The 2021 Christmas Special/Seven Year Anniversary Celebration

It’s Christmas again! Already…

Before we get into anything else: Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah! Happy Kwanzaa! Merry Festivus! Happy Life Day! Happy Rusev Day! Happy/Merry everybody!

Whatever holiday(s) you celebrate, I hope you have a great one filled with happiness, joy, and lots of good food!

Happy holidays to all!

With all the holiday greetings and well wishes out of the way, Christmas Day also marks the anniversary of when I launched Wizard Dojo (well, when I first posted content to it, which is what I would say actually constitutes the launch of something). It’s a double celebration here at the Dojo!

Being both Christmas Day and the anniversary of this site, it’s time once again for the annual Wizard Dojo Christmas Special! Because Wizard Dojo is actually just one long, elaborate Christmas movie in disguise… like Die Hard!

So without further ado, let’s get on with this Christmas Special!


Chapter 1: Ranking the Spider-Man Films

There have been no less than nine theatrically released Spider-Man films ever since Spidey’s first big screen outing back in 2002. I figured now is as good of a time as any to rank all of the Spider-Man features. After all, Spider-Man is kind of like Christmas when you think about it: Spidey wears a red suit, like Santa Claus. The way he swings around New York is kind of/sort of like how Santa flies around on his sleigh on Christmas Eve. And the way Peter Parker builds his web shooters is kind of like how Santa’s elves build the toys…

Okay, it’s not like Christmas at all (unlike Die Hard). But the newest Spider-Man movie, No Way Home, came out recently, and the festive atmosphere of Christmas has me feeling celebratory, so why not?

Oh, and keep in mind that I’m just counting the Spider-Man movies themselves here, and not the Avengers movies in which Spider-Man appears, or Spider-Man adjacent movies like Venom.

With that out of the way, here’s my ranking of the Spider-Man movies!

9: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

That “Amazing” in the title is more than a little ironic, as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is regularly cited as the weakest Spider-Man movie (as it is here). It’s doubly ironic in that the original ‘Spider-Man 2’ was already amazing.

The second and ultimately final iteration of the Andrew Garfield-starring Spider-Man films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 perhaps has more merit than it gets credit for (it’s certainly better than some other Marvel movies, like Eternals or the later X-Men films). But it does ultimately succumb to its desire of wanting to be everything.

Not satisfied with simply being a Spider-Man sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wanted to kickstart its own Cinematic Universe to compete with what Marvel had accomplished with the MCU (remember that Spidey was still strictly under Sony’s control at this time). So what we get is a movie that’s trying to tell its own story while simultaneously setting up an entire series of sequels all at once.

You thought Spider-Man 3 was overstuffed with three villains? The Amazing Spider-Man 2 not only packs on the villains, but also hints at others, tries setting up potential sequels and spinoffs for them (there were plans for a Sinister Six movie, among others), and features a lingering mystery involving the fate of Peter Parker’s parents (which remains unsolved). All this while still trying to give Peter Parker a meaningful character arc involving his girlfriend, Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone).

It’s just too much, and the film crumbles under all that weight. Sony got greedy and sacrificed their Spider-Man sequel just to play catch up with Marvel. But Marvel took its time setting up its shared universe of characters, they started with standalone movies (something I wish they’d go back to) before they brought their characters together. By fast-tracking their planned Cinematic Universe, Sony killed it before it even began. It’s a shame, because the Amazing Spider-Man series had potential.

At the very least, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gave us a Russian Paul Giamatti inside of a robotic rhinoceros. That’s something to be grateful for.

8: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man is actually a technically well-made movie. So why do I rank it so low on this list? Because its technical polish doesn’t translate to its creativity. The Amazing Spider-Man served as a good launching pad for a reboot to the series (though we know how it ultimately ended up. See above), but it does so by simply going through the motions.

Released ten years after the original Spider-Man (which was Spider-Man’s origin story), and five years after Spider-Man 3 (which heavily focused on part of Spider-Man’s origin story due to an annoying retcon). Audiences just didn’t want to sit through Spider-Man’s origin story again. Give Uncle Ben a break, will ya?

This is the film that introduced us to Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, and to be fair, he’s great in the role (he looks more the part than Tobey Maguire and is less annoying than Tom Holland’s Peter Parker). And it’s his performance, and his chemistry with Emma Stone, that most separates this film from what came before it (that, and I suppose the fact that its villain is a lizard-man). But the film’s darker and more gritty tone haven’t aged as well as the more colorful Sam Raimi-directed films. The fact that Spider-Man was rebooted yet again (and added into the biggest movie franchise in history in the process) five years later, leaving its lingering plot threads to drift in limbo, also hasn’t helped The Amazing Spider-Man stand the test of time.

It’s a shame, because I actually really liked The Amazing Spider-Man when I first saw it. Perhaps if it hadn’t felt the need to show us Spider-Man’s origin story in detail after the 2002 film already did it so well, it may have been able to build more of an identity of its own.

7: Spider-Man 3 (2007)

It pains me to rank one of the Sam Raimi films this low on the list. But Spider-Man 3 was the first instance of the series feeling the need to include as many villains as humanly possible at the expense of storytelling coherence. Spider-Man 3 was such a downgrade in quality that it resulted in the end of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series, and “Spider-Man 4” never saw the light of day.

To be fair, it was Sony who forced Raimi’s hand to include Venom into the movie, resulting in one villain too many. Harry Osborne had already been set up to take over his father’s mantle of the Green Goblin in Spider-Man 2, and Raimi wanted the Sandman, as he liked the idea of a small-time crook being turned into the main villain, as well as believing he’d be impressive visually. But Sony wanted Venom, so we got him too.

On the subject of fairness, Raimi’s hands weren’t entirely clean, either. It was his decision that Sandman should be revealed as Uncle Ben’s real killer, even though that whole story seemed nicely wrapped up in the first movie. And you know you’re in trouble whenever a movie retcons something like that (“that guy wasn’t the real killer, this guy is!”). Though once again, in the spirit of fairness, at least Raimi only did so because he wanted the film to be themed around forgiveness. I just wish he’d had found a better means to do so.

Suffice to say, the film is a bit cluttered. It has too many elements in too many places. If even just one of them had been cut (let’s just say, oh I don’t know, Venom, for instance), perhaps Spider-Man 3 could have found a better focus and been a better movie.

There was once a time when I’d tell you that Spider-Man 3 was one of my most hated movies. Though a few years ago, when I watched it again for the first time since it was in theaters, I realized it isn’t that bad. I mean, Spider-Man 3 can’t hold a candle to its two predecessors, and I think the massive downgrade in quality from Spider-Man 2 may have been why I was extra critical of it initially. But it still has its good points.

Though it doesn’t resonate nearly as strongly as the first two films, Spider-Man 3 still has something of a beating heart to it. Sam Raimi and company still tried to give the film meaning. As messy as the end result may have been, that’s still something more than I can say about most superhero movies that have been released since. Spider-Man 3 actually had something to it (albeit it often got lost in the shuffle) and wasn’t just about hyping the next string of movies in the Marvel pipeline.

A bit of a mess. But its own mess.

6: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home was the second Spider-Man film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the third Spider-Man film released in as many years (following its predecessor in 2017 and the animated Into the Spider-Verse in 2018). You would think Far From Home would have suffered a bit from Spider-Fatigue, but for the most part, it’s still a solid entry in the series. It featured a decently fun villain in Mysterio, took the action out of New York and into various locations in Europe, and had some good action scenes. Far From Home was fun, if maybe not groundbreaking. In other words, it sure was an MCU feature.

Still, there are some things holding Far From Home back from reaching the same heights as other Spider-Man films. Notably, with the film being the first MCU feature released after Avengers: Endgame, you would think that Far from Home would respectfully acknowledge the events of Infinity War and Endgame, given the gravity of – oh, I don’t know – Thanos wiping out half of all life in the universe for five years before the Avengers travelled through time to bring everyone back! But you’d be wrong.

Instead, Far From Home plays up the whole thing as one big punchline. Aunt May laughs off the fact that while she disappeared from existence for five years, someone else was living in her apartment. A kid in Peter’s school also jokes that his younger brother became his older brother during the time he was snapped away by Thanos. Maybe a few jokes about it would be fine, but Far From Home seems to exclusively reference the drama of Endgame as a joke. Considering Endgame was the culmination of everything in the MCU up to that point, and Far From Home was the first MCU film released afterwards, its utter disregard towards Endgame basically devalues the entire MCU franchise. It’s like a big middle finger to anyone who invested in the series. And sadly, this element of writing off the past seems to have become a common trait in the MCU since.

At least the sacrifice of Tony Stark is made important! Because of course it is. Tony Stark was all over Spider-Man: Homecoming, just to hit home the fact that Spider-Man was in the MCU now. So Far From Home is sure to let everyone know how impactful the loss of Tony Stark was, to the point that Peter Parker never even brings up Uncle Ben! Uncle Ben wasn’t Tony Stark, why should he be remembered? But Spidey still manages to snag plenty of new gadgets from Stark Industries in Far From Home. Because Tony Stark!

Okay, I won’t keep going on. Simply put, the film’s overemphasis on pointing out that it takes place in the MCU at the expense of Spider-Man’s own mythology, while simultaneously treating the MCU’s history as a joke, is a bit of a problem. But if you can dig past that, Spider-Man: Far From Home does deliver an entertaining movie.

5: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Five years after the Andrew Garfield era started (and only three years after The Amazing Spider-Man 2), the Spider-Man franchise was rebooted yet again! This time, Sony and Marvel worked out their differences (they would have more later, and work them out again), meaning that Spider-Man could now join the MCU! Sony’s planned Spider-Man universe didn’t pan out, so I guess it’s a case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

The good news is that Marvel knew no one wanted to see Spider-Man’s origin story again, so they skipped it entirely, and introduced this newest version of Spider-Man in a previous film (Captain America: Civil War) for good measure. So for once, we could just get right into things.

The bad news is that Marvel and Sony were way too excited to let people know that Spider-Man was now in the MCU, with Tony Stark being all over Homecoming (I can’t remember a single advertisement that didn’t put Iron Man front and center). And sadly, Marvel and Sony seemed to think that “skipping” Spider-Man’s origin story meant ignoring it outright. Uncle Ben’s death is still (supposedly) a pinnacle moment in the life of the MCU’s Peter Parker, but you’d never know it from watching Homecoming. Who has time to remember a lost loved one when Tony Stark’s in town?! Yahoo! MCU!

Okay, I’m sorry. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good movie. But I do think sacrificing Spider-Man’s own mythology for the sake of the MCU is a big problem in the Tom Holland-era Spider-Man films, and not one that grew bigger over time. It was there right out the gate with Homecoming. Still, I guess being overly enthusiastic about being in the MCU is better than an MCU movie making fun of the MCU (like Far From Home).

Other than the film’s obsession with reminding audiences that Spider-Man is now a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Homecoming has a lot to love about it. While Tom Holland’s Peter Parker can be pretty annoying at times, the actor definitely looks the part, and makes for a fun Spider-Man. The action scenes are, once again, very exciting. And perhaps most notably, Spider-Man: Homecoming gives us one of the few MCU villains who could be described as ‘interesting.’

Adrian Toomes, AKA ‘The Vulture,’ wonderfully portrayed by Michael Keaton, seemed to have taken inspiration from the Raimi-era villains. A hardworking man who (rightfully) has a grudge after his salvage company are sent out of business by the government and (*sigh*) Tony Stark. Michael Keaton plays Toomes as a likable, blue-collar man just trying to set things right the only way he feels he can. That’s the kind of villain the MCU could certainly use more of. I’m getting pretty tired of evil rich guys who have the same powers as the hero…

Spider-Man: Homecoming may not be perfect, but it remains one of the MCU’s most fun and lighthearted installments. And everyone loves Michael Keaton.

“Franchise the damn thing!”

4: Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Okay, there may be a recency bias here seeing as this movie was just released. Or it could even be a nostalgic bias, seeing as this film brings back so many faces from Spidey’s cinematic past. Whatever the case may be, I’m ranking No Way Home above Homecoming for the time being. I guess we’ll see how I feel they compare later.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is so recent, that I feel I don’t have much else to say that I didn’t already say in my review at the moment. But here’s a quick refresher…

The good: It’s magic just to see Alfred Molina Doc Ock and Willem Dafoe Green Goblin again. Lots of great action scenes. A few good emotional bits. A truckload of fanservice for the MCU, the Amazing Spider-Man films and the Sam Raimi trilogy.

The bad: The film makes too many cynical jokes at the expense of past Spider-Man films. Dr. Strange fills the role of “overbearing Avengers presence” left over by Tony Stark. The classic villains are made out to be easy pickings for MCU Spidey and Dr. Strange unless they team up. J. Jonah Jameson has been turned into a one-note villain. Mr. Ditkovitch didn’t make a return appearance.

A very fun movie fueled by fanservice and nostalgia, if maybe not the most heartfelt Spider-Man film.

3: Spider-Man (2002)

Nearly every list that ranks a particular franchise has that point where the quality of work within that franchise ramps up considerably. For this list, this is that moment.

The original 2002 Spider-Man feature is still a treat. Although X-Men beat it to theaters by two years, it’s Spider-Man that created the blueprint for the entire superhero genre. It may be easy to forget in this day and age, when the all-encompassing MCU seems to grow bigger and bigger, swallowing other franchises in its wake. But back in 2002, Spider-Man – and Spider-Man alone – was a huge deal. No Cinematic Universe required.

Spider-Man made superheroes mainstream. It was the first film to make over one-hundred million dollars on its opening weekend, and it became a talking point not just for comic book nerds, but people who had never read a comic book in their life. Kids and adults alike ate it up.

Perhaps Spider-Man’s initial success and continuing legacy can be attributed to how Sam Raimi gave the film a heart. This wasn’t simply an origin story where the hero gets his powers (though it is that too), but also a story about love, loss, and responsibility.

Tobey Maguire made his version of Peter Parker a loveable dweeb: goofy, awkward, somewhat naive. Later Peter Parkers Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland seemed to be cast to turn the character into something of a heartthrob. But Tobey Maguire’s version is nerd incarnate, giving him a more underdog quality.

To compliment the film’s relatable hero, we were given a sympathetic villain in Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe), whose descent into the Green Goblin is equal parts tragic and terrifying. He’s the father of Peter’s best friend, and even becomes something of a father figure to Peter, as well. But a desperate attempt to save his company by rushing an experiment – using himself as a test subject – results in his personality being split a la Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Norman Osborne remains, but the evil Goblin can take over at any moment. Willem Dafoe plays the double role with a brilliance similar to what Andy Serkis would give Gollum a few months later in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

In what is perhaps the best bonus possible, Spider-Man even gave us the greatest comic relief in superhero movie history in J. Jonah Jameson. The bombastic newspaperman was brought to life so flawlessly by J.K. Simmons that Marvel had to bring him back for the role in the MCU, because they knew no one else could match his performance.

We may all laugh at Spider-Man’s origin story by this point, but the 2002 film got it so right. Peter Parker gains his superhuman abilities after being bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, and at first uses his newfound abilities to win some money and impress the girl next door, Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). But a petty money squabble leads Peter Parker to let a crook get away, a crook who later shoots Uncle Ben (before Spider-Man 3 retconned the shooter, anyway). Peter holds Uncle Ben’s hand as he passes. No overly long, dramatic speech is necessary. Uncle Ben (memorably played by the late Cliff Robertson) simply shows joy that he can look at a loved one before he passes. With his uncle’s teaching of “with great power comes great responsibility” resonating in his heart, Peter Parker decides to use his powers for the sake of others.

It’s beautifully told, and the emotion is earnest in a way that seems lost on the MCU.

Sure, 2002’s Spider-Man has its share of cheesy moments: the upside-down kiss, Green Goblin’s costume, the wrestling scene… But if anything, those cheesy moments only add to that aforementioned earnestness. Spider-Man is telling the story it needs to tell, and if that entails some awkwardness, then so be it. Personally, I find the cheesiness of the Sam Raimi films to be much less eye-rolling than the forced “applaud here” moments of the MCU.

In 2002, no multiverses needed saving. No one was wiping out half of all life in the universe. There was just Peter Parker growing into Spider-Man fighting Norman Osborne, who had fallen into becoming the Green Goblin. And it was great.

Spider-Man may not be the highest ranked movie on this list. But y’know, it’s something of a classic itself.

2: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

“Inventive” may not be the word you’d use to describe the superhero movies of today, but it’s an apt term when describing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Boasting animation that looks like a comic book come to life and a story that plays with the Spider-Man mythology, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was the surprise hit of 2018, becoming one of the most acclaimed superhero films of all time.

Into the Spider-Verse shifts the focus to Miles Morales, who becomes the Spider-Man of his world. When Kingpin activates a portal that starts bringing in people from different universes, Miles has to team up with various other Spider-People from across the multiverse to save the day. Miles’ team includes an out-of-shape Peter Parker, Gwen Stacey from a world where her and Peter’s roles were reversed, a monochromatic Spider-Man out of film noir, an anime girl version of Peter Parker, and a cartoon pig.

The film is as fun and varied as its oddball lineup of characters, with its story unfolding – rather uniquely – from the perspective of its main characters, rather than letting the audience in on most of the details ahead of time. Though perhaps as a consequence of this, Kingpin himself – despite having a pretty good story to him – ends up getting a little shortchanged in the film.

In a time when every superhero movie under the sun seems hellbent on building up towards a string of other superhero movies down the road, Into the Spider-Verse was a breath of fresh air. Here was a new take on Spider-Man, no Cinematic Universe was needed. Into the Spider-Verse worked so well as a standalone movie, that I don’t know if its upcoming sequel, Across the Spider-Verse, can actually match it. The fact that the sequel includes a “Part 1” in the title is also a bit disappointing. I’m all for sequels, but it’s a shame that today’s sequels can’t just be their own movie anymore. They always have to hype up something else on the horizon. Being excited for Across the Spider-Verse isn’t enough these days. You have to be excited for the movies that come after it before it’s even released…

I guess we’ll see how that all ends up. But even if the sequels don’t live up to the original, Into the Spider-Verse will have still left us with one of the most original and definitive movies in the superhero genre.

1: Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Into the Spider-Verse may be the most original Spider-Man movie, but make no mistake about it, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is still, quite simply, the best.

The Amazing Spider-Man took a nosedive with its second entry, and the MCU Spider-Man films can feel kind of interchangeable (the fact that No Way Home needed to bring back old faces to feel distinct is telling). But 2004’s Spider-Man 2 was a case of a sequel taking everything that was good about the first installment and improving on them in every way. It’s one of the best sequels of all time.

The emotion is better. The drama is better. The action is better. The humor is better. And with all due respect to the Green Goblin, even the villain is better.

With Peter Parker’s personal life suffering due to his duties as Spider-Man, he begins to wonder if the city still needs its web-slinging hero anymore. Meanwhile, Dr. Otto Octavius becomes Peter’s mentor, only to turn to a life of crime once a would-be revolutionary experiment ends in tragedy.

This is a key factor to Spider-Man 2’s enduring appeal: On one hand, it is about Spider-Man’s battles against Doctor Octopus. But even more so, it’s a movie about the inner struggles of Peter Parker and Otto Octavius. Even after all these years, it’s still the single most character-driven Marvel film. But if it’s superhero action you’re looking for, Spider-Man 2 has that covered as well, featuring a number of memorable action scenes, notably its iconic train sequence. Though that’s just one of many, many standout moments created by Spider-Man 2.

Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker was a likable dweeb in the first movie, but here he becomes a true hero. And Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock – whose mechanical arms make him a perfect foil for Spider-Man – is a tragic, sympathetic villain with a depth that no Marvel movie since has been able to grasp. The supporting players all get their chance to shine as well, and add even more emotion to the film (the scene where Peter Parker tells Aunt May the events leading up to Uncle Ben’s death being another high point). Not to mention J.K. Simmons is at his best as Jameson.

It all comes down to the characters, really. Everything we loved about them the first time around is brought back in full force, with some great new additions as well. Doc Ock is the obvious newcomer, sure. But even characters like Mr. Ditkovitch – Peter Parker’s stingy landlord – leave an impression. And of course, we have the inspiring scene where the people of New York stand up to Doctor Octopus to defend Spider-Man (this was something of a theme in the Raimi era, with something similar happening in the first film as well. Perhaps not surprisingly, Spider-Man 3 lacked such a scene). Even the random citizens were important here in Spider-Man 2.

Yes, it’s true, Spider-Man 2 has its cheesy elements (though perhaps not to the same level as the first film). But again, I almost feel like they add to its appeal in retrospect. Spider-Man 2 is sincere and upfront, warts and all. It’s as genuine and heartfelt as any superhero movie ever made.

There have been many, many, many movies based on Marvel comics in the nearly eighteen years since its release, but not one of them has made me care as much as Spider-Man 2.

Simply the best.


Chapter 2: The Best of Wizard Dojo in 2021

2021 was not exactly the most productive year for Wizard Dojo. Although January got off to a decent start (I reviewed the entire Oddworld series… although a new entry was released a little while later and I still need to review that), things quickly fell silent. From February through May, I only wrote four posts (all movie reviews), with May being the first month in this site’s seven year history where I didn’t post anything whatsoever. And here we are, nearing the end of the year, and I’ve only reviewed nine videogames in all of 2021…five of which were the aforementioned Oddworld titles in January. I haven’t done right by video games this year, so I guess I should focus more of the Dojo on gaming in 2022. Catch up on the games I played but failed to review this year. Fingers crossed I can catch up to my backlogged game reviews.

With all this said, I still like to think I provided some quality content (by my standards) to Wizard Dojo this year. I certainly wrote about plenty of movies. So now, here’s some quick access to the best of what I wrote in 2021!

Video Game Reviews (might as well post them all here)

Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysey

Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus

Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysey

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath

Oddworld: New ‘N Tasty

New Pokemon Snap

Magical Drop 2

Dr. Mario (NES)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES)

Movie Reviews (Let’s pick 10, besides Spider-Man: No Way Home since I posted a link to that above)

Soul

Raya and the Last Dragon

Mortal Kombat (2021)

Space Jam: A New Legacy

The Suicide Squad (2021)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Eternals

Home Sweet Home Alone

8-Bit Christmas

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

The Best of the Rest (Things I wrote that aren’t directly reviews)

The 1000th Blog! – In which I celebrate my 1,000 blog milestone here on Wizard Dojo*. Also includes my ranking of the Paper Mario series.

*Technically, I removed some old filler blogs a while back, and the 1,000th post was the 1,000th not including those removed. And I deleted a further few filler posts of old afterwards. So I guess technically it isn’t the 1,oooth blog anymore. But come on, I’m over 1,000 again. Just let me celebrate. I’ll try not to delete any more past content.

Super Smash Bros. Has Lost its Heart – In which I write about how the Super Smash Bros. series has betrayed what made it so fun and memorable in the first place, with its overemphasis on third-party characters, hype and pandering to eSports at the expense of its own identity.

The Beauty of Ghostbusters 2’s Optimism – In which I write about how Ghostbusters 2’s hopeful, positive message makes it a much better sequel than it gets credit for.

My Month in Movies (September 2021) and My Month in Movies (October 2021) – In which I wrote about the many movies I watched in those months.

I also wrote no less than ten anniversary posts for various movies and videogames. In chronological order…

Sonic the Hedgehog Turns 30! (And Nintendo 64 Turns 25!)

Donkey Kong and Mario Turn 40!

Spirited Away Turns 20!

Super Nintendo Turns 30 (in North America)

Ten Years of Dark Souls

Pikmin Turns 20!

Xbox Turns 20!

Nintendo Wii Turns 15!

Beauty and the Beast Turns 30!

The Lord of the Rings Turns 20!

And now we meet somewhere in the middle, because I posted two movie reviews on the tenth anniversary of their respective movies: Rango and The Adventures of Tintin. But now we’re getting back into review territory.

And perhaps my favorite thing I wrote this past year…

Top 10 Nintendo 64 Games to Play Today – in which I list the most timeless Nintendo 64 games.

Whether you read any of these back when they were posted or not, I hope you have some fun reading them.


Chapter 3 & 4: My Months in Movies (November and December 2021)

Following suit with my previous ‘My Month in Movies’ post, I figured I’d write about what I watched during the last two months of 2021. Sure, December isn’t quite done yet, and I could still watch another movie or two before year’s end. But come on, it’s Christmas!

Because my last ‘My Month in Movies’ post ended up being so long, I will sadly keep things shorter here (seeing as I had other things to post on this Christmas blog). So here I’ll list the movies, and then go straight into the awards. Hopefully, I will get the opportunity to write about some of these movies in more detail sooner rather than later. As before, movies are listed in chronological order of when I watched them, and those with an asterisk are movies I watched for the very first time.

Now let’s get started!

My Month in Movies: November 2021

Movies watched

Hitchcock*

Jumanji

Ghostbusters 2

Marvel’s Eternals*

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

Ron’s Gone Wrong*

Home Sweet Home Alone*

Dr. No

Die Hard

Home Alone

Castle in the Sky

Ghostbusters: Afterlife*

Die Hard 2

8-Bit Christmas*

Encanto*

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Best Movie(s) I Watched All Month: Castle in the Sky and Die Hard

Alright, I’m going to cheat right out the gate and select two movies as the best I watched in November. My reason is simple: they both put up strong arguments to being the best live-action (Die Hard) and animated (Castle in the Sky) action movies of all time. So why not just celebrate both? Also, I know if I just picked Castle in the Sky, my best movies of every month so far would definitely show some favoritism (and having favorite directors or movies or anything is considered taboo these days for some reason).

Castle in the Sky, the first film released by Studio Ghibli (though the third feature directed by Hayao Miyazaki), is one of the most influential animated films ever made. Not only did it kickstart the world’s greatest animation studio, but it continues to influence movies, animation, television and video games to this day. Hell, with the exception of Star Wars, I’m having trouble thinking of a movie that has had as big of an influence on video games as Castle in the Sky. Everything from The Legend of Zelda (most overtly in Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild), Skies of Arcadia, Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy have drawn from it. Even the storyline of Sonic & Knuckles was directly lifted from Castle in the Sky (as a bonus, Dr. Robotnik’s entire character design was largely based on a character from the film).

Even without its impact, Castle in the Sky is such an incredible film. It’s probably Miyazaki’s most straightforward tale, but it’s a perfectly structured adventure film brimming with the director’s unrivaled imagination. Two kids, Pazu and Sheeta, go on an adventure to find Laputa, the titular castle in the sky. A band of pirates, lead by the elderly yet energetic Dola (one of Miyazaki’s best characters), are also out to find the castle and its countless treasures. But a bigger threat looms in the form of the military, under the command of the mysterious Colonel Muska.

Again, it’s a simple adventure story, but flawlessly crafted, and the world it created has proven influential for a reason (the city of Laputa itself is perhaps second only to the bathhouse in Miyazaki’s own Spirited Away as the most indelible place in animation). The action set pieces utilize animation to send them over the top of what you would expect. They’re so exciting, in fact, that it’s a mystery Miyazaki never really tackled another full-on action-adventure film after this. A classic.

I feel like I don’t even need to introduce Die Hard. It’s one of the most iconic action movies of all time. It deserves mention alongside the likes of Terminator 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road as one of the greatest works of art in the genre (I would also add Speed to that running). And yes, it’s also one of the best Christmas movies of all time.

Taking place on Christmas Eve, New York police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) is visiting Los Angeles to reconnect with his estranged wife. He visits her at her place of business, the Nakatomi Corporation. But things quickly go south when a band of terrorists, lead by Hans Gruber (the late, great Alan Rickman) take over the building. John McClane then has to figure out a way to use what resources he has to take out the bad guys one by one if he wants to save the hostages.

Again, a simple premise, but perfectly executed. Besides how well made and exciting the action sequences are, there are a few key areas that make Die Hard stand out from other action movies: One of them is John McClane himself, a much more human and vulnerable action hero. Released in the late 1980s, Die Hard purposefully made John McClane contrast the seemingly invincible heroes of the genre played by Schwarzenegger and Stallone that dominated the decade. Sure, John McClane still survives things he probably wouldn’t in real life, but just barely. Notably, he just happened to take his shoes off right before the terrorists showed up, so his feet end up in a bad, bloody way before the end of things.

There’s also Hans Gruber, debatably the best villain in any action movie. He has a charisma and cunning about him that make him so much more memorable than other villains in the genre. We can’t forget Officer Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), John’s only ally outside of the building, who has an interesting story of his own. Then there’s the Nakatomi building itself. Setting all of the action inside one location proved to be a stroke of genius, and gives the film a strong sense of place.

Die Hard’s 90s sequels are also exceptional action flicks (I still haven’t seen the 2007 and 2013 entries), though they lack a number of the qualities that make the original still feel so unique. Al Powell is reduced to a cameo in the second film, never appearing again thereafter. Hans Gruber was never topped in the villain department. The scope grew, at the expense of a singular, iconic location. And John McClane slowly became the indestructible action hero he once defied. They’re solid sequels, sure. But the original Die Hard is the action classic.

And also a Christmas classic.

Worst Movie I Watched All Month: Eternals

I already wrote a review for Eternals, so mercifully I don’t have to delve too deeply into this mess again.

Suffice to say, it’s the worst entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No contest.

It’s a boring slog with a pessimistic attitude. It has an undeserved sense of self-importance. It conveniently retcons elements of the MCU’s world-building to try and make itself make sense. It’s… uhhh. Yeah.

Look, if you want to know more about why I don’t like it – and you don’t want to scroll all the way back up this wall of text for the last link – I’ll post the link again here.

On the plus side, Spider-Man: No Way Home seems to have brought audience attention right back to the MCU. So thankfully Eternals is already looking like a memory. A bad memory, but still.

Best Movie I Watched for the First Time This Month: Encanto (Ron’s Gone Wrong is a very close second)

One of my bad habits this year was seeing a number of great animated films and then not writing about them, such as Luca and The Mitchells Vs. the Machines. I have no idea why. On that subject, here are two other great animated films that were released this year that I still have yet to review: Disney’s Encanto and Ron’s Gone Wrong! Mayhaps I’ll catch up on these animated movie reviews before I start dedicating Wizard Dojo’s 2022 to video games.

Anyway, Encanto is yet another winner in Disney’s current hot streak of animation. Say what you want about Disney’s live-action output, but their animated films have never been better than they are now. I’d be ostracized from my generation for saying that. But with due respect to the ‘Disney Renaissance’ of the 90s, most of those movies were largely the same. The modern Disney era – whether you think it began with The Princess and the Frog in 2009, a year before that with Bolt, or the year after with Tangled – has provided an array of movies with a depth and variety that Disney has never seen before. It’s now also probably the longest hot streak in the studio’s history, so there’s that too.

Encanto tells a beautiful and heartfelt story about family, as Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), an ordinary girl in an extraordinary family, must figure out why her superpowered siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and mother are losing their magical powers.

It’s beautifully animated and has a great selection of songs (which I almost hate to admit, given they were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. But as Moana proved, Disney seems to be able to bring out a more creative side to him and it doesn’t all sound the same). A joy to the senses.

Bafflingly, Encanto was a box office disappointment. That breaks my heart. But now that the film is readily available on Disney+, hopefully it will find the audience it deserves.

Encanto is very worthy to hold the distinction of being Walt Disney Animation Studio’s 60th film.

While we’re here, let’s go ahead and give Ron’s Gone Wrong the “Pleasant Surprise of the Year” award. Seriously, “pleasant surprise” may be the best way to describe this movie. It was barely advertised, and those advertisements didn’t exactly look promising. I went to see it more out of curiosity than anything, but ended up seeing a sweet, emotional, wonderful movie.

Yes, it may look like a Big Hero 6 clone on the surface (but would that be so bad?), and its themes of an overreliance on technology and social media were already done relatively recently by The Mitchells Vs. the Machines. But Ron’s Gone Wrong has an identity of its own and ends up being a touching tale about friendship and loneliness.

Just writing about it now, I want to watch Ron’s Gone Wrong again. It’s currently available on both Disney+ and HBO Max. So if you have time for a movie, give this overlooked gem a watch. You’ll be glad you did.

Now seriously, why haven’t I reviewed these yet? I reviewed that piece of crap Eternals fast enough after I saw it, why not these actually great movies? There must be something wrong with me. Go ahead and call me ‘Scott’s Gone Wrong.’

The Guilty Pleasure Award: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

I honestly had real trouble thinking about what would take my “Guilty Pleasure Award” for November, and not just because I didn’t watch any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. I really just don’t think I watched anything that fits that bill. I thought maybe the Bill & Ted movies – of which I hold the unpopular opinion that Bogus Journey is way better than Excellent Adventure – but no. I genuinely like them. I also thought about Home Sweet Home Alone, which I reviewed already and found to be mediocre and unmemorable, but harmless entertainment that was better than the other post-Macauley Culkin Home Alone movies.

In the end, I decided to go with Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Even now, I don’t know if it really qualifies as a guilty pleasure. I find it to be thoroughly entertaining.

I decided to go with it for one specific reason: Home Alone 2 is basically Home Alone 1. It’s the very definition of a copy-and-paste sequel. However, if any sequel could get away with being so similar to the original, I suppose it would be Home Alone. It is, after all, just a story about a kid being left home alone on Christmas and outsmarting a duo of bumbling burglars. It isn’t exactly aiming for a deep, rich narrative. Sometimes, it’s okay to just have fun.

Home Alone 2 does have a couple of distinctions from its predecessor. The first difference is in its setting (It is called Lost in New York, after all), with Kevin McCallister now staying at the Plaza Hotel as opposed to his actual home. The second difference is that the film adds some secondary antagonists in the form of the hotel’s staff, with the concierge being played by Tim Curry (always a huge bonus).

Otherwise, Home Alone 2 is basically more of the same: the setup of Kevin being separated from his family. Kevin enjoying his time alone, before he inevitably begins to miss his family. Kevin is fearful of a local (this time it’s a Pidgeon Lady in the park), only to befriend them later. And he sets up a series of elaborate booby traps to defeat burglars Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), who are also somehow in New York at the same exact time as Kevin ended up there by accident. But, as an added plus, the booby trap sequence here is longer and more brutal than the first movie, and is perhaps the best example of cartoon violence being done in live-action.

So yeah, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York may as well be called Home Alone Again: But in New York. But what it lacks in narrative creativity it makes up for in sheer entertainment. And I don’t really feel guilty about it.

My Month in Movies: December 2021

Movies watched

West Side Story (1961)*

My Neighbor Totoro

Being the Ricardos*

Spider-Man: No Way Home*

The Santa Clause

The Santa Clause 2

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

Jingle All the Way

It’s a Wonderful Life

Best Movie I Watched All Month: My Neighbor Totoro

December may have been my slowest month of movie watching since I started doing these ‘My Month in Movies’ things, but it wouldn’t have mattered how many movies I watched, the crown was guaranteed to go to Totoro.

I say that with the utmost respect to It’s a Wonderful Life – truly one of the best movies ever made -but if there’s one movie I can think of that’s even more life affirming than It’s a Wonderful Life, surely it’s My Neighbor Totoro.

Hayao Miyazaki’s quiet tale about childhood, nature and life really is a one of a kind film. Truthfully, Miyazaki could have retired after Totoro and he’d still be the greatest filmmaker in animation. The fact that he continued to create so many classics afterward is nothing short of inspiring. One of those subsequent films, Spirited Away, is Totoro’s only equal as my all-time favorite film, animated or otherwise.

My Neighbor Totoro is the story about two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, as they move to a new house to be close to their ailing mother, who is being treated at a hospital. But their new house comes with a surprise, as just beyond it rests a giant camphor tree, which is the home of Totoro. The girls soon discover the animal-like spirit, and have many adventures together.

Totoro was Miyazaki’s follow-up to Castle in the Sky, which may be the most overt display of the director’s versatility. Going from the spectacle and set pieces of Laputa into the ethereal beauty of Totoro was something else. And none of Miyazaki’s artistry was lost in the transition.

My Neighbor Totoro remains Miyazaki’s most iconic film, with its titular character becoming the face of Studio Ghibli (adorning the opening of every film from the studio thereafter). It’s been said that young children in Japan believe in Totoro in a similar way to how children believe in Santa Claus (something which Miyazaki’s colleague and mentor; the late, great Isao Takahata, claimed was Miyazaki’s greatest achievement). Its reputation couldn’t be more deserved. My Neighbor Totoro is the most gentle and sweet movie I’ve ever seen. A masterpiece.

And let’s give a special shoutout to It’s a Wonderful Life. Because, well, we’re talking about It’s a Wonderful Life here! Famed director Steven Spielberg recently revealed It’s a Wonderful Life to be his favorite movie, and I’m not about to argue that. It deserves all the praise it’s received over the decades. If you tell me you can watch It’s a Wonderful Life without getting choked up and misty-eyed, well then, you’re probably either lying or a robot.

Worst Movie I Watched All Month: The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

“Find someone who looks at you the way Jack Frost looks at Santa when he’s about to trick Santa into using a magic snow globe to inadvertently wish he had never become Santa so they both travel back in time and Jack Frost steals Santa’s job.”

Wow. Going from talking about My Neighbor Totoro and It’s a Wonderful Life to talking about The Santa Clause 3. Wow. Just… Wow.

1994’s The Santa Clause is actually one of my favorite Christmas movies. The tale of Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) becoming Santa after the former Father Christmas falls off his roof is unique in that it works as both a kids’ movie and a more complicated one for adults. It’s genuinely a really good Christmas movie.

The 2002 sequel, The Santa Clause 2, is definitely aimed more at youngsters. It doesn’t deal with the same complexities of adulthood as the original, but it works in its own way. It’s another guilty pleasure of mine (and would take that award for December, if not for another Christmas movie). And it’s got Tim Allen in a second role as a human-sized toy Santa who takes over the North Pole and becomes a dictator. So that’s fun.

But The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. Ouch. You thought The Santa Clause 2 was juvenile? It looks like Breaking Bad compared to its successor!

The Santa Clause 3 is basically about Jack Frost (Martin Short) plotting to take over the North Pole, already recycling the second movie. Also, Santa and Mrs. Claus are expecting a baby, so Santa brings his in-laws to the North Pole to visit, claiming he works at a toy factory in Canada to keep his status as Santa Claus a secret (he claims the elves are small Canadians, as one does). It’s silly.

None of the more grown up elements of the original are intact, nor does the film feel the need to give children a fun, coherent story like the second movie. Instead we just kind of get a series of hyperactive things happening, and Martin Short running around in a funny costume saying things (admittedly some of which are funny: “Did you just call me skillful and delicious?”). Did I even get into the time travel aspect of it yet? Yeah, Jack Frost and Santa go back in time to the events of the first movie and change history, so kind of like a Back to the Future Part II thing (but that’s giving Santa Clause 3 way too much credit).

Still, at least I can laugh at The Santa Clause 3. That’s more than can be said of Eternals.

Best Movie I Watched for the First Time This Month: Being the Ricardos

I saw the original West Side Story for the first time this month (I still need to see the new Spielberg one), and it was good. I also saw Spider-Man: No Way Home, and it was good. Maybe it’s because I’m more used to superheroes and musicals than I am biopics, or maybe it’s because I wasn’t aware of this movie until some friends invited me to tag along with them to see it and thus I was pleasantly surprised, but I’m going to give this honor to Being the Ricardos for the time being.

Being the Ricardos is the latest in a long line of biopics to be released in recent years. I admit I’ve only seen a few of them, but I really enjoyed Saving Mr. Banks and The Founder. While Being the Ricardos isn’t quite as fun as those movies, I still found it to be a good time.

Ricardos focuses on the inner workings of the production of I Love Lucy, during a particularly turbulent week for the show’s filming (with some additional flashbacks stretching the scope of the film’s story). It has a stellar cast, with Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball, Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance, and my man J.K. Simmons as William Frawley. The cast may not necessarily look like the people they’re portraying (then again, Tom Hanks doesn’t look like Walt Disney, either), but the film has fun with transforming the actors to look more like the I Love Lucy cast in the moments in recreates scenes from the iconic show.

It’s got all the drama you would expect from a biopic, but of course a movie about I Love Lucy has to have some humor involved, and Being the Ricardos includes some genuinely funny bits. It may be a bit Oscar bait-y, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable all the same.

The film was simultaneously released in theaters and Amazon Prime, so I may have to watch this one again at home soon. I repeat, it’s got J.K. Simmons as William Frawley as Fred Mertz! Need I say more?

The Guilty Pleasure Award: Jingle All the Way

Is Jingle All the Way the best bad Christmas movie? I definitely think it makes a strong case.

The weirdly specific sub-genre of “take an action star and put them in a family comedy” was everywhere in the 90s, and even shows up today every now and again. I would say I don’t know why they keep trying, since there hasn’t been a good movie produced by the combination of action star and family comedy (that I can think of, anyway. Unless Last Action Hero counts). But then I remember how gloriously stupid Jingle All the Way is, and suddenly the genre makes sense.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger himself – the action star of the 80s and 90s – Jingle All the Way is a movie about a dad named Howard Langston trying to make up for his failings as a father by getting his son the toy of his dreams for Christmas. The problem is he forgot to get the hot-selling toy (a superhero named Turbo Man) ahead of time, and now that it’s Christmas Eve, it’s going to be impossible to find! It doesn’t help that he keeps running into a troublesome mailman named Myron (Sinbad) who’s after the same toy.

Using last minute Christmas shopping as the premise for a Christmas comedy actually isn’t a bad idea. It’s the kind of thing we’ve all been through, and that a movie could exaggerate for comedic effect. The problem (great thing?) is that Jingle All the Way exaggerates it so much, that the film ends up being completely bonkers.

Howard has to literally fight his way through a mall to get a raffle ball, gets tangled up with a group of Santa Claus conmen, and in one of the most ludicrous finales ever conceived by mankind, Howard becomes Turbo Man himself for a Christmas parade (complete with working jetpack), where he does battle against Myron, who dons the costume of Turbo Man’s nemesis. Oh yeah, all this while Harold’s pervy neighbor (the late Phil Hartman) keeps trying to put the moves of Harold’s wife. You know, kids’ movie stuff.

The movie is completely ridiculous. It’s dumb, goofy, and makes cosmic leaps in logic. Yet I find it impossible not to give Jingle All the Way at least one annual viewing towards Christmastime. It’s dumb fun. But the emphasis is on fun.

There are a number of good Christmas movies to watch around the holidays, but if you just want to have something you can have fun with and laugh at, Jingle All the Way has you covered.

I mean, how could you not be entertained by a movie that includes Arnold Schwarzenegger screaming the words “Put that cookie down! Now!”


Chapter 5: The Last One

I apologize that I once again have to cut my Christmas special short, chapter-wise (though the word count here is among my highest to date). Remember when I used to do eight chapters to these things? And that was not counting these ending parts which now are one of the numbered chapters. It’s kind of like how in Banjo-Kazooie, the final boss level was considered its own separate entity outside of the nine proper levels, but then Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Tooie included the final boss stage as part of their level count to try to hide the fact that they had less levels.

My point is that hopefully next year I can get started on my Christmas post earlier and do something extra special with it. I love Christmas. I made sure my site would celebrate its anniversary on Christmas Day for a reason (and not just because it would be easy to remember). So here’s hoping that I can eventually make these Christmas posts everything they should be.

At any rate, I hope you had a good time reading this. But more importantly, I hope you had a Merry Christmas, or happy Hannukah, or happy Kwanza! Happy everybody! Happy holidays to all!

I’ll see you in 2022… And by ‘see you’ I mean I’ll write some stuff here and maybe some people will stumble on it by sheer accident and decide to read it if they have nothing better to do.

Merry Christmas!

The 2019 Christmas Special/Five Year Anniversary Celebration!!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone! How about that Rise of Skywalker, huh?

It’s hard to believe that 2019 is coming to a close, and with it, the decade itself. Mayhaps I should start doing some ‘Best of the Decade’ awards along with my yearly ones?

But let’s think about that a little later. It’s Christmas, holmes! And being Christmas Day, that also means – you guessed it – it’s WWE wrestler Rusev’s birthday!

Oh yeah, it also means it’s the anniversary of Wizard Dojo’s launch!

Okay, so technically I launched this website earlier in December of 2014, but decided to wait to post anything until Christmas Day of that year. So Christmas is the official launch of the Dojo. And this year is a big one, as today marks the five-year anniversary of Wizard Dojo! You know, five years. As in half a decade.

So let’s try to make this Christmas/Anniversary special a good one!

So pull yourself away from those new Playstations Santa Clause brought you for a few minutes, grab some hot cocoa, a Victorian-era top hat, and take a seat to spend your precious time on this sacred holiday not with family and friends, but reading the crap I write. ‘Tis the season.

So let’s get crackin’ and get this show on the road!

Continue reading “The 2019 Christmas Special/Five Year Anniversary Celebration!!”

The 2018 Christmas Special/Four Year Anniversary Celebration!!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone! How about that Solo, eh? Oh wait, that was several months ago. My “how about that [recent Star Wars movie here], eh?” schtick doesn’t work this time. Dang it, Disney! You ruined this running gag!

 

 

 

Whoa! Wait, hold up! It’s Christmas already?!

Yes, somehow it’s already Christmas Day of 2018. That means that, somewhere out there, Grant Kirkhope is obsessing over eggnog, and it’s WWE wrestler Rusev’s birthday. It also means that it’s the anniversary of the launch of Wizard Dojo! Santa be praised!

Indeed, it was Christmas Day of 2014 that I launched Wizard Dojo. Okay, okay, so technically I bought the domain name and set up the basics a number of days beforehand. But it was on Christmas Day that I published my first wave of posts. So that’s the official launch, as far as I’m concerned. While I published over twenty different posts that day, I specifically selected my review of Mario Kart 8 to be the very first post here at the Dojo. That’s right, Wizard Dojo was built on the shoulders of Mario Kart 8. A pretty darn game to build one’s site on the shoulders of, I must say.

Yes, it’s been a great four years, building up the Dojo with hundreds of video game and movie reviews, Christmas specials, often-promised lists of my all-time favorite games, and endless ranting about why Geno should be in Super Smash Bros. (he really, really should).

Now, in keeping with the tradition of my Christmas Specials, the rest of this blog will be separated into multiple chapters of varying degrees of nonsense. So let’s cut with the chit-chat and get right to the good stuff.

 

Continue reading “The 2018 Christmas Special/Four Year Anniversary Celebration!!”

The 2017 Christmas Special/Three Year Anniversary Celebration/10 Years of Blogging

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, paisanos! How about that Last Jedi, eh?

Wow, it’s Christmas Day 2017 already? Wow, time really flies… Christmas is of course more than enough reason to celebrate – what with the stale fruitcakes and aerial reindeer and glorious, glorious presents – but here at the Dojo, Christmas is twice as special, because it marks the anniversary of when the Dojo was officially launched.

On Christmas day, 2014, the Wizard Dojo descended from Mount Crumpit, and introduced itself to Whoville via my review of Mario Kart 8. Okay, so I posted some other stuff on that day, but I chose Mario Kart 8 to be the very first, because Mario Kart 8 is freaking awesome.

However, Christmas Day is doubly-doubly as special this year, because it also marks the tenth anniversary of when I started blogging. From ghosts of websites past to my Gamespot blogging days, I first started blogging on Christmas Day of 2007. Though I was younger and…ehhh…less professional (I mean, even less so) at the time, I never would have Digivolved into my current blogging state if I didn’t start somewhere.

It’s been a long, hard, fun journey of varying quality in content, but I’ve really grown to love blogging…even if I hate the word “blogging” itself. But hey, I’m an opinionated bastard, and this gives me a means to express and share my opinions. So what the hell! Blog blog blog bloggy blog blog.

So once again, Merry Christmas everybody. Let’s now partake in the Wizard Dojo tradition of writing a few “chapters” of nonsense about various topics to celebrate both this site’s anniversary, and this badass holiday.


Chapter 1:The Best of Wizard Dojo’s Third Year

The biggest news of Wizard Dojo’s third year would be that AfterStory joined my crew. So now I’m not the only one writing here! Thank you for your contributions, Mr. AfterStory, may our partnership continue to thrive. And may a beautiful friendship bloom.

Now, let us reflect on the better stuff me and Mr. AfterStory wrote here at the Dojo during the year that was 2017.

My better stuff.

Notable Video Game Reviews

ARMS 

Banjo-Kazooie

Banjo-Tooie

Battletoads

Battletoads Arcade

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure

Blast Corps

Bubsy 2

Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy 

Cuphead

Dark Castle

Freedom Planet

Hong Kong ’97

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Metroid: Samus Returns

Senran Kagura: Estival Versus

Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash

Sonic Forces

Sonic Mania

Splatoon 2

Star Fox 2

Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth

Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer

Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting

Strikey Sisters

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Sunshine

Super Punch-Out!!

Tetris Attack 

Tetris Battle Gaiden

Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers

Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate

After Story’s Video Game Reviews (He’s busy, so he can’t write as often as me, but he’s probably more in-depth)

Nier: Automata

Nioh 

Persona 5

Splatoon 2

Super Mario Odyssey

My Notable Movie reviews of 2017

An American Tail

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Cars 3

Despicable Me 3

Digimon: The Movie 

The Emoji Movie

Felix the Cat: The Movie

Food Fight!

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Justice League

Kong: Skull Island 

Leap!

The Lego Batman Movie

The Lego Ninjago Movie

Megamind

My Neighbor Totoro

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Norm of the North

Pokemon 3: The Movie – Spell of the Unown

Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back

Pokemon The Movie 2000

Spark: A Space Tail

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

TMNT (2007)

Your Name

Notable…Other Stuff

Arlo Interview

E3 2017: Day 1

E3 2017: Day 2

E3 2017: Day 3

Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You Shows the Good in Nostalgia

Praising a Nintendo Game Doesn’t Equate to Bias

Star Wars Day 2017: Why We Love Star Wars

Super Mario Galaxy Turns 10!

Why Kingdom Hearts Fails at Storytelling

Wizard Dojo/After Story Gaming Alliance


Chapter 2: Fun Facts

Everybody loves fun! Most people love facts! Put them together, and you have fun facts! Here are some stupid fun facts in regards to Wizard Dojo!

Fun Fact #1: Many reviews are posted on significant dates

You may have noticed (but probably not) that each post shows the date in which they were published (a little something that every blog on the face of the Earth does). But what you probably didn’t notice is that many of the reviews I write are posted on a significant date to what I’m reviewing, and you definitely didn’t notice that others still are posted on dates that are significant to me personally (obviously, since you’re not me, how could you notice the personal connection?).

Of course, this usually only applies to bigger reviews (like 10s, 9.5s, and so on). To name some obvious examples, my review for Super Mario Galaxy 2 was posted on May 23, 2015, which was five years to the day of Galaxy 2’s original release in 2010. Similarly, I reviewed Donkey Kong Country 2 on November 20 2015, to commemorate the game’s twentieth anniversary, and followed suit two days later to celebrate the same milestone for Toy Story. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was also reviewed on its one-year anniversary on February 21 2015.

On a more personal note, Super Mario World was reviewed on my birthday, September 18, 2015. And Spirited Away was reviewed on March 31 2016, the thirteenth anniversary of when I first saw the film on March 31 2003 (I have the movie ticket stub to prove it). And of course there are also reviews I post on holidays, with Disney’s Frozen being reviewed on Christmas day last year, and Bloodborne being reviewed on Leap Day of 2016 (I figured it’d be four years before I got another chance, so why not?).

However, there is at least one instance where related reviews for coincidentally posted on the same date. Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast was reviewed on April 10th 2015 which, as far as I know, is not a date of particular significance for the movie. But two years later to the day, I posted my review of the 2017 live-action remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized I posted the latter review exactly two years after the former. Purely a fun coincidence.

Fun Fact #2: Some of my reviews are written to be something of “sequels” to previous reviews.

Here’s one that I think would be difficult for people to pick up on without me explaining it, since it’s something I can only go so far with, but when writing certain reviews, I write them to be something of a “sequel” to a previous one. For obvious reasons, this usually applies to games/movies that have connections with each other (like a movie and its sequel, or two games from the same series). On a more obvious note, I often reference and compare my praises and complaints between the two, but perhaps less obvious is that I try to write such reviews in a similar tone…if that makes any sense.

You may notice that the score I award a game or movie often reflects the tone of the review itself (with the middle of the road reviews being more direct, the high-scoring reviews being my attempt at sounding more sophisticated and talking about the work on a more artistic level, and bad reviews often being riddled with grumpiness and confusion). Of course, these tones vary in between the individual reviews themselves, and not just the score. But if I’m reviewing something that has a strong connection to something I’ve already reviewed, I try to carry that tone over, while still touching up on my critiques as is appropriate. So you could say I try to keep a similar feeling to the original while also changing things up, like any good sequel… Though I probably just end up sounding like I’m repeating the same exact crap, like any cheap, cash-in sequel…


Chapter 3: Random Top 5s

When I first started Wizard Dojo, top 5 and top 10 lists were going to be a point of focus. Well, I certainly failed there, since my lists are the most seldom updated section of this site. Though I hope to rectify that in the coming months, there are some top 5 lists I have ideas for that are… a bit more silly, and I’m not sure I would prioritize making a whole post dedicated to them. So why not randomly list those lists here? Because why not?

Top 5 Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Characters Who Just Mysteriously Disappeared

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was one of the best sitcoms of the 1990s. Its sense of humor remains entertaining even today. With that said, Fresh Prince still suffered from a few unfortunate sitcom tropes of yesteryear (unwillingness to change up the formula, story arcs that were dropped quicker than they began, etc.). Among the most annoying sitcom tropes Fresh Prince fell victim to was the forgotten character. That is to say, characters who at one point were important (or at the very least, built up to be), but then suddenly vanish from the series, without so much as a mention. Perhaps some of these actors just wanted off the show or found work elsewhere, but you’d think the characters would at least get a passing reference or two within the show itself, considering they had at least some degree of significance to the main characters.

Honorable mention: Lisa Wilkes

Lisa Wilkes was one of Will Smith’s longest-standing girlfriend in the series, and the show even went through a story arc where the two were bound to be married… before pulling the annoying old sitcom trope of the characters deciding against their marriage during their wedding, giving the equally cliched excuse that they “rushed into things.” Will’s mother than marries Lisa’s father, effectively making the two step-siblings (awkward). Lisa, her father, and Will’s mother are never seen again in the series after that, which really made me want to put them on this list, but because their final appearance at least wraps up a story arc, they’ll all have to settle in the honorable mention position.

5: Carlton’s Mail Woman Girlfriend (Michelle Williams)

Okay, we’ll start with a character who was never really important, but seemed like they could have been, and were even intended to be.

One of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s biggest running gags was Carlton’s romantic life… or lack thereof. So when a cute mail carrier began flirting with him during one episode, and found Carlton’s naivety to her flirting to be endearing, it seemed like the show introduced a potentially recurring character to be Carlton’s love interest.

But nope.

In the character’s second appearance, Carlton fails to understand Michelle’s playful banter, as she hands him a letter that is not-so subtly her way of asking him on a date. Carlton remains his usual naive self, but Michelle – in a complete 180 from her reaction the first time around – gets annoyed with his naivety, and blows off the date. The episode in question still suggests Carlton might have a future with Michelle Williams, as Carlton only ends up going on a double date with Will Smith later in the episode once the latter promises him he’ll have “the worst night of his life” (thus ensuring the double date doesn’t mean anything, and won’t hurt Carlton’s potential budding romance with Michelle, as is sitcom logic). But that ends up being the end of it.

Yep, the one time Carlton found a potential girlfriend who wasn’t either using him or ended up ditching him for Will just ended up leaving the poor guy over the very reasons she was attracted to him to begin with. Poor Carlton…

4: Tyriq Johnson

I was tempted to put “Ice Tray” on this list, seeing as that character was described as Will’s childhood best friend in the one episode he appeared in (only to never be brought up by Will ever again). But I decided to go with Tyriq, who was a recurring character on the show, and was depicted as Will’s “other best friend” after Jazz. In fact, both Jazz and Tyriq competed with each other to prove who was Will’s “real” best friend so they could accompany him on a game show in the episode “Eyes on the Prize.”

Of course, seeing as that episode marked Tyriq’s final, non-clip show appearance in the series, I guess it’s obvious that Jazz was the winner in that scenario.

Now, Tyriq wasn’t exactly the most memorable character, being defined almost solely by his stupidity (a character trait which Jazz already had covered), but he never really got the chance to be anything more. He was always Will’s “other friend” whenever he showed up. And then he was off the show by the third season, with the series not even giving us the whole “X-character moved away” passing reference.

3: Kellog Lieberbaum

Kellogg Lieberbaum – affectionately referred to as “Cornflake” by Will – was Will and Carlton’s caucasian friend from Bel-Air Academy, and one of the show’s more memorable side characters during the early seasons. Kellogg Lieberbaum was something akin to an inverse Carlton Banks. While Carlton was strictly conservative and often brushed off Will’s more easy-going, fun loving lifestyle, Kellogg Lieberbaum, while similarly conservative, was more impressionable to Will, finding Will’s behavior to be a breath of fresh air to the stuffiness of Bel-Air Academy.

This made Kellog a good foil for both Will and Carlton, as he was something of a bridge between the two personalities. Kellog always had Will and Carlton’s backs whenever they needed help with their shenanigans, going so far as to lock himself in a classroom with Will to protest their favorite teacher losing his job. And when Will was being teased by just about everyone when he was interested in a “heavier” girl, Kellogg was, along with Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian, the only person who supported Will.

This makes it all the weirder that the character just disappears from the show without explanation after the second season. Even in the series finale that sees Will and Carlton graduate Bel-Air Academy, good ol’ Cornflake is mysteriously absent. Where did he go? What happened to him? The world may never know, which is a true shame, considering he had a lot of untapped potential as a character.

2: Jewel/Hortense

Here’s one that I would assume would have irked many viewers in the 90s who watched the show from the beginning. Of course, Will’s best friend Jazz had a mysterious way with the ladies, and had a particular eye on Will’s cousin Hilary, whom continuously rebuffed his affections, which is an old sitcom way of saying there might be a relationship between the two down the road (that’s how real life works, right?).

That potential romance is thrown out the window in one episode, when it is revealed that Jazz is marrying a prison inmate named Jewel, whom he fell in love with after seeing her on an episode of COPS. Throughout the episode, Hilary throws herself at Jazz (“the forbidden fruit is always sweeter” says Aunt Vivian), only for him to now reject her, effectively turning whatever plans the showrunners may have had for the two into little more than a punchline for a single episode.

So, Jazz marries Jewel, and the two seem to be off to a happily ever after. One episode even reveals that Jewel is pregnant with Jazz’s child. Admittedly, though it may have got in the way of one of the show’s earlier potential character setups, it made for an unexpected change of pace, and it looked like Jazz – odd though he and his bride may have been – were going to have a happy life together.

But nope.

In a later episode, it’s revealed that Jazz and Jewel split up, after Jewel repeatedly cheated on him, and apparently lied about everything about herself (her real name is Hortense). Of course, this all ties into Will’s aforementioned reservations about his marriage to Lisa, as Jazz’s ordeal plants seeds of doubt in Will’s head about his own nuptials. The episode doesn’t even mention Jewel’s pregnancy, most likely due to the fact that reminding viewers of that detail would bring the depressing reality of such a situation to life, and they could no longer treat Jazz and Jewel’s separation as a joke to set up the events of that particular episode.

It’s an unceremonious write-off to one character, and an utter dismissal of the importance of another (Seriously, what does it say about how the writers felt about Jazz that the idea of his pregnant wife leaving him is little more than a passing joke?).

It’s just all kinds of bad right here.

1: Jacqueline “Jackie” Ames

Here’s the most mysterious disappearance of them all. Jackie was easily set up to be Will Smith’s eventual love interest when she was introduced in the show’s fourth season. Being a friend of Will’s since childhood, it is even hinted at that the two had romantic feelings for each other in the past. In fact, her entire introductory episode is about how she’s mad at Will for not calling her once he moved to Bel-Air, with the resolution of the episode coming when Will reveals he didn’t do so because he “missed her too much” (which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but whatever). Jackie, realizing that Will still cares about her (evidenced by him not calling her???), renews her friendship with Will. She then becomes a recurring character in the series for a good while, where the show emphasizes their friendship as well as a potential budding romance.

And then she just disappears. No explanation whatsoever. She’s just suddenly gone one episode, without even the most fleeting of passing references giving any kind of explanation. You would think that Will’s lifelong friend who he clearly had feelings for would at least be important enough to be referenced after vanishing from the show. But the series never shines even the tiniest bit of light as to where she went or what happened to her. Did she move back to Philly? Did she get a career that required her to move elsewhere? What the hell happened?

Jackie may not have been one of the “main” characters on the show, but she was obviously being built up to be one. And given her importance to Will – the show’s main character – it seems all the weirder that she would just vanish into nothingness.

Hopefully Will at least called her this time…

Top 5 Angry Video Game Nerd Episodes of 2017

James Rolfe’s Angry Video Game Nerd series remains one of the most consistently entertaining things on the internet. After years of slowing the series down a bit, 2017 marked something of a resurgence, with more episodes released this year than the past two years put together. Here are my five favorite Nerd episodes from 2017.

5: Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi (Episode 154)

This Nerd episode was of personal significance to me, considering this is a game in which I felt the full extent of its horrors back when it was released on the PS1. It was a Star Wars fighting game! How could I resist? Too bad it was a broken fighter that lacked any semblance of character balance, and included a character named “Hoar” (a little tidbit the Nerd of course has to mention, because how couldn’t you?).

Sadly, this episode is a bit on the short side, which is a shame because it’s the kind of game that’s so bad I could still go on and on about it. There’s no shortage of video game suckage to discuss. But the Nerd is quick to poke fun of the game’s flaws, as well as take a few swipes at George Lucas’ constant re-edits of the original trilogy (help us Disney, you’re our only hope for a proper blu-ray release).

4: GameBoy Accessories (Episode 147)

Here the Nerd goes into the long, detailed history of the original Nintendo Gameboy which, despite its limitations, outlived most other handheld systems and home consoles. The Nerd then proceeds to introduce many of the odd gimmicks and gadgets Nintendo threw the GameBoy’s way to help sustain its longevity, and some that came from third-parties trying to capitalize off the GameBoy’s success. Some of these worked (GameBoy Camera, Super GameBoy), while others…not so much (the Booster). And the Nerd’s reactions to all of these accessories – like any of the best Nerd videos – are priceless.

3: Sonic ’06 (Part 1) (Episode 145)

Sometimes, the Nerd is at his best when he tackles the games that his fans consistently request him to review (tough this isn’t an absolute, as the most hyped game for him to review, E.T. on Atari, ended up in the polarizing Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie). And Sonic the Hedgehog ’06 was one of his biggest requests for years!

The tragic production and even more tragic execution of Sonic the Hedgehog ’06 is well documented, so it only seems fitting to have an AVGN episode tearing the game apart. It’s just a shame James Rolfe feels the need to wait for a game to be “retro” before reviewing it as the Nerd (at the very least, it seems that limitation should be lifted when it comes to games this notorious). But the wait was worth it, as the Sonic ’06 episode of AVGN provides many laughs at the game’s expense. From awkward hedgehog/human romances to clunky game mechanics and flat-out unfinished segments, Sonic ’06 provides the Nerd with plenty of hilarious material. So much material, in fact, that one episode couldn’t hold it all…

2: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (Episode 144)

The Nerd’s first episode of the year was a great way to start things off for the series in 2017. With the release of the 2017 Power Rangers movie imminent, James Rolfe decided to dabble into the 90s phenomenon, culminating with an AVGN episode dedicated to just some of the many Power Rangers games that were released back in the day.

The Angry Video Game Nerd tries out various Power Rangers games, some of which he finds to be not all that bad, but eventually stumbles on the crappier side of Power Rangers gaming, which forces him to morph into the Super Nerd just so he can break a GameBoy cartridge.

Also, the Power Rangers-inspired opening is simply great.

1: Sonic ’06 (Part 2)

Perhaps the biggest surprise of any Nerd episode this year, the Nerd decided to revisit Sonic ’06 several months after uploading the first such episode, feeling that said first episode didn’t do justice to just how bad the game is.

Here, the Nerd elaborates on the elements he already touched upon in part 1, but delves deeper into the game and is shocked to find out just how bad it really is. From its broken level design to its nonsensical plot to THAT kiss, the Nerd has a heyday with the game’s countless flaws, and is utterly dumbfounded at just how far Sonic fell from grace.

Although I disagree with James Rolfe feeling that he “half-assed” his Sonic ’06 review the first time around, I’m certainly happy he decided to give it another go, as his revisiting of the nefarious game produced the best Nerd episode of the year.


Chapter 4: Wizard Dojo in 2018

“My waifu!”

Ah, the old “Wizard Dojo in the coming year” chapter! Y’know, the chapter where I talk about all the stuff I hope to accomplish on this site in the next year, but only end up doing some of it? Yeah, that one!

Anyway, hopefully this year I can stay committed and actually get these things done! At least to some degree…

First and foremost, I still plan on doing my reviewing thing. And seeing as I have now combined the pages for animated and live-action movie reviews into one page, I’ll probably end up reviewing more live-action movies in the next year. Also I hope I’ll be reviewing more animated films in 2018 than I did in 2017. I was a bit of a slacker in that department this year. I also would really like to make more top 5 and top 10 lists.

For another change of pace, I’ve also been throwing around the idea of reviewing some TV shows for this site. As I’ve stated in the past, I’ve always been more of a video games and movies man than a TV man, and frankly, TV shows would just take longer to review. But there are some TV shows that I greatly enjoy (Twin Peaks, Stranger Things, Monk, etc.) and I would like to talk about them on this site in some capacity. Maybe I can review each season of my favorite shows, and write special reviews for some notable episodes.

Of course, the two biggest things I hope to do in 2018 (that somehow relate to this site in one way or another) is A) FINALLY follow through with making my list of all-time favorite video games, which may then lead to a list of favorite movies. And B) get a bit more serious about starting the creation of my own video game.

Okay, that second one doesn’t exactly relate to the site. But this site is a creative endeavor of mine, and making a video game would be a creative endeavor. So…they have that kind of/sort of going for them.

Anyway, I feel kind of bad, because making video games is a dream of mine, and I was actually off to a decent start in early 2017, learning how to make and animate sprites and reading up on game development. But do to one thing after another I really slowed down in my progress in learning game development in 2017. So I hope I can make up for that in 2018. Again, making video games is my dream, and here’s hoping 2018 is the year where I take my first steps into a much larger world by starting on my first of hopefully many games.

Also, more gifs in 2018.


Chapter 5: WWE Awards

Before I get started with these, we all know New Japan Pro Wrestling kicked all the ass this year, and the Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada matches were the best of this year and pretty much any other. But these awards are narrowed down to WWE, since I have easiest access to their product and therefor watch it the most (I’m sorry, I only have so much free time, and most of it goes to movies, games and things like this website and drawing and whatnot). So anyway, yadda yadda yadda, wrestling stuff!

Male Wrestler of the Year: AJ Styles

It’s all too easy to appreciate just how gifted AJ Styles is in the ring. But perhaps what’s all the more impressive is how WWE has actually treated him like the star that he is. While WWE has struggled to build up new stars (or long-standing stars that got their start elsewhere), they have treated AJ Styles like a legitimate big deal. As of this writing, he is in his second reign as WWE Champion, which couldn’t be more deserved, seeing as he’s delivered one quality match after another for the entire year.

Female wrestler of the Year: Asuka

Speaking of wrestlers that came from elsewhere but have received proper star treatment in WWE, it’s Asuka! While fellow Japanese wrestlers Shinsuke Nakamura and Hideo Itami have been the subject of questionable booking decisions in the company (Nakamura has at least been treated like a star, but WWE seemed to actively rob him of momentum during his feud with Jinder Mahal), Asuka has flourished.

Asuka’s reign as NXT Women’s Champion is the longest title reign of any kind in the WWE since the days before the company became international (back then, with only local audiences, it was easier for title reigns to last years at a time). And she only forfeited the title when she was out of action due to a legitimate injury. Soon enough, she was back in action on WWE’s main roster, where she continues the longest undefeated streak in company history.

More impressive than her scripted accolades, however, is Asuka’s stellar in-ring work, which is among the best of anyone on WWE’s current roster, save for maybe AJ Styles and Finn Balor.

Tag Team/Faction of the Year: The Bar (Cesaro and Sheamus)

Who would have thought that Sheamus and Cesaro’s seemingly nowhere 2016 feud would eventually lead to them being one of the best tag teams the WWE has seen in recent years? The formation of the team has revitalized Sheamus’ career, and although Cesaro is long overdue for a world title run in the company, being one-half of “The Bar” has certainly given hima  bigger push in WWE than he’s had so far. Together, they’ve put on some fantastic pay-per-view matches and continue to grow as characters. Not to mention Cesaro finishing a match after (seriously) having some of his teeth get wedged up his gums after an in-ring botch is a testament to how dedicated to their craft the best professional wrestlers are.

Best Gimmick: “Woken” Matt Hardy

Perhaps no wrestler ever reinvented themselves for the better quite like Matt Hardy did when he became “Broken” Matt Hardy during his stint in TNA in 2016. You could also make a strong argument that there’s not another wrestling character quite as great as Broken Matt Hardy. Which is why it was all a shame that when Matt Hardy and his brother Jeff rejoined WWE in 2017, it seemed like legal issues over ownership of the gimmick would prevent him from bringing the oddball character to WWE with him.

Thankfully, over the last month or so, Matt Hardy seems to have (rightfully) won the legal battle, and has brought his unique persona to WWE, reportedly with full creative control of the character (though for reasons I’m not sure, the title of “Broken” was replaced with “Woken”).

Woken/Broken Matt Hardy is a difficult character to describe. While most wrestling characters of yesteryear have a gimmick that could be defined by a single word (Sergeant Slaughter was a soldier, the Undertaker was a dead man, etc.) and most modern wrestling gimmicks are more grounded in the wrestlers’ real personalities (albeit exaggerated), Woken Matt Hardy is something different entirely.

Boasting a faux British accent (which seems to fluctuate to other faux accents), speeches of past lives and connections to historical figures, and vaguely implied supernatural powers, Woken Matt Hardy is to wrestling what The Room is to movies, though here the irony is completely intended.

What’s all the more interesting is that Broken Matt Hardy had his own “Broken Universe” which seemed like a show within a show and saw the gimmick branch out to Jeff Hardy and other characters who were affected by Matt Hardy’s “brokenness,” creating something of its own lore that existed separately from everything else in wrestling, making it all the more ridiculous. Hopefully, “Woken” Matt Hardy will continue to shine, and bring a “Woken Universe” along for the ride.

Match of the Year: AJ Styles vs. John Cena (Royal Rumble)

Although WWE had its share of great matches in 2017, its best happened pretty early in the year, when John Cena took on AJ Styles in their third singles bout on pay-per-view (their SummerSlam matchup in 2016 was my favorite WWE match of that year as well). Granted, Cena winning the WWE Championship at the match’s end was really only a means to get the belt off one (then)heel and onto another (Bray Wyatt), so the result seemed pretty transitional. And the fact that the match’s incredible last few minutes were later recycled in a matchup between Cena and company golden boy (and fans’ archenemy) Roman Reigns – only for Reigns to survive the onslaught that felled AJ Styles just to make Reigns look better – does cheapen things a little bit. On its own merits, without taking into account how WWE would handle things later, was one hell of a bout.

Cena used to get a lot of flak for his in-ring work by diehard wrestling fans, but now it’s hard to see him as anything other than an exceptional pro wrestler (well, I guess we can also see him as a growing mainstream star, but according to his catchphrase we can’t see him at all). AJ Styles, always the showstealer, seems to bring out the absolute best in Cena’s abilities, and their Royal Rumble 2017 showdown was the best of their series. Here’s hoping WWE can find ways to top it in 2018.


Chapter 6: The Last One (And Also Special Thanks)

Yeah, I know, I’m cutting my Christmas Special two chapters short this year. But hey, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was only 6 worlds after Donkey Kong Country Returns’ 8, and we all know how much I love Tropical Freeze (praise be unto its name). Besides, according to my word count this Christmas Special is longer than last year’s anyway. So let’s not split hairs.

In all seriousness, a lot of personal things have been going on right with me right now, and I barely had the time for my site these past couple of weeks, let alone the time to work on my Christmas Special. The fact that I’m getting this done at all this year is a huge sigh of relief on my part.

Tell ya what though, lads. I’ll make it up to you fine people by writing some small, additional “special” blogs in the coming weeks…or something. And hopefully next year’s Christmas Special can be even more obnoxiously lengthy than normal.

Anyway, I just thought I’d wrap this up by giving special shoutouts to all my home skillets in the blogging universe.

Matt from NintendoBound: Always the source for exceptional blogging, particularly on video games (which I love), animated movies (which I love) and popular music (which I know nothing about…I’m very out of touch, you see). Keep up the excellent work, and thanks for being my longest-standing blogging ally (or something).

Red Metal from Extra Life Reviews: Congratulations on recently hitting your 100th gaming review. Your reviews are always excellent and well thought out. Here’s to hundreds and hundreds more! Thanks for all the lengthy, meaningful discussions we have on the mediums I love.

Mr. Panda of Mr. Panda’s Video Game Reviews: Thanks for the continued support over the last few years, and congratulations on your ever expanding reach on the video game world.

After Story: Thank you for deciding to help me out with this site. Your contributions are greatly appreciated, and thanks for being a good writer in general. Wait a minute, you’re already writing for me. What am I thanking you for?! Get back to work! (just kidding)

Well, there you go everybody. This year’s Christmas Special. Apologies again it had to run a little short (kind of). I’ll make up for that down the road.

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Happy whatever holiday you celebrate! Whether it’s Hanukkah, Kwanza, Festivus, Finn Wolfhard’s Birthday… whatever it is, happy/merry that!

Arthur Christmas Review

Arthur Christmas

The old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover” may be used to the point of cliche, but it does ring a good deal of truth. Case in point, Arthur Christmas may look like your run-of-the-mill Christmas-themed animated film from a glance. But if you take the time to delve into it, Arthur Christmas proves itself to be a genuinely touching animated feature.

Perhaps the fact that Arthur Christmas comes from Aardman – the studio behind the excellent Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep series – should have tipped me off to its quality. But the fact that Arthur Christmas is among the studio’s CG output, as opposed to their more famous stop-motion features, coupled with the Christmas theme (all too often a recipe for recycled plots and bland characters) gave me my doubts. But Arthur Christmas is certainly the best of Aardman’s CG features, and in a time when most Christmas films seem to be becoming more cynical and, strangely, merging with the raunchy comedy sub-genre more often than not, Arthur Christmas is probably the most sincere Christmas film in recent memory.

Arthur Christmas does continue some trends of past Christmas flicks. Most notably, it tries to find a means to “modernize” the whole idea of Santa Clause. Though unlike most of the Christmas movies that came before it, Arthur Christmas actually comes up with a charming means to successfully bring Santa up to date.

Arthur ChristmasIn Arthur Christmas, Santa Clause is more of a title passed down through the patriarchal family that runs the North Pole, as opposed to the name of a singular individual. The twentieth and current Santa is Malcolm (Jim Broadbent), who is in his seventieth year on the job. His father, simply referred to as Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) is long-retired and a bit cooky. Malcolm’s sons are Steve (Hugh Laurie), the most tech-savvy and efficient member of the family, and overdue to being given his father’s title, and Arthur (James McAvoy), who is well-meaning and cheerful, but his clumsiness has resulted in him getting the “safe” job of answering children’s letters to Santa.

By this point, the reindeer-pulled sleigh of Grandsanta’s time has become obsolete. Now, Santa and an army of elves travel to the different countries of the Earth on Christmas Eve via the S-1, Steve’s gargantuan flying fortress. Santa, now being passed his prime, only needs to deliver a single gift to each visited city, as the more nimble elves can more easily deliver most the gifts under Steve’s direction (Santa is even escorted by a number of elves just to deliver his minimal gifts).

Arthur ChristmasThe new setup seems foolproof, until a miscalculation results in one present not being delivered on Christmas Eve. Neither Malcolm nor Steve are willing to deliver the present. Malcolm clings onto his title of Santa Clause – despite an expected retirement – for the love and adoration that comes with the job, but is too elderly and tired to be bothered by one gift. Meanwhile, Steve, disheartened that he has been denied the title of Santa Clause for another year, despite doing all the hard work, doesn’t have the motivation to deliver the gift (“the S-1 takes up a lot of power, and there’s no need to waste it for a single child”).

Arthur, being more innocent and hopeful, can’t understand the idea of Santa missing out on even a single child on Christmas, and is desperate to find a means to deliver the present. Luckily for Arthur, Grandsanta is looking for one more chance to shine, and the two of them – along with a gift-wrapping elf named Bryony (Ashley Jensen) – dust off Grandsanta’s long-forgotten sleigh and round up the reindeer to deliver the gift themselves.

Of course, the trip won’t be easy, as Arthur doesn’t know the first thing about traveling around the world, and Grandsanta’s memory  and sense of direction aren’t what they once were. Not to mention the sleigh is more than a little rundown, making for an even more turbulent trip around the world.

Admittedly, even with its originality, the plot may be a bit on the predictable side. But while you may be able to guess the ending, the film succeeds for the fun Arthur, Bryony and Grandsanta’s adventure provides, and for the dimensions it gives to its characters.

Arthur ChristmasMost Christmas films go the easy route when depicting jolly old St. Nick, and simply showcase the jovial and giving aspects of the character and call it a day. But Arthur Christmas does a great job at showing some extra depth in all four of its Santa Clauses.

Malcolm, the current Santa, has lost his passion for the job, and simply sticks around for the glory. Steve wants to prove himself as a worthy successor to his father and a visionary for reinventing how Santa does his job, but is also vain and a little selfish. Grandsanta not only provides comic relief and crazy old man antics, but also has questionable motivations, as he seems to be helping Arthur equally as much for his own ego as he is for the sake of doing the right thing. Even Arthur, who is admittedly simplistic by comparison, works well in winning over the audience’s sympathy, and in making the whole plot work. Someone has to care about a forgotten child on Christmas after all, even if Santa himself doesn’t. Because of the added character dimensions, the emotion at the heart of the film rings all the louder.

On top of all of this, the film is also very well animated. I admit that watching an Aardman film that doesn’t utilize stop-motion can seem a bit odd at first, but Arthur Christmas quickly wins you over with a visual vibrancy that is consistently impressive. It may not match the sheer technical sheen of a Disney or Pixar flick, but it’s not too far off, and the character designs are fun (I find Steve and his Christmas tree-shaped goatee especially amusing).

On the whole, Arthur Christmas is certainly one of the most enjoyable Christmas films to be released in quite a long time. It has a sincerity to it that many holiday movies of today completely disregard, and the characters, humor and originality at hand are entertaining enough that you may forget that you’re watching a Christmas movie, and simply get sucked into watching a great film.

 

7

The 2016 Christmas Special/Two Year Anniversary Celebration!!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone! How about that Rogue One, eh?

"IT'S BEAUTIFUL!"
“IT’S BEAUTIFUL!”

Yes indeed, it’s Christmas Day 2016. That alone is reason enough to celebrate – what with all the figgy puddings and jolly, fat prowlers delivering presents via chimneys – but it’s twice the special occasion here at the Dojo, as Christmas marks the anniversary of Wizard Dojo’s launch!

That’s right, my loyal minions, Wizard Dojo originally launched on Christmas day 2014, meaning that today marks the second anniversary of this site!

Okay, so the domain name and stuff was set up a few days prior, but who cares? What matters is the content, and I started publishing content on Christmas of 2014. So that’s the anniversary.

Yep, it all started with my review of the excellent Mario Kart 8 (though I published numerous other reviews and such on the same day, Mario Kart 8 was the first). Since then, I’ve written over one-hundred and fifty video game reviews, over one-hundred animation reviews, and some other crap too!

Ponyo

While I still have yet to compile my list of all-time favorite video games (here’s to 2017!), 2016 ended up being a productive second year for the Dojo. Here’s hoping that 2017 is all the more productive!

But let’s cut the crap and get to the good stuff. It’s Christmas! And that means it’s time to write an extensive bit of nonsense. Think of the following as the closest thing to a Christmas gift that a blogger can give his readership.

Grinch

Continue reading “The 2016 Christmas Special/Two Year Anniversary Celebration!!”

First Annual Christmas Special/One Year Anniversary Celebration!

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everybody! How about that Star Wars, eh?

Yes, it’s Christmas day 2015, which means it’s been exactly one year since I launched Wizard Dojo. Well, technically I bought the domain name and set it up before that, but I didn’t publish anything on it until Christmas 2014. Because I’m festive like that.

It all started one year ago, with the very first addition to this website being my review of Mario Kart 8. One-hundred video game reviews, a few dozen animation reviews (I really need to catch up there), some top 5/10 lists, and a host of other articles and ramblings later, and I’d say Wizard Dojo had a pretty productive year.

Regie-lution

I figured I could turn this anniversary/Christmas blog into an annual tradition, with an extensive and varied blog about, well, a lot of random stuff. Though I now realize I could have made two annual events if I had started this site on a different day, thus separating the anniversary and Christmas blog… Oh well, if I or anyone else likes how this turns out, I guess I could think of something else to add if a year is just too long a wait for rambling goodness.

So get that coal out of your stocking, grab some milk and cookies, and kick the Grinch in the plums! It’s time to get started with the first annual Christmas special/one year anniversary blog celebration! Continue reading “First Annual Christmas Special/One Year Anniversary Celebration!”