@WOSunshine – A Cynical Review #weareinpuglia

If Hannah Arterton was plucked from obscurity to play the role of Taylor in Walking on Sunshine, then it is from obscurity she came, and back to obscurity she will go. I don’t even have to be unkind in describing how her flat, motionless acting ability was nearly cringe worthy – because this isn’t the type of film you attend in order to see anything even comparable to Oscar winning performances – but a little relating can go a long way.

And that’s an issue which seems to plague ‘Walking On Sunshine’ from the moment the waves first crash up against the Italian beach in the opening moments of the film. Here we see “Raf” and Taylor enjoying a holiday romance, enraptured in the moment, as Raf asks Taylor to stay and not go anywhere. Taylor responds that she can’t because she needs to return to England and start University. I can’t find Arterton’s age anywhere online but I’m assuming she’s not trying to look in her late 20’s for the purposes of the script – an important piece of background information she’s just failed to convince me is genuine. And the person who applied her eyeliner in the ‘Power of Love’ scene needs to be fired. Right now.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh, this is a musical after all, the film combining some of the greatest hits of the 80’s and wrapping them up in between a flimsy story line. In the same way as some American studios have recently tried to introduce money into pornography (no, believe me, it’s true) I’ve actually seen better scripted XXX rated movies than some of the “filler” dialogue occurring on screen.

Taylor graduates from University and returns to the scene of her holiday three years later – in an effort to make the character as cliche and generic as possible there’s absolutely no mention of what she studied or really any thought to her personality – while the sister she visits (a sister who, script be believed, has been living in Italy for five weeks at her sister’s expense and doesn’t even bother meeting her at the airport) has gone to Italy for something one character calls a “mantox” and found herself in the arms of a new love. Worse still, she’s getting married in two days, and disregards the advice of her (by her own admission) more intelligent sister who tells her she’s absolutely mad.

Still reading? OK, let’s proceed

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffYH3CU6jDE

Taylor heads for the beach to meet “the old gang” and is elated to find a group of people (most of whom are ex-patriots) living on the beach with no real sign of income. Despite how happy Taylor is to see these close personal friends there has been zero communication with them for the past three years, absolutely no mention of Facebook or mobile phones and you’d believe Taylor didn’t get a single chance for a holiday or quick break during three years of her University course – whatever it was she studied again. Leona Lewis plays Elena, a pretty faceless cliche friend who decided to remain in Italy and take the “road less traveled” with her Italian lover Enrico. I’ll assume her parents weren’t worried she never obtained a Third Level Education or even returned to England once after that holiday romance three years ago to settle her affairs. But we’re not living in the real world.

Best friend to sisters Maddie and Taylor is Erotic fiction writer Lil, played by comedian Katy Brand, which itself is a bit of a disappointment because I actually like Ms Brand as a comedian (I’m saying this because she slips in a DC Comics reference to this film). I found her hosting of the 2011 Children In Need special of Never Mind the Buzzcocks was particularly good. Anyway, Ms Brand won’t mind me saying that – much like myself – she is a larger person and films this role by being the very typical – and again cliche – big fat friend. While I’m not objecting to Lil having friends like these I’m wondering why a seemingly extremely successful author would need to keep the company of two stick insect and glamorously pretty girls. During the group’s first meal together Lil tells Mikey (a larger man) that she is in Italy and doesn’t intend on “ordering the fish and chips” when he flirts with her. Good grief. While I’m all for Ms Brand asserting her individuality and not just simply hooking the ONLY two larger people in the film up – I don’t understand why that’s exactly what happens by the end? Yes, you can find love, but only with someone proportionality the same size in your group of friends.

Ms Brand’s character has this incredibly annoying habit of using her eyebrows to signify intrigue or hidden jokes between the friends, which makes it look just so much more cheesy than it needs to be, especially in the scene in which she asks Raf to leave so that everyone can prepare for Maddie’s hen night. Only problem is that Maddie has just discovered Taylor and Raf together in tears, alone in the dark, and they should probably all discuss this properly before the wedding tomorrow. But no, instead they go out on the pull, while the boys head to a strip club. The feminists are going to love this one!

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The film takes a spin through a collection of songs including Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ and Huey Lewis and the News ‘Power of Love’ (couldn’t you just leave Back to the Future alone?) but it’s not until Doug (played by Greg Wise) shows up that we’re treated to some of the most questionable innuendo driven dialogue in existence – because of this I assumed that we would, at very least, see some kind of sexual encounter between the characters – but there’s actually not a single thing like that in here (which, considering you might want to flog this to 12 year old girls, is probably for the best). Doug – an ex lover of Maddie – tries to convince her she’s making a mistake. At the same time Taylor is lying about the fact that she knows Raf and he is this mysterious ex-boyfriend she speaks of cryptically at the beginning of the film…it gets even worse when Doug invites Maddie out to a meal, toasts her wedding (the following morning) and says he’d like to find himself inside her. I think there was a quiet pause in the cinema at this moment as the audience wondered whether they’d be forgiven for laughing at such an obviously filthy joke.

By the end of the film (a film in which Cher does not make an appearance but her words are used to mend broken hearts) there is only the question of why Michael Bolton’s ‘How Can We Be Lovers’ wasn’t used? Furthermore, this is the kind of DVD that I could sit and trash, but which still sell thousands as long as University’s admit young women and ice cream is available behind store counters. While I’d be slightly interested to see whether there were any additional songs added to a later “home video” release I wouldn’t hold my breath for a complete director’s cut in which that Meat Loaf cameo turns into a performance of ‘I’m Gonna Love Her for Both of Us’ – Walking On Sunshine is cliche, badly scripted, badly cast, poorly directed and hopelessly cheesy – but, despite all that, isn’t the worst thing you’ll ever see on screen and can be forgiven for all these sins because Pierce Brosnan attempted to sing in Mamma Mia – and none of the cast are THAT bad. The only objection I have about this movie is that the money couldn’t have been used to make a better film, I salute the scriptwriter for managing to get his name on a major motion picture release, even when he only had to couple together a few lines of dialogue not worth the standard in a porno.

Enjoy.

A Whale of a Time Chasing the Internet…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OppissHGzdM

“From hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee!”
Moby Dick, Herman Melville

I remember when the Internet first came to my house. It was February 2000 and my father had recently purchased a PC based on the advice of actor Leonard Nimoy in some dodgy commercial, speaking about how a PC really could take you into the future. Early Internet in my house consisted of sneaking down on a Saturday morning to browse on-line for a few hours, hoping not to wake my parents, especially since you had to occupy the phone line in order to connect.

Today, the information we store and knowledge we hold is drastically altered by the Internet. Author Nicholas Carr has argued that “the internet has a dark side…a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.”  and this is something that I’m personally very eager to discover.

With my lecturer requesting us all to take a 24 hour “respite” from the Internet, I decided to examine this theory, first taking a walk to my local music store.

Online shopping and digital sales has meant a retailer like this has almost disappeared off the high street, the most notable example being that of HMV, but it’s interesting that while sceptics of HMV were quick to take to Twitter in January praising its downfall, their presence on the high street remains several months later – primarily because the consumer made a conscious choice to purchase its cheap stock and help save the company. The website designweek.co.uk argued at the time that “there was only really one thing that could have saved HMV, and that is going on-line-only” and yet HMV has launched nothing on-line since its rebirth.

That day I purchased the album A Tonic for the Troops by The Boomtown Rats, the band’s second album, originally released in 1978; this version was a remastered CD package released in 2005. It featured four bonus tracks, fairly forgettable songs, but something I’d never heard before. Only by browsing the shelves in the store today would I purchase this album and then by listening to it on a CD player (generously provided by the shop assistants) would I have been able to sample this musical delight in full and without the temptation to skip to the more well-known songs. As Adrian Covert of CNN Money argues, “Music nerds notwithstanding, the average music listener has really only cared about a few tracks off an album” and, as Tom Sexton of the Yahoo Contributors Network affirms, “The ability to easily construct your own compilation album out of your favourite songs by your favourite group seems to have had the effect of killing off the very concept of the album concept”. Therefore it seems that the artistic quality of the traditional album is being destroyed in a digital age and we, as a music buying public, are ignoring the journey a given musician takes with their work to produce the overall result and instead transfixed on that “single” ideal.

Back in the real world, the next stop on my trip was the City Library, which provides over 100 computers for Internet access and features automatic machines for checking out and returning library books, meaning you don’t actually have to speak to anyone provided you know what you’re looking for and how to find it. This anti-social behaviour has nothing to do with being on-line of course. I was here for a copy of Moby Dick, a book first published in 1851.

Despite it’s numerous references in popular literature and teachings, I’ve never actually read it, seeing this as the perfect day to do so. The parallel’s of the story, however, with my current social experiment were uncanny. One could almost view Ahab’s obsession with the whale and his drive for revenge in the same sense that mankind is drawn by the Internet, despite the dangers of not understanding it, yet still transfixed by the quest. In much the same way as the whale has taken Ahab’s leg, it could be argued (alongside Carr’s theories) that the Internet has taken mankinds attention and memory, leaving him confused and distracted to the bigger picture.

Furthermore, in Moby Dick it is Ahab who struggles to understand the essence of the whale – questioning what part this essence comes from – this conundrum could be seen as mankind’s struggle to understand what can be best defined as the essence of the Internet and how much to use it without becoming obsessed.

Subsequently, it was Leonard Nimoy who starred alongside Ricardo Montalban in 1982’s Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. In the picture, Montalban’s character becomes obsessed, in the same way of Ahab and the Whale, paraphrasing a line from Moby Dick towards Captain James Kirk – telling him that the reason for his anger is due to hate for hate’s sake. And, since we’re on the subject for unobtainable objects and Moby Dick, Star Trek 4 (The Voyage Home, 1986) was based around the story of a Great Whale being used to communicate with Aliens and, therefore, save mankind. Looking for the past to find our future. Perhaps a PC can take us into the future, but the Internet simply reaffirms us with our past. Without it we are just not reminded as quickly how obsessed we truly are. Carr’s theories, I therefore affirmed, had a certain element of truth about them.

And despite being over my word limit for the assignement, I was happy to be disconnected for the day, more so then I taught I would be.

Footnotes

1. How The Internet is Making Us Stupid by Nicholas Carr
2. Would It Be A Bad Thing if HMV Folded? by The Oxford Student
3. Where Did It Go Wrong for HMV by DesignWeek.co.uk
4. Boomtown Rats – A Tonic for the Troops (1978)
5. A Decade Of ITunes Singles Killed The Music Industry
6. Moby Dick By Herman Melville
7. The Use of Allusions and Metaphors in Melville’s Moby Dick and an Analysis of Their Meanings
8. Star Trek 2: The Wrath Of Khan

Until Dawn (PS4, 2015)

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Just what is horror in modern gaming? I remember playing Resident Evil in 1996 and being scared stupid. That was probably because I was 12 and the game was rated 15. It was also, probably, because the scariest thing I’d seen up until that point was Gremlins at a children’s birthday party – the host believing it to be a children’s film. I was much younger and much more scared.

But my filter has died in recent years, due in part to the over saturation of horror and suspense available on my TV/Computer screen, I think the last time I jumped at something was when Frank Underwood pushed Zoe Barnes in House of Cards. Don’t worry, I didn’t spoil it, you’ll have to wait and see. But there’s a comparative here because just like Kevin Spacey recently appeared in Call of Duty Advanced Warfare playing a sort of likeminded Frank Underwood character, so too has video gaming become more motion picture. And nothing that be said to be truer than Until Dawn.

Billed as an interactive drama survival horror game, Until Dawn comes to us from Supermassive Games, made exclusively for PlayStation 4 through Sony Entertainment. Supermassive brought us Killzone HD and Doctor Who The Eternity Clock which, in fairness, the latter was probably one of the worst games I have ever played on PS3. Safe to say right now that they’ve made some serious improvements. The plot of the game is like something right out of Cabin in the Woods or Friday 13th, as eight friends decide to vacation in a remote part of Western Canada, on a mountain in a cabin owned by the family of one of their best friends, exactly one year to the day that two friends disappeared in unexplained circumstances in the same place.

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Thrown into the fold, you play as every one of the friends at different times and places, from arriving at the venue to uncovering the plots and turns of the nights events. Suffice to say, I don’t think I can give anything away when I say things go from unexplained to much worse in a short space of time, and your biggest job is creating the choices that will keep these teenagers alive until, well, dawn. This is the particularly interesting thing about interactive games such as these because Until Dawn – as visually stunning and impressive as it is – provides a fair amount of choice should you pick route B as opposed to route C. This means the game has a relatively lengthy replay value and if you avoid a walkthrough, which could be accessed at a later stage for trophies and achievements, the game is very enjoyable replayed to see if you can take “the road less travelled” – in some cases opening up entire new scenes, chapters, junctions and character interactions you wouldn’t have gotten before.

The standout star for me though is Dr Hill, a psychiatrist (who may or may not be real) that guides the player through their game, often breaking the fourth wall in-between chapters of the game and asking them choices which will affect minor – but important – sections of future missions. The character is played by Peter Stormare (of Prison Break and Fargo fame) and genuinely gives a nice cameo feel to the experience. Regardless of what you say to Dr Hill, for example, won’t change anything major about the outcome of your game but will allow you to become more submerged in the world as you progress. His Swedish accent (I only found out his nationality by chance from one possible question answered) is probably the most chilling thing about an actors performance in the game.

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Each of the seven teenagers in the game play their clichéd role to the full. In true Hollywood fashion they all look much older than their ages, each of them providing either humour, oddball antics, sexiness, craziness or bitchiness. There’s even one character you probably forget is there for most of the game, and that’s not even a bad thing, because it means should you loose one you don’t loose out on quantity, but you may loose out on that special something the person brings. My personal favourite is Mike, a character played by Brett Dalton (you may have seen him in Agents of SHIELD or heard him in Robot Chicken) who begins the game as a rather toy boy style jock whose not a football player but is incredibly popular and eventually ends up transforming into this sort of Nathan Drake character. In fact, at some point, he even starts sounding much more like Nolan North who voices Drake and just ends up going through these weird costume changes to look and act like the character. It’s a nice homage, but I’d be genuinely interested to know if anyone else thinks this, and if that was the actors or the studios intention to allow such a blatant copy. And, even stranger, it doesn’t detract at all from the action or the experience.

For the more skittish of you there are a few good “jump” moments in this game and some of the more unnerving capture or survive moments give rise to panic decision making which will, on your first play at least, give you split seconds to make decisions that could really affect the outcome of your game. One feature requires you to actually hold the control as still as you can, mimicking the on screen decision to stand still and not move a muscle, and you’ll be surprised just how tense this can be in the few seconds you’re required. Especially as things are trying to shake you into moving.

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The plot twists and turns to introduce more horror than originally expected. About halfway through the original “plot device” is resolved and you suddenly realise things are a lot worse than originally expected. It’s a nice twist, though one you may see coming a mile off, but which contains tie ins to real world event and culture that genuinely gave me something to think about and learn from. The more you know I guess.

Unlike similar style games such as Heavy Rain I was also pleased how much more Until Dawn felt like a real game during play, I was able to do quite a bit with the control and even the basics of walking the character around, interacting with objects and locations and moving on a snowy trail all felt very much like any other action adventure game such as The Last Of Us. Of course, unlike Last Of Us – and probably because of this games immensely fantastic processor – what you see in the game while playing is virtually unnoticed from “cut scenes” or the traditional FMV section. In an early portion of the game I was asked a question by Dr Hill, who proceeded to hand me some information and then smiled, with the slightest of resolution changes I was now in control and for someone like myself – who has been playing video games since the Commodore 64 – this is an amazing sign of just how incredible games can now be.

Indeed, all of Until Dawn is just a love letter to the brilliance of what a PS4 can do, and although I’ve heard rumours (since confirmed) of another Until Dawn title on PlayStation VR – and undoubtedly some kind of follow up may arrive on the basic console, this game really speaks to the power of Sony’s current unit. Even if you’d introduced a game like this in 2002 people would have told you you’d just floored them, to compare it to the likes of the PlayStation’s earliest titles in 1995 just seems decades apart. Choices matter a lot and if your choice is simply which game to show off the majesty of PS4 to those on the fence, then the choice is clear.

Buy it now.