keira Knightley plays Penny, a young neighbor of Dodge who lives with her bum of a boyfriend. She first meets Dodge after having a breakdown out on the scaffolding outside their apartment building because she missed the last plane back to England to be with her family. She winds up staying at Dodge's place that night (nothing romantic) and that's when the quirkiness starts and so the plot pick up. Shortly after meeting she gives Dodge a pile of mail that has built up in her mailbox because the mailman kept putting it in the wrong box. In this pile Dodge finds a letter from "the one that got away" who he always loved more than the woman he actually married and found out he was the one she was always in love with. Because of the guilt of not giving him this letter right away Penny insists on helping him find her while Dodge helps Penny get to a plane that someone he knows has to get her to England.
What the story becomes as of this point is similar to a road trip movie. A series of encounters of a wide variety all providing quick scenes to entice different emotions. In part it reminded me a bit of Away We Go (a movie that I felt was highly overrated) because that was the most recent example I could think of. While on this journey they encounter a good variety of reactions to the end times. Of course while they're in the city they run into the expected riot. Then once they're on the road they find a group of people overjoyed making the best of the end times, a man who is suicide but not in a traditional sense, and of course the guys who think they can survive because they're "prepared." Not a huge variety but a good grab bag of people to work with. My favorite of all these in the comedic sense was the scene at the restaurant Friendlys. The entire staff of the restaurant is making the best of their end days by having the best time they can. This T.G.I.Fridays looking restaurant is transformed into a wild party filled with touchy-feely waiters/waitresses, wacky menu items like a burger with a donut for a bun, and pot... lots of pot. Not to mention they were all, all over each other like a massive orgy was about to break out any second. End times I guess. This was easily the part that made me laugh the hardest because it was so wacky, wild and over the top. Sadly this is one of the best parts of the whole movie and it's before the movie is half done.
As the story continues the main problem I had was there wasn't an overall feel like the world was coming to an end. At multiple parts I actually "forgot" that the world was coming to an end and it felt like just a regular road trip movie. This mostly shows when they finally get to the neighborhood Dodge was trying to get to throughout the movie. This neighborhood is pristine clean and undamaged. Wouldn't the crazies in the city expand and loot the suburbs, too? It makes so much sense to do so. Also wouldn't some of the neighbors do the same? It just felt way too peaceful in comparison to the anarchy that was presented to the audience earlier in the story. The only part that felt somewhat realistic was the abandonment. The whole neighborhood felt very empty. This makes sense although far fetched because they went to be with family, but nobody's primary family location lives in this neighborhood? I find that a little hard to believe, too. Then again this neighborhood could also be filled with folks hung from nooses or with self-inflicted gunshot wounds for all we know.
The second best but also partially one of the worst parts of the story is in the third act. I say I really liked it because it's where the drama in the dramedy really shines but it's also a not very well executed conclusion to this story. What I liked so much about the third act was Dodge reconnecting with his father who he hasn't spoken to in over twenty years. I am a sucker for these parent/child scenes in movies. I can watch a million romance films and hardly feel anything because it's something we see all the time. Now the parent/child relationship is still commonly used but it hits me harder than romance films. Honestly in the scene when Dodge and his dad reunite and his dad apologizes for being a dick after walking out on him it made me choke up a bit inside. I was all over it. This is also a great example of Steve Carell and his dramatic acting. He did a top notch job in this scene alone. And his dad who was played by Martin Sheen also did a top notch job. I was really feeling the connection. Unlike the connection between Dodge and Penny which I felt was non-existent and didn't work. You see, the main problem with the romance is as soon as you walk into this story you know they'll wind up together in the end. It's painfully predictable. I didn't know if Dodge and his dad would find each other again. It came off as exposition to explain how he got to where he was in his life at first. So when they were reunited I was excited. When Dodge and Penny found their love for each other I expected it so I didn't necessarily care. Also it didn't make sense because outside of a fun road trip and a little casual sex it didn't feel like they could develop enough of a connection to really be in love. Well, I guess there is the impending disaster to pull them together. Lastly is their age. Having a large age difference is really difficult. It didn't work in Last Chance Harvey and it didn't work here. Hell, it worked better in Lolita and that was about a ped-head. Then again that was Kubrick and Kubrick is basically the best thing to happen to the cinema ever but I digress. I don't even know what else to say here. It wasn't in my eyes a believable relationship. It would have worked to have just a close friendship for the end of the world who can help make it pass easier. Sparks of love don't have to fly, just a close friend can be enough and maybe even more rewarding. Then you're not in torture of what sort of life you could have spent together with this person you just met and fell in love with days before the apocalypse!
I know what this movie wanted to be but I felt like it didn't hit the mark. As I'm sure you, my smart reader, can assume a dramedy needs to blend together the comedy and drama in a mix where you can't tell when it goes from one to another. This story hits you hard with comedy in one scene and then switches gears so hard it's jarring. Once again as I'm shitting all over this title I will say it was not a bad movie. I've seen much worse this year. The problem with this is that it's predictable and overall pretty mediocre. I also feel it's a missed opportunity. A comedic, maybe even parody of the apocalypse could be a great dark comedy. Too bad the only option that's really available right now is this one and it's not up to snuff. Again, not terrible. There are some very funny parts and superb performances. Also you can see all the wild ways Keira Knightley twists and twirls her face (Seriously, most of the time she is a gorgeous woman but then she makes these faces that looks like she was just twist and twirled through a blender). Again, not a bad movie, probably worth a lazy Sunday afternoon redbox rental for the performances alone. It won't be much of a miss if you don't get to it, though.
As a quick side note, watching this also made me think of Melancholia, another end times film. Unfortunately I found that one to be disappointing as well but when you're going into a Lars Von Trier film you tend to expect quality. Not to mention it was right after Antichrist which was amazing. I'll probably do a full Melancholia review one day but for now a quick comment. Between Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and Melancholia I can't help but find it ironic that the apocolypse films as of late have been a disappointment, what with the Mayan calendar ending soon.

(No I don't believe the world is coming to an end this month)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Review: Three... Extremes

My Version: Standard definition DVD. Purchased from a blockbuster video. Not a specialized rental copy since the label on the DVD says 'Disc 1' but I did not receive a disc 2 in my purchase. So if anything it's incomplete.

History: A collaboration of three short films from three different Asian directors. The first feature, Dumplings, is directed by Fruit Chan (Hong Kong). The second feature, Cut, is directed by Chan-wook Park (Korea), and the last feature, Box, is directed by Takashi Miike (Japan). It was released on November 17th 2005 in America with a very limited release of less than 20 screens. It made roughly $2,000 per screen during it's American run. I was unable to locate information on how well it did worldwide.
The order was originally Box/Dumplings/Cut in the Asian released but was changed to the order previously mentioned. It is also technically a sequel to a similar film, simply titled Three. Ironically there was also a sequel to the film being reviewed called Three... Extremes II. Calling all of these sequels from one another is odd because they only thing they have in common is that they are collaborations of short films that have no connection other than the horror theme.
The segment Dumplings would later be expanded into a full 90 minute film.

Personal History: This is my first viewing. The only connection or history I would have with this film is I am familiar with the work of Takashi Miike.

Review: Calling Three... Extremes one of a kind is and isn't what I'm going for in the following review. The concept of making one full length film out of three shorter features is nothing new, especially in the horror genre. There's films like Creepshow and Two Evil Eyes that both did the same thing. It's entirely what those short films are about that make them one of a kind and boy, oh, boy are each of these three are one of a kind in one way or another.
The first film is Dumplings. Dumplings is a story about two women. One is a chef who specializes in a very unique type of dumplings and the other is a customer of her's who is obsessed with her beauty. You're probably thinking the exact same thing I was thinking. A horror film about someone who cooks a particular dish with a unique approach? I know, I know. The first thought that comes in your mind is that it's made of people ala Sweeney Todd minus the singing. Well you're a little bit right. There are people in the recipe but now in the same sense. Basically the plot of this short is the customer is obsessed with her looks so she eats dumplings that contain unborn fetuses. The idea behind this plot has a striking resemblance to an episode of a certain animated show on a certain comedy network. Where that episode of South Park took it in such an extreme, satirical manner this story took it in a far more freaky way.
Without the satire it's a pretty freaky concept. There's even an abortion scene where a young girl goes to the cooks apartment and they have it right there in the kitchen into the kitchen sink. It's hard to talk about these shorts without giving things away so I won't go too much farther into the story so there can be some element of surprise to the story. With that said the customer obsessed with beauty finds out that depending on where the child was in the pregnancy will rank the potency of the fetus, giving stronger/different results for her skin and beauty. Safe to say, with this being a horror tale, the results aren't what the customer hoped for. This all rolls out to a pretty creepy result. Overall my short review on Dumplings is that it's a pretty standard horror story but does execute some good creepy elements. I would be interested in checking out the extended 90 minute versions to see where else it goes.
Next in line is Cut. Right off the bat I'm not sure what to think because this is a movie about a movie maker. It's an overdone idea that gets tiresome quickly. Luckily the whole movie making aspect of it only lasts through the intro to establish character. Once it gets to the scary bits it increases in value. In short it's a cut (heh heh) and dry horror story. Guy gets kidnapped by some psycho who wants to torture him and everyone around him. Now what comes up is my favorite visual in the entire story as well as this compilation film as a whole. They are in what appears to be the director's (who was kidnapped) home but it's actually the set for his newest film. It was a design choice by the in story filmmakers to duplicate his personal home for the film's set. The director is tied up across the room and is unable to move very far from the wall he is against. Across the room he sees a woman sitting at the grand piano. All around her are wires going off in different directions but mostly centered at her hands which are on the keys of the piano. From a distance it looks like some twisted puppeteer is putting on a musical show. Here's a shot of what I'm referencing.
I actually really liked this one more than the others. It's the type of horror story where the killer presents themselves to their victim for the purposes of torturing them mentally on top of the physical torture they'll put them through. That's the element that makes this way more creepy. The mask is off, it's personal. He doesn't just want you dead, he wants you to suffer in the process, and that suffering needs to be the worst way possible. I think that's why I liked this one so much. I do like the silly slashers like Jason and Leatherface, but this brings it to a different level when not only can you see the killer's face but get to know him, too. Stories like this always make me think of a Hannibal Lecter type of killer. This brings out his bizarre logic to his motives. And boy oh boy are his motives unique.
Basically it goes like this, the director is kidnapped by a man who has been an extra in many of his films. At the same time he kidnapped the director's wife, who is the one bound up at the piano, who is also a pianist. Then, lastly he kidnapped a young girl who is tied up on the couch across the room. The extra despises the director because how much of a good man he is. The intentions of the killer are to force this good man of a director to do something horrible or every five minutes he will cut off another one of the director's wife's fingers, which will destroy her ability to play. The horrible thing? Kill the small child.
What happens over the course of the next 30-40 minutes is a series of exciting mind games that honestly kept me on the edge, not to mention some twists and turns along the way. I obviously liked this one the most with how much I've been talking about it. It really captured my attention more than Dumplings before and Box after this (which I'll get to in just a moment). The ending has a couple of loose ends I don't feel tied up properly but this one was really engaging none the less.
Now we come to Box, the last in this trilogy of these shorts. Box was directed by one of my favorite Japanese Directors, Takashi Miike (Go watch Dead or Alive, it's an amazing yakuza film, I'll have to touch on that one sometime). Unfortunately because of this I think I went in with high expectations. Now what I got wasn't crap. What I got was really good. However it was also the most puzzling. Now if you know me you know I like mind-fucks in film and other mediums. Box is definitely one of those. Only I didn't find it as interesting or compelling as other stories like this. Throughout the story it pokes at the thought that this girl is responsible for her sister's death, and the title of the film is in reference to the box her sister was locked in when she died. What follows throughout the film is what appears to be supernatural occurrences*** only to be followed up by it being a dream, but is it? Wait, if this and that was a dream earlier is this really happening? Is this story based in the reality we know or not? What?
I felt a lot of elements of the story were a jumbled mess. I was never fully sure of specific, key details of the story. For example, part of the main story was that this woman and her sister were part of a stage show when they were children. The two of them were ballerina's in the show but also participated in some magic. So this show was... I don't know... like a variety show or something? Also the man they were with I... think... was their father? Again it's something that I don't ever feel is made clear. For all I know it was their uncle, brother, family of the friend, their parent's accountant, a hobo they found at the train tracks, and the list goes on. I felt the low level of clarity on this really hit the story in the wrong way because it can damage the creep factor. Horror is meant to scare and shock. If it's their father then the way he was treating them was both creepy and shocking. If it was anyone else whether it was in or out of their family it's still creepy and shocking, only it lessens the blow a bit.
I really wanted to like Box more than I did but that's probably the fanboy inside of me screaming because of who directed it. Again I want to point out it wasn't crap. I still enjoyed what I saw and could comprehend. I think I just need to view it a few more times on it's own I think to properly comment on it. I just don't have much else to say on it at the moment.
So as a whole Three... Extremes is a pretty awesome compilation of horror shorts. I give the grand prize to Cut as I found that to be the best one put together and was the creepiest of them all. These would especially be appealing to those who enjoy other Asian horror like Ring and Whispering Corridors (Among others). I do have one more thing to comment on before I finish this off. The order of the films.
As I stated waaaaay back at the beginning of this post the order of the shorts is different than it's initial, Asian release. It was originally Box/Dumplings/Cut. I really can't argue against them being in any order, only that some orders work better for different audiences. Since this flick is three shorts coming in at roughly 40 minutes a piece it's asking for two hours of a person's time, which is quite a bit for the average American audience unless it's a story about a sinking ship or walking for a really long time to drop a ring in a volcano. So execution in presenting these to an American audience is key and re-arranging doesn't kill the overall feeling of the film. If anything it may prevent the audience from ejecting it from their DVD player.
The order it was released in America is great for the audience it is being presented to. American's are an instant gratification group of people. If Box was presented first then their assumption would be that Sumplings and Cut would be just like that and if that turns them off they'll turn the whole film off not even giving the other two a chance. So putting the most post-modern piece at the end works out well. Re-arrange the other two any way you like but leave Box at the end so this doesn't happen. However if Cut was put before Dumplings then I think it's safe to say the film would only downward spiral from there. Dumplings is good, enough to keep you interested. Cut is fantastic! Keeps you waiting for what can come next in Box. And if Box floats your boat then you go out with a bang. If it doesn't then it wasn't a total waste of time because you just two two other great horror shorts right before it, especially Cut.
I really liked Cut. I would easily buy a DVD of it stand alone.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming: Sonic the Fighters

Availability: This game was originally released in arcades in May 1996. I am unsure of how wide of a release it had internationally but in America it was very limited. A Sega Saturn version was intended but later scrapped. It wouldn't see a home release until 2005 when it was included on the Sonic Gems Collection released for Playstation 2 and Gamecube. Lastly this game became available on it's own on PSN and XBLA on 11/27/12, and the only reason I know that is because when I logged on to my PSN account to check on the new releases the surprise of the day one release came up on my radar.

Version I Played: PSN download.

Review: I have been waiting to get my hands on this one for a long time. The first time I experienced anything related to this game was in the Sega Saturn fighting game, Fighters Megamix, my favorite fighting game of all time and would buy a Saturn again to get that game alone. Among the many characters that were included it included a couple of the characters featured in Sonic the Fighters. Only partially to my surprise they were secondary characters, not anyone like Sonic, Tails, etc. FM also included a couple of stages from the game. Safe to say my experience with the game and it's elements were very limited. All I knew was essentially a demos worth of material and whatever I could find online. It wasn't until I played the full game on the Sonic Gems Collection at a friend's house that I would see what the rest of it was like. It has been years since I've touched that one, and I would tend to play Sonic R when I went over to his place anyhow because I had a personal attachment to that title.
I have been interested in spending more time on Sonic the Fighters for quite some time now. Part of it is in the novelty because it was unavailable for many years due to a cancelled Sega Saturn release. Also the Sonic Gems Collection is pretty limited and hard to find as well. I was just lucky a buddy of mine had it. So when I found it popping up on the PSN for a reasonable price of $5 I was all over that. On a side note I must say that the PSN has been treating me very well as of late. First there was Tokyo Jungle, then Nights into Dreams came up along with another Sega Saturn classic Daytona USA, now there's this previously unavailable Sonic title (for the most part) as well as a couple more Saturn titles!
Well while I was excited I knew not to keep my excitement too high. I remember this one having a lot of problems. I'm a big fan of being part of the history of a subject or franchise I am fond of. So I am willing to participate in most or all of the installments. However I am also realistic and not a super hardcore fanboy about things. I am able to recognize when something is crap. I have been a Sonic fan for an eternity. I am willing to recognize the horrible track it has been going down for the last few years, though. The 2006 Sonic "next gen" game was garbage but was too stubborn to admit at the time. Lots of the Wii titles have been terrible (Although I have heard Sonic Colors is pretty awesome). Essentially there hasn't been a super high quality, legitimate Sonic game since the first Sonic Adventure on Dreamcast.
That brings me to Sonic the Fighters. Excitement high, expectations low. I feel I should sandwich this title by complimenting it first, tear the piss out of it in the middle, and then finish off with something nice. It's my way of criticizing it as it rightly deserves, but I don't want the gaming companies to stop releasing these hard to grab titles.
So, the good. The fact that a Sonic fighting game exists I think is pretty cool. Something about these cute and cuddly characters beating the crap out of each other is really exciting! You could also finally play as Sonic against Tails so you can destroy him in your fantasies if you were the type to hate on Tails. Also the game's overall design looks great. It knows who the fans are so they want to give the fans their due. The character lineup is just about everyone from the Sonic games up to that point. Keep in mind this was before the Sonic extended universe expanded into the realms equivalent to fan fiction. It of course had Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. But it also had Amy and of course Robotnik (Dr. Eggman) and Metal Sonic, but the later two are only playable in the recent HD re-release. Aside from the main expected characters it also has a couple of lesser known characters like Espio from Chaotix on the 32X. On top of this the stages are based on levels from Sonic the Hedgehog. This means it'll have a forest setting, an industrial setting, casino setting, and at the end the Death Egg. These all give the feeling of the Sonic universe, although only a few really inspire nostalgia. Lastly the concept design is clearly very Sonic if not a bit overdone. Each time you make a hit on another character a ton of rings come flying out of the character understandibly. Also the moves are unique to each character. Sonic spins, Tails does flying moves, Metal Sonic has freaking lasers! But where it may have been a bit overdone is in the cartoony execution. It feels like the concept design was inspired first by the games that came before this and then secondly inspired by the Sonic cartoon, and I'm not talking about the SatAM cartoon that had a more serious tone, I'm talking about the one for really young kids that was really wacky. My prime example for this is that it is possible to land a move that momentarily flattens the other fighter... literally.
Sadly a lot of the good things to say about this game end here. It's not the complete list but there just isn't a lot of good to say about this one. I am not going to complain about the lack of variety in the game. It is essentially a direct port of the arcade game, meaning that there is one and two player modes and that's it. Also it was $5 and I'll probably wind up spending more time on this game that I would on a boxed game whether it's single player or multi-player, whatever comes up I will want to keep playing. I'm also trying to keep this in context. Despite it never coming out on the system this is essentially a Sega Saturn game ported onto a modern console. At it's core that is what it is. Virtua Fighter 2 had the same amount of variety in the selection of what you can do and that game was amazing. I would love to spend many more hours on that game as well despite having all these fancy new games with fancy additional features. You play a fighting game for the fighting.
The fighting. How is the fighting? The core mechanic of the game? Not good. The biggest problem is how sluggish the game feels. The controls are un-responsive and you never really feel like you're in full control either. Many fighting games can warrant button mashing but you still feel like you're in something of control. I was button mashing just to stay alive and I felt like if I wasn't for even a second it would have been disaster. A couple problems with it being unresponsive is the control layout and the animations. I was never sure of what all the buttons did minus the block. I would hit what I think is punch or kick which would sometimes work but other times would do something else. Mostly it would turn into a spin. I would think maybe it's because of the position of the joystick but even that was inconsistent enough for me to doubt that. Secondly, to go along with this confusion on the controller is the confusion on what's going on, on screen. The animations play out too long and feel like they cannot be interrupted. It's like once I do a move it has to go through the full animation before I can move into the next move, making combinations next to impossible. Also a lot of the jumps or jump moves feel pre-determined. I feel like I cannot control where I'm jumping whether it's at a specific angle forward, back, or straight up to avoid an attack. Watch this youtube video to try and grasp what I'm trying to say.
While I consider the game to be visually appealing enough for it's generation, the game as a whole feels stripped down and empty. As what is essentially a cash in game based on the Virtua Fighter franchise it's not supposed to bring the house down. Even with expectations so low it is surprising how poorly executed this one was. This was also before Sonic became so desperate for attention in a game that he would star in anything (I'm looking at you Mario & Sonic at the Olympics). Also with such great source material it really is even more surprising. This was made by the exact same people who made the Virtua Fighter games. An exact clone of Virtua Fighter wouldn't work because it would be too slow. There are much better ways to speed it up and make it more cartoonish. I remember Virtua Fighter Kids which was still a great, legitimate fighting game. That game was super cartoony what with having all the Virtua Fighter characters having gigantic heads. But again, same company, still a great game. Why couldn't this be the same with Sonic the Fighters?
So essentially what this game boils down to is a Virtua Fighter attempt at a fighting game but without the core mechanics that made Virtua Fighter as great as it was. Sure there is the poor game mechanics but it doesn't help there's a real lack of moves. With the animations and handling making it feel like combos aren't even a possibility you're boiled down to simplistic moves by simplistic moves. Ironically some of them are so staggeringly powerful or stunning that if you get hit by the time the 30 minute animation ends you or your opponent will be able to land their move right away. Now, even with these simplistic moves the time it takes to lower the health on either character is way too quick. It feels like even the tiniest of moves can chop off such a large chunk so quickly. It leaves next to no time of tension like in other fighting games. When I first booted the game up I left it at the standard settings. It was at medium difficulty, 2 rounds, 30 seconds a round. Everything through that seemed standard except the time limit. I felt the 30 second time limit was pretty short. It's actually half the standard round time in other fighters. This means that by default it is a lighter fighter than the standard fighter. And all in all it can be lighter but this one is way lighter than it should have been, which brings me to the difficulty.
This game is borderline insultingly easy. Yest I did continue a couple of times but I feel that was due to the poor mechanics of the game. I was able to blaze through the entire arcade mode on my first try in no time at all. Also I was able to obtain all but one of the trophies in that same run through. What blew my mind the most was at the very end of the arcade mode. After fighting the final boss of Metal Sonic on the Death Egg you're treated to a quick bonus stage against Robotnik himself. This is a one round fight that will determine if you get the good or bad ending. You only have one chance and the round time is cut in half to 15 seconds. I won on my first try. So after I play through arcade mode with all the characters I'm wondering what sort of replay value this game will have especially since it's such a pain to play through as is.
And now I feel bad for crapping on this game so hard. I say that because I can't help but feel there were great intentions behind it. This was in an era where there weren't Sonic games being blazed out left and right. Remember that there was never an exclusive, mainline story Sonic game for Sega Saturn. All it had was Sonic 3D Blast (A Genesis port), Sonic R (A racing game) and Sonic Jam (A compilation of older Sonic games with additional special features). So I don't believe this one was just thrown together and kicked out the door. If that was the case it would have gotten a release on Saturn regardless. It's just that Sega wasn't working the way it does now. In that era of Sega you wouldn't see, for example, some of the kinds of games the Wii has released featuring Sonic (I have heard Sonic Colors is pretty awesome, though). It's just so unfortunate that what could have been a great game was such a disappointment, not that people had high expectations in the first place anyway.
I think the best way this game could have been improved would have been with a complete overhaul and approach to the game. The first thing I can think of is if it were more like the Marvel vs. Capcom series. A 2D approach could have worked so much better. Also the MvC games are crazy fast paced, making the speed worthy of it's source material. At this time Virtua Fighter and soon thereafter Tekken were the only ones to do 3D fighting with great success. This game will not be remembered through the ages aside from hardcore fans like myself interested in the history of the character as well as Sega itself... and I find that sad.
As a P.S. to this review I just hope one day that the other arcade game that was released three years earlier, SegaSonic the Hedgehog will be released on PSN or some sort of re-release one day. Unlike Sonic the Fighters, SegaSonic has never seen a release outside of arcades.

If America Made It: I'll put this in context as this game came out more than 15 years ago. At the time America may have taken the approach at a Mortal Kombat clone. I don't feel an American company would have been comfortable enough with taking on a 3D fighter quite yet. I'm just imagining the visual style of MK but with Sonic characters. Pretty freaky. Either that or, dare I say, something in the art direction of Clay Fighter. I don't see much of an expansion or difference with the character list, though. There weren't a lot of characters in the franchise at the time. I wouldn't imagine they would have included a couple of them simply because of their obscurity. And now that I think of it I imagine an American company may have included some of the machines you fight in the original games (i.e. robotic bee, crab, etc). I think the only way this game could have been worse was if an American developer made it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming: Tokyo Jungle

Availability: It was originally released as a boxed game in Japan earlier this year, but is now available in the states as a download title on the PSN exclusively.

Version I played: PSN download.

Review: I think I was a tad too ambitious to promise a review of Persona 3 right off the bat. In order for me to provide a proper review for that one I will need to take some time first as that game has a lot going on in it. It took at least an hour or more for me to get in my first battle. So I will need more time for that one before I can provide a proper review for it. For now I want to focus on a game that had me super excited as of late... Tokyo Jungle!
First, a history. I first heard about this game a little over a year ago and was fascinated right off the bat. The concept of a post-apocalyptic world where animals ruled, there were no humans left, and therefore no ZOMBIES either sounded like an absolute blast! It's a new take on an old idea. The only problem is that it was the type of game that gave the feeling like it would never come out here. So eventually it came out in Japan and listen, I swear, I mean I SWEAR I came really close to importing it cause I wanted it so badly. Luckily my empty wallet forced me not to and it was a good thing. That's because one day I log onto the PSN and there it is. I heard no news about it coming over. It's like it just showed up one day. Safe to say I couldn't hit that download button fast enough. A similar feeling I would get a couple weeks later when the Nights into Dreams port shows up. *Saturn!*
Right off the bat Tokyo Jungle is one of the most uniquely Japanese games I've played in a while. For those keeping score games based on anime, look like anime, or start with Final Fantasy don't typically count as "Uniquely Japanese" cause that's just what most mainstream folks expect as Japanese. Explaining what I mean may be difficult. I think at the core the game isn't pandering to a western audience. It truly feels like the game was made for a specific audience and that audience is of the land of the rising sun.
The first thing that surprised me is that Story mode was not available at the start. Typically this is the only thing available before being able to get to all the juicy extras or free flowing modes. Not this time. This game makes you work for your story. It's like the game wants you to live and survive and actually work yourself up the food chain first before you find out what happened in the first place. You see, that's a great thing about this game, it's the mystery. Slowly you find out more details by exploring Tokyo. Some are newspaper clippings, others are testimonials. It's neat to see it unfold so slowly. Also when it comes down to it, it makes sense. These are animals on the loose that weren't involved (for all we know) in the destruction of man. So do you think they have context? Not a chance. I like not having context cause it keeps me playing to find out more.
Speaking of more, this game has a lot of it. Since the story mode isn't available right off the bat you have to go through survival mode to unlock it. After a quick tutorial stage you're off and running as... a pomeranian? Yep, that's right. An epic, post-apocalyptic, fight for survival game starts off with you playing as a teeny-tiny, yippy-dippy, little dog. I found this to be really charming since it places right in front of you how hard you'll have to work to get to the big dogs... literally. As the food chain goes you're mostly going to be hunting and feeding on smaller animals first. Animals like rabbits, chickens, other farm-like animals, etc, most of which are easy to kill cause they're not as strong or vicious. As you grow and claim land you'll have the option to attract a mate to create the next generation. The further along you play and the more generations you create the more difficult things will get. There's toxicity that will start to get heavier in parts, food will become more scarce, and the other animals will become bigger and meaner. You'll also run into animals you have no shot against until you become a larger animal. With that said it's very satisfying to be playing as a pomeranian and take down a lion cub... but then you get chased by moms and pop lion and that's scary as hell.
As with the animal kingdom there are essentially two types of animals you can play as: Carnivores and Herbivores. For those of you who didn't pay attention in school those are meat eaters and plant eaters. After playing as the pom-pom for a little while you will eventually unlock other animals, typically within the same class as the current animal is. So as a pom-pom you'll unlock a cat and then move up to a beagle, up to a lab, and so on. But then on the plant eater end you'll start off as a cute little deer and eventually get other plan eaters like pigs and sheep.
Once you start playing as a plant eater it's a whole different game (not literally). Same goals, same environment, same almost everything except the food you're looking for. Overall I found playing as one of these animals was far more challenging for multiple reasons. The main being that plants are harder to find than let's say a whole flock of sheep. Also it's harder to defend yourself. So if you want to recreate Bambi in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo you better get your running shoes on cause you can expect to be doing this a lot more than with man's best friend. Now if you're a blood thirsty, COD playing, 12 year old, angry boy you may be wondering why you would want to play as a sheep when you could eventually be an ALLIGATOR tearing other animals apart. First I would be wondering how you found me and secondly let me tell you how it's way more exciting that the first choice.
To give some clarity. This does not mean playing as a plant eater is more fun. Honestly it's way more fun to be playing as a vicious "kill everything" animal, but it's less of a challenge. You only really feel in danger when up against a much larger animal, and even when you're against a slightly more powerful animal (a lab facing a hyena for example) you still have a good chance of winning the fight. When you're a plant eater you can still fight but not as well. You're much more likely to get mauled to death. So this makes it more exciting and intense. It gives off the same feeling as an early Silent Hill character in a way. You're very weak, you can't fight well, and you're probably gonna die if you stick around. It makes your heart run from terror but since it is more difficult the end reward is far more exciting. In a way it's way cooler to play as one of these guys than the vicious ones.
As a matter of fact, take that into account for both types of animals and it's just way more satisfying to play as the little guy. Every other game out there this generation is an overpowered space marine so having an underdog (I'm full of 'em today) fight the big guy is awesome to see. I have been playing many hours of this game but still have not unlocked all the animals yet so I really haven't played as some of the more powerful animals yet. I am imagining that the threat won't be as great once I get there. Maybe after I unlock the elephant and the dinosaur (not kidding) I'll go back to the pom-pom. I can also be fooling myself cause in other games once I've eared the mega powerful character it's usually jarring going back to basics. I guess we'll have to see.
Story mode is something I also haven't completed yet. It actually takes quite a bit of time and repeat playing of survival mode to get new chapters unlocked in story mode. The story in story mode follows different animals as they adjust and fight in the new world they have to live in. Of course once again you start off as a pom-pom. A lot of these stories are about defending their families or defending their land. These are also charming but in a very Disney way. The animals of course don't have dialogue but their feelings are very present. I love how expressive even digital animals can be. Last I checked I'm somewhere between 8-10 chapters in and I have no idea how long they go. But the last chapter I played was as a grown lioness so I must be coming along well. I was given the promise of finding out what wiped the humans out once I complete this. I can probably figure out how it happened, though, with all the horror/science fiction that's out there it's easy to figure.
Tokyo Jungle is incredibly addictive but it certainly isn't flawless. The first issue I have with it is the camera. Since we live in an age where a movable camera is a possibility it really doesn't seem like there's a reason not to have it unless it's a very specific purpose. This game's fixed camera angle looks at you as if you're on a 2D plane but you still move around in every direction *Example*. There are two issues I have with this. First is exploring. It can be hard to explore when you only have one fixed angle in a tight area that's very maze-like. Sure you've got the mini-map and the larger map in the options menu but that makes it cumbersome when it shouldn't be. The reason I don't like it is for combat purposes. On the mini-map it shows how many animals are around you with dots. This is nice especially if you're looking for you but it doesn't distinguish if it's a chick or a hippo. The fixed camera does make it difficult to figure out what sort of danger you'll be in, in just a moment. Too many times have I been frantically running around trying to eat and I look at my mini-map to see some there are some animals coming up. I sure hope it's a rabbit or something small. Oh wait, it's a hippo! I cannot go up against that. Crap! Either now I'm dead from goring or starvation.
My other complaint with the game is the map. It's varied enough for what it is, only it's really small. Here's the complete map minus the sewer area. As you can see from that each area of the game isn't that big. This does make it easier to claim and therefor mate. It also makes it easy enough to go from one end of the game to another if a mission/challenge calls for it. But as you can see this game is no Skyrim when it comes to the map. There is just not enough to go around. Also since you start off in the same spot every time you're going to wind up in the same areas over and over. Which leads me to my next complaint.
The difficulty curve on this game gets substantially high awfully quick. If you expect to make any progress in this game you will want to do the challenges that present themselves to you. This makes you stronger, faster, able to last longer without eating, and so forth. A lot of the early challenges are pretty simple and are generally in the same area (Mostly the southern and central areas of the map) so that's where you'll be running through the same areas over and over again. So you won't see parts of the map in the north western area. But once you have the challenges that bring you to that area the game gets so much more difficult and you're so desperate to stay alive you can't even enjoy or explore the areas. In the hours I've spent playing this game so far I've been in the sewers about five times at best and one of those times was in story mode so that barely counts. If I were to be thrown in there suddenly I wouldn't even know where to go down there or where to look for food. Not to mention the times I've been there it had far more difficult animals to fight so my animal was starving because none of the animals I could stand up against. So until I build up my skills it is still a challenge to get to that area appropriately.
While the game is limited it also has a ton of variety. The list of animals you can play as is massive. Including the downloadable content you're looking at almost 100 animals. A lot are similar cause it's multiple breeds of the same type (Multiple cats for example) and so those all play the same. In that sense I would look at it like the alternate costumes in fighting games. Still provides a variety. Now speaking of costumes, there is an element of costumes within the game. Slowly you also unlock different items to wear to increase your health and other stats until the item is destroyed in battle. The best part of this? They're fun items! I would list some examples but I'd rather give you a visual example. Also because of this variety and slow progression it gives the player plenty of reason to keep playing. You always want to see what the next animal will do or what animal you'll get next. It's also fun to read through and play through the story items/missions. This is definitely one of those cheaper titles that will give you more satisfaction and time played than a full priced box game.
If you have a PS3 go download this game now. Unless you're a member of PETA I would recommend this game to anyone cause I can see the appeal all across the board. It's simple enough to please the casual gamer but provides enough to keep the hardcore ones satisfied. Also it's a great game to get for your girlfriend to watch you play. Cute animals.

If America Made It: Well it may have still taken place in Tokyo but probably a bizarre view of Tokyo. Other than that for locations I imagine it would have focused on a worldwide perspective instead of one city. Also the story mode would have been available from the start with a survival mode as a bonus feature, severely cutting down the potential for longer hours of play and exploration. Also your default character would have been bulkier. Not jumping straight to a lion but I have a feeling you wouldn't start off as a pom pom. Maybe at least the lab. Lastly, movable camera. Americans love their movable camera unless it's intentionally 2D.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming

As I teased in a previous post I decided to start up a new segment entirely devoted to gaming. The theme to this specifically won't be gaming in general. As the title suggests I will focus more on titles that are foreign to the average American audience. Basically this means I will be talking about a hell of a lot of Japanese games that range from the bizarre to unique to the unlikely.
So as you're reading this you may be thinking to yourself, "Hmmmm, another white guy with an adoration for Japan reviewing video games, what could he do that hasn't been done before? What makes him unique?" I'll be honest with you.... not a whole lot. I will admit I used to be a lot "worse" with this whole Japanese thing. I was into it in a big bad way. I was the type to crank through hours of anime while chomping on Pocky with my Rhyo-oki plush in my arms surrounded by Dragonball Z and Final Fantasy 7 posters. Also I was overweight so that didn't help either. I was a living cliche. Thankfully I got out of that before high school ended. Now there are a few things that did retain in my interests since then. A love for Japan in general is still very present but I'd like to think my interests in the subject has expanded and is no longer the center of my entire existence.
Going back to the title once again, I feel it's very fitting not only with my approach but also with my perspective. There are other internet bloggers and vloggers out there who are way more informed and obsessed on the subject that I am. The first one that comes to mind is Gaijin Goomba. Now I do not want to bring Gaijin Goomba down as I really like his videos. He is really good at what he does with bringing Japanese culture in with his gaming discussions and reviews. But this is because he has an actual education on the subject. He knows the language, he lived there, he has credibility I cannot compete with. I can accept the fact a lot of the bl/vloggers out there I can't compete with because of their extensive knowlege and game collection. I've seen the backdrops to the AVGN, Pat the NES Punk, and Clan of the Gray Wolf videos. I've also seen what the touch on and I only wish I had the collections they had.
Two paragraphs later, what does set me apart? While I don't physically have the collections that some of the other guys do I still have the knowledge and interest. I've gone in and out of many phases like anyone has and jumped on the bandwagon with other things later on in life, but there are three things that have been in my love and interests for as long as I can remember: Couches (I'm not kidding), Bagels, and Video Games. I have been playing video games as long as I can remember. I don't have the ability to remember before I started playing. That doesn't set me apart. All of these bl/vloggers have been doing that. What sets me apart specifically with the subject matter this segment will touch on is the perspective.
Unlike other bl/vloggers, I don't know Japanese. I never lived in the country teaching English. I've never even visited the country. I have always had an interest in the games. Not just the style of game but the literal version that would come out in Japan. Since I've owned and did the whole buy/sell/trade on most consoles I did for a little while dive into the import scene. I certainly wasn't on the up and up cause those games are sure expensive. I did have a few that were unique to country or wouldn't be released in America until some time later. The two consoles I did this with were the Dreamcast and first Playstation.
Why would I do this? Why would I need to go through all the effort of importing a game when there are either versions of said game in America already, will eventually come out in America or there are much better games that could be played that are available much more easily in America and are in a language I understand. Well, I'm a sucker for a unique experience. When I would play an American game they all felt about the same. When I would play an import it felt like something from another world. It was a unique epxerience and while similar to American games they would feel different enough to warrant an extra effort toward them. Maybe it's the different language, maybe it's the themes or style in their execution, but it's something I'm either not getting in America or from American gaming. In short I like experiencing the romantics around it. Think of it like visiting another country without having to travel.

What my new segment will be about are Japanese games that fall under at least one of the three criterias:
-They are exclusive to Japan.
-Are the Japanese version of a game that was also released in America.
-Are an American release of a game very uniquely Japanese.

I decided I wanted to get back into imports with my recent re-purchase of a Dreamcast (I have missed it so much!) which has a really weak region lock. Super easy to play imports. I will slowly be building up my import collection from there with the hopes of picking up a Japanese Sega Saturn one day waaaaaaaay down the line. Aside from that my resources and budget for imports are limited. I do want to also import some games for my original Game Boy and PS3, as well as download the PSN imports for the original Playstation. So I will mostly be talking about Dreamcast games with this segment I imagine.

To start things off, though, I will go with something uniquely Japanese: Persona 3.

Keep an open eye for my post on this in the near future. I just got the game and will need to put a lot of time into it before I can give a full review, but still keep watching for it.
Hope you all look forward and/or enjoy this coming segment!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Exorcism Double Feature

Feature 1: The Last Exorcism

History: The Last Exorcism was released in theatres on August 27th 2010. It wound up grossing just under $68 million worldwide making it a smashing success at being produced with a budget of only $1.8 million. A sequel was announced to be in the works as of late 2011 but with no updates since then. The film's director Daniel Stamm previously had experience in found footage films with A Necessary Death only a couple years earlier. The brother of a crew member was an actual exorcist and would work along side the director advising him. In the UK the film's poster depicting Nell, the girl possessed, bent over backwards with a cross hanging directly above her caused a lot of controversy. It was deemed offensive and eventually removed from public viewing.

Edition I Watched: Standard widescreen DVD.

Review: Found footage flicks date back farther than you may realize. One key example is The Blair Witch Project. Even earlier than that was The Last Broadcast which did something similar. But if you want to trail back even farther I would say to look toward Cannibal Holocaust. But it wasn't until Paranormal Activity that it was reinvented for the horror genre and brought it back in a big bad way (and I mean bad in many different ways). So it feels like part of the reason this one even exists is because of Paranormal Activity.
So what? It's not a big deal if a film isn't original, as long as it executes in a good way. As I displayed in the previous paragraph many films before Paranormal Activity did the whole found footage gimmick. What set them apart was their execution. As a hardcore horror fan I'm de-sensitized to a lot of the elements. So when Paranormal Activity hit me the way it did I knew it was something special, something fresh. Now that doesn't mean I went into The Last Exorcism with the same expectations. I know how easy it is to get shafted by an imitator. With that in mind I went into this one with lowered expectations. I was at least looking to get my money's worth of $1 as that's how much I bought the DVD for.
The one thing that bugs me more than anything else with the found footage type of film is the logic it uses with the camera. Sometimes the choices in where it's point at what times in certain context doesn't always make sense. The element is easy to get a person drawn in because of how it feels more grounded in reality than other films. However it's also easy to get pulled out wondering what the cameraman is up to or why he is point at what he is pointing at. This happens really easy cause if this were REAL found footage we may not see half of what is seen in these flicks because the actual cameraman would sooner forget about what they can get on camera and try instead to protect themselves from the terror they're recording. Usually these get a pass because it's about a film crew taping a documentary or something similar (such as documented evidence of a haunting ala Paranormal Activity) so usually the cameraman has intentions of capturing everything they can. This flick is certainly no exception, if anything they're more guilty than others of having a weird logic in what they shoot. Sure the first half was shot well because of the style of film they were going for. It included interviews and footage of church services the priest was performing as we get to know him better. It made sense to be put together the way it did. Even the scene when they first show up to Nell's home and do lots of on the fly shooting it looked good for what they were going for.
So far so good then. In a way that is the case. Sure it looks good for what they're trying to do but the problem right off the bat is that it's an okay story with some pretty poor writing and even worse acting. To put it right in the forefront I did not like Cotton, the priest who eventually performs the exorcism(s) in this story. He came off as really unlikable. A bit of a dick to be honest. He had what I felt like a pretty negative view of his profession, his congregation, and his faith as well. I realize the point of his documentary is to capture on tape a supposed exorcism but to expose it as a fraud "once and for all" he says. The way he goes about doing it, though feels so negative and demeaning. It's like he barely cares about his religion anymore but doesn't handle it respectively. Especially when you have an entire congregation following you depending on what you say and do to guide them.
Time to get to the brass tax, the possession, the exorcism, etc. This one takes waaaaaay too long to get to anything good when it comes to the exorcisms. The first exorcism was a fake one the priest put on to try and prove his point (I really don't like this guy) to be followed up by more talk and talk and talk. Talk is fine. I'm okay with talk. But I'm okay with talk when it's interesting. Like many exorcism tales before (and after) this one there comes in the doubt of whether or not it's all in the girls head. the crazy thing is that it pushes hard in both directions making the audience believe it really could be either of them. It's not in the way it's told, it's more confusing because details conflict and don't make sense. This is especially apparent toward the end of the story when it feels like the flick was going to end where it all was in her head the whole time. Spoilers, it doesn't turn out that way, but I'm sure you could have figured that one out.
What's ultimately wrong with this one is that it doesn't have a lot of scares and those scares aren't scary. I do like the parts late in the flick when it's the middle of the night, there's freaky symbols painted all over the walls, Nell has that dead look in her eyes while haunting the film crew, etc. That was pretty cool. But that's all it was, it was cool. It wasn't scary. This is a pretty poor example of horror with a few peaks here and there. Even the end when the shit REALLY hits the fan it wasn't that great. Not to mention that the end is a twist that was both expected but doesn't make sense. It felt like the ending was written in because that's what people do with this type of story. It was there because it was obligated to.
Not horrendous, it has it's moments, mostly Nell's creepy bending when the possession really takes over. It's just not great which makes this dollar purchase a less than mediocre attempt at a found footage style of horror.

Feature 2: The Devil Inside

History: The Devil Inside was released in threatres on January 6th 2012. I grossed $101 million worldwide and much like the previous film reviewed it was a huge success because of the small budget. However this one was produced with a mere $1 million. Outside of the hopes of mirroring the success of Paranormal Activity this film doesn't have much history behind it. The story was thought up by the writer and director after reading how the Vatican started a school for exorcisms. In the end this film was almost universally panned by critics.

Version I Watched: Rental copy from Redbox.

Review: I apologize in advance if this review has a lot of comparisons to the last one I reviewed, but it was hard to watch this without thinking of the other since I watched one, one day and the other the next day. The Last Exorcism was fresh in my mind. Very fresh. I also apologize for the lack of some details as I am unable to review my review since I don't actually own this one.
My expectations for this exorcism flick were even lower than they were for The Last Exorcism. The Devil Inside has received such incredibly harsh reviews from critics as well as the mass public. At the time of writing this review, it holds a 7% rating on rotten tomatoes. I think it's prime material for one of my favorite podcasts Yeah It's That Bad based on that number alone. I remember reading reviews, hearing buzz, almost all of it screamed this would be terrible. Yet something kept drawing me to it. Call it curiosity, I say it's that look in the nun's eyes on the other poster. So here I am finally getting to it. I would like to thank the redbox text club for letting me rent this one for free by the way. The only thing I had to lose was my time.
Right from the start this one is way more interesting. I love it when a film uses different film styles to properly execute the tone they want to convey. The pulled together TV reports and police records video looked so good and genuine. I was having flashbacks to the period the story starts out with the news reports. I also like how it started out with a 911 call to communicate the murders that start out the story. The film starts off with some real creepiness, it sets the tone, it lets you know what you're in for and it hits the ground running. I also liked how it got past the whole "Just letting you know, this is a documentary" portion of the story. It let us know that it's about the daughter of a woman who killed three people back during her own exorcism and is now held in an Asylum in Italy as she was found not guilty on a plea of insanity. So safe to say we're in for some more of the "it's all in her head" talk.
I'd like to take a technical turn here. Like I stated in my last review I like to study the logic of the use of the cameras in the found footage approach. In the first few minutes it already looked great cause of the flashback with the news reports. Then I felt like the cameras were used properly when it needed the focus in the right places. Also additional cameras were used, again logically, to capture what was needed. In their car they install cameras much like what would be seen in an actual documentary. Then in the exorcism scene with the girl's mother roughly halfway through the film there were cameras set up everywhere, many of which were for documenting the medical aspects of her changes, etc. It provided many angles to see it from a different perspective or better view when the standard shaky cam wasn't available. Then there was my favorite use of the camera. It captured important information in such an accidental way. It was late in the film. Throughout everyone was giving testimonials on how they feel about everything that's going on (It's actually a good way to develop the characters). A scene happens when Isabella (The daughter of the possessed woman) is giving a testimonial but is interrupted. Everything happens far in the background and off to the side. It looks excellent in my book. It's being portrayed exactly as found footage would be portrayed. They wouldn't have a crisp shot of everything. They would have awkward shots like this one.
Another thing is that it's pretty exciting. It's constantly moving forward without adding extra fluff to fill the gaps between scenes. This also means that there's more scenes with exorcisms and exorcism-like scenes with fright.
Okay, so the scares. I think this one had more wiggle room with the scares because of it's rating. When you're given the space of an R rating you can do more with scares. That doesn't mean a film has to be R or worse to be considered scary, but it does allow for more disturbing material in the long run. Granted a lot of the scares are more shocking than anything else. Thankfully not the standard jump scares. Just a couple key ones stick out in my mind. A graphic suicide is one of them, which happens right after the demon jumps into the older priest (oh yeah, the demon jumps from person to person). Then just before that when he starts acting strange there's a baptism scene where he attempts to drown the baby he's baptizing. That was easily the most disturbing scene of the film. But again these are both shocking if anything. Not as deeply disturbing as other more prolific horror films, but it'll stick with you for a few days. So while the scares are better than other horror like this, it still feels like something is lacking.
Which gets me to the overall quality. I think it's safe to say there were many ways this one could have a been a lot better. I'm not about to throw out "I don't understand all the hate." I do really think it is underrated, though, and doesn't deserve as much hate as it's getting. It's solid. Not as a rock, but it's solid. What it really could of used is more material within the film. This is a very short one. It comes in at a mere 75 minutes without the credits, and then the credits are 8 minutes in and of themselves. It also ends so short on such an abrupt note, too. Now, it would be okay if that's all the film had to say. If everything they wanted to show and say could fit in that short of a run time, fine, whatever. My problem with it is that this film has an entire website dedicated to expanding on the story. Now tell me this. Why on God's green earth couldn't they include at least SOME of what's on this website, which is advertised at the end of the film (, couldn't be in the film itself. It seems like so much more could have been expanded on within the film itself and still have plenty of material for the website for those curious enough. At least this way the people who are only experiencing what's in the film itself can go away feeling satisfied instead of left wanting more. I know I wanted more. I just don't know if I want to spend as much time, if not more, browsing through the website it told me to find more information on.
A worthy effort. I really did like this one. I liked it a lot more than I would. It's still not great. It has plenty of problems. It certainly won't stand the test of time. I imagine this will be looked at one day the same many people would look at the silly slasher flicks from the 80s. The Devil Inside is not terribly unique. It is a coal with a sparkle of diamond showing through. I only wish more shone through.

BONUS! I wound up watching a third exorcism flick!

Exorcism: The Possession of Gail Bowers!

Review: This is one of many Asylum films that are almost all cheap knock offs of more popular titles. I remember this came out right around the same time as The Exorcism of Emily Rose. I was working at a Blockbuster at the time. I also remember thinking how it looks like a complete knock off of said film, which is the case when it comes to Asylum. Basically all of their knock offs I've seen have had many things in common. One of those things isn't quality. They're cheap, horrendously written, horrendously acted, the direction is horrible, and... you know what. The less said about this one the better. Just watch this:

But what can I say? I have a special place in my heart for cheese of this kind. I have at least 3 other Asylum films like this in my collection at the time of writing this.