Oh R2!!!

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Ever wondered just what the hell R2D2 is beeping at C3PO? Well in early drafts of the script, R2D2 could actually speak English but more than that he had a rather foul vocabulary. That’s right. We always knew he was a cheeky little droid but we never had an idea of just how cheeky.

Ultimately the ability to speak English (or Bad English as the case may be) was deleted in later rewrites. It was felt that if they had a foul mouthed little robot on the screen the movie would lose its family appeal that the movie was aiming for. But while R2D2’s English speech was removed many of C3PO’s reactions to what he would have said were left in implying that R2D2 is probably doing to C3P0 what we are all thinking and that is telling him to “Shut the **** up!”

REVIEW: Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County

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Also Known as The McPherson Tape, this was one of the forefathers of the current found footage craze. Released a year before the ground breaking The Blair Witch Project the movie was actually a remake of an even earlier film simply titled as Alien Abduction which was released in 1989. Part movie/part mockumentary it tells the story of a family sitting down for thanksgiving at their farm when the power goes out. Three of the family members (including the one with the camera who feels the need to record everything) go out to investigate and find a spaceship complete with the ‘Grey Aliens’ mutilating a cow. When the aliens discover they have been filmed they terrorize the family over several hours before eventually abducting them. The film ends with the aliens hypnotizing the family in to leaving with them and the movie implies they have not been heard from since even going as far as to asking for people to help with finding them.

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This movie has all the classic trademarks of a found footage movie. The one holding the camera feels the need to film everything even when everyone else is shouting at him to put the camera away. There are scenes where he puts the camera down to do something and rather than turn it off like every other time this is the one time it actually captures something. Another problem the movie has is that its horror is built up on the low quality of what we are seeing (so you believe its real) then when you get the big reveal of the aliens it fails to work and ends up looking comical. The mockumentary sections failed to impress as well and just seemed like a bunch of community college level actors hoping this will be their big break. Some of the actors in this movie did indeed go on to bigger things with Aaron Pearl, who played “Kurt McPherson”, going on to star in films such as Man of Steel!

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All those things aside however this movie was not without its scares. I will be honest and say that when the electricity transformer on the power line explodes early in I jumped a mile. The build up was quite ordinary (if that makes sense) so it was really out of the blue. The alien passing the window behind net curtains while everyone sits down to dinner was distinctly chilling if you managed to catch sight of it and the first time I saw this movie it had me wondering if there was something behind my curtains as it was about 3am and my tired mind was very ready to play tricks on me.

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Unfortunately there’s not much else here. There is a lot of character conflict in the movie and it is implied that the aliens have something to do with that (although the eldest brother was already a bit annoyed that his sister is dating a black guy and didn’t tell them). The little girl also seems to have a telepathic link to the aliens and tries to convince her family they don’t want to hurt them and when she is ignored she starts to go to lengths to help the aliens. I found this aspect of the story unconvincing and annoying rather than scary.

As a film then this is really a mixed bag. It has one or two memorable scares or unnerving moments but the rest of the time you are either watching a family argue and shout or supposedly former abductees/experts telling their story.  I would only recommend this to people who do have a certain soft spot for found footage movies like myself.

QUOTE: It’s A River Of Slime!

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It’s a river of slime! There’s gotta be 25,000 gallons of it! It’s flowing through here like a river! Van Horne! Pneumatic transit. I can’t believe it! It’s the old pneumatic transit system! It’s still here!

– Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd)

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The pneumatic subway line that Ray finds when they lower him below the street was based on a pneumatic line built in 1870 by Alfred Beach. It operated using compressed air and was built as a demonstration of a pneumatic transit system. The one-block-long tunnel was built prior to any other subways in the area and without any City approval. It had a single beautifully appointed station adorned with frescoes, easy chairs, statues and a goldfish pond. The line was shut down in 1873 due to lack of official and financial support. The tunnel entrance was sealed and the station was reclaimed for other uses. In 1912, when digging for the modern subway system, workers found the original tunnel, still in good condition, and the remains of the passenger car. The tunnel was removed to make way for the contemporary subway lines and the passenger car has disappeared into history. Today there are no physical remains of Beach’s experimental and ambitious subway project.

(SOURCE: IMDB)

REVIEW: Iron Eagle

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Brian: Plus, it’s given me a chance to work on my novel. And I finally have a title.
Lois Griffin: Oh, what is it?
Brian: Faster Than the Speed of Love.
Lois Griffin: [chuckles] That is… that is the worst title I’ve ever heard.
Brian: No, i-it’s the story of a boy who has to rescue his father, who’s a pilot that’s been taken captive by a militant Islamic country.
Lois Griffin: [laughs] That’s the movie Iron Eagle!
Brian: What? Is that-is that a recent film?
Lois Griffin: [still laughing] They made three sequels!

Family Guy
6×02 “Movin’ Out (Brian’s Song)

Action films of the 1980s are in a league all of their own. The ludicrousness, the over-the-top of it all and the seemingly invincible protagonists and 1986’s Iron Eagle had all of this in spades. The plot goes that a USAF pilot is shot down by an unnamed Islamic country (OK it was very obviously meant to be Libya, I don’t know why they never just came out and said it) and now his son and a semi-retired veteran pilot hatch a plan to rescue him using just two F-16 Fighting Falcons that his teenage friends have helped them steal.

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Remember what I said about 1980s action films being ludicrous? This has one of the most unrealistic plots ever. What was the intention of this film? Was it supposed to be a gritty action film or a teenage action-comedy? I am not saying that the idea of using fighter planes to rescue a hostage/loved one is bad. Far from it. If this script was tweaked and a few things dropped there is potential there for a fairly decent action movie. What I absolutely hated however was that a group of air force brats are able to hoodwink the USAF, especially at the height of the Cold War, to get the two F-16s. I know you have to suspend disbelief to an extent with most films but for this to work you had to shut off your brain entirely. It gets even worse when in a flashback scene we learn that before he was shot down Doug’s father has been secretly training him to fly an F-16.

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I have always felt Louis Gosset Jr was an actor who never got the chance to be the superstar he deserves to be but frankly if he chooses roles like this then its no surprise. That being said he does his best given the limitations of the script. When he is making the recording for Doug in case he gets shot down it is surprisingly touching to hear. Louis Gosset Jr was by far and away the best actor in this movie. However, I can’t help but think that his character, Chappy, must be suffering from some kind of Vietnam War psychological syndrome as this would be the only reason a seasoned pilot would go along with these kids and their plan.

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Of course, action movies rely on the action more than anything and to be fair here Iron Eagle does have a decent amount. The opening race between the Cessna and the motorbike was entertaining to watch and probably the most believable part of the movie (sadly). I know there is a lot of oil in the Middle East, at least there was in the 1980s, but did the not-Libyans put it everywhere because the buildings explode in huge fireballs. It looks daft. At one point a radio tower crashes in to a tent which goes up like napalm. The flight sequences with the F-16s are good but when you consider Top Gun came out a year earlier and looked far superior it does diminish the quality somewhat.

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Therein lies Iron Eagle’s biggest problem. It went up against one of the most iconic and beautiful movies of the 1980s. I am not saying Top Gun is perfect but it had such a higher quality to it in every way – acting, production, script – that it glossed over its own failings. One thing the two movies do have in common however is a great soundtrack with Iron Eagle enjoying songs from Queen and Steve Winwood.

In the end Iron Eagle is a rather uninspiring 80s action flick. Incredibly it did produce three sequels and while all suffered similar problems to the first movie they were in my humble opinion superior.

GAME REVIEW: Putt & Putter

File:Putt and putter cover.jpgPutt & Putter was released on the Sega Master System in 1992 having been developed by SIMS Co. Put simply this game is a hybrid of both miniature golf and pinball and this is winning mash-up.The controls are relatively straight forward and it only takes a few moments to acclimatize to the game’s engine. For each hole you have to aim the ball to dodge certain obstacles that have been put in your path and then select an appropriate strength with which to send it on its way. Pretty standard stuff for a golfing game even today.

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That’s where the golfing side of the game ends however and the pinball part begins. EVERYTHING makes your ball bounce off, even the sides of the map you are playing, and each bounce gives it a little more energy so even the gentlest touch sends the ball flying. As you progress through the game you start to encounter maps where you have to actually use this ricochet feature to get the ball as close to the hole as possible in order to reach it in as few a moves as possible (the fewer moves it takes to pot the ball the higher you score). Some of these maps are intensely frustrating to play having hills that form valleys sending your ball in all sorts of directions. When the hole is located on a raised level there are always problems if you don’t get it straight in. Here in lies the fun of this game. Mastering the power bar and the angle at which you send the ball is a hugely entertaining undertaking.

pp0001I first had this game when I was eight years old and the Master System and NES were the X-Box 360 and Playstation 3s of their day. This was the game that was always brought out at parties and attracted the fiercest competition among friends and family. Like Team 17’s famous Worms series this is really is one of those games that is infinitely better when played with someone else so you can all enjoy each others success and misfortune. Putt & Putter is really a game/format that would be well worth an update for a modern console. That being said I have recently found out that follow up was launched on the Mega Drive (Genesis) and having tried it I wasn’t sold on it. Maybe my nostalgic memories have got in the way on this one. Either way this was one of the first games I got hold of again once I started retrogaming and I regularly play it now with my brother-in-law keeping the old competition alive.

Thanks for reading…

East vs. West – whose consoles looked better?

In the late 1980s Japan well and truly conquered the video game market but no doubt they were quite fearful of a repeat of the 1983 North American video game crash (click here for my article on that event) because they must have felt that their console, the Famicom, was too Japanese for Americans. As such they redesigned its look and this was a fashion that Nintendo followed up with the Super Famicom and indeed so did their main rival Sega. In this article I am going to compare the looks of the Japanese versions of consoles to their western counterparts and then offer an opinion as to which looked better. Please bare in mind this is MY opinion only.

So let’s go…

Famicom vs. Nintendo Entertainment System 

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The Famicom (Family Computer) was launched a full two years before the NES but let’s be honest for a minute it certainly looked better. The NES’ design is Nintendo clearly playing it safe again most likely as a result of the 1983 crash. Three tones of grey (see, I managed to avoid a 50 Shades of Grey reference) gave the NES  rather bland look compared to its Japanese brother and it is for that reason that Japan wins this round. It seems as I am not alone here in thinking the NES could have done with a splash of colour. Just click here to view my article on custom NES consoles.

WINNER – Famicom


Sega Mark III vs. Sega Master System

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Nintendo’s biggest rival, Sega, also felt their 8-bit answer to the Famicom, the Mark III, needed to be westernized. They too must have thought their console was too bright for North American and European eyes because the Master System emerged in a rather menacing black and red colour with a front cover designed to emulate the trend in VCR designs. In fact the Master System wouldn’t look too out of place on a TV cabinet with the VHS or Betamax player alongside it and that was probably the intention. In choosing a winner I have to say the Master System looked the better of the two designs. It was meaner looking than either the Mark III, Famicom or the NES.

WINNER – Master System


Super Famicom vs. Super Nintendo (US)

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This is an American-only affair. Somehow Nintendo North felt only North Americans needed a redesigned Super Famicom. Everyone else such as Europe had the same design of Super Famicom (rebranded as the Super Nintendo or SNES) as the Japanese did. Instead of the rounded and smooth design of the Japanese/European model, American consumers got a clunkier looking machine with hard straight surfaces. In this instance its kind of like comparing a Toyota Supra with an American muscle car. The winner here is obvious.

WINNER – Super Famicom


By this point Sega had decided on adopting a universal design for its answer to the Super Famicom/SNES. The 16-bit Mega Drive did have to change one thing however and that is it was rebranded as the Sega Genesis. As far as I can tell even in the States a large number of people refer to the console as the Mega Drive so was it really necessary? Who knows?

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Thanks for reading…

GAME REVIEW: Paperboy 2

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If you’re that strapped for cash, I’d suggest a part-time job. How ’bout a paper route? It builds character. It did in my case.

– Joe Friday (Dan Aykroyd)
Dragnet (1987)

Having a paper round in the 1980s must have been part of the middle class American dream as it seems to have been the thing that 12 year olds did; at least according to countless vomit inducing family movies that Hollywood seemed to chuck out back then. I wouldn’t know as in the 1980s I was barely a few years old living in a working class British town where the main topic of conversation seemed to be “What are we going to do when Thatcher closes the last mine?” I don’t want to get in to politics so I will get on with this review.

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Paperboy is a real classic of a video game. Starting out in arcades it was hugely addictive and earned enough revenue to warrant a home console port making its way on to numerous consoles most significantly the NES and the Sega Master System. Given its success then it came as no surprise that a follow-up would be released. Paperboy 2 was released on to the 16-bit market on the Mega Drive (Genesis) and the Super Nintendo to name a few. The game was intended to build on what made the original game so much fun and address some of the criticisms.

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One of the biggest changes made to the game was the option to play as “Papergirl” in an attempt to give the game more of a unisex appeal. There are no differences in how the game plays regardless of gender and is a purely aesthetic feature. Another change is that now you have to deliver to houses on both sides of the three streets your route is on and each of these streets represents a different level of difficulty – Easy Street, Medium Way and Hard Road. As in the previous game the aim is to deliver at least one paper to each house on your route. A perfect round results in more subscribers but miss one and that person unsubscribes. Miss them all and it’s game over.

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This game is a lot of fun. It looks pretty good but its graphics won’t blow you away. The controls are certainly challenging to master and require practice to learn the right angle you have to be at in order to hit the mail box or the door mat. If that wasn’t tough enough then there are a plethora of things such as dogs, runaway prams, cars and killer bees that try and block your throw and/or knock you off your bike. You also have a limited number of papers and so have to pick more up along the way and you can guarantee they will be in awkward places. Lightning quick reflexes are needed at times to get the bike through the obstacles to pick up fresh papers. At the end of each street is an obstacle course that you don’t need to finish in order to complete the game but just gives you more points.

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Yes it is challenging but it is a lot of fun. There’s just something about this game be it charm or the craziness of the street that keeps making you want to try harder. There are so many bonus points to be had by hitting things with your papers such as the fat man off the diving board in to the pool, the bikini off the sunbathing girl or knocking the car jack down trapping a guy underneath whose legs wriggle in pain – actually I am beginning to wonder if “Paperboy” is actually a character from any of the Grand Theft Auto games in their youth. It would make sense given his penchant for violence.

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This isn’t a casual game as at times you really have to be paying attention at what you are doing even if on the surface it does seem that way. The premise is simple but the original Paperboy was notoriously difficult and this sequel doesn’t let up. It’s the enjoyability that keeps you coming back. My biggest gripe about the game however is that it is somewhat repetitive. You only have the three streets I mentioned earlier and while your week on each street does get more difficult as you progress it does make the game feel rather short.

This is definitely one for the collection and if you spot it – get it!

The Mark III/Master System

A fascinating account of the rise of one of my favourite consoles of all time; Sega’s Master System. I have been following the “Sega Does” boys since they began their quest to play all things Sega starting with the SG-1000 and I would recommend Sega fans and retrorgamers in general give them a go.

Sega Does

 

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               Sega: “Let’s try this console thing one more time!”

 

Sega Master System Box

                                          America: “What’s a Sega?”

 

RELEASED: 10/20/85 (JP); as the Master System – 10/86 (US), 8/87 (UK), 10/18/87 (JP), 09/04/89 (BR)

PRICE:15,000 yen (Mark III – JP), $150/200 (US), 99.95 pounds (UK), 16,800 yen (JP), $1,500 (BR – not a typo)

TECH SPECS:Z-80 8-bit processor running at 3.58 Mhz, 8Kb of RAM, 16kb of VRAM.

Video processor: TI-TMS9918 capable of 32 simultaneous colors.

Sound processor: TI-SN76489 capable of 4-channel mono sound

(FM sound unit in Master System models is a Yamaha YM-2413 capable of 9-channel stereo sound)

# OF GAMES:approx. 318 games, though there are likely many more

UPDATES:Official – Master System II (1990)

# OF UNITS SOLD:10-13 million between 1985-1993 (does not include Brazil figures past 1993)

 

There’s a reason the SG-1000 is a footnote…

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REVIEW: Chernobyl Diaries

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The best type of horror film is the one that blurs the line between reality and fiction. Horror films grounded in reality strike us harder than the supernatural type because we could believe it could happen to us more than our six year old getting possessed by the Devil. With radioactive mutants being a topic for the horror genre since the beginning of the nuclear age its surprising therefore that it took over 25 years for a movie to be made about Chernobyl; an actual nuclear disaster. Several movies and TV shows have touched upon it such as The X-Files and the 1998 Godzilla movie but nothing has tackled the idea directly. I would say that the deaths of hundreds in a relatively recent tragedy was the reason nobody wanted to touch it but then again we had movies about 9/11 in 2003!

Whatever the reason why it took so long, Chernobyl Diaries took a shot at it. It’s no secret that the critics have absolutely panned this movie and indeed it has few genuine fans but I am going to try to be as objective as possible in my review. In case you don’t know the plot of the movie goes that a group of friends decide to visit Pripyat, the abandoned city where the workers of the Chernobyl power station used to live. When the reactor melted down the entire city was abandoned and remains so to this day. The group hire the somewhat amateurish tour guide Yury who after being refused entry at the guard station finds his own way in for them. With no one knowing they are there the vehicle they are travelling in gets sabotaged and over the next two days they are attacked by wild dogs and radioactive human mutants.

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Here is what I liked; Most horror films go for a sense of claustrophobia to achieve a level of fear but Chernobyl Diaries’ setting of a real abandoned city achieves the opposite. You get the feeling these guys are genuinely trapped in the middle of a radioactive nowhere. I also liked the blink-and-you-missed-it-moments such as the odd radioactive freak running across the road in the distance. With no music to alert the audience it is genuinely surprising but not entirely scary. The build up to the action is slow but doesn’t feel like it drags, it’s steady enough to keep you interested. The acting isn’t bad either which is always a relief. These types of films tend to have porn star acting without the porn.

Now here is what I didn’t like; the ending was bloody terrible! We got lots of hints that there was a much bigger story unfolding such as the bus where the Ukrainian guards had obviously been in a fight with these people/mutants. There was a sense that what we were watching was leading to something such as a government conspiracy but there was almost none of that. What a waste of an opportunity. We never got to see ‘them’ properly either and while in some horror movies less is more, in this case I think we really needed a proper reveal of these things. Also while the acting was pretty good I didn’t really care about the characters. None of them warmed me up to invest in whether they survived or not. I just viewed this whole group as ‘victims’ and that was it.

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In short this was a wasted opportunity. It had so much to offer and I was genuinely interested in seeing it through to that God awful end. I swear up until the end I had high hopes this was going to pull something special out of its hat but it never happened. I would say that if a sequel was made with an effort in story rather than frights then I would be willing to give that a chance. I wouldn’t recommend this though unless you had nothing else to watch.

REVIEW: Star Trek Voyager “Riddles”

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Tuvok and Neelix are returning from a trade mission aboard the Delta Flyer when Tuvok is attacked by a mysterious cloaked intruder. The attack leaves Tuvok with amnesia and as such he develops emotion and new interests. Meanwhile Janeway with the help of an alien official goes in search of the cloaked aliens in order to find the weapon that hit Tuvok to help the Doctor develop a way to heal him and restore who he was. However Tuvok is unsure as to whether he wants to return to his old self.

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The main purpose of this episode is to explore Neelix and Tuvok’s relationship by allowing Tuvok to close down his logical barriers and see things as Neelix does. I was uncertain how interested I would be with this but actually Tim Russ and Ethan Phillips both give wonderful performances that add real substance to the characters. It’s a testament to Ethan Phillips’ ability to emote despite the extensive prosthetics he is required to wear. The search for the aliens is relegated to a B-plot in this episode but is still interesting. All the way through however I suspected that Naroq’s people, the Kesat, were not as innocent as Naroq appears. This is something the writers of “Voyager” liked to do a lot but I was pleasantly surprised that for me at least the twist came that there wasn’t the twist I was expecting.

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This is one of Star Trek’s more touching episodes and is an exploration of our characters rather than space. We are mostly exploring Neelix’s persistent efforts to befriend Tuvok over the previous six years and how they have achieved very little. I have to admit when Tuvok realizes how he has behaved toward Neelix Tim Russ gave a very emotional performance and I was a little choked up. It showed that Neelix was a true friend even if that friendship wasn’t wholly returned. I was then infuriated by Tuvok at the end when he returned to normal and treated Neelix like normal. I left this episode disliking Tuvok immensely. For someone who is supposed to be emotionless he displays irritation regularly. One touch I did like, intentional or not, was Tuvok’s new found interest in cooking which was a nod to the season two episode “Tuvix”.

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Watching Naroq reminded me of Fox Mulder in the early episodes of “The X-Files” just far more annoying. That being said I have to say I was touched by his own sacrifice of his equipment at the end. The annoying enthusiasm we saw in the first half of the episode actually added weight to this sacrifice as I got the feeling he really was giving up his life’s work even after getting so close. Perhaps he had gone far enough with Voyager’s crew to satisfy his own curiosity.

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For “Star Trek: Voyager” this was an above average episode with a deeply personal feel to it; I find that episodes that revolve around Neelix and the Doctor are usually emotional ones. There could have been a bit more action with the aliens and it would have been nice to see them fully rather than just an outline but that’s me just being picky.

Thanks for reading…