Maniac Mansion (1990 - NES)

The NES version of Maniac Mansion is the only one I've ever completed, and as such, I have certain biases for it. Despite how often it gets criticized for Nintendo's heavy censorship, there are just certain things I still like better about the NES version as opposed to what I played of the DOS version. Foremost is the excellent soundtrack, which is mostly unique to the NES. The NES version of the house explosion, which scared the crap out of me when I first caused it years ago, is my favorite version of it by far. And for reasons I can't really explain, I just like Weird Ed better with a beret. I'm not even sure why that change was made, other than that someone must have agreed with me.

Where this differs from other NES point-and-click adventure games like Shadowgate and Deja Vu, is that you command a trio of kids (selected from a group of six), instead of just one unseen character, to enter the Edison family mansion and look for a way to save their kidnapped friend. This also adds an element of replay value since the kids have different skills and must solve the game differently depending on their abilities, which can even result in multiple endings. The house is full of strange things, like a nuclear reactor in the basement and a flying Edsel, and even stranger inhabitants, such as disembodied, talking tentacles. Interacting with these objects and characters is how you make progress, but figuring out what to do isn't always easy. There are what I'd call four "hidden difficulty levels" in this game depending on what kids you take (and maybe even a fifth if you choose the two kids who have identical skills). Ending the game might be as simple as making a phone call, but dealing with a publishing company takes a much longer, more elaborate sequence of steps.

So, yeah, it's censored, but the game has so much atmosphere, quirkiness, humor, horror, and originality, that it's impossible for it to have been completely suppressed. One of the most unique NES games. Don't be a tuna head! Play it!
Rating: 4.5/5

Horrible Bosses (2011 - DVD)

Of all the "silly comedy" movies I've seen lately, this one was the weakest, both in terms of how often it made me laugh and the storytelling. I think many people have had an encounter at some point in their lives with a crappy boss, but the caricatures in this movie are so over-the-top, they're more like cartoons. Some exaggeration for comedic value is acceptable, but Kevin Spacey's character in particular is so excessively unlikeable, with nary a redeeming value, that even after a surprising plot twist, there's no place for him to go but into complete absurdity. Maybe the beginning of the movie was more realistic in how it dealt with its situations, but by the end we've got car chase scenes and a resolution that felt like something out of Scooby-Doo.

It's funny to me how so many reviews praise this movie on the strength of the cast alone, when all the while I was watching it, I felt like it was a Hangover movie with a different cast. It's not that they're bad. They're good. But it also seems like you could've replaced them with the three guys from The Hangover and had almost the same results. Although I will say that Jamie Foxx's character, a conman named Motherfucker Jones who swindles the guys out of their money, yet is not completely heartless, was my favorite thing about the film.

Rating: 2.5/5

Spider-Man 2 (2004 - DVD)

While this movie is a massive improvement over the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man film, viewing it now, I can see where I have either become a much more cynical, or much more observant person than I was when I first saw it in a theater years ago. The CGI was not as obvious to me back then as it is now. I believe that figures into a problem I have with resolving the Peter Parker/Spider-Man character in my head. It seems like, for most of the time, this movie is a drama about a college kid, Peter Parker, whose life and relationship with his girlfriend is falling apart. I have a hard time thinking of that as being the same character as Spider-Man. It's like every now and then the drama is interrupted by this cartoon character who shows up to fight Doctor Octopus. I did not have this problem with the Spider-Man cartoon I used to watch in the 90s, and I think the difference is that in the cartoon, voiceovers were used for both Peter Parker and Spider-Man to express what he was thinking to the audience. The movie doesn't use this technique, leaving an element to connect the two noticeably absent. Also, since the whole cartoon was animated, the look was always consistent. While Toby Maguire did do a lot of his own stunts, he still doesn't quite look the same as the CGI being who moves in ways not possible for a real human to do.

Doc Ock is very brilliantly played by Alfred Molina, and is the best thing about the movie. Sam Raimi had rewritten him to be a much more sympathetic and motivated villain than what I remember from the cartoons (and what the DVD special features informed me about the comic book version). If Doc Ock hadn't been cast so perfectly and written so skillfully, the movie probably wouldn't have worked at all for me.

While I generally agreed with the movie's morality that Mary Jane should have a say in whether or not she wants to carry on a relationship with Peter despite the complications brought on by his alter-ego, I'm not sure it was the best idea to bring in separate love interests for these two before that moment occurs. As much as we're supposed to feel happy for them in the end, I just end up feeling sorry for the people they ditched (especially the Russian girl who liked Peter because she has so little else in her life).

On one final note...I do generally appreciate the role humor can play in stories, even if they aren't comedies. But it usually only works if the tone of the comedy is consistent with the feeling of the drama and/or action. I am able to accept that there's a kid jumping around with the powers of a spider, and I am able to accept that there is a scientist who fused a bunch of robotic tentacles to his back and became utterly controlled by their AI. I'm fine with all that, and the movie had me up until the point Doc Ock throws Aunt May up the side of a tall building and she saves herself by hooking her cane onto a statue. At that moment, all sense of urgency and tension fell away, leaving me dangling, along with Aunt May, in the middle of a Three Stooges routine. A few scenes earlier, Ock's mechanical arms slaughtered an entire operating room full of people. To have elderly Aunt May thwart the same horrific fate in such a ridiculous manner is jarring and inconsistent.
Rating: 3/5



AddThis Social Bookmark Button Dreamhost