Hugo (PG)

I had some serious doubts at the beginning, which centers around three people trying to out-asshole each other. Hugo is a whiny little thieving shit, the old man in the toy shop is a cantankerous old codger with a stick shoved so far up his ass he coughs up sawdust, and the cop is a Nazi. I gradually warmed up as the story unfolds and the three characters' backstories and reasons for being such jerks come to light. Okay, it's a bit tricky for me to review this because half the movie is watching how all the characters and plot points come together to make each others' worlds work (like the gears in Hugo's automaton thingy!), and I don't want to blow it for would-be viewers. And if nothing else, the visuals are a steampunk fanatic's dream. I suppose if I had to nitpick, the movie Hugo's dad described to him, what the automaton does, and the identity of the toy shop owner who just happened to work in the train station Hugo lived in all seemed a bit too coincidental, but it's not like it's harder to swallow than half the stuff that goes on in Phoenix Wright.

And my anal-retentive complaint of the movie is when Hugo says every part in a machine is there for a reason, and none of them are excessive. Yeah, I know what he meant, but I also think somebody needed to explain to him what overengineering means.


Nim's Island (G)

My mother dragged me into this film because it was about a girl and her animal friends and she thought I'd like it, so I guess she thinks I'm still five years old. For an adult it's a boring, watered down, little kid's version of Robinson Crusoe crossed with Home Alone, peppered with cringe-tastic animal antics and one of the most despicable lead child characters since the boy from Mary Poppins - it's bad enough we're constantly reminded of what a unique little flower she is with a completely original name her mother made up, because nobody's ever heard of the rats of Nymh, but when she screams at Alexandra to get off her island and goes running off, that completely killed what little affection I might have ever had for her.

The only time the movie really came alive for me was the banter between the author Alexandra and her Indiana Jones-esque character Alex, although it's a bit ambiguous if Alex really exists as some kid of spirit or if Alexandra is just incredibly schizophrenic. But it really says something about the film when after it ends, I'm left wishing I'd been watching a movie about the adventures of a character who technically didn't exist.


Year of the Griffin (Diana Wynne Jones)

The sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm is actually quite a different book. While Dark Lord of Derkholm was about a magical dimension being trodden on by the real world, Year of the Griffin is an analogy of the real-life school system using a wizarding school, like what Harry Potter completely failed to be. With Harry Potter it was just "Wizards also have to go to school and deal with tyrannical teachers". But the school in Year of the Griffin has teachers who only became teachers to avoid unemployment, try to get as many people as possible mediocre educations for money, and think learning should be standardized and are appalled at the idea of their students having fun with their book learnin', all spiced up with griffins and assassins and trips to the moon and Diana Wynne Jones fantasy. Although the ending felt like it was setting up a sequel that never came.

I also thought I'd explain what the hell is going on in the picture on the cover, because I was completely baffled until I read the scene in the book. Due to the students experimenting with protection spells, a couple of assassins who came for their friend wound up trapped on one of the university towers, with one spinning around on the top and one dangling by his belt from a spike on the side. It is not, as I originally thought, an assassin tied to some funny-looking balloon.


The Underneath (Kathi Appelt)

The summary on the back of the book presents it as an abused hound dog hiding three cats from a man who can be best described as the redneck version of Lord Voldemort, but it's actually two parallel stories; one is grounded in realism with the aforementioned cats and hound dog, and the other in Native American myth with magic shapeshifting animals and sentient trees. The chapters flit back and forth between the two, and though they intersect from time to time the two stories really only converge at the very end. Funnily enough, I came for the story of the cats, but found the story of the shapeshifting animals the more engrossing of the two.

That said, the hound dog's songs are such a big deal and parallel the younger water moccassin, but they read like bad translations. Also, contrary to where you'll find this in book stores I'd be hard pressed to call it a kid's book. Yeah, Amazing Maurice had some pretty dark shit going on, but for fuck's sake, in this book a water moccasin's lust completely destroys her daughter's family and drives her to starve herself to death in depression, and Redneck Voldemort starts out as a kid who delights in torturing animals and poisoning birdbaths getting punched by his father so hard it deforms his mouth, then he shoots and starves his dog, and worst of all, drowns a cat. He gets his comeuppance at the end (and boy does he get it. The book seems to suggest he didn't even get escorted to the afterlife by a hummingbird), but yeah, while I'm all for authors not condescending kids, I'd rather they not traumatize them either.


Dark Void (360, T)

Since my main complaints towards VVVVVV, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and to an extent Kirby's Adventure were aimed at the controls, and now this, I'm starting to wonder if I'm getting too anal about controls in games lately. But there is still something really off about this game's aiming. It's like the developers thought you'd be playing with a mouse and keyboard setup, and they were totally flummoxed by a console controller. Whenever I tried to aim at anything I'd either come up short or overshoot my target, and would have to constantly fiddle around with the cursor while enemies were blasting plasma in my ass, even with the analog sensitivity as low as it would go (and don't even ask about maxed out). The camera also does this really stupid thing where it speeds up after holding the right analog stick for a second, and there's no way to turn it the hell off.

But even getting over the controls, Dark Void deeper problem is that it's totally unfinished. About halfway through the missions get disjointed as the contents of a Lincoln Logs canister kicked across the living room, the final boss felt more like the Act 2 boss, and at one moment this giant worm swallows your ship and sends everyone on board in hysterics, and then you beat in about a minute. It's also really buggy. On two occasions the game glitched out and I couldn't continue, once because Will's gun stopped firing so I couldn't destroy a power cell I'd just exposed and once because a door didn't open, so I had to kill myself and replay the section. Once an enemy fired at me and his shot just froze midair for several seconds before finally vanishing. And I don't know if this game has adaptive difficulty or if this was another bug, but at one point in the game I had to destroy three of those lizard mechs before they destroyed the Ark. After several attempts that ended with me getting shot out of the sky, when I finally did beat them it was because the health meter for the Ark didn't appear and I was able to take my time with them.

Ultimately the game left me feeling not so much a sense of accomplishment that I'd overcome its challenges, but that I'd spent several hours banging my head against it until I finally gave way.


Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Third Season (DVD)

Some of the schemes were so convoluted I lost track of what was going on, and some episodes didn't do a very good job of tying up all the loose ends. And several episodes had Hogan's crew making two attempts to get their task done (i.e. free some prisoners, destroy some German armaments, etc.), where the first attempt fails for no other reason than to pad out the show, because the second plan doesn't build on it or even acknowledge it happened.

But I hate to be too hard on this set, because I think the chimpanzee episode is my favorite of the series so far.