Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: The Karate Kid

A few years ago, I was on a flight back from Europe watching movies on a tiny little screen on the back of an airplane seat.  I had gone through the movies I already wanted to see, and then I watched Grown-Ups.  However, I had passed over the remake of The Karate Kid without realizing it was there, and believe me, I would much rather have seen that than anything with Rob Schneider and David Spade in it.

I turned it on, figuring I'd give it a chance, and at about the time young Jaden Smith was starting to learn how to hang up his jacket, we were alerted that we were coming in for a landing.  The movie was turned off, and I shook my fist at fate for blocking me just before we got to the heart of the film (the training, of course, we all know how it ends), and swore I'd finish watching it.  And soon.

Cut to a few months ago, when I was scrolling through the free movies on demand with Time Warner Cable, and The Karate Kid showed up again.  "Hey," I said to myself because nobody else was in the room, "I should get around to finally watching that."  So I sat back, selected it, and got about forty-five minutes in before something came up and I had to pause it.  When I got back, the cable box had switched back over to the main menu screen, so I simply sat back again and selected "resume."

The film started over.  I tried to fast forward.  No dice.  For some reason, Time Warner didn't want me to miss a minute of Jaden Smith getting into arguments and fighting with his mother, the still ridiculously gorgeous Taraji P Henson.

"Well, forget that," I said to myself since I was still alone.

However, during the time I was preparing to move, I stumbled upon a copy on DVD that I bought back after the flight (not immediately, about four months after, I think) and then forgot about.  "Well," I said to myself (the only other creature around, my cat, did not care about what I had to say), "maybe it's time I finish this."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Podblast: Welcome To Night Vale

There are frequently things I'll discuss in this blog as a means of trying to convince people to try something or plead with them to never try something if they value their time as being at all precious and not worth wasting in an exercise in futility and frustration.

However, before I simply start discussing today's topic, I just want you to listen to an episode.

Just...ignore the graphics.  Trust me.  It's better if you picture it yourself.

That, ladies and gentleman, is my newest addiction and something I wish I had found ages ago.

Welcome To Night Vale

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Ninja Blade

There comes a time during a play through of a bad video game where even the most easily entertained individual states, "oh my god, this is a terrible game!"  At that point, they are face with two options.  One, they can throw it back in the case and take it back to the store as a return, provided it's soon enough after the purchase date, or otherwise sell it towards the purchase of a different, better game and chalk it up to experience teaching them to be more careful...

...or they can say "well, maybe I'll just try to get through it before I take it back, so I can at least say I beat it.  I mean, maybe it'll get better soon.  Maybe there will be some really great moment that will absolutely floor me and completely flip my perspective of the game, since a good story can easily counteract mediocre or lousy game play."

I reached that point with the game Ninja Blade from "From Software."  How bad is it?  Here's a hint.  The company that made it is just called "From Software."    It's like they're trying to hide in case anybody seeks them out to complain.

So why is it so bad?  Let's slice our way in to this ninja nonsense.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

There are certain things a person has to do to maintain their "nerd cred."  They have to keep up on the names of television shows that are suddenly popular.  They need to know phrases, memes, and quotes from a wide variety of sources.  They need to see specific movies.

To my eternal shame, I somehow managed to go without seeing the first of the Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  This was recently amended, so I suppose I should discuss what I thought of the movie.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dead Or Alive: Dimensions

So, for the past several weeks, I've been working on a rather big move to a new place.  Packing up boxes, the move itself, and then emptying boxes again.  It's a stressful amount of work, and sadly the blog had to take a distant back seat to everything else I tried to get done.

However, I'm a bit more settled in now, so I think it's time we bring this project back up and resume writing things that matter to, if nobody else, myself.

Let's start with my least favorite fighting game franchise of all time, Dead Or Alive.

People who have read this blog for a while know that while I'm probably the biggest fan of the movie there is, at least two of their games deserve a Special Hell.  I can't really bring myself to buy any of the other games at full price, which is why, when it became dirt cheap during a massive sale, I picked up Dead or Alive 5 in an attempt to actually be able to describe the combat and see if the movie story connects at all to the game story.

I was hopelessly lost in two minutes, since characters just seemed to randomly pop up in locations around the world and demand to fight with other people who had no business being in that part of the world.

Finally, in desperation to be able to do one game, I found Dead Or Alive: Dimensions, which promised to go through the history of the Dead or Alive 1-4 in five chapters.

Having now played all five chapters I've come to the following conclusions:

1)  This universe is insane.
2)  Ninjas are really not worth the trouble.
3) Some of the characters are actually rather interesting.  I actually really like Helena.

The problem is that there's twenty-five characters trying to complete a story that spans four games, so often you'll have strange scenes with no context at all.  I remember one scene involved a guy holding a woman in the desert.  I believe she was dying, and she reaches up to touch his face while saying "the man I love is the strongest man in the world."  I have no idea who they were, and I'm not sure they ever showed up in the game again.

Combat takes on a very "rock, paper, scissors" feel, as kicks, throws, and punches are all weak against one of the other types and strong against the other.  Plus, there's a block/counter button which seems to work sometimes, and other times just leaves you standing there like the worst attempt at "jazz hands" as someone punches you in the face.

In many instances, punches to the crotch were the last blow before KO.

Now, there is one helpful bit in the game, and that's the glossary that pops up in the bottom during cut scenes with helpful details about things like ninja clan punishments, character identities and relationships, and other basic facts about the DOA universe.

The glossary also has handy definitions such as "Commodities" which are "fungible goods."  I had no idea the world of business played a key role this series.  Could someone tell me if Wolf Of Wall Street had an extensive kung-fu battle in it?

The game's AI isn't too terribly bright, though.  There were many battles through the game that I won simply by swirling the control stick around madly and mashing the same button.  I won a few rounds without even looking at the screen.  I don't know who I fought or how I won, but I still won.  I only lost one fight, and that's because I tried to get clever with combos and counters and wound up just standing there waving my arms around until someone kicked me off of a balcony.  I deserved it.

So, how does the game do at changing my attitude towards the game series as a whole?  Well, seeing as it's the first DOA game rated "T" specifically because they toned down the detail and gratuitousness of the girls in the game, I need to give it credit for showing a bit of good taste.  On the other hand, the game's main character does spend most of her time running around, jumping, and kicking while wearing a pair of underwear that ties together around her thighs.

Second only to Naruto for "least practical ninja costume."
On the whole, I had a bit of fun playing game, and it did change my opinion on a few characters (Zack is still annoying as hell, Ayane is somehow both really interesting and really obnoxious, Hitomi is adorable, and Tengu is a really stupid villain), but I still left the series just as (if not more so) confused than I already was.  Why did Christie try to assassinate Helena when she was younger (oh, spoiler alert)?  Who thought cloning ninjas would be a great idea in a world where trained mercenaries are able to hold their own?  Hell, a karate student can hold her own against a master ninja in the game.  Why does the guy from Ninja Gaiden not just take care of everything himself?  He's the only one there that I've seen slice through solid metal with his sword.  Why can't Ayane forgive Kasumi since Kasumi only left to get back their brother who Ayane dotes on in a way that's almost uncomfortable for a sibling to do?  Who the hell is Brad Wong?

If you want to get your feet wet in the DOA universe I suppose you could do a lot worse (see the above link), but don't expect to be an expert on the series by any means.  While it has some really gorgeous cut sc- OH!

I almost forgot.  There's a LOT of story interspersed with a few fights early toward the game.  I started playing, and I swear I went over an hour with only two brief fights happening before it jumped to cut scene after cut scene after cut scene as it tried to set up a huge ninja drama.

Anyway, it has some gorgeous cut scenes, the character designs are well, and while the combat can be ridiculously easy, there is a solid attempt to put some effort into advanced play.  Plus, man, 25 characters is pretty impressive, even if two of them are palate swaps of each other.

If I did a rating out of ten, I might give it a six.  It has dialogue that hits with all the impact of an old fish across the face, characters you really don't have any reason to care about (looking at you, Kokoro and Eliot), and it jumps around in story more often than an audio book copy of Memento set to "shuffle" mode.  I don't feel as unclean playing it, b-

What's that?

Oh, they have downloadable costumes.  Never mind, there's that creep factor coming back again.  I think I'll be taking this game back to the shop soon.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Great Hawkeye Moments

Hawkeye is, bar none, my favorite Marvel Comics superhero.  Sure, all of the Guardians of the Galaxy are a close second, and I really like Songbird, Iron Fist, and a whole host of other people, but Hawkeye will always top my list.  Sure, he's the target of a lot of jokes, people laughing at the idea of a guy with a bow and arrow hanging out with a god, a guy in an advanced armor suit, a super soldier, and all sorts of other powerhouses, but there are two things about Hawkeye that I absolutely love:

1)  He lives to be an Avenger.  He's always one of the first ones to show up when the call goes out, and he has devoted his life to the idea of "Avengering."  No matter what else he's doing, where else he's active, or what kind of fight he's had with someone, as soon as the call goes out, he grabs his bow and heads out the door.

2)  He realizes how under-powered he is, which is why he always works to make sure to make up for it with skill.  He even mentions this in one of his better appearances where he manages to eke out a victory against the Collector after every other Avenger has been captured.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Sharknado 2: The Next One

I've never really been able to appreciate the argument that I hate a bad movie because of the following reasons:

1)  "You're over-thinking it."

2)  "You're just supposed to turn off your brain and enjoy it."

3)  "It's just supposed to be entertaining, not make you think."

First off, I'm pretty sure people can't turn off their brain, not without looking into drugs or more extreme measures.  You might be able to suspend disbelief or find something to focus on and ignore other aspects, but simply "turning off your brain" means you're supposed to ignore anything that might bother you about a bad film.

The story line didn't make any sense and jumped around a lot?  You're over-thinking it because why would you possibly care about the stories when the goal is to enjoy the same amount of spectacle as having some cut-out photos from Men's Health and Maxim stuck on popsicle sticks being jerked around in front of a strobe light while loud music and explosions rock the background?  Or in the case of Transformers, plastic toys being smashed together in front of a giant lens flare like a small child was seeing how long it takes them to break?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

As I sit and recount the experience of seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, I find myself sipping a lemonade and listening to the soundtrack and realizing that, at it's heart, this isn't a huge mindless space epic or a complex comic book movie.  It's not simply a story of beating the evil or saving the world.  At it's heart, it's a story of a boy and his relationship to his mother.

I'm trying to think of other movies that deal with such a relationship, and my mind fails me.  I can name any number of father/son, mother/daughter, siblings, and even father/daughter movies, but no mother/son ones come readily to mind.  The Blind Side, A. I., and Throw Momma From The Train.  I guess Psycho counts.

However, look at the structure of this film.  As a child, Peter Quill loses his mother and is soon taken off to space by aliens.  No explanation is immediately given as to why they're there, why they took him, or why, once he has his own ship, he doesn't go back home to let his family know he's alive and doing fine.

The only remnants he has of a life on Earth are relics from a time gone by.  TV show trading cards prominently showing Alf, a troll doll, and his most prized possession, a mix tape (yes, a cassette.  Remember those?) made for him by his mother and the accompanying Walkman to play it.  This is, of course, a magic mix tape, able to pick the perfect song for any occasion, starting at just the right moment so the last song isn't just wrapping up.

An intimate moment with Gamora is overlaid with Elvin Bishop's Fooled Around And Fell In Love, a moment at the beginning is perfectly lead off with Norman Greenbaum's Spirit In The Sky, and a moment where Peter (now Starlord, a name more perfectly picked by a child on an adventure I don't think has ever been made) brings heavy violence to some people between him and his goal is to Escape aka the PiƱa Colada song.

Lord knows that every time I hear that song, I want to hurt someone.

At every moment, Peter is guided by that mix tape and, by proxy, his mother's spirit.  He even connects with other wayward "youths," the aforementioned Gamora who has some serious father issues, Drax, a mountain of muscle grieving the loss of his wife and daughter, and Rocket and Groot, a talking raccoon with a penchant for smart talk and guns and his "muscle," a walking talking tree that can only say "I am Groot."

Turns out there's a lot of meaning behind those words, and depending on how the emphasis is placed, it's surprisingly easy to understand him.

The story is extremely loyal to Marvel Comics (with a few big shifts where needed), which I think both helps and hinders the story.  Things happen so quickly that it feels like something a child attempting to lose himself after the death of a loved one would come up with ("and then there's this green woman who wants to fight me but she kinda maybe likes me, but then there's a talking raccoon and a tree, and then we all break out of prison and there's this bad guy with a hammer and...") but I think it might lose people not used to the mythology.  There's certainly enough characters introduced that it becomes hard to keep track of who's primary and who isn't.

The movie, while busy at times, does remember it's supposed to also be fun, and the humor had me laughing often, though a few jokes felt rather forced in, as if to keep younger viewers entertained (a strategy session involving Rocket and a group of outlaws comes to mind).  It must be difficult to keep a balance between talking animals and threats like Thanos and Ronin working in the same universe, but for the most part the movie does it well.

The movie is also surprisingly self-aware, twisting a lot of the superhero conventions and action movie tropes on it's head (a dramatic walk down a hallway by the main characters is mixed with yawns by said people), and seems just as willing to poke as much fun at itself as science fiction classics.  There are a lot of Star Wars homages (not surprising, since Disney owns them both), and even Peter comes across as a young, slightly more disreputable Han Solo.

The movie, watched by someone who knows the difference between the Kree and other alien races, who is aware of the relationship between Gamora and Nebula, and can recognize a lot of background characters, the movie is both a great way of opening the cinematic universe to more characters and stories as well as a solid comic book movie.  To people who don't understand why a talking tree would only know three words or why the planet Xandar might look uncannily like something from Mass Effect, I might recommend some reading before sitting down to watch.  It's probably the last movie I'd recommend to people who aren't comic book fans from the Marvel films, but as a fan of these characters, it was everything I wanted.

Also, the post-credits scene had my jaw on the floor.  I can honestly say it was the last thing I expected, but considering something I mentioned above, it makes perfect sense.