Friday, January 31, 2014

Here's a post where instead of trying to add some creative discourse to the world...

at 5:45 PM
...I talk for a million years about how hard my life has been and how proud I am to reach some shred of self-awareness in my late 20s or 30s.

And I get over 300,000 hits and retweets for it. Just kidding. I prefer living here in failure world where we talk about subjects other than our personal life and no one cares because they don't want to learn, they want to say "omg so true", "that must have been SO hard for you", "i feel empowered just by reading about ur empowerment", etc. I'm just kidding again - no one cares about this blog because it's terrible! Not because the world is stacked against me.

I'm done being sick! I'll be back on Monday to start the year in style with February. You know what they say about being late to the party! It's... in style! We'll "kick things off" with a review of the Super Bowl, then I've got some real treats in store: all those things I said I would post about last time (Dynasty Warriors, Web of Shadows, Bravely Default???, Don't Starve, Larry Sanders: The Game), maybe some Chronicles of Mystara (that's what I've been playing while I've been sick!), Funky Kong, Cranky Kong, Candy Kong, Swanky Kong, Cranky Kong, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Country 3, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong Country's Double Trouble in Panic City, etc.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

i have bronchitis this week

at 10:23 AM
that's what's happening :(

edit 1/26/14: i honestly think i'm going to die, it's not getting any better. i can barely make it to work and i sleep about 95% of the time i'm home (except when the coughing keeps me up!), i can't concentrate on anything, this sucks. god i hate being sick. looks like january is gonna be a total wash.

edit 1/28/14: i just drank some bad milk

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The anime hits the fan: 2002's Godzilla x Mechagodzilla

at 6:30 PM
Maybe it's not the post you deserve, but it's the one this city needs right now. And that I had on standby.

Godzilla here again to bring you an update: the seal has been broken on the Millennium era. In and of itself, Godzilla x Mechagodzilla isn't worth breaking out into its own review, so, you know, sorry for doing this. I ain't the one makin' you read it. It's a derivative, cheap-looking, contrived piece of fluff whose only saving grace is an initially interesting concept and decent action pacing. Like most Godzillae, there is the seed of a good idea here, an intriguing enough concept to get you excited and ready for interesting developments which sadly makes the movie feel like an absolute sham when it fails to deliver on any of that promise after the build-up. I've said before that the only universal criterion I ask of any film is that it deliver on its own terms - fulfill its own promises. Godzilla x Mechagodzilla is a perfect example of a movie that fails in that regard. The initial concept, Cyborg Mechagodzilla, is a neat proposition. A neat proposition introduced but never explored in this movie, which chose instead to be a stupid boring anime about another stupid tough-as-nails sorta-teen hero with a chip on her shoulder.

I should clarify (and refer to the Godzilla Cheat Sheet for further clarity) that GxM is actually the fourth Millennium movie chronologically (and the fourth Mechagodzilla movie overall, not that that means anything - remember, no continuity), but I chose to start here for a few reasons: 
1.) it's a fan-favorite 
2.) it introduces fan-favorite Gundam-I-mean-kaiju Kiryu, the third incarnation of Mechagodzilla 
3.) no one likes the first two Millennium movies and the premise of the third is so goddamn weird (magic) that I couldn't bring myself to start there and 
4.) I jumped around in the Heisei and Showa eras as well and it was never a problem

Right to the heart of the artichoke. I don't know who's to blame for this film's plot, but yeah, it has a Bad Problem. The second act pulls such a ridiculous switcheroo that I don't even know how to evaluate it from beginning to end. Seems like it could've been the product of weird writing/filming/directing circumstances, where something was rescripted late-game. I don't want to believe the movie I saw was the product of artistic vision. Anyway, the nutshell:

Godzilla shows up again, for the "first time" (lol) since the original movie. Some military officer, Akane, accidentally gets a bunch of other military dudes killed while vainly trying to fight him off, but luckily Godzilla decides to go away anyway (I think that's what happens? he kinda just vanishes). Cue scientist. Scientist is working on cyborg trilobites, which is awfully convenient, because he can use the same technology and CGI Godzilla bones (which are on file at The Military) to make a cyborg Godzilla. Three years pass and Cyborg-Mechagodzilla (Kiryu) is born just in time for Godzilla to return. The fight begins, but FUCK! When Godzilla roars, the organic underpinnings of Kiryu respond! They're in looOOve! No, I'm not sure the world is ready for THAT movie. Hearing the roar reminds Kiryu of his Godzilla-instincts and sets him on an uncontrollable rampage of his own. Kiryu's batteries eventually die and the world is left to ask... what do we do? Our only weapon that can fight Godzilla can be turned against us and do even more damage than the monster. Do we stick with the Mechagodzillainitiative or abandon hope?

Minor nitpick as a series fan - Godzilla has never had less personality or presence than in GxM. The movie should've been called Mechagodzilla: also featuring Sleeping Grass
I'm on board up to that point. In fact, that's a decent plot and a pretty good second act crisis (the acting and action are another story, but I was at least wanting to know what would happen). We've got a super-weapon, but the super-weapon is inherently flawed in that humanity can't use it without having it turned against us. That's not just a nuclear weapons metaphor, it works as a metaphor for war as a whole. We get a few dialogue scenes with the underutilized Prime Minister and Philosophical Young Girl with Grass Friend characters, providing lip service (with all the subtlety one would expect from a movie using a giant cyborg to tackle the subject) to heady themes like the conflict between nature, nurture, birth, and purpose; the weighty decisions involved in taking risks to defend a people; the question of who is responsible for making those decisions.

Now rolls in the Problem Train: at this moment of upheaval about halfway through, the movie about Cyborg Mechagodzilla ENDS. All of that dramatic and thematic material is neatly resolved, summarily terminated and replaced with a different movie. I don't even feel like I'm spoiling it for you to reveal that, when presented with the dilemma that Kiryu, the ultimate Godzilla-fighting weapon, cannot fight Godzilla because they are kin, the scientist says, "oh, then we'll just swap Kiryu's Godzilla-DNA with some other DNA and then he definitely won't revolt because he won't be Godzilla-like anymore". Which, of course, works perfectly. At which point it's impossible not to groan and ask to what fucking extent Kiryu is a cyborg if his DNA can just be "swapped", and, more importantly, why the fuck they bothered to use Godzilla-DNA in the first place. Oh, right - because the movie needed a second act crisis. This completely undercuts the Prime Minister's 'big moment' when he must decide whether to deploy Kiryu a second time to deal with Godzilla's return - of fucking course he will, they identified and fixed the problem 100%. This also totally undercuts the PYG w/ GF's sympathy for Kiryu's 'doubt' because apparently it was just a machine all along and didn't actually have any purpose but to kill Godzilla - the whole rebellion thing was just a glitch!

So since the primary conflict of the movie up to that point has now been resolved before the one hour mark, all we're left with is the story of Akane, the military girl pilot. She had some arc that I extremely didn't care about, like she had to learn to believe in herself or something (including a training montage), but that was stupid as shit. Yup, I watch Godzilla movies so I can see a bunch of unearned watered-down emotions C-plots with terrible acting. In the end it became a Die Hard situation where she just needed to do the most hardass thing in every situation possible and she was completely correct and invincible and action hero-y at every moment possible. She was Sylvester Stallone or Jet Li - or the Japanese equivalent, an unassuming 21-year-old girl. No more drama, no more high concept, and no interesting character to replace it. It worked OK from an action perspective, but let's not pretend that there was any possible climax to this movie that didn't have Godzilla fighting Kiryu, so whatever.

With two female main characters, gotta give props to the movie for passing the Bechdel test. That's not common for giant robot monster-fighting lazer movies. Let's see Pacific Rim do as much for feminism in 90 minutes.
An abundance of daytime shooting doesn't do anything for the effects, but it does give the film a more memorable look
The acting was pretty, uh, whatever. I thoroughly enjoyed Shin Takuma as the foppish romantic scientist and really wish he had gotten more screen time, as he was just about the only intentionally funny aspect of the movie that kept me entertained. Sadly, he was inextricably tied to that first-half cyborg plot that got dropped mid-act-two, so we lost the character and the performance entirely. Having a little kid main character is always a big risk, especially when you pair her with grass for a sidekick. Like in Godzilla vs. Hedorah, it makes a lot of scenes hard to take seriously. It's hard to criticize a little girl's acting - seems wiser just to ignore it - meaning I kinda wish the kids were just kept off-screen. "Good for her age" doesn't really equate to "makes me enjoy the movie".

Of all the aspects of Millenniumization, the special effects surprised me the most. In that they disappointed me the most. The miniatures in this movie are really miniature-looking. Greg L. mentioned that the look reminded him of (1989's) Robot Jox (reminder: GxM was made circa 2002). Mechagodzilla's rigid stance, sleek surfaces, and mechanical movements are naturally going to be harder to enliven than oraganic monsters, as even if the machine was huge, it would still look like an action figure. Still, he's got a great look and a lot of cool weaponry, and once the sun sets, the suit looks a lot better. But there's no excuse for Godzilla to be so stodgy - he's standing completely still in a number of scenes! The reluctance to animate Godzilla creates the impression that he's like... asleep for half of the movie. Or frozen. Or, you know, a model. And while we're on effects, god, did they really need to give us a Special Edition treatment of Godzilla's death from the original movie? That would've been Sny Snoodles embarrassing if the rest of the movie wasn't equally laughable. I mention the effects only because I came in expecting an upgrade from Heisei and found a movie that looks significantly worse than Godzilla vs. Destoroyah or even the far older Godzilla vs. Biollante.

Godzilla x Mechagodzilla is watchable, and if you're an avid fan of mobile suits and giant monsters, you'll probably find something to like about it. But it certainly won't make any converts. The story is a complete letdown and the action has only a few brief highlights. I don't see myself watching it again and I hope to see some of these concepts properly explored in greater depth in the series' future. Maybe the direct sequel, Tokyo S.O.S. (also featuring Akane and Kiryu) will be a bit better. I'm not optimistic. If Godzilla '14 takes off at the box office, it probably won't be long before the new run takes on Mecha-G. Here's hoping. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Andrew's 2013 GOTY People's Choice Awards Hosted By Woody Allen and His Cat

at 6:30 PM
What a year. Some of us started our careers, others traveled to distant lands to seek their fortune, and still others found talent and promise where it was least expected. The start of a new year is a time to reflect on the big and small: how much weight did I gain from Christmas/New Year's Eve/general eating habits? What am I doing with my life? How can I prioritize my video game/reading/netflix habits to optimize my entertainment utility?

I don't subscribe to New Year's resolutions, because they've never been effective for me. As someone who spends regular hours in the gym, I'm familiar enough with the new-year-rush, just as I'm familiar with the new-years-scoffing-at-the-new-years-rush. The folks doing the scoffing are *hopefully* people, like me, who at some point made going to the gym a full-fledged habit in their lives, and not just assholes who role in once a month. I go to the gym because it's something that I do. I used to avoid it, then later, looked forward to it. Now it really is just one of the few ways I spend my time; I get a very subdued satisfaction from it. Not a "wooo im being healthy and shit" feel-good moment, but a simpler and less pretentious high. All this to say that I believe there are absolutely positive changes folks can make in the new year, going to the gym more often being a classic example with which I am familiar. But I didn't start going to the gym because it was new year, I started because I didn't like how I looked and didn't like how many other people were stronger than me.

Working out, particularly weight-lifting, has taught me that we really can change things about ourselves given the right circumstances and sheer will power. Maybe not the core things, like being a generally shitty person or a kleptomaniac or something like that, but we can play around the edges. Sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, we can change our habits simply by making the decision to.

But christ is it hard. And that's why I at least can't make fun of the guy in the gym whose visits' periodicity decreases from 2 January onward. You might as well try, because even though chances are slim that whatever habit you're trying to form will stick, there's still a chance, and you're certainly not losing anything by spending a couple hours on the treadmill giving it a shot, wheezing, and looking like hell. If the start of a new calendar year gives you an excuse to role the dice on quitting smoking, or posting more on the blog, then it's as good a reason as any.

Wait what games did I like this year? Greg L. had one game, I have a few quick hits for you:

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

Not done this one yet, but it really is the most polished game I've played in quite sometime. Much of the game play is straight out of the original, but the environment is neat and pretty, the mechanics tidy, and the puzzles fall right in that sweet spot (maybe just my sweet spot) of being easy enough not to slow me down but difficult enough that you get that single second of satisfaction from figuring out how to light the cob-webs on fire, or get the crystal out of the frozen refrigerator. LM: DM really demonstrates that yes, Nintendo first party games really are all we can expect me to play on my 3DS.

Mega Man 2

I was telling Yourself I should get some badge for beating this game for the first time, welcoming me into the Classic Gamers Club for the Insecure and the Neck-bearded. Tons of fun, and really distilled for me (see LM:DM above) why a little dollop of difficulty can in fact sometimes make a game better, despite my inclinations. Plus, man is the music good. You really don't hear catchy melodies like some of the best in MM2 in games anymore; we've moved towards music that emphasizes the atmospherics of the game more than shooting for good music in and of itself. And I'm not even a particularly big fan of chip-tunes.

Mighty Switch Force

I really didn't know what to expect from this game going in, but I was pleasantly surprised. Like MM2, it's challenging without being infuriating, taking a simple mechanic to its absolute gameplay limits. With a button press you make blocks around the stage become insubstantial while instantaneously other nega-blocks (get the reference??) become safe for landing. You play a curvacious-toon she-cop hunting curvacious-toon, scantly-clad she-lawbreakers, maneuvering around the stage with timed jumps combined with timed block switches. The game does a good job of making the puzzles a good mix of thinking and....well doing, as often to successfully navigate the player must plan well in advance but also be react quickly to an unaccounted for twist. This game is cheap and absolutely worth the money. Starting the second shortly.

Yourself did a very good (he pays me to compliment him on the blog) write-up of this one closer to its release, but I'm not one to play a game near its release and I am one to write about games that have been much-discussed. I didn't get the whole point Yourself was trying to make about killing, in the game, being super-meaningful or whatever hippy bullshit he was trying to pull. What I can say is that it was a super-well done stealth game in an interesting if not cohesive (wait whats the deal with the cult and the powers and how's it tie in with every other damn thing?) world. Most of the missions, which take place episodically, were unique jaunts, and the paths to murder varied. I might actually play this one again, which I think speaks to how successfully they pull off the role playing aspects...I went all stealth the first time, I wouldn't mind experimenting more with the weapons in game.

Final Fantasy VII

Yep this is on this list. I've played a lot of JRPGs in my day, but somehow managed to avoid one of the "greats" for this long. I honestly think if I had played it at age 13, it would no question be my favorite game of all time, despite my desire to disassociate myself with anything as wildly popular as FF7. There's so much to love here and no one needs me to go through it, especially no one reading this blog. But 16 years post-release there was enough about the controls, finding my way through prerendered mazes, and back-tracking to keep it from being one of the most epic and fulfilling gaming experiences of my life. I guess it's no surprise looking at the list above, but it had been a while since FF7 since I finished a game and truly missed it with all said and done. Still though, I'm not spending hours breeding chocobos. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Monday, January 6, 2014

One more week

at 6:00 PM
As every other time after taking a planned hiatus here, I'm going to extend it one more week. See, I'd do that with my work vacation too, thing is... work. Anyway, it's better to spend my first week back getting reaccustomed to the 9-5 lifestyle than going full bore. Because, thing is, the past two weeks while I was off, I've been SLEEPING from 9am to 5pm (somehow that's my biorhythm. man college (and other post-college uh hobbies) messed me up). 

Anyway, two weeks of nocturnal gaming later, I've actually barely touched the five games I said I'd play (sorry, no Phantasy Star IV). See, I got on this huge Dynasty Warriors kick and clocked almost 35 hours between Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 and Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires, and that was an awesome thing, because I finally get that series. They're real-time strategy / fighting game hybrids, not the generic 3D melee hack-n'-slash action they're so frequently cited as. But more on that later. I was also hindered by Mark of the Ninja being way longer than I thought - where I thought I was two levels from the end, I actually still had six (increasingly difficult - and more interesting!) stages to go. I thought I was almost done a five-hour game, where in fact I was only halfway through a eight-hour one. And that back-end turned what was an interesting stealth/platforming hybrid into a terrifically memorable platformer with far more variety than I ever expected. But more on that later. I barely played Link Between Worlds because my mom gave me Journey to the West for Christmas so my handheld gaming has consisted mostly of reading. Talk about a book that's basically a video game though. But more on that vader. There was also a sale on Xbox On Demand games and Spider-man: Web of Shadows was $5, and I've wanted to play that one since it's been retroactively declared by many fans the pinnacle of Spidey-games, after being dismissed upon initial release as sloppy and half-baked at a time when there were plenty enough Spider-games to go around. It's sloppy and half-baked and has crashed on me far more times than any big-budget major publisher effort ever should, but is full of great ideas and has a faithfully Spider-man feel that elevates it beyond other adaptations. But more on that spider.

Oh right, and I got into this bad habit of trying to beat Stage 6 of Castlevania III every night. I've never been able to beat Stage 6 of Castlevania III, but it really doesn't seem that hard. So I was like, if I just keep trying, I'm sure I'll get through eventually. Around the fifth or sixth night of putting a full hour into failed attempts, I started to lose enthusiasm. 

Non-gaming media pursuits that consumed a great deal of my time included re-watching all six seasons of Larry Sanders (so, so good - definitely a show that doesn't hit you as hard til the second time through, full as it is of tiny character moments and intricate subtext), reading some comics for the first time in years (for some reason I couldn't muster the interest for Guardians of the Galaxy, but I got back into The Amazing Spider-man in no time flat, starting with 2011's "Spider Island" crossover arc), and starting Mobile Suit Gundam, which interested me as I've never seen any '70s (or pre-Akira, really) anime.