Friday, May 18, 2018

Deathsmiles part 2: The tweaks and twixes of Mega Black Label

at 6:00 AM
K got the slightly-non-scrub clear of Deathsmiles (all stages Rank 2+, beat the penultimate boss for real and beat more of the final boss than I expected (only used 3 bombs I think)). Ultimately it's definitely not a game I'd call bullet hell (**danmakuu** \'>_<'/ kawaii densetsu gaiden, senpai!! *\^o^/*) - the multiple aiming directions and handful of bullet-clearing techniques make it much more about planning how to keep bullets from piling up than about herding or tap dodging or reading geometry. In fact, sans the final two bosses, if there are ever enough bullets on screen that I'd have to go into weave mode, I just bomb. That's how rarely it happens (if you're playing decent at least). Nearly all of my character movement is with the goal of orienting my option or lining up a shot - in the final playthrough I made good use of Sakura with her reverse option, alternating locking it into place as Double or Tail. This time I was playing Mega Black Label, a mode that tweaks the scoring and adds some content but not much else (I'll be referring to the base game as "vanilla").

Before we start discussing the updates, you might want to check out my full run-down of Deathsmiles' score items and Power-Up mode. There's one detail of the base game that I left out, which is that the Overall Counter maxes out at a value of 10,000, after which all item drops will be crowns (which can still break apart into tiaras and skulls when hitting the ground). I've seen this state called "Frenzy mode", but nothing in the game or manual uses that terminology. I didn't mention that because I forgot to, but it also has no bearing on gameplay incentives - Power-Up scoring is two orders of magnitude greater than Normal even without it, and raising the Overall Counter as quickly as possible is inherently beneficial.

Mega Black Label's two biggest changes are meant to send scores into the tropoplosphere: first, Power-Up can be deployed at any Item Counter value above 500, and second, the Overall Counter is never reset. The scoring is so inflated that the second extend now sits at 300 million, far above my top All-Clear score for vanilla. Better still, the Overall Counter is now displayed directly below the Item Counter (just like I suggested in my previous post!). There's also a new playable character, a new optional Chapter 4 stage, and Rank 999, a fourth selectable difficulty alternative for each stage.  I'm not going to go into the new content, but I ought to note that playing stages on the highest available rank is necessary to maximize score, because higher rank means more enemies, and more enemies means more items. Since I'm interested only in scoring within the confines of a 1CC, I pick stage rank based on what I think I can (learn to) survive, and work on score only after.

Into the weeds on the first point first: the lower threshold for Power-Up. Transparently, this opens up a lot more flexibility in planning where to deploy the transformation, and it likewise makes doing so less costly. It's quicker to charge and it's quicker to recharge. This has obvious survival utility (Power-Up still boosts attack and clears bullets when transitioning), but also allows burning off some Item Counter value before a big item flow is known to be coming up to provide a refill (for instance, I know the ogres in Chapter 5 are going to spill gallons of items, so I make sure I'm always coming up to them on empty). At the same time, there are new costs to consider. Fever mode, which you'll recall lasts as long as the Item Counter is kept at 1000, remains unchanged - from Item Counter values of 500 to 999, the player character remains in Normal mode, despite Power-Up now being available. And if the transformation is triggered in this range, the Item Counter will immediately drop to 500 and count down from there, meaning any progress toward Fever is lost and the transformation duration is artificially shortened. Because of that counterbalance, it's still worthwhile to think ahead to get the most out of the Item Counter.

This wouldn't be as meaningful if the Overall Counter was resetting to 0 at each of these refills, as it was previously established that OC is the driver of exponential scoring. A shortened Power-Up would mean lesser Overall Counter values and probably wouldn't be very consequential. Likely with that in mind, Mega Black Label drops the Overall Counter reset (that in vanilla Deathsmiles occurs at the end of Power-Up) and also drops the cap value of 10,000. Now the Overall Counter is free to grow and grow throughout the entire run of a game, ramping up the suspension of a scoring run while also sacrificing most of its atomic nature. Although it's value is preserved throughout, it's still only active (i.e. applied to item pick-ups and able to grow) during Fever or Power-Up modes. If the player loses a life, the Overall Counter takes a big hit (maybe 30%? hard to track precisely during gameplay). More significantly, for the entire duration of boss battles the value quickly drains. Bosses need to be killed as quickly as possible or milked for items (which is only possible in Power-Up) to keep the counter up. This also seems to discourage the all-Fever style of play I briefly mentioned in the previous write-up.

These changes are interesting, but as my descriptions probably convey, I haven't fully wrapped my head around the best ways to use them. More flexible planning is ultimately more complex planning, and the full playthrough suspension of the Overall Counter throws massive flux into potential scores. I remarked about the vanilla game that you can completely blow a stage and still get consistent results in the next - that's no longer the case in Mega Black Label. There's more happening in parallel, more choices available at every point and more potential for tradeoffs, all making it harder to identify where one strategy is outperforming another. At some level of play I could see myself enjoying this granularity, but at the moment I find it more satisfying experimenting with routes and timing my Power-Ups in vanilla, getting that more straightforward feedback.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Average franchise running times

at 7:00 AM
This is from an old email, but I wouldn't want to lose it. Given that Superman movies always have to be so fucking long, I was curious which of the all-time great franchises (and Batman) are most distended.

Friday the 13th: 92 minutes over 12 films (natch-o)
Rambo: 97 minutes over 4 films (the "epic" Rambo III clocks in at 101 minutes)
PotApes: 108 minutes over 8 films (97 for the original run, 127 for the reboot trilogy)
Star Trek: 116 minutes over 13 films
Die Hard: 121 minutes over 5 films (you'd figure these were shorter, but 3 is brokenly long and 4 & 5 are modern movies)
Alien: 125 minutes over 6 films (118 if you count the AVPs)
Star Wars: 134 minutes over 8 films (surprisingly - the prequels feel so insubstantial for their >140-minute run times)
Batman: 135 minutes over 9 films (142 if you exclude the 76-minute Mask of the Phantasm)

and the winner is, naturally...
Superman: at 137 minutes over 7 films. Although it was quite a tight contest for a moment there.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A review of Deathsmiles' scoring

at 12:00 PM
This isn't a guide to scoring in Deathsmiles, nor is it a review of Deathsmiles. It's just an attempt to reconstruct the scoring system as a big picture that is neither as cryptic as the manual nor as prescriptive as a guide.

When it comes to score in modern arcade shooters, the classic question is always "does it really need that many zeroes?". When I started playing Deathsmiles, I was reaching the final boss with scores around 3 million, wondering why the extends were sitting up at 20 and 45 million. After taking a few minutes to read the manual, I was instantly able to adjust my play such that I was grabbing both extends and reaching that same finale with scores over 50 million. What's odd about this is that it didn't at all involve dying less or killing more enemies, and barely even affected my routes on screen - the initial change was completely orthogonal to the core survival challenge of the game.

Scoring in Deathsmiles is driven entirely by the collection of point items dropped by enemies; drastic variability in scoring derives from the player's ability to determine how many points each item is worth. This stems from a transformation dynamic; in Normal state, the player will be collecting items worth hundreds of points, and thus only total a six- or seven-digit score (hundreds of thousands or millions). In the transformed state, aka Power-Up Mode, the same items are worth thousands and tens of thousands, and will thus accumulate to eight- or nine-digits (tens or hundreds of millions). Therefore, scoring in a Normal state will be completely drowned out by Power-Up scoring and ultimately does not matter. A single 30-second burst of Power-Up at the beginning of stage 2C (the volcano) can score twenty times as much as an entire single-credit playthrough without it, and serves as a good illustration of how useful this technique can be (incidentally, the manual points out this location explicitly).

Anyway, the way it works is that you have an Item Counter, 0-1000. Picking up point items dropped by killing enemies increases the counter; when it reaches 1000*, press B to go into Power-Up Mode. While powered up, the counter gradually decreases, and at 0 the player returns to Normal. There is no way to prematurely exit the state, but it (and the counter value) do carry over between levels (i.e., if the player kills a boss in Power-Up with their counter at 350, they will start the next stage in Power-Up with their counter decreasing from 350). The Power-Up state lasts about 30 seconds, during which: 1.) player shot coverage and damage is substantially increased 2.) collecting items will not increase the Item Counter, and 3.) the score value of items is compounded with an additive modifier (Overall Counter) which continues to increase as more items are collected, thus creating an exponential effect (each item increases the score AND increases the value of the next item). The modifier, Overall Counter, doesn't exist outside Power-Up and is reset to 0 each time Power-Up ends*; it's therefrom implied that this modifier, and thus the quantity of items collected during Power-Up, is the key to scoring.

As long as the Item Counter sits at full (waiting to be deployed for Power-Up), the player character will be in Fever Mode. In this state, all enemies drop crowns (the most valuable point item). The Overall Counter also becomes active, but builds very slowly. Fever Mode does not affect any gameplay aspect outside of score, and will continue indefinitely as long as the player doesn't Power-Up or take damage. It mostly acts as a way to prime the Overall Counter while waiting for a planned transformation opportunity; there isn't any strong incentive to stay in Fever (it scores worse and leaves the character weaker than Power-Up), and the incentive to reach it is redundant with the incentive to reach Power-Up*. That said, supposedly the proest of the pros play the entire game in Fever and never use Power-Up, benefiting off the long-term Overall Counter growth.

The type and number of point items dropped by an enemy is determined by the enemy type and which weapon it's killed with - rapid, focus, or lock-on shot. Each enemy has a defined 'weakness' that has to be discovered via experimentation; that is, a specific shot type that generates extra items (rather than doing extra damage). You'll usually see dozens of instances of each enemy in its given habitat, so deducing weaknesses isn't too hard until things get frantic at the end (actually remembering them can be a bit tougher - and I would swear a few enemies have different drops for different player characters). Of course, there are also practical/survival incentives for using different shot types, so this sets up a balancing act for the player. (Mushihimesama Futari has a similar, simpler system: when the item counter is Blue, use focus fire to get the most items, when it's Green, use rapid fire; the color alternates at fixed counter values).

There are three types of point items of increasing value: skulls, tiaras, and crowns, the last of which only appear in Fever or Power-Up modes. Items fall to the ground from the point where they're spawned; upon landing, the larger items break into a multitude of skulls. Each item collected adds to two independent sums simultaneously: the player's score and the Item Counter (in Normal state) or the Overall Counter (in Fever or Power-Up)*. Probably the most confusing aspect of the game is that a collected item adds a different value to each of the aforementioned sums, e.g. a skull adds (+1) to the Item Counter, (+100+OverallCounter) to score, and something like (+log(OverallCounter)) to the Overall Counter, while a tiara adds (+5) to the Item Counter, (+800+OverallCounter) to score, and the same (+log(OverallCounter)) to the Overall Counter. So at an Overall Counter value of 250, three skulls = 3*(100+250) = 1050 are worth the same amount of points as a single tiara = 1*(800+250) = 1050, and are worth three times (3*(log(250) compared to 1*(log(250))as much to the Counter itself, which will increase the value of the next pickup. Since a tiara breaks into three skulls upon hitting the ground, this means that in Fever or Power-Up, it's better to let it break apart before collection - i.e., the highest quantity of items drives the highest score.

It's definitely complicated, but it's not AS complicated as it at first seems, due to the confusing presentation. The Item Counter should just be a super meter, because presenting a number so prominently suggests that the numerical value matters, which it does not (all the player needs to know is whether it's full and how soon it will be); the Overall Counter should be named something like Item Bonus, because it does not count anything "overall", in fact doesn't really count (the rate at which it increases is exponential), and sounds too much like Item Counter; the Overall Counter should be displayed where the Item Counter* is such that the player can actually read it (presently it's displayed as a +XXXX next to the item acquired, meaning it's in the middle of the gameplay area and somewhat hard to track), and enemies should somehow indicate that you killed them with the correct weapon (e.g. in MushiF, using the right weapon generates large gems and the wrong one small gems. In Deathsmiles it's more like the weakness gives you 3 crowns and 2 skulls, and the wrongness gives you 5 tiaras, so you need to mentally track your expected reward while determining weapon choice).

Overall it's well done, if maybe a little too meta-level for my tastes. It all comes down to deploying Power-Up at the right time, something that carries over between levels and therefore creates suspension (especially with a level select in play), yet also is self-contained enough that the barrier for entry to experimentation is low (you can totally butcher or totally ace the early stages and still get consistent results later). Contrary to my first impression, the counters do tie survival strategies to scoring, both because they can be exchanged for weapon power and because the type-weakness aspect of enemies is a counterpoint to which weapon might seem practically useful. The stage design is a bit monotonous and the bosses are too easy until they're too hard, but turning up the rank helps a little. Still, it's the abstract systems that drive a game like this, not the design.

*See MBL

Friday, April 20, 2018

MYASS in the meantime: 2017

at 2:24 AM
GALAXY QUEST (1999)
Dean Parisot / Robert Gordon, David Howard
"If not the best Star Trek film, certainly the most adoring of the fans and characters"

ALIEN (1979)
Ridley Scott / Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett
"The detached menace of the first half roughly adjoins with the pedestrian slashing of the second, although I fear my overexposure to the franchise diminishes the impact of what on paper should be a lot more thrilling"

SATURN 3 (1980)
Stanley Donen / Martin Amis
"PFOG (pretty fucking objectionable garbage), although some of the man vs. machine chess bits are kind of hilarious, as is the ominous presence of my one true nemesis, Brainbot"

PROMETHEUS (2012)
Ridley Scott / Damon Lindelof
"If this is intended as a white-hot dump on the face of everyone ever to adore a creation that owes more to Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett, and H.R. Giger than it does to Shitly Scott, it supremely achieves that goal. If it is intended as a white-hot dump on the face of everyone ever to adore intellectual science fiction brazenly pillaged to found the career of Shitly Scott, it supremely achieves that goal. If it is intended as a white-hot dump on the face of everyone ever to adore summer blockbusters, monster movies, and pulp sci-fi, it supremely achieves that goal. I will be shocked if I see a movie in 2017 that despises its audience and begs to be despised as openly as this*."

*See Star Wars: The Last Jedi

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 (2017)
Chad Stahelski / Derek Kolstad
"Pencil etc."

DRAGONSLAYER (1981)
Matthew Robbins / Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins
"Solid adventure that spends just enough time milking the Star Wars model before swinging into a daikaiju eiga with unique air-to-ground magic monster battles"

LOGAN (2017)
James Mangold / Scott Frank, Michael Green, James Mangold
"A reflection on Shane no more fantastic in its superhuman trappings than the fairy tale manifestation of gunslingers in the old West; successfully tragic rather than simply grim"

SCANNERS (1981)
David Cronenberg / David Cronenberg
"More fantasy than science fiction, too concerned with its concept and plot for its failure to ground them in characters, themes, or visuals worth caring about"

CLASS OF 1984 (1982)
Mark Lester / Tom Holland, Mark Lester, John Saxton
"DEATH WISH in a high school with the nastier morality that implies, effective enough as a downward spiral arc to back up the novelty of the setting"

KING KONG (1933)
Merian Cooper, Ernest Shoedsack / James Creelman, Ruth Rose
"More violent and action-packed than you'd imagine, more forebodingly atmospheric than you'd imagine, more movie in 100 minutes than you could possibly imagine"

KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)
Jordan Vogt-Roberts / Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly, Dan Gilroy
"Competent but impersonal and overstuffed with bland characters, reliant on far too many cliches from the wrong genre to ever pull through as the monster movie triumph glimpsed in the action sequences"

I DON'T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE (2017)
Macon Blair / Macon Blair
"A combination of indie character study and exploitation thrills that someone else reminds me is basically the idea of early Coen Brothers, still human enough to feel fun in its quiet moments and brutal in its violence"

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017)
James Gunn / James Gunn
"Visually, a perfect impression of space adventuring in a Kirby world"

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
Alfred Hitchcock / Ernest Lehman
"Status = earned. Brilliantly aggressive and precarious set pieces thrust you right in the characters' shoes"

THE HITCHER (1986)
Robert Harmon / Eric Red
"Gutting, menacing, choking, strangling"

ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)
Ridley Scott / Michael Green, Dante Harper, John Logan, Jack Paglen
"Hey look I was wrong, I saw another movie that hates its audience as much as PROMETHEUS, shockingly aping that dumpster fire in every last detail while pathetically insisting how much better we must certainly like it (but xenomorph! but riploff! but fuck you ridders)"

ALIEN 3 [assembly cut] (1992)
David Fincher / Larry Ferguson, David Giler, Walter Hill, Vincent Ward
"Bombastic performances and overbearing setting on par with previous entries, it's actually pretty excellent if you can forgive the boring iteration of the monster and a wonky second act structure"

AVP: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004)
Wes Anderson / Wes Anderson, Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett
"Playful in just the right way, never taking itself seriously while still bursting with excitement at its own existence, it's only too bad they skimped on the gore fundamental to both franchises"

ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997)
Jean-Pierre Jeunet / Joss Whedon
"Why do people hate this movie? It's funny, creepy, and innovative, building on the alien in huge ways while laughing at how far it's come"

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)
Matt Reeves / Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
"Re-centering the apes is much appreciated, and the movie works as an action thriller, but it's criminal (both as a finale and as a film with that title, and that trailer, and that poster) that it fails to deliver any kind of war between men and apes"

The following 11 movies were watched as part of the popular social media dare, "Summer with the Seventies Auteur Challenge".

SORCERER (1977)
William Friedkin / Walon Green
"Possibly a new top 10 movie: fresh and impressive concept, grim as hell but able to establish enough character investment that you can't avert your eyes"

TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1972)
Amando de Ossorio / Amando de Ossorio
"Distinguishing imagery and concept with the skeleton vampire zombies and all, but kinda a boring movie overall, much too Mediterranean B for my taste (lesbos and all)"

ERASERHEAD (1977)
David Lynch / David Lynch
"Appreciably weird and claustrophobic for the first third, but pretty straightforward too, like a nightmare expressionist fairytale. Gets really boring once it locks itself in its room"

LANCELOT DU LAC (1974)
Robert Bresson / Robert Bresson
"More a series of Baroque paintings than a motion picture, an invitation to detail, speculation, and reflection that probably only gives as much as you're willing to put into it. But damn, for me that was a lot"

A NEW LEAF (1971)
Elaine May / Elaine May
"Pretty funny as these things go, solid premise, May herself is sorta like a Woody Allen character but adorable where he'd be pathetic. The whole thing feels a little 'off', like the timing isn't quite right or something (and Mathau in particular feels like an alien badly programming a robot as a human impression), but occasionally that pays into the dryness of the humor"

THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975)
Sydney Pollack / David Rayfiel, Lorenzo Semple Jr.
"Hard to beat as a spy thriller, with just the right blend of stomach-churning disorientation and methodical intrigue, and some killer performances to seal the deal"

AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972)
Werner Herzog / Werner Herzog
"I have a hard time articulating how I feel about this movie - Herzog is, as ever, operating at a guttural level, below words; striking before thoughts can form into sentences"

THE LONG GOODBYE (1973)
Robert Altman / Leigh Brackett
"For all the thrilling strangeness of this summer, this might be the finest movie, just an old-fashioned detective in over his head, conniving and broken humans everywhere he turns. The epitome of what Hollywood does right. Also, Arnold in a speedo - with a mustache"

EL TOPO (1970)
Alejandro Jodorowsky / Alejandro Jodorowsky
"Yeah I mean it's weird and all but what's the point? Of the many gruelingly nihilistic movies of Summer 70s, El Topo stood out in its unflinching desire to fuck itself up at regular intervals, interrupt any possible thematic threads or arc by supplanting the contents. It seems to really badly want me to question my reality or some shit and it's just annoying New Age junk. Too idiosyncratic to be a bad movie - just a really tiresome and unpleasant one"

ZARDOZ (1974)
John Boorman / John Boorman
"THIS is weirdness that works. It has fun with itself, it challenges the viewer by bringing them to new places rather than blowing things up. The visuals are gimmicky at times but originally surreal (shit like a guy who is old on his left half and young on his right is great); the inspiration lies far from Bresson but it's up to the same tricks, using images rather than words to convey story"

LET IT BE (1970)
Michael Lindsay-Hogg / (documentary)
"This is what it is and staunchly refuses to be anything more, a glance at the songwriting and recording process of the Beatles carefully denuded of drama or conflict, yet not manufactured or revisionist. It suggests a band past its breaking point, into the region where no one cares enough to pretend anymore, yet still honors the suicide pact and makes great - inwardly-directed - music along the way"

KWAIDAN (1964)
Masaki Kobayashi / Yoko Mizuki
"Kobayashi's penchant for bleak commentary pairs excellently with ghost story amorality, the missing lessons hanging as caustic indictments as well as playful shocks. The imagery moves from nightmarishly anti-linear in the first story to classically precise in the third, grounded in fantasy equal with history and never quite like anything else"

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1985)
Jon Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller / a bunch, look it up
"Never gels at all as an anthology (the polar opposite of Kwaidan), and Spielberg churns out some real tripe that evidences not only is he unable to get out of his own ass for long enough to grasp a concept as simple as The Twilight Zone, but that he's also willing to take a huge shit in front of people who can. Landis' segment is fine, toothless thanks to behind-the-scenes events but not a great concept to start. Dante's is bonkers, an amazing short film with a cartoon fascination unmistakable for anyone else (and some wonderfully weird performances to match). Miller's is great too, not especially close to his other work but on the Beyond Thunderdome side thanks to a Spielbudget, wringing horror and hilarity from John Lithgow's sweat and actually managing to make the gremlin scary"

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)
Tommy Lee Wallace / Tommy Lee Wallace
"Fantastic material for bad movie night, bad in so many orthogonal ways and supremely weird and pointless - Stonehenge robots use Halloween masks to kill America? Because The True Spirit of Halloween???"

VERSUS (2000)
Ryuhei Kitamura / Ryuhei Kitamura, Yudai Yamaguchi
"A pretty whimsical diversion with some great Three Stooges slapstick that builds into something way more serious and tedious than it should've been; doesn't help that it looks like the high school adaptation of Moby Dick I shot in the woods down the street from my parents' house"

THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1921)
Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton / Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
"It's Keaton - watching him monkey climb over a banister and slide down magic stairs is all the reward you could ask for, plus 10 manic minutes of every fake haunting gag ever done"

THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)
Tobe Hooper / Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
"Still rules"

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)
Nathan H. Juran / Kenneth Kolb
"One can never get enough Harryhausen, here all over the map for inspiration (a standard Greek cyclops, a Vishnu-snake, a two-headed vulture (Roc), a wingless dragon (?), and, of course, a skeleton), but tied to a story with just enough momentum that it never really matters"

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)
David Villaneuve / Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
"Thankfully not at all concerned with being a thematic repeat of Blade Runner, this is genuinely heady scifi, thoroughly attached to the investigation of what identity means in a post-birth world. Indulgent but never remotely boring, and always gorgeous"

THE RAID 2 (2014)
Gareth Evans / Gareth Evans
"A lot bloodier than the first one (crushed heads, gouged eyes, ripped throats), and quite a bit more operatic too (son betrays father because he was tricked by the artist formerly known as Prince!), but also laying heavier into the exploitation (ninja baseball batman). The first one wasn't really fun, but this is pretty seriously not-fun, banking more on the awe and shock created by violence of such scale. Obviously it's Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais and it works fucking great"

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016)
Taika Waititi / Taika Waititi
"Waititi has a lean way with jokes such that even when they're not hysterical, they're always doing something, developing characters or advancing the plot or carefully setting the pace - and more often than not they're hysterical. So he can actually tell a story in a comedy without diverting from the humor. It's like traveling back to the first 60 years of Hollywood cinema when this tactic was common knowledge"

CASABLANCA (1942)
Michael Curtiz / Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch
"If you think about it, this is really just a run of the mill romcom. But in the tradition of the best '40s films, it projects an individual headspace into a world, an internal conflict reflected in every detail of character and mise en scene. And the dialogue is just, Christ. I don't get why we can't have dialogue like this anymore. Why do everyone have to talk like a retard now?"

MAN OF STEEL (2013)
Zack Snyder / David S. Goyer
"Kinda incomprehensible at times and so breathless none of the story gets air, but worth it for the uniquely raw, violent take on Superman, more akin to Invincible than Action Comics"

SUPERMAN III (1983)
Richard Lester / David Newman & Leslie Newman
"Not as awful as it is painfully misconceived as a comic misadventure only coincidentally involving Superman (and reality); moreover, not funny"

SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987)
Sidney J. Furie / Lawrence Conner & Mark Rosenthal
"Ball-clutchingly terrible in spectacularly visible ways, from the horrifying wires attached to Superman's costume to Nuclear Man's silver-painted nails to Lenny Luthor's shrieking antics; an effective palette cleanser to the frustratingly wrong but competent III and a delightfully campy franchise development on the order of Hellraiser 3 or Nelm Street 2"

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976)
Nicolas Roeg / Paul Mayersberg, based on the novel by Walter Tevis
"Pathologically elliptical in performance as much as plot, captivatingly mysterious if a bit overlong, with Bowie as an ineffably alien centerpiece and Rip Torn lurking around the fringes, never asking as many questions as we want"

STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
George Lucas / Georgie Boy Lucas
"Somehow I forgot how deleterious Jar Jar is to the first half of the film, in which his antics punctuate every last line of dialogue - then again, forgotten moments work surprisingly well, like the quiet dinner before the pod race. Shame the home video edit fluffs up the pod race with boring shit that destroys the pace."

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) 
Zack Snyder / David S. Goyer, Chris Terrio, etc.
"Real good, even Luthor"

DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)
George A. Romero / George A. Romero
"A step forward conceptually, stepping past survival to the fight to reverse the zombie plague, though too shrill to be fully entertaining and too one-sided to work as satire. Claustrophobic underground setting is a great addition."

STAR WARS EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)
George Lucas / George Lucas, Jonathan Hales
"Not quite as awful as I remember, with a solitary great action scene and a great sense of color and costume"

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017)
Rian Johnson / Rian Johnson
"The most boring, unoriginal, contemptuous, and out of place addition to the franchise. Occasional great bits, and more tedious than awful, but a seriously trying attitude and sense of importance and rage (rather than fun) that makes the prospect of revisitation incredibly unappealing."

SUPERGIRL (1984)
Jeannot Szwarc / David Odell
"Too incomprehensible to be as good-bad as IV and a terrible slog at two hours, easily the low point of the franchise"

STATISTICS
Total -51
"Auteur" movies - 17
Most frequent director - Ridley Scott
Most frequent writer - Michael Green
Most frequent franchise - Alien (watched 6, all but Aliens and AVP2)
2017: 9
2010s: 13
2000s: 3
1990s: 3
1980s: 11
1970s: 14
1960s: 1
1950s: 2
1940s: 1
1930s: 1
1920s: 1

TOP FIVE:
The Long Goodbye
Kwaidan
Lancelot du Lac
Sorcerer
King Kong
Casablanca
Aguirre: The Wrath of God
Narrowing it down any further than that would be completely arbitrary.

BOTTOM FIVE:
Alien: Covenant
Prometheus
Saturn 3
"Kick the Can", Steven Spielberg's segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Friday, April 13, 2018

MYASS in the meantime: The 2016 in movies

at 4:57 PM
HÄXAN (1922)
Christensen / Christensen
"Way overhyped with only a scene's worth of Slayer material, still a bizarre window into the history of filmmaking ideas"

HIGHLANDER 2 (1991)
Mulcahy / Bellwood
"In-goddamned-comprehensible, but not particularly terrible as a sword action endeavor, however pointless coming off Highlander"

THE GREAT YOKAI WAR (2006)
Miike / Miike, Sawamura, Itakura
"Pretty coolfunny kids' fantasy adventure with some very coolfunny monsters that works even better if you've played Ganbare Goemon! [this is because at one point in the movie I recognized the exclamation 'ganbare!']" - Yourself

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966)
Leone / Leone, Vincenzoni, Age, Scarpelli
"There are two kinds of people in this world: people who love this movie, and people who can suck a dead donkey dick.

Alright that was crass, I actually had a real observation on this viewing which is that the movie is more of an episodic fun-times Civil War horror adventure than a society-thoughts chockataw Western" - Yourself

EXCALIBUR (1981)
Boorman / Pallenberg & Boorman
"As visually striking a rendition of the Arthur legend as you're going to get thanks to sets defining a murky, cryptic past and the crazy armor more appropriate for Monster Hunter; the legitimizing theatrical performances include comically minor roles for the likes of Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, and Helen Mirren."

THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011)
Evans / Evans (although the idea of this having a writer is p. lol)
"Like an adrenaline shot packed with lots of smaller adrenaline shots stabbed straight into your brain" - Yourself

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)
Romero / Romero
"Two Romeros deep it's hard to see the forest for the Liberal Academic's Glossary of Stereotypes; I don't know whether to blame my close-mindedness or Ebert's, but neither makes me feel enjoyment or intellectual pursuit" - Yourself

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
Kubrick / Clarke & Kubrick
"The scene on the moon is one of the genuinely scariest things in motion picture history and that's from someone watching the film for the third time" - Yourself

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR (1967)
The Beatles / The Beatles
"Less than an utterly incompetent attempt to make a movie: an attempt to make an utterly incompetent movie - at no point does anything marginally resembling a point surface, and the production quality makes you feel depressed about The Beatles is a way that no such enviable group could possibly deserve" - Yourself

THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)
Hooper / Henkel & Hooper
"After this faceplant into animal filth and human remains, sausage did seem gross for almost an entire day" - Yourself

Let me interject upon myself for a moment: it's interesting revisiting these horror classics with so many years of interstitial guts and gore piled upon the brain. It's always difficult to trust critical perspectives of what is transgressive or unsettling because they are built upon so many silent assumptions not just of the viewer or their culture, but the relationship between. It's not as simple as placing oneself in the 1970s - one must understand who they would be in the 1970s.

Some movies - here, CHAIN SAW - can hold up absolutely 100%, feeling like they were made yesterday and disturbing to the core, so uniformly that the only possible conclusion is that every necessary element of thought and meaning is there onscreen - that the images and sounds take complete control of your brain - while others can seem so familiar, so good-natured and gentle and puckish in their explorations that the great gulf between the conception of self and effect, despite unflinching execution, must rely almost exclusively on an ingrained personal relationship to visually portrayed fictional violence. Perhaps this is a way of qualifying a true horror film, that it entirely internally defines a reality and the gross violations thereof, where, by contrast, if DAWN OF THE DEAD is not expired, its value as horror surely was only a tool, something existing explicitly as a handle for the severity of the subtext therein.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
Craven / Craven
"

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY'S REVENGE (1985)
Sholder / Chaskin
"

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS (1987)
Russell / Craven, Wagner, Darabont, Russell
"

THE BEYOND (1981)
Fulci / Fulci, Mariuzzo, Sacchetti
"

AMERICAN NINJA (1985)
Firstenberg / Mielche, Amir, Kleinberger
"

13 ASSASSINS (2011)
Miike / Tengan
"

MIAMI CONNECTION (1987)
Park, Kim / Park, Kim, Diamond
"

GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973)
Fukuda / Kimura, Sekizawa, Fukuda
"

STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991)
Meyer / Meyer, Flinn
"

CONGO (1995)
Marshall / Shanley
"

BULWORTH (1998)
Beatty / Beatty, Pikser
"Warren Beatty raps about life and how white liberals aren't all they're cracked up to be, from the POV of a white liberal"

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976)
Pakula / Goldman
"Doesn't have the right stakes to work as a thriller, but as formal composition I don't know where to start admiring (or when to stop)"

GODZILLA, MOTHRA, AND KING GHIDORAH: GIANT MONSTERS ALL OUT ATTACK (2001)
Kaneko / Hasengawa, Yokotani, Kaneko
"

THE BIG SLEEP (1946)
Hawks / Chandler
"After this faceplant into animal filth and human remains, sausage did seem gross for almost an entire day" - Yourself

RABBIT HOLE (2010)
Mitchell / Lindsay-Abaire
"Maybe a bit too much of a feelsie-weelsie but it worked on me, and I'm not the kinda person to watch dramas"

THE IMITATION GAME (2014)
Tyldum / Moore
"While it's difficult to determine if this is more insulting to the brilliant pioneer of computer science or the world hero betrayed by his homeland, it's easy to say it sucks more dick than Alan Turing could've ever dreamed to" - Yourself

CASINO ROYALE (2006)
Campbell / Purvis, Wade, Haggis
"The new James Bond kicks major ass when it comes to it but the poker stuff is so much longer than you're ready for, every single time"

THE ACT OF KILLING (2012)
Oppenheimer
"Incredible on fiction and history, in a way everyone should be forced to process"

CASINO ROYALE (1954)
"Functional, and a neat look at television in the First Golden Age, but not much to see for a modern viewer (unless you want thorough instructions for playing baccarat)"

SHIN GODZILLA (2016)
Anno, Higuchi / Anno
"A spectacle of grim hopelessness not matched since the original film (or GMK if I'm feeling generous), this is the first movie that made me hate Godzilla, in a good way"

HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980)
Mattei / Fragasso
"I was skeptical a film could ever make me uncomfortable through process alone, but that's exactly what Hell accomplishes with its shameless repurposing of genuine funeral stock footage as a zombie outbreak"

THE BLOB (1988)
Russell / Darabont
"

CHILDREN OF THE CORN 3: URBAN HARVEST (1995)
Hickox / Levenson
"

THE EXORCIST (1974)
Friedkin / Blatty
"

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)
Russo, Russo / Markus, McFeely
"Snippets of solid Cap action interspersed with lifeless CGI battles and a plot that can't commit to the severity of its concept"

MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939)
Capra / Buchman
"A more fitting parable for the 2016 election you won't find, though the conclusion (of either) doesn't leave one with too many warm fuzzies"

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)
Chaffey / Rhodios
"Damn cool movie that everyone should see"

METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SNAKE EATER (2004)
Kojima / Kojima, Fukushima, Murata
"The series starts to seriously spin out of control as its thematic aim is raised above the personal to the global level - the earnest attempt at framing history drowns in a spluttering climax and deadly serious allegory"

FIRST BLOOD (1982)
Kotcheff / Kozoll, Sackheim, Stallone
"An all-consuming thriller, frequently discomfiting with its violence, all the obvious Vietnam Symbolism doesn't make it any less grueling for an action movie"

CASINO ROYALE (1967)
I refuse to list every credited director/writer. Like a million.
"Goddamn insane and hilarious, never even remotely boring; a feature-length insult to human intelligence, and a great way to blow it all up on New Year's Eve"

TOP FIVE (not counting re-viewings):
Jason and the Argonauts
All the President's Men
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The Raid: Redemption

BOTTOM FIVE:
Hell of the Living Dead
The Imitation Game
Metal Gear Solid 3
Magical Mystery Tour
Godzilla vs. Megalon
You know your bottom five is truly miserable when Casino Royale '67 doesn't make the cut.

So there it is! 2016 in movies! Lot of interesting stuff in there, lot of filling in gaps. If I took anything away from this year, it's that I should watch more thrillers, more classic modern horror, and more New Hollywood.