Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 - The Highlights (EHeroFlareNeos)

2019 was a busy year for entertainment, which gave rise to a much meatier highlights list this year in both the Top Films and Top Disappointments categories. As usual, this list is presented in no particular order.

Top Movies of 2019

After 11 years and 22 feature films, Marvel Studios managed to do the impossible and cap off the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a very conclusive and satisfying way. The status quo changes at the end in a very emotional way and while this does seem to leave room for more to come, it feels less like sequel bait and more like an actual ending. The unique action sequences, emotional scenes and memorable lines will ensure that this movie will be talked about for years to come. Disney may have further plans for this franchise, but Avengers: Endgame is a once-in-a-lifetime success that seems impossible to replicate. It’s not a good starting point for anyone, but for those who take the time to watch every single MCU film, the investment was well worth the payoff.

I’ve always felt that in spite of his successes, Genndy Tartakovsky remains an underrated figure in the animation community. Throughout all of his projects, he has demonstrated his prowess as a visual storyteller and has continued to hone that skill. His latest project, Primal, shown theatrically for one week as Primal – Tales of Savagery, shows that his is now a master of the form, as he is able to tell a compelling story about a caveman and a dinosaur without a single line of spoken dialogue and with animation that perfectly captures the tone and emotion of every scene. A definite must-see.

Dragon Ball Super may not have been the best follow-up to Dragon Ball Z, but Dragon Ball Super: Broly blows both that and the original Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan out of the water. Not only is Broly now a far more compelling character, with a more emotional backstory and a better motivation for him to fight Goku and Vegeta, but the action that fills up much of the latter half of the film is among one of the best fights I’ve ever witnessed in animation, helped by newer, more animation-friendly character designs. As an added bonus, you don’t have to be a Dragon Ball fan to enjoy this film, as it manages to stand up perfectly well on its own. If future Dragon Ball projects have this level of care put into them, then I’m in.

After Zack Snyder took a more hands-off approach with the DCEU, the films have been steadily increasing in quality. At the height of this is Shazam!, based on the Fawcett Comics/DC version of Captain Marvel. Though the story isn’t perfect, it captured the essential element of fun that the DCEU had been missing since the beginning, with a much lighter tone that still left room to explore serious subjects. The future seems to look bright for the DCEU as long as they take away the right lessons from this film going forward.

Although I haven’t kept up that well with the Pokémon franchise, I was optimistic going into Detective Pikachu and walked away satisfied. The story is written well enough that even people who aren’t familiar with the Pokémon universe can follow along and the designs of the different creatures work surprisingly well in live-action, especially Pikachu. The acting is also good enough to sell what’s happening and Ryan Reynolds pulls off the title role very well. While I can’t say for certain how accurate it is to the Detective Pikachu game, I can say that this is a safe bet for a good time.

I was wary about seeing Toy Story 4 at first, since Toy Story 3 seemed to end the trilogy out on a high note with nowhere else to go outside of animated shorts. However, Pixar proved that notion wrong with a well-told story that explores the idea of what it means to be a toy, as well as animation that blows everything Pixar has ever done out of the water, blurring the line between real life and CG more than ever. With the way it ends, however, I’m very sure now that there’s nowhere else left to go and that Pixar should let the franchise rest.

In sharp contrast with Shazam!, Joker is a dark psychological thriller that explores what happens when someone with deep mental health issues is pushed off the edge by a society that doesn’t do anything to help them. Joaquin Pheonix’s take on the iconic character is what makes this film, as his mesmerizing performance amplifies the more disturbing moments in the story and expertly takes Arthur Fleck from sympathetic to sickening. If you want to see a dark DC film done right, then look no further.

Including a concert film might seem a little bit like cheating, but this is certainly one of the better concert films I’ve seen. S&M2 earns its spot here for further experimenting with the concept behind the original S&M performance and modernizing it in just the right way, including a killer setlist featuring tracks both old and new. Definitely a must-see for any Metallica fan.

Top Games of 2019

As a Devil May Cry fan, I was excited by the prospect of another proper DMC sequel and was not disappointed by Devil May Cry 5. The story manages to move the story past Devil May Cry 2 and create a more cohesive narrative out of all of the classic DMC games while resolving plot threads left hanging from Devil May Cry 4. As for the combat, it’s the best in the series so far, accommodating multiple playstyles while making Dante, Nero and V feel unique from each other and allowing for a good amount of depth. If you don’t care about the story, then you still have a great action game, which is always a plus.

The jury’s still out on whether or not Hideo Kojima unleashed is ultimately a good or bad thing, but Death Stranding shows that in spite of its flaws, there’s a lot of potential. The story takes full advantage of the unique traits of video games as a storytelling medium and displays a certain madness and attention to detail that only Hideo Kojima can provide, even if it falters in places. The main gameplay loop is also surprisingly satisfying, especially in the more open post-game, and the specific implementation of asynchronous multiplayer is something I now want to see in other games. This game demands a lot of patience from the player, but if you persist, you may find something that you like.

Kingdom Hearts III (Post-Critical Mode Patch)

Kingdom Hearts III was surprisingly disappointing on its initial release, largely due to the messy storytelling and far too lenient difficulty. Once Critical Mode was patched into the game, however, the difficulty actually felt more challenging and introduced the element of strategic depth that Proud Mode sorely lacked. The addition of New Game + also helped with people like me who wanted to try a second playthrough on the new difficulty and not have to redo a lot of difficult tasks to get the best equipment. Now all that’s left is to see if the upcoming Re:Mind DLC will fix the story.

Top Disappointments of 2019

As the ending to Star Wars’ Sequel Trilogy and Skywalker Saga, 42 years in the making, The Rise of Skywalker is a massive letdown and painfully average. Even from the opening crawl, it’s obvious that any attempt at explaining unexplained ideas from the previous two films, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, would involve pulling something out of thin air and throwing it into the script, even if it makes absolutely no sense. The overly busy action scenes and slick editing do nothing to hide the fact that, at its core, The Rise of Skywalker suffers from a lack of clear vision, which in turn makes the Sequel Trilogy worse off retroactively. While I love how it bookends with Star Wars conceptually, it ultimately rings hollow if you give it more than a second thought.

This film is the perfect example of studios trying, and failing, to capture lighting in a bottle. While The LEGO Movie did move a lot of product, it was a film that had a lot of heart in its memorable story and likeable characters, not to mention its powerful messages, and a lot of care and dedication in its animation. The LEGO Movie 2, however, was more obviously designed to sell toys and, for no discernable reason, pivoted in a more Musical direction with songs written seemingly to capture the same magic as “Everything is Awesome” without understanding why it clicked. Maybe next time they shouldn’t stick too closely to the instructions.

If there was any film that would best demonstrate the dangers of development hell, it would be Wonder Park, previously titled Amusement Park, perhaps most notable for the extremely rare honor of not having a credited director. While not the worst movie to hit theaters, it certainly could’ve been a lot better. Potentially good ideas, and a perfectly serviceable message about not letting go of your imagination, are held back by very average writing that permeates the plot, although the animation is pretty decent. This isn’t the worst way to spend your time, but there’s no guarantee that it will stick with you down the line.

The very existence of The Banana Splits Movie was baffling enough, but actually watching it made me further question why Warner Bros. decided that turning a children’s franchise into a horror property was the right way to go. Terrible writing, wooden acting and schlocky special effects overtake the occasionally decent cinematography and surprisingly quick pace. This may be the closest thing right now to a Five Nights at Freddy’s adaptation, and for all we know might be an abandoned script in disguise, but I’d suggest holding off until the real one.

Ever since the Scooby-Doo! franchise got an adrenaline shot to the arm with the iconic Zombie Island, a new direct-to-video film shambled onto store shelves every year, more recently adopting a practice to follow up on specific stories. This year, it was apparently time to continue the storyline from Zombie Island. Unfortunately, one of the earliest decisions, saddling the movie with the lofty promise of a direct sequel, would of course come with equally lofty expectations that Warner Bros. were ill-equipped to deliver on. Bad writing, an overly silly tone, bland animation, ill-fitting music and physically painful retcons all follow Mystery, Inc. back to Moonscar Island as Velma tries to explain away phenomena she had already accepted as real the first time around. Then, of course, the film has the gall to dangle a carrot on a stick with a real monster that never factors back into the main plot except to sell the possibility of a third Zombie Island film. If you loved the original film, don’t even touch this rotting corpse.

Slayer: The Repentless Killogy (Short Film)

The Repentless Killogy is by no means a bad concert film, which I can personally vouch for since I happened to be at the show Slayer chose to immortalize, the short film which precedes it is an artistic mess. It’s meant to depict an ex-Neo Nazi, Wyatt, who seeks revenge for the death of a loved one. However, the story is made of three music videos stapled together, followed by extra footage which manages to somehow work Slayer’s Forum show into the story and commits a cardinal narrative sin of following Wyatt and then not having him be the one to exact his revenge. Additionally, there is a lot of gore and while it does fit the themes of the story, it does eventually feel like gore for the sake of gore. If you’re watching this on home video, it’s safe to skip the short film and just watch the awesome concert.

Kingdom Hearts III (Pre-Critical Mode Patch)

Kingdom Hearts III isn’t a terrible game by any stretch of the imagination, though the story left a lot to be desired. Following along with the game’s development, however, gave me the impression that a good number of the story’s flaws were the fault of not only Tetsuya Nomura, but also Disney’s stinginess with how each of their movies could be translated into the game (interestingly enough, Pixar was far more lenient), though I’m waiting to see if the upcoming Re:Mind DLC will fix it. As for the gameplay, it offers a lot of tools for players, but was far too easy on the initial release, even on Proud Mode, which made it more disappointing for series veterans.

Metal Wolf Chaos XD is by no means the worst game on the planet, but this remaster of a 2004 Xbox game didn’t age the best either. Even with some quality of life changes, the controls are rather clunky in the present day and the gameplay gets old after enough repetition. The over-the-top storyline and hilariously wooden voice acting are enough to keep anyone playing, but it only works for so long. The worst thing about the remaster, however, at least at launch, was that the lack of shaders and bloom effects made such a silly game look cold and lifeless instead of bright and colorful. If you’re on the fence, wait for them to sort out all the issues first.

2019 - The Highlights (Tetris_King)

Each list is presented in no particular order, with links to reviews where applicable.

Top Live-Action Movies of 2019

Until around the release of Wonder Woman, the DCEU has for the most part been fairly lackluster when compared to the MCU. Building off of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, Shazam! proved that DC could actually make a fun superhero movie within the same league as some of Marvel’s better movies. While not without faults, I had a good time watching this movie and it makes me want to see what else DC can do with their Captain Marvel/Shazam character down the line.

After 11 years and 22 movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Endgame had some high expectations to fulfill in order to deliver a satisfying conclusion to the Thanos arc (officially known as the Infinity Saga) that would make all that investment pay off. Endgame managed to do this and more, delivering a powerful emotional climax to the MCU that would make the following movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home, feel a little tacked on. Though Marvel and Disney have plans for a Phase Four and beyond, including canon content exclusive to the Disney+ streaming service, I’m not sure I have the energy to keep caring about the MCU after Phase Three, let alone how they can possibly top Thanos as a villain on account of how well-written he was.

Though based on a game I haven’t played, that being the Pokémon spin-off Detective Pikachu on the 3DS, the film adaptation finally proved that a good live-action movie can be made from a video game, effectively breaking the curse that had been over the head of that concept since the Super Mario Bros. movie from 1993. Ryan Reynolds’ casting as Detective Pikachu managed to work in its favor, as did the translation of the Pokémon themselves into a real-world setting, looking realistic enough to sell that they could exist in real life while retaining their original designs and without feeling out of place. The story was also written well enough to be accessible to even non-fans of the series, plus it made me want to try to actually play the game that the movie was based on.

I wasn’t sure what to think of this movie going in, mainly because of its tone and the decision to make a DC movie disconnected from the ongoing DCEU series. Though the movie is dark, Joaquin Phoenix delivered a fantastic performance as the Joker, whose backstory takes an interesting turn based in what happens when an already mentally unstable individual is unable to receive the help they desperately need. Though Joker is designed to be a stand-alone story, the ending seems to set up what has the potential to be a very interesting take on Batman lore, should Phoenix agree to come back in any future movies set in this universe.

Following up on Metallica’s previous collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the reunion features a mix of old and new material from Metallica’s library while exploring new territories in combining their sound with the orchestra. What results is a musical feast for the ears, with the orchestral tunes enhancing the thrash metal on a level greater than the original S&M, this time featuring some songs where the orchestra takes the spotlight and one where Metallica backs them up in an interesting way. This is a definite recommendation to fans of Metallica, particularly their first S&M performance, and I can’t wait to get this on CD and home video when it comes out so I can experience it again.

Top Animated Movies of 2019

Though I had only recently gotten into Dragon Ball via the Kai edit and Super, I was very curious how they were going to handle a canon version of the previously non-canon character Broly, more so when series creator Akira Toriyama confirmed he would be rewritten into a more fleshed-out character. Not only did the movie deliver on this promise, the fight that takes up a good chunk of the movie is one of the best fight scenes I have ever seen in Dragon Ball, even topping a good number of other animated fights that I’ve seen. The portrayal of Broly in the movie also leaves a lot more room for the character to come back in a future Dragon Ball installment, whatever that may be.

With the way Toy Story 3 ended on an emotional high note (in spite of some visual overkill in the third act), the announcement of Toy Story 4 made me question how it would be able to continue the story. When I went to see it, Pixar proved me wrong as it gave Woody’s story a powerful conclusion that brought me to tears in the theater, though now it definitely seems like there isn’t anywhere else to go for these characters. Toy Story 4 is still definitely one of those unnecessary sequels, however it was an unnecessary sequel told extremely well and is something I might watch again in the future.

As a fan of Genndy Tartakovsky’s work, I was already excited to see what his next [adult swim] series Primal would be like, and so jumped on the opportunity to see the first four episodes put together as a limited screening, subtitled Tales of Savagery. The result is a story told without dialogue that invokes some powerful imagery, both emotional and visceral, with some well-timed humor to balance things out. I consider Primal to be some Tartakovsky’s best work to date and highly recommend that anyone wanting to learn visual storytelling should give the show a watch.

Top Games of 2019

While not one of the more mainstream PS VR titles, Ghost Giant is an interesting experiment in third-person VR that allows you to feel as though you are actively taking part in the story. Said story also happens to be emotionally compelling and can tug at your heartstrings, which made me want to see it through to the end. It would be interesting to see more VR games experiment more with this style of gameplay, though for now I can’t wait to see what developer Zoink Games has in store next.

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled (Pre-Microtransactions)

After Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy proved that shot-for-shot remakes of classic games with quality-of-life adjustments could work, it naturally made sense for the next game to be a remake of Crash Team Racing, Naughty Dog’s last game in the series before it would change hands a number of times. In my initial impressions, the game is very fun to play and compels you to improve your skills however you can in order to unlock more characters and other cosmetics for customization (though I focused more on the former). The announcement of regular Grand Prix events gave me more of a reason to keep playing, with the first Grand Prix proving that microtransactions weren’t necessary in order to keep players invested.

I never thought I’d see an attempt to combine the puzzle game Tetris with the increasingly-prevalent battle royale genre, though Tetris 99 proves that this can work surprisingly well. Even though I’m not the type to play online multiplayer, I actually found myself playing several games thanks to their quick nature, however what attracted me more to this game was the introduction of offline modes through a paid update (included on-cartridge in all boxed copies of the game). Hopefully these offline modes can be fleshed out more in future updates, though that aside, Tetris 99 is a surprisingly fun game for those looking for a new take on Tetris and/or battle royale games.

Top Disappointments of 2019

Though I had my reservations at first, the original The LEGO Movie turned out to be a very strong movie that reignited my long-dormant passion for LEGO. The LEGO Movie 2 did not quite have that same impact, opting instead for a musical with a more transparent agenda to sell toys, leaving the story to suffer a bit as a result even if it had a good message. While it does still try to stay within the rules set up by the original, there is at least one point where it dances uncomfortably close to crossing the line of credulity, even if it did manage to tie back in with the B-Plot in the end. It did still make me want some of the toys, although the drive was not as strong as it was with its predecessor.

In preparation for watching this movie, I ended up researching, and watching clips from, both the 1968 and 2008 Banana Splits series in order to have some idea as to what is was and try to wrap my head around the idea of rebranding a more obscure Hanna-Barbera variety show into a slasher movie in the vein of Five Nights at Freddy’s. I will admit that, since I was a bit on the fence at first, I ended up reading about the body count the Banana Splits rack up during the movie to mentally prepare myself, and even then I was actually a little terrified when I knew the kills were about to occur because I don’t do too well with horror even after voluntarily subjecting myself to some of it. Despite that, the story has Banana Buggy-sized holes in it and at least one of the Splits’ victims is written such that you actually end up rooting for one of the Splits to kill them, though the latter point is nowhere near enough to save the movie as there were also a number of missed opportunities to make the insane premise somewhat more horrific. In the end, while I don’t doubt there’s some ironic entertainment value in this movie, I can’t help thinking it may have affected the Banana Splits’ reputation and that these characters deserve better than a schlocky horror film (the upcoming Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe is perhaps a chance at a redemption arc for these characters).

I have more of an on-and-off relationship with the Scooby-Doo franchise, however when I finally got to watch Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island in its entirety, I found it to be one of the best representations of Scooby-Doo that I’ve ever seen, so naturally my expectations were high when the sequel Return to Zombie Island was announced. By comparison to the original, Return to Zombie Island is a major letdown, with a very promising title sequence that the rest of the movie fails to live up to in just about every way. While the voice acting is good for the most part, there were so many missed opportunities to tell a more suspenseful story and the animation is not nearly as fluid as the original. Pair that with a long list of confusing retcons, as well the movie’s sudden assumption you’ve seen Curse of the 13th Ghost, and you have a movie that even the most hardcore Scooby-Doo fans should honestly just skip.

When I saw The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I got some enjoyment out of both movies the first time around, only for my opinions to change in retrospect after watching them again in preparation for The Rise of Skywalker, which had the ambitious task of being the end of both the Sequel Trilogy and the Skywalker Saga as a whole. I will say the movie did actually feel like a finale for the nine-film saga George Lucas set out to do, however the plot is a bit of a mish-mash and kind of falls apart when you think about for more than five minutes (the driving force of the Sequels turns out to be something that comes right out of nowhere). When taking the Sequel Trilogy as a whole, not helped by the events of its third installment, it overall comes off as a bit of a letdown compared to the Original Trilogy; in retrospect, the Sequels feel a bit aimless as they don’t flow together as well as they could/should have, plus it at some point seems to start relying more on viewers having invested in side material that I personally don’t care for most of the time due to sheer volume (if you do care about side content more than I do, that’s perfectly fine). That said, if you’ve invested in the film series up until now, you might as well watch it at least once just to see the Saga to the end.

Slayer: The Repentless Killogy (Short Film)

I have nothing bad to say about the Forum concert featured in this movie since I happened to have actually attended that show, which makes it more special to me, however the short film that came before it on the home video release was a bit of a mess. After playing three Slayer music videos loosely duct-taped together, the video continues to show the protagonist going on a killing spree for the sake of revenge against someone named Luther, featuring a level of gore that eventually became nigh unwatchable for me, though the worst part was Luther being unsatisfactorily offed by a completely different character. Slayer also comes into play in a sort of ham-fisted way, ultimately making the short feel like a worse version of Metallica's Through the Never concert film (the story even takes a break to show Slayer playing "Angel of Death"). Slayer's music is really good, however the short film isn't really worth watching.

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled (Post-Microtransactions)

Continuing from the above, my enthusiasm for this game started to wane a bit after the second Grand Prix events introduced microtransactions, though this is likely more to blame on the end of publisher Activision and not the developer. Still, once the system to purchase Wumpa Coins and bypass building up any actual skill was implemented, it instantly put a damper on things as I saw how sky-high the Pit Stop prices could get, almost as though they were actively trying to goad players into taking the easy way as opposed to making the rewards feel earned. That said, I still participate in Grand Prix event long enough to unlock more characters to play as in case I get to race against others, though I no longer have the same enthusiasm I once did when I first started playing.

2019 - The Highlights (lionsroar)

Films Watched and/or Reviewed for the First time in 2019

Note: Since Trophy Unlocked has to pay for most of the movies we see in the theaters and for most of the films we watch at home, we don’t have the scope of a newspaper reviewer. We don’t see everything that’s out, so our ratings of films are based on what we decide to spend our money on.

The Best in No Particular Order:

Stan & Ollie
One of the overlooked gems from last year, Stan & Ollie recounts the final tour of the comedy duo, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in the 1950s. No longer making films, the friends, who have been estranged at times, come together for one last set of shows in Great Britain and Ireland. We get a glimpse into what their relationship might have been like, part-business part-friendship but all genius. Both actors gave award-worthy performances. Too bad John C. Reilly doesn't do more roles like this one and less of the Holmes & Watson variety.

Avengers: Endgame
The finale for one of the longest film franchises, Avengers: Endgame manages to wrap up the MCU with a film that covers most of the bases. There is a certain finality to the film as many of the original characters come to the end of their contracts and we know they won't be reappearing in the next series. The biggest problem for Disney is will people still care now that the original series of 22 films has come to an end.

While this may not be the best film of the year, for me personally, it was a lot of fun. The premise is good, a down on his luck musician wakes up after an accident to realize he is the only person left alive who remembers the music of The Beatles, which happen to be my favorite rock band. While it doesn't necessarily hold water all the way through, the film does manage to touch the heart.

Downton Abbey
Oftentimes, the jump from the small screen to big doesn't work. Usually, they are modern remakes of the original series and add humor where it doesn't belong and are not true to the characters you remember. That is not the case with Downton Abbey, a big-screen sequel to the very successful British series about life in the household of an old manor which seems to be on its way to obsolescence. This film continues the story and is true to the characters with all of the original cast returning.

And now for something completely different. I chose Joker for this list based almost entirely on Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal of the title character. Again, this is not a perfect film but Phoenix's performance makes up for most of it.

The Disappointments in No Particular Order:

Wonder Park
One of those films you want to like. It has a cute premise, it's bright and energetic but the story is not compelling enough to hold your attention for very long.

The Banana Splits Movie
Even my low expectations going in were not met. Never a big fan of the Banana Splits TV series but this will definitely drive a stake in the heart of this IP. Another example of a TV Series brought to the big screen only this time laughter and fun has been replaced with a badly executed horror.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The disjointed sequel trilogy comes to an end with a thump. Big budget, big production values but a story that doesn't seem to fit in with the two prior films. There is a twist but it seems to be wedged in rather than flowing naturally. The Skywalker Saga ends but it deserved better. One has to wonder where the franchise can go from here.

Slayer: The Repentless Killogy
Our annual movie day, the day after Christmas, started out with this short film from Slayer's latest concert film Blu-Ray. While the subject of death is nothing new to this band, this, I believe, marks their first and last time to make a movie. I really had no expectations though I wasn't really expecting this over-the-top gory kill-fest; not my cup of tea. However, the worst thing about the film is the story and the conclusion. Note: If you're telling the story with a certain character on a journey, he/she needs to be the one who concludes it. That's story-telling 101. Apparently, the writer/director of this film must have missed this basic element. Interspersed with performances by the band, The Repentless Killogy is otherwise a bad and bloody film.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Tetris 99

Over the last few years, the battle royale style of game has gotten increasingly popular, with arguably the best-known examples of this type of game being PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite Battle Royale. When Tetris 99 was announced and released earlier this year for the Nintendo Switch, I found the concept of the battle royale style crossed with a puzzle game such as Tetris to be intriguing, especially when it proved to be successful, however I was initially turned off a little by the lack of any offline capabilities and that playing it required subscribing to another service, that being Nintendo Switch Online. That said, I was more interested when a physical edition of the game was announced later in the year, as the cartridge not only came with the paid Big Block DLC that introduced offline functionality, it also included a voucher for a free year of Nintendo Switch Online. After getting a chance to play the game for a while, I can safely say this is a very interesting Tetris variant and one of the more unique versions to come out in the last few years along with Tetris Effect and Puyo Puyo Tetris.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Stubs - Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Starring: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong'o, Keri Russell, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams Directed by J.J. Abrams Screenplay by J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio Based on Characters by George Lucas. Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, J. J. Abrams, Michelle Rejwan Run Time: 142 minutes, U.S. Science Fiction, Fantasy

The Star Wars triple trilogy which began with Star Wars (1977) finally wraps up the "Skywalker Saga" and the "Sequel Trilogy" with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Nine films over 42 years, with a couple of stand-alones thrown in along the way, not to mention cartoons, TV Series, video games, books, some no longer considered "canon", and merchandise. So while there haven't been all that many movies, Star Wars has never been out of the public view.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Stubs - Holiday Affair

Holiday Affair (1949) Starring: Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, Wendell Corey. Directed by Don Hartman. Screenplay by Isobel Lennart. Based on the novelette The Man Who Played Santa Claus by John D. Weaver in McCall's (Dec 1948). Produced by Don Hartman Run Time: 87 minutes. Black and White USA Christmas, Romance

In 1948, after a string of hits for RKO studios, including Crossfire (1947) and Out of the Past (1947), Robert Mitchum was arrested in a sting operation for possession of Marijuana. While that might have spelled trouble for a lesser star, Mitchum’s films afterward, including Rachel and the Stranger (1948), The Red Pony (1949) and The Big Steal (1949) were box-office successes.

In a rush to capitalize on Mitchum’s recent successes, RKO put The Man Who Played Santa Claus into production. So popular was Mitchum that just before filming started, RKO paid $400,000 to acquire sole ownership of Mitchum's contract from independent producer David O. Selznick, who had shared the contract with RKO. The film, the title later changed to Holiday Affair, went into production on July 11, 1949.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Death Stranding - Tomorrow Is In Your Hands

Following a very public falling out with Konami in 2015, game developer Hideo Kojima reformed Kojima Productions as an independent studio with a strong relationship with Sony Computer Entertainment. In 2016, Kojima announced his first independent game, Death Stranding, which he pitched as a new genre called a “Strand Game”. Development of the game concluded three years later in 2019 and it released November of that same year. I immediately pre-ordered Death Stranding both as a fan of Kojima’s work and as someone who wanted to make sense of all the sparse information about the game. Over 50 hours later, since launch day, I found the unique gameplay experience to be worth the wait, but there are some flaws about the game that are simply hard to ignore.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Stubs - Cover Up

Cover Up (1949) Starring: William Bendix, Dennis O'Keefe, Barbara Britton Directed by Alfred E. Green. Produced by Ted Nasser. Screenplay by Jerome Odlum, Dennis O'Keefe (as Jonathan Rix). Additional Dialogue by Francis Swann, Lawrence Kimble Run time: 83 minutes. USA Black and White. Mystery, Christmas

Think that Christmas might be an odd setting for a murder mystery? Well, you’re not alone. The producer of Cover Up, Ted Nasser, thought so, too and took out all references to Christmas, changing the setting to Spring and removing all references to the holiday from the dialogue in the original script. This, however,, did not sit well with Dennis O’Keefe, the star as well as one of the screenwriters. O’Keefe’s production company, Strand Productions, Inc. was also making the film, and he felt the references were essential to the story. After a day's delay, Nasser relented.