Monday, February 27, 2012

There's a movie where Swayze rips a guy's throat out and it's called "Roadhouse"

You're welcome, Internet.

"Roadhouse" is one of those crazy, completely-forgotten-about 80s action movies that's not only badass and completely watchable, but gloriously bizarre in its decision to include scenes such as the one above. It's like the script wasn't finished yet and the writers had just thrown in whatever crazy-ass dialogue they could think of, and they never bothered correcting it later on.

There's another line in the film where Swayze is walking through a room full of creepy dead-stuffed-animals (is 'taxidermised' a word?) and the main villain says something like "Impressive collection isn't it? There's only one thing that's missing...YOUR ASS."

He says it so completely straight-faced that I can't help but wonder if the actor ever really pictured how galactically hilarious it would be to have Patrick Swayze's tightly-groomed posterior hanging proudly on his wall as if it was some kind of measure of achievement.

The movie is a riot from start to finish. It's a "modern-day Western" as only the 80s could envision, with Swayze's character 'Dalton' (it's never specified whether that's his first or last name) rolls into town to work as a bouncer for a troubled nightclub full of The Wrong Crowd. Naturally, he goes up against the typical Capitalist villain Who Owns the Town and is the only one with balls enough to stand up with him. Throughout this run-of-the-mill plot, he earns $3500 a week for working in a crappy nightclub in the middle of nowhere (!), lives in a barn and drives a peesashit car even though he has a Mercedes, fires half the barstaff because they're scumbags and sees lots and lots of naked female bodies and kicks even more asses

It's clear that this movie was pandering to the badass-action-movie-liking male demographic with its emphasis on high-octane fights and female toplessness.

Why then did they feel the need to have this great big scene where Patrick Swayze's Ass is given more screentime than Venom in "Spider-Man 3"? You could stop time with those sharp buns. Almost every attempt at a tender scene in the film is rendered ridiculous by its forced inclusion of ridiculous 80s nudity or bizarre sex scenes. In the film's attempt at a 'love-scene', Swayze rams his blonde girlfriend up against a wall, without even taking her clothes off. The film's attempt at seriousness in scenes like this just make the film even more endearingly crap and awesome.

The highlight of this film is course the absolutely concentrated injection of manliness that is Patrick Swayze. If Dirty Dancing was the movie where Swayze proved he could dance, "Roadhouse" is the movie where he proved he could fight like a motherfucker. Throughout 90 odd minutes, Swayze kicks all kinds of middle-American ass. I have to say though, the fight scenes in this film are really well-choreographed and visceral, even by modern-day standards. There's a few moments of sheer lunacy (the 'Fuck you in prison' guy from the video once brandishes a pool cue like it's a samurai sword) but the violence is mostly realistic and always impressive.

The throat-ripping scene above isn't an isolated incident, either.

It's referenced earlier on in the film that He Once Killed a Man and that that's how he did it. The Throat-Ripping even comes up in the final battle with the main villain, where Dalton suffers the inner struggle between his thirst for throat-rippage and his Desire to be Human and Conquer His Demons (capital-letters for movie-clichés, in case you hadn't copped it). There seriously needs to be a "Roadhouse" drinking game for every time Swayze does the weird "throat-ripclaw" hand-tense. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

This movie was passionately recommended to me by a friend and made for perfect 2am viewing last night. It's bizarre in a way that makes it eminently watchable, but it sort of yo-yos between sheer lunacy and actual quality (for an 80s action movie). It's not as moronically bizarre as the likes of "The Room" or "Troll 2" and it certainly has a flair of style and craftsmanship that far exceeds those two supernaturally-bad cult movies; but make no mistake; this is an awesomely bad movie, for many of the reasons I've mentioned, and loads more that I haven't. These are the kinds of films I was born to watch.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"The Muppets" is one of the greatest American comedies of all time

Admittedly, I've always been a casual fan of The Muppets. Like many children of the 90s, I had a VHS copy of "A Muppet Christmas Carol" that I watched to death, to the point where every other version just seems like an adaptation of the Muppet film. And while I was too young to have seen the actual "Muppet Show", I did watch its short-lived 1990s revival series "Muppets Tonight" religiously, to the point where I always associated the happiness of a carefree Friday evening with The Muppets.

The first "Muppets" movie I saw in cinemas was the immediate predeccessor to this new one, "Muppets in Space". It was a critical and financial failure, but I thoroughly enjoyed it at the time and it was a shame that they didn't make any big-budget movies in the intervening years. During the 12 years that The Muppets were more or less outside of mainstream circulation (outside of a few TV movies here and there), a lot of the older Muppet movies were repeated, particularly at Christmastime. The original "The Muppet Movie", "The Great Muppet Caper" are really good, but don't hold a candle to the almighty classic "The Muppets Take Manhattan", which I would easily rank as one of my favourite comedies.

The new film, simply titled "The Muppets" takes everything that "The Muppets Take Manhattan" did right and sends it soaring into the stratosphere, enhancing and multiplying it ten-fold. The completely lunatic sense of humour and logic is back with a vengeance, leading to some of the best deadpan humour I've ever seen (and that includes more 'grown-up' fare like The Office or Family Guy). It's the kind of comedy-gem I've only seen a handful of in my entire life. And you can bring a three-year old to it.

The movie sees new Muppet-character Walter, who has always felt different and alone in the world. His brother Gary (Jason Segel) has always been his best friend and has always stood up for him and built up his self-confidence. When Walter discovers an old tape of "The Muppet Show" he becomes a fan for life. Years later, when Gary wants to bring his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to Los Angeles for a special anniversary, he invites Walter to tag along, knowing that he'd love to go to the Muppet Theater. Unfortunately, the Theater has become run-down and derelict and is being sold off to a greedy oil tycoon, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) who plans to destroy the building. When a horrified Walter discovers this, he teams up with Gary and Mary to gather up all the Muppets for one last show, to try and raise enough money to save the theater. Alas, it's not as easy as they thought, as many of the former stars have moved on with their lives.

Jason Segel's lovable originality and credibility as a goofball has made him a favourite of mine in films like "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" as well as TV shows like "Freaks and Geeks" and "How I Met Your Mother" (where he's easily the most innovative and original character). He's also written and composed some really hilarious songs on HIMYM and his movies (as well as demonstrating a love of puppets in "Dracula's Lament" which appeared in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall") As soon as I heard he was involved in a new Muppet movie, I knew we were in luck and that the film would be transcendent enough that anyone of any age could watch and love it. For the first time in years while watching a 'Family Film', I never once cringed at an excess of maudlin dialogue or over-dramatic scenes. The movie earns these moments by making the viewer care in every single frame of the film. Even the most black-hearted, Generation Y cynic will be crying with laughter at certain scenes, and by the finale, will be tapping their toes as hard as they can to "Life's a Happy Song" (the absolutely amazing Bret McKenzie, of Flight of the Conchords served as Music Supervisor for the film).

And that's why the movie works, making it one of those proud examples of how wonderful the American style of comedy can be. In classic Muppet-style, a lot of the jokes venomously lampoon the sort of cliched tropes you find in family movies (they also break, smash and obliterate the Fourth Wall on dozens of occasions), but unlike similar fare (e.g. Family Guy), the movie has a genuine heart and you really care for its many different characters. A lesser movie would have failed to juggle so many different goofy personalities, but "The Muppets" performs admirably. It succeeds on so many different levels, with messages about tolerance, always trying your best and appreciating the important people in your life. While they may be tried-and-tested motifs to structure a movie around (as is the 'old-school' plot), the innovation of the production never makes you feel like you're watching something even remotely stale.

I can't recommend this movie enough. It's been two full days since I've seen it and I still feel as strongly about the coughing-in-pain-with-laughter effect it had on me and is likely to have on many other people. I'm delighted to hear it was such a commercial and critical success Across The Pond; here's hoping it's as much of a runaway success on our shores as well. Please, please, please do not miss this movie.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Kiefer Sutherland caused "Twilight"! (or 'I just watched "The Lost Boys" for the first time')


Last night, I watched "The Lost Boys" for the first time. It's heralded by many as another one of those "Classic 80s Movies". Is the 1980s the only decade of cinema that actually has a film-genre named after it?

Anyway, for one reason or another, I always assumed that the movie was sort of a chilled-out indie slasher movie. I went into it thinking it was going to be "The Breakfast Club" with vampires. Well, it was none of those things. The movie is recklessly overblown, ruthlessly stuffed with 80s cheese and frankly, while watching it, I had a horrible realisation. "The Lost Boys" gave birth to the sexy, sullen vampire phenomenon, probably resulting in "Twilight".


Throughout the movie, Jason Patric's character Michael deals with the newfound urges, physical differences and mood swings that come with being a vampire (I quickly learned that subtlety was absolutely NOT the movie's strong point). Throughout this journey over to the world of coffins and crosses, the movie plays this creepy song, to set the atmosphere.

Michael's rarely seen without his trademark sunglasses and spends most of the movie fawning after mysterious beauty named 'Star'. There's even a lusty sex-montage between the two lovers (although no bedposts are broken or wombs eaten, like in that other vampire movie), just so all of the 80s Movie boxes are ticked. And of course, 'Cry Little Sister' is the song that plays over the montage. In spite of how overplayed it is over the course of the movie, it's hauntingly catchy and you'll find yourself humming "Thou shalt not faaaall..." well after the movie is over.

The cause of Michael's fangtastic new lease on life is a gang of biker-thugs led by that pesky young Kiefer Sutherland. Kiefer's character David takes Michael under his demonic wing and turns him into a 'half-vampire', meaning he can still walk around during the day and so on. Unlike a lot of movie vampires, this particular brand of Nosferatu can actually fly without turning bats (as in, they can fly like Superman); but we rarely actually get to see them actually doing it. Instead the movie displays Jaws-like P.O.V. shots, where instead of seeing the vampires, we just see their petrified victims. It works effectively the first couple of times, but it gets to the point where the movie's just never scary.

That's not to say the movie's not entertaining, though. The comic duo of The Two Coreys, Haim and Feldman make the movie really watchable in an unpretentiously fun, cheesy-80s way. They're the comic relief the pretentious "Twilight" movies don't have and they help to remind the viewers that after all is said and done, the movie is really just a bit of silly fun and not to be taken too seriously. There's a really cheesy scene where Haim's character Sam walks into a comic book shop run by Edgar and Alan Frog (played by Feldman and Jamison Newlander; no prizes for guessing who they're named after) and the three young men challenge each other with their insane, anal-retentive knowledge of comic book numbering and trivia. It's one of those scenes that really helped to stereotype what comic fans are supposed to be like. I'd argue that we're not, but then I'd be disproving the whole point of having an Internet blog about superheroes, now wouldn't I? I did really like the poster for "The Dark Knight Returns" seen many times in the scene (and again later in the movie), though.

On that note, I feel like I should mention that the movie was directed by "Good Ol'" Joel Schumacher, the auteur who gave us other quintessential 80s hits like "St. Elmo's Fire", and went on to direct genuinely amazing films like "Falling Down" and "Phone Booth" as well as...well..."Batman & Robin". The film looks similar to how his two Batman movies turned out, with some of the high-concept lighting and production design (but nowhere near the neon flamboyance of his Batman films). It's also hilarious (and a bit worrying) to think that perhaps the only reason he was ever hired to do Batman was because of this film, where there was an abundance of bat-like creatures, as well a scene that was all about comic books. This would seem like I was grasping at straws, except for Kevin Smith's infamous story where he suspects that the only reason he was chosen to write the (never-made) "Superman Lives" movie, is because of how he referenced comic books in "Mallrats".

So basically, in a roundabout way, you might say that the 'sexy, sullen vampire' craze that eventually led to 'Twilight', started with 'The Lost Boys', which was directed by the guy who also made what is generally regarded as the worst superhero film ever made. It's all connected!

Anyway, the movie really is quite entertaining despite all I've said about it. The Two Coreys inject a dumbass charm into it that stops it from being stuffy and pretentiously dark and like every vampire film, it has a few of its own additions to the lore (I loved how it's established that every vampire dies in a unique and different way). The soundtrack is really bonkers and overblown, but it's also lots of fun. All of the actors do their jobs well (meaning, they all over-act suitably) and you won't regret the 90 minutes you spent staring at the screen, by any means.

I'm even a little eager to check out the recent straight-to-video sequels starring Feldman and featuring cameos from Haim and Newlander; but no Kiefer Sutherland sadly; he was too busy having a career after the 80s ended, I guess). Corey Haim's recent death by drug overdose (after a long battle with addiction) meant that he couldn't be in the third film.

(Before we go, I have one interesting fact about Corey Feldman: Besides being in "The Goonies" and "Stand by Me", hee played Donatello in two of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies!)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

TIME-TRAVELLING NINJA-UNICORNS: Now that I have your attention, here's a post about Lent.

I've always felt that regardless of one's relationship with The Guy Upstairs or whether or not they believe in him at all; it's still a really good practice to take one of your favourite vices and completely abstain from them for a while. And what better time than the already-existing Catholic-celebration of Lent? It's the perfect time to be saving money that you'd spend on junk like alcohol or videogames (given that Summer holidays are approaching and you're probably still feeling the pinch from the Christmas splurge) and it's even got a great little widely-respected 'Off-Day' where you can throw your Lenten Vows to the wind (Paddy's Day). I think it's a great little workout for your soul (or your karma, your chemical balance of willpower, your mastery of The Force or what have you) and it's just crazy enough to work.

I'll never forget that sullen Wednesday following an awesome Pancake Tuesday, where my Mum announced that I couldn't have any cakes or sweets for five weeks. It was like being told that your dog had died and your best friend was moving to a different country on the same day. I was suitably traumatised and depressed.

I don't recall whether or not I actually followed up with my Forced Lenten Vow that year, but the dark memory of suddenly being forbidden from so many things I enjoyed, remains fresh. Over the years, instead of abstaining from sweet things during the fasting season, I instead opted for a less soul-crushing compromise: I'd only give up soft drinks. To be fair, they are up the air with the worst things you can possibly digest into your body, so it's not like it was a pointless endeavour.

The other vice I'd most commonly avoid in tribute to That-Time-Jesus-Had-No-Eggs or whatever, was videogames. Recognising that isn't really that difficult, if you don't have any brand new games; I always made a point of buying a game on the first day of Lent, so that I'd be itching to play it for weeks beforehand. This made a fairly routine sacrifice, viciously difficult. It also made "Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death" seem like the pinnacle of video-gaming achievement (when really it's just a decent first-person shooter).

Crap, I kind of want to play "Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death" now.

In college, seeing as how semesters go so quickly and life is short, I generally didn't 'celebrate' Lent, opting instead to enjoy the few short years I had there. I did however stop drinking alcohol for an almost an entire Semester (9 weeks in total) to save up for a trip to Canada. Not only was it a nagging, obviously difficult experience, but it also served as a very interesting social experiment. The way certain people reacted or didn't react to my not drinking really opened my eyes to certain tropes we subscribe to while socialising and how much of our relationships are based on alcohol. I thought I'd give that another try this year, just for Lent. But this time, I'm going to do it a little differently, by trying some alcohol-free beers and cocktails when I'm out and about (or when I'm staying in) to see if any kind of Placebo-effect sets in, making it seem a little bit less like I'm completely abstaining.

Also, I'm definitely going to break the Heck out of this for Paddy's Day, in keeping with Irish tradition.

The biggest sacrifice I'm making in JC's name this time around is caffeine. I'm not going to touch coffee, energy drinks or caffeinated soft drinks from now until Easter. This is going to be enormously difficult, given how many cups of coffee I steam through in a day (I usually average at about four or five, not including any other caffeinated drinks I might have that day). To be honest though, I've given up coffee before and while it's very difficult at first (especially in the morning - parts of my body feel as though they're still asleep), you generally feel fresher and don't experience a really nasty lull at about 11am. You still get that nagging feeling a lot like you'd really like a nice strong fresh pot, if you're sitting down working, or reading. The best way I've found around that is to try a range of different Herbal Teas. They obviously have completely the opposite effect that caffeine does, but they're useful for when you have that craving to have a hot drink of something.

I was going to try out decaffeinated coffee, but it seems that most of these actually do still have a few milligrams of caffeine in them and I'm attempting a very strict avoidance-policy. Maybe if I completely purge it from my body, I'll get telekinetic powers like that guy in Scott Pilgrim Vs the World.

At this point in time, I'm really itching for a cup of the black stuff. It's likely that this craving's not going to go away for another little while. But, do you know what? I do feel kind of nice that my brain isn't overloading my body with unnecessary amounts of dopamine and caffeine and that my emotions and productivity right now are all natural and (heh) God-given. Basically, regardless of where you stand on religion or organised religion, I think Lent (or some kind of organised mass-abstinence of vice) is a neat idea. After all, you never know when a medical condition is going to force you to suddenly stop drinking Red Bull or a worldwide zombie invasion is going to completely cut off all production of alcoholic drinks.

With that in mind, I'll bid you all adieu! Leave a comment and let me know where you stand on this interesting time of the year. More content tomorrow, as promised.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Filler Post 1/3: Remember the Spice Girls Movie?

There was once a Spice Girls movie where the Spice Girls were so incredibly famous that they were abducted by aliens who asked for a kiss from Ginger Spice and asked Posh Spice to sign their chest.

Richard E.Grant was also in this movie and wore Riddler-like suits for the whole movie, to the point where I wish he'd played the Riddler in a Batman movie.

In other news, thank you all for massively improving the readership of this site for the past few weeks. I plan on keeping up the tradition of 5-7 articles a week for another while and there'll be plenty to keep you entertained.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Why 'Arrow' has every right to be a great series (and why it probably won't be)

(This isn't an image from the new series, in case you were wondering)

For years, "Smalville" provided 'The CW', the American cable network (once called 'The WB' before it merged with CBS) reliable weekly ratings for a demographic primarily consisting of women, aged 18-25 (because apparently those are the people who like superheroes). If the show had appeared on a national network like ABC or NBC, its meagre ratings would have resulted in a very quick cancellation, but as 'The CW' is one of many hundreds of similar cable channels, it's expected that shows get lower ratings on them. Essentially, lower standards are what led to the longest-running superhero show of all time.

When the cast and crew of "Smallville" FINALLY decided to bring the show to a 'natural' end (which I've spoken about, at length, before) the Powers-that-Be predictably decided to get to work on a new series that would continue the reliably steady stream of so-so ratings. Like fools, the fanboys and girls cried out in agony, longing for a "Metropolis" series that would follow Clark in Metropolis as Superman. Luckily, this was a very silly idea that Warner Bros. would never allow, given that they were re-introducing Superman into the movies, they didn't want to overexpose one of their most money-making characters and it would also make for rather a dreadful series, given that Lex Luthor wouldn't be able to contain his bowel-movements (explained in the link).

To fill the "Smallville" void, The CW toyed with the notion of a series called 'The Graysons' featuring (you guessed it) Dick Grayson's family, before they met their doom when they swung from a trapeze wire rubbed with acid. For some reason, executives thought that a show about Robin BEFORE HE BECAME ROBIN, completely lacking in pointy-eared mentors, was WHAT AMERICA WANTED TO SEE. Honestly folks, I didn't believe this could be a more comprehensively bad idea. But then they went and called him 'D.J' instead of 'Dick'.

It's bad enough that Robin is such a target for people to not only make fun of comics in general, but also the bizarre leaps of logic within them, as well as the possibility that the writers involved are creepier S&M types (I don't buy into that, but in the 50s, people set fire to comics because they thought Batman & Robin were gay). The writers were just nailing their own coffins by not having the balls to call the character 'Dick' (heh). The fact that they felt they had to hide his name would only give rise to even more lame jokes and memes. Luckily this idea died pretty quickly.

Now, for anyone who isn't familiar with "Smallville", over the years many heroes from the DC Universe showed up (even though Superman himself never did) and the most prominent was actually Green Arrow, who became a series regular in the later seasons. Green Arrow was an obvious substitute for Batman, who the producers weren't allowed to use, as a result of Warner Bros' strict policy of only allowing Batman to appear in his own movies and not other live-action series.

Appropriately enough, Green Arrow was always just a substitute for Batman. He was originally created as a stand-in for The Dark Knight in some of the early issues of "Justice League of America", where DC Comics felt that too many appearances by Batman might negatively impact his own comics. When he first appeared in "More Fun Comics" in 1941, he had a Robin-like teenage sidekick, an 'Arrowcar', an 'Arrowplane' and even a base of operations called 'The Arrowcave'. Sound familiar? In "Smallville", Green Arrow is pretty much a looser, more wisecracky version of Batman, with a penchant for crossbows, arrows and the colour green. He wasn't a great character on the show, but he was one of the more malleable. There isn't really a massive Green Arrow fanbase who want to see his character development follow a stringent path that closely resembles the comics. He's the kind of character that's not quite popular enough to be bogged down, but that's a good thing. In "Smallville" his lesser C-list status allowed writers to do whatever they wanted with him.

This is probably the kind of thinking that's ultimately led to the in-production 'Arrow' series (they've dropped the 'Green' in the title of the series so as not to confuse people with the dismal box-office failure that was "Green Lantern"). Drawing on the fanbase of "Smallville", The CW have decided to forge a series that's in no way a spinoff (Justin Hartley who played Green Arrow in "Smallville" has not been cast; the honour goes to Stephen Amell, who is playing Oliver Queen in the Pilot episode; it doesn't look like the series is going to follow any of the continuity from "Smallville"). It's an easy assumption that The CW and the producers of this series want to have a hero they can use without having their hands tied behind their back. And the basic story of Green Arrow is great enough to make a great TV show: rich playboy with dead parents gets stuck on a desert island and becomes a master marksman to survive. When he finally returns to civilisation, he becomes a vigilante hero. Simple! Mix it up with a bit of Batman-like gadgetry, detective work and the kind of streetwise vigilante action you can't really do in a big-budget Batman movie; as well as adding or subtracting any original characters or DC characters and you've got the makings of a great show! Unlike "Smallville", no one knows what to expect with "Arrow". It's a superhero show where we kind of know the superhero (unlike say, The Cape, where we didn't know him at all), but it's not a show where that hero is tied down by certain popular personality traits.

Even though I've emphasised how faceless Ollie Queen has typically been in the comics, that's not really true. In the 1970s, Denny O'Neil wrote a wonderful run of comics where Green Arrow and Green Lantern teamed up and went all over America fighting social injustices. Here, Green Arrow became more of a social activist, a real democrat to act against the more Republican sensibilities of most other four-colour adventurers. Again, there's a lot of potential there for writers to develop Oliver Queen from a careless, money-grubbing industrialist into a crime-fighting hippy.

There are just so many benefits to making a show out of a character like Green Arrow. Here's why I'm not so sure that's going to happen.

"Arrow" is being created for the same demographic as "Smallville": the 18-25 year-old women. It's not being made for comic-book or superhero fans (which typically - but not as a rule - don't fall into that particular demographic). If I may be so bold, I think this series is just going to be another excuse for the CW to ship high-concept romance, rather than high-flying superheroics. "Smallville" was always more devoted to cheap pairings than it was to cheap thrills, and I think the series could fail on that alone. Even "Supernatural", which is the exception that proves the rule where CW shows are concerned, is often hampered by the painful amount of angsty scenes of Dean Winchester whimpering in his brother's insanely muscular shoulder. I don't mean to offend female fans, I just feel like traditionally, the CW haven't always aimed at the appropriate audience.

There's also the small issue that The CW tried their hand at a "Smallville" sort-of-spinoff before, that coincidentally starred Justin Hartley as Arthur Curry, a.k.a. Aquaman.

Only a pilot for "Mercy Reef" was produced and it was never picked up (it was eventually sold on iTunes as a TV movie entitled 'Aquaman'). It's likely that "Arrow" could suffer a similar fate.

On the other hand, if "Arrow" was to be as innovative and successful at developing, expanding and ultimately dissecting and deconstructing the superhero concept as "Supernatural" was where the horror genre was concerned, we could be in for a very interesting series indeed. I believe all the right elements are there; a wealthy, carefree character plagued by his guilty conscience to forge a bigger, better destiny for himself, but lacking the otherworldly abilities that we've seen other superheroic characters possess (once again, similar to Batman). I think while Green Arrow has possessed some distinctive personality traits in the past, and while I believe some of those should certainly be translated into this new series (I reaaally want to see Ollie driving all over America a la The Winchesters), there's so much room for development beyond anything that's been done in the pages of the comic books (unlike character such as Batman or Superman). Here's hoping that instead of simply shipping the same weekly nonsensical crap that "Smallville" did, "Arrow" delivers something really special.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Just-Barely-Retro Game Review: "Everything or Nothing"

One thing I haven't made clear on these babbly pages of Bloggery is how much of a Bond fan I am. I can tell you just about everything about any of the films (even the 'unofficial' ones); I've read most of the books (including some of the continuation novels, by authors other than Ian Fleming) and I've even met Sir Roger Moore himself (and got a signed copy of his autobiography).

When you talk about Bond videogames, there's a few important things to take into consideration. Most importantly is the stigma that a lot of people have against licensed games. A lot of games based on pre-existing entertainment franchises (comics, films, books, etc) have a tendency to be less than stellar. With so much brand recognition, why should a games publisher hire a first-rate developer? The game is guaranteed to sell, so why not just throw together something halfway decent, sit back and get ready for green pictures of dead American presidents? For years, games based on movies and comic franchises tended to be truly shite, because they were a guaranteed money-maker. One game changed all of that: GoldenEye 007. 

GoldenEye is certainly a brilliant game. Its emphasis on strategy and cunning as well as its impressive physics and graphics (for the time) made it the most impressive first-person shooter anyone had ever seen. And it's still probably the most iconic and innovative multiplayer shooter ever made. But I just can't seem to enjoy it as much as other people. The main issue I have is that I just don't really gel well with first-person shooters; particularly ones based on characters I really like. When I'm playing AS James Bond, I want to be able to see the character. There's really not too much fun to be had in playing as Pierce Brosnan (or Daniel Craig or whoever)'s WRIST. I want to see his cocksure swagger and his cool reserve in the face of danger. I don't just want to be Bond, I want to see him in action. Sadly, casual gamers disagree with me and the majority of James Bond games released since the mammoth success of GoldenEye have been first-person shooters. 

When EA swiped away the rights to 007 in 1997 from Rare, shortly after the release of GoldenEye, they threw together a game based on the movie "Tomorrow Never Dies". It's really rough, not very intuitive and at times very hard to play, with or without cheats (there was a walk-through-walls cheat that could actually crash the whole game). The main point to consider though, is that it was a third-person adventure game, rather than a first-person shooter. Granted, it didn't really work, but it was the first Bond game I ever played and it's probably because of that that I prefer the 3rd-person format (although I did play "The World is Not Enough" every day for what might have been a year; and that was first-person). 

For some reason, years later, after three successful first-person shooters based on the Bond licence (The World is Not Enough, Agent Under Fire and Nightfire), EA decided to revisit the third-person concept for the Bond games. The result was Everything or Nothing, which is far and away my favourite James Bond game ever.

Before I talk about the game, I should mention that a lot of the Bond games prior to EoN struggled with trying to be visually faithful to the style of the James Bond films, and not straying too far into more outlandish, larger-than-life videogamey territory. This was clearly no easy feat, as the Bond films vary wildly in terms of realism. For every Licence to Kill or Casino Royale where Bond spends most of the movie beaten and bloodied, there's movies like You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, where James Bond becomes a Japanese ninja, goes into space, shoots laser guns, has a car that turn into a submarine and HAS A FIGHT WITH A GUY WITH METAL TEETH IN THE FUCKING SKY

"Everything or Nothing" went into development after the movie "Die Another Day" was released, and luckily enough for the developers, "Die Another Day" was easily the craziest Bond film ever. In Pierce Brosnan's swansong outing as 007, he drives an invisible car, fights a guy armed with a Supervillain Electricity-Weapon Suit, has a punching-match with a henchman named 'Mr. Kihl' ("Now there's a name to die for!") in a room full of lasers, and engages another henchman (who has diamonds lodged in his face during a botched DNA alteration procedure; yes you heard me) in a CAR BATTLE ON ICE.

"Die Another Day" is easily the most polarising of all the James Bond films (closely followed of course, by Moonraker). Some people (like me) like it for what it is; a really silly, but outrageously good fun fantasy romp, perfectly suited to Brosnan's smarmy take on the character. Most Bond fans view it as a retarded stain of bad CGI, awful dialogue and ruthless disregard for Ian Fleming's original novels. 

Either way, there's only one thing that can definitely be said for "Die Another Day": it is the excellent setting for a video game, and visually, it influences "Everything or Nothing" greatly. All of the out-of-this-world gadgets and weapons games-developers would previously have been apprehensive about including in a Bond game, are ready and raring to go in this outing. In EoN, Bond has an invisible Porsche, a rocket-firing motorcycle (just like Chuck Norris!), an INVISIBILITY NANOSUIT (why was the franchise so concerned with things being not being visible to the naked eye, all of a sudden?), a remote-controlled spider-robot, a grappling gun and all kinds of other crazy gimmicks. 

The plot involves Willem Dafoe's villain Nikolai Diavolo, who is (and just wait until you hear this), the KGB protegé of Christopher Walken's character Max Zorin from the 1985 Roger Moore Bond movie "A View to a Kill". INSTANT WIN. 

Not only is he trying to kill Bond (for revenge, of course), but he also tries to conquer the world with a squadron of nanotech tanks that fire bombs that decompose things at a molecular level...If you like your Bond gritty and realistic; this is not the game for you. If (again, like me) you believe there's room for Bond (like Batman) to enter wilder, crazier worlds from time to time, don't miss this awesome game. 

In terms of gameplay, it's really enjoyable, with a few niggly problems that may be down to the fact that the game is a good eight years old, now (it was Brosnan's last performance as Bond). The shooting, aiming, wall-hugging and crouching is all done really well and plays a lot like Gears of War, many years before that game was ever released. You can perform a basic lock-on and shoot, like most third-person games, but the interesting thing here is that when you lock-on, you also have control over a mini-reticle that allows you to aim for an enemy's head, or to shoot the weapon out of their hand (or even their holster). 

The stealth and AI systems work fairly well, particularly given when the game was made. The gadgets all add excellently to the game, and while it's a really silly inclusion, you'll find yourself using the "Q Spider" a lot, not just for the sections of the game where it's specifically needed, but also when you find yourself formulating the best strategy to take down all of Bond's enemies. And that's where the game really excels. Even though you're in a crazy science-fiction universe, you still really have to think like James Bond, using your tools and your environment to your advantage. 

The vehicle levels (the ones on the bike and in the Porsche, at least) are quite honestly, AN ABSOLUTE BANT of fun. They're as linear as they come, but you haven't lived until you've played as James Bond jumping over shanty-towns in a bike, shooting rockets at haters while wearing a tuxedo, on your way to a secret location. There's also suitably insane moments like the freefall level, where you're skydiving through the air without a parachute, trying to catch Shannon Elizabeth who was thrown out of a helicopter (by Heidi Klum), while BAD GUYS ARE TRYING TO SHOOT YOU, EVEN THOUGH YOU'RE FALLING TO YOUR DEATH

(skip to 0:12)

As seen in the video, you even get awards for slipping through the most awkward spots while you're plummeting, and for shooting certain bad guys in bullet-time. It's furiously awesome to the point that the presentation, the ease of the controls and the exorbitant level of fun you're having makes up for the occasional feeling of repetition or linearity. 

I have a few minor complaints about this otherwise-fantastic, wildly under-appreciated game. The hand-to-hand combat (which is actually advertised on the back of the game box) is completely useless. Luckily, you almost never have to rely solely on it, but if you find yourself without weapons and forced to engage in fisticuffs, you can pretty much guarantee yourself a swift death. Also, while the aforementioned vehicle levels are mostly terrific, there are a few levels where you play in an Aston Martin Vanquish that are boring, uninteresting and slightly too difficult to enjoy. There's also a level in a tank towards the end of the game that I didn't enjoy. Other than that, the voice-acting is a bit spotty; John Cleese and Willem Dafoe are excellent as Q and Diavolo respectively, but Brosnan really phones it in as Bond. It doesn't help that nearly every single line of dialogue he has in the game is a lame punchline (an ever-present problem in his era of Bond films). Judi Dench also doesn't do anything special as M (in fact, everytime she's played M in a Bond game, she's phoned it in). Shannon Elizabeth is predictably annoying and Heidi Klum doesn't get much to do, really. 

These small complaints aside, I really can't recommend this game enough. I only even heard about it in 2006 after "Casino Royale" was released. I barely know anyone who has played it, but those who have unanimously agree that it's one of the most outrageously fun games they've ever played. Its few flaws are more than made up for, by the devastatingly impressive production value and presentation. Even though the plot is completely bonkers and far closer to science fiction than the kinds of gritty cloak and dagger tales Ian Fleming ever dreamed up, the game is one of the most essentially Bondian experiences I've ever had the pleasure to enjoy. Like most PS2/Original Xbox games, it can be bought for next to nothing via most online retailers, so what are you waiting for?

(At some point this month, I'll get around to reviewing "From Russia with Love" and "Blood Stone", both of which were very similar in gameplay style to EoN).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

5 Really Crappy Superhero/Villain Names

In keeping with the 30 days of Posts, I figured I'd write more about the subject I know best. In keeping with having to think of something to write on the fly, I asked my friend Eoin to come up with something and this is the best he could think of.

Thanks, Eoin!

In comics, one of the key most important things is having an interesting title for your book. As many comic titles are simply the name of the protagonist, you need to have a dynamic codename for your dashing hero or wicked villain. Sadly, for every Wolverine or Spider-Man, there's characters with unfortunate codenames like Matter-Eater Lad or the Walrus. Usually this is an intentionally silly attempt by a writer to inject more humour into whatever it is they're writing. More often than not though, it's just a lack of effort on the part of the storyteller. I thought I'd highlight some of the worst names here, for a bit of amusement. I promise tomorrow's post won't be another list like this one, though!


Plant-Man is one of the dozens of comedy villains in Spider-Man with a silly name. In the few stories in which I've seen him, his name and fairly tame powers (he doesn't seem to have as much control over plant as Poison Ivy does) are played for laughs. Wikipedia does seem to suggest that he has on occasion been a serious villain, though.

Bouncing Boy

The Legion of Super-Heroes (in the 31st Century) were chock full of ridiculous-named characters, because there was so bloody many of them that they were almost coming up with new characters every issue. His power is the unique and justice-tastic ability to inflate his body into a ball and bounce triumphantly into the heart of villainy. Strangely enough, his secret identity (which isn't kept secret, though) is one Charles 'Chuck' Foster Taine. Sound familiar? I want to know that the reason they named him this was a reference to Orson Welles' girth in his later years. I also want to see a film where Orson Welles has the power to transform into an inflatable figure of justice.

Crazy Quilt

I'm pretty sure they were being completely serious when they invented Crazy Quilt. We all know that Batman comics in the 60s were at their wildest, madly trying to be tie-in to the mocking ridiculousness of the Adam West spoof. His bizarre origin sees him being blinded in such a way that he can only see really psychedelic colours, so he has to project lights from his headset onto things, before he can commit crimes. Somewhere along the way, this managed to make him a criminal genius.

Crazy Quilt is currently enjoying a bit of a renaissance-period. He appeared in a few episodes of "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" and he was even briefly referenced in the Arkham City video game. I want to play a Batman game where Crazy Quilt features as one of the boss battles. Get to it, Rocksteady.


Most people probably wouldn't suspect Scott Summers to appear on a list like this, but in all fairness, he does have the silliest name of the original X-Men (I say the 'original' because Maggot and Marrow are both up there as well). Think about it though, calling him 'Cyclops' because you can sometimes only sort of see a thin-visor instead of two pairs of eyes is like calling Professor X 'Chrome' because of his bald head, or calling Wolverine 'Leprechaun' because he's a short fellow. To my knowledge, the Cyclopes of myth didn't have Optic Blasts. Wouldn't it have been better for Scott to actually only have one eye?


Stiletto was the product of one of many stupid filler episodes of Smallville, where Lois Lane (despite a lack of superpowers and only the bare minimum of combat training) decided to be some kind of hooker-themed superhero. The fact that there's a Superman show that went on for TEN YEARS without actually showing Superman himself is crazy enough; the fact that a WHOLE BUNCH of other superheroes appeared in it is really pushing it, but the fact that Lois Lane became a superhero at one point in this show is just going eight kinds of Kryptonite too far. I'm also waiting for someone to make a joke about a radioactive high heeled shoe.

Professor Monster

This guy was the villain from the eight-different-kinds-of-hilariously-stupid Japanese Spider-Man show from the 1970s. It's the kind of name someone throws together in a comedy improv sketch about superheroes. Another possibility is that they were actually going to call him 'Doctor Doom', only to discover that their rights didn't extend to Fantastic Four villains. Professor Monster's ridiculous name, ludicrous hideout, apparent lack of superpowers or any idea what he's doing makes him one of my favourite inept superheroes as well.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Resurrection of the Radio Drama

Many forget that television was not the first medium that broadcast pre-recorded dramas to an audience of millions, without the need to leave the comfort of one's home. That honour goes to the oft-neglected medium of the radio drama.

For decades, there existed a family tradition to recline by the fire, with the wireless transistor radio blaring out an episode of programmes such as 'Little Orphan Annie', or mystery fare such as 'The Shadow' or 'The Green Hornet'. The beauty of the radio drama is that the adventure is created entirely with sounds. The atmosphere is created not by sweeping visuals and (quite often, anyway) not with descriptive narratives, but rather with the feel and energy created by the dialogue. Traditionally, this often led to unintentionally comedic instances where characters would have to describe exactly what was happening, resulting in increasingly ridiculous dialogue (“You've picked up that gun! And now you're pointing it at me! And now you've shot me! Aargh!). Usually however, this just enhanced the enjoyment of the experience.

In the decades that followed the invention of this unique concept however, televisual media began to advance and accelerate to the point where television sets were commonplace in middle-class American homes by the mid-1950s. After only thirty-odd years of prominence, the realm of the radio drama had rapidly delined and had become little more than an occasional hobby or plaything of cultural auteurs such as the BBC (who continued creating a steady stream of dramas based on literary works as well as their various franchises such as Doctor Who and even comic book fare like Superman, Batman and Spider-Man right up to the present day).

With the birth of the internet, every aspiring storyteller was given a voice and a platform with which they could express themselves. Seeing as how the creation of high-quality visual productions by the average Joe Soap was unlikely given the budgetary requirements, it seemed only natural that these creative pioneers would lean to more malleable media. Thus, the rebirth of the radio drama.

Many are responsible for this renaissance. One such individual is Gregg Taylor of Toronto, Ontario. A struggling actor and head of an amateur theatre group, Taylor grew tired of “the greasepaint and the empty seats” and instead embraced radio dramas as a medium with which he could reach thousands of people for little cost. Taylor had been a lifelong fan of the old dramas as well as the general style and atmosphere of the old 'mystery men' of the 1930s (the masked, fedora-wearing vigilantes who paved the way for characters such as Batman). With the help of his fiancee and some close friend, Taylor created 'Decoder Ring Theatre' dedicated to creating new radio shows in podcast form, celebrating the style of old. Taylor's most famous creation 'The Red Panda' (an superhero adventure series similar to 'The Shadow', with an overarching story set during the Second World War) attracts thousands of listeners who download the monthly podcasts which then entices advertisers to fund Taylor's exploits. The success of the Panda has led to prose novels written by Taylor as well as other successful radio shows (the 'hard-boiled detective show' Black Jack Justice).

The revitalisation of the radio drama online has resulted in dozens of other similar websites (check out Pendant Productions as well). Decoder Ring Theatre's programmes are unique and highly recommended, released on the 1st and the 15th of every month. Alas, while they do get a bit of money from advertising, almost all of it goes back into producing more shows. The majority of their production capital comes from audience donations and paid memberships (in exchange for exclusive material and high-quality versions of episodes). They're always looking for members to help fund their ongoing shows, so if you like what you hear, be sure to buy one of the excellent Red Panda novels, or pay a donation of any amount. See you in the funny pages.