Monthly Archives: March 2016

Nosferatu

NosferatuTitleMax Schreck as Count Orlok
Gustav von Wangenheim as Thomas Hutter
Greta Schroder as Ellen Hutter
Alaxander Granach as Knock

This is a first for me, for I am reviewing my very first silent film. A century ago, it was difficult for cameras to record sound, so they had to pipe in music. dialogue was created by cutting to a blank screen and putting text on it. Today, of course, it’s hard to imagine that you could ever record video without also being able to record sound, but apparently, that was the case.

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Yes, ironic humor worthy of memes existed back then.

Nosferatu is an icon of this era, supposedly. An unofficial adaptation of the novel Dracula, it changes the names of the characters to avoid a lawsuit. It is one of the first horror flicks ever, and is partially credited with the creation of entire genre. While, that may be true, I must protest: even factoring in the limitations of the era, Nosferatu isn’t that good.

Well, the acting isn’t half-bad. I mean, the performances aren’t excellent, but they could be much worse. The protagonists do acceptable jobs portraying people launched into a nightmarish fantasy. Max Schreck plays Count D-Orlok pretty well, if largely because all he has to do is look menacing. But this touches on a negative that I’ll point out later.

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How the Hell were movie monsters stopped before these books on them had been written?

The story and dialogue also move along well. The lines are well-timed (when each line paused the film, they had to be limited) and used sparingly. The plot progresses well and with appropriate character reactions to events. Even the sets are pretty well-done, especially for the 1920s.

So what’s the problem? First of all, it’s good that Orlok isn’t named Dracula because they don’t get the character. Let’s start by saying that he’s monstrous and ugly. Really, he looks like an orc from… screw it, any version will do. Now, ugly monsters are nothing new, but unless I’m a victim of premature Alzheimer’s, Dracula is meant to be a good-looking, seductive monster who women find sexy and men would still like to drink with. Count Orlok was created with anything but this description in mind.

"Hellooo, ladies!"

“Hellooo, ladies!”

The other problem is that the atmosphere of the film is not scary. It’s effective enough, with a dark feel, but it never makes much effort toward being scary. Horror novels had been around forever, so this would be pretty hard to miss in making the movie. Or at least you’d think that.

Despite its historical importance, Nosferatu is not a very good horror flick. It’s not bad, but in my opinion, the first true vampire classic was 1931’s Dracula.

Overall: 5 out of 10

Sonic Blast Man

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I call misprint. This game deserves very little credit.

People are too quick to play the rip-off card in my book. After all, the superhero that this SNES title derives from, Superman, was himself created by way of borrowing from numerous other sources, particularly Jesus Christ and Hercules. But when it’s clearly for lack of anything you can dream up it becomes a problem.

Case in point, Sonic Blast Man. It’s basically a half-assed beat-’em-up that tries to make use of the Man of Steel to cover up its own inadequacy.

Plot: 2 out of 10

This game is about Sonic Blast Man, a superhero from the planet Sonic Blast. As stated, just a dumbed-down Superman game. But it gets worse than that before you even start playing with quite possibly the stupidest opening sequence of all time:

In case you don’t want to watch or it gets taken down, the cutscene that follows the title screen is of Sonic Blast Man saving a woman tied to railroad tracks by destroying the incoming train and killing all aboard with one punch. Homeland Security, I’d like to report a dangerous terrorist on the loose.

Truth be known, we have our generic superhero plot with faceless villains after this. That would merit a four out of ten, but not with how the idiotic introductory cutscene above sets the tone.

Graphics: 8 out of 10

I said before that this game deserves just a little credit. For a Superman clone, it gets the colorful, comic-like look right. And I must admit that everything looks great in a more general sense. Alas, we just might have the original test case on how graphics alone don’t make the game.

Sound: 4 out of 10

Competent but lazy. That’s my view of the music and sound effects, including the one voice-over (anyone who blames the time period should listen to the voice acting in Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat). While the sounds aren’t particularly bad, no energy seems to have been put into them.

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Thugs with daggers and not guns. Actually, if you assume that this game is set in Taito’s native Japan, that makes sense.

Gameplay: 2 out of 10

In theory, this is your generic 2D beat-’em-up. The only real twist is Sonic Blast Man’s 100 Megaton Punch. He punches the ground, killing all foes (except bosses, who this still partially damages) on the screen. You have a limited number of these, so use them sparingly.

The problem is that Sonic Blast Man moves extremely slowly. Much slower than the enemies in fact. Additionally, his jumps keep him in the air too long, making jump kicks easily countered. This limits you to a ground game that is already quite slow.

Good thing someone told me to use my controller or I might have tried to play with one of my knit caps.

Good thing they told me to use a controller or I might have tried to play with one of my sports caps.

All said, there are not really any glitches in the gameplay, but Sonic Blast Man’s slow speed and clumsy jumping make him extremely difficult to handle effectively. For a Superman knock-off, whatever happened to “faster than a speeding bullet” and “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”

Challenge: 3 out of 10

In the beginning you’ll find this game quite hard because the enemies are faster than you. Once you adapt to Sonic Blast Man’s speed, or more accurately, make the best of a bad situation, the game gets much easier. Yep, we’ve got one of those games whose difficulty thrives on bad gameplay that we’ve come to know and “love.”

But obviously not as much as the climatic fight on a construction site.

But obviously not as much as the climatic fight on a construction site.

Overall: 3 out of 10

Like I said, I can deal with the ripping off Superman. The obvious lack of work on anything but graphics is another story. Sonic Blast Man is a bad game that does very little right. Again, the graphics are quite good, but that is not a good enough reason to play this game. This game actually got a little-known sequel and that sequel was actually competent. Another review, another day!

Selma

SelmaTitleDavid Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr.
Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King
Andre Holland as Andrew Young
Stephen James as John Lewis
Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon Johnson
Tim Roth as George Wallace
Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover

Despite how I’m rating it, I wasn’t able to enjoy this movie that much. The reason is because it paused a lot. Not the first time, either. There must be a lot of Netflix subscribers who don’t take care of the discs they rent.

Personal quarrels aside, I can highly rate Selma, even if not quite as much so as some. It tells an important historical tale well and with drama. Definitely one of greats of the docudrama genre.

Selma retells the road to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We begin with a dramatic demonstration of the barriers that were used in the South of old to prevent black people from voting (Time Magazine estimated in the 1950s that only 15% of voting-age southern blacks were actually casting ballots). Civil rights legend Martin Luther King, Jr. visits the White House and asks President Lyndon Baines Johnson to put the termination of these barriers on his immediate agenda. But LBJ doesn’t believe this to be realistic so soon after the legislation that ended white-only places. LBJ does suggest that MLK support the anti-poverty legislation that is in the works before getting to the voting rights bill. MLK is less than convinced of this promise, so he returns to the South, where his group plans its next move. Instead, the Alabama state militia strikes a civil rights march as though the protesters were armed gangsters, forcing the hands of all concerned.

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Long live the King!

The performances are strong with two very damaging exceptions. David Oyelowo is a perfect MLK — idealistic, peace-minded, hopeful, and passionate. He really should have been nominated for an Oscar. The other performances are very strong, except Tom Wilkinson as LBJ and Tim Roth as George Wallace. They are British actors playing politicians of the American South and man can you tell!

The drama also works. Writer Paul Webb and director Ava DuVernay know when to play down the tension but also when the time is right to heighten it. In particular, the scene in which the protestors are brutalized by the Alabama militia is a true classic in the horror that is unfolding!

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Alabama militiaman or member of the SS?

The biggest criticism of this film is the historical accuracy. LBJ is portrayed as a cowardly politician who in chains is pulled towards another significant civil rights bill. Many historically minded people have argued that this wasn’t right, that he was more supportive than this movie makes him appear. Despite being otherwise positive towards it, civil rights hero Andrew Young has said that Selma makes the relationship between LBJ and MLK look more rocky than it really was. And if you can’t trust Young, who can you trust?

However — and maybe this is too accepting of low standards — this is no more inaccurate than I have come to expect from Hollywood. Zero Dark ThirtyThe Butler, and American Sniper all also erred when it came to accuracy. It should be noted that Hollywood has always gotten wrong its portrayal of Presidents in not making Congress as important to the business of this country. Harry Truman, for example, was a President who clashed with Congress constantly and often lost (see the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act), yet that’s MIA in HBO docudrama Truman. Historical accuracy is a problem and will continue to be so with Hollywood, I’m afraid.

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“Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, my best friend: the camera.”

Though not perfect, Selma does do a  well-enough job at bringing this historical tale to life.

Overall: 8 out of 10

TV shows vs. web shows

 

TVvsWeb1OrTVvsWeb2

The Beatles changed music. CNN changed the news. Superman: the Movie changed comic book movies. Sony changed video games. Bill Cosby changed the racial image of comedy.

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For some strange reason, people seem less eager to recognize that last accomplishment than the others.

Another media revolution is underway. It used to just be reruns of older TV shows you could watch online via pay services like Netflix and Hulu. Now there are shows like House of CardsDaredevil, and Fuller House, shows created specifically for internet programs and you can’t find them on TV. Although who knows? Maybe some of them will be rerun on TV at some point. Many believe that this is the future, that TV is dying and that the money you spend on your cable bill will be transferred entirely to your choice of which of these web programs you choose. Already the major sports leagues, for instance, have their own versions that allow you to watch games live through the internet or re-watch some of your favorites of the past.

Whether TV is dying or not, I’ll leave to history. I’m going to compare it to the new online version of TV and offer my opinion of which is the better way to watch shows.

Cable TV allows you to watch shows as they come on. If there are specific shows you want to watch, you have to know when they come on. If you pay more, DVR enables you to set your TV to record.

Web shows are more convenient. No need to worry about the time they come on. They’re just there. Also, you pick the episode you watch. And if the Netflix precedent is followed, all the episodes will be available on day one as this option becomes more mainstream. Getting to pick the episodes without buying the series separately is a very underrated feature.

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“The kids say they’ve seen every episode of Family Guy. How? It’s not like the boob tube lets you pick.”

Conclusion: this change is good. People may feel uncomfortable with the unfamiliarity of watching shows on your computer, phone, tablet, or video game console, but the convenience probably makes it preferable. Sure, online traffic in your area can slow down your web show, but that will improve constantly as bandwidth and internal speed grows. Things are moving in the direction they should be — towards viewer choice. Binge on!