Monday, November 28, 2011

Word Vomit: Spitting Out A Few More Movie Reviews

So in addition to Hugo, I ended up seeing quite a number of movies this week. I guess me and my buddy went a little nuts at the theater. So anyways, in order from best to worst, here's a few quick thoughts on the other movies I saw over the holiday weekend:

Martha Marcy May Marlene

This intense psychological thriller was a very interesting and extremely engaging movie all around, with an especially awesome performance by Elizabeth Olsen. I didn't know much about it going in, and I think my viewing experience really benefited greatly for it. My only real knock against the movie is that the ending felt a bit abrupt, which was initially off-putting. However, upon further reflection, I actually quite liked the way it was handled. One of the year's best, without a doubt.


Did Shakespeare actually write his plays? The director of such explosive movies as Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012 aims to tackle that very subject himself. And as it turns out, one of Roland Emmerich's movies that doesn't focus on the complete and total destruction of the world also happens to be one of his best. Certainly his best movie since Independence Day. It suffers from some sloppy editing earlier on, which makes it initially hard to follow along. However, it really pulls itself together by the end, and actually is quite an intriguing and, well, Shakespearean story.


This was just fun as hell. Sure, it's stupid, and at times it borders on flat out parody, but it's just so much fun that you don't even care. And it's really pretty to look at, too. Never before have I seen so many heads removed so beautifully from their respective bodies. Don't let the horrible trailers fool you, this really is one of the best pure action films in quite some time.

Tower Heist

This was surprisingly a lot more entertaining than I was ever expecting. It's not exactly the funniest movie, though there's a few good laughs to be had. But what really makes this movie work is just how over the top and ridiculous things continue to escalate to, and it really keeps you wondering just what'll happen next. Not the overly-predictable, stupid comedy that I was expecting.

J. Edgar

It wasn't bad necessarily, but it didn't do much for me. It was interesting enough, though it did drag a bit, and the constant jumping between time periods became tiresome. Leonardo DiCaprio obviously does a great job here, and his makeup wasn't nearly as bad as it looked in the trailers. But I'm actually surprised to not hear much praise for Armie Hammer, who really impressed me in particular with his portrayal as J. Edgar Hoover's right hand man (and possibly more?), Clyde Tolson.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


They aren't lying when they say that Hugo is a love letter to film. This is the latest from director Martin Scorsese, based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I was initially skeptical about this movie, as early previews didn't look too promising. However, seeing Martin Scorsese's name attached to this did pique my interest, as this definitely didn't look like his usual work, to say the least. But the more I learned about what this film was really supposed to be like, the more I had to see it for myself.

The trailers were a bit deceiving for this one, it's not nearly as silly as they'd leave you to believe. In fact, while the film is certainly kid friendly, I'd be hard pressed to actually call this a children's movie. I really see this being one where adults and lovers of film will get a whole lot more out of it than kids. It has the whimsy of a children's story, but deals with issues that are a little more adult, and I just can't help but feel that this won't be nearly as fun of a movie going experience for kids.

Not to call the film boring, it's really not. In fact, right from the very beginning, as the camera swoops in on the scene and follows our main character around, you can just tell that you're in for a real treat. Where Super 8 payed homage to more modern movies, Hugo pays homage to classic, silent films and film history. And like those silent films, this movie often plays out as a silent film itself, with scenes that are captured with a certain elegance that'll leave you mesmerized. To say the film is beautiful feels like the wrong word to use, given the dark, somewhat gloomy color scheme, though this film is very, very visually appealing.

The basic premise is that Hugo Cabret's father had died, leaving behind only a broken automaton that he found at a museum. Hugo is taken to a Paris train station, where he secretly works the clocks and lives the life of a thief, stealing the parts he needs to fix the automaton and discover his father's last message to him. In his journey, he meets Georges Méliès, the bitter old toy shop owner who catches Hugo stealing from his shop, and Isabelle, the young girl who helps him in his adventure.

The kids, played wonderfully by Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz, do a particularly good job in their roles, though there's times where they act more like adults than they do kids. These times are few, but they're a little jarring when they happen, and really feel misplaced. But that's really a minor nitpick, and all around, the acting is really good in this film. Even Sacha Baron Cohen, who was thankfully a lot more downplayed than the trailers lead on.

Where this film really begins to excel is when it dives into the history of film itself, and especially when we take a look into the true story of Georges Méliès' past as a magician and filmmaker. This part is just really interesting, and it's amazing to see how the imagery becomes more interwoven into the story. I just really love how truly connected everything feels the more our main characters learn.

Hugo is a nice, heart warming film that deals with following one's dreams, dealing with life's regrets, and ultimately finding one's place in the world. It's not what I was expecting, but I had a great time, and I really can't stress enough just how visually appealing this film is to watch. With so many big blockbusters and bigger name family films releasing now, it probably didn't come out at the greatest of times, but I'd still definitely try and give this one a look.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Celebrating 20 Years of Sonic the Hedgehog

It's far from perfect, but despite its flaws, Sonic Generations is the first good console Sonic game in over a decade. It sure did take them long enough to finally get it right!

This game is a celebration of the hedgehog's 20 year run thus far. It's broken up into three eras, each of which features three stages, a rival match, a boss fight, and several optional challenges. Playing as either classic or modern Sonic, you play through various stages from all of the major titles in the series. The first era is the classic era, featuring stages from the original Genesis games. Then you move onto the Dreamcast era, featuring levels from the Adventure titles, as well as Sonic Heroes. And the last era is from the current generation, featuring stages from the 2006 Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Unleashed, and Sonic Colors.

I didn't realize that they were only going to include a single stage from each game, and I was initially disappointed to see them go with some of my least favorite levels to represent the classic games. Now, I know what they were going for with this level set-up, but since the modern style of Sonic has spanned over the previous two eras, the classic Sonics do feel a bit under-represented in comparison. I especially question them using levels from games as current as Sonic Colors, which just came out only a year ago (not to mention the Colors level is by far the worst, and relies far too heavily on stupid gimmicks).

But this is one of those games where it really is easy to get bogged down talking about what should or shouldn't have been included, when really, for the most part, what made it into the game is actually quite fine as it is. And even though several iconic stages didn't make the cut, the game does a good enough job throwing in little references and tributes to anything not included, such as the spinning top from Marble Garden being used in Sky Sanctuary, or the Hydrocity-esque section in Seaside Hill.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, every stage is broken up into two acts, one for the classic Sonic, played in the original 2D style, and the modern Sonic, played mostly on a 3D plane with occasional 2D sections, and using the Unleashed control scheme. The classic gameplay isn't exactly how you might remember it. Sonic doesn't continue to gain momentum when you roll into a ball while in motion, and you're forced to mash the spindash button multiple times to actually launch him off, where as pressing it once won't do a damn thing. These are minor issues, but noticeable for any seasoned Sonic vet such as myself, and they're the kinda thing that takes a little getting used to. Controls aside, if there's one complaint I have about the classic levels, it's the fact that the 3D rendering in them makes certain traps hard to distinguish from the rest of the environment. Spikes are especially hard to decipher, where as in their original sprite forms, the spike traps always stood out.

The original classic stages are all well and good, but what's really impressive is the re-imagined modern stages in the classic style. Crisis City feels very reminiscent to Lava Reef Zone, and City Escape may be the most imaginative level they've come up with in years. I also love how, in many cases, they took the overly generic baddies in the modern games and managed to give them a classic style personality.

The classic stages impressed, though that wasn't much of a surprise. The big shocker here was just how good they nailed down the modern levels. Modern Sonic is actually oftentimes even more fun to play than his classic counterpart. It's just so fun zooming forward and zipping from enemy to enemy in midair. They finally got 3D Sonic working, and working well. There's little to no cheap deaths, where as prior 3D Sonics were riddled with poor controls, buggy sections, and bottomless pits that kept killing you over and over. Nope, this game's smooth sailing for the most part. And Rooftop Run is pretty much just absolute pure gaming bliss, possibly even topping the original City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2 as the best stage in a 3D Sonic game.

The other portions of the game are the rival matches and boss fights. You'll face off against Metal Sonic, Shadow the Hedgehog, and Silver the Hedgehog in what are essentially boss fights on the go. They're easy enough, though the Shadow match was a pain in the ass just figuring out what exactly you were supposed to do, a problem that would later resurface with the final boss. Each era also has an actual boss fight, with you taking on the Death Egg Robot (a ridiculously easy version of the notoriously impossible Sonic 2 boss), Perfect Chaos, and the Egg Dragoon. Most of these fights are pretty straight forward, and you'll receive a chaos emerald for successfully completing them.

Then after all that's done, you move on to the final boss, the Time Eater. This fight features the classic Eggman (nobody calls him Robotnik anymore!) and the modern Eggman taking on both classic and modern Sonic at the same time. The Sonics are in their super forms, in what is essentially a throwback to the Doomsday Zone fight at the end of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, minus the fun. This is probably the most obnoxious boss fight in all of Sonic history. Throughout the fight, Sonic's friends are cheering him on and offering all sorts of useless advice that'll only get you killed if you bother to follow it. This fight is so frustrating, and it all stems from the fact that you really can't even tell what it is exactly you're supposed to do. I actually had to look up online just how to beat this guy. It was easy enough once I knew how, but jeez, I woulda never figured that out on my own, and several other people online expressed similar problems with this fight. This may be the most disappointing conclusion to a Sonic game yet.

But all in all, good as the game can be, the real hero here is the music. My god, the music is tremendous! The Sonic series has always been known to have good music, but this is seriously some of the best stuff to come out of this series, or any video game for that matter. The modern remixes of classic songs are just a joy to listen to, but even more so than that is the classic remixes to modern tunes. The classic mixes for Crisis City and City Escape especially blew my mind away. And when you're in the mini hub section between stages, a softer, more symphonic version of each stage's song will play. I've spent so much time with this game just keeping Sonic still and listening to these songs in this area, they're just so, so good.

So yeah, overall, despite a few shortcomings, the game is good, even if it is relatively short. But there's tons of replay value to be had, and lots of stuff to keep you busy after you're done. It's particularly nice to see that they've learned from the mistakes they made with Sonic and the Secret Rings by making the challenges optional this time around. In fact, all of the major flaws that have ruined past Sonics are absent from this title. There's no forced side missions, no big, boring hub worlds, no game breaking glitches, no werehogs, and for the most part, no stupid, pointless gimmicks. This is straight up Sonic the Hedgehog, brought into the modern age of gaming the way he should have been 10 years ago. It's taken them a long while, but Sonic's finally up to the quality we'd been hoping to get for years. Welcome back, Sonic, and Happy 20th Anniversary!