Sunday, June 8, 2008

Adventures in Geekery: Not Many Films Edition

This past week, I haven't really seen that many films. There's a part of me that wants to see Kung Fu Panda after I saw it got an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the best rated Pacific Data Images film since Shrek 2 (which I never really thought too highly of). I'll probably see it next week when I'm away where the movie tickets are cheaper. I don't really want to pay $11.75 to see another formulaic pop culture heavy film with snarky talking animals spewing whatever kind of crude and sexual references that could fall under the PG rating. According to Dreamwork Animation's Powerpoint presentation at Pratt, that was their "winning formula" that they discovered after making the first Shrek movie. While I can't really speak down on the company, for the concept art they've shown was top-notch and if animator blogs are any indication, there are some smart and extremely talented people working there. I just feel like the upper management is more concerned with making a movie marketable to corporate America than opposed to a timeless and artful movie that sells itself for its merits and creativity (a vital aspect that most of their 3D films lack).

Onwards to movies!
Beowulf - Just when I thought I was finished talking about uninspired 3D animated films, I haven't mentioned that I took out Beowulf from my local library. This latest film from Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, as well as that Forest Gump Oscar grab) takes the boring literary epic poem and translates it into a generic beef-headed action movie. The film uses a more large scale version of the motion capturing that Zemeckis incorporated into the Polar Express and Monster House which he served as a producer on. The main noticeable difference here is that Robert also attached small cameras over the eyes of the actors as a feeble attempt to avoid the doll faced world of the uncanny valley. While its cool to see the pupils of a virtual Anthony Hopkins dilate, it still doesn't come off as believable as they still bear the weight and rubbery texture of corpses. They should have went for a more stylized approach like they did in Monster House, where I could at least pay attention to the dialogue without getting freaked out by the hideous zombie animation.

The actual Beowulf film was a letdown for me as well. Most of it followed our aggressive titular hero in a series of violent trials against mythical creatures and long overblown dialogue sequences. I'm unsure how the film managed to get a PG13 rating from the MPAA. The over the top blood in the movie is reminiscent of an M-rated video game (I'd say God of War but that would give this movie too much credit) and it features what is supposed to be a naked Angelina Jolie (but it was really just Angelina Jolie's head plastered onto the body of the model of a 19 year old woman) that leaves very little to the imagination. I keep on getting reminded of some of the antics revealed in the independent documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated where big name studios would pretty much pay off the MPAA for the coveted mall friendly PG13 rating leaving most low-budget indie movies with R and NC17 ratings that they probably don't deserve. Maybe it was the terrible animation that really saved it from getting the R-rating at the end of the day. The violence looks so fake that its hard to take seriously and the animation is too wooden and soulless for the film to possibly be erotic. This reminded me of The Animatrix's Final Flight of the Osiris short film where the uncanny valley helps cross the narrow line between sexy and repulsive.

The movie somehow was able to garner a respectable 70% on Rotten Tomatoes but I feel that is largely in part to the fact that they screened the stereoscopic IMAX 3D version of the movie to the critics. I mean, I saw the infamously bad Open Season in IMAX 3D and didn't mind it due to the novelty of seeing 3D animation rendered for glasses. In fact, I felt kind of robbed watching it in "2D" on DVD. I'm sure when its more of a mainstay, it would be less impressive but for now I feel it will inflate the critical reception of movies that don't deserve it.

The Machine Girl - While I've already made a blog post about how awesome the trailer for this movie was, I finally saw it in its full length and I'm happy to say that it lived up to every ridiculously high (and by that I mean low) expectation I had for it. If you've seen the trailer, you'd already know what to hope for as the movie pretty much has the same exact pacing and amount of action as the trailer, just imagine it was extended to 90 minutes. The film seemed like what would happen if you gave a hyped up 12 year old $5 million and asked him to make Kill Bill and what your left with is a plot with about as much depth of a Power Rangers episode and a non-stop onslaught of over the top and anatomically impossible violence. Unlike Beowulf, The Machine Girl understands the immaturity in its exaggerated violence and instead of trying to convince the audience that its a serious movie, it plays off this fact and just tries to give you a good time. While it may not be a fulfilling movie experience to watch alone, it makes for excellent riffing material if you can get a bunch of sarcastic friends together in a room to watch it.

Rocky Balboa - I was surprised at how much I liked this film. Having only seen the original Rocky movie from 1976, I was afraid I would have been lost because I haven't seen any of the four sequels that followed. Thankfully, Rocky Balboa was as much as a sequel as it was a remake, where its plot was self-contained enough to entertain a new generation that hasn't experienced a Rocky movie but it had ample references and appearances of the characters from the past Rocky films to please the longtime fans. In that respect I'd consider it the perfect family movie. Pretty much anyone can grasp the story of a retired boxer who goes in for one last fight but the fact that it was a Rocky movie gives something for parents to be excited about as well. There was very little action in it surprisingly, with most of the film just building up to the final fight in the last fifteen minutes. What it did have was corny dialogue and an innocent sense of humor that was harmless enough that you can't help but really celebrate this movie.

With the underwhelming Gamestop "Game Days" sale, I also picked up a couple of video games that I would have never picked up at full price...

video game geekery:
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games - This is one of those titles that I pounced on as soon as I saw it for $30. While I'm against the idea of a minigame compilation released for the Wii at full price, the shallow ten hours or so of messing around and the value as a party game make me a lot more open to a budget price tag. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games falls somewhere in between Wii Sports and Track and Field in my mind. At times, the game is pretty easy and straightforward ideal for the typical middle aged Wii consumer and young children but then at random intervals the game becomes needlessly convoluted and difficult. The amount of precision and patience with the unforgiving difficulty of these minigames harkens back to the difficulty of most NES games, and often on these games the controls more rely on button presses than on motion, making it kind of difficult to explain to the "non-gamer" this was marketed towards. The novelty of seeing both Mario and Sonic on the screen at the same time was handled much better in Super Smash Bros. Brawl with this game putting more attention on the Olympic Games in Beijing than the idea of two rival mascots finally appearing together in the same title, very little of the aesthetic and catchy music from the two franchises is actually implemented into the game, which is a bit of a disappointment to me. At the price though, the game itself was pretty fun and if you could overlook some of the apparent shortcomings you have a fairly solid and deep collection of minigames.

Octomania - I'll admit it, I mostly picked up this game for its overtly Japanese intro movie and its horrendously bad voice acting. This game makes it no secret that it was supervised by the creator of Puyo Pop, which I consider the best puzzle game second to only Panel de Pon (known here as Tetris Attack or Puzzle League) and Tetris. While you probably haven't heard of Puyo Pop, the game has been released to the United States under the names of Kirby's Avalance on the SNES and Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine on the Sega Genesis. More recently though the game has made appearances here in its original Japanese form in a Gameboy Advance remake and its sequel Puyo Pop Fever which appeared on the Gamecube and Nintendo DS systems. Between that and the fact that games like Puzzle Fighter and Dr. Mario have an uncanny resemblance to the title, you've likely played something that was derived from Puyo Pop. Octomania follows the same basic structure where you'd often be facing against an AI where you'd compete to get big combos and ultimately drop useless tiles on the opponent to the point where they'd lose the game, or vice versa. These are sandwiched between cutesy voice acted "story" sequences as each opponent gets progressively harder.

While its not as addictive as the aforementioned Puyo Pop its fun enough to warrant the $15 purchase. The game also supports Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection multiplayer but the game's so obscure that its next to impossible to find a stranger to play it with and your better off exchanging friend codes with someone you know from the internet. Its worth noting that the game is just about unplayable with the default control scheme which requires you to use the Wii's IR based cursor to switch over tiles, its not precise enough to really get that far into the game. You can toggle to a more comfortable NES style horizontal configuration with the minus button on the remote or through the options area of the main menu.

Octomania was localized and published by Conspiracy Entertainment. This was the same company that brought us Ninjabread Man and Anubis II, both of which were some of the absolute worst games to ever grace the Wii. While both of those titles were developed by the British based Data Design Interactive, I have to commemorate Conspiracy for finally bringing over a solid and fun game to the Wii instead of cramming up the shelves with cheap budget cash-in titles that take advantage of mothers and casual consumers that just don't know any better. Sadly I don't think this is really a trend, there's still a sequel to Ninjabread Man coming out...
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