Monday, August 29, 2016

AO (Video Game)

Some of you are probably wondering "Why aren't you reviewing Shin Megami Tensei IV this week?" and you would be justified in wondering that. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get the game finished, or even to the point where I could write up a third or so of the game in a first impressions. On the other hand, I've been playing a little indie puzzle-game that I got in the mail recently.
About a week ago I saw a post on a forum I frequent about a game that was published by the publisher of this one, Bomb on Basic City. During my correspondence with the publisher, they offered this game to me for review as well. It sounded like it would be cool, so I accepted, and now here we are.
I'm unaware of any kind of deeper meaning behind the title. There is of course the obvious character in the center. I'm not sure whether it's Japanese or Chinese (Which is kind of embarrassing) but I'm pretty sure it reads as "AO" or something to that effect.
AO is a top-down puzzle game similar to Super Monkey Ball. You've got a thing that you need to roll to the exit, avoid the obstacles, don't fall off the edge. The added challenge is in the fact that you're rolling a rectangular box around instead of a ball. It starts out deceptively easy and becomes pretty hard as the game progresses.It's pretty cool at first, but as time goes on it gets somewhat tedious. It's not a bad game by any means, but some of the later levels seem to have been deliberately designed to be intuitive. However, that makes it all the sweeter when you ultimately figure out how to get to your destination. On that front I would say that the game is incredibly satisfying. On the other hand, there is absolutely no replay value whatsoever. Best I can tell there are one or two different solutions to each of the thirty-three puzzles, possible three for some of the more open levels. There's no story, there are no characters, just you, the instructions, your box and the levels. Not to say that every puzzle game has to be Portal, just that it'd be nice to have some kind of a theme to it. You can't just re-release the original Tetris over and over, you've got to add new play modes, new background elements, things like that.
Let's go over the mechanics quickly. You've got your block, which can be rolled lengthwise or width-wise.There are two different kinds of switches. Light switches, which merely require one or more halves of the block to rest on top of them to activate, and heavy switches which require the block to be standing on-end to trigger them. These switches can add platforms to the level or remove them. Which they do is up to the player to find out. There are teleporters that take you to a designated spot, (Again, up to the player to find out) hard floors that can be rolled on any way, weak floors that can only be rolled on horizontally, and the goal, where you have to stand the block to complete the level. All of this is shown in the manual, and again on the screen around the single-player mode. This means that the entirety of the level is always visible on-screen, which is good because it helps you figure out what all you can do. Plus you don't have to have the manual at all times to figure out what to do. The issue with this is that the levels never fill the whole screen, and the stakes don't get amped up all that much. I was expecting some kind of gigantic, screen-filling level that made use of all of the mechanics that the game had, as opposed to a gigantic maze full of light switches tied to two bridges and one heavy-switch tied to a single platform required to get the block in the right orientation so you can get it onto the island where the exit is. After that you get a screen with your score. If you press start you get dumped back to the title-screen.
Your score is determined by how quickly you completed the game. Your score goes down by about one point per every second and a half by my count. As if there's any reason to care about score. It's not like the game just ends when you run out of time/score either, you can keep going for as long as you want, and I did. I beat the last ten levels of the game with triple zeroes across the board.
I will congratulate the developers for not feeling the need to include lives in the game, because you will roll off the edge a lot in this game, and forcing you to play through the whole thing over again just because you depleted an arbitrary number would basically make the game impossible to complete, or just deplete the players patience. Just like most of the NES library.
Then there's the soundtrack, or rather the single loop that keeps playing in the background in perpetuity. Fortunately this can be turned off by pressing the Select button, but it shouldn't have to be. With the lack of enemy AI, the two animations in the game, the six tile types, and a total of three splash-screens with very little detail to them, you'd think there would be enough space on the cartridge to fit a decent sound-track. Not much, just give me five decent tunes and I'll be happy.
All in all, while I don't think that the game isn't worth playing, it's certainly not worth the $35 asking price, especially not for the thirty-three levels that it's got. If there were maybe a hundred or so levels with more complexity and better variety, then it'd be worth at least twenty bucks. I also doubt that the game is hiding any kind of unlockables behind a score-wall, because I played through the game twice and found nothing other than a mild dislike for the color blue.
There's only one additional mode that I can find, and that's competitive two-player. The map is replicated in green in the lower right and the two players race to see who can complete the game the fastest. It's not much, but it's something. I would have also liked to have seen co-operative two-player where one player controls the X-axis and the other the Y-axis, kinda like Katamari Damacy's multiplayer.
Speaking of which, the controls are a bit touchy. I can't count the amount of times I rolled off the edge because the controls react too quickly when you're trying to roll around tight edges quickly. Thankfully the game doesn't go full-on amateur and keep moving the box when you're holding the d-pad down. The d-pad is the only thing you use to control your block. That's not bad, a limited control-scheme is alright when the game isn't particularly demanding.
By the way, in case you haven't figured it out yet, this is a new NES game. As in a game someone made for the NES in this day and age. I commend the dedication the developers and publisher had to have to put out an actual physical NES game in a box with a manual. The cartridge is pure black, and it's not like the old unlicensed NES carts like the kind you'd see back in the day. This is a legit cart based on the old NES cartridge molds. The ridges, the arrow, everything. It's a three-screw cart, but still. As for build-quality, it has only a bit more give to it than regular NES carts do when I squeeze it, and it's not made of the kind of brittle hard plastic that tends to make up the hilts of dollar-store knives and swords. The one thing I feel the need to mention negatively is that the cartridge bows outwards at the bottom like a bunch of my original licensed NES games do. I would have liked to see them improve a bit on that design-flaw, but it's not like it's a huge breaking point.
The manual that comes with the game is only four pages long, but it is printed in full color, and gives a decent summary of what the game's about and what you need to do. The unfortunate thing is that there are actually six pages in the manual, two of which are blank.If those two had been printed on then a whole piece of paper could have been cut from the manual without losing anything. Plus, the manual's contents aren't exactly well-arranged, and the text is pixelated to hell. I have been informed that Second Dimension is aware of this however, and will be fixing it as soon as possible.
Something that kind of bugs me is that the cartridge itself comes inside a thin plastic bag inside of a cardboard box instead of the thick plastic sleeves that NES games came in back in the day. Plus, the case for Bomb on Basic City tells me that Second Dimension are capable of putting out a game in a plastic box, which would be infinitely preferable to cardboard. Even if they kept it at the same size as the actual NES boxes and just changed the material to something sturdier, it would be a lot better. Then again, this is just my outright distaste for cardboard boxes and slip-covers talking.
The interesting this is that they apparently didn't harvest parts from other games, AO cartridges are made of entirely new material, which is a good thing in my book. Probably costs less in this day and age of people charging extortionate prices for Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt carts too.
While AO is short, it's pretty satisfying to complete and not what I would call a waste of your time. However, the levels that we got seem like a chunk of a much larger game, akin to that of the shareware versions of Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein. If this was part of a bigger whole, like Portal was to The Orange Box, or something like that, the $35 asking price wouldn't be too much, but as it is I'd much prefer to pay somewhere in the order of $10-$15 dollars for a physical release and somewhere closer to $5 for a digital one. The core problem is that I've played games like this for free on places like Newgrounds and other flash sites for most of my life, and I can't get that price-point of "free" out of my head. With a bit more polish and a bit of interesting context a sequel might be well worth a $30+ price-point.
In the end, I give AO a 5.1*. I feel like the developer can and should do better. Maybe move up to SNES or Genesis for the next game? At the very least you'd have access to better sound hardware.

Thank you for reading my review. If you liked it, please feel free to toss me a few bucks on my Patreon. Anything you can give me helps, even if it's just a dollar.

Game provided for review by Second Dimension. It can be found for purchase at Cover scanned by me.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sausage Party

Having just seen Sausage Party I'm beginning to wonder if Sony is at all capable of producing, distributing or even being in the vicinity of a movie without it becoming overloaded with references. Indeed, I'm left wondering if Sony is even capable of being involved with a movie without having an out of nowhere musical number in it. I'm almost glad Sony isn't making Spider-Man films anymore, because at this point I wouldn't be at all surprised if The Sinister Six ended with a sing-off between Peter and a glorified boy-band.
I honestly don't know what I was expecting, this is 2016 after all, we're not exactly looking at an Oscar-bait year. There are scant few contenders for Best Picture this year, and Sausage Party is no The Lego Movie. Despite pretensions to something greater, Sausage Party isn't subversive, it isn't satirical, and it isn't nearly as horrifying as The Lego Movie! That's right, an R-rated movie pales in comparison to a PG one in terms of horror and subversive qualities. It's everything that The Lego Movie wasn't. A heartless corporate cash-in without a god-damn soul to speak of.
Let's start from the beginning. Anyone here remember Food Fight? That's basically what this movie is, sans the whole "Brand-X" plot, instead replaced with a wholesale rip-off of Toy Story and The Lego Movie. We've got the mysterious council of know-it-all's from The Lego Movie, the adventure kicked off by a characters stupidity from Toy Story (Except more on the stupid and nothing on the jealousy), and a bunch of typical cinematic bullshit from every movie made in the last thirty years. Remember how I said that Ghostbusters was basically the same as The Angry Birds Movie? Well I seem to have spoken too soon, since this film is literally the same, at least in terms of plot.
Character who finds out about a horrible plot to exploit the good-will of everyone in his society? Check. Suspicions not heeded by the others until it's almost too late? Check. Quest to find an old wise character who might be able to help them? Check. Wise character refuses to help out at first and then capitulates in the end? Check. Characters all come together at the end for a medieval siege and have a party afterwards? Check.
Somehow though, despite having less memes in it, Sausage Party manages to stuff in as many if not more out-of-place references than Ghostbusters and The Angry Birds Movie combined. No, those italics aren't there by accident, I'm almost certain that between background references, character names, licensed music, stupid punny dialogue and scenes ripped-off wholesale from better movies turn the reference-scale up to eleven and bust Vegeta's scouter. We've got "Hungry Eyes" from Dirty Dancing. "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" by Meat Loaf sung by an actual meat-loaf. "Wake Me Up before You Go-Go" by Wham! A bell-pepper named Sergeant Pepper. Kareem Abdul Lavash, Sammy Bagel Jr., Teresa del Taco, tons of other stupid things that are a bit too numerous to keep track of mentally, but there's one thing. One specific thing that really sticks out. After drugging and murdering a bunch of humans, the food has an orgy-party at the end of the film, a character that's a walking (or rather rolling) reference to Stephen Hawking named Gum, reveals that while high, he and Fire-Water figured out that they are nothing more than a figment of Seth Rogen's twisted imagination. Gum builds a stargate (His words not mine) to the real-world that the characters use in an attempt to get revenge on Rogen and the others who worked on the film.
No joke, the ending pulls a Leisure Suit Larry 3, and the characters come into the real-world to kill their creators.
I suppose now I should get into a bit more of the specifics of the plot.
Long ago, food was terrified of being picked to be purchased. So, Fire-Water and Twink, two of the immortal non-perishables wrote a song to placate their terror. Later, an agnostic hot-dog named Frank (Seth Rogen) questions if there really is anything beyond the doors of the market. He runs into a jar of returned honey-mustard who says that beyond the doors is terror. Frank tries to keep the jar from committing suicide, but a big old crash happens and a bunch of products are tossed around the store. Some are destroyed, others are merely lost. Frank goes on his quest to find out what the hell's going on and makes it to the grilling section where he sees a paradoxical cookbook. One that is clearly meant to be illustrations as opposed to actual pictures, but it shows the food screaming out in agony as it's eaten.
This brings me to a plot-hole. Condoms, gum, disposable douches, bags of chips, paper towel rolls, those are all sentient. How are the knives, the grill, the shelves, etc not sentient too? We see various sentient things with metal and plastic as parts of their bodies, but no sentient utensils.
Also, some bags of chips are inanimate full of sentient chips, some are sentient full of inanimate chips.
That's before you get into the logistics of sentient jars, bottles and food in the first place. While Seth Rogen says that sentient food is a naturally horrific thought, the movie can't sell that concept because humans have to literally be high to find this out. There's a reason Sid worked as an antagonist in Toy Story. He was sadistic, he liked blowing things up, he liked tearing toys apart and sticking the parts together at random. The reason this works, the reason that this can get to the audience is because we all played with toys. We could see characters in them, we could see them as people and we all knew how much it hurt when a toy broke. That in turn fed into the idea of Toy Story as a movie, because we could all imagine our toys going on adventures. I don't know about you, but I could never see food as anything but. It's interchangeable, and above all consumable. Sure I remember flavors, textures, and scents, but that's it. I suppose that's my problem with the film, I can't buy into the core conceit because I'm clearly not operating on the same wavelength as the film-makers were. Did Seth Rogen get high and watch a bunch of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Toy Story before writing this? Did the director? Did everyone?
Anyways, the food kills a bunch of people and a food orgy happens. Literally not kidding, they dose a bunch of people with bath salts (The drug not the stuff you put in the bath) so that they can see the food and literally blow a bunch of people up, bludgeon others, and so forth. I have a feeling this particular market is going to be visited by either The Men In Black or The Doctor soon, because this is some bullshit.
I could go into how the logistics of a food-orgy are total bullshit, how the female lead Brenda randomly breaks into song, or wonder how a taco shell can be attracted to a hot-dog bun when to the best of my knowledge there's very little crossover between those two foods in terms of cuisine. It would have made more sense if there was an unorthodox but still somewhat reasonable pairing, but that's further into it than I should go.
No, I'm going to mention a few things here before I wrap up the review that don't require investing much more time into this film so I can get back to playing SMTIV and Senran Kagura 2.
First off, Frank is referred to as a sausage despite very obviously being a hot-dog. Hot-dogs are sausages granted, but nobody calls them that.
Second is the fact that any and all pretense is thrown out of this film in the first three minutes of the film. Not even kidding. The opening musical number tosses every bit of subtlety and subtext off Mount Everest and then proceeds to explain every single innuendo that the film has. Not that the film would have had much subtlety anyways, the innuendos are some of the most inept I've seen in my freaking life. Not to mention that a bunch of them that weren't explained in the opening musical number are laid straight the hell out for the viewers in the second one.
Third, this film is absolutely filled with stereotypes. Some are the funny kind, like you'd find in Axis Powers Hetalia, others are just cringe-worthy. They trot out the same old tired agnostic, atheist and religious stereotypes that you can possibly find, put them together and then don't bother coming to any kind of actual conclusion despite one character actually being in the right. Opting instead for the most limp-wristed, non-committal resolution one could possibly imagine.
All in all, this was a bad fucking movie. I sincerely wish I hadn't watched a second of it, because despite the rather funny moments, there's nothing in this film that can grab me and make me all that interested. If it wasn't for the fact that they were shooting for an R-rating this film would be your run-of-the-mill kids trash pumped out by studios that aren't Pixar or Disney. To go back to something I said at the beginning of the review, I'm not sure what I expected out of this film exactly, but generally speaking? I wanted a bit more impact. Something more revolutionary and monumental. This is the first R-rated CGI film ever made, and as far as I can tell that's the only thing this film manages to do that's unique. I wish I could say this is a less embarrassing movie than Ghostbusters, but it's up there. Especially with some of the things Kristin Wiig's character has to say.
One more thing. Edward Norton? Be in better movies. You were Bruce Banner, you were the protagonist of Fight Club, you were nominated for three academy awards god-dammit! Go over to DC, try out for The Riddler, Deathstroke, Two-Face, anyone! Just do something other than any more of these movies!
In the end, I give Sausage Party a 1.2* I'll see you next week.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Suicide Squad

After seeing basically the perfect Suicide Squad in Arrow I wasn't entirely sure what to expect out of the DCEU version. We got the cool villains, some cool operations for them to flex their skills with, and some decent characterization to boot. I've never gone from loathing to loving a character the way I did Michael Rowe's Floyd Lawton. A suicidal depressive veteran turned hitman who would rather die a hero than live on as a villain if that meant his family could be taken care of. Will Smith is a damn fine actor, but once you've seen Rowe in action it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role. It's like Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, or Henry Cavill as Superman. It's hard to recreate perfection.
Fortunately, there weren't that many re-casts between the television universe and the movies. In fact, the only other one that had a major role in this movie was Amanda Waller.
It's rather odd to see the Suicide Squad get a movie before the Justice League, but as far as the narrative goes it works fine. The DCEU seems to be going for a very natural story progression, a natural escalation of the stakes. From Man of Steel to BvS to Suicide Squad, I can clearly see the decisions that lead up to every action and reaction in each succeeding film.
Spoilers inbound as usual, for Man of Steel, BvS and Suicide Squad alike, but if you're on the fence about watching this movie, do yourself a favor and watch it now, because you need to experience this film.
After the death of Superman, the United States government is looking into creating a team of superhumans that can combat a threat akin to that of General Zod, or Doomsday. At the very least they want something that can combat a group of supervillains. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) pitches the idea of a team of supervillains, the best of the criminal underworld, people that they can control with force, people who can be disposed of without raising the eyebrows of the public if they go rogue. There's Deadshot (Will Smith), who was taken in by Batman (Ben Affleck). Captain Boomerang, an Australian bank-robber (Jai Courtney in one of the best roles of his career) who was taken in by The Flash (Ezra Miller). El Diablo, a pyromancer who turned himself in. Killer Croc, a dude who looks like a croc who lived in the Gotham sewers until he was driven out by Batman and captured by Waller's people. Slipknot (Adam Beach), who is the guy you call if you need to climb, rappel, or otherwise need to use ropes and grappling technology to their most effective in your criminal activities. Harley Quinn, (Margot Robbie) the Arkham Asylum psychiatrist assigned to The Joker (Jared Leto) after his capture by Batman and the Gotham City Police Department subsequent to The Clown Prince of Crime's murder of Bruce Wayne's second adopted son, Jason Todd. Or possibly subsequent to his capture in The Dark Knight, depending on how Ben Affleck's Batman movie goes down. Over time she fell in love with The Joker and wound up assisting him in escaping from custody and returning to his place as the king of crime in Gotham City, with Harley as his queen until Batman caught up with them and captured Harley. For those of you wondering, the vast majority of this films takes place after BvS. The captures of Deadshot and Harley for one thing definitely do. However, a good amount of the flashbacks could easily take place beforehand, depends on what you personally think I suppose.
Then there's Dr. June Moon (Cara Delevingne), an archaeologist who is possessed by The Enchantress, an Aztec spirit who can take command of her body and basically do whatever. Enchantress is basically the thing that seals the deal as far as Task Force X is concerned. She delivers classified documents from enemy nations to the committee deliberating on whether to approve the formation of the team.
Finally, there's the leader of the team, the greatest special-ops soldier the US military has produced, Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) one of two people who don't fall under the "suicide" purview of the titular Suicide Squad. He was assigned to Moon in the hopes that they would get romantically entangled and it worked. This lets Waller rope Flag into any stupid plan she wants him to be involved in as long as she's got June to manipulate him with.
For as powerful and useful as The Enchantress is, she's unreliable as all hell when she wants to be. She'll plant a bomb, but not activate it. She'll teleport to nowhere and then come back, freaking out June and Rick alike. She'll give Rick a vision of June dying in his arms for absolutely no reason, and then piss off to resurrect her brother, Incubus so she can attempt to take over the world and gain revenge for being sealed away after being worshiped as a god. This leads to her going completely rogue and laying siege to Midway City. Waller then activates Task Force X to extract high-profile subjects from Midway, but the actual team are told they're dealing with human terrorists. They are injected with explosives to blow their heads off if they go rogue, and gear up to fly out to the city. On the way out, they're joined by the only other member of the squad who is here voluntarily, Katana (Karen Fukahara) who serves as Flag's bodyguard.
As they're leaving, The Joker continues his investigation into Harley's whereabouts, eventually blackmailing one of the people who works for Waller into telling him where she was being held. There, he finds out about the explosives planted inside the Suicide Squad and steals what they need to defuse them, and sets out to rescue Harley.
On the approach to the LZ, Task Force X's chopper is shot down, and they have to approach on-foot. Boomerang tricks Slipknot into trying to escape to see if the explosives are for real, and sure enough they are, because Slipknot's head is blown off like he took a fifty millimeter bullet to the head. Thus was born a million stupid Slipknot memorial memes.
What follows are some absolutely incredible action-scenes and some great interactions between the cast. Enchantress's minions attack the team, but they fight them off, and make their way to the  safe-house where their extraction target is revealed to be Waller herself, who is in the process of wiping servers, destroying documents, and capping her henchmen in the head.
One chopper evacs Waller, but the other has been hi-jacked by The Joker and his gang, who suppress the Suicide Squad enough to deactivate the bomb in Harley's neck. Harley escapes, but the chopper gets shot down, and The Joker pushes her out of the falling helicopter onto a rooftop below, and the chopper explodes, presumably killing The Joker and his men.
Meanwhile, Waller's chopper gets shot down, and The Enchantress's minions capture her. Deadshot finds Waller's files on superhumans and finds out why Enchantress's people have been going after Flag specifically, because she inhabits his girlfriend and Enchantress is scared of him. Because she's super powerful, is gathering an army of monsters to her side and they'll be killed whether or not they follow Flags orders, they decide to chill in a bar in their last moments of life. Eventually, Flag sits down for a drink with them, and lays all of his cards on the table. He deactivates his detonator that controls the explosives in the teams necks and tells them they're free to go as he sets off to rescue June on his own. This tugs at the heart of the family man inside of Deadshot, who decides to accompany Flag on the mission. Harley joins them, and Killer Croc goads the others into coming along.
They figure out where The Enchantress put the bomb she misplaced earlier in the week, and decide to force Incubus over top of it and kill him so that they can cut Enchantress's heart out and force her to vacate June's body. However, Enchantress feeds the Suicide Squad pictures of their ideal lives, but El Diablo manages to break out of it, and this helps everyone else break free as well.
Killer Croc leads the group of Navy Seals that accompanied Flag down into the sewers to detonate the bomb, while the rest of the team tries to get Waller and June free.
El Diablo goes one-on-one with Incubus, and eventually kills him at the cost of his own life. Enchantress gives them a chance to join her again, and it seems like Harley is going to join in exchange for Enchantress resurrecting The Joker, but she uses Katana's sword to cut out Enchantress's heart, and Deadshot uses Harley's Colt Python to blast the sorceress in the head. June breaks out of the shell of The Enchantress's dead body, everyone gets a decade off their sentences, and some reward. Deadshot gets time with his daughter, Killer Croc gets cable TV, Harley gets an espresso machine, Boomerang gets locked up even tighter because he didn't ask for anything doable, and June gets discharged because she's no longer possessed by The Enchantress.
While Harley is enjoying her coffee, a SWAT team breaks into Belle Reve and uses a K-12 to bust into Harley's cage. The leader takes off his mask, and reveals himself to be, of all people, The Joker!
Due to the fact that Waller made some monumentally stupid decisions, she goes to Bruce Wayne for protection. In exchange, she gives him the governments files on superhumans, setting up for the Justice League film.
All in all, this was a damn good movie. I've seen films that try to do the same thing Suicide Squad does and fail. The Expendables is probably the worst example of an ensemble action film in existence, not counting the sequels obviously. Suicide Squad proves that you only need another twenty minutes to your run-time, better characters, better sub-plots, a better main plot and better effects to really make that work. It's not an impossible feat, you just need to have a decent studio behind the movie, rather than one that routinely produces sub-standard direct-to-video action vehicles.
As far as characters go, we've got a brilliant line-up for the most part. Everyone gives a pretty good performance at the very least, so I won't bother name-checking every individual member. However, there are a few specific instances I would like to bring up. First off, I'd like to congratulate Jai Courtney for finally finding a good movie to be in. A Good Day to Die Hard was a movie that didn't really need to exist, and Jai Courtney didn't particularly sell himself as Jack McClane anyways. On the other hand, from the moment he spoke a single word in this film I bought him as the bogan-y bank-robber.
I could tell from the production stills and the handful of trailer clips I couldn't avoid that Margot Robbie was going to be a good Harley Quinn, and she didn't disappoint. She's not quite Tara Strong, but hardly anyone is.
This brings us to Will Smith as Deadshot, possibly the biggest issue with this film. I love Will Smith as an actor and a comedian alike, but his portrayal shifts back and forth between a pitch-perfect version of Deadshot and Agent J from Men In Black. This might be a product of the re-shoots DC ordered, but there's no way to tell until the film comes out on home media later in the year so we can take a look at all of the deleted and alternate scenes. If they decide to put all the cut footage onto the home release. I'm erring more on the side of studio-mandated re-shoots, considering the fact that a good number of Joker scenes appear to have been left on the cutting-room floor, not to mention the sheer amount of plot-sensitive content they cut out of Batman V Superman.
This brings me to The Joker himself, Jared Leto. I'll admit, I was apprehensive when I first saw Leto as The Joker. The tattoos and crowns were off-putting to say the least, but when Leto started performing, I was blown away. I didn't think anyone could pull off a combination of the Nicholson, Hamill and Ledger Jokers, but Leto and Ayer managed it. I wouldn't go as far as to say that he's better than Ledger, we'll have to wait for Ben Affleck's Batman movie to determine that, but he's up to par, certainly.
I like the chemistry Leto and Robbie have in this film. It's a twisted sort of chemistry, but it's still a good romantic chemistry. As opposed to some previous incarnations of their relationship, it seems to be a bit less exploitative on the part of The Joker and more of a mutual attraction. The two of them seem to genuinely care for each other, considering the lengths that The Joker goes to to rescue Harley, and even puts her safety above that of his own. It's sweet in an incredibly demented sort of way. Granted, he's still the freaking Joker, and given an assault-rifle with one magazine, an approaching zombie horde and The Joker as my only partner, I'd empty my rifle into his head and neck, steal everything he's got on him and bludgeon my way out of the horde with the rifle, because an empty gun is less likely to kill you than the freaking Joker.
I'm interested to see more out of the characters this film has introduced, and I'm also interested in seeing where the DCEU goes from here. Justice League, Suicide Squad 2, Teen Titans, wherever it goes from here I'm on-board. I want to see more of this.
Finally we come to the soundtrack. From the licensed tracks to the original score, we're looking at a brilliant selection of tracks. Out of the two films with "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath featured in them, Suicide Squad is the better film, but that's not saying much.
The one slightly off selection I can find is the placement of "Without Me" by Eminem while the Suicide Squad are gearing up. It would have fit into the film better if it played during the credits after the return of The Joker. However, there's less artistic bankruptcy to this licensed soundtrack than there are to most. I would prefer a mostly original soundtrack, but some things you just can't evoke without a specific song from a specific artist, and some scenes just scream awesome with their associated tracks. "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" by AC/DC is used to great effect during The Flash's encounter with Captain Boomerang.
However, the actual soundtrack album that was released is absolutely insane. In the film and trailers Queen's original version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" plays, but the Panic! At The Disco version is the one included on the album.
Then there's the fact that more than half of the tracks from the movie weren't included on the soundtrack album. This is somewhat absurd to me, but considering you can basically get those tracks on any number of other albums, it's not as egregious as certain films which don't include original compositions on their soundtrack album, like Top Gun. Worse, some don't have soundtrack albums at all, like Highlander.
Before we wrap up the review, I'd like to make one final note. This has been a terrible year for trailers. BvS had way too much being shown in the trailers, Ghostbusters had monumentally horrible trailers and TV spots across the board, and this film had way too many deleted-scenes shown in the trailers. That's something that I've always wondered about, why would they think that's a good idea? That's a tacit admission that the director wasn't involved with the marketing, and that's a horrible decision. There are some scenes that shouldn't be shown outside of the theater, and marketing shouldn't be allowed to spoil that for any reason. Then there are some scenes that were never meant to be shown at all that somehow wind up in the trailers. This is why I don't watch trailers anymore, they're ludicrous and absolutely superflouous. They're almost never representative of the final product, and typically wind up being deceptive. Bad movies tend to get good trailers and good movies tend to get bad ones. The art of trailer construction appears to have been lost to the ages, because the only good trailer I've seen in the last several years was for The Force Awakens. The Civil War trailers either got worse, spoiled more or both with every subsequent piece of additional footage after starting out with fairly strong trailers.
I might have to write a full article on the art of the trailer. Hell, I might even wind up ranking best and worst trailers this year. However, the quality of the trailers do not impact the rating of the movie.
In the end, I give Suicide Squad a 9.3*. I'll see you next week with either Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson or Sausage Party.

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Attack The Block

Every now and again, one way or another, some cult-film crosses my path somehow. Either by total accident, or because I just couldn't ignore it any longer. This time, Netflix was out and the PSN wouldn't connect to download the Amazon Prime app while the free trial is valid, so we wound up browsing through YouTube looking for something to watch. Eventually, we stumbled upon this film somehow, and I recommended that we keep watching because it has John Boyega in it. I wasn't really expecting much, since I'd never heard anything about the film except that it existed. What I got was possibly one of the best horror-comedies of all time. Not exactly Blood Punch levels of hilarious and brutal, but still pretty damn freaking good, especially for a directorial debut. The directors of The Angry Birds Movie could learn a thing or two from Joe Cornish. Not that these movies share a genre or anything, but if someone made an Angry Birds horror-comedy I would watch it. Probably wouldn't be that great, but it'd be interesting to see.
Spoilers inbound as usual, let's go!
While walking home on Guy Fawkes Night, Samantha Adams (Jodie Whittaker) is robbed by a gang of hoods, consisting of Pest, (Alex Esmail, not the second Gorgoroth front-man) Dennis, (Franz Drameh) Jerome, (Leeon Jones) Biggz, (Simon Howard) and the leader of the gang, Moses, (John Boyega). They steal some things from Samantha, but a meteorite crashes into a nearby car, allowing her to get away.
Moses goes to check it out and loot the car, but is scratched by a creature that emerges from the wreckage. The thing runs away, but the gang gives chase, and kills it. If you've seen Ben 10, just picture a hairless, miniature Wild-Mutt.
The gang hauls their prize back to the council-estate (Government-funded public housing) they live in, nick-named "The Block" and get high at their drug-dealer, Ron's (Nick Frost) apartment while they discuss their plans to get rich off the corpse of the alien.
They ask Ron and his boss Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) if they can store the alien in the weed-room while they sort things out. Hi-Hatz agrees, but only if Moses will sell some weed for him. They go back to their weed for a bit, and then more creatures start falling from the sky. Feeling confident in their abilities, they head out to hunt more of the creatures. Armed with swords, bats, fireworks, a machete, and a dog, they head out on bicycles and a mo-ped towards the park. There, they find that the other creatures that have landed are big, brawny, and have glowing teeth. The dogs runs off and is presumably eaten by the creature, and the gang flees the scene.
Meanwhile, Samantha has told the police about her encounter with the gang, and the two officers who responded intercept Moses, and arrest him.They find the weed that Hi-Hatz told him to sell, and confiscate it. They throw him in the van, but both of them are killed by two of the monsters. The gang drops a smoke-bomb into the fray and Dennis dashes to the van and drives it away from the monsters.
Eventually they crash into Hi-Hatz' car, who doesn't believe that Moses and them were attacked by gorilla-sized aliens before losing the weed until him and his goons are attacked by one of them. The gang flees back to the block, but Pest is attacked by a monster and bitten, and Biggz is separated from the group, and winds up hiding in a dumpster.
Moses and company make their way through the building, eventually finding Samantha. Having found a hospital nurses ID in her wallet, they force their way into her apartment and make her treat Pest's injured leg. She doesn't believe them about the monsters until one of them forces its way into her apartment and Moses has to kill it with the Katana Dennis was using earlier. The gang flees the compromised apartment, and Samantha joins them since she's more likely to be safe with them than on her own, taking a kitchen knife to defend herself with.
They go to the apartment of... I think the sister of one of the gang members, who have a gate on their door. The gate doesn't protect them since the monsters climb up the side of the tower and break in. Moses tries to fight back, but the Katana gets stuck in the wall. Samantha stabs the monster going after Moses in the neck, and the other monsters get zapped, chopped and generally beaten to death by the girls who live in the apartment. In the hallway, the gang get attacked by Hi-Hatz and his crew, who have armed themselves with heavier weapons to kill the monsters faster. Fortunately, one of the monsters goes after Hatz and his crew after being attacked, giving the gang time to escape.They decide to barricade themselves inside Hatz's weed-room and wait the invasion out. On the way up, they meet up with one of Ron's customers, Brewis (Luke Treadway). Brewis was the one whose car the first monster smashed into at the beginning of the film. He's high off his ass on weed, and is kind of useless, but they take him with them back up to the penthouse. On the way they run into some monsters, and pull out some more fireworks to distract then. The hallway is filled with smoke, and the gang gets disoriented. Dennis smashes into a wall and gets jumped by a monster. Pest goes back to look for him, but a monster bites Dennis's head off, and the gang flees to the penthouse.
Meanwhile, Biggz is saved by a couple of local kids who kill a monster with a super-soaker full of gasoline and a rocket. Biggz calls up the rest of the gang to tell them the monsters are vulnerable to fire as well as bullets and swords. A good thing to know, since they can tank lots of bullets.
They come up with a plan to blow up the monsters, but can't figure out how to lure all the monsters to one place until they notice some stains on Moses's clothes under the black-lights. Brewis suggests that the smaller creature they killed earlier might have excreted pheromones onto the gang that cause the others to come after them, with Moses having the vast majority of the stains on him, since he encountered the creature first. Moses has Samantha go into his apartment and turn all the gas on in the place, and then to flee to the outside. They pack all the contaminated clothing and the corpse itself into Pest's backpack, and Moses makes a mad dash for his apartment. With the katana, a lighter, and two remaining fireworks in-hand, he rushes through the horde, blows them up, and saves the world, presumably. None of the other monsters really show up in the ending, and I'd prefer to think of this as a happy-ending. Yeah, there's the question as to why all of them landed in Britain in that one spot, but if you can believe it for Doctor Who you can believe it for this.
Moses is blown out of the open window, but catches himself on a Union Flag. He and a few other members of the gang are arrested by the police, but hailed as heroes by the crowd and defended by Samantha. I presume that they get commendations and knighthoods because of this, before being recruited by UNIT or Torchwood, depending on who gets to them first. Possibly both depending on who's running UNIT.
All in all, this is one damn fine movie. It more than filled the gap between Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad. I would have watched the last Bourne movie, but I completely forgot that the new one was coming out. I wasn't even aware that Jason Bourne was the films final title. I thought they'd go for the name of one of the novels. Jason Bourne makes me think of Rocky Balboa or John Rambo, same-name sequels that aren't reboots.
The Anglosphere seems to do horror-comedy the way nobody else does. Visceral, punchy, and humorous in a way that's darker than the fur of the monsters in this film. As I said before, while the movie isn't quite as visceral and punchy as Blood Punch, it makes up for it with the moments of sheer laugh-out-loud absurdity that it does have. It's also got better visual and audio effects than Blood Punch, but that alone can't make it a better movie. I will say this though, at least there's no bizarrely-shot, poorly choreographed gun-fight towards the end of the film.
In the end, as much as I can compare it to Blood Punch, they are two very different films trying for very different feels. I give it an 8.5* rating.

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