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Horror Weekend

As some of you have realized, in recent years I’ve become somewhat into horror fiction–due to my wife’s interest in it as well as other factors. So this weekend I continued what has become an annual tradition, of watching the latest Paranormal Activity when it becomes available for legal home viewing. We also watched some other horror-themed movies (including Hotel Transylvania, which I won’t mention again in this post). So let’s dive in…

As I’ve detailed previously, I enjoy the Paranormal Activity films (at least on paper) because they involve the viewer, and they also have an element of voyeurism. Very creepy. The first PA did a fantastic job of this, and the second tried to repeat the formula with a few new gimmicks, which of course is not the best way to do horror. What it did do well, was advance the mythology of the series in a smart, organic way. The third movie, in contrast, advanced the mythology in a really stupid way. Or, maybe, to a stupid place. Its premise was great–take the two sisters that sort of protagonized the first and second film jump back in time (well, again–technically wonderful!), and explore the events hinted at earlier. I was so psyched to see it. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t have anywhere good to GO beyond that premise. So rather than fizzle out, it tossed in a wacky cult that had no place in the series and wasn’t properly explained. So it went from a tight, if limited, premise to this weird nonsensical origin story nobody liked.

I was willing to give film 4 the benefit of the doubt, because it ditched the ultimately wasted “looking back” progression to jump forward in time to the near-present and see what happens after the first movie. Clearly we have a completely new family that has some level of wrong-place-wrong-time syndrome. I was eager to see how this tied in, and hopeful they’d ditch the lame cult and focus on the monster. As things progressed, I was even on board for the rather silly new gimmicks–because they were creepy and created a nice sense of suspense and tension. Unfortunately–even worse than the third movie–nobody gave this story anywhere to go.  Lots of creepy set up and then… a plot revelation that makes absolutely no sense–but that’s okay because they don’t bother trying to explain it! And then the movie ends.  See, in the other films, you’d build toward an expectation, that would be subverted with a twist… that twist would tie into a greater mythology and then before anybody had a chance to find the truth–they’d die.  But there are no hints of truth here. Nothing ties into the greater mythology (in fact, this entire movie is basically a self-contained plot hole). Extremely disappointing.  Maybe we push PA 5 to 2014 and think things through a bit better? Maybe?

Our second film was also a surprise, but a much more positive one…

Warm Bodies is good. I mean it won’t be up for an Oscar next year, but it’s a good movie. Early reviews came back positive but I didn’t get TOO hopeful… and I was pleased (and a little surprised). I had feared a lame zombie movie… but looking at online manifestos against the film I see a lot of people calling it out as a Twilight wannabe. Ha–no. I don’t even see how you can think that, as the trailers at the very LEAST depict a tongue-in-cheek sardony at work here. Maybe you saw the trailers for Beautiful Creatures and got confused?

Anyway, it’s based on a novel that is an expanded version of the original short story. It has a message. Not a preachy, in your face message–but nothing so trite as “true love cures zombies” either. It’s a message worth pondering and discussing with friends afterward, and it’s woven in very subtly and cleverly… I’m kind of sad it wasn’t more hard-hitting and profound.  That said, if you’re in the first 3 years of high school its message most definitely IS hard-hitting and profound, so thesis away my young academic friends. This movie is rife with potential.

But ignoring all the navel gazing of youth–it’s also a fun movie. Humorous, well-paced, it even has a jump or two. There are far worse ways to spend your cinematic dollar, and if you’ve been handed a stub with the words “Resident Evil” on them in the past four years, you kind of owe it to the universe to sprint toward Warm Bodies. I’m certainly glad my weekend viewing ended on this note, rather than the previous one.

 

 

Best of 2012

Happy New Year everyone.  I know my blog hasn’t been exactly “hopping” lately, but I’d be a horrible person not to summarize my picks for the year.  Once again – please keep in mind, I have in no way experienced all of the things that came out in 2012 so if your favorite thing isn’t on my list, deal with it.  And this has been a weird year for my media consumption patterns, so we go to some weird places.

Book of the Year - The Cross in the Closet (Timothy Kurek) (by default)

I apparently didn’t read many books of import this year – certainly not anything that actually came out in 2012. That’s a little weird. I’m currently working through Ghostwritten, but that’s not new.  Of the 2012 books I DID read, though, this nonfiction one was pretty important. The basic idea being the author (a Christian) was brought up to believe homosexuals were the enemy. So to test this belief he decides to “come out of the closet” to understand what homosexuals actually must face, from family abandonment to being ostracized from certain facets of society.  He does this for a year, and learns a lot about love and how Christianity is supposed to work. Recommended for anybody with a stake in the Chick-fil-a debate.

 

Album of the Year - Days Go By (The Offspring)

So this one wins primarily because it’s finally another good Offspring album. By which I mean, not just “cool if you like the band” but interesting and relevant and also cool if you like the band.  Soooo many old groups have dropped the ball lately (Linkin Park, Blink182) and it’s disappointing because I lack the ability to stop buying a series of something that I’ve ever at any point liked.  So it’s nice to be rewarded once in a while. Better than Offspring’s been since Americana–you know, the last time you remember hearing about them, and track 1 is exactly what I thought Offspring would sound like in 2012 when I first got into them.

Runner up: V/A (Handheld Heroes)

 

Movie of the Year - Wreck it Ralph

So, I saw a lot of movies I enjoyed this year, but a lot of them on video and stuff seeing as we couldn’t leave the house for half the year, and then didn’t go to movies much during the final months when all the nerdy important emotional films are in theaters.  But that’s okay, because this would have been my movie of the year anyway – Wreck it Ralph.  It was great!  It is too perfect to exist, so I have no idea why it’s here, but it is.  It goes beyond just a dozen or so funny game references in that its made by people who “get” games, so all the other non-referency decisions are basically references, because they are how games WORK, not just “remember Pac Man? Ha ha!” type moments.  It’s funny, has hearts, and is a very well constructed movie.

Runners up: Cloud Atlas, The Hobbit

 

New Show of the Year - Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23 (ABC) (by default)

Another “by default” win – we just haven’t started watching any new shows really.  So while I’m not saying you should start watching “B” right away because it’s totally awesome (it’s not)… for a lame show, it’s not bad. The best part which you should be aware of is that James Van Der Beek (Dawson) plays himself on the show, and by “himself” I mean an egotistical, oblivious jerkwad. It’s hilarious self-satire and it’s what keeps me coming back.  Keep in mind I have never once seen Dawson’s Creek – but the skewering is so entertaining it works regardless.

 

Returning Show of the Year – How I Met Your Mother (CBS) (caveat)

So this is a bit of a lie and a misdirection, as it really should be going to Doctor Who, which I discovered this year AND had a good season.  The current season HIMYM isn’t actually its strongest. So why did I choose it?  Well, because I think a lot of people may have dismissed it as just some stupid sitcom, or like me, some stupid sitcom with a terribly stretched premise after 8 seasons.  Well, the thing about HIMYM besides the crazy and appealing acronym for its name, is that it does really interesting things with plotting and the flow of time that no other show has done.  While this is far more appealing in seasons 2-4 than the recent ones, those seasons are definitely worth experiencing and if you haven’t, then get to Netflix and invest some time.  These writers know, or at least knew, what they were doing and crafted some great fun for continuous viewers.  Also it has Neil Patrick Harris who is just delightful(ly a terrible person in this show).

But also go watch the “Don’t Blink” episode of Doctor Who and if you dig that, dive in.

Runners up: Doctor Who (BBC), Supernatural (CW), Walking Dead (AMC)

 

Portable Game of the Year - Kid Icarus: Uprising (Nintendo, 3DS)

I love Kid Icarus. When Nintendo announced this game, I don’t know, 4 E3′s ago at this point? it was like they announced it just for me. It came out this year, and it was pretty sweet. Every level was basically an anime episode that played out in the background as you flew over Nintendo’s finest pre-WiiU graphical showpieces fighting crazy monsters at increasingly high speeds. It also had oodles of 8-bit fanservice and a great villain swap a few levels in. Also, Troy Baker speaking computer binary faster than you’d think possible. So it’s got everything. Unfortunately I didn’t really have time to devote just to KI when it came out, and ended up beating it months later on the (far superior) 3DS XL. It’s a shame, too, because there is TONS of content locked away that I never scratched the surface of, from an innovative difficulty system feeding into loot crafting and online multiplayer…  If you’re the type of person, or the same age as, I was when I first fell in love with the Kid Icarus franchise–and one game has to last you a month or more, Kid Icarus: Uprising really WAS made just for you.

Runners up: Final Fantasy Theatrhythm (SquareEnix, 3DS), New Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo, 3DS)

 

Digital-Only Game of the Year - Tokyo Jungle (Sony Computer Entertainment, PSN)

As much as I want to give the nod to my buddy Sean Velasco at WayForward–and you should definitely all go download Double Dragon right now–Tokyo Jungle is exactly the type of game I always used to imagine playing as a kid, but had to accept would never get made. And yet it lives. This is a game where you play as an animal in post-apocalypse Tokyo and are forced to survive. There are a bazillion animals to unlock, a story mode, and the main survival mode. It plays like a light roguelike on a nightmare version of the Nature Channel. Nothing beats sneaking around as a house cat and engineering a battle between Shibuya’s Tiger and Hippo populations.

Runners up: Super Hexagon (the VVVVVV guy, iOS), Double Dragon Neon (WayForward, PSN), Fez (Polytron, XBLA)

 

PC Game of the Year - Walking Dead (TellTale)

Another year, another instance of me cheating this category by lauding a game I played on console by virtue of me not actually playing PC games… Walking Dead is pretty great. You know that, because you’ve already played it, but if you haven’t for some reason give it a shot. It’s a LOT like Shattered Memories in that the experience is meant to tailor AROUND you and the point is really MAKING the decisions, not having an actual different game play out than people who chose differently… and that’s fine, because making a game that ACTUALLY supported independent results for 12 hours of choices would be out of the scope and budget of the industry as it stands (but at least SH:SM had multiple endings, just sayin’).

Point is, like the show and comic, Walking Dead puts you in the very grim reality of a zombie apocalypse and the difficulty of banding together to survive when everyone in your group is just as frazzled, damaged, and close to death as you are. No punches are pulled, and the game does an admirable job of endearing you to Clementine, the nine-year-old who’s been put in your care. I haven’t heard of anybody NOT affected by seeing Clementine’s disappointed pout after they made a tough but necessarily horrible decision at some point in the game.  This is good stuff, and if you’re a fan of storytelling in digital media it’s pretty much a must-purchase.

 

Console Game of the Year - Journey (That Game Company, PS3)

Speaking of storytelling in digital media, there are great ways to do that without crafting rails around a linear narrative. Not sure how? Play Journey. Journey isn’t just the most beautiful looking thing on four wheels, but it integrates multiplayer in a brilliant way that not only keeps you safe from the perils of the other people on the internet, but also tells a self-created narrative. You’re on a journey with others–and you will interact with them (or not) as you go along. Most will help you, some will ignore you, and in the end you’ll be better having struggled alongside someone else than going it alone. The great thing about this is, the metaphor doesn’t just apply to one type of person. My experience was trying to keep up with (or guide) the same person through as much of the journey as possible… but any other approach is equally valid, and supported by the game and its narrative. Did you break off from your friend when he wasn’t as concerned with treasure hunting for trophies?  Did you find a white robe and follow his every move hoping to get one of your own?  Did you decide the multiplayer was stupid and ignore it, or worse yet, disconnect from PSN so you didn’t have to be bothered?  These all say something about YOU, the player, and don’t help or hinder your ability to reach the end of the journey… powerful stuff, and all without a single line of dialogue.

 

Runner Up - Spec Ops: The Line (2K, XBox 360)

So this deserves more than just a funny caption, because it’s pretty heavy and depressing. You need to play Spec Ops. If you hate modern military shooters (or like me, never play them) you need to play Spec Ops.  If you LOVE modern military shooters, you especially need to play Spec Ops.  It has a message, and that message is not a trite “War is bad guys.”  Just play through it. It’s kind of a miracle this game exists in its final form.

 

But Seriously You Owe it to Yourself to Play - Super Meat Boy (Team Meat, XBLA) (disqualified – came out years ago)

Blog? What’s going on with seriously Tomm update your dumb blog.

Hey all! Real life is all busy and such so all my down-time has gone to relaxing with games or movies or shows or whatnot rather than blogging. There’s also been a lot of traveling around lately and that tires me out. I figured I should check in and maybe update with some of the things I’ve been spending my time with lately. Maybe if you spend your time on them, you won’t need me to update.

But sorry for the lack of updates.

MOVIES

Brave – Pixar’s latest. It’s good (see, I said it was Pixar, there. And the title is not “Bug’s Life”). However, it was a bit less adventurous than I would have liked, and I felt the movie was a little bit scattered in its plotting. The “point” of the movie doesn’t start moving until nearly halfway in, and some events just seem thrown in at random without properly connecting to the story as a whole. I’ve had a lot of people disagree with me so your mileage may vary. It also succumbs to Video Game Logic in a spot or two, and that’s pretty sloppy for Pixar. Obviously beautiful, though.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home – I’m beginning to like Jason Segel, so I thought I’d check out this movie. It’s a bit weird, and if you hate those indie-type films about regular unremarkable people you probably won’t like it much. Without spoiling much I’d say it’s Signs, but without aliens and grounded in the rules of reality. I enjoyed.

Indie Game: The Movie – Ever wonder what it’s like to make a game? Or what type of person attempts such a thing? Well, then you should enjoy this movie. The people featured are kind of extreme examples, but I could definitely relate despite never having considering suicide if a game failed (I will admit to a small bit of satisfaction when Phil Fish encountered negative fans on the internet).  Nevermind the trailer making it seem all pretentious and stuff.  You don’t have to like these people (you don’t like me!), but you will be interested in them and their successes.

The Amazing Spiderman – You already know if you’re going to see this movie or not. Anyway, I thought it was a bit better than the previous series in a lot of ways. I won’t get into detail, but the Spiderman bits were truer to the comics (more cracking wise) and a lot more impressive (constant webslinging). However,  Garfield’s Peter Parker was a bit odd. Rather than shy/nerdy he comes off socially retarded. Maybe that’s just the modern version of nerdy, but it was hard for me to watch in some scenes.

The Secret World of Arrietty – It’s a Ghibli film, so watch it.

GAMES

Super Meat Boy – Indie Game The  Movie got me interested in trying this out, and I wasn’t disappointed. Don’t be deterred by the fabled difficulty, as it’s really not that terrible. Stages are incredibly short and you respawn immediately after dying. Tons of retro references, too.

Walking Dead – Forget about waiting for the upcoming game from Activision, Telltale’s adventure version captures the feel of the series perfectly. It’s tense, dark, and forces you to make split second decisions you don’t want to make. It’s episodic (2 Chapters so far), though there is a bug where the game doesn’t quite remember  every choice you made, but hopefully that gets resolved. I will admit it’s fun to play a game so clearly built off Shattered Memories.

Frogger: Hyper Arcade Edition – Did you enjoy Pac-Man CE? Do you like Frogger? I don’t care, buy this fun game. Didn’t you ever wonder why I wrote that Daft Punk / Frogger parody?

Fallen London – Do you like Social games, but wish they were more compelling and less colorful?  Check this one out, it’s pretty good.

Realm of the Mad God – Do you hate Social games because they’re nothing like actual games? This one is! Check it out.

COMICS

Walking Dead – Being a fan of the show, I decided to use Comixology on my iPad to get caught up on the comic that inspired it all. Holy crap is it depressing. If you hate life or are interested in hating life, make sure you read this (but in a good way). I will say, if you are squeamish or events in fiction can really bother you, you might want to think twice. Walking Dead is GRIM with a capital bleak.

TELEVISION

Dr. Who – Here’s the big one. Dr. Who is brilliant. This would be the 2005+ show, rather than the old version from the 60′s (which my wife used to watch with her dad–so she can fill me in). We’re just finishing the fourth series now, and I’m consistently floored by the thought of how much this show would blow me away were I a 12-year-old.  Which isn’t to say it isn’t great now–I just mean I’m a bit jealous of the kids who get to experience Who before being jaded by media overload. I guess I could be older than 12… my Sophomore year of high school I was blown away by Disney’s Gargoyles and Chrono Trigger, and this is like those combined times five.  Check it out if you haven’t already, nevermind the fart jokes early on.

OTHER

Extra Credits – A lot of people ask us game professionals “how can I make games?” or “How can I get your job so Silent Hill doesn’t suck anymore?” well, these people clearly are not watching Extra Credits.  This is a series of videos on Penny Arcade (I guess they started on Escapist) that address a variety of topics throughout gaming that you might not think of if you’re a more general “fan” of gaming–but you should.  The person who writes them is apparently a big time design consultant who also lectures at DigiPen. I wholly recommend them, even though they criticize my Silent Hills while clearly having never actually played them.  (At least from what I can tell) Love you anyway, EC.

Now with 100% more iPad posting

So I went for a walk today and saw a bus stop poster for Men in Black 3. Now, I’ve known for a while they were doing a sequel to MiB but I was able to ignore it–pretend maybe I’d imagined it. But here, staring at a bus stop, I was faced with the cruel reality of the situation. It’s kind of proof that Hollywood is entirely upside down.

The original Men in Black was released in 1997. I was 17 years old. People who are now 17 (for the release of MiB3) were TWO. TWO YEARS OLD. They didn’t run out to see MiB. There’s a good chance many of them haven’t even seen the original movie.

Then there was a crappy sequel we all forgot about. MiB3 is, of course, a direct sequel to these films. Same characters, same continuity.

By contrast, Spiderman came out in 2002 – I was 22. This year, they are REBOOTING this franchise, with a new cast, new continuity, etc. The last Spiderman film was 2007! And the last good one was just 3 years before that! We are still squarely in “direct sequel” range. And you know where today’s 22 year olds were when the original Spiderman came out? Right there in the theater with me, as 12-year-olds.  There is no need to reboot Spiderman! Look how long they waited between “Batclooney” and “Begins”.

So we’re rebooting a recently successful franchise, and we’re sequelizing a comparatively ancient series from my teens. Up is down, B is jump… it’s madness.

From the tagline on the poster (“They are back… in time.”) I can only assume the plot involves going back to the sublime original, and just re-enacting that film in its entirety. But audiences today don’t want the MiB of the 90′s. The original movie was great, don’t get me wrong, and it made The XFiles look stodgy by comparison. But we’ve moved beyond it. Do kids still say “aw HELL nah” anymore?

No, what we need is a rebooted MiB. Throw Donald Glover in there as the nerdy but overeager recruit, ready to make his mark. Pair him with Jeff Bridges, the super laid-back hippy agent with his head in the clouds, spouting wild theories about an intergalactic counsel deeming Earth unnecessary (that he’s secretly right about). I’d watch that for 90 minutes; the perfect combination of Chuck and Men Who Stare at Goats.

Is he not a cool and stylish government agent?

But instead of something original and cool, they’re going to drag out the old cast and try to make us care as much as we did when it was a pleasant summer surprise. They could at least have the courtesy to flashy thing us so the jokes seemed fresh and new.

People watching other people sleeping, thrice

So Paranormal Activity 3 hit DVD/Blu-Ray this week, which means I finally got to watch it tonight.

I can’t imagine watching these in the theater without house noises behind you to add to the creep factor.  Along with a meowing cat who wants your attention.

I’ve been excited about PA3 since the first trailer–which isn’t even in the film.  This is something I normally HATE (when a trailer’s footage isn’t in the movie) dating all the way back to Men in Black.  I can kind of understand it as you don’t want to reveal the funniest/coolest parts of a movie, but it rarely works.  When a similar scene is coming up, you EXPECT what was in the trailer and when you don’t get it… it isn’t cool and surprising, it’s a little annoying and ruins whatever effect they were trying to get.  HOWEVER, in PA3 it totally works because it ties into how one of the characters is thinking.  He KNOWS how this is going to go… and then it doesn’t go that way.  Very cool.

There’s a lot more intelligent scripting to these movies than people give them credit for.  Many things in this film parallel the overall events of the series thus far, and I very much like that each movie slowly reveals a bigger story.  It reminds me of a certain video game horror series you might be familiar with.

The voyeurism aspect is amped up in this film, with the camera guy rigging one camera with the remains of an oscillating fan for an auto-panning camera that’s responsible for some of the best scares in the movie.  Scary stuff happening to adult characters is one thing, but the fact it happens to little girls (this is a prequel, in case you were unaware) adds a new helpless anxiety.

Basically, if you don’t like these movies, part 3 won’t change your mind.  However if you do like them, this is better than 2.  I do miss the element of outside characters from the first film (with an exorcist, etc.)  I’m not sure if they decided that remove realism or something, but I hope they bring it back.  Which they’ll have a chance to do, as they just announced part 4 is in the works.  Hooray!  See you same time next year, I suppose.

(image taken from Paranormal Activity 3)

Best of 2011

Happy New Year everyone.  Since I have a blog now, I figured it’d be fun to do a fancy “Best of the Year” list.  So we’ll take a break from Skyward Sword (which I beat two nights ago) to rundown the year’s best… things.  Keep in mind, I have in no way experienced all of the things that came out in 2011 so if your favorite thing isn’t on my list, deal with it.

Book of the Year – 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)

With all my international travel, I’ve had a lot of time to read this year.  Of course, most of the books I’ve been reading aren’t actually from 2011, so this is a difficult list to make.  You end up with the two books I read that DID come out this year.  And my BotY here isn’t even a book I’ve finished – I’m about halfway through.  However, I’m enjoying it immensely.  I’m a big Murakami fan, having read all of his novels released in English, and this is on track to being in my top 3.  I’m not sure anything could top Norwegian Wood (certainly not something 900 pages long), but this is incredibly enjoyable.  It features two stories running in parallel, and I’m enjoying them both.  I’d say it’s definitely among Murakami’s most accessible books.  So unless it takes a weird bizarre turn (which it easily could–it wouldn’t be his first time), it’s far and away the best book I’ve read this year.

Runner up by default: Bossypants (Tina Fey)

 

Album of the Year – Wasting Light (Foo Fighters)

This one wasn’t even a contest.  Again, I’ve been traveling a lot, and that entails a lot of music-listening.  On top of that, I wrote Book of Memories – and writing requires even more music listening.  I kept coming back to this album.  They recorded it in Dave Grohl’s garage, to return to a rough “rock band” sound.  It certainly comes through.  The tracks are nice and raw, and just great songs.  “Rope” has some really nice lyrics, and there are a few songs that would sound at home in Silent Hill.

Runners up: 21 (Adele), Camp (Childish Gambino – explicit lyrics)
Biggest Pleasant Surprise: Sea of Memories (Bush) – their best album since their first album

 

Movie of the Year – Rise of the Planet of the Apes

So if you haven’t seen this film, you’re probably like me a month before it came out – not at all interested in this archaic franchise and completely burned by that embarrassing Tim Burton version. However, for some reason in the weeks prior to its release, I got the fool idea in my head that the movie would be amazing.  Turns out I was right!  It’s well-written, and it goes beyond merely referencing the original films to instead reference them in very intelligent ways.  If you think the reference you’re thinking of is cheesy… you need to think about it harder, because it’s brilliant.  If you happened to pass on this film because “Ugh, dude, seriously?” = give it a shot.  You might just like it.  I’m sure there’d be more recent films on my “Runners up” list but I haven’t been to the theater all winter.

Runners up: Limitless, Puss in Boots, Crazy Stupid Love, XMen: First Class, Source Code

 

New Show of the Year – Once Upon a Time (ABC)

I’m at that age where the new shows I watch are primarily dictated by the shows my wife wants to watch.  However, I’m glad that we started watching this one.  Long story short, fairy tales were real and the evil queen used a spell to transport them to “a realm where she rules” or some such black magic, and they ended up here in our world with no memory of their old identities.  Cameron from House shows up and starts to piece things together at the behest of her biological son.  It might sound weird and kind of lame, but the way they weave the fairy tale stories in with the plot of each episode is pretty neat, and it’s a fun game trying to figure out who’s who based on your own knowledge of these things.  It’s certainly better than Grimm–likely the more watched of the two.  Plus, Gabriel Belmont is in it.  (I hear American Horror Story is right up my alley, but I’ll wait for Netflix to prove it)

Runner up: New Girl

 

(Worst New Show of the Year – Whitney (NBC) )

It has to be said.  If you watch and enjoy this show, you can be legally categorized as insane.  How this didn’t get immediately cancelled is beyond me.

 

Returning Show of the Year – Community (NBC)

I got into Community this summer, via DVD’s I brought to the Czech Republic.  I’m so glad I did, as this series is incredible.  The best sitcom of the last however many years you need me to state to make this credible.  While there are some flat episodes, the heights Community reaches at its best are far beyond what most sitcoms can achieve.  I wish I’d listened to my friends back in the day that told me this got better than the pilot, because then I could’ve been here on the ground floor.  As soon as I found out Chevy Chase played that annoying old guy at the community college who thinks he knows better than all the kids, I just had to jump on board.  Peerless writing, likeable characters, it has it all.  It’s my second favorite show on TV, but I had to give it the win because more people need to watch it.

Runners up: Parenthood (NBC), Walking Dead (AMC)

 

Portable Game of the Year – Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo, 3DS)

Portable gaming has kind of had a lull this year, with the launch of the 3DS and the quiet leading up to Vita’s launch in February.  It was well-publicized that the 3DS (like every single console and portable ever released in the history of ever but I digress) stumbled with its library out the gate, things have finally started to turn around.  Super Mario 3D Land is a great game, and another solid entry in the Mario series.  There’s also plenty of game to keep players busy, with a second quest of sorts as well as Luigi mode for people who want to get the “true ending” (but plenty of time to stop before then for people who want to feel accomplished without doing EVERYTHING).  It really channels the spirit of Mario 3 with its varied challenges that change from level to level, though it would have been nice if some of the cooler ideas had been revisited.

Runner up: Aliens: Infestation (WayForward, DS)

 

PC Game of the Year – Portal 2 (Valve)

I don’t actually play PC games, and I certainly didn’t play Portal 2 on one (I played it on 360), but this lets me mention it and that’s good enough for me.  The first game was a special little gem of wonderment, and many were understandably skeptical that the same lightning could be rebottled in a fully-featured sequel.  Thankfully the end product put any such fears to rest immediately, with innovative new puzzles and a long and hilarious script, with new and returning characters I probably shouldn’t spoil here.  Needless to say, it’s an amazing ride if you played the original (myself), and even if you hadn’t (my wife, watching me play). The cake is a pie.

 

Console Game of the Year - The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo, Wii)

Now here’s a tough one.  I was all set to give this to Batman and then Skyward Sword had to go and be all amazing and junk.  Maybe if Batman had a timer on it I could compare completion times and give you some kind of “time to fun ratio”.  Here’s the thing, Batman was amazing and great.  It improved on its predecessor in every conceivable way.  Zelda, however, improved on 25 years of predecessors and nearly a decade and a half of adherence to a very specific formula.  But more importantly: it raised the game on motion controls.  This has been a big deal for me for the last five years because when I first saw the Wii I saw all kinds of potential.  I immediately designed the control scheme for Trauma Center: Second Opinion, and started dreaming of all the amazing point-and-click-adventure style games that would crop up, revived from their PC death years earlier.  Yet now, 5 years later, the only one coming to mind is Silent Hill: Shattered Memories which I’m not really allowed to unabashedly praise because, well, you know.  So while the mainstream game media sees a good Wii game and says “the graphics, while good for Wii, still pale in comparison to real consoles” I see a Wii game that uses motion control intelligently and shout “brilliant! genius! A++ would waggle again!”

The thing is, after Batman I was not hopeful for Zelda.  I expected it to be formulaic and tired and lame.  But it isn’t, it’s amazing–so it overcome my misguided pessimism and everything.  Also, Batman has “better bosses than the first game” but Zelda has “legitimately cool boss fights”.  Both games have aspects that beat out the other, and ten years from now I might say Batman is the better game, but I have to decide my GotY 2011 right here and now, so for the moment, that game is Zelda.

Runner Up – Batman: Arkham City (Warner Bros., X360/PS3)

Desperado 2: This Time, it’s Fursonal

Well, Internet, we both knew this day would come.  Whenever you start following a blog, you’re going to encounter a post where the blogger’s own opinions differ from your own.  And you have to step back and decide, can I accept this blogger as an individual human being, with his own right to views and beliefs?  Or can I not get over the fact he thinks differently than I do, and forsake him and his stupid blog forever?

Life is full of touchy subjects like this, and with my blog roughly 2 weeks old it’s high time I tackled a serious issue.

The Shrek series is most certainly terrible.

pictured: Shreks 1, 3, and 4

Understand, I was there in 2001 too, I remember how we were all totally thrilled there was a good CG cartoon outside of Pixar that actually had something resembling emotion behind it.  And it had Mike Myers doing a Scottish accent and everything.  The first Shrek was sassy and loud and frenetic and irreverent.  Everybody loved it!  However, on second viewing, a lot of the luster wore off, and you could see behind the curtain where it became more of a 90-minute screed about Disney, and how fascist and stupid and creatively bankrupt the monolith was.  You know that one friend who is always complaining about work?  And finally you say, look, just get a different job.  And then he does, but he always talks about THAT job in relation to his previous HORRIBLE job?  That’s the first Shrek.  We get it, Dreamworks–you’ve got issues.  Maybe one day you’ll get over them and make a truly great film on par with the ones you’re swiping at.

Now, even bad series’ can have a really good entry – and that is Shrek 2.  I’d started to see through the first Shrek’s veneer, but I went to Shrek 2 on virtue of its characters.  Despite my misgivings the series has some really good ones (which is why the holiday shorts are much better than the films themselves), and as fate would have it part 2 added the best: Puss in Boots.  Most importantly, Shrek 2 used those characters and their personalities to craft a big adventure.  It was tons of fun, and I had not laughed so hard in a theater in a while.

And so, with renewed faith in the series I rushed out to see Shrek the Third–and that’s as far as I can remember.  The movie was so forgettable that I–quite literally–forgot about it.  No, really.  I didn’t even remember there was a Shrek 3 until I saw a billboard for Shrek 4.  I couldn’t even tell you what the third film was about.  If held at gunpoint I could recall there were baby ogres and vomit.  That’s the extent of my Shrek 3 recall.

I did not see the fourth Shrek.  This is because the first two things I knew about the film were:

  1. There was a third Shrek I completely erased from my memory.
  2. They made Puss in Boots fat.

Neither are forgivable, so I haven’t seen it (I do own it – I bought my wife the series box set last Christmas because she enjoys them and I’m not a monster).  I did just look up the plot on IMDb, though, and it sounds wretched.  The real problem here is cynicism.  The Shrek series is so pre-occupied with deconstruction / parody / pop-culture that it can’t get out of its own way and be a good kids franchise.  There is enough cynicism out there, I don’t need it anywhere near my kids movies.  If the planning for Toy Story kicked off with “Remember when we were kids and playing with toys was AWESOME? What if…” then the Shrek equivalent is “Aren’t fairy tales kind of lame? Well what if…”

But this is all beside the point.  This entry isn’t really about Shrek.  It’s about a movie I saw yesterday.

 From the moment Puss in Boots was announced, I’ve been apprehensively optimistic.  I wanted it to be good – I love Puss as a character.  But, you know, the Shrek franchise and what they COULD do with it.  Would they get out of PiB’s way and let him shine as a lead character?  Would they tell the swashbuckling adventure story he deserved, or would they mire it in self-parody and pop-culture skewers?  I avoided any and all previews and trailers (when possible), convincing myself it would be good and worth seeing.

Yesterday we made the plunge and dropped the bank to see it in theaters.  Fortunately…

Puss in Boots is fantastic. (Seriously I had so much fun watching this movie.)

From moment one, this is a movie about Puss.  There is no narrator saying “You know him from Far Far Away…”  It doesn’t begin with a “before they were stars”-style reality show.  The audience is dropped right into the world of Puss in Boots.  Is this before the Shrek films?  After?  Nobody knows -  it’s not important.

Dreamworks made the wise decision to not lean on the Shrek cast to pad out the movie.  It doesn’t become a Puss and Donkey buddy flick.  We don’t see Gingy in the background (NOTE: Gingy could be in the background, but I didn’t see him).

After a brief introductory scene, the plot kicks off in earnest as we get a goal, adversaries, and a mysterious past for our main character.  We meet an old friend and get a glimpse of Puss in Boots’ origin story.  This informs the rest of the tale and it’s non-stop adventure from there.  At no point are we mired in jokes for the sake of having them; there is never dead air as a CG character “pauses for effect” or looks at the audience like “…get it? See what I did there?”  And that’s because there’s no time – Puss would rather be leaping from buildings or swordfighting or dancing or cartwheeling or charming ladies.

This is all just describing a normal good movie, right?  I don’t really know what I was expecting (since I wanted it to be good) but apparently it wasn’t a fun swashbuckling romp.  Which isn’t to say there’s no self aware humor to be had.  Puss in Boots certainly knows it is a film about a storybook cat, and that that cat is voiced by Antonio Banderas, and that women love Antonio Banderas.  What matters, though, is that transparent fourth wall is not the first bullet point on PiB’s resume.  Above all else, Puss remembers it is a movie for 10-year-olds.  (Second on the list is that 10-year-olds are way smart, so make sure it’s a smart movie.)

Gushing aside, Puss in Boots has heart–the type normally missing from CG films without Pixar at the helm.  I am not saying it feels like a Pixar film – it is far more edgy and less wholesome than an Up – but there’s something there that’s always been missing from the Shrek films.  Puss in Boots is easily up there with Incredibles and Ratatouille as an authentic good time.

"Drop the attitude. You were never even in those awful movies."

If I have one criticism of Puss in Boots (and I have to – this is the internet) it’s that they lift a plot twist wholesale from Disney’s Bolt.  Not only that, but it happens to involve a cat that looks near-identical to the character in Bolt it is referencing.  Normally I could just shrug it off (like that Lion King / Kimba nonsense) but really, it is the exact. same. twist.  Even then, it wouldn’t be that big a deal, except for the fact the first movie in this franchise went on at great length about how creatively bankrupt Disney is.  If you’re going to cast aspersions like that, you should probably take care not to borrow ideas from your target.  Normally I’d assume that maybe the people behind Puss in Boots never saw Bolt – maybe they were hard at work on Shrek 4 at the time, I don’t know – but Dreamworks has taught me to be more cynical than that.

Two of these cats share one terrible secret.

Still, that didn’t stop me from enjoying Puss in Boots, and it shouldn’t stop you either!  If you like kids movies at all, there’s fun to be had here.

OVERALL SCORE: 8.5 out of 10 clumps of fur all over your favorite black dress

BONUS CONTENT:  The aspect of Puss that I’ve always found most compelling (since his introduction in Shrek 2), is that he’s about 90% human and 90% cat.  The animation team responsible for him must spend half their workday playing with cats, because his every animation is pitch perfect.  It’s amazing how he can deliver a line with all the swag Banderas’ voice implies, and then stretch his claws, roll on his back, and begin an authentic feline cleaning ritual.  It’s worked into the subtlety of how he jumps, how he lands, how he fights–everything.  It may not be as apparent to people who don’t own cats, but an insane amount of effort is put into rendering the “puss” in those boots (Shrek 2′s hairball scene is hilariously authentic).

My wife and I saw the movie with two friends of ours who recently got cats.  The four of us were laughing hard at all the “cat-isms” that are rendered onscreen.  We were apparently the only cat owners in the audience.  It reminded me of a similar instance, locked deep in my childhood, when my friend and I went with our mothers to a movie called Turner & Hooch.  It was a movie about a dog who is a material witness to a murder, and Tom Hanks has to look after him awaiting the trial (because some killers have targeted the dog to erase the evidence–look it was the 80′s).  There’s a big “first time dog owner” montage near the start of the movie where Hooch (the dog) eats a ton of food and gets all drooly and oh man so hard to bathe a large dog.  Our parents, both owners of big dogs, were practically on the floor of the theater laughing.  I have never, before or since, seen my mother laugh that way.  The rest of the theater glared at them, as if laughing in a comedy was illegal.

Seriously you guys – animals are funny.

(Images taken from one of the Shrek movies, Puss in Boots, Bolt, and Turner & Hooch)