Saturday, July 24, 2010


Inception is a vanity project. Eight years is far too long to develop a script for a movie. I fear that in that time Christopher Nolan became uncompromisingly attached to the material and unhealthily obsessed over plot intricacies. I say this with a negative connotation because watching Inception feels like reading a book, except of course you can’t open to any page or reread any passages (though you’d want to). It is literate rather than musical, or if musical at all, is a symphony written, conducted and performed by robots.

If nothing else, Inception is a direct conduit into the thought processes of a particular type of person. People in literary professions or even just Creative Writing/English majors often like Nolan’s work, and he indeed probably would make a good novelist. It is clear enough that he is meticulous and calculating regarding his scripts. However, as a film director, as a visual storyteller, I can’t help but find him lacking. A film’s “literature” (whenever I say this regarding movies, I’m referring to the ins and outs of its narrative), as I mentioned in my Shutter Island review, doesn’t interest me much. Film is a medium of tonality and style, i.e. storytelling through aesthetic choices rather than literary ones.

I’d argue that Inception totally fails as a motion picture because it was such a literal handling of inherently abstract material. Its aesthetics were, without warrant, quite similar to those of The Dark Knight: urban, gritty, and hyper-realistic. I can’t be so arrogant as to assume Nolan’s intentions, but portraying things as vague and transformative as dreams in such a concrete way is at the least a haphazard clash of fundamentals. This isn’t even my real issue, though, rather it is the standardization of dreams. Dreams are deeply personal experiences; to dream is to meditate on one’s desires, fears, even fetishes. Inception turns dreams into a shared experience, into a virtual space that can be tread by anyone. Inception turns dreams into public transportation. While I’m willing to acknowledge that this could have in fact been the Point, as in blurring (actually more like erasing via Etch-A-Sketch) the line between dreams and reality, such irresponsible invasion of the subconscious is a premise that I just can’t get behind.

Vanity projects do have incredible value on one level, though: the unequaled insight into the mind of the author. Inception’s story deals with a man lost in the labyrinth of his own surrealties, the ever-encroaching walls of which haphazardly realign and rearrange the rules of reality. Even the film’s aspect ratio (2.35:1) felt claustrophobic and awkward, furthering the angular and mathematical madness. This is admittedly fascinating if interpreted as Nolan subconsciously reconstructing his mind onto film, but for me as a viewer, it was a nightmare. Journeying into the subconsciousness of another is truly traumatic. It also, again, directly conflicts with the film’s narrative, where the characters hop from brain to brain like visiting each others’ apartments. For all intents and purposes I hated Inception and found no joy in its viewing. I liken the experience to someone violently shaking me and yet somehow me being utterly bored by the action. And yet… it is such an ambitious film, and I have no reservations about assuming it was a project of supreme personal significance. I hope that, like Inception’s protagonist, somewhere amongst, underneath, and inside his convoluted construction, Christopher Nolan found what he was searching for. I sincerely do.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Reviewy Things 3

I can't bring myself to expand these into "full" reviews for whatever reason. However, I do think they're pretty substantive even in their teeny states. Not enough substance for substance abuse, right?


Kirby and the Amazing Mirror

I want to assign some meaning of versatile teamwork, of the ever-changing lineups and personalities of band members, maybe (of Paul McCartney and Wings, maybe); and though I may not be wrong, sometimes a pink blowjob master is just a pink blowjob master.

The Last Airbender

I'm glad this movie exists. Is it a failure as an adaptation, and as a movie in its own right? It just may be, but don't hold that against it! The Last Airbender is a whiff; a grand, baroque, beleaguering swipe at brilliance whose inevitable crash back to Earth perhaps resulted in the Littlest Grand Canyon. This movie is Charlie Brown's lunge at the football.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I found Iron Man 2 to be more concerned with the “Man” part of Tony Stark than anything else. He’s getting on into middle age. He’s coming to grips with his distant father and the legacy of his work and his company. He gets drunk and makes a fool of himself at his birthday party. The classic man at the crossroads of his life, truly faced with mortality (off in the distance, but by all means visible) for the first time. How much Iron does it take for one Man’s defenses to make it through life intact?

Not much. Jon Favreau can’t direct action, for one. There is not a single tense moment in the entire film. His background is comedy, and the film is indeed funny and has some pretty sharp, if light, satire. Tony Stark consistently mutes the nonsense jabber of nonsense politicians as they quarrel over the ethics of the Iron Man suit (they call it a "weapon"). Bill O’Reilly even has a cameo. His muting is welcome. If the film’s climax had presented the moral dilemma of a man at ends with his reputation, fighting for more than the protection of “the people” and “the girl,” then perhaps I could view this sequel as more than just that. If the audience was brought to some greater understanding of fame and public image versus private desires (really now, Stark’s narcissism and yet his need to innovate, to trail-blaze, are all the inspiration a screenwriter should need), then this could very well have been the best superhero film since Spider-Man 2. But what’s opted for is an even shorter and more pointless final battle than what was slapped together in the original Iron Man. Another villain is totally wasted. (I’m guessing due to the obscene special effects budget. Have a look at all the effects companies credited.) It’s a shame, because this one’s not bad. Ivan Vanko is a disgruntled victim of Stark Industries’ reckless management in the past. The best action scene of the movie is when Stark and the Vanko first meet. Iron Man gets his ass kicked. He meets his match. This should have resulted in a completely crippling blow to Stark’s over-inflated ego. Instead, the villain is thrown to the curb. But I wouldn’t worry; we’ll have a brand new one in the inevitable Iron Man 3.

Maybe I’m missing the point, though. Maybe Iron Man 2 is a cleverly cerebral celebration of all things macho. Big guns, sexy women, the dichotomous state of mind that is the innate need to protect and to imperialize… there’s even a black/white buddy cop motif and an AC-don’t forget the lightning bolt-DC soundtrack. Yes, perhaps the film’s obsession with being bigger, badder, and betterer than the other guy is the most accurate representation of the male id ever put to screen.

But I doubt it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New member

I, the great op89x, have joined this blog. I plan to contribute...something. Something wonderful.

Mostly I'll help provide some video game insight while the blog's creator does absolutely nothing.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Pokémon 4.2

"We are remaking an old game, but this is quite a challenge. Old fans would not want us to mess with their good memories... but there is no point in just redoing the same thing, right? We are working toward something that brings back memories, yet is also completely new!"

Encountering Game Freak's in-game avatars in the Celadon Condominiums is just as surreal as it was ten years ago, but the new text spoken by the company's President strikes me as disclaimer-ey bullshit. This may be a lot of fanboy ranting and nitpicking, but I call fair game. Some of the crap they pulled makes me wonder if the development team ever even played the original Gold and Silver.

For starters, a lot of the polygon-ization doesn't work. While the updated aesthetics are generally pleasant, too many of the 3D models are eyesores. Caves and cliffs are downright ugly, boulders are inconsistently split between pixel-based sprites and polygons, and Gyms resemble planet-sucking, parasitic spaceships. Speaking of the Gyms, I know these are video games and all (JRPGs at that), so arbitrary anachronisms come with the territory, but what is with the interior design of those places? It's not so much the art direction; anyone who's ever played an RPG in their lives is familiar with the overworld/interiors dichotomy; but rather the level design. In what was apparently an attempt to utilize the DS's processing power, each Gym now contains overproduced, pointlessly polygon-based puzzles. Plodding through these is tiresome and annoying -- keeping the old puzzles would have been more than fine. I'm just glad that Kanto and Johto still have their own tree sprites. If they didn't... then I don't know what.

Because that's really the whole point of these games: the contrast of two neighboring lands, each with their own unique culture, unified by those wondrous critters. Kanto is modern; every town brims with the mark of industry and the ease of technology. Celadon and Saffron are the largest cities in the game, and are kept alive by a nearby power plant, the only one in either region. Its importance is evident; until the player restores functionality to the plant, free travel between the regions is impossible, the Magnet Train unable to run without electricity. Perhaps the game's single best expression of Japan's urbanization comes when it is revealed that a family's home was demolished in favor of constructing one of the Magnet Train's stations. Kanto's resident Pokémon reflect this modernization, too: Grimer is said to excrete from industrial waste; Voltorb's discovery postdates the advent of the Poké Ball. Recall the fat man of Pallet Town, his text unchanged since Generation 1: "Technology is incredible!"

Johto is Kanto's illustrious mirror; Johto is historic. Heritage is celebrated everywhere. Buildings are traditionally Japanese, from their visual appearance to the inclusion of the code of etiquette; tiny shoe sprites, set off to the side, are visible in most homes. Ancient pagodas are also maintained in several towns, two of which are central to the story. All five of the original games' legendary Pokémon sprung from these towers. Fitting, because Johto's legendary Pokémon truly were just that; legendary. Tales of these creatures have been passed down for centuries, and are regarded with utmost reverence.

It's saddening, then, that HeartGold and SoulSilver are not the consummate, all-encompassing Pokémon games that Gold and Silver were. The metaphor is barely intact now. In the original Gold and Silver, none of Kanto's legendary Pokémon were present. Their absence was never fully explained, but it perfectly personified Kanto's distance from its own history. Now all of Kanto's legendary Pokémon can be caught. Just as inexplicably, some Hoenn legendaries from Generation 3 have made their way into the game. This would have made much more sense if all of these new Pokémon resided in Johto rather than Kanto, then the beautiful juxtaposition of old and new would have remained, at least in some form. The lowest point of the entire game is the return of Viridian Forest. In Generation 1, Viridian Forest, besides being where Pikachu lived, was the nightmarish first "dungeon" of the game, prepping you for the tough Gym battle ahead. In Generation 2, upon discovering that Kanto was playable in this Generation as well, my heart leapt at the thought of nostalgically retreading familiar ground -- but the painful memories of Viridian Forest distressed the back of my mind. When I finally summoned the bravery to revisit that hellish grove, though, I was greeted with an incredible development: the forest had been cleared! Consistent with the ever-expanding Kanto, Viridian Forest was now nothing more than a few harmless patches of grass. I remember the music clearly: an ingenious remix of the original Viridian Forest theme, but after the first few disjointing chords, a brand new infectiously sweet melody took over, signifying the change. In HeartGold and SoulSilver, with the forest appearing as it did in Generation 1, the most grotesque retcon of all time has taken place. Both the meaning and my memories have been hacked away, but the remix (now a remix of a remix), only furthering the craziness, remains.

The real head-scratcher is the fact that all of this needless addition came at the expense of actual logical implementation, namely of some key features from Generation 3. Both that generation's berry and meme systems are in HeartGold in SoulSilver, but in a cripplingly limited fashion. Every fruit-bearing tree in the game is now an apricorn tree; there are no trees that produce berries on the overworld. This makes absolutely no sense, and is boring, lazy game design. Berries are now restricted to a key item, operational only through a menu. The meme system is really no more than a cameo reference. Remember those wacky, yet effortlessly profound NPC responses from Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald? (some of my personal favorites: HAS DANCE, LIFE LESSONS, STOCK PRICES) Yeah, they're gone. But it's more cool this way. The more legendaries and useless features a Pokémon game has, the better. All in the name of fan-service, right?

It is so strange to think that in a little more than a decade, a weird RPG about bug-catching on the Game Boy, glitchy as hell and full of poor localization (did it ever occur to anyone how racist the name Porygon is, or why there exist female Mr. Mime?), has become the behemoth that we know it today. What many surely wrote off as a cultural oddity and no more than the latest marketing phenomenon, was for many kids of the right age, a way of life. But at the core of the cult, before the anime and the trading cards and the mountains of merchandise, there was a handful of great video games. The Gold and Silver versions were for a lot of fans the best the series ever got, and Nintendo's lowest common denominator remakes bank more on nostalgia than anything else. Indeed, on the whore, these remakes are about the worst that they could have been... but damned if I haven't already put 80 hours into my adventure. It's painfully obvious that these games came more out of necessity than passion; it makes sense for Nintendo to want every single Pokémon available in a single generation, so the magic of the original Gold and Silver isn't really there... but most of the fun is. It's still Pokémon, and I will always, always love Pokémon.

"If you treat your Pokémon nicely, they will love you in return."