December 2021 in Summary: The Iceman Cometh

Donkey Kong Country 3 - Christmas

Happy New Year! So, 2021 has come to an end. I know a lot of people were disappointed in how it wasn’t the deliverance from 2020 they hoped it would be, but with the presence of vaccines and an absence of a potent COVID-19 variant that can completely dodge them, it was still better than 2020.

Well, if nothing else, 2021, like 2020, was a remarkably great year for music. Seriously, those artists have been firing on all cylinders lately. I was a bit skeptical about the whole vinyl revival, and while I do get the appeal, one undeniably positive impact it had on music is that it got artists to begin thinking about how to put their work in an album format. I find one’s body of work tends to be stronger and more cohesive if you can translate one’s talent to the album format.

I also apologize for the lack of reviews, but, I will have a review of Donkey Kong 64 ready to go for next week.

Films watched in December 2021:

In theaters:

  • Spider-Man: No Way Home (Jon Watts, 2021)
  • West Side Story (Steven Spielberg, 2021)

At home:

  • I Wanna Hold Your Hand (Robert Zemeckis, 1978)
  • The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983)
  • The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, 1956)
  • Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

Considering how successful his movies are, it may be a shock to learn that Robert Zemeckis’s directorial debut, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, a film that perfectly captures the height of Beatlemania, bombed in the box office ($1.9 million against a $2.8 million budget). It’s a real shame that it did because it got Mr. Zemeckis off to a great start. It’s difficult to say exactly why it bombed given the subject matter, but if you’re a music fan, you’ll have a great time with this one.

I have seen many quality films about the space race such as Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures, Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 and Damien Chazelle’s First Man. Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff was arguably a progenitor for those two films and others, and seeing all three films really gives you the sense of just how much went into these NASA launches. I find The Right Stuff itself succeeds in much of the same way First Man does in how it highlights the failures along the way to the successful launches. It was based off a non-fiction work, so aside from a few artistic licenses, it’s a great watch for any history buffs out there.

And yes, you are reading that right – I did see two films in theaters this month, but please don’t risk your health. In my defense, I purchased my tickets before I knew of the wave of Omicron infections, but that I didn’t get infected myself was more a matter of luck than anything else (although getting a booster certainly didn’t hurt).

As for what I saw, the first film was the third MCU Spider-Man entry, No Way Home. For reasons that I won’t go into for the sake of keeping this spoiler-free, I will say that it pulls off a lot of interesting things that are sure to please fans of all the live-action films thus far, but like Far from Home, it just kinda left me wanting more. It was good, but not the out-of-nowhere, pleasant surprise Shang-Chi was, I’ll just say that.

And it’s nice to know that Steven Spielberg can still make a good film this far into his career (almost fifty years by this point!). You don’t really see many musicals nowadays, but I would say his take on the legendary Broadway play West Side Story is one worth checking out.

Back home in time for Christmas, I ended up watching The Ten Commandments. Cecil B. DeMille is a figure who has had an odd afterlife; some critics call him the Michael Bay of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and that isn’t a bad comparison. His films raked in large box office takes, but left critics unimpressed, and it’s not as though critics have warmed up to the crowd-pleasers, either. But, boy, oh, boy, did he end his career on a high note because The Ten Commandments is an epic classic that has held up incredibly well. As a kid, I saw DreamWorks’s The Prince of Egypt, which also told the story of Moses, so it was a treat seeing the live-action original.

Finally, to ring in the new year, I saw Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot. Like The Apartment, which he directed a year later, it was a remarkably forward-looking film in how it handled what was, at the time, taboo subjects. Complementing the feature is Mr. Wilder’s patented rapid-fire comedy and snappy dialogue that made him one of the all-time greats. Coupled with a set of twists that managed to atomize the Hays Code and pave the way for New Hollywood a decade later, and you have yourself one of the best films of the 1950s.

Featured articles:

Movie Review – Drive My Car – This month, ManInBlack took a look at Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, which while not featuring the song by the Fab Four, instead involves a director making a multilingual version of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. It is notably the first non-English film (sixth overall) to win Best Picture from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle and National Society of Film Critics, so it definitely seems like something worth checking out.

The Late Best Games of 2021 – With 2021 done with, The Night Owl reflects on the best games played the past year.

The 2021 Christmas Special/Seven Year Anniversary Celebration – Scott of the Wizard Dojo started blogging on Christmas seven years ago, and has celebrated his milestone with a celebratory post, which includes ranking the Spider-Man films.

Sailing Alone Around The World by Captain Joshua Slocum – An Audio Book Review – swordsandspectres takes a look at the audiobook of Sailing Alone Around The World, a memoir written by the first person to circumnavigate the globe by himself, challenged by an expert who claimed it couldn’t be done.

The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) Movie Review – Boy, the 1980s had a lot of cheese, didn’t it? As Lashaan Balasingam of Bookidote points out in his review, The Return of Swamp Thing is one such piece of cheese, being a terrible sequel to the 1982 cult classic.

Red Leicester: Is This Britain’s Greatest Cheese? – Speaking of cheese, Mr. Wapojif takes a look at Red Leicester, which could very well be Britain’s greatest cheese.

A Wake Inn- Short Review – With VR starting to gain traction vgartsite takes a look at the indie game A Wake Inn, which, being a soft horror, would seem ideal for the blossoming medium.

Is This It – On his alternate site Hi-Fi Adventures, Matt takes a look at The Strokes’ stellar debut album, Is This It? – commonly considered one of the best albums of the 2000s.

Why Pronouns Are Important – Pronouns are important for creating a sense of inclusivity as Emily of Monsterlady’s Diary demonstrates in her article regarding the subject.

Silent Hill 2Silent Hill 2 is commonly considered to be the best survival horror game out there. Buffalo Retro explains why that is in his review.

Reading Into It: The Game, The Girls, The Gamer – Athena of AmbiGaming looks at Doki Doki Literature Club, a heart-pounding visual novel leaves quite the impression on those who play it.

Let’s Blog Award (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) – This month, Aether was tagged thrice with a Let’s Blog award (including once by me), and answered 30 questions in total. The answers he provided were interesting, so here’s a link to all three parts. I especially like what he had to say about boss fights.

Aside: I don’t think boss fights are really a dying art as much North American AAA developers are (and have always been) terrible at making them, so when they recovered from the 1983 crash in the 2000s and regained the market share they lost, boss fights took a backseat. As a counterexample, Metroid Dread, which was released in 2021 and was a collaboration between a Spanish studio and a Japanese studio, had plenty of great boss fights. And I mean only AAA developers when I say that; indie developers from North America don’t really have this problem (just look at Undertale and Shovel Knight). My guess is that indie developers’ influences tend to be more eclectic whereas North American AAA developers, as a possible result of getting too complacent, are decidedly insular, not taking cues from anything outside of their spheres while also only having the bare minimum influence outside of them.

11 thoughts on “December 2021 in Summary: The Iceman Cometh

  1. Thanks for the nod, and I will be looking forward to that Donkey Kong 64 review.

    I am also curious about your take on Don’t Look Up when you get to watch it (if you ever do), considering what you wrote on Vice. =P

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome! And I’m astonished how long it’s turning out; it’s going to surpass the 10,000-word mark.

      Quite frankly, I’m not interested in seeing that film. I don’t find it particularly fun watching a well-to-do man go on an ego trip for two hours and blame his audience for not instantly solving all the world’s problems. I’ll watch it if it gets nominated for Best Picture, but I have to say it’s not a good sign that Adam McKay is telling critics exactly what they want to hear, and he still isn’t winning them over. That, to me, indicates that he is doing something seriously wrong.

      His in-your-face style was kind of interesting in The Big Short, but it was still the worst film nominated that year, and his writing has only gotten worse since then. Diminishing returns will do that to you.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for the mention, as always. 🙂 And I totally agree with your take on boss fights. Why AAA western developers seem allergic to them is dumbfounding and continually disappointing.

    I still need to see West Side Story, though the rise of Omicron (which I was sad to learn isn’t the name of a Transformer) has put a halt to my theater-going. Barely managed to see Spider-Man before things got too bad here. And luckily for me, the other movies I saw in theaters the past few months were in less crowded screenings. On the plus side, this gives me a better opportunity to re-watch some of the movies I failed to review in 2021 on streaming services so I can finally review them proper. I plan on getting to those, and then catching up on game reviews (good heavens am I behind there). Metroid Dread, which you mentioned, is one of those games.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! And as I said, North American AAA developers have a bad knack of only taking inspiration from each other; they tend to ignore trends in indie circles and developers from abroad, and their efforts tend to be stale and repetitive as a result.

      Game development as it is now actually kind of reminds me of where the film industry was in the 1980s and 1990s wherein the most interesting talent is coming from the indie scene, and while the indie scene was once used as a springboard to make it into the mainstream, now those artists tend to remain independent and are better off for it. A bit of a shame gaming critics don’t share the same zeal for indies their film-loving counterparts do, but that’s what the community is for.

      And yes, West Side Story is good. I highly recommend it. It’s for the best that you see it on a streaming service. Fortunately, we’re not looking at an Avatar situation here; it’ll be good on your television screen.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yeah, there’s a lot AAA western developers could learn from looking at indie games and those from elsewhere in the world. One issue is that western developers seem like they want to avoid anything “video game-y” in their video games (God forbid!). They try their hardest to make a “cinematic/immersive experience.” They have this weird ideology that they have to deviate away from the “game” aspect of video games to be legitimized or something. I dunno, I kind of want to be playing a video game when I’m playing a video game.

        The funny thing is, game critics were all over the indie scene in the late 2000s, when they were preachy and self-important and tried to cover up a lack of substance as being “minimalism.” In other words, before indie games really hit their stride (which I think happened with Shovel Knight. Not that there weren’t some great indie titles before then, but that’s when they became a force). Now that indie games are more like, y’know, games, you don’t hear about them nearly as much critically. It’s the kind of thing that makes me throw my hands in the air. I just don’t get it.

        Talking of Shovel Knight, have you tried Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon? It successfully combines an action game with a falling block puzzler, and I can’t get enough of it.

        Good to know. Steven Spielberg is (probably) my second favorite director, and I was curious how a musical directed by him would turn out. I’ve heard nothing but good things. I’ll check it out for sure as soon as I can.

        “Fortunately, we’re not looking at an Avatar situation here; it’ll be good on your television screen.”
        Ouch! But agreed.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, and it’s especially detrimental given how the cinematic approach to design is really starting to show its age by this point. Especially after Undertale demonstrated that the best narratives in video games have the story and gameplay working in tandem rather than by keeping them separate. It’s still a fairly young medium, and it’s one that really could use a boost of self-confidence because the Western AAA industry really isn’t doing anything interesting.

          I would actually say indie games hit their stride with Papers, Please because that game managed to be both fun and artistically profound and without any of the stuffy pretentiousness that defined the earlier efforts. And that was right about the time game critics dropped the indie scene like a hot potato. Then again, 2013 was also the year Phil Fish had that very public meltdown, so I wonder if he may have killed off the appeal of auteurs in critical circles. It’s difficult to say for sure why they turned their backs on indies, but it’s absolutely not healthy for the medium. Indie films may not be doing anything interesting now, but while I think the film critics’ zeal for them is woefully misguided, I do give them credit for actually caring about promoting promising new talent.

          Gone Home was the last time gaming critics really expressed any kind of zeal for an indie effort. It really says something that, after getting so much attention, The Fullbright Company’s follow-up just came and went with little fanfare (which is crazy because Tacoma, flawed though it may have been, was the better game). Indie filmmakers who successfully court the critics will generally have them hanging on their every word afterwards (which is, admittedly, not always a good thing if they’re a one-hit wonder), so for The Fullbright Company to fall off like that is insane. Then again, critics completely missed the boat on both Undertale and OneShot, so their track record was already spotty by the time Tacoma came out in 2017. Gaming critics really need to learn to write in a way that nurtures the growth of the medium instead of acting as mercenaries selling out to the highest bidder. You can get away with selling out if you’re an artist, but not if you’re a critic.

          I haven’t tried Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon, but it does sound interesting. I really do like games that can successfully mash genres together like that.

          There are several other directors I like more than Steven Spielberg, but I do applaud him for his consistency. Many people burn out in a fraction of the time he’s been working.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing my review of that terrible sequel to The Swamp Thing! Also glad to see how much you enjoyed No Way Home. I too enjoyed it but it mostly just got nostalgic points for me. As a piece of cinema, I found it weak. I look forward to what Sony/Marvel plan to do with these Spidies now.

    Liked by 1 person

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