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Monday, June 18, 2018

What, a Streets of Rage review? Awesome!

Yes, a review of one of my favorite games ever. What could be better?!

It's 10 am, that Means It's Time for Another Sega Genesis Game Review

This time of the 1990 almost classic, Strider. So close, Strider, so close.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Blade Runner 2049 (Film Review)

2017 Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve; Written by: Hampton Fancher and Michael Green 
Starring: Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford; MPAA Rating: R
Nicsperiment Score: 9/10

It's easy to forget that, upon release, the original Blade Runner was a flop. Critics didn't understand it, and public reaction and box office was middling. It's also easy to forget that Blade Runner's later reappraisal was a critical one, and not one by the film-going public, most of whom have never seen it.
It is little wonder then, that despite critics being on the ball this time, 2017's Blade Runner 2049 didn't fill Columbia Pictures coffers with cash. The original is a slow meditation on mortality and humanity set in a dystopian future Earth. This 35-years later sequel is also a slow meditation (with different subjects of thought), set on the same dystopian Earth. Anyone who expected this film to make Marvel-amounts of cash is out of their mind. However, it's also easy to forget, given the breathless and vapid current state of film reporting, that box office doesn't always reflect a film's actual quality. Blade Runner 2049 is great.
Ryan Gosling star as a new Blade Runner, someone who hunts down rogue androids, or "replicants." That's the same profession Harrison Ford occupied in the first film, but Gosling is a new type of Blade Runner, a replicant who cannot rebel. Not so spoilery alert: Gosling goes rebel here fairly early on, after discovering some rather disturbing clues in an otherwise textbook replicant roundup. Gosling fills this role quite naturally, as he's always had a sad puppy resting face, and this particular character is certainly sad, considering every aspect of his life is artificial. Gosling eventually meets Ford's reprisal of Ford's now older original character, and by eventually, I mean 2/3 of the way into the film, though 1/3 here is nearly a full hour. Ford, in my opinion, has really grown as an actor in these latter years. The way he shouts "Ben" at his wayward son in The Force Awakens raises the hair on my arms. It may have helped that Ford has a real-life son named Ben. Whatever he drew upon in that moment, he channels with equal emotion here, as a man who has given up everything to keep a loved one safe. Ford and Gosling's legendary 2017 movie promotion tour chemistry reflects their great chemistry on film.
Director, Denis Villeneuve, rains  visual splendor upon the audience in every one of Blade Runner 2049's frames. He doesn't ape the original's director, Ridley Scott, yet his hazy, starkly lit landscapes, with the aid of legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins, do great honor to the gorgeous imagery of the first film. I've struggled with the glacial pace of some of Villeneuve's previous films, but in Blade Runner 2049's highly detailed world, with so much to take in, it's an asset. Michael Fancher and Michael Green's screenplay also gives Villeneuve just enough action beats to break up his glacial approach, and each is spectacular, though generally brief. Fancher co-wrote the original film, as well (with inspiration from Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), this time exploring themes relating to the ability to reproduce, as well as artificiality versus reality. Indeed, from this viewing it appears future watches will reveal even further depths, just as they did for the original.
Also paying homage while forging a new path: Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch's monolithic synthesized score, which takes it's cue from Vangelis' celebrated soundtrack for the original, yet stratosphericly experiments with more modern tones.
There's one thing the original has on this newcomer, though. In the 1982 film, Darryl Hannah played a renegade replicant, who had been created to be a sex worker, a reflection on the way mankind has subjugated women. That film was able to give Hannah's character agency, while not exploiting her. This 2017 film also has an undercurrent theme on the mistreatment of women, particularly of the replicant kind...however, a copious amount of nudity, all female, leads me to believe that perhaps Scott had a better handle on the issue then than Villeneuve does now.

Hereditary (Film Review)

2018 A24
Written and Directed by: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, and Gabriel Byrne; MPAA Rating: R
Nicsperiment Score: 9/10

I greatly enjoyed 2015's The Witch, but as I walked out of the theater, I heard a group of departing teenagers say, "See, I told you not to trust Rotten Tomatoes." I did not love 2017's It Comes at Night, and felt it was falsely marketed, but the guy next to me in theater's response was a little more extreme. "I'm going to ask for my money back," he said. I've sung The Last Jedi's praises unendingly. When my cousin walked out of the theater with me after first viewing, he said, "I knew I should have trusted the audience score over the critics score." He absolutely hated it.
Upon their release, all three of these movies scored over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, a website which aggregates critical reviews. The percentage is that of reporting critics who liked the film. Rotten Tomatoes also allows regular folks to vote on the quality of a film. The average audience score for these three films? Fourty-nine. Yes, 49% of non-critics who watched these films had a positive reaction to them. The other 51% thought they stunk.
What's going on? Are today's critics that out-of-touch with the common man? Will they, after viewing so many similar movies, give a positive review to any movie that is out of the ordinary?
Hereditary, a horror film starring Toni Collette as a woman mourning her recently deceased mother, is certainly out of the ordinary. It currently sits at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, but with only a 57% in the audience score. Is this another case of critics jumping all over a turd, just because it's dressed in fine new clothing?
While Hereditary explores grief and trauma like 2014's The Babadook, it is indeed something completely new. Collette's character designs intricate miniatures for a living, and first-time director, Ari Aster, uses that aesthetic to establish a unique visual design for the film, alternating between long shots, and close-ups that swing around to reveal more of the room...and some things the audience might not want to see.
Collette's family is being torn apart by her struggle to deal with her mother-inflicted trauma, and her ineffectual husband, played by Gabriel Byrne (Irish brogue often blooming through the cracks of his put-on American accent), only seems able to fan the flames. Their two children cope in different ways, but it seems that even greater tragedies are waiting to befall them.
This is a film that is easily spoiled by any deeper description of its plot, especially as Aster takes the film, particularly in its latter moments, into some extremely unexpected places. The film is full of chilly haunted house scares, true to the way it was advertised, but no trailer or commercial even hints at what else is in store. Clearly, by my audience's reaction, it is these latter elements that are dividing the public. However, to give nothing away, those elements are the perfect, most logical payoff for the subjects of trauma and grief Aster wants to explore, and the film is loaded with foreshadowing as to its intended conclusions. The viewer may not like what happens, but as unpredictable and off-the-rails as Hereditary seems, it couldn't have gone any other way.
This is the uniting factor in all the films I've mentioned: they don't give the audience what they want--they instead give themselves what they actually need. I'm sure your average audience member would love for Collette to have a serial-killer nemesis to stab away, or a clear ghost to exorcise. Life doesn't always work that way. Thankfully, not every film does, either.

Why Sleep? Read Reviews All Day! It's a Review of Altered Beast!

This one is short, though you still might be able to beat the game it's reviewing in the three minutes it takes to read:

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Atomic Blonde (Film Review)

2017 Focus Features
Directed by David Leitch; Written by: Kurt Johnstad
Starring: Charlize Theron and James McAvoy; MPAA Rating: R
Nicsperiment Score: 6/10 

Atomic Blonde stars Charlize Theron as a badass British intelligence agent. She's trying to hunt down some type of macguffin in Berlin during the 1989 week the wall comes down. An especially wormy James McAvoy tags along as a rogue agent with questionable loyalties. David Leitch, a co-director on John Wick, rather anonymously directs this adaptation of a 2012 graphic novel titled The Coldest City.
Leitch seems concerned with only two elements of the film: its killer 80's new-wave soundtrack and a ten minute fight scene/shootout/car chase filmed and edited to look like one take. The plot is otherwise as generic as they come, and the other action scenes are exercises in boredom. The film looks digitally unreal outside of the gritty, extended "one-take" scene, bouncing between Communist Europe gray, and a hyper-neon Berlin cool that somehow just doesn't quite register.
Theron is fine in the role, having already assumed the mantle of a quite believable action star in 2015's Mad Max. However, that film meant something, and Atomic Blonde doesn't mean anything. It does what it needs to do to get to that ten-minute action showcase, and pumps in the tunes to keep the viewer awake during the other 105 minutes. If a movie is going to waste my time, I prefer it to be concise.

It's a Review of the Original Sonic the Hedgehog!

It already feels weird to be posting this much!

mother! (Film Review)

2017 Protozoa/Paramount Pictures
Written and Directed by: Darren Aronosfky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer; MPAA Rating: R
Nicsperiment Score: 0.0/10.0

Have you ever had the thought that artists put so much of themselves into their work, the cost to themselves and those around them is unimaginable? Do you need to watch a crowd of people rip a baby apart and eat it in order to have that thought occur to you? If so, mother! is your movie.
mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence as yet another Aronofsky female protagonist who appears to be losing her mind and spiraling into madness. Aronofsky seems to have a thing for that, as evidenced by the women of his Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Black Swan(2010). His female lead here is married to a writer, played by Javier Bardem, and the two live in a house in the middle of the woods. Bardem's character once lived there alone, but the place burnt down, and he lost everything. Apparently, Lawrence's character has rebuilt it, and is working on the finishing touches as the film begins, while Bardem struggles to write. The couple's not quite idyllic existence is broken by an unexpected visit from a strange duo, played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer.
From there, the film spirals into unpredictable, grotesque insanity that is not only unpleasant to watch, but a complete waste of the viewer's time. Aronofsky's imagery is, as always, vivid and striking, but often at the service of his own excessive and unwatchable proclivities. Lawrence's character is put into increasingly uncomfortable situations, while simultaneously undergoing a progressively intense gaslighting by Bardem's character.
I find it hilarious that some critics have interpreted this film as an allegory for the historical mistreatment of women. Lawrence's body is ogled by the camera at every opportunity(the stereotypical male gaze is in full effect), and at one point, her clothes are stripped off from a POV perspective as she is fiercely beaten. If the film wants to explore how women have been mistreated through history, it completely negates that message by mistreating its lead actress. Lawrence herself says the film is a metaphor for the way mother Earth has been mistreated, but if that's the case, this metaphor is obtuse, because the director has dictated it through the used and curdled condom of his disturbed imagination. This movie is about one thing, and that is Darren Aronofsky.
Aronofsky has, to date, produced one film that did not feel like an exploitation picture. That film is 2008's The Wrestler, which proves the man can actually apply his unique eye for framing and camera movement to something worthwhile. Instead of that more noble path, he seems content to flush the viewer down the toilet of his id, again and again. I don't know who keeps funding Aronofsky's films, but it's time to spread that wealth elsewhere.

The Nicsperiment Is About to Live Up to Its Name

Every year I get the house to myself for a few days. Generally, I'll watch a bunch of movies and chill, or waste time in states of depression. It's generally more fun when I do the first one. This time, I am going to try something a little different. I went early 90's video game crazy in the summer of 2016 (thanks, Console Wars!), then experienced a major life change that inhibited my ability to review those games. That fact has bugged me ever since. However, I've also been building up a list of films no one in my house wants to watch that I am going to finally get through, as well...and I am going to review them, as I watch them.
So, over the next 3-4 days, The Nicsperiment will ideally be blasting out reviews every few hours. I've never tried anything like this before, and generally tried to space out content. I am excited to see what happens. It might be a blast. Or I'll lose my mind. I think the first one will be more fun.

-The Nicsperiment

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Sigur Rós -- Ágætis byrjun


The request show guy tapped me on the arm as I walked out the DJ booth and said, "Hey, man, you should listen tonight. We're actually going to play something good." During my four years of college radio DJ'ing, my block was followed by some pretty eclectic programs, but none like "The Request Show" in the fall of 2002. These guys were out there. The entire basis of their show was to blatantly not play songs that callers requested. Instead, they played their own requests, or mine as I passed them coming in.
I followed their advice that night, but wasn't too impressed by the first 20 or so minutes of music. "I mean, this is good," I said to myself on my drive home in reference to whatever Damien Jurado song they were playing, "but not GOOD."
Then Barrett Black, half of the Request Show duo, said, "Okay, earlier tonight we said we'd play something good. But this is really, really good." Barrett Black is a friend to this day, though I only see him about once a year. This and the next two reviews are extremely interconnected, and Barrett is going to come up again. Anyway, Barrett muted his mic, pressed play, and for the next eight minutes and nine seconds, I said, not to myself, but quite loudly, "This isn't good, this is incredible!" The strange alien atmosphere and buildup, and those vocals, and those sounds, and that power. It blew my mind.
Then, I got out of my car, realized I hadn't caught the name of the band, had no English lyrics to use as a search reference, had a busy week, and promptly forgot the experience.
About seven months later, the song emerged in my head, fully formed, I couldn't get it out, and I went on a mad search to find out who created it. I don't know what kind of early 00's google-magic I worked to get to Sigur Rós, but it must have been intense. It was also inconclusive. One fateful Sunday in May of 2003, I found myself wandering into Best Buy, finding one CD by Sigur Rós, and hoping I had found the right band. Turns out, I had...but it was the wrong album...
I'll get to that part of the story in the next review, but after listening to that particular Sigur Rós album on a non-stop loop for about a month, I knew that I must have another one...maybe the one that actually contained that song I'd heard.
Thankfully, at the time, you could only walk into a store and buy one other Sigur Rós album than the one I had. I finally found it, Ágætis byrjun, and behold, it actually had the song I was looking for. That song is "Ný batterí," and fifteen years later, it is still one of my favorite songs.

Those expectant horns to start the song, like coming out of some universal glacial fog, then those alien noises start bleeding in, and the bassline takes over, thick and insistent, horns supporting, and there's a voice. It isn't a human voice, it isn't a man or a woman's voice, it's the sound of an elf from some higher society, high and whispery, and strangely powerful, singing in a language never before spoken, and then the drums come in, cymbals sounding weathered by ancient, long-forgotten hurricanes. Then it's just the horns and some ancient cranking noise for a solitary moment before this power surges forward, some unknown and infinite, unstoppable sound. Really, I've been listening to this for seven minutes already? How is this possible? It just started! A final minute of the horns and kick, snare and cymbal plays the song out into the ether.
I'm not sure how any album could appear interesting in comparison to "Ný batterí," but Ágætis byrjun is a singular work--one of three singular works I believe Sigur Rós have to their name. The music is just as beautiful, alien, and unexpected, though "Ný batterí" is the peak for me. 
"Ný batterí" comes directly in the album's middle, and the rest of Ágætis byrjun seems to deliberate in its fallout, first in tension, and then with increasingly comforting sounds, led more by fluid bass guitar than any of Sigur Rós' future albums.
Indeed, despite its very alien nature, illustrated by its very alien album artwork, Ágætis byrjun envelops the listener in such comforting feelings of home and community in its final minutes that I concluded the family-centric short film I created for my documentary filmmaking class fall semester of '03 with track eight, "Olsen Olsen." I got an A+. Thanks, Sigur Rós.

It's also worth noting, a student in 2018 can make a far higher-quality video than this in 30-minutes on their iPhone. We are in the future.

1999 FatCat Records
1. Intro 1:36
2. Svefn-g-englar 10:03
3. Starálfur 6:45
4. Flugufrelsarinn 7:47
5. Ný batterí 8:09
6. Hjartað hamast (bamm bamm bamm) 7:09
7. Viðrar vel til loftárása 10:16
8. Olsen Olsen 8:02
9. Ágætis byrjun 7:55
10. Avalon 4:01