Persona 5: One “Dungeon” In

Over the last month plus, I’ve been trying to tackle my first ever Persona game and … my feelings are mixed.

When Persona 5 dropped (and, to be honest, before it dropped too), it was a huge hit. My days of playing every JRPG are largely behind me, but the game did peak my curiosity. A friend offered to loan it to me after he was done, which is how we’ve arrived at this point.

I don’t think I have ever been more confused, more interested, or more overwhelmed all at once by a video game. I wouldn’t say I love it, but after beating the first palace (which seems loosely equivalent to a dungeon), I am ready for more.

The game is a weird mix of living an alternate life AND playing a JRPG, only you do it at the same time. Just like my real life, I have to carefully balance the few hours I have in the day for entertaining, self-improvement, relationship building or some mix of the three.

It isn’t my ideal game or my ideal RPG, but it is growing on me. I am genuinely excited to find out what sort of pseudo-psychology, acid trip we are going on next. BUT I don’t want to be playing this game for the next three months either.

We shall see.

WB Top 100: Grand Hotel (1932)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


grandhotelfilmposter

Source Wikipedia.

1932’s “Grand Hotel” is the first movie on this list to have more than one name that Diane and I had heard before. It stars John Barrymore (the grandfather of actress Drew Barrymore), Greta Garbo, and Joan Crawford. The movie, originally adapted from a play, takes place entirely in the Grand Hotel of Berlin and follows in the lives of some of its guests as their stories slowly interconnect.

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The lobby does a great job of establishing most of the characters early on, well before they’ve formally met one another.

For a movie where, to quote the Doctor who permanently lives in the hotel “nothing ever happens”, enough did happen through its nearly two hour runtime to convince us both to put it at/near the top of the list of the movies we’ve watched for this series thus far. Compared to my favorite so far “Cimarron”, “Grand Hotel” is wonderfully subdued – give or take any scene with Greta Garbo – and incredibly small. The movie takes place entirely in the Grand Hotel, shifting from the lobby to various hotel rooms, never leaving the premises or the actors’ sides.

Despite its smallness, “Grand Hotel” feels large and all-encompassing. All of the characters are interesting. We owe the acting for that. The plot too kept us engaged as it blended just enough mystery, drama, and humor as each character moved from vignette to vignette, crossing over, never crossing at all, or double-crossing one another.

 

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Joan Crawford was fantastic in this film. I really loved her wit. She oozed, “Woman who doesn’t give a fuck.”

Not to give too much away, but the movie ends with both a death and a birth. In a sense, the Grand Hotel is the cosmos itself as it lets in and lets off its passengers. It may seem slow moving at first, but “Grand Hotel” picks up speed without you realizing it. Whether its Joan Crawford’s tart secretary or John Barrymore’s friendless baron, there’s a lot of reasons to watch this movie. By focusing on these characters and others all at once, “Grand Hotel” manages to captures a series of stories all unfolding in the middle of their arcs simultaneously and pulls it off spectacularly.

I imagine its interwoven story comes from the movie being based off a play. Still, it’s cinematography and set design keeps it from ever feeling boring or two dimensional. The Grand Hotel is no Overlook Hotel like in “The Shining” with its own personality and importance, but the 360 degree desk in the lobby makes the “Grand Hotel”’s setting feel like its own place.

The opening of the movie begins with a series of shots in a phone booth as each character takes a turn introducing themselves and alluding to their background directly to the audience through an ingenious use of a phone. It almost predicts the more modern “confession booths” of reality television.

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Lionel Barrymore, the older brother of John Barrymore, did a fantastic job with the dying accountant Otto Kringelein. Though, at least in this scene, his accent was more Southern (US) than German.

From there, as each character is introduced as they live and breathe within the Grand Hotel, we also eventually see all of their rooms. Most of the characters are having extended stays in the hotel, so rather than cookie cutter rooms each reveals more insight into the character.

For example, Greta Garbo plays a depressed ballerina whose room is a maze of fine clothes with a clear path to the bed where she spends most of her time. Contrast that with the dying accountant whose savings are being spent entirely on enjoying luxury in his final days.

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Everyone else in this hotel seems to live here, but the accountant hasn’t even unpacked his one suitcase yet.

After begging for a larger room, the one we eventually see him in is massive, luxurious, and empty save for the dresser that holds his hat and umbrella. By dressing the rooms much as the actors wear costumes, the hotel comes to life in the kind of way that only a movie excels at.

And for once on this list, this movie holds up almost entirely to a modern eye’s scrutiny. There’s no racism to point to and the boss who wants to have sex with the secretary (Joan Crawford) he just hired for his business trip is sadly a still familiar and relevant plot line. Even more relevant is the importance placed on money, especially in how the dying accountant whose former boss (the same one with the secretary) is also staying at the hotel though as part of him running his business.

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Oh Greta …

Diane and I did share one weakness for the film: Greta Garbo. While researching the movie after watching it, I saw several reviewers praise her acting, but for us it was over-the-top and silly. It didn’t help that the camera kept zooming in on her face whenever she spoke. Also, the romance plot she was involved in didn’t make much sense to me. Greta Garbo fans or people who watched this movie when it first came out in the 30’s might’ve been able to fall in love with her after only one real look, but I couldn’t.

For some, “Grand Hotel” may be a boring movie where nothing truly happens, but for us it was a treat. The cinematography still holds up, as does the acting. The plot is nothing revolutionary, but so well executed that I felt engaged for most of the movie. We both recommend “Grand Hotel” to anyone who wants a film that likely deserved its Best Picture Academy Award.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4, 2017)

During my blogging hiatus, I revisited Final Fantasy XII with its Playstation 4 remaster.

For the longest time, FFXII was my least favorite in the series, much to the chagrin of my sister-in-law who is a huge fangirl for the game. Anytime I brought up my hatred, I’d get a side eye from her, whereas most of my other friends who happened to be Final Fantasy fans never even touched XII when it originally came out on the Playstation 2. After playing it again, I can safely say that Final Fantasy XII is pretty okay.

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My history with the original goes back to Blitz: The League, an arcade-style football game that has absolutely nothing to do with Final Fantasy or Square Enix. “Back in the day”, my friends and I would meet after school to play Blitz. On one occasion, a friend who I eventually served as Best Man at his wedding, got so excited in a Blitz win that he jumped up. In so doing, he ended up pulling the console down onto the hardwood floor by a connected controller cord (praise be to wireless). Thus ended our time playing Blitz and my time being a Playstation 2 owner.

A year later when Final Fantasy XII came out, I couldn’t afford to purchase a new Playstation 2. By then, I had mostly moved onto being an Xbox fanboy. Still, as Final Fantasy X and X-2 faded into memory, my need to play the latest and greatest Final Fantasy game increased. Plus, it was set in the same world as Final Fantasy Tactics, my absolute favorite Final Fantasy game.

Through shame and guilt, I made my friend loan me his Playstation 2 until I could finish Final Fantasy XII, which contributed to the first reason why I disliked the game: I rushed it.

Final Fantasy XII is not a game you should rush. With its open world setting, a real contrast to Final Fantasy X, it had an exploratory quality that the series had been missing for some time. Plus, the extra boss fights are both easy to miss and fun to do, so a large part of the game can be ignored if you aren’t looking beyond the plot.

As I previously mentioned, Final Fantasy Tactics was and is my favorite Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy XII shares the setting of Ivalice, but is set in a different time, in a different part of the world, and all of its callbacks to Tactics are done through flavor text. In other words, it was not a successor, spiritual or otherwise, to Final Fantasy Tactics. This was the second reason I disliked the game.

Despite not being another Tactics, FFXII does have better characters. Sure, the plot was terrible in comparison, but that’s true of 99% of video games because FFT really was that damn good. I didn’t even mind Vaan, though I was pretty tired of the teenage boy shtick for Final Fantasy leads and would’ve much preferred any of the game’s more mature characters to be the sole focus.

For my final reason, I point to the combat. Final Fantasy XII was a huge departure since you only control one party member at a time, though you can switch around. Combat is still turn based, but it takes place out in the open world, and the game promotes automating most of it to the Gambit system. Gambits work as a sort-of customizable AI mini-game that allows you to set conditions for how the AI should play your party mates.

In 2006, I hated gambits, so much so that I refused to use them. Instead, I micromanaged everything in combat, rapidly switching from character to character, queuing actions and hoping for the best. This made Final Fantasy XII harder, but when compared to my more recent play through, far less enjoyable.

Part of the beauty of Final Fantasy XII, much like Bravely Default, comes from powering up your party, creating unique combinations, and finding ways to automate things for efficiency. By skipping over that entirely in 2006, I really missed out. Playing the game as intended and using gambits to their fullest is so much more fun. I loved farming and grinding so much that I did every achievement but kill the secret boss Yiazmat because fuck a boss that takes hours (not hyperbole) to defeat.

I loved Final Fantasy XII this last time around. It is a great example of marrying classic Final Fantasy with a then-modern twist (MMORPG-esque open world, revamped approach to combat, etc.). I hate that the series has only moved further away from its roots, but FFXII was a happy compromise if only I had recognized that fact then rather than last year.

Why then do I say it is only okay?

Because the plot sucks, most of the characters would be better off in a narrative that wasn’t “crappy Star Wars”, and it wasn’t Final Fantasy Tactics 2.

Sorry! Some things don’t change.

WB Top 100: The Public Enemy (1931)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


“The Public Enemy” from 1931 was a movie in which Diane and I both struggled to see its significance. While many of the pieces were in place for a proper gangster movie, none of them seemed to fall into place. Outside the horror of the final scene, “The Public Enemy” kept me engaged while I waited for something to happen. Nothing much did.

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Nothing says wholesome family movie like a kid blowing the foam off his horribly poured, probably hot, beer.

The film begins with an all-text PSA about how they do not intend to glorify hoodlums. It then opens on the streets of Chicago and two children drinking from a pail of beer. Prohibition folks! The movie quickly establishes (FADES TO BLACK) that Tom (FADES TO BLACK) is an already rotten kid (FADES TO BLACK) and that his best friend Matt (FADES TO BLACK) will follow him anywhere. (FINAL FADES TO BLACK THANK GOD MY EYES WERE STARTING TO HURT FROM THE ON AND OFF SCREEN BRIGHTNESS)

Tom and Matt belong to a local club where a man named “Putty Nose” plays them and a bunch of other kids songs on his piano. He also fences their stolen goods and I presume teaches them how to steal. It isn’t explored.

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Don’t worry children. A creepy man and a supply of beer from the day you were born will turn you all into adults in the next two minutes of this film.

Years later, all of the kids in the club have turned into men of approximate age with Putty Nose. Tom and Matt return to the club to do their first real job as older teenagers. Putty Nose hands them guns, tells them to rob a fur store, Tom and Matt get scared by a stuffed bear which they promptly unload their guns on. The noise attracts a cop who starts firing on their lookout man before finishing, “Don’t move.” Tom and Matt gun down the cop and run. The only real fallout is they lose their contact with Putty Nose and have to go in with an Irish mobster, Paddy Ryan.

I have seen some reviews that praised the acting. Outside of Tom (James Cagney) and Matt (Edward Woods), Diane and I both thought the acting was overall sub-par. All of the female side characters – besides Tom’s mother – act like the props they are. There’s also next to no screen time or character development devoted to them, though there is a whole scene where Tom admits to his girlfriend that he doesn’t understand her and she chats him up about how she likes bad boys. It was a waste of time.

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I didn’t know this was famous until I read it was famous …

The movie was very violent though. I am not sure if this is the first movie to feature blood, but when Matt is gunned down by a machine gun, they show him coughing up blood. There was also an instance of domestic violence, the film’s most famous scene, where Tom hits a woman in the face with a grapefruit.

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH TOUCHES ON SEXUAL VIOLENCE. FEEL FREE TO SKIP OVER IT.

Though I doubt they would’ve called it rape at the time, there was a very peculiar part late in the film. Tom and Matt, along with other members of Paddy Ryan’s gang, are hiding out at Paddy’s when he leaves to round up the rest of his mob. Paddy’s woman friend is thirsty for Tom’s dick and she plies him with hard liquor all night long. When he leaves to go to bed, she follows him soon after and helps him undress despite him covering himself up and not wanting her to be there. He is in no state to give any kind of consent, but she persists.

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No racism in this movie, but there is the other ‘r’ word.

The movie doesn’t explain or explore this plot thread other than the morning after when she pours him a cup of coffee and references their night before. This causes him to storm out, clearly upset and violated.

Finally, the film’s climax and my personal favorite part, was easily one of its most heart wrenching and horrifying scenes. After Tom goes on a shooting spree to avenge his friend Matt, he wakes up in the hospital with a head injury. His family rushes to his side, despite the fact that his brother has spent the entire film using his morals to put Tom down for the path he has chosen for himself. When it seems like Tom is set to come home, he is kidnapped by the rival gang. His brother finally gets a call that he has been found and will be home soon. He lets his mother know, who immediately rushes upstairs to prepare a room for Tom.

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Jokes and dislike of the movie aside, this scene and this stare sold me on James Cagney.

When Tom’s brother opens the door, a restrained Tom, clearly dead, falls face first into the house. The scene cuts back and forth from the totally oblivious and happy mother to the brother who knows Tom has finally reaped what he sowed.

I would not put “The Public Enemy” as last on this list thus far, but Diane certainly considered it. While there were elements of a better movie sprinkled throughout, this relatively short film never seemed to amount to much. The movie attempted to be a realistic portrayal of the life of a gangster, including the dangerous rise and the deadly fall, but it fell flat for us both.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

Random Quotes:

  • “All because you saw a stuffed bear …”
  • “Fuck the baby! We gotta put a bunch of booze in this stroller.”

Drabble: Christmas Lights

Winter Lights

The Christmas lights glowed ethereal, calling out to lost spirits in search of a home on the loneliest day at the loneliest hour when you have nowhere else to go.

Two such ghosts gathered there, each strangers, each lost.

The younger ghost broke the ice first. “Cold night, isn’t it?”

“Wouldn’t know. I have no body.”

“I don’t have anybody either!” They hugged by occupying the same physical space, though they could not touch one another. They cried, and for a moment, a floating snowflake made one ghost appear to have produced actual tears.

They decided to pass eternity together.


I originally wrote this after challenging Diane to give me a topic to compose a drabble. She chose “Christmas lights” – the first thing she saw.

Onward to Distant Worlds

This past weekend, Diane took me on a (very delayed) anniversary trip to see Final Fantasy Distant Worlds in St Petersburg, Florida. It was fantastic!

Highlight of the Evening

Distant Worlds 2

Nobuo Uematsu was there and most of the crowd, save for one older gentleman sitting next to Diane who smelled like a marijuana, recognized him. The volume of applause went noticeably up anytime he was present.

It’s not that I feel like no one knows who he is or that people at a Final Fantasy concert wouldn’t recognize him, I just didn’t expect the level of respect shown him for his work was that evident in his fans’ passion.

It was a pretty spectacular thing to witness.

Oh and there was a sing-a-long for ‘One-Winged Angel’ where we all got to yell SEPHIROTH back at Nobuo himself. Amazing.

Lowlight of the Evening

There weren’t that many cosplayers, but there was one really amazing Zack. He was so good that we spent some of the evening just watching people walk up to him for pictures (it was a lot of people).

Diane and I were conflicted on this, but the reason this excellent cosplayer is a lowlight for me was because during ‘Swing de Chocobo’, he and his date started swing dancing in their balcony seats. People started pointing it out during the performance too, so I felt like it was a bit too much “hey, look at us and not these talented musicians currently performing right now”.

Best Song of the Night

I was really hoping for something from Final Fantasy Tactics or Final Fantasy XIV. I got the latter featuring the Tampa Master Chorale, which included one singer who absolutely floored both Diane and I with her singing.

The song? “Heavensward”:

Top 3 Songs I Wish They Had Played

For fun, here’s three songs I still wish I could hear played live:

Final Fantasy Tactics “Ultima, the Nice Body”

Final Fantasy VI “Aria di Mezzo Carrattere”

Final Fantasy XIV “Good King Moggle Mog’s Theme”

WB Top 100: Cimarron (1931)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


Cimarron-Poster

Next on our list is 1931’s “Cimarron”. Featuring an incredible budget of $1.5 million dollars, “Cimarron” is the first true epic on our list. Spanning 40 years from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, “Cimarron” follows a family as they move west to help settle the Oklahoma territory.

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“Cimarron”‘s opening land rush sequence is still a wonder to behold and proof that practical effects have a much better chance at standing the test of time.

The family’s patriarch is Yancey Cravat, a white everyman whose resume throughout the movie includes being a settler, a lawyer, a newspaper editor, a lover of Shakespeare, a lover of the Bible, a minister, an adventurer, a soldier, a governor hopeful, and an absentee father. He was beloved by everyone, except the town bully who he shoots in church after sussing out that he was the one who murdered the town’s previous newspaperman. He’s also an incredible shot with a gun, even going as far as to notch a line for each man he has killed in his pistol’s handle (hint: it is more than one).

A movie before its time even as its two hour run time catches up to the then modern day, Yancey is unusually progressive. Diane and I were both happy to be out of New York for a change, but we still expected a pretty racist movie being that it is a Western (you know, the whole genre of film about white people “heroically” being racist). Not only is Yancey Cravat a friend to the Native Americans, but he is a friend to the town’s only Jew, he never talks down to his wife, he never beats his kids, he treats his black servant well, he defends a whore in court who no other lawyer would defend, he allows his only son to marry a Native American, he employs the handicapped, and he saves a bunch of presumably poor white people from an oil rig accident.

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I’d probably go to church too if mine was held at the local Den of Sin (gambling hall) and featured sexy women pictures.

Yancey’s only real failure as a character is his inability to stay put. He walks out on his family for years to go on further adventures which happen offscreen and get next to no attention. On the one occasion, he does stay, he makes a bid for governor but it is implied he lost because before the election he wrote an editorial demanding Native Americans get equal rights, including voting rights, and that the Osage Indians in Oklahoma are being targeted for their oil money. Even when Yancey loses, he wins.

After watching the movie, I read quotes from two modern movie reviews that call out its racism. While there was a particular egregious scene where the black servant that follows Yancey to Oklahoma was being used a ceiling fan, I thought “Cimarron” was pretty watcheable from a modern perspective. Diane pointed out to me that all the minorities in this movie help make Yancey into a sort-of white savior character and I agree, but we also have to remember this movie is from 1931, well before Civil Rights (MLK Jr was only just born in 1929).

And while Yancey is perfect, his wife Sabra is far from it, only “Cimarron” spends enough time on her, with and without Yancey by her side, that she becomes a very powerful female character. Not only does she evolve from a quiet wife that hangs on Yancey’s every word to a single mom who single-handedly continues to run Yancey’s newspaper while he is gone for five years, but even her racism softens. She frequently and unfortunately refers to Native Americans as “savages” and she is deeply distraught when her only son runs off with a Native American. In time, she rises to be the first congresswoman of Oklahoma and in that role she embraces the Osage Indians and her daughter-in-law.

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Here’s a new low for my opinion of white people: if you can’t tell, this white family is using their black servant (a young boy, give or take the mustache) as a ceiling fan. Jesus Christ …

“Cimarron” definitely has a few problems. Beyond its racism by modern day standards, its a lengthy movie and it does meander at times. There’s not much in the way of a central plot. I personally liked that it covered such a large period of time because it helped maintain the central theme of progress, but I can see how some may get bored with it.

“Cimarron” is the first good movie we have watched on this list. The opening scene of settlers racing for their claims is still stunning. There’s a ton of subtext to mine from the movies slow approach to covering a 40 year snapshot of the American West. Despite not having a significant achievement that made it historically important like the previous two entries, “Cimarron” does one better by being an actually good movie.

A Few More Screenshots:

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This is how I would land rush if I could rush land: bicycle! The hell with the horses.

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Seriously, Yancey is perfect.

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The lady on the right has the longest face imaginable.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

Random Quotes:

  • Regarding the movie’s opening land rush. “It’s like Black Friday.”
  • “Dear! Richard Dix is in this! He could be Dick Dix!”
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