27 November 2009
A few days ago I had the privilege of watching The Matrix (1999) on AMC as part of some moronic Prisoner-themed weekend. Anyway, eventually I got to a censored line in the film that I nearly forgot was coming, but still cracks me up everytime. After Neo is bugged and La Trinidad sucks the shitter out of his tummy button Keanu exclaims "Jeepers Creepers, that thing's real?!" It gets me everytime, it's just so so stupid, Neo reacts like a sixty-year old farmer seeing locusts had aten his crops (The true line being "Jesus Christ, that thing's real?!").
So this got me thinking about some other TV Line Edits amongst our favourite movies. It's a pretty special kind of censorship that just decides to dub over the original dialogue, not necessarily even with accurate substitute words (i.e. "shoot" for "shit," something like that) but rather with completely new phrasing that should slightly alter the original intent (and in some extreme cases create plot holes). So, with Neo's line at #5, I wanted to countdown the Top Five Greatest TV Movie Line Edits (hopefully by this point you're reading my "Top Five Greatest" simply as the first five I thought of). I could not for the life of me find the Jeepers Creepers edit, but enjoy Neo offering Smith a Flipper:
#4: "Find a Stranger in the Alps"
From The Big Lebowski (1998), a movie filled to the brim with dirty words, nothing capitulates Walter Sobchak's feelings of theft and betrayal like finding a stranger in the alps ("fucking a stranger in the ass). It's an extreme non sequitur that verily makes less sense than the film it finds itself in. Enjoy Comedy Central's interpretation here:
Big Lebowski - Dude, Do You See What Happens????? Do You????? - For more of the funniest videos, click here
#3: "I've had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this monday-to-friday plane!"
I already embedded this video here, but enjoy it again, dammit. From Snakes on a Plane (2006), a movie ludicrously re-written and re-filmed to cater to an online community of half a dozen kids who wanted a dirtier movie, this was the fabled line of 2006. Sam Jackson delivers it with so much righteous anger and justification that had originally transmogrified an abyssmally sucky film into just a sucky film. This kind of power should not be tampered with. Also notable is the censor's replacement of the same naughty word (motherfucker) with both "monkey-fighting" and "monday-to-friday." Brilliant time had by all.
Courtesy of F/X, anyone else think of Kremlings as Monkey-Fighting Snakes when he says this? I know I do.
#2: "Eating Pineapple."
There's a few legendary lines in the TV Edit of Scarface (1983) but the best is the "eating pineapple" ("eating pussy") line mostly because it actually makes a bit of sense that if Tony Montana tried to eat a pineapple, skin and all he might get his face scarred up. Just Sayin'. Here is a side-by-side comparison of quite a few lines in this filthy, filthy movie:
#1: Yippee Ki-Ay Mister Falcon
Undoubtedly the most famous censorship of all time, John McClane's signature line, "Yippee Ki-Ay Motherfucker," in the original Die Hard is an incredible moment, simultaneously acknowledging Hans Gruber's degradation of him as an ignorant American Cowboy and transforming it into his greatest character strength holding his own disdain for the cultured yet evil German elite. Somehow this just became his catchphrase throughout the Quadrilogy, each time used to a lesser effect, to the point of Live Free or Die Hard (2007) where he self-censors with gunshot.
None of this compares to Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) in which the line is insanely dubbed over as "Yippee Ki-Ay Mister Falcon." Who Mr. Falcon is we never find out, much to my own disdain. After some I figure McClane and Captain Falcon were just old buddies or something, McClane never realising he was promoted to Captain. Clearly, such a dubbing is worthy of legend almost as great as the original. Right.
There are some other great lines in this video, but fast forward to about 2:00 for the clincher, courtesy of the TBS Superstation:
So, let us now enjoy the hilarious censorship while we can before cable and HBO dominate with their foul language and terminal allowance of blood and sex. Oh the endless shame when there is such opportunity for making fun of people. Tears me up inside. Good morrow.
26 November 2009
Continuing our year-long look at the greatest Holiday specials ever, Thanksgiving is one of the easiest. There was no debate really, no second-guessing, everyone should know above and beyond what the greatest Thanksgiving Episode EVER is immediately off the top of their heads.
From WKRP in Cincinnati, it's "Turkeys Away" (S1;E7) first broadcast in the November of 1978. Okay, so maybe if you were born on this side of the Berlin Wall falling down you may have missed it. Never fret, dear readers, see it yourself right now:
Now, right off the bat we can discuss some of the show's flawed "sitcom-y" conventions (thinking of the awkward flirting between Jennifer Marlowe [Loni Anderson] and Herb Tarlek [Frank Bonner] during the first scene of the episode) as well as the occasional painful bits of dialogue. Now I'll admit first that I've never seen another episode of this show, but Turkeys Away does a fine job of introducing a wide range of characters with different idiosyncracies and lets them work for the story. The finest being Arthur Carlson (Gordan Jump) and Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) who really sell the disastrous Turkey Fiasco.
Now, this episode works because of its subtlty and building catastrophe. Surely due to budget constraints, but also to heighten the ridiculosity, we never actually get to see the Turkey Atrocity but we get a few good descriptions ("It was almost as if they were...organized..."). The show brilliantly establishes Nessman's awkward uncomfortableness in normal office life, imagining his fighting against both Turkey and Man (Sanders' delivery of "A man and his two children tried to kill me" makes me crack up every single time, it's so deadpan and serious while simultaneously absolutely absurd) provides most of the hilarity in the ending of the episode. His references to Herbert Morrison and the Hindenburg Disaster ("OH THE HUMANITY!!") really round out what must have been such a hellish experience.
"Turkeys Away" also builds its tension incredibly well. The first two-thirds are paced fairly slow and focus mainly on Carlson adjusting to the station format change. Suddenly and accidentally Carlson unleashes hell on a local Cincinnati supermarket when he drops twenty live turkeys out of the sky onto the heads of the people down below in a misguided attempt to take an active role in the marketing of the station. What works is how shocking this is compared to the lighter earlier half, as well as a good pay-off for Carlson's secrecy as to the exact nature of the promotion.
Finally, I enjoy it because it doesn't deal with any "giving thanks" or "pilgrims" or any of that crap. It boils down Thanksgiving to what it should be: an insane old man throwing turkeys out of a helicopter ("As God as my witness...I thought Turkeys could fly," perfect ending line by the way). The holiday is clearly in the background, but also vitally important to the plot of the episode. It is by far and large the greatest Thanksgiving Special ever, and if you haven't seen it that's a problem that needs to be fixed immediately.
22 November 2009
Last week I posted in detail some of my first impressions on playing eight-year old Nintendo 64 game, Conker's Bad Fur Day. This is quite an auspicious game with some of the greatest sociological, philosophical and cultural implications of any piece of media I've ever experienced. Now, you'll notice dear readers, that I apparently only play Nintedno 64 games. Well, this is simply because it really is one of the best systems ever made. There's a reason why when I turn my stereophones up it's cranking out straight Beatles and Zeppelin. They're the best, regardless of age. I feel the same way about my video games. Conker and Zelda are the best so I play 'em. Now, let's get down to it:
Realism vs. Cartoonishness
Throughout the game Conker maintains an edgy line between cartoony tropes and realistic events. A good example of this is whipping out a frying pan and whacking enemies, but once hit they spill out blood and die. It uses cartoon staples (see also $$ for eyes, flattening under falling blocks as well as plenty of anvils and big puppy eyes) but often with more realistic results, including plenty of real, (and eventually emotional) deaths. A giant part of the game is pulling objects out of thin air, however it's classified and categorized, using set Context Buttons that pull out very specific items for specific situations. There are also more specific references to zany Warner Bros-type situations, including action reminiscent of "Bully for Bugs" as well as an ending sequence talking to the programmer and rearranging Conker's own world artistically that recalls "Duck Amuck."
King of the Gruesome Cute Sub-Genre
Where Conker diverges obviously from most of the silly, child-friendly cartoons is its unadulterated raunchiness, which I call "Gruesome Cuteness." There are a few other pieces of media that fit into this sub-genre including Maakies/The Drinky Crow Show (which I discussed briefly here) and Cerebus. Probably Cerebus a bit less is aligned with this subgenre, but it comes pretty close. Sometimes in Conker this type of dark humour falls flat and ends up appearing simply immature instead of brilliant, but other times it really pierces through kiddie and platformer tropes ("Great Balls of Poo" and "Sunny Days" comes to mind). It really rules the niche though, and is able to subvert the genre Rare virtually created with games like Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64. The subgenre emphasizes cartoon characters who drink, swear and fuck, which weirdly gives them a little more realism and entitlement within their own cartoon world. They still play with their own cartoonish reality but without the limits of an arbitrary G rating. The characters are really allowed to blossom and stretch their wings to whatever foul territory they may lead.
Penance and the Failure of Fame
Conker lifts a lot from A Clockwork Orange (1971) from the use of Henry Purcell's Funeral March for Queen Mary II to the general theme of penance for evil deeds. Throughout the early part of the game Conker is often directly responsible for and ambivalent towards many innocent deaths ("Marvin," "Yee Ha!") for which there never seems to be a direct punishment. Not until "The Assault" does Conker really see the horrors of the world around him and suffers through some of the terror he had been careless about earlier. His final pain comes through the death of Berry and his failure to resurrect her when he had the chance. This is all very reminiscent of Alex DeLarge's penance for ultra-violence and rape early in the film. The thematic similarities do not end there however -
Let's compare the initial scenes in the movie, then the video game:
Here's Conker, feel free to fast forward to about 1:15 in:
From the identical pacing and music to the milk motive and Kubrick Stare, the homage is uncanny, and frankly, unprecedented for a video game. It works as just one of many impeccable film parodies and homages throughout. Most follow movies that were very popular at the end of the 20th Century (Saving Private Ryan 1998 and The Matrix 1999), but there is also use of Alien (1979), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and of course the aforementioned Looney Toons.
Moving on towards the ironic ending, Conker is ultimately full of regret and failure. Conker has the world and fame, but realises it's not what he truly desired. It's important to note that this is a rare game where the initial goal is never reached. From the outset all Conker wants to do is get back home after his hangover. This never happens. He finds a new home with new friends, but they're friends he despies and a home he's not content with. Thus keeping with the Clockwork Orange theme, Conker is ultimately punished and pained by the end for his earlier recklessness. Pretty advanced stuff for a cartoony game. Some of this idea of the failure that fame affords the wrong people, often leading to dark comedy can also be seen in Funny People (2009) and The Venture Bros.
Existentialism and the Absurd
Conker works in a world without much reason, but is wholly pervaded by the Absurd. There is no karma or justifiable action for much of the story (besides the aforementioned Clockwork Orange-style poetic justice). Bad stuff happens to many good characters for no apparent reason other than humour (see "Bullfish's Revenge," "Count Batula"). Thus is the absurd. While there seems to be little meaning to life in the world of Conker, there is still perseverance (Conker's life loses meaning so he keeps drinking, furthering his adventure, embracing his absurdity and living in spite of it. Yes, I lifted this directly from Wikipedia but it's true), thus separating the world from Nihilism. As Conker and the other characters fight for meaning, the innate absurdity of the cold universe crashes around them (see "Rock Solid," "Saving Private Rodent"). Conker's long inability to truly recognize his absurd life leads to his downfall. Instead of recognizing then rejecting "Enter the Vertex" as an absurd situation, he pushes through which leads to Berry's death. Only when it is too late (precisely the final scene in which he takes a new direction out of the bar) does he quite literally leave the absurd world for different trails.
So there you have it. One of the greatest philosophical and cultural games I've ever experienced. I dare you to do better.
21 November 2009
Eleven years ago today gamers first got a chance to play the greatest video game ever conceived. I speak of course of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Now, I have already written extensively about this game in an earlier post, but in a new section here at Norwegian Morning Wood, I'm willing to make the claim that OoT is the Undisputed greatest video game of all time (of course calling it Undisputed I'm sure is disputable. Figure that one out). To truly raise this game to a level beyond all others necessitates not only entertaining gameplay, but an indelible influence within the industry, an extensive and invigorating story as well as superb graphics and game control. OoT has all this in spades.
I have played through the entire game start to finish twice now, but only recently did I complete every aspect of a game. That is, every heart piece, every Gold Skulltula, every Big Poe. It's an arduous task that I'll admit I used a few guides to complete. It's the little things like this that help the appeal though. The game world is so incredibly expansive and yet there's a function for almost every square inch, whether there be a hidden Poe, heart or even just a nice twenty rupees. Dozens of tiny side missions, little hidden alcoves and tons of nooks and crannies to explore make this game still fun and explorable after eleven years, which is certainly a big part of my recent interest.
As my recent posts on Conker's Bad Fur Day should attest to, I have had a big interest in the Nintendo 64 console in general for the past few months (years). The console has an undefinable appeal to me as one of the best gaming systems. Its graphical and memory capacity allowed it to have a bigger story than most SNES or Genesis games, while its limitations I believe allows it a degree of humility and classicness. There's something about the hard-hitting, defined and limited 12-player roster of Super Smash Bros for instance, that makes it much more personally appealing than the sprawling, shiny and fluid Super Smash Bros Brawl. I probably know a few million gamers that would heavily disagree with me, but aesthetically I love the complex stories driven by the simple weirdness of the N64.
That said, OoT pushed the boundaries of the system far to its limits. Starting with an unprecedented 256-bit cartridge, the amount of gameplay as well as story within OoT is astounding. There's a total of twelve dungeons amidst thirteen map locales with forty-eight equipable items and weapons. The puzzles are complex, maps massive with scant draw distance and fog. Every gameplay element in addition to the physical scope is near-perfect. The controls are highly customizable, the easily adjustable camera (besides fixed camera scenarios, which never come awkwardly), including the lock-on targeting is incredibly innovative (much unlike Conker), and the context-sensitive button allows for a wide range of actions with a disciplined control hardly found in any other game.
There's really so much more to this game. The epic scope and breath of action alone pits it on a higher playing field. Across time, days and years you really see how the entire land and people change. This was one of the first games to have an internal clock and open air environment, practically the standard today. There is also an epic feel to the story. Link's moniker, the "Hero of Time" stands true throughout the cheery childhood levels and then beyond to the bleak adult years. There is a mastery of mood and tone that arcs across the entire story, culminating in one of the best final boss fights of all time. The stakes are tremendous, set-up compeltely archetypal, the whole atmosphere is perfect.
I think this video is in French for some reason. Thus the visual and musical experience should be all the more effective (ehhh?!!?)
Even the official player's guide reads like an epic novel, narrating Link's adventure as if it were a ye olde tale rather than a sophisticated virtual experience. Every part of this game and mythos is loaded with a sense of pride and class that puts it on a pedastal above and beyond any other gaming experience, from the dramatic score to the endless amount of treasures and mysterious achievements to unlock. Simple things like killing Stalchilds in Hyrule Field at night until a giant one emerges to fight. No real purpose in the game other than a cool secret.
Everything about this game is awesome and still entertains me today. There is so much to this game, which gets nearly everything perfect. I have also failed to mention so far the slightly twisted sense of humour that pervades the game (see killer Cuccos, mask-wearing guards and plenty of other silliness) which balances some of the dire stakes always in the background.
So basically to sum up, I love every bit of this game, it's been a great eleven years and I dare you to name a better all-around gaming experience. Nay...a better life experience. Awesome.
15 November 2009
A few weeks ago I published a look at the Top Ten Villains of the Millennium. No villain is complete without a good hero however, so naturally here follows the Greatest Heroes of the Millennium. Somehow these proved to be much more difficult to pull together than the villains list. I'm counting on the results being extremely controversial and groan-worthy, hopefully inciting a crushing dialogue in the comments section. Right. Spoilers probably follow, but that should be the drill by now. Let's begin:
#10: Neville Flynn: The Motherfucker
Film: Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Played with Anger by: Sammy Jackson
Rationale: Whoa! Drastic curveball right out the gate. I'm sure 90% of you dear readers know this character only as...Sam Jackson, nevertheless the frustration, determination and obstinate intimate knowledge of what to do in absurd reptilian situations earn him the first spot on this list. He also represents an interesting movement in the mid-2000s, when filmakers actually took input from the fans and gave them exactly what they wanted. Of course, this failure was spectacular. C'mon, the first time you heard that this was being made and that THE LINE would be included was a special moment. Sam probably had better heroic roles this decade, but this sums his persona up the greatest. Also watch this list quickly mutate into "Top Ten Badasses."
#9: Tony Stark: The Asshole
Film: Iron Man (2008)
Played with Swarthy Charm by: Robbie Downey, Jr
Rationale: Haha quickly watch this video, I think the Iron Man fights Stitch at one point. Anyway, let me be clear that I really hate Tony Stark in the Comic Book World. In recent years he's basically turned into a government-backed neo-Conservative Illuminati who tries to impose his will on the rest of the Marvel Universe. Of course this has been recently usurped with the Secret Invasion and Dark Reign storylines but I digress...
In the film Stark is the man. Basically a less whiny and brooding Batman, he works hard and plays hard. More importantly, I love how Iron Man blows a lot of superhero conventions out of the air (one reason why you'll see he's the only superhero on this list). There's not a lot of regret or hopelessness with his powers (See Spider-Man) nor is there an immense amount of corniness (See Fantastic Four). Stark enjoys his powers, his status and finally most importantly, has no qualms about the identities of Stark and Iron Man being synonymous. "I am Iron Man." Wow. It's great when a movie has one line that lets it stand above the rest. I probably don't write about Iron Man enough, but it's a cool movie throughout and it is completely anchored by Downey's portrayal (not that it doesn't have its moral problems but let's not get into that here).
#8: Tallahassee: The Cowboy
Film: Zombieland (2009)
Played Wryly by: Wood Harrelson
Rationale: Freshman entry, I realised I don't give Woody enough regular props either. That vid contains a good amount of scenes that could ruin the movie actually, I don't exactly recommend playing it if you haven't seen Zombieland yet. Then again if you didn't see it in theaters I'm sure you're not the kind of reader who regularly follows this blog.
While Jew-Fro Eisenberg is main character with the better hero arc, it's clear that Tallahassee should emerge with the big Hero Credentials from this flick. While he's introduced as a stereotypical redneck badass, the movie works when it unpeals some layers of his personality revealing among other things quite a few soft spots for Bill Murray, Titanic and of course, Twinkies. Part of his intense ire for the undead certainly comes from the revealed fact that he lost his son many years ago, hardening him into a sociopathic loner. When Columbus, Witchita, et all start to form a second family, the movie comes together, even with a touchingly warm ending. Awww...It's the balance of badassery (single-handedly taking out a theme park full of zombies while riding a roller coaster helps) and sweetness (playing dress-up with a real Ghostbuster) that earn Tallahassee his spot here.
#7: Randy "The Ram" Robinson: The Trainwreck
Film: The Wrestler (2008)
Played to the Gut by: Mickey Rourke
Rationale: We're going to continue this list and end up seeing a ton of Oscar Nominees and a scant amount of winners, here's the first. The Ram is a role that Rourke was diecast for but that aside, it's an incredibly redemptive character. He's ultimately incredibly selfish but it comes out of a history of failure and depression. He's driven from desperation to perform the only job he really can or wants to do, at the expense of all around him (and himself). Really a masterpiece performance that contains a true objectivist determination that makes a true hero. Well...maybe not morally, but everything else is top notch.
#6: Theo Faron: The Father
Film: Children of Men (2006)
Played Lackadaisically by: Clive Owen
Rationale: I really wanted Clive somewhere on this list, and it was probably between this, Dwight from Sin City (2005) or Clive Owen from Shoot 'Em Up (2007). His best performance though is undoubtedly from Children of Men. I remember this saying from somewhere: "It's easy to lead when everything is going well; the true test of a hero is one who leads when everything goes to shit." Something like that. As the intro scene shows, for a long time Theo attempted to go through normal life, but this is ultimately not afforded to him. Things get worse and worse and he breaks down many times as he is constantly betrayed and his friends are murdered or separated. He never wavers from his mission however, at the end of the day he gets the baby where it needs to go. Maybe. He greatly sums up the everyman notion that has embodied the last twenty years of action movies, the past decade in particular.
#5: Xander Cage: The Bullet
Film: xXx (2002)
Played to the Xtreme by: Vin Diesel
Rationale: Whaaat - The Diesel had to get here somewhere. To be honest I really had a hard time deciding between this and The Pacifier (2005). In the early half of this Millennium we had a ton of spy movies come out that uniquely all pulled the genre in different directions (see also The Bourne Identity 2002 and Die Another Day 2002). xXx was really out there, though, capturing that "Xtreme Sk8er" zeitgeist shit beautifully as well as introducing a hero that is thoroughly badass and unpretentious. He's so immersed in the underground world that he's instantly accepted into the villain's cabal where his motivation shifts from extrinsic rewards to finding his line against mass murder and chaos. My favourite moment however is after he saves the day, blowing up the evil missile-launching AHAB sub, the Diesel crawls amongst some flotsam, shivering, vulnerable and visibly shaken up. It's a three-second moment that deals with the emotional toll that kind of ridiculous action can take on a man, even one so Xtreme as Xander Cage. It's that slight pause in thinking about his rationale that brings Xander above Bond and Bourne (at least in this decade) as one of the great heroes.
#4: Walt Kowalski: The Veteran
Film: Gran Torino (2008)
Played Crankily by: Clint Eastwood
Rationale: Virtually completely snubbed by the Academy, Clint Eastwood's final (probably) film role deserves a great deal of respect. Walt is an angry, racist grizzled old codger with a general dislike of everyone and everything around him. He's got a distinct pride and code of honour though as well as a firm notion of what is "right," "wrong," and "respectable" in the world. His life is full of regret and dissatisfaction with his natural family (notice any similarities with the other heroes yet?). When he is finally able to find an unlikely surrogate grandson in a Hmong named Thao, his life tends to have a purpose again, and his (spoiler) death has meaning. Naturally his soul is tied to the eponymous 1972 Gran Torino, the last bastion of class and dignity in a gangbanger's world. Tragic.
#3: Staff Sergeant Sean Dignam: The Poet
Film: The Departed (2006)
Played Snuggly by: Marky Mark
Rationale: Amidst a flurry of naughty language, Staff Sergeant Dignam should remaine one of the most endearing characters of the decade. Nearly every line is classic. His inherent disdain for all those around him is matched only by his commitment to the job. Part of Marky Mark's real acting skills is coming across sarcastic and genuine simultaneously throughout the film. Really robbed by Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine (2006) for this one, c'mon. Needless to say, it's a feat that Dignam not only is one of the very few characters to not Depart the movie, he also gets one of the greatest final scenes in cinema history. Say hi to your mother for me.
#2: Maximus Decimus Meridius: The Champion
Film: Gladiator (2000)
Played Stoically by: Russel Crowe, Fightin' 'Round the World
Rationale: This should have been one of your immediate thoughts upon hearing this list. In between asking people if they are not entertained Crowe delivers a great performance as a former Roman General with nothing left to live for but revenge. Any semblance of charity or joy he may once have found is boiled down to will and vengence over the betrayal of his superiors and murder of his family. He is continually cool and collected, unlike Clive Owen for instance, he never fears because he has nothing left to fear. He ends up rekindling some of his belief in Roman greatness and fights not only for his own retribution, but for the retribution of Rome itself. Not unlike Walt Kowalski, he appreciates and respects the way things once were and fights for a society with respect and honour.
#1: Gandalf: The Beard
Film: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Played Confidently by: Sir Ian McKellen
Rationale: It's tough to pick a single hero out of The Lord of the Rings, but really, it was always Gandalf. This is also clearly the best music video from this list. Very humbly nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Fight for this role in 2001, Ian has just the right amount of gravitas to anchor both the massive cast and scope of the trilogy while remaining humble and relatable (most of this was done in early scenes of The Fellowship). Gandalf is equally comfortable smoking leaf with Hobbits as he is leading them into battle. Well, maybe not totally equally comfortable but he's does a bang up job. Rallying the troops throughout the films and proving multiple times that he should be the strongest character in Middle-Earth (after Sauron and the Witch-King of Angmar) Gandalf earns the respect and admiration of even his greatest enemies. His loss in The Fellowship is heart-wrenching, the mysteries of his return and power only serve his legacy. Hero of the decade.
Bonus: I'm frustrated in not finding an adequate female hero that was up to my Top Ten standards. So, the closest I came was Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) in Juno (2007). Her spunkiness, freshness and contention to succeed align best with my general personal criteria here. Yeah, fuck Erin Brockovich (2000).
13 November 2009
A few weeks ago I went ahead and purchased one of my all-time desired games that I was never allowed to play as a kid (do the math, I was 15 when it first came out. Yay parents), Conker's Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64. This of course has slowed my posting a little bit, due to the 15-hour completion time as opposed to the usual twenty-minute TV show. At any rate, I had tremendous expectations for this gem of a game going in that were very quickly tapered. What followed was a truly unique gaming experience hampered by a few poor design choices. By the ending cutsene however, I realised this had been one of the greatest gaming experiences of all time.
From here it gets complicated.
Let's travel back to oh, 1997 or so. I'm so glad my posts are consistently relevant. Rareware, LTD was high chieftain of cutsey platformers, coming off the popular Donkey Kong Country Series on the SNES and beginning to dip into the N64. It was a time of a shitload of cookie cutter platformers, from Super Mario 64 to Crash Bandicoot and Banjo-Kazooie. By the time it was Conker's turn he would have been another drop in the pond. Rare took drastic action. Completely retooling the game (amongst a nearly four-year delay) they eventually released Bad Fur Day, an extremely foul, raunchy, bloody shit-filled endeavour that would have probably revolutionized the platformer if XBox and Halo hadn't plunged the video game world into FPS heaven but eight months later.
I will discuss the philosophical implications of this game in a future post. For now let us deal with the basics. The basic premise throws out nearly all the aforementioned kiddie notions while still employing many of the common N64 platformer tropes. There's jumping, collecting, bashing baddies but you're hungover, scoring pure cash and pissing on Fire Imps. This is foremost a great way to explode the stupidity of the genre, not dissimilar to The Venture Bros. The controls are simplified, Conker has about two main moves, a tailspin jump and a frying pan whack. That's it. Completely zilched are the 438 Banjo-Kazooie moves for any situation or the constant character switching and navigation that was Donkey Kong 64. In some ways this is really sweet, but also jarring at first to someone like me very used to the genre. It's frustrating for instance, not being able to attach high-flying enemies. Once you adjust the gameplay however, it's easy to realise you don't NEED to attack enemies like this. The result ends up being liberating and opens up a lot of new possibilities for innovative gameplay.
For maybe the first two-thirds of this game I absolutely despised it. Fueled only by my intention to both see every level and write this post I trudged through the crap (sometimes very literally) and dealt with the abyssmal fixed camera controls, insane fall damage and a general lack of attacks, all of which were incredibly frustrating (and still are). This is the one thing that bogs the game down right to the end. Having now played through and gotten used the scheme I want to say it's not too terrible but on first run-through, this absolutely sucked. The camera is really whack. Never points where it should.
The game is also distinguished because of the genuine challenge. It's like a tough professor who knows you can do better work than you've turned in. Conker pushes the player to problem solve creatively. Again, this took me about five or six levels to get used to, to finally understand that every level just needs constant thorough exploring and the answer is usually there somewhere. There's never an easy way out, it holds up to its Mature rating, the levels are not kiddie levels by any means, via content or gameplay. There's always some stupid trick or slight adjustment to be made (pressing Z on Rock Solid comes to mind...if you've played it you know what I'm talking about), which is extremely frustrating for most of the game.
So basically the cartridge is shit until about the "Mr. Death" chapter of "Spooky." This features an impressive Zombie assault that was one of my most horrifying gameplaying experiences of my life (I'm not alone). From this point on, the game is elevated to something wholly beyond what it purported to be. It has a cinematic quality from the beginning, but the real emotional depth starts at "Mr. Death" and continues right through "It's War" and the end.
Needless to say, this game has by far the greatest character graphics on the Nintendo 64 system, probably of any Fifth Generation game. Its cinema and voice acting is also incredible for the time, with sound and music far and beyond anything else on the market. I mean, c'mon. Rock Solid. In all respects, this should have been a Sixth Generation game, which it eventually was.
There are a ridiculous amount of film references, from A Clockwork Orange (1971) to The Matrix (1999) (Funny how it comes from in an era when that wasn't trite yet). None is better than the Saving Private Ryan (1998) sequence, where Conker is first presented with true horror and loss, despite his previous nonchalant death-dealing earlier in the game (A character arc not unlike Alex DeLarge). The End Cutscene, which continues this tone is absolutely fantastic. You may view it below (beware of Spoilers I guess from this eight-year old video game):
Keep in mind this is the payoff for an entire game full of singing piles of poop, anthropomorphic catfish massacres and bee/sunflower prostitution. The ending solidifies and justifies much of the horrific gameplay that ends up elevating the entire experience to something that is not quite a video game.
I will continue a more sophisticated interpretation of this game in a future post. Stay tuned dear readers.
12 November 2009
I've said hundreds of times how much I love NBC shows. There are very few current television programs I follow regularly that aren't on NBC. It's really a shame that the channel regularly finishes fourth among the major networks, ousted by more populist fare, but that's just the nature of the game isn't it? It's extremely difficult to attain both immense popularity and critical success and even less certain that a show lacking in either will get many viewers.
Nevertheless I'm all about free advertising for some of these shows. I raved about Community last week, today I'm all about Parks and Recreation, in particular the career of leading lady, Amy Poehler. In many roles she has a bristling sort of aggressive cuteness that I've noticed. While this is represented in a meager handful of small supporting film roles ( see Hamlet 2 2008, Mean Girls 2004, Blades of Glory 2007) I want to concentrate on her three most significant roles, as a featured player on Saturday Night Live, alongside Tina Fey in Baby Mama (2008) and her current aforementioned opus, Parks and Recration.
"Really?! No, really. C'mon!"
Amy's humour has always been this in-your-face kind of act, usually subtly behind a cute grin and constant enthusiasm. Like the best SNL players she's also fearless, throwing her entire being into the stupidity of a sketch. Embracing the stupid is often the only factor that can save an SNL piece. For some reason that I don't understand, when I think of Amy on SNL my mind always wanders here:
Maybe it's just because I hate the Black Eyed Peas so damned much and this sketch really sums up how simultaneously classless and elite they really are (add to this the fact that this came out far before their popularity peaked). Check out Amy's faces and dead-on overexaggerated Fergie, which is the best way to parody the kind of out-of-control ego that comes with a lot of contemporary musicians. She plays up Fergalicious' sex symbology while simultaneously staying grounded with songs only slightly more moronical than real BEP tunes and a constant goofy expression. It prevents her Fergie sexuality from ever becoming too overt and establishes a great line of comedy.
"Can I just spray a little PAM down there right before the baby comes out?"
Baby Mama is an admittedly formulaic movie that remains decently funny, if far the best comedy that I've ever seen. The Poehler/Fey dynamic is really the biggest attraction point and rightly so. Of course a few birth jokes work really well:
She has an incredible knack for taking a cute bouncing act then revealing a dark selfish tendency, diluting the illusion of innocence, resulting in comedy. Something like that. The movie is full of odd-couple moments between her and Tina, Amy always representing both a more child-like innocence and grotesque immaturity. This dialogue is the best part of watching this flick.
"Chimpanzees are very smart, so we had them graduate from college. They like to throw their feces, so we were hoping they would throw their hats. But they just threw their feces."
The particular episode "Pawnee Zoo" (S2;E1) actually inspired me to do this entire post. The ep consists of Leslie Knope's (Amy) accidental fake gay marriage of two penguins at the local zoo, which then causes an extreme hooplah when it appears as though the Parks and Recreation branch of the local government supports homosexual marriage. Fun stuff. What works for me is Amy's consistent insistance that the ceremony was meant to be cute. She doesn't really care specifically about gay marriage but is always committed to cuteness. The same theme follows through the end of the episode:
Always the commitment to cuteness in the face of oppression sums up Amy's profle. She will fight hard to be cute and never surrender in the face of staleness. Spectacular. The show is worth watching for Leslie's high standards of not only cuteness, but a stalwart faith and optimism in people and government as well as an unwavering goal of positivity and perseverance in the face of the absurd.
04 November 2009
About a month or so ago I introduced my preliminary candidates for the Highly Esteemed Honour of Norwegian Morning Wood's Top 15 Films of the Millennium. This was basically an initial survey of 38 potential candidates I wanted to start thinking about, hand-picked mostly based on my own personal interpretations of legacy, memorablility and awesomeness. I wanted to find some arbitrary factors to narrow down my selection. I found a good way of doing this was three-fold: Firstly I looked at their Awards haul, Oscars in particular, if no Oscars than I looked for whatever else was best. I'm not taking this whole way, you'll notice I didn't even select a film like Crash (2004) or Slumdog Millionaire (2008). Like any of my three criterion, the Award Haul doesn't mean a whole lot but it certainly means something. I mostly used the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia in this endeavour.
I wanted both critically and commercially popular films, knowing that the truly best of the decade will inevitably share both. Thus using BoxOfficeMojo.com I research all my films' lifetime grosses. Finally, I wanted a good mix of critical and common reviews, especially to determine some cult status or otherwise see a movie that wasn't treated well on its first release but has become popular or renowned since. Thus I researched each films' Rotten Tomatoes score. The Top 15 films in each category follows, what will come next is a final, human deduction:
Academy Award Haul:
#1 - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003): Won 11/11 Oscars, including big ones Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and about anything else you can think of.
#2 - Gladiator (2000): Won 5 out of 12 nominations, including Picture, Actor (Crowe), Costume, Sound, Special Effects.
#3 - The Departed (2006): Mastered 4/5, comprised of Picture, Director, Editing and Adapted Screenplay.
#4 - A Beautiful Mind (2001): Got 4/8 including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actress (Jenny Connolly).
#5 - No Country for Old Men (2007): 4/8 including Best Picture, Director, Adpated Screenplay and Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem).
#6- Brokeback Mountain: 3/8 winning Best Director, Score and Adapted Screenplay.
#7- Pan's Labyrinth (2006): 3/6 with Art Direction, Make-Up and Cinematography.
#8- There Will be Blood (2007): Won 2/8, Best Actor (Dan Day-Lewis) and Cinematography.
#9- The Dark Knight (2008): Got 2/8 nods for Supporting Actor (Heath Ledger) and Sound Editing.
#10- Mystic River (2003): Won 2 out of 6 Awards for Actor (Sean Penn) and Supporting Actor (Timmy Robbins).
#11- Wall-E (2008): Out of six noms only won Best Animated Feature.
#12- Sideways (2004): One win out of five for Adapted Screenplay.
#13- Almost Famous (2000): A single win out of four for Original Screenplay.
#14- Finding Nemo (2003): Like Wall-E, four noms but only winning Animated Feature.
#15- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): Won one out of two nominations, Best Original Screenplay.
Box Office Performance (Domestic):
#1- The Dark Knight (2008): $533 Million
#2- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003): $377 Million
#3- Finding Nemo (2003): $340 Million
#4- Cast Away (2000): $233 Million
#5- Wall-E (2008): $224 Million
#6- Gladiator (2000): $187 Million
#7- Ocean's 11 (2001): $183 Million
#8- A Beautiful Mind (2001): $170 Million
#9- Knocked Up (2007): $149 Million
#10- Gran Torino (2008): $148 Million
#11- The Departed (2006): $132 Million
#12- American Gangster (2007): $130 Million
#13- Borat! Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006): $128 Million
#14- Tropic Thunder (2008): $110 Million
#15- Mystic River (2003): $90 Million
Rotten Tomatoes Aggregate Scores:
#1- The Wrestler (2008): 98%
#2- Finding Nemo (2003): 98%
#3- Sideways (2004): 97%
#4- Wall-E (2008): 96%
#5- Pan's Labyrinth (2006): 95%
#6- The Dark Knight (2008): 94%
#7- No Country for Old Men (2007): 94%
#8- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003): 94%
#9- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: 93%
#10- Memento (2000): 93%
#11- Children of Men (2006): 93%
#12- The Departed (2006): 92%
#13- Borat! Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006): 91%
#14- There Will be Blood (2007): 91%
#15- Knocked Up (2007): 90%
So the goal here is to find a good list of movies that are critical, commercial and popular hits that had a great influence on not only film culture but contemporary zeitgeist as well. You should notice quite a few things here, typically the Top 15 each had at least one Oscar, over or very close to $100 million box office and a 90% or above RT rating. No matter who you are those are pretty good stats, supremely so for the select films that nailed all three. Now over the next month I will narrow the following supreme list of 25 down to 15 for the Official Greatest Films of the Millennium. For your continued reading pleasure, dear readers, here are the Preliminary Top 25:
#1 - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
#2- The Dark Knight (2008)
#3- Finding Nemo (2003)
#4- Wall-E (2008)
#5- The Departed (2006)
#6- No Country for Old Men (2007)
#7- There Will Be Blood (2007)
#8- Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
#9- Gladiator (2000)
#10- A Beautiful Mind (2001)
#11- Mystic River (2003)
#12- Borat! Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006):
#13- Sideways (2004)
#14- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
#15- Knocked up (2007)
#16- Gran Torino (2008)
#17- Cast Away (2000)
#18- American Gangster (2007)
#19- Ocean's 11 (2001)
#20- Tropic Thunder (2008)
#21- Children of Men (2006)
#22- The Wrestler (2008)
#23- Brokeback Mountain (2005)
#24- Almost Famous (2000)
#25- Memento (2000)
Phew. Now this is of course no where near the final order, nor probably even all the possible nominees as we've still got a few months left to go here. The last thing I want to point out then is that hopefully some of these choices will be new and controversial and cause a lot of hooplah in the online film-snob community, which is exactly my intention. As arbitrary as we want to be as critics and ego-filled pretentious cinephiles, everyone is always going to have vastly different opinions on what is "good" or "art." Hell, ask any 14-year old boy this July what the best movie of the decade was and he'll give you one response: Transformers: Revenge of the Fucking Fallen (2009) .
I'd like to think my list is slightly better than that. Just slightly though. Good morning.
01 November 2009
Last week I described how in many ways contemporary animated program, The Venture Bros emulates old Hanna-Barbera and action/adventure show tropes. Most of which you may ridiculously find right here. While this was very prevalent in the first seasons, the show has gradually moved towards much more of a parody of Superhero genres, in particular Marvel Comics. This of course is only the tip of VB's cultural exegesis.
Doom, Kraven and Sunshine
I've found that Venture Bros episodes fall into a handful of categories. There's the action/adventure setpieces I described earlier, on-going conspiracy stories (often inspired by comic book tropes) and finally, the silliness associated with outrageous characters doing mundane tasks (think "Tag Sale - You're it!" S1;E10 or just about any Byron Orpheus scenes). Of course there's a lot of blurring of these lines and the stand-out episodes of each season have a good dose of all three elements.
Comic books, Marvel Comics in particular show up all the time, most often in very direct parodies, not unlike the Hanna-Barbera influence. The fairest indicator is Baron Ünderbheit (See "Home Insecurity" S1;E3, "Past Tense" S1;E11, "Love-Bheits" S2;E7) who is a clear analogue to Dr. Doom and otherwise over-the-top dictator villains in comics. The classic VB twist is that his vengeance is sworn on Dr. Venture because Venture was a careless lab partner in college, causing an explosion that scared the Baron's face (although of course this was later revealed to be The Monarch's doing). One of the best ways any show can satire is through achieving cliched results like this through a much stupider action. Thus the unending scorn comes not from killing the villain's father or gaining control of the company, but rather by being a lazy and careless lab partner. Brilliant.
There's a lot more of these kinds of analogies. For the most part, VB will spin these paradigms wildly out of control, a good example of which are Professor Impossible's family, all exaggerated and twisted takes on the Fantastic Four ("Ice Station - Impossible!" S1;E7). Quickly now in addition to these, Hunter Gathers (not unlike the Scooby Doo / Serial Killer meld) is both Hunter S. Thompson and Nick Fury from S.H.I.E.L.D. (O.S.I. is also basically S.H.I.E.L.D.), Le Tueur closely resembles Kraven the Hunter from Spider-Man, and also continually chats specifically about Silver Age Comic Books. Fun stuff. There's really so much more here, from Torrid vaguely resembling Deadman to Orpheus as Dr. Strange, the analogy list is virtually endless.
Many characters situations if not directly analogous are more pastiches of Comic characters. Molotov Cocktease heartily represents the femme fatale / assassin trope (see Black Widow, Catwoman, Elektra, etc). Phantom Limb is a play on eloquent, cultured villains such as Magneto or even a bond villain such as Dr. No (See Dr. No, 1962). The recent Captain Sunshine is a clear pastiche of many DC heroes, with many Batman and Superhero elements most prominent ("Handsome Ransom" S4;E2). Even someone like Dr. Dugong represents a kind, simple kind of protagonist that has only one place in the Venture world: Death ("Tears of a Sea Cow" S3;E8).
There are many many many more references to comics, some of what I mentioned here are DC and others, but Marvel is the primary fuel. This extends to comic culture as well, not just characters. A lof of this comes through Henchman #21 who tends to represent the fat nerd, better known as the typical Venture Bros fan. "Hate Floats" (S2;E2) showcases much of his stash, including Hulk Hands, a Captain America Shield, a Magneto Helmet and Magic: The Gathering cards. This represents an interesting fusion, also when considering the prominent display of Marvel Comics #1 in "Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel" (S4;E1) definitively shows that unlike Hanna-Barbera characters who really exist in the Ventureverse, Marvel characters are still on paper. This should make the pastiches that much more interesting.
Joe, Voltron and Everything Else
There's so much other culture here, from repeated Bowie references ("Ghosts of the Sargasso" S1;E6, "The Incredible Mr. Brisby" S1;E4, "Showdown at Cremation Creek Part II" S2;E13) to G.I. Joe ("The Invisible Hand of Fate" S3;E3, "The Family that Slays Together, Stays Together Part I" S3;E12), even Voltron ("The Lepidopterists" S3;E10). Each is given the same treatment of Marvel and Hanna-Barbera, exaggerated, twisted and placed in a more realistic context.
The Venture Bros therefore proves to not only be a hollow Johnny Quest spoof, but rather a synthesis of all nerd culture. The show does not merely rely on comics or periodism or adventure pieces but a fusion of all at once. Because the show is still pulling it off, it is indeed something very special. A satire can become very notable as well when it starts creating its own mythology and compelling storylines, which recent Season Three and Four episodes have done marvelously. Other character-based episodes like the aforementioned "Tag Sale - You're it!" demonstrate that in many ways the show to something better than what it parodies, because it has the ability to rely on strong and consistent character interactions instead of a real plot. In essence, the show is an on-going case of Cerberus Retcon played with some genuine authenticity.