Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Aimee's BFF's Ultimate Star Trek Primer for People (Like Aimee's BFF) Who Don't Know Anything About Star Trek

My best friend recently saw Star Trek Into Darkness and loved it. Brace yourselves: this is a person who has seen no more than a handful of minutes of Star Trek anything. So, she approached me, Aimee, the big fat Star Trek nerd, and asked the question that we Star Trek fans are never asked.

"I don't know anything about this. Where do I start?"

I'm sure I don't have to tell you that people like me enjoy making lists about any obsessive interests we have, especially in the realm of comics, video games, or sci-fi. I collect knitting patterns, too, but no one asked me to make a list about knitting. Which is good, because I can't knit for beans, although I try. 

So below, you'll find the little write up I actually gave my BFF, with a few minor changes. It's probably rare to have an Electric Frankfurter reader who isn't familiar with Star Trek at all, but I had fun writing it, so you may have fun reading it. And for goodness' sake, what fan doesn't want to debate the merits of my list endlessly? I debated it for two days and I wrote it!

On the off chance that we have a reader (hi, dad!) and that reader doesn't know anything at all about the majesty that is Star Trek, maybe you'll find this helpful. But really, I doubt it. I don't know why I'm putting this up here. We need content, and I'm lazy. Read now:

The Ultimate Star Trek Primer for Aimee's Uninitiated Best Friend

The design of this primer is to guide you through the Star Trek universe in an easy-to-manage course that will afford you just enough understanding to tell if you might enjoy it, without also overwhelming you. The episodes selected include iconic episodes, typical episodes, essential episodes and personal favorites. Many amazing and many infamous episodes have been left off of this first course but can be found in the “further watching” list. 

Using a guide may be extremely helpful to you, as not every Star Trek episode is exactly, well, good. Some of the ones provided on your list are cheesy and some are very serious, but they are all fun. Star Trek fans know and appreciate that these are from the 1960s—it’s absolutely ok to find something unintentionally hilarious.

This is a real screenshot from “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” and it is absolutely ok to
think that this is absurd and amazing and in need of many captions.

Feel free after any phase has completed to drop out completely. Star Trek is immense and not for everyone, but intensely rewarding if you stick it out. And if you feel like you’d enjoy watching any part of it with experienced nerds, our door is always open (and we own all the movies.) And now, the lists.

1.       The Naked Time 

2.       Balance of Terror

3.       Space Seed

4.       A Taste of Armageddon

5.       The Devil in the Dark

6.       The City on the Edge of Forever

7.       Amok Time

8.       Mirror, Mirror

9.       Journey To Babel

10.   The Trouble with Tribbles

11.   Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

12.   The Mark of Gideon

If you are really into it, you may also want to take a look at the following episodes before moving on, but don’t feel obligated, you’ve seen enough to “get” anything that comes next.

1.       The Man Trap

2.       The Enemy Within

3.       Mudd’s Women

4.       What Are Little Girls Made Of?

5.       Miri

6.       The Conscience of the King

7.       The Squire of Gothos

8.       The Return of the Archons

9.       Alternative Factor

10.   Who Mourns for Adonis?

11.   A Private Little War

12.   Patterns of Force

13.   The Omega Glory

14.   Ultimate Computer

15.   Spectre of the Gun

16.   The Tholian Web

17.   The Savage Curtain

18.   All Our Yesterdays

Upon completing this list, it is the consensus of this team that you should proceed to the following movies in THIS ORDER:
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

After you have watched these movies, you may safely begin watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, in order, by season, if you wish. There are very few bad episodes and I regard this series as one of the finest sci-fi series ever made.

When/if you decide to finish Star Trek: The Next Generation, follow it up by watching Star Trek: First Contact.

After that, fill in gaps by watching the original series episodes that you skipped, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek: Generations, and Star Trek: Insurrection. If you’ve thoroughly devoured Star Trek in all forms listed, take a look at Deep Space 9.

DO NOT WATCH: Voyager, Enterprise, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, or Star Trek: Nemesis. At least not until you’ve become so well versed that you’d be comfortable picking them apart. These series and movies are just not very good at all and aren’t even that much fun to laugh at. No matter what anyone else tells you…these are NOT good. They just aren’t. No. No. No.

If you complete this list, you’ll know why this is one of George Takei’s favorite Star Trek memes. Stan and I can identify the episode from which this image was taken (out of context) and quote almost precisely what she’s saying here. Welcome to the club, we hope you enjoy.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

007 Project #18 You Only Live Twice

This poster represents everything that is terribly, terribly wrong (or right!) with this film.

Finally!  Dr. Evil, err, Blofeld revealed!  Like Dr. No with a budget, You Only Live Twice gives Sean Connery a spectacular send off and pits him directly against the nefarious leader of SPECTRE!  Much like its predecessor, YOLT makes full use of a big Hollywood budget and pulls out all of the stops.  Mini-personal helicopters, rockets blasting into space, ninja training, and a secret volcano base all prove that while it may be difficult to top the previous classic, Thunderball, it is possible to rival it for grand spectacle.

Amidst the incredible sets and exotic locales is a fairly straightforward plot.  The film opens with the very interesting premise that Bond is killed while on assignment.  This sets up the idea that Bond can work covertly to do some serious spying.  Sounds great right?  But then the whole thing is dropped and Bond just goes on as normal.  It is later referenced by Blofeld, but all along the way it is an intriguing, but scarcely used device.  A shame since it could have led to some far more suspenseful moments.  On the flip side, this film also seems Bond undergo “cosmetic surgery” to impersonate a Japanese laborer.  While I applaud the avoidance of a potentially highly racist interpretation of this transformation, James comes out looking more like a Romulan than a Japanese laborer.  If you aren’t going to change him dramatically, why not go ahead and work the cosmetic surgery into the “Bond is dead” device and pull the whole thing together?  The movie misses chances to increase the suspense to the story’s overall detriment.  The rest of the plot is standard fare.

Blofeld and his iconic cat give us the eye.

Connery is solid as always, but is given slightly less Bond-esque things to do in this film.  The romance is toned way down and the opportunities for his somewhat corny sense of humor are few.  Connery delivers a great performance, but it is clear that he is not having the same amount of fun as in previous films.  Great moments like his face-to-face confrontation with Blofeld pale in comparison to his intellectual sparring with Goldfinger or even Dr.No.  This should be a bigger moment, but it just doesn’t feel as big as it should.

Bond girls are another area that is found lacking in this film.  The main reason is a lack of clarity or focus.  In previous Bond films, the main Bond girl is fairly obvious and usually ends up with Bond in some capacity by the middle or end of the film.  In YOLT the movie casts about for a proper Bond girl, but never seems to land on one that it really likes.  Is it Number 11?  Seems like an obvious candidate, but no, she goes to the piranha after only a brief tryst with our hero.  Maybe it’s Kissy.  She certainly has the name of a Bond girl and she’s his ally and love interest at the end of the film, but no, she is introduced way too late in the film and there are never any real sparks between her and Bond.  Furthermore she’s almost Honey Ryder-like in her usefulness to the plot.  So, I guess if it is anybody, it’s Aki.  She doesn’t have a double-entendre nom de plume and she dies at the mid-point in the film, but overall she has the best love affair with James and she is the closest thing he has to an accomplice in the story.  Three possible Bond girls, two of them rather fetching (sorry #11, you look like man, baby!), but none terribly well defined.

As villains go, you’ll not get much bigger than Blofeld!  He’s King SPECTRE after all and he deploys everything from a devious Japanese version of Colonel Sanders to a brawny German to a green pond filled with vicious, invisible piranha to thwart Bond’s advances and see his master plan reach fruition.  He may lack the hands-on approach of a Goldfinger, but more than makes up for it in resources.  He’ll throw the kitchen sink at you, literally, before he’ll give up his plan and if you defeat him, well he’ll just blow up the whole damn volcano.

Commander Tomalok, you seem to have mistakenly wandered into this James Bond movie. 

You Only Live Twice is a good Bond movie, but it suffers in some key Bond areas.  A good, but not great performance by Connery can be accredited to him being given less to do as well as a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the actor.  Indefinite Bond girls do not help.  The whole thing feels like Dr. No done better.  A lot like the Death Star battle in Return of the Jedi feels like the battle they wanted to do all along, but slapped together a Death Star battle for Star Wars just in case ROTJ never got made.  We’ll make Dr. No, but if we get a budget and a following, we’ll do it better in You Only Live Twice.  Huh.  I guess the name has a deeper meaning that perhaps intended.

Aimee here:

I originally lobbied to have this film come in much, much higher. I thought it was 1960's Bond at his Bond-y best! I loved the super-spectacle, I loved the fake death scenario, I loved the Asian setting, and I loved the ninjas fighting in a volcano. I liked the opportunity they almost took advantage of to show Bond as an accomplished linguist. I can't not love seeing Blofeld and his freaked-out cat. (Seriously, that cat was going bonkers. This was before the days of considering whether or not a cat should be on a set that is exploding.)

Aki is a cute girl Friday... who gets killed too soon.

There were a lot of ladies flying in and out of view, but the girl we want to look at was definitely Aki, who I think Bond really cared about. I found her competent and helpful, which is definitely how I like my Bond girls.

Let's be honest. When a movie is this much fun, the plot doesn't matter, which is good, because if you're looking for the plot to matter, having an honest-to-God ninja battle in a freaking volcano may be troublesome.

But I'll concede a few things. This movie is very overblown. Like, Moonraker overblown. It is weighted by some excellent and very appropriate Bond-movie magic that keeps it from becoming a complete wreck, but since the plot matters a little, I guess I have to admit that the volcano battle is a little... much.

It's all just a bit forgettable, now, which I think diminishes its greatness. I wouldn't readily assign it to the bottom of the list, it's just not top-shelf material. The bits of truly nice Bond work come early, before the plot is lost in epic volcano battles and pointless internal monorail systems.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

007 Project #19 Licence to Kill

Sloppy.  I think the word describes this movie perfectly and Dalton’s portrayal of James Bond as a whole.  There isn’t anything glaringly wrong with LtK, but there isn’t anything exceptional about it either.  The greatest departure from the classic Bond formula thus far, Licence to Kill pits Bond against his own government, and several other nations, as a rogue agent bent upon revenge.  I think that is where the film goes wrong and sadly that is where the film starts.

When Felix is nearly murdered by a crazed drug lord, Bond takes the law into his own hands and seeks to make him pay.  This is not Bond.  I can see where the character might be pushed to the edge, but I cannot see him going over it as strongly and guns-ablazing as he does here, particularly when it turns out Felix has not been killed.

The remainder of the film is Bond, out of his mind and out of character, relentlessly pursuing the drug lord irrespective of whom he has to hurt or how many international laws he has to break.  While it might be fun to put Bond on the run as a rogue agent, the character is too smart to take that tact to the extent that Licence to Kill does.   

It also doesn’t make much sense.  There is a bigger story at work in this movie, and Bond has several opportunities to hitch his vendetta wagon to it, but he is so blinded by his fury that he not only fails to take those opportunities, but he actively works against other characters in the film who want to help him.  This is a man whose wife was brutally murdered Corleone-style on his wedding day.  A man who waited 5 movies to get his revenge upon her killer.  Am I supposed to believe that this same man now flies off the handle at the apparent and then near death of his friend?  I have no doubt there is a body of fan fiction that will support a much closer relationship between Bond and Felix than I am aware of, but with what I’m given in the history of this character, this does not wash.

And while I have a pretty big qualm with the premise the film, the remainder does little to salvage it.  Bond is sloppy and the plot goes all over the place with him.  The story seems to have trouble focusing and wanders all over the place.  Characters are introduced and dropped, others shift importance and function, until finally the whole thing pulls together at the end like a high school play.  I could do three pages on the unnecessary and bizarre Wayne Newton cult sub-plot, but at this point I think my point is clear enough to avoid the redundancy.

While The Living Daylights was able to carry Dalton and make up for some of his deficiencies, Licence to Kill is too scattered to give him much help this time around.  Dalton’s Bond is sloppy.  From his hair and general appearance, to his goofy smiles and strangely awkward demeanor, he is in no way the suave or clever character crafted by his predecessors.  I don’t know that it is entirely his fault, but he just comes across as a generic 80’s action hero.  Very little in this film or the previous one is distinctly Bond.  The good news, like Lazenby, Dalton’s tenure is short and will likely be forgotten.

Pam Bouvier may be the consummate 80’s Bond girl.  She is thin, pale, fiercely independent, and sports a pixie cut that works.  She looks too young to be CIA and yet has enough spunk to pull it off when the story lets her.  Carey Lowell does a solid job in the role and at times is more engaging than an often wooden Dalton.

On the flip side, Franz Sanchez is one of the worst Bond villains to date.  He’s not even a good 80’s crime movie villain.  This guy is supposed to run one of the most brilliant and brutal drug syndicates in the world.  He is meant to be feared and respected.  And yet he is captured by Felix and Bond almost by accident whilst trying to reclaim his girlfriend from a rival paramour.  Sloppy.  He is also easily manipulated by Bond, who infiltrates Sanchez’s organization without any more effort than showing up at the front door.  This guy is no mastermind and Roger Moore or Sean Connery’s Bond would have made short work of him like a second class henchman.  The best I can say is that this villain lives at the level of the film he inhabits.

Licence to Kill is a low point in the franchise and I can see why it kicks off the longest dry spell in the timeline of the series.  The entire film is sloppy and never recovers from its poorly executed premise.
I kept hoping the iguana would shoot lasers or poison or something.  Anything

Aimee here:

This is really just a bad 80s action movie. "Bad" is relative, since we've obviously seen a lot worse, but this movie veers away rather quickly from the formulae that make Bond... well, Bond.

The story, as Stan so meticulously points out, makes little sense. I like seeing some slight character development. Having Bond care about and work to avenge his friend Felix (who is NOT killed, it turns out) is nice, and it could serve as an anchor to an off-kilter vengeance-seeking Bond. However, it does not. Bond doesn't go this crazy when his own wife is murdered--why would he take it so hard when Felix's wife is? I suppose it could be salt in an old wound, but still, Felix doesn't even take it this hard. He's all smiles by the end of the film.

I wasn't really enamored of Pam Bouvier. I found her role in the film to be boring and predictable--but after so many earlier films, all finding ways to shoe-horn a desirable young woman into an international espionage plot, I suppose that's both understandable and unfortunate.

The main villain is goofy and ridiculously stupid. He trades all his credit and reputation in the underworld because he is insanely jealous. How did he even get this far? The tele-church plot with Wayne Newton was laughable at best and poorly elaborated upon at worst; the whole thing leaves me feeling as though I have wasted my time. Bond works best when he's a real company man--in all our movie viewings, "Bond goes rogue" has been a weak plot across the board.

At the end of it all, I'm not sorry to see Dalton go--he had the look but was ultimately forgettable. The "darker" portrayal he meant to bring to the table simply doesn't work; possibly as a function of bad plots and meandering action sequences.  

Saturday, July 27, 2013

007 Project #20 Dr. No

Dr. No

The first entry into the James Bond movie franchise has everything you want from a great Bond flick, except for a credible villain.  Dr. No himself is about as threatening as an angry kitten.  Maybe it is just my post-postmodern sensibilities, and maybe in the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a character like Dr. No presented more of a real danger. Watching this film today he comes across as rather ineffective and without teeth.  His plan is to hijack a Mercury rocket and then bend it to some nefarious purpose that was never really clear to me.  That alone, I suppose, could be a credible threat and reasonable plot for a criminal mastermind, but the scope of his operation seems greatly disproportionate to the size of his actual plan. 

What he is trying to do could be done with a super computer (even of the day, slightly futured-up) and a broadband radio station.  Instead, Dr. No has commandeered an entire Jamaican island, built a sub-sea nuclear reactor and a sprawling complex to house it in.  It just feels like overkill.  It’s like building a sub-lunar moon base out of the rarest diamonds just to disrupt a baseball game.  It is no real wonder that Austin Powers is almost a direct spoof of this movie.  Dr. No is almost a spoof of a villain compared to the amount of spying that goes into taking him down.  There is much made of the fact that he has metal hands and that he should be feared as a result of that feature.  Yet apart from mentioning that he has them, very little else is done with them.  I think he tries to karate chop (I’m still deciding if me saying that is racist) Bond at one point, but that’s about it.

Which brings us to the best part of the movie:  James Bond.  Connery knocks it out of the park right out of the gate making everyone wonder why anyone else was ever considered for the role (until Connery got Henry Jones old).  All of the James Bond action in this movie is spot on.  He’s charming, suave, always a step ahead of the bad guys, and most of all, he’s a man’s man.  He kills a man on the beach of Dr. No’s island and when Honey Ryder asks him why, he says, “because I had to.”  Sweet.  For me, this movie defines the Bond character perfectly.  There is plenty of intrigue, even with a plot as straightforward as this.  Bond is always stealthy and covert, but never completely subtle.  There aren’t a lot of reversals or plot twists, but that doesn’t make the ride any less fun, until we get to Dr. No’s house where things just kind of work out for the best.   

And there’s my real problem, I guess.  There is all of this great spy movie stuff going on in order to ferret out the mystery of what Dr. No is up to.  There are tense action sequences that get us onto the island.  There is a mental game of chess between Dr. No and Bond as they calmly discuss No’s plan at the dinner table.  And then there’s a climactic, I guess, scene where Bond turns a giant wheel, dumps Dr. No into radioactive water, and then jumps in a boat and leaves.  Ho-hum.

Also ho-hum is our Bond girl, Honey Ryder, who is practically an afterthought in this movie.  In later Bond films, for better or worse, the Bond girl usually factors into the plot in some way.  Not Honey.  She pops up on the beach in Act III searching for sea shells and, I guess, revenge for her father’s death.  She seems more motivated for the former than the latter and ultimately just ends up being an accessory to the story.  Honestly, I was far more interested in the Chinese secretary.

All in all, Dr. No isn’t a bad Bond film.  Thanks to Connery’s performance and the first two-thirds of the story, it is actually a pretty fun watch.  It just leaves me wanting more in the way of a conclusion and good, diabolical villain with a chilling scheme.  

Aimee Says:

Screw all of you, I like this movie. It's not really all that great, but it's not bad, and what's more, it's first.

This is what Bond movies are all about: 1960's travel to exotic places, Sean Connery looking slick and masculine, and a quasi-wacky super villain. That said, all of Stan's points are quite valid. This movie isn't too exciting, and it's painfully straight-forward. Ursula Andress wears a knock-out bikini and speaks dubbed dialogue; Quarrel is a fun ally until he gets killed. Villain has metal hands and a fish fetish. Check and check.

My only defense for this movie is that it is the first, and therefore, it has to serve as a kind of introduction to the series that would follow. This story in particular was selected for its relative simplicity, and it shows. For its small scale and budget, the sets were stellar. It's not the early Connery era at its finest, but it's pretty damn good...

...just not as good as roughly 19 other movies on the list. I don't think there's anything exactly wrong with it, and it's impossible to argue that it's not "Bond like" because it's the very first outing in the series. It just lacks in several areas and leaves you wishing it had been just a tiny bit more complex, and a tiny bit more thrilling.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

007 Project #21: The Man with the Golden Gun

The Man with the Golden Gun

There should never, ever, be a slide whistle in a James Bond film.  Ever.  I don’t care if it was filmed in the 1970’s, when the slide whistle was the opus of modern comedy.  There should never, ever, be a slide whistle in a James Bond movie. 


It was with the blowing of the aforementioned low-brow woodwind that what had been setting up to be a promising second showing from Roger Moore turned into something unrecognizable as a James Bond movie.  The Man with the Golden Gun starts you off with everything you want from another great Bond film, but then decides to go the other way, thanks, and ends up being a farce.  Everything in the first half of the film belongs in a great Bond flick.  You have a gimmicky villain with a master plan (a bit too grand for my tastes, but that’s ok); you have a suave Bond who is great with the ladies and constantly in peril, and you have the MI-6 gang doing their thing. There is action, there is intrigue; Bond is beating up karate students and romancing slightly horse-faced French belly dancers.  These are exactly the things you want from a Bond movie.

Then, somewhere around the 1:15 mark, things go terribly wrong.  The harbinger of doom is the implausible appearance of the redneck, racist Louisiana sheriff who provided meager comic relief in the previous film.  When he first shows up you think, oh great, what a dumb cameo.  And then he gets in the car with James and appoints himself James’ sidekick for this part of the mission.  So he rides shotgun during a rather uninteresting car chase which culminates in a Dukes of Hazzard level stunt requiring Bond’s car to jump a large inlet whilst turning a corkscrew in the air.  This absurd feat is punctuated by the absolutely unacceptable blowing of a slide whistle.

This 30-seconds of belly dance romance was a way better Bond movie
It’s possible you could overlook this part, if the thing that followed did not rival it in stupidity.  Apparently the car driven by Scaramanga can be easily converted into an airplane by simply attaching a few wings and what appears to be a mini jet engine.  Now keep in mind, this is an American car most likely made in Detroit out of real metal.  Yet the car takes off like a champ and goes soaring over the Hong Kong skies.  Once this happens there is really no turning back and things are only further compounded by a bumbling Bond girl who plays for cheap laughs like something out of Scooby-Doo.  All of this makes the reasonably Bond-level doomsday device at the end seem extremely foolish, wherein a better movie it would have worked.

The film concludes in classic Bond style, but by that point I have been lost.  The showdown on Scaramanga’s isle is pretty much exactly what you want and the denouement on Scaramanga’s ship follows suit, but all of the nonsense that precedes is damage done and the taint is impossible to deny.

Moore is solid again in his sophomore effort as Bond.  He is comfortable in the role, suave, intelligent and built for action.  True he looks extremely awkward in the karate fight scenes, but he’s also a fairly lanky Brit doing combat with lithe Asian martial artists.  His performance in this film, against the challenging odds of an absolutely ridiculous second act, solidifies him as a smart choice for the role.

Scaramanga is an excellent Bond villain. Like Goldfinger and a few others in previous films, he is intelligent and cunning with a gimmick that makes him unique without being bizarre.  Christopher Lee is exceptional in the role.  Herve Villechaize is fantastic as Nick Nack and transcends his Fantasy Island stereotype.

Britt Ecklund is a beautiful girl, but not a great sidekick

Goodnight is very fetching as Bond girls go, but she is bumbling and air-headed in a way that really cheapens the role.  Much like Tiffany Case in Diamonds are Forever, Goodnight is more Jar Jar Binks and less Chewbacca as a supporting character goes.  Maud Adams holds promise as Andrea, but ends up being a dead end.  If only she had a naughtier name.  Then again full frontal pool nudity and the name Chew Me didn't catapult Francoise Therry to Bond girl stardom.

Overall, The Man with the Golden Gun has all of the makings of a great Bond film, but it is plagued by asinine 1970’s pop movie trappings that completely undermine its potential.  A decent plot, a great villain, and a strong showing by Roger Moore cannot overcome the disappointment of a bumbling Bond girl, a doofus comic relief character, and ridiculous stunt devices.

Aimee Says:

This movie really wasn't so bad. I think we've all had enough of the hick Sheriff character, but I don't think it holds the movie back as much as it could. Stan was almost personally offended by the corkscrew jump but in all honesty, I thought it was pretty cool, and it set the tone for the film to be a little sillier.

Now, whether or not a James Bond movie should be a little sillier is up for debate. I'm inclined to say that it's usually better when Bond is slick and exciting, but Moore's Bond is a playful change of pace, and I think he can carry it off.

That being said, I have my limits, and they were tested. Specifically, while watching Christopher Lee and Herve Villechaize drive an AMC car of some type into a special barn where it was given wings. The duo then pilot/drive this abomination off into the sky. It doesn't even look cool; it looks like something from the cover of one of the less-popular Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Like this movie, almost all choices lead to sadness

All in all, the film is a little too wacky for its own good. The Bond girl is abysmally stupid, and I hate that, because I believe they could have gone the other way with her fairly easily. Her ineptitude adds nothing to the film; it is lacking even in quaint charm. I liked the look of Maud Adams here but luckily, we'll see her again in a few films, and it will be awesome.

Moore, Lee, and Villechaize knock it out of the park, but unfortunately the park is a little small; maybe even a little silly. It's a bit like having major-league baseball players descend upon a T-ball field--sure they excel, but what the hell are we watching?

I definitely didn't hate this movie, but it stands forever in my memory as the Bond film which caused Stan and I to have an extremely heated and unexpectedly serious fight that very nearly ruined the entire evening. This fight, when taken down to its essence, was a classic pitting of views. You see, Stan was aggravated that they never do more with Scaramanga's superfluous nipple after having made such a big deal about it and I felt it was fine and what more could you do? Was it supposed to shoot lasers?

And now I must retire, because I'm starting to feel the need to argue the point again.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

007 Movie Project: #22 Moonraker


Once we get to the space shuttle launching pavilion, you have lost me.  Half of this movie is a pretty solid Bond spy movie, the other half is a poorly thought out sci-fi movie that seems to want piggyback on the success of real sci-fi movies like Star Wars and Star Trek.  Simply put, James Bond does not go to space.  He prevents evil masterminds from launching devious plans that take place in space, but he does not go to space.  He also does not have absurd laser battles in space. 
I’m going to just plain ignore the ridiculous speed gondola chase and the incessant fascination with Roger Moore and boats, because they are almost forgivable when you consider where the second half of the film goes.  I am content to say that the first half of the film is fine as it is, cable car battle and all.  What I take umbrage with is the fish out of water space plot that comprises the remainder of the film.  Aimee says it best when she says that this movie tops itself so much that you forget pretty much anything that happens before you go to space once you get to space.  This is in part because all of the stuff that happens in space is just too much.

Maybe if we went to space and just had an espionage plot on a space station things would be ok, but oh no, we have to have an army battle in space with jet packs and lasers.  We have to explode a space station and drive space shuttles around like they are cars.  It is too much.  The world of James Bond is meant to closely mirror our own.  It is roughly grounded in our reality.  So when this movie attempts stunts like the space battle and the shuttle duck hunt, things that are no where close to what is realistic, it goes way too far, particularly when you consider that those other successful sci-fi movies named above do not stretch the plausibility of what is possible in space as far as this movie does.  It’s just too much.  Call me old fashioned, but I much prefer an earth-based Bond who ferrets out spies and double-agents and prevents evil masterminds from hatching their horrible schemes (which is what we have for 50% of the movie).

Too bad too, because the opening parachuting stunts were absolutely spectacular.  Who knew they were only the tip of the iceberg for how absurd this movie was going to get.
Roger Moore is solid as Bond again, but his performance is greatly upstaged by all of the space brik-a-brak.  The result is a Bond who is a little flat and given little to do, particularly once we achieve orbit.  The earth-based stuff is much better and in line with the charm and wit of Bond’s normal MO.  Moore is not terrible, but he doesn’t shine like he does in The Spy Who Loved Me and Live and Let Die.

Despite her name, Holly Goodhead proves to be a capable and strong Bond girl who plays Bond’s rival as much as she plays his love interest.  Her connection to the CIA and other twists keep her character interesting and the fact that she manages to keep her clothes on for the majority of the film is quite impressive.  It is also refreshing to see the theme of strong Bond girl overpowering the trend of the airhead Bond girl in the movies leading up to this one.

Drax is one of the most impressive Bond villains in the series not only because he has successfully constructed a space shuttle launching pavilion and a space station years ahead of any of that in the real world, but he is one of the few Bond villains to have his act so together that he nearly succeeds with his devastating plan.  Drax himself is pure evil and while not quite as cunning as previous villains he does prove persistent in his attempts to have Bond eliminated.  You must give him points for tenacity.  But again, the real villain worth talking about in this film is Jaws!  Kiel is back and better than ever.  He is such a likeable villain that his return is inevitable and greatly desirable.  And fortunately, the character is done justice in this reprise.  Jaws, once again, is the relentless foe that cannot be killed and pursues Bond at all costs.  At all costs that is, until he falls in love.  I realize this seems absurd, but in this film it works and doesn’t feel nearly as dumb as a giant space army battle with laser guns.  As a matter of fact, Jaws is so likeable that you are actually cheering for him once he finds love in the form of a diminutive, yet buxom blonde.  You get to cheer again when Jaws renounces his evil ways and ends up teaming up with Bond and Goodhead in the climactic battle.  A Bond/Jaws team-up might seem like the ultimate insult, but it works.  Somehow, it works.  Plus, for the first time, we get a Bond villain who also gets to sail off into the sunset with his gal.  Good for you Jaws!

Overall, Moonraker is half decent Bond movie, half bad sci-fi.  Unfortunately, the second half is so unbelievably bad that it cannot prop up the useable, and occasionally quite good, material from the first half, and a Jaws/Bond team up cannot bring the outrageous ending back from the brink.

Aimee says:

I want it noted that Moonraker is only on the low side because it's not a very good Bond film. It's really more of an Austin Powers plot, only played rigidly without much levity. No, that's not very fair--I think it's actually not a bad movie altogether. It's a typical late-1970s sci-fi, and if you just take it like that it's pretty fun.

But, of course, it is a Bond movie, and as such, I must rank it lower. I think the Bond girl here is great--we get a lot of bumbling moron types in these movies, so I'm always happy to see someone who is confident and competent as well as sexy.

The first half of this movie is very promising, but it goes off the rails when we find out just how insane (and complex) is the scope of Drax's plans. What starts as a fairly typical "Bond needs to find a missing space shuttle" plot quickly comes to a bizarre space drama about breeding a super-race or something. I don't really know what the end game was, but it culminates in an epic space battle.

Yeah... Bond, you've overstepped. You get in fights and you sneak around. You make clever reversals, and you out-smart the super-villain. You do not spend extended periods of time in a space shuttle fighting with lasers.

In short, I didn't hate this movie but I definitely didn't feel it was a true "Bond" adventure, especially after the halfway mark. For that reason, it's near the bottom. Not the absolute worst, just a "jump-the-shark" type entry to the series.

Friday, July 5, 2013

007 Movie Project: Die Another Day

This summer we are blowing your mind by counting up all of the Eon Productions James Bond films!  We'll rank all 23 official Bond films and tell you which are the very best and which are less than spectacular.  We'll also pick our favorite Bond, Bond girl and Bond villain.  So strap in and join us as we stroll through the Bond library!  We'd love to hear what your favorites are along the way!

We'll get the absolute worst of the bunch out of the way directly

Die Another Day

Too much.  Die Another Day is a Bond movie killed by excess.  Excess of spectacle, excess of useless characters, excess plot, this movie just has too much of everything we don’t need.  The plot is nonsensical, and not in a workable way, but in a “why are we doing this” way.  The scripting is stilted and scenes between Bond and both of his love interests end up being extremely awkward and stiff, never smooth and suave.  And while both of those have been problematic for the series historically, DAD (sorry dads out there) suffers from a third strike in the form of absolutely over-the-topness.  Absolutely.  Case in point, near the end of Act II, Bond engages his nemesis (which is a feint, as his true nemesis is set up to be, though never realized as, the person who betrayed him in North Korea) in a fencing duel that quickly escalates into a full blown sword fight.  That alone is pretty interesting and smacks of the glass museum fight from the Moore era. But rather than enjoy the moment and its novelty, the fight goes on far too long, becomes far too involved, ends up outside and all over the grounds of the private club causing volumes of damage, and ultimately resolves unsatisfactorily with the intervention of the character who fills the role described above.  It’s too much.

All of this is symptomatic of the cinematography and style of filmmaking which also lets the film down again failing to knit together a coherent story.  And when the story starts to lag, the movie fills the gaps with trendy filmmaking gimmicks like slow motion, fast motion, and quasi-Matrix level computer generated camera angles.  The film is so busy being told in a fashionable way that it doesn’t get told very well at all. (see Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance)

The opening sequence and the bit with Q (man, oh, man I miss Desmond Llewellyn), played here successfully by John Cleese, are about the only parts of this movie worth seeing.

Brosnan continues to please as Bond, but is given so little to do that you almost forget this is a Bond movie.  He is consistently upstaged by the sidekick he is saddled with, but we’ll get to her in a minute.  It is unfortunate that his era will end on such a low note, but Brosnan certainly has left his mark on the role and to his credit, never had a bad performance as the character.

Bond Girl Miranda Frost: Fetching but wasted in a confusing plot.
Now, I mentioned a sidekick.  Halle Berry is set up as our Bond girl for this film, but she also feels as out of place as Terri Hatcher or Denise Richards felt in the two previous Brosnan era movies.  Honestly, her character comes across more as a second rate Michelle Yeoh from Tomorrow Never Dies than anything else.  Her character is an agent along the lines of Yeoh or Pam Bouvier from Licence to Kill, but lacks the conviction or the impact of either of those characters.  Berry’s performance is less than spectacular and it is unsurprising that the desperate attempt to spin her character Jinx off crashed and burned before it ever left the hanger.  On the flip side, the underused Miranda Frost character provides a bit more meat for a Bond girl, but is also given little to do and is often lost in the shuffle.  This is wasted potential, particularly since she should be the primary villain.  For my money, Rosamund Pike is also far more fetching than Halle Berry here.

Toby Stevens (Gustav Graves) and Rick Yune (Zao) share the role of top villain playing dual foes for Bond.  Gustav is the primary villain and mad planner, but his plot is beyond megalomaniacal and borders on the insane, along the lines Dr. No or Moonraker (which this film is a veritable remake of).  The scenes where he matches wits with Bond are exceptional, the rest is a bit off.  Zao, on the other hand, is a great top level henchman, and is sadly not given as much to do as might have been helpful to the film.  I still don’t know why they never take the diamonds out of his face?

Overall, Die Another Day is a definite low point for the franchise.  Excessive everything, ridiculous plotting and terrible stylistic filmmaking drown competent actors and potentially interesting story elements to create a mess that guaranteed that this would be the last film of the Brosnan era.  They tried so hard to pack this film with homages to the franchise due to the release falling on an anniversary year, but it comes across, instead as a James Bond garage sale where everything is overpriced and no one has a clue what they are selling.  This was an easy pick for the bottom of the barrel.

Aimee here:

Wow, that Marvel Project seems like it was over fast. What are we reviewing again? Bond films? Ok. This is something I thought I was already comfortable with doing, but after watching them all again (some for the first time!) I realized that some long-held biases were completely unfounded, and some assumptions I made were totally false. I came to know what a "true" Bond film really was, and which films lived up to that weighty standard. Too over-the-top? Too much action? Not enough levity? Severe dearth of sharks? Over the coming weeks we'll see many examples of the finest tropes in 007dom, and many, many examples of James lurching across the big screen like a cinematic Frankenstein, cobbled from bits of unused scripting from his previous films.

Unfortunately, there is no worse film in this regard than Die Another Day.

Die Another Day started off rough for me, and while I was of movie-going age when it came out, I refused to see it--despite a deep love of the Pierce Brosnan Bond. I must say, my opinion of it did not change much having finally sat down with it. The Madonna title song (and her subsequent unnecessary cameo!) are pretty dismal, as Bond anthems go. It's certainly no Goldfinger.

Hello, Madonna, you're looking strange as always.
This film's plot makes no sense. I had Stan explain it to me half-way through because I honestly wasn't at all following it. Like my husband, I have no idea why a henchman/villain wouldn't remove diamonds from his face. You can get all the plastic surgery you want, but I'm pretty sure like Interpol or the CIA would be only too happy to ID you based on the diamonds lodged in your face without a fuss. Seriously. How many people are there out there who have 1) the opportunity to have at least a dozen diamonds lodged in their face and 2) the opulence necessary to say "nah, no need to remove these!" Maybe it's different in the universe that this film takes place in (as it clearly wasn't ours) but I think that just having that kind of injury would make you subject to a lot of unwanted attention during daily tasks like walking outside or talking to people.

So it's a diamond-smuggling plot about a North Korean kind-of-defector I think who becomes a German man in about 4 months. Assuming Bond is captured and immediately put in prison, he's only gone for a few months before getting out, in which time the North Korean that he (supposedly) killed has built up an enormous infrastructure for his nefarious plots, turned Frost to his side (or was there ever a question?), had enormous amounts of surgery/DNA therapy to become German-looking but also British, remove all trace of previous accents, and put together a mega-plan that will allow you to rule the world and get revenge on your father. In four months.

In the middle of this, we have Halle Berry wearing the Ursula Andress bikini for no other reason than to wear it and we have the signature vehicle for no other reason than to see it and we have a lot of miserable homage that goes way, way over the top and is just painful, really, and bad. Halle's character is just worthless here. A terribly forgettable Bond girl and a performance that is really very flat are the only standouts for one of the most-heralded castings in the history of the franchise.

Look, she's astonishing in this bikini, make no mistake, but there's no reason for her to wear it. None.

We have Q branch providing a really over the top cloak for the vehicle which, honestly, makes little sense for the application of this film. I won't judge too harshly as Q is the only good thing in this film...although no one could take the place of Desmond Llewellyn, who had recently died. The scene with Q is good, though, and one can definitely appreciate all the previously-featured gadgets that make cameos here. But for the much-hyped 40th anniversary, I must say that they should have stopped there with the homage.

The film suffers greatly at the hands of absolutely dated film-making techniques, that I am personally glad have managed to stay in the early-2000s.

This was the only Bond film on the entire list that I had trouble sitting through. To say that I didn't enjoy it would be an understatement. I detest the virtual reality Moneypenny/Bond "love scene". Really, everything in the movie was like that--unnecessary, over-the-top, and painful to endure. It's quite plain they wanted this to be a loving homage, but they fail all over the place. There's a basic lack of respect and understanding for the films that came before--even the ones that featured Brosnan.

Die Another Day is terrible. Next!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Greatest 25 Video Games (All Time)

A video game pal of ours is doing this survey to create a list of the 25 greatest video games of all time, any system, any platform.  An informal poll, the goal is to avoid marketing influence and base the games on actual  popularity and enjoyment.  The call is to list your greatest 25 video games, in no particular order. (If you have a few minutes, you should send in your list!) Seems like a simple enough project right?


It's hard.  Really hard.  If you've been playing video games for more than a decade, that usually means through at least two generations of gaming systems or 50 generations of PC gaming, then chances are good you have more than 25 games that you really enjoy that could easily go on this list.  For me the number was 32, and that was with some brutal cuts that hurt a little bit to make.  The final cut down to 25 was like Sophie's Choice (more on that later; the cuts not Sophie's Choice).

In constructing and subsequently narrowing this list, I tried to think of games that I really, really love.  Games that I can play over and over and never get tired.  Games I can play pretty much at any time and not get bored. Games that I find myself going back to over and over.  Games that always hold something new to discover or become ever more fun to play through repeated play-throughs.

All of the games on this list are incredible games that I could pick up and play at any given moment.  I think the games on this list demonstrate what I find to be great about video gaming and I would strongly recommend every single one of these games to anyone who likes video gaming.  Honestly, I think that this list of games represents who I am as a player and what video games mean to me. I think lists like this are a very personal thing and I applaud the folks who are compiling a master list based on them.  It will be very interesting to see the final tally.

Since I was already doing this list for that project, I thought it would be fun to carry the list over here and share it with you folks.  I have included brief commentaries and reviews along with each game so that you get a little insight into why I love each game so very much. This list is in no particular order, nor would I ever propose it to be.  Assume that every game here is #1 on this list because it easily could be. So without further ado, here are my 25 greatest video games of all time, ever.

Legend of Zelda:  The first adventure game that I ever played.  LoZ blew my mind and still provides several hours of solid entertainment every time I plug it in.  It does not matter that I know the first quest by heart and can speed run it.  The game is so well built that it continues to be one of the greatest adventure games of all time.

Castlevania:  Easily the best side-scrolling, arcade-style adventure game I have ever played.  When I was a kid, this game was hard as nails.  Now I speed run it and play for points.  I keep scores in a notebook.  I can play this game through, finally die, then start a new game and do it again.  For hours.  Knowing each level inside and out and being able to play through on a single life does not kill my enjoyment.  Maybe it's the Dracula/horror theme or maybe it's just an incredibly well-made game.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:  Honestly, this is the first ES game I have played, but I can promise you it is the best Western RPG I have ever played.  The replay value is infinite.  Character creation is the heart of the fun.  You can play the game a hundred different ways.  I have sunk upwards of 750 hours into this game easily and will likely double that number.  The game is vast and additional expansions have only increased it's appeal.  The only shame is the sudden drop in support from the Bethesda, but that will not stop me from playing this game for a very long time.

Super Metroid:  I love Metroid.  I really do.  It was a dark, strange game that seemed to go on forever.  But Super Metroid, takes all of that greatest and promotes it all to the next level. Super Metroid is fun from start to finish and never dries out.  The world is big and there is plenty to discover.  The boss fights are epic.  SM is always a fun play-through.

Pitfall II:  Ok, I lied when I said LoZ was the first adventure game I had ever played.  Pitfall II was really the first adventure game I ever played, but honestly, the differences are SO vast that they really aren't the same thing at all.  This is another game that was played to death in my youth and still holds infinite joy for me today.  I blame Pitfall II for deciding what kinds of games I would like going forward through gaming.  It might be simple, but it is tough, and for its time, incredible.

Pokemon Yellow:  Really, this could have been Blue or Red also, but Yellow gives you Pikachu straight away and he's the franchise mascot, so we'll give his game the nod.  Pokemon is a collection game and a turn-based RPG and its no end of fun.  Replay value is high as you can go after different Pokemon or types of Pokemon with each play-through.  You may want to hate the game because it's "for kids" or "obnoxiously marketed," but you really cannot knock the game play.  Pokemon is fun.

Dragon's Lair:  The holy grail of arcade games.  I used to watch this game on Starcade in absolute awe.  A cartoon that you could play.  Insane.  Even today I can play the Wii version and never tire of running Dirk through the paces over and over.  I had the PC version in the 90's.  This game will always hold a mystique for me because of our history together, but it is also a lot of fun to play.

Super Mario Bros. 3:  This is the game that defined a franchise.  A vast improvement over the original and never bested by subsequent entries in the series (although Mario64 comes very close), SMB3 is everything that is great about the Mario franchise.  Smart level design, lots of secretes, challenging but not impossible game play, SMB3 has it all and never looks back.

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword:  If you want a game that encompasses everything that has even been great about the Zelda series Skyward Sword is it.  An adventure game on par with the original, spanning beautiful and diverse environments and backed by an incredible story.  I cannot wait to play this through another time.

Mario Kart Wii:  A good racing game should be fast-paced, easy to pick up and play, and addictive.  Mario Kart Wii is defined by these qualities.  Super fun in single player and ridiculous in multi-player, MKW edges out several other incredibly good racing games to be the best racing game I have ever played.  Great tracks, racing action that is not marred by the Mario influence, but instead well enhanced by it, and lots of different kinds of karts to race, you simply cannot go wrong with this one.

Solaris:  What is a shooting game this complex and vast doing on the Little System that Could?  Few greater challenges exist on the VCS than trying to reach the legendary planet Solaris.  Not just a shooting game, Solaris is also a strategy game and an exploration game.  There are many paths to Solaris, but all of them lead to death unless you are one hell of a pilot.  I've never been there, but some day I will make it!

Final Fantasy VII:  If Skyrim is the best Western RPG I have ever played, FFVII is the best JRPG that I have ever played.  It just never gets old.  I have played through with every character over and over and I still want to start over and play it again.  I've beaten all of the hidden bosses and leveled up every materia and I still want to play it again.  Great storytelling, exceptional turn-based battles, and a compelling character set, if I were to recommend a JRPG to anyone, this would be it.

Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour:  Some of the more technical golf games are too demanding, but the Mario Golf series keeps the balance of golf and Mario just right and presents a fun, engaging, and accessible golf experience.  I like the Tiger Woods series, but for the casual golfer this is where golfing is at its best.  The course designs are smart and challenging, and the controls are just savvy enough to give experienced golfers something to do and novice golfers a chance to compete.  I can play a round any time.

ChronoTrigger:  If FFVII didn't exist, this would be the JRPG I would recommend to you.  Sort of the precursor to FFVII, ChronoTrigger does many of the same things right, but due to its time travel platform, gives the player interesting control over the course of the plot.  The stable of playable characters is large and diverse and the turn-based battle system is innovative, even by contemporary standards.  I missed this game when it came out, but I have since gone back and fallen in love with it. You should too.

Soul Calibur II:  The greatest fighting game I have ever played.  Quick to pick up, but deep enough to warrant hours to master, SCII features a huge cast of fighters, most of which are distinct and interesting.  In addition to the VS fighting mode, the survival and story modes provide the single player with lots and lots to do.  The GameCube version is listed here as it also features the bonus character: Link from LoZ.

Wolfenstein 3D:  The game that brought me back up to speed in PC gaming.  Wolfenstein was the first real FPS that I had played and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of gaming.  Despite the blocky graphics, I maintain that the game play is good enough to hold up even today.  Lots to explore, palpable danger around every corner and a surprisingly well told story are not necessarily things I would expect to find in what is basically a shoot-em-up, but W3D has all of those things and more.  I'm ready to play through again just writing this.

Pokemon Snap:  I realize this might seem like an odd choice for this list, but it was an automatic one for me.  Pokemon Snap is an insidious little time waster that is endless amounts of fun to play.  It could stand to be a bit longer and maybe feature all 151 original Pokemon, but those quibbles are minor compared to how much fun the game is.  If you've missed this one, go get it.

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time:   THREE Zelda games on this list?  Somebody is a fanboy.  Maybe, but there was no way I could honestly argue against any of these games.  OoT is a nostalgic pick for me, but if you spend some time wandering around 3D Hyrule you easily see why this game belongs in any collection.  Great adventure, engaging storytelling, and some of the best puzzles in the franchise.  OoT is a defining game in the series.

Metroid Prime:  I'm not a fan of FPS and you'll not find many on this list, but Metroid Prime dials down the testosterone, blood-bathing and supplements it with great exploration and discovery that pays unexpected homage to the original Metroid.  This is an adventure game that plays as a FPS and it welcomes replay in a way that most FPS fall flat for me.

Katamari Damacy:  This is a gaming experience that should be had by everyone who has any love for video games.  Plenty of Japanese insanity skins this addictive roll up game. The premise is so absurdly simple, but the scale is enormous.  The J-Pop soundtrack is as good as the game it supports.  It would be a disservice to try to describe the majesty that is Katamari.

Shadow of the Colossus:  It is surprising how powerful atmosphere can be as a game play element.  SoC is basically a series of absolutely awesome boss battles, but those battles are played out across a vast and desolate landscape that creates a feeling of isolation that is unparalleled in video gaming (and that's saying something because Ico, Tomb Raider and Lost in Shadow are dripping with ambiance).  This is another gaming experience that is not to be missed.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night:  The term "Metroidvania" makes my skin crawl, but call it what you like, you cannot deny that SotN took the Castlevania franchise to a whole new level, an incredible new level.  There is so much to explore and the adventure is so well constructed that even once beaten, there is a lot of meat left to the game.  The revelation that there was an entire second castle to explore was mind-blowing, even for a seasoned player.

Roller Coaster Tycoon 2:  I love sandbox games.  (Minecraft very nearly made this list) I love amusement parks and roller coasters.  RC2 is a dream come true.  Build amazing amusement parks with breath-taking roller coasters, then manage those parks to great success!  What more could you want?

Heroes of Might and Magic III:  While I fell in love with HoMM2 in college and wasted many hours that I was meant to be studying playing that game through the night, the following effort would prove to be even more addictive.  I love strategy games.  I'm kind of shocked not to see more of them on this list, but I think that HoMM3 shines as the example of what a great adventure-strategy game is.  Multi-player only makes this game more fun.

Might and Magic VI:  Mandate of Heaven:  Fanboy strikes again, perhaps, but 3DO really was hitting their stride in the late 90's.  MMVI was one of the first free-roaming PC RPGs I had ever played, and it was mind-blowing.  My (then) girlfriend and I played this game for 4 days straight when we first bought it.  We played in shifts.  One of us would sleep whilst the other played, when we could not both be playing simultaneously.  Nostalgia aside, I played through this game again a few years ago, and it retains its coolness.

So there's the list.  25 games I highly recommend you play.  25 games that are the very best that the hobby has to offer.  I have no doubt your list contains other games that are near and dear to you.  There were 7 games that I had to cut from the above that honestly could have just as easily been in the list.  I'd like to take quick moment to pay tribute to those that ending up on the cutting room floor.

Ducktales: (NES)  Charming, fun, and challenging enough to betray the "kids' game" reputation that often maligns games based on cartoons.

Pokemon Puzzle League: (N64)  Addictive puzzler with a fun Pokemon skin.  Aimee and I still play marathon sessions of this game.

Tomb Raider:  (PSX) 3D platforming at its best.  Insidious puzzles and action sequences set against an ominous environment.  Tomb Raider sets the standard for this kind of game in the modern era.

Blaster Master:  (NES) A sleeper hit from a sleeper developer.  I played this game for hours and hours as a kid trying to beat the final boss.  I succeeded and then immediately played it through again.  Surprisingly challenging and extremely well made.

Betrayal at Krondor:  (PC) The predecessor to incredible games like Might and Magic in my gaming experience, this adventure RPG uses riddles as the locks on treasure chests.  That alone makes it worth playing.  There is also a very unique battle system.

LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy:  (GC) For me, this game was LEGO gaming at its apex.  The Star Wars doesn't overpower the LEGO fun.

Wizardry II: Knight of Diamonds:  (NES) A hardcore Western RPG that is not for the faint of heart, but is Western RPG at its finest.

Thanks for taking a stroll through these awesome games with me.  I'd love to see your list and hear what games define you as a player.