Day Nine: Whiplash (MotM 2017)

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Yet again, I’ve decided to try something a little more off-the-wall. Instead of focusing solely on the film for today, Whiplash, I’ve decided to compare it to another film also directed by Damien Chazelle: La La Land. Before that, some context.

Roughly a month ago, I was discussing La La Land with a friend of mine who had just seen it for the first time. She enjoyed it for the most part, but added that some scenes felt a little too “ordinary.” In a twisted form of foreshadowing, that statement would continuously play within my mind as I often thought back to my own thoughts of La La Land and how I almost wanted to agree with her, but never had a solid reason to do so. That is, until today, when I finished Whiplash, and my first thought became, “This is better than La La Land.” What makes this more interesting is that I’ve decided to rate this lower than I did La La Land, yet I still stand by my statement. So, what does this mean?

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There’s an noticeable distinction between these two films, La La Land and Whiplash. Both have a variety of similarities involving plot focuses, development of character, and use of camera. However, what’s different about these two films is the direction it takes to show a similar theme—one of following your dreams and the work it takes to make it a reality. This is the core of what I feel makes Whiplash better overall as a film, with La La Land becoming a bit of a hasty overrating.

Whiplash’s biggest strength is the passion of its characters. That fierceness and resolve that makes them almost superhuman in their desire for perfection. Everything that they embody is within their work and the sacrifices they’re willing to make to grow. It’s at times horrifying, suspenseful, riveting, and a combination of all and more, with a sense of insanity tinged in for extra kick. The level of competition one has with themselves to do everything they possibly can, even at the extent of their lives, both figuratively and literally, makes the film hard to tear one’s eyes away from. Like a machine, it runs fast and never slows down, efficiently making pace for an inevitable meltdown at the finish line. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons (especially) make this movie an absolutely joy to watch and Simmons absolutely, absolutely deserves the award he received for the film.

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La La Land takes the approach of following your dreams to a more “family-friendly” level. While not earnestly appealing to kids, it feels a little more interested in showing itself in a more light and fluffy manner. The homages to popular movies of old, the random flashy musical numbers, the emphasis on love and romance; it’s a more mainstream approach compared to Whiplash’s hard-nosed, gritty persona. It plays with the theme with dream sequences and songs with a personal touch. Characters, while not necessarily ending happily ever after, find success through the hardships. Almost every fiber of La La Land is humorous, charming, and uplifting, lounging upon the good vibes to carry the viewer into the world of Hollywood(‘s good side). It’s hard not to see it as, for lack of a better term, “soft” when compared side-by-side with Whiplash.

The debate from here becomes befuddled in subjective expectations: does one prefer the lighthearted, giddy naivety of La La Land? Or does Whiplash’s drill sergeant style of bombardment craft gold with its tight friction? At the time, I believed La La Land’s message and tone was carried almost perfectly, dividing the line between dream and reality for the sake of entertainment and symbolism. Although, Whiplash has a streamlined ferocity that tickles my fancy, as well. There’s a more tangible showing of the dream that I feel makes it a more gripping experience. Characters feel more like they own their identity as opposed to being keys to relating to the audience. In the end, Whiplash feels more credible as a character study and more believable with its showing of the sacrifices of achieving greatness.

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Even with the admission of my (likely) overrating of La La Land, both films are still very good and highly recommendable. Damien Chazelle is an up and coming director with a lot of potential for many great films within his lifetime, and with two hits already, one can count me as a new fan. He has a knack for finding the balance between reality and entertainment that makes the emotions involved in his films all the more gratifying. Whiplash is the better film in my eyes, with its focus on character and unabashed determination steamrolling La La Land’s dainty charm, but only for these things. It didn’t have the same impact on me as La La Land did upon completion, and that may be its one true flaw. It’s like a quick dose of heroin, one feels amazing while it lasts, then feels more normal than they did before. It absolutely achieves what it wants to do and nothing more.

Final Score: 8.5/10

The rating for all other films can be found on my IMDb account.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

K.O. Course! Why Mario Golf Is Superior to Super Smash Bros.

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The inspiration for this article came upon replaying Mario Golf for the first time since I was about seven or so. My love for the game even went so far that I dedicated a homework assignment to one of the game modes present within it. My inherent love for golf games was directly inspired by it, which translated into my continued love for the game so many years later. The essence of “classic games” is that no matter the era, one can have great fun playing them. Mario Golf is a classic in my eyes, while another, more popular franchise seems to be the case for everyone else.

I took it upon myself to replay Super Smash Bros. as well, going from beginning to end in both games, unlocking everything I possibly could before moving on. By the end of each game’s “end,” it was clear to me what the superior title was, but I seem to be in the minority based on user score comparisons. As shown by Metacritic and Gamefaqs, the user score for Super Smash Bros. is much higher than that of Mario Golf (Though I acknowledge not many users rated Mario Golf on Metacritic). However, critic consensus agrees that Mario Golf is the better title. I suppose my critical aspirations would fit well enough, huh?

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Not without reason, of course, would I make a claim that one game is clearly better than another. I’ve observed a number of different things, both objectively and subjectively relative to people’s expectations of fun, that give an edge to Mario Golf. Some of these things are directly correlated to my own biases, as is typical for any reviewer, but I’ve tried to limit the amount of ego-inflated elitism that one might expect from a comparison piece such as this one. Disclaimers aside, my reasons for why Mario Golf has a noticeable handicap over Super Smash Bros.

1. There’s More to Do!

In Super Smash Bros., one has the option to play in Training, Classic, Bonus Stages 1 & 2, and Vs. Mode. One could also argue that they could check out the character profiles in the Options menu, but that’ll take little out of the player’s time overall. When replaying Smash Bros., I played the game in two sittings—both spanning within an hour’s time—before I unlocked every character. After that, I felt no motivation to continue playing, as the only other mode worth playing was Vs. Mode, and that’s a lot more fun with other people. It says a lot about a game when after two hours, there’s little more for the player to do. It takes a huge risk, relying on the gameplay alone to keep the player enticed enough to keep playing after every goal’s been checked off the list. In this case, it isn’t quite enough.

In Mario Golf, one can play Tournament, Training, Ring Shot, Get Character, Speed Golf, Mini-Golf, and a number of Multiplayer modes. Not only does it have three more modes than Smash Bros., but each mode takes longer to complete than its competition. By the end of a sitting in Mario Golf, a few hours can go by without a second thought, so long as you haven’t rage-quit before that. When normal golf gets too stale, one can participate in Mini-golf, where putting is the only factor and the courses are giant numbers. This was the mode I felt inclined to write about in my schoolwork. It’s also, ironically, become my least favorite mode in the entire game.

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A common struggle now a days with games is money spent vs. length one can get out of a game. With these two, Mario Golf is the clear winner in long-term replayability. Unlocking everything takes anywhere from twenty to thirty hours, while Smash Bros. has everything behind a thin layer of a few hours.

2. It’s More Challenging!

I’m not saying Smash Bros. isn’t hard, as that is far from the truth, but taking into consideration the work it takes to unlock everything, it’s a breeze compared to Mario Golf. The most Smash Bros. requires the player to do to unlock things is simply play the game. Unlocking Ness is probably the hardest challenge, as the player has to go through Normal difficulty in Classic Mode with three lives and beat it without continuing (Which I did on my first try).

Unlocking Bowser in Mario Golf took me umpteen tries, with the winning round requiring me to land four Eagles in eighteen holes in order to beat him by a single stroke. There’s no adjusting the difficulty in the Options menu, either. You’re going to have to play the game of your life to survive and it’s all meticulous planning and taking advantage of the weather conditions. It can be frustrating, for sure, but once you beat it, your sense of accomplishment rises like a four-ton weight being lifted off your foot. I’ll say this, though: the final course is nothing short of bullshit. So many rough patches and bunkers placed throughout each hole that screwing up is a likely scenario no matter how careful your shot is.

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There’s a point where a game can be too frustrating to call it “competitively challenging,” and Mario Golf passes this to some degree in later portions. However, Smash Bros. doesn’t feel all that challenging at all, especially what it requires to unlock everything needed to be unlocked. Without that challenge, games can feel like a monotonous drag that ultimately serves as a waste of time, with limited fun.

3. It Requires More Precise Player Input!

This is probably the most subjective point, as one could argue that what I’m about to explain is more characteristic of what’s more enjoyable to some than others. Super Smash Bros. isn’t simply a button-masher with results being better suited for those who blend the controller for a minute or two. Still, as a fighting game, one can take advantage of one or two moves to desecrate the competition without a second thought. It feels almost like hammering a single button over and over again in order to win. Again, not usually the case, but it tends to happen more than one might expect.

One could also argue that Mario Golf is simply golf, so its controls don’t have to be so varied, to which I can agree. Even so, to have the buttons be so limited, yet so indicative of the outcome of the match feels so much more controlled than otherwise. I enjoy not having to worry about all sorts of different button maneuvers and outdated tactics improved by sequels when I could just have a near-mastered limit of control available upon my own accord. Only drawback to this is that it becomes hard to top in following sequels. In any case, my love of tight controls in video games shines through brightly here.

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I could make other arguments, but they’re more nitpicks about Smash Bros. than anything worth making a valid, objective argument about. With my own interpretation in mind, why is it that Super Smash Bros. is so much more beloved? I’d argue a few different things, such as “Mario Golf is just golf” and “Super Smash Bros. has a larger cast of Nintendo characters from all sorts of titles.” Fighting games in general are far more popular than golf games, and people are more accustomed to playing them, since golf is a game with more of a narrowed demographic. Does this mean we’re all a bunch of violence-loving savages?! A post for another day. And who doesn’t love crossovers? If The Avengers is any indication, people go gaga over characters within the same universe interacting with one another.

Nostalgia is also a very likely candidate in deeming the popularity of one title to another. I grew up more with Super Smash Bros. than Mario Golf, but I’m able to distinguish the quality between them with a clear head. In the end, Mario Golf has given me a lot more trial and error, frustration, and tear-inducing joy than Super Smash Bros did, and the feeling of enjoyment really isn’t that close. There’s more to do, more to endure, and more to strategize for. It’s just golf, yes, but it has that Nintendo charm and polish that gives it more appeal than others within the same genre. That appeal trumps even others on the same system.

What is your input on the matter? Is Super Smash Bros. the better game? Or is Mario Golf an underappreciated spectacle as I’ve tried arguing for? Feel free to leave a comment, and I appreciate everyone for taking the time to read! Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

The ratings for these titles and more can be found on MyVideoGameList.