Posts Tagged ‘Grump Talk’

Grump Talk – The Grump Who Came In From the Cold

February 4, 2011

Oh god, grumpeteers, where have I been? The short of it is: not here. The long answer is that I’ve been embroiled in the final year of my post-graduate education, trying to finish my counseling psychology degree, which involves completing an internship. I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but currently I’m having to help out with a drug addiction recovery group, work four days a week at a homeless shelter, and devoting my Saturdays to working a doomed (dooooomed) group in an inpatient mental ward at a hospital.

That hasn’t left a lot of free time to devote to making snide comments about A Troll in Central Park.

And that’s my fault. Luckily, Tim has been keeping Grump Factory FLUSH with content in the meantime, which I knew would be an advantage to sharing the blog with another esteemed author. So kudos to him!

So what have I been doing in the meantime, besides slowly killing myself in pursuit of a degree? Same as always: watchin’ movies, TV and playin’ games! Let’s see if I can quickly touch on the stuff I’ve seen and am not planning on writing up in greater detail:

House: No, not the “Holmes in a hospital” weekly procedural; I mean the 1970s psychedelic Japanese horror comedy. The first feature film of a visionary experimental film director, House is about a group of Japanese schoolgirl archetypes that visit an old woman’s country house during summer vacation, where they’re preyed upon by the woman’s ghost who feeds on them to rejuvenate herself. It’s an absolute scream of a movie (pun intended!), full of carnivorous pianos, flying decapitated heads and wacky special effects flourishes. Everyone should check out Criterion’s superb DVD and Blu-Ray release of it.

Tangled: Disney’s return to 3D after the quick two-dimensional detour of The Princess and the Frog. An adaptation of the Rapunzel fairy tale, it’s a slight letdown after its gorgeous, charming, hilarious predecessor. Is that to say that the movie is awful? Helllll no, it’s still a giant leap from classic Disney misfires such as The Aristocats, The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Pocahontas. Where the movie really shines are the hilarious and endearing sidekicks and secondary characters. Rapunzel and Flynn Rider are genial enough, but a little unmemorable. Where the real weaknesses lie are in the lack of memorable musical numbers and the weak villain. An overbearing mother figure? Ehhhh. Glad the movie wasn’t a trainwreck, but The Princess and the Frog raised my expectations for Disney’s releases from hereon out.

The Decalogue: From the director of the sublime The Double Life of Veronique came a ten-part series of short films focusing on the everyday, but compelling, moral difficulties faced by the residents of a Polish apartment complex. I’ve only seen parts 1-3 so far, and the results are… interesting, even if it confirms some of the American stereotypes about foreign movies. Often bleak, frustratingly vague and slow as molasses, there’s still an intriguing core to the exercise that I’m excited to see revisited in the other seven parts I have ahead of me.

Enslaved: An action/adventure title that slipped under just about everyone’s radar, Enslaved (along with Heavy Rain) rekindles my interest in Western gaming. Yeah, it has the typical God of War-inspired combat and upgradeable weaponry and skills and blah blah blah… What really makes this game special is the amount of care that got put into the story that the game hangs off of. Loosely inspired by the classic Asian story Journey to the West, Enslaved features a man named Monkey who escapes from slavers with a plucky young woman named Tripp, whom forces him to help her get back home by enslaving him with a headband that can kill him with the push of a button. It’s wonderfully told and acted in exquisitely-animated cutscenes, which really make you empathize with the characters. It was a bit of a financial flop, so finding it on the cheap should be easy.

Valkyria Chronicles II: The follow-up to my personal favorite PS3 game, Valkyria Chronicles II had a lot to live up to, and already had a few strikes against it for being downgraded to a portable system and for changing the setting to a military training high school. Even though the characters are not even half has likable as the original crew, there’s still a spark in some of the designs and the gameplay largely translated to the portable system, albeit with much smaller combat areas, due to memory restraints. With new units, unit specialization trees and a tighter focus on short and sweet skirmishes, it’s still a fine S-RPG, and one of the most unique on the market.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn: Kirby games typically come out late in a system’s life and are typically fantastic. Even though this didn’t start out as a Kirby game, this one keeps up the tradition by being an effortlessly charming platformer, full of inventive ways of making the player go “Awwww!!” and little twists on the simple platforming that spice up the very easy gameplay. It’s a perfect choice to just chill out and relax to, and it may well be one of the most gorgeous games ever released on the Wii.

Grump Talk – Amazing Finds

August 20, 2010

So there I was, doing my errands yesterday. I mainly was waiting around for an appointment at the mall, but since it was an hour and a half away, I decided to drive around the immediate area and check out some stores. I used my birthday gift card to get Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy on Blu-Ray. If you haven’t seen them, see them!

Then I went to this somewhat crappy independent used game shop nearby called Gameco. Gameco is the type of used store that A) never has anything good or interesting to sell and B) has terrible, uncompetitive prices. I normally wouldn’t even go there to pick up a run-of-the-mill game there because I could find it just about anywhere cheaper.

So of course I was going there with little-to-no expectations for anything. I always have a few “dream” games that I say to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice to find this game!” Y’know, wish list-type stuff. I checked the PS2 rack for some of the decent Gundam games and Suikoden V. No dice. To be expected at a dump like this, really. Any good Dreamcast games? Pbbbbttt. Not even any good Saturn cases to serve as a replacement for Panzer Dragoon Saga‘s cracked case.

I’m about to leave when I notice they have a glass case where they seem to put their “valuable” games. I see some SNES and PSone cases in there and figure I was wasting my time looking at the other stuff. I walk over and scan over the PSone games. FFVII, Chrono Cross, yada yada yada… The SNES cartridges aren’t looking too much better, either, with some old copies of Secret of Mana and FFIII(VIj) sitting around.

I almost turn to leave when I turn my notice to a lone SNES cartridge standing on top of the pile. It had annoyed me because it was standing on top of some labels of cartidges below it, so I’d tried craning my head around it. Now I’ve seen everything else and I figure I might as well see what game this one is. It’s slouching forward against the glass in an ugly fashion, almost as if it’s trying to escape notice. I focus my eyes to read the top label (which is upside-down) and my jaw goes slack.

I KNOW, RIGHT?!?!!??!

What were the FUCKING odds? And they were charging a (relatively) reasonable price! So I asked to test it out to make sure it worked, and after it booted up, I snatched it up and paid for it. I don’t even have a SNES! It’s one of those few games where I would just buy it even without immediate plans to buy the system it was on. If anyone has advice on whether to get an old SNES or one of those FamiTwin whatever knockoffs, lemme know. A Mother series of grumps may be in the cards some day… :3

But to bring this all home: What was the best find you’ve ever had, whether it be for a game, movie or WHATEVER? I’ll tell you a few more of mine, to get juices flowin’. A similar story to this one had me just searching on a lark for Suikoden II and finding out that the store closest to me ACTUALLY HAD A COPY. And then there’s the story of how I waltzed into a Vintage Stock store and found them selling a copy of Possession on DVD for roughly 1/10th of the price it was going for on Amazon. Your turn!

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!

Grump Talk – Saturn Setback

June 10, 2010

So after I actually started trying to play my pile of Sega, I ran into some problems. Panzer Dragoon Saga would either not boot up at all or boot up and then crash randomly. The low point was when I finally figured out how to defeat a tricky boss, then the game froze and crashed at the victory screen.

So of course I wanted to find out if the problem lay with the disc or with the system’s laser lens. All of the games I initially bought worked well… mostly. D had a little bit of trouble booting up the first time I popped it in and Albert Odyssey froze once at the beginning of a random battle, but I thought those were flukes since I couldn’t repeat it. But now, I saw a more sinister pattern. So I popped in my other games. The Legend of Oasis started up just fine, but Shining Force III couldn’t even make it to the title screen.

So the only choice left to me was to attempt emulation to see if the problem was in the Saturn’s laser lens. I went shopping around for one that would let me boot up from the CD and it seems that 99% of Saturn emulators are abandoned at the alpha stage or emulate the CPU but not necessarily the games(?!). I FINALLY found one that seemed to fit the bill and popped in Panzer Dragoon Saga. Flawlessly booted up, several times. Popped in Shining Force III. Booted up just fine.

I’m lookin’ at youuuuuuuuuuu, Saturn.

So thankfully this still falls within the 30 day return policy the store had on the console, so I’m gonna return it (and ask to keep the friggin’ battery) and hunt for a Saturn that actually… y’know… works. There’s gonna be a delay in further landings on Saturn~

Grump Talk – SEGA PILE

June 9, 2010

Grump Talk – Landing on Saturn

May 28, 2010

If you’ve been a loyal reader the past year or so, you’ve no doubt recognized a streak of retro gaming in me. I’ve been living in the past with games, the best ones I’ve played recently being at least a year old, if not more. I devoted a large chunk of time and effort into rediscovering the Phantasy Star series.

As such, you might’ve realized I have a somewhat unhealthy and abusive Sega fanboy streak in me, too. Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection is the gift that keeps on giving. So many classic franchises I missed out on during the heady 16-bit days and almost all the games I remember loving. Seriously, if you’ve ever been curious about the Genesis or have fond memories of that console, snatch it up on the next-gen console of your choice. Although it’s odd I can’t find a better word than “next-gen” when we’re already 4 years into this generation of consoles. Ummm… current-gen?

Anyways, this post isn’t about Genesis. It’s about Sega’s redheaded stepchild (no, the other redheaded stepchild… no, the other, other redheaded stepchild): Saturn. What a sad story that console has to tell. It launched as an E3 surprise to the sound of confused and irritated retailers and Sony simply undercutting it by $100 dollars and leaving it at that. The poor thing wasn’t a very powerful 3D machine and it had a bizarre dual-processor thingie that apparently made development on it strange and difficult to port. Sega had bet the farm on the trend that was still going strong during the 16-bit era: luscious 2D graphics. And wow, could Saturn pump out some awesome sprites, also helped by the fact that you could add up to 4 megs of RAM through the cartridge slot.

The reason I’m bringing up the Saturn at all is because I found one being sold at a used video game store near me along with a couple semi-rare games to go with it. After hemming and hawing for a weekend over whether or not I should make the investment, I finally decided to take the plunge… only to find the game I wanted most had already been sold off! But I took the system anyways and have been scouring eBay ever since, looking for games to help round out my collection. I must say, I’ve managed to gather some gems so far, but not for cheap. In one of those ironic twists of fate, Saturns are pretty common and cheap, but the worthwhile games are exceedingly expensive and rare.

Anyways, I just thought I’d let all you readers in on what my latest hobby was, so that any upcoming Saturn video game reviews could be taken in context. I’m excited about this new journey!

Grump Talk: The Double Life of Veronique

May 15, 2010

Every now and again you find a movie you just fall into an easy relationship with. It’s a little weird and embarrassing to use the R word in regards to a movie, but I feel the word is called for in a circumstance such as this. I recently saw the 1991 French/Czech flick The Double Life of Veronique. It explores the possibility of doppelgangers, people out there that look exactly like us, who act like us, who think like us, but lead slightly different lives. Of course, the focus of the story is on women who share the same face and name, as well as an ethereal connection that neither one is consciously aware of, but nontheless permeates their lives. Czech Weronika is a young woman with an aspiring singing career who tries to pursue her dream regardless of a serious heart condition. French Veronique is a music teacher who falls in love with a puppeteer who seems to have vague insight into her nature as a double.

Within the first few minutes of the film… it had me. It just resonated on exactly the right frequency to make me relate and understand it on a level deeper than conscious, rational thought, which makes the whole thing a bit of an odd bird to try to describe. I understood it emotionally more than I grasped it intellectually. The scenes are framed just-so to create dreamy visuals that give the sense that you’re watching some sort of real-world fairy tale. The story makes just enough sense to fool you into thinking you can figure it all out, but the revelatory moment that you always think is just around the corner never quite comes. Unless I’m some huge idiot. Which I may be! But just about everything in the movie’s perfect and if you wanna treat yourself to something fantastic, find a way to rent the Criterion Collection DVD. Broaden your horizons, grumpeteers~