September 3, 2015

NES30 #17: Super Mario Bros 2

In 2015, Nintendo's hugely successful Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) turns 30 years old. The NES, an adaptation of Nintendo's already successful Famicom console, re-invigorated console gaming internationally after the collapse of Atari and went on to sell 43 million units worldwide. NES30 celebrates this anniversary by counting down my favourite 30 games for the system.

Super Mario Bros was the kind of hit game that didn't just sell well - it reshaped the landscape of computer games. After selling millions of copies, and driving sales on both the Famicom in Japan and the NES internationally, it was inevitable that Nintendo would have to produce a sequel to satisfy public demand. In Japan they released Super Mario Bros 2 for the Famicom Disk System; it featured the same gameplay as the original but with more challenging level designs. When Nintendo of America assessed the title they feared it was too similar to the original game and too difficult for novice players. As a result they elected to bypass releasing the game altogether and instead setting about releasing a Mario sequel of their own.

Zathura (2005)

Walter and Danny are young brothers who can't get along. When they're left alone in the house one afternoon, they find an old board game named Zathura in the basement. When they start to play, however, the events of the game start to happen in the real world. Before long they're trapped in deep space, threatened by alien lizards and with only a mysterious astronaut there to help them.

Zathura was originally a children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, which was a sequel to his earlier book Jumanji. Strangely, while the same film studio produced film adaptations of both books they elected to separate them completely. As a result Zathura feels like a weird duplicate of Jumanji: some kids play a mysterious board game that sends them on a thrilling adventure, even though they're completely different kids and the games work in different genres.

Zathura was the third film directed by Jon Favreau, and marks a fairly significant progression for his career. It allowed him to demonstrate an ability to work on a studio project on a tight budget, and successfully producing a genre film with numerous visual effects. From here he went on to Iron Man and its sequel, and Cowboys and Aliens. To direct those films he proved his abilities with this one. Admittedly Zathura was a box office failure, although I suspect that was less to do with the film's quality and more to do with Columbia Pictures releasing it into cinemas one week ahead of a Harry Potter movie.

September 2, 2015

Blake's 7: "Sarcophagus"

It's 3 March 1980, and time for more Blake's 7.

The Liberator comes across an alien spacecraft floating adrift in space. When Cally (Jan Chappel), Avon (Paul Darrow) and Vila (Michael Keating) teleport onboard they discover it is a tomb. They return to the Liberator - only an alien intelligence has followed them back, and threatens to take over the ship.

"Sarcophagus" is the first of two scripts written for Blake's 7 by fantasy author Tanith Lee, the only woman to write for the series. It's a strikingly different episode to anything before or since. This is partly because - a few early scenes aside - the entire episodes takes place on the Liberator with only the five regular characters appearing. It is also because this is for all intents and purposes a supernatural fantasy: Cally has become possessed by an alien ghost, who uses poltergeist-like powers to threaten the crew and drain the Liberator's power.

September 1, 2015

Portrait of a Beauty (2008)

Shin Yun Bok (Kim Min-sun) is a painter-in-training in 18th century Korea. While skilled and creative, he has two problems. Firstly, he is constantly driven to explore unconventional styles and subject matters for his art - matter which is oftentimes controversial and obscene. Secondly, he is actually a young woman, disguising her true identity to maintain her family's honour within Korean society's strict gender expectations.

Portrait of a Beauty is a sumptuously staged historical drama. It looks great, with colourful costumes and sets, beautifully composed camera angles and reasonably strong performances. It's also a pretty awful film: twisting history for entertainment purposes, titillating audiences with regular and lengthy sex scenes, and indulging in exactly the kind of typically over-the-top and overwrought melodrama that makes so much Korean entertainment a chore through which to sit.

Popular Posts: August 2015

I haven't done one of these in almost two years. What were the most popular posts on The Angriest for the month of August 2015?

And in case you're feeling sorry for the least-read post of the month, it's:

August 31, 2015

Dracula Untold (2014)

Bram Stoker's Dracula has been adapted to cinema so many times that it must be getting difficult for filmmakers to find a fresh angle. Universal Picture's Dracula Untold essentially has a go of presenting the character through the lens of a Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movie: the results are patchy and oddly truncated, but I can't lie and pretend I didn't enjoy it overall.

Dracula Untold takes place in 14th century Transylvania, where the ruling Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) is forced to give annual tribute to the Ottoman Empire. When the imperial soldiers arrive to take not gold but Vlad's own son, he resists - and in a desperate attempt to stave off war he makes a pact with a vampire living in the mountains above his castle. He is given the power of a vampire for three days - so long as he can resist drinking human blood, otherwise he will be cursed with immortality forever.

This film took about seven years to make it out of development. It almost got produced with Alex Proyas (Dark City) directing, which could have been quite a thing to see. First-time feature director Gary Shore is no slouch, mind: for all its narrative issues Dracula Untold is a gorgeous movie to look at. It's kind of like Snow White and the Huntsman in many respect, albeit with much less rampant pomposity.

NES30 #18: Crystalis

In 2015, Nintendo's hugely successful Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) turns 30 years old. The NES, an adaptation of Nintendo's already successful Famicom console, re-invigorated console gaming internationally after the collapse of Atari and went on to sell 43 million units worldwide. NES30 celebrates this anniversary by counting down my favourite 30 games for the system.

One hundred years after the Earth is decimated in a terrifying war, a lone survivor is revived from cryogenic suspension. He finds a world completely changed, and now filled with strange monsters, magic and small pockets of human civilization. Discovered what has happened to the world, and defeating the evil Draygonia Empire, forms the story of Crystalis - a 1990 action-RPG produced by Japanese publisher SNK.

The RPG genre only really took off in Japan towards the end of the NES/Famicom life-span, and flourished on their successor consoles. As a result solid RPG titles are often few and far between for the NES, particularly since most of the games that did get produced didn't get ported over from the Famicom. Crystalis is a rare and highly enjoyable exception. It's a game that feels a good three or four years ahead of its time, and still presents an enjoyable challenge today.

August 30, 2015

The Hunted (2003)

I feel there almost needs to be a sub-genre of action film based around Tommy Lee Jones looking grumpy while chasing people. Clearly he invented the genre with The Fugitive and its sequel U.S. Marshals. He grumpily chased after Ashley Judd in Double Jeopardy and he chased after Benicio Del Toro in The Hunted.

Of the four it's The Hunted that was the least successful. In Australia it didn't get a cinema release at all, instead getting shoved directly to home video. In the USA it flopped, pure and simple. It seems a shame; this is not a film classic by any stretch, but it does what it sets out to do and it achieves it in an efficient and entertaining manner.

Jones plays Bonham, a quiet tracker working in British Columbia. He gets dragged back to the USA when four deer hunters are found brutally murdered. The perpetrator is found: it's a deranged former marine named Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), who Bonham once trained in survival skills and knife fighting as part of a US army program. When Hallam then escapes custody, Bonham doggedly chases after him.