Saturday, September 14, 2019

Megamind


What if Lex Luthor actually defeated Superman? That is the question Dreamworks Animation sought to answer with Megamind, the studios’ satirical take on the superhero genre, back in late 2010. Unfortunately, the trailers didn’t do much to incentivize me to see it in theaters at the time, so I didn’t actually gain an interest in watching it until about recently about nine years after the initial release, when Megamind was suddenly in vogue for internet culture. While it’s not a perfect film, I now wonder why it took so long for me to see it.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Metal Wolf Chaos XD


If you hadn’t heard of Metal Wolf Chaos before, no one would blame you. The game, developed by FromSoftware of Armored Core and Souls fame, was originally released in 2004 as an Xbox-exclusive, but never made it outside of Japan. Its increasing cult status would eventually warrant a remaster, named Metal Wolf Chaos XD, courtesy of Devolver Digital. Now, nearly 15 years later, Americans finally have the chance to play what is perhaps the most American game ever made. While I was excited to play it and enjoyed my time with it, I have to admit it’s certainly rough around the edges.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Review Hub - Animated Movies


While animation as a medium and art form had been experimented with since the early 1900s, animated shorts would eventually see their way to becoming a popular form of entertainment attached to film screenings (long before the advent of television). The art of the animated short arguably became a lot more popular with the debut of the classic Mickey Mouse short Steamboat Willie in 1929, though Walt Disney had begun to sow the seeds for this runaway success (and entertainment juggernaut) with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1927. Though animation had proven itself in the short form, Disney would prove the medium's potential as long form entertainment with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Though the success of Walt Disney's efforts helped spur the medium forward, animation lives on in the efforts of several major and independent studios, with its full potential as a powerful means of visual storytelling still being explored to this day.

Below is a list of links to every animated movie/short review on this blog, sorted in alphabetical order and by company where applicable (links to alternative reviews are listed next to the main link in parentheses).

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Second Look - Catherine


Note: The following review contains spoilers for Catherine.

In 2011, Atlus, developer behind the Megami Tensei series and Persona sub-series, released an odd-sounding game called Catherine in 2011, which detailed the story of a man going through an affair, with some block puzzles mixed in. The ideas presented in the trailers intrigued me and the result turned out be more interesting than I expected. Eight years later, a re-release with extra content dubbed Catherine: Full Body was announced, among its new features being a new character that leads to new story paths. While the game is already out in its native Japan, the announcement of the English version’s release date led me to play the original game again, both to see how it holds up and to have a comparison point for the Full Body version. After playing the game three times to view multiple endings, I can say that the game is just as good as I remembered it being, though it doesn’t quite hold up as well in some areas.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Stubs - The African Queen


The African Queen (1951) Starring Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel. Directed by John Huston. Screenplay by Peter Viertel, John Collier. Adapted for the screen by James Agee, John Huston. Based on the novel The African Queen by C. S. Forester (London, 1935). Produced by Sam Spiegel. Run time: 106 minutes. United States/United Kingdom Color. Romance, Drama, War, Adventure

There has been a long history of directors working with particular actors. Arguably, one of the best well-known is the teaming of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart. Their first film together, The Maltese Falcon (1941), can be seen as setting the tone for Film Noir, finally cementing Bogart as a star and showing Hollywood that John was something more than just the son of actor Walter Huston.  They would go on to make four films together, including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Beat the Devil (1953), and The African Queen, which finally won Bogart the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Their friendship is fairly storied and the two enjoyed working together and playing practical jokes on each other on the set. However, it is reported that it was his co-star Katharine Hepburn who recommended Bogart for the lead role. Producer Sam Spiegel sent her the book and she felt Bogart "was the only man who could have played that part.” The chance to work with Huston again and the chance to work with Hepburn was more than enough to interest Bogart in the project. But prior to him, the film was considered as a vehicle for Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton. David Niven and Paul Henreid were also looked at for the lead.

Though the book was written in 1935, Warner Bros. didn’t buy the rights to it until 1946. John Collier wrote the first screenplay adaptation in 1949, which supposedly adhered closely to the book. With plans to produce it himself, Collier than bought the rights to the book and the screenplay from Warner Bros. But instead of making the film, he sold the rights to Horizon Enterprises, which was co-owned by Huston and Spiegel.

The production itself would be legendary. Hepburn would write her own account in The Making of “The African Queen,” or How I Went to Africa with Bogie, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind. In 1953, writer Paul Viertel published the book White Hunter, Black Heart, a thinly fictionalized account of his experience writing the script for The African Queen with Huston. The book follows the exploits of a tyrannical director who stalls the production of his African-set film by obsessively hunting an elephant. The book would be made into a film in 1990 by Clint Eastwood and starred Eastwood and Jeff Fahey.

The film was made partly on location in Africa, which was quite a feat at the time, especially considering they were using rather bulky Technicolor cameras. Production got underway in late May and continued until mid-August 1951 at the Isleworth Studios, London. The film would open in Los Angeles on December 26, 1951, so it could qualify for the Academy Awards, and open nationwide on March 21, 1952.

Katharine Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, the sister of a British Methodist missionary (Robert Morley) in German Africa.

The film is set in September 1914 in German East Africa at the beginning of World War I. The action opens in the village of Kungdu, where British Reverend Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) and his spinster sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn) lead prayers at the makeshift First Methodist Church.  While the natives struggle to follow the English-language psalm, they race outside when they hear Canadian Charlie Allnut's (Humphrey Bogart) ancient launch the African Queen chug into the village laden with mail and goods.

Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) is warmly greeted by the natives in the village of Kungdu.

Though conscious of his lower social standing than the Sayers, Charlie lunches with them. They have to delicately ignore his loud rumbling stomach. Before leaving, he informs them about the encroaching war in Europe, and although the Sayers are frightened by the news, they refuse to desert the village.

Though they are of different social tiers, the Sayers invite Charlie to have lunch with them.

However, hours later, German troops invade Kungdu, imprison the natives and burn down the huts. By the time the smoke clears, Samuel has begun to lose his mind from shock and grief. He soon collapses, unintentionally wounding Rose by raving that their attraction to missionary work grew out of a lack of more attractive social options.

Charlie returns the next day and he finds Samuel dead and helps Rose bury him. She then accepts Charlie's offer to hide from the Germans on his boat. Once they are on the river, Charlie explains to her that the Germans have positioned a heavily armed steamer, the Louisa, at the mouth of Lake Tanganyika to block British troops. He tells her that the Germans even had to dismantle the boat and carry it overland to the Lake.

Rose almost immediately forms a plan to attack the Louisa by crafting torpedoes out of explosives and oxygen tanks, strapping them to the African Queen and ramming into the steamer. Charlie tries desperately to dissuade her, describing the German fort and impassable rapids they will have to face along the way, but Rose's determination eventually shames him into agreeing to the plan.

After they set sail, Charlie teaches Rose how to read the river, and they negotiate how to bathe in private. That night, a pouring rain forces Charlie to seek shelter under Rose's tarpaulin, and after at first banishing him, Rose softens and allows him to sleep near her.

The African Queen nears a set of rapids.

The next day, they reach the first set of rapids and Charlie hopes that the death-defying experience will frighten Rose. But his hopes are dashed when she proclaims it the most stimulating physical experience she has ever had.

Charlie drinks gin while Rose drinks tea.

That night, a frustrated Charlie taps into his gin reserves. Drunk, he rants that he will not sail any farther, calling Rose a "skinny old maid." He awakes the next morning to find Rose pouring his gin bottles into the river. Hours later, he begs her to speak to him and she finally reveals that it is his refusal to sail which has infuriated her.

Rose dumps out all of Charlie's gin while he helplessly looks on.

Charlie quickly backs down, agreeing to accompany her while still doubting their chances for success. Their first obstacle is the German fort he spoke about that overlooks the river. The soldiers open fire on the African Queen, hitting the engine. Charlie, however, manages to repair it and they sail on and get out of the line of fire.

Their joy at surviving the rapids turns romantic.

Almost immediately, however, they reach another set of rapids. Rose struggles to steer while Charlie races to keep the engine stoked, and although they are badly pummeled, they miraculously reach calm waters. Thrilled, Charlie and Rose fall into an embrace which quickly becomes romantic. When they declare their love, they finally learn each other's first name.

They then sail peacefully past exotic flora and fauna until they hit a waterfall, which damages the rudder. Although Charlie despairs, Rose devises a plan to weld a new rudder. For every problem Charlie can think they might have with the repair, Rose thinks of a solution. She even gets into the water to help Charlie get the old rudder off. A few days later, the boat is fixed and on its way.

Together, Rose and Charlie fashion a new rudder for the African Queen.

Just miles down the river, they are attacked by a horde of mosquitoes, which terrifies Rose and forces them to stay in open water. Within days, they become lost in the stagnant shallows as thick reeds bog down the boat. Charlie has to get into the water and pull the African Queen through the reeds.

When he finally gets back on board, he finds leeches covering his body, and even though he is shaking with revulsion, he instructs Rose to use salt on them rather than pull them out. Still reeling, he must return to the water to keep the boat moving. Hours later, they’re stuck on land. Charlie is feverish and tells Rose they may not make it, but that he loves her. They both collapse into sleep.

Feverish, Charlie confesses to Rose that they might not reach their goal.

During the night, a fresh rain upstream raises the water level and sweeps the launch downstream onto Lake Tanganyika. When they awaken, they find the Louisa only miles away, and are forced to retreat into the reeds to hide. By the next day, they have discerned the ship's sailing pattern and they make the African Queen ready. Not only do Charlie and Rose make the torpedoes, but they scrub and polish the boat for its last mission.

Charlie figures out the fuse for the torpedoes.

They set out that night on their attack, but a sudden storm capsizes the launch and Rose and Charlie are separated in the dark.

The next day, Charlie is imprisoned by the Germans and, not wanting to live without Rose, accepts his sentence of hanging. Just then, however, Rose is brought in, and when she hears that Charlie is to be killed, proudly admits their whole scheme to the soldiers.

Before they're to be hanged, Charlie and Rose are married by the German ship's captain (Peter Bull).

Before they are hanged, though, Charlie requests that the captain (Peter Bull) marry them, and just as the service ends, the African Queen surfaces, hits the Louisa and explodes. The German boat goes down and Charlie and Rose manage to escape. Floating together in the water, the newlyweds see the boat's nameplate floating by and realize that their plan has succeeded after all. Happily, and singing, they swim together towards the shore.


After the African Queen sinks the Louisa, Charlie and Rose swim away to safety.

During the filming, Hepburn and Humphrey develop a great rapport and that shows on the screen. Even though Bogart couldn’t manage an English-accent, forcing them to change Charlie’s nationality, he does a really good job as Allnut. This allows him to show a range. No longer the gangster or a true romantic lead, Bogart shows himself to be a fine actor and not just a movie star. The role would earn Bogart his only Academy Award of his long and esteemed career.

The film is essentially a two-person show and Hepburn gives a fine performance herself as Rose.  Bogart is only as good as he is because he has an equal acting partner in Hepburn. The trip down the river in the African Queen is as much a journey of discovery for Rose as she goes from the virginal sister of the missionary into a woman discovering both her emotional and, yes, sexual self. She would also receive a nomination for her performance.

Robert Morely makes a brief appearance as Rose's brother and Methodist minister. His part was all shot in the studio and he did not make the trip to Africa. His role is small though important, however, he doesn't really bring anything more than name recognition to the role.

The film would also receive nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay for both James Agee and John Huston as well as one for Huston as Best Director. The film also did well at the box-office, making over $10.75 million on a budget of $1 million. The film has had legs and often lands in the top 100 films of all time in many polls.

This is definitely one of those classic films that everyone should watch. The film is unusual given the star power of the leads and the strong performances they give despite the hardships of filming. Much of this is done on location, which would be difficult at best but both give top-notch performances. The action is good as the couple grow closer and have to fight the dangers of the jungle to achieve their goal. I can’t say enough good things about the film and would highly recommend it.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled


Prior to the start of development on the Jak and Daxter series for the PS2, developer Naughty Dog managed to revisit Crash Bandicoot one last time, this time a kart racer called Crash Team Racing for the original PlayStation. Humorously, this pattern of three main entries followed up with a kart racer would be repeated with Jak and Daxter in the form of Jak X: Combat Racing. Though Crash Bandicoot continued on beyond the original Naughty Dog games, there would still be further kart racing games in the series on multiple platforms. Following the release of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy from developer Vicarious Visions in 2017, a similar remaster/remake treatment would be announced for Crash Team Racing by developer Beenox, rounding out the original Naughty Dog series. After having played the game for a while after launch, I found the overall experience enjoyable, though not without some serious caveats regarding post-launch content.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Atlantis: The Lost Empire


When I first saw Atlantis: The Lost Empire in the theater as a kid in 2001, I remembered liking it, however I had missed the first few minutes due to arriving a little late; this small gap was filled in when I saw it again on DVD in 2002, which turned out to provide some additional context to the story. I had not thought about watching the movie again until a couple years ago, when I took a Quick Sketching class with Disney animator Ron Husband, who was the supervising animator for the character Dr. Joshua Sweet (Husband’s other Disney animation work also includes the goat Djali in The Hunchback of Notre Dame). It was also through that class that I learned legendary comic book artist and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola was involved in Atlantis’ production and his art was the inspiration for its art direction, which got me more curious about seeing it again. It wasn’t until recently that I actually got around to re-watching Atlantis, upon which I had begun to appreciate it more after a 17-year gap in viewings.