Monday, August 7, 2017

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "The Last Starfighter" (1984)

So...let's talk about the ultimate video game nerd power fantasy film.

Because I, the MadCapMunchkin, am here to tell you that this film here is basically it.  I don't know about you, but it's the dream of every single video game nerd I know (myself included) to be told that you are so amazingly badass at playing video games that a group of aliens who made said video games want you to come from boring old Earth to their planet halfway across the galaxy to fight in an intergalactic war against a nigh-unstoppable foe who seeks to conquer or destroy all sentient life in the universe. And all you have to do is be blackmailed and guilted into it, and then eventually pick up your girlfriend that you so totally have and do the same to her in a never-ending cycle of shame and misery!

...wait a second. Let me start over.

The Last Starfighter is the tale of Alex Logan (Lance Guest), the assumed alias of Jimmy Lloyd after the terrible events of Halloween night of 1978 (the good version), now living in California in protective custody. However, this protection is not so restrictive that he can't spend time with his sort of sort of not girlfriend Maggie (Catherine May Stewart) or play his favorite (and only) arcade game in the trailer park Starfighter.  So what if he has no prospects at going to college? At least he'll always have video games.

But when Alex gets the high score on Starfighter, he finds himself kidnapped by a stylish con-man by the name of Centauri (Robert Preston) and pressed into the service of Rylan Star League as a Starfighter, which is apparently a very rare gift among the civilized societies of the known universe. So much so that there's only a handful of pilots and navigators to battle the dreaded Ko-Dan Armada and defend the planet of Rylos and the Frontier.

Why the Rylans themselves can't get into their Gunstars and go fight off the Armada is something they skillfully avoid mentioning.

But yes, thus begins an epic adventure as Alex must lean to actually pilot the real spacecraft and save the galaxy from the Ko-Dan and the dreaded Xur (Norman Snow). Xur, by the way, winning the award for least intimidating villain ever...except maybe when put up against Lisa from The Room. He hams it up and does practically nothing the entire film that is in any way remotely menacing. Even the Ko-Dan are wondering when they can get rid of him. He does have a really cool mace thing.

A few things before I dive into what I enjoy about this film - because, yes, I really, really love this movie - yes, it's a Star Wars-ripoff and yes, it's a Galaga rip-off. Neither of those things happen to be criticisms. It's a 1980s science-fiction film, of course it drew large amounts of inspiration from Star Wars. And it's one ship going up against an entire armada of other ships, Galaga. That being said, those don't detract from the film in the least.

What does kind of detract from the film is the fact that we're not actually given that much detail about the Rylans or the Star League or even their conflict with the Ko-Dan.  For things that are seemingly so very important, they're either glossed over or not mentioned at all. I will give it credit that the simplicity of it is realistic seeing as Alex isn't told all of this either, but we as the audience really know nothing about any of it beyond the fact that the Rylans say that the Ko-Dan and Xur are pure dang nasty evil.

In A New Hope, you get some exposition through the opening crawl and some dialogue between characters that set up the Empire almost from the jump as an incredibly evil, oppressive regime and we see our heroes have very clear reasons for fighting against that regime. With this movie...you're just told that and given vague mentions of a "dark betrayal" and just told to go with it. No real attempts at world-building, though we do see some very unique designs for the various alien types and both the Gunstars and the Ko-Dan ships.

The Frontier in particular is one of several special effect shots that honestly look really cool for the time. While the sets where the actors are is done by physical locations while the space scenes are done with early CGI. Cheesy by today's standards, sure, but in 1984 it was cutting edge.

However, the film isn't about paper-thin plots or outdated CGI. It's about Alex pushing himself beyond what he believes he's capable of an unlocking the hero within...after being emotionally blackmailed into doing so by various individuals, up to and including his own robotic duplicate (also played by Lance Guest). However, this does work and Alex does eventually step up to the plate after an attack by the Ko-Dan makes him...the Last Starfighter.

Despite the forced blackmail to do the right thing, the film is definitely a good one. Yes, we don't know much about what's going on, but Alex never learns it and I suppose that's realistic to his situation as a whole.Yes, it's outdated in terms of special effects, but it holds up better than most for a movie that's over thirty years old. I love it, and will be happy to watch it time and time again, until I'm battling evil in another dimension.

The Last Starfighter is brought to us by Lorimar Productions and Universal Pictures.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

From MadCap's Couch - "Castlevania" (Season 1)

A show review? I thought that would never happen again after Netflix took off Sliders and I became far, far less than inclined to ever review Supernatural ever again. But it seems that just when I think I'm out, Netflix drags me back in with a Netflix original Castlevania series. Based on Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, but with an art style reminiscent of Symphony of the Night, my favorite game in the whole Castlevania series (that I've played)? I couldn't resist that, could I?

And now, four episodes later, I really, really wish I had.

Let me go ahead and get the things I like out of the way. The animation is phenomenal. It follows on from the art style of Symphony of the Night as I said before and it definitely shows. The voice acting is good. Beyond good, actually. Richard Armitage does a great voice for Trevor Belmont in particular, showing in the The Hobbit trilogy that he has the gravely voice that makes for an excellent vampire hunter.

And now...into some gripes.

The music is composed by Trevor Morris of Dragon Age: Inquisition fame and...none of it is memorable or indicative of Castlevania in any way. None of the music from the games is heard! At all! Though that may be because of the lack of truly awesome moments worth of epics like "Vampire Killer" or "Bloody Tears" as I'll get to in due course.

Another reason this is a full Season 1 review instead of the individual pieces? There are only four episodes as I mentioned above and they're all about twenty minutes a piece. It's bad when the Telltale Guardians of the Galaxy game I've reviewed the first two episodes of a few weeks ago have a greater length than four episodes of this. So, without further adieu...with spoilers to follow beyond this point.

Episode 1: "Witchbottle"
A young woman named Lisa is either brave or stupid enough to march into Dracula's castle in order to learn how to drop science. Sometime later, she's burned at the stake by the Catholic Church because we haven't seen enough of the Catholic Church being dicks in fiction.

Seriously, they've proven more than enough in reality that they aren't on the level. Let's make some new villains, screenwriters.

However, Dracula and Lisa were married and Dracula is understandably rather pissed about the fact that they burned his wife at the stake and...rather generously gives them a single year to leave the area or suffer a terrible fate. They don't, so he kills them all.

Or, if you don't want to read all that: The Catholic Church were dicks and Dracula did nothing wrong. Because, honestly, he didn't.

When Satan tells you to move or die, you move!

Episode 2: "Necropolis"
We are finally introduced to Trevor Belmont, a layabout drunk who runs around in clothing that bears his family crest. The Belmonts apparently having been exiled from Wallachia for reasons that don't exactly pan out because it's the Middle Ages and the Catholic Church are dicks.

Are you seeing a recurring theme here?

But this episode really highlights the main problem with the series as a whole - a lot of talking. A frankly outrageous amount of talking. I'm fully aware that exposition has to get out, but the show itself seems to be built up entirely around just getting out exposition.

The writer of Castlevania is Warren Ellis, who some of my readers will know for his comic book writing (particularly the "Extremis" storyline of Iron Man that was developed into Iron Man 3) and video game writing (Dead Space).  Was he just in a rush with this? If so, I find it hard to believe since this has been in development hell since around 2008.

C'mon, dude. You can do better than mountains and mountains of exposition. That would be like writing paragraph after paragraph of insane rants on an internet blog about geeky B.S. that nobody cares about! Who the hell would want to read that?!

But besides that first paragraph, the only actual thing that happens is Trevor getting to another town where he is given crap by the Church and given an ultimatum to leave, and meeting with a group called The Speakers after saving the Leader, eventually agreeing to enter the catacombs beneath the city to find their leader's granddaughter.

Episode 3: "Labyrinth"
Trevor enters the catacombs and finds a cyclops in what is literally the first Castlevania-esque moment since the first episode. It's a good fight and there had been a few action scenes before to solidify Trevor as a combat badass before, but this is literally the first one where he takes on a monster rather than another human.

Definitely have been getting a Castlevania: Colonial Marines vibe with all the human vs. human fights...

But yes, it's good even if it is surprisingly short. In slaying the cyclops, Trevor releases the Speakers' leader's granddaughter Sypha Belnades from being a stone statue for all eternity. And then, we descend into more talking about the Speakers and their missing "Lost Soldier" who is apparently the only one who will stop Dracula, before the Church starts to come down on the Speakers because of the lie that they're responsible for the plague of Dracula because witchcraft and not anything to do with Christian hypocrisy.

Once again. Anyone? Theme? Do you feel the anvil hitting your head yet?

Episode 4: "Monument"
And now we finally get to something even vaguely Castlevania related. It's here that the show actually shows that it could be something fantastic...and it's a fight between a bunch of townsfolk and demons after Trevor outs the Church for their part in Dracula's mass slaughter in Wallachia.

...at this point, I'll take what I can get.

And it's a good fight, using bits of Castlevania lore to their advantage such as the use of holy water and Sypha's magic. It's only after the fight that we get more and more into the games themselves as Trevor and Sypha have to navigate a deeper part of the catacombs in order to find the Lost Soldier...who is revealed to be Alucard, the son of Dracula and Lisa. What follows it a fantastically choreographed fight that shows Alucard to be a badass where it took Trevor four episodes...and I'm still not very convinced.

But in the end, yes, the three of them band together once Alucard is convinced of their intentions of killing Dracula. And...the season ends.

All that build up. All that exposition. All that distinctive lack of things Castlevania-y...and then it's over. Luckily, it has been renewed for a Second Season with eight episodes instead of just four, so we'll likely get more. Hopefully, they'll work on what has gone horribly not good for the first season as I've described here.

1. Cut down on the exposition. We don't need so much and we don't need to know everything right away and have it repeated over and over again.

2. More monster fights. We have all of two. And they're in the last episode. I don't know anyone who comes to Castlevania to see the Belmonts fight other humans.

3. MUSIC! I cannot stress what a big part of Castlevania that was completely left out of this and it's a major let-down. They were able to use the designs from Symphony of the Night and follow (for the most part) the story from Dracula's Curse, so why didn't the music make it in? Why? WHY?!

If you have Netflix and you want to get into it, go for it. Just be ready for more talking than there is actual monster hunting in a show that is based on a series of games that is literally all about monster hunting.

Castlevania is now on Netflix from Federator Studios, Powerhouse Animation Studios, and - of course - Netflix.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, July 24, 2017

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Ladyhawke" (1985)

If you're a new reader of my blog or you're completely unaware of the fact, I'm a big fan of the sword and sorcery genre, be it in films, books, video games, or whatever else have you. I'm also a big fan of Eighties movies and the cheesiness inherent in most of them. This film, Ladyhawke, has a great deal of the later with very little of the former. Oh, it certainly shows that it's from the Eighties what with a very out of place soundtrack that uses synthesizers in what should be a Medieval European setting, but it isn't as if the characters suddenly run into the band playing their instruments during a sequence or anything of the sort.

Also, for a sword and sorcery story...there isn't much sorcery.

Let me unpack this a bit. The tale takes place in the Middle Ages in that one area of France where everyone somehow has British accents. A thief by the name of Philippe Gaston (Matthew Broderick) is breaking out of an impossible to escape from prison, pursued by some guardsmen sent after him by the dreaded Bishop (John Wood), Philippe finds himself saved by the uber-badass and possible ancestor of Miles Teg known as Etienne of Navarre (Rutger Hauer).

Both we and Philippe learn over the course of the story that Navarre was betrothed to a woman named Isabeau (Michelle Pfeffier).  However, Isabeau was of such beauty that all who looked upon her fell in love with her...even the Bishop. When he learned of their union, he seethed with anger and called upon the Devil himself to curse them both. For the rest of their days, they would be apart. During the day, Isabeau taking the form of a hawk and at night, Navarre becoming a wolf.

Always together, eternally apart.

And Philippe's part in the tale? As he escaped from the city, Navarre reasons that he can help him sneak into the city in order to kill the Bishop and break the shared curse. The best part? The film actually delivers entirely on its premise. More than that, it actually is able to craft a believable, complex, and tragic love story between two characters who share, all told, about five minutes of screentime combined.

That's right, Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeffier share all of two scenes together, and it still works.

The film also, for the major plot point of the transformation between human and beast, doesn't have any scenes that show the transformations besides a single one that drives home the hopelessness of their existence and really helps to build on the romance subplot.

There is fantastic acting all around to help the believability as well. Rutger Hauer plays a total badass hardened warrior on a mission who will not be dissuaded. He is desperate to be free of his curse and to free his beloved from the same fate. There is a surprising amount of chemistry between him and Michelle Pfeffier for them only sharing two scenes together, which is a testament to the acting talent of both of them. It's an onscreen romance that works better than many I've seen in film or television. It's well developed, built upon in almost every scene with the plot being centered around it, and the two of them make it believable.

And then, of course, there's Matthew Broderick. He's absolutely phenomenal and Philippe is one of the funniest characters in all of fiction. Every single scene - and I mean it. Every. Single. Scene. - he's in, he steals it. Philippe's continuous struggle in trying to be good for the Lord (in monologues, no less) are an absolute stitch and he serves also as a silver-tongued messenger between Navarre and Isabeau during their switches in what are some genuinely heartwarming moments.

Really, the only critique I can give him is his slipping accent, but that's easy to look past. At least he's attempting to do an accent instead of pulling a Kevin Costner.

This film is magnificent and I would happily enjoy it again any time. It is the very height of excellence and, yes, by the end of this film, you will believe a lady can hawk.

...yes, Richard Donner directed this. It was either that or a "What a guy, Gaston!" joke. Be grateful.

Ladyhawke is brought to us by 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

MadCap At The Movies - "Spider-Man: Homecoming"


Spider-Cap!
Spider-Cap!
Does whatever a Spider-Cap does!

Flails his hands! Everywhere!
Sometimes wears,
Underwear!

Look out!
He's got some bad B.O.!!!

Spider-Man Homecoming is now in theaters from Marvel and Sony.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, June 30, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series" (Episode 2)

Once more, we pick up with the Guardians of the Galaxy! Episode 2 of the titular "Telltale Series" picks up with the group right after Peter Quill is suddenly resurrected by the awesome might of the Eternity Forge!

Spoiler alert.

Again, choices are made and backstory is given. The big focus this time around is Rocket Raccoon and his life before joining the Guardians...and it's pretty damn tragic all around. What was really only hinted at in the films is brought up in full force, and it really does help to explain Rocket's more callous, harsh attitude in the present.

And in the present, the trouble with the Kree and the Eternity Forge continues, along with the addition of Nebula, who is none too happy about the death of Thanos and seeks revenge as well as use of the Eternity Forge once she discovers it actually exists.

Apart from the plot, it's second-verse same as the first. Quill (and Rocket, for a bit of flashback) moves around environments until they discover things he needs to progress, makes decisions that will either please or alienate others, and hint at looming choices later to come.  The only criticisms I can levy against it are the same I had for Episode 1 - the QTEs are not immersive in any sense of the word, and I have yet to see full-blown consequences of my choices, if any as of yet. Just different bits of dialogue and either Gamora or Rocket being somewhat more snippy at or happy with me depending on the ones I made.

I really don't have much to say on this one, unfortunately because...it's not a complete game. It's a piece. And that might work just fine for some. Not for myself. Unfortunately, I've determined to milk this out into five reviews and so I shall...whenever the next parts actually come out.

Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series is now available from Telltale Games for Android, iOS, Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, June 23, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series" (Episode 1)

Well, seeing as I liked both the movies, it was only natural that I would eventually tackle the Guardians of the Galaxy game by Telltale. I was interested when the first trailer was released, and I was equally interested when it actually came out, I just didn't get to it. But thanks to my local Gamestop, I have the entire season pass. And because the game itself has been milked out into five sections for maximum pointlessness, I'm likewise going to milk out this review in five parts for maximum page views.

That's right! MadCap has officially sold out!

Bring on the money!

In all seriousness, I've never played a Telltale Game before, though I've seen plenty about their Walking Dead series via internet memes. Mostly jokes about how the choices ultimately really DON'T matter. Needless to say, in the first section, I haven't seen much despite several menacing warnings that Rocket will remember this.

And that.

And that, too.

To begin, the Guardians are mucking around and apparently are completely divorced from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in that Peter Quill looks absolutely nothing like Chris Pratt. And I mean it's BAD. Really, really BAD. I'm not sure if they couldn't get the rights to the likenesses of the actors, but oh LORD does it just look bad. Quill looks more like Sean Gunn than he does Chris Pratt. Fortunately, the character's trademark wit and snark remain. The other Guardians are also very true to their counterparts, though the animations are a bit off for some. It may just be Telltales' style, but why is Gamora's hair purple? Why do Rocket's eyes look like he's seen some serious shit? It's curious to me, though it may just be a stylistic choice and I really just need to get over it.

But the art design isn't what people come to Telltale for! If the memes are any indication, it's because of something that someone will remember! That's right, choices! You get plenty. And plenty of Quick Time Events to break up your decision making. And that is basically the only mechanics there are in the game. You make some choices in conversation and in conflicts, you have a Quick Time event laden action scene, and repeat the process.

The actual game play boils down to that LA Noire style of things where you wander around environments and interact with them to find clues. Eventually, you trip over everything enough times to find the things you need. Rinse and repeat.

The plot, however, is where the game is actually very interesting and is  - as I've acknowledged before on this very blog - something that will get me to play almost any game regardless of how the mechanics are. The Guardians of the Galaxy go out and pursue Thanos, who has beaten the Nova Corps left, right, and center in order to get his hands on an ancient artifact known as the Eternity Forge. He does retrieve it, though after some minor puzzle solving and a lengthy series of quick time events, the Guardians do the unthinkable...and kill Thanos.

Let me repeat that, since I know those of my readers who read comics are going to be shocked.

The Guardians of the Galaxy go out and kill Thanos.

Y'know, Thanos? That guy who worships Death? That guy who once went out and got a gauntlet that let him casually wipe out half the universe with the snap of a finger?

Yeah. That guy.

And he goes down like a bitch, too.

Yeah. I can't get over it. The guy who it took half the Marvel universe to stop. Not kill, stop. He goes down so, so easily.  Of course, it turns out the Eternity Forge is able to resurrect the dead, so I doubt it'll be the last we see of the Big Purple Bastard, though they do try to lay it on thick as the galaxy celebrates the death of one of its greatest threats.

But the choices come onward again through lengthy cutscenes, having the player take the role of Peter Quill (for the most part) and interacting with the other memories of the Guardians in order to have conversations that will build on later events. Presumably, anyway. As of this writing, only Episode 2 has been released (yes, I'll be doing that next week) and the long-term effects of everything have yet to be seen.

On the whole, it's definitely not a bad first effort in a Telltale Guardians universe. It has the same problems of a lot of force decision games, but it does retain a great deal of what is beloved about the characters, as well as the somewhat goofy, somewhat serious style of everything. And, of course, excellent music as one would expect from a Guardians-related product.

Not much else I can say. Looking forward to the rest.

Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series is now available from Telltale Games for Android, iOS, Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, June 9, 2017