August 2020 in Summary: Hot Potato!

Also known as the one where Red Metal actually does stuff. Hope you all are continuing to do well!


Films watched in August 2020:

In theaters:

  • <None>

At home:

  • 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.


Featured articles:

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:

Game reviews:

28 thoughts on “August 2020 in Summary: Hot Potato!

  1. Thanks for the mention! And congratulations for suffering through the whole Bubsy series. Hopefully it’s been put to rest for good by now.

    I’ve heard a lot of stories about Dr. Strangelove, how Slim Pickens was told it would be a straightforward drama where he was the serious hero, George C. Scott was goaded into acting in a “crazy” way in his part, all that. I don’t know how true that all is, but it sounds believable considering everything else you hear about Kubrick’s methods. I’ve heard the same sorts of things about Hitchcock too. When you make great movies, maybe you can just get away with a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! In truth, I haven’t really gotten through the entire series; I haven’t played the obscure Jaguar entry (for obvious reasons), and there was actually a Bubsy game made after this one called Paws on Fire. It was apparently made by the same guys who made the Bit.Trip series, and from what I’ve heard, it’s actually fairly decent. Still, given its predecessors, a game on the level of Sonic Heroes would be fairly decent by comparison, so I’m a bit wary.

      And that totally sounds like the stuff Mr. Kubrick would pull off; he was wacky like that. Both of them got away with a lot of stuff that would be impossible to pull off now (and rightly so). I think Dr. Strangelove was the better of the two films because it was a simpler idea executed very well whereas 2001 felt a little too stream-of-consciousness (read: unfocused) for its own good. Still, I could recommend it over A24’s attempts to shoot for those standards; those directors have ten times the ego and less than one-one-hundredth of talent of those they seek to emulate.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for including my post!

    Bubsy’s Woolie Strikes back’s most known feature is not being as bad as the other games that came before. But given that half of them was unplayable that i not saying much! I tried to complete Bubsy 3D but it drove me pretty mad! Not a fun game to complete! Bubsy Woolies strike back is super expensive for what is is worth. For a 10 dollar game it might be okay.. but I never really saw a good reason to play it.

    Final Fantasy Legend I remember playing as a kid but I immediately had no idea what I was doing! So i tired and ended up playing Bonk instead every time

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome!

      Reviewing the Bubsy series was interesting because I can tell the underlying implications of many of those looking back on upon it is that the series was good before it lost the plot with 3D. However, after playing the games leading up to it, a far more accurate conclusion is that 3D merely took the series’ problems (from the bad level design to the unpolished controls) and dialed them up to eleven. The Woolies Strike Back doesn’t deserve to be considered better just because it isn’t as blatantly bad as 3D considering the sheer lack of effort that went into it.

      To be fair, if you have no idea what you’re doing, those games will destroy you. When you do know how the game works, it’s still difficult, but it’s far more manageable (or at least until the endgame). Indeed, SaGa 2 had a boss I could never defeat as a kid. When I geared up for a rematch just a few days ago, I beat her on my first try. Platforming games such as Bonk are much easier to delve into, so I can sympathize with you there.

      Like

  3. Thanks for the nod, once more!

    Coincidentally, I watched Dr. Strangelove and 2001 for the first time recently. I loved the former without reservations. As for the latter, I loved the first two parts, but the whole acid trip towards the end left me a bit cold.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome!

      Great minds think alike, huh? And that pretty much sums up my reaction to the films as well. I do think 2001 got a little too needlessly obtuse, but I find after many present-day auteurs try and fail miserably to achieve that standard (High Life, Uncut Gems, et all), I’m a little more forgiving of it. Regardless, it is one of those moments that feels like it’s just being weird for its own sake, which I can see completely losing even the most patient film fans.

      Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! And yeah, when I look back at the films I watched at the beginning of August, I can’t believe it ended up being within the span of just one month. I hope your month goes well too!

      Like

  4. Thanks for the mention!

    I hadn’t intended on listing Rare games entirely within a 10-year span, celebrating over three decades of making games and all, but here we are. Whenever I try to write down my Rare favorites, I inevitably end up going from Donkey Kong Country to Banjo-Tooie(1994-2000).

    I’ve been meaning to sit down and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey again as I really enjoyed the movie, but trying to comprehend the final 30-40 minutes or so of it wasn’t going to be easy at 2am…

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome!

      And that was probably Rare’s greatest period. I think some fans would argue Battletoads was when they came into their own, but their NES output just didn’t have the same polish as their output from Donkey Kong Country to Banjo-Tooie.

      Those final 30-40 minutes seem to be a pretty controversial point to a lot of people. You’ll either think it’s profound or a self-indulgent mess (my take: it’s both, though leaning a little bit more towards the latter). Regardless, I tend to be a little more kind to 2001 than today’s auteurs shooting for the same standard because, as self-indulgent as it is, it does feel as though Mr. Kubrick developed it honestly. With today’s auteurs, I could tell most of them did it purely for the sake of trying to stand out from the crowd as opposed to developing a unique style organically.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the shout-out! 🙂

    Nice movie list! 2001 is definitely an interesting movie; Dr Strangelove too, though you’re right that it’s known more for all the tributes over the years than as the movie itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome!

      I definitely think both are interesting films. I do like that Kubrick avoided pigeonholing himself into a single genre by sampling various ones. It gives him a richer filmography than most. One of the only modern directors I think who does that is Rian Johnson, and… yeah, he’s not on that level, to be perfectly frank.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, Rian Johnson! No, that guy is finished for me after the bloody murder of SW! 😀 Even though Knives Out was pretty entertaining, as well as the first two-thirds of Looper 😉 I think Villeneuve might be closer to Kubrick in his movies variety and skill – though I haven’t seen all of films of either of them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Looper ended up losing you, I take it? Anyway, I think we have Rian Johnson to blame for making subversive storytelling very, very uncool. The man just isn’t talented enough (or charismatic enough) to be a trailblazer. I do think Knives Out was a better film than The Last Jedi or Looper, but it does kind of suffer from that same problem in that you can’t really think about it too hard, or the script shatters like glass. Mr. Johnson is definitely not a director for the thinkers in the audience, that’s for sure.

          Now that you mention it, I think Denis Villeneuve is kind of director Rian Johnson tries and fails to be. With every one of Mr. Villeneuve’s films, I could tell there was a lot of ambition to them. Even Sicario, which I have to admit is my least favorite of the films of his I’ve seen, still had much more going for it than Mr. Johnson at his best.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yup; it did start well enough, even though the funny jaw of Gordon Levitt altered to resemble Willis was on the nose. But another poor traumatized victim who becomes a horrible dictator in the future and one split-second decision that changes him completely? Spare me 😉

            Knives Out suffered from the plot inconsistencies, but mostly from putting Captain America in the spotlight. He’s just not a good enough actor to manage the weight and lead the audience away from the insufficiency of the plot.

            Couldn’t agree more! Villeneuve has more talent, more ambition, and more luck in finding actors and finding the best in them – even Sicario is an acting fest, even if the ending loses some of the tension.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. Whoa – $40 for a game that doesn’t take even 2 hours to play? That sounds a bit rich for my blood.

    So glad you mentioned Ace in the Hole. It’s a gritty story, but, as you mentioned, a timeless one. Also appreciated your thoughts on the other films. I’m haphazardly trying to expand my knowledge of foreign films, so I’m looking forward to Yi Yi, Tampopo, and Red Beard.

    Thanks for the mention!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s too rich for anyone’s blood, really. It has depreciated in value because duh, but playing it is still a complete waste of time.

      And Ace in the Hole is a good film. It’s actually kind of amazing Mr. Wilder managed to get away with it, though it’s not surprising critics hated it. For all the vitriol they sling towards creators, they are amazingly thin-skinned. Between those films, I think Yi Yi was the best, but all three are great, so you should check them out when you can.

      You’re welcome! I’ve definitely got Rebecca on my watch list.

      Like

  7. Dr. Strangelove is high on my watchlist; one of the rare Kubrick movies that I have yet to have seen. Really appreciate the shoutout to my Dark Knight movie review. Looking forward to sharing my thoughts on the third and final movie in the trilogy this month, which… was probably the weakest of the three for me, unfortunately heheh

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Dr. Strangelove was kind of like Casablanca in that I knew of its iconic moments to the point where I almost knew the entire story because I actually saw it. I’d say it’s worth watching; it’s kind of amazing Mr. Kubrick managed to get away with it given the political climate at the time.

      I don’t think The Dark Knight Rises is a complete disaster like, say, The Last Jedi, but it is definitely a heavily flawed film, and I don’t think you’re in short company declaring it the worst film in the trilogy. Bruce magically appearing in Gotham after escaping the pit was pretty ridiculous.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wait, you paid good money for Bubsy? Aw man, at least you made it back. Quite a risk you’re taking for your craft, here. Yeah, $40 for that amount of content, and that amount of sloppy content, at that, is beyond the pale.

    As ever, thank you much for the shoutout!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Reminds me of when I managed to make my money back with Ride to Hell: Retribution. I even placed the words “HILARIOUSLY BAD GAME” in the item description, so I was stunned when it actually sold – and in a week or so, at that. I’ve had copies of good works take longer to sell than that. Either way, no, $40 for two hours of sloppy, uninspired gameplay? No chance.

      You’re welcome! It was a solid list of games you picked, I’d say.

      Like

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