Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Sonic the Hedgehog - Movie Review

I thoroughly enjoyed Sonic the Hedgehog. I wasn’t expected Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon, but I was worried it would be lame, even with the character redesign. But it was a lot of fun, from the swipes at Super Mario Bros. to the speedy humor to the fantastic credits scene with the 16-bit graphics. Directed by Jeff Fowler, the film starred James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell, Neal McDonough, Adam Pally, and Jim Carrey, and they all did a great job. Ben Schwartz was energetic and funny voicing Sonic himself, and Carrey was his maniacal, 1990s self as we knew him in The Mask and Ace Ventura Pet Detective. You can watch my full review by clicking HERE.

Conversely, Simon Abrams, writing for, hated the movie. He wrote, “Sonic the Hedgehog is the worst kind of bad movie: it's too inoffensive to be hated and too wretched to be enjoyable. You might think that this movie’s sad limbo state has something to do with the extensive and well-publicized last-minute animation redesign that made titular woodland creature Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) look more like Sega’s famous video game character. You’d be wrong: Sonic the Hedgehog is rotten because it, like too many other modern blockbusters, was seemingly made by an imaginatively bankrupt creative committee with more ideas for jokes than actual jokes to tell, and more cookie-cutter, place-holder dialogue about the power of friendship than something (anything) to say about that boilerplate quality.”

Movies like Sonic the Hedgehog aren’t intended for critics. They’re fun popcorn movies aimed at kids, families, pop culture buffs, comedy adventure fans, and fans of the franchise. I thought it was a blast.

I reviewed another good movie recently called Not for Resale. It’s about the death of physical media and stars several of my friends, including Kelsey Lewin and Joe Santulli. You can watch my video review HERE and read my written review HERE.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Movie Review - Not for Resale: A Video Game Store Documentary

Movie Review: Not for Resale: A Video Game Store Documentary

I love video game documentaries. I even wrote the foreword to the DVD and Blu-ray release of one called The Bits of Yesterday. So, when I heard about Not for Resale: A Video Game Store Documentary, I was pumped. When I heard that some of my friends were going to be in the film, I was even more excited. After watching the movie yesterday, I can tell you I was not disappointed. Not even a little bit.

As everyone knows, physical media is dying. At least it’s on life support. It will probably never go away entirely, thanks to niche projects and the need to put something on the shelves at Walmart, but more and more people, especially younger folks, are consuming music, movies, and video games through downloads and streaming services.

Not for Resale examines this phenomenon in fine fashion. By interviewing retro game store owners like Joe Santulli (Digital Press) and James Ainesworth (Thrillhouse Games), viewers get the inside scoop on what the lack of physical media may mean to the future of their retail outlets, which largely deal in used games. There will likely be relatively few physical releases for the next big consoles—the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X—resulting in a dearth of used product to sell for these systems a few years down the road.

As Santulli says in the film, “Most kids are getting games from their couch.”

As such, many retro gaming stores could suffer the same fate as Blockbuster Video. The problem is concerning, but there are potential solutions. For example, Pink Gorilla co-owner Kelsey Lewin says in the film that it’s important for her stores to diversify the stock to include peripheral merchandise, such as Mario, Sonic, and Pokemon plushies.

Not for Resale does an excellent job explaining the positives as well as the negatives of physical media dying off. Downloaded games have little to no resale value (hence the title of the movie), and slow internet speeds in certain rural areas make downloading games difficult. However, as Frank Cifaldi, the director of the Video Game History Foundation, explains in the film, it’s much easier and cheaper to produce downloadable games, giving independent programmers the ability to “make games for Nintendo consoles out of their homes.” Console Wars author Blake Harris adds that there’s no need to worry about chip shortages, like what happened with the NES in 1988.  

Some documentaries have a bit of a cheap look and feel, even while providing useful information, but Not for Resale has very nice production values. The visuals are crystal clear, and director Kevin J. James makes sure to relieve the potential tedium of such subject matter with a variety of camera angles and a variety of indoor and outdoor shots, including a major Sega Saturn transaction between a customer and Santulli. He also infuses the film with personal stories (I love the scene where the interviewee talks about having used rolls of pennies to purchase Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600, then crying because the game was so difficult), which are always welcome for these kinds of films.

Not for Resale: A Video Game Store Documentary is not only a look at what the death of physical media means for the industry moving forward. It’s also a history of the encroachment of digital games into our lives and what video games in general mean to the culture at large. Fittingly enough, you can rent or purchase the movie streaming via Amazon Prime.

Support author Brett Weiss via Patreon by clicking HERE.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Ages of The Flash - Book Review!

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and that’s certainly the case with The Ages of The Flash, a newish book by McFarland Publishers. Edited by Joseph J. Darowski, the slim (186 pages) volume features a generic image on the front that evokes the Silver Age version of the Fastest Man Alive, but does not portray his true uniform. I guess the lawyers at DC Comics are waiting to pounce on any unauthorized images of their mainline heroes. Or, perhaps McFarland is just being extra cautious, as they were with my Encyclopedia of KISS, which has a silhouette of Gene Simmons on the cover instead of an actual photo of him.

Regardless, this is an interesting book that covers a wide variety of aspects of the Scarlet Speedster, from “The Birth of the Silver Age Flash” to “The Rise and Fall of Wally West” to “The Persistence of Vision and The New 52,” which was a 2011 revamping and relaunching of the DC Universe superhero line.

I found two chapters in particular especially fascinating. “Politically Incorrect Humor: Examining the Three Dimwits Through a Disability Studies Lens,” which told me more than I thought was possible to know about quirky characters Winky, Noddy, and Blinky from the adventures of Golden Age Flash, and "Barry Allen’s Social Awakening in the 1970s," where Flash stories starting featuring socially relevant storylines. As much as I love whizbang Flash fun, it was cool when the book took on social issues, such as the counterculture movement. Barry Allen grew his hair out a bit and even had a favorite band, Washington Starship, which was a fictionalized Jefferson Starship (complete with Paul and Gracie, which were nods to Paul Kantner and Grace Slick).
It’s a shame there are no photos in the book (more fear of DC, I would imagine), so you might want to keep your laptop nearby while you are reading so you can look up certain characters mentioned who you are unfamiliar with. A different author took on each chapter, but you won’t see any comic book writers on the list. Rather, they are English professors, lecturers, philosophers, and the like, so the book has a definite scholarly tone and approach. It’s certainly very well written.

As a massive Flash fan with a near-complete collection of his Silver Age adventures, as well as shelves of memorabilia, I’m happy to have The Ages of the Flash in my collection. It would be nice if there were images to accompany the information (comics are a visual medium, after all), but I definitely learned some new things about my favorite character (several versions of him, in fact), as well as saw him in a new light regarding his place in society. Recommended.

*Thanks to McFarland for sending me a review copy of the book at my request. You can order the book from the publisher HERE

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Top 5 Controllers from Video Game Obsession

I recently did a YouTube video on my favorite video game controller. I got some excellent comments, including a “Top 5” list by my buddy Matt Henzel, who runs the Video Game Obsession website, and who contributed stories for my SNES Omnibus books. Matt is one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to video games.

Here’s Matt’s comments, unedited. Thanks Matt!

Matt's favorite controllers:

5. Genesis 3 button original >> This was always my go-to controller with the Genesis. I mostly played that system between 1989 and 1993, prior to the release of Street Fighter II and 6 button pad. I like larger controllers, and was always able to pull off moves which I can't always do with other controllers, such as the Dwarf's roll attack A+B, or Joe Mushasi's double jump in Revenge of Shinobi.

4. NES controller >> It's nearly indestructible! And I've taken out some of my aggression while playing Ghosts N Goblins, too!

3. Sony DualShock 4 >> Sony took everything that made previous DualShock controllers great and streamlined it, while adding some important updates. The addition of a 3.5" headphone jack is bar far one of the most useful things for me personally. I almost always play the PS4 while using headphones plugged into the controller. It also has surprisingly excellent sound quality and amplified volume. I also love the speaker and LED lightbar for games such as GTA V. When being chased by the police your LED will start blinking red & blue, while the speaker will start placing police chatter (if in a police car), It's really more immersive than you might think, especially in a dark room!

2. Neo-Geo CD Controller >> I love the micro switched D-Pad. There is never any question if you are holding diagonally with it. It just clicks into place and feels great. The only downside is that they seem very fragile. I've had a couple of them break on me from very light usage. The parts that break are also SNK proprietary parts as far as I have seen. So that's a bummer.

1. SNES controller >> I really love this one the most. It was clear that Nintendo had put a lot of time and thought into the setup. The concave / convex differences in both rows of buttons (X Y / B A) made perfect sense when playing games like Super Mario World.  The running and fireballs controlled exactly like the NES controller, so that was basic muscle memory going on, then the new moves were on the convex buttons. The L/R were excellent additions for games like Mario World (looking up/down), Mario Kart (jumping), Doom (strafing), Pilot Wings (switching views). The diamond arrangement of the 4 buttons also worked out great for Super Smash TV.

I also like the Switch Pro 
Controller, Atari 7800 control pad (NES style) which was only released in Europe, The Japanese Saturn controller, CD-i Gravis pad, GameCube, Hori Game Boy controller for the GameCube is excellent.

Sorry for the length of this comment. I guess it got a little out of control. :)