Monthly Archives: May 2014

X-Men

X-MenPosterHugh Jackman as Wolverine/Logan
Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier
Ian McKellen as Magneto/Erik Lensherr
James Marsden as Cyclops/Scott Summers
Famke Janssen as Jean Grey
Halle Berry as Storm/Ororo Munroe
Anna Paquin as Rogue/Marie
Rebecca Romijn as Mystique
Tyler Mane as Sabertooth
Ray Park as Toad
Bruce Davison as Senator Kelly

First of all, have you seen thhe new X-Men movie? You should at some point. It’s very good. At any rate, let’s revisit the movie that started it all.

The X-Men use an atypical superhero concept. They don’t really lead double lives though they do have code names. They are a combination of political orgnization and strike force. Born with superhuman abilities, mutants are the next stage in human evolution. Because of that, humans tend to fear and hate them. Charles Xavier and his X-Men both try to convince humans that they need not fear mutants and fight against mutants who prove to actually deserve this fear and hatred. One of these mutants, Magneto, has a different take on humanity. He sees a bunch of bigots who are determined to start a war, a war Magneto does not intend to lose.

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Hard to believe that’s Gandalf.

Performances are all-around solid, with three standing out: Patrick Stewart (Xavier), Ian McKellen (Magneto), and of course, Hugh Jackman (Wolverine). Stewart and McKellen are Shakespearean veterans, so of course they’re great. Jackman really gets into the role of the anti-social Wolverine. He understands this part and brings it to life. No wonder he’s the focal point of this movie franchise. Well, that and the fact that Wolverine’s the most popular X-Man. The other actors do good jobs as well, with one exception: James Marsden. His acting is just terrible. He never really shows much emotion and has very limited facial expressions. As much heat as director Bryan Singer has taken for making so little use of Cyclops, the field leader of the X-Men, at least Marsden’s miserable performances aren’t as big an issue. Still, it means that Norm Spencer of the 1990s cartooon is the Cyclops to me.

Did you know that a parody of this movie also you the "middle claw" joke? Sorry if I reminded of Epic Movie, which is anything but!

Did you know that a parody of this movie also did the “middle claw” joke? Sorry if I reminded you of Epic Movie, which is anything but!

The story goes along great. The philosophical themes are handled quite well. That’s what the X-Men are all about, after all. Character templates showcase the different reactions to the discovery of mutants. We see that Xavier is a man who believes in hope and love. Magneto is different. His experiences as a Holocaust survivor have hardened him and unfortunately lead him to consistently make the wrong choices. Storm is representative of Xavier’s students who question if it’s wise to help a human race that hates and fears them. And the face of those humans is Senator Kelly, advocate of requiring all mutants to register with the government. and who privately wants all mutants in prison. Still, others like Wolverine aren’t interested in these sorts of things. Regardless, they end up involved, like it or not.

If you’ve read my reviews of Tim Burton’s Batman movies, you know that my biggest criticism of them was that they had lots of plot holes. Same is true here. There’s a scene where Wolverine swipes Cyclops’ motorcycle. But how could Wolverine have beat Cyclops there when (A) Cyclops and Storm started walking towards the garage before Wolverine, and (B) Wolverine was a recent recruit and Cyclops had been there for many years? Also, the way Wolverine and Rogue meet, are rescued from Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants by Cyclops and Storm, and the way Rogue turns out to be the key to Magneto’s plan comes together much too conveniently.

This movie began a trend among in superhero movies of building up to a sequel, despite many of these movies not getting one (see DaredevilSuperman Returns). This involves Wolverine leaving for a short while because of a place that might contain clues to a past he doesn’t remember. Also, one of the presumed dead members of The Brotherhood of Mutants turns out to be still alive.

However you feel about Singer ditching spandex, ya gotta admit that these suits are more credible combat gear.

However you feel about Singer ditching spandex, ya gotta admit that these suits are more credible combat gear.

Despite plot holes, X-Men is an outstanding film. The fact that this franchise has not gone more than three years in between installments since the 2000 original says it all.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Mortal Kombat

MKTitleLove it or hate it, Mortal Kombat is still an important series. One of the innovators of video game gore, it is best known for splattered blood when someone is hit and dramatic kills in the form of Fatalities (finishing moves). But there are those who see these games as all violence and very little substance. I now visit the game that started it all.

Plot: 7 out of 10

This series has one of the best plots the realm of fighting games has to offer (I wish that were a greater compliment), but we don’t see that here. No, this game provides little indication of Outworld and its conquest of Outworld and attempt to do the same to Earthrealm. For now, Mortal Kombat is just another martial arts tournament. Characters are interesting enough, though, and three of the big rivalries of this series — Liu Kang vs. Shang Tsung, Sonya vs. Kano, and Scorpion vs. Sub-Zero do begin here. Throw in the reasonably well-written bios and endings and perhaps I can give this a good rating.

Graphics: 8 out of 10

Despite some apparent flaws, this game looks great. It uses digitized graphics to make it look real, or at least as real as they could look in 1992. And of course there’s the intense violence, especially in the aforementioned Fatalities. In fact, this game caused a U.S. Senate investigation that lead to the creation of the ESRB ratings system. Controversy aside, MK helped write a new chapter in gaming.

MK1

MK2

DAMN!!! The head AND spinal cord. Good thing it’s on tape or nobody would believe he did it.

Sound: 8 out of 10

Rock-solid music, sound effects, and voice acting. Is there anyone who played this game and doesn’t remember Scorpion shouting “get over here!!!” as his Spear reeled in a hapless opponent?

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

This has never been MK’s strongest point, hence its detractors. There are four attack buttons instead of six for the various versions of the competing Street Fighter II. Skill is not entirely rewarding either as uppercuts (crouching punches) do very heavy damage and knock the opponent a distance away, throws are rather easily pulled off, foot sweeps are a quick and easy knockdown*, and special moves tend towards cheapness. The two biggest offenders are Sub-Zero’s Freeze and Scorpion’s Spear, both of which leave you stunned.

But, hey, they can’t all be Virtua Fighter. For those who prefer a simpler kind of fighting game, this delivers. At least the controls (except on that abysmal SNES version, which isn’t the one I’m reviewing) are pretty responsive. And isn’t that a good point?

*Plus, a lot of people found good sweepers to be unbeatable because they didn’t know that you have to block low.

Challenge: 3 out of 10

For future reference, much of the challenge in this genre comes in people taking each other on. And it’s the gameplay that gets them both to play. So this category is about computer-controlled opponents. They may seem somewhat difficult, especially in the Endurance (two opponents instead of one), but not after you figure out that if you jump back after landing a jump kick, you can do another jump kick and repeat until you win the round. Needless to say, this makes things way too easy. Four-armed monster Goro still presents some challenge, but only some. Oddly enough, the final boss, Shang Tsung, proves to be easy even for this game. After the much harder battle with Goro, I always found that to be weird.

MK3

Yes, that’s a walkway as high as a tower. This can only end one way (and yes, you can do that).

Overall: 7 out of 10

I’ll back the naysayers on one thing: Street Fighter II was the all-around better game. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a solid package. Just don’t expect it to be all that “hardcore” a game.

The Amazing Spider-Man

AmazingSpiderManPosterAndrew Garfield as Spider-Man/Peter Parker
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
Rhys Ifans as The Lizard/Dr. Curt Connors
Denis Leary as Captain Stacy
Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben
Sally Field as Aunt May

With The Amazing Spider-Man 2 having recently come out, it’s as good a time as any to review the predecessor. Five years after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, it was decided to reboot the series, a move obviously inspired by the Batman reboot. Yet many noted how similar The Amazing Spider-Man was to the 2002 film and wondered why then they even bothered to reboot the series if Marc Webb’s first Spider-Man movie was going to be this much like Sam Raimi’s first. Webb and company’s argument is that after ten years, the statute of rehashing limitations had expired.

I think they have a point. New people are constantly being born. And to many younger folks who hadn’t seen the prior series, The Amazing Spider-Man was brand new. On the other hand, there is something to be said for originality.

Andrew Garfield makes a solid Spider-Man. While I thought Tobey Maguire’s acting was off at times, Garfield acts the way a nerd and newly minted superhero should act. In particular, he shows appropriate naivete as his character makes rookie mistakes on his first cases. Emma Stone and Denis Leary also do great jobs as the love interest of, and law enforcement counterpoint to Spider-Man. Unfortunately, Rhys Ifan tends to overact as The Lizard. He plays a scientist looking to create a miracle healing solution that turns him into a monster, but I get the sense that he was trying too hard to seem studious.

Much material seems ripped from the ’02 movie. Peter Parker getting bullied? Check. Peter getting revenge on the bully? Check. His prospective girlfriend was with the bully but ends up liking Peter eventually? Check. Peter gets in a heated argument with Uncle Ben before the latter’s tragic death? Check. Spider-Man is shitty with his secret?

Double check.

Double check.

Still, an honest effort is made to leave a mark on the franchise. This Peter has much more intense arguments with his uncle than the last one did. Peter ends up learning the hard way that crime-fighting isn’t as isn’t as easy as most think, as his attempt to stop an auto theft ends up ruining a six-month sting. Most of all is how after he gets his powers, Peter acts like a total jerk. But what happens to his uncle really wakes him up.

The action in this movie is a marked improvement on the original trilogy. In particular, the final battle between Spidey and The Lizard is very well-done. But that’s what a decade of technological improvement will do.

The movie ends quite well, albeit very similarly to the ’02 movie. I really wish I hadn’t made so many comparisons between the two, but I’m afraid the extent to which one movie rehashes the other requires it.

AmazingSpiderMan2

Most peculiar Stan Lee cameo ever?

The Amazing Spider-Man still is not a bad movie. Far from it in fact. Despite everything that is copied from what came before, it’s an enjoyable experience. Just don’t expect it to break new ground, that’s all.

Overall: 7 out of 10

Super Mario All-Stars

 

MarioAllStarsTitleIt’s confession time. I’m feeling kind of lazy today. As such, I have chosen to review this compilation over doing separate reviews of Super Mario Bros.Super Mario Bros: The Lost LevelsSuper Mario Bros. 2, and Super Mario Bros. 3. This even though I was willing to do all six Mega Man games two years ago. What can I tell you? I have my off days.

These Mario games have of course been widely credited for reviving the video game industry that was believed to have been destroyed after the arcade and Atari crashes of the early 1980s. Despite the low sales of the Wii U, the series created by the games contained in Super Mario All-Stars is still going strong to this very day. You’d think that these games must be great to have this kind of legacy. You’d be right.

One last thing to note before we get into the scores is that the second game in this compilation, The Lost Levels, is not so lost at all. It was actually the second NES game in Japan but because Nintendo’s American division deemed it too tough and too much like the original for us, a different game became our Super Mario Bros. 2. It would be released in Japan as Super Mario USA. Which basically means that The Lost Levels is a lie because it was kept from us, not lost. Ever think about it that way?

Plot: 7 out of 10

This is not a series that is known for great stories. But I have to cut the first couple games in this compilation some slack. We were just out of the Atari era, after all. Also, I have to admit that the last game does shed some new light on the Mushroom Kingdom, for we learn that it is divided into regions, each ruled by a “B”-king who answers to Princess Peach.

Graphics: 10 out of 10

Unlike other compilations, Super Mario All-Stars enhances the graphics of its games. The graphics of these NES classics are upgraded to SNES levels. They’re almost up to the level of Super Mario World, except that the framerate flaws of that game aren’t here.

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It's nice when color limitations allow for the blue shirt and white gloves, isn't it?

It’s nice when color limitations allow for the blue shirt and white gloves, isn’t it?

It is Luigi who experiences the biggest graphical changes, except in SMB2 in which he was already thin. The original versions of the other games had him as basically a copy of Mario in Green, his only reason for existing being to make the two-player mode compatible with the plot. But he is changed to the taller, skinnier, Luigi we now know today in these versions.

I noted before that we and the Japanese got different SMB2s. But ours requires a huge asterisk. Because what Nintendo did was take an admittedly quite good Japan-only platformer called Yume Koujo: Doki Doki Panic, replace the designs of the four playable characters with those of Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad, and call it a Mario game. It’s still fun to play, but can you imagine Nintendo getting away with this with today’s video game news sites, blogs, and social networks that critically gauge video games? Good lord!

Sound: 10 out of 10

Those familiar songs are also improved. And they were always very good and memorable. Why else do you think there’s a bunch of people doing Youtube and Dailymotion videos of themselves playing the songs on a guitar?

You've got a guy using a tail to fly? What do you think this is, a video game?

You’ve got a guy using a tail to fly? What do you think this is, a video game?

Gameplay: 9 out of 10

Nintendo claims that Shigeru Miyamoto single-handedly invented the platforming genre with Super Mario Bros. That is a gross exaggeration. If you play, say Pitfall! or Jungle Hunt for the Atari 2600, you come to realize that the platforming genre just took a big evolutionary leap.

Still, there is much credit for Nintendo to take. There is a much wider world than there ever was on the 2600. Power-ups and improved mobility are also huge leaps up.

On to the second game. It’s basically a redesigned version of the original with two exceptions. First of all, instead of a two-player mode you can choose to be either Mario, or Luigi, who has a much higher jump but is a bit more slippery on the ground. The other is about difficulty, so I’ve no business talking about that here, do I? Suffice it say this game is largely a rehashing of the first. But that first was such an accomplishment that Nintendo earned it.

Next is the least good NES Mario, our Mario 2. I enjoy it more than I really should. No, it doesn’t have a very Mario feel to it. Nevertheless, fun factor is there, if a little less there than the others.

Finally, there’s one of greatest games of all time: Super Mario Bros. 3. The controls are smooth, level design is crafty, boss battles are fun, and the amount of power-ups create a lot of replay value. Plus, this version allows you to save your progress.

Challenge: 10 out of 10

The difficulty of these games ranges from below average in SMB2 to very hard in The Lost Levels. That means that there’s a game for nearly everyone’s skills here. And as everyone knows, the fun factor of the Mario games is extremely high.

The most surprising difficulty of these games is that of The Lost Levels. Its difficulty was rare, at least for the 1990s. When it was originally released in Japan in the mid-’80s, there were quite a few arcade games, designed to make you keep putting in quarters, that were harder.

That's the Poison Mushroom. Stay away from it.

That’s the Poison Mushroom. Stay away from it.

Overall: 10 out of 10

I think that Super Mario All-Stars is deserving of my first perfect score. The games are great and technically beefed up. You really can’t go wrong with this package.