Dead Cells (Switch, 2018)

Before Marvel’s Spider-Man took over all my time, I was playing Dead Cells on my Switch. I saw a sale on the physical copy on Amazon and decided to take a chance.

Dead Cells is an action-platformer roguelike though with far less randomization than I am used to. I find it very enjoyable, though I have yet to finish a single playthrough. There are a ton of things to unlock and collect for future playthroughs but, unlike Binding of Isaac, I am not inspired to complete or see everything.

Different levels have guaranteed access to new movement powers so, like Castlevania or Metroid, to advance you have to find these powers. I had to give up on my longest playthrough because I hadn’t unlocked the one power I needed to progress. That was depressing. At the same time, I enjoy the initial gating because it forces me to try different level paths, each with their own enemies and hazards.

The gameplay is fluid and animations are great. I would easily put it on par with Castlevania Symphony of the Night or, more recently, Hollow Knight in terms of fluidity. The bosses thus far have been a letdown but its an enjoyable game to try and go as fast as possible in (like Sonic the Hedgehog where most enemies are to be ignored).

I love the pixel art and the humor. You play a corpse animated by a sentient slime. There’s a story, but it is revealed in randomly generated rooms that add to the theme/ambiance of the game. It is all very background, but it adds up to be a pleasure.

I noticed on my periphery some hype for this game. Like Hollow Knight, it seems to have a lot of fans and a strong following. I personally feel Hollow Knight is better in every way, but Dead Cells does a better job of offering similar gameplay in a more bite-sized, arcade-esque fashion. It is perfect for Nintendo Switch.

I doubt I write a full review when I do get to where I feel comfortable stopping. I’d say if you generally enjoy this kind of game, then Dead Cells is another enjoyable entry in your personal library. Otherwise, it may be worth a shot to find out if this is the kind of game for you. Its challenging but I never feel like it is challenging in a deliberate or unfair way. I think it has great entry-level potential and it stands well on its own regardless of the reason you want to give it a shot.

WB Top 100: The Big Sleep (1946)

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.


Another week, another movie, and another Bogart-playing-Bogart role to talk about. 1946’s “The Big Sleep” stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in yet another film noir, hard-boiled detective story. We preferred it to “The Maltese Falcon” but not enough to really love it.

For giggles, we watched the trailer for “The Big Sleep” as one of the bonus features on the DVD. It, along with the movie’s claims to being violent, are very out-of-date. With the amount of censorship involved here, this movie is about as sexy and violent as a high school play.

That’s not a detraction, per say, but after reading some of the changes from the book it is based on, “The Big Sleep” cuts out nudity and a homosexual relationship. Despite hard-boiled detective movies focus on greater grit, realism, and less savory (i.e. realer) people, it is important to still remember what was and wasn’t considered appropriate for films of the time. “The Big Sleep” is non-alcoholic beer: pointless.

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Yes.

The film opens with a great set of legs seen above. It is amazing how chaste older movies are when compared to more modern films. Seeing that much leg was both unexpected and blush-worthy despite being tamer than anything I could see going to the grocery store. It made me better understanding the marketing in the trailer.

Judging the movie on its own, it was okay. As confusing as it could be with the rapid introduction and departure of its characters as they weaved in and out of guilt or suspicion, I was never bored. I would place it second of all the Bogart movies we have watched thus far (behind “Casablanca”).

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I suppose these two have chemistry, or at least a kid’s chemistry set, together.

That said, it is hardly a compliment. As much as I like to hear him speak his peculiar detective jive, Humphrey Bogart’s range has been mostly non-existent so far. He is good at playing the detective, but I am bored of it. In a moment of subterfuge in “The Big Sleep”, he does put on glasses, adopt an accent, and pretends to be interested in non-existent rare books. I enjoyed those scenes far more than anything else he did in the film.

His co-star, Lauren Bacall, was similarly dull. I enjoyed that she didn’t seem helpless or like a damsel, for the most part. She does get captured but she turns it around on her own.  Other than her smolder and dark voice, she doesn’t inspire me to seek out some of her other work like past female leads in this project. Diane and I both preferred the book seller across the street from the film’s first murder victim. She was a sexy woman with glasses who knew how to close a shop in the afternoon when a strange man comes by with whiskey and mystery.

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Here’s bookshop girl after taking off her glasses. Obviously these two are going to bang.

I have heard of Lauren Bacall’s other films with her husband Humphrey Bogart – “To Have and Have Not”, “Dark Passage”, “Key Largo” – but they aren’t in this collection. From our enthusiasm, I bet you can guess if we will seek them out anytime soon.

I am unsure what else to say. “The Big Sleep” is action-packed and doesn’t seem to over stay its welcome. At the same time, Bogart plays it safe, Bacall plays it boring, and the screenplay is a wet rag twisted dry by its plot. I am hoping “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” redeems Bogart for me. It is the movie after next. Otherwise, for us, he’s a product of his time rather than a timeless star of the big screen.

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Every time Bacall’s character gets in a car, she rides like a sleep child. I know these cars didn’t have seat belts but good posture never killed anyone.

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

 

Marvel’s Spider-Man, Spoilers Only (PS4, 2018)

If you want me spoiler-free post about Spider-Man on Playstation 4, click here. Otherwise continue on for a spoiler-filled take on the game.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Continue reading “Marvel’s Spider-Man, Spoilers Only (PS4, 2018)”

Marvel’s Spider-Man, 100% Complete (PS4, 2018)

I preordered Spider-Man late last year, but it was less because of hype and more because of necessity. Target was running their annual Buy 2, Get 1 video game sale and it applied to preorders as well. I decided to get God of War (for me), Kingdom Hearts 3 (for Diane), and I needed a third game to round out the deal. I went with Spider-Man because I loved the comics as a kid and I wanted to be positive about getting a good game for the property despite so many lackluster attempts over the years. As I am sure you realize from the title of this post, Spider-Man was totally my jam.

((No spoilers in this post other than general opinions.))

Insomniac Game’s Spider-Man takes place in its own universe which immediately resolved several of my initial concerns about the game. First, it isn’t an origin retread (thank God). In this game, Peter has been Spider-Man for eight years. Second, it didn’t place in any comic continuity where I would feel completely lost. Insomniac’s version of the character works as a “Best Of” album that assumes some familiarity but not so much that I ever felt lost.

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I was also worried about it being open world. Yes, the game suffers from a lot of repetive content (same models, same animations, same quips, etc.), but it stays fresh enough. What makes it all work though is the movement, controls, and all the animation work that goes into making this the most accurate depiction of Spider-Man yet. I didn’t care about repeating the same car chase a couple dozen times when it meant more time swinging freely through a photorealistic version of New York City. The combat also borrows heavily from the Batman Arkham series with a greater emphasis on stealth and dodge mechanics which keeps it from feeling too much like a button mashing action game (though ultimately that’s all it is).

I am rarely a completionist, but Spider-Man scratched the same itch that Horizon: Zero Dawn did before it. From the very beginning, you have access to the entire map and total freedom in regards to swinging. As the story progresses, new activities unlock. Each of these activities rewards unique currencies which are then used to buy new suits with special suit powers or upgrade gadgets. In addition, you level up by gaining experience which provides for progression through the game’s skill trees.

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Every time an activity unlocked, I only did that activity until I had cleared it in all sections of the map. This made things feel a lot more repetitive but it was a strangely satisfying kind of grind. It also takes nearly the entire story for all activities to be unlocked, so it isn’t the kind of game where you will be able to do all of the side stuff within the first five hours. Everything is gated but remains useful (in terms of rewards) throughout the game.

All of the side quests were forgettable give or take a couple. Some activities I hated (research labs and superheroic environmentalism nonsense). The challenge activities were all fantastic though. I also loved all of the crime activities, despite their repetition, just because it never got old swinging to the scene, dropping from the sky, and dropping some bad guys.

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Finally, and most importantly, the absolute best thing about Spider-Man is its story. I won’t spoil it here (stay tuned for another post) but rest assured that this game understands Spider-Man, creates a branch of his universe I want to revisit, and freshens up the relationships with all of the characters we expect to be in a Spider-Man story. Overall, the story stays true to the essence of the characters without feeling stale or dated. It is superb and I recommend you at least watch a playthrough if you don’t want to play it yourself.

With another platinum trophy added to my list, I still want to play more Spider-Man. I haven’t committed to preordering the DLC, especially at $24.99 spread over the next three months. I am hoping it is worth it but the problem with most DLC these days is they don’t have the budget/attention to add more story, which is what I really want. I may hold onto my copy of the game to see what comes of the new content but at this point, I am more hyped for a sequel than anything else. Too bad it will likely be on the next generation of systems, if it happens at all, so there will be a long wait!

 

Donut County (PS4, 2018)

This review is going to go differently. I bought Donut County for Diane and she recently finished it. Since she doesn’t like to write these posts for me, I decided to interview her instead.

Q: What is Donut County?

Umm … it is a game where you swallow everything with holes. And that is all you do.

Q: Seriously, that’s it?

Well there’s a catapult sometimes so you gotta launch shit, to choose to swallow more things with the hole. But the controller – literally – joystick and one button.

Q: What did you like best about Donut County?

Sometimes you swallow stuff that causes explosions. Or the part with the Ferris Wheel where we launched a Ferris wheel at a castle. It was also kind of satisfying to swallow up the characters themselves. Hmm. And the dialogue, especially the Trashopedia, was pretty entertaining.

Q: What’s a “trashopedia”?

It teaches you what each item in the game that you swallowed up was (except for the characters). It is very educational if you take the time to read it.

Q: Did you like the characters? If so, why?

Yeah, I did. They … they are a group of characters that seem very comfortable with each other so there are a lot of friendly insults thrown at one another and no one really took offense. It’s kind of how I am with my friends. So it felt like, despite the predicament they were in, they were still a good group of friends.

Q: Other than swallowing everything with holes, would you say Donut County is really about friendship then?

I would say it is more about redemption. There is a pretty good redemption arc in there. And education courtesy of the trashopedia.

Q: Was there anything you didn’t like?

Not really. I can see some people finding the whole all we are doing is swallowing things in a hole repetitive, but there are a variety of puzzles that add to the game. And it is not terribly long, as you probably expect, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Q: Favorite scene, character, or level?

I thought that the game over screen was a nice touch. I wasn’t sure where it was going to go and then it leads to a surprise cutscene. I am not sure if it is actual canon or not, but I feel it adds a little layer by potentially breaking the fourth wall with it. It felt like a nice surprise. As surprising as a game over screen can be in a game where you swallow things in a hole.

Q: Any final thoughts or anything else you would like to add?

Quack.

WB Top 100: Mildred Pierce (1945)

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.


After a long hiatus, we pick up again with 1945’s “Mildred Pierce”. Winning Joan Crawford an Academy Award for Best Actress, “Mildred Pierce” follows the titular character after she marries, remarries, and murders her way to her evil daughter’s own self-destruction. It is two hours of whining about status in a story stripped of its Prohibition context when compared to the novel on which its based. As a film noir, it enthralls from the outset and sets a mood counter to its California setting to keep you on edge while you watch strong female characters do what thus far in this series they haven’t been able to do: be the sole focus.

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Wally Fay (played by Jack Carson) acts as some kind of family friend, but he really just wants to sleep with Mildred. It is hard to read him as charming with a modern ear, as he frequently seems one roofy away from rape despite also having kinder moments.

Our largest critique of the film was its use of class in a less than convincing way. In the chronological beginning of the movie when Mildred begins to tell the police her story, we learn that her husband Bert was financially well-off but they had since fallen on hard times. What hard times, dare you ask? How about a nice suburban California home, a car, and piano and dance lessons for the kids. Starving! Bert walks out after Mildred let’s him know the children will always come before his jobless, deadbeat ass.

That is where Mildred ultimately sets herself up for her own failure. As soon as she tells Bert who comes first and he leaves, we are introduced to their oldest daughter, Veda, who is an insufferable brat who seems to have delusions of having a Nigerian prince send her millions of dollars. (Please excuse the anachronism – this is the 40’s and the African American characters are still just the help, not princes or princesses.) Her mother sold cakes and pies to buy her a dress, but Veda calls it cheap just by its smell and has zero appreciation or respect.

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Veda, seen here with the love of her life, money.

Veda is equally the best and worst thing about this movie. She’s the prime cause of most of its melodrama. Joan Crawford’s Mildred is a mother, conflicted by a justified loathing of her own daughter, who repeatedly fails to break her of her spoiled habits of insubordination. For all her trouble, Veda is a spoiled heiress despite being heir to nothing, and chews on scenes like a villain twice her age and experience. Early on, she says her younger sister looks like a peasant and she puts on other airs throughout the rest of the film.

If Veda made sense, then her turn as the movies antagonist and chief cause of mischief would be a worthwhile reason to return to this film. Instead, the movie does little to explain why she is such a bitch all the time to everyone or how her nose got stuck up quite so high. As her counterpoint, her mother is a woman who makes it in a man’s world by starting a business where there was none, all while she bats off suitor after suitor who cannot take no for an answer until they themselves tire of the chase.

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Eve Arden’s character, Ida, was a standout due to her spunk. She plays the spurned tomboy best friend role but that only makes her more endearing.

I absolutely loved that women were front-and-center in this film even if there’s little worth celebrating of either character. They both, for me, represent the toxic extreme of mother and daughter taken to an illogical conclusion. Despite her daughter’s horrible, borderline psychopathic behavior, Mildred continues to baby, spoil, and ruin any hope of Veda becoming a capable, independent adult. At the same time, Veda expects the world to be handed to her for zero effort and isn’t afraid of doing whatever it takes to support her own self-interest and ego, including lying about a pregnancy to a dullard with money stupid enough to marry her in secret.

“Mildred Pierce” remains immensely watchable due to its acting and some solid cinematography. The writing is a product of its time, but the whole affair moves at a brisk pace, never lingering long enough to overstay any welcome. Yet, upon further reflection, the film feels more like a daytime television soap opera condensed to a rapid-fire two hour format. There’s murder, lying, divorce, poor rich people, rich poor people, and a suspension of disbelief that let’s it all happen. The film noir overtones maximize the intrigue and help fill in the gaps in what is otherwise a straightforward melodrama.

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Zachary Scott’s character, and the film’s murder victim, plays creepy far too well. Several times his attractiveness is mentioned but no.

With all that in mind, I still feel a little trashy having watched this movie. It isn’t risque or disturbing, mind you, but it is sleezy all the same. A soap opera with great acting, “Mildred Pierce” is what happens when white people fret over how high up the middle class ladder they are standing while nothing else in the world is important enough to even register. The film has a timelessness to it since it feels so far removed from its context but more emphasis on the Great Depression and its direct impact on these characters might have shored up the only real flaws I found in the movie.

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“You’re also to blame for me killing someone, mom. Help me hide the body.” – Worst Child Ever

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

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