Monday, 21 July 2014

Not Books V

TV Shows-

 The Simpsons- Season Two (1990-1991) & The Simpsons- Season Three (1991-1992)

My soon-to-be-epic trawl through quite probably the best television show of all time continues very happily. The jump from seasons one to two was noticeable; the animation noticably improved in quality (though the colouring is still a little duller than later seasons) and the tone shifts, as the show mostly abandons the extreme, depressive blues of the first season (where Lisa was a manic depressive and Homer decided to tie a rock around his leg and jump off a bridge). I can only presume that was mandated by Fox in light of the show's obvious popularity. Nevertheless, as we all know The Simpsons moved on with a flourish, coming up with more imaginative episodes and popularising dozens of new characters.

My favourite episode from season two is the classic Bart the Daredevil, most famous for the scene where Homer accidentally tries to jump Springfield gorge, though it's a tough call between that and Treehouse of Horror. I love Treehouse of Horror episodes. Moving on to season three and things kept on rolling,  with episodes getting funnier and even more well-plotted. Every episode is fantastic and there are numerous classics, such as Treehouse of Horror II, Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington and Flaming Moe's to mention just a few (the latter being my favourite, if I had a gun to my head).

True Detective (2013)

I head about this show's solid reputation and had to check it out, and it delivered massively. The consensus I see generally online and that I agree with is that the first few episodes are a little slow but allow Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey's amazing performances to shape two very memorable characters. Then when the plot events really start kicking in it's a bit of a roller-coaster towards the great conclusion. I think the slightly slow start where I wasn't too sure what to make of the very first episode was really down to my familiarity with more typical episodic detective show formats- like Luther, for example, where a crime is solved over the course of only one or two episodes. True Detective avoided the trap of stretching events into an inaccessible maze of clues and suspects by concentrating on the lives of the two protagonists, making me feel very emotionally invested in them. This combined with great writing and even greater performances had me binge-watching the second half of the series.

At it's heart the first season of True Detective is a fairly traditional buddy cop story, surrounded by a measured southern gothic style. It features one maverick detective and his more grounded partner, and, by the end, hits all the expected cliches of the genre in the most dramatic ways possible. I'm eagerly awaiting details of season two and its entirely new set of characters and location.


 The Lego Movie (2013)

Joining the ranks of everybody else in the world, I saw and really enjoyed The Lego Movie. I'm a harsh critic of CGI kids features like the kind churned out by Dreamworks, but The Lego Movie was genuinely funny from start to finish, helped largely in part by the smart use of various famous lego licenses, Batman in particular. I liked the Orwellian theme (book references!) to the plot, as even though there's nothing completely original about this movie the context of it makes it seem fresh and energetic. Other than that there's not much I have to say about it, aside from related to the revelatory live action scenes that turns the film into a piece of meta-fiction. Personally I didn't like it because it seemed so forced and, to me, unnecessary, but then this film wasn't made for people my age.

DoA: Dead or Alive (2006)

I don't think I've ever played a single edition of the Dead or Alive 3-D fighting video game series upon which this film is based on, but I was a big fan of another fighting series also adapted into a film. The original Mortal Kombat (1995) film had all the ingredients of being awful but somehow turned into a B-movie classic (well, by my definition), and over the years I'd heard from plenty of people that DoA was very similar, so I had to watch it.

The fighting tournament plot is as wafer thin as Mortal Kombat was, but the key to the film is how endearing (or accurately satirical) the characters are, and these didn't match up to that despite a good effort. Most of the acting is completely diabolical, and the script is all over the place, but there's a weird sort of stream of consciousness feel to everything that's happening that made it a bit fascinating to me. The fight scenes are fun, if not serious, and the characters are kind of likable. Plus Kevin Nash is in it, which was enough to make me rate it full stop. 

The Simpsons Movie (2007)

When I first saw this in the cinema, I was thoroughly disappointed, so I never saw it since. Then my recent run of classic TV Simpsons gave me this stupid sense of optimism that it might not be that bad; no, The Simpsons Movie was actually worse this time. Sure it looks great, like any such feature film should, but that was literally it for me. The jokes were unfunny, the characterisation was completely and utterly random, and it felt completely disconnected from The Simpsons that I know and love. Here's an analogy, you know how the first Land Before Time was a genuine animated children's classic, and every one of the sequels was a soulless Satan-produced piece of exploitative crap? This was like that but in reverse. I would try and make this review longer but I just don't care about that movie.

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Though I haven't got around to seeing the newer Joss Wheedon version of Shakespeare's famous comedy, I did find the time to re-watch the Kenneth Brannagh version, for the first time since an English class in college far too many years ago. While I'm admittedly not really a Shakespeare fan (or of theater in general), being forced to study Much Ado About Nothing made me quite enjoy it, as did seeing this movie. Brannagh assembled an intriguing selection of name actors to perform in this colourful, relatively big budget movie. Some of them are superb; Brannagh himself and his then-wife Emma Thompson as quarreling would-be lovers Beatrice and Bennedick are completely sublime throughout, and are key to the whole movie in engaging a contemporary audience through their heartfelt renditions of the unedited playscript.

Denzil Washington is very good as Don Jon, as are Richard Briers and Brian Blessed (a UK national treasure). Less impressive are emotionless robot Keanu Reeves, Michal Keaton (Constable Dogberry on crystal meth), and future House co-star Robert Sean Leonard, whose teary-eyed speeches and emotional ranting is amazingly bad. Still, for me the good performances outweighed the bad, and ultimately manage to pull off what's really quite a silly plot without becoming boring.

Video Games-

 Pokemon Emerald (2004)

I very much enjoyed the first two generations of Pokemon games, Red/Blue and Gold/Silver, back in the day, so it was only natural that it took me literally ten years to get around to playing one of the next games in the series. I suppose a lot of that was down to reluctance to commit myself to a game sure to massively suck up all my free time as its predecessors did, especially with the addition of another hundred (I think, research is overrated) new Pokemon to capture in tiny balls and force to brutally attack each other. In the end it was watching some Pokemon anime that put me back in the mood to explore the Pokemon universe. despite the massive threat to my personal life.

The most notable immediate change is the graphical upgrade, taking advantage of the Game Boy Advance's superior hardware to provide a much more colourful cartoon world. It's nothing breathtaking (especially now in 2014) but it was a pleasure to experience the classic gameplay in a much clearer way. Unfortunately I kind of hit a wall shortly after starting, where I was so unimpressed by the few new low-level ground Pokemon available to catch early on that I nearly lost interest altogether. I understand that every Pokemon game requires the player to go out and establish a really low-level team to start with, but developers Game Freak could've alleviated the pain somewhat by making more of the previous generation Pokemon more prevalent, and this includes the Pokemon that enemy trainers use- I got very quickly sick of having to kill Poochyenas, for example.

I pushed on a built a much better team, and the game began to open up a little more. The gameplay in general is mostly exactly the same; travel through wild areas to capture Pokemon, make them fight over and over and over and over and over again, then use them to beat enemy trainers and gym leaders, who'll inevitably give you helpful rewards that let you progress to the next town. I became heavily addicted and spent far too much time leveling up my chosen Pokemon until I finally beat the Elite Four and won the Pokemon league, something which really would've been harder if the game hadn't let me find a Master Ball (catch anything first time if you didn't know) and let me face a level 70 legendary Pokemon two thirds into it.

Still, it was lots of addictive fun. I had to force myself to stop playing after completing the main quest, for the sake of my personal life. Long gone are the days where I'd sit with my classic Game Boy for hours at a time trying to get every Pokemon on my team to level 100, thank god.