Documentary Review: Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (2007)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2007 (Sundance)
Directed by: Lincoln Ruchti
Cast: various

Men At Work Pictures LLC, 90 Minutes

Review:

After revisiting The King of Kong for the first time in years, I wanted to also revisit this, as it’s a very similar documentary that came out just before that more famous one.

While this isn’t the near masterpiece that The King of Kong is, it ties directly to it and its story and frankly, this plays like a prelude or a setup to that movie.

This goes through the history of arcade gaming and also covers the legends that rose up in the early days, their records, their effect on pop culture, as well as the creation of Twin Galaxies, the organization that records and maintains world records in arcade gaming. I believe they also keep records for console and PC gaming but it’s the arcade side of things that inspired them to exist in the first place.

There is a lot in this documentary about Billy Mitchell, who was pretty much the villain in The King of Kong story. It also features nearly all of the key people and legends that played a part in that film.

While this isn’t as good as The King of Kong it does feel like a necessary companion piece to it, allowing the viewer to have a deeper, richer experience in getting to know these people and their interesting, competitive and sometimes cutthroat subculture.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The King of Kong, which this truly plays as a preface to.

Film Review: Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Also known as: Super Mario Brothers: The Movie (original script title)
Release Date: May 28th, 1993
Directed by: Rocky Morton, Annabel Jankel
Written by: Parker Bennett, Terry Runte, Ed Solomon
Based on: Mario by Nintendo
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis, Fisher Stevens, Fiona Shaw, Richard Edson, Mojo Nixon, Dana Kaminski, Lance Henriksen, Frank Welker (voice), Dan Castellaneta (narrator)

Allied Filmmakers, Cinergi Pictures Entertainment, Hollywood Pictures, 104 Minutes, 90 Minutes (Japan), 87 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“[bathing in mud] Do you know what I love about mud? It’s clean and it’s dirty at the same time.” – King Koopa

Super Mario Bros. was one film in a string of a few that helped to build the reputation that video game movies suck. Looking at the picture in comparison to the video game series it’s based on, I get it. And frankly, it irked the shit out of me when I saw it in 1993. 

However, seeing it with pretty fresh eyes nearly three decades later, I have a very different view of the film now. Especially, when I just look at it as its own weird body of work apart from the video game franchise.

Removing the source material from the equation, I can still see why this would be viewed as a bad film by most but for me, a lover of really weird shit, everyone in this cast and late ’80s/early ’90s cyberpunk shit, this is kind of a feast of awesomeness!

Additionally, the Alan Silvestri score is great, lively, playful and boisterous. It reminds me of his score to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which was, honestly, what really set the magnificent tone for that movie. Here, Silvestri’s work is just as effective and man, I miss scores like this.

This movie also feels like a time capsule into the heart of the ’90s. It embraces the wonky tropes of the decade and it completely misses the mark it should’ve been aiming for. Although, in retrospect, I really like that this just did whatever the hell it wanted to and provided the world with something so damn bizarre and zany.

I really liked the bond between Mario and Luigi, even if trying believe that Hoskins and Leguizamo are supposed to be real brothers is maybe the most unbelievable thing in the film. That kind of doesn’t matter, though, as nothing in this needs to make any sort of logical sense. It’s actually cooler that it doesn’t. Now that’s something I’d typically be highly critical of but this movie with its flaws is still so much fun and overly ridiculous that it adds to its charm.

I guess Dennis Hopper was miserable working on this due to behind the scenes clusterfucks and severe delays but honestly, it probably worked to the movie’s benefit, as he truly comes off as an insufferable prick and it just makes his character that much more sinister and entertaining to watch.

Additionally, I really liked Samantha Mathis in this, as she played Princess Daisy, the apple of Luigi’s eye. Her and Leguizamo had nice, believable chemistry and she really was a highpoint of the picture. In fact, her final scene where she returns as a gun toting badass really made me wish a sequel had been made.

That being said, I actually wouldn’t be opposed to having more things made from this version of the Super Mario IP. I get it, it was a bomb and most people hated it but it’s also unique and kind of special in its own odd way. Plus, it’s developed a good cult following over the years and I think many people are like me, where seeing this decades later really allows you to separate from what it should of been and wasn’t to seeing it as its own cool thing.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: the other few ’90s movies based on video games, as well as other early ’90s cyberpunk films.

Video Game Review: Donkey Kong 3 (NES)

This is a game that’s kind of forgotten even though the two games before it are absolute classics.

I think the problem with Donkey Kong 3 is that it is a very different game than its predecessors.

This gets rid of the simple platforming style of Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. and instead gives you more of a simplistic action game.

Basically, you use your smoke gun to ward off bees and to push Donkey Kong up into a beehive. Simple, effective but somewhat of a step down from the other, very creative games in the series.

I’m one of the few weirdos that enjoys this game for what it is. On its own, it’s fine. It’s also pretty f’n hard as you advance.

Strangely, this is the first game without Mario in it, as you play as a character named Stanley. I’m not sure why Nintendo went in that direction but maybe it didn’t make sense to have a plumber using beekeeper equipment? Then again, this plumber also dresses up like a frog and eats mushrooms and strange flowers.

Most people seem to hate Donkey Kong 3. I don’t. I think it’s a fun departure from the style of the first two games but on the other hand, I would’ve preferred something in the style of the first two games.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., as well as Mario’s Cement Factory and the original Mario Bros. before they went “Super“.

Video Game Review: Donkey Kong Jr. (NES)

I prefer Donkey Kong Jr. more than its predecessor Donkey Kong.

While both are simplistic platform games of the original Nintendo era, there’s just something I like more about this game. Maybe it’s because it’s four levels instead of three or because it’s slightly more complex and, overall, better designed.

I don’t know, it’s just a game from the classic arcade era that speaks to me and I still love playing it. So much so, actually, that I have to play through a few rounds of it a few times per week.

In fact, the rom for it is actually on my all my PCs’ desktops. I often times fire it up between big creative projects to reset my brain. I guess it’s my version of Microsoft’s Solitaire.

That being said, it’s kind of odd that I hadn’t reviewed this already. I guess it’s become such a regular part of my life over the decades since it came out that I don’t really think too much about it.

Anyway, the gameplay feels more fluid than its predecessor, the levels are much cooler to play through and I like the sound better. I also like playing as a vine swinging ape more than the human Mario.

Donkey Kong Jr. isn’t a perfect game, even if it is my perfect time killer and preferred avenue for quick mental escapism. Hell, it’s not even my favorite Nintendo game but it’s still in the upper echelon for sure.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong 3, as well as Mario’s Cement Factory and the original Mario Bros. before they went “Super“.

Video Game Review: Donkey Kong (NES)

It’s kind of hard to review a classic game of this stature that has left such a mark on everything else that’s come after it.

Donkey Kong put Nintendo on the map, introduced the world to Mario and helped solidify platform games as the biggest trend in the ’80s.

It’s elegant and perfect in its simplicity and that’s why Donkey Kong is still played, today. It’s also one of the games that people are still trying to get world records on and that’s not just because of the King of Kong documentary.

I like this game a lot and I play through a couple rounds of it at least every few months. Granted, I prefer Donkey Kong Jr. but I’ll review that one in the near future and break down why.

Donkey Kong isn’t my favorite old school platformer but it is definitely in the upper echelon. I now it’s really old and almost primitive but it was so colorful and well designed for its time. Additionally, I love the sounds in the game and that’s an area where Nintendo just seemed like they were a step ahead of everyone else, except maybe Namco, who had stupendous sound effects in their earliest games like Pac-Man.

This is just a fun and honestly, timeless game. It doesn’t take much to learn it and play it but it’s also really difficult, as you continue on in the game and play through more and more rounds. Because of that, even with its simplicity, it’s a hard game to master.

It’s hard to imagine a gaming world where Donkey Kong didn’t exist. It changed the landscape and deservedly so.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: its sequels Donkey Kong Jr. and Donkey Kong 3, as well as Mario’s Cement Factory and the original Mario Bros. before they went “Super“.

Film Review: Silent Hill: Revelation (2012)

Also known as: Silent Hill 2 (working title), Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (poster title)
Release Date: October 25th, 2012 (Hong Kong, Russia, Ukraine)
Directed by: Michael J. Bassett
Written by: Michael J. Bassett
Based on: Silent Hill 3 by Konami
Music by: Jeff Danna, Akira Yamaoka
Cast: Adelaide Clemens, Kit Harington, Deborah Kara Unger, Martin Donovan, Malcolm McDowell, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell, Heather Marks

Silent Hill 2 DCP Inc., Konami, Dynamic Effects Canada, Davis-Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“The darkness is coming. It’s safer to be inside.” – Dahlia

Utter shit.

That’s what this movie is.

I don’t know if the six year hiatus is what caused this to be such an atrocious follow-up to the first Silent Hill movie but man, this was fucking terrible.

It tries to naturally follow the plot of the first movie, which loosely adapted the first two Silent Hill video games, by loosely adapting the third game. However, it gets a hell of a lot wrong and apparently the writer/director didn’t pay close attention to the first movie, as several things contradict and retcon it.

The story is garbage and frankly, it makes little to no sense if it actually exists in the same universe as the previous movie. That first film’s rules no longer apply and this is a sequel that just makes shit up as it goes along and does whatever it wants for plot convenience. It’s lazily crafted in every way and it derailed this from becoming a film franchise built on top of the video game franchise.

This movie also stars very capable actors but in this, they all give their worst performances.

Additionally, the special effects are CGI heavy and the movie looks a lot cheaper than the successful first one. Usually, this means that a studio will spend more money. However, this looks like a mediocre fan film made by first year film students.

I don’t know what else to say. There’s not a single good thing about this movie and everything that could’ve gone wrong, apparently did.

I’m sorry your agent talked you into this, Mr. McDowell.

Fuck this movie.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: it’s far superior predecessor. But more importantly, the video game series. Specifically, the first three games.

Film Review: Silent Hill (2006)

Also known as: Centralia (fake working title), Terror en Silent Hill (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela)
Release Date: April 20th, 2006 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Christophe Gans
Written by: Roger Avery, Christophe Gans, Nicolas Boukhrief
Based on: Silent Hill by Konami
Music by: Akira Yamaoka, Jeff Danna
Cast: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden, Deborah Kara Unger, Kim Coates, Tanya Allen, Alice Krige, Jodelle Ferland

Silent Hill DCP Inc., Davis-Films, TriStar Pictures, 125 Minutes, 132 Minutes (Special Edition Blu-ray, Canada only)

Review:

“When you’re hurt and scared for so long, the fear and pain turn to hate and the hate starts to change the world.” – Dark Alessa

When this came out, it was the film that seemed like it bucked the trend of video game movies being shit, as far as adaptations and overall quality goes.

The Resident Evil films were their own thing and before them we had the Street Fighter movie, Super Mario Bros. and Double Dragon. I would say that the film that actually bucked the trend first, though, was 1995’s Mortal Kombat. However, Silent Hill is a much better film than that one and it works without having knowledge or appreciation of its video game series before seeing it.

In fact, I know several people that saw this film first, which then served as a gateway into the games due to the effect this movie had on them.

I used to watch this quite a bit after I bought it on DVD when it was first released that way. It’s probably been a dozen years since I’ve seen it but my fondness for it was still really strong and I wanted to revisit it. I also want to playthrough some of the earlier games too, which I might in the very near future.

Seeing this now was kind of cool because I was separated enough from it to see it with somewhat fresh eyes. I definitely see the flaws in it more than I did in 2006 but that could also be due to me not being as obsessed with the franchise as I was back then. Subpar sequels in both video games and film took the wind out of this once great property’s sails.

The film adapts elements of the stories from the first two games and sort of merges them while also doing its own thing. So it’s familiar enough for fans to immediately recognize but also takes some interesting turns that allow it to breathe and evolve in a different way.

I like the film’s story quite a lot, even if it does change some key things. Those things don’t break the film as its own body of work, though.

My biggest gripe about the film is the dialogue. It’s not terrible but there are some weird lines and some weird delivery, here and there. I’m not sure if that’s due to a language barrier due to the director, who also co-wrote the film, being French. I don’t know enough about him outside of his finished films that I’ve seen, which aren’t many.

However, the child actress delivers some lines with weird inflections on certain syllables that sound unnatural and a bit off. I don’t necessarily blame her, I blame the direction and the takes that were chosen to be used in the final film.

Overall, she did well essentially playing two different characters that were polar opposites of each other: one being good and innocent and the other being the absolute embodiment of evil. The requirements of her role aren’t easy for most adult actors and she did rather well considering her age and experience.

Moving on, some of the CGI effects look a little dated but for the most part, the film still looks great. There are just a few shots that look kind of weird.

The film as a whole looks incredible, however. Gans has a stupendous eye and from a visual standpoint, he captured the tone and aesthetic of the video game series phenomenally well. I am still really impressed by the scenes where the purgatory world dissolves into the Hell world.

Beyond that, I’m not a big fan of the ending but it fits well within the framework of what Silent Hill is. I guess there is a part of me that wanted something more optimistic but the ambiguous and strange ending leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. Also, that’s not a bad thing, some of my favorite movies do that but after the literal hell that the characters went through, it felt like more of a reward was needed.

I liked the cult aspect of the story and I definitely loved their end. As violent and incredibly fucked up as the climax was, it was also satisfying as hell after learning who these people really were. This movie doesn’t simply provide you with sympathy for the Devil, it makes you root for him… or in this case, her.

The last thing I want to mention is the music. The film recycles the score and iconic songs from the video game series. That might not work in the case of most film adaptations but it really amplified the effect of the film and its brooding, disturbing atmosphere. I think that I appreciated it even more now, as I kind of forgot how good the games’ music was.

Silent Hill is, hands down, one of the best horror movies in its decade, which was unfortunately a terrible decade for horror. But I think it would’ve been just as great in earlier decades, regardless of the higher quality of the genre.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: it’s absolutely shitty sequel, I guess. But more importantly, the video game series. Specifically, the first three games.

Documentary Review: World of Darkness (2017)

Release Date: May 11th, 2017 (Germany)
Directed by: Giles Alderson
Written by: Kevin Lee
Cast: various

Figi Productions, Luckyday, 89 Minutes

Review:

After recently watching a good documentary on Dungeons & Dragons, I wanted to watch this, as it’s about a role-playing community I was more involved in.

In fact, I was involved in a relationship about twenty years ago that found itself wrapped up in this game’s orbit quite a bit. It was fun for the time and even though I wasn’t a die hard player or fan, I enjoyed those in the community I got to know and I really enjoyed the original PC game.

That being said, this is a good recount of the history of the White Wolf company and the fans who loved their products. It also goes into how White Wolf sort of fucked themselves and pissed off those loyal fans, essentially sabotaging future growth and brand loyalty.

I remember when all the shenanigans started and while I didn’t understand (or pay attention) to all the details back then, I do remember how pissed off a lot of people were.

This is an interesting documentary because the story of White Wolf is an interesting one. However, beyond that, this plays like many of the other documentaries about niche fandoms.

Also, it didn’t interview some of the company’s former die hards that felt betrayed. Sure, some people here were miffed by it and added their two cents but I felt like the issues were addressed and quickly brushed under the rug and dismissed, looking forward into the future and what the White Wolf IP rights holders hope will be a lucrative business once again.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about table top gaming, video games and specific fandoms.