Quote of the Day

"We're only here briefly, and while I'm here I want to allow myself joy. So fuck it."
- Amy, Her.

Monday, 16 April 2012

RE:View: The Cabin in The Woods

*SPOILER FREE* (Which is essential for this!)

The funny thing about current horror movies - or torture porn, as they're often referred to - is the sheer emptiness of them. You pay, you sit down, you watch 90 minutes of kids getting murdered as gruesomely as possible and then you leave. There's no meaning or investment needed, and when truly thought about is a very nihilistic view of morals. Which is where The Cabin in The Woods comes in, to set the records straight and turn the horror flick on its head; but not in the ways you might think...

  Naturally, a bunch of teenagers visit a cabin and realise that all may not be what it seems, but in a sense far detached from your simple supernatural occurrences. Because in this Cabin in The Woods, lies something perhaps even darker than your average slasher tale, as these five are going to find out, at quite a cost.
The affectionate nods and references to
 the classics are a welcome sight.
 For us, anyway...
Why yes, even with that undertone, what I have just described may still sound generic, but believe me when I say this: IT IS NOT. There's this unique counter-perspective to the proceedings that remarkably puts the entire genre in a new light; a spin that melds sweetly and should certainly be kept secret until you've seen the film. Half the enjoyment of Cabin comes with the surprise of this one-of-a-kind story, which isn't even held over you up to the end: just straight up, first scene twist to get the ball rolling (albeit rolling upwards).

The deliberateness of this never feels forced, thanks to the handy work of Drew Goddard (Director/Co-Writer) and Joss Whedon (Writer), who instead throw the loop at a steady, well kept pace. Both sides of the narrative are balanced, allowing enough investment into each set of characters and worlds, despite one half of these being the morbidly optimistic villains and the other a group of familiar yet updated archetypes of teenagers.

And by updated, I mean believable. Because seriously, do you really think teenagers are that dumb to always split up? No, see these guys are smart, forward thinking kids who don't lack the common sense that apparently every other cabin-bound teen does (unless that becomes induced on them, of course...). Such maturity is then reflected with their relatively newbie cast, with Chris Hemsworth as probably the most recognisable due to his whole Thor gig. However, the true standout of these is Fran Kranz as the magnetically charming "Fool", Marty. From this side of the ride, Kranz steals the show with his stoner-yet-wisdom strewn persona, nailing all the damn-right delicious one-liners thrown his way (courtesy of Whedon, I've no doubt). This could well be his star-maker...

On the super-secret flip side, you've got an abundance of unexpected laughs. Again, the undeclared shape of The Cabin in The Woods still surprises with its multi-genre bending ingenuity. While the genuine scares remain ever scarce (sorry fear-fans, this isn't quite the scream fest you're looking for), you can expect plenty of humourous gags and set-ups that may as well have been in a straight-up comedy. Which in fact works better throughout to help detail the subtext lurking underneath the 95 minutes of pure entertainment.

The thing is with Cabin, you don't just walk out with a smile on your face; you're imparted with something overwhelming to ponder upon - How is watching people die fun? How did the genre get to the point where its main selling point was to watch human mutilation? So it takes these ideas and throws them back at the audience. Sure there are some gruesome deaths in here, but they've got weight to them: you've warmed to the character, you don't want to see them die, you feel their loss. In this sense, it isn't so much poking fun at those immoral conventions as it is ripping its stale heart out and presenting it for all to see, via a string of self-aware, mind-screwing metaness.

It may not be to everyone's taste, to be thrust upon with the truth that what you might have wanted from this film (torture porn) is ultimately not right. Though that's what makes it so good, the bluntness of this point, yet the subtlety of its delivery. Some may not even notice it, but still thoroughly love the film, whilst those who totally get it will totally get it AND thoroughly love the film.

So when The Cabin in The Woods reaches its converging third act of bizarre havoc and satisfying plot turn-arounds, and you've come to terms with the fact that this was not necessarily the film you paid for, I'd say you'll be pretty damn glad you were mislead into this soon-to-be classic genre-buster.

Change is good. But an entire overhaul of expectation? Now that's amazing.
5 Stars



Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Zach Braff's All New People

Zach Braff (or Dr John "JD" Dorian as some of us know him better in comedy-phenomenon Scrubs), has been touring his play, All New People, around the UK this year, starting in Manchester, then up to Glasgow, before finishing with a ten week run on the West End. Unlike the NY production that was put on Broadway last year, Zach is actually performing as the lead, giving theatre-goers the Brafftacular evening of both his sharp writing, and acting talents. And, being the sophisticated, play-watching, arts-appreciator that I am, (as well as a huge Scrubs fan), I was lucky enough to go see it... and more.

  The premise is a simple one: Four strangers (well, sort of) meet by chance at a desolate beach house in Long Island, NY, in the middle of Winter. What comes next is a display of the hardships of being young, the regret of the past, and the human curse of belonging vs loneliness. Braff is the bittered and cold Charlie, a guarded and sarcastic guy who we find in a pretty dark place at the start of the play. But he's not alone for long before Welsh actress and star of Torchwood, Eve Myles shows up as kooky-but-with-a-mysterious-past Emma, in a state of desperation to stay in work as to not get sent back to her native Britain. Soon what began as a peaceful "getaway" for Charlie turns into a madhouse as Byron the fire-chief/drug-dealer and Kim the prosti-- "Escort", round out this unlikely quad of varied, humourous and realistic (if a little quirky) characters.

 At its core, All New People is a Dramedy, mixing potent and contemporary themes with an edgy comedic balance slickly interwoven throughout. At various points we are treated to visual, pre-filmed back stories of the characters, which set in stone the freshness and post-modernity of the play, and allow a number of laughs to be had that stretches outside the limits of a one set piece, as well as connecting plot points and providing an emotional connection that the audience has with the characters, which they themselves may lack between each other.

Not surprisingly, Zach was great as down-in-the-dumps Charlie, teasing us only slightly with his morbid prologue, and pulling off a pained and tortured soul pushed to the edge. It's certainly a way off from the optimistic, goof-ball tones of JD, and I found it very weird to hear him drop numerous f-bombs throughout from his usually cheery voice. And then there's Eve Myles, who also shines outside of the badass Gwen Cooper of Torchwood, and gives a stand-out portrayal of a woman who's "Damaged goods", yet devotes her life trying to hide that fact.

And once the curtain's fallen and the terrific actors take their bow, letting the depth of the play sink in to the viewers mind, Zach just carries on giving. There was a quite a crowd to greet him outside by the stage door, all gratefully gathered to get a glimpse of the talented 37 year old. Like a true pro, he willingly signed programmes and tickets, and posed for photos with those camera-ready.

Thankfully, I'd picked up the show's script earlier, and so am now in possession of a signed copy from the writer/actor, as well as this very exciting picture:

Guy love?

The conversation between us went a little like this:

Zach: Hey thanks for coming.
Me: Yeah, it was really, really good.
Zach: Thank you so much.
Me: I'd ask you to Eagle with me, but it seems a little inappropriate here...
Zach: (Laughs) I get that request a lot, as you could imagine.
Me: Ha, yeah. Okay, thanks man.
Zach: No problem, thanks, take care buddy.

And yes, I totally had a fantasy where he said "There's no such thing as inappropriate!" and gracefully lifted me onto his back while we screamed "EAGLE!" to our hearts' content...

So in summary, this was an incredible night. Not only did I see an amazing new play, but got a picture with one of my favourite actors, as well as a signed script, which will all add to my collection of awesome, famous-people-related things. If you can get down to the Duke of York's Theatre in London before the end of April, and if there are any tickets left, then you really should consider going, even if it's just for a glimpse of the man himself.


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

RE:View: Journey

"Are video games art?" is a question I frequently see posed all around the web. The debate in which whether making something built for interaction is merely entertainment or an actual crafted product of creativity has raged online for a while now, with neither side quite trumping the other. But if Journey, the latest downloadable PSN title from thatgamecompany of Flower fame, is anything to go by, then the battle is substantially over. Journey is quite simply a marvel.

 You play as an unnamed robed traveller, Journeying across a desert wasteland to reach the distant mountain top and fulfill your mysterious destiny. That's it. No back-story, no cutscenes, no dialogue. You're just plopped into this dazzlingly bright world, and told to move in that direction. But it works, delightfully so. This is the kind of game where the less you know the better, so you can fully experience what happens around you as you play.

Thankfully, the back-drops in which you do this are of a very high-class level. Sun flares magnificently off the camera and illuminates the lush sands and stones for which to explore. And whilst the desert-based adventuring quickly changes to some surprising, even vaster and often unsettling climates, the visuals evolve along with it and help to truly immerse you in this odd, mysterious world.

In terms of controls, Journey is again kept bare-bones simple. Move, Fly and Shout are your three options as you navigate your traveller through the game. As you go along, you'll encounter strange creatures and tapestries in an asian-like language, that when brushed pass give you the limited ability to fly swiftly into the air to reach higher-places and glide over the terrain.

The Shout button gives you a personal insignia to broadcast and
interact with things within the world
But the greatest thing throughout Journey is the subtlety in which it takes players along the, well... Journey. As you progress, a little more is learnt about the world around you, and why the pilgrimage being undertook is being undertaken. You won't even notice it while playing, until you take a step back and realise you've been immersed within this game for the last couple hours and are absolutely with it. Naturally, the touching and ghostly score that accompanies the entire game does a lot to help accomplish this, coming out of nowhere at times with what you'd expect to hear in a big dramatic epic. The way it guides you without ever speaking a word is something to really respect in the way of both storytelling and game-making, that unfortunately is becoming less and less common in the age of the FPS and Action Orientated gaming.

And while roaming, you may notice another traveller join you on the unspoken quest. Not an NPC, but a real person, somewhere in the world playing Journey at the same time and in the same place as you. Seamlessly you are hooked up together, with no names given and no means of communication other than the Shout button, a single communication beacon to tap for a response. For me, this was what made the game truly magical: the ability to connect to another human being, watch and react to their little movements on screen, without having any preconceptions or information on who they are. Wondering around with someone like this increased the experience of Journey furthermore, because then everything just felt so real.

 We had a connection, a shared motif to play. But that's it. And so we Moved and Flew and Shouted together in a graceful harmony of what Journey really stood for. Hell, when one partner left me at a particularly dark part in the game, I was physically saddened and scared for the prospect of carrying on alone. When playing with another, there was this thrill, a sense of being that I'd never had with a game before. And then I reached the glorious final moments of the game, which were as harrowing as they were tremendous, due to me being alone and burdened with actual emotion within myself. It was madness, yet it was beautiful.

And when thinking about Journey, that seems like what it's all about: The Beauty. To give players a ride of awe and wonder with the game's presentation and experimental flow of story, to immerse them with the toppest of notch scores and brilliant execution, and then force them to feel the experience extend past the controller and screen, with the euphoria of an unseen connection whilst all these mechanics merge together to invade the mind and heart.

So when reaching those final few moments of the game, watching the credits roll and then presented once more with the start menu, I just had to stop. I had to think, to reflect, to be. It was quite a shock to have to do that at the end of a video game - I'd only ever experienced that "stare into space and absorb what just happened" moment when finishing an important book or film, but never a game. So you tell me, "Are video games art?"

If you own a PS3, if you can access the Store, and happen to have £10 free, then I believe you owe it to yourself to get Journey. As memorable as it is enjoyable (which is a seriously large amount), Journey is a modern masterpiece in gaming, and proves that you don't need guns and action to have a good time with your console. More than just a game; it's an experience, one that I doubt you'll find anywhere else for the short time it takes to finish. But of course, it's not about the destination...

A real game changer.

5 Stars

Trailer Tuesday: Ted

From Family Guy creator and American comedian, Seth MacFarlane, comes his first feature film in the shape of Ted. Naturally, with Seth writing/directing/starring/producing, there will be a very FG-esque feel to it, which thankfully looks to be refreshing and funny in the shape of a cinematic production. Let's get to synopsisising:

Mark Wahlberg plays John, a perfectly normal Boston native whose childhood wish for his teddy bear to come to life comes true. The bear (Ted) — voiced by MacFarlane himself — remains his best friend well into his adult years. Conflict emerges when Ted's irresponsible and vulgar slacker lifestyle comes in the way of John's attempt to embrace his adulthood and the woman of his dreams, Lori (Mila Kunis). - Wikipedia.
And now for the trailer, which briefly boasts Universal's brand new logo update! Ah, it's the little things. Anyway, there be plenty o' cussin' in this trailer, just so y'know:

Fun Facts/Observations:

  • Stars Mila Kunis, who also voices Meg in Family Guy: yep, kinda a different in real life, huh? 
  • Total Seth set-up going on, with a random character who shouldn't be talking doing just that and no-one giving a hoot, a la Brian the dog, or Roger the alien. And of course, lots of inappropriate profanity, drug use and obnoxiousness. But this time, in live-action form!
  • Sounds a lot like You, Me and Dupree crossed with Pegg 'n' Frost's Paul, which seems like a good combo on paper, and plays out fairly well here. 
  • Community's Joel McHale will be making an appearance at some point in the movie as a guy called Rex. Here's hoping for some doucheness from his performance.
  • First time directing on a feature for Seth, so it'll be interesting to see how his award-winning Family Guy formula will transition from animated 2D TV, to a fully realised live action movie. 
  • Release date is 13th July in the States, with an apparent 3rd August launch in the UK.