Monthly Archives: May 2015

Killers (2014)

KillersPosterKazuki Kitamura as Nomura Shuhei
Oka Antara as Bayu Aditya
Rin Takanashi as Hisae Kawahara
Luna Maya as Dina Aditya
Ray Sahetapy as Dharma
Ersya Aurelia as Elly Aditya

While I’m no follower of Asian cinema, some movies from this part of the world do deliver. Two good actors, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, hail from the global East, for instance, and made some very good movies, both in their homes and here in the USA. My biggest problem with Asian cinema is that so many of its films are light on plot and drama. I wouldn’t say that Killers is light on drama, but the plot part does have some holes.

We have Nomura Shuhei, a young Tokyo-based executive who has a rather unusual hobby. Being one of those with a sick sense of reality, he is a serial killer who uploads the video of his murders onto the Internet so we can all see them. Meanwhile, Indonesia is home to a journalist, Bayu Aditya, who becomes obsessed with exposing the truth about a politician, Dharma. So much so that this obsession ends up destroying his career and marriage. Eventually, Bayu sees one of Nomura’s videos and gets the idea of becoming a more righteous kind of serial killer from those videos. Like Nomura, Bayu uploads his killings onto the Internet. Eventually, events cause the two killers to meet up and have it out.

Killers1

These “pleasant” scenes are anything but, aren’t they?

As you can probably tell at this point, Killers is a very gruesome movie. It’s basically about sick and twisted people killing other people. Definitely not for everyone. We get to see their descent into madness and the shooting techniques and dialogue used for this purpose are superb!

This movie also spares no gore when it comes to the murders. No surprise, seeing as how Japan’s entertainment industry seems to be less restricted than America’s (see the heavy censorship in anime).

Killers2

Are there any videos that aren’t on video sites?

I do have one complaint, though. The plot doesn’t really progress in the most believable way. One such plot hole is in the form of Nomura being knocked unconscious in an attempted murder. Instead of either killing him in his sleep or calling the police, the prospective victim just runs away. The obvious reason is because the script demands that Nomura live.

So it’s not the best attempt at macabre drama. Still, if you’re into this sort of thing, Killers is worth watching.

Overall: 7 out of 10

Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero

MKMythologiesTitleI will readily concede that the Mortal Kombat games are not masterpieces. Never have they had anything going for them like the fluid gameplay of Street Fighter, the quasi-realistic combat of Tekken, or the interactive environments of Super Smash Bros. The characters are similar to one another, cheap tricks are all too common, and even the gameplay itself could use some work. About the only things that has kept this series successful are the blood and Fatalities.

But however shallow it may seem, maybe those two things are enough. The gruesome kills that require a button combination from the winner when a fight is over are spectacular things to see even if the violence is not for everyone. So this series is still quite likable if not lovable.

Despite its shortcomings, I have always liked MK for the reason I stated above and the fact that its story is as good as they get in this genre (extremely hollow praise, I confess). That is partly why Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero is quite possibly the most disappointing video game I have ever played. Sure, there have been worse, but most of those were awful concepts made by amateurs. This is a game made to broaden its franchise’s horizons. How far can a gore fighting franchise go? The answer is more than twenty years, but Midway was probably thinking too rationally to realize that. We have an attempt at a platformer with one of the series’ most popular characters, Sub-Zero. It could have created a new possibilities for MK. Instead, Midway recycled the old formula despite trying something new and screwed up in many ways beyond that. As a result, we have a piece of crap that, despite its name, is remembered by few.

Plot: 4 out of 10

Set before the original MK, this game is about Sub-Zero being recruited by Quan Chi to gather magical objects, though Quan Chi doesn’t say what he wants with them. These objects will enable the evil sorcerer to free his master, a desgraced elder god named Shinnok who is trapped in The Netherealm. After Sub-Zero does this, he is informed of what he is done by Raiden and sent to The Netherealm to stop Quan Chi and Shinnok.

While it’s not the most badly conceived and executed plot, it is sunk by the fact that Sub-Zero is either being manipulated or bullied all the way through. Not only does this make him look like a gullible pushover, who would want to play such a character? Also, Sub-Zero vs. Scorpion, arguably the famous of all the MK rivalries, isn’t really a big part of the game. Sub-Zero kills Scorpion in the very first level. That’s all the buildup there is to Scorpion’s death before he comes back as a vengeful spectre. I would have built the whole game around their clan feud, but that’s just me.

MKMythologies1

At least their battle ended spectacularly.

Graphics: 3 out of 10

You can tell how little work was put into this game by how mediocre the graphics look at first glance. Come the second level, they go from OK to awful because of the backgrounds that don’t go with the characters and even graphics making gameplay difficult at times because it’s hard tell what’s just the background and what isn’t.

Sound: 4 out of 10

On the Nintendo 64, you’ve just got so-so music. But I played the Playstation version. As a disc-based console, it has cutscenes. These cutscenes feature absolutely horrendous voice acting. In particular, Sub-Zero seems not so much like a ruthless ninja as a drunken boxer who’s had too much brain damage. Voice acting in games generally sucked in the 1990s… but not this bad.

You could tell just by looking at this guy that he would be a bad guy.

You could tell just by looking at this guy that he would turn out to be a bad guy.

Gameplay: 1 out of 10

Despite this being a platformer, the control scheme from the three versions of Mortal Kombat 3 is recycled. This may have been fine for a fighting game, but here it makes it easy to overshoot your jumps into an enemy’s attack or off a cliff. That Sub-Zero seems much clumsier than in other games doesn’t help one bit. For instance, you’re always too far to one side when moving around, leaving you little time to react to enemies who enter the screen.

MKMythologies3

I have to admit, death scenes like this one were done well.

I’m just getting started. For some reason, Midway thought it would be a good idea to have L2 cause Sub-Zero to turn around instead of just having him turn by moving in the opposite direction. It also takes a moment to turn, during which you are vulnerable. How could this pass inspection? Weren’t the platformer-unfriendly movement and jumping enough to forgive? Again, my conclusion is that Midway wanted this game finished as soon as possible.

Challenge: 2 out of 10

This game is harder than Hell. Not in a challenging way, though. it’s hard because gameplay is a goddamn nightmare. To go along with that, cheap, NES style insta-kills lurk around every corner. For instance, the second boss, upon losing all his life, creates a hurricane attack that will automatically kill you unless you thought to move all the way to one side of the large (more than a screen long) platform and hug the edge so Sub-Zero will hold on to keep from getting sucked in by the hurricane. To be fair, this isn’t quite as bad as it would once have been, since the game was (barely) released in the days when you can look online for solutions.

It’s still far from the hardest game ever, and I can see myself beating it with practice. But why would I? It’s not fun. At all.

Someone with wild jumping syndrome (WJS) shouldn't be making jumps this long.

Someone with wild jumping syndrome (WJS) shouldn’t be making jumps this long.

Overall: 2 out of 10

So this attempt at creating a new frontier for MK failed miserably. The series would mostly stick to the fighting genre rarely suck, although as noted in the opening paragraph, still be ripe for criticism.

Still, there were a couple other attempts at taking these games beyond fighters. Special Forces was really bad, but still quite a bit better than this shit. Shaolin Monks is a game I’ve not played in a decade, but my memories are quite good. So I’m not saying that taking MK into a new genre was a bad idea. It’s just that if you’re going to do it, do it. Don’t half-ass it. Of course, that is true of anything you attempt in life.

Blazing Saddles

BlazingSaddlesTitleCleavon Little as Sheriff Bart
Gene Wilder as Jim
Harvey Korman as  Hedley Lamarr
Slim Pickens as Taggart
Mel Brooks as Governor William J. Le Petomane/Indian Chief

After last week’s review of the atrocious Red Zone Cuba, I now take a change of pace with one of my favorite movies, Blazing Saddles. While I would probably appreciate it more if I were a fan of westerns, I still view it as a clever and hilarious satire of the Old West and one of the building blocks of comic legend Mel Brooks’ career.

I don't know if movie characters are this stupid about hostage situations. Pretty close, though.

I don’t know if movie characters are this stupid about hostage situations. Pretty close, though.

This film is about corrupt Attorney General Hedley Lamarr, who finds out that a railroad being built has to go through a town called Rock Ridge. When the attacks he arranges fail to get everyone to leave, Lamarr convinces the Governor to appoint a black Sheriff, believing that the townspeople will either leave in protest or kill the Sheriff, either settling things for Lamarr or going a long way towards that.

 This Sheriff is Bart, played by Cleavon Little. He proves to be a quite energetic and funny comic actor. As a character, he’s a guy who, despite being on the receiving end of the racism of the Old West, saves the town he’s charged with policing and eventually earns the respect of his people. His deputy, Jim is played by the always awesome Gene Wilder. Jim is a former gunslinger who was nicknamed the Waco Kid and appears to be the only one in town who isn’t (at first) racist. Probably because as a wondering cowboy, Jim must have met a lot of strange people, so Bart’s skin color isn’t as big a deal to him. Harvey Korman is a great comedic villain as Hedley (not “Heddy”) Lamarr. He caricatures Hollywood villains in many ways, such as him laughing so long and hard that he starts coughing. Other notable actors include Madeline Kahn and Dom DeLuise.

BlazingSaddles2

Even desperadoes had enough decency to pay a… never mind.

What makes Blazing Saddles work is how effective the humor is. The problem with reviewing comedies is that taste in them is so subjective that it can be difficult to effectively critique them without giving too much away. I’ll just say that this film brilliantly satirizes the Old West. All kinds of western cliches ranging from gangs of desperadoes to the ride off in the sunset are parodied My favorite line: “I spun around. and there I was face-to-face… with a six-year-old kid. Well, I just threw my guns down and walked away… little bastard shot me in the ass!”

BlazingSaddles3

It’s not the shot that retired him. It’s the fact that everybody was going to laugh at the guy who got beat by a kid.

It’s no secret that Mel Brooks loved to push the envelope. Here we have satirizing of the racism of the old west. Brooks does it here, complete with a number of uses of the “N”-word. Hey, they did talk like that back then. Still, one wonders why it hasn’t made this movie more controversial. Because it was so good? Or maybe it’s because the movie is parodying racism. Or both.

If you haven’t seen Blazing Saddles, you really should. It’s every bit as hilarious as everybody says it is.

Overall: 9 out of 10

Red Zone Cuba

RedZoneCubaTitleColeman Francis as Griffin
Tony Cardoza as Landis
Harold Saunders as Cook
Lanell Cado as Ruby Chastain
Tom Hanson as Bailey Chastain

Of all the bad movies I have had the misfortune of watching, none are quite like Red Zone Cuba. While Leprechaun: In the HoodHighlander II: The Quickening, and Super Mario Bros. are horrible, horrible movies, none of them come close to this. Even the infamous Manos, the Hand of Fate at least sticks to one awful plot. Red Zone Cuba doesn’t even have standards that high. It’s so bad that, believe it or not, it actually switches plots repeatedly.

But before I get into that, allow me to address the writer, director, and star, Coleman Francis. I have no idea how he came to get in the chair, but he helmed two other films. I have seen one of them. The Beast of Yucca Flats is pretty bad but would still deserve a positive rating on my scale, albeit just barely. My guess is that Francis was not satisfied with that. He dreamed of being the anti-king of cinema. To accomplish this, he would make a movie so grotesquely terrible on all levels that almost nothing could match its suckiness. In doing so, Francis destroyed his own career but forever solidified his place on the list of worst things to ever happen to cinema. How else can you explain that instead of growing as director, he got so much worse with time?

RedZoneCuba1

See what I mean? This incompetence seems beyond human capacity.

We begin with a wanted criminal and presumed escapee named Griffin. He meets two bums named Landis and Cook. They decide they’re going to get some work. As luck would have it, the military is about to try to invade Cuba (this movie was made just a few years after the bay of pigs). So we switch from a runaway fugitive concept to an invasion of Cuba story. The trio is captured in Cuba and fellow prisoner Bailey gets Gangrene but not before telling them that he and wife back home have a mine. Our second plot switch occurs after Griffin, Landis, and Cook escape. A bunch of seemingly random shit happens for awhile to give us our third plot. Finally, they find Ruby and the mine for our fourth plot. In the closing minutes, we finally revert to the original plot when they are ratted out.

Now, I have one serious issue here: how can you change plots on a dime like that? The most basic part of a film is coming up with a single point to the movie. If you’d rather make the movie about something else, rewrite the damn thing! You can’t just use what amounts to taping four or five different scripts together. Even Uwe Boll movies don’t do this.

RedZoneCuba2

There goes a third of their budget.

The acting isn’t quite as horrendous as the storytelling but it’s still in negative territory. Everybody either shows way to much emotion or does nothing but halfheartedly spout lines. The worst performances happen in a couple scenes in which someone is shot dead. There is no expression of pain. Instead, the victim maintains a blank expression as he slowly sinks into a laying position.

Although Red Zone Cuba is only known to exist because of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, it provides a studio name. That indicates that it appeared in theaters. And again, Francis had two movies on his resume. Red Zone Cuba is what you might see on Youtube from teenagers on their first film project, not something people paid to see in theaters. I realize that there is stricter quality control now, but the fact that makers of such a disaster could technically say they were professionals is unbelievable.

RedZoneCuba3

Who out there would want anyone to know that they were responsible for this… no, it’s not even a piece of shit.

In closing I will reveal a little something about myself. Since I couldn’t find the real version on Netflix, I thought I could never review this. Lo and behold, I found an online store that sold a copy to me. In other words, I paid money for this. What the f*ck is wrong with me? Or the sellers for showing their address (just kidding).

Overall: – 9 out of 10

Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line

DragonQuestIITitleDespite the title, this is a game that is not on any console. Neither is it a traditional PC game. No, this version of Dragon Quest II is a pay download for your smartphone or tablet. This more recent kind of gaming has taken the world by storm, and judging from this version and Angry Birds, it’s easy to see why.

As for this game, I’ve never understood why some like the original but hate this sequel. In fact, while not perfect, I view Dragon Quest II as the better game, hands-down. Why? Because the original Dragon Quest consisted almost entirely of level grinding. There weren’t even many dungeons to go through. Some excuse that game because of how old it is, but that works only if your entire gaming universe is consoles. The Ultima series, started years before this one, had many dungeons for its very first game.

It’s true that this game has a fair amount more grinding, but there are far more dungeons and land to explore. And that doesn’t get into the ability to travel by sea. There are circumstances under which a lot of leveling up can be justified. The large amount of world to explore in this game qualifies.

Plot: 8 out of 10

This game is set long after the original and focuses on the descendants of the the hero and princess of said original. It seems that the hero and princess and their children founded no less than three kingdoms. A new villain named Hargon, seeking to destroy all threats to him, destroys one of these nations. This comes after Hargon evidently destroyed most of the countries from the original, tracking the heroes’ descendants down. Upon hearing of all this, the Prince of Midenhall (named by you) sets out to stop Hargon. He’s alone at first but finds two comrades: the Prince of Cannock and Princess of what was once Moonbrooke.

DragonQuestIIA

One of a few small new twists that never would have gotten the Nintendo stamp of approval.

The fact that it means that only elites are among the heroes aside, I like this story. It shows us a family of heroes in convincing fashion. Also, Hargon looking around for these heroes shows that he’s not simply reactive like so many video game villains are.

Graphics: 7 out of 10

While not as good as phones and tablets are capable of (if NBA Jam could push the envelope, why couldn’t these Dragon Quest games), these graphics make for a respectable improvement on the NES version. In contrast to the flat, uninspired look (even for those times), this game has a well-done look that fits the series. Enemies are particularly drawn well.

DragonQuestIIB

Yep, they changed the name from the nonsensical “babble” to “bubble slime.” Disappointing, I know.

Sound: 5 out of 10

Let’s face it. This series didn’t have very good musicians in its earliest days. The music that plays before you find both your allies is awful. But that doesn’t last too long and the rest of the soundtrack is mediocre to above average. Overall, I’d say that the sound is OK. It’s improved from the original, but it’s not quite there yet.

Gameplay: 8 out of 10

It’s odd playing this version of DQII at first. You use a touch screen to move around, not a controller. I know this kind of gaming has been around for a long time, but it was the first time I ever played this particular game with it. Not that it isn’t implemented well, it just takes some getting used to.

At first this game seems similar to the original but with more characters (once found) to use and enemies to fight. That is until you get a ship and the game becomes nonlinear. You are able to move around, exploring the world. This is a great thing that makes you feel more in control.

DragonQuestIIC

I’d criticize except that the guilty/innocent ratio of inmates couldn’t have been that good back then.

Previous versions had a major fault in choosing targets in battle. Multiple monsters of the same kind would be punched together as one target. You couldn’t decide which of those you wanted each character to hit. This isn’t much of an issue this time, though, because your characters now seem to have a built-in A.I. that makes them wisely choose targets, not at random.

Challenge: 8 out of 10

One criticism of this series I can see is the hidden things that were all but impossible to find before you could look them up online. But hidden items now have an indicator, making them perfectly manageable.

DragonQuestIID

Hard to miss that yellow icon.

As for the level grinding, there are plenty of quests to do, so I find that it’s not hard to muster the patience to get through the whole game.

Overall: 8 out of 10

A good but not excellent game gets an upgrade into a great experience. While we could have done with new dungeons and stuff, I’m quite pleased with what we got. Just keep in mind that this isn’t an uber-simple kind of mobile game.