The New Superman Family

DC’s Rebirth has been an overwhelming success, from a creative standpoint if not always from a sales one. (And I understand it has been largely successful sales-wise as well) While there were plenty of changes, no character underwent a bigger change during this realignment than Superman.  After DC threw the baby out with the bathwater during the New 52, Superman had a handful of rough years. Now his books, especially Superman by Peter Tomasi, Pat Gleason and Doug Mahnke, are as strong as they have been in years.

Those rough New 52 years weren’t all bad.  Grant Morrison kicked it off with an excellent, chronologically fractured run on Action Comics and Greg Pak had a solid run with the character.  There was always a problem, though, in that the books focused almost exclusively on the “Super” and kind of forgot about the ‘man.’ Even the good books didn’t manage to make Superman feel like Superman as he has existed for more than 30 years now.  It made sense in Action Comics, with Morrison purposefully doing a riff on early Superman books with a brasher take on the character that eventually grew into the Superman we knew, but everywhere else there seemed to be an overriding attempt to make Superman seem cool by making him quicker to spring into action. Trying to make Superman cool is a fool’s gambit. Superman hasn’t been cool in decades.  He is still an interesting and compelling character, but trying to make him cool invariably costs him his earnest goodness, making it pointless.

That is why Rebirth Superman is so very good; there are no attempts to make him cool.  In fact, the book mostly leans into his uncoolness. Superman is not only older and more responsible, but he is also married (again) and is a dad.  Not at all what one thinks of when it comes to cool, but it is a great place for the character to be.  Superman is the responsible one, the Justice League works best with Superman as the team dad. See Morrison’s JLA, which featured a younger Flash and Green Lantern alongside older stalwarts led primarily by Superman.  With Rebirth, Superman is finally back in a role that fits his strengths as a character.

The current run on Superman is in my mind one of the best the character has had in a couple decades.  I guess it is premature to say that when the run is, hopefully, far from finished, but I have loved what this team has done so far.  Shipping twice a month, they are more than 20 issues in and have blown through a number of excellent stories in less than a year. It has done action stories, family stories, a takeoff of Morrison’s Multiversity (I know I keep referencing Morrison here; that is because he is the most important writer at DC in the last 30 years. He has done excellent work on the big guns, with JLA, Batman and Action Comics, and several excellent crossovers, like DC One Million and Final Crisis.  He also wrote the single best Superman story in All-Star Superman) and a big status quo redefining crossover.

Peter Tomasi has been at DC comics for about 20 years now.  He was a longtime editor, but like Mark Waid before him, he moved into writing about a decade ago.  He quickly solidified himself as a glue guy writing for DC. He wasn’t the star, but he was the guy writing the good books that helped prop up the massive hits.  While Geoff Johns headlined on Green Lantern, Tomasi – working with Superman collaborator Gleason – helped turn Green Lantern Corps into the perfect complement.  While Scott Snyder was being celebrated for his hit run on Batman, Tomasi, again with Gleason on art, was writing the frequently excellent Batman & Robin.  For most of the last 10 years he has been the king of DCs mid-tier.  It is more than time for him to take the spotlight like he has with Superman.

Superman post-Rebirth focuses on the Kent family, with Superman again married to Lois Lane and now they have a child, Jon, who is roughly ten years old.  They have started a life in Hamilton County, a ways away from Metropolis and are living the country life.  This setup lets the creative team move Superman forward in a significant way without losing the heart of the character. Superman is there to show us the way, and he gets to do that in a very literal way with his son Jon. It not only lets us see why Superman is so great, it also gives him a challenge he can’t completely conquer.  Plus, him leading Jon, as Superboy, out on his first steps as a superhero lets the reader experience the adventure through fresh eyes. Tomasi, Gleason and the rest manage a wide array of tones, from pastoral comforts to wide-screen action to spooky campfire horror. It it just a satisfying read twice a month.

It really nails a something than many comics seem to have abandoned recently, and that is the building subplot. With series that rarely run more than a dozen or so issues, the team here is leveraging the absolutely ongoing nature of Superman (they might get removed from the book, but Superman won’t get cancelled) and the blistering release schedule to tell some slower burning stories.  There are several underlying mysteries running at once.  They don’t distract from the main plot, but the build with each issue. Several of these mysteries are shared across Superman and Action Comics, as well as with the DC Universe as a whole, but they all build within the pages of Superman.  There is the mystery of Mr. Oz, a still ongoing background plot about somebody powerful trying to remove certain characters from play.  There was the Action Comics mystery of the fake Clark Kent, which built for 20 issues and was resolved in the Reborn crossover.  There are mysteries about the Kent’s new home Hamilton and their suspicious neighbors the Cobbs, which seem to finally be resolving over the next couple of months.

Tomasi has added writing duties on Super Sons to this, a team up book featuring Superman’s son Jon as Superboy and Damian Wayne Robin. It is a continuation of a story that played out in Superman that thrust the two youngsters together and while the focus of the book is the two kids, their fathers can’t help but play a part. It is only three issues in, but so far it is in line with Tomasi’s excellent work on Superman and his underrated work on Batman & Robin at the start of the New 52, showing how the children of DC two biggest heros reflect the natures of their parents.

I don’t know that Superman and Super Sons are the best books I get every month, even if I exclude The Flintstones, but there aren’t any that I anticipate more.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Review

This has become a surprisingly hard review to write.  I can’t think if a time when my personal opinion of a film was more divergent from relatively object measures of its quality.  Because I kind of loved King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, but I also think it is mostly a bad movie.  It has proven somewhat difficult to untangle my feelings toward.  

This is not a case like John Carter or Guy Ritchie’s previous movie, The Man from UNCLE; those were movies that, though they bombed, I thought and still think are excellent films.  King Arthur is undeniably kind of a mess.  Its different parts don’t mix together well and some of its biggest moments fall completely flat.  But I still greatly enjoyed watching.

Charlie Hunnam stars as Arthur, who grew up in a brothel after his uncle, King Vortigern, overthrew and killed his father using black magic.  Growing up in the brothel, Arthur has become a streetwise hustler and grifter.  He learned to fight thanks to the local, Medieval Londinium Kung Fu master and he knows which wheels to grease to keep things running smoothly.  That is until the sword in the stone is found and the prophecy of the born king triggers unrest in the kingdom.  Arthur is forced to take up the sword and fulfill his destiny as King.

There are two movies at war in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.  There is a ponderous fantasy epic in the vein of Willow or Hercules or, if you squint, Lord of the Rings.  Then there is the Guy Ritchie crime movie, him doing his low level criminals getting in over their heads sort of movie like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  These two separate kinds of movies never successfully combine. Neither one subsumes the other, either.  When Jude Law is the focus, it is the most serious sort of fantasy movie.  When it turns to Hunnam and his ragtag knights, it goes full Ritchie.  I like both kinds of movies here, and I enjoyed the juxtaposition. There are a few scenes that mix the two, the highlight being a quest to the completely undefined “dark realm” that is done almost entirely to loud music and quick cuts.  It is barely comprehensible, but that is the point. It is a strange, revelatory adventure in an unknown place.  It is purposefully disorienting. And since there is little drama in wondering if the title character will survive a mid-movie adventure, it is gotten through with quickly.  Unfortunately, the two different movies can’t be bridged at the end, when it should all come together.

The best parts are the one that lean into Ritchie’s filmmaking idiosyncrasies.  The bits with Arthur telling a story or laying a plan that are accompanied by shots of how things are exactly like he says/are the exact opposite of how he says. It is the same kind of fun stuff that made Snatch such a delight.  It is hard to ramp that up to a more traditional epic showdown, which this movie has and it is a big letdown.  

As much as I enjoyed this movie, which was a lot, I could never shake the feeling that things just weren’t working.  The movie skips over things, sometimes to streamline not particularly interesting yet necessary plot points, sometimes it makes things appear to happen out of nowhere.  The situation that leads to Arthur’s rise is never really shown, just assumed.

In the end, what matters to me is that I enjoyed this movie. I caters directly to my tastes.  I enjoy every ingredient found in this movie’s recipe, even if the end result is less than the sum of its parts.

***1/2

Super Mario Replay: Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64 is without question one of the most influential games ever made. It was a trailblazer; the first game to prove that you could make a fun game in 3D. It is, however, still an early 3D game and it plays like.  Super Mario 64 kind of holds up perfectly and it kind of doesn’t hold up at all.

This was my first time playing Mario 64 in years. I was one of those oddities that owned an N64 but never owned Mario 64.  By the time I got my system, I had already played most of the game at friend’s houses and I could borrow it from any number of them at any given time.  I lived in some sort of anomalous bubble where everyone owned an N64 and the PS1 was something of a rare breed.  So I played my fair share of Mario 64, but it wasn’t a game I could easily revisit. Playing it now was surprising in how much of the game held up perfectly, but other parts had aged as badly as any game of the era did.  

Super Mario 64 is a wonderfully crafted game.  Each of its 20 or so stages are dense little environments to explore in.  They provide the perfect playgrounds in which to utilize Mario’s expansive move set.  There is an array of challenges, with stars alternately hidden and sitting in plain sight in hard to access areas.  It is a game the drops you there and just lets you explore.  Wonderfully, almost none of it is mandatory.  I don’t think you have to collect a single red coin to beat the game,  so long as you are not going for all 120 stars. Super Mario 64 is very much the proof of concept for what a 3D game could be.

Unfortunately, some things on the technical side let the game down. The camera is the big offender.  Getting it to show the needed angle is a significant battle and makes portions of the game much harder than they have any business being.  The controls also feel primitive.  Mario is fun enough to move around, but trying to read a sign is an exercise in frustration, as is lining up a punch.  It is really any of the fine controls that really hold things up.  Running and jumping feel great, but anytime you have to slow down and be precise the frustration mounts. Swimming manages to combine the worst of the camera and the controls into one awful experience.

A lot of the later stages were somewhat unfamiliar to me.  I know the first handful very well and with the exception of [water stage] can relieve them of their stars pretty quickly.  But the back half of the game, while not new territory, was much less known. Having that somewhat new experience helped me sort out how much of my affection for this game is nostalgia and how much due to it being actually good.  As I mentioned above, there are frustrations, but even in 2017 there is a lot to love about Mario 64.  Most later 3D Marios returned to more of level structure.  A wise decision in my opinion, as that gave us the Mario Galaxy games, but there is certainly something to be said for the greater freedom and exploration to be found in Mario 64.  It is a different kind of Mario game than those that Nintendo has made in the last decade, and that at least makes it interesting. The relatively small size of the stages, at least by today’s standards, also allows Nintendo make it feel open while still being pretty tightly designed.  It doesn’t have the formlessness that often afflicted N64 action games.

In many ways Super Mario 64 is a lot like Super Mario Brothers. There is something timeless about it, despite its primitive graphics, which held up much better than expected, and its imperfect controls, it still come together for something tirelessly fun and endlessly replayable.  It is the first of its kind and established paradigms that later games would improve upon.  It showed other games the way, but other games did it better.  Though not many, if any, on the N64. It might be more important than good, but it is plenty of both.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Review

The first Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favorite Marvel movies in large part for how different it is from the rest of them.  There are definitely certain beats that it hits that are similar, but it is not just the same origin story we’ve seen a dozen times now.  Its combination of action, humor and music made for an perfect theater going experience and James Gunn voice was apparent throughout. Its sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, doubles down on the things that made the first movie great.  Instead of trying to go bigger than its predecessor, it digs in deeper with its characters to make an unusual and wonderful sequel.

I won’t deny that Guardians 2 gets kind of messy at times.  There is plenty of convenience in the plot and characters have a habit of just flat out saying the themes in dialogue, tt splits the cast up into several smaller groups for most of the movie, limiting their ability to play off each other, and the final fight scene gets a little incoherent for stretches.  None of that did much to lessen my enjoyment of the movie.  

The plot involves giving the team exactly what they want, from Star-Lord meeting his dad to Rocket managing to push everyone away.  But like in nearly all fiction, maybe the things they wanted are not what they needed.  So obviously, things go awry.  That is true for returning supporting characters as well.  Nebula plays a big role again, with her allegiance shifting from being a villain to something more like a nemesis. Yondu, also sees a bigger role and reveals his true colors as the movie goes along.  At the end, you really feel like you know these characters better than you did before.

The balance between characters isn’t perfect.  Drax has little to do besides be nearly perfect comic relief and Rocket gets largely sidelined after the midpoint.  New character Mantis’s role is small and very little about her is revealed.  The movie also continues Marvel’s villain problem, with this movies bad guy ceasing to be interesting at all once his villainy is revealed.  I don’t know that these are really problems. The movie is stuffed as it is, I don’t really see how much more they could have done with Rocket or Drax or Mantis without adding significantly to the movie.  

The soundtrack, a big part of the first movies charm, is maybe even better here.  This movie features some deeper cuts, and a does a little more work to call attention to itself, but it all works in context.  It also retains the humor from the first movie.  My two biggest complaints are about jokes that just absolutely didn’t land for me, but those are small problems in the deluge of moments that did work.

It also, to my complete delight, further embraces the acid trip weirdness of Marvel’s cosmic characters.  We actually see the face on Ego The Living Planet. Yondu gets his full mohawk.  It is just overall more willing to get weird with things, and that is what I love about comic books.  I am glad to see them be rewarded for embracing this stuff rather than trying to sand it off.  We’ve come a long way from the X-Men refusing to wear yellow in their first movie.

Maybe I am still just riding a sugar rush after watching this movie, but I loved it unreservedly. I haven’t really felt that way about one of these since the previous Guardians of the Galaxy, I guess.  In some ways it is the perfect example of more of the same, in others is wonderfully different.  I liked all of it.

****1/2

What I Read April 2017

I hit four in April and I’m already close to hitting it again in May. I’ve finally cleared my stack of Christmas books, which means I have to do a little more thinking about what I read next. My big Charles Dickens project is looking like a bust so far, I’ve only made it about a quarter of the way through Nicolas Nickleby so far. Maybe it is more of a two year project.

Mean Streak

Sandra Brown

This is the last of the books from my Christmas stack.  It is another thriller/mystery.  This one is about a doctor who goes missing while training to run a marathon running in the Appalachian Mountains. She wakes up with a bump on her head in the cabin of a mysterious stranger. He may or may not be responsible for her predicament, but he certainly won’t let her leave.  She is likely concussed and there is inclement weather outside.  Back in civilization, police are checking into her disappearance and their prime suspect is her suspicious, cheating husband.

I enjoyed it quite a bit, though it takes quite a lot of suspension of disbelief to keep engaged.  The leads are too extreme in their competency.  It also deliberately tricks the reader; not with clever misdirects but with having characters act in ways that don’t make sense for any reason other than to confuse the reader. SPOILERS The book sets up the husband to seem guilty and about halfway through he starts acting, and thinking when the book is from his perspective, as though he is guilty.  At first it is laid on so thick that it seems an obvious misdirect, then the character himself seems to confirm it, only for it to turn out to not be true.  Those annoyances didn’t really bother me; the book ends up operating at a sort of a heightened reality that makes that sort of exaggerated weirdness acceptable.  It’s a fun, fast read.

A Curious Beginning

Deanna Raybourn

There is a lot to like about this Victorian mystery about a young woman lepidopterist who gets caught up in a big conspiracy.  The thing that kept me from really liking it was that there really isn’t a mystery.  Or more accurately, that neither of the two protagonists do a lot to solve the mystery.

Veronica Speedwell is a young orphan girl who after the death of her aunt first has a home invasion, then meets up with a man who claims to have known her parents.  He leaves her with a friend of his, Stoker, but before he can tell her anything, he winds up dead.  This sends Veronica and Stoker on the run and try to figure out who is responsible.

The problem is that most of the book is not spent solving that murder, or even the mystery of Veronica’s parentage.  The book just kind of floats along on unrelated subplots before it decides to get down the problem at hand.  And then most of the solving is done by the characters, with no evidence or verifiable information, reasoning out who is responsible and why.  It is frustrating. Still, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy it overall.  I did not find it to be an especially good mystery, but it was a genuinely fun read so that didn’t really bother me.

Prudence

Gail Carriger

I read the previous set of Gail Carriger’s books, the Soulless series, a couple of years ago and if I recall correctly I greatly enjoyed them.  This one, which begins a series starring the protagonist of that first series’ daughter, I found somewhat lacking and I am a little unsure as to why that is.

There are some obvious reasons. From this first book, I don’t think Prudence is as interesting a protagonist as her mother was.  She seems to be all quirk with nothing really behind it, not a sturdy enough presence to build a whole series of books on. Hopefully she’ll grow as a character.  It also blunders into questions of colonialism; I am willing to admit I may be getting it wrong, but parts of this book didn’t sit well with me. Prudence has its characters take a trip India and deals directly with the problems of colonization.  It suggests that this alternate Britain made mistakes while colonizing India, it doesn’t actually note that being colonized itself was a pretty bad deal for the colonized.  It is hard to write a story in this setting without running into this problem, but I don’t think Prudence handles the issue well.  Mostly because dealing seriously with the issue would not go well with the light and fluffy tone of the book.

While I didn’t like Prudence as much as a character as her mother, that doesn’t mean I think she is a bad character. This book did a good job of setting up a new set of characters and a new set of problems in this already established world, while also giving fans of the previous series just enough cameos by old characters to make them happy.  Despite my problems with it, I liked this book enough to check out the next when I have time/see it on sale.

Aristotle’s Children

Richard E Rubenstein

This book is about the rediscovery of Aristotle’s works in the 12th century, and how that rediscovery helped lead Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance.  It is an engrossing, if dry, read that gets into parts of history that aren’t much known in the popular culture. While Aristotle was never really lost, at least not to people outside of the Western Roman Empire, its rediscovery in Spain by a combination of Christians, Jews and Muslims, is an interesting part of history.  How his teachings were dealt with by the dominant Catholic Church, which also controlled most institutions of learning at the time, is only slightly less engrossing.  Aristotle’ Children is a slower, more ponderous read than many of the historical books that grab my attention, but it is no less enlightening.  It can be difficult to get through at times but it is definitely worth it.

[Insert Tired Catchphrase Here]

Earlier this week was the 20th anniversary of the release of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Which makes me feel very old. That movie, which came out when I wasn’t quite 12 years old, and its sequels were a staple of my high school years.  I am attempting to be more honest about my likes and influences on this blog.  Not that I was being dishonest before, but I have a bad habit of going with the critical consensus just because or just keeping my mouth shut when I disagree.  In my estimation, the first Austin Powers is a comedy masterpiece.

I, of course, didn’t see it twenty years ago.  Like almost everybody else, I first saw Austin Powers when it hit home video, probably a year or so later.  I didn’t see it at home.  I lived in an ineffective repressive religious household.  My brothers and I were not allowed to watch a whole host of things growing up, from wrestling to The Simpsons.  Austin Powers, with its blatantly sexual PG-13 jokes, was right out. These household bans were effective as one might expect in a home with more than a handful of boys, all of whom have friends with more lenient parents.  I could hit up a friend that live five blocks away and watch most forbidden movies; the same year Austin Powers came out his parents took the two of us to see Starship Troopers, a film with more sexual content than this movie.  There were other outlets as well. I knew that at my Grandma’s house there was a VHS tape with a half dozen episodes of The Simpsons recorded on it.  All the work that my Mom did to ban these bad influences only made me and my brothers more eager to track them down.  With Austin Powers quotes replacing Dumb and Dumber ones with my classmates, it was a movie that I kind of felt I had to see. That being said, I can’t quite remember where I saw it for the first time. Maybe my brother rented it.  Maybe I watched it at a friend’s.  I know I saw it before the sequel came out and loved it.

I like the Austin Powers sequels, though I won’t argue that they provide anything more than increasingly diminished returns.  The first movie, as I remember it, is an incredibly well-made spoof.  It fits right in the Mel Brooks mold and I would argue that it is better than any of Brook’s films since High Anxiety.  My recollections were confirmed when I sat down and really watched it for the first time in what seems like years last night.

The thing that stood out to me most during this rewatch is how tame it is.  For all that Austin Powers the character is all about sex, the movie is truly PG-13 with its sexual content.  He says a lot of things that sound dirty, but there is no actual nudity.  It is a movie that is largely about sex that is very careful to never actually show it, like in the famous object blocking nudity scenes.  There is also almost no cursing, a fact that doesn’t stand out until you start to think about it. I say it fits that arrogant mold that it doesn’t need cursing to be funny, unlike other movies.   For all of its eventually annoying catchphrases, Austin Powers has a lot of fun word play.  Plus, it’s funnier to hear Dr. Evil say “frikken” instead of actually dropping f-bombs.  Those catchphrases are a problem, though.  But not a problem with this movie, more a problem with its oversized impact on pop culture.  Every asshole spent that latter part of the 90’s quoting Austin Powers and it was never once funny.  The same thing happened with Borat, and in neither case is it the movie’s fault.

The catchphrases and their enormous popularity do lead me to the most interesting thing about watching Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery 20 years later; the movie’s relationship to time.  It starts in 1967 before Austin is cryogenically frozen for 30 years.  While we are not quite as far from his own time as the movie is from ours, it is long enough for the modern stuff to seem as dated as Austin himself does to the other characters. The CD’s that baffle Austin are well on their way to being as dated as his record player. The movie is filled with late 90’s detritus. He’s got a comically small, yet bulky laptop, top of the line in 1997.  He uses AOL.  Dr. Evil does the Macarena. References that landed perfectly in the late 90’s seem like they are from another century today, which they literally are. The most late 90’s thing in Austin Powers, though, is Austin Powers himself.  For all of his 60’s stylings, pulled from Bond and other spy movies as well as The Beatles among many other inspirations, the character exploded to such popularity that nothing is more of the time of its release than Austin Powers.  

Still, for all its over-repeated catchphrases, dated references and constant mugging for the camera, Austin Powers remains a very funny movie.  Its sexual politics don’t really hold up, not that there was any chance they would when lampooning 60’s spies, but it is a mostly good natured spoof.  There is very little punching down.  You are laughing at Austin or Dr. Evil and the absurdities of their unfamiliarity with modern life.  It is just a charming movie.

Now Playing in April 2017

Beaten

Bye Bye BoxBoy! – 

I want to have a lot to say about this game, but I don’t think I do. This is the third and apparently final go around for this deceptively simple puzzle platform series. You play as a box that makes more boxes. You must use those boxes to solve increasing complex puzzles. It is not complex, but it does get wonderfully difficult. I think they’ve finally fully explored this concept. Each of the three games has been great, and this one is no exception. I love these games. We might not get anymore, but I hope Nintendo keeps them around with ports and remakes.

Wonder Boy and the Dragon’s Trap – read about it here.

Super Mario World – read about it here.

Ongoing

Persona 5 – I haven’t played this near as much as I would like, but through the first week or so of game time, which is all I’ve managed to play, it is very good.  It is Persona.  The third and fourth games in the series as some of my favorite JRPGs on the PS2 and this seems to be following in their footsteps in most of the ways that matter.  Whether I like it more than those games comes down to how well it executes this near perfect formula.

Dragon Quest 8 – read about it here.  I’m still not done with it, there have just been too many other things to pull me away from what is essentially replaying a game.  Still, I have greatly enjoyed all the time I’ve spent with this game so far.

Disney Afternoon Collection –

The Disney Afternoon Collection_20170211015520

The second release from Digital Eclipse, the first being the Mega Man Legacy Collection, they are quickly establishing themselves as the go to makers of classic game compilations. MMLC was a near perfect collection of the 6 NES Mega Man games, this one is a similarly accurate and loving collection of 6 of Capcom’s Disney NES games.  I see how they choose the 6 they did, basing it around the Disney Afternoon cartoons, but it does leave two of Capcom’s NES games on the outside looking in; no The Little Mermaid or Adventures in the Magical Kingdom in this collection.  The latter is better left forgotten, but The Little Mermaid is a better game than Talespin at the very least.  There is no real sense in complaining about what is not here when the 6 games included are more than enough to be worth the price of admission.  DuckTales is regarded as the crown jewel here, but I’ve also heard that the sequel is actually better. Talespin is a bit of a stinker, though it is an interesting experiment and Darkwing Duck should be a lot more fun than it is, but the other four are a blast.  I’ll probably have more to say after I spend some more time with these games.

Mercenaries Saga 3 – This is a solid looking tactics game, but through the first 10 chapters there is little more to it than brute force.  It doesn’t feel like there are a lot of decisions being made.  It all feels kind of rote.  This could be overcome with a worthwhile story to keep the player’s attention, but that is a no go here. I guess that’s not fair, maybe the story here is really good.  It is impossible to tell through the all but incomprehensible localization. It feels like a first pass, with most of the sentences are sensible, but they don’t really follow each other in logical ways.  It is probably worth the price of admission, but only because it is so low.

Super Mario 64 – I have never gotten 120 stars in this game, and I don’t think I will on this replay either.  I am one of the few N64 owners who didn’t own this game back in the day. I did borrow it a few times and have gotten most of the stars a time or two.  I don’t want to say too much about it before I write about it, but it mostly holds up.

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows – I’ve only played through two stages of this, but it is a great take on the already great Shovel Knight.  The amount of work that are being put into these free updates is just amazing.  Once I get a Switch, I’ll likely double dip just for the opportunity to pay Yacht Club Games again.

Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals – I’ve started on this. It is a solid SNES jrpg through the first few hours.

Upcoming

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia – I am not 100% in favor of what I’ve seen of this remake of the series’ black sheep, but I like Fire Emblem enough to pick it up anyway.

The Last Guardian – My brother handed me his copy of this when he heard I bought a PS4.  I’m getting pretty involved in Persona 5 right now, but if I need a break or somehow finish it, I think I’ll give this a play before I really get invested in Yakuza 0.

Yoshi’s Island – I’ll be playing the GBA port, since that is the one I own on WiiU.  I’ve already started, having cleared the first world sometime last year and I don’t feel like starting from scratch.  Hopefully this will be the time that this game clicks for me.

Super Mario Sunshine – After I finish with Super Mario 64, I’ll be splitting my Mario time between this and Yoshi’s Island.

What I Watched in April 2017

MOVIES

The Imitation Game – This is the please-give-us-awards biopic about computer scientist and WW2 codebreaker Alan Turing that was fictionalized enough to upsets purists but not enough to make it truly interesting.  ***

The Cold Light of Day – You’ve got a Taken knock-off with Henry Cavill, Bruce Willis and Sigorney Weaver, you really don’t expect Cavill to be the the only bright spot. Sure, at this point Willis has given more than his fair share of phoned in performances, but you usually get better from Weaver.  Cavill, though, is working his ass off.  Too bad the movie doesn’t really justify it.*1/2

Pompeii – This might be the best Paul WS Anderson movie, a statement which is meant to damn with faint praise.  It is not especially good. In fact, it is often flat out bad.  But there is an enjoyable enough energy to its mash up of Gladiator and Titanic to make it not feel like a complete waste. **1/2

I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore – An odd, idiosyncratic exploration of despair. I don’t have a lot to say about it; it is very good. It is simultaneously darkly humorous and kind of uplifting. I really liked it. ****

Sicario – I really liked Arrival, so I checked out the director’s previous movie. This looks at the war on drugs in the south and Mexico and it pretty scathing. It is also beautifully shot. It is a great movie. ****1/2

The D Train – There is basis for a pretty great comedy here, but it kind of gets muddled. Jack Black’s character is too much of a loser to take seriously as a person, and his sitcom-esque plan to meet an old classmate is too silly for the rest of the plot.  It is a lot of interesting ideas done not very well. **1/2

10 Things I Hate About You – This is one of those movies that was always around when I was in high school, but I never actually watched it all the way through. I thought it was worth going back to thanks to its cast, which includes both Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It’s a perfectly fine teen comedy, but it really isn’t more than that. ***

Midnight in Paris – This ranks up there as one of my favorite Woody Allen movies. It is kind of indulgent, but that doesn’t matter when it is indulging in things that I want to see indulged. ****1/2

Fate of the Furious – see review here. ***1/2

Furious 7 – I needed to get prepped for F8, so I popped in this Blu-ray.  It is still highly enjoyable, but it also pushes the ridiculousness a little too far into cartoonish-ness.  The ending is cheap emotional manipulation, but it is also highly effective emotional manipulation. ***1/2

Sandy Wexler – There is more effort on display here than in the last half dozen or so Sandler movies.  It still isn’t good, but at least it appears like he cares.  If you cut about 30 minutes out and tighten up a lot of it’s sloppier moments it might have been decent. **

Win it All – This was good enough.  I didn’t love it, it seemed to spend a lot time just sort of meandering. I’m not familiar with Joe Swanberg, but this is good enough.  It is often funny and frequently heartfelt, but it doesn’t feel like it adds up to much. Still, it is definitely worth a watch. ***1/2

The Man From UNCLE – Every time I watch this movie I like it more and more.  It is just so much fun, with charming performances from all three of its stars.  I hope the only slightly rumored sequel happens. ****

Deidra and Laney Rob a Train – a pretty solid comedy about poor black youths trying survive. It combines a fairly dark look at how even bright kids can get trapped in poverty and a funny caper. It is a lot of fun. ***1/2

Akira – I finally had the opportunity to watch this anime classic.  It is still an amazing looking movie.  There are tons of impressively animated shots.  The story is overstuffed and nearly incoherent at times.  It is still really good and there is a lot to unpack, but it also feels like it was vastly edited down from a longer version.  ****

Sand Castle – This is a movie about the Iraq War; it is every movie you’ve seen about the Iraq War. That is the real problem, while this is a perfectly fine movie it doesn’t have anything you haven’t seen before. **½

The Discovery – This thing is so bleak and dreary.  It really wasn’t the movie I wanted to watch right now.  It raises some interesting questions, but I don’t think it really followed through on them. **½

Crank – Watching Fate of the Furious reminded me of how much I love Jason Statham, so I’ve started working my way through all the Statham movies I own.  Crank is nuts.  It is all insane energy that last just as long as it can keep it up. ***½

TV

Five Came Back – This series of documentaries about five Hollywood directors who volunteered during WWII and were put to work filming the war. It is really good. They interview five modern directors and use a lot of the footage from the time. It gets rough at times, especially when they uncover Dachau, but it is overall a really great exploration.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – The second season of Legends came to a close and while the show lost its most compelling character, Captain Cold, it managed an unthinkable turn around this season. I watched it last season thanks to how good the premise was, but there was too much dead weight in the cast and the show seemed unsure of what tone it should have. This season fixed nearly all those problems, with fun villains and dumping the Hawk people. It was the show it always should have been. Vixen was a good addition, and the rest of the team really found their roles. They jumped around time and went for big moments that nearly all landed. It was really great. Right now this might be the best of DC’s superhero shows.

The League S1-7 – I like a lot of the people involved in this show, and pending Netflix losses left me searching for new background noise comedy, so I gave this a watch.  The League is fine.  It really demonstrates how hard what Always Sunny in Philadelphia does is.  This fellow FX and FXX show does a lot of the same things, being a hard R show about a group of asshole friends, but it misses a lot more often than that true sitcom classic.  Too often, The League forgets that its characters are terrible and seems to want the viewer to sympathize with them.  That is not to say that the show isn’t frequently enjoyable and funny, but it also often seems mean just for the sake of being mean and can get hung up on unfunny bits that never seem to end.  As I said, it’s fine.

Documentary Now S2 – Another season of this great documentary spoof series. I don’t know that this season had quite the highs that season 1 had, but it was still excellent all the way through.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Return – I’m not quite completely through this, I’ve still got the last few episodes to go, but I have really liked it so far.  I don’t know that it is quite as good as old MST3K; they riff a lot faster which moves along a lot faster from bad jokes but also keeps good jokes from having time to land.  Still, even sometimes not excellent MST3K is better than no MST3K. I’m a latecomer to this series, but I am glad it is back.

Riverdale – This show just keeps getting crazier. The season ending is coming soon, but the show just keeps getting better. It really knows what its doing, so it is no surprise when an adult feeds a pregnant teenager a drugged milkshake.

Fargo S3 – The new season has started and it is great.  I don’t have a lot to say only two episodes in, but it is building something interesting about the characters and their relation to technology. It is really great.

Summer Movie Preview 2017

This year, instead of going through my anticipated summer movie releases by date, I have selected 15 movies coming out from May through August and ranked them from my least anticipated to frothing demand.

16. Transformers: The Last Knight – Okay, I picked 16, but Transformers is only on here so I can beat the dead horse of complaining about how terrible the Transformers movies are.  Some of the reactions I’ve heard to the trailers for this one have been somewhat positive, since it has a lot of elements that could make for a fun movie, but it mostly makes me wonder if people have memories like goldfish.  You’ve seen what Michael Bay will do with these movies: nothing is going to change. The other have ranged from merely bad to unwatchably putrid. This one will fall in that range somewhere.  Please don’t pay money to see it.

15. Baywatch – This looks like a bad idea, but occasionally taking an old TV show and turning it into a movie has worked.  I mean, 21 Jump Street exists. This looks to ride that movies coattails and while the trailers haven’t been great, they have had The Rock in them, which will always get my attention, if not my money.

14. Cars 3 – I love Pixar, but there was barely enough to Cars for one movie. Even in their sequels they have managed to find new ground to cover, but I can’t say I am remotely excited for the return of this franchise.

13. Alien: Covenant – I kind of feel like maybe this should be higher, but for all that it sounds good, it also sounds like something I won’t like.  For starters, it is heading back towards horror, a genre I don’t like at all.

12. The Mummy – Tom Cruise is a great action star.  But it is being directed by Alex Kurtzman, on half of the writing duo responsible for some of the absolute shittiest blockbusters of the last decade.  Maybe it won’t be terrible.

11. The Dark Tower – Once upon a time I loved this series. Then I read the last couple books (ie 6 & 7, I realize stuff has been published since) and they really didn’t connect with me.  This film has been gestating so long that it is hard to say how it will turn out, but I do like Idris Elba and cowboys in unconventional settings, so I’ll likely give it a shot.

10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – I outright skipped the fourth movie, but I still have a lot of affection for those first three.  Mostly the first one, though the next two didn’t really hurt that.  I more missed the fourth than intentionally skipped it.  I don’t know what to make of this, other than to note that do I like Javier Bardem.

9. Valerian & The City of a Thousand Planets – I know it is based on a comic and I know it is directed by Luc Besson, but otherwise this is something of a mystery. Still, it is an original seeming sci-fi movie coming out in the heart of summer.  I’m all for it.

8. War For the Planet of the Apes – The last Planet of the Apes movie was surprisingly good. This one looks like it should solid as well.  I don’t know what else to say.

7. Atomic Blonde – Charlize Theron as a spy at the end of the Cold War, directed by one of the pair of directors of John Wick sounds good to me. I don’t know enough about it to put it higher on the list, although there has been some good early buzz.

6. Spider-Man: Homecoming – Sometimes I feel like the only person that doesn’t go crazy for Spider-Man, or the only one who felt nothing when he showed up in Captain America Civil War.  It should be fine, but I’m not especially excited for it.  There have been a lot of Spider-Man movies, and it has been quite a while since one of them was actually good.

5. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – I think I might be the only one still on the Guy Ritchie train.  I wasn’t crazy about the Sherlock Holmes movies, but I loved Man from UNCLE.  I know this production has been troubled, but I am a big fan of fantasy movies and I am holding onto hope for this one.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 – This feels like the surest bet of this summer’s superhero movies, and all the trailers have looked really good.  While the first one had surprise on its side, this one is expected to be good and I hope it lives up to those expectations.

3. Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan doing a WWII movie.  I am all about that.  The first trailer looked really good and I trust Nolan.

2. Wonder Woman – The trailers have been great, I am on the near the upper extreme of enjoyment from previous DC movies; this looks really good to me.  It seems to be taking cues from the first Captain America movie, which is pretty good. I hope this turns out as good as it could be.

1. Baby Driver – This Summer has a Edgar Wright movie, which makes immediately better than any year without.  There are a lot of cool people in the cast and a lot of cool music in the trailer. Everything about this sounds great and I can’t wait to see it.

Did I miss anything?  Are there any other movies on the horizon that I should be excited for?  Is there anything else in August worth even considering other than The Dark Tower in the first week?

Mario Replay: Super Mario World

Super Mario World doesn’t change things a whole lot from Super Mario Bros 3. It is the closest any of these sequels has looked to the game before it, even taking into account SMW’s new SNES paint job. Yes, the series has made the jump to 16-bits, but the look of the series has started to solidify.  They aren’t going back to the drawing board every time now, or massaging an unrelated game to make it look like a Mario one.  This feeling is probably increased by my having most recently played the All-Stars versions of the NES games, were are designed to look as much like Super Mario World as possible.

In a few ways, Super Mario World reins things in from Super Mario Bros 3.  There are fewer power ups, the plethora from Mario 3 reduced to just the fire flower and the cape.  That is offset by making Mario himself more innately capable, with a new spin jump and the ability to climb on certain walls. That and the major addition of supporting character/power up Yoshi. While there  are fewer power ups, the levels are much larger. That facilitates the game’s change of focus from from speedy completion to more sedate exploration.  SMW’s levels, especially compared to its predecessor’s, are expansive.  It plays somewhat slower, but encourages a more thoughtful approach.  It helps that these larger levels are mostly very well designed.

Despite the fact that the games don’t play all that differently, there is a fundamental change to the Mario series that happens with Super Mario World.  Before that the games were all still arcade influenced action games, designed to be beaten in one sitting.  Super Mario World introduces saving and the game becomes much more exploration focused. While there are secrets in all of the games, compare what finding a secret area in Super Mario Bros or Super Mario Bros 3 gets the player with Super Mario World.  In SMB you can warp rooms, which let you skip large portions of the game.  The same is true in SMB3, where you find warp whistles that transport the player later in the game.  There secrets there are designed to help facilitate the experienced player beat the game by skipping it.  The games are designed to be beaten in one sitting, and jumping almost straight to world 4 really helps with that. Just knowing about the warp is not enough, an inexperienced player will be quickly stymied by the increased difficulty, but those who have seen it before can quickly get to the meat of the game.  In Super Mario World, though, the secrets are not there to let the player skip the game, but to open up more game to beat.  You can unlock star roads and alternate routes, but still you have to beat the vast majority of the game before you can have your showdown with Bowser.

That Super Mario World makes this change without dramatically changing how the game is played is rather remarkable. In many ways, Super Mario World is the last of the original run of Super Mario games.  After this we got Yoshi’s Island, which changes things up significantly, and then the 3D evolution with Super Mario 64. By the time the series came back to 2D with New Super Mario Bros it wasn’t really the same thing.  I’m not sure this is a bad thing.  I’m playing through the series as fast as possible, one after the other (while still taking time out for Zelda, Persona and Dragon Quest) and I would be overjoyed if there were another handful of 2D Mario games before the series went 3D.  Hell, we got 10 Mega Man games in that same time frame, and most of them are more than worthwhile.  But each of the console Mario games has a distinctive feel.  Mario World and Mario 3 might the be the closest any of the games feel to each other, with the exclusion of the glorified expansion pack The Lost Levels, and even between those two there are significant differences.  I don’t see how Nintendo could have fit in any more games without repeating themselves.  Super Mario World is the perfect end point for this vein of the series.

Super Mario World remains one of my favorite games.  In the eternal, pointless argument between Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World, I am strongly in favor of the SNES game. This playthrough did nothing to change that.  I love Super Mario World, even if I usually peter out about three worlds in. Now it is on to relatively unexplored territory.