We are now in properly in 2022. What will this year bring us? Only time will tell.
Films watched in January 2022:
- Romancing the Stone (Robert Zemeckis, 1984)
- The Bad News Bears (Michael Ritchie, 1976)
- A Few Good Men (Rob Reiner, 1992)
- Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012)
- Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014)
Romancing the Stone is one of those instances where I heard of a parody of the title before knowing of the source material (through King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne), and it would be a long, long time before I ended up seeing the inspiration. A little late to the party here, but I enjoyed it. It’s a great adventure film much like Indiana Jones with the twist that the protagonist is not an adventurer. It’s also the film that put Robert Zemeckis on the map, although unlike most cases, he was always good; this just happened to be the one that successfully told the audience (and marketers, probably) to get their act together and support this clearly talented director.
The Bad News Bears is a beloved sports comedy. In a lot of ways, it foreshadowed the countless generic kids sports films in the 1990s, but this had a much nastier edge to it than those films – and that is, for the most part, to its benefit. As far as sports comedies go, it didn’t get me the same way Slap Shot did, but it’s worth a look if you like those kinds of films.
A Few Good Men – a.k.a. the last film Rob Reiner made before he ruined his career with North – is another case of me getting into a film for the meme alone (other cases include On the Waterfront, Patton, and …And Justice for All). Some say that ruins the surprise, but I think it’s a lot of fun seeing the actual context behind those lines. It’s also fun getting to shout, “He said it! He said the thing!” when it occurs. Anyway, A Few Good Men is a classic court drama written by the always-on-point Aaron Sorkin. Fans of his or good writing in general should check it out.
I have mixed feelings about Frances Ha. On one hand, it does have a lot of witty dialogue and Greta Gerwig certainly can carry a film. On the other hand, I think we have this film to (partly) blame for the influx of unambitious mumblecore films that clogged up the latter half of the 2010s, so I kind of resent it for that. The 2010s in general marked the moment indie directors ceased being creators and became passive observers. In retrospect, I could also tell this was partially written by Greta Gerwig because, like in Lady Bird, she has a bad habit of overestimating how sympathetic her characters are. That begin said, I find myself thinking of Frances Ha similarly to how I feel about Juno in that while it did arguably suck the ambition out of a new wave of indie directors, it’s also not the worst of its kind. If you like this kind of film, you’ll probably enjoy Frances Ha, but if you don’t, there is little chance it will change your mind.
And finally, at the end of the month, I saw Whiplash. I have to admit it’s my least favorite of the Damien Chazelle films I’ve seen (that list includes La La Land and First Man), but I also find that it falls under the “overrated, but still ultimately good” clause. As a casual jazz fan, I got a lot out of it, and J.K. Simmons’s performance is quite something (then again, when is it not?).
Games reviewed in January 2022:
Donkey Kong 64
Also known as the one where Red Metal polarizes his Rare fans (to be fair, this game did half the work for me). And I believe this is my tenth review to exceed 10,000 words.
Believe it or not, I find myself in a similar position when talking about Donkey Kong 64 as I did when I discussed The Last of Us Part II. This is because, when examining them purely in terms of the gameplay they have to offer and absolutely nothing else, they’re actually fairly good (though The Last of Us Part II, being released in 2020, naturally has more polish). The problem is that both games ultimately suffer a death by a thousand cuts. That is, they have myriad problems that aren’t so bad individually, but significantly weigh the experience down when in aggregate. In both cases, I feel it’s a result of the respective design styles starting to show their age when they were released. The cinematic game had fallen out of favor among hardcore gaming circles by 2020 thanks to titles such as 999, Undertale, and OneShot – all of which incorporated gameplay into the narrative while The Last of Us Part II stuck to the tired method of either the gameplay and the narrative separate or forcing the players to do things that shouldn’t require their input.
Meanwhile, a lot of people point to Donkey Kong 64 when seeking to blame any one game for having killed the collect-a-thon platformer. While it is a plausible culprit and I personally think it foreshadowed the sheer bloat of AAA productions in the coming decades, I would actually make the case that Ocarina of Time also had something to do with the subgenre’s decline in popularity. It was a game that had very collect-a-thon-like elements to it with the Heart Pieces and Gold Skulltulas, but the difference is that there is a definable reward for seeing those sidequests through beyond making the numbers go up. Sure, the reward for finding all the Gold Skulltula tokens turns out to be not worth your time, but it does exist. Breath of the Wild would go even further with the idea with its open-world design, as collecting Spirit Orbs was reminiscent of collecting Power Stars in Super Mario 64 – just with the added bonus of acting like experience points you could exchange for more health or stamina.
By comparison, there wasn’t nearly enough to justify having so many things to collect in Donkey Kong 64, so its inability to get with the times ensured the subgenre had no future. In other words, the collect-a-thon died for much of the same reason adventure games died – it’s because other genres improved on what it did well (cf. adventure games offering graphically rich experiences but simple gameplay to work around hardware constraints only to lose out when confronted with games that looked just as good and had actual gameplay/collect-a-thons encouraging exploration when other types of games ended up doing so far more organically), and it wasn’t able to keep up in the long term. Donkey Kong 64 was a childhood favorite of mine, but I cannot deny that it has aged poorly.
Movie Review – The Suicide Squad – Everyone seems to agree that James Gunn’s take on Suicide Squad is exactly what the series needed. It certainly helps to have a director who know what he’s doing, doesn’t it? ManInBlack gives his take on the film here.
Trails of Cold Steel II: A Sequel Done Right – Nihon Falcom isn’t a well-known developer in the West, which is too bad because they’re one of the more ambitious big-name companies out there. The Gamer With Glasses takes a look at one of their games: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II.
Cary’s 2021 Game of the Year (and Bonus Review!) – With 2021 done, Cary of Recollections of Play names her personal favorite game of the year.
Golf Story: Gimmie! This Golfing RPG is Above the Hole – I still say the sports RPG is a criminally untapped market. Mr. Wapojif’s take on Golf Story, an indie game that fills that niche, seems to agree.
A review of The Aquatope on White Sand – With Shirobako being one of his favorite anime series, AK of Everything Is Bad for You dives into The Aquatope on White Sand – P.A. Works’s follow-up. Avoiding the sophomore slump isn’t easy, so was this one another hit?
Fatherhood in Modern Media – Fatherhood is handled… very interestingly in major productions, to say the least. Alex of Alex’s Review Corner provides his own two cents on the subject.
- Donkey Kong 64 (5/10)