Tag Archives: Video games

The Wizard

Proudly brought to you by Nintendo, Vision Street Wear, and young Fred Savage, the Wizard is a movie I somehow avoided for 30 years until Netflix shoved it in my face last night. Even in 1989 there was really no reason for me to see it since I had already played Super Mario 3 at my friend Justin’s house (he somehow imported it from Japan).  And revealing that new game was the Wizard’s raison d’être. 

Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards) is a non-verbal kid who’s been stowed away in a care home by his mom and step-dad. Until Jimmy’s half-brother Corey (Savage) busts him out and stows him away on a delivery truck faster than you can say “tanooki suit”, destination California. After the two boys meet tween runaway Haley (Jenny Lewis) at a bus station, their destination becomes more specific. They’re off to Video Armageddon, a world championship of gaming featuring only 8-bit Nintendo games because Jimmy is secretly a wizard at Double Dragon. But will Jimmy be able to beat his Power-Glove-wielding rival Lucas (Jackey Vinson) at a new Super Mario game that no one has played yet? You’re damn right he will.

At the time, Super Mario 3 was the next great Nintendo game. But now, countless Super Marios later, Super Mario 3 is an ancient relic, rather than a selling point like it was in 1989 (because it had not yet been released in North America. The one point of interest for today’s audience is seeing a very young Tobey Maguire make his very first film appearance (blink and you’ll miss it).  In hindsight it’s clear that Maguire isn’t really acting here in his non-speaking role as Lucas’ tiniest sidekick, and that he was always destined to become one of the biggest assholes in Hollywood.

Otherwise, the Wizard is unforgivably forgettable. It’s not a good movie (and it never tries to be) but it’s also not an enjoyably bad one. Savage does his precocious tween thing, Christian Slater does his precocious teen thing, Beau Bridges does his earnest dad thing, and a bunch of other people presumably do their best acting which was not good enough for them to ever get any other major movie roles. Maybe if I had seen it as a kid I’d be more nostalgic, but without the benefit of nostalgia the Wizard is nothing more than a 96 minute commercial for 30 year old Nintendo games.

Advertisements

The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Sean has a video game called LEGO Dimensions. You buy character packs, build them out of LEGO, and then you can play them in the game. The character packs come in all sorts of cool recognizable shapes and sizes: Sean has the Simpsons, and Back to the Future, and Ghostbusters, for example. He builds a Marty McFly, and a Delorean, and then he can go through the plot of the movie using those characters. It’s pretty cool. But as a completionist, he’s also bought character packs that we have no experience with at all, like Harry Potter, Adventure Time, Portal 2, and Ninjago. And while we knew that Harry Potter were popular books, and a franchise of films, we didn’t know Ninjago at all. In fact, we didn’t even know how to pronounce it correctly until Sean called it Ninja-go in front of his 4 year old nephew, who looked at him like he was a complete sack of shit. It’s pronounced Nin-jaw-go, for your information. And apparently it’s a TV show used to sell LEGO sets. But whereas Bill Murray was a real flesh and blood person rendered into a cartoon version of a LEGO mini figure, the Ninjagos were always LEGO. LEGO has sold over 100 different sets of LEGOs based on that show, so you can see how it’s a big money maker for them. The movie is a cog in their money making machine.

AmazeThe gist of the movie: Garmadon (Justin Theroux) is the bad guy threatening the world of Ninjago. But every time he tries to invade it for good, he’s thwarted by a band of teenage ninjas trained by his brother, Master Wu (Jackie Chan) and led by the son he abandoned 16 years ago, Lloyd (Dave Franco) though none bear any familial resemblance. Being the son of a noted bad guy is hard, and so is being the vaguely named “green ninja” in a crew of ninjas otherwise named for the elements – Cole\Earth (Fred Armisen), Jay\Lightning (Kumail Nanjiani), Kai\Fire (Michael Pena), Zane\Ice (Zach Woods), and Nya\Water (Abbi Jacobson). They get to ride around in really cool LEGO robots that can shoot things and fly, and I can totally see the toy appeal. Lloyd’s robot vehicle is a dragon that shoots missiles from every body part imaginable – what kid could resist? But the genius is that that they all have something different, so the potential for you to spend money is almost limitless.

Anyway, when Garmadon makes his most successful bid to capture the city (and a monster threatens to destroy it), Lloyd will have to learn now to harness his vague ninja powers, pull his team together, and also bond a little with his bad guy dad.

Yes, it’s all a big ploy to get into your wallet. But like the other LEGO movies that came before it, it’s also shamelessly fun. But this one is the weakest of the three, in part because it only appeals to the kids who know and watch the show. The other two movies preyed on adult nostalgia and reminded them of the toys they played with as kids. The only thing this movie might remind you of is the sharp little buggers that get lost in your carpet and hurt like hell when you step on them at night on your way to the bathroom. LEGO knows what it’s doing: the butt joke ratio is extremely high, and the kids laugh every damn time. So go ahead and take them to it, as long as you understand that it’s likely to cost you more than just the movie tickets.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Edgar Wright, I think I love you.

And Edgar Wright loves movies. It’s clear from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World that Wright pours love into his film by loading it with details that’ll take you several watches to truly absorb.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young dude in a band. He’s dating a high school student 9d0uzolbut is ready to drop her the moment he meets his dream girl, Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The catch? Catches? Well, his ex-girlfriend is in town, giving him a serious drought of self-confidence, and Ramona actually has 7 exes, er, 7 evil exes, whom Scott must fight in order to “win” her favour. The movie kind of asks: what would happen if a random guy suddenly had the ability to fight as if he were in a video game? And you know what? The results are pretty fantastic.

Edgar Wright soaks this movie in video game references. He got permission to use the 500fulltheme song from The Legend of Zelda by writing a flowery letter to Nintendo, calling it “the nursery rhyme of this generation.” The more you know video games, the more you’ll appreciate this, but even I can concede its greatness.

Moreover, Wright has a knack for casting that you can’t help but admire. He picked a whole bunch of young kids who would launch into stardom. Brie Larson went on to win an Oscar just a few years later, and Anna Kendrick a nomination.

Of course, my favourite part of the movie is how carefully Wright, an Englishman, preserves the Toronto locale. Toronto is a cheap place to make movies so it often stands in for other places, notably New York City. For once, Toronto gets to be Toronto, giphyunapologetically Toronto, with the TTC, Honest Ed’s, Casa Loma, and even dirty, dirty Pizza Pizza. This movie feels like home. In a meta moment, a fake New York City backdrop is literally ripped open to reveal the glorious Toronto skyline. When Scott Pilgrim earns points, the coins that rain down upon him are loonies and twonies, Canadian style.

And Wright, who is an excellent curator of music, finds some excellent Canadian bands to do the heavy lifting for him. Broken Social Scene wrote two of the 4-second songs played by Crash and the Boys (“We hate you, please die” and “Im so sad, so very, very sad”). Metric wrote the song performed by The Clash at Demonhead. And Chris Murphy vocalist and bassist for Sloan, served as the music performance supervisor, which I think means he made sure the actors held their guitars the right way and stuff. (Non-Canadian Beck wrote the music for Pilgrim’s band, Sex Bob-Omb).

Scott Pilgrim vs The World is ultra-stylized and brilliant to watch. It’s incredibly fast-paced and feels hyper real. It’s almost unbearably quotable, fresh, and inventive. The script can’t always keep up with the film’s flash and charm but darn if it doesn’t try. I’ve been in love with this movie for 7 years or so, and a recent re-watch confirmed that I’m still crushing hard.

 

What movies do you love to re-watch?

 

Hot Docs: Living the Game

The biggest change between grade 8 and grade 9 was that once I started high school I was allowed to leave school property on lunch. And leave I did. Every weekday from noon to 1, my friends and I walked to the nearest arcade. When I had quarters, I spent them, and when I was out, I watched others feed the machines. Many different games came and went during that year, but one of the mainstays was Street Fighter 2, in one flavour or another (it seemed every three months there was another version of it, from Champion Edition to Turbo to Super to Super Turbo). There was always a crowd around the Street Fighter console, and it seems that 20 years later, the crowd has only grown.

What is the appeal of watching others play video games? It’s hard to explain. The closest I can come is this:

Evo Moment #37, as it’s called, is an iconic moment in competitive gaming. If you have ever played Street Fighter, you know how insanely hard it is to parry one hit from a super move, let alone 15 in a row.  If even one of those kicks had landed then the match would have been over.  What a remarkable display of timing and hand-eye coordination!

The two players in that match were Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong. Living the Game is a documentary that follows them and a few other top players over the course of a pro gaming season. It’s fascinating to see this unique spectacle where two headset-wearing players look at a small screen while a thousand or more boisterous spectators watch on and cheer wildly.

These top players are doing well for themselves, earning sponsorships and salaries, supplemented by cash prizes of $100,000 or more for a big tournament win. Despite their success they are remarkably aware that this gravy train will not run forever and that their chosen profession is not well-regarded. That sort of honesty should make Living the Game an interesting watch even for those who are baffled by pro video gaming, elevating it beyond its subject matter. While there is no big revelation to be found within, it is interesting to get to know the players through this film, who as it turns out are not much different than you or me, except they happen to be ridiculously good at video games.

Living the Game screens as part of the Hot Docs Film Festival on May 2 at 8:30 p.m., May 4 at 8:45 p.m. and May 7 at 6:15 p.m.

Bringing Movies to Life in a Whole New Way

vrAs you will have seen on Twitter (@assholemovies), I got a PlayStation Pro and Virtual Reality headset for Christmas.  Jay picked it up after I said it sounded neat but I wasn’t sure I wanted to wear a helmet to play games.  As usual, she made the right choice.  It is the greatest thing ever!  Being able to look around inside the game is amazingly immersive and I can’t get enough of it.

Currently, my gaming options include a couple of movie-themed options, namely Batman: Arkham VR and Star Wars Battlefront’s Rogue One: X-Wing VR mission.  As well, I have a few unofficial options that feel like movies you’ve already seen, like London Heist (reminiscent of every Bbatman-arkham-vrritish gangster movie) and Ocean Descent (reminiscent of every shark attack movie), both of which are included on the PlayStation VR Worlds disc.

So far, Batman: Arkham VR is the one that sucked me in the most, to the point that I punched the ceiling trying to fire my grappling hook at the Batwing.  It felt like I was right in the middle of everything, and I am amazed at how well everything links together, so that when I move, the game responds accordingly.  The motion controllers make a huge difference in that regard, as then my hand movements are displayed right in the game.  Bonus points for letting me put on Batman’s mask myself and then look in a mirror.  That was amazing, and the overall VR experience was so fun that even the inclusion of Batman’s alley origin felt fresh.xwing-vr2

There’s no shame in placing second to a game that lets you step into Batman’s shoes, and flying an X-Wing was a ton of fun.  It was especially great to be able to look left and right and see the laser cannons right there on the wings, and then to move them into attack position with the press of a button so I could take out a few cannons on a nearby Star Destroyer.

Even smoking a virtual cigar in a seedy pub was a memorable experience, especially because the game seems to know when you’re exhaling.  VR is finally here and it’s wonderful.  I’m super excited for Star Trek: Bridge Crew and can’t wait to see what other movie scenes I’ll get to experience from a first-person view in 2017 .

What movies would you like to be able to play through virtually?

Ratchet And Clank

I was just saying that animated movies were very strong in 2016 – I loved The Little Prince, Zootopia, Kubo And The Two Strings…and likely many more. What I did not love, or even like, was Ratchet And Clank.

ratchet-and-clank-screen-06-ps4-eu-02jun15A cute nearly-puppy looking protagonist named Ratchet is “trying out” to join a team of alien super heroes, the Galactic Rangers. He’s not strong or fast, but he has “heart” and lots of failed inventions and a robot sidekick named Clank. Sounds promising on paper but it just wasn’t interesting in practice. Small children may make it through but even they’ll know there’s just better stuff out there. It does nothing to distinguish itself. It has an admirable message lost somewhere amid the chaos about the surprisingly thin line between heroes and villains, but it’s so obviously just going through the motions that it fails to inspire. Even my idle curiosity and need to kill an hour and a half weren’t fulfilled by this in any way. If it’s mediocre animation you’re after, try Kung Fu Panda #Whatever, or The Secret Life of Pets.

This movie is based on a video game I know nothing about, nor do I want to after this exposure. Ratchet and Clank, as far as I’m concerned, can go back to living underneath the rock I accidentally unearthed. Bye, Felicia.