A Glorious Fantasy: Jobs, Jobs, and more Jobs!

Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through FF13-2, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’. This list continues to undergo revision, and I seriously considered removing Final Fantasy 9 from it for personal reasons. But we’ll get there. I promise.

For those who are unfamiliar with my premise, here’s an almost comically thorough recap:

Most people have already played many/most/all of the games that I’m going to write about in this series (weirdly, as I compiled the list of games, I personally have not played a fair number of them). I don’t care. I’m going to look at all (most? I’m bad with structure, we’ll see how long this lasts) of the following things from these games:

– Some objective data. What version of the game did I play, and why did I select that one. This will be less important when I reach the PSX era, but we’re not there yet! One thing I’d like to do is discuss some of the changes between the “original” and the version I end up playing.
– Is the game any good? Seriously! I’m sure some of these games suck! <- Weirdly, most of them do not. Sadly, I believe our time with this bullet point might be done.
– Is the answer to that question, “It just doesn’t hold up”? Why? <– Let's see how Final Fantasy 7's polygons look in 2014.
– How would I place this game in a historical context? I want to watch the series evolve, devolve, side-volve and revolve as I go.
– Did I enjoy this game? What were the emotions and insane facial expressions I went through while playing it?
– How many times I frantically Googled maps for enormous maze-like dungeons because I no longer have the patience to solve them on my own?
– Was it… challenging? Were these games ever hard? Does the challenge ebb and flow?
– No MMORPGs. Sorry FF14 fans, I don’t ‘do’ MMORPGs anymore. Plus, the plan here hopefully doesn't involve spending a bunch of money acquiring and (especially) subscribing to games.

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research. Let's move on!


Version played: GBA

When FF5 first became available in the United States via the hilariously subpar PSX port… I did play it. I promise. And aside from the horrific loading times and comically bad cinematics, I enjoyed it. I don’t recall why I stopped playing, or exactly how far into the game I’d progressed… but I do know that I had never actually finished the game when I fired it up on the GBA for this series. I only vaguely recalled the story pieces, and even many of the dungeons, from my prior experience… but it was also distinctly different than coming into the game cold, because I did remember some useful stuff.

The GBA version of FF5 features a much cleaner translation than the PSX port, and one more faithful to the original script. As far as I could tell, that was the only substantive change between the version I played and the original. The GBA version has more content of course, in a bonus dungeon that I didn’t spend too much time on, as well as four new job classes, one of which is only obtained by spending more time in that aforementioned bonus dungeon. I did obtain the other three, however, and got at least some use out of the Gladiator class, which proved to be a fairly potent physical fighter.

The first thing you have to understand about Final Fantasy V is that the game is not at all serious. It is the polar opposite of the heavy, heavy, heavy drama of Final Fantasy IV, with its drearily serious characters and situations, people getting offed all the time, and the mighty Golbez. Instead, the characters spend a fair amount of time goofing around, and the villain is the hammiest of hams. Imagine what you might expect to see if you genetically recombined the most flamboyant bond villain with a cacklin’, teleportin’ evil warlock who is actually a tree. That sounds about right. Will he capture the heroes and put them in easily escapable situations? Yes, my friend, he will! Will he talk incessantly about his evil plans, and how it’s already too late to stop him? You better believe it! Is he actually a tree? Damn straight. Exdeath!

The second thing to understand about Final Fantasy V is that its story is really stupid. No, really, it’s no good at all. It doesn’t make much sense, doesn’t bear any kind of scrutiny, and just kind of arbitrarily bounces the characters from situation to situation with logic that ranges from questionable to absurd. In a way, it all comes together at the end, but it still doesn’t amount to much.

To give you some idea of the Job Menu if you've never seen it.

To give you some idea of the Job Menu if you’ve never seen it.

Given that, why would you bother playing Final Fantasy V? Well, because the game play itself is a mountain of fun. It’s a considerable improvement over all of the previous installments in this area. Why? I’m glad you asked. Because JOB SYSTEM! Yes, the famous Final Fantasy job system makes its triumphant return, and it has been upgraded a lot since the heady days of Final Fantasy III. Not only does Final Fantasy V feature up to 26 jobs (with the GBA jobs), but now each character can master skills (and ultimately entire jobs), then pass those skills around even while in another job. When battling superbosses or the final boss, you might even switch your characters to ‘bare’, which allows you to equip any items in the game, and completely customize your battle abilities. The possibilities here, as you can probably guess, are staggering. There is simply no equal to this level of customization to be found in earlier Final Fantasy titles. It probably seems pretty routine for those who are mostly familiar with the later games in the series, but this literally had no precedent at the time!

Of course, as I said, this job system is shackled to the lame story. The characters are pretty generic, though obviously realized in a way that far surpasses our friends from the NES era, or from the oft-maligned Mystic Quest. Bartz, for example, is afraid of flying. It comes up a couple of times. It doesn’t go much deeper than that. I’m in the very unusual position of having to recommend a Final Fantasy title only for those who like the sound of the job system and its customization options… because a compelling narrative, this ain’t.

Final Fantasy V is also the first game in the series to really introduce the concept of ‘superbosses’. The iconic vision of the super boss is probably still the mighty Emerald and Ruby Weapons from Final Fantasy VII… and truthfully, those battles are far more epic in scope than Final Fantasy V’s Shinryu or Omega. This does not mean that Omega or Shinryu are easy by any means, however. With some luck, a lot of fire protection, some more luck, and a somewhat over-leveled party, I was able to defeat Omega. Essentially, he just puts down an initial barrage of damage which will totally overwhelm an unprepared party of any level. If you can survive this (with Fire Rings and other such items), get a bit of luck that Omega doesn’t use his most powerful possible combination of moves, and then begin to lay down some damage, it actually pans out that he’s not too difficult. Shinryu is another matter. I know of a strategy to kill him, but it involved too many rare steals from rare monsters for my taste. However, from this point on, I will at least attempt Final Fantasy super bosses where available. I’m not putting too many rules on myself.

I can already assure you that I’m unlikely to have the patience to create Nemesis in Final Fantasy X, for example. But I am going to try and make monsters in the Monster Arena, and talk a little bit about that experience. I know from past experience that the games are about to get a good deal more side quest-y… sometimes absurdly so. I will breed chocobos, I will become a world class Triple Triad master, and I will try to remember how to find Ozma so he can kick my ass in Final Fantasy IX (okay, so I’ll probably just look it up on the internet). I plan to talk a little about these side quests, just for fun, and for those who are enjoying this on-going series.

Oh, and I did a fair amount of Googling in Final Fantasy V. Just as a word to the wary, I would point out that Final Fantasy V has many bosses that require a more tactical approach than simply ‘hit things’. It does ultimately boil down to that, of course, but Final Fantasy V shakes things up with some interesting battle mechanics. This really is a game that can entertain you, if you let it.

Just don’t expect the works of Shakespeare.

Here Are The Oscar Winners!

Gravity won the most but 12 Years A Slave won the award that everyone will remember.  With 7 Oscars, Gravity nearly tied with Cabaret for winning the most Oscars without also winning best picture.  Cabaret won 8 Oscars but lost best picture to The Godfather (which won 3 Oscars, the exact same amount as 12 Years A Slave).

“American Hustle”
“Captain Phillips”
“Dallas Buyers Club”
X – “12 Years a Slave”
“The Wolf of Wall Street”

X – Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity”
Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
Martin Scorsese, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”

Christian Bale, “American Hustle”
Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”
X – Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
X – Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”
Judi Dench, “Philomena”
Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”

Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”
Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Jonah Hill, “The Wolf of Wall Street”
X – Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”
X – Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”

“American Hustle”
“Blue Jasmine”
“Dallas Buyers Club”
X – “Her”

“Before Midnight”
“Captain Phillips”
X – “12 Years a Slave”
“The Wolf of Wall Street”

“The Broken Circle Breakdown”
X – “The Great Beauty”
“The Hunt”
“The Missing Picture’

“The Croods”
“Despicable Me 2”
“Ernest and Celestine”
X – “Frozen”
“The Wind Rises”

“The Act of Killing”
“Cutie and the Boxer”
“Dirty Wars”
“The Square”
X – “20 Feet From Stardom”

“The Grandmaster”
X – “Gravity”
“Inside Llewyn Davis”

“American Hustle”
“The Grandmaster”
X – “The Great Gatsby”
“The Invisible Woman”
“12 Years a Slave”

“American Hustle”
“Captain Phillips”
“Dallas Buyers Club”
X – “Gravity”
“12 Years a Slave”

X – “Dallas Buyers Club”
“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”
“The Lone Ranger”

“American Hustle”
X – “The Great Gatsby”
“12 Years a Slave”

“The Book Thief”
X – “Gravity”
“Saving Mr. Banks”

“Alone, Yet Not Alone” from “Alone, Yet Not Alone”
“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2”
X – “Let it Go” from “Frozen”
“The Moon Song” from “Her”
“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”

“All is Lost”
“Captain Phillips”
X – “Gravity”
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”
“Lone Survivor”

“Captain Phillips”
X – “Gravity”
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”
“Inside Llewyn Davis”
“Lone Survivor”

X – “Gravity”
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”
“Iron Man 3”
“The Lone Ranger”
“Star Trek: Into Darkness”

“Get a Horse!”
X – “Mr. Hublot”
“Room on the Broom”

“Facing Fear”
“Karama Has No Walls”
X – “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life”
“Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall”

“A quel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)”
“Avant De Tout Perdre” (Just Before Losing Everything)”
X – “Helium”
“Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)”
“The Voorman Problem”

What Lisa Watched Last Night #100: How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (dir by William Asher)

Last night, I watched the 1965 beach film, How To Stuff A Wild Bikini.

Why Was It Watching It?

Last night, I was in a motel room in San Antonio.  Now, as I’m sure we all know, one of the great things about staying in a motel is that you get a chance to discover all sorts of strange television stations that you otherwise may not have known existed.  It was while flipping through these odd  stations that I came across the final ten minutes of Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs.  Dr. Goldfoot was followed by How To Stuff A Wild Bikini.

What Was It About?

Oh Lord, where to begin?

Okay, so Frankie (Frankie Avalon) is serving in the U.S. Navy and has been assigned to Tahiti.  However, he’s worried that his girlfriend Dee Dee (Annette Funicello) might not stay true to him while he’s gone.  Why he thinks that is a good question because, seriously, Dee Dee really doesn’t seem to be the type to cheat.

Frankie goes to the local witch doctor (played by Buster Keaton) who casts a spell that causes a magic bikini to appear on the beaches in California.  “Man,” one surfer says, “dig that wild bikini!”  “A bikini ain’t nothing without the stuffing!” his girlfriend replies.  Suddenly, Cassandra (Beverly Adams) appears, providing the “stuffing” for the magic bikini.  Cassandra has been sent to the beach to keep an advertising executive (Dwayne Hickman) from stealing Dee Dee from Frankie.

Oh!  And the witch doctor also turns Frankie into a pelican so Frankie can fly back to the beach to keep an eye on Dee Dee.

And Mickey Rooney is in this movie!

And there’s a motorcycle gang!

And … it’s a musical!

What Worked?

This was exactly the type of mid-1960s youth film that I like almost despite myself.  Plotwise, it was pretty incoherent.  Acting-wise, it was nothing special.  The songs were not memorable.  The attitudes were sexist.  The entire film felt cheap.  And yet, it was so weird and energetic and sincerely silly that there was no way I couldn’t like it.  If nothing else, watching this film is probably as close as I’ll ever get to experiencing 1965.

What Did Not Work?

After having seen several of his silent films on TCM, it was a bit sad to see how Buster Keaton ended his career.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Cassandra had red hair, just like me!  Redheads unite!

Plus, I’ve been told that I look good in a wild bikini.

Lessons Learned

A bikini ain’t nothing … without the stuffing!

Here Are The Winners of The Independent Spirit Awards!

12 Years A Slave was the big winner at yesterday’s Independent Spirit Awards.  We’ll know if the same is true for the Oscars in just two more hours.

X – “12 Years A Slave”
“All is Lost”
“Frances Ha”
“Inside Llewyn Davis”

Shane Carruth, “Upstream Color”
J.C. Chandor, “All Is Lost”
X – Steve McQueen, “12 Years A Slave”
Jeff Nichols, “Mud”
Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”

Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave”
Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Michael B Jordan, “Fruitvale Station”
X – Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”

X – Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”
Gaby Hoffmann, “Crystal Fairy”
Brie Larson, “Short Term 12”
Shailene Woodley, “The Spectacular Now”

Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”
Will Forte, “Nebraska”
James Gandolfini, “Enough Said”
X – Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Keith Stanfield, “Short Term 12”

Melonie Diaz, “Fruitvale Station”
Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”
X – Lupita Nyongo, “12 Years a Slave”
Yolonda Ross, “Go For Sisters”
June Squibb, “Nebraska”

Woody Allen, “Blue Jasmine”
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater, “Before Midnight”
Nicole Holofcener, “Enough Said”
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, “The Spectacular Now”
X – John Ridley, “12 Years A Slave”

X – Sean Bobbitt, “12 Years A Slave”
Benoit Debie, “Spring Breakers”
Bruno Delbonnel, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Frank G. Demarco, “All Is Lost”
Matthias Grunsky, “Computer Chess”

Shane Carruth & David Lowery, “Upstream Color”
Jem Cohen & Marc Vives, “Museum Hours”
Frank G. Demarco, “All Is Lost”
Matthias Grunsky, “Computer Chess”
X – Nat Sanders, “Short Term 12”

X – “20 Feet From Stardom”
“After Tiller”
“Gideon’s Army”
“The Act of Killing”
“The Square”

“A Touch of Sin (China)
X – “Blue is the Warmest Color” (France)
“Gloria” (Chile)
“The Great Beauty” (Italy)
“The Hunt” (Denmark)

“Blue Caprice”
X – “Fruitvale Station”
“Una Noche”

Lake Bell, “In A World”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon”
X – Bob Nelson, “Nebraska”
Jill Soloway, “Afternoon Delight”
Mike Starrbury, “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete”

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (best feature made for under $500,000)
“Computer Chess”
“Crystal Fairy”
“Museum Hours”
“Pit Stop”
X – “This is Martin Bonner”

Here Are The Razzie Winners!

The Oscars aren’t the only film awards being given out this weekend.  The Razzie Awards were announced last night.  Movie 43 won Worst Picture.  And while Movie 43 is a truly terrible, terrible film, I still say that Man of Steel was worse.

Anyway, here are the “winners.”

“After Earth”
“Grown Ups 2”
“The Lone Ranger”
“A Madea Christmas”
X — “Movie 43”

Johnny Depp, “The Lone Ranger”
Ashton Kutcher, “Jobs”
Adam Sandler, “Grown Ups 2”
X — Jaden Smith, “After Earth”
Sylvester Stallne, “Bullet to the Head”/”Escape Plan”/”Grudge Match”

Halle Berry, “The Call”/”Movie 43”
Selena Gomez, “Getaway”
Lindsay Lohan, “The Canyons”
X — Tyler Perry, “A Madea Christmas”
Naomi Watts, “Diana”/”Movie 43”

Chris Brown, “Battle of the Year”
Larry the Cable Guy, “A Madea Christmas”
Taylor Lautner, “Grown Ups 2”
X — Will Smith, “After Earth”
Nick Swardson, “A Haunted House”/”Grown Ups 2”


Lady Gaga, “Machete Kills”
Salma Hayek, “Grown Ups 2”
Katherine Heigl, “The Big Wedding”
X — Kim Kardashian, “Tyler Perry’s Temptation”
Lindsay Lohan, “InAPPropriate Comedy”/”Scary Movie 5”

X — The 13 People Who Directed “Movie 43”
Dennis Dugan, “Grown Ups 2”
Tyler Perry, “A Madea Christmas”/”Temptation”
M. Night Shyamalan, “After Earth”
Gore Verbinski, “The Lone Ranger”

“After Earth” – Gary Whitta, M. Night Shyamalan, Will Smith
“Grown Ups 2” – Fred Wolfe, Adam Sandler, Tim Herlihy
“The Lone Ranger” – Ted Elliott, Justin Haythe, Terry Rosso
“A Madea Christmas” – Tyler Perry
X — “Movie 43” – Written by 19 “Screenwriters”

The Entire Cast of “Grown Ups 2”
The Entire Cast of “Movie 43”
Lindsay Lohan & Charlie Sheen, “Scary Movie 5”
Tyler Perry & Either Larry the Cable Guy or That Worn-Out Wig & Dress, “A Madea Christmas”
X — Jaden Smith & Will Smith on Planet Nepotism, “After Earth”

“Grown Ups 2”
“The Hangover Part III”
X — “The Lone Ranger”
“Scary Movie 5”
“The Smurfs 2”

Film Review: California Scheming (directed by Marco Weber)

California Scheming got an extremely limited theatrical release in January and it’s currently available via On Demand.   I have to admit that the only reason I ended up watching it is was because of the film’s title.  Having now seen the film, I still think it could definitely use a better title but the movie was still a lot more memorable than I was expecting.

California Scheming opens with a few scenes that seem like they were almost lifted verbatim from a 1969 film called Last Summer.  (Last Summer shows up occasionally on TCM and you really should watch it.)  Much as in Last Summer, California Scheming opens with an attractive but apparently sociopathic teenage girl (Gia Mantegna) discovering a wounded sea gull on the beach.  The girl recruits two teenage boys (played by Spencer Daniels and Devon Werkheiser) to help her both nurse the gull back to health and teach it how to fly again.  All three of them are pretty, shallow, and rich and quickly become close friends.  However, they end up meeting a shy girl (played here by Rachel Seiferth) who objects to the way they treat their pet sea gull.  The shy girl and the more sensitive of the two boys end up becoming a couple.  In Last Summer, this leads to the shy girl being raped.  In California Scheming, it leads to Mantegna convincing her three friends to break into a house with her, at which point the film’s plot takes a uniquely disturbing turn of its own.

California Scheming has been getting some terrible reviews but I rather liked it.  The film looks great, the cast is pretty enough that it really doesn’t matter that they’re not great actors, and director Marco Weber does a good job at creating and maintaining a persistent atmosphere of both suffocating ennui and impending doom.  The most frequent complaint that I’ve seen about California Scheming is that, up until the final few minutes, nothing really happens in the film but I think that’s the point.  California Scheming is a portrait of people who, as a result of having everything, are doomed to accomplish nothing.  As a result, California Scheming may not be entertaining in the conventional sense of the word but, when taken on its own terms, it’s something of a minor existential masterpiece.


Scenes That I Love: The Opening of the 1989 Academy Awards

Hi everyone!  Do you know what today is?

That’s right — it’s Oscar Day!

In order to prepare for my favorite holiday, I figured that I would go on YouTube and look at a few old Oscar production numbers.  In doing so, I came across the infamous Rob Lowe/Snow White dance number that opened the 1989 Academy Awards.  I was only three years old when this was first broadcast but I still like to think that, as this endless dance number was broadcast live across the world, I was sitting in front of the TV and telling myself that I could have done a better job with the choreography.

Incidentally, Snow White was played by an actress named Mary Ellen Bowman.  I have no idea if she’s a relative.