Top 100 NES Review: #60 – Double Dragon II: The Revenge (1989)

LIFE ISN’T FAIR

And other life lessons learned from Billy and Jimmy Lee in this erudite, side-scrolling, beat-em-up adventure.

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Billy Lee pondering his place within the technicolor dreamcoat of his existence.

Sydlexia’s Rating: #60/100
Developer: Technos Japan
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

The beat-em-up genre defined an entire generation. Its repetitive-button smashing released personalized-serotonin hits allowing us to feel good while eschewing any actual personal development. I don’t know of any other category of video game that so easily mixes repeated motions with such a sense of accomplishment – complete entertainment with little effort.

Except when the Double Dragons are involved. 

What we have here is a compact set of nine levels, beautifully architected for the pithy purpose of teaching us that life’s lottery doesn’t always come up triple 7s. A perfect compliment to my summer of mismanaged love and unfortunate living arrangements, Double Dragons II helped me cope with the idea that this isn’t all my fault.

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Top 100 Album Review: #6 – What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye (1971)

A Fascinating Album & Undefinable Genre

An album that faithfully conveys the feelings and spirit of the never named Vietnam veteran returning home with a varied collection of soul, gospel, funk, R&B, and pop that can only be categorized as Marvin Gaye. 

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #6/100
My Rating:smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

Marvin Gaye had to fight for this one.

Tired of having Motown dictate his creative direction, Gaye wanted to create an album that was more personal and less hit-oriented. Barry Gordon wasn’t having it, but after threatening to never record again, Gordon allowed Gay to have full creative direction.

This is a masterpiece of an album: nine songs that freely float into one another, recall motifs of previous tracks, and the most interesting story arc in concept album story telling. Following an African-American, Vietnam veteran after his return from war, the subject matter risks being too preachy, but by having an actual character as the vessel to experience everything, the album becomes a prescient bit of social consciousness. Instead of being hung up on politics, we get to experience and FEEL this unnamed protagonist’s plight.

“Don’t punish me with brutality,
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on.”

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Top 100 Movie Review: #2 – Casablanca (1942)

Play it Again, Sam.

Okay – I know that quote never happened, but what did happen is Hollywood’s template that it still uses today: love story, playful characters, happy ending, good always prevails.

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Sam (Dooley Wilson) , Rick (Humphrey Bogart)  and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman).

American Film Institutes Ranking: #2/100
Awards: Nominated for eight winning three: Picture, Director and Writing/Screenplay.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

This movie.

From the first moments in Rick’s cafe, I realized that I was going to really enjoy this one. What Hollywood does so well is pulling the wool over our eyes. The movie’s plot and characters feigned, pushing against the boundaries of reality, but time and time again we find the magic produced so enticing we suspend our thinking minds and tap into our imaginations.

This doozy of a WWII flick combines anything you can consider to be Hollywood and does it at a high level. The dialogue, the characters, the setting, and the plot all swept me up, transporting me to a time that no longer exists (and truthfully never did) for one of the best films of all time.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #96 – The Searchers (1956)

Beautiful Vistas Paired with Man-Made Caricatures

This movie combines the awe-inspiring nature of the west with mostly inorganic and stale characters leaving me wondering: can setting alone carry a movie?

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A scene that epitomes the film: wonderful back drop with a typical Cowboys vs. Indian story.

American Film Institutes Ranking: #96/100
Awards: None
My Ratingsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

I sometimes take a peak at other people’s thoughts on a movie before settling down on my own: was there an angle I missed or a piece of lore that impacts how I view the film? Roger Ebert is consistently someone I go to first because of his acerbic wit and clear writing. His review for “The Searchers” is a study in character analysis as he slices and dices the depth of the two main leads, reading far into the director’s intentions and purpose.

I simply disagree with what he comes up with. 

Ebert dives deep into the shallow souls of these scantily-detailed characters, projecting life into them that I just cannot see. Where he finds impactful statements and testaments to the director’s hidden or subliminal messages, I see stage props — exception being the main character. This leaves me feeling that the environment was more dynamic than the story and characters: the West is daunting with staggering depth and isolation, while the characters are more true to the stagnant mountains that surround them.

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Top 100 NES Review: #28: Duck Tales (1989)

Anthropomorphic Capitalism

If you value hoarding world treasures to enrich one’s net/self-worth, it’s time to start living out your dreams in this side-scrolling adventure!

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Globe Trotter: Scrooge McDuck risking his life in the Himalayas facing an Amazonian spider.

Sydlexia’s Ranking: #28/100
Developer:  Capcom
My Rating:smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

There once was a cartoon called Ducktales that had a very catchy intro, and I guess it was so popular, it needed to be formatted into a video game — Uncle Scrooge wasn’t the only one trying to cash in, obviously.

This game is a rather unsettling experience: be prepared to have your idea of reality challenged. This game is a perfect blend of authenticity and phantasmagorical adventure, sometimes leaving me wondering how I am supposed to check the consistency of my conscious perceptions after having the veil pulled back by the McDuck family.

For a game consisting of only a few maneuvers (pogo-cane-jump and cane slap), the thrill of reaching new financial heights will keep you more than entertained as you travel in a world eerily similar to our own finding lucrative treasure such as the lost crown of Ghengis Khan, Scepter of the Incan King, and the Green Cheese of Longevity.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #100 – Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Somehow I Enjoyed a Musical 

I don’t know who I am anymore — enjoying a film based on theater and stage.

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James Cagney plays in this biographical movie about George Cohen, the man who ruled broadway and had his beginnings in vaudeville America.

American Film Institutes Ranking: #100/100
Academy Awards: Nominated for several: best picture, actor, screenplay, supporting actor etc. Won for Best Actor (James Cagney).
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

My dislike for theater runs deep and goes to my early days of college — VCU was home to a vibrant theater community, and early every morning they would flood the dining hall dressed in straight black forgetting that they weren’t on stage. It was kind of like a qualitative study where I got to see what the stress of performance did to one’s life first hand, not to mention the suspense of what Shafer Hall would do to my GI tract.

I set up my netflix cue with a bunch of random movies, so when Yankee Doodle Dandy arrived, I really had no idea what it was about. Once I read that summary on the DVD slip, I started to worry.

Somehow, I came out not only pleased, but ready to recommend this film to anyone who would listen to me Yammer about vaudeville, WWI and this “American as you get” film.

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Top 100 Movie Review: #1 – Citizen Kane (1941)

Easy to Enjoy This Seminal Movie

The cinematography, the art direction, and the chopped storyline of thousands of other movies owe their derivation to this original piece. 

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Orson Welles as the protagonist Charles Foster Kane.

American Film Institute Ranking: #1/100
Academy Awards: Received nine nominations, but only winning for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

So the best movie of all-time, eh?

A movie with that distinction has rightfully been sliced and diced from a million different angles, and with having such an interesting figure in the middle of it all (Orson Welles) there is plenty of of wood to stoke the fire when discussing this piece of significant Americana.

First and foremost, the movie is very enjoyable. From the get go you realize this isn’t run-of-the-mill, early Hollywood; the movie opens up with an electric use of film angles and art direction, creating amazing intrigue with nothing more than ingenious camera work. This is followed with an inverted story, jumping back and forth between present and past in a way Quinten Tarantino would approve. Then, the fascinating main engine that keeps everything runningL the search for what “Rosebud” means.

What materializes is a move that has a little bit of everything: an intriguing story, well-written characters, a period piece of 1940s America, and a commentary on life, capitalism, power and fulfillment.

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