Monday, December 26, 2011


I present to you my fairy shelf.  (If you're wondering what this has to do with Hellraiser, be patient!)  It's a slight misnomer, as those of you with keen eyes can see there's a couple exceptions up there.  I'm going to focus on just one of them right now.

Back in high school and college, I spent a lot of time wandering around the mall, spending a lot of time in the movie, CD, and wacky gift stores.  One in particular frequently had a column that was nothing but action figures, and I used to spend a lot of time gazing at it.  I'm still upset I didn't pick up the Mad Hatter from American McGee's Alice when I had the chance.  One I did pick up, however, was this gorgeous lady:

I knew she was a Clive Barker design, so after a bit of research I discovered she's part of the Tortured Souls II series.  Her name is Camille Noire, though I've long since called her my Twisted Fairy, even though that buzzsaw through the head (which spins!) is clearly supposed to be a halo.  I saw her back then, and I couldn't look away, and after a few times I finally bought her and brought her home.  She's been superglued to her stand as those wobbly legs don't allow her to stand up properly on her own.

So I've been fascinated by Clive Barker's work for a long time now, but up until this point never watched any of his films.  Hellraiser is now available for instant viewing on Netflix, so it was time to give it a shot.

Wow.  I really liked this film.  It's certainly not for everyone, as the gore is extreme and the monsters are incredibly freaky.  I'm not bothered by the fact that I stayed away from this film for a long time, because I don't think I was ready for it until now.  Hatchet is a gore fest but it's also clearly a comedy (at least in my mind) where as this is largely there to frighten you.  Of course, it's also a fairy tale. 

That probably sounds strange to anyone who doesn't know much about the film, as I think popular culture has mostly absorbed Pinhead (who is the least scary cenobite, in my opinion) and the fact that this movie is full of gore.  But the fact is that this movie is as much a natural follow up to Labyrinth and Legend as it is to Evil Dead and Nightmare on Elm Street in terms of the progression of 80s films.   Kirsty feels like a meld between Sarah and Nancy to me: two strong characters who did what they had to do to escape a frightening world and save the day.  The fact that Kirsty literally has a wicked stepmother makes it all the more obvious.  I really liked her as a character.  We don't get to learn too much about her, but she balances the proper amount of being scared but also doing what she has to do to survive.

I don't think I could possibly gush enough on how incredible the special effects are in this film.  As Frank reforms, you find yourself simultaneously disgusted and amazed as you see every part of him slowly knit itself back together.  Even if you don't like gore, you really owe it to yourself to at least check out this scene.  It's an amazing accomplishment in film.  Frank is really quite scary in his first resurrected form, the way he moves and the sunken rotted nature of his skin.  He becomes a little less scary the more he heals, however around that time is when the cenobites start to show up.  The chattering cenobite was perhaps the scariest to me, though the creature with the piranha like mouth and pointed tail came a close second.

Many people told me that they felt like the gore in this movie is justified, and I'm inclined to agree.  This doesn't mean everyone can sit through it and be okay with it, it just means that it never feels like glorification.  It's brutal and it lingers,  but always to horrify you and make you uncomfortable.

While I may check out some of the other sequels, I think more than anything this has made me far more interested in seeing and reading more of Clive Barker's work.  That kind of dark fantasy really appeals to me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

In Defense of: the Alvin and the Chipmunk films

Today, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked is being released in theaters.  I will not be going to see it, but it's fairly safe to assume that a lot of families will be going to check it out this weekend.  There will probably also be a lot of critics bashing the film, and even more snarky people on the internet saying things like "Why, God, why does this movie exist?!" and the like.  I've certainly seen people bashing on the previous two films often enough.  So here's where I tell you the truth and you either give me a fair chance or you don't:  I enjoyed both of the previous Alvin and the Chipmunk films.

My first experience with Alvin and the Chipmunks was on vinyl.  It was an album called Chipmunk Punk.  Despite it's title, it's actually more new wave than punk in genre.  As a young child, this was my first exposure to the songs of bands like The Cars, Blondie, Queen, and The Knack, as well as the solo artists Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel, and Tom Petty.  I can't possibly tell you how often I played this record, but it was quite a bit.  It also provided me with an extra bit of excitement as I got older and heard the original recordings and recognized them.

Of course my second and largest experience with the Chipmunks was the 80s animated cartoon series.  This was the show that introduced the Chipettes for the very first time.  I'll admit that I have not watched this show since I was small, and I figure there's a pretty good chance that it simply doesn't hold up that well.  But I do have a lot of fond memories of the show and really enjoyed all the characters, enough that I have a fondness for them even to this day.

Those of you who have seen my videos know that my cat Logan is a bit of a pain.  Recently, we have decided his middle name is Alvin, because it's a lot more fun to yell "Aaaaaaaallllllviiiiiiiin!" then it is to yell Logan all the time.

Anyways, let's talk about the movies. Jason Lee plays Dave, and maybe I am biased since I've loved him ever since I first saw him in Chasing Amy, but I think he does a good job.  I'll admit there are moments in the first film where he's having a little trouble talking to these CGI characters that aren't there, but he gets the "Alvin!" yell down perfectly and presents a good down on his luck guy.  David Cross plays the other main human lead, and he's a perfect smarmy jerk.  I'll admit choosing semi-well known actors for the Chipmunks when you're just going to manipulate their voices anyway can seem like a strange choice, but it also may help to give their lines a little more believability than just picking random actors off the street.

The storyline here is incredibly predictable, but it is an exceedingly rare children's film that isn't.  I don't think every children's film needs to be held up to the Disney/Pixar standard.  I've watched a lot of children's movies in my day, and I'm not just talking about the ones I watched in my childhood.   My love of animation has never left me, and I tend to keep up with most of the major releases via rental regardless of the studio involved.  I see the vast majority of these films as fluff. Much like an action movie with a lot of explosions and fight scenes meant to get your adrenaline pumping while you turn your brain off, these kids films give you a sweet heartwarming story with some silly humor and then you move on with your day.  This is exactly what the Alvin and the Chipmunks films are.

I think the first film, while not without its flaws, works as a good tribute to the history of the series.  The Chipmunks attain their fame and fortune singing "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" which is how they were originally introduced to American audiences.   They follow it up with "Witch Doctor" which was originally not a Chipmunk song, but done by the same performer, Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.  I'll admit that I hate the "rap" flavoring given this song and most of the rest of the soundtrack, but given the target audience for this film I'm not surprised.  I hate it in the same way that I hate most music from the 2000s, and therefore can't hold it responsible. 

The remainder is all about Dave and the Chipmunks becoming a family and both sides gaining a true appreciation for each other.  Once again, not exactly a groundbreaking concept, but I think it's done well.  I'm also kind of in love with Simon.  It's been too long for me to remember if he's similar to his 80s counterpart, but there's something about his smarts and his sarcasm that make him my favorite of the three.  Alvin is appropriately conceited and daring, and Theodore is absolutely adorable.  I'm not sure what else you could ask for.

I'll admit the sequel is not as strong as the original, but that's about the norm.  Why put the chipmunks in high school when they've never been to school at all?  It's pretty obvious the answer is so they can use those standard high school stress situations.  Jocks being bullies, Alvin playing football, and a talent show competition.  More than anything I just don't care for Zachary Levi's character.  He's too bungling and beyond that one scene where he completely screws up comforting Theodore, he offers nothing to the movie.  But I enjoyed seeing the Chipettes added in to the mix, and found the songs to be overall more enjoyable.

While I won't be rushing out to see Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked this weekend, I will eventually end up renting it whenever it comes to DVD, and I'll be amused for an hour and a half.  I'm not going to defend the concept, which is basically some kind of ultra silly Gilligan's Island set up.  But once again, children's movie.  These overused concepts and silly humor and pop culture references are a dime a dozen these days. 

So why do people pick on this particular series so hard?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Initial Thoughts: Nintendo 3DS

It's a little hard to do a review of something you just bought a few days ago, so this is just my initial impressions after playing around with it a little bit.

It's a very popular thing of late to bash Nintendo.  Their choice to go for the family friendly crowd rather than the latest and greatest technology really rubbed a lot of gamers the wrong way, I guess.  As someone who has never cared that much about graphics, it all leaves me shaking my head.  The Wii was an excellent business move on their part, even if it means that the vast majority of the games on the system aren't for me.  Sure, I'd like to see more titles on there for me to enjoy, but the ones I do have tend to be awesome so I have a hard time complaining about it.

My point in all this being that I feel like people have been dogging the 3DS from the very beginning without even really seeing it.  Was its launch price too expensive?  Of course, but most launch prices are.  Was there a severe lack of titles in the beginning?  Yes, of course, but once again that's typical.  Is 3D an overused gimmick?  For movies, yes, but I don't think it's really been explored all that much in gaming yet.

I guarantee you the 3D on this handheld will amaze you the first time you see it, assuming you are not among the few who simply can't see 3D at all.  It requires no glasses and it's just incredible.  I honestly don't want to know how they do it because I prefer to think of it as magic.  It's not perfect by any means - you do have to find the right angle at which to hold the system to get it to line up, and looking over someone's shoulder while they play is pretty much pointless.  However, the good news is that you can simply turn this feature off.  I have found that long term sessions can cause a bit of dizziness, but in general when it comes to handheld gaming I'm mostly looking for quick sessions anyway, so I don't see this being much of a problem.

The whole reason I got it was because they are now offering bundles.  A red 3DS with Super Mario Land 3D, a black 3DS with gold Zelda themed details with Ocarina of Time 3D, and there's also a pink one that comes with Nintendogs + Cats.  I had a slight dilemma at first because of the game I wanted vs the system I wanted.  I really wanted Super Mario Land 3D, but I absolutely loved that Zelda anniversary edition look.  Also, call me silly, but I bought my original DS when it was bundled with Mario Kart DS so I already have a red DS and wanted to change colors for my upgrade.  So I decided that even though I didn't really need yet another version of Ocarina of Time (I have it for N64 and Gamecube) I'd go with the Zelda version.  I can always get the game later.

I lined up my old and new ones side by side so you could get a feel for the size difference.  Granted, they've come out with smaller versions of the DS since my original model.

Much like the Wii, Nintendo has loaded the 3DS with some simple software and games for you to play with.  Miis are still around, and this time, because the 3DS has a camera, you can take a picture of yourself to aid in the creation.  Mine wasn't very accurate, but it did provide me a starting point design that I then edited to make me look a little less freakish.  You have to create one for yourself when you first open the program, and after that you can make as many silly Miis as you'd like.  There is also a Mii Plaza, which uses the StreetPass feature.  Instead of turning your 3DS off, you simply fold it shut and it will enter Sleep Mode.  In Sleep Mode it will look for other 3DSes in the area, and if someone is around you will each get a copy of the other person's Mii in your Plaza. This idea was used on the DS for Dragon Quest IX, and it's a fun feature for them to carry over.

I happened to go to the mall on Saturday so I purposefully brought the 3DS along.  I picked up someone named Kory.  He had a welcome message for me to read, and he also gave me a puzzle piece and I was able to use his Mii in a simple RPG type game all within the Plaza.  It's really simple but a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to trying this out at MAGfest where I'm sure to pick up quite a few more people.  The 3DS also has a built in pedometer, and that helps you earn coins that you can use in these minigames as well.  These features are a little more useful in Japan where far more people actually own 3DSes, but I'm hoping the coin system will make up for the possible lack of users.

The other free game you may have heard about is Face Raiders.  The camera takes a picture of your face and uses it in a game.  This takes some time to set up, as you have to line up the eyes and mouth in just the right spot to get it to work properly.  The reward is worth it though, as you see your expression change from amusement to sadness to anger thanks to the game's animation.  The game itself is pretty simple: You move around the screen which is showing the room in front of you, but with the floating heads in it.  Shoot them to win the game.  The game encourages you to take pictures of other people and collect their heads.  I imagine this won't stay fun forever, but it's highly amusing the first couple times.

You can also take 3D pictures and video.  I haven't tried out the video yet, but the pictures once again feel like magic being performed.  The only problem I see with this is that I don't think there is any way to export them, and of course even if you did the 3D effect would be lost.  There is also a voice recorder which is far more fun than it should be.  You record a ten second message, then you can do all kinds of effects to it, from changing the speed and pitch to adding vocal harmonies or changing the sound.  Naturally, Jak and I kept saying inappropriate things and then giggling like mad when it was repeated back to us in a parakeet style voice.

You also get one AR card in the box with which you can play AR games.  The 3DS's camera scans the card and that unlocks more games for you to play, similar to Face Raiders in that you'll see the actual room you are in on the screen and it also requires you to move around a bit.  I placed the card on my sofa to play, and it made it a little hard to get around.  I think a coffee table might work better, as you could actually circle it.  It's really picky about the distance you have to be from the card, the lighting in the room (standing between the light and the card made the 3DS lose it), and the angle at which you approach it.  It was cool when it worked properly, but this was probably the feature I was the most disappointed in.

There is also an eShop where you can download both original games and virtual console games like you could on the Wii.  For some reason, I was able to get The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords for free.  The virtual console ranges from original Gameboy games to Gameboy Advance, and most of the original games seem as cheaply made as most of the ones on the Wii.  I'm not sure how many of these I'll end up getting, but I like that they are there.  I never had an original Gameboy, so it'll be nice to check out some of those games for the first time.  My main complaint is that Nintendo is still refusing to provide people with demos to sample these games first.  This has to be losing them sales, as I just won't buy a game if I know nothing about it.  The system also comes with a 2GB SD card that you can hold these games as well as your pictures, videos, and sounds on.

You're also allowed to plug in your regular DS cartridges and play them.  Obviously, there's no 3D effects on these games.  I had heard some people complain about the way DS games looked on the screen, but I put in Final Fantasy III and everything looked just as good as it did on the original DS.  I like the idea of being able to take the games of both systems with me when I travel, though I did wish the 3DS cartridges didn't have that little extra nub so I could put them in the same carrying case.

As far as Ocarina of Time goes, its the same game it was on N64 so far, but I do have to admit that the 3D graphics are very pretty and cool looking.  I could, however, see myself turning them off if I wanted to play the game for a long time.  It's a complex game with a lot of aiming involved, and it felt like it might be easier to  do without the 3D.

I just ordered Bust a Move Universe because it was $10 and I can't get enough of any variation of that game.  Mario can wait until I get stuck in Ocarina of Time again.  Trust me, it'll happen, it always does.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

News bites: Akira, Neil Gaiman, Method Man, and The Muppets

I'm suffering from a short attention span this week so I don't have any full reviews to give, but I thought I'd still share my thoughts on some things that are too long for tweets.

Akira Movie Update: casting and synopsis revealed - I understand why people are upset about the whitewashing, but I think it makes sense for an American adaptation of a Japanese work to be changed around to an American setting.  I'm also not bothered by the changes noted in this article.  Making Kaneda and Tetsuo into adults is better, in my opinion, than trying to pass off adults as teenagers as they normally do in these films.  If they tried to cast true teens we'd end up with the Disney Channel crew, so I'd rather go with adults and deal with the more adult subject matter.  Honestly, reading it I didn't see any huge differences to the core plot as I understand it from watching the anime, so I'm not upset at this point.  Character receives powers from government, escapes, friend goes after him, government tries to stop him before he causes another disaster.  More than anything, all this talk is just reminding me that I really need to get around to reading the manga, so that alone makes it all worth it to me.

The Neil Gaiman episode of The Simpsons - "The Book Job" - I watched this earlier this week and absolutely loved it.  Between Lisa's procrastination before beginning to write, the story Homer and his crew come up with, and pretty much everything Neil does, this was a great episode.  I haven't watched the Simpsons in years, but this one made me at least want to try them out again.

World Gone Sour - I used to own a copy of the Batman Forever soundtrack.  There's a track by Method Man on there that he wrote specifically for Jim Carrey's version of the Riddler.  He clearly has a sense of humor and likes to make money, and this video just proves it all the more.  I won't be buying the game, but I had to share  the madness.  Though if they ever come to their senses and offer it for free I will probably get it just to hear Creed's voice.

Deleted scene in The Muppets that explains the villain a little better - The actual title of that article is misleading, so I thought I'd clarify.  Spoilers for the film if you haven't seen it yet, obviously.  It does seem like a silly detail to leave out, though I don't know if it really matters all that much.

I've been playing through the Silent Hill video games but I'm saving those reviews to post back to back so I can give a more thorough analysis of the series as a whole.  I'm also still trying to finish Volume 3 of The Hinges of Destiny so I can get that out soon, so I'm not sure how many blog posts you'll be seeing from me for a little while.
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