Saturday, June 27, 2015

Things That I Love: Video Game PlayThroughs

Have you ever wanted to play a video game, but didn't have the money or the time?  Thanks to the power of YouTube, you can see how that game is played, and then some.

I first stumbled upon video game playthroughs, or walkthroughs, when I was looking for video on the famous Super Mario Brothers "minus world."  If you've ever played the classic Super Mario Brothers, you may be aware that there are certain glitches in the game, and those savvy enough to exploit them can find themselves in, as they say, a whole new world:



In case that wasn't weird enough for you, here is minus world in the Japanese version:



But playthroughs aren't just for watching cool glitches in beloved classic video games.  They are also for watching entire video games and interactive stories.  For instance, when I was young, I beat Nintendo's classic game, Mike Tyson's Punch Out.  Years later, they came up with an updated version on Wii, which I don't own and don't know when I'll purchase.  But thanks to more dedicated players on YouTube, I can at least watch the game and imagine I'm still dexterous enough to beat it!


As for interactive stories, since the beginning of this year, I have been following the chapters of Telltale's Game of Thrones.  For a little background, Telltale Games is a gaming company that produces graphic adventure series, many in multiple chapters.  Game of Thrones Season One follows House Forrester, bannermen to House Glover and Stark family loyalists.  In the books, House Forrester is mentioned in passing, little more than a hill clan.  In the episodic series, which follows the show, House Forrester is a minor noble house with the motto: "Iron from Ice."  Through six chapters (four presently released), you follow the Stark-like Forresters as they try to bring their family back from near ruin.

So far, the series has been utterly absorbing.  Yet I would have been denied the experience if not for the generosity of YouTubers, thanks to the fact that my computer schematics were not advanced enough for the game (*never mind that when I purchased it, Telltale claimed it could run on Snow Leopard, grumble, grumble*).  Now that I've upgraded, I intend to play the game at long last, but it has been great fun watching various players' choices for each chapter.  Watching each episode is really like watching segments of a miniseries.  When all six episodes have aired, I will write a review of the whole.


So there you have it: a special mix of nostalgia and desire to explore new worlds (as well as, let's face it, a splash of laziness) is what makes video game playthroughs so enjoyable.  Off to look for yet another new one... after I do some grown up, responsible adult thingys first.  Grumble.

Special thanks to Chozoth, Legendary Super Mario, MrBLT, and IGN for their wonderful video contributions, without which I could not have wasted so much of my valuable time and enjoyed every minute.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Movie Musicals That Got It Wrong: Pitch Perfect 2

As I mentioned in my review, Pitch Perfect was not exactly trailblazing cinema.  Nearly everything it did have been done before, sometimes better, by other movies.  What Pitch Perfect had, however, was good chemistry between the characters, a relatively straight-forward plot, and energetic musical numbers.  None of which can be said for Pitch Perfect 2.


Pitch Perfect 2 is not horrible, mind you.  It's no Jersey Boys or Rock of Ages.  It's not even Annie 2014.  However, it turned what was sort of fresh and fun into strained and tedious, which is why it is on the Wrong List.


Plot Synopsis


The Barden Bellas are the reigning champions of a cappella singing in the United States.  After Fat Amy has a "wardrobe malfunction" during a televised performance for President Obama, the Bellas are ordered to disband.  However, leaders Beca and Chloe convince the national a capella organization to reinstate the group if they become the world champions of a cappella, something an American group has never done.  The Bellas quickly find their work cut out for them when they encounter the precise and ruthless German squad, Das Sound Machine.  Meanwhile, Beca finds her loyalty tested and her priorities stretched after she lands an internship at a recording studio.    



The Good


Still Some Chemistry.  
While the chemistry between the characters is usually not as effortless as in the first movie, it is still evident during key parts, such as the Bellas' bonding camping trip.  The campfire bonding scene was the first time I started to really enjoy the movie.


Lots of Singing!  The musical numbers may be overproduced, but it's hard not to get caught up in their energy, or to appreciate the harmonizing.  Good singing makes everything better.


Nothing Lasts Forever.  The movie deserves credit for actually acknowledging that high school (or, in this case, college) doesn't last forever, and people eventually move on to other things.  Or, if they don't, they really should (looking at you, Chloe).*  The cameo with Aubrey was welcome, though Aubrey's characterization seemed off.


Shared Sense of History.  The final song number with Bellas was was as touching and effective as hoped, though it would have been nice if the Bellas' long, proud history had been emphasized more in the movie.


Less Jesse.  The Treblemakers are in the movie, but much more marginalized, which means Jesse and his annoying cheesiness are kept to a blessed minimum.


Green Bay Packers Can Sing.  Their appearance in the film would have been a fun surprise had I not been spoiled.  Who knew that Clay Matthews could not only sing, but was a passable actor?  Which is more than I can say for Brett Favre back in the day.



The Bad


One Dimensional Baddies.  
Das Sound Machine had appealing characters like Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, who won rave reviews for a recent appearance on Game of Thrones), but the movie could never figure out what to do with them except have them twirl their invisible moustaches and laugh, "Hahahaha, stupid Americans!"  How much better would it have been if the German group had congratulated the Bellas at the end, or at least expressed sympathy that the Bellas faced extinction?  What if Das Sound Machine had its own personal stakes in the competition?  Instead, the group was a rampaging German stereotype (Emotions except for smug condescension bad!  Technology and dominance good!) which served no one in the end.


Questionable Stakes.  Why on earth were the two silly commentators from the first movie allowed to serve as representatives for the national a cappella organization?  Was it ever explained?  Because it makes no sense.  Nor does the set-up that the Bellas can only redeem themselves by winning the world championship.  If there is truly a stain on their reputation that won't wipe away, not even winning the world championship would change that.  Though it seems silly such an acclaimed a cappella group would face such punishment anyway for something that was clearly a mistake.  At worst, they might have to drop Fat Amy from the group, go on an apology tour, and face a penalty that would likely be temporary.   


Let's Do It Again.  Only Worse.  Remember in my review of Pitch Perfect, how I praised Fat Amy for not being "the endless teller and recipient of fat jokes"?  Yeah, well, that's gone.  In Pitch Perfect 2, Fat Amy's weight is constantly played for laughs, from the initial incident that gets the Bellas suspended to her sliding down the stairs at the end.  Her relationship with Bumper might have broken that mold, if it didn't seem so random and forced.  


The quirky, marginal characters are also still around, like Lilly, and have been joined by new quirky characters like Flo Fuentes, who constantly "jokes" about being deported to her home country.  The show numbers are still around, only less inspired.  And would they really be that allergic to original material in the a cappella world, or was that solely to make What's Her Name seem that much bolder for having an original song, whereas in real life, everyone would think she was a hack?


Good Girl, Bad Music.  Note that I hadn't mentioned the new girl until now.  Freshman Emily Junk managed to get into the Bellas through a loophole, even though they weren't allowed to admit new members.  She's cool because she writes her Own Material.  Material that happens to sound incredibly derivative, but still.  Emily failed to leave much of an impression on me during the movie, and I can't imagine her song would spur such an enthusiastic reception in real life.    



Conclusion


I only did this review because I reviewed the first Pitch Perfect, but this isn't nearly as good.  Nonetheless, it's not bad.  Don't waste your money seeing it in the theatre.  Wait until it comes out on TV.







* Other reviews claim that Chloe flunked two years in a row to remain in the Bellas, but I don't recall seeing that in the movie.  Isn't it possible she just decided to go to graduate school at Barden?




Movie Musicals That Got It Right: DreamgirlsLes MiserablesChicagoMamma Mia!Sweeney ToddMoulin RougeThe Sound of MusicPitch PerfectCabaret