Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Ring vs. The Grudge

Hey, here's one that's long overdue!

'The Ring vs. The Grudge' is a 2016 horror film (originally titled 'Sadako vs. Kayako' - and initially, merely an April Fool's gag) which, if you haven't already guessed, pits the main antagonists from said franchises against one another in a fight to the death ... uhm, undeath? Most horrific cat fight of all time?
I understand your potential confusion and sexual frustration, but I assure you that the powers-that-be came up with a solution to this roadblock.

By the way, when I use the term 'franchise', I really mean it. There are currently 13 Grudge and 7 Ring films altogether (American bastardizations included), with shitty sequels and reboots planned as we speak (because fuck taking your time to do something right or original).
Now's probably a good time for me to mention the fact that I've only ever watched two and a half of the aforementioned movies.

I absolutely loved the American remake of 'The Ring' (the cinematography was as gorgeous as anything from Picasso's 'Blue Period'). Its direct sequel was trash and I must've slept through 85% of the American grudge.

Honestly, I'm not even a fan of horror films (blame my attention span, but I blame their boringness and predictability), but I do wish more crossover 'vs' movies would be made.
This is about as fun as this genre gets for yours truly.

The first half of the film is wasted as we witness a young woman watching Sadako's cursed video (WE don't get to see the video itself, of course...) and her subsequent search for a remedy to prevent her impending doom. Yes, we have to go through that old story again, and no, it isn't particularly fun or engaging if you already know how this goes.
We also get a meager splattering of Kayako sprinkled here and there just to string us along before anyone decides to walk out and demand a goddamn refund.

Fortunately -or unfortunately- the halfway point is where we're introduced to the only interesting characters in the entire movie - and likely the entire Ring/Grudge universe - I'm assuming!

Keizo is a young, disheveled man who walks tough and gives no fucks because he's seen some shit.
Tamao is a younger (pre-tween) girl who is blind and hasn't seen as much shit, but, she's psychic (which is actually kind of a sweet trade-off)!
Together, they form a team of 'evil ghost' ass-kickers, and I love them! Their expertise gets me wondering how many evil ghosts they've had to deal with before, though.
Hey! Somebody should give this pair their own movie series...

In his introduction, Keizo crosses paths with whatsherface and her best friend (the "protagonists" of this movie) and decides to help them. Shortly thereafter (and I'm talking within minutes!), Keizo manages to impressively/effortlessly/hilariously capture Sadako's spirit inside a freaking potato sack. Yeah, it's ridiculous, but I'm still loving it.
And *that* is when he gets the bright idea of sending our useless protagonist to Kayako so that both evil spirits can fight it out to see which of them can torture her in cold Japanese hell for eternity.

In hindsight, it really is piss-poor planning to assume that both evil spirits would eliminate each other at the same time, instead of coming to the logical conclusion that the 'winner' would still destroy the main character's soul.

Anyway, here's where I take a quick break to slam down a grade.
Continue reading for a quick summary, followed by ending spoilers.

Final Grade: D

The biggest problem with this movie is its atrocious pacing. Even when it's "good", the characters move at the pace of green algae growing on a sloth's fur, which is especially needless when we all know where this movie is ultimately headed.
It seriously isn't until an hour and a fucking half before the showdown between vengeful spirits commences! What's left of my popcorn is long cold and those tough pieces are already getting stuck between my teeth.

Sure, you could correctly argue that any good movie requires a buildup of suspense in order to get a proper climax, but we've had these movies building up for over a decade, each! We don't need to see Spider-Man's origin story each reboot, and we didn't buy tickets to see a watered-down origin story for a mediocre protagonist whose death and damnation we are excitedly rooting for!

To top it off, the "fighting" is as bare-bones as can be (they barely even look at one another, let alone make actual metaphysical contact) and it's not the slightest bit satisfying.
An actual cat fight would've been far more interesting to watch, and it's a real damn shame because the potential is definitely there.

To finally spoil the climax, the end sequence sees both ghosts run up to each other and collide in nearly slapstick fashion.
This results in a fusion of the two (of course it does!) with the birth of 'Sadakaya'.

While I love the idea and what it could mean for an actual sequel, the whole damn thing falls apart in a largely failed product.
People who are entirely new to both characters may still find this movie worth their time, as may hardcore fans, but if you're looking for something like Freddy vs. Jason, expect to be unimpressed.
The only reason this didn't get a 'Failure' grade from me is because of the introduction of Keizo and Tamao, but even their contributions were far too little, and much too late.

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+