Category Archives: reviews
Criterion Channel is celebrating the new year with ’70s Sci-Fi, which is right up my alley. It’s even more fascinating to realize that these futuristic movies are fifty years old. How far have we come over the decades, how much do we have to overcome? But, also, how close are we to the self-destruction that these movies prophesied?
I’ve seen some of the eighteen movies presented this month before, but they were the obvious choices like A Clockwork Orange and Mad Max. I didn’t start my viewing in chronological order, instead beginning with 1975’s A Boy and His Dog.
The movie takes place in the ruined, desert landscape of the old world and the first thing I noticed was how trashy that landscape is. This isn’t the barren desert of the Mad Max films. This is a garbage desert, with cans and plastic and debris everywhere. It really is a gross place to live.
Which is actually fitting, because A Boy and His Dog is a pretty gross movie. The “boy”, Vic (or Albert, depending on the dog) looks like he’s in his late twenties. And he’s as low as you can get. His only goal in the movie is to find a lady and get laid, with permission or not. And his dog, Blood, is there to help him achieve the goal. After all, they share a psychic connection, with Tim McIntire voicing the dog, and with quite a bit of dialog, throughout.
Though the only sex in the movie comes across as consensual, Vic has plenty of other qualities that make him unpleasant. He’s an idiot, for one. And he’s a jerk to the dog, but maybe that’s the point. The dog is so loyal that he stays with this dumb, grotesque man-child through thick and thin. There’s no redemption arc for Vic. It’s not that type of movie.
Blood actually has a character arc. While Vic is too dumb to truly change, Blood has to make some hard choices. Does he stay with Vic as they go underground, even though it’s hard to defend and possibly the home to radioactive mutants? Does he stay with Vic as he brings his newfound girlfriend, Quilla, into their lives? Does he stay with Vic as he seeks revenge from his newfound girlfriend’s betrayal? And, when Vic goes “Downunder”, will Blood stay and wait for Vic to return? Even if Vic might not return?
Vic’s adventures Downunder are where the movie started to look it’s low budget. A desert is a desert and looks the same no matter the cash on hand. But, the same goes for a high school auditorium and a golf course, for mostly ill effect. No amount of lighting or prop placement will make them look any different. Maybe that’s the point, thought? After all, the society Downunder is a strange one. Everyone is in mime makeup and follows strict behavior rules, but outside of that, it doesn’t look like there’s too much going on down there. I guess they have robots?
Vic’s lust gets the better of him as he was led down there by Quilla to help repopulate the Downunder, though not the way he was hoping. I think I could have lived my whole life and ten more without ever seeing that semen extracting scene and been all the better for it. When Quilla becomes dissatisfied with life Downunder, she frees Vic and the two make their way to the top. But, they also fight a smiling mine robot.
The ending, with Blood’s choice over waiting or not for Vic, should hit most dog lovers. Even as dumb as Vic is and as fed up with him as Blood gets, a dog can’t leave his boy, no matter how old they are (we’re talking Chris O’Donnell as Robin old-boy here). And, while still a gross idiot, Vic must decided if he’ll show the same loyalty or go off with Quilla.
The big issue I have with the movie, besides the general grossness of it all, is that no one is worth rooting for. Oh, sure, a dog is a dog. But, when Blood talks, he’s a bit too much of a curmudgeon. Though that might be endearing to some, coming from a little shaggy dog like him. But Vic is loathsome. Maybe we should cheer for him at the end, but I couldn’t care less if he lived or died out there in the wastes.
And, like I said, it’s not that type of movie anyway. I can’t say I liked A Boy and His Dog. But, it’s weird and obscene and held my attention. I won’t say it’s a bad movie. But, like Quilla, it’s an acquired taste. You can see the origins of The Road Warrior in it. The first half shows some gonzo society that enslaves people to dig for canned food, but also still has a working grindhouse theater. That’s our future.
It’s a new decade, blah, blah, blah.
Like my post about favorite books of the decade, the games list also suffers from the fact that I rarely play games as released. I’m incredibly behind on all the games I have to play, let alone want to play. Wait. Are those different?
My favorite games of the 2010s, be year published!
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
What a game. I didn’t grow up in the arcades in the 80s or 90s, but I do love a few arcade classics. Pac-Man, obviously, has always been a lot of fun. However, it wasn’t until I watched a friend stream Pac-Man Championship Edition DX that I realized how fun the game could be.
It’s reminds me of Burnout 3: Takedown in it’s unrelenting speed. It’s like a rave inside a Lite-Brite. It’s pure adrenaline when being chased and taking those turns and it’s all euphoria when the tide turns and start devouring trains of ghosts. It’s one of the few games I’ve ever score chased. It helps that the maze has patterns and systems that are understandable but also quite vicious if you make a mistake. It’s too good not to stand out in the decade.
Alan Wake is the game I would have picked without Pac-Man. It really clicked (ha) with me and I thought the structure, setting and flashlight-based combat were brilliant.
VVVVVV is a little joy of a game that’s all teeth. Starcraft 2 is great, but I haven’t finished it yet. Same goes for Red Dead Redemption. Mass Effect 2 was a lot of fun, but I’m not as in love with that series as others.
I played through Limbo in one sitting, in the dim light of my living room, while my wife napped. It was melancholy, it was dark, it was depressing. But, the need to move forward was there the whole time. The simple, shadowy graphics had personality to spare and they worked to pull out little, eight-legged surprises at the most inopportune time. The puzzles might not have been the hardest, but they left me feeling smarter than I am.
Luckily for my wife, she work up for the last hour of the game and now I have someone to share the burden of the ending with. The last moments left me with questions, but not ones I necessarily need answered.
Indie games with impactful endings were the name of the game in 2011, huh? To The Moon is one of the very few games to ever make me cry. Bastion looked and sounded gorgeous and had very cool, somber ending. The Binding of Isaac should gross me out, but it’s a lot of fun with a cool, Danny Baranowsky soundtrack. Portal 2 was no Portal, but it had some very high moments. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a seizure of a fighting game at times, but there’s not enough X-Men. And Jurassic Park: The Game would be a biased pick and wasn’t really a game anyway…
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
A lot of games fighting for this year but no other game became such an obsession to me in this decade like XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I mean, how many times did I lose and then just restart? What games prompted me to choose Iron Man mode so quickly? It was addictive, yes, but unlike League of Legends or Hearthstone, it was fun the whole way through, even when merrily destroying all my hopes of victory.
The gameplay is what kept me coming back, but the world building and atmosphere were wonderful. It’s a universe I could keep exploring and I love that modern take on 50s science fiction throughout. And, goodness, did I let a lot of soldiers with my loved one’s names die. Maybe the sequel has taken most of the replay time from the first, but it’s not an either/or situation. I could go back to this first one, just like Roller Coaster Tycoon, Starcraft or Balder’s Gate, in a heartbeat.
Telltale’s first season of the The Walking Dead is another of the rare games to make me cry at the end. Maybe I’m becoming softer as I get older. Plague Inc. is one I’ve played through on the app and on PC just to relax, which makes me think I need counseling. FTL: Faster Than Light is near-perfect and is probably still my favorite rogue-like. It’s design is wonderful and I own the soundtrack. I wanted to start a new game of Mark of the Ninja as soon as I was done, which is a bit rare for me. It’s also one of the only stealth games I enjoy. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP was cool and weird, Dishonored was stylish and Spec-Ops: The Line was as interesting as it’s reputation claimed.
Thomas Was Alone
Thomas Was Alone is another single-sitting game that grabbed me by the heart and didn’t let go. The puzzles were never too difficult and the story dragged a bit at the end, but it was like an indie science fiction movie in game form. Bouncing around as a square was weirdly satisfying.
And it has to be said how effective Thomas Was Alone is at giving these basic blocks and shapes personalities. It’s almost Pixar-level. The fact that I cared so much for Thomas and his friends, and how upset I was near the end and how excited I was during the credits, says a lot about Mike Bithell’s creation.
Metro: Last Light, and it’s previous title, are games I would have eaten up as a teenager. As it stands now, they’re still well made games with an interesting world to explore. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons didn’t make me cry but it did effect me quite a bit and it’s single player coop structure was interesting more often than frustrating. I liked Batman: Arkham Origins more than Arkham City. And the 2013 Tomb Raider was mostly fun except for when it was tearing Lara up to shreds.
I’ve played a few NES-inspired games, Alwa’s Awakening, The Messenger, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, Necrosphere, ect. ect. But Shovel Knight does it best. Fully aware that technology and gameplay styles have moved on, Shovel Knight plays like how we remember the original Nintendo. More fun than difficult, more forgiving than relentless. More rewarding than fleeting.
The graphics do things the NES could never have dreamed of but it always looks right perfectly in line with the tone. The level design is great, harking back to the best of 8-bit platformers without ever feeling derivative. And it’s story is charming too, helped along by a pitch-perfect soundtrack.
I think I enjoyed the actual combat and gameplay options of Transistor more than Bastion. Shadows of Mordor was what I had thought the original Assassin’s Creed was supposed to be. Ultra Street Fighter IV is awesome. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a fascinating game, but hits a bit too close to home these days.
There’s some cynicism to be had with Rocket League and it’s microtransactions. And the fact that I’m not great at it. But, it’s such a pure, arcade concept that, at it’s core, it’s almost the truest concept of video games. It’s soccer with race cars, what else do you need?
It feels like that very concept would have been right at home on the NES, with the Super Dodge Balls and the Punch-Outs. It helps that the matches go by quick, that my skill really seems hindered by my time with it and the more I play it, the better I get and the more fun it becomes. It’s never a slog, it’s always colorful and it’s just a hilariously high-octane game.
Ori and Blind Forest would be the more traditional winner this year. And it was gorgeous and exciting. Crypt of the Necrodancer is a lot of fun but I suck at it. I was addicted to the campaign of Prison Architect but haven’t returned to it much after. And SOMA has an ending that will stick with me until the day I die.
Oh, DOOM. What a beast. I don’t love gore and overly brutal violence…I used to be able to say. No matter how many times I was horrified by DOOM‘s glory kills, I still laughed like a maniac after every one and went on to the next as quickly as I could. I’ve spent so many years ducking behind corners and crouched behind various forms of cover, I had forgotten the pure joy of running circles around an enemy, unloading clip after clip, until he was dead in a glorious mess of guts and health drops. And that beautiful double jump made me feel like Mario with a chainsaw.
I never once was bored with DOOM and I wanted to start it all over again as soon the credits rolled. This game is so shark-like in it’s focus to keep moving, to keep feeding, it can’t help but become the new apex predator of first person shooters.
Firewatch was as good as it was probably because it was as short as it was. For pure Dungeons and Dragons brutality, Darkest Dungeon is a game I feel surprisingly competent at…until a complete party wipe. Stardew Valley sort of wrecked me as a person. Overcoocked is another little game that knows what it wants and how to get it. Part of me also wanted to give the award to XCOM 2, but, as good as it is, it didn’t have the same effect the first game had on me. And, if this was an award for most time spent with, Civilization VI would take home the gold.
I haven’t played Dark Souls or any game by From Software, but I doubt I’ll enjoy them as much as Nioh. It’s not just that the game is brutal and mean, it’s that it’s big and dumb as well. It’s all the messy samurai films we love, with a dash of Onimusha and a whole lost of dodging.
It might be more style over substance in some places, but I do so love the style. It wasn’t a short game, it took me quite a while to play through the main campaign. But, I always looked forward to starting up a new session. The heartbreaks of losing all your orbs can be too much to bear, but that’s why we fall. So we can learn to pick ourselves back up again and kill a whole bunch of demons until we have all their orbs.
Another Souls-like game, Hollow Knight which has one heck of an oppressive atmosphere that became a bit to claustrophobic as I went on. Other runner ups to the runner ups are Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, for being the first Mario Kart since Double Dash that I’ve enjoyed and Alwa’s Awakening for that last dungeon.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
I sort of hate giving Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon the win because I already gave it to Shovel Knight and the do a similar thing. They both recreate the 8-bit NES games of my youth, but how I remember them as opposed to the brutal reality of it all.
And, yet, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a different game with different goals. The character switching is fun and adds a new dynamic to each level. The bosses are annoying and I am filled with a justified rage when I destroy them. The music is sweeping and romantic in it’s chiptune purity. It’s more of an adrenaline rush than Shovel Knight and I was so addicted to those endorphins that I started the higher difficulty immediately after finishing the first playthrough.
I didn’t think you could update the real time strategy genre until Northgard brought in 4X-elements and slowed things down a bit. Leaving early access and officially coming out in 2018 was Dead Cells, which is great and one I’m going to be playing for a while. And, like Civilization VI, Jurassic World: Evolution gets and award for time played. But, again, I’m biased.
So, this is what I mean by behind the times. I didn’t play a single game that was released in 2019. And, even knowing myself, I’m a little shocked. No indie games, no quick little arcade titles. I didn’t play anything!
And there’s so much I want to play! Outer Worlds, Outer Wilds, Disco Elysium, Control, Star Wars: Fallen Order, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Void Bastards, A Plague Tale: Innocence, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, there’s so many…
OH WAIT! Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark officially came out in 2019! I played that! Hey! It wins by default!
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark
Also, I replayed The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past this year. Any year that game is played it’s the best of the year.
I’ve been having issues lately when trying to read Young Adult books. I don’t love teenage protagonist, in books or movies. I find the range teenage characters have for drama, when written for a young adult audience, to be limiting or, more often than not, dull. It’s very relationship based, which I don’t mind a sampling of, but, when it’s the main course, I’d rather skip it all together. And the teenage introspection! The narration! I can’t do it! Not anymore! Adults writing teenagers think they’re so darn clever and relevant because they mention last years movies or say “legit” or something like that, I can’t do it anymore and I won’t!
This has been a quick review for John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down.
Here’s the twist, though. Graphic novels fix this for me. There’s less inner monologues and more visual cues. Blankets or This One Summer nail the melancholy existentialism because they create mood in the art, not just through dated dialog. When we see how young a character is, they feel more real as a teenager because we’re not being told by a thirty-five year old how “legit” young they are. Also, I’m not sure if “legit” is something I’ve read people writing or just a new thing I’m doing now?
Also, I should stop judging, because the book I wrote has teenage protagonist and they’re mopey and monologuey and now I’m legit worried I can’t stop saying legit…
I Kill Giants is written by Joe Kelly, whose always been one of the better writers in the world of Marvel comics. It tells the story of a girl who doesn’t fit in at school, who’s going through some heavy stuff in her family life and who might also fight giants. The giants thing is up in the air, but there’s a good chance it’s real. Or maybe it’s all in her head. Or real.
This self-contained graphic novel is sneaky. You go in expecting a certain type of story, maybe similar to Anya’s Ghost or In Real Life and, while there’s fantastical elements, you get something more akin to This One Summer. I Kill Giants is lighter on it’s feet than Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki’s novel, all while dealing with loneliness and loss without bringing down the party. J. M. Ken Niimura’s art could be described as big, similar to Ed Mcguinness’ style of comic art, but the black and white illustrations stand without the need of bold colors. The lack of color even makes the beach seem more lonesome and magical. There’s a pacing in this book, with the writing and art, that matches superhero comics, but this is completely accessible to people who dislike capes and masks.
It’s hard to talk about I Kill Giants without giving away important moments. The ending is reliant on the book’s whole concept of truth vs. fiction, of dealing with problems or ignoring them. I could tell you about the book’s bullying or the friendship that forms, or the only guidance concealer that I’ve ever wished was real, but there’s too much that should be read without knowing the truth out the gate. I will say this book made me cry, and it might have been a while since a young adult title had that effect on me.
This seems to me like it’s been a badly written review. Take it as more of a recommendation wrapped in some rants. This book is great and should be considered essential reading for the young adult graphic medium. With a movie coming out this year, hopefully more will discover this book, because it shouldn’t be missed.
I had my wife read Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and report back to me if it was worth reading before the movie is released. She loved the book and suggested I pick it up, as it would be a quick read. This was a fortunate turn of events, because had I read the book first, I would have told her that she wouldn’t enjoy it and to just wait for the movie.
The book tells the story of the twelfth expedition into Area X, a weird part of the country that’s been abandoned by civilization and taken over by plant life and bizarre new species of animals. The narrator, referred to only as the Biologist or Ghost Bird, records her findings and past experiences into her journal, which makes up the book.
Before the Biologist began her journey, her husband had been part of the previous expedition and he may or may not have returned. The Biologist is travelling, not just for scientific understanding of Area X, but to also discover the fate of her husband.
For a short read, this book took me a long time to finish after I started it. It was dense with descriptions of the bizarre Area X, in an almost Lovecraftian level of detail. There wasn’t much of a narrative push to keep me reading, as the story is moved along by one strange finding after the other. However, the odd environment is never explained, nor are many of the findings put into context, which means much of this book is the narrator saying, “Isn’t this weird” and me just nodding my head.
The book is written in a dreamy sort of way and none of the characters act like people. Everyone seems out to kill everyone, right from the beginning and we’re never allowed to grow attached to anyone. The dialog doesn’t read like real human speech but aggressive robots. The narrator freely admits to being aloof and preferring to be alone. However, in the context of the other members of the expedition, this doesn’t pack any punch as all the characters are eerie non-humans.
I think this is why I preferred the flashback scenes between the narrator and her husband. There was no science fiction in these chapters, but against an actual human, the narrator becomes more interesting. Her husband is more outgoing and a people-person and this shines a light on the narrator. She’s frustrating but not a cold monster, she’s solitary but has heart for nature. Watching her marriage strain against the clashing personalities, alongside the husband’s departure to Area X, makes for an interesting read that the science fiction parts of the book fail to replicate.
I think, when it comes to science fiction, I either need believable science or interesting characters. Annihilation had neither. VanderMeer’s writing is too abstract while also being too detail oriented, with descriptions down to the measurements but with zero context. The characters are like ghosts of people and maybe there’s artistic merit to that style that I’m missing. I’m sure I’ve read books with characters like this before that I enjoyed, but it wasn’t the case with Annihilation. I’m still excited for the movie, but that’s more to do with Alex Garland directing it, as Ex Machina was great. My wife will continue this trilogy of novels and, maybe, she might convince me to keep reading as well. But, unless such prompting happens, I personally have no interest left.
Dead Space, both the first game and the series as a whole, is one I figured I would ignore forever. I don’t love horror, especially horror based on gore and gross monster designs. I prefer creepiness without the gore. But, for five dollars, and a better understanding that the games might be pretty good, I decided to try out the first entry.
I still wasn’t thrilled with the body horror, especially…the babies. However, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Most things are enshrouded in shadow and I was so busy shooting anything that jumped out at me, I didn’t have too much time to get grossed out. It still happened, mind you, but I made it out alive.
One thing I learned is that people have strong feelings about these games. I met fans of the series, of the lore and backstory. It almost seems like a modern Doom to some people, though the gameplay is nothing like that series in terms of speed and action. I doubt my own experience will ever go past the games, but it’s interesting to hear from the other side.
The weapons are interesting and definitely unique. Of course, I found two that I tend to stick with throughout the game. There’s little in the way of ammo, though, which I’m not a fan of. I get the suspense that supposed to come with that, but I’d prefer to have the ability to defend myself. My skills at these games are a handicap enough!
Unlearning the head-shot is tricky. I know it should do the most damage, but in Dead Space, you’re supposed to remove the limbs of the monsters. Suddenly, I’m aiming for arms to stop attacks, legs to slow them down, the head is the least of my worries. One thing I did appreciate is how scary the boss fights were. Either they were massive or just plain vicious. Plus, there was often a creative way to take them out, such as freezing them where they stand.
So, despite my misgivings, I will be playing the second game at some point. I hear it’s more action over frights, and that might be better for my tastes. Give me ammo and targets, I’ll do the rest!
Second catch up post! It’s about mysteries!
Speaking of mysteries, someone on Twitter refered to me as a clever clogs. Apparenly, it’s an “UK informal disapproving someone who shows that they are clever, in a way that annoys other people.” What that has to do with mysteries, or the Edgar Awards, which are given to mysteries, I don’t know. Why’d you bring it up?
See you next week, podcats!
Batman: Arkham Origins was a pleasant surprise. I had heard mixed things about the game, especially since it was made by a different developer. Some critiqued how scaled down it felt from Batman: Arkham City or the lack of marquee villains, like the Scarecrow or Poison Ivy. What I found, instead, is a game that was closer to what I liked about Batman: Arkham Asylum, both is size and tone.
Arkham Asylum had a focused story with a dark atmosphere, that also made the player feel claustrophobic. Batman wasn’t trapped per se, but he had to go deeper into the worst place in the world, sort of like the aggressively lonely catacombs found in Tomb Raider Anniversary. With it’s mixture of eclectic villains, crumbling architecture and plot twists, Arkham Asylum had all the makings of a classic Batman story, in any medium.
I found Batman: Arkham City to be bloated and nowhere near as intriguing as the first game and I thought I was done with the series. But, Arkham Origins brought the scale back and refocused the story, with villains that work well in the same plot. The smaller scale of Gotham City means less flapping around with no purpose. The streets themselves are emptier than in Arkham City, but the game is set during Christmas Eve and it helps contribute to the feeling of being alone on the holiday. In fact, I played it over the Christmas season for that reason, as the snow and frequent use of Christmas tunes makes this game one of the best holiday titles out there. Combine this with Batman Returns and you have a pretty great Christmas lined up!
The stealth, gadgets and combat all function as they have in previous games. Detective mode is a bit dull, as it has been throughout the series. But all the different gameplay elements work together to make something easy to play and enjoy. I’m not great at big fights in the game, but I can feel great with the mechanics. And, I’m left to wonder why Batman doesn’t have those electric gloves all the time.
I know not everyone enjoyed this entry in the series, but I found it to be my second favorite of the three I’ve played. It has real boss fights against villains I was happy to see, such as Firefly, Deathstroke and Deadshot. Heck, this game even reminded me of why Bane is such a great foe for Batman, as the character and his troupes are accurately translated from the comics, much better than in The Dark Knight Rises. Plus, I’m a big sucker for a strong Batman/Joker conversation.
In fact, I enjoyed this prequel so much, I finally purchased Batman: Arkham Knight, a title I have been avoiding due to my lackluster response to Arkham City and the PC port in general. We’ll see how that fares to my disdain of large open worlds, as Arkham Origins reminds me of how much I prefer focused, story driven games. And the viewers that stopped by all seemed to have a soft spot for this title, many of them feeling this game get’s underrated. I’m right there with them now.
Second quick update as I try to get current with the episodes on the blog.
We talk about book clubs, the benefits and such. What books the library has on the schedule and what have been favorite reads in past clubs. Mine, personally, is Station Eleven. I was worried I wasn’t going to want to talk about that book, because I loved it and I didn’t want to hear any critiques. Luckily, the club was a great discussion and I think I like the book even more having done it. Join a book club!
See you next week, podcats!