Friday, November 30, 2018

A Celebration of 900 Reviews

Below is a list of links to every review from 801-900, broken up every 25 links for easy navigation. Each review will also be color-coded as such: MovieVideo Game.

1-300: A Celebration of 300 Reviews
301-400: A Celebration of 400 Reviews
401-500: A Celebration of 500 Reviews
501-600: A Celebration of 600 Reviews
601-700: A Celebration of 700 Reviews
701-800: A Celebration of 800 Reviews

801. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
803. Predator
814. 36 Hours
825. Twins

827. Undertale
833. Coco
842. Lady Bird
844. Clueless

851. Shrek
852. Shrek 2
854. Early Man
858. Sky High
868. Moss

880. Dumbo
885. Aladdin
887. Coraline
889. Doctor X
890. Get Out
893. Conflict
900. Starlink: Battle for Atlas

Movies: 79 (607 Total)
Video Games: 21 (248 Total)
Comic Books: 0 (27 Total)
DLC: 0 (18 Total)

Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Switch)

When Starlink: Battle for Atlas was initially announced at E3, the concept of a toys-to-life game with starships sounded interesting to me since the genre seemed to somewhat stagnate and it seemed like a refreshing idea. Some time later, it was announced that the Nintendo Switch version would get exclusive content based on Star Fox, including a Fox McCloud pilot figure and a starship based on the Arwing. I decided to go for this version if only because I didn’t want to feel like I was missing anything, at the cost of a few physical items from the PS4 and XB1 versions that became digital items in the Switch Starter Pack, as well as needing an excuse to use the system (and also despite not having played a Star Fox game before). Despite a couple minor inconveniences, I found the game to show some promise and be a welcome addition to the toys-to-life genre.

In the Atlas star system, the mothership of Starlink, the Equinox, is attacked by a group known as the Forgotten Legion. After a crash-landing, the members of Starlink repair the Equinox and go in search of their leader Victor St. Grand, who has been kidnapped by Legion leader Grax. Grax, meanwhile, desires to harvest the element known as Nova in hopes of being able to rule over Atlas.

The story has a generally good pace to it, featuring a fair amount of world-building that shows promise for any future endeavors with the IP. Additional world-building can be found when completing side missions and exploring more of the world, indicating that the world of Starlink was well thought-out and can make you want to learn more about it.

The graphics are really good, even when playing through the Switch’s mobile mode, though the experience is much better on a full TV screen. Care is taken to present each planet with lush environments that range from bright and colorful to dismal and saturated, including effective use of smoke and dust effects to indicate areas under Legion rule. Planets also feel much different from each other thanks to a variety of weather effects, making it easier to remember what you have and haven’t done yet on each world. Each planet can also be fully explored, allowing players to seemingly discover something new with each visit. The music is also good, though sadly not all of it stood out to me; that said, some menu tracks and the track that plays when using Fox McCloud’s pilot ability (more on that later) will certainly stick with you.

Contents of the Switch version of the Starter Pack.

The main selling point of the game is its usage of starships for the toys-to-life functionality rather than what had been seen in games such as Skylanders or Disney Infinity. Each of these ships is customizable to where you can swap out weapons and wings on the fly, plus you can even adjust who is piloting the ship. Each of these is represented though physical toys that connect to a special controller mount included in the Starter Pack, with the mount being specially designed for each system to accommodate the differing controllers. Each pilot also has their own timed special ability that can be activated with a shoulder button, such as Fox McCloud being able to summon backup from the other members of Star Fox, so who you chose for the pilot can be important depending on your playstyle.

That said, there have been some reported connectivity issues that can occur, though this is random and depends on the figure. I personally had an issue with the Arwing’s left wing not reading properly after a few days, which was fixed by exchanging the Starter Pack I purchased with another one at the store I bought it from; the second one works just fine, though I got a warranty on it to be safe. The game can also be played entirely digitally and toys (including the Starter Pack) can be purchased on digital storefronts, however this is something to look out for for those (like me) that prefer playing with the physical toys. On a related note, attaching toys to the mount or starship unlocks the toy for digital use, though you cannot use physical and digital together. Additionally, while you have the option to purchase everything digitally, Target and GameStop each sell their own exclusive Starship Packs (each of which includes one of the Starlink pilots available in the individual $8 Pilot Packs), both of which are physical only.

The choice of weapons you equip to your starship can make a lot of difference. The game comes with a Fire and Ice weapon (plus a physical Kinetic weapon in the PS4/XB1 versions), which you will likely be using the most as you come across a lot of enemies that can only be damaged by the opposite type of weaponry (this rule also applies to things you find on each planet such as Canisters and Corrupted Nova, which can also tie into other mechanics). The late game also introduces Gravity elements that can require the usage of Stasis weaponry, the only one of which to be released is the Levitator; while Gravity enemies can be hurt by Fire, Ice and even Kinetic weaponry, Gravity Corrupted Nova and some Warden Spires (more on that later) absolutely require this weapon, which can only be found in the Neptune Starship Pack that also includes the character Judge, necessitating a $25 purchase on top of the Starter Pack just to get 100% completion. Thankfully Gravity weapons, which are also needed in certain situations, are far easier to come by, available in $10 Weapon Packs as well as Starship Packs, allowing more options for budget players. As a side note, Starships typically need weapons equipped in order to attack, however the Arwing comes equipped with Laser Cannons straight out of the Star Fox series that can be used in their place if needed.

The Arwing's Laser Cannons in action.

Upgrading your ship or weapons can be done using Mods, which are surprisingly easy to obtain. Mods can be earned by defeating the right enemies or completing certain tasks, or even by searching around Warden Spires (more on that later) and provide a number of benefits to suit one’s playstyle. Weapon Mods include abilities such as reduced cooldown times or extra range (among numerous other things) and come in varying levels of effectiveness; some are also made to go with specific types of weapons. Ship Mods are similar, providing upgrades such as increased defenses or resistance to certain elements to name a few. Some also go with specific ships, such as a special set of Mods in the Switch version made for the Arwing that provide extra power to the Laser Cannons.

During the game, alliances will need to be forged on each planet, one way to do so being the creation, upgrading and interactions with Outposts that do various tasks such as revealing more of the world map or engineering Mods. Outposts can be upgraded (up to twice each) by paying enough currency or giving them certain collectibles found in each world. The two main forms of currency in the game are Electrum and Nova, the first of which can be found a lot more easily. Electrum is usually spent on things such as upgrading the Equinox or building/upgrading Outposts (another type of Outpost can even generate more Electrum for you). Nova is used for a similar purpose, though it’s usually obtained upon completing certain objectives such as decoding crashed ships or taking down Extractors. Upon death, one can either keep going by attaching another ship to the Mount or respawning at another point on the map, though the latter option also costs Electrum to do so and will reset progress on Primes.

Primes and Extractors are the primary forces of the Legion and their presence determines how much control they have over a planet. Primes take the form of giant mechanical monstrosities whose difficulty in defeating varies by planet, though defeating one can net you a Prime Core that you can exchange at an Outpost to upgrade it faster. Extractors mine Electrum from planets and destroying them reduces control over a planet, while defeating a Prime erases Legion influence completely (though any outstanding Extractors still remain). The presence of certain enemies can make taking down either of these harder, especially if defeating those enemies is the condition for exposing an Extractors weak spot, though the rewards can be worth the effort.

Weapons appear in real time upon being attached to the toy starship.

Each planet usually contains a couple of Warden Spires, each of which has an assortment of Mods and Electrum hidden within them. Opening them requires solving a sort of puzzle, for which specific weapon types are required. Most of them can be opened with the Fire and Ice weapons included with every Starter Pack, however some require the usage of Gravity or Stasis weapons, the latter of which especially necessitates an extra purchase to complete. The general area is also usually packed with an assortment of Mods hidden inside chests, so exploration is encouraged.

While Skylanders had included guest characters by way of explanation through character bios (and the special Crash Bandicoot level in Imaginators), the story of Starlink goes out of its way to include the Star Fox cast in the Switch version through a special addition to the opening cutscene that introduces Fox McCloud, who convinces Star Fox that Starlink needs all the help they can get. Fox McCloud also gets special interactions with the regular Starlink cast, plus the Star Fox cast is included in a handful of cutscenes in a way that's non-intrusive to the plot, yet makes them feel like part of the adventure. There is additionally a special Star Fox mission track, in which Star Fox must stop Wolf O’Donnell of Star Wolf from using the power of the Primes on Corneria, a location in the Star Fox series. As I am unfamiliar with the franchise, I cannot say how well this represents Star Fox as a whole, although I can say that it seemed to give me a good idea of the characters and their relationships to one another.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a refreshing new take on the stagnating toys-to-life genre. The use of what are essentially playable model ships is an interesting and well-executed concept, even with the connectivity issues that plague specific units. The gameplay is generally solid and the graphics bring life into every planet, which makes you want to explore further. Fans of other toys-to-life games, particularly those that have stopped updating with any major releases, may want to give this one a shot as it provides what you need to scratch that collectible itch. Fans of Star Fox may be more easily attracted to the Switch version (for obvious reasons), though your choice of platform ultimately comes down to personal preference.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Stubs - A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born (2018) Starring Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott. Directed by Bradley Cooper. Screenplay by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters. Based on A Star Is Born by A Star is Born (1937): William A. Wellman, Robert Carson (Story); A Star is Born (1954): Moss Hart (Screenplay); A Star is Born (1976): John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion, Frank Pierson (Screenplay). Produced by Bradley Cooper, Bill Gerber, Lynette Howell Taylor, Jon Peters, Todd Phillips Run Time: 135 minutes. USA Color Drama, Musical, Romantic

One of the most remade stories in Hollywood, which loves a remake, is A Star is Born. It is to the credit of the filmmakers that all the versions have been something of a success. The original version won an Academy Award for Best Story, the first remake provided a comeback for Judy Garland and was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, the second remake turned it from breaking into the movies to music, with then-popular Barbara Streisand, and won several Academy Awards and now a new version is out, which apparently follows the 1976 blueprint fairly closely.

Though there had been many casting announcements, the new film stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, the latter of which is making his directorial debut. And with the other films, this newest version is a well-made film as well.

The story is, as it always is, a male star on the decline discovers an unknown talent who rises quickly to stardom and eventually eclipses her mentor, who continues his decline, eventually ending his life.

Lady Gaga makes her film debut as the lead in A Star is Born (2018)

Lady Gaga, who makes her film debut in the leading role of Ally, the unknown singer, seems to have found a role that perfectly fits her talent. We all know that she can sing and her acting, which had been mostly limited to television, shows that she has dramatic chops as well.

Bradley Cooper, who surprises me with his musical abilities, plays Jackson, a performer who has a large following (we see sold-out shows), lots of money and a huge drug and alcohol addiction problem. He plucks Ally from obscurity and gives her the confidence she needs to succeed. Cooper is not a surprise as an actor as he has put in several good performances prior. I’m not sure how much of a test of his directing skills this film is, not that he doesn’t do a good job but he’s chosen a film with a well-established blueprint to follow.

Andrew Dice Clay give a good performance as Lorenzo.

There are some other good performances as well, including Andrew Dice Clay, who continues to impress in supporting roles. Here he is Lorenzo, Ally’s father, a chauffeur-driving-wannabe-singer. Dave Chappelle shows up as a childhood friend of Jack’s. He’s good but the part sort of comes out of nowhere and then disappears again.

Sam Elliott plays Jack’s brother and tour manager, Bobby. Elliott is one of those actors that always seems to bring his A-game. He is solid once again in this latest A Star Is Born.

While I am unfamiliar with Anthony Ramos's work, he does a really fine job as Ramon, Ally's friend from before she was a star, who is sort of like a touchstone for her throughout.

Also good is Rafi Gavron, who plays Rez Gavron, a music manager and promoter who takes Ally's career to a new level and also manages to further drive Jack in his downward descent. I've never seen Gavron before but he does have a good screen presence.

Jack (Bradley Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga) star as lovers on different career projections.

If I have any complaints, it would be with the screenplay. I can see why Ally would be attracted to the lifestyle but I'm not really sure why she falls in love with Jack, a very flawed man, other than the screenplay says so. There are also some actions that seem a little out of left field but you can overlook these given the other performances.

Anthony Ramos, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Lady Gaga and Dave Chappelle
all give strong performances in A Star is Born (2018)

For a film with a well-trodden past, the new A Star is Born does a very good job of retelling an all too familiar story. Lady Gaga, more than anyone, impresses and proves that she will no doubt have a film career if she wants one. Cooper shows a lot of promise for working behind the camera but I would like to see him take on a project that is less well known.

Overall, I would recommend A Star Is Born and expect it to do well when Awards season rolls around. If nothing else, it will most likely get a Best Song nomination.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Stubs - While the City Sleeps

While The City Sleeps (1956) Starring: Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, Sally Forrest, John Drew Barrymore, James Craig, Ida Lupino. Directed by Fritz Lang.  Screenplay by Casey Robinson. Based on the novel The Bloody Spur by Charles Einstein (New York, 1953). Produced by Bert Friedlob Runtime: 99 minutes. USA. Black and White. Drama Film Noir

One of the interesting things about Film Noir is that it is not really a genre but more of a sub-genre of films. This can lead to the label being applied to films that you might not, on the surface, think of as film noir; case study, While the City Sleeps.

Independent film producer Bert Friedlob bought the rights to Charles Einstein’s book The Bloody Spur, suspense thriller/detective tale, with the idea of making it into a film. The purchase and intention were announced in The Hollywood Reporter in May 1954. With a screenplay by Casey Robinson, the film went into production in June 1955. Originally called News is Made at Night, the film was originally set to be distributed by United Artists. However, Friedlob sold the film to RKO for a profit of $500,000. After a New York premiere on May 16, 1956, the film went into wide release on May 30.

The killer, Robert (John Drew Barrymore) sees his first target.

Set in New York City, like any good film noir, the film opens with a murder. While drugstore employee Robert Manners (John Drew Barrymore) is delivering a package to Judith Fenton’s (Sandy White) apartment, he sees that she is about to take a bath, so he surreptitiously unlocks her door, then hides outside. The building janitor, George Pilski (Vladimir Sokoloff), is there and plans to come back after she leaves on her date to finish his repair. He tells her that he can use his passkey.

However, as soon as he’s gone, Robert re-enters and strangles the young woman, leaving the message “Ask Mother” scrawled in lipstick on the wall.

The first victim, Judith Fenton (Sandy White).

When ailing media mogul Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick) receives word about the murder, he summons New York Sentinel editor John Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell), newspaper photographer Harry Kritzer (James Craig) and Kyne wire services head Mark Loving (George Sanders). He also summons his favorite employee, former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and novelist Ed Mobley (Dana Andrews), who now headlines a television program on Amos’ local station. After chastising the men for failing to pick up on the story earlier, Amos instructs them to label the murderer “The Lipstick Killer” and for Griffiths to make the case front-page news.

Media mogul, Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick) orders his top three men, Kyne wire services head Mark Loving (George Sanders), Sentinel editor John Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell), and the head of photography Harry Kritzer (James Craig) to get to the bottom of the woman's murder.

After the editors leave, Amos confides to Ed that he has made two big mistakes in his life: spoiling his only son, Walter (Vincent Price), and not convincing Ed to take over his business. When Ed demurs that he does not want power, Amos reminds him that spearheading media outlets allows free speech to flourish and aids democracy. Just before Ed is set to go on the air, Amos collapses and dies. Ed goes on the air and broadcasts the news of Amos’ death.

 Ed Mobley (Dana Andrews) prepping for his television show.

No sooner has his father’s body been removed than Walter, an immature playboy with no understanding of the media takes control of the Kyne empire. Walter only knows Kritzer and is only meeting the other three for the first time. When he’s alone with Ed, Walter reveals that he has no desire to run the business and plans to force Griffith, Kritzer and Loving to compete for the position of executive editor, the man who will make all the decisions while he takes all of the credit.

Amos' son, Walter (Vincent Price) takes over after his father's death.

Each man realizes that scooping the story of The Lipstick Killer will make him a frontrunner for the executive position, and so turns to his office allies to help him in secret. Loving calls in his girlfriend, fashion columnist Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino), who advises him to collaborate with reporter Gerald Meade (Ralph Peters).

Meanwhile, John approaches Ed, his former reporter, in the Blue Dell, the bar downstairs from the office. Ed refuses to take sides, but at home later, his girlfriend, Nancy Liggett (Sally Forrest) who is Loving’s secretary, urges him to help John, and he agrees after she promises to marry him.

At the same time, Walter invites his old friend, Kritzer, to dinner, unaware that he is secretly having an affair with Walter’s wife Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming). Kritzer hopes she will convince Walter to promote him to the new position.

Walter’s wife Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming) is having an affair with Kritzer.

Later that night, John learns that an arrest has been made and asks Ed to get the details from his friend, police lieutenant Bert Kaufman (Howard Duff). Bert allows Ed to see some of the interrogation of Pilski, whose prints were found in Judith’s room, but Ed quickly surmises that Pilksi is innocent.

At first, police think building janitor George Pilski (Vladimir Sokoloff) killed Judith.

After another murder is reported, and a Strangler comic book left by the killer is discovered at the scene of the crime, Ed and Bert surmise that it must be the same murderer. Together, they devise a plan to use Nancy as bait. The plan is for Ed to insult the killer on television in order to incite him into acting rashly.

A copy of a Strangler comic book is found at a murder scene.

Meanwhile, Meade learns about Pilski’s arrest and tells Loving that the janitor is The Lipstick Killer. At the office, when Loving tells John and Walter that he is going to print the story, John points out that they may be committing libel since it’s unproven that Pilski is the killer. Walter is embarrassed by his lack of understanding of the term libel, and Loving is forced to kill the story.

Robert watches Ed, who calls him a "mama's boy."

Not long after, Ed addresses the killer directly on his broadcast, which Robert happens to be watching at home. Ed’s description of him as a “mama’s boy” hits home and infuriates Robert, who lashes out at his mother (Mae Marsh) for treating him like a girl during his childhood.

Robert takes out his frustration on his mother (Mae Marsh).

Ed, Bert, John, and Nancy meet at the bar, where Ed informs Nancy that they must use her as bait to trap the killer. After she learns that plainclothesman Michael O'Leary (Edward Hinton) will follow her everywhere, Nancy reluctantly agrees to the plan. To further draw out the killer and alert him to Nancy’s existence, Ed announces their engagement in the newspaper.

Loving senses that he is losing the competition and solicits Mildred to entice Ed to their side. When she resists he tells her that they’re all adults and that it won’t matter to him in the long run. That night, she joins Ed at the Blue Dell and, after encouraging him to drink excessively, invites him home.

At the same time, in the apartment that Dorothy keeps for trysts with Kritzer, she informs the photo editor that if she does convince Walter to promote him, Kritzer must, from then on, answer to her.
Robert is sent to Dorothy’s to deliver liquor, and when he spots her, is inflamed with lust. He does not have time to jimmy the door lock, as Kritzer finishes the transaction before he can. Upon leaving, he spies Nancy’s name outside her apartment, which happens to be across the hall.

Robert watches as Mildred (Ida Lupino) coaxes Ed out of the bar.

He rings the bell but, getting no answer, races to the Kyne building and spies Ed and Mildred in the Blue Dell. He is there when Mildred finally encourages Ed to leave with her.

Mildred hopes to take a drunken Ed home with her.

Despite Ed’s drunkenness, his loyalty to Nancy keeps him from making love to Mildred. That doesn’t stop Mildred from telling the whole office, including Nancy, about their supposed tryst the next morning. Naturally, Nancy breaks up with Ed.

After clinching a lucrative television contract, Loving celebrates his coup and assumes he has won the contest.

Still trying to get back with her, Ed tricks Nancy into meeting with him and Bert at the bar. But she’ll have no part of it and storms out. Robert sees his opportunity but backs off when he sees Michael is trailing her.

Meanwhile, Ed and Bert deduce that the killer will seek a new stimulus and thinking he might strike regardless of Michael’s presence, rush to Nancy’s apartment.

Robert can't get Nancy to open her door for him.

Their thinking was right. Michael, thinking Nancy will be safe in her apartment, has gone to get a bite to eat. Robert tries again to gain entrance but the door is locked. When he knocks, Nancy assumes it’s Ed and refuses to open the door for him. Robert’s attention is drawn once again to Dorothy, who comes out of her apartment to see what the commotion is. Robert follows her into her apartment and starts to chock Dorothy, though her screams alert Nancy, who takes Dorothy into her apartment when she escapes Robert’s grasp.

Robert tries to strangle Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming).

Robert flees just ahead of Ed and Bert pulling up outside. From her window, Nancy points to Robert and they pursue him. Robert runs to the subway and when he’s too late to get on the next train, starts running down the tunnel instead. Ed takes chase and manages to capture him without getting killed.

With Robert under arrest, Ed calls John with the scoop. John, in turn, sends Mildred over to Nancy’s apartment to learn the identity of the latest victim who is using the alias “Mrs. Charles Smith.” Mildred, of course, recognizes Dorothy when she arrives at the apartment building and Kritzer.

Mildred discovers that "Mrs. Charles Smith) is really Dorothy.

Rather than getting the story, the three of them work out a scheme to blackmail Walter, who will no doubt want to avoid the public humiliation of his wife’s affair.

Meanwhile, back at the office, John is celebrating his triumph when Kritzer arrives and demands to talk to Walter.

John thinks that getting the story will get him the promotion.

Later, Ed and John commiserate in the bar over Kritzer’s victory. Nancy, sitting a few seats away, and Walter, who has just joined them, are surprised to hear Ed announce he is quitting, as he can no longer work for a man who puts his own interests above those of the business. When Ed gets up to leave, Nancy follows.

Walter watches on as Ed tells John what he thinks of Walter.

Days later, on their honeymoon in a hotel room in Florida, Nancy reads Ed an article reporting that Walter has fired Kritzer, appointed John executive editor and named Mildred as his “personal assistant.” She continues to read that Walter has announced Ed’s return to the paper, as managing editor, something Ed has not agreed or appears to want to do.

Suspecting that it is Walter when the phone rings, Ed throws his hat over the receiver.

Your first reaction after watching the movie is that it doesn’t seem to have been your usual film noir. It shares many of the same characteristics as the subgenre demands: crime, nighttime and people placed in danger but you might be wondering who is the femme fatale? You know, the beautiful woman leading the protagonist astray, using her sexual wiles as a siren song sending him into the rocks. Of the three beautiful women in the story, Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming), Mildred (Ida Lupino) and Nancy (Susan Forrest), Dorothy would be the closest to the normal femme fatale. Nancy is too pure and Mildred doesn’t seem to have any real loyalties. Dorothy, on the other hand, is willing to help Kritzer get what he wants from her husband but only as long as Kritzer knows she’s the real one in charge. Ultimately, however, Walter grows a pair and fires Kritzer from the top job. No telling what becomes of Dorothy.

Directed by Fritz Lang, the master German Expressionist filmmaker behind such films as Metropolis (1927) and M (1931), who became the “Master of Darkness” with his work on the Hollywood film noirs Moontide (1942), Hangmen Also Die (1943), Ministry of Fear (1944), The Woman in the Window (1944), Scarlet Street (1945), Cloak and Dagger (1946), Secret Beyond the Door (1948), House by the River (1950), Clash by Midnight (1952), The Blue Gardenia (1953), The Big Heat (1953), Human Desire (1954), and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956). If I needed a director for a film noir, Lang would be on the shortlist, a very short list.

That said, I wouldn’t say While The City Sleeps is one of his best. Bosley Crowther, the New York Times’ movie critic at the time, would describe the movie as “more flamboyant than probable” and I would have to agree. The closest thing to the Kyne media empire would seem to have been Hearst’s with newspapers, and wire service, and it’s hard to imagine such an empire putting all its eggs in the basket of solving a terrible, though obscure, murder.

Crowther also closes his review stating that in the movie “the long arm of coincidence seems a lot stronger here than the arms of the law and journalism”, which is also true as well. Even though Dorothy’s apartment is only a place to meet her lover Kritzer since it is right across the hallway from another employee at the New York Sentinel, why did the affair take so long to come to light? Either sweet Nancy is truly aware of the affair and says nothing or else Dorothy and Kritzer are so secretive that Nancy is not the wiser. Neither seems plausible, though it is necessary for the film to work.

There is plenty of action, coincidental or not, and the film keeps up a pretty good pace throughout. While Robert’s motivation is somewhat similar to Norman Bates’ in Psycho (1960), sexual desire turns the delivery man into a murderer, his is not as clearly spelled out as Norman’s. It is clear there is something going on between Robert and his mother, but he is not crazy as Norman is portrayed. There is something psychological going on but the film never explores it.

The acting is pretty good but one would expect nothing less from this cast. Dana Andrews plays the world-weary Ed who really doesn’t have much at stake in solving the mystery. He is not one of the three men vying for the job that is at stake. He is only involved to help out a friend, John in his bid for the position. Andrews would team up with Director Lang again that same year in another newspaper-themed film noir, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

Thomas Mitchell is a good actor in almost any genre something he’s shown in the western, Stagecoach (1939), where he played the alcoholic Doc Josiah Boone; comedy-drama in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), not to mention the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) to name only a few of his previous roles. He is good here, too, as John the news editor with bigger ambitions.

Vincent Price has not yet been typecast as the king of B Horror films. He carries off the role of the publisher’s spoiled son Walter Kyne, who has no interest in carrying on his father’s legacy. He is also blind to his wife’s infidelity with his best friend. Price is good in these type of roles, see Laura (1944) wherein he plays a similar character, Shelby Carpenter, a ne’er do well like Walter.

Ida Lupino’s Mildred is portrayed as a modern woman, with a career as a writer, unafraid to use sex to get what she wants. Though she fails to get Ed in bed, she does get the job done, at least temporarily wrecking Ed and Nancy’s relationship. Lupino was always a good actress before getting behind the camera as a producer and director beginning in the late 1940’s. No stranger to film noir, Lupino starred in such films as Road House (1948), Woman in Hiding (1950), On Dangerous Ground (1952), and Beware, My Lovely (1952) before directing one, The Hitch-Hiker (1953).

Rhonda Fleming gets credit, at least in my estimation, as the femme fatale, using sex to get what she wants from Walter but also from his best friend, Kritzer, the latter who would be under her control if he gets the job with her help. While we eventually know that Kritzer loses out, one has to imagine Dorothy gets through alright.

As for the rest of the cast, George Sanders is always a delight to watch, even, as in this film, the role doesn’t necessarily play to his strengths. It is interesting that the killer, John Drew Barrymore, comes from the great acting family, barely has any lines but is still a two-dimensional character. Sally Forrest’s character, Nancy, is a bit one-dimensional but there really isn’t more required from her. And Howard Duff is a versatile actor who does well with his role as Lt. Burt Kaufman.

Howard Duff plays Lt. Burt Kaufman in While the City Sleeps.

While the City Sleeps is a good, though, not great. You might not even realize you’ve watched a film noir, though it technically is. Fritz Lang has done better work but it’s hard to really complain. The film is entertaining and keeps a good pace throughout. You could do a lot worse.

For other noirs check out our Film Noir Review Hub. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Ralph Breaks the Internet

When I saw the original Wreck-It Ralph film, I’ll admit that I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it at first, but I was surprised by the final product and how it turned out to be basically the best video game movie ever made (though notably not based on any one property). Pretty much the same phenomenon occurred with the sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet. The initial trailers gave me mixed feelings that watching the film helped me sort out. While Ralph Breaks the Internet is a worthy follow-up to the original, I thought it wasn’t quite as good as it could’ve been; I’ll admit however that watching it in an audience full of obnoxious children took me out of the movie a little and somewhat affected my feelings about it.

Six years after the events of Wreck-It Ralph, Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) are still best friends who hang out after work every night in Litwak's Family Fun Center and Arcade. After Vanellope expresses that she knows the ins and outs of her game, Sugar Rush, Ralph tries to help give her a new track. However, the new addition unintentionally leads to a player breaking the game’s steering wheel and, due to the rarity and cost of a replacement wheel, Litwak (Ed O'Neill) unplugs the game. To help save Sugar Rush from being permanently scrapped, Ralph and Vanellope travel to the internet in search of the replacement part on eBay. During their quest, however, the two of them also go through a journey of self-discovery and test the limits of their friendship.

On paper, the premise sounds vaguely like the infamous The Emoji Movie, though with the world of the internet instead of just the confines of a smartphone. In practice, Ralph Breaks the Internet does its best to take full advantage of its new setting and, for the most part, it succeeds. Various websites are referenced, including eBay, Google, Amazon, Purple and Pinterest, though other sites are generic stand-ins for other big sites or concepts, mainly “Buzzztube” instead of YouTube and Slaughter Race as a representation of online games. In spite of the references, however, Ralph and Vanellope only visit the sites that are relevant to the plot so the movie doesn’t come off as obnoxiously advertising anything.

That said, there is an extended sequence within the Oh My Disney! website that comes off as a bit of self-indulgence on the part of Disney. When Vanellope visits the site, the audience is reminded of not only the various original Disney properties, but also the fact that they own both Marvel and Star Wars. Vanellope’s interactions with the other Disney Princesses, however, take up a lot of the time spent here in what’s admittedly a pretty clever way of not only taking a jab at people who don’t give the princesses enough credit, but also advancing Vanellope’s own character development.

The visit to Oh My Disney! feels a bit self-indulgent.

Since this film mostly takes place within the internet, I’d say that its representation of the space, visualized as a more or less nebulous cloud, is mostly accurate. People do spend a lot of their time online nowadays, there are plenty annoying clickbaity ads and the dark net is not only real, but very shady. However, there are some minor things it gets wrong seemingly for the sake of the plot.

To begin with, eBay’s bidding system is fudged a little. Without spoiling too much, when you win a real eBay auction, you only pay a little bit more than the second-highest bid, even if your bid was thousands of dollars higher. As for Buzzztube, the site presents more or less an idealized version of viral fame and monetization. In real life, it’s more difficult to achieve a large online following, much less have one or more videos go viral within a single day. Monetization on Buzzztube is also based on the number of Hearts a video gets, a system that, while somewhat balanced by the need to have millions of Hearts before any money gets made, is a far cry from what it takes to monetize a YouTube video nowadays.

Naturally, there are pop culture references within Ralph Breaks the Internet, though thankfully specific ones are kept to a minimum while others are more within the realm of universal concepts, including the idea of memes and the kinds of videos that are popular on YouTube, such as makeup tutorials and unboxing videos. There is a point where Ralph performs a Fortnite dance, something that makes sense within the context of the movie and when it came out, but something that I’m not sure will stand the test of time and a move that, unfortunately, helps to date the movie, as does a reference to Chewbacca Mom.

Outside of the specifics about the internet, I did have one issue with the plot, namely that it required Ralph to be outside of his game twice for an extended period of time, once while the arcade is open and another during the trip to the internet, which is implied to take at least 24 hours. This bothered me when I noticed, since characters leaving their game too long was a major plot point in the original Wreck-It Ralph, yet the consequences are largely ignored or brushed off here.

Overall, Ralph Breaks the Internet, while a good movie, doesn’t quite reach the same heights as its predecessor. The execution of the film is hampered a bit by the lack of any real consequences for Ralph leaving his own game, as well as the small but noticeable inaccuracies with the otherwise clever depiction of the internet. If you can easily ignore these things, however, then you’ll definitely be in for an enjoyable movie filled with clever writing and smart humor, including a nice meta moment during a mid-credits scene. Also, be sure to stay after the credits for a nice preview of Frozen 2, slated for release next year.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review Hub - Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness

Penny Arcade is perhaps the longest-running video game webcomic, beginning in November 1998. The basic premise of the strip features two guys, Johnathan Gabriel and Tycho Brahe, discussing video games and gaming events for humor; it has since expanded to making fun of other pop culture as well as the family lives of creators Mike Krahulik (artist) and Jerry Holkins (writer), though it still edges heavily towards video game humor. The Penny Arcade name has since expanded to involve other forms of media, including a number of books and webseries, in addition to video games.

In 2008, an episodic video game based on the comic, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipices of Darkness (OTRSPOD), was released by Hothead Games, with the first two episodes released in the same year. However, Hothead put the series on indefinite hiatus, leading Penny Arcade writer Jerry Holkins to release Episode 3 in prose form. In 2012, however, development continued under developer Zeboyd Games, with Episodes 3 and 4 proper coming out between 2012 and 2013. Though the presentations are different between the two halves, the Penny Arcade style remains consistent throughout, aided by the creators themselves having a hand in development.

Below are links to every review of Penny Arcade Adventures on this blog, with games and DLC presented in chronological order and separated by developer. (Second Opinions are listed next to reviews in parentheses.)

Hothead Games


Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One (Second Opinion)
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode Two (Second Opinion)

Zeboyd Games


The Beginning of the End (Second Opinion)
Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 (Second Opinion)
Lair of the Seamstress (Second Opinion)
Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4 (Second Opinion)