25 Years 25 Games 12: Contra 3

This is what I meant when I said I didn’t play enough Konami games as a kid. I had never played Contra 3: The Alien Wars until last week. I had played Contra on the NES, but it didn’t really click with me. I don’t think I quite understood how it was meant to be played. I wanted something like Mario or Mega Man, and Contra wasn’t that. I didn’t make much of an effort to play any Contra games after that admittedly brief encounter years ago. After playing Contra 3, I have realized what a mistake that was. Contra 3 is a game that earns its reputation as one of the best on the system.

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Contra 3 is a game of escalation, where each level gets bigger as it goes and starts bigger than the one before it. You start running down a ravaged city street, shooting aliens and move on to climbing buildings and eventually hanging off the sides of missiles as they shoot across the screen. The game starts a crazy awesome and amps up both the crazy and the awesome as it goes along. There are some times when the game stops to show off fancy new SNES tricks, but otherwise it puts the player directly in control of fighting an ever growing threat. It is a short game, but it is just perfectly paced and the intentionally high difficultly level makes the game have more of an impact than most hour long games would have.

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The story of Contra 3, such as it is, is basically a mash of most sci fi action movies of the 80’s. You play as Arnold or Sly and fight Xenomorphs and a Terminator and there is the barest touch of Star Wars. It doesn’t hide these references, those references are the game. Better than any licensed property could ever hope to, Contra 3 puts the player in the action and lets them be the hero of these movies. There is something undeniably charming about how shameless Contra is about ripping off its inspirations. It is the epitome of that era of gaming.

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The warts are the top down mode 7 levels that are largely forgettable and really just north of being straight up bad. There are only two of them and they are over relatively quickly, but they really just aren’t that much fun to play. The game would be better off if the simply weren’t there, they seem to exist to pad out the rather brief playtime. Still, they are only minor blips on what is otherwise a completely excellent game.

 

I’ve always been more of a Metal Slug fan. Those games lack the punishing precision of Contra, or at least the Contra games I’ve played, giving the player all the spectacle not matter how sloppy they play. There is something to be said for the Konami’s series more exacting style of play. Even with the Konami code, which is unfortunately absent from the American version of this game, it is still difficult to get through the game. It makes the player learn the game, makes you take a little time and assess the situation before going guns blazing, though once you’ve handle on things guns blazing is the way to go.

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I don’t know that Contra 3 will ever be among my favorite SNES games, but I can clearly see why it so frequently shows up on such lists. It is a blast. Brutal, epic and unforgiving. It is this sort of run and gun game executed perfectly.

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Ghostbusters (2016)

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No movie this summer has stirred up the internet manchildren like the Ghostbusters remake. The absurd tantrum being thrown about how they replaced men with women made it hard to have any sort of rational discussion about the merits of the film. Pathetic cries of it destroying viewers’ childhoods, dead face serious such complaints, sounded in comments sections whenever the movie was mentioned. Doing my best to ignore all that garbage; how was the movie? Pretty damn good. Not really a scratch on the original, but highly entertaining in its own right. It wisely isn’t a straight remake of the original, but a new story about people hunting ghosts. It isn’t the best or most well considered story, but it is very funny and visually interesting.

Ghostbusters stars Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy as childhood friends and scientists who had a falling out over a book they wrote about the paranormal. McCarthy’s Abby publishes the book against Wiig’s Erin’s wishes, which causes some strife, but soon has them teaming back up, along Kate McKinnon’s Holtzman, when they discover a real ghost. They work to discover what is causing an outbreak of ghost sightings, soon teaming up with Leslie Jones’ Patty, who works for the MTA.

It is nearly impossible to watch this film and not compare it to the original. It is inevitable. This version of Ghostbusters is strongest when it differentiates itself from the previous film and weakest when referencing it. Most of the stars of the 1984 movie make cameo appearances, to moderate degrees of effectiveness. The scenes in the movie that most closely resemble the original are mostly inferior. Those and the cameos mostly serve to remind the viewers of the other movie they could be watching. The bulk of the movie, though, charts its own path and that is largely an enjoyable one.

Most wisely, the new team is not just made up of gender swapped versions of the old characters, they are all original creations. There is no direct equivalent of Peter, Ray or Egon here. Abby, Erin and Holtzman are all their own characters. While the first two are fine characters, characters whose friendship forms the emotional heart of the film, the real standout is Holtzman. She has a touch of Egon’s mad scientist in her, but hers is more focused on the mechanical side of things than his more theoretical work. Patty, the slightly late addition to the team, is a more essential part of the team than Winston was in the first movie, and actually gets a chance to be funny.

Those differences in character help to drive the plot. These Ghostbusters are much more focused on the equipment they use. Holtzman, ever tinkering, comes with much more inventive tools that just proton packs. They get grenades and shotguns and even more fun stuff. Instead of being concerned with running a business and making money, they are more concerned with scientific respect.

I would say that this is a funnier movie than the original, though the jokes come at the expense of the plot. The original is a movie with a clear through line and much of the focus is on the main conflict between the Ghostbusters and Zuul. The villain’s scheme and the plot in general, is much less considered in this new version. That lack of focus gives the characters a lot more time to just be funny. For the most part, it succeeds. Ghostbusters (2016) is a very funny movie. Not every bit hits, but much more hit than miss.

It does kind of falter in the third act, when it tries to go big but hasn’t spent the time building up the threat or the stakes. It just kind of throws them out there at the end. And while it does feature on thoroughly satisfying CGI fueled action scene, the big threat at the end is almost an afterthought. It would have been better served with a smaller climax, but it instead went for the unearned big one.

Ghostbusters (2016) is a fine comedy. Likely not an all-time classic, but certainly a welcome addition to this franchise. It breathes new life into something that had been dead for more than twenty years. It is imperfect but highly entertaining.

***1/2

Star Trek Beyond

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This has been a wet fart of a summer at the movies. It started good, with the very solid Captain America Civil War, but that gave way to the flaccid and the bloated. There have been some passably entertaining films, but nothing I would call great or even very good. Luckily, the end of July is here to save this lackluster summer. It might very well be lowered expectations due to a few lackluster months, but Star Trek Beyond is right now a strong contender for best movie of the summer.

My lack of any deep care for the Enterprise crew or their adventures allowed me to have a fairly positive take on the Into Darkness when it first came out, though even in that review the more thought I applied to the film the less I liked it. My opinion has not improved in the intervening time. While there is no way for Beyond to escape some sense of pandering, with it still featuring the original crew, it lacks Into Darkness’s morbid feel of rooting through the bones of the old stuff instead of creating anything new. If anything, Beyond feels like an episode of a Star Trek TV show. A particularly action packed episode on steroids, but it still has that kind of adventure of the week sort of feel.

Star Trek Beyond sees the Enterprise crew’s shore leave interrupted for a rescue mission in uncharted space that goes seriously awry when they are suddenly attacked. As the ship is destroyed, an occurrence so frequent in the films that it lacks any effect, the crew is split up and they each have to work to try to get everyone freed from a powerful foe intent on destroying the Federation for some old slight. It is not exactly going boldly where no one has gone before, but at least it isn’t going where it has famously been yet again.

This is far from a perfect movie. The opening half hour is particularly unfocused, especially when the crew is first split up. The villain, as is becoming tradition in this series, never has his methods or motivations properly explained. Also, for a franchise that is often on the more thoughtful side of science fiction, Beyond pays the barest lip service to any serious science fiction before going full on action nonsense. Really, the villain feels like the biggest missed opportunity in the film, since once he is explained it helps tie the rest of the movie together, but that information would have helped a lot better earlier in the film.

Still, even with those complaints Star Trek Beyond is a blast. It gets the characters very right, with each member of the crew having a chance to shine and perfectly what captures what has made these characters so popular for so long. The cast they got for this reboot has always been one of the films’ strengths, and that is still true. Most of the primary crew can and have headlined films all on their own. Director Justin Lin is a master of using a big cast and making the viewer feel the camaraderie, as seen in his work on the Fast & Furious movies. And while the action is ridiculous, it is internally consistent. No nonsensical twists just to have twists, but a story that builds on its own logic.

Star Trek Beyond is not likely to go down as an all-time classic. It is no Mad Max Fury Road. It is an engaging and well executed action movie; thoroughly entertaining is not ground breaking. After a summer of franchise non-starters like Warcraft and ambitious wrecks like X-Men Apocalypse, the satisfying competence of Star Trek Beyond is a complete delight.

****

25 Years 25 Games 11: Gradius III

I did not play enough Konami games back in the day. That should be obvious with this entry in this series and especially the next. There is no denying their mastery of 8 and 16-bit games. Gradius III is not the most impressive SNES game, but considering that it was a launch title for the system it is more than respectable. In fact, it is a great game.

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It is hard for me to judge shooters. They all play somewhat similarly and I don’t play enough of them to adequately articulate why some are better than others. They are difficult, but that is by and large part of the genre. They are designed to be challenging. Gradius III has some problems common to SNES games, such as slowdown when the action gets too hectic, and it doesn’t seem to take full advantage of the SNES’s power, again likely due to it being a launch title, but it is still a blast to play.

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Both the greatest strength and the weakness of the Gradius series is its power up system. Unlike many shmups, instead of just changing up your shooting pattern and strength, Gradius gives the player a multitude of uses for their power ups. This leads to a very progressive power up system, where the player’s ship is continually getting stronger. You can increase your speed, get a better laser, get bits that shoot when you do, shoot missiles as well as laser; by the time the Vic Viper is fully powered up the player can simply lay waste to everything on the screen. It is immensely satisfying to go from a ship with a pea shooter to that marvel of destruction. It really lends a feeling of accomplishment and makes the game considerably easier. The problem is that when you die you lose all of those power ups, reverting to that little ship with the pea shooter.

screenshots taken from vgmuseum

screenshots taken from vgmuseum

That progressive power up system causes the player’s enjoyment to swing back and forth. It really sucks to lose a fully powered up ship and it makes the game so hard that you might be better off just restarting from the beginning. It goes from easy to hard that quick, from exciting to infuriating. I think the intricate power up system is worth that hassle, but it can be a problem for less skilled players who aren’t abusing the hell out of save states.

Mostly, Gradius III does exactly what a horizontal scrolling shooter should do. You shoot some crazy enemies, dodge environmental hazards, see some beautiful locales and listen to some rocking tunes. I don’t know how it checks out for skilled players, but for tourists like me, players who like to run through a game for the experience, it is a good time. I don’t really have much else to say about the game.

The BFG

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The BFG’s biggest problem is that the story doesn’t fit on the screen very well. Spielberg and the effects team to a wonderful job creating The BFG and making him and his world look real enough, but the structure of the story doesn’t quite work as a movie. It ends up feeling distracted and scattershot. That is not unlike the how I felt about the book years and years ago. The BFG may be a true and faithful adaptation, but that doesn’t make it a good movie.

The technical achievement of the character The BFG is worth noting. While it doesn’t ever quite look real, it does look good. The look of The BFG and his house are believable in that totally unbelievable dreamlike way that permeates the movie. The best part of the movie is early on, when BFG is hiding in the dark streets of London, making his cape and horn look like trees and light posts in silhouette. It shows some wonderful inventiveness. Mark Rylance infuses the characters with a charming vulnerability as he catches dreams and mangles words. While he is great, Ruby Barnhill does good work as Sophie. She is smart and adventurous. The pairing works well together. The only other characters that get much time are the rest of the giants, who are evil man-eaters with names like Bonecruncher and Gizzardgulper. They are giants both to Sophie and to BFG, who they bully. There are some great scenes that play with the three levels of size between the characters, with the bad giants being at least twice the size of BFG and he being about 10 times bigger than Sophie. It is visually interesting, at least.

It is too bad about the scattered, episodic nature of the plot. I know that is kind of a shot at Dahl’s original, but at the risk of having everyone tune me out, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Dahl or the BFG. It starts well, with Sophie spying BFG at night and him taking her away to Giant Country. They have some adventures and misunderstandings at his house before he takes her dream catching. Up until this point the movie has been largely great. A little lacking in drive at times, instead content to meander around to give BFG a chance to say funny words. The third act, though, is a real let down and killed my interest in the movie. Without spoiling anything, the duo’s plan to deal with the man-eating giants is supremely disappointing.

It ends up feeling a lot like Favreau’s The Jungle Book from earlier this year. It is a wonderful looking film, but the visual magic doesn’t translate into wonder. It looks nice, sure, but the movie itself is edgeless and dull. Comparing this to past Spielberg films like E.T or even The Adventures of Tintin shows its lack of substance. Outside of the silly words, fart jokes and technical wizardry, there really isn’t much to The BFG.

**1/2

What I Read June 2016

I only managed to read two books in June, being caught up with other things and really just not getting most of the several books I started finished. I hope July will get me back on track, especially since my schedule has cleared significantly, but only time will tell. At the very least I have a pair of Christie mysteries that I should finish before the end of the month.

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Thrones, Dominations

Dorothy Sayers & Jill Patton Walsh

This is a Peter Wimsey story, started by Sayers and finished much later by Walsh. And while I did enjoy it, it does seem largely like two different books forced together. It starts as more of a family drama or comedy, with the Wimsey family adjusting to the marriage of Peter and Harriet. There are class conflicts, since Harriet is from a lower class and just some general unfamiliarity that arises with any new addition to a family. Still, the class and sexual dynamics on display in the early part of the book is easily the most engaging part.

It takes nearly a third of the book for the mystery to get going in earnest. And from then on it is a largely by the books murder mystery. It’s fine. The beautiful, and bored, wife of a theater producer is found murdered, and Wimsey, with much help from Harriet, look into it. Harriet is interested because she fears her advice, for the wife to go to their country home and redecorate to occupy herself, is what lead to her being killed. There are the usual array of possible suspect and motives, conflicting timelines and alibis. You know, all the stuff that make up the backbone of mysteries. There is also an interlude with Wimsey dealing with some problems with new King and his lover that is not explored as fully as it could have been. Thrones, Dominations is a nice addition to the Wimsey series. It is not the best entry in the series, but neither is it among the worst.

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Girl on a Wire

Gwenda Bond

I so enjoyed Bond’s Lois Lane books that I also picked up one of her other books. This one is a about circus performers, with the main character, Juliet Maroni, being a wire walker like her father. There is a big rivalry between the Maroni family and the Garcia family, with overt shades of Romeo and Juliet. Overt to the point that the protagonist’s love interest is named Romeo. There is also the possibility of circus magic and increasingly difficult and exciting acts that the young characters of the book put on.

It’s fun. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I like the Lois Lane books, but that is mostly a product of the subject matter. Circuses were never really my thing, but I love Superman and his extended cast of characters. The characters here are largely believable and engaging, and the mystery at the center of the plot is, while predictable, intriguing. At the very least this book is worth a look.

Comics

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All-Star Superman

I had an internet argument about whether or not Grant Morrison was great, and I read this to reassure myself that he indeed is. All-Star Superman, which I’ve written about before, is great. I would call it the single greatest work in the medium of comics.

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New X-Men

I also read this on my trek through some Grant Morrison stuff. It isn’t quite the revelation it was coming out of the execrable 90’s X-Men stuff, but large parts of it still hold up. Unfortunately, for much of it the art is not one of those parts. It is unreadably bad at points. Even good artists, like Ethan Van Sciver and Phil Jimenez, turn in some bad work on that book. I can only assume they were rushed. The story, while constantly inventive, feels inordinately rushed. There are plot lines that need time to develop and instead jump around in fits and starts. Still there are great stories, like Riot at Xavier’s and Assault on Weapon Plus, but there are nearly as many straight duds. That said, it is still one of the best X-Men runs.

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Flash Gordon

This recent and all too short series from Jeff Parker, Doc Shaner and Jordie Bellaire is one of my favorite things I’ve read in a long time. It is a simple and heartfelt update of Flash Gordon that keeps all the pulpy fun while smoothing out some the edges that are apparent in the work from nearly 80 years ago. To wit, it gives Dale much more to do without doing anything to sideline Flash. This only manages to tell two or so early Flash stories before it sadly ends, but they are worth it. It starts with Flash, Dale and Zarkov arriving on Arboria and then moves on to Sky City. The art is simply wonderful, and the story nails distinct personalities for Flash, Dale and Zarkov that are true to their roots and still feel fresh. This is just a great book.

DC Rebirth Month One

DC Universe Rebirth is their latest attempt to adjust their superhero universe and generate interest in their line. Their last attempt to do so, with their DCYou line, failed horribly commercially, despite that fact that most of the comics were actually quite good. But the more one pays attention to comic book sales, the more apparent it becomes that sales are at best tangentially related to quality. Ignoring that pointless argument, the fact remains that no one bought excellent books like Omega Men or Starfire, so DC is again forced to cull a wide swath of its line and try something new. What they went with is a tight refocusing on their core characters. Big guns like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are double shipping each month at the expense of the third string characters. To get them into this initiative, DC published DCU Rebirth, and 8- page comic to move the universe from one status quo to another, and then each title is getting its own Rebirth title to set out what that character will be up to for the foreseeable future. Today, I am going to be sharing my thoughts for the first month of these Rebirth titles, starting with DCU Rebirth and then going through each characters title published in the month of June.

DC Universe Rebirth

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Right from the start it is obvious what the objectionable/shocking part of this book is going to be. It starts with a nine panel grid and watched, that is as clear an indicator of tying things to Watchmen as possible. I think that is a bad idea, not only or even primarily for moral reasons surrounding the ownership of the characters. It is a bad idea because there isn’t much point to the characters outside of their own story. They aren’t in of themselves interesting characters. In fact, DC already has versions of these characters in their universe, since they were based on Charlton characters like Blue Beetle and Captain Atom. Still, if they are going to this, I think this is as good a way to do this as possible. Here they are set as otherworldly interferers who have had a darkening effect on the DC Universe as a whole. While placing the blame on Watchmen itself, that book’s influence has had a darkening, and terrible, effect on superhero comics. Less skilled writers have long attempted to capture some of that book’s tone writing stories that have dirtied up characters beyond all reason. Bringing in the Watchmen characters and making this comic an overt repudiation of that influence is pretty good.

The comic itself is much more character driven than one would expect from a reality altering event comic. It is all about Wally West, erased from reality since the New 52, trying to find an anchor to bring him back to the world. But no one remembers him. Each of his attempts to reach somebody, be it Batman or Johnny Thunder of the JSA, give a glimpse into that character’s new status quo, along with a handful of unrelated little scenes. Just like with Wally, each of those scenes being an attempt to bring back a character or characters that have been lost either thanks to the New 52 or in the years since. While they are all unfinished parts of stories, each one is a interesting set up for a new series that may or may not be coming. Johns also goes out of his way to show that they are not throwing out the new characters that have come with the New 52, most notably the new Wally West, who here is retconned into old Wally’s cousin.

While all of this is well and good, the emotional punch that Wally’s journey packs is what makes this comic work. As he bounces around the DC Universe, he begins to lose cohesion. He starts to break apart. After his wife fails to recognize him, he starts to lose hope. From then on he is not trying to find his way back anymore, he is merely saying goodbye. It is shocking how affecting it is.

This isn’t a great comic, but it does everything it sets out to do. Its fleeting glimpses of other stories really help to get the reader excited for DC comics, as does its supposed change to a more positive outlook. That is what this comic is supposed to do, to get readers excited for what is coming next and it worked on me.

8/10

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Aquaman Rebirth

Dan Abnett, Scot Eaton & Oscar Jimenez

A lot of these Rebirth reviews are going to sound the same, since a lot of them do a lot of the same things. They exist to sort of explain the character and the challenges they face. Abnett does a good job here of setting up a lot of interesting story threads for Aquaman to follow. Like he has been for at least the last five or so years, Aquaman is caught between two worlds. He is the king of undersea Atlantis, but he was born and raised on dry land. Undersea he is seen as a surface dweller, more interested in his life as a superhero than ruling his kingdom, on the surface he is – bafflingly considering the recent crossover where Atlantis attacked the Eastern seaboard – seen a kind of goof with tales of ruling an invisible kingdom. He is trying to be a part of two worlds, both of which need him but neither of which want him. It is a good set up.

In this issue he hunts down some Atlantean terrorists and goes out to dinner with his once and future wife Mera, all while being watched by his rival Black Manta. It is a fine comic. The art is basically standard superhero stuff. Not mind-blowingly great or anything, but solid. The same goes for the script, which efficiently sets up an intriguing status quo for the ongoing series.

7/10

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Batman Rebirth

Tom King, Scott Snyder & Mikel Janin

Trying to sell Batman to readers is kind of the easiest job in the world, and it seems a little like Snyder and King, two very good writers, kind of punted this one a bit. Not to say that this is in any way a bad comic, it’s not, but it just a fun little on off. In it, small time villain Calendar Man has released some sort of spores into the air that make the seasons speed by extra fast. One day it is spring, the next it is summer. It is up to Batman, with some help from his new sidekick Duke Thomas, to stop him.

It does set up a fun tone for the new, Tom King written Batman series, with it being more of a straight superhero book. It jumps right into the ridiculous cool Batman stuff, with Bruce Wayne doing shirtless, one-handed pull ups off the edge of the helicopter pad on the roof of the Wayne Enterprises building. It claims to want to try something different, but for the most part it is Batman business as usual, if a little heightened. The one big change is Duke, who agrees to be Batman’s partner, but not Robin. He is given a yellow and black costume but no codename for now. It is a good issue, but not an especially enlightening one. Batman’s not changing and readers already know if they want to read it or not.

7/10

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The Flash Rebirth

Joshua Williamson & Carmine Di Giandomenico

This one is a direct continuation/retelling of parts of DCU Rebirth as well as setting up this version of the Flash to be much like the one from the TV show. It does that without mucking things up too much, but it doesn’t really do anything else. It starts with Barry at a crime scene, doing his CSI job at a crime scene reminiscent of his mother’s murder. It then repeats the scene where Barry saves Wally and repeats some stuff with Batman and the Watchman button. That is about all that this issue has to offer. It is very much a zero issue, even more so than the other Rebirth titles.

The writing definitely gets to the heart of who Barry Allen is, but it doesn’t really tell much of a story for itself. Still, the art is appealing and the characterization is good. The whole thing just feels very slight. Di Giandomenico’s art is a good fit for the Flash, with his characters looking somewhat square yet lithe, all long limbs and angles. It looks really good when the Flash is in motion. There just isn’t much here.

6/10

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Green Arrow Rebirth

Ben Percy and Otto Schmidt

This is the big winner of the first month. Great art, great writing and the set up for what should be an excellent run on Green Arrow. In it, Ollie finds a homeless kid apparently being kidnapped by person in a cloak after the boy’s mom disappears. It turn out that the cloaked person is actually Black Canary attempting to save the boy as well. It really tries to get back to the idea of Green Arrow as a liberal crusader and has Black Canary call him out for being a hypocrite. Together they return the boy to his father and team up to fight with men who are kidnapping and auctioning off homeless people.

It is just a really good issue. The interplay between Green Arrow and Black Canary sparks immediately. They move the coming romance blisteringly fast, but it feels right. The art looks nothing like the DC house style, but in this case it is a good thing. It looks kind of scratchy and dirty, but still detailed enough. The colors, also by Schmidt, are mostly subdued but that really helps the Ollie’s green and Dinah’s blue pop off the page. It is just a great look. This issue also manages to tell a pretty good one off story while setting up the new status quo for the series. It is just a great issue.

10/10

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Green Lanterns Rebirth

Geoff Johns, Sam Humphries, Ethan van Sciver & Ed Benes

Note the ‘s’ in the title, this is not a book starring any well-known Green Lantern, but the two new ones that Johns created since the New 52 started: Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz. Baz is a Muslim who has had encounters with overzealous government agencies while Cruz is an agoraphobe who up until recently was possessed by the evil Green Lantern like Power Ring. This book sets the two of them up as a buddy cop team working the Earth beat. This issue works well setting both of them and their personal struggles up, as well as forcing the two of them together for the premise of the book. It also gives them some antagonists in the Red Lanterns.

It is a simple issue, but it is really well put together. It feels more substantive than most of the others because it has to set up two characters rather than one. Benes’ art actually looks good, with some of his more egregious excesses toned down from their worst and the half by Van Sciver is his usual meticulous, detailed if a bit stiff stuff. It is and always has been a good fit for Green Lantern. The only weak point is Hal Jordan showing up to act like a heavy. The character doesn’t really work as well in that capacity. Still, this is a good issue and good start to this comic.

8/10

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Superman Rebirth

Pete Tomasi & Doug Mahnke

This is probably the book I was most excited about coming in, and this Rebirth issue is a baffling choice for an issue. The Superman books have a tough row to hoe after how badly DC has screwed up the character since the New 52. Now they have replaced the new Superman with the old Superman. So obviously this Rebirth issue focuses on the fact that a Superman is dead and that the new old Superman died before, in the 90’s. It uses a few pages early to retell that fight with Doomsday. Apparently they are bringing in a lot of stuff from that story, not the least of which is writer Dan Jurgens, for the ongoing books, but it is a fairly impenetrable read. After that interlude, Superman and Lana Lang look for the regeneration chamber that brought him back to life back then and fail to find it, which establishes this new Superman as the only Superman going forward.

As convoluted as the plot is, Tomasi shows a strong take on the character. His Superman feel like Superman, the first time I could say that since Morrison left Action Comics. (I have heard good things about Greg Pak’s Action Comics) And Doug Mahnke draws the crap out of the issue. This is not a great issue of a comic, but it still feels like it is leading into what should be a good run.

6/10

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Titans Rebirth

Dan Abnett & Brett Booth

Right from the start, I need to say that I don’t like Brett Booth’s art. His figures tend to be weirdly posed and proportioned, with thighs as big around as characters’ waists and characters tend to do a lot of squatting to show that off. Like The Flash, this is a book that picks up straight from DCU Rebirth. This follows Wally West to the book that he will be costarring in for the foreseeable future. Outside of the regrettable art, which is standard Brett Booth stuff, the comic is fine. Wally tries to get in touch with his old teammates, the Teen Titans. Except that they don’t remember him and it starts a fight.

This book has a harder time than most of the others because it is a team book and not a book about a single, or even a pair of characters. Characters that will not be starring on other books, this is the only place to find them. It does it with a neat trick, having them regain their memories of Wally when they touch him and each instance of that giving a chance to show off that character. This issue does everything it needs to with clarity and efficiency, but little flare.

5/10

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Wonder Woman Rebirth

Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark and Liam Sharp

This one is up there with Superman for the most disappointing book of this whole endeavor. Like all Wonder Woman runs, this one starts by throwing the previous ones under the bus. It starts with that old chestnut that everything the character knows is wrong. Not the worst plotline, but one that is very familiar to Wonder Woman, considering that was at the heart of her last acclaimed run, the one that come out of the New 52 by Azzarello and Chiang. It does a have a nice moment, with Wonder Woman wrapping her lasso of truth around herself in order to dispel the lies. That is where they do the art switch, which again is a neat trick. Or at least it would be if the art styles were more distinct and Sharp’s stuff didn’t look so rushed. The fight pages at the end look great, but the first couple of pages look a little off.

The big problem I have with this Rebirth issue is that all of the other such issues tell the reader who they are. This issue tells the reader that even Wonder Woman doesn’t know who she is. To its credit, the book doesn’t waste any time. Unlike the other books, this doesn’t feel like a zero issue, it feels like the first issue of a new story. While I don’t feel like this book accomplishes its goals, I do have some hope for this going forward, though I expect the next writer to roll any changes back.

6/10

Final Thoughts – Overall, I would say that first month was a rousing success. I only really disliked one of the books and am generally really pumped for the books coming out. I’ll be buying Superman, Batman, Green Arrow and Wonder Woman. The only book I am not interested in at all is Titans, at least not with the artist currently on the title. The other books, Flash, Aquaman and Green Lanterns could all be good. I think they have good directions. I only have so much money in my budget for comics. I’ll be back next month, hopefully more timely than I was with this post, with my thoughts on the Rebirth issues of Justice League, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, Hellblazer, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Nightwing, and Red Hood and the Outlaws.

What I Watched June 2016

Movies

The Do-Over – This stars David Spade and Adam Sandler; it’s a comedy, right? Then why weren’t there any jokes? I laughed twice during this films runtime, and gave it half a star for each. Really, this movie is just lazy and bad. I guess it being gross and stupid is supposed to be funny, but it just isn’t. *

The ‘Burbs – Joe Dante, man. Joe Dante. Between this and Gremlins, I don’t think anyone does horror comedy better than him. I love this movie. It is primarily a comedy, but it does its best to be just creepy enough the whole way through that you can’t quite settle in. The cast is great, from Tom Hanks to Bruce Dern to Corey Feldman. That fact that it doesn’t let you know if anything actually creepy is going on until the last few minutes is just great. The speech that Hanks shouts at his neighbor after everything blows up on them is one of my all time favorite movie speeches. This is just a great movie. ****1/2

All-Star Superman – My favorite comic turned into a pretty good animated movie. It necessarily loses something in the adaptation from the comic to the screen, but it captures the spirit and heart of the book. It is a decent telling of the best Superman story. ****1/2

His Girl Friday – Sometimes exploring stuff on Netflix really works out. This is a lot of fun. It is clearly adapted from a stage play, with its limited sets and rapid fire dialogue. I loved every second of it. It seems awfully progressive for the time to be about a woman valuing her job over a man and being rewarded for it. It is just impossibly good. *****

3:10 to Yuma – An easy little western starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. They both do enjoyable work, Bale as a hard up rancher with limp and Crowe as a charming rogue. It really isn’t anything special, but I greatly enjoyed it. Westerns are few and far between these days, and this one played it straight enough that it was easy to just enjoy. I think there are good reasons this movie has largely been forgotten despite its two big stars, but it is a pretty exercise in the genre. ***1/2

Bucky Larson – I caught most of this early in the morning on TV. Fuck this movie and everyone responsible for it. No Stars.

The Green Hornet – This is a perfectly fine sort of superhero spoof. It walks that line between being a true spoof of the genre and just being a straight superhero movie. It tries to have it both ways, which is one of its big failings. It is too goofy to feel like a real take on the genre, but it isn’t funny enough to just be a comedy version. Still, it is largely amusing and fairly fun, so I can’t bring myself to hate it. **1/2

Robocop (2014) – I am not a fan of the original Robocop. I recognize and acknowledge its quality, but I do not enjoy it. That goes for pretty much all of Paul Verhoven’s movies. That being said, at least his movies have a voice that I can dislike. This remake seems like it might have had something to say at one point, but all the thoughtful parts got sanded off before it made it to its final state. There is some updating of the concept to deal with the changes in the world over the last 25 years or so, but it never quite gets anywhere with it. Still, it isn’t badly made, just blandly. **1/2

Warcraft – see review here. *1/2

Love & Friendship – see review here. *****

Hail, Caesar – see review here. I got this on Blu-ray and it definitely holds up upon rewatching. ****1/2

Mission Impossible 3 – I had missed this, and with how much I enjoyed the series’ last two outings I wanted to go back to it. It turns out it is really unnecessary. It is perfectly fine, but it points the series in a direction that it doesn’t end up going. It did introduce Simon Pegg’s Benji, which is good, but the rest is just there. Marrying Hunt off, then basically pretending his wife doesn’t exist for two movies is a strange choice. It just seems an odd fit with the rest of the series, and lack the imaginativeness of the first and last two movies. ***

Central Intelligence – see review here. ***

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – There is a great chemistry between the two leads here and I feel like I’ve seen all of this movie’s best scenes stolen for other movies or parodies. Still, there is a lot to like here. Not the musical choices or some of interminable montage scenes, but the rest is great fun. ****

Fast & Furious 6 – I had kind of filed this movie away as the bad one, not as good as Fast 5 nor as straight up bonkers as Furious 7. In some ways that is accurate. It isn’t as good as Fast 5 and it’s not as bonkers as Furious 7, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a damn entertaining movie in its own right. It feels like the series finishing shedding what the series was in the first 4 movies to become what it started to be in the fifth. It is no longer a movie about cars, it is a movie about action frequently featuring cars. It isn’t the best or most natural fit, but they make it work and they make it damn fun. Also it is crazy that a movie with car chase that has a tank and the good guys pulling a giant plane out of the sky with grappling hooks can be described as less bonkers that something else, but that is the world in which we live. ***1/2

She’s Just Not that Into You – An okay romantic comedy that I stuck on because I saw Scarlett Johansson and Bradley Cooper. This movie has an expansive, interesting cast, but it isn’t really anything all that interesting. It wasn’t bad. **1/2

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – It has been a long time since I saw the first Sin City, but this feels like leftovers that have been sitting since that movie came out. Despite the stellar cast, the whole thing feels cheap and amateurish. Were the effects this bad the first time around? I remember them looking much better. Ugly, cheap and dull; I can’t think of anything to recommend about this movie. Maybe Eva Green’s breasts. *

Finding Dory – see review here. ***1/2

TV

Outlander S2 – The show has pivoted from its early season intrigues in France to full on war in Scotland in the second half. And as usual, it is doing it with an amazing combination of serious thought and melodrama. The melodrama is an essential part of Outlander’s charms. For all that it takes time to get historical stuff right and create realistic, believable characters, it frequently puts them in situations that are frankly unbelievable. Stuff like Claire dealing with PTSD from her experiences in WWII or Jamie having to find ways to reign in his uncle Dougal now that Dougal in under his command are interesting. But Jamie having himself flogged to show that he stands with his men or Claire making deals with Black Jack or most especially the whole plotline with the Duke of Sandringham are out there. The show relies on a delicate mix of the two and so far it has combined them excellently. There is only the finale left and I couldn’t be more excited.

Voltron The Legendary Defender – The people behind Avatar getting a chance to revive Voltron sounded like a winner, and it was. Mostly. It does take way too long to get up to speed, though I expect that will be less of a problem if the show gets another dozen or two episodes. As it stands the nearly the whole first half of the series is learning how to be Voltron and rarely actually doing anything. A more substantive problem is that much of the humor falls completely flat. The dialogue on the whole is just plain bad, even when it is not trying to be funny. It is still a lot of fun to watch, and it gets progressively stronger as it goes. I am eager for more, I hope it is on the way.

Now Playing in June 2016

Beaten

Kirby Planet Robobot – see post here.

Bravely Second: End Layer – full post coming soon.

Sparkster – see post here.

Ongoing

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE – I only just got started, but so far this game has vastly exceeded my expectations after more than the title was revealed. The subject matter may not be to everyone’s taste, but the gameplay is great so far.

Super Mario RPG –

npjun16 I swear, I will beat this game. Now I’ve got a decision to make, since this game finally came to WiiU VC. I am fairly certain that my save won’t transfer, but I know that I am much more likely to play the game on the tablet than through Wii mode. I do most of gaming on my 3DS while watching sports or something on TV; I don’t spend a lot of time playing on the big screen. I’ll figure out which route I take and finish this game up soon.

Illusion of Gaia – I’ve cleared the first few hours of this game and it isn’t quite what I expected. It is some sort of very linear Zelda game. It looks great, sounds great and plays great. I can’t wait to get back to it.

Kirby & The Rainbow Curse –npjun162

Nintendo had an E3 sale, and I bit the bullet on this. I absolutely adore the graphics, Nintendo consistently blows everyone else out of the water when it comes to art design, but I can’t say I wouldn’t have just rather had a regular Kirby platformer. Still, this is what the Kirby series does, some platformers mixed with weird experimental stuff. This is more like Canvas Curse on the DS, which is interesting, but frustrating to control at times. It is just something different than the player is used to.

Upcoming

Box Box Boy – Box Boy was an absolute delight, this sequel looks like just more of the same. That is exactly what I want, more Box Boy. There do have some wrinkles – I saw color in the trailer – but more box pushing puzzles are all I need.

Monster Hunter Generations – I have greatly enjoyed the last two Monster Hunter games that have come to the West and this one doesn’t look to change anything. I am a little unsure of how much I need this when I have large amounts of MH4U that are still unexplored, but I kind of plateaued on that game right at the edge of G Rank. That is when I stop really enjoying those games.

7th Dragon III Code VFD – I was really excited for the first game in this series, but it never left Japan. When this one was announced to come over here, I immediately preordered it. It appears to play quite similarly to Etrian Odyssey, but from a third person perspective.

The Legend of Tarzan

tlotmp

As a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, I was excited to see Tarzan on the big screen. I hoped it would be as fun to watch as the criminally underrated John Carter movie from 2012. In its own way Tarzan is as hard a sell as the stories of that space faring Civil War veteran. There is something at the very least dubious about the racial politics of Tarzan, King of the Jungle. Still, I was in for what would hopefully be some exciting jungle action. While it certainly has its flaws, The Legend of Tarzan delivers enough of that to be satisfying.

To the film’s credit, it doesn’t try to side step the racial implications. Instead, it attempts to address the issue head on, with mixed results. Samuel L Jackson plays real life adventurer/politician/journalist George Washington Williams and the movie deals primarily with the Congo Free State and the atrocities King Leopold of Belgium’s agents perpetrated there in the 19th century. This is rather heavy stuff to graft onto a series of pulpy adventure stories about a man raised by apes, but The Legend of Tarzan does its best to conscious of its implications.

It just can’t square that circle, though. The attempts to eliminate the problematic elements of the Tarzan story only help to highlight them. Bringing in the real world history of the Congo and having the white savior rewrite it is a bad look. That is not how it went down in history, and it diminishes Williams’ story by making subordinate to Tarzan’s. It gives the Africans a hand in securing their own freedom, but only after being united by Tarzan. For all of the film’s good intentions, it still ends up feeling a little embarrassing. The same goes for Jane, who the movie spend an inordinate amount of time establishing the competence of only to still have her act as a damsel in distress for the bulk of the runtime.

Still, much of the movie works as a movie. Alexander Skarsgard is perfectly cast as Tarzan, though the movie keeps him civilized for far too long. Sam Jackson, Djimon Hounsou and Christoph Waltz give their usual quality performances. Margot Robbie is electric as Jane. The movie looks good. I fully bought Tarzan’s interactions with the various jungle beasts that he meets along the way. I absolutely loved that the movie was not an origin story. It did deal with Tarzan’s origin, but only in brief and effecting flashbacks.

The movie really sold me on this version of Tarzan. His relationships with society, with Williams, the animals and especially with Jane all felt real. I believed both his attempts to put his jungle life behind him and be the modern civilized man as well as his sliding back into his natural state. While I would argue that the movie did not give him enough action, what action the movie had was convincing.

Despite a sluggish start and some general hand wringing, I ended up enjoying The Legend of Tarzan quite a bit. The grafting on of real historical atrocity to the Tarzan story was maybe not the best choice, though it was a choice that shows that at least the filmmakers were trying to do something. Honestly, I was not familiar going in of the history, or of George Washington Williams. I am thankful to the movie for teaching me something, but the more I look into it the more I think that maybe they should have just made a movie about that real man. It kind of feels like that is the movie they wanted to make anyway.

***