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.

A Thousand Words: Sonic Adventure

Sonic Adventure

I was a child when Sonic Adventure first came out on the Dreamcast. I was also one of the rare few who got to see it new and firsthand. At the time it looked impressive. Now with hindsight, it’s basically the Yak-38 of video games.

The Forger was basically a tech demo of a V/STOL fighter that got shoehorned into being an operational aircraft out of desperation. It was horrendously underpowered and unsafe. Likewise, this is a massively erratic way to show off all the things the Dreamcast could do more than an actual game. Sonic himself is a barely controllable pinball. Everyone else is there to represent something “new” and “amazing”. Tails can fly. Knuckles is there to have the same kind of collectathon gameplay pioneered in Mario 64. Amy-uh, does, basic puzzle stealth? Gamma the robot does third-person shooting by way of locking on, and Big the Cat infamously has that classic element of a speed game: Fishing. Slow paced fishing at that.

The cinematography in the cutscenes is utterly horrendous with the slightest point of comparison to anything else. And this introduced the storyline elements that would explode to horrendous proportions in Shadow and 06 and remain with the series even to this day. Which is to say, a combination of mystical mumbo-jumbo, Dr. Robotnik/Eggman messing with something he shouldn’t, and tons of new characters with each installment.

What I consider interesting is that Super Mario 64, made by Nintendo from a position of strength, did not do anything like this. It kept the same basic excuse plot as the past installments, and didn’t feel like it had to push anyone new very hard. Sonic Adventure, made by Sega from a position of weakness, had to stretch, and it failed in that regard.

The tragedy of this for the series was that instead of trying to improve the fundamental controls, Sonic Team focused on one gimmick after another. Mechs, teams, guns, telekinesis, anything but razor-sharp platforming. Adventure didn’t cause the famous 3D pit all by itself, but it started the process of digging.

A Thousand Words: WMMA5

WMMA5

Grey Dog Software’s World of Mixed Martial Arts 5 is an excellent mixed martial arts simulator/tycoon game. It’s best to keep your game worlds small as loading times are still an issue, but that’s the only (small) sour note in a very sweet game. As a tycoon, you can participate in building your own MMA empire, and learn the hard way that trying to do right by either your fighters or your fans has financial consequences.

Or you can just smash the figures together in the game’s Quick Fight mode, which is where I spend most of my time with it. The character editor means you can create anything from all-rounders to monomanical specialists who can’t strike or can’t grapple (or both!) As MMA has even more “moving parts” than boxing, making a proper sim is tough. Thankfully, this delivers.

A Thousand Words: People Playground

People Playground

When I was young, one of my favorite games was the Rube Goldberg generator known as The Incredible Machine. Now I’ve been delighted to announce that I’ve found a spiritual successor, People Playground. You can make all sorts of contraptions there in a physics sandbox-that mostly have the end goal of killing people. Or monsters. Or robots. For someone with as frequently twisted a sense of humor as me, I’ve loved it.

Yes, you can manually spawn a weapon and just kill your test subjects, but where’s the fun in that? One example of the breadth of this game is my most satisfying creation. One victim was strapped to a chair while another had an incandescent light bulb wired to him. The light bulb was switched on and given a heat transfer, causing the first victim to burn to death. A heat pipe was then attached to the second victim’s head, leading it to light up like a candle, before the whole body followed suit.

There’s a real sense of satisfaction in making an elaborate deathtrap that finally, actually works, and it’s for that reason that I recommend this game for people who like messing around in sandboxes. It’s very fun.

A Thousand Words: Ishtar

Ishtar

The film Ishtar, about a pair of dopey musicians that end up involved in a Middle Eastern revolution, is frequently labeled one of the worst films ever. Is it that bad? Not really. Is it bad, period? Kind of. See, it wants to be smart, but it fails spectacularly at being smart. When it lets itself be dumb, it has some good moments.

The highlight of the film is a scene in a bazaar involving a ton of secret agents with terribly stereotyped disguises. It had me laughing massively, and reminded me of the classic Oktoberfest scene in The Pink Panther Strikes Again. But the attempts at actually providing DEEP POLITICAL COMMENTARY? Not so much. Even some of the dumb comedy moments don’t work-there’s a scene later in the movie that involved arms dealers, natives, and the main characters “translating” by speaking gibberish that came across as contrived, unfunny, and honestly a little offensive.

The acting is iffy. Charles Grodin does a great job as a secret agent. The actor playing the emir of Ishtar is undeniably talented and would have worked well in a serious movie, but fails here where a Chaplin/Baren Cohen-style goofball dictator would have fit a lot better. The main characters are annoying and idiotic, but they’re meant to be annoying and idiotic. Does that help? You can decide.

It’s not the best movie of all time or even really “good”, but it doesn’t deserve to be considered one of the worst films ever.

A Thousand Words: BUSTAFELLOWS

BUSTAFELLOWS

So, it should be obvious that I’m not the target romance fiction aimed at women. But romance fiction that doubles as a crime thriller? Call me intrigued. So when I saw the Blerdy Otome Review of BUSTAFELLOWS (the official title is in ALL CAPS), I felt like I should check what’s still a crime thriller out. Hey, if an otome game took place in a conventional World War III, I’d look at it (I’d be seriously interested in how someone who came from the opposite background as most technothriller authors would handle it.)

Anyway, BUSTAFELLOWS takes place in the fictional NYC stand-in of New Sieg, where a reporter who can send her mind back in time and bodyjack someone in the past to change the present (the implications are addressed, and it’s portrayed as more limited and less powerful than it could theoretically be) gets involved with five possible love interests/vigilantes. While a visual novel doesn’t have much in the way of gameplay per se save for selecting choices, I have to say that this is one of those “PC version as a total afterthought” ports with a bizarre control scheme. Oh well. I got used to it, and the actual game ran fine.

The good news is that this is the rare “Romantic Suspense” that actually succeeds in balancing “Romance” and “Suspense”. The bad news is A: I think there’s a bit of culture clash that’s iffy but still bears little ill will (I’d expect the same from an American production that tried to tackle East Asian socio-political issues), and worse, B: The tone zigzags too much from “too serious” to “too goofy”. But these aren’t deal-breakers and I found it worth my money.

A Thousand Words: The Story of Ricky

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

It’s time to review one of my favorite movies of all time. The story of The Story of Ricky is one of bizarre decision-making. A Hong Kong producer looked at a Fist of The North Star knockoff manga and bought the rights. Then came the decision to make the movie. However, it comes across as having almost all of the budget spent on fake blood. And most of the rest spent renting out the sets for the jail.

The plot is this: The titular character ends up in a prison and gets into fights. Actually, that isn’t quite right. There is only one properly choreographed bout in the entire film. The rest is just someone getting hit and cheesy, bloody special effects resulting. That’s basically how you can describe the entire movie, and it is amazing. Hearing the bad-as-you’d expect English dubbing is part of the fun.

This movie is, in its own stupid, horrible way, a masterpiece. It’s one of the best “B-movies” I’ve seen and if you don’t mind (fake-looking but still plentiful) gore, then you have to watch this. Don’t expect well, anything technically good from it. But do expect a lot of fun.

A Thousand Words: Pokemon Black/White

Pokemon Black and White Versions

It was recently the 11th anniversary of Pokemon Black and White’s release. Now in terms of actual gameplay, it’s the same monster-catching as always. But in terms of opinion, it’s one of the games where, with full hindsight and difference, my views on it have shifted the most.

At the time, I viewed the story’s very slight challenge of its premise as something hamfisted and dumb. For the gameplay, while it wasn’t bad, it still felt like business as usual. Now with three more generations and a decade of thought, I can actually appreciate it more.

The first thing is realizing that Unova, the region of the game, is (loosely) based off my local area, the New York City metropolitan area. That’s neat, at least. The second is seeing that Game Freak played it so safe with the next three games that their mild, necessarily child-friendly critique comes across as the best they could do. Instead of slamming them for not doing it the best, I can praise them for trying. The third is the graphics. This was the last Pokemon game to feature classic sprites, which reach their apex here. After that, it’s ugly, basic, horribly optimized 3D models.

So what I wasn’t the fondest of at the time has turned into a nostalgic memory.

A Thousand Words: Stealth

Stealth

2005’s box office flop Stealth has become a cult classic for all the wrong reasons. This military thriller feels like what would would happen if you took someone who once read a Dale Brown novel and watched a few old war movies as his sole references, gave him a $100,000,000 budget, and turned him loose. It has “stealth” aircraft behaving in the least stealthy way possible, a haywire robot plane, and a bunch of jumbled plotlines that end with the characters just walking casually across the Korean DMZ.

I’ve long felt that the movie would be better if it was either smarter or dumber. If it was smarter, it could be prescient look at drone warfare. If it was dumber, it would be a much more focused Iron Eagle-style funfest. Instead it’s just a bizarre mess with the occasional attempt at a serious point mixed with advanced jets fighting like it’s 1916 and product placement music.

Still, I can’t bring myself to truly dislike this movie. The sheer excess of it in all directions means that it’s at least interestingly bad. And it does have explosions in it.

A Thousand Words: Requiem For The Phantom

Phantom: Requiem For The Phantom

The 2009 anime Phantom: Requiem For The Phantom is an adaptation of the “Phantom of Inferno” visual novel, the first work by infamous creator Gen Urobuchi. It tells the story of a young Japanese man and enigmatic girl turned underworld assassins with German number codenames, as they fall into a twisted world. It’s perhaps the best example of a “mean 51%” work I can think of, because of how zig-zaggy it is. A “median 51%” story would be bland but effective consistently, and this is anything but.

The production values and especially soundtrack are excellent overall. But the animation quality is surprisingly inconsistent. And the plot and characters are much more so. It wants to be this dark drama exploring the human psyche but it also wants to have tacticute girls and ex-East German supervillains bouncing around. This doesn’t always mix. A bigger problem is that so much of the story line is devoted to a fundamentally uninteresting conflict between various equally unsympathetic amoral criminals. It just became hard to care about, and the main characters spent more time moping than taking advantage of the agency that they theoretically had.

This is the equivalent of Dave Kingman or Chris Davis, a show that just swings and swings and either hits the ball hard or strikes out. While it often doesn’t succeed, I can give it credit for sincerely trying, and it was never outright bad enough that I didn’t want to watch.