Tuesday, December 31, 2019

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.

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