Francis Ford Coppola, You’re Despicable

*Alternative title: Settle down, Mr. Coppola, it’s Time for your Nap*

Recently, filmmaker Martin Scorsese put his foot in his mouth with some blatantly ignorant statements in regards to Marvel movies. When asked his opinion on Marvel films, rather than simply stating that they weren’t his cup of tea, instead made the blanket statement that Marvel movies “aren’t cinema.”

Suffice to say, Mr. Scorsese received some much-deserved tongue-lashings from the people who work hard to make Marvel movies a part of cinema. And by “a part of cinema,” I actually mean the absolute biggest part of cinema today. Fans of the Marvel films also (rightfully) took offense to Scorsese’s dismissively ignorant statements.

Well, it seems Martin Scorsese has at least one cheerleader on his side, as fellow out-of-touch geezer Hollywood sacred cow Francis Ford Coppola has rallied to the defense of his old frat buddy from the always-overhyped New Hollywood era (an era which we really should stop referring to as “new” unless we mean it with absolute irony). And Coppola’s words are even more ignorant, condescending and pompous than Scorsese’s.

As ignorant as Scorsese’s claims that Marvel movies “aren’t cinema” were, at least he came across as attempting to be respectful even in his ignorance. But Coppola, when asked for his response on the matter, came across as little more than a self-righteous jackass. His exact quote went as follows.

“When Martin Scorsese says that Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right, because we expect to learn something from cinema. We expect to gain something—some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration. I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again. Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”

Calm down there, grandpa. Just because the new music the kids are listening’ to doesn’t sound like what was around in your day doesn’t mean it’s the devil.

Seriously, what an ass.

Now I have to needlessly defend myself, because despite the fact that Coppola’s words are entirely blanketed, ridiculing the many people that make Marvel movies as well as the millions of people who see them, because he’s one of Hollywood’s deities, anyone who calls him on his bullcrap will be labelled as an angry fanboy or whatever. So allow me to say that I don’t care if old man Coppola doesn’t like Marvel movies. As I said about Scorsese, some people just won’t like some types of movies. That’s fine. He’s entitled to not like Marvel movies.

It’s not that he doesn’t like Marvel movies that’s the problem, it’s that through his complete dismissal of them – particularly by referring to them as “despicable” – Mr. Coppola comes across as little more than a self-righteous ass, who has nothing but utter contempt for the average moviegoer.

“The “New Hollywood” generation in a nutshell.”

Both Scorsese and (far more so) Coppala don’t come across as intellectual filmmakers critiquing the younger generation of their craft with these statements. More, they sound like a bunch of butthurt old men who still can’t accept the fact that their preferred style of movie hasn’t been the dominant force in cinema for decades (in fact, their time at the top was actually very short lived, all things considered). Their words don’t come across as wisdom (which I’m sure they think they do), just sour grapes. Nothing more.

Believe it or not, Mr. Coppola, but movies were originally created for entertainment’s sake. And while it’s great that they developed in so many great ways over time and audiences can learn from them, entertainment is still kind of important. At least Scorsese’s films can claim to have that element to them.

And yes, Mr. Coppola, even big franchises and super hero movies can teach audiences something. Just because they may not be self-righteous character studies or anti-war dramas doesn’t mean they can’t also be about something. Just because people actually, y’know, want to see them doesn’t mean they can’t also be art. But you know what, even if a movie is solely aiming for entertainment, that’s fine too. And you know what, even something like that should be considered art if it’s made well enough.

It’s especially Coppola’s use of the word “despicable” that most paints him as a pompous ass. What’s despicable about them? That they’re franchised and make money and have merchandise? I get that these Hollywood types love to spew the same, generic anti-capitalist rhetoric (while also being millionaires), but hey, it’s not evil if these filmmakers and studios want to make money. Maybe that doesn’t fit your worldview. Okay, you’re allowed that. But ‘despicable?’ Nope.

It’s also a funny choice of word, calling movies about heroes and good vs. evil as “despicable,” considering this is the same guy who makes movies about mobsters which conveniently skip over the atrocities the mob committed towards innocent civilians. Funny how The Godfather fails to bring up aspects such as human trafficking, and racketeering that sent many into poverty, it’s almost like a convenient way to paint monsters as sympathetic… But, y’know, heroes in silly costumes fighting alien villains or whatever, that’s despicable. Sure thing there, buddy.

Such statements from the likes of Coppola are just another glaring example of Hollywood’s utter disconnect with the average moviegoer. Coppola is speaking as a pompous filmmaker who makes movies for himself and his buddies, who either see these movies for free or are so rich they don’t even have to think about the cost. Well, they’re allowed to do that if they want. But the average person, who actually has to spend their hard-earned money to see movies whenever they can manage the spare time, have a tendency to prefer using said time and money on something entertaining that they’ll remember, over something that a self-righteous filmmaker made to preach to them. Heaven forbid after a rough week of work or school or what have you, that most people would want to spend their money to unwind with a superhero romp.

Yeah yeah, I know I’m sounding harsh. But honestly, Coppola’s words were harsh, condescending, and belittling to many, many people. So I kind of find it hard to go easy on the man right now. At least Scorsese just seemed “out-of-touch” ignorant with his comments (and at least Scorsese has made a good few movies that deserve their praise), but Francis Ford Coppola’s comments just paint him as a royal ass, who is so used to being surrounded by Hollywood types who treat him like a god, that he can’t comprehend that the rest of the world has moved on to other, far more entertaining movies.

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The Addams Family (2019) Review

When it comes to the Great War – and by ‘the Great War’ I am of course referring to the age-old Addams Family vs. Munsters debate – I usually find myself ultimately siding with the Munsters. That’s not to say that I dislike the Addams Family, and I certainly appreciate the (surprisingly large) influence they’ve had on American pop culture from their inception in comic strips over eight decades ago. But in regards to the comparisons between the two franchises, the concept of the Munsters just makes more sense to me.

The Munsters were a traditional American family, immigrating from “the old country” to America. It just so happened that the Munster family was an assortment of classic movie monster archetypes. It was a fish-out-of-water scenario, with the Munsters being completely naive to the fact that the average person wasn’t a vampire or a Frankenstein’s monster, which of course lead to many a misunderstanding and unintentional frights. This toyed with the idea that the “normal” people around them were much weirder than the Munsters themselves.

The Addams Family, by comparison, is much less defined. They’re macabre, and they frequently boast some dark humor. But they’re also a bit inconsistent. Some of them are undead, some of them are oddities (like the hairy “Cousin Itt”) and some are just…weird people, I guess. That’s all well and fine, but they kind of lose some of their charm when their personalities become as all over the place as their family tree.

“The reference to Stephen King’s It is fun. Too bad it was spoiled in all the trailers.”

A good example of what I mean happens in this 2019 animated feature adaptation: Wednesday Addams (Chloë Grace Moretz), daughter of Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and Morticia Addams (Charlize Theron), is looking to displease her mother. Not out of teenage rebellion, but because the Addamses are weird and opposite of everyone else, so displeasing parents is to the Addamses what pleasing parents is to normal people. Wednesday hopes to upset her mother by changing her physical appearance (by wearing bright pink colors, skirts and hairbands, of course). But when her mother disapproves, Wednesday takes offense and decides to run away from home to escape her overbearing mother. So which is it? Do the Addamses indulge in negativity and conflict or do they have more relatable human wants and desires, and just happen to be weird in outward appearance and behavior? It’s a case of having one’s cake and eating it too.

It’s these weird inconsistencies with the characters that can, in certain adaptations, make it hard to empathize with the Addams Family. Sadly, I think this movie is an example of just that. It can’t seem to decide if the Addamses are simply misunderstood (which seems to be what it’s trying to do thematically) or if they actually work on some bizarro, backwards logic and morality.

Along with the plot of Wednesday and Morticia butting heads, there are two additional main plot lines, which prove to be spread too thin for a movie that barely misses the hour and a half mark in its runtime.

The other family-based dynamic is between Gomez and his son, Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard). Pugsly has come of age to perform a “Sabre Mazurka,” a swordfight/dance that serves as a kind of right of passage for Addams boys to become Addams men. Pugsley is disinterested in learning sword fighting, being far more occupied with explosives. This leaves Gomez fearing that Pugsley will embarrass himself on his big day.

It may have been better had the film settled on the two parent/child plots, since they’re narratively and thematically similar, and focus on the core group of characters, with Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) in the mix for good measure. But the third aforementioned plotline involves the swampland surrounding the Addamses’ hilltop home being replaced by a planned community. This not only means multitudes of ‘regular’ human beings now live just under the hill, but because the swamps are gone, the fog blocking the Addamses’ house from view has disappeared. This means that the Addamses now have to socialize with the world around them which, as you probably guess, doesn’t tend to go too well.

This is especially true in the case of Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), a reality TV show host and homemaker, who sees the Addamses as a disturbance to her budding neighborhood. Needler then makes it her mission to run the Addamses out of town to maintain a “perfect neighborhood” image.

Honestly, it’s this third plot that drags the story down. The other two storylines at least mirror each other in a way that makes sense. But this story with Needler’s disdain for the Addamses feels like a different movie, and yet, it’s probably the plotline that gets the most attention.

The Addams Family can be a funny movie at times. I think I even let out an audible laugh on a couple of occasions. The film is admittedly at its best when it’s acting more like a gag reel, with the titular family’s oddball, macabre nature providing some good laughs. Take, for example, how the film introduces the Addams family’s butler Lurch into the picture. In the movie’s opening moments, when Gomez and Morticia are moving to New Jersey, they hit an escaped asylum inmate (Lurch) with their car, and see the asylum on a nearby hill, which they then decide will make a perfect home to raise their family. They then just kind of pick Lurch up and he becomes their butler on the spot, no questions asked.

It’s the silly little moments of dark and oddball humor such as that when The Addams Family is at its best. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be quite enough of it weaved into the main plots, so when they do show up, they feel separated from everything else going on. As you can imagine, with three main plots in a movie that’s slightly under an hour and a half, with various series of gags that seem removed from those plots thrown in, The Addams Family really feels stretched thin and episodic.

That’s not to say that there’s anything innately horrible with The Addams Family, just that there’s nothing particularly special about it, and none of its elements feel like they click together to form a proper movie.

The animation can also be a bit of a mixed bag. As you could tell from a glance, the animation is cartoonishly exaggerated to the nth degree. That can be fine in some cases, and it’s not nearly as over-animated as the Hotel Transylvania movies, but something about the visual look of The Addams Family just didn’t quite work for me. I like the character designs for the Addamses themselves. Wednesday’s braids ending in nooses is a particularly nice touch, and Uncle Fester’s bulbous head leads to some fun physical comedy. But the designs for the ‘regular’ humans leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe that was the point, like the ‘normal’ people are the real weirdos, but they don’t look weird in an interesting or appealing way that catches the eye. They look more akin to the kind of animated characters you’d see in a straight-to-video movie from the late 2000s, than from a theatrically released feature at the tail-end of the 2010s.

I also enjoyed the voice cast for the film, with particular highlights being Isaac, Theron and Moretz. It’s just a shame that such a spot-on cast doesn’t have a better film to showcase their vocal talents.

I admit I had fun at times watching The Addams Family. It has its charms, but the film’s inability to find a cohesive flow between its elements, combined with the inconsistent personalities and motivations of the Addamses themselves, make it a hard movie to recommend.

Or maybe I’m just an angry Munsters fanboy.

 

4

Abominable Review

In the early-to-mid 2000s, Dreamworks Animation was seen as Pixar’s big rival in the world of CG animated features. Though Dreamworks has had a number of animated hits, their habit of strictly following the template of animated features of their time (both in the 2000s and into the 2010s) combined with what seems to be a willingness to green light every last idea that enters their door (Boss Baby), made Pixar’s inevitable victory in this so-called “war” a foregone conclusion long ago. And with Disney rising to prominence in the CG animation front over the past several years, the idea of Dreamworks being a rival to either of the Mouse House’s two premiere animation brands seems all the more like a distant memory.

That’s not to say that Dreamworks has completely fallen off the map (I still quite enjoy the first two Shrek films and the Kung Fu Panda trilogy), and every now and again they still crank out a good movie.

Case in point: Abominable, a charming and heartfelt animated feature from Dreamworks Animation’s “Pearl Studio” division, a joint venture between Dreamworks and Chinese investment companies. Though even with its charms and emotional strengths, Abominable still ultimately falls short of its full potential by once again adhering too closely to Dreamworks’ rulebook.

Abominable tells the story of Yi (Chloe Bennet), a young Chinese girl who has recently lost her father. Living with her mother and grandmother, Yi has taken to performing odd jobs around town in order to save up money to go on the trip around Asia that her father had always wanted to go on, but died before he had the chance. But Yi’s world is thrown into disarray when she discovers a yeti living on top of her apartment building. Yi soon befriends the yeti, naming him ‘Everest’ (after his home), and is determined to keep him safe.

It turns out this yeti has escaped captivation from a wealthy man named Mr. Burnish (Eddie Izzard), who recently caught the creature on an expedition to Mount Everest, after having searched years for the creature following an encounter with it in his youth. Determined to prove the yeti’s existence after being called a liar his entire life, Mr. Burnish has recruited zoologist, Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), as well as a small, private army, to help him reclaim the yeti.

Fearing for Everest, Yi sneaks the Yeti onto a departing ship, but in the spur of the moment, ends up accompanying Everest on his journey home. But Yi isn’t alone on her adventure to escort Everest back to…Everest. Caught in the middle of all the commotion are Yi’s friends from her apartment: Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), a self-absorbed pretty boy, and his younger brother Peng (Albert Tsai).

If it all sounds a bit familiar by now, that’s because, well, it is. Abominable is ultimately a good movie, as it tells its story well and by the film’s third act, it hits the right emotional beats. But Abominable is also a movie that can feel like it came off a conveyor belt, as the story it does tell is all too familiar for animated features of today. Granted, I would rather see a predictable good movie than an original bad one, but I can’t help but feel just a handful of tweaks to Abominable’s story structure could have ascended it from being simply a ‘good’ animated feature to a great one.

Again, there’s nothing inherently bad about Abominable. But from the main character’s story with a deceased parent, the friendly, misunderstood creature, the comic relief, and the overall pathway of the story, Abominable is very much following the proverbial animated movie guidebook. I suppose the film does attempt a bit of a twist with its villain scenario, but it seems like many animated films do that these days. And unlike in something like Frozen, where the villain twist had thematic depth that subverted Disney’s tropes, Abominable’s ‘twist’ just seems to kind of happen for the sake of it. Some might point out Yi’s lack of a romantic interest to be of note, but again, that’s become pretty commonplace for animated heroines over the past few years (and it’s something that, once again, Frozen did infinitely better).

It’s the over familiarity of it all which has plagued numerous Dreamworks animated films in the past. While Pixar – Dreamworks’s one-time rival – continue to take animated storytelling to new heights (even if they may not do so quite as consistently as they once did), Dreamworks often seems to simply make due with the status quo. Sure, not every movie can be a masterpiece, and sometimes a lighter, more familiar movie is perfectly fine (and it is here). But I worry that Dreamworks is too okay with ‘perfectly fine’ all too often, instead of aiming for something greater.

By now I’m probably sounding pretty negative about Abominable. But it should be noted that Abominable is a movie I feel bad saying anything bad about. Because it is a charming and heartwarming feature, despite its lack of originality. And I certainly found it a more enjoyable offering from Dreamworks than How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

While the third entry in the Dragon series felt overly cluttered with a small army of characters (most of whom felt pretty one-note even back in its first installment), Abominable keeps things simple and focused. We have a trio of heroes, a duo of primary villains, and a huggable yeti as the centerpiece. Yi is a likable heroine, and I applaud how the film at first presents Jin as a one-dimensional character who wouldn’t have felt out of place as a secondary character in the Dragons films, but goes through his own miniature story arc that makes him a much stronger character as the film goes on.

The film is also well animated, with memorable character designs and colorful scenery. And of course, every time the yeti uses its magic, the film provides plenty of visual splendor.

Abominable certainly has a lot going for it. Between its sharp animation, charming characters, and genuine heartfelt moments, Abominable should delight children as well as older audiences. But if you’ve seen pretty much any of the better half of Dreamworks’s animated output, you basically know everything you’re getting from Abominable, which ultimately prevents its many merits from shining as brightly as they should.

 

6

You’re Wrong, Scorsese. Marvel Movies ARE Cinema

*Alternative title: Go Home, Scorsese. You’re Drunk*

Martin Scorsese is one of the most acclaimed filmmakers in history, and one of Hollywood’s ‘sacred cows.’ But recently, he made a statement which  – in its blanketed ignorance – paints him as part of the problem with the world of cinema.

The basis of Scorsese’s claims is that Marvel movies “aren’t cinema,” and that they are more akin to “theme parks.” This, of course, just comes off as the latest in the never-ending examples of the overblown egos and self-importance of Hollywood and its “serious” filmmakers and critics. It’s a display of the utter contempt they have for the average moviegoer, and the films that don’t directly pander to themselves, that makes so many in the industry so very hard to like.

Here is Mr. Scorsese’s exact statement in regards to Marvel movies.

“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”

The statement is profusely arrogant and condescending on Scorsese’s part.  Granted, not every type of movie is for everyone. But Scorsese’s comments aren’t a display of a personal disinterest. Rather, the things Scorsese is saying are entirely dismissive to everyone who works in front of and behind the cameras on Marvel movies, and insulting to the audiences that continue to see them (which, by the way, are in far greater numbers than the audience for any Scorsese film).

Scorsese briefly tries to save face by throwing in the words “as well made as they are” in regards to Marvel movies. But it means very little to say that they’re “well made” while simultaneously stating that they don’t qualify as cinema, and that the actors could only ever possibly “do the best they can under the circumstances” if they’re cast in a superhero film. Way to dismiss any and all acting performances that go into these movies just because they’re in a genre you have a blatant bias against. Hey, at least when these Marvel movies re-use actors, they’re playing the same characters and furthering their stories, as opposed to casting Robert De Niro as different sociopath archetypes who may as well be the same character in the same story. But I digress.

When I first read Scorsese’s statements on Marvel movies, it reminded me of something else the famed director said way back in 2004. After The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King achieved the biggest clean sweep in Oscar history, complete with a Best Picture win (a rare instance when the Academy actually knew what they were doing), Scorsese was asked if he’d ever be interested in making fantasy movies. Scorsese’s response…

Real movies with real people.” 

It’s a predictably ego-centric answer from a director who has long-since been made out to be a Hollywood deity, though one I’m sure he himself though sounded profound. If he’s not interested in making fantasy movies, that’s fine. But again, his response was both dismissive and condescending.

“I don’t know, I find the likes of Captain America and Gandalf to be closer to “real people” than violent psychopaths like Travis Bickle.”

Fantasy movies, whether they be sword and sorcery or super heroes or what have you, are fully capable of delivering deep stories that connect with human emotion and psychology. They’re merely different methods of doing so.

Believe it or not, Mr. Scorsese, but films don’t have to follow your rulebook in order to qualify as films. There are these wonderful things called “styles,” “genres” and “mediums.” There are different kinds of artists with all kinds of different voices and tastes. They may not all be good, but just because their path doesn’t directly follow yours doesn’t mean their works should be disqualified, or that they “don’t count.” Maybe you don’t care for a specific genre of movie. Okay, that’s fine. But saying that it’s “not cinema” and just waving off their very existence is profoundly arrogant.

By now, I’m sure the film buffs who would rally to Scorsese’s defense and jump at any opportunity to lambast super hero films and the like would assume I’m just a rambling Marvel fanboy, or that I’m trying to be cool and edgy by talking bad about one of cinema’s most acclaimed directors. But I’d like to point out that I can’t remember the last time I read a Marvel comic book, nor have I enjoyed every MCU film (Iron Man 2, Incredible Hulk and Captain Marvel were pretty mediocre, and the less said of Iron Man 3, the better). Nor do I hate Scorsese’s body of work, some of it (like Goodfellas) I’ve quite enjoyed, though I admit I find Raging Bull to be an overrated bore.

I’m merely writing this because Scorsese’s comments relished in their own ignorance. And it’s mindsets like those represented in Scorsese’s comments that are holding the world of cinema back in many ways. Both those in Hollywood and film buffs put themselves on a pedestal, and treat themselves like they’re part of an elite club. And the common moviegoer, or those “lesser” filmmakers who make films audiences actually want to see aren’t allowed to join. It’s a level of pretentiousness that seems to constantly ooze out of Hollywood types, who in turn act completely dumbfounded as to why they get such a bad reputation. Scorsese may be a great filmmaker in many respects, but with statements like these, he proves he’s part of Hollywood’s problem.

For all the open-mindedness Hollywood likes to give itself a pat on the back for, they sure do have a pretty closed mind when it comes to their own  mediums. It’s like they want to punish movies for making money, or being crowd-pleasers, or if they’re rooted in fantasy or created with animation, etc. If Hollywood were half as open-minded as they bragged themselves up to be, they’d have no qualms with putting such films on equal levels with their preferred style. They should judge every film by how good they are individually, as opposed to considering certain types of films to be innately superior or inferior to others.

Though the world of video games has issues of its own, this “country club” mentality of those within its industry certainly isn’t one of them. In these regards, the video game industry has been completely open-minded as to what constitutes a great work in their medium. There’s never been a differentiating between where or how a game was made in terms of the quality of the end product. There’s never been a stigma against genres or franchises or commercially successful works. Sure, the self-righteous hipster types like Ben Croshaw tried their damndest to replicate the ignorances of the movie world and integrate it into the world of video games during the early 2010s. But thankfully, those clowns ultimately lost their battle, and no one in their right mind has adopted their self-indulgent contempt against popular works.

So while “serious” filmmakers may ridicule popular movies as “not being cinema,” the video game world happily embraces such popular works. I think it’s safe to say the Super Mario franchise has produced many of the most acclaimed video games ever made, while also being extremely cartoonish in nature and having mass commercial appeal, not to mention numerous sequels and countless spinoffs. Not every game with the name ‘Super Mario’ in the title may be an all-time great, but there’s no built in stigma against it for its tone, success, or commercial standing that prevents the Mario games that deserve such praise from earning it.

The world of movies, and the likes of Martin Scorsese, could certainly learn a thing or two about broadening their outlook on their own medium. Perhaps the best retort to Scorsese’s indulgently ignorant claims comes from Samuel L. Jackson, who of course has portrayed Agent Nick Fury in more than a few of the MCU films.

Mr. Jackson’s response went as follows…

“I mean that’s like saying Bugs Bunny ain’t funny. Films are films. Everybody doesn’t like his stuff either. Everybody’s got an opinion, so I mean it’s okay. Ain’t going to stop nobody from making movies.”

Essentially, Jackson found a polite way to say “everyone has their own taste, but don’t be a pompous ass and disregard the hard work that goes into things that don’t fit your niche, as well as their audience.” Well said, Mr. Jackson.

So Mr. Scorsese, the point is it’s okay if real people enjoy watching Marvel movies. While no category of movie will ever be absolutely good, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has provided mostly good movies so far. They may not be your kind of movies, but they are still very much cinema.

As for Mr. Scorsese using “theme parks” as a derogatory terminology, well, if I had the choice to ride Space Mountain or sit through an overly-long character study about a wife-beating, sociopathic boxer, the theme park wins. Hands down.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch) Review

The Legend of Zelda is arguably the most beloved video game series of all time, and few of its entries are as cherished as Link’s Awakening. Though it was the fourth installment in The Legend of Zelda, it was the first to be released on a handheld console. One of the main reasons Link’s Awakening built such a strong reputation for itself was due to it retaining the series’ sense of depth and exploration, despite being released on the original Gameboy in 1993.

Keep in mind this was still a time when a series being translated to a handheld system meant the compromise of its quality (even Mario didn’t quite feel like Mario on the Gameboy). So the fact that Link’s Awakening still very much felt like The Legend of Zelda was a stunning achievement in itself in 1993.

“Bonus points for the hand-drawn, anime cutscenes.”

Link’s Awakening started development as a port of the Super NES classic, A Link to the Past, released one year prior. But somewhere along the line, it became its own beast. Though it couldn’t quite reach the same heights as its SNES predecessor, Link’s Awakening still managed to capture a good deal of its magic, and has certainly held up better than the NES Zelda titles. The title proved so popular that when Nintendo released the GameBoy Color in the late 90s, one of its biggest selling points was a re-release of Link’s Awakening in 1998.

Now, twenty-one years after its GameBoy Color release, Link’s Awakening has been remade from the ground up for the Nintendo Switch, in what is undoubtedly the definitive version of the beloved title.

It’s a match made in heaven, really. Link’s Awakening played a pivotal role in Nintendo’s earlier years in handheld gaming, being one of the few games on the original GameBoy that most would agree felt as big as a home console title. And with the Nintendo Switch being a hybrid of a home console and a handheld, few Nintendo classics would be so fitting for a Switch remake.

2019’s Link’s Awakening is a beautiful recreation of the 1993 GameBoy classic. Taking on a toy aesthetic, this Switch version features character models that resemble Gashapon figures, and environments that look like dioramas. The art direction is oozing with charm, making it baffling how some sections of the Zelda fandom cried foul when the visuals were first revealed (you’d think Zelda fans would have learned their lesson by this point). The art style, combined with the HD sheen of the Nintendo Switch, make Link’s Awakening look right at home in 2019. There are admittedly a few frame rate drops here and there, but nothing too bad.

“Oh no not the bees! AAAAHHHH! They’re in my eyes! They’re in my eyes! AAHHH!”

On the gameplay side of things, Link’s Awakening on Switch features the same timeless gameplay to be expected from 2D Zelda titles post-A Link to the Past. Link is every bit as fun to control as ever. But there are even a few modernized improvements made to Link’s Awakening where needed, the most prominent of which being that Link’s sword, shield and upgrades are permanently equipped once gained. This is something of a godsend, as the limitations of the original GameBoy’s hardware meant players had to constantly be switching out Link’s items and abilities. But with the Switch’s extra buttons, Link is easily able to keep hold of his standard items and abilities, as well as equip two ‘special items’ gained from dungeons at any given time.

Perhaps the only questionable decision with this modernization is that the Roc’s Feather item, which allows Link to jump, isn’t among the permanent abilities, and still has to be equipped like the other special items. This is questionable because, with how fundamentally useful the ability to jump is, you’ll almost always have Roc’s Feather taking up one of your two item slots. The Pegasus Boots – which allow Link to dash at great speed – become automatically linked to a specific button without needing to be equipped. Roc’s Feather probably could have used the same treatment, seeing as I found myself with it equipped for almost my entire playthrough.

“All the monsters say I’m pretty fly, for a Slime Eye!”

Other changes made to the game include more collectibles to give the side quests some extra heft. The total Heart Pieces to be found in the game has increased from the mere twelve found in the original GameBoy version to thirty-two, while the Secret Seashells have gone from twenty-six to a whomping fifty that can be collected. Though simple, searching for the Heart Pieces and Seashells prove to be fun diversions to the main quest.

Perhaps the biggest brand new addition to Link’s Awakening is the inclusion of a dungeon editor. Before you get too excited, it has to be said that the dungeon editor is incredibly limited.

“Most of your edited dungeons follow a preset layout, but eventually you can unlock the ability to piece them together with more freedom.”

By visiting Dampé, players can edit their own dungeons by utilizing chambers collected from the dungeons the player has completed throughout the game (the main quest retains its eight dungeons, and the optional “Color Dungeon” from the GameBoy Color release makes a return). On the plus side, putting a dungeon together from pre-existing rooms and making it all make sense has a fun puzzle element to it. On the downside, the player doesn’t have the ability to edit anything about the chambers themselves. The player can’t place doors, decide what enemies to litter about or what walls can be destroyed with bombs, or even choose what rewards await in treasure chests (if your dungeon ends up having a certain number of locked doors, the chests will at first provide the number of keys required to unlock them all, then have a random amount of Rupees, with the final chest opened always containing the boss key).

Again, the dungeon editor can be fun in its own right, but don’t get your hopes up that it’s the Zelda equivalent of Super Mario Maker (though here’s hoping its presence is something of a test run for just that).

“Dude, I forgot this game had a walrus in it! 10/10.”

Aside from being a standout game on a handheld platform in the early 90s, another reason Link’s Awakening holds such a fond place for many is that it’s quite possibly the weirdest Zelda title. Taking inspiration from Twin Peaks, Link’s Awakening sees Link stranded on Koholint Island, where he must collect the eight Instruments of the Sirens in order to awaken “The Wind Fish” (who is actually a whale) – the island’s deity – who is in a deep slumber inside of an egg on top of a mountain (as whales do), if he ever wants to escape the island.

Not only is the story delightfully weird (and being one of the earliest games in the series, it’s also refreshingly absent of that convoluted “Zelda timeline” nonsense), but Link’s Awakening is also a ‘weird’ entry in that it features many elements from the Super Mario series (as well as a Kirby cameo).

“He does exist!”

While Mario and Zelda have always referenced each other – seeing as they’re the two series most strongly associated with the Nintendo name, and both originally spawned from Shigeru Miyamoto’s mind – Link’s Awakening took things to another level by directly featuring enemies and characters from the Mushroom Kingdom and a profuse amount of side-scrolling sections that pay homage to Mario’s early adventures. Many fans were worried that – much like the Superstar Saga remake on 3DS was absent of a certain cameo found in its original GameBoy Advance version – that the Mario elements would be removed or downplayed in this Switch remake. Thankfully, not only are the Mario cameos and references in full force (complete with the first 3D appearance of Super Mario Bros. 2’s Wart), but Nintendo even doubled down on them with a new side quest focused on collecting Mario figurines. There’s just something about the Mario series that makes the presence of its characters add a little more fun to any game. 

Although the writing may not necessarily be anything to write home about, the Twin Peaks influence definitely shines through in some wacky dialogue and the overall strangeness of the adventure, an influence which I like to think has carried over to subsequent entries in the Zelda series, given its often bizarre characters. That weirdness started here, and perhaps (sadly) hasn’t been outdone by subsequent Zeldas.

“Hi there! Face here! Bur bur BUR!”

Now I have to make a confession, I was never the biggest fan of Link’s Awakening back in the day. It was certainly a considerable improvement over the NES Zelda games, and I loved that aforementioned weirdness of it all, but for one reason or another, it never quite clicked with me in the same way A Link to the Past and some later Zeldas did.

That’s all changed with this Switch remake, which has won me over to Link’s Awakening so strongly, that I would probably now rank it among my favorite Zelda games. The adventure is long and deep enough to feel rewarding, but short enough as to not overstay its welcome. To think that this game was originally a GameBoy title is somewhat baffling. Sure, it’s still on the “smaller” side of the Zelda series, but it was so big back in its own day that Link’s Awakening still feels like a meaty addition to any Switch library.

I’m not sure whether this remake has simply opened my eyes to Link’s Awakening’s full merits, or if its changes and additions have made the game that much better (again, that art style!). Maybe a bit of both.

Whatever the case, Link’s Awakening  on Switch is an ideal video game remake and, quite fittingly, something of a dream come true.

 

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Wizard Dojo’s 2019 Up Until Now (Q3)

Well, September of 2019 has come and gone, which not only means I am officially in my 30s, but we’re three quarters of the way through 2019.

Wow, hard to believe how fast 2019 is going. It’s been quite the year, to say the least. Unfortunately, the Summer wasn’t nearly as productive for the Dojo as I would have liked, but I still managed to crank out some content.

Just as was the case for quarters one and two for 2019, let’s reflect on how the third quarter of the year turned out for the Dojo. Let us chronicle Wizard Dojo’s 2019 so far, and look into what the remainder of the year has in store, and what could be coming the Dojo in 2020!


Naturally, let’s begin by reflecting on all the proper reviews I’ve written for the Dojo so far in 2019 (titles in bold were released this year).

Total Movie Reviews Written in 2019 so Far: 29

Total Video Game Reviews Written in 2019 so Far: 30

 

Yeah, again, it hasn’t been my most productive year for Wizard Dojo (remember in this site’s first year, how I wrote 100 different video game reviews alone? Those were the days). But I like to think my writing is getting better. So…quality over quantity, I guess? But I’d like to have both…

 

January Reviews

MOVIE REVIEWS: 8

Bumblebee – 7/10

From Dusk ‘Till Dawn – 5/10

Mary Poppins Returns – 6/10

The Cat Returns – 7/10

Ralph Breaks the Internet – 8/10

Unbreakable – 7/10

Split – 6/10

Glass – 3/10

VIDEO GAME REVIEWS: 5

Wario Land II – 6/10

The Haunted Island: A Frog Detective Game – 6/10

Inside – 7/10

Donut County – 7/10

Tetris Effect – 8/10

February Reviews

MOVIE REVIEWS: 1

Fighting With my Family – 7/10

VIDEO GAME REVIEWS: 3

Red Dead Redemption 2 – 8/10

Wario Land 3 – 6/10

God of War (PS4) – 8/10

 

March Reviews

Movie Reviews: 2

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World – 5/10

Captain Marvel – 5/10

VIDEO GAME REVIEWS: 10

Kingdom Hearts 3 – 5/10

Tetris 99 – 7/10

Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove – 7/10

Wario World – 4/10

Sonic the Fighters – 2/10

Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble – 4/10

Tails’ Skypatrol – 2/10

Tails’ Adventure – 5/10

Sonic R – 2/10

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – 9/10

 

April Reviews

MOVIE REVIEWS: 5

Dumbo (2019) – 6/10

Shazam! – 7/10

Marvel’s The Avengers – 8/10

Avengers: Age of Ultron – 5/10

Avengers: Infinity War – 8/10

VIDEO GAME REVIEWS: 3

Yoshi’s Crafted World – 7/10

Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee – 5/10

Wario Land 4 – 7/10

 

May Reviews

MOVIE REVIEWS: 2

Avengers: Endgame – 9/10

Pokemon: Detective Pikachu – 6/10

VIDEO GAME REVIEWS: 2

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe – 7/10

Wario’s Woods – 7/10

 

June Reviews

MOVIE REVIEWS: 5

Aladdin (2019) – 7/10

Godzilla: King of the Monsters – 6/10

X-Men: Dark Phoenix – 4/10

The Secret Life of Pets 2 – 5/10

The Dark Crystal – 5/10

GAME REVIEWS: 1

WarioWare, Inc. Mega Microgames – 7/10

 

July Reviews

Movie Reviews: 2

Toy Story 4 – 7/10

Spider-Man: Far From Home – 7/10

Video Game Reviews: 3

Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge – 4/10

Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman – 6/10

Mario Vs. Donkey Kong – 6/10

 

August Reviews

Movie Reviews: 2

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – 5/10

The Lion King – 5/10

Video game reviews: 2

Super Mario Maker 2 – 8/10

WarioWare Touched – 6/10

 

September Reviews

Movie Reviews: 2

Dora and the Lost City of Gold – 7/10

The Peanut Butter Falcon – 6/10

Video Game reviews: 2

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night – 8/10

Wario Land: Shake It! – 7/10


 

My reviews may have slowed down during the Summer, but hopefully I can pick them back up a bit in the coming months. There are still a few 2019 movies on my radar that I’d like to see/review, and I mean to get back to reviewing more older movies again, seeing as my last movie review for a non-2019 feature was The Dark Crystal way back in June.

Speaking of Dark Crystal, holy smokes, is the Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance great! While I may have mixed feelings on the original movie, I think the Netflix series lives up to the potential Jim Henson’s imaginative world. I’m just going to come out and say it, I think Age of Resistance is probably the best cinematic fantasy epic since Peter Jackson brought The Lord of the Rings  trilogy to the silver screen, and it’s quickly become one of my all-time favorite series alongside the likes of Twin Peaks, Seinfeld, the first seven or so seasons of The Simpsons, and Stranger Things. Once I start reviewing TV shows, expect Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, as well as Stranger Things, to be among the first ones reviewed. I honestly can’t say enough good things about Age of Resistance.

 

Also, you may have noticed that I lowered the scores for both Kingdom Hearts 3 and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World from 6/10s to 5/10s. After further consideration, I just couldn’t, in good conscience, keep them on the upper half of my rating scale. Yes, I appreciate the Disney fanservice Kingdom Hearts provides, but outside of that, it really doesn’t have anything going for it. And even that Disney fanservice gets bungled. I repeat my past complaints that this is a game that features a world based on Disney’s Frozen and yet you don’t get Anna and Elsa on your team, you don’t visit Elsa’s ice palace, and it blatantly skips over important plot elements from the film (as well as the others represented in the game). Only Tetsuya Nomura could bungle such an easy victory of a crossover.

As for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World… Eh, it just didn’t leave an impression. It was the weakest entry in what I already found to be an overhyped series. Kung Fu Panda is the far superior Dreamworks trilogy, hands down. Fight me.

 

I have to admit, this has been a pretty interesting movie year for me. It’s something of an oddity in that I’ve awarded one 2019 film a near-perfect 9/10, yet have yet to dish out a single 8/10 for any movie this year. That 9/10 of course being Avengers: Endgame which, yes, is far and away the best film I’ve seen so far this year. I know, I’m an independent blogger, so I’m supposed to hate superhero movies and be all contrarian and everything. But unlike that crowd, I like to think I’m decently unique among my peers for the simple reason that I like things. I don’t actively want to hate anything because it’s popular or whatever. Endgame is 2019’s best film so far. I regret nothing.

Conversely, I have awarded 8/10 to a couple of 2019 games – Super Mario Maker 2 and Bloodstained – but I don’t think anything I’ve played so far this year approaches a 9 in my book. At least not under my current criteria, whatever such vaguely-implied standard entails.

 

Along with (hopefully) catching up on reviews, I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that the next few months see me getting back into the groove of making top 10 lists and stuff. I really miss doing those. The Dojo hasn’t been the same without them.

Some of the lists I’m planning still include…

Top 10 Nintendo Systems

Top 10 Nintendo Franchises

Top 10 Most Influential Video Games

Top 10 Video Games from my Childhood

Top 5 Nintendo Supporting Characters Who Deserve Their Own Game

 

Yeah, those are all ones I promised before, but I didn’t want to promise any extras until, y’know, I actually start making them.

as for those aforementioned reviews…

2019 Movies I plan to review

It: Chapter 2 (already seen)

Joker

Frozen II

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Old/older movies I plan on reviewing at some point

It: Chapter 1

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (short film)

The Mad Max series

The Lord of the Rings trilogy

The Star Wars series (yep, even the prequels)

Yeah yeah, the prequels may get (unfounded) love these days because the memes are funny, but while I can enjoy a good prequel meme, funny memes don’t equate to good movies. If anything, the reason prequel memes can be funny is because the prequels themselves are so bad. Also meme culture is just so repugnant, it’s time we stopped pretending like memes give things value (exceptions being ‘Steamed Hams’ and Robbie Rotten memes).

Also as previously mentioned in past posts, I’d like to finish reviewing the directorial filmographies of Hayao Miyazaki and Quentin Tarantino in the not-too-distant future as well.

2019 VIDEO GAMES I OWN BUT HAVEN’T REVIEWED YET

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr’s Journey

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

Astral Chain

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Remastered

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

Untitled Goose Game

 

The good news is the latter two games should be reviewed soon (I finished Link’s Awakening last night). The bad news is Sekiro and Crash came out some time ago and I’m still not close to being at a point where I can review them. Crash Team Racing is decently fun, but we live in a post-Mario Kart 8 world now, it’s hard to go back to other kart racers (but I still plan on getting back to it). Meanwhile, I hate to admit it, but as someone who LOVES Dark Souls and Bloodborne, I couldn’t really get into Sekiro. That could change when I play more of it, but if I were to write about it now, I’d have a lot to gripe about. I actually have a lot I want to say about it, so maybe I’ll get back to it soon and try to finish it for a review. But at the same time, if it’s going to take me dozens more hours to complete, I’m honestly not sure if I want to bother.

Still, the other games mentioned above should be reviewed (relatively) soon. Along with these…

Games I’ve played through in 2019 but still haven’t reviewed yet for some reason

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions

Deltarune

Celeste

 

And yes, I have just enough Wario games currently in my library to continue to review one Wario title per month through all of 2019.

“Sexy beast.”

You might think that’s a lot on my plate, between all the reviews and the lists and the, uhhh, other things. But I didn’t say these are all immediate. Many of these I plan to do before 2019 is through, but others will keep me busy into 2020. And I have other things planned for the months ahead in addition to what’s been mentioned here. But I don’t want to spoil any surprises…or reveal them before I’ve even followed through with that other stuff I’ve been saying I’d do for a while now…

So these past few months may have slowed the Dojo down a bit, but I’ll do my best to get back on track. I hope you look forward to the Dojo’s future for the remainder of 2019, into 2020, and beyond! I got some good stuff cooking’! And hopefully you won’t be underwhelmed by those aforementioned ‘surprises’ when the day comes…

See you around and read my crap!

Wario Land: Shake It! Review

Wario Land originally began life as a spinoff of Super Mario Land in 1994, but Nintendo would later re-invented the series with its second entry four years later in 1998. This Wario resurgence lasted for the next few years, culminating with Wario Land 4 on the GameBoy Advance in 2001. After that, the Wario Land series went on hiatus, and with the WarioWare franchise coming into prominence soon thereafter, it seemed like Wario Land was a thing of the past. But after seven years, Wario Land finally made a comeback – and on a home console for the very first time – in the form of Wario Land: Shake It! on the Wii. While Wario Land: Shake It! may seem like a more straightforward platformer than some of its predecessors, it hides a surprising level of depth for completionists, and hand-drawn visuals that make it all too easy to get sucked into.

Wario Land: Shake It! was developed by Good-Feel, the same studio who would later make Kirby’s Epic Yarn as well as Yoshi’s Woolly World and its sequel. But this was Good-Feel’s first instance of tackling a popular Nintendo franchise and giving it a unique visual overhaul. Naturally, you wouldn’t expect Wario to be as cute or charming as Kirby or Yoshi, but that doesn’t mean Wario Land: Shake It! is any less visually captivating than its more well-known Kirby and Yoshi counterparts.

Instead of being made of yarn or crafts, Wario’s adventure from Good-Feel uses entirely hand-drawn character sprites, courtesy of acclaimed anime studio Production I.G. And the results are quite stunning. Wario would probably be one of the last video game characters you’d think of when you think ‘anime,’ and yet, Wario Land: Shake It! is one of the best examples of an interactive anime. Wario’s every action is surprisingly detailed, and the enemies – though more simplistic than Wario – still boast fluid animation. It’s simply a great game to look at, an element that would become a hallmark of Good-Feel’s titles.

The story is, of course, simple stuff. A princess from the “Shake Dimension” has been kidnapped by the Shake King, and her loyal followers, the Mertles – weird bird creatures that remind me of the Flickies from Sonic 3D Blast -have been imprisoned. The Shake Dimension needs a savior…but they end up finding Wario instead. Wario is at first disinterested in saving the day, until an escaped Mertle informs Wario that he can keep the many treasures he comes across in the Shake Dimension, including the kingdom’s most priceless treasure, a bottomless coin sack that will generate money whenever shaken. Naturally, this gets Wario off his lazy butt to set out and be a “hero.”

In terms of gameplay, Wario Land: Shake It! at first appears to be a pretty straightforward platformer, but with a twist: after you make it to the end of a stage (a caged Mertle that can be freed by shaking said cage), Wario must race back to the start of the stage before time runs out, lest he lose his accumulated treasures.

Like in Wario Land 4, our mustachioed, garlic-obsessed anti-hero is no longer invincible as he was in Wario Lands 2 and 3. Though with that said, you’ll still likely rarely lose a life (during my play through for this review, I only ever actually died during the final boss). So the game may be easy from that perspective, but as Good-Feel would later implement in their future titles, the real challenge of Wario Land: Shake It! comes in the form of total completion. Each stage houses three unique treasures to be uncovered, as well as a series of challenges (which basically work like Xbox achievements or Playstation trophies), from three to five depending on the stage, that need to be completed in order to unlock that stage’s soundtrack, which is necessary for those seeking 100% completion. Some stages will even have some challenges that contradict each other, meaning you’ll have to repeat those stages in order to check off every challenge. Additionally, the game features a few hidden stages, unlocked upon finding hidden maps within the normal levels.

The downside to Wario no longer being invincible (aside from the obvious) is that the transformations of Wario Lands past have been greatly reduced. In Wario Lands 2 and 3, Wario’s invincibility was part of an elaborate joke, in which getting hurt by enemies gave Wario different “transformations” as opposed to taking damage. In Shake It!, only Wario’s fire and snow forms return (that is to say, Wario can catch fire or get trapped in a snowball to his advantage), but otherwise, Wario’s gameplay is more traditional than in some of his past ventures.

The irony in this scenario is that Good-Feel would later incorporate character invincibility in Kirby’s Epic Yarn. So Good-Feel’s entry in the Wario series is lacking one of its past trademarks, but the studio incorporated it into their Kirby installment two years later.

Still, Wario remains a fun character to control. He’s still his brutish self, so he can charge, throw and butt-stomp enemies into oblivion. And in the game’s signature addition to Wario’s repertoire is that he can now shake enemies and objects he’s holding (done by shaking the Wii remote). Enemies will often drop health-replenishing garlic, but some of them, as well as plenty of objects, will dish out coins by the dozens.

Unfortunately, despite the bountiful amounts of cash-money Wario is bound to come across, there’s only so many uses for it in Wario Land: Shake It! The gold can be seen as the equivalent to points, with players trying to best their “high score” with return visits to stages. But since Wario’s collected gold actually has practical use, it really stands out how few uses there are for it. After a world is completed, Wario can purchase access to the next world – as well as an additional hit point – from his former rival, Captain Syrup. If Good-Feel were going to include things to spend Wario’s stolen hard-earned loot on, you can’t help but feel there could have been better things to spend them on. It would have made more sense if the secret levels had to be purchased, and if there were additional abilities to unlock, instead of spending Wario’s gold on things that just feel like the natural progress of the game.

Players seeking a tougher challenge will probably skip buying the extra hearts anyway, and the fact that Wario has to purchase the next world in line instead of simply progressing to it just feels like a forced reason to have Wario spend his gold. At that point, Wario’s treasure may as well just be for a high score.

Still, while Wario’s abilities may have been trimmed down, and he may as well be holding his gold, I do ultimately feel that Wario Land: Shake It! has aged better than its predecessors. Its level design (and the optional challenges therein) get progressively more difficult and clever as the game goes on. And with the aforementioned mechanic of racing back to the start of the levels after rescuing its Mertle, Good-Feel finds various ways to incorporate unique puzzle elements into the stages (oftentimes the player will have to pay close attention to how Wario interacts with the environment on the way to a level’s ‘end,’ so that he has a quicker path back to the starting point). In regard to this level design, Wario Land: Shake It! remains a creative platformer over a decade later. And its striking, hand-drawn imagery still stands out. Shake It! may not last long for those simply rushing through the levels, but because of the depth of the game’s exploration due to its collectibles and objectives, it should have completionists salivating.

Sadly, after Shake It!, Wario Land entered its longest hiatus to date, which continues to this day. Maybe one day, Wario will find a convenient enough time for himself to go on another adventure. But at least Wario Land’s last ride (so far) was one that still holds up today, and still looks as stunning as ever.

 

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