Also known as the one in which Naughty Dog lost the plot – literally. I won’t go into further detail because I don’t wish to spoil it for those interested, and I insist on not judging a work until I experience it regardless of how much the odds are against it. Seriously, if you are interested in playing The Last of Us: Part II, try to refrain from using social media until it’s released next month.
Films watched in April 2020:
- The African Queen (John Huston, 1951)
- Zombieland: Double Tap (Ruben Fleischer, 2019)
- Odd Man Out (Carol Reed, 1947)
- The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
- Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
- Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968)
The African Queen actually came bundled with my copy of Casablanca, which I watched awhile back. It’s considered a classic itself, though I don’t think it quite measures up to Casablanca. Still, it was a fun adventure film that holds up reasonably well.
I’ve joked in the past that Zombieland was the only good zombie apocalypse work to emerge in the past twelve years or so, but in truth, I’m only half-joking. When you get right down to it, it’s a pretty campy premise, and no amount of “the real monsters are humans” platitudes will change my mind. Zombieland succeeded because it owned how silly the idea is, and just had fun with it. The sequel isn’t quite as good, but it was itself fun, and I can see people who enjoyed the original getting a kick out of it.
After seeing The Third Man, I decided to give Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out a shot. I wish I hadn’t read that it is Roman Polanski’s favorite film because it kinda spoiled how the film would end. Regardless, I felt it was decent, though not as good as The Third Man.
The next day, I saw The Wild Bunch. Many cinephiles consider it one of the best films of the 1960s. It was good, though to be honest, I think I would have to watch it again before I know where, exactly, I stand.
Next, I saw Blue Velvet. David Lynch is a favorite with intellectuals, but I hadn’t actually seen any of his films until now. It was definitely worth watching. It has a “show, don’t tell” quality to it that the current wave of filmmakers really needs to pick up on. Dennis Hopper’s performance is one of those things that needs to be seen to be believed. It was also nice to see Laura Dern not play the single most unlikable/poorly written character in the film. Like Oscar Isaac (and to a lesser extent, Adam Driver), she really needs an agent who can find her better roles.
Finally, at the end of the month, I watched Memories of Underdevelopment. Considered the single greatest Cuban film of all time, watching it was definitely a treat. It was interesting seeing the Bay of Pigs invasion pan out from the other side, and the film manages to tackle a lot of difficult subjects – all incredibly well.
Films reviewed, but not watched in April 2020:
Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)
I’ll admit it; I actually liked Annihilation when I first saw it. Where Annihilation stands in comparison to Ex Machina is interesting because, while it is the better of the two films, its flaws are way more obvious and multifaceted. Ex Machina, as a direct result of its minimalistic setup, had much less of an opportunity to create plot holes. Where it instead fell apart was in its underlying implications, which espoused a subtle, yet very real anti-intellectual philosophy. Annihilation, on the other hand, is an example of a film that constantly creates plot holes in its endeavors to resolve discrepancies. The result is a film that seems so cool when in the moment, yet shatters like glass when you take a second or two to reflect upon it. I do give Mr. Garland credit for being ambitious, but, like George Lucas, he is the kind of creator who can’t handle having complete creative control; he really needs someone to bounce ideas off of if he is to realize his potential.
Games reviewed in April 2020:
In hindsight, I kind of liken the environmental narrative game to the late-1970s/early-1980s no wave movement in that both scenes were highly experimental, but in ways that didn’t leave themselves much room to grow. When you’re creating art, you have to realize that there is a fine line between minimalism and insularism. If you’re to the point where adding things to a genre immediately destroys its foundation, it can’t help but be short-lived – regardless of how much attention it may receive. I have to give the no wavers way more credit; at least they were trying to push the envelope, and while it was short-lived, it did inspire future artists – Kurt Cobain’s fondness of Swans’ Young God EP being proof of that. Plus, whether you like the music from that scene or not, you can’t deny the artists’ hutzpah, and you certainly won’t find sounds quite like it anywhere else (in fact, if you’re really interested, try to seek out the DNA on DNA compilation album and Filth and Cop by Swans).
Otherwise, Dear Esther is to video games what District 9 was to films in that they both taught critics all the wrong lessons about what to look for in art (granted, Dear Esther isn’t nearly as heavy-handed as District 9). While it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, I find I actually have slightly more respect for District 9. As much as I dislike District 9 for foreshadowing (and possibly contributing to) the wave of anti-intellectualism currently permeating critical discourse, I didn’t walk away feeling that it was ashamed to be a film. The same can’t be said about Dear Esther; for whatever good intentions its creator may have had, it only succeeded in fueling the idea that the medium is in need of games that aren’t fun. It’s true that I have played games such as Planescape: Torment, OneShot, and the Zero Escape trilogy which aren’t exactly what I would call fun, but they had a level of engagement that the environmental narrative game fundamentally and consistently fails to deliver. Dear Esther itself is quite guilty of depriving both the player and the player character of anything resembling agency.
While the original mod was made before Roger Ebert’s infamous “Games can’t be art” declaration, I can’t escape the premise that its commercial release benefitted from that overwhelming desire to prove the naysayers wrong – especially when Braid, which was definitely a game (pretentiousness notwithstanding), failed to win him over. Suddenly, games couldn’t be games anymore, and this line of thinking caused critics to dismiss a lot of creative titles in the coming years. Because the movement didn’t have faith in its own medium, discouraged creators from exercising their imagination, and left itself no room to grow, it burned itself out quickly, being considered old hat before the decade even ended.
Why aren’t visual novels more popular in the West? – I have to admit I haven’t played that many visual novels, but the ones I have played seem to reach that standard the environmental narrative game fails to grasp. AK’s take on why they aren’t popular in the West is especially interesting.
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – By most accounts, the Star Wars sequel was a failure. The only real question concerned which installment dropped the ball (my answer: yes). Watching Ola and Piotrek go back and forth about the film was highly enlightening, as they touch upon the many, many problems present in the canon.
Top 5 Tuesday: Things I’m Doing in Isolation – The self-isolation we’ve imposed upon ourselves has given plenty of us an opportunity to do things I don’t think we would’ve have had the time to do otherwise. Bookbeachbunny lists five of them.
Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom – As a critic, it’s nice to know you’re exposing people to works they otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. Matt of Nintendobound gives his two cents on Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.
Doom Eternal – I have to admit I wasn’t won over by 2016 Doom, but reading Gaming Omnivore’s take on its sequel, Doom Eternal, does make me interested in giving it another shot somewhere down the line.
To Live (Huo zhe) – To Live is an incredible film that shows just how horrible life was for peasants in China during the reign of Chairman Mao. So, naturally, it got banned in China seeing as how the government isn’t exactly big on the whole “taking criticism” thing. ManInBlack’s review of it reminded me of what made it so great.
My Most Disappointing/Unenjoyable Reads of the Past Few Years – I think we’ve all had that one work we were looking forward to only for it to be a disappointment. Aaron over at Swords & Specters takes a look at five of them.
64DD: Nintendo’s Heavily Delayed Magnetic Disk Drive Add-On – The 64DD is something that has come up in several of my reviews (such as Mother 3 and Dragon Quest VII). I remember hearing advertisements for it, so reading Mr. Wapojif’s summary of its release was very nostalgic.
Top Ten Tuesday: Titles That Would Make Good Band Names – I’ve occasionally remarked when hearing of certain organizations or concepts that they would make good band names. Jocelyn of A Little Nerd Told Me thought similarly, as she highlighted ten such instances.
Links to my articles:
- Annihilation (4/10)
- Dear Esther (3/10)