Hope all of you are doing well in this new year so far! Now that the Oscars are around the corner, I’ve been running around attempting to see and review all of the nominations. As a result, when it comes to reviewing games, I had to make a lot of last-minute changes. I intend to complete everything I set out to do in short order, though.
Films watched in January 2019:
- If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, 2018)
- Free Solo (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin, 2018)
- Green Book (Peter Farrelly, 2018)
- Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer Dexter Fletcher, 2018)
- Hiroshima mon amour (Alain Resnais, 1959)
- Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975)
- Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
- 8½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)
I kicked off the new year by seeing If Beale Street Could Talk in theaters. It was a good effort on Barry Jenkins’s part, but ultimately not the coup that Moonlight was. My first home viewing of the year saw me check out the French New Wave classic Hiroshima mon amour. Having seen Michael Haneke’s Amour back in 2013 and enjoying Emmanuelle Riva’s stellar performance, it was very interesting getting to see one of her earliest roles. In the year’s first weekend, I got to see Free Solo – the documentary about Alex Honnold’s daring attempt to scale El Capitan. It was incredible seeing a significant piece of history in the making. Getting to see this film on the big screen was something else; don’t be surprised if you end up getting vertigo watching it.
This January proved to be much more of a dump month than January of 2018. As such, I only got to see one film the following weekend: Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon. I was inspired to watch it after Mr. Wapojif wrote a piece on it. It was great – certainly not what I was expecting.
The following week, got around to seeing Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil. I got a copy shortly after seeing Citizen Kane last year, but for whatever reason, I didn’t get around to seeing it until this past month. Either way, I’ve seen it now, and it is unquestionably a classic.
After that, the Oscar nominations were announced. This selection of nominees was decidedly unusual in that two of them scored far below 70% on Rotten Tomatoes. Though I’ve acknowledged the problems with Rotten Tomatoes in the past, it’s still the main method by which I learn about these films. Because of their middling/poor scores, three of the nominees, Green Book, Vice, and Bohemian Rhapsody, wound up slipping underneath my radar, so the final week of January had me scrambling to see them all (though I haven’t gotten a chance to see Vice yet).
I decided to start off with Green Book. Many films from 2018 attempted to tackle the subject of race relations, and Green Book was neither the best nor the worst in that regard. The next day, I saw Bryan Singer’s Dexter Fletcher’s Bohemian Rhapsody. As a music fan, I have to comment that it’s an example of a film that is good in parts, but ultimately too flawed to recommend. Specifically, its short length doesn’t do the subject justice. I heard somebody reviewing the film commenting that it needed to be a miniseries to fully illustrate the band’s story, and I would be inclined to agree. Finally, I ended the month by seeing Federico Fellini’s classic 8½. I have seen a lot of films about films over the years, and this one is definitely worth looking into, being a surreal comedy that reminded me of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.
Films reviewed, but not watched in January 2019:
BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)
In some respects, I can get behind what Mr. Lee was going for with BlacKkKlansman. There are a lot of films that go for the feel-good approach when handling touchy subjects such as race relations, and when handled poorly, it comes across as disingenuous. However, I ultimately liken Mr. Lee’s solution to demolishing an apartment building because of a single blown fuse. Sure, it technically solves the original problem, but at the cost of creating countless others. In other words, he overcorrected, and as a result, certain aspects about BlacKkKlansman date it to the exact year in which it was released. I honestly wouldn’t be bummed if it ends up winning “Best Picture”, however, because it has a message worth hearing out, but when it’s good, it’s good in spite of its confrontational nature – not because of it.
Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018)
One of the most interesting things about critiquing works of fiction concerns the hype surrounding it. Sometimes, the work lives up to its praise while other times, its popularity is a flash in the pan. Every now and again, I’ll run into this work with nearly universal praise that, while not a masterpiece, still manages to be good. Black Panther is one of those works; the second it came out, critics began considering it the best superhero film of all time, and it suddenly found itself on at least one list detailing the 100 best films of all time. While I don’t consider it my favorite entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’m glad to have seen something from the series finally get through to critics. It demonstrated the series is not a style-over-substance spectacle solely meant to sell tickets and please audiences.
A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper, 2018)
In a lot of ways, the 2018 version of A Star is Born reminds me of The Wind Waker in that nobody expected it to be this good. We’re talking about a film directed by somebody who, while having proven himself as quite the versatile actor, had never been in the director’s chair. Starring opposite him was Lady Gaga, a pop star known for her hammy style. Critics everywhere were counting on it to fail until they saw the trailers. Then when it came out, every single one of them had egg on their faces when they had no choice but to write rave reviews. It’s a lesson in why it doesn’t pay to jump the gun – one I’m positive the critical circle won’t make ever again.
Games reviewed in January 2019:
Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter (Nihon Falcom, 1988)
Because my first exposure to the Ys series was through the Virtual Console release of Ys Book I & II, I have to admit I have a difficult time imaging the Ancient Ys Vanished duology as separate games. I personally feel the remakes are worth experiencing, yet separately, they got relatively low scores (5/10 and 6/10 respectively). This is because I feel it’s only worthy of a passing grade if you play the second game right after the first. Nonetheless, Ys II is an improvement over the original in several significant ways. Together, these two games created an epic the likes of which the medium had never seen by that point in its history, and I feel it’s still worth checking out. If nothing else, it’s not a huge time sink to see them through to the end.
Ys III: Wanderers from Ys (Nihon Falcom, 1989)
In broad strokes, my thoughts on Ys III are very similar to how I feel about Zelda II. It was admirable of Nihon Falcom to wander off the beaten path and try something new, but at the end of the day, Ys III provides a deeply flawed experience. It also has an issue similar to Zelda II in that it doesn’t really have a natural difficulty curve, periodically forcing the game to come to a dead stop as you grind levels. However, I feel Ys III to be the overall weaker effort because it clearly wasn’t designed with side-scroller sensibilities. Even if it’s intended to be an action RPG, I still find it difficult from an instinctual standpoint to accept that there is no real way to parry enemy attacks. Successful strikes don’t have any effect on the combatants either, which is wildly counterintuitive – especially in hindsight. I like how it gives series protagonist Adol a personality (and a surprising amount of it at that), yet I wouldn’t be nearly as quick to recommend it as I would Ys Book I & II.
Luigi’s Mansion (Nintendo, 2001)
As I said in the review, Luigi’s Mansion is probably the single greatest game Nintendo could have chosen to demonstrate the GameCube’s technical capabilities. After the Nintendo 64’s primordial polygon aesthetics, the idea of a flashlight having realistic translucency effects was nothing short of remarkable. As a friend of mine pointed out, it was also probably the single most important character for Luigi, who up until this point, was basically a carbon copy of Mario. Any other attempt to distinguish him from Mario was in a non-canonical source, so making him the lovable coward we all know and love in this game ensured the characterization stuck. As for the game itself, I still think it’s decent overall. There are many games I’ve played over the years I think could have done with a bit of cutting back, but I feel the biggest problem with Luigi’s Mansion is that the team didn’t get enough mileage out of their idea. While it makes completion a lot easier, it does mean the game is over before you know it. Still, it was an admirable effort on Nintendo’s part, and its success paved the way for other defining GameCube classics.
Pokémon Gold and Silver (Game Freak, 1999)
Jeez, looking at the scores I’ve awarded, this has been a pretty boring month for games – nothing but middling reviews. I’ll review a good game next month, I promise. Anyway, I still have fond memories of Pokémon Gold; it was the first game I distinctly remembering preordering. Everyone knew that failing to do so would mean not getting the game for months – maybe even a year, which in kid time may as well have been forever. That was back when console games couldn’t be downloaded digitally and online shopping wasn’t nearly as pervasive as it is now; if the stores near where you lived didn’t have a copy of the game you wanted to buy, that was the end of it. When I got it, it instantly became my favorite game ever. However, although I had a lot of fun with it back in 2000, I have to comment that it has not aged well. In fact, despite being an overall improvement over the original two games, it is in many ways a step back from them, featuring no feasible opportunities to grind levels when you need it the most and being even more obnoxious about HM move management than their predecessors. Many fans of the franchise who don’t consider the first generation the pinnacle of the franchise give that honor to the second, but I find I can’t quite recommend them (or at least not in their original forms).
My Top 5 Games Of 2018 – At the end of the year, Fitzy over at Game Time wrote about his favorite games from 2018, which certainly had no shortage of choices.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review – Over at Comma Eight Comma One, thedeviot wrote about the latest Super Smash Bros. entry, which I got over the holidays, but haven’t quite gotten around to playing for myself.
Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016) – I have seen a fair share of Martin Scorsese films, but Silence is not one of them. Vigour of Film Lines wrote an interesting article about it, and I have to say I’m interested in checking it out because the subject matter is quite fascinating.
The Rise & Fall of My Team Fortress 2 Career – Team Fortress 2 proved itself to be one of the most popular multiplayer titles of its day. I didn’t exactly play it during the height of its popularity, but reading Hundstrasse’s account was a lot of fun.
Year in Review: My 5 Favorite Albums of 2018 – With the end of a new year comes a treasure trove of what I like to call debrief articles detailing the highlights of a year. For a change of pace, adawson990 over at the Video Game Virtuoso talked about his five favorite music albums. I especially liked his top choice.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women Review – Though there was no middle ground between the hits and the bombs in 2017, the good films were solid. 1brokegamergirl talks about a film I don’t think got enough credit, and it was great to see it get reorganization.
What’s the opposite of a “Sophomore Slump”? – Baud Attitude wrote an account detailing his playthrough of the Uncharted series over the course of several posts. After the critical and commercial success it received back in 2009, it’s interesting reading how it was received by somebody who hadn’t been swept up by the hype.
Shenmue II: Earn Money to Access Fighting Arena – Halsdoll wrote an article about Shenmue II and how it implements mundane tasks. Now that the long-awaited third installment has been announced, I’m interested in checking out the rereleases of the first two installments myself.
It was the best of Kingdom Hearts, it was the worst of Kingdom Hearts – I have never really gotten into the Kingdom Hearts series (or most Square games after their PlayStation jump), but reading Krystallina’s quick takes on the series leading up to the highly desired third core installment was great.
Support Originality: A Follow-Up – For the longest time, I think game critics were falling under the same “indies = good, mainstream = bad” mentality that has plagued film critics since the early nineties or so. Then around 2016 or so, they overcorrected and suddenly stopped discussing indie games at all. I can’t help but feel that it coincides with scene moving past the “indie ego” many early creators such as Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish developed. Whatever the case, it’s not good. Luckily, we have people such as Rendermonkee, who actively encourage peers to support originality.
Demon’s Souls – Although I greatly enjoyed Dark Souls, its spiritual predecessor, Demon’s Souls, is something of a blind spot for me. Basic consensus says that it’s “like Dark Souls, but not quite as good”. I may check it out in the future, but in the meantime, it was great getting to read Aether’s take on the game – especially after the excellent Let’s Play he made of Dark Souls.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) Review – ignitedmoth wrote an interesting account of about what I felt to be one of the best films of 2018. It was great getting to see this perspective on the film.
Evolution: Eternal Dungeons – Thanks to Nintendo’s dominance in the handheld market, many other portable consoles were left to fall by the wayside. Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster takes a look at one of the games released for one such console, the Neo-Geo Pocket.
Wandersong – Rob over at Loose Logic wrote a piece about an interesting adventure/puzzle game in which the main character is a bard who tries to save the world. The sound designer is Em Halberstad, who also notably worked on the indie hit Night in the Woods.
Goodbye Wii Shop Channel – Well, the original Wii Shop Channel has been officially discontinued – it’s the end of an era. Scott of The Wizard Dojo managed to write a very nice piece sending off the service, which allowed players to discover old classics (among other things, it’s how I found out about the Ys series).
Still to come:
Okay, there’s been something of a change of plans. I intended to review Super Mario Sunshine the previous month, but the reviews took me a bit longer to write than I anticipated, so I’ll talk about it sometime this month instead. But first, I intend to review Jumper, one of the first games of Matt Thorson, better known as the man behind 2018’s smash indie hit Celeste. After that, I’ll review one of the two games that was labeled Ys VI, Mask of the Sun. Furthermore, I have just finished Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4, so you can expect a review of that game this month as well.
Links to my articles:
- Bumblebee (7/10)
- Shoplifters (7/10)
- The Burmese Harp (7/10)
- If Beale Street Could Talk (6/10)
- Hiroshima mon amour (7/10)
- Free Solo (7/10)
- Dog Day Afternoon (7/10)
- Touch of Evil (8/10)
- BlacKkKlansman (5/10)
- Black Panther (7/10)
- A Star is Born (7/10)
- Green Book (5/10)
- Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter (6/10)
- Ys III: Wanderers from Ys (4/10)
- Luigi’s Mansion (6/10)
- Pokémon Gold and Silver (6/10)