29/November/2009

I watched Jack the Giant Killer last night. It's a silly little flick, and I couldn't help but be amused by it - this was not a film of epic storytelling or engaging character development. The story is, for all intents and purposes, just a set piece for various action scenes and special effects to take place. Seriously, the plot is as thin as cardboard and relies a lot on the princess being easy to intimidate, and then pitting Jack up against a monstrous threat. What makes it endearing, of course, are the special effects and hammy acting. There's some beautiful stop motion antics going on, and some even nicer interaction with them and the live actors; Jack swings onto a giant's chest and totally scythes it to death! The villain, played by Torin Thatcher, is your archetypical magical asshole - decked out in some awesome regal garbs with diamonds studded all over the friggin' place and with a cackling dwarf minion, he goes nuts with his cloak of invisibility and has some serious eyebrow action going on. Also, remarkable beard. There's some admirable facial hair going on all over the movie.

Yeah.

Sorry, it's cold season. I have a cold. I can't review well when the contents of my nose are evacuating themselves all over my face.

No, I will not describe my cold in a less disgusting manner, thank you very much.

 


26/November/2009

Watched Buckaroo Banzai. It's a movie I've been meaning to watch for quite some time ever since I somehow bumped into a few fansites for it (which are probably nonexistent by now. Thanks a lot, GeoCities!), though I've never been quite sure what to expect of it. Now that I've seen it, I can safely describe it as "niche."
Buckaroo Banzai is a Japanese-American everyman who is everything. Rock star, scientist, doctor, savior of mankind - he just goes about doing awesome things simply because he can, and he starts the movie by entering the eighth dimension. This stirs up a bit of shit with some its residents who want to conquer our world, and the less evil residents of that dimension give him only a day to sort it out or else they'll blow up Earth. And he's got a bunch of awesome buddies, too.
It's really kind of hard to just bluntly summarise the movie in a nutshell. It's not a campy romp through exotic locales, but it's not exactly a serious and straightforward affair either; it's very hard to properly define it. I think part of this is because it never really tries to explicitly hit you over the head with the theme of the movie; Star Wars begins with explicit science fiction, giant sailing spaceships, laser beams, robot-like dudes and thematic planets, yet just from Luke finding the droids and playing the message we can tell that the basic story is going to be "unexpecting young boy ends up becoming an acclaimed hero." Buckaroo Banzai is sci-fi, but more to the extent of an old 1950s comic book or something and given a large budget and lots of big-name actors (Jeff Goldblum? Christopher Lloyd?!), but at the same time it almost tries to ground itself in reality. Sometimes. Maybe.

I am not the man who should be trusted with summarising this movie.

Kind of like Withnail & I, it's an interesting, quirky movie that will not go over well with the wrong audience, but finds a certain strong niche with the right kind of mindset. The film never bothers with much in the way of origins or explanations for characters, corporations or themes, you're just thrown into this standalone story that seems like it's a short story arc in the middle of an ongoing comic book series. It's precisely the kind of characters and antics you could see in a comic book, and the kind of density of the setting makes it feel like a novel adaptation, but the sad thing is that it's only recently it got continuations of some kind. It's hard to explicitly recommend it since it's so oddball, but it's got an amusing performance from Christopher Lloyd as one of the villains who is unceremoniously killed for being a whiner, so that's got to be worth something.

 


22/November/2009

So I bought New Super Mario Bros. Wii two days ago, and I haven't made a completely stark raving mad blog post like I would usually do about such a purchase. Super Smash Bros. Brawl got two, one for when I bought it and one when I actually had a console to play it on. What kinda topsy-turvy world is this?

Despite my slowness at actually writing about it, it's pretty good! I thought I could wait a while until it had dropped in price just a little, but my brother had the latest Nintendo Magazine which featured all kinds of lovely hi-res screenshots, so I bought it on the day of release. The last time I did that was with Shadow the Hedgehog, which kept me entertained for at least half a year before I realised it was a bit shit, and not just because the gunplay and vehicles were completely ridiculous. Hopefully I won't regret this purchase so soon!

Nintendo have been making a big deal out of both the Super Guide feature and the increase in difficulty, and snarky people have been having a field day with how it'll ruin video games forever. I'm currently at World 6 (or World 5, I've forgotten!) and while it's not a ball-busting, tongue-chewing level of difficulty and/or frustration, or even the visible-dissatisfaction level of difficulty, but the difficulty curve is rather noticeable. The first world starts off simple and slowly ramps it up just a little, ending with a comparatively more challenging castle at the end, and it rises a little more from there. It's not the pixel-precise jumping stuff of The Lost Levels (which wasn't that hard, people!), but given how the game has a variety of helpful benefits, it would be hard-pressed to recreate those kind of environments in the engine. So far it isn't the kind of hair-tearing frustration of your typical bastardly ROM hack, but it's got a rather pleasant difficulty curve and I'm sure someone who hasn't been playing every instalment since Super Mario World will probably have a bit more trouble than a super nerd such as myself. Of course, the game loves to lure me into traps by throwing those large coins at me. I can be playing fine for a while and then lose all sense of intelligence when I see a large coin floating inches above a pool of lava. I am a fickle man.

Unfortunately, I haven't got an opportunity to try multi-player yet (which was totally the main draw for me), but I can certainly comment on the new features. Yoshi is pretty underwhelming. He doesn't melt when you take him into water or anything, so what's the catch? You can't take him outside of the stage. When you reach the flagpole, Mario just hops off and Yoshi waves goodbye. Fuckers! This means you really don't have much opportunity to experiment with the big-nosed lizard and get much mileage of his techniques. He can flutter, for instance, but I've never got him in a stage where that would be essential, and there are blue and pink Yoshis, but I've only found them while I'm riding a regular green Yoshi, so what gimmickry they have is unknown to me. It's mildly nice to see Yoshi back, but after a few false starts the character just seems like a farce by this stage. He will never be as awesome as he was in Super Mario World.

Also, new suits! The Propeller Suit is the new means of flight, though it's fairly limited; you shoot upwards, then slowly drift down again. Given how the Cape completely broke everything in Super Mario World and has never been matched by anything else, it's pretty clear Nintendo want flight but also don't want it to destroy the rest of the game with its remarkable convenience (the Raccoon Tail in SMB3 only takes you up so long as the gauge is full; the Wing Cap in 64 was only good for so long before you ran out of momentum; and the Flying Cap in Galaxy isn't even accessible anywhere outside of the hub!), so I guess what's essentially a super jump with a slow descent is the best measure. The Ice Flower returns from Galaxy, which is just like the Fire Flower except it freezes stuff, acting as platforms or blocks you can throw. The Penguin Suit is essentially a mixture of the Ice Flower and the Koopa Suit from the original New Super Mario Bros. ("original new" is a horrible cumbersome thing to say); it can slide along, breaking through blocks and enemies, but it only moves comfortably on ice. Anywhere else and its slide won't take you far. In the Ice World it's most certainly essential and a very handy piece of kit, but everywhere else it's kind of pointless, and personally, I don't see why they couldn't have just rejigged it into a Hammer Bros. suit; throw hammers instead of ice and maintain the style of sliding from the Koopa Suit. The Penguin Suit does break through lines of blocks without stopping, whereas the Koopa suit bounced off blocks in the opposite direction, but yeah, could've been better. It is remarkably adorable, though. I'm surprised to see the Mega Mushroom has been removed entirely, though - the screen zooms out quite frequently in the game, so it's not like it's a screen issue. Probably removed for the sake of multi-player and not killing all your friends, though. Pity.

Likewise with Yoshi, the return of the Koopa Kids kind of loses its surprise value when there have already been a few attempts to bring them back, first in Mario & Luigi, then the unused appearances in Super Princess Peach and a couple of references in the Paper Mario series, and the fact their return also means there's no brand-new bosses for the castles (just the same tactics but with some minor environmental change), which is a bit disappointing. Still, I was hardly expecting the game to be perfect so this is hardly a hassle, and if anything, the simple fact that a proper 2D side-scroller on a TV was actually made is enough to satisfy me. I'm sure once I rope a few chums into multi-player my various nags will be forgotten, but it's not like they mean much, I'm just doing my usual "it could be improved!" statements. Next time there's gotta be a level creator, honest to god. How hard can it be, Nintendo?

 

Also, nipped into Toys R Us and picked this up, after realising it's certainly not going to be cheaper online.

A Halo Wars Mega Bloks set! I'll be honest, the actual construction sets themselves don't interest me - mostly because if I wanted a representation of the vehicles from the games there's better looking already-made versions for relatively cheap, and now that I've actually built this, because Mega Bloks seem to have some quality control issues. I haven't built a LEGO set in years and years and years, but from what I recall they usually fit together quite snugly. Once they built and snapped together it usually required a decent amount of force to knock large parts off; maybe a tiny antennae would come loose or something, but nothing major, y'know? This thing just seemed to keep coming apart no matter what, some pieces very loose and some pieces very tight, and one of the pieces required to make one of the cannons had a moulding defect, so it was impossible to fit the rod in. It was actually impossible to finish building it the way the instructions suggested, so I got the basic groundwork down and then did some improvising with the cannons, seating area and base, mostly just to throw every piece I could onto it. It was interesting to build, but mildly vexing and since it was just to make a stupid turret, not even anything distinctive and recognisable, I'd say it was more trouble than it was worth. Also, stickers? I'm sure LEGO stamped that stuff straight onto the bricks!

This is moot, as I didn't buy it for the stupid turret, I bought it for the three Spartans! And they are wonderful pieces of work. LEGO's Technic range had some beautiful mini-figures (I think I used them in one of the unfinished episodes of Motorbike Man) with great poseability but I don't think they were used for much at all before they just did detailed construction vehicles and Bionicle robots; they were about four inches tall so they weren't quite mini-figures, but still. Mega Bloks' figures here are two inches, just a little above the LEGO figures and feature ball-jointed shoulders, hips and necks, with jointed elbows, knees and swivelling hands and waists as well. I seem to love my action figures small, and the fact these guys have got a good range of articulation and some lovely detailing just makes them must-buys for me. The paint isn't too great (they look better and shinier in the photo than in-person), but you could hardly ask for beautiful stuff when you're dealing with mass-produced construction sets. Of course, they're at perfect scale to ride around in Universe Hound who acts as a very nice Warthog stand-in. There's two Covenant figures as well, and promotional imagery shows a Spartan flamethrower dude, but I don't know what set he exists in.

I swagged the set for 10, though Mega Bloks' site claims it retails for 6; fat chance of getting it at either price online. The turret is a waste of time and the advertised "camouflage effect" on the green bricks amounts to a single smear of brown paint (it might almost look decent in the photo, but it's not!), but the figures are very nice indeed and I'd definitely be on the lookout for more of them.

 

And in other news, the weather is currently a big pile of balls.

 


18/November/2009

Today's observation: I am terrible at reading.

All my life (well, ten years of my life, tops) I was positively certain that the company behind Bubble Ghost were called Pony Crayon. It turns out they are actually called Pony Canyon. I am profoundly miffed. Pony Crayon sounds like a cute and adorable name, whereas Pony Canyon, to me, sounds like a death trap.

 


15/November/2009

Today's observation: I thought my bottle of Listerine said "Hispanic mouthwash," but it actually said "antiseptic mouthwash."

 


12/November/2009

Watched Withnail & I. Once again, I was kinda clueless - it had been offered to me before, but it was a simple case of it was at the top of a huge stack of DVDs to watch and I thought, man, I'm not looking at all of those. I'm pretty glad I chose it.

The story is kind of hard to define, since it's more or less a very, very basic outline of "two out-of-work actors go to the countryside, then come back, then decide not to hang out with each other," and the rest is all kinds of silly events and antics that either hold them closer together (briefly) or push them apart. There's lots of alcohol consumed, as well as lighter fluid, and a fair amount of animal abuse. It's admittedly hard to call it an out-and-out comedy; it's not an explicit comedy where you're busting guts left, right and centre, but I'd almost dare say it's of a more subtle approach. They don't go on a completely outrageous trip full of positively wacky inconveniences - they simply go on a week's trip to the countryside for some time out, and find it to be remarkably unpleasant. Not to the extent of a tree falling through the roof, but simple matters like it being too damn cold, being given a live chicken to prepare and cook and eating their own boots. It doesn't go out of its way to thrust unpleasantness upon the two; it just makes one of them a complete asshole with no concerns in his life beyond drinking, blaming everyone else for his problems, and thrusting him into a dank and dingy apartment with a paranoid individual who has some mild desires for direction and meaning in life.

The characters, being actors, are aware of their horrible place in the world, at the bottom of life's heap, but remark upon it with mild essence of philosophy. "I", although not a poet, remarks upon situations in his contemplative manner, speaking about issues like being violently ill in that wishy-washy, drifty-slidey manner that poets tend to do; and Withnail, in between forceful demands for liquor and intoxication, displays his actor chops regarding simple matters like vermin in the cutlery ("the fucker will rue the day!"). Being set at the end of the 1960s, the theme of losing what is good about the current era is theme imposed by several characters, most notably Monty, Withnail's uncle, and Danny the drug dealer, though in their own ways. Monty is a nostalgic for the days of camaraderie and honest friendship, the days when intelligence was revered and sophistication was the prime of society, and looks back upon them wistfully; he's also a flamboyant homosexual, so in that context it takes a different note, but it's a fine thing to miss none the less. Danny, meanwhile, believes they are at the end of an era, and the 1970s will bring all manner of change; they will no longer be youthful, as is made clear by "I"'s change of character at the end.

That theme, naturally, is portrayed beautifully in the scenery of rural and urban 1960s England. The dank and grey crumbling streets with the funny-shaped cars puttering along, there's something cute and charming about it, a time I would expect my grandfather to comment upon with how things were better in those days. But despite the old-timey charm of its appearances, the problems are still as bad then as they are now, and the characters flee to the country in hopes of returning to a more freshened and open side of England, where they can find friendlier citizens and a less restricted and unpleasant side of life. It comes with its own share of problems, including an eccentric poacher whose manner appears violent and possibly murderous, not to mention the barbaric weather.

I couldn't help but compare the movie to Bottom. Probably the most insulting kind of comparison to make, but Withnail and "I"'s relationship definitely struck a few chords with the relationship between Richard and Eddie; one's a violent drunkard with complete disregard for everyone else, and the other is paranoid with hopes of success, though "I" is definitely a more sympathetic character despite his ups and downs while Richie is just a big fat prat. There's the same themes of them being rather unpleasant towards each other and getting in slapstick antics, though remaining by each other through thick and thin, though Withnail treats it in a much more realistic and subdued manner with some actual character development taking place, while Bottom is purely for laughs. It's like if the same basic premise was tackled in a more slice-of-life manner that remained comedic to an extent, but decided to look beyond it rather than remain with the status quo. After so much bullshit stirred up by Withnail, it's a strong and almost poignant moment to see "I" finally move on with his life, while Withnail remains what he always was.

It's an excellent movie. Apparently it's obscenely popular with the drunkard student crowd, which is no surprise given the constant amount of alcohol consumed throughout, though I assume I'm probably seen as a philistine for liking it for the philosophical and social commentary side of it. It's probably a very regional film and I've no idea how it'd be received outside of the UK, but already I'd be willing to watch it again. It takes a special kind of movie to get that reaction from me.

 


11/November/2009

Watched The Fourth Kind. I was kinda clueless about it beforehand, and really, the only thought that went into seeing it was, "want to see a movie?" "Okay!" "How about The Fourth Kind? It's a movie about paranormal activity and aliens." "Sounds like fun!" And that was that. I think I was expecting some sort of tension thriller all about OH SHIT ALIEN IN MAH HOUSE or something fluff like that, since all I did was skim over one plot summary and saw one ad on TV, but what I got was much, much more interesting. It's based off a real story about people having aliens enter their rooms and then they freak out and kill themselves!
Okay, it's a lot more psychological than that. I make no denial that I'm a rather cynical person. I do try and emit some positive vibes and attempts at being optimistic, but I think being cynical is just in my nature: I believe a god of some variety exists, but only if it's an asshole god, I'm pretty doubtful ghosts exist but if they do they'll certainly pride themselves on being total assholes, and aliens? Oh man, assholes of the century. Basically, I only believe in something if it's got ripe opportunities for assholery. And while initially cynical, I thought the story was fascinating and very gripping. I was sold. I believed.
People have odd dreams. They go to a psychiatrist about it and she tries to get them to look at it further, truly realise what it is they're afraid of, except they inevitably see it as beyond description or comprehension and become pretty unhinged, and then the psychiatrist herself suffers the same dreams, but due to increased desire to find out what it's all about, ends up going a little deranged and her life more or less collapses, no thanks to the fact it all started with her husband being murdered, her daughter being abducted and then her son being removed from her custody. In the meantime, frickin' paranormal encounters, with freaky-ass body manipulation and long-forgotten languages! It's surreal and frighteningly raw, and although some of the cases can be at least seen as perhaps the result of hypnosis gone wrong, it's pretty wild when you have people floating above their bed, speaking in languages from before biblical times and entirely disappearing.
This was my main beef with the film. It stars with Milla Jovovich explaining that it's all real events, pain-stakingly researched and using original footage and whatnot - audio clips from an interview with the psychiatrist are used and clips of the paranormal encounters used when available alongside the film in split-screen. This was a serious level breaker for me. Starting the film with "we did some seriously extensive levels of research into this, so I hope you enjoy movies based around the events!" isn't a lot of fun when, man, you've got an interview, you've got video of these encounters, you've got audio, why not work just with that? It could've been a straight documentary, featuring educated types going "m'yes, m'yes, that is rather wild, as folks do say about such situations" and insight into the whole thing, or it could've been a straight dramatisation where it's just, well, a dramatisation, without explicitly throwing the source material at you every time something interesting happens. You're reminded of what actor plays who whenever they show up, despite the fact it otherwise works well as a simple story. It's a reasonably satisfying drama and a satisfying documentary, but merging both into one whole just left it broken and awkward to me; one or the other would've been fine, but when you throw original source material at us that's pretty friggin' interesting (people floating off beds, man!), why should I care about the drama part? It is, of course, a dramatisation, there's no evidence that they didn't dick about with the people's personalities or other unrecorded events for the sake of making a good story.

The beginning has Milla talking long and hard about the research and accuracy put into it, and then it doesn't take five minutes before you see her flying to Nome with a beautiful landscape beneath her. My thought was, "that had better legitimately be Nome or my suspension of belief will be shattered." I also kind of desired to have proof that the original psychiatrist actually flew a plane but that was a little less prioritised. Likewise, I couldn't help but think, "man, they're totally filtering the distortion on these source videos, surely it can't have been that precise and not have somebody comment on it saying, 'man, that sure is rather precise alien distortion'!" Seriously, consistently precise distortion, and the interviewer makes no comment?
It was an enjoyable and very fascinating story, though maybe not so much a great movie. Father thought it had lots of jump shots, but my cynicism left me undeterred by them, I only jumped once or twice; after all, the original footage was pretty disturbing on its own, they didn't need to bludgeon us with artificial shock tactics.
And then I read that the whole thing was a hoax. Blair Witch style fakery.
FUCKERS!!
In retrospect it is kind of ridiculous to believe a story about a demonic voice taking over someone's body and floating him off the seat (on two separate occasions!) without thinking "okay, maybe something's a bit iffy here." One would like to think life was just a little exciting. At least there's always the giant squid to fill that gap.

 


07/November/2009

My brother thinks what I blog about is boring. I think what I blog about is very exciting indeed! I mean, everybody loves hearing about the state of my health and some very long and meandering film reviews, right?

Well, he thinks I should blog more about video games, so we dragged out the Nintendo 64 and played it for like five hours. I haven't touched it at all since last year, so it was pretty rad to see it back in action again. I will admit there had been several games I had wanted to play on it, most notably Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (Konami, honest to god, why isn't this on the Virtual Console? >:U ), but I was always kinda against the idea because it's only going to frustrate me playing these games when I know PAL speeds are way slow and they should be running faster. I've been mildly tempted to buy an American N64 for the sole purpose of playing games at the proper speed, as emulation of most games is still rather inaccurate, at least with the codecs I use. My brother also believes I'm a fussy little bitch. I can't argue with him on that point!

So I forgot how awesome Bomberman 64 was. Admittedly the only other "proper" 3D games I've played are Bomberman Generations and about five minutes of Jetters, but I think 64 took the formula the way it should've. The main game was excellent and wonderful to explore, adding a puzzle element to make it so much more engaging than just blowing up enemies, and the battle mode still remains positively brilliant to this day, in my view. We were playing Generations' battle mode beforehand and it's not bad, but it lacks the clean-cut precision of the 2D games, and the single-player mode just wasn't all that enticing. 64 was a proper 3D evolution, but it seems Hudson have decided "well it wasn't received as well as we hope, let's just make the same game over and over with no differences!" Which, admittedly isn't that much different from the early instalments. I try and keep my opinions out of the Bomberman Shrine Place, y'see.

And I also forgot how cool Shadows of the Empire was. I've never played it that extensively (extensively enough to write five reasons why it rocks, though!), but I always love watching it, and for the first time ever, I saw the sewer level in its entirety. We were both scared to bits over it because DIANOGAS AAAAAA but really it's not that bad. Until we found the giant dianoga, and Jesus Christ, where did that come from? It's completely out of nowhere! Every other boss seems to have some reason to be there at the very least, but then they just throw a hideously huge tentacle beast at you and expect you to fight it without soiling every inch of your clothing. It can friggin' kill you immediately after you revive, completely ignoring the temporary invincibility! That shit is nuts.

Other games included Conker's Bad Fur Day (it's only now we realised you push Down to even up the teams in the War mode!), Diddy Kong Racing and maybe something else. It was a pretty entertaining way to kill the afternoon. I just wish the N64 controller wasn't so easy to destroy, though. I don't think any of the control sticks work to the proper calibre.

 


05/November/2009

I always feel like a bit of a jerk when I don't update. Never mind my desire to have a life, it's only good manners to update every now and then! I mean, Wes of Scary-Crayon (plug!) has personally complimented me on my large amount of frequent updates before, and Greybob of Greybob's Igloo (plug!) has made notice of my regular blogging. Guess what I haven't been doing lately? I'm a bit miffed at myself, but I always said to myself "who cares if you're unproductive and very frustrated about that, at least you've got your health!"

Okay, a house of little people didn't fall on my head, but I did get a headache and an unpleasant sense of wooziness, which I guess is close enough to work as a metaphor.