June 2020 in Summary: Going Gold

Also known as the one in which Persona 4: Golden gets a Steam release! That is clearly the best piece of gaming news the medium this month, so if you were curious to check out the game after reading my 18,000-word review, that’s the place to get it.

Films watched in June 2020:

In theaters:

  • <None>

At home:

  • Dersu Uzala (Akira Kurosawa, 1975)
  • The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939)
  • A Better Tomorrow (John Woo, 1986)
  • Underground (Emir Kusturica, 1995)
  • Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation (Harold Ramis, 1983)
  • Masquerade (Choo Chang-min, 2012)
  • Just Mercy (Destin Daniel Cretton, 2019)
  • Le Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937)
  • The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953)
  • Good Morning (Yasujirō Ozu, 1959)

I started the month off by watching Dersu Uzala. This film notably won an Academy Award back in 1976, which is what compelled me to see it in the first place. This film really gives you an appreciation for the grueling experience Russian explorers had traversing the Siberian wilderness back in the early twentieth century. It is notably the only non-Japanese language film Akira Kurosawa ever directed, and while it isn’t usually mentioned in discussions regarding his best films, I can say it is worth looking into.

The Rules of the Game is frequently considered one of the greatest films ever made. It’s hard to believe, given its stature, that when it was released back in 1939, it got booed off the stage – at the Cannes Film Festival no less. Guess their track record was marred well before they gave Blowup a Palme d’Or. Then again, given that it criticizes the practices of the bourgeoisie for becoming complacent with the flames of war having ignited in their backyard, it’s not difficult to see why they didn’t like it. If you believed Joker directly challenging critical sensibilities and getting a middling reception for its trouble was a new thing, this demonstrates it isn’t a new trend. The film was notably a major influence on Robert Altman, and I definitely see a parallel between it and Nashville – particularly in how they both end. I did like this film, though I think I’d have to give it another viewing before I could fully gather my thoughts about it.

Later that day, I saw John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow. Like Mr. Kurosawa, John Woo is one of those directors I’ve been consistently impressed by, having seen Red Cliff and Face/Off two years ago. A Better Tomorrow is generally considered to be not only one of his greatest films, but also one of the best Chinese films of all time. Having seen it, I can certainly see why. The subtitles on the version I saw were horrible, but once I managed to get a better translation, I realized just how intriguing the story was. With a great soundtrack and some seriously excellent action sequences, you really can’t go wrong with this one. Now, if only it would receive a Criterion release…

After that, I saw fit to watch a Serbian film. Unlike a certain other Serbian film you may have heard of, this one, Emir Kusturica’s Underground, can actually be enjoyed by those who aren’t insufferably pretentious critics who read too much into things in an attempt to justify enjoying garbage. It won the Palme d’Or in 1995, and I can see why it did, as it is definitely one of the most creative films I’ve seen in quite some time. It puts a strange spin on the comedy-drama format by starting off as a pure Animal House-esque comedy before getting increasingly dramatic the further you get into the story. It begins as a story about the Nazi’s invasion of Eastern Europe from the perspective of the Yugoslavians, and things only escalate from there. If you’re looking for a historical drama from that region of the world, Underground is well worth looking into.

I feel it is worth reiterating that I really do like Martin Scorsese. Many consider him one of the best directors of all time, and that he is still making good films this many decades into his career is nothing to sneeze at. That said, I found Mean Streets, which was arguably the film that put him on the map, to be fairly unimpressive. It’s actually a lot like Breathless in that it’s fairly plotless and random, though I would say it’s better by virtue of having a better soundtrack and not having painfully amateurish editing. That said, it is very much the kind of film where you need to be a fan of that particular style. If not, it’s probably going to lose you.

The next film I saw was Harold Ramis’s National Lampoon’s Vacation. I greatly enjoyed Animal House, another film bearing the National Lampoon title, and I was hoping Vacation would provide more of the same wackiness. Unfortunately, I have come down to the conclusion that the film hasn’t held up particularly well. Animal House was so audacious and raunchy that even its dated elements have paradoxically held up with time as pieces of unintentional black comedy. Vacation doesn’t quite go that far, which makes its own dated elements stick out like a sore thumb. One scene early on was especially cringeworthy, and for what it’s worth, Mr. Ramis himself would later regret shooting it. Even ignoring that, I just don’t think the jokes landed as well as those of Animal House or Caddyshack. The 1980s was a great decade for comedy, but I find the films from that decade that haven’t aged well really haven’t aged well, and while I can see someone popping in this film and having a good time with it, there are better ones out there.

South Korea has really become an artistic tour de force in the 2010s, haven’t they? After hearing at least one person consider Masquerade their favorite film, I decided to see it for myself. This film takes place during Korea’s Joseon Dynasty, and while I have seen many historical dramas set in China and Japan, I hadn’t seen any from Korea up until now. It’s a film about an ordinary peasant who is forced to stand in for the tyrannical King Gwanghae. This is a dynamic story that grips you right away and has a wide variety of emotions to offer its audience. Definitely worth a watch.

One of the films being offered for free rentals was Destin Daniel Cretton’s Just Mercy. I have a bit of a strange history with this film because I saw its preview several times, and I thought it was good. Yet it managed to completely slip beneath my radar. I can’t say exactly why I didn’t see this film last year, but I’m glad I got a chance to see it now because it is really good. It’s about the crusading lawyer Bryan Stevenson and his efforts to reverse a wrongful guilty conviction for murder and remove his client from death row. From there, he and his firm would save many people from being executed unjustly. The late 2010s had many films tackle race relations, and this one is definitely worth checking out.

Inspired by my watching of The Rules of the Game, I decided to see the other film of Jean Renoir’s frequently considered one of the all-time greats: Le Grande Illusion. Like The Rules of the Game after it, it was quite the ambitious film for its time, seamlessly blending multiple genres in a time when such a thing was unthinkable. Not content with codifying the concept of a prison escape film with a World War One backdrop, it also becomes a romantic drama in the third act. Coupled with a very forward-looking approach to characterization, and you’ve got yourself a true classic.

The Big Heat is arguably the most lauded of Fritz Lang’s Hollywood canon. He is one of those directors I’ve been consistently impressed by, and while I don’t think The Big Heat quite reaches the heights of Metropolis or M, it is a classic film itself that is sure to please noir fans (or even those who aren’t). Lee Marvin had a real knack for playing total scumbags, and he certainly delivered on that front in this film. His character in this film makes his future role Liberty Valance look downright amicable by comparison.

Good Morning isn’t one of the films that immediately springs to mind when you mention Yasujirō Ozu. It’s a bit of a shame it isn’t discussed more often because I believe it to be an underrated gem in his canon. It might be because, while Ozu’s typical fare is melancholic and ponders modern society from the perspective of an elder, Good Morning is a straight-up comedy about two young brothers who resort to taking a vow of silence after their parents refuse to buy a television set. Critics tend to be biased against comedies in general, but I would go as far as saying Good Morning is every bit as of a classic as, say, Late Spring or Tokyo Story.

Games reviewed in June 2020:

Super Monkey Ball 2

I actually came very close to not picking up Super Monkey Ball 2 back in 2002, reasoning that it seemed too similar to the original game. That would have been a terrible mistake, as Super Monkey Ball 2 is a great example of a sequel that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, yet polishes what made the original so great without straying too far from it. I find that token sequels are a bit more forgivable if the experience the original installment provides is unique enough. It’s the reason I tend to be harsher on, say, Uncharted or Call of Duty than I am series such as Super Monkey Ball. After all, how many cover-based third or first-person-shooters are there? Now how many series involve navigating a character in a sphere to a goal? My guess is that the former number far surpasses the latter. Now, if only Sega would give a proper rerelease to these games.

New Super Mario Bros. U

As my good friend Aether pointed out in the comments section of this review, it is a real shame that the New Super Mario Bros. subseries denotes a serious waste of potential. It’s easy to dismiss the success of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World as Mr. Miyamoto and company capturing lightning in a bottle, and that once 3D took off, developers simply lacked the context with which to create a quality 2D experience. However, in practice, there were plenty of good – even great – 2D experiences made well into the 2010s if Axiom Verge, Ori and the Blind Forest, and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom are anything to go by. As it stands, it was clear by 2012 that any transcendently incredible Mario experience would be in 3D. Just comparing this game to Super Mario Galaxy 2 is like night and day.

I know this assessment sounds harsh, but in all fairness, New Super Mario Bros. U is a perfectly good game. In fact, I would go as far as saying it was slightly underrated when it was first released in 2012, so it’s nice that it has received its dues since then. You do have to contend with the fact that the you’re basically playing the same game four times in a row if you choose to experience the entire subseries, and with no real plot to speak of, this one stands out as the essential play if you’re going to give any of them a shot.

Mega Man 5

Okay, I’ll admit it. This was a boring month given that, for three games in a row, I’ve been reviewing sequels with highly similar gameplay to their respective direct predecessors. At the risk of tipping my hand slightly, I will say that one game I intend to review next month should give me much more to talk about – even if it too is a sequel.

Anyway, Mega Man 5 is considered a bland entry by many fans. I do think there is more to this game than many give it credit for. In fact, I could feel much more creative energy from this game than with Mega Man 4. However, I cannot deny that Mega Man 5 is a very safe sequel. I still think it’s worth playing if you’re looking for a game to scratch the specific itch for this series and you’ve played through the actual highlights several times, but otherwise, yeah, it’s not terribly exciting.

Featured articles:

Someone needs to play Undertale. And Planescape: Torment. And OneShot. And Rakuen. And Zero Escape. (Also, the last time I checked, John Wick is a good film; why anyone would use it in a pejorative sense, I do not know.)

Does fun belong in “serious” video games? – The release of The Last of Us Part II stirred up yet another discussion courtesy of the hyperbolic statements issued by one Jeff Cannata. Following the lead of Jonathan McIntosh, journalists seem to be treating fun as something that needs to be extracted from the medium. And they wonder why their audience keeps saying they’re out of touch. Either way, AK’s take on the debacle was interesting considering that he provides examples that directly contradict Mr. Cannata’s thesis.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill WattersonCalvin and Hobbes occupies a strange place with me. Like South Park, I haven’t experienced much of it, yet what little I have experienced of it, I have greatly enjoyed. It’s often considered one of the best comic strips of all time and reading Mr. Wapojif’s article of it was very enlightening.

Project G-Destroy All Monsters (1968) – Continuing his epic Godzilla retrospective, Aether reviews Destroy All Monsters. In general, I find that the 1960s was a hit-or-miss decade for films. In a lot of ways, it was like the 2010s in that it had an inordinate number of films that absolutely did not live up to the universal acclaim they received from critics (e.g. Blowup, Breathless, or Tokyo Drifer), though I will admit the decade’s best films were better than nearly everything that came out in the 2010s (e.g. High and Low, Yojimbo, or Memories of Underdevelopment). In light of this, it’s interesting how one of the Godzilla franchise’s hallmarks would be released during that time. In a lot of ways, it was the 1960s equivalent of The Avengers in how it took kaiju from various other films and put them all together in one epic film. It’s generally considered one of the high points of the Showa era, and reading Aether’s take was a lot of fun.

Artemis Fowl Review – One would think the Coronavirus pandemic would halt the creation of cinematic turkeys, but Disney apparently wanted to go the extra mile, giving the decade its first legendarily bad film. Artemis Fowl came out when I was in elementary school and I remember other kids reading it, but I never read it myself. Given how fans didn’t like this film any more than critics (10% of critics liked it as opposed to 20% of the audience), I’m guessing it is not exactly a good adaptation. Whatever it was, Scott of the Wizard Dojo didn’t like it either.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred StonesFire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, in hindsight, comes across a rough draft for both Awakening and Fates. It was released before the series broke into the mainstream with Awakening, so it’s interesting reading Matt’s take on it.

Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition: First impressionsXenoblade Chronicles is one of those games I tried to get into back in 2012, but for some reason I couldn’t. I couldn’t tell you why; maybe I just wasn’t used to open-world games, but reading the take over at Fanfiction Anime World made me want to check out the Definitive Version that was released on the Switch recently.

Links to my articles:

Game reviews:

16 thoughts on “June 2020 in Summary: Going Gold

    • You’re welcome! And both of those films are definitely worth watching. The Rules of the Game was especially ambitious for its time; most filmmakers were concerned with crafting one story, but this one merged several together when such a thing was unthinkable. Plus, I think it has held up well by virtue of offering a very unique narrative that could only have come from that specific time period.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks for the link! The controversy around Last of Us 2 has died down a bit, but this view that video games still need to “mature” has certainly been around a long time at this point and isn’t going anywhere. Despite the fact that, as you’ve said, the critics making these assertions have completely ignored plenty of great, fulfilling, and even emotionally moving games released in the last few decades. Maybe if the game looks too much like a video game and not enough like a movie, that doesn’t count?

    Being obsessed with “being adult” is sort of childish in itself, an idea I stole from that C. S. Lewis quote, but it’s a very true one. When I approach any work now, whether it’s a game, anime or live-action series, album, book, etc. I keep an open mind and don’t worry too much about surface details, otherwise I might just undeservedly dismiss something great. I think we all do that in this sort of circle we’ve got. If the amateurs are taking this approach and many of the professionals aren’t, then what does that say for the professionals?

    I’m going to look up Masquerade now. I really like period pieces that are interesting and done well, and I’ve never seen one out of Korea. I also saw Vacation a long time ago and have some hazy memories of it. Animal House has now been burned at the stake for being out of step with modern times or however that works, but I think good comedy lasts. And it’s a comedy for God’s sake, not a manual for how to live life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome! I think that feeling that the medium needs to mature directly invokes the Centipede’s Dilemma, which is to say, by attempting to become more mature, creators are worse off than if they did what comes naturally. Meanwhile, Undertale goes with a much more cartoonish look, and it was way, way more affecting than anything Naughty Dog has done in the past 13 years. As I said, I think the overwhelming praise of their games speaks less to their level of talent and more to a deep insecurity of the medium – an inability to own the wackier aspects and create (or in the critics’ case, promote) something new. Plus, it’s easier to recreate the success of something that provably works than it is to exercise one’s imagination – even if the context for said past success is forever lost.

      Because of this, I’ve always felt that The Last of Us was one of those games that seems more impressive the less familiar you are with the medium. Certainly, it’s possible to mention it in the same breath as something like, say, Dark Souls, but whenever I look at a given “Greatest of the 2010s list”, almost to a one, people tend to place it over The Last of Us. At the end of the day, The Last of Us is considered one of the all-time greats less because it is and more because it’s the game you can point to and not get weird looks from outsiders – it’s the one without all the fireball-throwing plumbers, blue hedgehogs, and Pokémon in it. Again, that just speaks to a lack of self-confidence in the critical sphere than anything else.

      The silver lining to all of this is that this appears to be a uniquely American AAA problem, so while it is annoying, it’s hardly inescapable. Japanese and European developers have really been kicking it into high gear as of late – as have indie developers all over the world – entirely because they ignore all of this irritating posturing and put their noses to the grindstone. The downside is their inability (or unwillingness) to stir up drama generally does result in less coverage overall, but as long as we keep our eyes peeled, I think we’ll be alright.

      And yes, Masquerade is definitely worth watching. I myself had never seen a period piece from Korea, so that is what immediately drew my attention to it. And I don’t care what the stake burners say; I stand by my stance that Animal House has held up well because any element that could be considered dated has actually become even funnier due to now coming across as black comedy. Then again a lot of those stake burners are generally humorless people, so it’s not terribly surprising they can’t put aside their beliefs and appreciate it. Not to mention that, if anything, Animal House does a good job deconstructing the typical wacky college film despite having codified the genre. Vacation doesn’t quite reach that same level of irreverence, which makes the dated elements cringeworthy rather than funny.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think I’m guilty of doing just that in the past, specifically about anime — promoting a few works “artsy enough” or however you’d put it to recommend to people to avoid weird looks. Cowboy Bebop is one of the classic examples, but I also see people sometimes complaining about elitist types in the anime criticism world who always talk up shows like Mushishi, Welcome to the NHK, and Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Those are all great series that are worth watching, but it’s also true that some people will just support those and Ghibli movies and unfairly put everything else down as immature fanservice or action nonsense. Then again, there is still a weird stigma associated with anime where I live even today — less than before, but it’s still there, and that encourages that way of thinking.

        No big surprise that I saw these stake-burning articles at places like Vice. They also dumped on the Simpsons for the same reasons, and the good seasons too, not the mediocre/lousy stuff. I wonder what kind of comedy these people do like anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

        • If I was ever guilty of that, I thankfully moved past it by the time I started to review games. The problem with the mentality is that, despite claiming to promote artistic qualities, it does a better job stifling creativity. I think a lot of critics are frustrated that gamers refuse to buy into that mentality when other mediums (namely, films) embraced it wholeheartedly, but at the end of the day, that refusal to play by the rules is the main reason why game creators are the only artists out there attempting to innovate. And I’m lucky enough to live somewhere where there isn’t that much of a stigma against anime or other international arts, so I can imagine getting those weird looks is highly frustrating. It along with the belief that games can only be art by becoming films is artistic conservatism at its finest.

          Lilly Singh’s stylings, probably. In all honesty, if they find the early seasons of The Simpsons offensive, I couldn’t trust their opinion on comedy. If what I’ve read on Vice is any indication, they’re the types who would find Dad jokes too edgy for their liking.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I hear you on the Last of Us 2 stuff. To continue with the movie metaphor why shouldn’t we have John Wick and Shindler’s List? Neither has to be any lesser because of the existence of the other. If TLOU2 is magnificent whilst being super serious, then great – now we can all go and play Super Monkey Ball as well!

    Liked by 3 people

    • In all honesty, I wouldn’t be surprised if critics were doing this to make the domestic AAA industry look better than it is. It’s in a really bad way right now given that the stuff they manufacture is either highly derivative or stand-out for the wrong reasons. It’s clear the indie scene and international developers are light years ahead of them in terms of both style and substance. Not to mention that there doesn’t seem to have been an American AAA developer that hasn’t been mired in some kind of major controversy within the past five years – Naughty Dog included given their abysmal treatment of their staff.

      But either way, yeah, it’s a really dismissive attitude to have – as though there’s only one way for a given work to be good. It’s possible to make an argument as to which work is better, but their triumphs are not mutually exclusive. Also, I don’t feel shame in saying that Super Monkey Ball 2 is better than any Naughty Dog game I’ve played thus far.


  3. Thank you for the shout out, once again! Glad people have been enjoying those posts.

    And speaking as someone who rather liked the Last of Us, the overall dialogue people have been having about the Last of Us 2 has really killed my interest in it. I don’t have a problem playing games with really deep stories or where you’re constantly making the best of bad decisions, but if making you feel horrible is the main point of the game, and if it doesn’t have any variety or moments where the pressure eases off, that just doesn’t sound like a good time at all. Honestly, I’m sure the way the story in the Last of Us 2 is better at that than that description gives it credit for, but between the ending that got weakened in a very strange way from the last game hurting my faith in the storytellers and the way everyone’s talking about the new game, I’m really unsure whether I’d actually enjoy it or not. I’d be a lot more interested in it without all this dialogue about it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome! It’s been an interesting series – especially given what extreme highs and lows it has had over the years.

      I’m actually currently playing through the game right now because I want to take part in the conversation. And I know this is going to sound crazy coming from me, but I’m kind of enjoying what I’ve played so far. Granted, it does conform to Naughty Dog’s irritating, tried-and-true “you messed up, back to start” design philosophy, and, once again, the game constantly forgets it’s a game, but, like The Lost Legacy, it gets surprisingly non-linear at one point, which I can admire given how their most famous games are designed. Speaking retrospectively, I think it might also be because Joel was a terrible choice as a lead character, and Ellie brings a level of energy the original was sorely lacking – and one she didn’t (and arguably couldn’t) bring as the deuteragonist.

      That being said, I’m not getting my hopes too high; even without all the controversy, one persistent weakness Naughty Dog games have always had since Uncharted is that they can’t stick the landing to save their lives (the only other developer worse than them in that regard would be Quantic Dream). Then, of course, as we’ve pointed out in the past, key bits of amazingly bad writing sunk the endgame of original The Last of Us. After playing it safe for so long, Naughty Dog tends to be at their worst when they get subversive, and this game apparently gets extremely subversive when it comes to story, which has me worried. While I don’t know the exact way the plot will go, only having been exposed to the content leaks enough to definitively know one major development (which I’ve already passed), most of what I’ve heard suggests it’s going to squander its goodwill in some of the dumbest ways imaginable. So, while I am kind of enjoying what I’ve seen so far, I’m also waiting for it to go horribly, horribly wrong.

      Indeed, one source suggests that it’s going to get on the player’s case for making railroaded decisions. If so, then it’s yet another case of AAA writers not realizing that video games have different sets of rules than non-interactive mediums. Sure, Spec Ops: The Line did that, but eight years later, it’s now a fairly common opinion that its lauded guilt-tripping scene has aged very poorly. By the way, I later learned that there originally was going to be a way to get past that scene without using the mortar, but the writers of that game railroaded players into doing it after learning that a significant portion of their test audience (which is to say, nearly all of them) opted not to use it. Learning that really made me lose the (admittedly limited) respect I had for the writers of that game. They were confronted with evidence that directly contradicted their thesis and chose to deliberately ignore it for the sake of pushing their “gamers are trash” sentiments, making them seem worse than they are. If The Last of Us Part II does something like that, it’s going to feel very behind the curve given that games such as Undertale used such storytelling techniques far more effectively.

      Either way, it’s a common sentiment that true art is angsty – a shortsighted, conservative belief that The Last of Us and its sequel greatly benefit from. I myself have found that, while the occasional tragedy can be a triumph in storytelling, the best works out there tend to have a variety of emotions to them. A one-note experience isn’t necessarily bad if the creators can make it ring majestically, but if they can’t, there’s no fallback plan.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m currently watching a Let’s Play of The Last of Us Part II and it’s honestly riveting. I can’t look away. I usually go for one or two half hour videos a day because it’s intense. TLOU is in my Top 10 best video game narratives of all time, and watching the second part is making me want to work on my review of the first.


    • I know you loved the original, so I’m surprised you’re not playing the sequel yourself. I didn’t like the original at all, but its sequel is actually kind of good. Its narrative is a bit tedious, though more interesting than that of its predecessor. I’m still wary though because, if personal experience has taught me anything, it’s that Naughty Dog is notoriously bad at ending their works. I think they start off their projects with a ton of energy, but burn themselves out by the end. I can’t imagine their 70% turnover rate is going to work out well for them in the long run.


      • Oh I am NOT good at these types of games lol. I don’t do well with stealth/sneaking, or anything that involves monsters chasing you. I enjoy those games for their narrative, but I’d be notoriously bad at playing them haha. I’m happy I didn’t completely bungle the FFVII remake because it wasn’t turn based, though I was surprised I actually liked the battle system. Like I was adamantly against any action based stuff when I heard they were doing that, and while I won’t say I had to eat crow because I think my reluctance was valid, I’m happy it turned out much better than I thought.

        Liked by 1 person

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