Monthly Archive for April, 2010

Doors of the Mind: Inner Mysteries

Doors of the Mind: Inner Mysteries (4/29/10) Hidden Object Game (2010 ***1/4) Published by Big Fish Games, Inc., produced using the Playground SDK, credits not readily available on the web or accessible from the game. After taking a short break, my wife and I downloaded our FIFTH hidden object game (HOG). The artwork wasn’t as strong as some of the other games we’ve played, but some of the visual effects provided plenty of eye candy. The story, which involved a woman undergoing hypnosis sessions with a psychotherapist in an effort to solve the murder of her mother, was intriguing, well-integrated and it worked well with the HOG concept, with each hidden object scene added to that narrative. In addition, the hypnotic trance device made the surreal components of the games more plausible. There was some branching, which helped to minimize the “rail game” feeling, and there was a high artwork-to-game-time ratio. However, the game was extremely short, possibly shorter than any of the games we’ve played up to this point, and some players might be quite disappointed by that. The game seemed like it just stopped, making us wonder if the development team ran out of money. Also, I wish the artwork had been produced at a higher resolution (when played in full-screen mode, that limitation was quite apparent), and my wife would have enjoyed more mini-puzzles. One final note: Watching the credits, it was interesting how large the (apparently Italian) production team was; most of the other HOGs we’ve played were created by a relatively small group of three or four people.

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms (4/29/10) TV-FMC (1957 **) Directed by Charles Vidor, screenplay by Ben Hecht, based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway, starring Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones. An American in the Italian army during WWI takes a turn for the nurse and hilarity ensues. Having recently read the book for the first time since high school English class, I was very disappointed in this melodramatic late 1950’s drama. The Hemingway-inspired dialogue, which might have passed as human speech on the printed page, was unnatural and affected, especially when delivered by Hudson and Jones, neither of whom were particularly strong actors. In addition, I sensed the film was intentionally stretched out in an attempt to turn it into an “epic,” and as a consequence I spent the last half in a state of mild boredom.

Cinemania

Cinemania (4/25/10) Netflix (2002 **) Directed by Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijak, featuring film buffs Jack Angstreich, Eric Chadbourne, Bill Heidbreder, Roberta Hill and Harvey Schwartz. This documentary focused on four men and one woman in New York whose lives revolve around watching films. As someone who watches and reviews a lot of movies, I have to admit I felt a lot of “there but for the grace of God goes I” while I watched this. This film has a lot in common with a movie I watched earlier this year, Confessions of a Superhero. Both films portrayed the complexities and sometimes dark aspects of a thin slice of the American experience, though in the case of Cinemania the subjects were linked by a common compulsion. Though the subject matter was fascinating, technically, this shot-on-video documentary could have been much better. In particular, the amateurish editing frequently reminded me of projects from my student days. Cinemania ended with its stars sitting in a theater watching a rough cut of the documentary they were in. I can’t help but wonder what kind of reviews they gave the final edit.

Pennies From Heaven

Pennies From Heaven (4/24/10) TV-TCM (1936 **1/2) Directed by Norman Z. McLeod, based on the novel The Peacock Feather by Katharine Leslie Moore, starring Bing Crosby, Madge Evans and Louis Armstrong. A wandering ex-con-slash-troubadour grants a dying convict’s last request and gets involved with an orphan and her grandfather. The song “Pennies From Heaven” is one of my favorites, and I have a sentimental attachment to the 1981 film with the same name that starred Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters. I’d never seen the 1936 version and It’s also been awhile since I last watched a movie with Bing Crosby. I can see why he became the beloved star he was destined to become. The movie was pleasant enough, but the story was pretty thin; sadly, the title song was the best part of Pennies From Heaven.

T-Minus: The Race to the Moon

T-Minus: The Race to the Moon (4/24/10) Graphic Novel (2009 ***1/4) Written by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon (no relation). Man stepping foot on the moon was preceded by years of excitement and heartbreak as the United States and the Soviet Union raced into space. I loved the Tom Hanks / HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. But that only told one side of the story and focused on the entire Apollo series of missions, often from the points of view of the individual astronauts. T-Minus focused more on the engineers behind the technology that got us to the moon and back, as well as providing the story from the side of the Russians. It’s a very all ages-friendly book and would make an excellent gift for a young man or woman who has interests in the stars.

Norah Jones

Norah Jones (4/23/10) Orpheum Theater, Los Angeles (2010 ***1/4) Opening music by Sasha Dobson and Richard Julian. Watching Norah Jones perform, I felt a little like an outsider. Prior to the concert I spent the day listening to the two albums we have in our iTunes library: Come Away With Me (2002) and Feels Like Home (2004). During the show, she only played a few of the songs from those two albums, though thankfully she did play two of her best known hits, “Don’t Know Why” and “Come Away With Me.” While I enjoyed her music and the professionalism of her amazingly-tight band, I don’t feel it resonated with me fully, probably because I’m not her demographic. Before the concert began, my wife reminded me that she was the daughter of Ravi Shankar, who I watched recently in the 1968 documentary Monterey Pop. Unfortunately, aside from that novelty of that familial association, it didn’t help my appreciation of her as an artist. On the whole, the concert was entertaining, and my wife had a wonderful time, but for me, I found as I listened that I kept reaching for comparable female vocalists with whom I was far more familiar: K.D. Lang, Tori Amos and Lucinda Williams. My take-away from the show was that given time and exposure I may grow to appreciate Norah Jones and her music more, but I don’t think I’m there yet.

Fantastic Four: The End

Fantastic Four: The End (4/22/10) Graphic Novel (2008 ***1/4) Written and illustrated by Alan Davis, inks by Mark Farmer. Everyone knows the story of the birth of the Fantastic Four, but this volume describes their fated end. Davis was previously responsible for writing and illustrating the superb 2000 book Justice League of America: The Nail, a “what-if” book about a DC Universe without Superman. The End had many things in common with that earlier book, including guest appearances by a multitude of Marvel’s familiar characters. Davis is still probably a better illustrator than a writer, but in part that’s because his artwork is so amazing. While the story wasn’t perfect and didn’t have the same emotional resonance or shock value of The Nail, it was still quite enjoyable.

Hey, Hey We’re the Monkees

Hey, Hey We’re the Monkees (4/20/10) Netflix (1997 **1/2) Directed by Alan Boyd, written by Chuck Harter, featuring interviews with Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz and others. With recent advances in technology, I find myself increasingly critical of the visual limitations of cheaply-produced documentaries. This video is definitely best-suited for fans of the Monkees, their TV show and their music. Thankfully, I fit that category. I don’t know that I learned anything new, but it was nice to revisit the world of the “Pre-Fab Four,” much like spending dinner with old friends I hadn’t seen in awhile.

Haunted Manor: Lord of Mirrors

Haunted Manor: Lord of Mirrors (4/20/10) Hidden Object Game (2010 ***1/2) Published by Big Fish Games, Inc., developed by Top Evidence Studio using the Playground SDK, art by Peter Lysenko, programming by Alexey Tugaenko. For those keeping track, this was the fourth hidden object game my wife and I have played. After the (sometimes annoying) open-ness of Dark Parables: Curse of Briar Rose, it was a bit disappointing to return to a more claustrophobic rail game experience, but with this game there was definitely a stronger connection between the puzzles and the narrative. The artwork was the strongest we’ve seen yet, and some of the hidden object screens were really beautiful, and they were integrated well with the narrative. Also, the game’s response to random clicking in the form of a “cracked” mirror, was jolting and definitely discouraged “cheating.” The mini-puzzles were well integrated and offered a good variety, and in terms of game-play, the game as a whole was satisfying, with a length that felt “just right.” There was even a twist at the end: Just as we thought the game was nearly over, there was a bonus round of a sort. As good as this game was, it had one minor but highly irritating feature: The player had to complete a “mirror cleaning” task before advancing to each new chapter. After the first couple of times, that task became quite tiresome.

Dark Parables: Curse of Briar Rose

Dark Parables: Curse of Briar Rose (4/18/10) Hidden Object Game (2010 ***1/4) Published by Big Fish Games, Inc., developed by Blue Tea Games, game design and story by Steven Zhao, programming by Zhao, Amy Lai and Olle Fredriksson. Like Enlightenus, produced by the same team, this game also featured an appearance by a spectral narrator. My wife enjoyed Briar Rose better than any of the hidden object games we’ve played thus far. However, a lot of gameplay time was spent navigating through the physical space in which the game took place, which was a lot like being asked to repeatedly trudge items back and forth from one side of Disneyland to the opposite side. Even the game makers recognized that, which is why they added a “teleportation vortex” in one of the rooms so the player could return to a spot near the opening scene. My wife was particularly annoyed by some of the random animations that were completely unrelated to gameplay, which seemed to exist for their own sake. Also, after being conditioned to look for hidden cards for hints in the previous game, finding “enchanted items” was weak. On the flip-side, this game felt less like the player was on fixed rails, and the effect of that was that the experience felt more like playing an adventure game.