Well, it has been a whole half of a decade since I made the fateful decision to start reviewing the video games I played. I wasn’t really taking it seriously in my first two years, but when I started building up momentum, I really got into it. It’s been an incredible journey so far, and I do not intend to quit any time soon, so to those who have stuck with me this entire time and for those who just tuned in, I truly thank you.
Films watched in May 2019:
- Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Rob Letterman, 2019)
- John Wick, Chapter 3: Parabellum (Chad Stahelski, 2019)
- Booksmart (Olivia Wilde, 2019)
- Godzilla (Ishiro Honda, 1954)
- F for Fake (Orson Welles, 1975)
Well, it finally happened. After seeing many people try and fail to adapt a video game property to the silver screen, I happened across one that actually manages to be an improvement over the game on which it’s based. Although the film Pokémon Detective Pikachu has its problems, I found it to be highly enjoyable – certainly a step up from the typical (read: terrible) video-game-to-film adaptations you usually get.
The following weekend, I saw the third John Wick film. If you’re invested in the series, go into this film with the knowledge that it’s a continuation and not a conclusion. While the action sequences are as top-notch as ever, I feel they’re getting a little too much mileage out of this series. If the fourth film doesn’t shake things up, it runs the risk of growing stale. The next day, I ended up seeing the original Godzilla. Even knowing that it was tonally different from what followed, I didn’t anticipate it being this somber. It’s definitely worth checking out, coming across as a deconstruction of its own genre nowadays.
The week after that, I saw Olivia Wilde’s debut effort, Booksmart. It sort of falls in that weird category of films that also includes Black Panther in that I think critics gave it a little too much love, but I can’t deny it was good. It’s a shame it had such a poor opening weekend considering flat-out bad films fared better. Later that weekend, I saw what would be the last film of Orson Welles’s released in his lifetime: F for Fake. It skirts the line between a biopic and a documentary, which is fitting given the narrative of its narrative. Also, it’s really good and you should definitely check it out.
Films reviewed, but not watched in May 2019:
Thor (Kenneth Branagh, 2011)
Thor was the film that firmly cemented that these Marvel films were indeed sharing a universe. Nick Fury appeared at the end of Iron Man and Tony Stark appeared at the end of The Incredible Hulk, but it was easy to dismiss these as throwaway cameos. When both films proved successful, however, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was officially A Thing and Thor was the first film to have been made with that foreknowledge. While it does suffer somewhat as a standalone film as a result, it is enjoyable enough on its own terms, making what was possibly the best “Fantasy Guy gets blasted to present-day Earth” plot – a concept that historically worked all of one time at most (assuming the number isn’t zero). It’s not one of stronger entries, but its success was instrumental for the franchise’s continued existence.
Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014)
If such a thing is possible, I consider how the critics handled the Ex Machina marketing campaign a “jump the shark” moment for film journalism. It’s a subject I already covered in an editorial quite a while back, so for the sake of brevity, the main takeaway is that critics found themselves in a situation in which they were forced to choose between sympathizing with their readers and promoting the art they loved. They opted for the latter without a second thought – possibly without even a first thought. Realistically, the current divide between critics and fans can’t be pinned down on any one event because it has to some degree, existed since the medium’s inception, but it seems like ever since 2015, they’ve become more openly hostile to their readers, chastising them whenever they have the audacity to not agree with them. One could point to certain developments since 2015 that caused them to become angrier, but I ultimately feel they serve as an excuse for critics to act on the belligerent tendencies that were boiling beneath the surface the entire time. I chose not to mention it in my review because I wanted to focus on why the film itself failed.
If it’s one reoccurring thing I’ve found about many critical darlings in film, it’s that they often come across as several steps behind what other mediums – most notably video games – have accomplished within the 2010s. Coming off of some hard-hitting narratives such as Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue’s Last Reward, Ex Machina felt downright quaint by comparison. If we’re taking cross-medium comparisons out of the equation, Ex Machina is still unimpressive, coming across as an inferior version of Her. The latter approached a speculative science fiction scenario with a sense of curiosity. The former approached the subject with a particularly irritating brand of nihilistic edgelord posturing that had infected the science fiction scene in the 2010s by disguising itself as intellectualism. They would have you believe the kind of idealism that drove pioneering science-fiction writers needed an antidote.
When it comes to art, it pays in the long run to pick the visionary over the dissenter.
Legion (Scott Stewart, 2010)
After failing Ex Machina, I thought I might as well bash an incontestably bad film to be fair. Although I’m certainly aware that worse ones exist, Legion is by far the worst film I personally have seen. Despite coming out at the beginning of the decade, it really foreshadowed what would be the defining flaws of science fiction in the years to come with its excessively preachy tone and premise that falls apart the second you put any thought into it. However, while dire efforts such as The Room have redeeming qualities (even if they’re unintentional), Legion has nothing going for it at all. The only thing about it that isn’t completely stupid is its basic premise, and the execution was absolutely horrendous. You’re going to be severely disappointed if you’re going into this film expecting it to be “so bad, it’s good”, let alone attempting to enjoy it straight.
Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi, 2017)
Ragnarok is admittedly all over the place when it comes to tone and humor, but I still find it to be the best of the Thor films simply because it has the best story beats. It was the first Thor film to truly embrace the fantastical elements of its title character, and it was better off for it. It also helps that it succeeded at telling its own story, permanently changing the status quo, and set up important pieces for Infinity War all at once. The Dark World, by comparison, only succeeded in one of these goals, and it’s the inferior effort as a direct result. Also, Ragnarok featured Led Zeppelin; that’s worth at least five points by itself.
You’re Next (Adam Wingard, 2011)
In all honesty, I feel that what Ex Machina was to science fiction, You’re Next was to horror. It’s a film that doesn’t have an ounce of faith in its own genre and is worse off for it. What makes You’re Next especially contemptable is that in the coming years, we would get directors who did take the genre seriously, making Mr. Wingard’s shallow lampooning of the genre come across as highly backwards-looking in hindsight. Since then, we would get things like Get Out, A Quiet Place, and The Babadook – all of which proved that there was plenty of ground for horror to cover that hadn’t yet been tapped. If you were to watch You’re Next, you would never know of the genre’s latent potential, for the film argues it doesn’t exist.
Knowing (Alex Proyas, 2009)
I have to admit my main reason for reviewing Knowing was so that I could claim to have used every grade other than 10/10 at least once for films. I didn’t really think of it at the time because it was long before I started my site, but Knowing really does have one of the worst endings I’ve ever seen in a film (if I were to have a “Worst Endings” list, it would probably be neck-and-neck with Upgrade). Although one might wonder how I can disqualify otherwise fine works (i.e. it only get as many as five points) for having terrible endings, but to that, I would counter that not enough creators appreciate how important it is to stick the landing. Indeed, it’s films like Knowing that I use to justify that rule. When you don’t have a good sendoff for your narrative, it makes it difficult (if not impossible) to appreciate what it did well leading up to it. Also, this film made Nicolas Cage boring. That is completely inexcusable.
John Wick (Chad Stahelski, 2014)
In a strange way, John Wick was a lot like Birdman in that it took an actor everyone (and I mean everyone) thought had peaked only for it to turn out that, yes, he does have a few good films left in him. It’s impossible to overstate that this film came completely out of nowhere. Regardless, it’s a great thing that it did because it really was one of the best action/revenge films the medium had seen in quite some time. In fact, through its deconstructive elements, it effectively reconstructed the genre, making it relevant to a new generation of filmgoers.
Games reviewed in May 2019:
King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! (Sierra, 1990)
King’s Quest V is one of those games that is perfect to watch any potential Let’s Player go through blind because half the solutions are completely ridiculous. I want to personally thank Sky Render of the Talking Time forums for his playthrough, because I have to admit I used quite a lot of his screengrabs to write my review (I ended up referencing a lot of his jokes as well). Definitely check it out because it’s a highly entertaining read. You can read the Let’s Play here.
I really enjoyed this game as a kid; it had a weird “Forbidden Fruit” effect on me because the version I had was extremely unstable in Windows, and it was notorious for crashing with an “Out of heap space” message in the final act (though strangely, it didn’t happen the first few times I played through the game). You see, this was back in the day when companies could release versions of games knowing full well that there were issues they couldn’t fix (this very issue was mentioned in the README file). Sure, it’s annoying nowadays whenever companies release betas and have their consumer base test their games for them without pay, but at least patching is an option. Back then, developers had to come up with backdoor methods such as including premade save files to get players past trouble spots. Otherwise, King’s Quest V is a perfect example of a game that, while successful in its own right, really has not stood the test of time with any kind of dignity, though ironically, the same could be said of Myst, the game that dethroned it for the title of “Best-selling PC game”.
Pokémon Stadium 2 (Nintendo EAD, 2000)
There really isn’t much more to say about Pokémon Stadium 2 that I didn’t already say about the original. It is, objectively speaking, a better game than the original, but that’s primarily because Gold, Silver, and Crystal are better games than Red, Blue, and Yellow. With the game being so dependent on the quality of the second-generation games, it couldn’t help but be an improvement. Although it is a marginally better game, my stance is exactly the same; only play it if you have the necessary materials to hand. For everyone else, it’s too much effort for too little gain.
Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Westone, 1987)
As mentioned in the review, Wonder Boy in Monster Land was one of the most ambitious games to debut in arcades, offering players a role-playing experience without the benefit of a console. I still feel it to be the superior take on the concept to Namco’s The Tower of Druaga because the game can always be won. That said, the measures Westone implemented to prevent players from hogging the machines were either unnecessary or actively detrimental to the gameplay. Kicking players out from stores for not purchasing anything and imposing a time limit that constantly drains Bocke’s health does not for a good time make. The reason I say it’s unnecessary is because it’s a fairly long for an arcade game; if a skilled gamer is playing it, their turn is going to last a long time anyway – adding these measures wouldn’t reduce the session’s time. Keeping these measures for the Master System version where turn lengths aren’t an issue, however, was inexcusable. It’s still interesting to play to see how it evolved from the original Wonder Boy, but it’s a tricky recommendation.
Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair (Westone, 1988)
Jeez, no positive game reviews this month? I’ll review at least three good games in June, I promise. Anyway, between the two games that got to be called Wonder Boy III, Monster Lair is, by a significant margin, the inferior effort. Despite going back to its platforming roots, it’s not quite a token sequel by virtue of adding shoot ‘em up elements, but it still lacks the ambition that made Wonder Boy in Monster Land so memorable. It ends up in the same tier as the original Wonder Boy for a similar reason: it doesn’t excel at anything it tries to do. If the platforming sections took inspiration from the similar, yet distinct run-and-gun genre, it may have had something. As it is, it plays like a horizontal shoot ‘em up where you’re tethered to the ground. So again, good idea, bad execution.
5 Games That Were Just Terrible – I think regardless of the medium, we’ve all experienced a few turkeys. Rob from I Played the Game! certainly does, and recalls five particularly painful experiences he had from bad video games.
Just Another Brick in the Wall – Game Gear – Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble – 1994 – Sega ended up releasing a series of Sonic the Hedgehog games to debut on the Master System and Game Gear. Although they were great for people who owned those systems at the time, many of these installments haven’t held up well in the long term. The3rdPlayer looks at the counterintuitively named fourth installment of this subseries, Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble.
Analyzing Games the Aether Way – After experiencing one of Armor Games’s experimental efforts, Loved, Aether gives us an insight as to how he goes about discussing the various games he plays. Embracing one’s conclusions without being rigid about them is certainly something I can get behind.
What happens when an adventure gamer plays a first-person shooter? – Kate of Musings of a nitpicking girl, an adventure game fan, decided to delve into the game that codified the first-person shooter – Doom. It was great reading a perspective that wasn’t familiar with the genre.
2019 Video Game Awards – Hey, I wasn’t the only one writing a “Best of 2018” list in May. Scott of the Wizard Dojo, as is yearly tradition, made a list of his favorite games from 2018. The best part? Unlike gaming journalists, he actually acknowledges the indie scene exists.
Video Game Culture: Crash Course! – Angie of Backlog Crusader wrote an interesting, balanced piece on gaming culture. My perspective is that gamers are generally more welcoming and accepting of different opinions than cinephiles, so this was an interesting take on the subject.
My seven favorite anime opening themes – There are many great opening themes to anime shows, and AK of Everything is Bad for You highlights seven of his own favorites.
Still to come:
My next review will be posted tomorrow. Currently, I have a review of Wonder Boy in Monster World ready to go. If I don’t finish my review of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire by the time you read this update, that is what will be posted tomorrow. If I do finish the (longer) Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire review, it will be posted tomorrow instead and you’ll get to read my take on Wonder Boy in Monster World the following week. Having finished Monster World IV recently, you can expect a review of that as well. I will also write a review of King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, which I’m looking forward to because it’s the best game in that series by far.
As for films, I will review the remaining entries in the John Wick franchise so I have the proper context with which to talk about the third one I recently saw.
Links to my articles:
- Thor (6/10)
- Thor: The Dark World (4/10)
- Pather Panchali (7/10)
- Ex Machina (3/10) [Disqualified]
- Legion (1/10)
- Thor: Ragnarok (7/10)
- You’re Next (3/10) [Disqualified]
- Godzilla (7/10)
- Knowing (2/10) [Disqualified]
- Booksmart (7/10)
- John Wick (7/10)
- King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! (3/10) [Disqualified]
- Pokémon Stadium 2 (3/10)
- Wonder Boy in Monster Land (5/10)
- Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair (4/10)