Video Game Review: “Persona 5 Strikers” (2020)

“Sorry about that. We just despise the police is all.”

The Persona series’ classic turn-based system is perfectly combined with the frantic action battle system of the equally classic Musuo genre of games. Having played through the game on Hard and Merciless difficulties (the latter being truly merciless in the opening hours), I’ve been able to experience some of the most exhilarating JRPG battles in recent memory (since, like, the Dark Riku battle in Kingdom Hearts) that are going to stick with me for quite a while.

Strikers also retains the charm of the Persona series and doesn’t skimp on the lengthy scenes of all-caps PLOT and dialogue that are so crucial to it. It was phantastic catching up with all the main characters I knew from P5 and meeting a couple new Phantom Thief faces along the way to punching a god in the dumb god face with some epic funky jazz music playing. The truncated Persona Compendium and lack of social connections notwithstanding, that commitment to retaining all these elements makes this whole thing feel a lot less like a spin-off (like Persona 4 Arena) and more like a full-fledged canon sequel.

My flimsy N64 cardboard box cover pull-quote: “One such ‘exhilarating JRPG battle’ (perhaps the most exhilarating JRPG boss battle in the game) happens towards the end to the tune of this absolute banger of a song called ‘Counterstrike’ (listen below). It’s no secret that 73% of the recipe for a successful and memorable JRPG boss battle is the music, so that’s an immediate win in this battle against this tragic jerk Konoe. Add to that the tricky swordy techniques you have to contend with, the fact that the guy just emerged from a mecha, and the impassioned conversation going on throughout and you have a 100% patented ‘exhilarating JRPG battle’ that you’ll remember for ages.”

Exhilarating.

Film Review: “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (2021)

“Fuck the world.”

Calm down, dude, it’s just a superhero movie. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is far better than the theatrical cut, if only because it gives characters like Cyborg, The Flash, and, yeah, even Steppenwolf room to actually be characters with motivations and prominent roles in the story. Snyder makes the most of the four hours with these characters, and that’s the biggest reason I’m happy this cut exists now (not that I was clamoring for it, exactly).

Cyborg, especially, functions as the heart of the whole thing and the visuals of Barry’s scenes are almost Days of Future Past Quicksilver-level appealing so it’s mind-boggling that all this was left on the cutting room floor in service to a theatrical cut that just highlighted the most popular superheroes in history we already know about (but almost understandable given the rumored hard 2 hour runtime stipulation–you have to cut something, after all).

There are still problems, of course, some of which that were present in the original cut and some born out of the restored scenes. The grimdark path Snyder seems/seemed to be pushing the franchise down is, like, real edgy and dark, bruh, but devoid of much wonder, hope and a color pallette. Superhero cynicism has been all the rage for a while now, but it’s also kind of played out. Still, for better or worse this is a singular director’s vision and I would have been interested, at least, to see it play out over a few more movies.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Restore the Snyderverse? Nah, bring on the Starroverse. And the multiverse. The Snyderverse is in the multiverse, so there you go.”

Film Review: “Psycho Goreman” (2020)

“So this TV won’t stop bleeding.”

A bloody, creative cosmic horror festival that’s fit for the archduke of nightmares. The utterly inspired Power Rangers style practical creations, characters, and deaths they’ve come up with is reason enough to watch it, the fact that it’s hilarious is a glorious bonus.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Spirits of the Electroverse, I’m going to be saying ‘Spirits of the Electroverse’ any time I talk to my TV which is quite a lot, actually. It’s one of my best friends.”

Film Review: “Judas and the Black Messiah” (2021)

“Power anywhere there’s people.”

A depiction of a critical point in black history, in which the potential of a young leader is all but destroyed by the powerful through the victimization of the ‘Judas’ character. It’s one of the more nihilist movies I’ve seen in a while, if only because it depicts a stark truth of this country so well. I’m bummed.

Anyway, it’s expertly performed and directed with a minimalist style!

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Martin Sheen looks almost as unholy as Leo did as J. Edgar Hoover, which is no small feat.”

Film Review: “The Little Things” (2021)

“More sucking than biting.”

A moody detective story that feels way too much like a bargain bin Se7en until it suddenly doesn’t and deliberately pulls away from those comparisons with some telegraphed (but welcome) plot turns.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Jared Leto is definitely playing a wonky vampire in this otherwise grounded detective flick and I don’t care what you say because that just makes the movie better in my head. It also low-key takes place around Halloween, which I feel lends credence to this being a vampire movie.”

Film Review: “The Kid Detective” (2020)

“Maybe there’s more nobility in giving up.”

A fun detective story entry into the millennial ennui (millennui) genre that uses its ‘Encyclopedia Brown but older and sad” premise to great and sometimes surprising effect, allowing the movie to break away from any Veronica Mars and Brick comparisons. It also hits all the noir beats it needs to with classic moody shots and a soundtrack that’s heavy on the smooth noir sax.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Has anyone coined the term ‘millennui’ for the genre that shows like Search Party and movies like this belong to yet? I’m not even going to Google it because I want the little bit of serotonin that comes with thinking I’ve come up with something original. That’s the stuff!”

Film Review: “Promising Young Woman” (2020)

“Your novel sounds terrible, by the way.”

A revenge comedy(ish) using the style and the idea of revenge as a bleak and inevitable, all-consuming force from those 70s revenge movies like Death Wish to make a clear and necessary modern statement. It sure goes places and an incredible Carey Mulligan leads us there.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Using ‘nice guy’ actors like McLovin, Schmidt, Seth Cohen, and Piz to play these wurst guys is excellent typecasting that’s also, like, casting against type.” 

Film Review: “Wolfwalkers” (2020)

“There’s two of us now.”

As much an animated work of storybook art come to life as Song of the Sea and Secret of Kells, featuring another story that doesn’t speak down to it’s audience and deals with stuff like colonization, Claude Frollo levels of villainous doctrine, and man’s abuse of nature in addition to the friendly magical tale of wolves and self-actualization going on.

It’s just such a treat to get finely crafted 2D animation like this from Cartoon Saloon every few years.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “This could very well be categorized as a kind of werewolf film, which is wonderful. Like if David from American Werewolf in London had gone to Kilkenny in Ireland instead of those hellish moors in Britain, he could have become a part of a beautiful tale of friendship instead of getting shot with a silver bullet in an alley.”

Film Review: “Midnight Sky” (2020)

“Just us.”

A simple sci-fi story that feels a bit like it’s been done before while still being well made and effectively moving. The bleak outlook with only the slightest glimmer of hope puts it at odds with Interstellar, one of my favorite recent sci-fi pieces, but that actually works in its favor. We’ve had plenty of hopeful space stories; I’m down for one where we totally fucked up and there’s only a very slight chance that humanity can survive beyond the end of the movie. Considering it’s 2020, that feels more realistic. Maybe 2021 will be hopeful.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “George Clooney now employs a younger actor to play his character in his like 30s, but I think he overdubs the actor’s voice with his own creamy Nespresso tones. It creates a bit of a creamy Nespresso disconnect, though, because Clooney’s voice is pretty iconic and sounds wrong flowing from the non-Nespresso spokesperson mouth of Ethan Peck.”

Film Review: “Wonder Woman 1984” (2020)

“The answer is always more.”

A sequel that I enjoyed more than the first overall (the ending action actually feels like a part of the same movie), but I guess it lacks the ‘moments’ that made WW feel so fresh. Not that we should have expected those moments to be replicated or anything. The 80s aesthetic, slight commentary on the all-consuming need for ‘more’ that defined then (and now), and ferociously optimistic tone worked for me throughout. Even the goofier stuff they pull in from the Wonder Woman canon fits with the almost Rocketeer-like tone they’re going for.

But yeah, that body swap consent issue with Steve and Handsome Guy is a real problem and an absolutely avoidable one at that. Did no one clock that at any phase of scripting and filming? Even for someone who actually liked the movie, that issue is going to stand out in my mind when I look back.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Someday they will use a 90s setting like they use an 80s setting and that will be the day that I shrivel into an old man skeleton. I fear this day.”