Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Castle Rock Companion - Children of the Corn part 1

Since the video was getting a bit long, I decided to split it into a two part series.  In this one I talk about the story, the short film Disciples of the Crow, and the 1984 film.

I'll be back next week with part 2.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Castle Rock Cash In - Sometimes They Come Back For More

My review of the original film is here.
Noel's review of the first sequel can be found here.
And now, Noel's review of the second sequel. It's hard to believe they made it to three films for such a little known Stephen King story to begin with.

If you want to read or hear more from Noel, check his blog, his podcast, the Super Saturday Short Lived Showcase or The Monthly Midnight Movie Exchange.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sifl & Olly

I apologize for the hiss that's present during the actual Sifl & Olly clips, but I recorded these directly from my VHS tape and iMovie does not have an equalizer option to try and fix it.
I also forgot to mention that you can also see more Sifl & Olly as part of Liam Lynch's old podcast Lynchland, but I recommend watching the original episodes first.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Castle Rock Companion - Sometimes They Come Back

While Noel will be handling the two sequels alone, I'll post them here on the blog as well so you can keep up. Expect the first one to be up next week.

Also, don't forget to stay past the credits on this one for the requisite cat appearance. :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz vs The Wizard of Oz

I was a slightly odd kid (I think) in that I didn't really like The Wizard of Oz growing up.  They used to show it on TV once a year, and my grandmother would make it a point to call our house and let us know, because she wanted us to watch it.  I remember shrugging at why this seemed so important to her.  I think I was largely bothered by the falseness of the Wizard and the way Glinda could have just told Dorothy from the beginning how to get home.  Apparently I was a bit of a critic even as a child.

But somewhere in my adulthood, things changed.  Since the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was no longer under copyright, I found it for free online.  As a kid I had read at least one of the sequel books, assuming I didn't need to read the original since I had seen the movie.  I remember being confused by the characters that appeared and therefore never went further.  But as an adult, reading the story, I was delighted to find new material where I assumed I had already been before.  And not long after reading it, I went to watch the film again, and really, really enjoyed it.  Yes, it's pretty stupid that Glinda just doesn't tell her.  But the journey is still totally worth it regardless.

I think both versions are enjoyable in their own ways, and both versions have problems.  So I thought it might be fun to list what I like so much about both of them.

Things that make The Wonderful Wizard of Oz better than The Wizard of Oz
1. It's not just a dream, and Dorothy really does get to go to a magical world.
2. There's more to the plot than just "find the wizard then kill the witch."  I particularly love the other areas we get to see, such as the town made entirely of china.
3. All three of Dorothy's companions become rulers of a separate area of Oz.  Given that the gifts they are given by the Wizard are bogus, they deserve these better rewards.
4. The Wizard appears as something different to everyone, and we get great descriptions of what he appears as, and a good explanation of how he did it later.
5. The field mice and their queen.  I can understand why they didn't appear in the film given when it was made, but they're just so adorable.
6. The story of Gayelette and the Golden Cap, and the fact that the winged monkeys aren't inherently evil.
7. The Emerald City isn't emerald at all, but just looks that way when you wear the green glasses.  Though I guess that means the walls surrounding the city were higher than any of the buildings and had to have been painted green?  My point is there's a slight lapse in logic here, but given that the Wizard is a fake, I think this makes perfect sense.

Things that make The Wizard of Oz better than The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
1. While we're shown examples of the Scarecrow being smart, the Tin Man having sympathy, and the Cowardly Lion being brave long before they receive their gifts from the Wizard, it's not drilled into us repeatedly with all of them doing something than saying "I sure wish I had a ____." 
2. Ruby slippers are just plain prettier than silver shoes.
3. The songs.  How can you not love them?
4. "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!"
5. "I'll get you, my pretty, and you're little dog too!"  Margaret Hamilton's performance in general is just fantastic.
6. The sequence with the witch's guards, and the characters stealing their uniforms.
7. Judy Garland.  Do I have to say anything else?
8. The change from sepia to color.  Even now when color films are the rule, this still looks fantastic.

As you might imagine, I'm pretty excited about Oz The Great and Powerful.  That one brief glimpse of the girl made of china in the trailer certainly suggests to me that they're pulling from the books as well as the movie for ideas.  It's not going to be perfect, but if nothing else it should be gorgeous to look at.  Oz is much like Alice in Wonderland for me, as it's a mythology in which I welcome all adaptations and versions, no matter how far off the rails. 

What's your favorite Oz book or film?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Silent Hill: Downpour and more

Today was supposed to contain a full review of Silent Hill: Downpour, but October has been an insanely busy month for me. Partially for personal reasons (I got a tooth pulled and it was a very painful recovery period) but also for fun, creative reasons (my very first acting role, the return of Strangers from the Internet, and a longer than usual Castle Rock Companion). So instead all I can give you are my initial impressions of the game. I thought I'd also include some thoughts on other Silent Hill related media to make this post more worth your while.

Silent Hill Downpour box art.jpg 

I was exceedingly nervous in the time leading up to the game's release for two reasons:  the first being that Konami themselves did not make this game and the second being that they mentioned breakable weapons.  After Origins, this was not a good sign.  But this was a different company and I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Disappointment number one occurred when I loaded in the game to watch the opening titles.  Other Silent Hill games play genuinely creepy videos, usually a mash of various FMVs throughout the game that don't give you enough detail to spoil anything, but definitely set the mood.  They're usually set to a song sung by the gorgeously haunting voice of Mary Elizabeth McGlynn.  This game, by comparison, has a theme song by Korn.  But more than anything, the video was neither creepy or scary or haunting in any way.  It just looked like a generic action game where you fight creatures.

Actually playing it, I feel slightly better.  I do find it annoying that they decided to go for a little more realism when it comes to items.  You can only hold one thing in your hand at any given time.  That means if you hold your flashlight, you can't pick up a weapon unless you attach your flashlight to your belt first.  If you don't do that, you'll drop your flashlight.  Similarly, you can put one firearm into a holster, but once you arm yourself with it, you'll drop your melee weapon on the ground.  Certain melee weapons work better than others, but sometimes you'll need a certain type for puzzle solving, and so you'll have to go searching for that one type which means you'll have to abandon that good weapon you prefer for fighting.  It's just a little too much of a hassle, though I'll admit that so far on the easy difficulty I haven't had much trouble escaping enemies.
Also so far, and this may change as the game goes on, the enemies are not particularly scary.  The first enemy that you run into is a screamer, which is essentially a girl with long black hair and white skin who screams at you.  Her screams are disorienting, which provides the right amount of challenge, but I think we've all seen images from The Ring and The Grudge too often at this point to be scared of this creature at all.  Also, I've heard that the number of enemies you kill makes a difference in this game,  but so far avoiding killing them has been difficult for me.

The puzzles have been a bit frustrating, and solving them seems to be mostly about trial and error rather than clues.  Murphy, our "hero," will sometimes mumble something to try to give me a hint, but they've been a bit vague to the point that they don't always help me.  I've had to use walkthroughs already to get passed some of them.  I've also had to run through a sequence reminiscent of the haunted house in Silent Hill 3 and the nightmare world in Shattered Memories where it's basically just running through a maze and not getting caught by an evil red energy that's chasing me.  I'm really hoping that doesn't pop up again, but I have a feeling it will.

I've reached the point where you finally enter Silent Hill, and it becomes a bit of an open world game.  Personally, I'm not really a huge fan of those.  I prefer to be told where to go rather than forced to explore the town on my own.  But as I wandered a bit I ran into things that gave Murphy goals to complete.

None of these details have been frustrating enough to the point that I don't want to finish the game.  The tutorial level forced me to violently attack someone in a dream sequence, and I'm very much curious what that was about and what our main protagonist was in jail for.  He doesn't seem entirely like a nice guy, though I've been given multiple choices so far whether to help people or not, which I imagine will also make a difference in what ending I get.  They come down to "be nice or be a dick" so it's not exactly a huge moral choice, but I'm still curious what the result will be in the end regardless.


Just released this month is Silent Hill: Book of Memories for the Playstation Vita.  I don't have one so I can't play it, and honestly, I wouldn't want to.  I'm still trying really hard to wrap my head around the idea of a multiplayer Silent Hill, and I just don't get it.  You've occasionally been tasked to protect an NPC character in the games, but co-op play seems better suited for Resident Evil than Silent Hill.  Plus to keep to the "personal hell" themes of the series, you would have to essentially have a "I Know What You Did Last Summer" kind of plot to keep all these characters together at the same time.  Apparently despite their heavy promotion of this being a co-op game, it's actually just a solo adventure with the option to host sessions with other players.  The problem is that it's a dungeon crawler rather than a survival horror game.  I think it's safe to say that even if they do eventually adapt this for PS3, I won't be buying it.

And Beyond

It looks like Konami is trying to bring the series back home by asking Hideo Kojima to design the next game.  Considering the fantastic things he did with Psycho Mantis in the Metal Gear Solid series, I am very much excited about this idea.  Here's hoping it actually gets made.

There are now two Silent Hill films, but I'm afraid you're going to have to wait a bit to hear about those.  They will be the topic of the November Strangers from the Internet episode!

Japan got both an arcade game and a couple mobile phone games, but in America the only other way to get your Silent Hill fix is through the comics.  I have not read all of these, but from what I can tell they are a mixed bag.  I plan to dig into these pretty soon to get a feel for them, but the art is a big deterrent for me.  What they call "dream-like" I call "sloppy and hard to follow."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Three year anniversary

I like doing these anniversary posts because it gives me a chance to reflect on what I've done over the course of a year.  I think we all tend to chug right along and don't always realize how far we've come.

I've gotten more than 30k pageviews, which is pretty crazy when you think about it.  It's allowed me to talk to and become friends with people all around the world.  I dare say I wouldn't have most of  the friends I have right now if it wasn't for starting this blog, and for that reason alone I'm pretty happy.  I've also gotten to collaborate with some of them on various projects around the internet, and that's pretty awesome.

Since last year I did marathons for The Muppets, the Alien and Predator franchises, Batman, and of course I'm currently almost finished the Silent Hill marathon.  I started to script my videos, therefore hopefully making them increase in quality quite a bit.  I also started Castle Rock Companion, which should be going for quite a while.  Especially since Hollywood keeps announcing more and more Stephen King adaptations!

Beyond CRC, I have some other video review ideas in the works.  Not for series but one off episodes about various movies, shows, music, games, and books that I love.  There will probably be some more written reviews as well.  Not everything needs a visual element, after all.  I do not currently have any marathons planned, but that doesn't mean inspiration won't strike.  This current Silent Hill marathon erupted after I found myself in love with the first game and wanted to experience more.  Who knows what might hook me next year?

So thanks again to all of you who come here and read/watch/comment on my entries on a regular basis.  You make doing this a lot more fun than if I was just talking about these things all by myself!

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

After finishing the first game and realizing we still had two months before the release of the Silent Hill HD Collection, I figured it would be safe to play the "re-imagining" of the first Silent Hill, subtitled Shattered Memories.  What re-imagining means is that while you are still a character named Harry Mason looking for his daughter Cheryl after getting in a car accident, the story itself is very different.  While there are still characters with the same names and you visit some similar locations, gone are the black magic rituals and mentions of summoning demons.  Instead you are actually in a psychiatrist's office and switch between answering questions for him and then reliving what happened to you after the car accident.

Apparently I was not the only fan of the series very frustrated with the combat difficulty of the last couple games.  This game was an attempt at a return to form, but unfortunately they swung it back way too far.  The only time you can "die" in this game is during the nightmare sequences, where skinless, faceless creatures chase you through a frozen world and you must run through a labyrinthine level to find the way out.  You have no weapons at all - the only things you will pick up during the game are keys to unlock doors and mementos that, as far as I can tell, bear nothing on the actual story itself.  In the nightmare sequences all you do is throw the wiimote and nunchuck in various directions to throw the creatures off you. These creatures were really scary and I felt really frantic the first time I ran into them.  But seeing as how these sequences increased in difficulty but not scariness through the rest of the game, I stopped being scared and mostly became frustrated.

When you're not in the nightmare sequence, there is no possible harm that can come to you.  You'll run into ghosts or some other paranormal energy, and your flashlight will flicker and you'll hear a bunch of static and feedback.  But once you realize there's absolutely no threat behind these things, just more story to be revealed, you stop being scared all together.

This game had so much potential to be a really frightening game.  You use your wiimote to control your flashlight, and you walk around places in the dark looking for clues.  Any horror movie fan knows the potential here, the idea of things lurking in the darkness where you can't see,  paranormal happenings all around you.  Just picture how frightening and thrilling this game could be!  Then sigh really loudly at how much this game is not that.  I screamed out loud the first time the creatures in the nightmare world jumped out at me.  Yet throughout the game I occasionally had to open up cabinets or pull back curtains to see what was behind them but I never found anything remotely scary behind any of them and had absolutely nothing jump out at me!  Why would you not include that?!

One thing I can praise it for is that it's one of the very few adult games made for the Wii.  There is cursing and a lot of very adult situations that happen within it.  It shows that there really is potential for motion controls and mature subject matter to go hand in hand.  They also take advantage of the speaker on the wiimote to work as your cellphone.  When you get a call in the game, you actually hold  the remote up to your ear to listen to the call. It helps to try to put you inside the game as much as possible.

Another neat thing about the game was the time with the psychiatrist.  You were asked some personal moral questions and asked to make some interesting decisions.  For instance, he tells you a story about a princess who is forced into an arranged marriage to a prince she doesn't love.  The prince knows she doesn't love him, but asks for her hand in marriage anyway.  The king knows she doesn't love him, but agrees to the marriage because it's the tradition.  On her wedding night she runs away from the prince, and enters a field despite a warning sign that there is a dangerous bull there.  The bull kills her.  Arrange the four characters in order of guiltiness for who is responsible for her death.  Not the easiest thing to answer, is it?

Those questions, along with some sequences where you go into first person view and can control what the character looks at, directly affect what ending you get.  Much like Bioshock, the same thing still happens, but the tone changes.  I managed to get a positive ending.  During the credits you also get an evaluation from the psychiatrist, a kind of personality profile.  I answered the questions throughout the sequences honestly from my own perspective, and I found the profile to be eerily accurate, with only a couple things off.

Unfortunately that profile was practically the only thing about the ending I did like.  The ending is a pretty common horror twist ending trope and a bit of a cheat at that.  Like a lot of cheat twist endings, I feel a little better about the story with enough time and distance to have perspective on it, but at the time I felt really betrayed.  It definitely left me with no desire to attempt a replay and get a different ending.

If you have a Wii and can find this game on the cheap, I recommend getting it.  While the not the best of the series, it's certainly the best since Konami handed game creation over to Western companies rather than producing these in house.  Just don't expect it to scare you too much.

I wonder if, with the release of the WiiU, they will maybe try to improve upon this formula.  I would gladly give another game in this series a try if they made the effort to increase the scares in it.  Though the two games they have released since this one are nothing like it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Silent Hill Homecoming

Because of release dates and availability, I ended up playing the three most recent Silent Hill games before I got to play 2-4 of the series.  As I mentioned in my previous reviews, I got to Homecoming after finishing Shattered Memories and giving up on Origins.  To say it was discouraging at that point is an understatement.

The main thing Homecoming has going for it is that it was made for the modern consoles, and as such has HD graphics.  Growing up in the 8 bit era I'm not a stickler for graphics at all, but I have to admit that more vivid images do ramp up the horror quite a bit.  I played this game on the PS3, but it's also available for the 360 and PC.

Homecoming's main character, Alex Shepard, is a soldier returning from war.  I expected the combat to be ramped up because of this, and I wasn't wrong.  While the first level of the game, where you are making your way through a nightmare version of a hospital, was relatively easy to get through, things got much harder in terms of enemies going forward.  Perhaps the strangest part was the nurses in the hospital were much easier to kill than nurses I ran into later on.  It's the same enemy, shouldn't their AI be equal?

I could also ask why nurses appeared in the middle of an apartment building rather than in a hospital but the answer to that is "All other Silent Hill games have nurses, so this one does too!"  This is also why Pyramid Head pops up once in a cut scene and then never appears again (unless you get a certain bad ending).

I read an FAQ for this game that described all monsters included as mini-bosses, and that's a really accurate description.  You need a specific strategy to kill each and every one of them.  Given the control scheme of this game, it becomes a difficult feat.  There's a weak and strong attack,  but you also have to hold down the aim button up top.  Even shooting guns requires holding down two buttons plus aiming with the analog stick.  Perhaps those who are used to playing FPS games on modern consoles wouldn't even blink at this control scheme, but I had a really hard time with it.  There's also no easy mode for this game, just Normal and Hard.  As such the health drinks and first aid kits were few and far between.  The item selection screen was also designed in such a way that I accidentally used items when I didn't need them.  And considering their rarity, that's a serious problem.

All of this is to basically tell you that I only made it about halfway through the game.  For those of you who have played, I got stuck in the sewers with no means of recovering health and no more ammo.  I used Youtube user SMacReborn's walkthrough to watch the full storyline and get an impression of the remainder of the game.

I will say that this game does provide a very large number of puzzles along with its increase in combat.  Most of them are fair, where you are able to solve them with trial and error or decent clues provided by the game.  It should keep you busy without frustrating you too badly.

One thing I found strange was that the later levels seemed to have less enemies.  Perhaps the walkthrough I watched simply got lucky, but he wandered halls of levels without running into anything but the boss at the end.  Which is pretty frustrating for me because apparently if I could have gotten past that one point in the game, I probably could have beaten it.

But the real flaw of this game is that it's just not that scary.  There are some horrifying looking monsters, but after a while you get used to their looks.  The jump scares are minimal, the music isn't scary, and there was no "I don't want to go in there!" moment that I can remember at all.  I was more scared that I wasn't going to beat the monsters than anything else, and that's just not what I want from a Silent Hill game.

Without giving too much away, the story of this game was clearly trying to combine elements of the original game's storyline with the "Silent Hill is your own personal hell" angle from the second, but it's done in a way that kind of misses the mark.  I saw the twist of Alex's personal story coming a mile away, because it's one that's been used to death in horror already.

The story of the town Shepard's Glen itself is a little more interesting.  I like the idea of an offshoot town of Silent Hill, if for no other reason then it let me explore a few different areas than the ones I've been seeing over and over again in the other games.  I did not expect the secret of the missing children, and it manages to be surprising while fitting into the mythos of the Silent Hill series quite nicely.  I also really liked the look of the final boss, even if I have no idea how she fit into the storyline.

Overall, I would recommend this game to anyone who is fairly comfortable with modern gaming, but I would definitely think of it as going into an action game rather than a horror game. Though I suppose the severe lack of items still allows it to be a survival based game. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Silent Hill: Origins

Silent Hill 3 went a long way in explaining the gaping plot holes of the first game.  So did we really need a prequel to explain it to even further?  No.  This game is to Silent Hill what Fire Walk With Me is to Twin Peaks: a rehashing of details we already know played out at a much slower pace.

You play as Travis Grady, a truck driver who sees a girl in the middle of the street and decides that means he has to get out of his truck (with the engine still running no less) and go follow her.  He ends up at a burning building, hearing a young girl scream inside, and anyone who has played the first game already knows what this is all about.

You'll then lead Travis through various buildings, all with 90% of the doors locked and broken.  Granted, this is a recurring theme in Silent Hill games, but it seemed worse here.  Seriously, whoever the one locksmith in town is, he needs a new vocation.

Another strange choice is that in this game, Travis can control switching between the real world and the nightmare world by touching mirrors.  In the past games, entering the nightmare world was often a reflection of what the character was going through at the time, usually gaining some piece of information they couldn't quite handle.  That element is gone completely, and now the manually switching back and forth is used to enhance the puzzle elements of the game, where you have to change things in one world and then return to the other to use them.  It's not terrible, but it does take away the fright aspect quite a bit.

Confession time.  I only played this game up to about halfway through the Sanitarium, not quite the halfway point of the game.   I ran out of health drinks and first aid kits, and in my attempt to figure out where to go, the enemies kept killing me.  Travis will arbitrarily lock on to an enemy, and when there are two or more enemies, he'll randomly switch between them.  In Silent Hill you have to stomp on an enemy after they fall down in order for them to stay dead.  I can't stomp on an enemy when Travis is already aiming at the next one.

The controls are just downright horrible. I played the PS2 version, which is a port.  The original was for the PSP, and I don't know if that was any better.  In this version you cannot control the camera, which leads you to walk in circles at times when the game randomly changes direction on you.  You can pick up lots of handheld weapons, but all of them break.  Some are one time use, like when you throw a typewriter at someone.  Others, like the wrench and hammer, will break on you randomly, usually when you're right in the middle of fighting an enemy and then you have to scramble to equip another one or use your rather meager fists.  Pretty much every enemy has the ability to grab you, and you have to do a time based button press to escape the hold or continue to get drained of life. Aren't truck drivers supposed to be tough?  He's such a lightweight.

All the other games in this series had a nicely done jump scare somewhere rather early in the game that would often make me scream in surprise.  No such luck here.  The first monster reveal, you walk up to a nurse whose back is turned.  She's jerking around a little bit, do you think she could be undead??

In order to be the completist I am, I watched a walkthrough on Youtube done by user CRGamer1.  He or she uses a special gun through the walkthrough that you can only get by beating the game and getting a special ending.  As such Travis doesn't have too difficult a time of it, and so perhaps I missed out on any legitimate scares given that the player clearly knew what to expect where.  So all I can really give you an opinion on from this point onward is the story.

It's lame.

Travis has his own story beyond the back story of the original game, but it's boring and uninteresting.  The back story is no better explained here than it was in the first game.  If you manage to get the bad ending, which you can only get the second time you play by killing a large number of enemies, it kind of/sort of attempts to explain the origins of Pyramid Head, but not really.  But who wants to go through this tedious game twice? If there's any entry in the series you can skip, it is definitely this one.

Silent Hill: Origins?  More like Bore-igins.*

*This is probably as close to seeing me act like an angry critic as you're ever going to get.  I hope you enjoyed it.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Silent Hill 4

Playing through this series has been like riding on a roller coaster of difficulty.  The first game was decent in terms of challenge.  Then I played Shattered Memories where you literally can't die except in the motion controlled sequences.  Then I played Origins and Homecoming, and their combat was far too difficult.  Playing this game right afterward, I think I know why.  This game has enemies, but they are ridiculously easy to avoid or beat.  There are also no boss battles up until the climax of the game.

In this game you play as Henry Townshend, a young man who finds himself trapped in his apartment and suffering from recurring nightmares.  You can peer out your windows and peephole, and people pass you messages under your door, but otherwise the only way out of the apartment is a strange hole that appears in the bathroom and keeps getting larger.  This hole leads to the nightmare world that we're so used to seeing in Silent Hill, though technically Henry lives in a town called Ashfield.  Every time you go through the hole, someone ends up dead and another bloody hand print appears in the hallway opposite your room.  The victims also have ascending numbers carved into their chests.

The strategy of this game is really about avoiding enemies rather than killing them.  One of the most common enemies is in fact unkillable.  You can temporarily knock them down but they will always get up again, and standing near them drains your life.  There are health items around the nightmare world that give you health back, or you can just jump back into your apartment and that will regenerate your health up until a certain point in the game.  It definitely takes the survival out of the survival horror genre.

There are occasional moments when you're trapped inside your room that are truly creepy.  You view the room through the first person perspective, and that really helps.  Unfortunately these scares are few and far between.

As usual there are puzzles to solve, but I found nearly all of them ridiculously easy.  There was no real need to write down information for later use, and definitely no need for me to consult a walkthrough.  A little trial and error and I quickly found my way past it.  I really felt more like I was just watching a story unfold than I was playing an actual game. 

And how is that story?  As I mentioned in my Silent Hill 2 review, this story builds on bits and pieces you read in newspaper and magazine articles in both that game and Silent Hill 3.  I'm guessing the creators thought up this story idea back then and couldn't logically fit it into those games, but when commissioned to do another sequel figured they might as well give it a try.  The problem is it's just not that interesting.  I stopped playing this game for over a month about halfway through.  Jak lost interest in watching me play, and without him to egg me on I couldn't bring myself to complete it until the HD Collection was released and I reminded myself that I really wanted to review the whole series in as complete a fashion as possible.

I won't spoil the ending for you, because this being an incredibly easy game, you may want to try it out if you can find it cheap and want to see what this series is like.  But don't get your hopes up, because the big reveal is pretty ridiculous.  If you don't mind spoilers, I'll just say that the antagonist shares something in common with the protagonist of a certain children's book.  Seriously.

I feel a little bad that this review is so short, but honestly, with a mediocre game like this there just isn't much to say.  As is so often the case when we get this far along into sequels, the original ideas have simply become stale.  The idea of being trapped in your apartment had a lot of potential, but considering that you spend a lot of time outside of it, they mostly squandered that idea.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Silent Hill 3

Remember how I said that the ending of the original Silent Hill didn't make any sense?  Clearly I wasn't alone in that feeling.  After trying to take the series in a slightly different direction in Silent Hill 2, Konami decided to try to clear up the original story a bit in Silent Hill 3.  I'm not sure that we needed an entire game to explain these events, but regardless it's what we got.

Silent Hill 3 is notable for having the series only female protagonist.  Her name is Heather Mason, and she's  the baby that Harry carried off at the end of Silent Hill, assuming you got one of the good endings.  She's 17 now, and her mannerisms reflect that.  As I would inspect things around the room, she would frequently tell me in very wordy terms that she wasn't interested in it or that it didn't look important.  In some ways that's a nice change of pace from the more blunt messages Harry and James used to tell me, but it also got a little annoying after a while.  Fortunately you have the option to walk away after the first line of dialogue if you get tired of her ramblings.  She's also extra rude to nearly everyone she runs into in the game, whether they deserve it or not.

I played the game on normal puzzle difficulty and easy combat yet again.  I only really had trouble with monsters when multiple types would swarm at me, or when a boss had a particular trick to him that made it more of a challenge.  But one of the bosses, Leonard, was just too easy.  I knocked him over once with a shotgun blast and went over to him and started kicking him.  He flailed about but never got back up again.  It was kind of pathetic.  The puzzles on the other hand were pretty appropriately challenging.

I liked that this game relied heavily on sounds to scare you.  While a lot of the monsters don't really look all that frightening, they make horrible noises.  The sounds of them moaning and crying through the halls put me on edge and while there was a degree of desensitization, it seemed to take a lot longer than in the other games.  There are also a fair amount of enemies that you're much better off running away from than trying to kill, which adds its own unique challenge as you try to explore the hallways and avoid them at the same time.  I also noticed this game tricks you a lot, making you enter a room that has no real purpose other than that there's an enemy inside waiting to ambush you.  It's a fairly cheap trick, but it felt appropriate for a survival horror game anyway.  What didn't feel quite so appropriate was the strange mix of weapons Heather finds upon her way.  I hate to complain about the katana, which is is a much better hand to hand weapon than the pipe I'm normally forced to use, but why would one of those just be laying around in an office building for me to pick up?

I also think I understand why Silent Hill 2 and 3 were included together in the HD Collection, beyond them being the first two PS2 releases.  The layout of the town is identical, as is the look of the hospital and the night club.  In the original release of Silent Hill 3, if you had a save state for Silent Hill 2 on your memory card, it would unlock short FMVs that were references to that game.  Those are also included on this disc,  though I'm not sure if a save state for SH2 is required or not.  But it was funny to see Heather refuse to stick her hand inside a stopped up toilet asking "Who would ever do that?" when I knew the answer was James Sunderland.  It was also nice to see a few locations from the first game presented with updated graphics.

People have complained that the HD Collection has it's problems, and I encountered some myself during the final level of the game.  It locked up on me twice.  Once was right after a save point, but the other wasted a good ten to fifteen minutes of gameplay.  And I'm playing the PS3 version; from what I've heard the 360 version is worse.  Just something to be aware of if you're debating on what version to purchase.

As far as the story of the game, I think it does a good job finishing up what was established in the first one.  I found myself really wondering just how it was going to end, not sure if Heather could truly come out of this okay given the position she was in. It's a decent ending and also one of the grossest things I've ever seen happen in a video game. The final boss is very creepy looking too. After my experience with the previous games, I was also waiting to see what kind of choices would be available that would dictate my ending.  There was only one choice that I'm aware of, and it turns out it is completely irrelevant on your first playthrough.  I suppose the reason they changed this is so that a player will always see the canon ending even if they only play it once, but personally there just wasn't enough here to make me play it again, even though they gave me a new costume and two new weapons when I was finished.  It's not a bad game by any means, but it does pale in comparison to the first two games.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Silent Hill 2

File:Silent Hill 2.jpg

Silent Hill 2 was pretty much the whole reason I wanted to play these games, and with the continually delayed release of the HD Collection, I had to really wait for it.  I think it's hard not to judge games in a series based on your experiences with the others you've played, so I think it's fair to mention that as I started this game, I had already played Silent Hill 4 through Homecoming and only had 3 and Downpour remaining.  That said, I had heard that this game was largely considered the best in the series and I was looking forward to it.

That largely led me to expect a lot of scares, and so I was initially disappointed.  While our first glimpse of Pyramid Head is certainly very creepy, before then there really isn't much.  I played on Easy enemy difficulty and Normal puzzle difficulty, so there may have been even less enemies than normal, and it certainly made them ridiculously easy to kill, but the game mostly relies on lulling you into safety as you continually search abandoned hallways and rooms in your long meandering search to find your wife Mary, who has sent you a letter asking you to meet her in Silent Hill, despite the fact that she died three years ago.  You run into other characters along the way, all suffering with their own burdens. 

Because of that slow pace, darkness, and mostly silence for long periods of the games, it does set you on edge the moment you hear the music kick in.  And it's almost always haunting and creepy.  As I continued through the game, I found myself needing to take a break for a while because I was starting to feel too tense and needed some relief.

There are a few decent jump scares, and there are two or three moments where you hear creepy whispering as you explore environments.  Menacing sounding voices that you can't quite make out what they are saying, but these people are clearly mad at you and man you hope you don't run into them.  It's really just beautifully done.  And while part of me wants to complain about the slower parts of the game, the fact is that if this game was set at a faster pace, you probably wouldn't be as scared anymore.  I also can't complain about the ridiculously easy setting, because I'd much rather be able to defeat enemies and move on with the story than be stuck at parts.

This game went a long way in expanding the mythology behind Silent Hill.  Harry Mason and his daughter are nowhere to be found, though the town's history with the occult is obviously still present.  What I also found interesting was that I ran into a newspaper clipping which didn't really tie into this story at all, but was related to the major plot of Silent Hill 4.  That's a level of detail you really have to appreciate.

Perhaps my biggest complaint is that once again, the story is not particularly well explained.  When I finished the game, I turned to Jak and asked "So who is Maria?" because while the character is introduced and plays a large role in the game, we never quite know where she came from or why she's here, at least not in the ending I received.  I love the fact that there's so much going on here.  While we follow James Sunderland on his journey, we see that two other characters, Angela and Eddie, are also experiencing their own personal hells within this place, and that's what Silent Hill is largely meant to be.  But Maria's story is left hanging, largely because your choices in the game change the ending, and she's one of the things that can change.  I'm aware that there's bonus content they added to later editions to fill in the gaps (and for some reason is absent from the HD collection) but it's a flaw, in my opinion, that they had to add this later to explain it.

However, it's a fairly minor complaint.  Silent Hill has a dreamy quality to it, and it's natural that there are going to be elements to a dream that don't always entirely make sense.  James' story is complex and difficult and his journey is an emotional one.  No spoilers here because if there's any in this series that I can recommend, it's this one.  Beyond its original PS2 release and  the PS3 HD Collection I own, it was released for the Xbox and PC, so if you stumble upon a copy you really owe it to yourself to give it a try.

Speaking of the HD Collection, I feel that's a little bit of a misnomer.  I wouldn't call these HD quality graphics, either in the gameplay or the FMV segments.  They also recorded new voice acting for this game, which I chose after being burned by the silly voice acting in the first game. It was definitely an improvement over the first game's recording,  but I haven't heard the original one for this game to make a comparison there.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Castle Rock Companion - The Rage: Carrie 2

It's a little later than I expected this to go up, but once you hit play and watch a few minutes I think you'll understand what made this video take a little longer. :)

Huge thanks to Noel for joining me in this review, doing the editing, and for being willing to cover all those sequels!

Silent Hill

It's almost Halloween, so it's time for another marathon!  Each day until October 31st I will be covering my experiences with the Silent Hill video game series.

Survival horror games have always seemed very intriguing to me, but I was also a bit scared to play them too.  Now that I've been watching more horror films, I thought I might be ready for them.  When the Silent Hill HD Collection was announced, I wanted to start with the very first game in the series to see if I could handle it.  The game was made in 1999 for the original Playstation.  The graphics are downright horrible in places.  Surely it wouldn't scare me, right?


The game starts out fairly mild, as the lead character Harry gets in a car accident with his daughter, but then she disappears from the car.  You're tasked with finding her in the fog covered town of Silent Hill.  This world frequently switches between a deserted but otherwise normal town to a freakish nightmare world.  Even the normal world isn't safe though, as it's inhabited by skinless dogs and large birds.  The nightmare world features ultra-creepy faceless children, zombie-like doctors and nurses, and faceless corpses looking to hump you.  No, really.

The first major task of the game is to go to the abandoned elementary school, and this is where things start to get scary.  While the graphics are outdated, the sound more than makes up for it.  The children giggle and whisper, there are random slams and bangs to make you jump out of your seat, and the music builds as you enter certain areas of the building.  I found myself really scared to open doors, uncertain of what I might find on the other side.

It's a really great feeling you simply can't get from watching a horror film.  When you watch a movie, you might want a character to not go in the house, but they are going to regardless.  With these video games, you and only you are responsible for making it happen.  You can delay as much as you want, but if you have any intention of getting through this game, you're going to have to do it.

Unfortunately, the further the game goes on, the more you get used to its methods of scaring you.  Each enemy you run into initially can be quite creepy, but after awhile the effect wears off.  You go from "Die you creepy little kid!" to "Just shut up already!"  Even the music starts to wear off after awhile, as I found myself telling it "Yes, yes, you're very scary.  I'm proud of you."  You can only hear ominous music build so many times and find nothing on the other side of the door until it just doesn't have an effect on you.

I'm willing to forgive the diminishing returns because when the game does get you, it gets you good.  What I'm not so willing to forgive is the complete mess of a story.  The dialogue is absolutely terrible.  It's clear that someone did a perfunctory translation of the Japanese and then seemed to ask the voice actors to record their dialogue one line at a time.  Honestly, that last part is probably related to disc memory and such, but it makes everything come off sounding really stilted.  It's also just really stupid in parts.

Harry: "This time was different.  Instead of just shifting from the normal world to the nightmare world, it felt like the normal world became the nightmare world."

Thank you, Mr. Exposition.

Harry: "It's an altar.  I wonder what they worshipped?"

You've seen corpses hanging on walls and blood splattered all over the floor, and only now you are starting to wonder what kind of religion this is?  Seriously, he says this at the climax of the game.

This dialogue also results in the actual plot of the game not being explained very well.  I felt a lot like I was watching Akira or playing the original Final Fantasy in that there was definitely a story going on underneath the surface but the translation just was not giving me all I needed.

The other frustrating thing about the game was that it is exceedingly easy to get lost.  While wandering the hospital, I never found a map of the place.  Being given no clear direction on where I was supposed to go, this resulted in me losing out on picking up a few key items that would have allowed me to get the best ending.  Later, following the directions the game told me,  I very nearly ended up stuck with the worst ending.  The only reason I avoided it was because Jak had previous experience with the game and told me I had missed something. I ended up having to redo a half hour worth of gameplay, but I'm just glad I had kept an alternate save point from earlier that allowed me to even do that.

While not a perfect game by any means, I consider this a great introduction to the survival horror genre that made me want to dig deeper.

Here's a really silly video Jak and I made after sitting through the mind numbing dialogue in this game.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Castle Rock Companion - Carrie

There is technically one more film to be covered that is related to Carrie.. but you'll have to wait a few days to see that video!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Castle Rock Companion - Graveyard Shift

Sunday, September 2, 2012

New collaborative projects and blogs

So things over here are getting fairly quiet, or at least not updating anywhere near as much as they used to.  But that doesn't mean I haven't been working!

For whatever reason, in July I found myself really wanting to do some new things.  Strangers from the Internet was/is still on hiatus, and the marathon movie posts I had been doing left me rather fatigued.  So I essentially went back to the wells and found a way to try to make this all fun again.  Because if writing and reviewing isn't fun for you, you're doing it for the wrong reasons!

One thing was the switch to more video reviews, which you've seen here already.  My Castle Rock Companion series and any other video reviews I do will still be linked here.  It's not entirely impossible that I'll be doing written reviews here too, though they will mostly be unplanned as the moment strikes me.  I do have a marathon scheduled for Halloween that's been in the works for a while.

But a lot of my written reviews are now appearing elsewhere.  Made of Fail runs a fun recap/review blog called Second Time Around, where anyone and everyone is invited to pick a series they are familiar with - be it television, books, comics, video games, whatever, and review them step by step.  I thought it sounded like a really fun idea, so after picking my brain a bit I decided to choose the Age of Apocalypse crossover from the X-men comics.  Those reviews are similar in the style to the comic reviews I've done here, so if you liked them I'd recommend checking them out.  Other folks are also doing their own reviews there, on things such as Stephen King's The Stand, The Prisoner television series, and anime series Ouran High School Host Club.  Check them out!

The other place my written reviews will begin appearing is The Monthly Midnight Movie Exchange.  Every month Tony, Noel, and I will take turns picking a film and then we review and discuss.  As the title suggests, these will be movies outside of the mainstream, those odd little films you might find flipping through the channels that you've never heard of before but have enough wacky charm for you to appreciate them.  Given how much I enjoy The Mike's From Midnight With Love blog, there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to review these kinds of movies when it was offered to me.  Our first pick is Enter the Ninja, and I am so looking forward to doing my pick next month of The Calamari Wrestler!

That's an awful lot of stuff and a lot of different websites to remember, isn't it?  Well, in an effort to make it a little easier for others (and also to help me keep track of them all in one place), I've set up a blog on my main website that will post links to all of these various projects as they go live.  You can subscribe to that RSS feed rather than ten million little ones if you prefer.  And of course I always post links on my Twitter account to all these projects, but Twitter posts have a way of disappearing under a sea of tweets about food and spoilers so I thought something a little more organized might be better.

Now that that's all out of the way, expect a new Castle Rock Companion here later this month, and with any luck an additional non-Stephen King video review if all this hurricane business calms down long enough for me to get some work done.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Castle Rock Companion - Misery

Introducing a new video series!  I had originally planned to do this as a marathon for October, a special lead in to Halloween.  But then inspiration struck - instead of killing myself trying to read all those books and short stories in one year, I could make it a series and give each one the proper attention it deserves.  There are so many adaptations out there and even more in development that this series should be going for a long time.  I hope you enjoy it!

If you missed the Harry Potter entries I mention in the video, they can be viewed through my Harry Potter tag.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Harley Quinn (video review)

All this Batman talk and yet I couldn't talk about my favorite girl since she never got her chance to be in the films.  Nevermind, let's celebrate her animated series appearances!

I fully realize that the sound suddenly changes in quality at the 2:00 mark.  Next time I promise I'll set it right from the beginning.  I'm learning.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Leading up to the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed by what I had seen.  From behind the scenes photos of Catwoman's costume to the trailers, there really wasn't anything there that made me excited about the film.  However, given that the only film of Nolan's I've had problems with was Inception, and that was mostly just the ending, I was fairly confident that this would be a good one.

As far as I'm concerned, my confidence was well placed.  I was very impressed with how he took those underwhelming individual pieces and turned them into a great film.  Lots of great action scenes, good tension and character moments, and once again Nolan showing that he has a feel for just what Batman is all about as a character.

My biggest complaint is definitely Bane's voice.  I understand that a character with a mask over his mouth isn't going to speak clear as day, but it really seemed like there were moments where you could understand him fine, and others where I was "squinting my ears" to try to figure just what was coming out of his mouth.  For the most part it was just him preaching or showing bravado, so I didn't miss any key plot points or developments, but it's annoying to know that I'm probably not going to fully understand him until I turn on the subtitles on the Blu Ray.  Beyond that I really enjoyed the character and the changes they made to him.  It was nice to have a calculating Bane after that pathetic stupid grunt we saw in Batman & Robin.

More than anything, I really loved this Catwoman.  Michelle Pfeiffer's version will always be dear to me from a nostalgic perspective, but Anne Hathaway was fantastic.  She was really like the Irene Adler to his Sherlock Holmes and I loved the change we saw in her over the course of the film. 

I have spoiler oriented thoughts, but before I get to those, for anyone who hasn't seen the movie yet - I highly recommend it.  Nolan has managed to create a fantastic trilogy that tells both three separate stories and one complete overarching one about Batman and the many characters that surround him.  Even if you don't love it as much as I did, I think you'll really enjoy it.


First off, Miranda Tate, who I swear I didn't even know was going to be in this film.  I think I may have read ages ago that another woman would be Bruce's love interest, but then I clearly just forgot about her.  How interesting then that near the beginning of the film I was thinking "I don't think I trust her" and then about halfway through I decided I was just paranoid.  Silly me, of course she was Talia!  All this talk of Ra's Al Ghul's heir, and I'm just accepting the movie on its word that it's Bane?  Come on!  I was smacking myself on the inside for not catching that one.  Of course this was from the man who directed The Prestige, so he knows all about misdirection.

Speaking of misdirection, it wasn't much of one to have Blake's first name be Robin.  He was clearly meant to be a sidekick of sorts, and he was a blend between Dick Grayson and Tim Drake. So it's probably no surprise that I absolutely loved him immediately.  I loved watching him learn and grow and eventually reject law enforcement for vigilantism.  While I doubt we'll ever see a film with him as the new Batman, I'd love to see it.

I was a little disappointed in how things played out with Bruce and Alfred though, I must admit.  It was definitely a way to get Alfred out of the city when all the chaos went down, but I hope we weren't meant to believe that Bruce planned it that way.  Also, it seems incredibly cruel to make the man who raised you believe you are dead.

I'm not ashamed to admit that when Batman told Gordon his identity, I got tears in my eyes.  It was such a sweet and wonderfully handled moment.  I also love that Gordon got his own story arc throughout the series, acknowledging that he's just as essential to the safety of Gotham City as Batman is.  What a fantastic performance by Gary Oldman.

I feel like I could just keep writing about this movie forever and I know I'll have even more to say after I watch all three movies together. For now I'll just save further discussion for the comments.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Dark Knight

It seems like there are two types of people.  Those who think this movie is incredibly awesome, and those who think those other people are exaggerating and ignoring a lot of flaws.  I'm afraid I'm one of those who thinks it's awesome, and yes, I am ignoring the flaws, because I don't think they're as important as all the good stuff that happens. But I can still be sensible enough to acknowledge that they do exist.

Once again, the beginning of the movie is a little slow.  We see the Joker's heist, which is fantastically executed and shows just what kind of ruthless criminal we're dealing with, and then we cut to Batman fighting at night. It works really well, as it both fulfills Batman's promise to Gordon at the end of Batman Begins that he would catch Scarecrow, but it also shows us that Gotham is being affected by the Batman with these sudden copycats popping up.  I have to wonder where they got such accurate masks.  Do you think it was the big costume for Halloween that year?  Probably.  The "not quite as realistic as you think" theme pops up here when Batman bends the gun nozzle of one of  the fakers as if it was made of wire rather than metal.  Seriously, is he Superman all of the sudden?

But then the movie slows down a bit in the name of set up.  We're introduced to all the gangsters as they meet the Joker, Lau runs off with their money, and Batman goes all the way to Hong Kong to get them.  Similar to the beginning of Batman Begins, I'm hard pressed to say these scenes should be taken out of the film, but they do feel largely pointless as you're watching them.  Nolan Batman films, it seems, take a lot of investment and trust in the beginning that what you are seeing will in fact pay off in the end, and I think everything here does.

I didn't really have time to mention Lucius Fox in my previous review, but there's no denying how much Morgan Freeman brings to this series.  He's essentially Q from the James Bond series, but he's also got his own distinct personality.  I love that in this film he has no problem telling Bruce when he disagrees with his methods and isn't afraid to just walk away.  The sonar, by the way, is also definitely in the realm of unrealistic, though I suppose if we pretend this is somewhere in the not too distant future, you can just run with it.

But I think we all know this movie is really all about the Joker, with a bit of Harvey Dent/Two Face added in.  Heath Ledger manages to bring something completely new to the character that also just feels right to me.  He's unsettling, he's psychotic, and he just doesn't care.  I just love watching every scene he is in.  My only problem is that he claims to be an agent of chaos, but the fact is he has a large amount of order in his plans and schemes.  Though I suppose you could say that was just lies he was telling Dent to manipulate him.

I love that they took inspiration from The Killing Joke but twisted it so that instead of trying to corrupt Gordon, Joker corrupts Dent, who us Batman fans know is just a little too susceptible to such things.  His turn is handled fantastically by Aaron Eckhart, as I think we can all sympathize with what he's been through even if we can't agree with his decisions.  Once again, those special effects are amazing.  He's truly horrifying to look at, and while once again, not that realistic, it is a good way to bring that look into the real world.

Once again, I find Rachel Dawes to be largely forgettable.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is a better actress than Katie Holmes, but there just isn't much to say about the role.  She's there to tease the idea that Bruce could have a normal life, but none of us truly believe that could ever happen.

Alfred seemingly has changed his mind from the last film, now convinced that Gotham needs Batman and that Bruce can't give it up.  I suppose there's nothing wrong with a character changing his mind, but bookend this with the other two films and it's a little confusing.  I love Michael Caine and I think his performance is great, it just seems like his feelings change with the wind on  this subject.

This movie manages to be both a really fun time with lots of action, and also really smart.  The two boats pitted against each other toward the end creates a great amount of tension, and I love when the big burly prisoner definitively throws the detonator out the window.  I love that Joker's plan fails here, because sometimes, people really are that good and it's the kind of thing we need to be reminded of.

More than anything else, I love the ending of this movie.  It gets me every single time.  It gets right to the heart of what Batman is, why he is a vigilante and not an agent of the law, and it makes me giddy with excitement.  It is quite possibly why I'm so willing to overlook the various flaws of the film, because Nolan seems to know how to get to the heart of what Batman stands for and presents him in a way that even non-comic book fans can understand.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Batman Begins

After the mess that was Batman & Robin, I don't think anyone was too upset when they announced they would reboot the Batman franchise.  It had been eight years, and the previous series of films had shown that changing directors and actors and yet trying to continue on really wasn't the best route.

I remember enjoying this film quite a bit the first time I saw it, but strangely I never actually owned this film until I went to do this marathon.  Watching it again, I think I know why.  It's a very serious film and it takes a while to really get started.  It jumps around a lot in time, which while never confusing, does slow down the story a bit.  And while his origins and training are essential to the plot, we technically don't even see Batman until one hour into the film.

I like that unlike the previous films, we actually get to know Thomas Wayne and what kind of man he was before he's murdered.  Though I can't help but be frustrated by the fact that Bruce's mother Martha doesn't seem to have any significance beyond the pearls she wears.  She's even portrayed in a slightly negative light as she seems to be a little annoyed when Bruce's fear of bats causes them to leave the opera early.  It's a strange choice for a woman whose murder is about to scar our protagonist for life.  Even as the movie goes on, it's always "your father" or "your parents" being referenced as a whole.  I suppose given the time period we're supposed to figure that Martha couldn't play a large role in the politics of the city or maybe even have a steady job, but still, it bugs me quite a bit.

Beyond that, the scenes of Bruce's early life are touching and heartbreaking, and I love seeing Alfred with young Bruce.  I'm a bit divided on their relationship in this and the later films though, as Alfred seems very much against Batman from the start.  It makes perfect sense that he's worried about Bruce's well being, but you would think he could also appreciate what he's trying to do for the city.

Katie Holmes is perfectly average as love interest Rachel Dawes.  She's not a particularly interesting character, but she's not annoying or offensive either.  The only complaint I have is that I don't really see her and Christian Bale of being around the same age, which is odd because they're only four years apart in real life.  She just has a very young look to her, I guess.

Gary Oldman's part as Sergeant Gordon is fairly small, but I love that we also get to see his beginnings in the police force alongside Batman's development.  Seeing him get to drive the Batmobile (or Tumbler, if you prefer) and play such a large role in saving the city is also great.

Cillian Murphy's portrayal of the Scarecrow is fantastic.  He's just this perfect mix of smarmy and wicked that I really enjoy.  The effect they used on his mask when people are under the effects of the gas is also great.  Once again, I would have liked to see  him play a bigger role and to see more of what he's doing at Arkham, but fortunately this isn't the last we'll see of him.

The reason why we don't get to see too much of the two above characters is because the focus is largely on Ducard/ Ra's al Ghul.  I'll admit I was genuinely surprised when the reveal happened the first time I watched it.  Liam Neeson's performance also reminds me a lot of the Ra's al Ghul I'm familiar with from the animated series, so I enjoy it.  But I still feel like we spend an awful lot of time on it than maybe we need to.

Perhaps the best thing about this version of Batman is that we're finally seeing a Bruce Wayne who is drastically different from Batman.  This is essential if we're going to believe that no one will figure out Batman's identity.  There were glimpses of this in the 1949 serial, where that Bruce acted generally lazy and didn't care about what was going on around him, but this Bruce goes all out.  He's a tabloid headline mess of a celebrity, a male version of Paris Hilton.  It brings some much needed comic relief to the film's otherwise serious story, and it's just plain believable.  We also get to see the pain Bruce experiences when playing that role doesn't allow him to keep friends and has people generally regard him as a failure compared to his father.  It's the classic device of doing all the work but getting none of the credit.

One thing I feel I need to bring up is that people always stress about how Nolan's Batman films are heavily grounded in reality.  While they're certainly more realistic than the previous films, they're not that realistic.  The most obvious moment in this film is when Batman presses a button on his boot that somehow summons bats to his current location.  Does anyone think that is a real thing you could actually do?

Regardless, I do really enjoy this approach as it reminds me greatly of the animated series' style.  It's also the first that I feel really seems to respect the original comic source material and adapts those into something that really reflects the spirit of those storylines while also creating something new. Was there any better way to end this movie than to tease us with that Joker card?  I think not!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Batman & Robin

I remember being really mad when they announced that Val Kilmer would not be returning as Batman, and that George Clooney would be playing the role instead.  I didn't particularly care for Clooney at that time and I definitely didn't think he had the proper look to be Batman.  I can't remember exactly how I felt about Batgirl being introduced, but I know I really disliked her in the animated series, so I can't imagine I was too excited.  I also honestly can't remember if I saw this movie in the theater or if I waited for home video.  I think my brain may have tried to block out as much about the experience as possible.

However, the entire point of this marathon is to fairly appraise every Batman film, and so I was not going to skip this one.  I would watch it again, and give it a fair shot.  My Strangers from the Internet co-host Bethany recently said she liked the film because it reminded her of the 1960s TV show.  So maybe there was something I could glean from this film that could be enjoyable?

This film's structure follows Batman Forever's pretty closely.  We start off with an immediate action scene of Batman and Robin going up against Mr. Freeze.  Arnold Schwarzenegger actually received topped billing in this film over Clooney.  Every single line out of his mouth is a pun.  Usually featuring "cold," "ice," "freeze," or some other variant thereof, but even when they couldn't fit that in, he still makes a corny joke.  And he's grinning through nearly all of it, to the point that you can just tell Arnold was having the time of his life playing this role.  To his credit, when the very few times come around for him to get serious, he handles those scenes well too.

Watching this opening scene, you would expect to be watching an extremely cheesy comedy with some action elements.  Batman and Robin both surf or skate over various surfaces, and when Mr. Freeze's henchmen show up as evil hockey players, the two of them nod at each other knowingly and pop ice blades out of the bottom of their boots by clicking their heels together.   It's absurd.  It's perfectly understandable why so many of us were angered by this movie from the get go - despite the silliness of the previous films, this one is above and beyond.

And I could accept that we all just had the wrong expectations and try to appreciate this film for what it is, but the fact is it doesn't know what it is.  After that first scene we cut to the origin of both Poison Ivy and Bane, and it's all about on par with Batman Forever.   John Glover plays Dr. Woodrue in these scenes, and he voiced The Riddler in Batman The Animated Series, so that's a nice crossover.

Barbara is then introduced as Alfred's niece, who strangely has no English accent despite being English and living in London up until recently.  There's then all this serious talk about how Batman thinks Robin is too reckless and takes too many chances, and Robin thinks Batman needs to learn to trust him, and Alfred scolds Bruce while Bruce keeps seeing images of Alfred raising him as a small boy.

Then Ivy starts using her phermones on the men, and we're back to absolute ridiculousness all over again.  There's madcap adventure and silliness until - oh, by the way, Alfred's dying.  It's just way too many sudden turns in tone and it just doesn't work.  Schumacher has claimed that the studio wanted a family friendly film and that's why things turned out the way they did.  But then why does Ivy use so much innuendo?  I suppose you could argue that it might fly over the heads of children, but it feels obvious to me.  And the whole thing with Alfred should really be upsetting, but it happens so quickly, and we're also dealing with the fourth guy to portray Bruce Wayne, so I'm just not feeling a closeness between them at all.

I wouldn't say that George Clooney makes an awful Batman, but he's not a notable one either.  Once again he barely has a storyline, and the ones he is involved in don't have much meat.  We see he's been successfully dating some woman for over a year, which is a little strange considering that every other relationship he's been in in previous films in the series was all about how he couldn't balance that.  But then she basically disappears after giving him a marriage ultimatum so I guess it doesn't matter.

There are glimmers of potential here.  The conflict between Bruce and Dick could have easily led into him becoming Nightwing in a future installment.  I like this portrayal of Ivy for the most part and I could see her easily carrying a film as the main villain, though if I'd like to see her use more plant creations than seduction in the process.  You also could have made a zany short film with just Freeze and the ultra-silliness and it would have been a great comedy.  But unfortunately we get them all mashed together instead, with Alfred Headroom in the computer adding Batgirl into the mix and it just doesn't work.  It's a complete mess.  It's very easy to see why this essentially killed the series.  At least we got a pretty good Smashing Pumpkins song out of the deal, with a decent alternate version as well.

I was laughing hysterically during the opening scene, so afterwards I thought it might be fun to film my reactions as I watched the movie.  I ended up getting a good sampling of the range of feelings I felt throughout:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Batman Forever

If I had been excited leading up to Batman Returns' release, I was absolutely giddy waiting for Batman Forever.  There was one word alone that lead to this giddiness, and that word is "Nightwing."  I bet you expected me to say Robin, didn't you?  But no.  While I had already been ridiculously excited about the fact that Robin was going to be introduced into the films, it was the preview clip where Dick Grayson says "I don't know.. Batboy, Nightwing, what's a good sidekick name?" that made me jump up and down in fangirlish glee.  It was a teeny, tiny detail, but for me it was a moment where I first felt I was in on a secret joke.  I knew exactly what they were referring to, and the fact that they had taken the time to acknowledge comic book fans in that moment was enough to make me really happy.

I was also 14 and therefore at the appropriate age to like Chris O'Donnell and be happy with the choice.  I also may have been young enough to overlook some of the goofier aspects of the film.  So having not really watched the film in years, I was very curious to see if I would still love this film as much as I used to or be a bit embarrassed by the fact that I still own the Batman, Robin, and Riddler mugs that McDonald's sold. No, I don't know why I don't have the Two-Face mug either.

Overall, I'm not ashamed.  While the movie is definitely more about action and humor then drama or emotion, it excels at those two elements for the most part.  The action scenes may completely defy the laws of physics, but they're fun enough to watch that I find myself unable to care.  Everything is a mix of blacks and neons, and while certainly a very different color palette from what Burton was previously using, it still looks really nice.  While some of the humor is a little stretched, the rest is over the top silly fun that can make you smile.

The stretched humor lies with Jim Carrey.  While there's certainly a Frank Gorshin influence in his Riddler, there's also a lot of Ace Ventura there.  I think being a former fan of his allows me to tolerate this style now, even though I definitely can't say that I like it much anymore.  I imagine individual opinions on that are going to dictate just how someone feels about this film today.

But if you can ignore it, I think you're in for a treat.  Tommy Lee Jones plays Two Face with the kind of gleeful psychotic mayhem we're often used to seeing in Joker portrayals, but then every now and then Harvey Dent surfaces and he's suddenly so serious and somber.  It's unfortunate that he mostly plays second billing here to Riddler.  I think a movie that would have shown us more than the abbreviated version of his story would have been really great.  There is of course also the fact that Billy Dee Williams had previously portrayed Dent in the first film, but this isn't the first or last time a character has been recast through the course of a film series.  And considering that Batman was also recast, it's very easy to overlook.

I appreciate the fact that Kilmer seems to have at least tried to create a distinction between Batman and Bruce Wayne, even if this Bruce Wayne isn't the bungling playboy we're used to in other adaptations.  He's a little closer to Adam West's Bruce Wayne I think.  But I like that he at least tries to change his voice a bit when he's Batman to disguise his identity.

This is also the first time in this series that I feel like we're getting a real story arc for Batman himself - both in dealing with his repressed memory of his youth and the fact that he's finally found a female who understands him in a way the previous two didn't.  Chase Meridian is a little too forward for my tastes at times, but there's no denying that she's a strong woman who knows exactly what she wants.  The only thing is when you've got Bruce Wayne coming to you about the trauma of his past, and you fully acknowledge that Batman must have had a trauma in his past... you shouldn't have to wait until you kiss both of them to figure it out.

But let's face it, this move is still all about Dick Grayson for me.  I feel like they gave him a little bit more attitude than necessary, but I guess with the older age and the fact that he's currently reeling from the death of his family it's excusable.  I'm also fairly certain that the main reason he has a brother is just because most acrobatic acts are in fact made of four people, but I could be wrong.  Considering that he dies along with his parents I don't think it is a horrible change.  I really enjoy the dynamic between Dick and Bruce, and how it's very obvious that even from the beginning, Bruce truly cares about him.  Alfred's push to have Dick become Robin reminds me a lot of A Lonely Place of Dying,  where Tim Drake and Alfred both insist that Batman needs a Robin, until eventually the latter hands the costume over to the former to take on the role. 

Once again, this isn't a great film.  It's far more campy than the 1960s show ever was in some ways. It's silly and generally played very over the top.  A lot of the dialogue sounds more like something written to aid the movement of the story rather than how people would actually talk.  There are nipples on the Batsuit, and Riddler might as well be Ace Ventura or The Mask.  But I feel like it manages to strike enough of a balance that this is still a fun film to watch.

By the way, I find myself completely unable to fairly comment on whether or not the soundtrack is dated or appropriate.  See, I purchased it even before the movie release and it got a lot of play from me.  I love nearly every song on it.  Even Method Man's "The Riddler." So if anyone else has opinions on whether Brandy, The Offspring, and The Flaming Lips belong in the midst of a Batman film, I'd be interested to hear it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

I'll admit that I almost didn't include this movie in my marathon.  I was thinking that since it was an animated film, I could skip it.  But it is a theatrical release and therefore does count, and really why miss an excuse to talk about my favorite version of Batman?

The movie begins with yet another variation on Danny Elfman's Batman theme.  In an effort to make the opening titles more epic, they included choir voices and the tall buildings we normally see animated in 2D on the show are now CGI.  Unfortunately, all it really does is make me want to watch the normal opening credits again instead.

I had another disconnect as the movie began, as the voice actor playing Chuckie Sol in the opening scene would return to the show again later to voice Boxy Bennet.  He even literally uses a line that Boxy will use in "Harley's Holiday" - "This time I've got you, you lousy stinkin'-" and then he's cut off before he can finish it.  There's no way this wasn't something they did intentionally.  They must have really loved his voice and the way he executed that line and so they brought him back.  And now I've probably revealed just how freakishly well I know this series, that I can actually recognize that.  Oh well.

I had forgotten that this movie had a bit in common with Batman Begins, in that we see Bruce preparing to fight crime before he actually takes on the Batman persona.  Given that we have already been spending time with this Batman for one season of the show, it's nice to go back and see this younger version.  I also love that in the early scene when he faces down the thugs, he's using a gruffer voice but not the Batman voice yet.  It's a credit to Kevin Conroy that he's able to use that voice in such varying degrees.

They also take advantage of the fact that they're making a movie rather than being stuck on television.  Bruce tells another character "you know where to stuff it," Batman and Joker both bleed in their final fight, and Batman even has sex.  This latter part completely flew over my head when I went to see it when I was 12.  The only way I found this out was as we were leaving the theater.

Dad: "Man, they really pushed the limits with that movie.  Batman had sex."
Me: "What?  No he didn't."
Dad: "She was wearing his shirt the next morning.  That means they did it."

Me: "Oh....."

And that's how I learned to always look for that silly trope in movies and TV.

Unfortunately the main plot of the film with the Phantasm mystery and the love story just isn't terribly interesting.  Watching it now, it's pretty obvious that Andrea is the killer, though I'll admit as a kid I was fooled by the false voice she uses and took her on her word.  It makes Batman look a little naive, but then this is a woman he was deeply in love with, so you can understand why he might ignore the obvious evidence in front of him.

But the movie is saved by the fact that Jack Napier used to work for these gangsters, and therefore we get to include the Joker in the film as well.  I love that when Salvatore Valestra (voiced by Abe Vigoda, by the way) comes to the Joker for help, Joker gleefully messes with him for a bit, then kills him but leaves the trap to try to catch Batman committing these murders.  And when he realizes it's not Batman, he knows who the killer is almost immediately.  Mark Hamil will always be my Joker, and this film shows why.  He'll laugh at anything, with a gleeful enthusiasm that is somehow both unsettling and infectious, but he's also got that temper that makes him turn into a truly frightening psychopath at any moment.  So wonderful.  I really love that final fight between him and Batman in the miniature of Gotham because the props just make the fight so much more interesting.

Remember how I said I love Michael Gough as Alfred?  I do,  but I have to say I love Efrem Zimbalist Jr. so much more.  He has such a wonderful dry sense of humor, and he also has such a great relationship with Bruce.  There's one point toward the end of the film where he calls him "sir" and then by his first name from one sentence to the next, and while it should sound awkward it doesn't.  You just really see what a complicated but also wonderful relationship these two characters have with each other.

This movie is basically a slightly longer two part Batman the Animated Series episode, with a bit of edginess thrown in to earn that PG rating.  There are better episodes of the series than this film, but this still ranks pretty high in terms of quality.  There were two direct to home release sequels made after this movie, Batman & Mr Freeze: SubZero and Mystery of the Batwoman.  I've seen both and they're of pretty decent quality.  There was also a Batman Beyond film that's technically set in the same universe, but I haven't seen it since I haven't watched that series yet.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Batman Returns

My main memories of Batman Returns revolve around a lot of the hype that preceded the film's release.  I remember watching behind the scenes moments with Michelle Pfeifer talking about how she had accidentally hit Tim Burton with her whip in one scene.  Despite not really caring about the first film, I was pretty excited for this one.  Batman The Animated Series was probably the main culprit.  And while this film is probably just as ridiculous as Batman is, for some reason I remember it much more fondly.

While both Burton films are remembered for being dark, this one definitely takes a much grimmer turn than the original.  Only Tim Burton can start off a Christmas film by showing parents throw their baby away.  (I'm sure everyone knows by now that it's Paul Reubens playing the father, but I still grin whenever I see him here.) The film is primarily about its villains, with Batman/Bruce Wayne taking more of a backseat role, and that probably explains just how twisted it is.  In a lot of ways this movie is all about the Penguin, with just a side story for Catwoman that intersects at certain points.

Perhaps that's why I don't really care for Michael Keaton as Batman.  After watching both of these films, I have to admit that he barely has any real screen time as Batman where he isn't just fighting or driving one of his vehicles.  As such, I see no true distinction between his two personas.  We're mostly told about his issues with duality far more than we ever see it.  He's also absolutely terrible at concealing his identity, though Alfred isn't helping either.  The way Alfred just let Vicky Vale into the batcave last film really bugged me, and I like that we get a throw away line here to point that out.  But then of course Bruce goes and rips his mask off right in front of Max Shreck at the end, so he has no room to talk.

Speaking of Alfred, there wasn't too much in the movie last time for me to really mention him, but Michael Gough is just awesome in these movies.  He's witty, he's a concerned father figure, and he's quite technically adept for a man of his age.  I don't know how you couldn't love this version of Alfred, really.

After having such a cookie cutter female in the last film, I really love that we swung in the opposite direction this time around with Selina Kyle.  She starts off so timid and weak, but she still has this wonderful sense of humor when she's alone that you can't help but like and sympathize with her.  She then goes through being killed and somehow surviving, and to this day I always get this big smile on my face when she changes the sign from "Hello There" to "Hell here."  Sure, it's obvious and why would anyone have "Hello There" in neon hanging in their room to begin with, but it's such a simple action that shows her current state of mind.  She's too cruel toward the female victim in the alley that she saves, but I think it's easy to see that she's mad at her old self and therefore projecting it onto that woman.  I also can't give enough props to Michelle Pfeiffer here for portraying Selina's divided emotions so perfectly.  That scene under the mistletoe where she gives out that crazy laugh is just great, and her sad "Does this mean we have to fight now?" really gets me.

The movie is entirely absurd and has no logic for most of its situations.  Somehow, a bunch of cats walking over her and licking and biting her manages to give Selina nine lives, or at least make her really hard to kill.  The penguin somehow manages to hack into the batmobile security system and rewire it, and he's got plans hanging on the wall as if he could just pick up a batmobile blueprint at the store somewhere.  He also managed to secure tons of missiles and develop little mind control devices for his many penguin friends at the zoo.  But I'm willing to overlook all this because the film is fun in its own dark twisted way and never feels like it drags over its running time.

The Penguin is just so weird and so disgusting.  His oddly shaped body, his flipper hands and jagged teeth, and apparently his saliva and blood are green besides.  The Penguin I'm familiar with from the cartoon was a very polite individual, but this one doesn't hesitate to bite off the nose of a guy who makes fun of the way he looks.  He's incredibly over the top, but Danny DeVito plays him with such sincerity that you really believe it.  That moment at the end, when he comes out of the water and slowly heads toward Batman, and Elfman's music swells and then he's dead with that sudden choking gasp and the penguins escort him back into the water... I really hope I'm not the only one feeling a little sorry for him at that point.

I think I prefer this film so much more than the previous because they really fixed a lot of the previous one's errors.  There's no cheesy music added to the soundtrack, the romance actually makes sense given the two characters involved, and beyond the Penguin's tech, we see enough about both villains to understand their motivations and capabilities.  This isn't a great film, but it's a fun film and therefore one worth watching.
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