Review: Groundhog Day

Every now and then I am either compelled, reminded, or otherwise happen across the chance to see a movie that apparently the rest of the world has already enjoyed. Even if I am more than twenty years late to the party.

Groundhog Day is a story about Phil Connor, a rather selfish and egocentric character who I can best describe as likeable only in that sort of way that Bill Murray can so lovingly depict. In other words, Murray plays himself, though with a few extra layers of smarminess and egocentrism.

But then, possibly every character I’ve ever seen Billy Murray play (even as himself) is usually among the most self-assured people in whatever movie he graces.

At any rate, what makes Groundhog Day so memorable is the Time Loop Trope it apparently named. According to TVtropes.org, this movie isn’t the first example of the trope, but it did introduce it to popular culture. And to pretty good effect; Groundhog Day is considered a commercial and critical success, lauded by many as a beloved classic.

One wonders how I didn’t get around to seeing this sooner. It came out in 1993, which incidentally is the time of my earliest memory with a date attached to it — being in elementary school, writing the heading atop some essay or assignment, and constantly being reminded by peers and the teacher:

“No, Jesse, it’s not 1993 anymore. The year ended last week.”

More to the point, Groundhog Day is considered a Fantasy – but not in the sense the likes of which I usually write about on this blog. While there is arguable time travel going on here, there is no real science-fiction element either. Even in a number of fantasy stories, there are explanations for the events, even if such events are “hand waved” away with a simple solution:

BecauseMagic

But in this film, no explanation is offered, and from the very beginning we’re forced to follow along with the protagonist. Explanationless.

And you know, I think the movie really benefits from that. Without any attempt to really make the situation believable, we can instead sit back and focus on what really matters: the characters and how they react to the setting and each other. Besides, it’s more or less a comedy, and comedies aren’t known for the most feasible of plots.

Leaving the “explanation” portion of a story like this blank frees the writer(s) of a lot of responsibility, too. I for one am thoroughly glad there was no shoehorned reason for the Time Loop. It could have easily been terribly screwed up, especially if there was some sort of religious undertone to the events in the story.

Which is something that can be found (by those who look for it) anywhere.

This can backfire, though. There’re YouTube shows and other blogs dedicated to everything wrong with certain movies, or even just endings. Bad endings, open endings, unexplained endings, surprise endings, and cliffhangers. I did not get a sense of any of these having completed Groundhog Day. I only had that sense of bottled-finality and “all’s well,” in typical early-nineties Hollywood movies, a type of ending I’m not necessarily opposed to, but it does get old.

Two-thirds into Groundhog Day, though, I was right alongside the protagonist in his explorations of ending the Time Loop. Even the montage of suicides resulted in nothing but the snap-back to the six-o-clock indicator that the next Loop had begun. Black comedy at it’s best.

I, for one, readily confess that I might’ve found myself driven quite mad were I in a similar situation. Phil Connors certainly loses his mind — multiple times — but more than anything, this is a story of change. The character changes.

That’s an essential element to an effective story I’ve touched on before.

After getting over a bout of spiralling depression, madness and despair, Phil Connors sets about utilizing what is, at this point of the story, now viewed as an abundance of the most valuable resource in the 3rd Dimension: time.

Phil Connors discovers he has unlimited time.

The Persistence of Memory, by the Dali Lama. Wait, no — Salvador Dali. I always get the two confused.

Whether or not he’s actually aging during the Time Loop is uncertain (though I personally think that roughly a year of groundhog days has come and gone), but he certainly uses his time well: paying $1,000 to assure himself a piano lesson every day, for who knows how many days. We see him reading heavy literature, perfecting ice sculpture, and arriving at various places around town just in time to help people out with problems small and dire.

Catching a kid falling from a tree is possibly a bit more impactful to the space/time continuum than changing the flat of a car for three old ladies, but then, the movie doesn’t explore that aspect of things. Rather, it focuses on the fact that in spite of there being no consequences, Bill Murray’s character comes to utilize his time well.

The lack of explanation for the Groundhog Day Loop also leaves it open that it could, at least within the precepts of the story, happen to any one of us, at any time. We are then offered the question: What would we do in such a situation?

I suspect that the majority of us would follow through with the rough scheme that Phil Connors did. After the initial adjustment, there would be some experimentation. Following assurance of there being no consequences, there would be indulgence. Theft, breaking the law in various other ways, and for some of us, perhaps even the manipulation of people we find sexually appealing. Eventually, though, that would get boring, and the next stage would be to find a way out.

Providing the Death Clause is in effect (if you die, you still wake up at the start of the “next” day), then, as Black Sabbath once put it, I suspect we would all be going off the rails on a crazy train.

Would the whole redemption phase happen for all of us? Is the idea of change and redemption required for said Time Loop to end, or would similar Time Loops for other people sometimes end prematurely, before certain individuals had a chance to grow? In such a case they’d just start the next day a broken and mentally crippled person.

I suppose that’d be a slightly different kind of movie.

In any case, I dug it. It has a slow start – enough so to empty my living room of English Learners after the first twenty minutes – but the payoff is well worth it. Go see it if you haven’t already, and if you have, hey, I guess we just got something more in common.

Advertisements

Game Review: Radiant Defense


I haven’t done a game review in a long time. This is largely in part because I’ve hardly played any games, especially since moving to Sai Gon. There is, however, something of a gaming community here, one that I’ve only recently partaken in, and lets just say it’s more than comforting to meet fellow birds of a feather.

Today, though, I’m focusing on a mobile game, one I’ve played in the past and recently downloaded again. Radiant Defense is a title released by Hexage Games, and in a nutshell it can be compared to most other Tower Defense games you or I have played. It stands out, however, with it’s radiance.

This game is heavily saturated with color, and in recent years I’ve come to understand my own personal aesthetic attraction toward bright colors. I love when women dye their hair some unnatural shade of the rainbow, or watching vibrantly painted motorbikes speed by, and even my favorite shirts are very “loud” (though solid) colors. The Candy-esque colors of Bangkok taxis were rather appealing, and the motley of mad skittles-themed clothing from hippies and mountain-tribes alike is fascinating to me.

 

Radiant Defense delivers in the eye-candy department.

It’s a free download, too, though there are expected micro-transactions. When I first played this game – perhaps a year and a half before this post – I did so avidly. During that time, I spent a lot of time on buses or trains during a commute from Woodstock, NY to Manhattan, and had ample time to read or listen to music. More often, though, I used that time to try downloadable mobile games from the Google Play Store.

Apparently it’s available on Steam, too, though not for free. I wager it contains all the tower upgrades.

The same company released an earlier game simply entitled Radiant, a game designed in the loving memory of early top-down shooters – such as Galaga. The developers don’t shy away from making references to such games, even referring to one of the multitude of flying enemy aliens as Galagan in origin. Well, says I, why not? It is most apropos.

Have videogames taught you nothing? Of course ship-sized bugs can fly through space with wings.

 

A cool thing is that Radiant and Radiant Defense do, in fact, occur in the same universe. There’s a special object that can be unlocked called the Eye of the Allfather, granting the ability to use Psionic Terrorshock – a map-wide slow that can make or break a stage. The flavor text for the structure reads as follows:

Vat-grown and stabilized ocular belonging to a terrifying alien specimen that’s believed to be the great ancestor of all alien lifeforms. Genetic material needed for its reproduction had been scraped off the battle-worn starship “Radiant” shortly after the legendary Sergent Max Blaster re-emerged from the past.

Galagan indeed.

There’ve been some complaints about Radiant Defense. After reaching a certain point, progression becomes extremely challenging, if not impossible, unless you purchase upgrades from the in-game store. I myself have in fact gotten a few, as much because I enjoy the game and wanted to support the developer as required them to move on.

At $0.99 each, an upgrade will unlock a number of new towers, meaning I’ve spent a grand total of $1.98 on this game.

And I am stingy as hell in general, let alone with online game purchases. I’m not being sponsored by Hexane games either for that matter – I’ve never received any benefit for my reviews except the for the satisfaction of having put some words out in the embroiling mass of tendrils known as the internet.

In any case, I like this game. Enough to have actually spent money on it. The writing and story is respectably minimal, too – it’s a Tower Defense, how much story is actually necessary for such a game to continue?

There is a little lampshading, though, which adds to the campy humor. Tower Defense games, by their very nature, don’t really follow any kind of logic in terms of actual warfare. You build towers that continually mow down relentless waves of mindless enemies running in a line. To those unfamiliar with this genre, that might sound boring – and in some games, it is. But Radiant: Defense has a mix of interesting towers and peculiar enemies that make it stand out among many other TD’s I’ve tried.

For the record, the best tower defense I’ve ever played, that echoes in my memory as possibly the one to rule them all, wasn’t a standalone game, but rather a modded custom level for Warcraft 3: Frozen Throne. You can download the map here, if you happen to have that game still kicking around in your harddrive.

This’s a reference that’ll click with approximately three of you.

 

Aside from the word radiant being one of my top favorite words — aside which you’ll find the words ambientnoticeable, and amiable, you should try Radiant: Defense.

Like Minds

Let’s start things off with a good old-fashioned apology.

I’ve been writing less. Not only in the blog department, but the fiction department as well. As the old adage goes, when you’re a writer, you’re either writing or your constantly thinking that you should be writing. I remain guilty of this, sure, but what I won’t do is list off reasons I’ve neglected to pursue what I claim to be the namesake of my  supposed passion.

I will, though, take a moment to inform you that things are expected to pick up soon. These last two months have been rife with stress, obstacles and distractions, and while more are on the horizon (the good kind, as in planned travel adventures), I feel very strongly about what will happen in the near future. Good things a’coming, as far as writing is concerned.

Lately I’ve been spending more time teaching English than I’ve been doing other things. I’ve been doing it in a variety of situations; teaching groups of adults in my home, individuals in their homes, meeting in cafes and even wrangling a small group of young kids. But none of that compares to teaching in a public school, the most recent gig I managed to acquire. Being held responsible for teaching a group of 20-25 screaming children brought to mind imagery of Kindergarten Cop.

Minus the whole cop thing.

But perhaps more interesting is the chance meeting of like minds. Here in Sài Gòn, there are activity groups for things I did not know existed – such as a square dancing group. And geek/nerd boardgame groups. There, in a delightfully secluded and comfortable café known as Cliche Coffee, over in Downtown Sài Gòn, we meet to play fantasy and science-fiction themed boardgames – some of which took me by surprise on how awesome they are.

This game is so rad I might have to devote a blog post to it.

 

Just as much for the games themselves are, of course, the joy of having like company. For those just tuning in, yes I live in Sài Gòn, but more the point, as of the writing of this post, I’m living in the outskirts of the city, far from other foreigners and surrounded by millions of Vietnamese. I chose this for a number of reasons, but in recent months have come to learn a number of things — not only about the culture, but about myself.

For one thing: turns out I’m not quite as antisocial as I may have thought I was. Turns out I rather enjoy the company of other people, and while I’ve made some great (local) friends, there really is something special about hanging out with people who’ve read the same books, played the same games, and seen the same movies as you. I’ve come to learn I need to interact other geeks; it helps pull my head out of the dust and poverty of outskirts Sài Gòn, helps me remember there’s a wide world out there, and that — yes, as a matter of fact — there’re people around who have an interest in fantasy and science fiction.

I’ve been told by a number of folks that they couldn’t live the way I do. I see why and was able to carry on. Surrounded by nearly everyone who cannot speak your language, that’s tough enough as it is. Sài Gòn is an industrial town; everyone is studying to work in accounting, or construction, or engineering. There are very few creatives to be found, and even if there were, they’re hard to find.

People have seen some of my doodles laying around and haven’t remarked things like “Hey, neat,” or “Oh cool, a dragon,” or even “You call that art?” Nah, the reaction I mostly get is: “Gee, you have a lot of free time, don’t you?”

That is, of course, not to come as any surprise in a developing country. Creative projects such as writing novels or making sculptures and paintings seems to be relegated to privileged people. As with so many things, it’s one thing to live a comparatively cushy life in America and read this stuff in books; it’s quite another to see it first-hand.

But back to the idea of like minds — not only have there been discoveries of fellow geeks in Sai Gon, a possibility I did not even entertain in the past, but some friends from my hometown will actually be headed over to this side of the planet. Serving as an anchor, the “point man,” if you will, I’ve essentially opened a door for others to follow and see this mad, wondrous country in which I currently live and work.

I’ll get into more details in a future post, but suffice it to say the idea of having four friends — one of whom being none other than the Firebeard, the Thorneater himself — fly to meet me here has me most excited. Việt Nam is a veritable fantasy realm, as I’ve said in the past, rife with strange culture, food, people and landscapes.

Being able to provide the first few steps into this place is something I’ve learned I’ve thoroughly come to enjoy.