Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Film Review: Octopussy

  • Publisher: MGM / United Artists
  • Studio Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Director: John Glen
  • Producer: Albert R. Broccoli
  • Writers: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson, George MacDonald Frasier
  • Release: 6 June 1983 (UK), 10 June 1983 (USA)

The Girls: Octopussy (Maud Adams), jewelry smuggler, businesswoman, and leader of an all-female cult.  Her backstory, detailing how she got into the smuggling business and what she's doing with an all-female cult of minions, is dumped in one big load of easily-forgettable exposition but is otherwise inconsequential.  Fun Fact: the movie's title comes from her pet name given to her by her father, and from her young pet octopus, so don't get any ideas.  4 out of 5.  Magda (Kristina Wayborn), a shared associate of Octopussy and Kamal.  Due to her prominence in the first act of the film, it's easy to mistake her as the leading lady.  3 out of 5.

Other Allies: Vijay (Vijay Amritraj), Bond's contact from MI6's Indian branch.  Sliced up by Gobinda's hit squad.  Fun Fact: As Mr. Amritraj is a professional tennis player in real life, he uses a tennis racket as a weapon during the motor-trike chase early in the film.  4 out of 5.  Robert Brown makes his debut as the new M, and in many ways extends the persona of the late Bernard Lee's portrayal instead of making his own character.  Moneypenny also gets a new assistant, Penelope Smallbone (Michaela Clavell), but although Moneypenny's actress did get replaced a few years afterwards, Smallbone was not used for the role; in fact, she was never mentioned again.

The Villains: Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), exiled Afghan prince.  Dies in a plane crash.  A lot like Hugo Drax from Moonraker; bonus points for cheating at backgammon, like how the book's incarnation of Drax cheated at bridge.  4 out of 5.  General Orlov (Steven Berkoff), a Soviet Army general.  Shot by guards at the East-West German border.  A true madman, in both actions and acting.  5 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Gobinda (Kabir Bedi), Kamal's Indian bodyguard.  Knocked off a plane by Bond.  Another strongman type, but he does speak every once in a while, notably in the ending plane scene, where even he questions his boss's orders to go outside and dislodge 007 from the fuselage.  4 out of 5.  Mischa & Grischka (David & Anthony Meyer), twin knife-throwers and assassins.  Mischa is struck on the head and Grischka has a knife thrown at him, both by Bond.

The Gadgets: A personal jet plane with foldable wings, used during the pre-credit act.  A fountain pen laden with acidic liquid, used to break out of imprisonment.  A fake Faberge egg outfitted with a microphone and homer.  Two watches, one with a tracker for the aforementioned homer, and one with a CCTV display.  3 out of 5.

The Locations: The pre-credits scene takes place in an unidentified location, but as it speaks Spanish, is vaguely tropical, and is heavily militarised, it is commonly assumed to be Cuba. On top of that, we have England, India, East and West Germany.

The Theme Song: "All Time High" performed by Rita Coolidge.  Reminiscent of "Nobody Does It Better" in style, lyrical themes, and the fact that they don't use their films' name as the title, but this time around there's the slightest touch of a country flavour.  And coincidentally, this may be the most boring James Bond theme of all time.  "All time low" is more like it.  1 out of 5.  Fun Fact: To identify himself to 007 in an early scene, Vijay plays a few notes from the James Bond theme.  Do you hear that?  That's the sound of the fourth wall under attack.

The Opening Credits: Uses smoke and laser-light motifs.  Similar in execution to the Moonraker opening credits, but a tad more vivid and better-produced.  3 out of 5.

The Novel: Ian Fleming's last James Bond book was a short story collection published in 1966 after his death, entitled "Octopussy and the Living Daylights".  Of the four stories, "Octopussy" was used as a background for the film's title character, and "The Property of a Lady" (added in a 1967 reprint) was adapted for the auction scene.

The Plot: Our film opens in what is supposedly Cuba, where 007 goes incognito to blow up a military installation.  He gets found out, but breaks away from his escort, takes off in a personal airplane, and lets an enemy missile do the work for him.  Cue opening credits.  We return to East Berlin, where agent 009, disguised as a clown, is on the run from two knife-throwing KGB agents.  He survives just long enough to deliver a Faberge egg to the British embassy.  Back in London, the new M tells Bond that the egg sent by 009 was a fake, and the real one is being auctioned off later that day.  At the auction, he identifies the seller, ex-Afghan prince Kamal Khan, who buys it back for half a million pounds.  Bond has him trailed, and follows him to New Delhi, where he meets his contact Vijay.  Meanwhile in Moscow, the Soviet General Orlov tries to push his plan for a military conquest of Western Europe, which is shot down by Gogol and not-Leonid Brezhnev, whilst managing a Russian artifact forgery operation.

At his hotel, Bond meets Kamal face-to-face and fleeces him at Backgammon.  He and Vijay end up being chased by Gobinda, Kamal's bodyguard, but make it to MI6's branch HQ.  Outfitted with new gadgets, he returns to his hotel for a nightcap with Magda, whom he spotted with Kamal at the auction, but it ends with him being knocked out and imprisoned in Kamal's palace.  Come nightfall, he breaks out and picks up on Kamal and Orlov's plot to smuggle Russian jewelry into the West.  He escapes his captors during a hunting party the next day.  A free man once again, he infiltrates the palace of Octopussy, a smuggler hired by Kamal, chats it up with the lady, spends the night in her arms, and survives a hit squad which just claimed the life of Vijay.

007's next target is Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz) in East Germany, where Octopussy's circus is on tour.  He sneaks on board their train, where Kamal and Gobinda are hiding the jewels.  But then Orlov comes along, and replaces the treasures with a nuclear bomb, to be detonated at the circus's next stop: a US airbase in Feldstadt, West Germany.  Orlov's hopes are that NATO will take it not as an attack, but an accidental detonation, inspiring the West to disarm their nuclear arsenals and enabling the Warsaw Pact bloc to invade through conventional warfare.  Bond fends off danger on the train, but falls off mid-way.  Meanwhile, Gogol is on the scene, discovers the jewelry, and has Orlov gunned down at the West German border.

Back to Bond, who hitchhikes his way to the airbase.  With only a few minutes left on the countdown, he finds Octopussy, who doesn't know that the jewelry was switched out for the bomb.  He manages to convince her with a treasure he took after the swap, and together they disarm the bomb.  Back in India, Octopussy's troupe invades Kamal's palace and she gives him a piece of her mind, but he abducts her.  Bond drops in and follows them to a small airplane, where he knocks Gobinda off the fuselage and disables the fuel lines - all in mid-flight - forcing the plane to crash and kill Kamal.  All said and done, Bond and Octopussy are finally alone and recovering from their injuries... or not, nudge nudge.  You are now free to turn off your TV.

Out of the James Bond films, this one certainly has the most complex plot, as there are two separate villains working together for individual goals.  As such, during my earlier, less-experienced days, I used to consider this the worst Bond movie of the bunch.  These days, I wouldn't nearly go as far, although the slapstick moments which have unfortunately become a trademark of the Roger Moore era are still present in full force.  But apart from that, this is another one of those films where you learn a little more about the plot every time you watch it.  4 out of 5.

The Call: 60% (C-)

IchigoRyu will return in
Never Say Never Again

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Game Review: Shantae

  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: WayForward
  • Release:
    • Game Boy Color, 2 June 2002
    • Nintendo 3DS, 18 July 2013
  • Genre: 2D Action
  • Players: 1
  • Save: Battery, 3 files
  • Rarity/Cost:
    • Game Boy Color: Rare, US$150-300
    • 3DS: DLC, US$5

I cannot believe it, but this month marks ten years since the release of Shantae for the Game Boy Color.  Its star character has become an unofficial mascot for its developer, WayForward Technologies, and the girl herself instantly became one of my teen-era sex symbols.  So why didn't I pick up the game on day one?  Welp, the best reason I can think of is a botched release: the game was first reviewed in the Februrary 2002 issue of Nintendo Power, but it didn't get released until June that same year, and by that time I had forgotten about the game (but not the girl ^_^).  Failing to pick it up is one of my life's greatest failures, just behind not applying to the German Honors Society and not going to the Genesis reunion tour.  I finally caught up with the game in early 2008, buying it cartridge-only for about US$40.  And guess how much it's going for these days?  A minimum of $150!!  Yeah, I just broke you.

Not helping matters was the unusual amount of sex appeal for an otherwise kid-friendly title, which as you recall I fell victim to.  Whilst the level of violence was tame enough for an E rating in North America (these days it might have to settle for the new E10+), picture this: all four named female characters (the hero Shantae, the villain Risky Boots, the falconer Skye, and the zombie Rottytops) wear outfits that bare their midriffs.  To be fair, the Game Boy Color's screen doesn't show that much detail, and there's a balance between the characters' sexy-cute and adorable-cute appeals.  Plus, I've read reports that the character was first conceived by a woman (Erin Bozon, future wife of the game's director, Matt Bozon).  Besides, the most likely cause of Shantae's failure was because it was made for the Game Boy Color, a system which in 2002 was being phased out in favour of the Game Boy Advance.  Heck, its final title would be released less than half a year later!  (It was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which I also happen to own.)  So, I can understand Capcom for the lack of promotion.  (And to think this was well before Capcom became public enemy No.1!)

Belly-dance moves trigger transformations.
I'm sorry, enough of my musings, let's get to the review.  Our eponymous heroine is a half-genie, employed as the protector of Scuttle Town.  In the first act, the town gets beseiged by the crew of lady pirate Risky Boots, who makes off with a steam engine.  In order to make it work, she requires the spirits of Water, Earth, Metal, and Fire, so Shantae must acquire them from the four dungeons to keep them from her.  Good luck with that...  Shantae is at its core one of those Metroidvania-style platformers, where the game takes place in one large world but sections are blocked off until you acquire certain abilities.  In the case of this game, these abilities include transformations such as a monkey (for climbing up walls), an elephant (for breaking rocks), and a harpy (for flying).  Since our hero is a genie girl, these are triggered through belly-dances: press Select to toggle the dance mode, and perform moves with the Control Pad, A, or B.  In practise, it works out like playing the Ocarina from some of the Legend of Zelda games, only demanding tighter timing.

Following the Metroidvania formula does lend itself to some problems, namely, backtracking.  If you want to alleviate some of the frustration, you can collect baby Warp Squids and trade them to learn transport dances.  Not helping matters is the zombie caravan town, which shows up in a different location in every day/night cycle.  Speaking of which, enemies have double the defence during the nights, as if they weren't tough enough already during the day.  You can even the odds by purchasing projectile items such as Fireballs, Pike Balls, Storm Puffs, or support items like like health potions or Double Mints, which temporarily let you deal double damage.  Don't forget, you have to trigger them by pressing Up and B, like in the original Castlevania trilogy.  So yeah, if this game wore a shirt, it'd show its classic-style difficulty on its sleeves.  If that's too much for you to handle, I don't have anything to say to you. 
Enemies take double damage during the night.  Oh joy...
Which is a shame, because you'd be missing out on a wonderful universe.  The animation is some of the best I've seen on any 8-bit platform; even Shantae's standing animation is quite bouncy (both in the chest and otherwise, nudge nudge).  The environment designs utilise a vivid colour palette, and coming out only months after 9/11, it's a nice change of pace to see the brighter side of Arabian culture used as an inspiration.  As such, it's easy to see from all this that Shantae was a labour of love, and it's a shame it didn't get the recognition it deserved.  As such, it proved difficult for WayForward to generate a sequel.  They've had several false starts through the rest of the decade, but come 2010 they finally managed to cut out the middleman and self-publish Shantae: Risky's Revenge as a DLC title for the Nintendo DSi, followed by an enhanced (and cheaper!) port for iOS devices the following year.  (We've got a Shantae sequel, a Duke Nukem sequel, a Diablo sequel... your time's running out, Capcom.)  Even better, the original game has been made available on the 3DS's Virtual Console shop for a paltry US$5.  I am glad this has come to fruition so that a new generation of gamers might be able to experience Shantae without breaking the bank, because it's worth playing -- it's just not worth spending three figures on.

+ Lots of items and transformations to play around with.
+ Fun setting and characters.
+ Wondrous animation and soundtrack.
- Some enemies take a lot of hits, especially during the nights.
- Large areas make for painful backtracking.

Control: 4 transformations out of 5
Design: 4 transformations out of 5
Graphics: 5 transformations out of 5
Audio: 4 transformations out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Film Review: For Your Eyes Only

For Your Eyes Only
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Studio Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Director: John Glen
  • Producer: Albert R. Broccoli
  • Writers: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
  • Release: 24 June 1981 (UK), 26 June 1981 (USA)

The Girls: Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), daughter of murdered archeologist Sir Timothy Havelock.  Wants to kill those responsible, despite Bond's intentions to take them alive.  It's refreshing to have a Bond Girl not just in it for the fanservice, but taking matters of the plot into her own hands.  5 out of 5.  Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson), a figure skater bankrolled by Kristatos.  Puts the moves on Bond, despite an age gap of 30 years between the actors, but thankfully he rebuffs her affections.  Adds virtually nothing to the plot, but does showcase the villain's... villainy in her later confrontations with him.  3 out of 5.

Other Allies: Luigi Ferrara (John Morena), 007's contact in Italy.  Throat slit offscreen by Locque.  Frederick Gray (Geoffrey Keen), British Minister of Defence.  Functions as a temporary replacement for M, whose actor (Bernard Lee) died shortly after Moonraker.  On that note, we also get an appearance by not-Margaret Thatcher (Janet Brown) at the end.

Aris Kristatos (Julian Glover, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).  An industrialist and drug smuggler who is seeking to sell the ATAC to the Soviet Union.  Pins his activities upon...

The Villain: Milos Colombo (Chaim Topol, The Fiddler On the Roof).  A rival smuggler of Kristatos's. He over-acts some of his scenes but, like Kerim Bey of From Russia With Love, it only makes him that much more fun to watch..  Whatever twist I hid behind those spoiler tags, it was truly a great one.  5 out of 5.  Not-Ernst Stavro Blofeld (John Hollis) tries to get his revenge in the pre-credits; because of the SPECTRE rights controversy (see my review on Thunderball for more information), his face is not shown and his name not given.

Other Henchmen: Emile Leopold Locque (Michael Gothard), an assassin and Bill Gates lookalike.  Kicked off a cliff by Bond.  I wish he had actual lines in the script, and that his kills weren't performed off-screen, but still, he's proof that you don't have to come out of one of Hitler's wet dreams (gah, that sounds so wrong) in order to be deadly.  5 out of 5.  Erich Kriegler (John Wyman) fits that description however, being an East German biathalon champion and the villain's liaison with the KGB.  Also thrown off a cliff by Bond.  With him being a pro sharpshooter (and that's only his cover!), you think he'd be able to hit Bond for once, although during the ski chase he does manage to shoot his gun and ski pole, two quite smaller targets.  4 out of 5.

The Gadgets: Not much to speak of.  In a rather brilliant bucking of the traditional Bond image, his car self-destructs early in the film, forcing 007 to hitch a ride in Melina's junker Citroen.  And he still manages to make a gripping chase scene out of it.  5 out of 5.

The Locations: The United Kingdom (England), Spain, Italy, Greece, and Albania.  Fun Fact: The Italian setting, Cortina d'Ampezzo, hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956.

The Theme Song: Performed by Sheena Easton ("Modern Girl").  4 out of 5.  Fun Fact: This was the first James Bond theme song to have a separate music video, directed by the legendary Steve Barron ("Billie Jean", "Take On Me").  With MTV going on the air in America only months after the film's release, it was perfect timing.  Second Fun Fact: The soundtrack was composed by Bill Conti (Rocky), and has a distinct post-disco feel, if you're into that sort of thing.

The Opening Credits: Uses a watery theme once again, and softer pastel colours to match the tone of the song.  3 out of 5.  Fun Fact: These are the only opening credits (to date) to feature the singer performing the theme song.

The Novel: The book sharing its title with the film is in fact a collection of short stories by Ian Fleming, most of which were intended as episodes of a James Bond TV series which never came to be.  Of the five stories, two were incorporated into the plot of the movie: "For Your Eyes Only" (the opening conflict with Gonzales) and "Risico" (the warehouse raid).  "The Hildebrand Rarity" inspired some elements of Licence To Kill, whilst "From a View to a Kill" and "Quantum of Solace" lent their titles (and nothing else) to two later movies.

The Plot: Our film opens with Bond at a cemetary, mourning his late wife Tracy (see On Her Majesty's Secret Service).  He gets picked up by an MI6 helicopter, but it gets remotely hi-jacked by not-Blofeld.  However, 007 regains control, scoops up the former villain, and drops him down a smokestack.  Cue opening credits.  We return to the St. Georges, a supposed fishing boat off of Albania, which is really a British spy ship with an ATAC (Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator), a device used to command the UK's submarine fleet.  A mine hits the boat, sinking it before the crew can self-destruct the ATAC.  With the British government unable to salvage the ATAC officially, they recruit Sir Timothy Havelock, an archeologist working in Greece.  After his daughter Melina comes home from her travels, he and his wife are gunned down by her supposed pilot, in actuality a Cuban hitman named Hector Gonzales.

This is where 007 comes in: he infiltrates Gonzales's villa off Madrid, only for Melina to show up and shoot him with a crossbow.  The two make their getaway in her car, and he sees her off.  The Minster of Defence is disgraced at Gonzales's unexpected liquidation, but Bond notes of a person who paid him off.  With Q's help, he identifies this man as Emile Leopold Locque, a Belgian assassin currently working in Cortina, Italy.  There, he meets up with Ferrara, an Italian agent, and Aris Kristatos, a Greek businessman, and once again, Melina.  After taking Kristatos's protege, figure skater Bibi Dahl, to the biathalon, he ends up in a ski chase against one of the supposed stars, Erich Kriegler, who is in actuality working for the KGB.  That night he meets up with Dahl again at an ice rink, and returns to find Ferarra dead.

007 reunites with Melina in Greece before visiting a casino, where Kristatos tells him about a heroin smuggler named Colombo, and he goes home with Countess Lisl von Schlaf.  In the morning she gets struck by Locque's dune buggy, and Bond is knocked out by another faction.  He wakes up on Colombo's yacht, where he convinces Bond that Kristatos was pinning his own illicit activities on Colombo.  He proves his innocence by taking 007 on a raid on Kristatos's warehouse in Albania, where he kills Locque.  Back in Greece, Bond and Melina go over her father's notes and deduce the location where the St. Georges sank.  They go down in a submarine to retrieve the ATAC, only to have it taken by Kristatos upon their return.  He has the couple dragged behind this boat, so that they may get eaten by sharks, but Bond foils their attempt.  With the ATAC gone, their trail has gone cold - until a parrot speaks the clue "ATAC to St. Cyril's".

Despite the 439-plus churches in Greece bearing the name "St. Cyril", Colombo narrows it down to a monastery on top of a humongous rock.  Bond climbs up this rock, lets his team up, and together they storm the place in search of Kristatos and the ATAC.  When they find it, Colombo kills Kristatos, just in time for General Gogol to arrive, intent on purchasing the ATAC.  Instead, Bond throws it off the cliff, shattering it into a thousand pieces, and leaves the Soviet general with the following line: "That's detente, comrade.  You don't have it, I don't have it."  That night, Bond brushes off a congratulatory phone call from Prime Minister not-Margaret Thatcher to share a moonlight swim with Melina.  You may now turn off your TV.

After subsequent movies escalating from global destruction from the sea to global destruction to space, it's refreshing that the writers avoided trying to top that, and instead focus on a more political-based thriller.  Most of the tension in this film comes from the stunts, including the underwater search for the ATAC, the rock climb up to the monastery, and others.  If this seems unfitting of Roger Moore's 007 persona, not only does it showcase how off-track it had become, but it's because the film was written for another lead actor in mind.  See, Moore was working on a per-film basis since Moonraker, so actors such as Lewis Collins and Michael Jayston were being considered to replace Moore, but that never happened.  But with Moore turning 54 years old in 1981, one wishes he did take retirement, especially with the next few films we have to sit through...  5 out of 5.

The Call: 95% (A)

IchigoRyu will return in