The Week in Old Entertainment: June 13th, 2013

Phonograph

In rather interesting developments (I got Dani to play a video game!!), I have a mix of mediums for this week’s review of old entertainment: The Witches and Hancock on the film side of things, and the Playstation 2 game Final Fantasy X!

The Witches is a fun Jim Henson production from 1990 based on a Roald Dahl book and starring Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Jasen Fisher, and Rowan Atkinson. It gets things started properly by having a little spooky bedtime story about how witches are evil, hairless, soulless creatures that want to kill little children because they smell dog droppings when in their presence. Our protagonist, the tiny child Luke, loses his parents and nearly loses his grandmother all in the first 15 minutes of the film – and even has a really creepy encounter with a witch. When I learned about this movie, I did not know of its Jim Henson connection, but even without the creatures this film does a fantastic job of being eerie through superb make-up and casting (where do they get all those people with eyes so far apart in England?). Straight off the bat, I knew if I has seen this film as a child, I might have had nightmares about it and that, today, gives this one thumb up already.

To give the plot away, the boy and his grandmother inadvertently stay at a hotel where a coven of witches is having a summit where they plan to kill every child in the UK. the boy gets caught and turned into a mouse – things get the royal Jim Henson treatment from there. The movie is fun, childish, and follows all of those Roald Dahl orphan stories to a unique solution. My favorite things about the movie were Rowan Atkinson’s normal oafishness and the initial idea that these outcasts from society are having a meeting at a nice sea-side hotel and the one person who should not be around them (a child) is there to witness the proceedings. I knew this setup from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, where a young girl and her travelling companion end up at a Georgi motel playing host to a convention of serial killers. It’s a delicious trick and one that should be seen more often.

My girlfriend Dani had seen this back in her childhood and explained before viewing that, beside the creepy witch parts, this is the sort of tale that sets up other movies later on for fantasy success. Could Hocus Pocus, Addams Family or even Harry Potter have had as much success without The Witches preceding them?

It was good. Some of the creature effects don’t hold up as well since this is a mixed fantasy with reality movie, as opposed to something like Dark Crystal that has no human actors, but still worth the view. I’d give the Witches a score of 8 rat-transmogrifying hexes.

I don’t know if it was because of the release of Arrested Development’s fourth season, but the Netflix queue was starting to look Jason Bateman-heavy. The pairing of him with Will Smith for the 2008 super anti-hero flick Hancock looked decent enough when I saw previews, but this movie didn’t quite grab me enough to pay for a ticket back then. I didn’t even know this movie had Charlize Theron in it, so her involvement in the major elements of the plot was both surprising and enjoyable. How could they not let people know that Charlize Theron is in this movie? She’s the Oscar winner in the bunch! Plus, she and Bateman were brilliant together in Arrested Development’s third season. Hancock under-sold itself by relying on just Will Smith to bring people to the movies.

Hancock has some bizarre twists. Will Smith is Hancock, the perpetually drunk superhero with Superman-like ability. He can fly, is strong enough to rip open cars and stop moving trains, and impervious to bullets. The first bizarre twist involves Hancock taking an admiring groupie home to his trailer and some nasty ejaculatory humor. Yeah…    Then we introduce all of the other players – Jason Bateman as a PR guy that gets saved by an act of “heroism” by Hancock and Charlize Theron as his wife. Immediately there’s strange looks between Theron and Smith that threw me. Was she disgusted my Hancock? Turned on? A mix? The look said bedroom eyes, but the characterization in the plot/story said disgust. I wuz confuzzed.

SPOILER – SKIP TO THE SCORE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW – the twist of the movie is that Charlize Theron and Will Smith are both superhumans. They’d been husband and wife for thousands of years, but a bout of amnesia for Hancock allowed her to escape the immortal lifestyle and embrace one as a mortal. Did anyone else expect this sort of Grecian god aspect to the movie? It kind of threw me and I’m not sure why. The explanation for the how and why this hero has his powers took a much larger role in the movie than the parts I liked, which was mostly Hancock trying to rehabilitate his reputation as an upstanding superhero and not a drunken asshole. Maybe this was more of a twist than I was expecting, but the last half to third of the movie felt disjointed from the idea of the movie that the first half presented. I don’t think they even needed to go into why and how this superhero got his powers, I liked the movie that was trying to dry Hancock out. The actors did a great job, the problems in this movie are script-based.

I’ll give Hancock a score of 5 bottles of bourbon, which is definitely less than the number of whiskey bottles broken in the movie.

The interesting twist to the last week was about a two hour stretch of Saturday night where I got Dani to play Final Fantasy X on the Playstation 2. My gf does not play video games on her own, but we do play silly, simple games together on the Wii like Dr. Mario, Tetris Party, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and Wii Sports. Somehow, I convinced her to play 2001’s Final fantasy X for 45 minutes. In fact, we had to negotiate the time she would play beforehand, but humored me as her adventure wore on.

final-fantasy-x-screenshot

Yeah, this is one of the sappier openings in the series…

Listening to her play was hilarious. She’s familiar with the Final Fantasy series from my own enthusiasm for the games, and from watching college boys play FFX – you know, back when it was a relevant game. She mocks and mimics the whiny main character, Tidus. She ad-libs new reactions and criticisms of the plot in the manner of a Mystery Science Theater critic. She even confuses gameplay with the many cut-scenes that begin this adventure. “I have no idea how I’m doing this,” was her favorite phrase as the game showed off cut scene after cut scene.I think her actual enjoyment of the game only started after the first hour – when she was finally deposited 1000 years into the future and marooned with a gang of Al-Bhed forcing her to do work. She got to a decent stopping place after getting to Beseid and meeting Wakka, he of the awesome faux-Jamaican accent and red-plume coxcomb hair. It was a great first step for her.

I’ve played Final Fantasy I thru XIII. I admit that I’ve only finished half of those, but I’m a huge fan of the series. Final Fantasy X deserves some praise for the leap it made from Playstation 1 to 2, and for being one of the most solid plots of a fantastic story series. It’s also the first to have voice acting, but like the next installment on the PS2, FFXII, that voice acting has its moments. Tidus is whiny, edging on sappy and nauseating, especially with that high pitch. Dani didn’t get to Yuna yet, but I find her to be vapid and uninteresting. The surrounding characters are more interesting, especially when you get to their individual twists. Despite twelve years of technology, the colors and textures of the realm of Final fantasy X hold up to similar games of today. Sure, it’s not both gritty and clean like a Modern Warfare, but the 3-D world still looks good.

I’m not sure if it grabbed Dani enough for her to put in the 50 or so hours to finish the game, but I’ll see what I can do to make that happen. That time frame is based on if she doesn’t play any Blitzball. And she might play some Blitzball…

Final Fantasy X, as a game to be played in 2013 and beyond, gets a solid 7 and a half cut scenes to be endured. The other cut scenes you want to see.

Who knows what old thing I’ll review next week? One sneak peek: the Hitchcock biopic with Anthony Hopkins is slated next on the queue. 🙂

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About recalcitrant041

Andrew Babcock has manifest destiny on his mind. The road west is paved with basketball, psychic dreams, passable egg-toast, Dungeons & Dragons, and haiku.

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