The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (PG)

If I wasn't told otherwise, I would have sworn this was a Studio Ghibli film. It looks like one, and it has the spectacle over substance plot of one. So Makoto is a klutzy girl who suddenly discovers she can time travel by jumping, and the first hour of the film is spent watching her dick around with them. She replays her night at the karaoke bar again and again, she displaces her accidents on other people, and is basically wildly irreponsible with them. The nonsense explanation for this originally is that every girl goes through a phase where she can do this, and I can tell you from experience that doesn't happen. But okay, maybe the art restorer didn't understand Makoto really could travel through time, and is talking about how every girl goes through a phase where they start imagining themselves time traveling. I'll buy that. Then it turns out there's a completely different explanation for why Makoto could time travel that, believe it or not, manages to be even more retarded. Thanks, movie.


Defense Grid: The Awakening (PC, E10+)

Yup, finally got around to finishing off those last three maps! Tower defense games have gotten to be a dime a dozen lately, but Defense Grid is certainly on the upper tier, with has plenty of maps with a variety of challenges to keep you on your toes. Some levels have you buidling towers next to the aliens' path, and the trick is figuring out what towers work best where. Others are loaded with customization options for elaborate mazes you could make the aliens run back and forth in by shutting down and activating new towers at the right times. And then you have those spaghetti bowl levels, with multiple floors and wrapping pathways between them, which could be a real pain in the ass. Also, a tip: the Canon and Concussion towers seem unimpressive at first, and they actually do pretty much suck at level 1, but figure out how to use them and they'll be your favorite towers.

I guess I might nitpick some things about your helper, a veteran of the previous war against the aliens whose consciousness was uploaded into a computer. As far as helpers go in video games he's actually not bad; he is somewhat helpful in introducing you to the towers, informing you when the orbital laser is ready to fire again, and alerting you to incoming aliens in the event you're too busy managing the towers and not paying attention to the ticker at the top, he plays a reasonable role in the game's story, and his dapper British accent is miles more enjoyable to listen to than Slippy Toad or "RODDY? RODDY?" constantly coming through your intercom. But hearing "Take those things out!" or "If we get through this I'd buy you a drink, if I could!" or "That's what a cannon's made for!" for the umpteenth time still gets kind of tiring. It's also just a bit mood wrecking when you're supposed to be fighting off alien hordes bent on the ultimate destruction of humans and he alternates between musing on the previous war and his dead son, and babbling about raspberries.


Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, with RiffTrax Audio (PG)

Not quite on the level of Sorcerer's Stone, but still damned funny. However, as overused as the farting Hagid and gay Snape jokes were in Sorcerer's Stone, their worst crime was just being juvenile. Chamber of Secrets eases up on the Hagrid jokes and all but ditches the Snape jokes in favor of constant "people at Hogwarts worship the devil" jokes. It's tiring enough hearing those things from Bible thumpers and other alarmists who don't know anything about the books (like, say, they're bloody lousy and there's far better for kids to be growing up on), I don't need to be constantly hearing it while watching the movie too.

I guess they had a bigger budget for this one since the basilisk was far more believable than anything in Sorcerer's Stone. But couldn't they have used some of that CGI technology to do something about Ron's face in the giant spider scene? Seriously, what the hell was that, Grint?


South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut (R)

Lately I've been watching episodes of South Park online, and wondering if it's bad that I can actually understand Kenny half the time. The thing is, I've been getting more out of the newer episodes, after they tweaked the show a bit and stopped doing things like killing Kenny every episode and having Kyle kick his younger brother, and took more to lampooning current events. I mean, the Towelie episode? I don't care if it's supposed to be a classic, what the hell was that? The South Park movie was made three years into South Park's running, so guess which episodes it's more like. It's okay and I appreciate the commentary on censorship and media alarmists (this also makes the curmudgeon in me laugh hysterically), but when I find a montage of Disney villains singing "Blame Canada" far funnier than anything in the actual film, I think I can say it isn't my thing.

On an unrelated note, this movie was a real pain in the ass to watch. I rented it from one Hasting's, only to have it freeze about ten minutes in, right after the boys curse out the teacher, on three seperate players. I took it back and they resurfaced the disc, but it still froze at the same spot. So I took it back and rented it from another Hasting's, and that copy froze during the "Blame Canada" song. I had to watch the song on YouTube (the original, not the Disney version, of course), then go back to the DVD afterward.


The Cat Returns (G)

I think I have a new favorite Studio Ghibli film! Although I'll be buggered if I can name what my previous favorite from them was. Maybe Spirited Away? Well anyway, if Ponyo was inspired by The Little Mermaid, then The Cat Returns was inspired by Urashima Taro, being about a girl who rescues a cat and gets whisked away to a fantasy world as a reward. This is a (mostly) a must-see for cat lovers, as scenes like Haru being carried around on the cat stampede are just going to melt your heart.

The movie is as visually impressive as you expect from Studio Ghibli, but the plot gets rocky when Haru meets the Baron. It assumes you've already seen Whispers of the Heart, which I haven't and didn't even realize this was a pseudo-sequel to, so the Baron and the crow seem to come completely out of nowhere. I was left wondering what the Cat Bureau even was and how/if it was related to the Cat Kingdom, and whatever the Baron's reasons for wanting to help Haru aren't made very clear. The big reveal of Muta's true identity had absolutely no impact on the film, and regarding what I said a minute ago about about it "mostly" being a must-see for cat lovers thing, the way the King of the Cats dealt with poor entertainers was rather... troubling.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, with RiffTrax Audio (PG)

This is so far my least favorite of the Harry Potter movie RiffTrax. Mike's imitation of the music as the kids escape Hagrid's cabin went on way too long, and they had even more Satan jokes, which really got on my nerves. Other than that, I'm having a hell of a time remembering much about it. Maybe it was the riffers talking over dialogue, but I can't imagine anyone who hasn't read the books being able to tell what's going on. And was it just me, or did Sirius have a thing for Lupin? But then, Snape says something about them acting like a couple of high school sweethearts, so maybe it was intentional.


Fruits Basket: A Great Transformation? (DVD)

From what I remember of the first couple volumes of the manga, this is a literal translation of it with dreadful voice acting on Yuki's part. I guess he's supposed to be soft-spoken and mysterious, but he just sounded phoned in most of the time. Plus I'd often have to turn the volume up to even hear him, only to have to turn it back down when Kyo starts yelling. I tried switching to Japanese like I did with Azumanga Daioh, but that was practically unwatchable. The subtitles are literal to the original Japanese and very Engrishy, and Yuki's extremely girl voice somehow manages to be even harder to listen to. Kyo made me laugh hysterically from time to time, but it's not enough to make me recommend this over the manga.


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, with RiffTrax Audio (PG)

Goblet of Fire wins an instant half Skitty for dropping the Satan worshipping jokes. Well, okay, there was one about goat skulls at the very beginning of the movie when they get to the Quidditch World Cup, but since it was the only one I can think of I'll let that slide. I'm also a bit ashamed I didn't notice Cedric was Robert Pattinson that until the gang started making sparkly vampire jokes.

The movie itself wins massive points from me for completely dropping Hermione's elf rights tirade from the book. Still, the dragon trial really wasn't worth dragging out the way it was and didn't even make any sense taking place where nobody could see it, but at least we never had to watch a damn Quidditch match.


Toy Story 3 (G)

They were clearly going for tear jerking over humor here, although Spanish Buzz made me laugh way harder than he probably should have. You know how the incinerator scene is going to end, but dammit if it still isn't freaking intense. And how many childhoods died with the final scene?

But the trip there isn't very consistent. First and foremost, the whole movie get started because Andy wanted to store the toys in the attic, but put them in a garbage bag at the behest of the screenwriters who wanted the toys to think they were being thrown away when any one else would have used a box, and his mother told him to. I understand watching the toys stored away in the attic would have been a very dull movie, but couldn't they have come up with a less contrived way for the toys to wind up at the day care? Maybe have Andy put the toys in an incorrectly labeled box, or get distracted by the dog and accidentally leave the box of toys by the donations/garbage?

Another big one is, I'm having a really hard time swallowing the events that drove the villain bad. The girl's parents just left her toys at the park? She didn't lose them, she was sleeping with them. And even if something happened between the scene where she falls asleep and the family going home, they didn't make sure they had the toys before they went home? I also love that she lost three toys, and instead of the parents going back to the park for them they replace one. Actually, there's a lot of dodgy plot movement, like a point when Woody apparently teleports into a bucket (look, if he didn't teleport, how the hell did he get in without being seen?), and what was with the garbage chute scene? There was a clear gap between the wall the chute comes out and the dumpster they could have jumped down into, but if they absolutely needed to stay on the wall for some reason they could tossed the front half of Slinky up to close the dumpster's lid, but then I guess the villain couldn't get thrown in.


Final Fantasy VI (SNES)

As a note, I played the original SNES release which is called Final Fantasy III, but I'm going with the true numbering.

Final Fantasy VI is my all-time favorite RPG and one of my favorite games period, so I'm going to be biased as all hell here. I will confess it's not the most challenging RPG out there - the esper system lends itself to massive abuse, and Ultima completely breaks the game. But it's still loaded with imaginative boss fights, a colorful cast, and great visuals and music. And hey, I beat Wrexoul legitimately again!

I'd also like to rant about something. I'll agree with the world that Gau sucks, but I'm sick of people saying Cyan is useless because his special skill is to sit around and let the enemies pound on you while a meter slowly fills up. These people don't seem to realize he can also be charging while your guys are attacking. Quickly assign everyone else attacks that will take a while to play out, such as healing spells on the whole party and the Genji Glove/Offering combo, and he can charge up while the other party members cover him. And you'd be sitting around doing nothing while everyone else wraps up their attacks anyway, so even if the meter took as long to get to Quadra Slice as people think it does (it doesn't), you're getting a powerful attack out of it. Okay, other characters may still be more useful than him - you might not be able to really utilize Sword Tech, or find yourself waiting for the somebody else's ATB gague to fill up - but if you're not seeing the difference between "Not as broken as Sabin" and "Useless", you're settings your standards too high. Although I notice these are the same people who trash talk Mystic Quest, so screw them.

Also, screw the GBA version, screw "He'd kill his best friend for the right price," screw the Dragon's Den, and screw anyone who disagrees, this is the way to play Final Fantasy VI.


Porco Rosso (PG)

The more of his movies I watch, the more I'm convinced Hayao Miyazaki films just aren't my thing (I suppose it's worth mentioning The Cat Returns was directed by an animator from previous Studio Ghibli films). Most of his movies feel like half hour cartoon episodes stretched out to ninety minutes with eye candy, and Porco Rosso is no exception, except here the so-called "eye candy" is watching a plane being built for the middle third of the film. Some things are just made up as it goes along, like during Porco and the Texan's slugout and they knock each other out, one of the pirates says to Porco's lady friend that the "first one to get up wins!" Um, says who? Besides you, I mean. Speaking of, Miyazaki seems to have a thing for pirates that start out as the bad guys, but turn out to be not all that bad and even assist the heroes towards the end of the film. Castle in the Sky also did this.

But there's one thing that bugged me throughout the whole film; how come nobody seems to really care that Porco has the face of a damn pig? Okay, they notice he's a pig, but aside from insulting him with it, everyone treats his condition the same way they would a battle scar, or an eyepatch. Yes, those things are normal distinguishing features among pilots. But being a bloody pig is not, what is wrong with you people?


Final Fantasy IV (SNES)

Again, going with the true numbering. Which is a little odd, because even though the Final Fantasy "II" is a localization thing, this feels more like the sequel to Final Fantasy 1 than the real II is - you've got elemental crystals/orbs and fiends, a dwarf that forges you Excalibur when you bring him some Adamant ore, and there's even a dark elf. And yet, if you've gone through III you can totally see its influence on IV with the party classes and the final section of the game which has you gathering death weapons that were sealed away for their power. Final Fantasy IV combines the best of the previous Final Fantasies, tops it off with one hell of a final boss and a far stronger cast than II, creating the standard for great JRPGs.

I guess the often bashed thing I'll defend here is the translation. Okay, it's far from perfect, but its worst crime is obviously needing a native English speaker to look it over - the credits list three translators, and all three have Japanese names. But it's nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be. You can still figure out what everyone's saying and what's going on, the characters' personalities get through, the prayers to the heroes is still emotionally powerful, and I've seen much worse. Legend of Heroes. That Chrono Trigger fan retranslation. Maybe Blasting Again to an extent. And you'll have to excuse me when I say I vastly prefer "Zeromus! For the sake of all things on Earth I will destroy you!" over "Zeromus! I can't lose! I... just... can't!"


The Princess and the Frog (G)

When you're telling a story to make a point, you really need to watch how you make that point. I guess this film's moral was supposed to be "Work hard and don't take the easy way out, and when you achieve your dreams it'll be that much more satisfying" but it ends up being "Working hard is fine, but you can also just marry a rich guy. It helps to have some powerful friends, too. Just don't go making deals with the devil." Gee, thanks.

And there's really not much else going for this movie. I wouldn't have minded the singing as much if the songs were actually good. Instead, they're on the level of those inspirational songs Orson did in the early days of US Acres, only not quite as embarrassing and with more spectacular visuals to accompany them. And you totally know how the bad guy is going to die after he makes such a big deal about that talisman.

I was half-tempted to rate this a "Lacking", but Louis's flashback of him trying to join the band on the boat made me laugh out loud. However, I was also bugged to death by the scene where he gets covered in burrs which the firefly has to painfully pull out. Not because said burrs are being pulled off his ass, but because an alligator's hide is way too tough for them.


Final Fantasy V (SNES via Flash Cart)

I know I originally played through this less than a year ago, but I had a train to keep rolling. Which is also why I'm screencapping this through the Super Nintendo and my capture card instead of SNESx, so that it matches the other Final Fantasy screenshots.

Just about everything I said last year holds up - the Job system is still a ball to screw around with, the bosses make great use of it, and Cara can still go piss up a rope. The soundtrack may have grown on me a bit in the past year, but it definitely works better in-game than listening to it on the computer. I didn't beat Shinryuu and Omega this time, mainly because, much as I enjoy this game, I didn't feel like spending a couple hours grinding for a Dragon Spear again.

My rant for this Final Fantasy is directed at the dipshits whining about "Aerith". Nevermind it makes you sound like a weeaboo with a lisp, that was what her name was supposed to be!! So, how come you don't hear anyone complaining that "Exdeath" was supposed to be "Exodus"? Why do the same people who insist on "Aerith" actually embrace the changing of Butz to Bartz, although I think that change was even worse - "Butz" may be kinda dippy, but "Bartz" just makes me want to kill somebody.

To answer my own question, because Final Fantasy V fanboys are neither as numerous nor as retarded as VII fanboys.


The Dark Crystal (G)

The main problem with a lot of children's adventure films is, as an adult you pretty much know how they're going to end: it's good versus evil, and in the end good will do whatever it needs to to win. Here the world crisis is that a Muppet named Jen needs to repair the Dark Crystal before the three suns align or the world is doomed because somebody says so, and honking huge spoiler here, Jen returns the shard to the crystal and saves the world. So for most people, it's going to be the road there that matters. Except there's very little tension in the action scenes because Jen can't die, because how else is the world going to be saved?

Granted, these movies usually come with some kind of moral that the hero has to pick up along the way, use to overcome evil, and teach the viewer. But if Dark Crystal had such a moral, I'll be buggered if I can figure out what. Don't fuck with the balance of the universe? Yeah, I'll keep that in mind if I ever come across the physical manifestation of world harmony.

It's more of an experiment with high-budget Muppet technology than anything, and while there are some fascinating images and many of the creatures are well done, Jen himself is stuck in the uncanny valley of Muppetry. His mouth doesn't move right, if at all, and his arm movement is completely inorganic. And really, did the Skeksis' dinner scene have to go on that long? And that one Skeksis that goes "MMMmmmm!" all the time? Nobody realized how irritating that is?


Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins (Game Boy)

Yeah, I'm really not sure what possessed me to replay this. It may have given us Wario, but it's as insultingly easy as Yoshi's Story and even has an easy mode for fuck's sake. I haven't tried it, but seriously, how does this game get any easier? Are all the normal enemies removed from the levels, and the bosses only have one hit point? And the soundtrack is mostly different ways of playing the same annoying song.


Men at Arms (Terry Pratchett)

Embarrassing confession time: I'd been chipping away at this book for over a year. I was using it as my waiting room/laundromat book for most of that time, when one day I finally decided to pick off the second half. That probably wasn't the best way to read this, as it kind of left my thoughts on the book chopped up.

So, we're back to the Night Watch, who have recruited a few new members while Captain Vimes is in the process of getting married and retiring. Two are a troll and a dwarf whose species are supposed to make them enemies, but the best parts of the book are the two playing off each other, and one is a lady werewolf who can talk to a mangy stray dog. There's a guy with a gun killing people, and it's up to this ragtag team to get to the bottom of it. Like most Discworlds, it's a good read and damned funny, but it's not going to change how you view the world.


Super Mario Land (Game Boy)

It's also incredibly easy, unless you're playing on the blurry brick Game Boy maybe, but at least it has a quirkly atmosphere that makes it more remarkable than Super Mario Land 2.