Thursday, January 26, 2012

Film Review: Disaster Movie

Disaster Movie
  • Publisher: Lionsgate
  • Studio: Grosvenor Park / 3 in the Box
  • Release: 29 August 2008
  • Directors: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
  • Producers: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer, Peter Safran
  • Writers: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
  • Starring: Matt Lanter, Vanessa Minnillo, Gary "G-Thang" Johnson
One of my favourite things on TV is the "I Love The '80s" family of specials by VH1.   I've learned so many things from all those time periods, things I never knew existed, that it more or less kicked off my interest in the 80s.  The next-best thing to them that exists in the realm of cinema would be the spoof genre kick-started by Airplane! in 1980.  These days, the genre has been dominated by Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, heretofore referred to as "Selzterberg".  And while I derive a sort of guilty pleasure from counting all the references they collect in their films, more than anything else, their works make me cringe.  2008's Disaster Movie is commonly regarded as their worst - no small feat - so of course I had to track it down and review it.

The movie starts with an intro ripped straight out of 1998's Armageddeon.  Another film I could be watching now!  ...The fact that I'm comparing Michael Bay favourably to something is not a good sign.  We jump to 10,000 10,001 BC, where a hunter-gatherer (Matt Lanter) gets into a fight with Wolf, from the American Gladiators revival, and Amy Winehouse as a sabre-toothed, gasoline-drunk beast.  Yeah... joke aborted.  She gives a thirty-second burping scene (some records are not meant to be broken) and warns him of the end of the world, to occur on 29 August 2008.  In other words, the release date of this film.  SYMBOLISM!!

Then the same man, Will, wakes up in the present day -- to be exact, the day of the end of the world, and the same day he's having a party at his loft.  He's a 25-year old dude holding a Sweet 16 party because he's never had one yet.  Ya know, that was quite an intelligent joke there!  Too bad they had to counterpoint that by running a parody of the My Super Sweet 16 intro.  A more competent writer (read: me) would've let the other joke settle.  Guests at the party include Dr. Phil (it's been done), Anton Chighur from No Country For Old Men, and some broad (Kim Kardashian).  That's right: Kim Kardashian, America's favourite Armenian-ethnic, is in this movie.  ...Let that set the tone.  So in a series of pointless events, Calvin (Gary Johnson) tries to stop Seth and McLovin' McLover, the two guys from Superbad, from stealing alcohol, the High School Musical crew break into song, and Kim Kardashian and Carmen Electra break into a WWE WOW Divas catfight.  I'd be turned on if they weren't such bad actors.

Going back to the party, we are also introduced to Juno Juney, who laments about keeping her baby, in acoustic-guitar-song form.  During the song, she mentions Brangelina buying her baby on eBay, except the web page she shows says "uPay".  And they did this earlier, during the Amy Winehouse scene, with Facebook and "FaceNook".  Ladies and gentlemen, they just didn't care.  Another thing to throw on the "just didn't care" pile: this is the third Seltzerberg film in a row with a Brangelina adoption joke.  Going back to not-Juno's character, she talks exclusively in-jokes written by an overly clever screenwriter (her words, not mine), and chugs a whole jug of Sunny Delight and vodka.  Hardcore fetal alcohol syndrome, because... funny?

Now the real plot starts as asteroids strike the city and the film tries to live up to its own name.   Will, Calvin, not-Juno, and Kim Kardashian flee into the streets together, witnessing Hannah Montana getting crushed by an meteor, and not dying for a minute and a half.  See, that's the other problem with this film: even on those rare occasions where the writers managed to generate a truly funny joke, they drag it out for too long.  So with conditions outside getting worse, the crew hunker down in some sort of warehouse, where they fight the Sex and the City girls for control of the space.  Not-Juno wins the fight by breaking out her baby, then her water breaks over Will and Calvin - by that, I mean a fire extinguisher breaks open behind the camera.  WTF?  I'm no OB-GYN, but water breaking does not work that way.  See, that's the other other problem with this movie: an over-reliance on gross-out gags.  Hope you enjoy spending time with the lowest common denominator, ya jerks.  Me, I'll be over here doing cool things.

Like seeing into Will's dream, where he plays Hayden Christensen in Jumper, that movie about the teleporting guy.  Apart from milking that concept for all it's worth, the dream sequence serves to warn Will of his commitment issues, which has driven a rift between him and his girlfriend (Vanessa Minnillo).  At least, until he warps into that Narnia movie and impales himself on Prince Caspian's sword.  Fun fact: When not-Caspian calls him "that guy who ruined Star Wars", he's not just referring to Christensen, but the fact that Matt Lanter did the voice of the same character in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  An unintentional joke lies in wait for anyone who's read reviews on that movie, seeing as how it's been scored worse than any of the live-action prequels, even the one with Jar-Jar Binks.  But still not as badly as Disaster Movie.

With that Big Lipped Alligator Moment (TM 2008 Nostalgia Chick) out of the way, Will resolves to patch things up with his girlfriend, and the crew departs again, however another asteroid crushes Kim.  And thus Kim Kardashian's character was killed off.  And there was much rejoicing.  That is, until she gets replaced by not-Giselle, the princess from not-Enchanted.  Calvin wins her hand in a breakdancing duel, and then the plot barges back into the room.  A cavalcade of superheroes tries to stop the nearest tornado - and by that I mean stand still, say their name or catchphrase, and get hit by a cow.  P.S. The special effects in this scene - nay, the whole movie - are so bad that I could've pulled them off!  Keeping with the Monty Python and the Holy Grail mood (yet another film you could be watching now!)...  Playing the role of the Killer Rabbit is not-Alvin and the non-CGI Chipmunks! So the crew is beset by the rabid puppet chipmunks and a rabid Head-On commercial, and in the ensuing chaos, not-Juno is killed.  back outside, the townspeople are evacuating, including not-Christian Bale's Batman, who shares this exchange with not-Giselle:

Batman: I'm Batman.
not-Giselle: I'm Enchanted Princes.

...

...

...

Umm... news flash: her name's Giselle, NOT "Enchanted Princess"!  Which you would've learned IF YOU JUST [verb]ING WAITED!!  And it's not like Enchanted was one of those Summer 2008-release films that didn't come out until after the script was written, no, it released in November of 2007, so there's just NO [verb]ING EXCUSE!!  What, could you not afford the TEN DOLLARS to see the movie in theaters since you broke the bank casting Kim Kardashian?  [verb] YOU SELTZERBERG, I QUIT!!!

...

Oh, right, the climax.  So, Will has to get to the museum to free his trapped girlfriend.  To get there, not-Giselle hijacks the Mach 5 Mach 5 1/2 from Speed Racer (you know, that thing they made a film of in 2008?  Anyone remember?), which apparently has Michael Jackson hiding out in the trunk with a little boy and a monkey.  Two things wrong with this picture: One, Scary Movie 4 (yet another movie you could be watching right now!) already did a Michael Jackson parody.  Two, that movie was written closer to MJ's child molestation trials.  By 2008, the public had accepted the fact that he was found not guilty.  ...Apparently, not Seltzerberg!  And the less said about how close this was to the singer's untimely death, the better.

In the museum, the gang rescues Will's girlfriend, the committment-challenged Will starts his relationship on a new foot, and she pulls this movie's macguffin, the Crystal Skull, from out of her... from her... from... under her dress.  Just then, they are beset by Beowulf and not-Po from Kung Fu Panda... who introduces himself as, "I am Kung Fu Panda!"  ...Here we go again.  Not-Po kills Calvin and not-Giselle (and there was much rejoicing), but Will and Amy manage to flee from Beowulf after questioning his sexuality, what with him fighting in the nude like he does in that trailer..

Sorry, I have to get back up on my soapbox again for a moment.  Ladies and gentlemen...  Hollywood is racist.  Yeah, you heard me right.  During the High School Musical parody, an Asian and nerdy (and gay) one-shot is brought on screen for a moment, and Calvin, being the African-American co-lead, spouts a laidback, uneducated accent and more ebonics than anyone in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.  Also his actor is billed as "G-Thang".  That's right: his name ain't nothing but a "G-Thang", baby, with two doped-out writers going crazy.  And also: Hollywood is gaycist.  Apart from spending all his on-screen time naked, not-Beowulf says he hangs out with a life partner with whom he goes fishing and runs an antique store.  Based on this information alone, Will labels him as a homosexual, which Beowulf denies, since apparently he treats this as a bad thing.  *sigh* How long are we gonna last until we shrug off all these old stereotypes set up in who knows what less-informed eras?  We must shrug off the media establishment NOW!  SUPPORT FOREIGN FILMS!!  (That means anime.)  ...Oh God, I'm sounding like a Marxist revolutionary right now.  Better get off the soapbox before the Tea Party sends me angry letters.

*whew* This is turning into not only one of my angriest reviews, but one of my longest, so let's wrap this up.  Will meets his father, a black midget Indiana Jones (because... funny?), places the crystal skull on its altar, undoing the natural disasters, marries Amy with the help of not-Guru Pitka (Anyone remember The Love Guru?  No?  Good on ya.), and drops the biggest bombshell of all: he's dating Matt Damon.  Yes, this film wraps up with a musical curtain call, with all the characters singing about who's dating who.  For those of you not up on your late-night TV, this segment is a parody of "I'm [verb]ing Matt Damon" (the unrated version uses this title as well), a song Sarah Silverman did on Jimmy Kimmel Live.  Funny thing is, a different parody by Kimmel himself, "I'm [verb]ing Ben Affleck", became more famous afterwards.  It helps that the Ben Affleck version evolves into a We Are The World-parody, so yeah, you should check that out.

I was honestly surprised at the fact that Seltzerberg were able to throw some halfway decent jokes our way from time to time.  The only problem is, whatever good stuff there is gets ruined either by the writers' non-existent sense of comedic timing, or by all the crude, pointless moments that surround them.  Everything about this movie is sophomoric: the humour, yes, but also the plot and its resolution, the visual effects, and even its references were chosen without care.  So many of the films, series, and personalities spoofed within had faded from memory even before Disaster Movie was released - now that, my friends, is an epic fail.  Let this be a lesson to screenwriters: don't count other people's chickens before they hatch.  *chu*  G'night everybody!

Positives:
+ Kim Kardashian gets killed off at some point!  That's something!  ...Right?
Negatives:
- Haphazardly-constructed plot.
- Over-reliance on unfunny and even offensive jokes,
- The references are unoriginal and show a lack of basic research on Seltzerberg's part.
- Lousy special effects.
- Totally fake acting.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Film Review: Goldfinger


Goldfinger
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Director: Guy Hamilton
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Salzman
  • Writers: Richard Maibaum, Paul Dehn
  • Starring: Sean Connery, Shirley Eaton, Gert Fröbe
  • Release: 18 September 1964 (UK), 9 January 1965 (USA)


The Girls: Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton).  Goldfinger's partner in crime in Miami.  Killed and covered in gold paint on Goldfinger's orders.  Tilly Masterson (Tania Mallet).  Jill's vengeful sister.  Neck broken by Oddjob's hat.  Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman).  Goldfinger's pilot and leader of a stunt pilot team.  None of the girls has that much chemistry with Bond (that is, until he force-feeds such chemistry to them), but it only serves to highlight their independent nature.  4 out of 5.

Other Allies: Felix Leiter (Cec Linder).  Bond's ally in the CIA, last seen in Dr. No.  Instead of Jack Lord's coolness, Linder instead portrays Leiter an older, more serious establishment type, so if you're into Mad Men, you might get something out of it.  3 out of 5.


The Villain: Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe, dubbed by Michael Collins).  Runs a metallurgy industry with gold smuggling on the side.  Sucked out of an airplane window.  Goldfinger's character exhibits an obsession on gold bordering on paranoia, but he always has his eyes on the prize, running legitimate metalworking operations whilst engineering a nuclear attack on Fort Knox.  Fun fact: named after Ernő Goldfinger, a Hungarian architect, who was not amused.  Second fun fact: Because of Fröbe's former ties to the Nazi party in Germany, this film was banned in Israel - until a Jewish family disclosed that he had helped protect them during the Holocaust.  4 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Oddjob (Harold Sakata).  Goldfinger's Korean-born bodyguard who throws a razor-brimmed hat as a weapon.  Electrocuted by Bond.  Having no lines, Oddjob doesn't show his personality as well as, say, Red Grant, but he's equally strong, tough, and deadly, forcing Bond to really use his noodle to get through him.  Oh, and no matter what Goldeneye 007 may have told you, Oddjob is not a midget.  5 out of 5.

The Gadgets: Most of 007's gear this time around is centered around his new car, an Aston Martin DB5.  Q Branch modified it to include a smoke screen, oil slick, front machine guns, tire slashers (think Ben-Hur) an ejector seat, and a display screen for his new homing devices.  One of the homers is magnetic and the other fits in a secret compartment in Bond's shoe.  Having all the gadgets centered around the one car in some form or another only serves to make the car that much more awesome.  Shame it crashes.  5 out of 5.


The Locations: Set in the United States (Florida, Kentucky), England, and Switzerland.

The Opening Credits: Scenes from the film are projected onto a golden statue of a woman.  Much like the credits from the last movie, except much more static.  4 out of 5.

The Theme Song: Sung by Shirley Bassey.  Like so many other elements of the film, this song and its performance served as a blueprint for so many other Bond and non-Bond themes.  It's campy, sure, but the way Bassey goes over-the-top with the energy of her performance pushes that camp into awesomeness levels.  Lyrics ain't bad, too.  News flash: Goldfinger loves gold and is bad for women. It's a shame Jill Masterson didn't take their advice5 out of 5.

The Novel: Published in 1959, the novel Goldfinger was once again given a tight adaptation into film.  The one major difference is the final step in Goldfinger's plan: in the book, he intends to physically steal the gold from Fort Knox.  This point is brilliantly deconstructed in the film, as explained below.

The Plot: Bond starts out in an unidentified South/Central American location, blowing up a drug smuggler's operation, attempting an after-hours rendez-vous with a cabaret dancer, and surviving an attack.  After the opening credits, he gets some R&R at a Miami hotel, until Felix Leiter shows up and gives him an assignment: to shadow a mister Auric Goldfinger, playing a successful game of gin rummy at that very hotel.  Bond heads up to Goldfinger's suite and discovers Jill Masterson, his trophy girlfriend, spying on his card quarry and helping him cheat.  Bond cuts him off and has his way with Jill, but then gets knocked out by an assailant.  When he wakes up, he discovers her dead and covered in gold paint.

Back in London, Bond receives his mission and equipment from MI6, then meets Goldfinger at a local country club for a game of golf.  Bond wagers with a £5000 bar of Nazi gold (notice how Fröbe reacts to it - read the fun facts above) and loses, only to reveal that Goldfinger had switched his balls mid-game (partly a trap set up by Bond), thus disqualifying him.  Before parting ways, Bond attaches one of his homing devices to Goldfinger's car, and tracks it to the vicinity of Geneva, Switzerland.  Whilst tailing him, Bond apparently comes under fire, gets passed by a girl he suspects was the shooter, disables her car, and gives her a ride.  She introduces herself as Tilly Soames, and is dropped off at a mechanic's garage.

That night, Bond raids Goldfinger's local office, used for gold smelting and smuggling operations.  He overhears Goldfinger discuss something called "Operation Grand Slam" with Mr. Ling, a Chinese nuclear scientist.  On his way out, he trips an alarm and meets the girl from before.  She reveals herself as Tilly Masterson, and is seeking revenge on Goldfinger for killing her sister Jill.  The two are arrested by Goldfinger's guards and driven off.  They try to escape, but Tilly is killed by Oddjob and Bond crashes his car and is knocked out.  When he comes to, he finds himself strapped to a table and about to be cut in half by a laser, but convinces Goldfinger that killing him would be a worthless mistake.  So instead, he has Bond tranquilised for a third time.

Bond wakes up on Goldfinger's private plane, in the presence of his pilot, Pussy Galore.  They land at an airport in Kentucky, where Galore runs an all-female team of stunt pilots, and are met by Oddjob, who drives them to Goldfinger's horse-breeding farm.  Whilst keeping Bond locked up, Goldfinger holds a meeting with a collection of his crime boss debtors.  To repay them for their services, he details Grand Slam: a plan to raid Fort Knox, the gold depository-slash-military outpost.  He intends to have Galore and her pilots spray nerve gas (which, ubeknownst to his business partners, is lethal) over the area, incapacitating the soldiers, and have his team blow up the electric fence so they can get inside.  But little does he know that Bond has escaped and is listening in on his presentation, only to get re-caught by Galore.

Worried about Bond, Leiter visits the farm to check on his ally, so Goldfinger has him summoned out to convince the CIA that he doesn't need any help.  Bond discusses Grand Slam with Goldfinger, and deduces that the plan is not to steal the gold from Fort Knox, but to detonate an atomic bomb inside it, rendering the gold radioactive and useless for decades, and making Goldfinger's own gold that much more valuable.  He leaves him with Galore, whom Bond takes to a barn and... more or less rapes.  Yeah... kinda not cool when you think about it.

The next day, Operation Grand Slam is put into effect.  Galore's pilots spray the nerve gas over the Fort Knox area, presumably killing the soldiers, and Oddjob's team breaks into the gold vault.  Goldfinger and Ling arrive with the bomb, arm it, handcuff Bond to it, and send them down into the vault.  But it turns out that the soldiers weren't killed by the gas after all; the troops close in, causing Goldfinger to panic, lock Bond and Oddjob in the vault, and escape.  With the bomb ticking, Bond unlocks his handcuffs and fights Oddjob, killing him by sticking his hat between some metal bars and electrocuting the whole thing.  Only seconds are left before the bomb goes off, but then Leiter and his team make it in the vault and simply switch the thing off - with 007 seconds on the counter.

Leiter explains to Bond that Galore had switched the gas used by her team and warned Washington about the plot.  Bond is then sent off on a flight to the White House, to receive a personal thank-you from the president, but it turns out Goldfinger and Galore had hijacked the plane.  Before Goldfinger can shoot Bond, Bond fights back, discharging his golden revolver into one of the plane's windows.  The depressurization sucks Goldfinger out the window, but the plane starts losing altitude fast, so Bond and Galore escape via the plane's ejector seats.  The film ends with the couple making out under their parachute.  You are now free to turn off your TV.

Goldfinger's scale differs from the other films in that instead of continuing the SPECTRE saga, it has Bond fighting an independent criminal in a stand-alone mission.  Not that that's a bad thing, of course, but it doesn't feel right next to the excellent, more down-to-earth From Russia With Love.  Let me put it to you this way: I can't sit still thinking that B- and C-list spy fictions borrow their stuff from this kind of Bond movie.  It's camp, but it's awesome camp.  If there's anything this has over From Russia With Love, it's that it has many more memorable moments.  A little too memorable in fact, when you consider all the other writers out there who took inspiration from the gadgets, the sets, the characters, etc. but not the plot - which this film also does right.  I may take some issue with this being called the best of Bond, but Goldfinger has it where it counts and goes the extra mile in creating a mission the viewer will never forget.  5 out of 5.

The Call: 90% (A-)

IchigoRyu will return in
Thunderball

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dance Dance Retrospective: Class of 2003

As there were four years between Extreme and the next arcade release, I'll be doing something a little different for this installment in Dance Dance Retrospective.  Instead of focusing one whole entry on one particular game, I'll be touching on a bunch of the home games released in the year 2003, from all three major game markets: Japan, North America, and Europe.

Japan

For the Japanese market, 2003 saw the home ports of MAX2 and Extreme, as I had previously mentioned.  But after all that, they got a third title: Dance Dance Revolution Party Collection (PlayStation 2, 11 December 2003).  There's little in the way of original content to speak of, with only five or so brand-new songs out of a total 47, and an interface that's basically a re-skinned Extreme.  Like Extreme before it, Party Collection takes a greatest-hits approach, relying on revival songs from across the entire series to date, including the Dancemania licences that were brought back for Extreme.

North America

American and Canadian PlayStation 2 owners got their own version of MAX2, which again I had glossed over before, in the Fall of 2003.  But the XBox faithful were also blessed with Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix (XBox, 19 November 2003), the first "major" DDR release on a non-Sony console.  Despite the extra graphical horsepower the XBox has over the PS2, Ultramix looks similar to its contemporary, with cel-shaded dancers and the same FMV backgrounds from MAX.  But what made Ultramix stand out is how it integrated with XBox Live, the console's online service.  In addition to playing songs with people over the Internet, users could also buy packs of online-exclusive songs, pre-dating similar features in Guitar Hero and Rock Band by years.

Ultramix was developed by Konami's Hawaiian branch, and so some of the fans took issue with some of the game's stepcharts, which were a bit heavy on the Freeze Arrows.  As such, some of the songs from this game were given new Heavy-level charts in subsequent appearances.  That's not to say the game was a total loss, far from it; the Ultramix series spawned a total of four games between 2003 and 2006.  Unfortunately, none of the Ultramix games are backwards-compatible on the XBox 360, but they did follow them up with the Universe series, which saw 3 games in 2007 and 2008.

Europe

After the stellar, arcade-only Euromix 2, would Konami of Europe see fit to release a port for home gamers?  Sadly, no; while there were two games released for the PAL region, they both sucked in comparison to their foreign peers.  First is Dancing Stage Megamix (PlayStation 2, 30 May 2003).  It looks identical to Euromix 2, but only contains 28 songs - compare that to most of the American PS2 games, which average 70 songs a pop.  And the new licence songs from Euromix are nowhere to be seen; Megamix replaces them with 7 hit tracks including "A Little Less Conversation" by Elvis vs. JXL, "Love At First Sight" by Kylie Minogue, and "The Lovecats" by The Cure.  And all 7 of these songs only rank at 4 feet on Expert.  The soundtrack is rounded out by some of the Konami Originals from MAX and EuroMIX2, including "Max 300", which at least provides a counterpoint to the stupid-easy licences, but the whole thing is lacking in both quantity and quality.

Then there was Dancing Stage Fever (PlayStation/PlayStation 2, 24 October 2003).  There are 29 songs this time around; the 8 new licences include "All That She Wants" by Ace of Base, "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls, and... really?  "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners.  But shock of all shocks: some of these songs top out at 7 feet on Expert!  Now, I'm not dissing the lower-tier players when I say stuff like that - after all, that's what the other difficulties are for.  But if you're going to attract the better players with songs they might already know from outside of DDR, they should at least be exciting.  Oh, and wouldn't you know it, they saw fit to make a PSone port of Fever.  There are only 15 songs in this version.  Fifteen songs.  That means stuff like "D2R" and "MaxX Unlimited" were cut from the PS2 version, and since it's based off of 4thMIX, the Freeze Arrows are missing from songs that would otherwise have them.  So yeah, Dancing Stage Fever: it's an improvement in its own market, but by any other standards it's just unacceptable.  Can we jump ahead to 2004 please?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dance Dance Retrospective: Extreme

Things were really picking up for the Dance Dance Revolution franchise by the end of 2002.  More arcade machines were being imported from Japan, more home games were being released in the US and Europe, and most importantly, I said in sarcasm mode, I discovered the thing.  So with all this momentum building up, it seems ironic that Konami created what many thought would be the end of the series.  But you have to admit, they did it big with Dance Dance Revolution Extreme (Arcade, 25 December 2002), the first core series title to abandon the established numbering system.  Now, my opinion on Extreme has been tainted by over-exposure as, for a number of years in the mid-2000s, it was the only DDR title most arcades would carry, so I happened to get sick of it real quickly.  But time heals all wounds, amirite?

The cabbage-green colour scheme is... an acquired taste.
(From the Japanese home version.)
The colour scheme in Extreme is based on greens and yellows, which in my belief didn't turn out as cool as the last few games, but again, it may just be my fatigue of the whole thing.  The framework is built off of MAX2, with three notable additions: 1) the Beginner difficulty level.  In case you've forgotten, Beginner mode was last seen in the 3rdMIX era, and is a simplified version of the Light-level charts, with almost all of them ranked at 1 foot.  As in 3rdMIX and its spinoffs, Beginner charts show a dancer on-screen playing the same steps, except this time, in versus games the other player can play on his or her own difficulty.  Technically this was first revived by Dancing Stage Euromix 2 earlier in the year, but it's not like you're gonna see that game in America or Japan. 2) the Challenge difficulty.  Technically used in 4thMIX and MAX2, but this fifth difficulty level is now available during regular gameplay.  This means the Challenge mode remixes from MAX2, which only have Challenge charts, can now be played freely.  And 3) the Nonstop mode.  In addition to the Challenge mode from MAX2, Nonstop, which uses a regular Groove Gauge as opposed to the "battery" life bar, makes its first appearance since 4thMIX.  Nonstop mode here behaves identically to its use in 3rdMIX; all the courses are 4 songs long, and the difficulty can be changed between one of two settings.  4) the Marvelous timing mark.  It indicates more precise timing than the Perfect mark, but is only used in Challenge mode.

Recognise that robot in the background?  Even the artwork evokes the classic era.
(From the Japanese home version.)
The songlist in Extreme is BIG: it set a new record at 240 total songs.  Most of the stuff from MAX2 is back, but they brought back scads of revival songs from all over the franchise, including the 2ndMIX Club Versions, thus giving the songlist a "Greatest Hits" feel.  There are even Dancemania licences making repeat appearances, including "Butterfly" from the first game.  And let me tell ya: that song drove me to insanity like wow, considering how often it gets played by the casual set.  Seriously, arcade operators should put up "No 'Butterfly'" signs like guitar stores do with "Stairway to Heaven".  On top of that, Konami set another online poll, this time giving players the chance to nominate songs from the other Bemani games (click if you need a refresher) for inclusion into Extreme.  The winners included some of the biggest hits from their respective franchises: "Colors", "V', "A", and "Sakura" from beatmania IIDX, "Daikenkai" from Pop'n Music, "Across the Nightmare" and "The Least 100 sec." from Guitar Freaks & DrumMania, and so on.

Notable new songs include:
  • "AM-3P (303 Bass Mix)" by KTz remixed by U1.  This song was first introduced in the American exclusive DDR Konamix (mentioned previously) earlier in the year, and made its arcade debut here.
  • "bag" by RevenG.  This song is driven by bagpipes, uniquely enough.  At only 65 BPM, this is among the slowest songs in all of DDR, but with a level-10 Heavy chart, this means the arrows are packed really tightly.  Speed modifiers are highly recommended should you attempt this.
  • "Cartoon Heroes (Speedy Mix)" by Barbie Young.  A cover of the 90s Euro-pop song by Aqua of "Barbie Girl" fame.  One of the hardest songs to come out of the Dancemania Speed albums for this game.
  • "Daikenkai" by des-row feat. Tsuboi for Alpha.  A tie-in with Pop'n Music.  While this Japanese rap-rock song is regarded by some as one of the worst in all of Bemani, it boasts a mid-song tempo change and a Challenge chart which is considerably draining for an 8-footer.
  • "Sakura" by RevenG.  A tie-in with beatmania IIDX 8th Style.  This song uses traditional Japanese-style instruments but plays similar to "MaxX Unlimited", with a breakdown section and a max speed of 320 BPM.  The Heavy chart is ranked at 10 feet (albeit an easy 10 feet), but ironically, the Challenge chart is easier at 9 feet.
The extra stage system returns, with a twist.  This time around, when you get an Extra Stage (by getting a AA grade or better on your final song on Heavy), you can play any song you choose.  These are the "boss" songs which are selectable as an Extra Stage:
  • "Trip Machine Survivor" by De-Sire.  A remix of "Trip Machine".  It's not really a boss song - the Heavy chart ranks at level 9 instead of 10 - but it's grouped in with the other bosses.
  • "PARANOiA Survivor" by 270.  A remix of "PARANOiA" which, with a tempo of 270 BPM, has more in common with "Max 300".
  • "PARANOiA Survivor MAX" by 290. A faster (290 BPM) version of "PARANOiA Survivor".  Adds a Challenge-level chart which, for a while, was considered the hardest chart in all of DDR.
  • "The Legend of MAX" by ZZ.  The next evolution of "Max 300" and "MaxX Unlimited".  This one runs at a constant 333 BPM apart from the expected breakdown in the middle.  While it is faster than the other "Max" songs, the steps are a little toned down in the technical department compared to "MaxX Unlimited".
  • However, should you earn the Encore Extra Stage, you'll be forced to play "Dance Dance Revolution" by DDR All Stars.  Another speed-rave song from the Naoki camp, the challenge chart is special in that it's composed entirely of passages from other famous DDR songs, like "AM-3P", "Afronova", "Dynamite Rave", "B4U", et al.
The Japanese home version of Extreme (PlayStation 2, 9 October 2003) hosted 100 songs, including the debut songs from the arcade version, debuts from the American MAX2 a smattering of revivals from across the series, and "max. (period)" by 2MB (Yuichi Asami), a new remix of "Max 300" which ends in a double-tempo rush.  That means 600 BPM, too fast for me to even follow.  While North America also got a home game entitled Dance Dance Revolution Extreme in 2004, it turned out to be a different experience entirely...  But that will have to wait for another day.  Before I can explain myself, I'd like to take you around the world, showcasing some of the home games released in 2003, on the next Dance Dance Retrospective.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Film Review: From Russia With Love


From Russia With Love
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Director: Terence Young
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Salzman
  • Writers: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood
  • Starring: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Lotte Lenya
  • Release: 11 October 1963 (UK), 27 May 1964 (USA)


The Girl
: Tatiana "Tania" Romanova (Daniela Bianchi, dubbed by Barbara Jefford), a clerk at the Soviet consulate in Turkey.  Initally, she answers to Colonel Klebb, who assigns her to seduce and murder James Bond.  As part of her plan, she helps him steal the Lektor, a decoding machine from the consulate.  While Bianchi's lines were once again re-recorded, the alternate actress they got sounds a touch more into it compared to Honey Ryder's.  Tania's chemistry with Bond is a step up, as well; they interact just like the newlywed couple they pose as.  5 out of 5.


Other Allies: Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz), Bond's contact in Istanbul.  He is killed by Grant on the train.  Through his performance, Kerim comes across as spirited and streetwise, and feels like he could be a firm friend as well as an invaluable, well-connected asset.  Desmond Llewelyn also makes his first appearance as Q.  5 out of 5.

The Villain: Colonel Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya).  A former SMERSH agent who defected from the Soviet Union and became the Number 3 officer in SPECTRE.  She is shot at the end by Tania, whilst trying to take back the Lektor personally.  Klebb instills terror in all who serve under her, yet at the same time she exhibits some fear of her own, having to answer to the strict boss of SPECTRE.  5 out of 5.

Other Villains: Donald "Red" Grant (Robert Shaw) is a hitman for SPECTRE.  He is killed with his own garotte watch by Bond.  There's a reason the tall, blond, well-built archetype of a Bond henchman has been used so often since Grant: he gives off the air that he is better than you - and better than Bond.  Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) is a Czechoslovak chess master, the Number 5 officer in SPECTRE, and the mastermind of the plot.  He is killed by Morzeny's poison-dagger shoe in a debriefing with Number 1.  Morzeny (Walter Gotell) runs the SPECTRE training camp.  He also takes the lead in the boat chase, as a last-ditch attempt to wrest the Lektor from Bond.  He is burned alive for his efforts5 out of 5.

The Gadgets: The first true gadget in the Bond film franchise is the utility briefcase from this movie.  It holds throwing knives and gold Sovereign coins in hidden compartments, comes with a collapsing sniper rifle, and fires tear gas if opened improperly.  Not to be outdone, Klebb and Morzeny use a shoe with a poison-coated knife, and Grant uses a watch with a garotte wire.  The technology is simple yet effective; truly a window into the tools utilised by real-world espionage agents of the time.  5 out of 5.


The Locations: Contrary to what the title would have you believe, this film does not take place in the Soviet Union.  Locations include istanbul, Turkey; Yugoslavia (modern-day Serbia and Croatia); and Trieste and Venice, Italy.

The Theme Song: The opening credits of Russia once again use an instrumental theme, this time composed by Lionel Bart.  It's a firey, passionate, exotic string arrangement that even segues into the Monty Norman theme near the end.  A reprise in the ending credits adds vocals from Matt Munro, but it's been toned down so much that it will bore anybody who's not into the Rat Pack.  5 out of 5 for the instrumental, 2 out of 5 for the vocal version.

The Opening Credits: The credits are lights projected onto a belly dancer.  It's the only concept the scene uses, and at times it makes the credits hard to make out, but it fits perfectly with the music and the setting we'll be introduce to in a moment.  4 out of 5.

The Novel: Published in 1957.  Another faithful adaptation, although Klebb still works for the Soviet Union instead of SPECTRE.  It has been said that this was the favourite novel of US president John F. Kennedy, and the film was reportedly the last one he saw before his untimely passing in 1963.

The Plot:  In the first pre-credit sequence of the Bond film franchise, our hero is sneaking around a hedge maze, trying to evade the assasin "Red" Grant.  Grant kills him, with a garotte wire hidden in his wristwatch, but surprise: it was a training exercise, and the victim was someone else in a mask.  Next stop is Venice, Italy, where Czechoslovak chess master Kronsteen is summoned by his superior in SPECTRE.  He outlines a plan which would ignite tensions between NATO and the Soviet bloc, and avenge the death of their operative Dr. No.  The plan is to tempt British Intelligence with a decryption machine called the Lektor,   In Istanbul, Turkey, where Soviet agent Tatiana Romanova receives a mission from her supposed boss, Klebb, to pretend to help Bond steal the Lektor.  Bond is assigned a similar mission by M, who is wary that the Lektor could be bait for a trap, but can't resist the chance for an intelligence advantage over the Russians.

In Istanbul, Bond meets Kerim Bey, head of MI6's Station T.  He introduces him to life in Turkey, including the omnipresence of Bulgarian agents.  Kerim survives an assassination attempt which he blames on Krilencu, one of their number.  He takes Bond down to the ancient sewers beneath the Soviet consulate, where they spy on their meeting room and confirm the Russians' complicity with Krilencu.  To beat the heat, he takes Bond to a gypsy camp, where the night's entertainment includes a belly dancer, a catfight, and a shoot-out with Krilencu and the Bulgars.  Secretly, Grant stays hidden in the shadows and keeps Bond alive.  The following night, Bond and Kerim head back to istanbul to assassinate Krilencu.

Bond returns to his hotel room only find Tania in his bed.  They have at it, and the next day, she arranges to hand him off the consulate's blueprints at the Hagia Sophia mosque.  A Russian agent attempts to steal it before Bond, but Grant secretly kills him.  With everything and everyone in place, the heist is then pulled off.  Kerim sets off a bomb underneath the consulate, providing a diversion to let Bond and Tania steal the Lektor.  The three of them flee Istanbul on the Orient Express train, but Benz, a Russian officer, spots Tania and assumes she's defecting.  On board, Kerim volunteers to handle Benz, but Bond discovers them both dead.

At Zagreb (modern-day Croatia), Grant boards the train, posing as a British agent.  At dinner, Grant spikes Tania's wine with a sleeping drug, then corners Bond and brags about his plan.  He is working for SPECTRE, who wishes to put the British and Russians at war with one another, and steal the Lektor for themselves.  Grant protected Bond at the gypsy camp and the Hagia Sophia, so the Lektor heist could go on as planned, and filmed him and Tania making love as part of a blackmail scheme.  To get out of trouble, Bond offers to buy some cigarettes.  Grant goes to get some of the sovereigns from Bond's suitcase, but instead triggers the tear gas, and a fight ensues.  Bond, of course, comes out on top when he chokes Grant with his on garotte-wire watch.

Nearing Trieste, Bond and Tania disembark and take Grant's intended escape route.  A SPECTRE helicopter arrives to retrieve the Lektor, only to attack Bond; he defends himself with his sniper rifle.  Next, Bond and Tania must take a boat to Venice, but Morzeny, having killed Kronsteen for his perceived failure, makes his own attempt to steal the Lektor.  Bond gets away by dumping the boat's spare fuel and igniting it with a flare gun.  At their hotel in Venice, Klebb tries one last time to take the Lektor; armed with a poison blade in her shoe, she and Bond fight, but Tania shoots her.  The film ends with the two of them making out in a gondola.  You are now free to turn off your TV.

If you could choose one movie to represent the early Bond era - nay, scratch that, the entire freaking franchise, then this is it.  This is one of those films where you learn a little more about the plot every time you watch it, as you unravel the web of who's playing who.  The fact that SPECTRE takes such great lengths to protect Bond's interests until the right moment shows how well-thought out the plot is.  At the same time, even if you don't yet understand all the political intrigue driving the plot, it still works as a dang fine heist story.  Numerous Bond actors and producers have chosen From Russia With Love as their favourite out of all the films in the series; here's hoping you take the hint.  5 out of 5.

The Call: 100% (A+)
IchigoRyu will return in:
Goldfinger

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Film Review: Dr. No


Dr. No
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Studio: EON Productions
  • Director: Terence Young
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Salzman
  • Writers: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkley Mather
  • Starring: Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Ursula Andress
  • Release: 6 October 1962 (UK), 8 May 1963 (USA)


The Girl: Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress, dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl).  A civilian shell scavenger not intentionally involved in Dr. No's affairs.  Most famous for her entrance, rising up from the sea in a white bikini.  Frankly, she doesn't add much to the story apart from fanservice (very much so in the book, see below).  Their chemistry can be summed up as thus: she wants to tag along while Bond wants her to stay safe and out of the way.  All things considered, how they end up together is a mystery (funny what trauma can do to a couple).  And even though same-language dubbing was more acceptable back in 1962, in order to mask the accents of foreign actors like Andress, the performance we get just seems out of it.  2 out of 5.

Other Allies: Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), a CIA agent investigating Dr. No's actions; and Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), a black Cayman Islander working with Leiter.  Quarrel is killed by No's dragon tank. They're both streetwise and competent, useful assets for an ally to have. Oh, and don't be suprised if you keep expecting Leiter to say "Book 'em, Danno" at some point.  3 out of 5.

The Villain: Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman).  This titular half-Chinese scientist has an artificial metal hand, not that it matters much since he wears gloves all the time.  In the film he is an agent of SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terror, Revenge, and Extortion).  No is killed by being bolied alive in radioactive water.  The since-deceased Wiseman plays his role on the cold-blooded side.  He doesn't get much of a chance to break loose in terms of acting, but he does invoke a sense of fear in nearly everyone he interacts with, especially Professor Dent.  3 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), a geologist; and Miss Taro (Zena Marshall), secretary to a Jamaican official.  Dent is shot by Bond, and Taro is sent to jail by same.

The Gadgets: Not much to speak of, but this is only the first movie; give it some time.  A henchman does use a cyanide-laced cigarette to kill himself before Bond can interrogate him.

The Locations: Set and filmed in England and Jamaica.  Crab Key is a fictional location, filmed in Jamaica, where Dr. No has set up his base.

The Theme Song: Dr. No simply uses the iconic instrumental James Bond theme.  What do I need to say; it's omnipresent in the series, and for a good reason - it's that awesome.  The version in the opening credits segues into a calypso version of "Three Blind Mice", representing the three blind assassins who kill Strangways.  5 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: The credits sequence in Dr. No is divided into three parts: 1) The famous gun-barrel walk segues directly into an animation of coloured dots, 2) coloured silhouettes of people dancing to the aforementioned calypso music, and 3) the "three blind mice" walking the streets of Jamaica en route to execute the hit on Strangways.  All in all, a rather simple if cute affair.  4 out of 5.

The Book: The novel Dr. No by Ian Fleming was first published in 1958, and was rather faithfully adapted by the film.  Among the differences in the book, Dr. No was working for the Soviet Union instead of SPECTRE, and Bond killed him by burying him in guano.  Oh, and Honey is naked on arrival.

The Plot: Mr. Strangways, a British agent in Jamaica, is killed, and some of his files stolen.  The files pertain to Doctor No, suspected of "toppling" American rocket launches via radio signals, sending them off course.  M (Bernard Lee), of the Special Intelligence Service, dispatches James Bond, code number 007, to investigate.  In Kingston, Bond's taxi driver turns out to be an enemy agent, but he commits suicide before Bond can learn anything from him.  He then goes on to meet Quarrel, a fisherman, and Felix Leiter, a CIA agent.  Quarrel knows about Crab Key, Dr. No's supposed base of operations, but refuses to take him there out of fear of a "dragon".  However, he does give Bond some rock samples taken from Crab Key.  Bond has them checked by Professor Dent and learns nothing, but Dent is secretly an agent of No, who tries to kill Bond with a tarantula that night.  It fails.  Bond sets up a date with Miss Taro, secretary at the Government House, only to survive a trap.  Strangway's assassins die in a car chase, Miss Taro is arrested, and Dent is shot.

Now Quarrel is finally ready to take Bond to Crab Key.  Once landing, they meet Honey Ryder and hide from a patrol boat.  The three venture deeper into the island, evading further patrols and getting to know one another.  In the night, they encounter the "dragon", in actuality a fire-breathing tank.  Quarrel is killed by the tank, and Bond and Ryder captured.  They are held together in a luxurious prison and invited to dinner, where they meet Dr. No.  After the meal, Bond lashes out but is locked in another cell for his efforts.  He escapes through the air ducts, ends up in the control room of No's operation, sabotages it by overloading the nuclear reactor, and kills No by dunking him in the boiling, radioactive water.  The base starts to self-destruct; in the chaos, Bond rescues Ryder and they escape by boat.

Being the first big-screen Bond adventure, Dr. No wisely takes it easy.  The plot isn't overly complicated; the first half is Bond doing detective work and the second half is his raid on Crab Key.  I can understand this being the norm in the pre-Schwarzenegger film era, and while I wouldn't call it boring, I should at least warn the more younger-minded of my readers about these trends.  In terms of the production design, it's doesn't stand up to the grand scale sets we expect of the Bond series these days, but again, these customs were not yet developed, so give them time.  All in all, it works, but it's hard to appreciate this movie as anything but the beginning of a saga.  3 out of 5.

The Call: 75% (B-)

IchigoRyu will return in:
From Russia With Love

007 Golden Jubilee: Introduction

If you're reading this, happy new year!  Welcome to 2012: the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film franchise!  It was 50 years ago, in 1962, that Dr. No first premiered in the United Kingdom.  To commemorate this milestone, I will embark on a year-long challenge to review every James Bond film.  Now, since I'm concerned with my previous film reviews being too long-winded, I'll do things a little differently this time around.  Instead of boring you with a detailed plot synopsis dotted with critical commentary here and there, I'll instead focus on the elements that have shaped the franchise's identity.  You'll still get quick plot summaries, but stuff like the Bond Girls, the villains, the gadgets, and the locations will get their own analyses.

Quick links to the reviews are available below: