Short Movie Review: Inglorious Basterds

Over two and a half hours, Quentin Tarantino offers two parallel stories of people committed to killing Nazis. This culminates in a wrought-out scene of “vengeance porn” against the major personalities of the Third Reich, which you’d think Tarantino’s target audience would have participated in itself over the last decade or so of violent, WWII-based video games.

Tarantino appears to think that methodical pacing makes horrifically violent scenes even more striking when they do finally occur. Unfortunately, as we learned in Death Proof, slow segments without tension, humor, or necessary narrative development are still boring. Personally, I am no longer willing to sit through a movie this long unless it is a freaking masterpiece, or at least full of hobbits and magic.

Short Game Review: Fallout New Vegas

Don’t buy this on Xbox or PS3 yet. I really enjoyed this game, and played it for many hours, but I’d be remiss in my duties as a reviewer and a friend if I didn’t start that way. Fallout New Vegas is basically a full-length expansion of Fallout 3, so if you liked that game, you will like this one. A few game mechanics have been slightly improved, but overall, it’s basically the same system with new characters and in a new setting. It is, however, without question, the buggiest game I have ever played. It froze and forced me to restart multiple times every time I sat down to play, often within seconds of starting. It corrupted my save files twice in one night, forcing me to redo hours of content. It locked me out of several quests because I didn’t do them in the order the developers expected. I hear the PC version works much better, and also has a robust modding community, so either buy it for PC, wait until they fix the other version, or wait for it to go on sale. There is no reason to pay full price for a game this broken, no matter how good.

Short Game Review: Nier

Nier is kind of a weird game, but not weird in sufficiently interesting ways to come with a strong recommendation from me. It’s a Japanese action RPG (i.e., no turn-based, menu-navigating combat) which occasionally borrows gameplay from shoot-em-ups, Diablo-style games, and text adventures. It makes not-so-subtle references specifically to certain Final Fantasy games, Zelda, any game that has you go around killing giant monsters based on the unspoken assumption that big monsters probably have keys in their bellies, and surely others I missed. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t say that Nier is ever more than the sum of its parts, and many of the aforementioned parts are kind of poorly done.

To the game’s credit, a few of the characters are fun, and the combat is occasionally interesting in the latter half of game—but I think I was over 10 hours in before I had a full party of NPCs and fights started being somewhat more interesting. The story had a great deal of potential, but rather than simply tell a story that makes sense from beginning to end, the game leaves a lot unexplained after one playthrough; I’m reading now online about how you need to play through two or three different ways for different endings and to actually get the subtext of what was going on (i.e., some characters’ dialog is undecipherable until your second playthrough). I wish I could say that I’ll endorse any game with a cast of characters as bizarre as this one—including a talking book, a foul-mouthed and seminude woman, and a friendly skeleton/magician—but I’ll withhold that endorsement until the sale price drops below twenty bucks.

Short Game Review: Alan Wake

Alan Wake is a horror story about horror stories. You play as the eponymous writer, fighting people possessed by a malevolent darkness, armed with lights and some guns. The gameplay generally involves dodging creepy dudes and pointing a flashlight at things to weaken them before shooting them (kind of like what Alone in the Dark did with fire, only this game probably fit that name better). It is pretty cool the first hundred times or so, but it does get repetitive.

The game was marketed heavily upon the strength of its story, though, and it does indeed do a better job making believable characters and back story than most games, with a plot that kept me wondering what would happen next. Ultimately, it does a worse job with facial expressions and lip sync than a game so focused on story really deserves, and some niggling loose ends in the plot are really bugging me—but perhaps I’ll get my answers in the DLC. Overall, I’d say it’s worth playing, but might be even more fun to watch someone else play (especially if they don’t bother hunting for all the stupid, worthless collectables).

Short Movie Review: Machete

This is the kind of movie in which “foreshadowing” means mentioning offhand that the human intestines are 10 times the length of the whole human body. The main thing being foreshadowed is: “This will come up again next time Danny Trejo kills a bunch of dudes.”

If you enjoyed Tarantino’s and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, and secretly hoped that the fake Machete trailer between features would actually get made into a movie someday, then the feature-length realization of Machete probably won’t disappoint. I didn’t think it was as good enjoyable as the Planet Terror half of Grindhouse, but I did prefer it in some ways over Death Proof (which started too slow for my liking). Probably Machete could have been improved by cutting out about 10-15 minutes of dialog scenes (and, optionally, replacing them with more scenes of people getting horribly dismembered), but overall, it elicited enough laughs and groans over its 100+ minutes to make me glad I went.

Lynd Ward’s Wordless Novels

Boing Boing brings word that the Library of America is offering a slip-cased, two-volume set of Lynd Ward’s Depression-era woodcut novels, edited by Art Spiegelman. The whole set is $70, but is a total steal at Amazon for over $30 as of now (for pre-orders).

I have a couple of the books collected in this series, and I can attest that they are stunning and excellent. I have been waiting for years for a collection like this, to see the images on fine paper and in a lovingly curated collection. Perhaps there’s something more “authentic” about seeing Depression-era stories told on the cheap, used, newsprinty-paper copies I have, but honestly, Ward’s work deserves the premium treatment.

These works were really influential for a lot of comic book artists (including Spiegelman, I’m guessing), and to me while I was first getting into my studies of visual storytelling and design. I had been counting the years until this material goes into the public domain (in a good long time), hoping that I’d be able to put together my own collection sometime, but I’m very happy that much more qualified people beat me to it years in advance.

Short Movie Review: The Boondock Saints 2

Mostly dull. Leads me to question whether the first one was actually as clever and self-aware as I had thought it was. Don’t bother.

The Most Underrated Games of the ’00s

An introductory note: I forgot to post this several months ago, then I found it again. I guess I’ll post it now, even though it’s pretty late to be posting roundups from 2000–2009. Whatever.

I thought about doing a “best games of 2009 list,” but I realize I didn’t really play that many games this year that actually came out this year. So, instead, I’m going to take advantage of the end of the decade to reach further back. I can’t remember whether we do “Top 10” lists around here or whether they’re more like “Top n” lists, where n = however many we think we’re going to need to include. I’m not sure I can think of 10 games that I thought were way better than everybody else seemed to think from the last decade, so here you get a list of arbitrary length, peppered with games from the last several years that I mostly wanted to rant about. Enjoy!


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Even Shorter Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Jason version)

They nailed precisely half of the equation that made this one of the best comics ever: the juvenile playfulness. Too bad the other half—the humorously, painfully familiar emotional realism—couldn’t fit in a Hollywood movie. Good soundtrack, though, and definitely recommended if you enjoy seeing people burst into spare change when killed.

Short Game Review: Alpha Protocol

If Splinter Cell had knocked up Mass Effect after the prom, Alpha Protocol would be their baby. Mind you, this is before those series grew up into more games they are today—we’re talking 2005’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and the first Mass Effect, circa 2007. That’s only an insult, though, if you wouldn’t love to go back and play those all over again for the first time, awkwardness and all.

Admittedly, Alpha Protocol has a visual style that looked outdated before the game even hit shelves, combat that feels clunky if you’re using anything but a pistol, boss fights that are literally impossible if you don’t build your character properly (I did, fortunately, entirely by accident), and a convoluted plot of secret agencies and double-double-crosses so numerous that not even the writers can keep track of what your character already knows, deflating some of their intended “A-HA!” moments. Still, sneaking around and punching bad guys in the throat is pretty fun, the dialog system is arguably an improvement upon Mass Effect‘s, and the game keeps track of more of your choices (adjusting plot and dialog accordingly!) than any other game I’ve seen. All in all, I’m sad it won’t be getting a sequel, but I’m glad I got it for only forty bucks.