Sunday, October 31, 2021

Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1 and 2

Considering Batman’s 80+-year history, it seems there’s no shortage of famous stories to adapt into animation, a medium where his stories have had more consistent success than the live-action counterparts. One such story is The Long Halloween, a 13-issue miniseries by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, originally published monthly between 1996 and 1997. As with The Dark Knight Returns, this storyline received a two-part animated adaptation, though both parts would release much closer together, with Part One on June 22, 2021 and Part Two on July 27, 2021. Although I hadn’t read the original comic, its status in the industry made me curious enough to watch both parts of its adaptation through HBO Max, appropriately during the Halloween season. Even without knowing what happened in the source material, or any differences in porting it to a new medium, it still stands as one of the definitive Batman stories and a must-watch.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Monster House

In 2004, Robert Zemeckis’ ImageWorks began experimenting in motion capture animation with The Polar Express, which, despite uncanny valley criticisms, managed to do well enough for another film, Monster House, to be animated with the same technology in 2006. Though I had seen Monster House as a kid when it came out and liked it, I hadn’t really seen it since then, deciding to revisit it again nearly two decades later to see how well it holds up. Though the visuals are a little dated, it manages to hold up surprisingly well as a decent, timeless horror film.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Call of Cthulhu (Xbox One)

Note: This review contains spoilers for The Call of Cthulhu.

Regardless of one’s feelings about H.P. Lovecraft, there’s no doubt that his works are a continuing source of inspiration for other creative endeavors, including art, heavy metal songs, films and games. His perhaps best-known short story, “The Call of Cthulhu”, has alone inspired a lot of these, including a pen and paper RPG by Chaosium called Call of Cthulhu. Though I have no experience with that game, I had read enough of Lovecraft’s work that I had an interest in the 2018 video game Call of Cthulhu (aka Call of the Cthulhu: The Official Video Game), based on both the RPG and short story, to see how well it handled the source material. Though I found the experience intriguing at first, including the unique spin on Lovecraftian elements, a number of technical hiccups caused enough frustration that my opinion of the game sadly lowered the further I went on.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Stubs - The Return of Doctor X

The Return of Doctor X
(1939) Starring: Wayne Morris, Rosemary Lane, Humphrey Bogart, Dennis Morgan. Directed by Vincent Sherman. Screenplay by Lee Katz. Based on the short story "The Doctor's Secret" by William J. Makin in Detective Fiction Weekly (30 Jul 1938). Producer (Executive Producer): Jack L. Warner, Hal B. Wallis. Run time: 63 minutes. USA Black and White. Mystery. Horror.

If you ever needed proof that Warner Bros. didn’t know what they had in Humphrey Bogart, you need look no further than The Return of Doctor X. Signed, at the insistence of Leslie Howard, to recreate his stage success as Duke Mantee, the psychotic gangster in The Petrified Forest (1935), Bogart landed at a studio that already had two gangster stars on the payroll, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. Warners used Bogart in as many films as they could, including seven in 1939 alone.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Evil Within 2

While the original The Evil Within developed more of a cult following, it still sold well enough to warrant a sequel, The Evil Within 2, released three years later in 2017 to generally positive reviews from critics. However, while Shinji Mikami was still involved, he stepped down to a supervisor role and let John Johanes take over as the director. Whether or not the change in director works depends on who you ask, but I personally found it a dramatic improvement over the original in several areas, especially since I played it immediately after finishing the original, though the writing still bugged me for a different reason.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Second Look - Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure + Adventure Packs

Following the end of the Legend of Spyro trilogy with Dawn of the Dragon in 2008, a second reboot of the Spyro the Dragon series was announced for 2010, known as Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, which utilized physical toys that you could place on a Portal of Power to summon it in-game. “Toys to life” was in fact one of the slogans on the box, which was quickly adopted as the Toys-to-life genre to describe other, similar games. I wasn’t fully aware of the game until its launch and at first ignored it, though I quickly became curious about it and found the toy concept interesting, enough to get the Starter Pack as a gift. I ended up liking it enough to try and complete as much of my collection as I could, and later ended up playing the other main games in the Skylanders series while noticing how little Spyro was actually part of it.

After Skylanders: Imaginators, I began to lose interest in the series, eventually selling off a bulk of my collection due to how much space it was taking up, with some harder-to-find toys among them. However, one collection I still held on to was my Spyro’s Adventure collection due to having more sentimental value to me, plus I knew that one day I wanted to revisit the game to see what about the concept made it so magical to me in the first place. After deciding to look back on it for the franchise’s 10th anniversary, I found that spark was still there, despite showing its age and having a handful of technical issues.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Evil Within (+ DLC)

When The Evil Within first released in 2014, it drew some attention as the first survival horror game that Shinji Mikami, the creator of Resident Evil, had directed since Resident Evil 4 from all the way back in 2005. Although it received a mixed reception from critics upon release and had relatively low sales numbers, the game still gained a cult following that it maintains to this day. With little knowledge of the game apart from its existence, I picked up both The Evil Within games on a whim, though I wouldn't get around to them until the COVID-19 pandemic gave me a lot more free time. Once I finished the original and all of its DLC, I was glad that I played it and I have a better understanding of why it has a cult following. However, it wasn’t necessarily the most enjoyable survival horror experience I’ve had, especially since I felt the best content was locked behind a paywall.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Stubs - The Mystery of the Wax Museum

The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) Starring: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell, Frank McHugh. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Screenplay by Don Mullaly, Carl Erickson. Based on “The Wax Works" by Charles S. Belden. Producetarring: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell, Frank McHugh. Directed by Michael Curtiz. r Uncredited. Run time: 75 minutes. Color. Pre-Code. Horror.

Capitalizing on the success of Doctor X (1932), Warner Bros. brought back the director, Michael Curtiz, as well as several of the stars from that film, Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray, in another horror film, The Mystery of the Wax Museum. They also added to the cast Glenda Farrell, who was a rising star at the studio, and the reliable character actor Frank McHugh.

The Mystery of the Wax Museum was the last film to use the two-strip Technicolor process and was considered lost for a number of years. Color was still a bit of a novelty in the early 1930s and Technicolor was an expensive process. The process required extremely bright lights, resulting in hot temperatures on the set and even eye damage to many actors during that period. In The Mystery of the Wax Museum, the enormous heat generated by the lights needed for the two-color process made the wax figures melt, so in most scenes, the figures were played by actors.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Stubs - Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale (2006): Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench. Directed by Martin Campbell. Produced by Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli. Screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis Based on the novel Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (London, 1953).Run Time: 148 min. Color, Germany, Czech Republic, Great Britain, and United States. Espionage, Drama, Action, Adventure

In 2006, after 22 films (counting two non-Eon produced films) and 40 years, the James Bond franchise did something it hadn’t done before, rebooted. Having run through all the Bond novels by 1995, GoldenEye is not based on a novel by Ian Fleming; it was time for something to happen.

Pierce Brosnan, the fifth actor to play Bond had retired from the franchise after four films: GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World Is Not Enough (1999) and Die Another Day (2002). Brosnan had helped to bring the franchise back from the dead, after a six-year hiatus. He knew that it was time for him to move on, which left a void.

Daniel Craig got the role after a search for an actor to play the iconic character. The Bond character is in many ways a relic of the Cold War and while each film up until now had built on the preceding one, the decision was made to update the franchise, change the timeline and, more importantly, to reboot.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Stubs - Tomorrow Never Dies

Tomorrow Never Dies
(1997) Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Terri Hatcher, Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode. Screenplay by Bruce Feirstein. Based on James Bond by Ian Fleming. Produced by Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli. Run Time: 119 minutes  U.K. Color. Drama, Espionage.

After reviving the Bond franchise with GoldenEye (1995), there was pressure to come up with a successful follow-up. A lot of the pressure came from MGM and its new owner for the third-time billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. He wanted to take the studio public and what better way than on the heels of a big blockbuster like a Bond film?

But there were problems. With no Ian Fleming novel left to adapt, the new screenplay was based on an original story. This was completed in January 1997. However, the subject matter, which revolved around Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty to China, could not be used for a film opening at the end of the year, so the process was forced to start again.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Death Stranding Director's Cut

Back in 2019, the newly formed independent version of Kojima Productions released Death Stranding, the first game directed by Hideo Kojima after his 2015 split from Konami. Since the game was also the first where Kojima was fully unleashed, for better or worse, reception from critics and players proved divisive (ironic considering the core theme of connections). While I completely understood its flaws in my review of the game, I still liked it enough that I got excited at the announcement of Death Stranding Director’s Cut, a PS5 release that added new content and general gameplay improvements. On top of that, it had an affordable digital upgrade for existing PS4 disc owners where they could get all of the new content and the Digital Deluxe Edition content for only $10, along with the patched-in ability to pre-emptively transfer your entire save file. Needless to say, I played this version of the game Day 1 and while it felt better suited for those just starting their journey to rebuild America, it still added enough to keep existing fans who transferred their save engaged.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Stubs - Goldfinger

Goldfinger (1964): Starring: Sean Connery, Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman. Directed by Guy Hamilton. Produced by Harry Saltzman, Albert R. Broccoli. Screenplay by Richard Maibaum, Paul Dehn Based on the novel Goldfinger by Ian Fleming (London, 1959). Run Time: 110 min Color, UK and U.S. Espionage, Drama, Action.

While the first two Bond films, Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963) might be considered modest successes at the box office, such was not the case with Goldfinger. With its third installment, the Bond franchise exploded. Part of the success may have been an effort by producers Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli to aim the movie at the U.S. audience. For the first time, a Bond film would involve the United States proper in the storyline. The previous films had taken place in the Caribbean and Europe.

In addition, the budget for this third film was equal to the combined budgets of the first two. Production took place between January and June 1964 and shooting took place in the UK, Switzerland and the U.S.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Stubs - Casino Royale (1954)

Casino Royale (1954) Starring: Barry Nelson, Peter Lorre, Linda Christian, Michael Pate. Directed by William H. Brown Jr. Teleplay by Anthony Ellis and Charles Bennett. Based on the novel Casino Royale by Ian Fleming. Produced by Bretaigne Windust. Run Time: 50 minutes. USA Black and White. Television, Drama, Espionage

Whenever there is a new actor announced to play James Bond, there are always comparisons to those that went before. When Daniel Craig was signed on for the role in Casino Royale (2006), he was inevitably compared with Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Sean Connery. But what about the first actor to portray the character, Barry Nelson?

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Note: This review contains spoilers for Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Following Nick Park’s completion of A Grand Day Out in 1989 as a student short film while working at Aardman Animations, its popularity upon release spawned the Wallace & Gromit franchise, with two additional short films, The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995), to follow. As part of a multi-picture deal between Aardman and DreamWorks Animation that included 2000’s Chicken Run, a feature-length Wallace & Gromit movie, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, was released in 2005. However, a number of misguided attempts by DreamWorks Animation to make the movie sell better in America led to Aardman cutting the deal short after the release of Flushed Away in 2006. As a fan of the original Wallace & Gromit shorts since childhood, I was excited to see The Curse of the Were-Rabbit when it first came out, though in both the theater and on home video I, along with my family, had a bit of a mixed reaction to it. A little over 15 years later, we decided to revisit the movie in the spirit of the Halloween season and, while it turned out to be far better than we remembered, it still felt like a part of the series’ British charm was missing.