A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Campaign (dir. by Jay Roach)

Opening last weekend, The Campaign is the latest comedy from director Jay Roach.  The film tells the story of North Carolina Congressman Cam Brady (played by Will Ferrell), a Democrat who will remind viewers of such previous party statesmen as John Edwards and Anthony Weiner.  The complacent Brady has been in office for nearly a decade and he is regularly reelected without opposition.  However, when Brady accidentally leaves an obscene message on a random family’s answering machine, the multimillionaire Motch brother (John Lithgow and Dan Ayrkroyd) see a chance to replace Brady with a congressman who will essentially belong to them.  They recruit the naive and well-meaning Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) to run against Brady.  While Huggins is initially an awkward and unimpressive candidate, his image is soon transformed by a possibly demonic campaign manager (Dylan McDermott).  As Huggins starts to move up in the polls, Brady reacts by having a nervous breakdown of his own and soon the campaign gets very personal as both Huggins and Brady go to increasingly outrageous lengths to win the election.

As a work of political satire, The Campaign is fairly uneven.  This is largely because, while the film raises some valid points, those points are still the same points that have been made by hundreds of other films about the American political system.  If you didn’t already know that the American political system was controlled by wealthy corporations before you saw The Campaign then you probably shouldn’t be allowed to vote in the first place.  At its best, the film reminds us that both the Democrats and the Republicans pretty much answer to the same corporate masters.  At its worst, the film’s “message”  just feels like a stale and predictable lecture that one might hear while visiting an old  Occupy camp site.

But if the film doesn’t quite come together as a satire, it does work wonderfully well as a comedy.  Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are two of the funniest guys around and they are at the top of their game in this film.  Both of them bring such a sincerity to their absurd characters that even the most predictable of punchlines feel fresh and hilarious.  Zach Galifianakis is surprisingly likable and earnest as the painfully sincere Marty.  It’s no surprise to see Galifianakis playing someone who could charitably be described as a weirdo.  However, Galifianakis also bring a gentleness of spirit to the role and it’s impossible not to root for him.  Meanwhile, Will Ferrell not only manages to master a North Carolina accent but also manages to capture both the arrogance and the ignorance that’s necessary for a truly mediocre man to become a succesful politician.

However, the film’s best comedic performance comes from, believe it or not, Dylan McDermott.  Playing a slick political operative who always dresses in black and who, occasionally, appears to be possessed by the devil, McDermott is a wonder to behold in this film.  He steals every scene that he appears in and the prospect of his return alone should be reason enough for some brave film executive to greenlight The Campaign Part 2.

The Campaign works best when it’s content to simply make us laugh.  When it attempts to make a serious statement about the state of American politics, the film often feels flat.  But as a laugh-out-loud comedy, The Campaign is a definite winner.

Hottie of the Day: Leticia Dolera


The latest “Hottie of the Day” arrives courtesy of the Spanish horror film sequel REC 3: Genesis.

Miss Leticia Dolera takes on the role of Clara who happens to be the bride of the wedding setting that makes up the second sequel to the Spanish horror franchise REC. I won’t go into detail about whether this latest sequel is worth checking out. For some it was and for others it was a major letdown. One thing that everyone who has seen the film could agree on was Leticia Dolera being one of the highlights of the film. Ms. Dolera was something fierce in REC 3: Genesisand her performance made the film worth watching.

A Spanish actress who began her career in 2000 with the Spanish tv series Al salir de clase and who has become a fixture in Spanish entertainment, Ms. Dolera should become even more well-known around the world especially with the genre crowd because of her appearance in performance in REC 3: Genesis. She has that exotic look that Spanish women are always able to pull off without even trying. I wouldn’t be surprised if she one day makes the jump from Spain to Hollywood.


VGM Entry 15: A question of authorship (part 1)

VGM Entry 15: A question of authorship (part 1)
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

Everyone has likely heard at least some passing reference to the “console wars” between Nintendo and Sega beginning with the release of the Sega Master System in 1985. I am curious to know whether this is a posthumous attribution. The Master System never had a leg to stand on outside of Europe, and the heat never really came on until Sega released the Genesis/Master System in 1988. (Their rapid transition from third to fourth generation console may have had a lot to do with this.) Nintendo and Sega became ruthless rivals in the 1990s, playing all sorts of mind games with their markets and seeking out every legal loop-hole in the book. It makes for quite an interesting story, and I was initially inclined to think that frequent efforts to root out its origins in the third generation era generated some misconceptions over just how directly these companies targeted each other in the mid-80s. But perhaps I am wrong. Was the Master System’s flop a direct result of Nintendo strong-arming the market?

A part of this origin story lies in Nintendo’s licensing policies. One can frequently find such statements as “Any developer who signed on to produce software for the NES was trapped into an exclusivity contract. They were not allowed to develop games for competing systems for two years following the beginning of the contract, and they were limited to releasing only five games a year.” (Lucas DeWoody, “Nintendo vs. Sega: The Console War: Part One”, October 24, 2007. The original online publication appears to have been deleted.)

This sounds like quite a pickle, but I would like to know its more precise ramifications and loop-holes. What constituted a competing system? If these merely meant the Sega Master System and the Atari 7800, not home computers, then that could explain a lot, but it seems odd to me that Nintendo would let so many other competitors squeak by.

The reason I bring this up in the first place is because, come 1986, it feels as though nearly every game not published by Nintendo was appearing in half a dozen different formats. This has quite a few consequences for video game music, because the variance in sound quality from one medium to the next was vast. It becomes very difficult to point out a stellar soundtrack when the particular arrangement of that soundtrack, more often than not created by someone other than the original songwriter, is such a pivotal factor.

I would like to spend some time on this topic. Let’s look again at “Vampire Killer” and “Wicked Child” from Castlevania.

Does anything sound a bit different? Well, the tracks I posted yesterday should have sounded more like this:

Konami released Vampire Killer for the MSX2 about a month after they released Castlevania for the NES. MSX was a home computer architecture employed by a large variety of manufacturers. You could have a Yamaha MSX, a Sony MSX, a Sharp MSX, etc. Did that, along with a name change, get Konami around Nintendo’s licensing clause? Well, Castlevania series enthusiasts may claim that Vampire Killer was its own distinct game, but it doesn’t look it to me. Nintendo had no trouble pulling Rainbow Arts’ The Great Giana Sisters off the shelves despite it copying Super Mario Bros. to a lesser extent than Vampire Killer copied Castlevania (I’ll be covering that later). Whether Konami were less legally bound or simply had a sort of gentleman’s agreement (Nintendo had a lot more to lose by pissing them off) will remain a mystery to me for the time being.

But anyway, this is only the first example of many, and I wish to emphasize the musical distinctions. “Vampire Killer” in Vampire Killer has a much more crisp sound, which I would say is more readily appealing. But you’ll notice that early into the first break away from the main chorus, precisely at 22 seconds in both videos, a lot of the subtler notes which give the Castlevania version its real charm are completely missing in Vampire Killer. It’s enough to make or break the song for me, and moreover it could be enough to make or break the composer.

Now skip ahead to 1:32 in Vampire Killer and 1:35 in Castlevania and let’s take a look at “Wicked Child”.(Garudoh really did an outstanding job of syncing these up.) Here the distinction is shamefully obvious. The entire dramatic introduction is missing in Vampire Killer, and worse yet, the alternating bass beat of the main chorus has been reduced down to a single repeated note. I can’t bare to go any farther; Vampire Killer‘s soundtrack is a travesty compared to the original.

Or does it simply make do with the MSX2’s limitations as best it can? How do I know whether this was a cheap, hasty reconstruction or a thoughtful, best possible scenario? I suppose I’ll never know unless I attempt to reconstruct it myself or else listen to a whole bunch of other soundtracks released for both systems. But if I have to contextualize all of this stuff within a given system, and a lot of the best soundtracks appear on multiple systems, and a lot of their authors had nothing to do with the port arrangements, well this is all getting to be quite messy.

I observed in my last post that Kinuyo Yamashita refrained from disclosing which Castlevania tracks she wrote, despite having written most of them. Perhaps this is because game composition was far more of a group project than meets the eye. Satoe Terashima appears to be credited for both games under “music and sound effects”, and I tend to associate sound effects more directly with sound programming, but even the credits here are by no means official in the form I found them, and I have found plenty of fan-based game credits which falsely attribute the original sound programmer to a port. This distinction is critical. We have reached a point in time here where ‘composer’ and ‘sound programmer’ begin to branch off into separate jobs. Writing a catchy tune is one thing, and arranging it for a given platform is quite another. In the computer world the two jobs may have remained synonymous, but this was not so on the Nintendo. Where multiple parties are involved in this process, the qualities which distinguish an outstanding video game musician become hopelessly obscured.

It’s nice to put names and faces to the songs I love, but it’s important to realize that at least at some level this can be a facade. Even if Konami had never produced a quick port to the MSX2 and the Nintendo version was all we had to roll with, there’d be no telling which of the soundtrack’s more subtle thrills derived from the main melody’s author.