Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Action Superhero Film Review: Spider-Man 2

The second film in Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy was more Peter Parker's story than Spider-Man. It also had a fantastic, realistic portrayal of Doctor Octopus that influenced the comics as much as it was influenced by them.

Peter Parker is having trouble balancing his real-world identity with that of his superhero identity as Spider-Man. He has trouble making appointments, such as classes at his university and his new job as a pizza delivery man. He loses the latter and is close to being expelled from the former.

On top of this, his best friend Harry Osborne is convinced that Spider-Man killed his father. Also, Peter and Mary Jane are still infatuated with each other, but Peter doesn't want to tell her that out of fear that she would be attacked by Spider-Man's enemies if they discovered his secret identity, as had happened to his Aunt May via the Green Goblin.

Peter tries to remain friends with MJ, but his time as Spider-Man is making that difficult as well. She is following her dream by acting in plays, however, Peter can't manage to make it on time due to his web-slinging alter ego. This isn't helped by the fact that an usher, played by Raimi's friend Bruce Campbell in his second cameo in the trilogy, won't let him in due to his tardiness.

All of this stress causes Peter to have, as he put it in No Way Home, a web block. This causes him to lose the ability to properly control his powers. This leads to a humorous scene where he has to use the elevator in costume since he can't swing through the city.

One of Peter's scientific idols, Otto Octavius, invented a device that gives him four extra metallic arms so that he can work in environments that human hands can't touch. He can control the device by thinking as he has a neural link to the device that is wired through his spine to his brain. The arms have sophisticated artificial intelligence, so he equipped a neural inhibitor to keep the AI from influencing him. 

Unfortunately, his inhibitor chip is burned out during a failed press exhibition. Octavius tried to control a ball of energy composed of an abundance of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen named hydrogen-3, or as Osborne put it, the power of the sun in the palm of his hand. Spider-Man manages to turn off the device holding the tritium, however, before he managed to pull the plug, Rosalie Octavius, the wife of Doctor Octavius is killed.

Doctor Octavius, himself, is injured during the aborted demonstration. He is taken to a hospital where the doctors try to cut his metal arms off of him. However, the AI resists and attacks the hospital staff. This scene is made in the style of a horror movie, with which director Sam Raimi is well acquainted having directed the original Evil Dead films.

After this, the arms gain control of Otto's mind. The AI takes Otto's pain of losing Rosalie as well as his life's work and magnifies the hatred he feels. He then becomes a villain which the Daily Bugle names Doctor Octopus.

The AI convinces Doc Ock to continue his experiment, even though the rational side of his mind thinks that the experiment as well as his mechanical arms should be away from humanity at the bottom of the ocean. Doctor Octopus uses his mechanical arms to break into a vault at a bank to gain money for his experiment. However, he is stopped by Spider-Man. Unfortunately, because Peter's Aunt May was screaming, Doc Ock chose her to hold captive in order to get the police to hold off on attacking him.

Peter eventually becomes frustrated with his double life, ditches his spider suit, and stops being Spider-Man. This has positive effects by allowing him to get to his university classes on time. He also makes it to Mary Jane's play. However, Mary Jane is betrothed so she isn't receptive to his attempts to get her to date him.

As for the visual effects, Doc Ock's AI-controlled mechanical arms look fantastic clawing up the side of buildings. It's amazing this was done with practical effects. In the versions that are 4K, or 3840 x 2160 pixels, even the computer-generated imagery in this film looks fantastic. My favorite scenes are the fire-damaged building where Peter, as himself, rescues a young girl, the scene where Doc Ock threw a car through the window of a cafe, as well as the final battle with Doctor Octopus.

The actors put in a fantastic performance. Tobey Maguire delivers a great performance as the struggling Peter Parker. Kirsten Dunst is also fantastic as Peter's love interest Mary Jane Watson, who is tired of him standing her up all the time. 

James Franco is also much better than he is credited for as Harry Osborn. He believes Spider-Man killed his father, so he is angry at Peter for taking pictures of, and defending the man he considers his enemy. His anger at Peter builds up throughout the film, as more of Harry's life falls apart, and I think Franco handled it well. He began with a friendly demeanor, then as he lost his family's money by funding Osborne's experiment he got angrier, then he bubbled over when he thought he was losing his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson to Peter. Like his performance as a grieving son in the first film, I found Franco's acting much better than I had originally thought before a rewatch.

Another that I originally disliked was how Aunt May, portrayed by Rosemary Harris, became cold to Peter after he told his aunt the truth about him letting the man who killed his Uncle Ben. However, like James Franco's performance at the end of the first film, I see this much differently now that I have suffered loss myself. Now I actually like that aspect, and I feel that Rosemary Harris once again put in a fantastic performance as a grieving widow who was dealing with a nephew that she felt was heading down a dark path. 

J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson and Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius are both standouts in this film. J.K. Simmons provides some much-needed comic relief in this otherwise serious story. His Jameson is so pitch-perfect that it feels just like the character so much that it is like J. Jonah Jameson himself jumped out of the comic books. In contrast, Molina delivers a fantastic performance, both as the friendly Otto Octavius and as the villainous Doctor Octopus. His performance was so good that his portrayal of Doc Ock is one for whom you feel sorry because he is a tragic villain with two personalities due to an invention he created to help humanity. Like the Green Goblin in the first film, I feel that Doctor Octopus was squandered in the trilogy as he was one of the characters who only appeared in one film. Also like the Green Goblin, however, this was thankfully rectified when Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus appeared in Spider-Man: No Way Home in 2019.

This film is often considered not just the best Spider-Man film, but one of the best superhero films. I think I'd personally place this second to Spider-Man: No Way Home as the best Spider-Man film, but it definitely deserves its praise as one of the best superhero films ever. The actors are great, and the effects mix practical and computer-generated imagery really well. In particular, the scene where Spider-Man saves a subway train and the New Yorkers help the injured, maskless Spider-Man, is an iconic moment in film history. It advanced the philosophy of the first film, "when you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us". The film influenced Spider-Man films, and superhero films in general, and still does to this day. This is definitely a must-watch. Like the first film, I recommend the remastered and upscaled 4K Blu-ray and digital releases for both people who have never seen it before as well as those who see it as a rewatch.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Spider-Man Review
Spider-Man 3 Review Coming Soon

Monday, February 6, 2023

Action Superhero Film Review: Spider-Man


It's been over twenty years since the first Spider-Man film that starred Tobey Maguire. However, this Spider-Man, who Marvel retroactively named the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man to differentiate him from Tom Holland's Spider-Man, is getting a lot of publicity because he reappeared in Spider-Man: No Way Home in 2021. Because of this, I thought it would be interesting to watch Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy to see where the twenty-first-century Spider-Man films began.

The storyline follows the comics for the most part, as a bullied teenager named Peter Parker gets bitten by a spider, gains spider abilities, and uses a red ski mask to hide his identity. He aims to make money wrestling as the Human Spider. However, the fight announcer, played by the incomparable Bruce Campbell, does not like that name and calls him Spider-Man instead. Peter is happy and more than a bit cocky when he wins the money until his Uncle Ben is killed by a man he let get away. After that, he follows Ben's advice that "with great power comes great responsibility" and designs a proper superhero suit to use his Spider-Man persona to help the people of New York City.

As was noted in No Way Home, this Spider-Man differs from the comics in a major way. Unlike any other version of Spider-Man that came before, the genetically-modified spider that bit Peter gives him the ability to shoot webs from his wrists. Other versions of the hero make the web fluid which shoots out of a wrist-mounted device called a web shooter. This leads to the iconic scene where Peter tries many wrist actions and verbal commands to learn how to shoot the webs, including a shout-out to the other Captain Marvel.

Spider-Man has two enemies in the form of a direct threat and an indirect threat. The first is the father of Peter's best friend, Norman Osborn, who owns a company that develops technology for the United States military. The second is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson, the man who buys photographs taken by Parker and uses them to print stories claiming Spider-Man is a menace.

When the board of OsCorp sells the company to a rival and fires Norman in the process, Osborn uses a jet-powered glider developed by his company and becomes the villainous Green Goblin. The Green Goblin has a suit and mask that still looks threatening today. However, it's a shame they gave him a mask as the man who plays Norman Osborn, Willem Dafoe, has a very expressive face that is squandered by covering it up. This is the main reason they chose to have Norman break the mask in No Way Home.

Both of the men, Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn and J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, are so good in their roles that Marvel didn't feature either character in Spider-Man films until the Tom Holland version of Spider-Man appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

On top of this, Peter Parker is in love with his next-door neighbor, Mary Jane Watson, who is played wonderfully by Kirsten Dunst. He is afraid to ask her out, so his best friend Harry Osborn asks her instead and becomes her boyfriend. Peter never loses his interest in her, however, leading to the wonderfully memorable and iconic moment where Peter, as Spider-Man, saves her life and then gives her an upside-down kiss in the rain.

There is another iconic moment with Mary Jane, where the Goblin drops a trolley with children and Mary Jane from a bridge. The Goblin did a similar thing with Gwen Stacy in the comics, however, things work out much better for MJ. The shot with Mary Jane falling reflected in the eyes of the Spider-Man suit still looks fantastic and gave me goosebumps even on a rewatch.

The New York citizens rallying behind Spider-Man and shooting rocks at the Goblin is something that is a common thread in the Raimi films and will be expanded on in great fashion in the next film in the trilogy. The words of one New Yorker sums up Raimi's Spider-Man philosophy well, "when you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us".

Raimi's films are the last, as of the time this review was posted, live-action films that portray Aunt May as an elderly woman, as she is in the comics. Rosemary Harris plays the part well, especially in the scene when the Green Goblin attacks her in the bedroom of her apartment when she prays to God to "deliver us from evil" as the Goblin laughs maniacally.

The shots that are done with practical effects still look amazing. Some that are done with computer-generated imagery, especially the part where the pumpkin bomb rips off half of Spider-Man's mask, still look great as well, except for the shots where Spider-Man is swinging from his webs quickly through the city. These have a bit of a dizzy-inducing quality, however, that has been alleviated in the versions that are in 4K, or 3840 x 2160 pixels. These transfers remastered and upscaled the film. Sony did a great job there, as the film has never looked so good.

When I first watched the film, I thought that James Franco, as Harry, showed bad, wooden acting at the end of the film. However, after suffering from many losses myself, I now see that this was intentional. Harry was grieving so he felt numb. He spoke completely without emotion because he felt that his world was ripped apart. This is the major aspect that I originally felt hindered the film, but looking at it with a fresh perspective, I see it as the cold, emotionless words of a man seeking revenge. Which, I'm sure, is exactly what Raimi was aiming to do.

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man still stands up remarkably well more than two decades later, except for a regrettable scene where Peter uses a homophobic slur when he taunts the wrestler Bonesaw McGraw, played by the late great Randy "Macho Man" Savage. While it does set up Harry's turn from friend to foe, Raimi's Spider-Man follows films like 1989's Batman, where a fantastic villain only appears in one film in a series. Thankfully this was finally changed when Dafoe's Green Goblin returned in No Way Home in 2021. I highly recommend watching this film for the first time or watching it again, especially in the fantastic 4K Blu-Ray and digital versions.

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Boxing Game Review: Doc Louis's Punch-Out!!


Doc Louis's Punch-Out!! is a small game that was available to get for Club Nintendo members for the Wii. It was developed by the same developer of the Wii Punch-Out!!, Next Level Games and had Little Mac fight his boxing coach, Doc Louis.

Like all Punch-Out!! games, the object of this game is to recognize fighting patterns. In this case, Doc Louis will fight at a normal rate, until he eats a candy bar, then his strikes will become more powerful. The object is to hit him as much as possible, then avoid or counter his massive hits.

The game can be played with a single Wii Remote, a Wii Remote and nunchuck combo, or with the Classic Controller (as well as other controllers with Classic Controller functionality such as the NES Classic Edition controller or the SNES Classic Edition controller).

The game was originally available for free for Club Nintendo members who reached platinum status before June 30, 2009. It was made available to all Club Nintendo members for 250 coins from February 2, 2015, until the Club Nintendo program closed. Unfortunately, because it was never released on physical media and because the Nintendo Wii Shop channel was closed on January 30, 2019, it is no longer officially available.

Doc Louis's Punch-Out!! is a fun little game for those lucky enough to be able to claim it before it became unavailable. It was a fun game for Punch-Out!! fans as well as a good primer on how the Wii Punch-Out!! worked.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Light Gun Shooting Game Review: Duck Hunt


Duck Hunt is a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It is one of the well-known, and best-remembered, NES games in the United States because it was bundled with the system in a double game cartridge with Super Mario Bros.

Duck Hunt is a rifle shooting game based on a Beam Gun toy of the same name. There are three modes. Game A has one duck at a time on screen and Game B has two ducks. Game C is Duck Hunt, which is based on a Beam Gun toy of the same name. Game C is Clay Shooting which is based on the arcade game, Laser Clay Shooting System.

The game is simple but addicting. The duck hunting modes are the most fun, as you try to shoot birds that fly in zig-zag patterns. Your hunting dog will go off barking to bring your catch back to you. If you miss all ducks on the screen, then the dog will laugh at you. To gamers of a certain age, both the barking and laughing sound effects will be fondly and not-so-fondly, remembered respectively.

Duck Hunt is one of those "simple is better" games, and it does so in all of the best ways. It's simple but addictive, and there is the optional difficulty setting to have multiple ducks on the screen at a time. You can also do some clay shooting, but without the duck animations, it's far less entertaining. The only drawback in this day and age is that modern LCD televisions don't do horizontal refreshes, so traditional light guns don't work. Without a CRT television, you can only play the game on the Wii U Virtual Console or with a modern solution such as a Wiimote mixed with an Arduino to record the shot locations.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Friday, February 3, 2023

Action Television Series Episode Review: Agent Carter - Bridge and Tunnel


In the second episode of Agent Carter, Jarvis gives Peggy Carter a place to stay in one of the residences used by Howard Stark for his romantic liaisons.

Agent Carter and Jarvis still need to find the nitromene. She uses her talent in accents to pretend to be a health inspector as she searches milk trucks for the dangerous substance with a vita ray detector she kept from her disastrous first attempt to get her hands on the nitramene. 

This causes her to come at odds with her fellow agents at the Strategic Scientific Reserve, as they work through the ten ton ball of mental and rocks that used to be a building as well as a bumper from Howard Stark's car. Jarvis disposes of the car since it would be full of vita radiation, which would link it to the building implosion.

Making things harder, Peggy has to test every woman who works for Stark's competitor for vita radiation, while also having to rid herself of anything that contains vita radiation. If she recognizes someone, she can't say so as it would prove she was at the scene of the implosion. Instead, she uses her wits and once again proves that she is a better agent than the men she works under.

That's not to say the men are incompetent, as they employ torture tactics to get the information that they need, a method that was unfortunately common at the time.

Meanwhile, a waitress named Angie tries to make friends with Peggy, but she is busy with her job, revealing a major drawback in her work.

A fun aspect of this episode is the Captain America radio show, which portrays Captain America in a virtuous voice and the Peggy Carter, or "Betty Carver", in an overly sexy female voice.

Carter and Jarvis track down the nitramene, and the men transporting it. They try to get information about the organization behind the nitramene theft, Leviathan. The truck crashes into the ocean, causing a huge implosion. Jarvis and Peggy then have to flee the scene.

Meanwhile, the man's accomplice runs down the road tied to a chair, where he is picked up by the SSR. He reveals that he was tied up by a woman matching Peggy's description, leading them to get closer to discovering her secret investigation.

Bridge and Tunnel is a fantastic episode full of mystery and intrigue with a bit of humor mixed in. It's a fantastic episode that proves just how much fun Agent Carter was and how much of a shame it was cancelled before its time.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Agent Carter Season 1, Episode 1 ReviewAgent Carter Season 1, Episode 3 Review Coming Soon

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Adult Animated Comedy Web Series Episode Review: Camp Camp - Cult Camp


In the second season premiere of Camp Camp, "Cult Camp", Gwen placed an advertisement in the local newspaper searching for a new counselor. To her dismay, the first and only applicant is Daniel, a man who looks, acts, and talks exactly like her co-counselor, David.

It turns out that Daniel is a cult leader, who is a combination of a Scientologist and the infamous cult leader
Jim Jones. David is completely oblivious to the fact and won't listen to the kids when they try to tell him the truth. This leads to an entertaining series of events where Max is confronted by more kids as they've been effectively hypnotized into loving Daniel.

The straw that broke the camel's back is funny, although Daniel is ever-naive. This leads to a showdown between Daniel and David in a musical battle that is memorable not only in its music but also in the fun animation in the scene. The finale is really funny and is probably my favorite resolution to any episode in the entire series. 

"Cult Camp" is well worth watching. The storyline is funny and Max's actions and David's reactions are great. It also has a fantastic musical battle with lively and entertaining animation. The resolution is hilarious and stands at the top of the conflict resolutions in the series. Most importantly, Daniel is the villain the series deserves. Pikeman was a funny adversary, but. like the Joker to Batman, Daniel is the perfect dark mirror image of David. "Cult Camp" is, without a doubt, the best episode in the entire Camp Camp run.

Final Verdict:
5 out of 5

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Kart Racing Game Review: Super Mario Kart


Super Mario Kart was the first game in the popular Mario Kart series. It was also the game that started the karting subgenre of racing video games, laying the groundwork for all of the features that have become the standard.

Super Mario Kart was released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System which, save for the Super FX and Super FX2 chips, only produced two-dimensional graphics. To give the illusion of three dimensions, SNES games had the option of employing a graphical technique known as Mode 7. With Mode 7, a flat image could be stretched and rotated around a flat sprite, making it appear to be traveling in a three-dimensional environment.

Super Mario Kart was a masterclass in Mode 7 programming. The flat image was the course map, and sprites represented the player kart, course walls, and power-up panels. It worked within the limits of Mode 7, which restricted the size of the flat image to be manipulated. This led to courses being small and tight.  There are three speeds of play, 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc, and the latter needs to be unlocked by playing through the courses. Even 150cc would seem slow if it weren't for the skillful track designs which make them feel much more fast-paced than they would have otherwise.

The kart racers encompass the entirety of the Mario franchise at that point. Donkey Kong Jr. represents the arcade era. Bowser (King Koopa), Toad, Koopa (Koopa Troopa), and Princess Toadstool (Peach) represent the Nintendo Entertainment System era. Yoshi represents the SNES era. Mario and Luigi represent the franchise as a whole.

Each kart racer had its strength and weaknesses. Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. are heavy, starting off slow but they become the fastest racers when they get going. Their big drawback is that if they hit obstacles it takes them a long time to regain their speed. Toad and Koopa Troopa are the best all-around drivers. Their karts aren't the fastest, but they regain their speed quickly. The rest of the characters fall somewhere in the middle.

At certain points in the courses, there are question mark boxes on the ground. Like top-down racers such as RC Pro-Am, the boxes contain powerups as well as objects that can be left on the course. With the exception of the poison mushrooms that shrink upon contact, all of these powerups have become series staples. Plus, other than the lighting which shrinks every other racer, all of them are from either the Mario or Donkey Kong series. 

There are objects that can be dropped, including the banana peel which is dropped behind the kart, and the green Koopa shell which is shot in front of the kart and bounces off walls until it hits a driver, obstacle, or water. The banana can be shot in front of the kart by pressing up on the directional pad and the shell can be dropped, stationary, behind the kart by pressing down. There is also a red shell, which will hit the first driver it comes across unless it hits an obstacle or water. Then there are the multiple powerups that give you three red or green shells or three bananas. 

There is the starman which turns a kart driver invincible, the feather which causes a kart to jump, and a ghost which steals an item from another driver. A mushroom causes the kart to do a boost, similar to the effect when you drive over a three-tiered arrow. Coins can also be picked up. Every time you get hit, you lose a coin. If you have no coins, you spin out, so it is imperative that you always have coins.

The one drawback between this game and future games is that the enemy characters don't pick up random objects, instead they use objects related to their character. Bowser uses a fireball that will spin in a small circle until it hits a driver, Peach and Toad use a poison mushroom, Donkey Kong uses a banana, and Yoshi uses an egg that acts like a banana. By far the worst, and most annoying, are Mario and Luigi. They use a starman to make them invincible. That means that it's likely they will activate it near the finish line to try to trip you up. It is a near certainty that you will be tripped up by one or both of the Mario Bros. at some point.

Super Mario Kart is a definite classic as it started a racing subgenre and set up the gameplay that would become commonplace. The two-dimensional graphics with graphical tricks to make it appear three-dimensional aren't nearly as technologically impressive as they used to be. In addition, the fact that enemy drivers use the same powerups rather than random pickups as the player means that they represent an irritant that is not in other Mario Kart games. That said, it still is a fun game, and it could be worth playing if you don't mind two-dimensional pixel graphics that imitate three dimensions on a two-dimensional plane.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5