Monday, October 27, 2014

Top 10: Dumbest James Bond Moments

James Bond is one of my biggest fandoms.  I'm saying that here in case you couldn't infer it from the year-long mini-series I did on this very blog, reviewing all its movies.  But part of being a good, sane fan is admitting any sins the subject of your adoration may have committed.  And James Bond is certainly no saint in that regard.  (Except for Roger Moore, who played on a TV show called The Saint.)  Yet at the same time, I don't think these movies ever get so bad to the point they become unberarable to watch.  On the contrary, their occasional bouts of stupidity only serve to make them more fun to watch.  To a point, anyway.  That's why I'm going to count down the top ten dumbest moments of the James Bond movies, and see if and when we cross that line.  I've selected and listed these entries based on the following criteria: 1) How embarrassing is it to watch the scene?  2) Does the scene work in context?  And 3) Is there anything good about the scene to balance it out?  So break out your favourite Q-gadgets, because Here.  We.  Go.

10) "Turning Japanese"
from You Only Live Twice (1967)

In this scene, James Bond and his allies in the Japanese SIS have located the secret base of SPECTRE, but need to set up shop without raising suspicion.  And in the homogenous society of Japan, that's easier said then done when one among your numbers is a six-foot-something Scotsman.  So what to do?  Why, give him a plastic-surgery makeover to give him an Asian appearance, of course!  I'll give it this, among the "great" moments of "yellowface" in cinema, this is nowhere near as offensive as Mickey Rooney's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's.  But that's the problem -- the effect used here is so subtle, I forgot about it after a while!  Still, given our modern society's hair-trigger response to racism, this could have turned out much, much worse.

9) "James of the Jungle"
from Octopussy (1983)

In this scene, James Bond has escaped from the villain's palace in India and is being chased through a nearby jungle.  The resulting action sequence is... uneven, to say the least.  Sure, there are clever moments to be found, such as when Bond hides underneath a henchman's elephant and unfastens his saddle.  But as for me, I'll remember this scene instead for two parts -- one, he encounters a tiger, and before it can pounce upon him, he sternly calls to it, "Sit!", and it does.  And two, he swings on a series of vines, with a stock Tarzan yell playing in the background.  Because... funny?

8) "Surfin' USSR"
from A View to a Kill (1985)

The cold-open of A View to a Kill takes place in, appropriately enough, a cold place: Siberia.  In this scene, James Bond shows up here to investigate the body of a fallen 00 agent, retrieving a microchip from his person.  Then some Soviet patrols shows up, and he proceeds to high-tail it out of there.  At one point, he knocks a guy off a snowmobile, pulls off its hood, and uses it as a makeshift snowboard.  Oh, and I forgot to mention -- Roger Moore had turned 57 at some point during production of this movie, the oldest a James Bond actor's ever been to date, and he did not age well IMO, so the mere sight of him snowboarding at his age should be enough to warrant a rank on this list.  But as if that alone were not enough, we also have the choice of music to deal with.  As snowboarding culture had not yet fully formed by 1985, the music director went with a surfing song -- a cover of "California Girls" by the Beach Boys!  Guys, when I think of the Beach Boys, I do not associate them with icy, snowbound Siberia!  Or a 57-year-old snowboarder.

7) "Spoiler Alert: Bambi Lives"
from Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

In this scene, James Bond is searching the home of a one Willard Whyte.  Suddenly, he comes across two lounging ladies named Bambi and Thumper.  They tell him where Mr. Whyte may be found, but before letting 007 go, they rough him up a bit, in what is perhaps one of the series' worst-choreographed fight scenes.  Bambi and Thumper tend to take turns throwing hits or getting in position, including some impressive gymnastic moves.  I ain't complaining about that in concept, especially since one of them's in a bikini, but more often then not their moves serve no practical purpose in terms of fighting!  It's like they just want to show off!

6) "Flipping the Bird"
from Moonraker (1979)

In this scene, James Bond has just disposed of some assassins who tried to get him along the canals of Venice.  So, naturally, he did so from a gondola -- a motorboat gondola, of course.  Now, that chase scene is perfectly fine; there's a knife thrower hidden in a casket, so of course Bond keeps him in there -- permanently.  But the problem comes afterwards.  With no more threats to take care of, he flips a switch to turn his gondola into a hovercraft, and drives onto the pier.  This peculiar sight is met with all manner of astonished reaction shots from the locals, including -- get this -- a bird which does a double-take.  As in, the editor repeated and reversed a bit of footage to make it seem as though the bird had the brain capacity to recognise a peculiar sight when it saw one, and react accordingly.  Throw in a sprightly Strauss composition on the soundtrack, and you've got one surreal scene.

5) "Blow My Whistle, Baby"
from The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

In this scene, James Bond (with, unfortunately, Sheriff J.W. Pepper) is in the middle of a car chase across Bangkok, when he notices his target on the opposite side of a river.  With the nearest bridge miles behind him, he improvises: he finds a set of ramps and does a perfect corkscrew-jump between them.  Sounds like an awesome moment, doesn't it?  Well, it is, except for one thing: this stunt is accompanied by a slide-whistle sound effect.  I've read numerous accounts claiming this moments as one of the series' worst, and it's hard for me to disagree with those opinions.  But no matter how stupid that sound effect was, it's still just one piece of a scene with some other, better components, which is why this entry isn't higher on my list.  Besides, how cool can you make a stunt like that when it's preceded by the one-liner, "Ever heard of Evel Kneivel?"  Because... the Seventies?

4) "Surfin' CGI"
from Die Another Day (2002)

In this scene, James Bond is in a rocket-sled, being chased across the Icelandic ice fields by a satellite laser beam.  The chase leads over a cliff, with Bond saving himself by deploying the craft's anchor.  Rather than use the laser to fry him directly, of course, our villain instead cuts off a chunk of the icy cliff, with intent to drop him into the ocean.  But with a bout of improbable MacGyvering, Bond fashions a makeshift surfboard and parachute, and rides away on the ensuing wave.  And then... he para-surfs along the ensuing wave.  This sounds outlandishly extreme enough, but this scene was accomplished by such stilted, flawed CG animation that whatever sense of danger we get from other such stunts in the Bond series just cannot be matched here.  And another thing, if the wave caused by the ice chunk travelled away from the cliff, how could Bond have turned around to lift himself up over the cliff?

3) "Your Head Asplode"
from Live and Let Die (1973)

In this scene, James Bond and Solitaire are in the clutches of our villain, Dr. Kananga.  He has the couple tied up over a shark tank, and cuts 007's arm with a knife to draw blood.  Never mind that he could've killed them more directly with that knife of his.  So Bond frees himself and Solitare using a buzz-saw in his wristwatch -- a function that was never so much as foreshadowed -- and proceeds to fight Kananga.  The fight ends with Bond forcing a compressed-air bullet into Kananga's mouth.  As the gas expands inside his body, he lifts out of the water and blows up like a balloon.  Literally.  As in, the special effect for this scene involved a Kananga-shaped balloon.  Now, I normally wouldn't mind any opportunity to avert excessive blood and gore, but the way they chose to go about it is so unreal, it could never be taken seriously in a million years!  Couldn't they have chosen some other way for him to die, something that could be feasibly re-created and still keep a PG rating?  I mean, they've got a perfectly good shark tank to use, and corporal inflation was the best they could come up with?

2) "I Know Kung Fu... Not"
from The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

In this scene, James Bond has been knocked out and captured, and wakes up in a Thai martial-arts school.  He spars with a couple of opponents and then makes a break for it, wherein he catches up with his ally, Lieutenant Hip and his nieces.  Who promptly go to town on the pursuing gang of bads, Street Fighter style.  In fact, Hip and co. have things so well-in-hand that Bond is left with nothing to do throughout this brawl.  His only contribution is pushing down some guy who was already disabled.  And then Hip and co. drive off in his car... without Bond!  What's the matter dude, I thought you were on his side!  This missed ride leads to Bond leading a tepid motorboat chase, punctuated only by its own awful moments: a downright terrible one-liner ("What you might call a Mexican screw-off, gentlemen!"  Seriously, dude, no one says that.), Bond taking advantage of a beggar child, and of course, Sherrif J.W. Pepper.

1) "Goodnight, Sweet Princess"
from The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

Yeah, I've used this movie three times in this list.  I regret nothing.  In this scene, James Bond is dueling with Scaramanga on the latter's private island, while Bond-girl Mary Goodnight is being watched over by a maintenance man.  Proving her capability, she knocks him out -- only for his body to fall into a liquid-nitrogen vat, setting off a slow-burning chain reaction which will eventually destroy the island.  But that's not the worst of it.  Right afterwards, she accompanies Bond as he tries to remove some solar-energy unit from a laser chamber, when she leans back on a console and her bum pushes the switch to turn on the solar collector -- with Bond inside it.  And she has no idea how to turn it off -- ya think she could've felt the switch pushing against her skin and tried flipping the same one back!?  Madam Goodnight was nothing if not a liability in 007's mission.  Lucky we viewers also had Maud Adams's character to keep us company.

Wildcard) "Missile Command-er Bond"
from Never Say Never Again (1983)

I'm sticking this in the Wildcard slot partly because it comes from one of the non-EON Bond films, and partly because I had picked out enough entries from the official canon to fill this list anyway.  In this scene, James Bond pays a visit to the villain's casino party.  When the two men meet, the villain invites Bond to play a game.  ...A video game, of his own creation.  It is a rather impressive-looking game for early-80s technology, and it makes for a rather tense scene as the stakes go up and up.  But come on, a video game!  Bear in mind that this scene's counterpart in Thunderball, which Never Say Never Again is a remake of, is a round of Baccarat.  Riddle me this: which game would you associate with James Bond's upper-class Englishman image?  If you guessed the video game, then you seriously need to hit the books.  As in Ian Fleming's Bond novels.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dance Dance Retrospective: The Mobile Games

At last we have reached the final installment of Dance Dance Retrospective, and with this momentous occasion upon us, please allow me to say...  This series was a mistake.  A mistake I made whilst blinded by fandom.  Pretty much all I did in those articles was describe the changes each game made from one installment to another, no how irrelevant they would be to readers without my level of interest in the franchise.  I even planned a video series at one point, but never finished even the first episode once I realised I was wasting all my time on so much minutiae.  Oh well, I suppose I let some critical observations slip in from time to time, so it can't have been a total waste.  Spoiler alert: I'm going to be doing just that for this article as well.

Okay, so I've covered all of Dance Dance Revolution's arcade games, all the home console games, so what's next...?  The mobile market, of course!  With pocket-sized touchscreen devices proving their feasibility as gaming platforms ever since the invention of the iPhone, Konami eventually saw fit to introduce their venerable DDR property into the market.  Their first foray was DanceDanceRevolution S, which first appeared on the iTunes Store on 25 February 2009.  (Ports were later made for Android and Windows Phone platforms, but they were only sold in Japan.)  As you might imagine, this game was played by tapping the arrows on a virtual dancepad on the bottom of the screen.  As with most mobile games that use virtual-gamepad inputs on a touchscreen, there was always the problem of missing the buttons and not getting any feedback that you did so, but I suppose that could be less of a problem for some gamers.  There was also the "Shake Mode", where you shook the iPhone unit in four directions instead of tapping the notes.  It was only available for Basic and Difficult charts and, as with any kind of motion control, the lack of physical feedback makes your timing even more imprecise, but as an added bonus, I guess it was fun for a little while.  There were 25 songs packed into DDR S, mainly revivals from the Hottest Party games.


Gameplay in DDR S, using a virtual dance-pad at the bottom.
In my opinion, DDR S didn't have the most engaging setlist, but they rectified that issue, in a sense, with DanceDanceRevolution S+ (iOS, 5 October 2009).  This game had a price of just ninety-nine cents, but only packed three songs within.  That is, unless you count the DDR Store.  There were a total of 219 songs released, across 67 song packs, as DLC for S+, spanning more-or-less the entire franchise, including tracks from (the real) DDR X2.  There was even an option to purchase a "Starter Pack" of 150 songs for US$65.  This was a pretty strong showing, considering that the 2010 DDR games only got a couple of DLC song-packs.  And with so much content available, you could pick and choose your favourites to create your own custom Mix.  But, I'll say the same thing I said about DDR 2010: if you have to pay extra to get the best content, then the game's just not worth it.  Besides, that all-songs pack is a monster case of sticker-shock, you know?

And finally, there was DanceDanceRevolution Dance Wars (iOS, 14 February 2013).  Dance Wars followed the example of all those free-to-play games that sprouted up over the past few years.  First, a "stamina" system limited how many songs you could play in the main Battle Mode within a certain time frame.  (A free-play mode was also available which doesn't include the stamina limit, but you could not unlock new songs this way.)  And second, you could invite other players to your "Dance Crew" to unlock content faster.  A total of 47 songs were available in-game, mostly revivals from all across the franchise, although only 4 were available without unlocking.

However, I've been using the past tense to describe all these games, because they have all suffered some degree of unavailability.  DDR S was taken down from the iTunes Store at some point, perhaps because of S+, which is still available to this day, but recently I've had trouble getting the game's online store to open.  And Dance Wars was not only taken down from the store as well, but the online service was shut down on 31 August 2013, barely six months after the game's debut.  And with Dance Wars being one of those always-online games, this shutdown rendered the game literally unplayable.  I never even got the chance to play it myself due to it not being compatible with my outdated iPod Touch model.

The last time we heard anything from DDR in the North American market was something called DanceDanceRevolution Pocket Edition, which is played on an Apple TV sling-box and an iPhone in your pocket as a motion-sensor, eschewing the physical dance-pad setup entirely.  I don't have a lot of information on this edition; apparently it follows the S+ model of a free app with three songs, and about 300 more available as DLC.  And it also appears to have been removed from the iTunes Store as of this writing.

And... that's all I've got.

So this is how it ends, huh?  It looks like Dance Dance Revolution isn't coming back to the arcades or "traditional" home consoles anytime soon, especially now that we've got the new generation forcing its way onto the market.  DDR has managed, of late, to gain a foothold in the mobile-platform market, and I'm just starting to come to grips with this reality.  I mean, if other games like GTA: San Andreas and Bioshock can run on iOS or Android, what do I have to complain about?  But Konami managed to screw that up too, what with them taking some of their games offline.  And having read about Pocket Edition, I should be more supportive of that one, too.  For one, they managed to solve the problem of wearing out countless dance pads by taking them out of the equation.  And an Apple TV unit is bound to be cheaper than a PS4 or XBox One or what-not...  Oh wait, I forgot the exorbitant cost of an iPhone or iPod -- one for each person who wishes to play -- so never mind.

But more so than anything else, my creeping sense of doom for the future of DDR franchise was brought on by the franchise itself.  As you may have gathered by reading the past articles of Dance Dance Retrospective, the later games have somehow failed to capture my interest.  Maybe it's my own tastes that are shifting towards other genres of gaming, maybe it's a case of running out of new ideas, or maybe they've gone so far from what I interpret as the essence of DDR that they've become irrelevant.  And what I envision as the "essence of DDR" may vary from someone else's vision.  Like, my vision involves a return to the musical styles of the first few games, with more modern conventions elsewhere, and to cap off a running gag from this series, how 'bout USB UNLOCKS FOR ONCE!!  There's always the possibility of DDR making a major comeback, but with the gaming market shifting as it has these days, it may not be in the form we expect.  But wherever there's good music, there will always be someone who wants to dance to it.  Specifically, to Dance Dance to it.

...

Ah [verb] it, there's always StepMania.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Editorial: The Simpsons Guy

Television history was made on Sunday, 28 September 2014, when the animated universes of The Simpsons and Family Guy converged for a one-hour crossover episode.  As a longtime Simpsons fan who only recently got back on the bandwagon (thanks largely to the recent "Every Simpsons Ever" marathon on the FXX channel) and a former Family Guy watcher who had personally boycotted said show at some point, I have to say I had been off-and-on excited for this event.  And for the most part, my excitement was sated upon watching the thing.  But seeing these two shows in such close contact with each other made me wonder: what problems exist with these shows, and what could they learn from each other to better themselves?  Let's find out.

I've been a Simpsons fan since 2002, more or less, and given my relatively late introduction to the franchise, I've enjoyed many of the episodes from within the past couple of years before then, as they helped formed my first impressions of the show.  But lately I haven't been able to drum up the interest in it anymore.  There wasn't any one moment that killed my attachment forever, but my interest just sort of faded gradually.  As first-day fans would've claimed took place by the time I got on board, for some reason or another, the newer episodes just haven't managed to bring the heat.  Sure, these recent seasons can pack some pleasant surprises every few episodes, but for the most part, watching The Simpsons is like being a member of the MTV generation: I feel neither highs nor lows.

Now Family Guy, on the other hand...  I started paying attention to Family Guy since about the time it got un-cancelled (in 2005), and I liked it at the time.  I've never minded its reliance on cutaway gags, as they at least kept up a fluid pace, with few exceptions (I'll touch on that later on).  But after a few years passed, I started noticing something: Family Guy is offensive.  It's racist, misogynistic, homophobic, politically partisan, and all-around unpleasant.  Season 7 (2008-2009) was the worst, hosting such episodes as "I Dream of Jesus", "Family Gay", "Fox-y Lady", "420", and perhaps worst of all, "Not All Dogs Go To Heaven".  Family Guy's writers seem incapable of portraying minority demographics as anything but their stereotypical images, worst of all in the case of Jews (i.e. the pharmacist Mort Goldman, his son Neil, and the entire Jewish community of 1939 Warsaw) and homosexuals (i.e. Brian the dog's cousin Jasper, and Peter himself when he underwent medical experimentation to make him temporarily gay).  And Brian has become nothing short of insufferable in his "holier"-than-thou attitude as an atheist and political liberal.  Yeah, I might be a blue-stater myself, but his preachy, my-way-or-the-highway method of exposition regarding those subjects just goes above and beyond my standards, you know?
I don't see anything ugly
about this girl.  Do you?

But it was the repeated abuse of the character Meg Griffin which broke the proverbial camel's back for me.  Even from season 1, many if not all of her plots involve struggling to fit in with her school comrades, or getting along with her family.  And that alone isn't a problem if done right, as an estimated 100% of teenagers in American fiction have to deal with those kinds of things.  The problem in Meg's case, however, is that these scenarios have been turned up to 11 in terms of the abuse she deals with.  Peter, her own father, can be counted on with regularity to either ignore her well-being or outright assault her.  Not even the other members of her family are likely to show her any sympathy, either.  And her social life?  Let's just say potential suitors would rather kill themselves -- literally, given the nature of this show -- than take her to the next prom.  Why?  Is it because she's hideously deformed?  Going by how she's drawn typically, she looks like a perfectly cromulent young lady. And another thing, why does Meg, and to a lesser extent Lois, have to struggle to keep up with standards of beauty, whereas the men of the Griffin family are allowed to let themselves go physically?

So yeah, it didn't take long for the writers' intentions to completely backfire on me, for Meg to capture all my sympathy and Peter to turn into public enemy #1 as far as fictional characters are concerned.  Moments like Quagmire's rant in "Jerome Is The New Black" and the entirety of episodes like "Dial Meg For Murder" show that the writers are at least self-aware of their faults, but as the next week's episode rolls around, we find that they have learned absolutely zip from their efforts.  Oh, and that 3-minute Conway Twitty cutaway was unforgivable, if for other reasons.

Okay, enough ranting for the moment.  I assume you read this article title and thought I was going to focus my attention on the titular crossover episode itself, so I suppose I should do so.  It was... janusian.  It had its good moments and one or two bad ones.  This episode was strongest when it leaned on the fourth wall, with the characters of one show spouting criticisms of the other.  For example, the way Homer and Peter argue over their Duff and Pawtucket Patriot beers echoes the arguments one could make regarding being the first vs. being the best.  And I especially liked how Fred Flintsone played the judge in the ensuing court case, bringing that issue to a head.

With this episode's "hot" moments out of the way, what about the "not"s, or at least the "not-so-hot"s?  Well, there's a sub-plot with Meg and Lisa Simpson, where Lisa tries to find something Meg could be good at, and as it turns out, they're both good at playing the Saxophone.  This moment in and of itself was all well and good, as for one brief moment, it appeared that Meg would finally get over her P.S.I. (Poor Self Esteem).  (And yes I do know "esteem" doesn't start with "I"; that's how they did it in the episode I linked to.)  But as the Griffins pack up their car to leave Springfield and Meg clutches her new saxophone with hope in her eyes, Peter just throws it in the garbage like it was no big deal, since there was allegedly no more room in the car.  I'm not ashamed to admit I threw an F-bomb in Peter's regard while watching this scene for the first time, because of how something I've so desperately wanted could be delicately built up only to be so abruptly dashed.  (Wouldn't be the first time though.)  But for the purposes of this blog, I'll just make do with this meme-pic:



I'll close up this editorial by bringing up one more scene from "The Simpsons Guy": the part where Bart and Stewie prank-call Moe's Tavern.  Bart's part is your typical fare, tricking Moe into saying an embarrassing fake name, and it's just as funny as it's ever been.  But for his turn, Stewie says only one line -- "Your sister's being raped" -- before abruptly hanging up.  And that scene, more than anything, illustrates the differences between The Simpsons and Family Guy.  The Simpsons sticks to its time-honoured routines that may or may not elicit laughs.  And Family Guy aims for whatever shock value it can muster within the confines of a TV-14 rating (not even that, if you're watching one of the uncensored DVD releases).  There are pros and cons to each of these approaches, so I say the two shows could stand to learn something from one another: The Simpsons to punch up its comedic stylings, and Family Guy to learn some much-needed sensitivity.

Or Family Guy can manifest into some physical form, only to kill itself, for all I care.

Top 10: Next Worst Pitbull Lyrics

Previously on the SDP, I listed the top ten worst lyrics by the rapper Pitbull, that I was familiar with at the time.  You may be familiar with this list; for some reason, as of this writing, it is the most-viewed article on this very blog.  I have no idea how this happened.  Maybe a lot of people hate him as much as I did back then, maybe the Russian Mafiya's doing some favours behind my back, I don't know.  But I do know two things.  One, I don't hate Pitbull nearly as much as I did back then, when his stuff was overplayed on the radio and such.  With all the filth that I've exposed myself to in the intervening time, cough Lil' Wayne cough, Pitbull's mannerisms have practically become cute by comparison.  And two, when populating my first list I was not in want of lyrical bombs, but I had limited my entries to the hits, the songs I had been exposed to on free media without delving further.  Well, thanks to the magic of Spotify, I've been able to listen to the whole of Pitbull's albums without directly spending a dime, so that I may bring you a more complete list.  Well, excluding the ones I put on the previous list.  So here goes: the Top Ten Worst Pitbull Lyrics of All Time.  ...That I didn't already mention.

Before starting this list, I'd like to make an addition to an entry from my previous list.  My #8 entry was from Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love", wherein Mr. Worldwide threw out a pickup line involving a Flintstones reference and the promise of making the girl's bed rock.  Get it, "bedrock"?  Yeah, I'm not going to go back on my decision to include it.  But when I posted my video version of that article, I got a nice young man in the comments suggesting that I should've included the line directly before it, namely:
She don't wrestle, but I got her in a headlock
And I've gotta say: you're right.  It would be more impressive if the line had read "I don't wrestle" as opposed to "she [doesn't] wrestle".  As it stands, I have no choice but to interpret this line as Pitbull assaulting a defenceless woman.  So no wonder that he's teamed up with Chris Brown every now and again, am I right?  ...  Alright, I can't keep on beating that horse forever, so let's just get to the frigging countdown already.

10) "Back In Time"
from Men In Black 3 [OST] (2012)
Like Agent J or Agent K, and I wish the whole world would
Okay, I'm tryin' make a billion out of 15 cents
Understand, understood
Even though this line isn't at the top of this list, I could make the case that the song itself, "Back In Time", is the worst song Pitbull's ever done.  I believe I have done so, as a matter of fact.  Hardly any of its elements make sense together, especially not as a single meant to promote a movie such as Men In Black 3.  For example, these lines.  So Pitbull says he wishes the would would... do something for him.  He never says what; he just jumps into declaring his intent to make money, and lots of it.  And he never explains how he plans to do that either, he just assumes his desires are understood by us, and moves on whether or not they are.  You ever try to hold a conversation with someone who keeps cutting themselves off mid-sentence?  Whether it's Mr. Worldwide or my own mother,

9) "Mr. 305 (Outro)"
from The Boatlift (2007)
I'm one of the best, one of the rawest
Nah I ain't perfect but [noun] I'm flawless
"Perfect" and "flawless" are the same word, ignoramus.  By definition, you can't be one and not the other.  Hit the thesaurus sometime, you might learn something.

8) "On The Floor" w/ Jennifer Lopez
from LOVE? (2011)
Now pump-pu-pump p-p-p-pump it up
And back it up like a Tonka truck
In my days as a music consumer, I've born witness to many, many alternate methods to command girls in the vicinity to shake their butts, but I've never seen this one employed before.  Nor do I expect it to be employed again.  For the uninitiated, Tonka is a brand of scale-model toy utility trucks.  In other words, very small trucks.  Comparing the Miss New Booty's... um, booty to a toy that's, like, a foot long doesn't have quite enough impact, not when there's a perfectly forceful full-size counterpart you can compare it to.  I can understand this choice of word, likely having been inspired by such legendary lexicon entries as "badonkadonk", but when you think about it, the analogy falls flat.  Like a flat badonkadonk.

7) "Dance Again" w/ Jennifer Lopez
from Dance Again... The Hits (2012)
You want the recipe?
It's real simple
A little bit of Voli™
Is your open-sesame
This is one of the most blatant instances of product placement in music that I've ever witnessed, and not just within Pitbull's ouevre.  Declaring that said product is the key to having a good something-or-other?  Why not just insert a full-on commercial spot while you're at it?  And besides, the way he ordered the two preceding lines ruined the rhyme scheme.  It would not be a stretch for him to have swapped the first two lines and rhyme "sesame" with "recipe" instead of "simple".  On second thought, there's still the bloody advert to deal with, so I'd just scrap this bit entierly.

6) "Party Ain't Over" w/ Usher & Afrojack
from Global Warming (2012)
Tell the pope to come see me
I got asses, by the masses
As a secular Christian, I'm familiar with certain jokes which question the right that a bunch of eighty-something-year-old celibate men like, say, the pope and the chief cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, have to control matters of sexuality.  So it is within this mindset that I say: I very much doubt that His Holiness would consider setting aside some time in his globe-trotting schedule to give Mr. Worldwide a visit, based solely on the promise of booty.

5) "Back In Time"
from Men In Black 3 [OST] (2012)
Miami equals
Black mask, black clothes
With a little bit of rope to tie (I flipped it)
I'd apologise for double-dipping from the same song, but I've done so in my last list, and apparently "Back In Time" was so bad that I'm doing it again here.  In fact, I consider this a form of penance on my part.  See, in my original review of "Back In Time", I failed to notice how incongrous these opening lines were.  Apparently Pitbull may have caught his mistake at the last minute, because he then goes on to describe "Black suits, white shirts/Black glasses with a matching tie".  You know, like what the titular men in black actually wear.  But such is the curse of the verbal backspace: it doesn't actually delete the words you meant to delete.  You know, like what a backspace key actually does.

4) "Dukey Love" w/ Trick Daddy & Faboo of D4L
from The Boatlift (2007)

I'm bending the rules for this entry because I'm not referring to a specific line from the given song, but rather a specific word that gets repeated throughout:
Dukey!
Now, I'm familiar with this word being used within a hip-hop context.  For example, in the song "Dazzey Duks" it refers to "Daisy Dukes", another term for hot-pants.  But with the way it's delivered in "Dukey Love", the way it's emphasized, my first instinct is that they are instead using another slang euphemism for, as Pitbull himself said in a different song, "number twooo~!"

3) "Come and Go" w/ Enrique Iglesias
from Planet Pit (2011)
Baby, you the Internet
And I'm looking for a download
Just the fact that he's attempting a pun-based pickup line sets the bar dangerously low right out of the gate, but its actual content lowers the bar to subterranean levels.  First of all, the Internet is a many-faceted behemoth of an entity, so it's entirely within the realm of possibility for his romantic quarry to infer one of its worse interpretations.  But I take further umbrage with the line "I'm looking for a download".  For those unaware, "downloading" involves the receiving of data from a given source, and "uploading" entails the opposite, sending data to a source.  If one were to apply this relationship to the mechanics of sex, wouldn't it make more sense for Mr. Worldwide to ask for an "upload"?

2) "Candyman" w/ Twista
from The Boatlift (2007)
Yes-yes-yes, I'm a freak-freak
that eats-eats [noun] like Jeffrey Dahmer
For the uniniated, Jeffrey Dahmer was a real-life murderer and cannibal active about Wisconsin during the late 1970s and 80s.  You may have heard of him in another pop song of recent memory, namely "Dark Horse" by Katy Perry and Juicy J.  And the reference to a literal cannibal, used in a figurative context, was just as creepy when Juicy J did it last year as when Pitbull did the same seven years ago.  Arguably, the latter case is even more creepy because oral sex is involved.

1) "Shake Senora" w/ T-Pain and Sean Paul
from Planet Pit (2011)
My girl got a big ol' booty
Your girl got a little booty
(repeat ad nauseum)
"Shake Senora" is a song that offers a buffet of verses from Pitbull, Sean Paul, and depending on your version, Ludacris, stitched together by a hook from T-Pain.  And just when you think it's over, the track starts up again and Pitbull starts chanting this little bout of bragging.  Yes, it's not enough that his pet lady is well-endowed in the trunk, he has to take your bird down a peg as well by claiming that hers is anything but(t)!  I guess my problem with these kind of lines is that we don't generally know who these insults are aimed at, and if we are to infer that they are aimed at us, the listeners, it's very possible that what he's claiming about us doesn't have any grounding in fact!  What if my girlfriend has an even bigger waist measurement?  What if I don't even have a girlfriend?  Ever thought of that, Mr. Worldwide?  With that said, allow me to close this segment with a piece of advice: do NOT play this song at your wedding reception, lest you run the risk of offending the bride and adding an unnecessary layer of tension on your honeymoon.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Music Review: All About That Bass vs. Anaconda

"All About That Bass"
  • Artist: Meghan Trainor
  • Album: Title [EP]
  • Genre: Pop
  • Label: Epic
  • Release: 2 June 2014
  • Writers: Kevin Kadish, Meghan Trainor
  • Producer: Kevin Kadish
"Anaconda"
  • Artist: Nicki Minaj
  • Album: The Pinkprint
  • Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap
  • Label: Cash Money
  • Release: 4 August 2014
  • Writers: Nicki Minaj, Jamal Jones, James Strife, Jonathan Solone-Myvett, Ernest Clark, Marcos Palacios, Anthony "Sir Mix-A-Lot" Ray
  • Producers: Polow da Don (Jamal Jones), The Internz (Ernest Clark, Marcos Palacios)

[Video not safe for work - click to view]

The year was 1992, and our collective culture was nothing short of up-ended by the first rapper from Seattle to get a number-one hit.  That rapper was Sir Mix-A-Lot, and that hit was "Baby Got Back".  And with the success of said song, the very definition of beauty changed.  For the first time in recent history, it was considered cool to have a wider waist measurement.  Then again, that paradigm shift was intertwined with an element of female objectification.  Its greater message can best be summed up as, "Ladies, don't feel bad just because you don't fit the traditional, size-0 definition of female beauty.  You, too, can get laid!  Specifically by me."  So perhaps "Baby Got Back" was a little bit janusian (a word I just invented to describe something posessing two or more conflicting qualities, and a word which I expect to use a lot more often on this blog, so take notes) in its approach.  But I like to think it got hit with some bolt of mental lightning, or some other paranormal affair took place, because the spirit of that song has split up into a good and a bad side, and each side has inhabited the souls of two songs released in close proximity over this past summer.



In this corner, we have "All About That Bass", the debut single from the young singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor.  And in this corner, we have "Anaconda", the latest hit from a more established leading lady, rapper Nicki Minaj.  As both songs seem to posess the influence of "Baby Got Back" in some form or another, I saw fit to pit them up against one another.  One of the questions I will be asking is, how do these songs utilise the power bestowed upon them by "Baby Got Back"?  I'll start with "All About That Bass", and I'm happy to state up front that Meghan Trainor chose to take the message of that song, trim out the more sexualised parts, and re-package it for a younger crowd who may have insecurity about their body image.  And just as Sir Mix-A-Lot opened his song with a solid declaration we all know and respect, "All About That Bass" hits close to that mark as well:

I think it's pretty clear
I ain't no size 2
But I can shake it, shake it
Like I'm supposed to do
Meghan Trainor's body is not totally trim.  And yet she is happy, if not for it, then at least despite it.  So tell me, what other points do you wish to bring up?
I've seen those magazines
Them pictures Photoshopped
We know that [noun] ain't real
Come on now, make it stop
Why yes, Sir Mix-A-Lot also made reference to the tendency of popular media to present the skinny body type as what we ought to look like.  And kudos to miss Trainor for updating this accusation, by pointing out that said images are out-and-out faked.  But then again, she also has a tendency to get catty about the other faction:
I'm bringing booty back
Come on and tell them skinny [noun]s that
I wasn't aware that booty left in the first place.  The world has changed since 1992; it's true that the messages that spurred Sir Mix-A-Lot to write his plea for big-booty rights haven't left, but in the intervening time we've been exposed to so many booty jams that we've accepted the alternative just as well.  I suppose that when it comes to starting a revolution, one can't make a proverbial omelet without breaking a few eggs.  Even Sir Mix-A-Lot expressed displeasure with those whom he called "knock-kneed bimbos walking like hoes".  But by striking a blow for one demographic, you end up alienating another.  What about those girls who are underweight and on the verge of anorexia?  How do you think they'd react?
And no, I ain't no stick-figure silicone Barbie doll
So if that's what you're into, then go ahead and move along
But at least this time, she's accounting for taste!  Fellas, if your taste in women precludes her body type, then you have obviously been corrupted by the system -- sorry, I meant to say, at least she recognises your demographic and is willing to give you an out.  Oh, silly me, I haven't discussed the chorus yet.  It's just one repeating line, which goes thusly:
I'm all about that bass
'Bout that bass, no treble
(etc.)
And get this -- during the chorus, the treble track does, indeed, drop out, leaving us with the bass!  Huh, get it?  Meh.  I approve of this song in principle, don't get me wrong, but for some reason it just didn't click with me to the point that I'd want to buy a copy.  Maybe miss Trainor's not dynamic enough of a singer, or her producer not interesting enough of a beat-maker.  Maybe I'm concerned at how she burns as many bridges as she builds.  Maybe it's because of the obesity crisis these days that I wonder how far a song like this might be interpreted by those who could seriously do to lose a few pounds purely for their health's sake.  Or maybe I'm just feeling a little jaded at the moment.  Regardless of whatever my misgivings are, I will support Meghan Trainor in the face of whatever controversies she may -- nay, will encounter as a result of "All About That Bass".  Because you know what the media is like these days.



Meanwhile, in terms of "Anaconda", I can guess the thoughts that crossed the mind of Nicki Minaj (or in actuality, the males controlling her life and image): "You know what's easier than making some positive, revolutionary statement about female sexuality?  Exploiting it!"  Now, "Anaconda" does indeed evoke "Baby Got Back", but in a more direct manner.  Namely, it samples the song's melody for much of the song, albeit with a smattering of random indistinct noise layered atop to ruin the track, as seems to be de rigeur with pop production these days.  And the chorus is just a sample of Sir Mix-A-Lot saying, "My anaconda don't want none if you ain't got buns, hon'".  So if I were to compare the hooks of these two songs, "All About That Bass" would take that category by default, solely by virtue of Meghan Trainor singing it for herself.  (To be fair, there's a second part to the chorus where Nicki speaks a different line from "Baby Got Back".)


So, is there any originality whatsoever withing "Anaconda"?  Of a kind, actually.  Each of the two verses are short stories about different men Nicki, or her character, has had sex with, so at least it's an idea beyond the typical bragadoccio.  For example:
Boy toy named Troy
Used to live in Detroit
Big-time dope dealer
He was getting some coin
Oh boy, placing drug dealers upon a high pedestal.  The more things change in the rap game, the more they stay the same, I see.
This dude named Michael
Used to ride motorcycles
[noun] bigger than a tower
I ain't talking 'bout Eiffel
Hey, wait a minute!  If you're not comparing mister Michael's meat-and-two-veg to something as awe-inspiringly big as the Eiffel Tower, than what, pray tell, are you comparing it to?  Then again, exaggerated metaphors and similies are part and parcel of the rap game, so for all I know, you might want us to have some even bigger tower in mind.  Which there are, mind you.  And besides, having a "disco stick" the exact size and shape as the Eiffel Tower would cause more problems than you'd be led on to believe.

Sorry for digressing, I was supposed to be talking about Nicki's sexual exploits.  With her being the song's protagonist, one would hope to learn a reason for her doing so.  Typically, the act of sex is depicted as being desired by the male more than the female, but with the focus being from the female's point of view, we finally get to learn what she wants out of it.  And that "it" is... getting the male to buy her fancy clothes and/or shoes.
Bought me Alexander McQueen
He was keeping me stylish
[...]
And when we done, I make him buy me Balmain
I'm on some dumb [noun]
You can say that again.  *sigh*  You had a chance to revolutionise this aspect of sexual relations, and you chose to blow it on shallow materialism.  Nicki, I am disappoint.  As am I equally disappointed in how she performs much of the song in her singsongy airheaded "rapping" (Let me put it this way: she plays the part of the mallrat who says, "Oh my God, Becky, look at her butt!" all too well.), as opposed to straight-up singing or her more intense rapping style, which does show up in this song, but too little and too late.  And I am just as equally disappointed, perhaps even more so, in the lack of lyrical content present.  At the end of the second verse -- 1:44 into this 4:28 long song -- there are no more new parts to be found.  Just more repetitions of the bridges and chorus, and an unsettlingly long ad-lib section where Nicki throws about random shout-outs involving her [noun]s, their fat [noun]es, and/or the mother[verb]ing club in which they may be found.

You may think that Nicki Minaj is more qualified to stand up for big butts than Meghan Trainor, as evidenced by the single artwork which I decided to censor.  But she doesn't do anything with her role; instead she seems content to wallow about the female version of the common rap subjects.  Instead, this song may cause more harm than good, because even though a female is calling the shots when it comes to her sex life, in the end it's all about straight-up materialism.  And the music video is even worse in that regard, as virtually every dance move employed by Nicki and her entourage is distressingly dorsum-centric.  Attention everyone involved in the next rap music video: would it kill you to put some focus on a different body part for a change?  Listen, I'm not trying to be some "stop having fun" guy.  Not all songs need to change the course of history, "Anaconda" certainly has a right to exist in this world.  But for a scene in desperate need of an image change, this is just not the kind of song I was hoping for.


"All About That Bass":
Lyrics: 4 out of 5
Music: 4 out of 5
Performance: 4 out of 5
The Call: 4 out of 5 (B)
"Anaconda":
Lyrics: 1 out of 5
Music: 1 out of 5
Performance: 2 out of 5
The Call: 1 out of 5 (F)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Film Review: Meet the Spartans


Meet the Spartans
  • Publisher: 20th Century Fox
  • Studio: Regency / 3 in the Box
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release: 25 January 2008
  • Directors: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
  • Producers: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer, Peter Safran
  • Writers: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Previously on the SDP, I reviewed Disaster Movie, an entry in the oeuvre of filmmakers Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, inasmuch as I can call them filmmakers, that is.  Their previous film, released earlier in 2008, was Meet the Spartans, and it attempted to mix up their formula by focusing on the plot of one particular movie as opposed to a few loosely connected ones, namely 300, the ancient-Greek-set, Frank-Miller-comic-based blockbuster from the year before.  And unsurprisingly, it sucked.  In fact, I've got so much bile to direct at this film, I cut down on the time I spent summarising its events in favour of analysing the specific parts that tick me off.

Our story stars a mister Leonidas (Sean McGuire), who trains from a young age to become a soldier, marries a miss Margo (Carmen Electra), and becomes the king of Sparta.  And he certainly didn't get that crown for his acting acumen, that's for sure.  Mr. McGuire puts on a Scottish accent in attempt to emulate Gerard Butler, who played the same character in the real 300, but it's so unevenly thick that it ends up feeling nothing like the real thing.  And don't get me started on Carmen Electra, who doubtless was casted based on sex appeal first and everything else second.  Which implies some unfortunate things about what producers think of their audiences, but that's a rant for another day.

With its open-quote protagonists close-quote established, Meet the Spartans takes on one of the more famous scenes from 300: the Pit of Death.  You know the drill: "This is madness", "This is Sparta", kick 'im in.  Apart from some gratuitous spittle added to the final line, it starts out relatively faithful to the original.  But then Leonidas gets carried away and kicks in some of the more punchable public figures of 2007, such as Britney Spears (Nicole Parker), American Idol contestant Sanjaya Malakar (Tony Yalda), and the judges from said show.  From first kick to last, this scene lasts for 160 seconds and 10 casualties, which makes me wonder: have these guys never heard of the "Rule of Three"?  As currently defined by TVTropes, the Rule of Three is "a pattern used in stories and jokes, where part of the story is told three times, with minor variations."  Let a pun or a gag run for more than three instances, and it runs the risk of getting old or unfunny in some other regard.

Also, I am hesitant to call this a parody of the original Pit of Death scene.  Sure, he may have kicked some unusual characters down there, but when you get right down to it, it's generally the same routine over and over.  Why not experiment with different types of strikes, or have someone fall down there accidentally?  Listen, I don't want bad things to go away; I want them to learn from their mistakes and come back better.  ...After having gone away to do so.  But one thing I would rather go away for good would be an earlier scene where Leonidas is "training" his son (Hunter Clary), and by open-quote training close-quote, I mean beating him up with a sequence of increasingly brutal moves.  Not only does he break the Rule of Three here as well, but this gag wasn't funny the first time around!  I mean, the poor little guy's half Leo's size!  Dude?  Not cool.  Just.  Not.  Cool.  Now, I've seen (and am thinking of reviewing) Ken'ichi: The Mightiest Disciple so I know the value of building up your abilities through training, but this?  This is just traumatic!  Not just for him, but traumatic to watch, too!  But most important of all, it's Just.  Not.  Funny.

Jumping back forward a bit, Leonidas assembles his army to sock it to the Persians, but only manages 13 soldiers as opposed to the 300 that the source material would have you believe.  Among them are a captain named... Captain (Kevin Sorbo), his son named... Sonio (Travis van Winkle), and a fat kid named Dilio (Jareb Dauplaise).  Not to mention, one of the Spartan councilmen is named Traitoro (Diedrich Bader), and if you guessed that he's going to double-cross the protagonists in some capacity, then you don't get any brownie points because it was just too obvious.  I can has originality plz?  ...Hey, wait a minute, what's the deal-io with Dilio?  (Apologies for that unfortunate bout of forced rhyming.)  In the opening scene, we see that Spartan babies who don't meet certain physical standards (for example, Shrek) get thrown to the wolves, literally.  Wouldn't Dilio have been pre-emptively weeded out as a baby?  Whatever, he's here to be everyone's punching bag and this movie's source of attempted fat jokes.  As in, "fat people love to eat a lot because... funny".  Ugh.  Did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, real life contains fat people who are trying to rectify their situation instead?  I am reminded of a quote from the Simpsons episode "King Size Homer":
Homer Simpson: This may surprise you, but you can't buy me off with food. I'm sick of all your stereotypes and cheap jokes!  The overweight individuals in this country are just as smart and talented and hard working as everybody else. And they're going to make their voices heard!  All they need is a leader.
You go, Ho'.  And while I'm on the subject, in my review of Disaster Movie, I threw in a brief editorial about how I thought the Hollywood movie industry was still a bit racist and "gay-cist".  Whilst that is obiously not true of all American screenwriters and directors, I certainly get that impression with messrs. Seltzerberg, and Meet the Spartans is perhaps their worst movie of all in that regard.  What I mean by that is, because the Spartan characters in 300 all had ripped physiques and fought in a certain degree of undress, apparently messrs. Seltzerberg thought the logical extention of that should be to make them questionably homosexual.  Leo's married to Carmen Electra, so those accusations can only go so far -- but these guys travel long distances by skipping gaily, arms locked in rows of two, skinging Gloria Gaynor's hit "I Will Survive".  Back on the home front, the men greet each other with deep tongue-kisses where they'd give high-fives to the ladies.  And one of their (many) advert riffs, based on the Budweiser "Real Men of Genius" series, is all about them being closeted homosexuals.  I could maybe appreciate this sort of thing solely as a reversal of Hollywood's traditional pandering to the male gaze -- and there's no shortage of that, given the presence of Carmen Electra -- but that argument doesn't hold up because the men's ambiguously gay status is thrust upon them (no pun intended) solely for us to laugh at.  Well, the joke's on you bub -- even without the offensive context, it's just.  Not.  Funny.

Whatever.  The Spartans'... um, tactical maneuvering takes them to place called the Hot Gates, where they meet Paris Hilton (also Nicole Parker).  Here she is a hunchback, because... the character playing her role in the original 300 was himself a hunchback.  Huh, I don't usually answer those "because..." lines fully.  But if you haven't yet seen or read 300, you may be asking yourself why Paris Hilton is a hunchback.  And that would be a very good question.  Maybe it's because we're supposed to like seeing these famous wastes of space get taken down a peg.  That's a pretty dangerous assumption to make, I tell ya.  So then a Persian squad shows up and challenges the Spartans to a breakdance competition and a "Yo Mamma" battle, both of which the Spartans win.  Also, Dilio gets his eyes scratched out at some point.  As in, we see the background behind him where his eyes should be.  Umm... aren't we supposed to be seeing the insides of his eye sockets instead?  I mean, I'm kinda squeamish myself, but this is creepy in the wrong way.  Like, the wrong side of the uncanny valley creepy.  See it for yourself, if you dare.


Spooked?  I warned you this effect was just wrong.
Given the... quirky, pseudo-artsy style of Zack Snyder's film and Frank Miller's comic, you'd think that would provide fodder for some true parody moments, and believe it or not, Meet The Spartans does take up that offer every once in a while.  For example, there's what looks a sex scene between Leonidas and Queen Margo, until it is revealed that he was merely bench-pressing her.  During the climactic fight, Leonidas takes down a sequence of enemies in a sequence abruptly alternating between slow- and fast-motion, which parodies Zach Snyder's (the director of 300) egregious use of the same.  And you know how the real 300 used a lot of fake CGI sets?  Well, the Persian army in Meet the Spartans is buffed up by  CG-cloned soldiers projected on blue-screens behind the real ones.  And call me Shirley, but this is actually somewhat funny!  At least it would have been funny if the characters didn't devolve into an awkward conversation explaining the joke.  And besides, messrs. Seltzerberg, you lost the right to make fun of production values (or a lack thereof) when you decided that taping some green eyelids over the guy and throwing in a cheap chroma-key effect would suitably create the effect of him losing his eyes!

Whoo... I'm starting to get angry there.  For my final observation, I'd like to hurry it along... just like the film itself.  See, its total running time is given as 82 minutes*, but the opening credits start at the 64 minute mark, so by all accounts, that's when the film really ends.  And it shows -- the ending feels rushed.  For the capstone of the climactic skirmish, the Persian king Xerxes (Ken Davitian) merges with a car to become a Transformer robot.  And of course, they don't have the capability to actually show it transforming.  Oh, but he's got a video-screen in his chest that plays the "Leave Britney Alone" video!  Because... funny.  And how do our heroes vanquish their now-gargantuan foe?  They don't -- mister Xerxestron (his name, not mine) pulls the power cord out of some socket and shuts down, crushing the Spartans in the process.  And there was much rejoicing.  So after one more ending scene involving a blind commander Dilio and not-Lindsey Lohan, the credits begin in the form of the cast members taking turns singing "I Will Survive".  And it is with great pain that I admit this was the most fun I had watching this movie.  It's like the ending to a Broadway musical, which is probably what this movie should've been.  I mean, it's got the same budget, so no big leap, right?  A whole bunch of deleted scenes fill up the remaning time in between bouts of non-singing credits, after which you are now free to turn off your TV.  Sorry for making you wait.

*Refers to the theatrically-released version.  The unrated edition, which I did not account for in this review, runs for 86 minutes.

Among the entries of the Seltzerberg eouvre, Disaster Movie may suffer more blatant disregard for it source material (remember miss "Enchanted Princess"?), I think watching Meet the Spartans makes me feel worse.  So much of the commentary on celebrities and the LGBT community, whether stated outright or inferred by me, is just hateful.  And even if all that were not considered offensive, it takes the dubious crown for the most unfunny film classified as a comedy which I've ever witnessed (take that overly narrow description for what you will).  And the horribly fake acting and cheap production values serve as the nails in this coffin.  Or is it casket...  Regardless, make no mistake: watching this movie is like dining in Hell.

Acting: 1 out of 5
Writing: 0 out of 5
Technical: 1 out of 5
The Call: 15% (F)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dance Dance Retrospective: DDR 2013

So it's come to this, huh.  Not content with recycling the title "Dance Dance Revolution" for the 2010 PS3/X360/Wii release, or the 2001 PSone release based on 3rdMIX, or the first American/Asian arcade release based on 2ndMIX, Konami released a new arcade entry in their long-running dance simulation series, only to saddle it with the un-embellished title yet again.  It is what will heretofore be referred to as DDR 2013 (JP: 14 March 2013, AS: 28 March 2013), and yet again it is, sadly, exclusive to Asia.  Although I can say, for once, that I've played this game in person the last time I visited Japan, and I can tell you from my own experience that the game was... ...meh.  What complaints I do have regarding about DDR 2013 are the same complaints might levy at such franchises as Call of Duty or Madden NFL.  There's nothing mechanically wrong with DDR 2013, and if the new content doesn't entice you, there's still all that old material to fall back on.  But whatever concerns I've had with this series have not been addressed, and all in all, it does practically nothing to excite me as a consumer.  Oh well, maybe I'll go over the usual description routine and something will jump out at me.
Here's an idea of what the new cabinet design looks like.
Only five years and three games after their last cabinet redesign, Konami rolled out yet another machine design for DDR 2013.  This new machine is painted predominantly in white, which combined with the game's light pink/blue colour scheme, gives off a sort of pastel aesthetic.  Keeping in Konami's tradition of cutting costs, the USB ports for loading custom step charts AND STILL NOT USER PROFILES have been removed, although I doubt anyone was using them anyway, and the panels on the bottom no longer light up, which if nothing else useful to tell if something was wrong with the pads.  Although they did add storage bins at the bottom of the cabinet for you to stash your bags and stuff, and as a veteran arcade connoisseur, trust me, that is a good thing to have.  But all in all, what was the point of going through all that trouble?  Is there some ground-breaking new feature in DDR 2013 that signifies a new era of this venerable yet long-in-the-tooth franchise?

The 2ndMIX Mode from the last game has been removed, although all the songs from it are available in the main game mode from the get-go.  So has the Happy Mode from X2, but that was just some artificial limitation on the songs and difficulties available to the player, so no big loss on that one, I guess.  And so have all the course modes.  Okay, now that's a bad thing.  And they made it so the game won't even run unless the machine is connected to the Internet and set up for eAmusement.  Apparently it's all part of some scheme for properly sharing income between Konami and the arcade itself, but whatever it entails, it even further precludes the release of this game outside of Asia.  Even worse, when you get right down to it it's a form of copy-protection.  But there's an upside to this approach after all.  Because of the game's always-online nature, a new handful of songs gets uploaded to DDR 2013 machines every month or so.  One of these upgrades also changed the menu interface a bit, giving birth to the unofficially-titled "Dance Dance Revolution 2014".
Each player gets their own Groove Radar.  That's... something, I guess.
I'm officially going to break with tradition and not include a notable songs section.  For one, this game is new enough that I don't yet have a handle on what songs have stuck in the minds of the fandom.  And besides, to be honest, none of the new songs stood out to me.  There are no English-language pop licences, for example.  Perhaps because Konami knew they weren't going to sell DDR 2013, and X3 before it, outside of Asia, they felt they could get away with just licencing J-pop and such.  I could understand that argument, but even though this product was not intended for my personal consumption as an American, it's just disheartening to be left in the cold, so to speak, eh?  And besides, in this Internet age, the Japanese gamers this game was marketed to might also be a little more worldly in their musical tastes, so what's the point of such exclusion?  Then again, this series didn't even have Japanese-language songs until 5thMIX (not including side games), so there goes that theory.  Oh, I almost forgot: DDR 2013 does also feature "Caramelldansen (Speedycake Remix)", that Swedish song which spawned an Internet meme... back in 2007.  I suppose in five years we can expect "Gangnam Style" to show up in a new DDR game.  (Although given the current state of Japan-South Korea relations, that might not even happen.)  Seriously though, that fact serves as a fitting metaphor for how relevant Dance Dance Revolution is with the gaming scene at large.  In short: not much so anymore.

It's been over four years, but with this article, I've finally finished detailing the "core series" Dance Dance Revolution games.  There's just one more article to go, where I break down the mobile games.  Perhaps this is where is where DDR might finally manage some relevance in this evolving games industy?  Find out on the final installment of Dance Dance Retrospective!