A Thousand Words: The Assassination of Trotsky

The Assassination of Trotsky

Directed by Joseph Losey and starring Richard Burton as the title character, The Assassination of Trotsky is often placed on many “worst movies ever” lists. It is a well deserved placement. For this is a terrible, terrible movie. And it’s deliberately terrible-it’s not due to circumstances, but due to creative choices.

First off is Richard Burton’s performance. His Trotsky looks like a cheap Colonel Sanders mascot and acts like that aging beatnik professor you had in college and loathed. You will learn absolutely nothing about the historical context from this film. In fact, the only way to make sense of the incoherent plotting is to assume that Losey thought the audience would already know everything historically relevant.

Second is the massive, massive padding. Since it doesn’t take ninety minutes to have an ax hitting someone in the head (SPOILER ALERT!), Losey fills the movie with filler. This includes a scene involving rabbits being raised, a long gondola ride where Stalin’s image appears in the water, and, worst of all, a long and gruesome bullfight scene. The only attempts at suspense involve dragging every scene out and playing minimalist music. This gets old after about, oh, two such scenes.

About the only sympathetic character is Romy Schneider’s “Gita”, who is as confused with the situation and disgusted with the bullfight as the audience is. Sadly, she cannot carry on her own, and is the subject of a padding scene as well.

This is a terrible, terrible mess that’s almost so bad it’s good. Almost.

A Thousand Words: Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura

One of many indie platformers, Camera Obscura is the story of a photographer-woman trying to climb to the top of an ancient clockwork tower. The big gameplay gimmick is that you can take photos, and the “afterimages” will move for a bit before freezing. This creates temporary platforms.

A (mostly) slow-paced puzzle game, this is not an easy finish. The excellent (I’d recommend the game for the soundtrack alone) original music kind of fits with each area. The story, which is a combination of exposition about the tower builders and a really pretentious, almost stereotypical love story plot involving the photographer, doesn’t really do so. But it’s a small part.

As far as indie games go, you could do a lot worse. Did I mention the music is amazing?

A Thousand Words: Mighty No. 9

Mighty No. 9

Judged on its own without any other context, Mighty No. 9 would resemble a mediocre Mega Man-style game. There have been dozens of those, including more than a few in the official series itself. To study it there would not be the most interesting. About the only things I can say for the game itself are that it copied the cheapest difficulty elements (why?) and in everything from plot to aesthetics simply tried to be “as close to classic Mega Man as possible without lawsuits”.

But what is interesting is the ridiculous amount of hype that came around its crowdfunding. Occuring in the “irrational exuberance” phase of Kickstarter and spearheaded by ex-Mega Man head Keiji Inafune, this was one of those “the gaming king came down to make a dream” experiences. This prompted emotion that successful MM-esques like Azure Striker Gunvolt (made conventionally by a firm that had experience on the official games) and 20XX (crowdfunded yet made by an unknown) couldn’t bring.

The result was a ton of stretch goals “met”, feature creep, the project getting out of hand, the mood turning from hopeful to laughable, and then the game itself sinking like a stone when it was finally released. Whether it could have been better or if the expectations were just too great is an open question. What is not is that this was one of the biggest crowdfunding embarrassments.

A Thousand Words: The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin

For May Day, I figured I should do something Soviet. And what more “appropriate” than this movie? Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin is a blisteringly dark satire which uses the events surrounding the titular event as the basis for twisted humor. It’s not exactly the most accurate historically, but it has many good actors and good scenes.

Steve Buscemi steals the show as eventual victor Khrushchev. He slides into the role with the perfect mix of earnestness, sleaze, and silliness. Likewise, even though his entire character is ahistorical (at this point IRL, Zhukov was kicked upstairs to command a district in the middle of nowhere) Jason Isaacs does a similarly excellent job as the head general. The casting isn’t perfect, though. Jeffrey Tambor’s one-note portrayal of spineless wimp Malenkov is grating and mostly not funny.

Still, this is a funny, entertaining and now relevant movie.

A Thousand Words: Postal 2

Postal 2

Running With Scissors’ 2000s “masterpiece”, Postal 2 is a game about a man in a small Arizona town whose goal is just to complete mundane errands. However, a lot of stuff gets in the way. This game is infamous for its tasteless dumb humor, its gore, and the ability to use cats as silencers.

The humor is either dated, unfunny, or both. It’s very much in the style of the shock-the-oldies Dennis Rodman meets Bart Simpson style of the time. The actual gameplay, especially in the plot missions, combines two of the worst elements of turn-of-the-millenium FPSes: A post-hitscan, pre-regen system where combat is a deterministic exercise in power ups, and wandering through very similar hallways.

And yet, there’s stuff that’s genuinely good about it. Part of it is that, off the beaten path, it provides the opportunity for silly spectacle. This is helped by the open-world element being genuinely good. Almost all buildings are enterable, there are locations that have nothing to do with the main missions, there’s plenty of easter eggs, and a silver lining of the combat is that there’s often legitimate power ups (and hence reasons to explore) in the nooks and crannies. Another small part is that there’s just a hint of slyness in just wanting to do chores but getting confronted by everyone from creepy mascots to Gary Coleman.

This is a stupid, clunky, awkward game. And it’s fun.

A Thousand Words: Nightmare Reaper

Nightmare Reaper

The just-fully-released Nightmare Reaper is a love letter to both roguelikes (games built around randomized content) and classic “motion shooters”. With that frantic gameplay mixed with a background that involves a trapped young woman’s troubled, twisted dreams (the game takes place in said dreams), it could be called Doom Nikki.

I’ll admit this is not usually my kind of game, but I’ve found that losing can be surprisingly fun (it is extremely generous by roguelike standards in terms of how much dying in a level costs you-or, in this case doesn’t). Of course, besides the traits of a Doom-style shooter, the roguelike randomization means the game’s difficulty can become a lot more luck than skill based.

Still, if you love Doom-style FPSes, this game is definitely for you.

A Thousand Words: Alien3 The Gun

Alien3: The Gun

Based off the ugly duckling of the Alien franchise (infamous for killing off the beloved non-Ripley cast of Aliens, for starters), Sega’s Alien3: The Gun was an arcade lightgun shooter a la Revolution X. Unlike that “how do you do fellow kids” game, this actually manages to be atmospheric. The visuals match the movie’s themes well, and the music is excellent.

In fact, this is the rare game that manages to have its cake and eat it too. Alien properties, following in the wake of the second movie, have this tendency to turn xenomorphs into uglier Koopa Troopas, being generic expendable enemies. (The game Alien: Isolation was a deliberate reaction to this trope). Naturally, a light gun arcade game can only do that… but it still manages to be chilling and foreboding too.

Then there’s how the action is jury-rigged into the movie plot. The player controls an anonymous marine who somehow ended up on the doomed Sulaco and goes through all the parts of the actual movie. There are robots, including a giant tank. Despite there being hordes of xenomorphs, the real one from the actual movie is inexplicably more durable as a boss. And finally, the last boss, in a game full of hideous monsters is….. a human with a flamethrower. It would be annoying in other contexts, but here it’s endearing.

This is the rare quarter-muncher with class and poise, and a pleasant surprise from a genre with low expectations.

A Thousand Words: Streets of SimCity

Streets of SimCity

When I was young, one of my favorite games to play was Streets of SimCity, a car action game that could take place in actual SimCity 2000 maps. Unfortunately, my frustrations with it were there even then. And now? Looking back without rose-tinted glasses, I can say: It sucks.

Here’s the first thing that illustrates why it sucks: You have no turrets and have to turn your entire car to aim like it’s some kind of wheeled StuG. Second thing. You can’t run anyone over. Because Maxis didn’t want to be too violent, Sims are just these weird bald sprites that you can’t really interact with (a contrast to SimCopter, where you can land on or push people out of your helicopter). Even the story hedges, with you being a stunt driver and all the action taking place in-universe on shows-within-a-game.

That it’s a blatant ripoff of the far better Interstate 76 is another blow against it. Combine this with terrible performance and worse physics, and you get a spinoff that spins off the road.

A Thousand Words: Doom

Doom

For the 666th post on Fuldapocalypse, I figure I’d do a “suitable” piece. It was either than or something on the SS-18 missile, whose NATO designation cannot be a coincidence (18=6+6+6=designation name “Satan”.) But I digress.

The id Software masterpiece that popularized the First Person Shooter genre, Doom is the deep, complex story of a sole surviving spacesuit burly man against a giant horde of demons. Ok I kid. But it is still one of the most successful and influential games of all time, ported to a degree that it’s become a meme/security/programming challenge to see if a certain device can be made to run Doom.

What makes Doom interesting and effective even decades after its initial release is that it’s a movement game. The “Doomguy” can run around at massively high speeds, and most of the enemy projectiles can be dodged. Thus it’s about player movement skill. Later cover-shooters are more about player timing skill. And the awkward turn-of-the-millenium games that took place after hitscan and slow characters but before cover mechanics were mastered-

-Well, the only “skill” involved is knowing the layout and how many powerups are there. It’s a kind of deterministic rut that stands as one of those things that doesn’t bring nostalgia. But the rapid movement of Doom is one that definitely does. This is a classic for a reason.

A Thousand Words: Tucker The Man And His Dream

Tucker: The Man And His Dream

Imagine a movie that depicted the infamous Juicero in a romantic and fluffy way. Why, its founders were plucky little upstarts who wanted to save the world and make a buck but they got ground down by the evil monolithic force of Big Juice Squeezer. You know, instead of being an obviously doomed-from-the-start project.

Replace “juice squeezers” with “cars” and you have the big problem with Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man And His Dream. A biopic about entrepreneur Preston Tucker and his attempt to start a car company, the actual movie is well-acted and well-made. Its just that it romanticizes an inevitable failure.

Henry Kaiser’s car company with far more resources only succeeded in the gargantuan seller’s market that was the immediate postwar period (when there was a ridiculous amount of pent-up demand). Then it became the second of four Jeep Zombies. And Kaiser knew a thing or two about supply chains, which let him take advantage of that boom. Meanwhile, Tucker’s project would have rammed right into a righted market and the Korean War-if it made it that far. It was less that suppliers and financiers were crushed by the Evil Establishment and more that they were rightfully reluctant to work with such a ramshackle operation.

No one said historical films had to be 100% accurate. But the message here is so whiny and maudlin, and Tucker’s saga so misinterpreted that it squanders the production. The Tucker Tiger, a would-be scout car in World War II, is mentioned as being rejected because “gosh, it was too fast”. The reality was that it had absolutely no off-road capability, a rather serious problem with a scout car.

Preston Tucker was not a martyr, and the film tries to make him one. The walls and furniture of this movie are good, but they can’t make up for a talc foundation.