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by Nick Dinicola

7 Aug 2009

“Physicality” has become a buzzword in the gaming industry, used as a shorthand expression for anything that gives the player a sense of their avatar’s physical self. The intro to Call of Duty 4 is a good example: The character is shoved into a car, driven around, then dragged to a stage and executed. As he’s thrown around, the camera is also thrown around, so not only do we see what the character sees but we experience the same distortion he does. But watching this intro now, one gets a vague sense that something is missing: Limb movement, but specifically arm movement. Other games have embraced this new approach, putting an emphasis on the character’s limbs. While the idea of seeing our legs in a first-person shooter isn’t new, the way some games let us interact with our environment through our arms is new.

Far Cry 2 has an interesting approach because of what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t show your character’s legs. Despite this omission, the game is praised for its immersiveness and how well it portrays a sense of physical self. This praise is entirely due to the game’s unique healing animations. Our character will stab himself in the arm with a syrette, snap a dislocated finger back into place, burn a wound shut with a flare, and the list goes on. The important takeaway here is that we heal ourselves by interacting with our body, and most of those interactions focus on our arms. Because of the unique and memorable nature of these animations, we think of them when we think of the game, not the lack of the character’s legs. Most players probably won’t even realize they don’t have legs over the course of the game because there are few reasons for us to look down. When we do have to look down to pick up an object, the character’s hand reaches out and grabs that object instead of magically picking it up by walking over it. Our body, our arm, interacts with the environment, attracting our attention away from the fact that even though we’re staring straight down we don’t see any legs.

The Chronicles of Riddick games also realize the importance of showing the character’s arms. Escape from Butcher Bay, was one of the first games to have first-person hand-to-hand combat. The game fully embraced this idea by making guns “DNA encoded” so that Riddick couldn’t pick up enemy weapons. This forced players to use the hand-to-hand combat, whether it was stealth kills or punching/knifing a man before he could shoot. It’s interesting to note that even though you can see your legs in both Riddick games, there’s no practical reason to show them. As an FPS like Far Cry 2, players are more concerned with what’s ahead of them rather than what’s below them. In this case, making the legs visible was a purely aesthetic decision.

Mirror’s Edge takes multiple approaches to its version of gaming physicality, combining the methods of Far Cry 2 and The Chronicles of Riddick. Faith’s primary form of combat is hand-to-hand, but it plays a larger role here than in the Riddick games, and unlike those games Faith uses her legs to fight. While she can pick up guns, she can’t reload them, only firing whatever bullets are leftover inside. The weapons are not meant to be carried for long periods of time, instead the game prefers you fight with you fists. In addition to fighting, the animations for Faith’s general movement all work to add a greater sense of self to the game. When she jumps her feet stretch out in front of her, when she vaults over an object we see hand her hand rest on it and her legs swing out; her body is constantly on the screen so there’s never a moment when we feel disconnected, as if we don’t really exist, in this world. But unlike Far Cry 2 or The Chronicles of Riddick, physicality is not the sole purpose of such animations. They aren’t just meant to add a greater sense self, but also sense of momentum. Mirror’s Edge prides itself on how fast-paced it can be, the Time Trial mode is evidence of this. The game encourages players to move through its levels as fast as possible, and those moments when our limbs flash in and out of our field of view help create and sustain that sense of speed.

Shaking the camera is effective to a certain degree, but using one’s arms to interact with the world should be a new standard. It’s surprising how little seeing one’s legs matters; you could see you legs in Halo but did that affect the experience in any way? Far Cry 2 proves it’s unnecessary in first-person shooters, and it’s only for show in the Riddick games. They’re useful in Mirror’s Edge when judging our distance from a ledge, but that’s an entirely different kind of game. As far as shooters are concerned, it’s all about the arms.

by Steve Horowitz

7 Aug 2009

The cofounders of the Wanderlust Festival organized the event as half music/half yoga, and attendees could buy tickets for one part or the other or both. But it does seem that Jeff Krasno and Schuyler Grant may have been more interested in the yoga than the music. The duo sponsored a meet and greet with the press during Kaki King’s set and hyped the 800-person yoga class being taught when Rogue Wave performed. The organizers also sponsored an organic gourmet dinner during Jenny Lewis’s set. Yoga adherents may have been willing to skip Lewis to feed their bodies, but music lovers would choose the redheaded songstress.

Unlike Friday, to see the music Saturday one had to take the Funitel to the Gold Coast Stage, which is well over 8,000 feet high. The 15-minute ride through the mountains in a gondola made me feel like I was going to some important destination, rather than a sandy, shadeless area with a nice view.

The steady groove of jam rock band Big Light opened the afternoon festivities to a small, but appreciative crowd at 12:30pm as the temperature began to climb into the 90s. Groups of people steadily arrived from the lifts so that by the time Kaki King played, there were large pockets of crowds dotted across the dusty basin. King, shredding her electric guitar as part of a power trio offered the most controversial and funny statements of the day, “I’ll be a hippie, but I’m not doing that barefoot dancing thing. I won’t drink the moldy water. I’m not gonna do yoga, unless you can convince me, and that would be like convincing me there is a god. I don’t think so. I guess I’ve just offended half the audience.” Some, in agreement cheered, but the reaction was mostly silent from the crowd that loudly clapped for her music.

Rogue Wave followed with their dreamy alternative indie pop and claimed to be locals because of their Oakland, CA roots. The band pandered to the yoga followers (“Namaste, that’s Yoga 101, right people,” the lead singer earnestly said. The electricity level of the crowd jumped when Gillian Welch took the stage. I overheard several people say that this was who they came for most.

David Rawlings accompanied her on guitar as the two performed a litany of her best known songs, including “Miss Ohio”, “Talking Today About Elvis”, “Time (the Revelator)”, and others. Welch, with a pale white complexion and a sleeveless, summer weight robin’s egg blue dress, played both guitar and banjo and remarked how the audience were “my people” because they cheered when she picked up her banjo. Welch offered no comments about the yoga going on, and cheered the people twirling hula hoops to mantra-like rhythms as if they were dancing to her tunes, which they were in a way.

Jenny Lewis joined Rawlings and Welch on “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby”, which Welch wrote and sang with Emmylou Harris and Allison Krauss on the O Brother Where Art Thou movie soundtrack. The sweet harmonies generated a fevered response, that didn’t end even when Rawlings and Welch left the stage after a rollicking version of the country duet, “Jackson”.

Jenny Lewis was backed by a crack five-piece ensemble that also joined her for a five-part harmony on the song “Acid Tongue”. But the focus was always on the diminuitive lead singer whose small height belied her significant stature on the stage. Lewis took turns jumping and dancing besides singing and playing guitar and organ. She also conversed with the crowd. “Who’s your favorite Beatle,”  she asked. She then added, “I’m in the George camp. I think he wrote this,” and then she played the Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care,” a song in which Harrison plays guitar and sings, but is most associated with Tom Petty.

Lewis joked about the yoga present. “I went up in a gondola with a bunch of people doing ‘Downward Dog’ and it was a little creepy, sexually strange if you know what I mean.”  Lewis and her band mostly played tracks from her two recent solo albums, including “Born Secular” which addresses religious issues first hand in a somewhat critical manner.

The musical highlights for me ended with Lewis, but not for many in the crowd who seemed to be there for mindless body movements, which isn’t all that different from doing yoga exercises. Common, replacing a sick Michael Franti, led the audience in exuberant call and response rap with steamy overtones.

For many, the biggest highlight was DJ Girl Talk, who inspired people to dance along with snippets of tunes like, Tag Team’s “Whoomp, There it is”, Van Halen’s “Jump”.  and Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs”. The stage show used some sort of strange toilet paper blower, multi-colored confetti and oversized balls to generate excitement. The TP may have been better used elsewhere, considering the sausage grinder like quality of the dance music.

by PopMatters Staff

7 Aug 2009

Wild Beasts
Two Dancers
(Domino)
Releasing: 8 September 2009 (US) / out now in UK

SONG LIST
01 The Fun Powder Plot
02 Hooting and Howling
03 All the King’s Men
04 When I’m Sleepy…
05 We Still Got the Taste Dancing on Our Tongues
06 Two Dancers
07 Two Dancers II
08 This Is Our Lot
09 Underbelly
10 The Empty Nest

Wild Beasts
“All the King’s Men” [MP3]
     

by Rob Horning

7 Aug 2009

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

I don’t hate Thomas Pynchon like New York magazine reviewer Sam Anderson apparently does, but I agree with him about this: “I hate—maybe most of all—his characters’ stupid names.” Picking awful, jokey names for characters does seem to call the whole aesthetic into question, as it puts Pynchon’s sense of humor in a bad light. And the names come up continually, reminding readers over and over that that they might not be in safe hands. Is it ever actually funny when made-up characters are given funny names? Or is this a rhetorical tactic that only high-school English teachers find droll and amusing?

The complaint about stupid names reminded me of my long-held philosophy of judging bands by their names confidently, without ever having to hear their music. If a band chooses an annoying name—one of the most definitive choices they have to make collectively about what they are trying to accomplish—you can count on them to make similarly poor choices in their music. TV on the Radio? Sounds great, lets go for it, it’s got something. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah? Yes! Really whimsical. CYHSY! (Generally, it is bad when your band’s name is typically compressed to an acronym when your releases are being reviewed. This recourse to abbreviation is to save space, but I’m sure it also helps writers and editors keep from vomiting on their keyboards.)

by Bill Gibron

6 Aug 2009

John Hughes never got his third act. Argue all you want to over his creative canon, but here was a filmmaker who became a legitimate cinematic phenomenon, parlayed said undeniable success into a solid post-fad commercial career, and then…nothing. Self-imposed exile, a refusal to revisit his past, and now an untimely death from a heart attack at age 59. There is no denying his impact on the artform. Hughes melded the nostalgic feel good facets of life in high school with the real world traumas facing contemporary youth, combining comedy, sex, partying, parents, and suburban Chicago good times into the viable visual yearbook of our lives. And more times than not, he had a bitching soundtrack loaded with popular and unusual musical acts to accompany it.

Not bad for a mild-mannered Midwesterner who got his start in advertising. After a stint selling jokes, he wrote a piece about a prickly family holiday that caught the attention of the infamous National Lampoon. Soon, he became a staffer for the noted humor magazine, working on the ill-fated follow-up to the franchise’s Animal House, Class Reunion. Still, that minor screenwriting stint landed Hughes a couple of high profile gigs. He crafted one of Michael Keaton’s early blockbusters, 1983’s Mr. Mom, and that same year adapted his original short into the wildly successful National Lampoon’s Vacation. When both films became hits, Hollywood came calling and offered Hughes a chance to direct. The results - the ultimate ‘80s teen romp Sixteen Candles.

In this simple story of Samantha Baker, her big birthday, and the thoughtless family that completely forgot about it, Hughes found his motion picture purpose and his artistic muse. He had a wonderful ear for dialogue, combining current cultural touch stones (arcade games, rock band cues) with real feelings of alienation and awkwardness. In Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, he also discovered the perfect onscreen reflections of his own days at Glenbrook North High School. Though it wasn’t a massive triumph, it touched a nerve with a growing adolescent demographic, a fanbase Hollywood was desperate to serve. Home video spun it into a whirlwind. Giving Hughes room to grow, supporting studio Universal approved his next project - a semi-serious look at the complicated personalities patrolling the local schoolyard. The results were the milestone known as The Breakfast Club.

Like celluloid shorthands for everyone’s alma mater, Hughes found a unique way of taping into teen angst without making it seem too preachy or predictable. Talking realistically about parental expectation, clique controls, peer pressure, and the constant battle between conformity and individuality, it remains a movie totally in touch with its subject matter, a meaningful experience for everyone, no matter if you were “a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, or a criminal”. Of all the movies he made between 1984 and 1991, Club stands as one of his most important, if not his most popular. It has also become a signpost for a time when American youth were feeling disconnected from their elder’s world - and Hughes was rapidly becoming their troubadour.

While its flailing follow-up, the loopy, libido-driven Weird Science, showed signs of the formula falling apart, it was the next movie in his oeuvre that became a benchmark by which all his future endeavors would be judged. With up and coming actor Matthew Broderick on board, and a narrative lifted directly out of every kid’s daydream desire to play hooky, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off helped confirm Hughes’ burgeoning box office credence. As outsized fantasies go, this wild wish fulfillment glazed with a somber statement about maturity and taking responsibility is often seen as the most “grown-up” of his teen titles. Along with two other films that he scripted and produced - 1986’s Pretty in Pink and 1987’s Some Kind of Wonderful, Hughes was clearly outgrowing the minor raunch and ridiculousness of his previous efforts. He was ready to try his hand at more updated adult fare - and his next film proved he was up to the task.

Sweet, sentimental, and all together silly, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles was a brilliant showcase for comedian Steve Martin and SCTV sketch comedy giant John Candy. Playing two businessmen baffled by the travel conditions over a typical storm-strangled Thanksgiving weekend, Hughes took his penchant for quick one-liners and clever character shtick and forged a fascinating look at love and loneliness. As with many films centering around the holidays, there was a sentimentality at play that never got too weepy or too trite. Instead, Hughes dealt with his ad man Neal Page and traveling salesman Del Griffith as he would any mismatched comedy pair - he played to their strengths while stressing their obvious (and sometimes painful) differences.

By this time, Hughes was his own mini-multinational. He was helping assistant directors like Howard Deutch and newcomers like Peter Faiman and Jeremiah S. Chechik find work behind the lens and he continued to craft starring vehicles for fresh faced talent like Jennifer Connelly, Mary Stuart Masterson, and an under-aged firecracker who would soon become one of the most bankable child stars of all time, Macaulay Culkin. Hughes had featured the precocious pint-sized dynamo in what would end up being his second-to-last stint behind the camera, the hilarious Uncle Buck. Seeing how well he came off on camera, the gifted scenarist crafted a script solely for the talented 10 year old. The Christmas themed comedy, Home Alone, would go on to become one of the highest grossing films of all time. Oddly enough, it would create a kind of industry bankability that would drive Hughes out of the limelight and into a bizarre intentional banishment for the next two decades.

Indeed, Curly Sue would be his last directorial credit. From 1991 to 2008, he became a hired gun, working mostly for Disney forging family films and remakes of classic House of Mouse titles like The Absent-Minded Professor (renamed Flubber) and the live action 101 Dalmatians update starring Glenn Close. When DVD arrived to the home video format, many fans waited eagerly for Hughes’ commentary thoughts on his early ‘80s classics. Yet aside from a nominal appearance on the Ferris Bueller disc, he has almost completely avoided his earnest earlier period.

As of 1999, he wrote only one screenplay (2001’s Just Visiting) and became more and more media shy. There are very few photos of him from the last few years, even less interviews and print appearances, and aside from helping out his son with the film Reach the Rock, he all but eschewed film. It’s a falling out that still makes little sense, especially in today’s nostalgia-oriented mindset. One wonders if Hughes had a desk drawer filled with unfilled ideas, concepts waiting for his love of cinema to return.

All of which makes his sudden death so shocking. No before-their-time passing is ever acceptable, but Hughes has been so important to so many people, especially the founding facets of the Internet’s geek nation, that his lasting legacy was more than secure. But as with any hungry viewership, always wanting more, many wondered if Hughes would ever return to the big screen, crafting an undated version of the comedic fare he mastered over 25 years before. Like Thomas Pynchon or more appropriately, J. D. Salinger, Hughes was the voice of a generation silenced too soon - first, by his own hand, and second by the demands of destiny. While we will now never know if there was a third act in Hughes’ already massive myth, one things for sure - with how things began for the ‘80s icon, he will always be a part of cinema’s coming of age, both literally and figuratively.

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