Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sausage Party

I had a pretty good idea of what to expect even before I considered whether or not I'd be willing to watch this movie.
Basically 'VeggieTales' with equally outdated graphics, plenty of awful puns and a side order of double (triple?) entendres.
Not really a movie I was dying to go see, but many of us ( and I stand at the front of the line, here) will rightfully complain about Hollywood's lack of original material to work with.
Still, I would rather watch this than the 'Ghostbusters' reboot because I am a man of principle!
So how did it go? Read on; I'm saving the big spoilers for the closing paragraphs.

Right off the bat, the story is introduced with a quick musical number ... which brings me to my first small complaint. Not the fact that there's a song at the beginning - though thankfully there are only 2 or 3 songs in the whole thing.
That alone didn't surprise me, and I even thought it a good idea to start off the story on a "higher note".
The bigger and recurring problem is that you're continuously bombarded with many quick gags which can be a real struggle to keep up with. You'll try to stay focused enough to "get" the inside jokes in between endless fast cuts, but if you're not thinking at lightning speed you'll definitely miss jokes you'll only get on a second or third viewing.
Spoilers: To be perfectly clear, I'll likely never sit down to watch this again in this lifetime.

So the story is as bland as an ungarnished 4th of July hot dog, but it makes what little sense it requires. Basically, food items daydream about the day they'll be chosen to be taken home, completely unaware that they're meant for human consumption.

Truth be told, I was completely onboard during the first half of the movie. The best and most satisfying act being a straight-up horror-movie scene which takes place when a woman puts down her groceries in the kitchen and starts preparing dinner. And then it all goes downhill from there.
The story, surprisingly, builds upon a solid foundation, but the second half feels too rushed and not as well blueprinted as the beginning.

Now, what you absolutely have to understand is the fact that this movie was made by several men-children. Being one myself, I can truly appreciate a really stupid movie if it's executed properly - especially considering the cast of voice actors involved.
This film is stuffed with plenty of offensive and politically incorrect humor, and I have to give the boys credit for pushing the envelope. The racist stereotypes and lgbt jokes as we travel along the ethnic food aisles can almost be described as "charming", even!
Unfortunately, certain jokes are uncomfortable to try to laugh at and are downright tasteless. It truly makes me wonder what -if anything- ended up getting scrapped for being too extreme.

I feel it a real problem when a film -or artist, or ... anyone, really- takes itself too seriously. In my eyes, however, it's an even bigger problem when you don't take yourself seriously enough. I can almost picture all of the talented idiots who put this together lighting up a joint and laughing to themselves,
"Bro! Can you believe, bro, the stupid bullshit we're putting out there that people are actually going to pay money to see??"
{insert awkward Seth Rogen laugh}

And it's an honest-to-god shame because even silly and immature shows like 'South Park' have proven to contain enough merit to teach certain life lessons. Sausage Party sets itself up as a story about standing up for what you believe even when the rest of the world seems to think otherwise.
It talks about the dangers of blind faith and surpasses even *that* concept by teaching about being sensitive enough to the feelings of those around you because their beliefs are as equally valid as your own. And if you wish to open their eyes to a 'higher truth', you'll be far more successful through civilized conversation rather than violent hate or derogatory speech.

Yes, this film actually reaches for that level of deepness if you're receptive enough, but then it shits on itself as it begs for laughs with a few too many gross-out gags.
Again, I'm not advocating for censorship! It just would've been an improved product had it enough self-respect to take itself a bit more seriously.

Spoilers below the grade and graphic below....

Final Grade: C+

Another serious highlight for my inner teenager was the living, breathing douche nozzle who becomes a serious antagonist as a Jersey Shore monster who literally consumes his fellow shopping products in order to grow stronger and more terrifying. Truly a character I loved too much to hate.
That said, the violent rape scene went too far for my liking and will definitely set off triggers in the audience.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers decided to go out with a bang - a dizzying gangbang which jackhammers on for too long and easily takes the cake for being one of the lowest points in the history of cinema.
A "sex scene" was certainly expected -if you can call it that- but a full-blown CGI-food orgy will lamentably make your ticket price seem all the more expensive for the laughs.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Final Fantasy Tactics A2

Picture the following:
You sit down to play a classic game of chess. You make yourself comfortable (but not *too* comfortable, lest your complacency and false sense of security cause your army to be demolished, your king and queen beheaded, and your precious castle be burned down to the ground) as you struggle to remember the rules of the game.

The 'King' is the most important piece, but only slightly more useful than the pawn (symbolism?). The 'Queen' is the most powerful player on the board and can do irreversible damage to anyone caught off-guard. And the 'Knights' ... well, they fucking suck - inexplicably.

The thing about chess is that the battlefield is mirrored so that both players have equally powerful pieces - fair and square.
This allows for the more cunning and better seasoned strategist to come out the victor (usually?).
All things considered, it's a decent -if outdated- pastime.

Now, picture what an evolved game of chess could potentially resemble:
First off, there is no useless 'King' piece! You have not one, but two 'Queen' pieces completely capable of murdering everyone in the trenches. One is a 'Sniper/Assassin' and the other is a punk-rock 'Hunter' who flies with dragon wings and hunts down enemies with bows and knives.
Also, your shitty knights have been replaced by a superior, large man-dog 'Beastmaster' who can tame and command wild creatures to do your bidding, and a child-sized rabbit who shoots lightning bolts from magical pistols (a 'Fusilier', as they're called).

This, my friends, is the ridiculously awesome game of 'Final Fantasy Tactics A2' for the Nintendo DS (compatible with the 3DS), and one of my favorite games in existence!

As the title implies, this is actually the 2007 sequel to the 2003 title, 'Final Fantasy Tactics Advance'.
Why there aren't annual updates to this isometric, turn-based series while the rotting 'Pokémon' franchise gets double-milked to death is beyond me, but allow me to sell the idea to you even further if I haven't already.

What I've described above is a totally plausible scenario, but there are countless ways to play the game, and it's great enough that you'll soon forget what the hell the story was all about to begin with.
Something about a young boy (that's you, the main protagonist) who ends up in a magical land and needs to find a way to get back home. That old story!

Before you know it, you wind up managing a zany clan of warriors (a maximum of six can battle at a time, but your gang can include a maximum of up to 24 characters - not recommended, fyi) who take up job requests which more often than not consist of beating rival clans until they beg for mercy (only half kidding).

The biggest highlight of the game (as with most Final Fantasy titles) is the job system which allows your characters to become skilled in a wide variety of 50+ classes. Be aware that there exist limits, however.
For example, human characters -being the most versatile- can excel in jobs like 'Thief', 'Black Mage' and 'Ninja'.
The child-sized rabbits (moogles, officially) are likewise capable of becoming skilled in the arts of thievery and black magic, but they cannot become ninjas. They have their own exclusive classes, such as the aforementioned 'Fusilier'.
So on and so forth for the other 5 "races" of recruitable characters.

The extra nice thing about this game? Unlike 'Pokémon' characters which can only access a maximum of four attacks at a time, FFTA2 characters can retain moves from any two classes of your choosing (usually a maximum of around 12 or 14 attacks when 'perfected').
Perhaps you're not satisfied with your favorite character mainly leveling up their magic stats. Well, you can take said 'Illusionist' and "teach" them the way of the sword so they can fight as a magic-wielding samurai (frankly, one of my favorite combinations)!

But wait, of course there's more!
Certain weapons and 'accessories' can drastically change your battle plan before you jump in for your first attack.
A Flame Shield will not only protect you from any and all fire-based attacks, but they will actually heal your shit!
Combine it with a 'Thunder Robe' (again, there are always exceptions to who can wear what) and congratulations! You are now immune to fire & lightning!! Not only that, but you can now use your supporting cast of fighters to save you by shooting you with said magic attacks.

'Ribbons', on the other hand, are an item which *usually* only female characters can 'equip' (note: they aren't actually visible when you "put them on").
So what the hell do they do? They protect you from harmful magic attacks which can render your character blind, poisoned, or incapacitated. I'm fairly certain that ribbons won't protect you from certain doom, though (yes, that's an actual thing!).
Oh, what? I failed to mention status buffs & debuffs?

As previously stated, the layers and combinations to this game are immeasurable and there remain plenty of cool details I don't have enough space to get into.
The many variables which affect your gameplay are fairly easy to keep track of, and with enough careful planning your team of level 50 warriors can beat the odds in order to bring down level 99 monsters!
I've accomplished as much and it's one of the most satisfying of feelings.

This game isn't perfect, however. If I have to complain about anything, it's the fact that many missions are pointless, a few jobs useless, and enemies repetitive. More importantly, because there are so many missions in this game (300, but not all required in order to beat the game), you won't receive the most important weapons and items until dozens and DOZENS OF HOURS into the game.
That said, acquiring the best weapons in the game can kill most any challenge and make your battles incredibly easy towards the end.

It's certainly no dealbreaker, but the whole thing could've been shortened and better balanced.
Regardless, stop playing chess and buy this fantastic piece of software because there's no sign of a direct sequel being released anytime in the near future!
I'll just warn you to pace yourself, keep your party as small as possible, and enjoy the ride because it can last well over 100 hours if you let it.

Final Grade: A+

Friday, April 22, 2016

One Piece

I've reviewed this gorgeous gem once before (indeed, it was the first official review I published on the previous version of this blog), but I find it imperative to revisit it once more, with feeling!

One Piece is a Japanese manga comic penned by Eiichiro Oda which began its weekly run way back in 1997 and continues to this day. With an impressive 824 chapters at the time of this typing, the series also boasts a rounded estimate of approximately 850 named characters (canon, and not including characters from non-official 'filler' material).
Statistically speaking, that's about a new character in every chapter!

In all sincerity, it's my favorite thing ever and a major influence on my own writings. And if I didn't point this out last time, it's also where the banner on this blog originates. Let's dive straight into the story, though.

This epic adventure commences as Luffy (a dopey and hungry young man of 17, our main protagonist and pronounced 'Lou-Fee') sets off on his own in search of adventure and legendary treasure, determined to become the Pirate King of the World. Certainly an ambitious goal if there ever was one, but you start believing it may be possible when he knocks out a gigantic eel monster (several times Luffy's size) with a swift punch to the side of the face by the end of the first chapter.
Wait ... how?? Well, because his body is made of rubber and he can stretch his limbs long distances and snap them like rubberbands in order to fight.

Insane as this already sounds, everything else in the living and hyperventilating world of 'One Piece' becomes much more surreal, absurd and wonderfully chaotic. As you may have already guessed, this is a show in which many characters exhibit supernatural powers and mutant abilities as they do in shows like 'Heroes' and 'X-Men'. Capabilities which in instances are considerably more terrifying than a stretchy, rubber body could ever be.
The ability to manifest into deadly poisonous gas, for example. Or transforming into one of several ferocious and carnivorous beasts. Another, it turns out, is the powerful ability to create and control strings - much more frightening than you'd initially imagine.

But there also exist lesser-scary and more peculiar abilities, such as the ability which allows an animal to gain human attributes, the ability to turn into a giant, golden Buddha statue, or the ability to turn real-life objects (and people) into works of abstract art.
When it comes down to it, Luffy has to find ways to become strong enough to overcome (through physical battles, or otherwise) people who are ridiculously strong in their own right and ready to fight for their own beliefs. Sometimes, it happens by inadvertently converting enemies into friends or allies - the lives of which he values above all else and will risk his own in order to defend.

That's the basic premise, but the entire story as it steadily approaches the 1,000 chapter milestone is enormous as new and interesting plot elements are constantly introduced which manage to intrigue and shuffle alliances around enough to make every plot point as unpredictable as can be.
This is without even mentioning all of the political, sociological and philosophical aspects which become surprisingly complex within the main story. Nor have I touched upon the remainder of the dozen or so main protagonists which join, fight and sail with Luffy under his flag -including a cyborg, a living skeleton and a reindeer- else this entry would go on forever.

Ok, great. So it's a whimsical tale about a bunch of kids playing pirates (traveling an insane world from snowy islands to islands in the skies, and an island made of cake) and fighting grown adults who want to see them dead.

My most favorite thing about the story (aside from the fact that it's the only thing which often brings me close to tears) is how seriously it takes the concept of cause and effect.
If you choose to live a benevolent life of crime by sailing under a pirate flag, the government and their monstrous officials will hunt you down to put an end to your fun adventures.
Cause enough mayhem and a bounty will be put on your head (the biggest of which are displayed with great pride) until you're brought to "justice" by being sentenced to a hellish, inescapable, underwater prison.
In short, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It's literary physics, people!

Some of the most entertaining and satisfying scenes occur in between story arcs whenever the heroes of the story receive increments in their bounties and all of their friends and family members (as well as deadly adversaries) see their faces in the newspapers and respond accordingly with shock, laughter or absolute fury.

That said, I do have one significant criticism which the author inexplicably does not apply the 'cause & effect' rule to, and that is the concept of death. For a story in which great danger lurks within and around every island, the story contains numerous instances in which characters are implied to have died a certain death but somehow manage to survive through some bullshit reason.
It annoys me to no end, but it's about my biggest complaint in this magnificent tale which I'd recommend everyone to read.

On that last note: there's also an animated version of this incredibly popular series, of course. It contains fantastic visuals, an amazing score of classical music and brightly colorful voice acting and thus I'd also be inclined to recommend watching the show, but be aware that the pacing after the first 300 or so episodes (out of 737) can sometimes really drag (so that the show doesn't catch up to the published comic). The grading here will be for the comic book, specifically.

Final Grade: A+