Saturday, March 19, 2011

"Hunger Games" Casting Mania! (part one)

I recently got around to reading Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Trilogy and thought it was damn good. She knows how to tell a gripping story, that’s for sure; I had to read each book in one sitting. The adventures of Katniss Everdeen, a girl forced to compete in televised bloodsports in a dystopian future, have captured people’s imaginations all over the world and proved a wonderful antidote to the dreary romantic sludge of Twilight. To any young women who might read this, let me assure you that the steely, resourceful Katniss makes a much better role model than mopey Bella Swann and her dependence on clingy, borderline-abusive vampire men. I’m hoping you’re smart and knew that already.

Needless to say, The Hunger Games is being made into a movie series. Also needless to say, I and many, many others are waiting with bated breath to see if they fuck it all up. Casting will be key, as The Hunger Games is hugely character driven. All manner of candidates have been bandied about. Now that they’ve actually begun casting, I’m going to keep this blog updated with each new role and what I think about the choice of actor.

To begin...

The Role: Katniss Everdeen, the heroine and narrator. A sixteen-year-old from District 12 (a poor, coal-mining slum in what used to be Appalachia), Katniss illegally hunts and forages to feed her mother and sister. When the latter is picked to be in the titular annual killfest, Katniss volunteers to go in her place. Over the trilogy, she becomes Public Enemy No. 1 of the ruthless Capitol, winds up a pawn of the resistance movement, and (of course) is torn between two hot guys. It’s much less insufferable than Twilight, however. Good thing they cast Katniss first, because the entire story is literally seen through her eyes.

The Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, recent recipient of a Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone, in which she plays -- get this -- a steely, resourceful teen girl from Appalachia who’s in charge of providing for her family. How convenient!

My Approval Rating: 7.5 out of 10. The angry voices of the fans are raised, crying, “Too old!” Lawrence is 20, which isn’t that much older, but still. Also, she’s blonde and lovely while Katniss is skinny, dark-haired, dusky-skinned, and tomboyish. However, I’m willing to give Lawrence the benefit of the doubt; she’s proven she can act, and seems smart enough to throw herself into the role. Dye the hair, lose the curves, learn archery, and she’ll make a proper Katniss. And after all, adults have been playing teens in movies since time immemorial. I’ll support Lawrence, though I’m curious to see how she handles the upcoming X-Men prequel, in which she plays young Mystique, i.e., young Rebecca Romijin, i.e., a total sex bomb. Can she do blockbusters? We shall see. But I’m hopeful.

Who I Would Have Picked: Jodelle Ferland or Saoirse Ronan, both of whom are actually sixteen. I heard Ferland was campaigning for the role, and the thing is, she looks a lot like Katniss already. And I thought she was good in Silent Hill. Her problem is that she was also in the Twilight franchise, which damns her in the eyes of Hunger Games fans. I gotta admit, I think it would’ve been kinda hilarious to rouse their ire by casting her. As for Ronan, she’s also got the Oscar nom, but has the issue of A) being Irish and B) having light hair, creamy skin, and pale blue eyes. It’d take a helluva makeover to turn her into Katniss, but I’m confident she would have pulled it off. Oh, well. Maybe one of these girls can snag a different Hunger Games role.

Stay tuned for more casting news! I’m biting my nails over the two male leads, Peeta and Gale. I swear to God, if they fucking cast that buffalo-faced lunkhead, Alex Pettyfer, I will throw such a tantrum.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Top 10 Video Games (old)

This is the very first video game list I did, back at the end of 2008. Since then I've played many other games, which means that this list would change if I rewrote it from scratch. But I don't wanna, so pretend it's still 2008, or just look at my "Favorite Games" lists from '09 and '10.


10. Donkey Kong Land 2 (Gameboy)
Not Donkey Kong Country 2, but its Gameboy counterpart. I loved my Gameboy; it was my first-ever console. There were some great games to be had for that little handheld brick, but DKL2 was the first one that made me go, “Whoa.” The pre-rendered graphics of the DK series looked awesome on a Gameboy screen as well as on an SNES, and the gameplay itself was so weird and interesting! Pirate ships, and roller coasters, and you could turn into a spider, and there was a whole secret world to unlock, and, and....I could go on and on. And I haven’t even mentioned the extremely awesome music, or Dixie Kong’s ponytail twirl, which was like the most useful move ever. (Seriously, did anyone EVER play as Diddy?) The first DK was okay but too short, the third one sucked, but this middle child was freaking neat. Now that I have an SNES emulator, I really should find Donkey Kong Country 2. Because if it was this good on a mere Gameboy, just imagine....

9. Riven (PC/Mac)
I love the Myst series because it combines gorgeous visuals, mind-bending puzzles, and pacifism -- three things I can’t get enough of. It’s hard to pick my fave. The first Myst has grown dated, plus I can beat it in like forty-five minutes. Myst 3 was too short and too easy. Myst 4, while probably the best-looking entry, had a rather forced plot, bad dialogue, and jumped the shark at around the time Peter Gabriel started mumbling to you about spirit guides. And I hear Myst 5 is pure shit. That leaves Riven, an amazing sequel whose graphics are still eye-popping today, whose puzzles are pure genius and evil in the best kind of way, and which feels like an actual fleshed-out story rather than a series of episodes. It’s the only Myst game to be set entirely in one world, a world so real you can smell it. Everything flows smoothly, all elements connect, and solving that damn spinning dome puzzle is way more satisfying than shooting dudes in the woods. Sorry, Solid Snake.

8. Worms Armageddon (N64)
I said I enjoy pacifism, but comic violence is just fine. Nothing, but nothing, relieves stress like commanding little cartoon worms to blow the living fuckadoo out of each other. This game is absolutely nuts and utterly addicting. Swinging on ninja ropes, flinging explosive bananas and sheep and giant cement donkeys, screaming with rage when your worms wind up in the drink (“Oy! Nutter!”), cackling as you obliterate half the map with a Holy Hand Grenade, getting some friends and staging an invertebrate World War.....I love it, I love it, I love it. It makes me laugh and be happy. And there’s tons of actual strategy involved! You have to think fast, improvise, plan in advance, and alter your plans constantly as the very landscape is methodically blown to pieces around you. There are tons of games like this, but none of them have the same energy, absurdity, and all-around awesomeness as Worms Armageddon. Not in my opinion, anyway.

7. Banjo-Kazooie (N64)
Is it a run-of-the-mill Donkey Kong knockoff churned out during the glut of cartoony 3D platform games that swamped the market in the wake of Super Mario 64? Probably. But it puts a big grin on my face nevertheless. This bizarre, off-color odyssey, in which a cheerful bear and a cranky bird team up to battle an evil witch, is perfect fodder for a young furry-to-be and never fails to charm me. Like many games of my childhood, it now seems way too easy, but it sure as hell wasn’t way back when! And that damn Rusty Bucket Bay STILL makes me grind my teeth. But Banjo-Kazooie had real character and a great sense of humor to it, and since all gamers are nostalgic by nature, I suspect that no one will ever forget about it entirely. Forget that “Nuts & Bolts” travesty on the Xbox, kids -- Banjo and Kazooie used to bat for Nintendo, and they rocked.

6. Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
Shut up, okay? I’m still new to the franchise! The only FF games I’ve played in any depth are IV, X, and XII. I will get to the others eventually, and probably love them to death. However, in terms of enjoyment and immersion, FFXII narrowly edges out FFX as my favorite Final Fantasy entry thus far. Purists will whine about how they eliminated random encounters and made the game play like an MMORPG, or how they copypasted the world from FF Tactics rather than coming up with something new, but I really don’t care. FFXII has most of the best elements of an MMORPG (massive, nonlinear world; oodles of sidequesting) without the drain on your real life. I’ve spent somewhere in the ballpark of 150 hours playing it, and still haven’t made it to the end. Few games can hold my interest for that long. It’s gorgeous, it’s fun, it has dinosaurs, and I will defend it with my least until I start playing FFVI. Or FFVII. Or....never mind.

5. Conker’s Bad Fur Day (N64)
I still can’t believe they got away with it. He’s a cute little squirrel in an R-rated world of bathroom humor, gratuitous gore, movie references, and drunken pissing contests. Conker is the antidote to all the aforementioned cartoony 3D platform games, and the thing is, he’s better than the rest! The entire game was context-sensitive and everything you did was plot-driven, as opposed to most platform games, which are just massive scavenger hunts. Conker’s BFD ain’t perfect (the War Zone sequence sucks and goes on forever), but it was seriously ahead of its time. Damn you, Indigo Prophecy! Damn you for destroying context-sensitive gameplay! We could’ve had an entire franchise based around a foul-mouthed British rodent with a hot girlfriend who hits things with a frying pan! But NOOOOOO. Sigh.

4. Okami (PS2 and Wii)
A game this good was guaranteed to fail. Too bad, ’cause few games are this original or beautiful. You probably know the premise, but just to remind folks: you play as the Japanese goddess Amaterasu, in the form of a wolf, vanquishing demons from the land. The graphics are amazing, like an oil painting come to life. The gameplay is innovative and fun, revolving around a “celestial brush” that allows you to affect your surroundings with divine calligraphy. Apart from that, it’s an awful lot like the Zelda games, but since the Zelda games are supposedly really good, what’s the issue? Even without the hours of sidequesting, I could waste the day just running around enjoying the art design. Plus the game has aliens. It’s set in Japanese mythology....and it has aliens. There is no way it could be any cooler.

3. Yoshi’s Island (SNES)
Squeeeeee! I’m replaying it while writing this, and it’s just as great. I love how every now and then, they’re able to make a Mario game that successfully attempts something new and different (see also: Super Mario RPG and the Paper Mario series). With Baby Mario upon his back, the jolly green dinosaur-thing explores a series of quirky environments, eats bad guys, throws eggs, and is really cute all the time. I love the pastel graphics and unique gameplay, and even when the game is frustrating, I can roll with it because it’s so well-designed. As countless others have pointed out, Baby Mario is annoying as shit when you lose him and his piercing wails assault our ears. But I forgive the game for that one flaw. Thank you, Nintendo, for trying something different with the Mario franchise and producing such a winner! You managed to make a game that’s both adorable and badass.

2. Silent Hill 2 (PS2)
I’ve loved all the Silent Hill games (well, except the fourth one, obviously), but no other game apart from entry #1 on this list has sucked me in, creeped me out, and left me as satisfied as SH2. It’s the only game I’ve willingly played in one sitting. The story is so simple -- you’re just this sad guy pitifully searching for his dead wife -- and it’s all you need for a trip straight to hell by way of the abandoned, mist-shrouded town of Silent Hill, a place that preys on the mind and soul. What’s creepy isn’t that there are monsters, but that the hero is somehow creating them just by being there. Combine that with grimy, unsettling environments, a brilliant sound design, fucked-up supporting characters, amazing ambient music, and Pyramid Head, and you get a game that’s impossible to escape from even if you wanted to. Games don’t scare me very often, but SH2 fucked me up, man. And I loved every minute of it, from the dangling bodybags in the hospital to the corpse with my face to the flaming stairway. Playing this game is like eating a rich, full-course meal. That can rape and kill you.

1. Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)
With any luck, anyone who’s played this game can agree with me on how unique, atmospheric, and utterly wonderful it is to play. It’s a fantasy adventure that throws out most of the trappings -- lots of bad guys, a complex plot, weapons and items -- to focus on a young man, his horse, and sixteen titanic beings of flesh and stone that he is commanded to destroy in order to revive his dead lover. You are all alone in a massive, beautiful world. All is silent but for the howling of the wind. You can explore at will, hunting down the colossi and systematically engaging them in combat. Each dynamic battle is different, requiring patience, experimentation, and use of the surrounding environment to suss out your opponent’s weak spots. There is a deep element of tragedy to this game; the hero has suffered a great loss, but the colossi themselves are not evil, and there is something profoundly bitter about toppling each one. Bitter, but deeply satisfying at the same time. This game plays with your emotions and forces you out of the detached nihilism that normally goes with video gaming. It is haunting and sublime, flawed yet uplifting, and while it will scare away the macho, gun-blasting Xbox crowd, it’s a must for anyone who wants a smart, gorgeous, and provocative gaming experience. I absolutely love it and will return to it again and again until my PS2 gives out entirely. And then I’ll find it online. Because it’s worth it. Hell, this game was responsible for me buying the PS2 in the first place. It’s one of those games that redefine what’s possible.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Favorite Games of 2009 (old)

Did this back in the year of aught-nine, when things were different. Kids these days don't know how well they've got it, I tell ya. I should mention that these are my favorite games I FIRST PLAYED in 2009, not my favorite games RELEASED in 2009. In case you're easily confused.


Chrono Trigger (SNES)
My ex-boyfriend introduced me to plenty of JRPGs, and you know.....this one may be my favorite. Not only is it colorful and gorgeous, not only does it rely upon a very cool and unique battle system, but the story is about the best story in any video game, ever. Time travel is a risky genre, but Chrono Trigger nails it with an epic tale that stretches across several time periods, sending the player careening from dinosaurs to knights in armor to postapocalyptic robots...and beyond. The story is jam packed with twists and turns that NOBODY would ever see coming, and it all fits together like an antique watch. Rich and satisfying, every moment of it. Shame that this didn’t spawn the same franchise as its cousin, Final Fantasy, because I’d be so happy if they were releasing Chrono Trigger 6: The Avocado of Time for the PS3 right now. Eh, maybe in an alternate universe.

Resident Evil 4 (GameCube, PS2, Wii, etc.)
What is it about this game that makes everyone love it? I barely have any interest in the RE franchise, or over-the-shoulder FPS’s, but.....fuck me, I loved the hell out of RE4. I think it has two big things going for it. One: a really well-designed game engine that works like a dream, including superior targeting, superior inventory, and a perfect difficulty curve. In other words, anyone can get the hang of playing it, but it offers a challenge to all. Two: the utterly retarded (in a good way) story about infected Spanish peasants and genetic parasites and all that jazz. Tongue planted firmly in cheek, the plot marches from one hilarious set piece to another. This game is FUNNY. And if you take out the NY, you get FUN, which this game also has in abundance. Not to mention replay value. Hell, I want to play it again right now. And, you know, Ashley wasn’t all THAT bad, people.

“Hellllllp! Leeeeeeeeeon!!!!”

Okay, maybe she was.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves (PS2)
I couldn’t decide which Ratchet & Clank game I liked best, but with the Sly Cooper franchise, it’s easy. Like the prime roast beef between two decent slices of bread, Sly 2 sits between Sly 1 (too short and linear) and Sly 3 (basically a glorified expansion pack for Sly 2). Sucker Punch Productions has my attention for how well they handled a stealth-based game and moved it seamlessly into a sandbox environment before every single fucking game had a sandbox environment. Yes, I get off on bounding across rooftops and picking pockets as a sexy raccoon thief, but such activities are honestly such fun that I could do it for hours. When the actual gameplay missions kick in, they offer an endlessly diverting series of challenges that never drag the game down. The pulpy, 1920s-style presentation of the story works great, and if you get sick of playing as Sly, there’s always his sidekicks, the face-bashing one and the bomb-planting one. But you will never get sick of playing as Sly, trust me. THAT is gaming done right.

World of Goo (PC/Mac)
I cannot say it enough: I ADORE this game. It is the sort of game where, once I start playing it, it’s near impossible to stop. Relying upon an endearing and quirky aesthetic and an incredible physics engine, this little puzzle opus works the gray matter in an almost sexual way, as you work in tandem with the laws of gravity and architecture to help cute little slimeballs reach their goal. I have no idea what’s actually going on in this game, story-wise, but you know what? More games could use a little surreal weirdness. (In fact, the three games I just listed have a good dose of it as well, hence my enjoyment of them.) I am praying they make a sequel to World of Goo, possibly entitled Galaxy of Goo. Because, no matter how many hours one can spend playing with goo that bounces, connects, drips, sticks, explodes, flies, and hacks computers, it’s not enough. Not nearly enough. The goo has me! Bow to the goo!