Also known as the one where Red Metal actually does stuff. Hope you all are continuing to do well!
Films watched in August 2020:
- Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
- City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
- Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
- Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000)
- Red Beard (Akira Kurosawa, 1965)
- Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
- Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985)
Rest in peace, Kirk Douglas – you had a great run. Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole was released in 1951 to a cold reception. It’s a very scathing film that lambasts the media for being more interested in writing the best story possible than doing the right thing. So yeah, just in case you thought the media being wholly unable to take any kind of criticism was a new thing, yeah no, it’s been going on for a while. I have to admit I didn’t like it as much as Sunset Boulevard, but Ace in the Hole is definitely worth watching.
City Lights was notably a silent film released after sound became the standard. It is often considered a swansong effort for silent films in general. If so, it was a great note to end on because it is easily one of the best films of the 1930s – right up there with M. Charlie Chaplin was a comedic genius, and while this film has no shortage of great humor, it also has a level of sincerity and earnestness that, as a comedy-drama, allows it to deliver exceedingly well on both fronts.
Dr. Strangelove is one of those films whose quotes and moments are arguably more famous than the film itself. Considering the very real possibility that a nuclear holocaust could occur at any moment (with one having been narrowly averted a few years before this film came out), it’s incredible this film was ever greenlit. It’s a good thing it was because Dr. Strangelove is prime black comedy.
I kind of consider 2001: A Space Odyssey the film equivalent of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica album in that while it is considered one of the best films ever made, the arguments against its artistic merits will be just as passionate as those of its proponents (or at least if Pauline Keel is anything to go by), and the odds of a consensus ever being reached is highly unlikely. I personally think it was worth watching. I’ve heard a few people mention that a film like this could never be made or consumed en masse these days, but I think it’s less that it could never be made and more that, quite frankly, the current generation of filmmakers could never capture what Mr. Kubrick did with this film justice. It was lightning in a bottle, requiring a certain context that is irretrievable, riding high off the Space Race without any of the anti-intellectual tendencies that would later define science-fiction of the 2010s.
Yi Yi was one of the last films Edward Yang made before his untimely death in 2007. It’s a great slice-of-life film that centers on a middle-class Taiwanese family over the course of a year. From the kid having to deal with a belligerent teacher to the patriarch potentially rekindling an old flame, it’s definitely a film with many moving parts, and they all work together so well. It had the misfortune of being released around the same time as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but now, it’s considered one the best films of the 2000s.
Like the last two Kurosawa films I’ve seen, Red Beard isn’t exactly what springs to mind when one brings up the legendary director. Kagemusha won the Palme d’Or, but I suspect it was one of those “Crap, we should’ve given this guy an award earlier” deals a la Al Pacino’s Oscar win for Best Actor in 1993 (which is to say, still good efforts, but not their best). Anyway, much like how American video game critics now tend to dismiss international efforts, quite a few film critics back then likened it to a soap opera. In fact, if you look at Rotten Tomatoes, it still has a fairly modest 71%, suggesting those who originally criticized it never really warmed up to it. Thankfully, Roger Ebert saw through that nonsense, allowing it into his four-star “Great Movies” collection. It’s about a dispassionate doctor who is hired by a clinic run by a strict, yet compassionate man. It’s an interesting dynamic because you would usually see a story like this end with the strict character having to loosen up, yet there is a clear sense of compassion beneath his methods, which, in turn, allow the protagonist to grow as a character. It would be the last project Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurosawa would collaborate on, and while it’s unfortunate they would have a falling out after this, it was a reasonably high note to end their collaboration on.
Most of what I’ve read about Terrence Malick suggests his body of work is fairly controversial among cinephiles. You generally have just as many people declaring him one of the greatest directors ever as you do those who believe his work to be overly pretentious. Generally, out of all of his films, Badlands tends to be the least controversial, while the rest of his body of work is extremely divisive. I have to say that if Days of Heaven is any indication, I get where the detractors are coming from. Film critics have a bad habit of devaluing plot in favor of visuals. As such, cinema has an inordinate number of instances in which style triumphs over substance – and that is precisely what I felt occurred in this film. While it is important to take advantage of the medium, I find I would rather see a film with an excellent story and decent (or even slightly below-average) visuals than a film with incredible visuals, but a bare-bones plot. So yeah, not bad, but I would be hard-pressed to recommend it.
I then rounded out the month by watching Juzo Itami’s classic Tampopo. I can safely say it’s the single greatest contemporary, ramen-themed Western I have ever seen. But seriously, it is very creative, blending together the sensibilities of Western and Eastern filmmaking techniques in one of the most unique ways I’ve seen. Funnily enough, I actually saw a clip of this when attending college. It was a communications studies class, and the professor used this film as a humorous way to highlight the differences between cultures. I had completely forgotten about the film by the time I picked this one up, so I ended up seeing the rest of it by complete accident. Fate works in weird ways, doesn’t it?
Games reviewed in August 2020:
Mega Man 6
I find Mega Man 6 to be an interesting contrast with the 2019 Modern Warfare because they were both series that eventually attempted to stretch the goodwill from their past accomplishments a little too far. The main difference is that Call of Duty declined as a result of creative stagnation and apathy; with Mega Man, it was plain old burnout. Even if the ideas didn’t always land, I could still tell the design team went into the sixth entry with the same gusto they always had; they just needed a bolt of inspiration, which happened to manifest in the form of Mega Man X.
Regardless of how it got there, Mega Man 6 is a popular pick for the worst game in the classic series (it tends to be neck-and-neck with Mega Man 8). A lot of people swear by this game, and while I can believe it’s not the worst game in the franchise (X7 is far worthier of the distinction), Capcom was clearly going through the motions by this point. It’s a shame because Mega Man 5 had a lot of inventive gimmicks in its own level design, and Mega Man 6 sort of has the feeling of being a grand finale, though Mega Man X was in development at the same time, so the franchise was clearly not going anywhere anytime soon. Still, it’s a shame that Mega Man’s final outing on his most famous platform was, for all intents and purposes, a dud.
The Final Fantasy Legend
I originally chose to review this game under the belief that it wouldn’t take long given how simplistic it is. Then it turned out to be a little over 5,500 words long when it gave me a surprising amount of taking points. Shows what I know, huh?
As weird as it sounds, I actually ended up getting the three Game Boy SaGa (Final Fantasy Legend as they were known in the West) games in reverse order. The only other instance I can think of in which I did something like that was the Metroid Prime trilogy, which I completed in reverse order. Being a rather dense kid unfamiliar with the concept of level grinding, I didn’t manage to complete a single one of the SaGa games; I came close to completing Final Fantasy Legend III, but I got hopelessly lost in the final dungeon. In Final Fantasy Legend II, I made the mistake of relying too heavily on the temporary party members, thus leaving my team weak when fighting Venus. That the game didn’t have a conventional leveling system was too much for me to comprehend back then. What ended my playthrough of The Final Fantasy Legend was a puzzle I wasn’t able to figure out. Annoyingly, the person who hands out the puzzle doesn’t repeat it if you get it wrong, and this was back when GameFAQs wasn’t really a thing, so when you got stuck, that was it.
How I would have fared had I gotten past that puzzle will never be known, but I can safely say that, having played it now, I have a greater appreciation for its unconventional mechanics and the influence it had on the medium. Even back in 1999 when I played it for the first time, I could see many similarities between Pokémon and The Final Fantasy Legend. The mutant and monster abilities being measured in uses rather than regulated by a mana system is similar to the Power Points system in Pokémon. Even just the ability to get the monsters you battle as party members is a clear parallel between the two games. However, Gen I Pokémon ultimately wins out because while The Final Fantasy Legend was a good effort for its time, its complete lack of balance and unintuitive nature makes revisiting it a daunting task for those not used to games from this era (and even to some of those who are).
Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back
For those wondering about the name of this update post, here’s where it becomes relevant. You see, I had purchased this game used on eBay, and once I was done with it, I ended up selling to someone else on eBay as well. Therefore, I was playing a variant of “Hot Potato” across state lines.
I was astonished I was able to sell it for pretty much the same price for which I purchased it. I was even more astonished when I learned the publishers charged $40 for this game new. $40 for a game that doesn’t even last two hours is inexcusable in this day and age. Some considered this to be the best Bubsy game as of 2017, but I find The Woolies Strike Back has much in common with Data Design Interactive’s output in the PlayStation 2/Wii years (Ninjabread Man, Anubis II, et all) – particularly with the distinct lack of care that went into its creation. Granted, it’s not as bad as any of those games by virtue of being somewhat controllable, but I stand by my assessment that it’s one of the worst games of the 2010s. That means the Bubsy series is the first to have more one entry to be considered by me to be the worst of the decade that spawned it. And this was already a series that never got anything higher than a 2/10 even in its “good” installments. Yeah, not a great showing there, Bubsy.
Alfred Hitchcock and the Art of Negative Acting – Artists can have a really weird stance when it comes to their own body of work – especially if they’re prolific. Alfred Hitchcock was one such filmmaker – particularly in regards to Rebecca (and Rope, for that matter), not really thinking much about it despite its lofty status now. It’s interesting whenever critics admire a work more and reading the piece written by Ruth of Silver Screenings about Rebecca has certainly made me interested in checking it out at some point.
5 Favorites for the Rare 35th Anniversary – I find that across all mediums, the 1990s was a mixed bag. The 1990s could never settle for being middle-of-the-road; whenever artists from that decade failed, they failed hard. When they were on point, however, they could spin straw into gold. Rare embodied that sheer creative energy before losing it all after being sold to Microsoft. Gaming Omnivore takes a quick look at five classic games from their catalogue.
Snap Judgements: Quarantine Edition – Looking for something to pass the time during this quarantine? You’re in luck, as Aether has been sampling a wide variety of games. The 2010s was a certifiable golden age for the indie gaming scene, so it is great seeing him give stuff such as Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, Broforce, and A Short Hike the spotlight.
Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, Saga (2012-present) – Having gotten into graphic novels and manga fairly recently, it was interesting reading a take on Saga (no relation to SaGa) over at Reenchantment of the World. Also mentioned is Y: The Last Man, which I did read a bit of myself and was impressed by. From what they have to say of it, Saga is highly progressive in how it handles its subject matter.
Lady Bird – The Man in Black over at Instant Headache saw fit to review the nigh-universally beloved Lady Bird. In it he argues that, while the film is confident, Ms. Gerwig didn’t really find her voice, which is something I can agree with. As he mentions, the choppy editing and gleeful abandoning of interesting story beats didn’t help things either.
The Dark Knight (2008) Movie Review – Lashaan Balasingam over at Bookidote takes a look at what is probably Christopher Nolan’s most well-known film, The Dark Knight. It is kind of like The Deer Hunter in that one could cite it as an example of a good film that had a bad influence on the medium (among other things, it probably taught storytellers that you can make a villain do random stuff and they would be considered well-written), but it was definitely one of 2008’s standout efforts, and it was nice hearing the opinion of someone who greatly admires it.
Do your protagonist or leads have to be relatable? – After celebrating his seven-year blogging anniversary, AK over at Everything is Bad for You asked another question that’s food for thought. My answer is exactly the same as the one asking if video games need to be fun (“No, but it helps”). He uses this talking point as a segue to an interesting manga he discovered Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro along with other works such as House of Cards; it’s definitely worth a read.
The Damphir and the Dumbkopf: Bloodrayne Review – Pinkie over at Pinkie’s Paradise, defying any notions of common sense, decided to watch Uwe Boll’s adaptation of Bloodrayne. Translating a game narrative to a non-interactive one is pretty difficult by itself, but it certainly isn’t going to work out with a writer as bad as Uwe Boll circa 2005. She did manage to write a humorous review, so it definitely worked out well.
Bill & Ted Successfully Return – Usually, when you hear of a comedy sequel that surfaces many years after its direct predecessor, you can bet on it to be universally panned by critics and fans alike. To see both factions praise the newest Bill & Ted film is not something I would’ve seen coming, though the trailers made it look good. Gemma’s take on the film over at Book Beach Bunny makes me want to go and see it.
CrossCode – Continuing his tour of lauded 2010s indie titles, Matt over at Nintendobound takes a look at CrossCode – a game that seems to have been heavily inspired by The Legend of Zelda. Unlike a certain other game I could mention, this one is actually upfront about the fact that the character is playing through an in-universe MMO.
Read But Not Forgotten -Books I Loved But Am Not Brave Enough To Re-Read – I think we’ve all had that moment in which we admired a work only to dread having to revisit it somewhere down the line out of fear it might not have held up. Aaron of Swords & Spectres takes a look at four such books.
Sadly, as many of you may have heard, the great Chadwick Boseman has passed away. He may not have had a long career, but he definitely put what little time he had left on this Earth to great use. He will truly be missed. Many bloggers I read have made loving tributes to him, including Fed of Fed’s Life and Starloggers.
Links to my articles: