Super Mario Replay Yoshi’s Island

I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t really like Yoshi’s Island. You could argue that is because I’ve only ever played the supposedly compromised GBA port, but I think I just don’t like the game. I have played most of its recent follow ups, like Yoshi’s New Island for 3DS and Yoshi’s Woolly World, and while enjoyed those games, there is still something about them that I wasn’t quite to my taste. Compared to other Mario games, Yoshi’s Island is a slow and pokey game, focused more on exploring and collecting that traditional platforming challenges. I get why people would like it, but it is not for me.

It is a great looking SNES game. While at the time most games were either ugly 3D (Star Fox) or ugly approximations of 3D (Donkey Kong Country), Yoshi’s Island went for a detailed, colorful hand drawn look, with plenty of effects thanks to using the same advanced on cart chip that Star Fox used to make the SNES capable of its primitive 3D graphics. There is no getting around that this is one of the best looking games on the SNES. The same is true for the excellent music. And Nintendo wasn’t content to just run out the Mario World formula again, they gave the idea of a platformer a fairly extensive overhaul and produced a fresh and tightly designed game.

The problem I have is that no matter how well made the game might be, I simply prefer what came before. Super Mario World was already more of an exploratory game than previous Mario games and Yoshi’s Island slows the pace even more to focus on poking around expansive levels. I couldn’t even begin to say that they aren’t well designed, but they end up being more like mazes than obstacle courses. It is rarely that difficult to just clear a stage, but the game judges based on how well you collect things and finding all of the things in each stage is a tedious and involved process. Many people bemoan the collect-a-thons that 3D platformers became in the wake of Super Mario 64, but that trend was started with Yoshi’s Island. There are five flowers hidden throughout each stage, a perfectly fine collectable, much like the three giant coins in later Mario games. Each stage also has 30 red coins to collect, some of which are hidden, some sit in plain sight and some look like regular coins until you nab them, meaning you have to go for every stupid coin in the game on the off chance it is one of the important ones. Then there are the stars, which are tied in with the game’s worst mechanic.

The stars represent how much time you have to rescue Mario if you get hit and he becomes dislodged from Yoshi’s back. Because yes, you control Yoshi, not Mario in this game. And Baby Mario’s wails as he floats around are insufferable. To then be also graded on maintaining 30 of those damned stars is frustrating. Finally there is the egg throwing. Yoshi is able to eat just about anything and turn it into an egg. The player must then throw those eggs at just about everything. This brings up the not especially intuitive aiming mechanic and the often limited supply of eggs. It is a good idea, but one that is often too complex to be enjoyable.

I do question whether Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is really a Mario game. The unignorable fact is that the game is titled Super Mario World 2. But that doesn’t make it all that different from Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. There Wario gets top billing, but Nintendo was still hedging its bets by keeping it in the Mario series. In both games, Mario has been replaced as the protagonist and the mechanics of the game are significantly different from what came before or happened since. None of Yoshi’s Islands sequels or follow ups are considered a part of the main Mario series. I counted it at least as much because it is one of the few Mario games I haven’t beaten than for any other reason.

The thing is, I see a lot of Yoshi’s Island’s DNA in the “New” Super Mario series. It has been scaled back quite a bit, but things like the hidden giant coins feel like something from this game. Though Yoshi’s Island’s mechanics have been directly continued in what most people call disappointing follow ups – I would argue the only thing disappointing about Yoshi’s New Island is how it looks – its impact continues to be felt in the main series as well. I guess I just have to finish coming to terms with the fact that I don’t really like it.

Superhero TV Round Up

Okay, so all of the CW shows are wrapping up their seasons and it seems like time to check in with the glut of superhero shows that are currently being made.  DC added Powerless on NBC this year to go along with Gotham on Fox, Arrow, Flash and Legends of Tomorrow returning to the CW and Supergirl moving from CBS to the CW.  Meanwhile, Marvel still has Agents of SHIELD pumping away on ABC while they added Iron Fist on Netflix and Fox brought the X-Men-ish Legion to FX.  That is a crap ton of superhero related TV and I didn’t even try to watch a lot of it.  But I do want to talk about the more than half that I did watch.  Here they are from best to worst, followed by the shows I didn’t watch.

Legion – Legion was far and away the best superhero show that aired over the last six or so months, though it only barely counts as a superhero show. It takes a few characters and ideas from X-Men, but it is very much its own thing. And it is a good, trippy thing. Instead of being beholden to either the X-Men movie continuity (good luck) or the comics continuity (hahahaha), Legion takes the characters it wants to use and crafts a wholly original story around them. It works pretty well, though I think I need to rewatch it all to make sure I saw what I thought I saw. Still, it is really good stuff.

Legends of Tomorrow – The first season of this show was kind of a mess; a grab bag of fun characters and bad ideas.  This season they jettisoned the weakest and strongest parts of the cast (the Hawks and Vandal Savage the former, Captain Cold the latter) and refocused the show into something really enjoyable. The ensemble feels stronger, the sense of purpose is greater and it was just all around a much improved show.  The time hopping served more of a purpose and the characters felt more comfortable in their roles.  It is still the cheesiest thing, but it nailed that perfect state of enjoyable goofiness.

Supergirl – Supergirl went through quite the transformation this season, moving from CBS to the CW and having to deal with the lowered budget and lost cast members.  It also came back a stronger show in its second season, with a better sense of identity and some of the odd parts sanded off.  For instance, there is a stronger emphasis on the DEO instead of it being kind of cordoned off until needed.  There are growing pains, like how abruptly Kara shrugs off her new Jimmy Olsen relationship and starts one with the charming, if empty, Mon-El.  It was just a fun season, albeit one without a strong through line for the show or its title character.

The Flash – The Flash’s third season was an odd one. The central storyline was a non-starter, repeating similar beats to the first two seasons to much diminished effect. However, many of the individual episodes of this season were really, really good. It also spent too much time with the doom and gloom of Iris’s impending death hanging over the season.  There is still a strong foundation for this show and most episodes are good enough, the writers just need to do a better job of building on the show’s strengths.

Arrow – This was a solid bounce back season for Arrow. It didn’t come anywhere close to the great second season, but it is a step up from last year’s mess. I stopped watching after the crossover, but I caught up with the rest of it on Netflix. I liked seeing some lesser known DC characters get some time; we see Mr. Terrific and Ragman and freaking Wild Dog. Wild Dog on TV every week, the world has gone crazy. The flashbacks were still a problem, even with Dolph Lundgren, and the ongoing nonsense with Black Canary is a head scratcher, but otherwise it was a solid season.

Iron Fist – Yeah, this show is a mess. I love the character Iron Fist, but this show couldn’t even get the martial arts right, with a few exceptions. It is clearly made in the prestige drama mode, but it fails on pretty much every level. I am really souring on these Netflix Marvel shows. Daredevil S1 was great, as was Jessica Jones, but Daredevil S2 was a mess and Luke Cage was a great set up with about half the story it needed to fill its 13 episodes. Iron Fist has all the problems of the stuff that preceded it without the strengths. I am still looking forward to Defenders, almost as much because it is about half as long as the rest of these series.

Agents of SHIELD – I hear that this season was pretty good. I can’t bring myself to care. Maybe one day on Netflix.

Gotham – This show lost me in the first season and everything I hear about it tells me I won’t like it. Still, it is currently on Netflix, so you never know.

Powerless – I only watched one episode of this; it feels like it was tested and adjusted to hell and back. The episode was occasionally funny, but not funny enough for me to do more than wait for it to be streaming. Unfortunately, NBC has cancelled it. It seemed like the kind of show that could have a Parks & Recreation like season 2 turn around. It was a good concept.

These shows, with the exceptions of Iron Fist and Powerless, will be returning next year. (Iron Fist will likely return, but wouldn’t bet on seeing it before late 2019) By next year, I of course mean this fall.  Also, The Defenders, the capstone to Marvel’s Netflix shows hits in August, with The Punisher following at some point this year. Also Fox is adding another X-Men show in The Gifted and ABC has a new Inhumans series coming in September. At some point Syfy is going to start a Krypton series starring Superman’s grandpappy. And superheroes continue their takeover of the CW with Black Lightning. Honestly, this is likely the last post like this I’ll do. I can’t keep up with all this and I really don’t want to keep up with it. It was fun when it was just Arrow, Daredevil, and The Flash (along with the ignore Agents of SHIELD). Now that the list of shows is swelling up to ten or more, I am checking out. I’ll still watch my CW DC nonsense, they are good trash, and I will keep watching Netflix stuff because I have a sickness, but otherwise I am going to a lot choosier with what I watch. As long as Noah Hawley is doing it I’ll keep watching Legion, but I’m out on The Gifted and Inhumans barring excellent reviews. The same goes for other stuff on the horizon. I guess anyway, we’ll see this fall.

Looking Back at the Pirates of the Caribbean Series

When watching the completely watchable new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Dead Men Tell No Tales, I was reminded that there was a fourth movie in that series that I never watched. This was odd, because if you had asked me, I would have somewhat sheepishly replied that I was a fan of the series. It seems like the sort of movie I would have seen at some point in the 5+ years since it was released.

While I’ve gotten more into going to the movies over the last few years than I was in 2011 when it came out, even then I was not the kind of fan to skip an entry in a series I liked.  I not only skipped On Stranger Tides, I had all but forgotten it existed.  The generally accepted opinion is that after the first movie, the quality of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies dropped off of a cliff.  I would not have been the only person to check out after that first trilogy had ended.  However, even though I hadn’t watched any of the movies, aside from catching stretches on TNT or something, since 2009, I had fond memories of all of the first three movies. If I liked the first three movies, why had I not seen the first?  I thought the question worthy of an investigation that involved watching the 4 Pirates movies to see how they hold up and, in the case of On Stranger Tides, if they are any good to begin with.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is, if not a masterpiece, than at least a damn fine adventure movie. Like all of these movies, it is absolutely gorgeous. The two leads, played by Kiera Knightley and Orlando Bloom, are thin characters.  Knightley especially is given nothing to except be a captive for most of the runtime.  Bloom is doing a perfectly serviceable Errol Flynn impersonation that gives the move on solid piece to build off of.  Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow deservedly got a lot of attention in this movie.  His entrance, perched atop the mast of a sinking little sailboat, is among the best character introductions I’ve ever seen.  He is a complete wild card, though he shows very early on that deep down he is on the side of the angels by saving a drowning woman. Much like the rest of the series, Jack Sparrow would never again be as good as he was in this movie. The three heroes line up nicely with the Star Wars set up, with Sparrow as Han and Will and Elizabeth as Luke and Leia.  That is a perfectly good trio of heroes, but they don’t work without a villain and fortunately this movie has Geoffrey Rush as Hector Barbossa.  He gets softened when he returns in later movies, but here he is as effective of a villain as I’ve seen in some time.  Every part of this movie just works.

Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End are two parts of a whole. They do function as individual movies, but they are very dependent on each other in some ways. While the Jack show starts taking over, these movies also give enough time to both Will and Elizabeth. Those two characters go on their individual journeys and there is real tension that by the time they are back together physically they will have moved apart emotionally.  Jack, meanwhile, is stuck playing the wild card.  His goals seem to generally be removed from the goals of everyone else.  In Dead Man’s Chest, the deals he’s made to become Captain Jack Sparrow come due and he does all he can to avoid paying.  That movie also features Will’s education in being a pirate, realizing that his straightforward pursuit of his goals makes him easy to manipulate, while Elizabeth forces her way into the action.  To replace Barbossa, the movie introduces two new villains in the fish faced Davy Jones and the perfectly banal head of the EIC.  Dead Man’s Chest is not as tight a movie as Curse of the Black Pearl, but it is more ambitious, even if it can’t always realize its ambitions. Keeping the Kraken off the screen was a smart move from a dramatic standpoint, but also likely from an effects standpoint as well.

At World’s End is even more ambitious than Dead Man’s Chest, and the movie starts to collapse under its own beautiful weight before too long. It returns Barbossa to the series, which is great, and expands and fills in the pirates’ world. That is both good and bad.  It really does expand the world, bringing in Asian pirates in Singapore before hitting the rest of the pirate stereotypes at the big meeting. However, in filling in those gaps, it also limits the possibilities going forward.  It gives it a sense of including everything, but that is everything, you’ve seen all it has to offer.  The movie ends up going too big and doing too much, leaving little time for anyone new to leave an impression. It also wraps up the story of quite a few side characters.  At World’s End is, for all intents and purposes, an ending for the series.

 

I think that is why the series dropped so far off my radar after that third movie. It wasn’t that I didn’t like any part of the trilogy, but it felt like a complete story.  It is the end of Will and Elizabeth’s story, an ending I never liked.  It ends like a romantic tragedy, but that wasn’t the story I believe I was watching. That moment felt false.  The thing is, though, that no matter how entertaining Jack Sparrow may be he is not the protagonist of the story.  His shtick requires not quite knowing what he is up to, which makes it hard to build a story with him at the center.  While At World’s End does end with an obvious set up for more adventures, it really felt like the end of the series in most respects.

That problem of building around Jack is very apparent in On Stranger Tides, which I finally watched.  It is a perfectly okay movie, though one that Jack and Barbossa have clearly been grafted on to.  It is a movie with no center.  Or more accurately, it is a movie with several possible centers that sticks to the one character least able to fulfill that position.  Jack is the character with the least going on in the movie, and knowing his motives all the way through robs him of a lot of his charm.  Especially when there are at least three other characters that could take the protagonist role and things would work more smoothly. That is Penelope Cruz’s Angelica, and it could be a story about her quest to connect with her unfeeling, villainous father.  Or it have twisted it around and made Barbossa the lead, focusing on his quest for revenge on Blackbeard.  Or maybe on Sam Claflin’s Philip and his love story with the mermaid. Any one of those-I personally favor the Barbossa one-with Jack playing the spoiler, would have been a better movie.  Instead the most focuses almost exclusively on Jack, to the detriment of everything.  It also helps explain how the fifth movie starts the way it does. On Stranger Tides could have been a reorienting of the series, but it feels like a one off side-story. If they were going to continue this series, On Stranger Tides needed to introduce characters to replace all of the ones whose stories ended in At World’s End and it just didn’t.  It ends right where it started.

After watching all four of these movies one after the other, it was made very clear to me that this series ended with the third movie. It was all resolved at that point, all that was left for the fourth movie to go on was a character that was already feeling tired by the end of the third movie.  The fifth movie made the only move possible by bringing back Will and Elizabeth. It not only gives viewers the happy ending denied them at the end of the third movie, but it brings back the heart of the franchise, making its possible future (with $605 million and counting worldwide at the box office, I suspect the series has a future) brighter than it’s been since 2007.

"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES"<br /> Captains Barbossa (GEOFFREY RUSH) and Jack Sparrow (JOHNNY DEPP) find themselves in the skeletal company of the long dead explorer Ponce de Leon in the ruins of the Santiago while searching for the silver chalices necessary to complete the ritual at the Fountain of Youth.<br /> Ph: Peter Mountain<br /> ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Each of these four movies has its charms. Maybe they just tickle me because I am a fan of fencing and swashbuckling in general. While Jack Sparrow may be the flagship character, Barbossa is the character that kept me coming back.

 

Dragon Quest Rankings

I finished up with Dragon Quest 8 3DS a few weeks ago, but since I’ve already said just about everything I have to say about it in this post, I figured I would mark the achievement, such as it is, by making a list ranking the main line Dragon Quest games. I could have tried to fit in some of the spin offs I’ve played, but what I’ve played and what I haven’t outside of the main series is pretty spotty and it’s been so long since I’ve touched the original Dragon Quest Monsters, for instance, that I thought it better to just stick with the main series.

  1. Dragon Quest 5: Hand of the Heavenly Bride – This is just about a perfect rpg.  It is Dragon Quest at its best, with solid if basic gameplay and interesting narrative experimentations.  Playing through the life of the protagonist, from starting out as a little kid until he has kids of his own. It is just a delight
  2. Dragon Quest 4: Chapters of the Chosen – Much like 5, this is another game that plays around with narrative structure, opening with several short sections with completely different casts until they all come together under the protagonist.
  3. Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King – Possibly the simplest game in the series since DQ4.  Yet is is also the most charming since 5.  8 deliberately breaks no new ground, but it is a perfectly executed classic style jrpg.
  4. Dragon Quest 9: Sentinels of the Starry Skies – The only new DS entry is the best version of the series’ class system.  The gameplay is fine but nothing more than the enjoyably basic JRPG that most of the series offers, though it does have a somewhat enjoyable multiplayer mode.
  5. Dragon Quest 7: Fragments of the Forgotten Past – I’ve only played the recent 3DS version and I liked it, but between this and DQ6, no series is better at bungling a class system than Dragon Quest.
  6. Dragon Quest 6: Realms of Revelation – I kind of hate most of this game’s characters and it takes forever to really get going.
  7. Dragon Quest 3: Seeds of Salvation – Full disclosure: I haven’t played more than an hour or two of this game.  Instead of using that as a reason not to include it or to postpone this list, I am instead considering it a mark against the game, since I’ve found the time to play all the rest. I will revisit when I finally do play it.
  8. Dragon Quest – There is stuff to like about the original Dragon Quest, but there really isn’t that much there all told.
  9. Dragon Quest 2: Luminaries of the Legendary Line – Grindy and not all that fun.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia

A new Fire Emblem game is out and even though over the last year I played what was essentially 3 new Fire Emblem games – each of Fates campaigns, Birthright, Conquest, Revelation, are full games – I was still really pumped for this one.  Hold on, I mean I played 4 Fire Emblem games, because I completely blanked on Fire Emblem Heroes on my phone, though maybe that is a good thing.  The point remains that I will take all of this series that Nintendo is offering, while they are offering it, because I don’t know when it might disappear again.  Still, with the Fates trilogy being a little bit of a letdown, with its fractured storyline making each of its three campaigns feel compromised in some way, the back to basics promise of the Fire Emblem Echoes, a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden for the famicom, sounded like a good idea.

Fire Emblem Echoes is the truest of mixed bags.  It does some things that I absolutely love, but it also does just as many things that frustrate me. On the plus side is pretty much everything outside of the specific mechanics of this take on Fire Emblem.  On the negative side are some of those mechanics. Or lack of mechanics.

It really is the best looking 3D game in the series.  I have long been a partisan of the GBA game’s beautiful 2D sprites as they dance through their attack animations.  None of the 3D games have been able to match those for looks. While they have gotten progressively better, but it wasn’t until this game that I thought that they had equaled the GBA games.  I also prefer the character designs in Echoes to any the series has had in quite some time. They feel like character designs from the era this game originated, with some slight modernization, but not the pure modern aesthetic of Fates or Awakening. The animations are also top notch, with plenty of unique animations for the game’s characters, a touch that really helps bring out the personality in some characters that could otherwise feel somewhat flat. This is just a great looking 3DS game.  I also like the return to a less comprehensive support system, with the pair up mechanic being completely gone.  I didn’t mind those pair up mechanics in Awakening or Fates. They changed the game significantly, but once I got used to how they worked it became second nature.  However, playing this game without them kind reinforces how unnecessary they are.  The strategy here just feels more pure, with your units better able to fulfill their roles.  The role of character supports is also scaled back.  A big part of the last two games has been seeing those supports for as many of your warriors as possible.  This game cuts back on the number of possible supports and makes them less important overall. They are there to flesh out the characters.  There is no marriage/child mechanic, which is more than fine.  I like that idea, and Awakening did good work with it.  But it felt forced in Fates and it really didn’t need to be added here.  If they go back to that in the future, I hope we get a full generational game, instead of a weird work around.

I have some minor complaints with parts of the game, like how one set of units seems to have uniformly dreadful growth rates or that the third person dungeons seemed unnecessary, but mostly I liked.  Still there are two things that stood out to me as flaws.  Fire Emblem Echoes mostly did a great job removing the cruft that had built up on this series, I think it went a bit too far.  While I think this is true to the original version of this game, I really felt the absence of the weapon triangle. Without that, parts of the game devolved into throwing magic users against non-magic enemies and regular fighters against the mages.  There is no nuance to it; it turned kind of simplistic. I also felt the lack of varied map and win conditions.   While Fates, Revelation especially, went overboard with the gimmick maps, something other than kill all enemies would have been appreciated here.  Just a few battles with survive or escape or capture would have helped spice things up quite a bit.  Those aren’t deal breaker problems, but they were big enough faults to keep from holding the game in the same regard as I do for the first few Fire Emblem games I played.

Last but not least is the story.  I was not a big fan of the story in any version of Fates and really haven’t loved the story of a Fire Emblem game since the Radiant duo.  Echoes is a fleshing out of an NES game’s story, but I greatly enjoyed it. Some developments are abrupt, but none are as nonsensical as most of Fates storyline was. I liked being in control of two separate armies, each with their storyline to play through but not being locked into one story or the other. I see how much this game influenced Sacred Stones, another series oddball.  I am glad this weird entry in the series got a remake and I am glad it is so much better than the remake the original Fire Emblem got for the DS.

What I Read May 2017

Another four book month. I feel like I am falling off of my 60 book goal for the year. Hopefully I can get back on track over the next couple of months. I will be hard if I try to get back into some fantasy, since those books take so long to read. On the other hand, Amazon had a big Kindle sale on Agatha Christie and I picked up quite a few. This month is mostly mysteries, but I hope to have some variety next time around.

The Black Ice

Michael Connolly

The second Harry Bosch novel, The Black Ice follows Harry as he looks into the death of another cop.  His investigation takes him inside the drug trade and down to Mexico.  I read the first book in this series a couple of years ago and picked up the next couple during a Kindle sale, probably when a new season of Bosch was launching on Amazon Prime.  I’m glad I finally got around to reading them.  Or in this case listening to them.

The book is good.  I can’t think of anything truly outstanding about it, but I liked it well enough. It is a finely constructed mystery/thriller.  It starts with an apparent suicide and while Harry is put off investigating that, the John Doe murder case he is working keeps tying itself back into the first case.  And new bodies keep showing up.  Despite being put off by higher ups, Bosch keeps doggedly working the case, even when it takes him down to cartel territory in Mexico.  It is a pretty fun read.

The Concrete Blond

Michael Connolly

This third book proved just a little harder than the second for me to get into, even though once it gets going I think it is the superior book.  This time, Harry is on trial for a shooting he was involved with before the series started.

That trial is what put me off a little bit at the start.  It is hard to sympathize with the protagonist when he is acting indignant about being called to trial over shooting an unarmed man.  He contends that the man, who the police believe was a serial killer, made an aggressive move in the dark when Bosch attempted to apprehend him. As the book has set it up, Bosch made the right choice, but his anger at this even being questioned is really off putting.  Once it becomes clear that they either got the wrong man or there is a copycat, the anger kind of fades, but it still comes off as self-righteous.

Once the book gets into the meat of the investigation, though, it really picks up.  With Bosch concluding quickly that the killer must be someone who was close to the first investigation, it has some fun with him looking into other cops and associated people.  It really flies right along.

Murder at the Vicarage

Agatha Christie

I believe this is the first Miss Marple novel. It isn’t one of Christie’s best. I don’t mean to say it is bad or anything; it is a perfectly adequate mystery. An unlikeable Magistrate is killed and the local vicar teams up with the police, and eventually Miss Marple, to find the person responsible. This is one of those ones where the victim is so singularly unlikeable that it is easy to imagine almost any of the characters being responsible for offing him. His cheating wife, his flippant daughter, the wife’s lover or even the vicar himself. It also starts with a bang, since two characters immediately confess to the crime, though both of their confessions are pretty quickly proven false. An all, I stand by perfectly adequate. This is a finely executed mystery that lacks some spark that would make it truly great.

Triple Threat

Gwenda Bond

On one hand, I am sure I am not the target audience for this book.  It is a sci-fi tinged YA book about a teenage girl going on adventures in the near future, as well as her troubles with friends and boyfriend.  But, I am also kind of directly the target audience because that teenage girl happens to be Lois Lane, so I am already invested in her relationship with her boyfriend Clark and their shady rich friends Alex.  It is also jam packed with references to 90’s Superman characters.  Many a reader who has watched the excellent cartoon from that era would get, some that require a little deeper knowledge of the Man of Steel.

I loved the first two books in the series, but I think this might be the best one yet.  I hope it is not the last. It feels kind of like an ending.  Lois and Clark finally meet when his parents take him on a vacation to Metropolis.  They go to a baseball game, their families have dinner and they stop mad scientists from experimenting on teenage runaways.  It is kind of adorable.  Bond absolutely nails Lois Lane. She is smart and determined, but also reckless.  Even removed from Superman lore, it makes her an entertaining protagonist.  I enjoyed this book for its Superman trivia, but even without any knowledge of the character it is a fun book. It is a perfectly light, enjoyable read.  I can’t wait for more.

Movie Index

I have been working on this for some time, but I think it is finally ready to go up.  I have made an index of all of my movie reviews.  They are ordered from the highest score to lowest, which means I had to go back to a bunch of my early reviews and add star ratings to them.  And if I was going to go back and star ratings to movies, it didn’t make sense to not do a little editing while I was in there.  So I fixed some typos and other mistakes. I’m not much for proofreading, apparently, so there were a lot of little mistakes for me to fix.  I’m sure I still missed plenty.  That process was time consuming.  So time consuming that I actually first made this Index in late 2015 and by the time I got it ready to go I had a year and a half of new reviews to add to it.  Now it is finally finished.  I will hopefully keep it updated with new reviews as they go up.  Soon this should be joined by a video game index, though that is a long way off, as it is going through a similar process.

While doing this proofreading I reread, or in the case of some read for the first time, many of my reviews.  Though I am generally filled with disgust at reading my own writing, I thought it worth highlighting some of my reviews I found least bad.  Reviews like The Man from UNCLE, Flash Gordon or Porco Rosso.  Maybe give those a read. I know I tend to rate highly, but I usually only see movies I expect to like in the theater. The stuff that I am iffier on I tend to catch later and not take the time to write full reviews.  And while I’ve already said that I don’t intend to go back and change what I wrote, how I felt about the movies then is how I felt about them then, there are some movies I think worth reevaluating a few years after I first saw them. The ones I want to take another look at include War Horse, Jupiter Ascending, Robin Hood and Prince of Persia, but if any readers have any movies they think I should reconsider, tell me in the comments and I’ll do my best.

That’s all.  The index is here or on the header.

Wonder Woman Review

I hoped Wonder Woman would be good, but I almost expected it wouldn’t be.  It is hard for a superhero movie to really surprise almost 20 years into them showing up regularly. Wonder Woman, though, was shockingly good. It wasn’t perfect, but it was such an earnest and sincere take on the genre that it was hard not to be swept away in its enthusiasm.  It was likely the most I’ve enjoyed seeing a movie this year.

The plot isn’t anything special; it is mostly a standard superhero origin story. Diana was raised on Themyscira, a Mediterranean Island created by the Greek Gods as a home for the mythological Amazons.  Diana is the only child among them, the daughter of Queen Hippolyta, who is reluctant to have her trained for combat. So Diana trains in secret with her aunt, Antiope.  Her training ends when WW1 pilot and spy Steve Trevor washes up on their shores.  Against her mother’s protests, Diana returns to the modern world with Steve to fulfill the Amazons’ duty to fight Ares, the God of War and end the war.

From there is combines scenes of Diana dealing with the modern world and even just parts of life with which she is unfamiliar, like children or snow, with war scenes.  It all works together, with Diana learning about the world without ever losing her optimism.

The movie works without Warner Bros merely copying what has worked for Marvel.  While it does bare some superficial similarities to the first Captain America and Thor movies, Wonder Woman maintains its own tone. The tone of the MCU movies, for better or worse, has been set by the sardonic voice of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Recent DC movies have set their tone to Zack Snyder’s operatic earnestness.  Wonder Woman doesn’t abandon that, but it manages to find some levity with the sincerity, resulting in something that is wholly enjoyable.  Its tone is more like that of the original Superman or Spider-Man movies.  It revels in the emotion of its story instead of undercutting them for a laugh.

The movie works in large part thanks to the performances of Chris Pine and Gal Gadot.  Gadot is radiant as the lead, able to play both the character’s naivety and strength with equal skill.  She is truly believable as all facets of the character, helping to make Diana a rounded character and her growth believable. This is a star making performance.  Chris Pine also carries a heavy load, playing both the second lead, the love interest, and the comic relief.  He shines without ever taking the focus off of the title character.  Their chemistry together is great.  The rest of the cast is great as well, especially Robin Wright as Antiope.

There are flaws, especially at the end when it falls into the same sort of trap that many superhero movies, like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, do. For most of its runtime it is fresh and enjoyable, but its final battle descends into incoherence and pointless CGI.  It really isn’t any worse than the ends of similar movies, but the fall is further.

It is frankly ridiculous that it took this long in the modern superhero era to get one starring a woman.  (Yes, I know Supergirl exists, but it is far from modern, while Catwoman and Elektra are far from heroes) It is not like there haven’t been opportunities, with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow being the glue that holds together a lot of the MCU but never getting her own starring role.  It has also been positioned as the savior of the critically floundering DCUE.  That put a lot of pressure on Wonder Woman to succeed and I am glad to say it did. It is a very good movie without any knowledge of outside factors, knowing those factors only makes its success all the sweeter. Wonder Woman is likely not the best movie I am going to see this year, but it was very good.

*****

What I Watched May 2017

Movies

Baywatch – read review here. **

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – read review here.  ***

War Machine – A satire of the US’s handling of the war in Afghanistan that can’t maintain a consistent tone. Still, there are scenes when it is spot on; the movie is just too inconsistent. **1/2

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – read review here.  ****1/2

Small Crimes – I kind of really hated this movie.  It is a bleak look at bad people doing bad things until it costs them.  Like a Coen Brothers movie without the humor.  *1/2

The Handmaiden – A mind bending thriller with a couple thieves looking to steal an heiress fortune, but who’s conning who?  It is amazing. *****

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery – read reviewish thing here.  *****

Coin Heist – a group of private school kids plan a heist to save their school after the Superintendent embezzled all the schools money.  It has a decent sense of character and plot, but it isn’t anything mind blowing.  ***

Casting JonBenet – Kind of a strange documentary that covers the death of JonBenet Ramsay by pretending to cast for a movie about the killing and asking local residents what they know or think about it.  It is an interesting experiment at the very least. ***

Take the 10 – Two punky young men do whatever it takes to go to a concert. I guess it is a comedy, but I never laughed.  *1/2

Handsome: A Netflix Murder Mystery – This feels like a TV movie, in a good way.  It is the simplest premise; it is just a murder mystery comedy. It is a detective investigating a crime, with jokes and the mystery given equal weight.  I loved it. ***1/2

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – read review here. ****

Tramps – A nothing kind of indie movie about small time crooks doing a very small time crime and maybe falling in love.  Ehhh. **

Mindhorn – This was a fun one. In the 90’s Richard Thorncroft was the star of a popular detective show, Mindhorn, but since then his star has fallen. When a delusion murder suspect wants to talk to Detective Mindhorn, Richard tried to use it as a springboard to return to fame. It is mostly jokes about how forgotten and delusional Richard is. I found it very charming. ****

Sahara – A middling animated movie about a couple of snakes. A rich snake girl and a snake boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The rest is as interesting and original as that.  **

Blame! – A 3D anime movie about the far future when humanity has created a super-advanced city but that city stopped recognizing them as residents and killed most of them. A couple of newcomers to an enclave of survivors starts a desperate attempt to wrest control of the city back.  It is fine.  ***1/2

Burning Sands – A ponderous look at hazing in specifically black fraternities, though it doesn’t seem especially different from any other fraternity.  I did not like or enjoy it, but I am not sure it is bad. It is just not for me.  **

The Most Hated Woman in America – This is a biopic about the life, and mostly the death, of Madeline Murray O’Hair, the woman who got prayer banned in school.  It is tonally all over the place, playing large parts for comedy in a movie that ends (spoilers for real life) with her and her son and granddaughter being murdered.  It’s just not very good.  *1/2

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl – Still a genuinely great swashbuckler.  It works some kind of miracle and gets just about everything right. I’ll have more to say in the near future.  *****

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – Much more ambitious than its predecessor and it starts to sag under that ambition.  Still, it is a largely enjoyable affair.  Again, more soon.  ****

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – There is something in how just go for broke this movie is that I can’t help but enjoy it.  Again, more soon. ***½

TV

The Crown – This is a sumptuously produced Netflix show that doesn’t really have a point. It shows the early years in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. It is all well done, but the story being told is simply not all that interesting.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt S3 – Kimmy Schmidt is still generally really great, though its problems remain consistent. Every episode still feels like a 30 minute episode designed to be edited down to a 22 minute one. Each episode has some dead spots or jokes that miss, keeping it from ascending to the lofty heights of greats like 30 Rock or Arrested Development. Still, the show remains hilarious.

Master of None S2 – One thing holding me back from loving this most recent season of Kimmy Schmidt is that it hit Netflix just after this. Master of None’s second season might be the best season of a TV show I’ve seen this year. It is still funny, but show creators Aziz and Alan Yang also brought the heart this season. It deals intelligently with real issues and layers on references to various film genres while still telling jokes. Episodes like “Religion” and “Thanksgiving” are some of the best of any show I’ve seen this year. This show is just so good.

Fargo S3 – I still have faith that Noah Hawley will bring this altogether in the end, but so far this series has felt a little slight compared to the last two. Thematically interesting, well-acted and well shot, but it seems to be moving at a snail’s pace. Up until this last week it still felt like we were in the rising action, even though we are past the middle of the season. I love to watch this show set up dominoes, but I also love to watch them fall down. It feels like we are running out time. Still, each episode has been really good.

Riverdale – The first season of this came to a close and it was very good. Real nonsense, but highly enjoyable nonsense. It does a great job of capturing the Archie characters and putting them in a heightened reality where the strange is more than possible. It is the perfect kind of trash.

Superhero Shows – I’ve got a full post about this year’s superhero shows coming up soon.

Now Playing in May 2017

Beaten

Disney Afternoon Collection –

I didn’t precisely beat this.  In fact, I didn’t finish any of the games in this 6 game collection, but I have played it enough to feel like I’ve had my fun.  Maybe when I have a shorter docket of games to play or maybe just some Saturday when I feel like plowing through DuckTales 2 I’ll get back to it, but for now I’m done.  This is more excellent work from Digital Eclipse.  Just like with the terrific Mega Man Legacy Collection, the Disney Afternoon Collection takes six NES game and emulates them perfectly on modern systems, along with bringing in a lot of encyclopedic material to complement the package. The games themselves are not quite as uniform as Mega Man. DuckTales and DuckTales 2 are upper echelon NES games, true classics. Rescue Rangers and Rescue Rangers 2 are fine games, really as good as can be expected from licensed games.  Darkwing Duck is too hard to be fun, which is unfortunate because there is a lot to like about it.  And Talespin is an interesting failed experiment.  It is an attempt to combine a shmup with a platformer that doesn’t really work.  It just isn’t fun to play.  Still, the game is interesting enough that I don’t mind its inclusion here.  I don’t like these games as much as the Mega Man ones from MMLC, this is the kind of retro compilation I hope we get more of; ones that really work to provide some accuracy and context for the games instead of just slapping 60 or so ROMS on a disc and calling it a day.

Dragon Quest VIII – read about it here.  Confession: I didn’t actually beat it.  I’ve got a couple of hours left, but I really didn’t want to play it anymore.

Super Mario 64 – read about it here.

Ongoing

The Last Guardian – I don’t know that The Last Guardian is going to go down with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus as one of the most important and striking video game experiences I’ve ever had, but I can’t imagine it finishes much off that list.  There is something special about Fumito Ueda’s games.

Persona 5 – This was my second most anticipated game of the year, after Breath of the Wild.  But with the comedown off of that game, along with a loss of free time, has kind of prevented me from really digging into this like I would have liked.  I’ve just cleared the first dungeon and am finally getting into the swing of things.  It is good.  I don’t know that I like the cast as much as Persona 4’s, at least not initially.  To be honest, Persona 4 is one of my favorite games of the last 10 or so years and the long wait between it and Persona 5 does the game no favors.  I don’t think it could ever live up to my expectations, largely due to reasons that have nothing to do with the game.  It’s been almost 10 years since Persona 4 came out; I am not the same person I was back then and I am not in the same place to really fall in love with this game.  I like to think I’ve matured, at least somewhat, and this series hasn’t. I don’t really think it should.  It is not a problem for a game to be aimed at 15-25 year olds just because I am no longer in that age group. I will always have the memories of being absolutely engrossed by Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 in 2007-2008, and today’s kids deserve to get that same kind of experience from Persona 5.  I guess I’ll just have to appreciate it from an aesthetic and mechanical standpoint.

Fire Emblem Echoes – 

I am burning through this pretty fast; I should have it done by the end of the weekend.  It is a hard game to articulate my feelings for.  The things it does well it does very well, but the things it does poorly it does very poorly.  I think I like it better than the previous 3DS games – which are very good – but I don’t think there is a single map in this game I will remember.  I’ll have a full post before too long.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island – I’ve cleared the first world, which is close to as far as I’ve ever made it in this game.  I’ve got to be honest, I’ve always felt the Yoshi’s Island games were inferior to regular Mario games.  People told me that the original Yoshi’s Island would change that, but since it has never grabbed me enough to get me to finish it I doubt that.  This time isn’t changing my mind so far.

Lufia 2 – At some point I am going to knuckle down and finish playing this, instead of fiddling with it in fits and starts.

Upcoming

Yakuza 0 – This might be me being optimistic, but assuming I finished up The Last Guardian (which should happen as soon as this weekend) and Persona 5 (could take years) I am anxious to get back into this.

Super Mario Sunshine – I’ve got to get access to my Wii to get this going, but I can’t wait for a new Mario experience as I play through the whole series.  This, Lost Levels and New Super Mario Bros are the only ones I haven’t really played.

Terranigma – I promise.

Xeodrifter – This was on deep discount, so I picked it up and as soon as I finish with Fire Emblem.