Archive for July, 2010

(First Impressions) Metroid: Other M – Samus, You’re Breakin’ my Heart!

July 29, 2010

Metroid: Other M realizes my worst fears. That this Team Ninja-developed sequel to Super Metroid would be an overdone turkey with all the corn and gloss of a Ninja Gaiden game but none of the panache and class of a, well, a Metroid game. The warning flags were all there: the announcement of Team Ninja as the developer, the early footage of fractured-looking gameplay, the none-too-encouraging promise of  a “story that will explain things”, and the constant reassuring from Nintendo that they’re involved and that means everything will turn out okay.

If the 45 minutes I played of M:OM is any indication of how the game is, well, everything is not okay. If there was a disclaimer at the very start that said “This preview is an early build” or something then I didn’t see it. I get the feeling this is it. With a month to go until release this seems to be the final build. Which is distressing.

Look at all those hopes crashing...

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Grump Talk: Horny Nun and Summer Fun

July 22, 2010

Hello, grumpeteers! How’s your summer going? Mine is like grains of sand slipping through my bony fingers. While I still go to graduate school in the summer, it’s a lighter season for me, so I’m trying hard to make headway in my various hobbies while I still have the (guilt-free) spare time.

I haven’t forgotten about Saturn! I’ve been playing Panzer Dragoon Saga for a while and hope to finish it up and post my thoughts on it within a month. It’s not that it’s a particularly long game, but its graphics are migraine-inducing and it still has some of those pesky hallmarks of a late-90s JRPG, such as inconvenient save point placement and boss gauntlets that make me want to punch someone. I also allowed myself to become distracted by other games whose graphics don’t cause me to get headaches, such as FFXIII and Demon’s Souls. Enough digital ink has been spilled describing both of them, so I doubt they’ll ever get a proper treatment here. I’ll just say that FFXIII is the huge disappointment I thought it would probably be and that Demon’s Souls is engrossing and totally Vagrant Story 2.

On another front, I saw Micmacs in the theater and was totally planning on writing it up when Inception came and jizzed all over my face. So plans changed! Really, Micmacs is charming if you like the sort of quirky, old-school humor that Jean Pierre Jeunet, director of Amélie and City of the Lost Children, specializes in. It almost channels silent comedy of old at some points. It wears a bit thin in the middle, but the climax is pretty satisfying, so I don’t feel anyone inclined toward such an experience would leave feeling their time was wasted. If you like movies about misfits banding together to destroy arms manufacturers, you should check it out!

I also saw a vintage flick that survived through the decades to still engross, mesmerize and thrill. Black Narcissus is a story about a group of nuns who take on the task of renovating an Indian general’s old palace into a school/medical clinic for the poor, farming villagers. The atmosphere of the valley the movie is set in seems to start affecting them, however, and soon all manner of crises, both physical and metaphysical, envelope them. If I’m not mistaken, the film won an Oscar for Best Cinematography back in the day, and it’s totally deserved. The film starts out relatively demurely, but soon vivid Technicolor threatens to overwhelm the drab habits of the nuns and the final half an hour of the film is some top-notch suspense that even Hitchcock could envy. Black Narcissus also has some of the best non-horror (or is it?!) makeup I’ve ever seen. If you watch it, you’ll know what I mean. And no, I’m not talking about all the white people they painted brown. Criterion Collection recently put out a new, remastered version on DVD and Blu-Ray and I’m considering picking it up, but I also went a little spend-crazy over the weekend with some other Criterion titles since they were all on sale. So we’ll see! At any rate, if you love furtive stares from nuns you won’t want to miss this one!

Inception: Dreams, Lies and Illusions

July 17, 2010

What happens when you’ve directed one of the biggest critically and commercially (not adjusting for inflation!) successful movies of all time? Apparently the studio gives you carte blanche to do whatever you want. And what do you do with that opportunity if you’re the frustratingly-handsome Christopher Nolan? You assemble one of the most intriguing casts of the year and make a summer blockbuster that is so complex and intellectually-charged that that it teeters on the brink between being almost unfilmable and career-destroying box office poison. And it ends up being one of the crowning achievements of modern cinema.

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Predators – Homages! Homages Everywhere!

July 13, 2010

Predators does exactly what we want it to. Nearly every beat, character moment and action-packed set piece arrives how we want it to, when we want it to, sometimes even executed the way we want it to. In that way Predators fulfills 23 years of waiting for the sequel the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic always deserved. In another way, doing exactly what’s expected makes Predators a predictable, even staid, entertainment experience.  But still entertaining!

So let’s do the review thing and talk about what works and what doesn’t.

I really gotta do something about this underbite (more…)

Toy Story 3: Sobbing Man-Children

July 8, 2010

It’s difficult to remember what theatrical animation was like before Pixar. I remember that a Disney movie would come out every year or so and I’d beg my parents to take me and that’d be about it. I wasn’t stupid enough to go see a Don Bluth movie in the theater, at least. And pretty much all the animation was 2D! I remember when it was a giant fucking deal that Aladdin had 3D CG mixed in. I remember when people’s jaws were dropping during the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast. You’d occasionally see a 3D CG animated short on Nickelodeon (especially on Thanksgiving), but other than those, that was about it. Computer graphics were a delicacy, like caviar for the developing eyes of a cartoon-addled child. This was back when 3D viewing was still considered retro and gimmicky, too!

But then it was 1995. Disney was quickly losing their shit (Pocahontas? HUNCHBACK?) and no one was stepping up to take the doddering king’s place. Except for one studio who dared to look toward the future, and saw the potential in the shiny, plastic-looking aesthetic of computer animation. And Disney still had enough sense left in them to see the potential, as well, and released Pixar’s film Toy Story into theaters. And it was a success! The rare non-Disney animated feature to garner universal acclaim and commercial success! Combining heartfelt storytelling with sly, inventive humor, Pixar created a franchise.

A franchise that’s never quite sat well with me.

I mean, I liked Toy Story well enough. I could appreciate it for the way it pioneered a whole new medium and for the relative sophistication it had compared to other offerings. Even as a child, it seemed a bit sharper than the competition. But the movie’s aesthetic just didn’t age very well (see: any human in the film) and then there was John Lasseter’s unhealthy taste in Randy Newman. It just didn’t resonate with me the same way Aladdin or other films did. And seeing Toy Story 2 years later, when it was rereleased in 3D, I can see why people consider it a marked improvement. The added characters actually ADD to the proceedings rather than detract and it explored some interesting aspects of toy culture. But it still wasn’t yanking me like I wanted it to. Was it the indifference to stars Tom Hanks and Tim Allen?  The still-uncanny-valley human characters? The seemingly recycled bit where the gang has to deal with another fresh-out-of-the-box Buzz Lightyear? The world may never know.

So it was with some chagrin that I learned that Pixar was going back to the well again with Toy Story 3. I mean, I’m not surprised. Aside from Cars, it’s probably their most profitable property. It also has that nostalgic glimmer of being their first feature animation, and enough time has gone by that super-fans of the original might have kids of their own to take to a sequel. Canny Disney thinking at work, there. So after enduring months of breathless Toy Story fans spazzing out over the idea of a threequel and the outpouring of praise from the rest of the press, I decided to go see it to give it a fair shake. If anything, I probably wouldn’t hate it.

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