Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Grey Brings A Box Office Triumph

In The Grey, Liam Neeson's character leads an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks when their plane crashes into the remote Alaskan wilderness. Battling mortal injuries and merciless weather, the survivors have only a few days to escape the icy elements— and a vicious pack of rogue wolves on the hunt— before their time runs out... oh and you can expect it to run out... The Grey has Liam Neeson at his best, an outstanding movie that will have you gripping the edge of your seat. Some parts of the movie are slow, and people maybe upset by the films tone and ending. 

From the literary classic Moby Dick to the groundbreaking motion picture JAWS, one of the most enduring popular narratives has centered around the conflict between man and nature. Now comes an engaging new adventure about ordinary men stranded in the wilderness and pitted against impossible conditions and even more nightmarish predators. In THE GREY, set in the frozen mountains of Alaska, a pack of angry, snarling, bloodthirsty wolves are in dogged pursuit of human prey. As they pick off their helpless victims one at a time, the chances of survival for the last men standing just becomes more and more remote, which is scary. 

"This is a hard-core survivalist film," says director and co-writer Joe Carnahan, whose previous hits include Narc and Smokin' Aces. In The Grey, a group of men must fight for their lives against the extreme cold and snow as well as a hungry pack of wolves protecting their den. "If you're afraid of wild animals or plane travel, this movie will put you off for a good, long time." 

"The picture crosses numerous genres," says producer Jules Daly. "It's a thriller. It's a horror film. It's a character-driven drama of men struggling to survive." Based on the short story "Ghost Walker" by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, The Grey marks the second collaboration between Carnahan and international superstar Liam Neeson (Taken, Star Wars Episode I, Schindler's List), who previously teamed for the 2010 action-comedy The A-Team. Serving as producer and executive producer respectively on The Grey are Ridley and Tony Scott, who were also behind The A-Team. Nature is a scary place. Scientists depict humans as the top of the food chain. We are because of our superior intelligence and dominance; our current society is proof of that, even if we are still virtually primitive by our actions. It is only when we leave the comfort of our reason-driven domain that we are truly helpless. Even the most experienced survivor cannot survive the wilderness for long. There is a reason why animals, wolves specifically, are masters of their domain, and we are the prey, not the hunter. 

We follow Ottway (Neeson) a man who is hired to protect workers at an oil refinery from any predator that tends to attack them. On their trip back home, harsh weather conditions causes their jet to crash, with only 7 survivors. Their location could not be any better ,for they find themselves in gray wolf territory, and are picked off one by one. However, the story goes far beyond that. The movie deals with thoughts of suicide, the elements of death, philosophy, bad luck, survival, and if you analyze it a little more, twilight.  

Liam Neeson is physically up to the task in the harsh conditions his character battles in the cold, and is mentally prepared to venture al of Ottway's weaknesses. We are given flashes of his wife, that can only lead us to think she is no longer with him. Neeson explores these weaknesses. He displays a character wanting to leave the realm of life and enter the celestial one. It's only when the plot begins to take charge can we decrypt the words "wish granted". The other actors play their parts very well, displaying just how fragile and human people are when faced with danger and predators. We can admit that in our own world we can't help but establish our own territories; "big talk" because we want to prove how bad ass we are. To the vicious bwolves, we're just playthings, like mice to a hungry cat. 

"The Grey triggered something very primal inside of me," says Neeson, who initially heard of the project while conducting a string of press interviews with Carnahan for The A-Team in Berlin and later asked the director about the project over a lively dinner in London. After seeing the script, he quickly signed on for the lead, knowing full well that Carnahan would strive for realism by shooting on location near the sub-artic zone. "When I read the script, I was 57 years old, and the little boy inside me thought it would be great to take on such a demanding role," says Neeson. "I wanted audiences to say 'Wow, how did you guys do that?' At the same time, I was thinking, 'Jeez, can I physically do this?'"

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group continues its pop culture connectivity series If You Like with the newest volume, If You Like Monty Python… (Limelight Editions, $16.99) by Zack Handlen. From its perfectly insane television show to its consistently irreverent and riotous movies, Monty Python has owned the zany and absurd side of comedy since its debut and has a massive following to prove it. But there’s a finite supply of Monty Python in the world, and once you’ve finished going through that supply, what happens next? In a world of dwindling video stores— and instructive video store clerks— If You Like Monty Python… guides you through over 200 films, television shows, books, and other material that will satisfy your Python withdrawal. If you have graduated from the Ministry of Silly Walks and want more, this book is for you.

One thing I have to say right off the bat is how much I enjoy the variety the company is employing here. The Beatles is a pretty obvious choice, but The Sopranos is a little out of left field. And as great as Python were, they are still (at least in the U.S.) considered relatively obscure. One thing I really enjoyed about this book is the way Handlen opens it— with a discussion of the roots of the comedy of Monty Python. While it may not be a stunning revelation that the members of the troupe found inspiration in the Marx Brothers, his mention of Charles Schulz's Peanuts was a tad bit unexpected— as was Bob Newhart's 1960 debut comedy Album LP; The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart.

As the book progresses, Handlen details the history of Monty Python's various works, plus the many other programs and such that they inspired. It is little surprise that Saturday Night Live and SCTV are included. But there are some pretty cool connections the author makes which I intend to look into as well. Although I have seen Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971) many times, the mention of it in this context is interesting— and provides me with yet another excuse to watch it (as if I REALLY needed one). 

If You Like Monty Python… navigates readers through Python’s influences from Charlie Chaplin to the Flying Circus’s predecessor on British television, At Last the 1948 Show. Handlen also looks at Python’s contemporaries, other works by the individual Pythons, and those inspired in some way by Monty Python including mockumentaries like The Office and satirists like George Carlin. The book also includes useful appendixes like “Famous Monty Python Quotes, and How to Use Them” and “Master Lists of Musts for Python Addicts.” Surprising connections one may not have initially made are what make the If You Like Monty Python... book such a worthwhile read. This is a great series, and I certainly hope that the publisher continues with it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Brad Pitt Speaks Openly About Depression

Rethink Mental Illness said Pitt was ''brave'' for opening up about his depression in the 1990s and that his revelation could give many people ''renewed hope''. The Moneyball star, whose long-term girlfriend is Angelina Jolie, told the Hollywood Reporter he saw his experience with the mental illness as ''a great education''. In the 1990s Pitt starred in some of his biggest films including Fight Club, 12 Monkeys, Seven and The Devil's Own and admitted he smoked too much marijuana. 

Mark Davies, director of communications at Rethink Mental Illness, said on Thursday: ''Mental illness can happen to any of us at any time, whether famous or not, rich or poor. Sadly it can sometimes be difficult to talk about, even though people with mental illness need as much compassion and support as people with physical health problems." 

I personally commend Brad Pitt for speaking so courageously and openly about his experiences. Everyone knows someone with some form of mental illness, whether depression, anxiety or bipolar. When people in the public eye talk about mental illness, it sends a powerful message to all who face it at some point in their lives. I myself have suffered from both depression and anxiety and can sincerely attest that it isn't something you speak about with just anyone, some people simply do not understand it. Brad Pitt's story shows that it is possible to recover from depression, which will give many people renewed hope as well as the inspiration to talk about it openly.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bradley Cooper— An Edge Among Actors

Recently voted "The Sexiest Man in Hollywood" Bradley Cooper is grateful that he gave up drinking— because he would be dead if he hadn’t. The actor openly admits that he feared his love of booze might actually kill him. Ironically, Cooper starred in both "The Hangover" and "The Hangover II" but when asked about his own drinking habits, he was very stoic and serious, "I don’t partake any more," he said. "It just got to a point where it was like, ‘You know what? I’ve got to stop’ It was just the kind of thing where if I wanted to continue to live… I couldn't continue to drink." We applaud Cooper for both his candor and his healthy attitude. 

"Oh, God, I love therapy," he also explained. "It was not really a major crisis I went in with, just getting turned on to that aspect of wanting to grow as a person. I thought it was fantastic." Beating the start of alcoholism, is a noble and often difficult decision. Not every actor or actress has the ability to exercise the sheer will that Bradley Cooper did. More times than often you will discover that you require help. Having a goal that you want to achieve will indeed help make it a lot easier as the alcohol will pull all of the energy away from your goals, and will slowly ruin your life. If you can understand this enough to be fully aware of how your life is deteriorating, then you HAVE to quit alcohol. Alcohol in mild moderation is fine, but when you arrive at the point of getting smashed sideways at every opportunity... this is a sign [actually a massive billboard] your partying is out of control and it is time to quit alcohol.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Cooper's latest film, "The Words", which previewed to packed shows at Sundance and was tossed immediately into a heated bidding war for distribution, eventually went to CBS. "The Words" centers on a hot young author (played by Cooper) who plagiarizes from a forgotten manuscript; the film also features Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana and Ben Barnes. A source said that the field of bidders was winnowed down quickly after the team behind the film decided it wanted a traditional theatrical release rather than a day-and-date VOD release. Ultimately, the decision to go with CBS came down to "commitment in the awards season" and the back-end deal.

Some Helpful Links:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Will We See The Justice League in 2013?

Well, just as we expected, we're hearing a plethora of stories and rumors everywhere that are stating conclusively— there will be a "Justice League" film onscreen in 2013. When we decided to conduct some of our own speculation, we took the time to send top secret messages and e-mails to a few people who were in a position to know whether or not the film was really going to happen, and we all caught abit of shut eye... comfortable that we were right in stating as of this very moment [which could change so we are hedging all bets] that there's PROBABLY not going to be a "Justice League" film in 2013. Not with Joss Whedon's "Avengers" kickin' it very soon [this summer].

So then... our daring comrades over at theThe LA Times published part two of a Jeff Robinov piece recently, and again, they state rather confidently... the film's going to happen in 2013.  They don't leave much room for doubt, either. Here's the thing… we still don't believe there's a "Justice League" film coming that close on the heels of the "Superman" reboot.  We just don't.  We do believe that 2013 will be an extremely productive year for the Warner Bros. superhero business, and we would not remotely be shocked to see "The Flash" come out that year as well.

My guess is that Warner Bros. is going to wait to see if our very own Super Hero Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" works at the box-office (and creatively) before they finally make the commitment to a giant-budget team movie like this, and there's no guarantee they'll even be able to use Superman in it. If Christopher Nolan is going to be in charge of what happens to Batman after his trilogy of films concludes, as the Times piece also asserts, what would make him suddenly decide after years of saying that he hates the idea of Batman running around with other superheroes?  Also, is it just us, or does it seem like a huge punch in the face to an audience to start talking about a reboot right before anyone's started production on the current film?  We are sure they'll create more Batman films once Nolan isn't directing them... which is actually absurd [they need to just pony up and pay Nolan whatever he asks]... but if there's any way you could sap our enthusiasm for what you're about to do, it's telling us that you're already moving on. Focus on one at a time, okay?  If the third film is just a speedbump on the road to a reboot for the studio, why should we treat it any differently?

So can you make a "Justice League" without Superman and Batman? Sure they could do that. And they don't even have to make origin movies for the heroes involved first.  What they do need to do is tell a compelling story which completely justifies putting that many iconic characters together... and that's not an easy task to pull off..  If they're in development on a script already, great.  That directly contradicts what I've heard, which is that they're focused on individual films only at the moment, and that a certain red-suited hero has the inside track on being the next one in front of a camera.  These aren't cheap films or easy films to crank out in a year, though.

So I repeat… 2013?  Not [as Spike trhe vampire would say] bloody likely.  No matter how many times the Times keeps repeating it.  And in two years, let's meet back here and see who was right.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Brands Becoming Studios?

In many ways, product placement and entertainment is becoming indistinguishable. I think of just last year, when we watched ads for films which appeared to be just like any other YouTube video, like "Ape With AK-47," which was an ad for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In my humble opinion, what advertisers are realizing is that traditional commercials are losing their impact more than ever before. We're in the midst of a digital revolution, and we don't pay much attention to commercials very much anymore. And the ones that we do pay attention to are getting more and more ridiculous. Advertisers know now they MUST create compelling content, something that stands on its own as being entertainment, while still advertising the product.

I think there's no doubt whatsoever that brands are going to become their own studios. They'll always have to remind themselves, though, that content comes first, which is what the Coca-Cola strategy is becoming. What I think we might see is, long-form content (episodes) on a particular brand's website or channel, and short-form content (ads) on traditional TV directing people to the website/channel. That's nthe othing new, but I think we're going to see much much more of it. The short-form content will be the length of regular commercials, but there will be a cinematic quality, or story, that will make people want to see the longer version.

The ultimate goal is to convince consumers that they are NOT just getting a reminder to buy a product. The idea will always be to use the product in such a way that an emotional connection is made with both the product and the story.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Impermanence of It All

Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the meaning of life and the impermanent nature of it all. Observing how we do what we do, the struggles we put ourselves through, the drama, the pain and all of the suffering. I mean, when I look around, I see a lot of struggling each and every day— sometimes in my own life and often in the lives of others. It seems like, even though there is an abundance of immeasurable goodness in our lives, the prevalent theme seems to be this struggle to find balance, peace and happiness. And don't get me started on the universal theme of "having more equates into happiness". It doesn't because there really is no peace to be found in more as Dr. Wayne Dyer has pointed out in so many of his articles and books. “What is the meaning of it all? What is the purpose of life?” I asked silently in the privacy of my thoughts.

We ALL know how this game goes: the wanting for more never ends; and happiness will always (unless we intervene) appear to be just a reach away, in “some day” land, when we’ve finished this project or have reached that goal. We stride through life as if we will live forever. We treat time as a cheap commodity that we blindly waste. We become consumed by negativity. We hide behind victim stories. We get stuck in jobs and relationships that we dislike. We distract ourselves with the noise of media and other people’s opinions. We compete over beauty, status and owning stuff. We buy into the empty promises of cosmetics and luxury products— all of which are illusions fabricated by marketers.

Unable to forgive, we hold on to the pain and we blame people, things, and circumstances for our unhappiness. We surround ourselves with anxiety, stress and depression. Failing to recognize that these “dis-eases” and uncomfortable emotions are our soul’s way of saying, “Wake up! It’s time for a change, baby. This isn’t working.” We give up our dreams, our art, our purpose, and trade our lives in exchange for money so that we can make a living. While making money to sustain our needs is inevitable, in the making of a living we sometimes forget our unique gifts, we temporarily lose touch with the enormity of our inner being, and we distance ourselves from the confidence of our unique expressions and talents.

In a race to survive, we become mentally paralyzed— like a dove whose wings have been clipped and soon forgets that she can fly. It’s all so exhausting. It’s overwhelming. There’s no end to the madness of chasing. So many of us rush though life in this way, totally oblivious to the preciousness of whom we are and unaware of the beauty, wealth, abundance, love and opportunities that surround us. And before we know it, the sands of our hourglass run out, and we face the end of our brief existence on this planet— unfulfilled and regretful for all that we’ve missed. I know this may sound rather harsh, and it is. Viewing how we live in its blunt, naked candor can feel extremely rough around the edges. Truth stings. At the same time, we can use this emotionally charged observation to our advantage— to inspire us and to move us in such a way that we begin to think differently, love differently and perhaps even live differently...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Fear of Connection

I may never find the words to express how it feels to reach out to someone only to be given a brief word or two [no REAL explanation] and a quick, "Here's hoping your life goes well..." What I have learned over the past 50 years [I've been here far too long... LOL!] is that you cannot reach every single person and not everyone will "get" you, who you are, your kindness, compassion and sincerity. You CAN make a difference, touch lives and choose to be loving, compassionate and kind... but the rest is really out of your hands. We all touch each other's lives in one way or another. We are indeed all connected. But the most important constant that reaches the core of our souls is love. It trumps everything else that we convince ourselves we need so desperately. The more we need, the less we understand. Love is a gift. It is friendship and family... and so much more. I love it when people try to convince me [because I believe he/she is trying to convince themselves] that they... "have a good sense of people", it's rather sad... because the very same people end up wondering "how they could have been so wrong about someone so close? Why would anyone deceive them for so long?"

It has nothing to do with "knowing" or "having a good sense of people". You see, if you surround yourself with deceptive people... you don't have to get "close" to them. Odd as that may sound, it's exactly what some people do in order to keep up appearances. Meanwhile, the TRUTH, which lingers on... is that these people are lonely, disconnected from anyone who could possibly love them... and they really don't have to open up or be honest... or God forbid, vulnerable. It's a great trick because so many people in their circles are so very self-absorbed— they don't notice. 

Something I will never understand is why some people "choose" to be cut off, disconnected and unfortunately lost in his/her own perpetual self-induced drama, surrounded by phoney, self-absorbed narcissists who easily move on to the next "free party", or "free ride". I really do feel sorry for those people. Not because they tend to spend a great deal of time trying to reinvent themselves... but because of the reasons they use to rationalize it all. The world isn't getting easier. To quote a line from my all-time favorite TV Show, Buffy The Vampire Slayer... "The hardest thing in this world ... is to live in it." But like it or not, we must do just that.

And my lesson? You don't just stop caring about someone because that person decided it for you. You live, you learn... and you don't allow anyone to convince you to stop believing. Or as my favorite mentor, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer says, "With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose."

And to my friend? I will always be here, for as long as I am supposed to be... whatever that means. 

Monday, January 09, 2012

God is His Own Quarterback Mr. Tebow

Tim Tebow, unfortunately... intently prides himself on representing America's two great religions: Christianity and Football. But the way the young Denver Broncos' quarterback intertwines the two has made some followers of each faith extremely uncomfortable. His post-game interviews always begin with "I'd like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," and he frequently drops to one knee on the field and bows his head in prayer— a posture now called Tebowing. But Tim Tebow's behavior on the field does raise important questions about prayer and how Christians ought to practice it. Andrew Sullivan criticized Tim Tebow saying his public prayers violate Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) where he taught his followers to pray in private: "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:5-6) Referencing Tebow's habit of praying during NFL games before millions of spectators, Sullivan asks, "Why does a Christian publicly repudiate the God he worships?" Is Sullivan right? Is Tim Tebow actually violating the teachings of Christ with his behavior on the field? The answer is more complicated than critics of publicly practiced religion may prefer.
I think a case could also be made that the emergence of digital communication and online social media has made religious hypocrisy a more dangerous temptation today than we often recognize. Lee Siegel in his book Against the Machine, discusses how we hide behind false, "phantom" identities on the internet. It's a medium I think fosters immediacy and authenticity, but in truth it breeds shallowness, hate and hypocrasy. It allows us to easily build and present a facade to the world; an image of who we wish to be rather than who we really are. And in the case of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, intimate relationships that peer behind our facades are nearly impossible to foster (despite what so many 16-year-old girls wish to believe). In other words, on the web hypocrisy is not only easy, it is now quite mandatory.

At the risk of taking issue with the Tebowers, I don’t think Denver Broncos’ Tim Tebow is "God’s Quarterback." I don’t even know if God follows the NFL or if God cares very much about football. I do know, however, that Tebow is a religious lightning rod and that much of the criticism surrounding him has to do with the fact that Tebow is pushing his beliefs on people who go to NFL games to watch football, not to hear sermons or watch a young quarterback spotlight himself, thus opening a very dangerous can of worms for himself. Of course, remember once again, Jesus referred to the Pharisees, a class of educated elites that emerged from the ranks of affluent scribes and sages— the pundit class of the ancient world. They were notorious hypocrites, famous for phony displays of sanctimony [Tebowing], which is why Jesus mocked them.

But now comes word from one of Tebow’s teammates that "God’s quarterback" may be taking himself a little too seriously. According to the Denver Post, Tebow told Bronco linebacker Wesley Woodyard before the game, “Don’t worry about a thing,” because God had spoke to him [Tebow]. And what exactly did God say? That Chicago’s Marion Barber would mess up and fumble in overtime? And that Bronco players Elvis Dumervil and Matt Prater would take it from there? And if there is no "I" in team, why is God speaking to just one guy about all this? Tebow was kind of coy.

"It's not necessarily prophesying." Tebow told the Denver Post. Really Tim? Then what exactly is it? If you start telling your fellow teammates not to worry and that God has YOU covered, what exactly are you doing? THAT my friends, is taking it all too far. It's a game. Tebow is not a warrior leading his men into a battle with guns and violence, he's a quarterback, a human being. He possesse no more power than any other mortal man or woman. No word from Tebow on whether the Big Guy gave him a heads up about the Giants’ own miracle win. A lot of Giant fans feel their team is kind of miraculous. Me? I was fine with the John 3:16 guy in the endzone of every game.

I believe in God's economy there is not a single thought, feeling, or moment that is lost. There is nothing that is unseen or unrecorded. But in our culture of digital voyeurism, we are tempted to believe things only become real when they are external... on paper, published, posted, tweeted, or displayed. All the more reason why we need to recapture the discipline of secrecy in order to foster our trust that God is indeed with us and witnessing every thought and reflection. In the privacy of prayer I discover that my life really does matter— not because someone read it, heard it, or saw it, or told me that I had to or I would fall into a pit of fire and brimstone... but because God is my witness.  And I have never, nor will I ever,  feel compelled to "drop a knee" to prove myself to anyone.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Wind Waker Meets Twilight Princess?

It is said that ‘Good things come to those who wait’.Never has this been more the case than in the experiences of Zelda fans, due to the fact that they can go often go 3 to 4 years (or more) between new console-based titles. When Skyward Sword hits stores later this year, it will have been a full 5 years since we last set foot in Hyrule (in 2006’s The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess) on a console. You can imagine the anticipation then, surrounding the upcoming release of what is increasingly looking to be the Wii’s last great title.

For those of you who have never played a Zelda title before,The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is an action/adventure-based fantasy game that incorporates the use of puzzles and dungeon-solving, along with the usual combat-based gameplay you experience in most other games in the same genre. As such, this is the eighth Zelda game to appear on a Nintendo console, but will it be the best? While we won’t know for sure until the game releases, all of the info we’ve received on the game so far has shown it to be extremely promising, so let’s take a look, shall we? At first glance, you’ll notice something quite peculiar about Skyward Sword; namely, it’s art style. Described by many as a cross between Wind Waker’s cel-shading and Twilight Princess’ realistic look, Skyward Sword’s visuals has a pastel-like watercolor look to it. While many are split down the middle over the less realistic visuals, keep in mind that we still haven’t seen much of the game, only Skyloft and a few other areas.

One reason Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma chose to implement this art style was because he wanted to showcase the exaggerated features of some of the characters and enemies. He explained that the enemies were designed with a more exaggerated look in order to help players defeat them, and with that being the case, the art style of Twilight Princess just didn’t seem to fit. To many fans’ delight, Nintendo has confirmed the placement of Skyward Sword among the Zelda timeline. Aonuma has been quoted as saying that the game will serve as an origin story for the Master Sword, making it possibly the earliest Zelda title in the timeline. This time around, Link hails from a land in the skies, appropriately named “Skyloft.” The city will act as the central hub of activity for many of the game’s inhabitants, a la Majora’s Mask. And, in another interesting twist, Zelda is not just a princess in this game; rather, she is also a childhood friend of Link.

The game begins with the two of them in a boarding school, and soon after, Link attempts to take to the skies by capturing and riding a giant bird in an effort to both show up a rival and impress Zelda. However, something goes wrong and Zelda is mysteriously kidnapped during the ride and taken to the world below. Thus begins Link’s journey as he attempts to find her. Of course, this is merely a precursor to the real story. As a matter of fact, Link has a brand new adversary this time around: the mysterious Ghirahim. While his motivation remains unknown, he’ll be showing up at different points throughout the game to make his presence known and to cause trouble for Link; a very welcome change of pace from Ganon’s role in Twilight Princess.

And where exactly is series antagonist Ganon this time around? Aonuma isn’t saying, but he did mention that since the game tells the story of the birth of the Master Sword, it will also touch on why Ganon showed up. He also alluded to the fact that you will catch references to Ocarina of Time if you are familiar with the N64 title or the recent 3DS remake of it. Like its predecessor, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword incorporates the use of motion controls as well.

However, this time around, Nintendo is making use of Wii Motion+, making the controls much closer to 1:1 than the simple gesture-based controls of Twilight Princess. When you slash with Link’s sword, you’re not just slashing vertically or diagonally anymore; in this game there are a variety of different angles with which to operate.

Also, the nunchuk will control Link’s shield, so if you thrust it forward, the game will respond and do the same in-game as well. In addition, the ability to shoot beams from the sword will be returning in this game, so to charge up Link’s sword, you’ll have to hold the Wii remote vertically (as if you were pointing the sword towards the sky).

Though the motion controls are arguably the biggest change in the gameplay department this time around, there are a number of other changes as well. For the first time, Link will have a meter that gauges his energy, meaning that if you sprint, climb, or execute complex moves, his energy will go down. When the meter runs out, Link will stop to catch his breath. It’ll be interesting to see how this new mechanic holds out in the long run; however, if Link runs out of energy too often, Nintendo may have quite a few annoyed gamers on their hands. Dungeons will also be getting a shake-up in the sense that you won’t progress through this game like you did in previous games. Whereas previous games often separated the overworld from dungeons very distinctly, in this game the line between the two is a bit more blurred. Not only will parts of Hyrule Field act like dungeons, but you’ll return at different points to these areas and have much much more to explore than before; not unlike the formula in Metroid.

Last but not least, Link will explore a new dimension (similar in concept to the “Twilight Realm” from Twilight Princess) called the “Siren Realm,” where he will undergo trials to forge the Master Sword. Here, Link will be without his sword and will have to collect tear drops while avoiding powerful guardians (that can kill Link in one shot) in order to complete trials.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Graffiti6— Stealing Our Souls With Love

It is very rare to find a new band that puts forth a sound which wraps around your heart and steals your soul. Colours, the debut album from Britain’s Graffiti6, is as vividly vibrant as both the project’s moniker and its album title suggest: an uncategorizable me´lange of pop, psychedelia, R&B, and British Northern Soul that fully capitalizes on the soaring uplift of Jamie Scott’s emotionally transparent voice and gift for melody and TommyD’s irresistible rhythms and inventive production. Songs like “Stone In My Heart,” “Stare Into The Sun,” “Annie You Save Me,” and “Free” are “latter-day psych-soul nuggets, all phased vocals and sunshine melodies given the warp factor,” as London’s Guardian newspaper put it, while the remainder of Colours zigzags all over the musical map from the folk-soul balladry of “Goodbye Geoffrey Drake,” to the spare, gospel-inflected feel of “Over You,” to the down- tempo sultriness of “Calm The Storm,” to the jangly indie-rock vibe of “Lay Me Down.” “For me, the unexpectedness of the sound is the whole point,” Scott says. “It’s fun to mess with people’s heads.”

The relentless experimentation on Colours reflects the lively imagination of its creators, singer-songwriter Jamie Scott and songwriter-producer Tommy Danvers (who goes by TommyD)— both London-born multi-instrumentalists who began making music together in 2009 and decided to call the resulting collaboration Graffiti6. (A third member, the British artist and illustrator Jimi Crayon, designs all of Graffiti6’s artwork and is responsible for their bold logo and amazing Technicolor visuals.)

Scott grew up enthralled with soul and folk music, thanks to his father’s love for Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, and Marvin Gaye, and his mother’s predilection toward James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Carole King, and Joni Mitchell. Upon hearing Mitchell’s Blue at the age of seven, Scott picked up a guitar and taught himself to play. “At school, friends would be talking about bands like Bon Jovi and I didn’t have a clue who they were talking about as I didn’t start to listen to pop radio till I was 15,” he says. Scott began writing songs, and, by 17, had left school to focus on a career as a musician. He signed his first publishing deal at 20, followed by a record deal with Sony Music in the U.K., and began working with Jamiroquai keyboardist Toby Smith, but his album was never released due to the merger between two heavyweights...  Sony Records and BMG... which is very impressive

After signing with Polydor in 2006, Scott released his solo debut album, Park Bench Theories, under the name Jamie Scott and the Town. The album was a folky, acoustic-based affair on which Scott was backed by members of the Scottish band Travis. Jamie Scott and the Town toured for two years (including opening for Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, and Take That) and built up a sizable following in both Europe and Asia, which is not an easy task.

Scott was considering working with new collaborators as a way to repackage the album when an A&R executive at Polydor suggested he meet Danvers, who had remixed tracks by Michael Jackson and Bjo¨rk, and arranged and orchestrated concerts and recordings, along with his wife, for Kanye West, Jay-Z, Adele, Beyonce´, and Noel Gallagher, among others. A multi-instrumentalist, Danvers grew up listening to psychedelic rock, punk, and blues music before falling in love with hip-hop at age 17. “Public Enemy, Run-DMC, LL Cool J— it was that era,” he says. “I used to fly to New York City just to buy records and sneakers.” Danvers played guitar, keyboards, drums, and sang in a number of bands around South London, worked as a tape op in a commercial studio, and sold musical and studio equipment before he began DJ’ing at a local club at age 18. Over the next 13 years, Danvers made a name for himself as a DJ. 

He was a resident at Ministry of Sound and a regular at Cream and Back to Basics in the U.K., as well as Danceteria, Twilo, and DV8 in the U.S. Influenced by the sound of New York’s Paradise Garage and the rise of House music, Danvers formed a production duo with musician/DJ Jeremy Healy under the name Ezee Posse. Around that time, Danvers was asked to produce a track by an unsigned band called Right Said Fred. The song, “I’m Too Sexy,” debuted at No. 1 in the U.S. and hit the Top 10 in nine countries. Although it propelled his remix career, Danvers was more interested in writing, which led to his penning several songs for KT Tunstall, Corinne Bailey Rae, Janet Jackson, and Kylie Minogue. “Jamie came along soon after that,” Danvers says.

“Tommy and I hit it off straight away,” Scott says. “I brought in an idea I had for a folk thing I was doing and he said, ‘Let’s go for it,’ so we wrote it on acoustic guitar.” The track was “Stare Into The Sun.” Scott left to go on holiday for two weeks and received an email from Danvers when he returned saying he’d done a bit of work on the track and what did Jamie think? “When I first heard it, I was like, ‘What the f**k has he done to my song?’” Scott says with a laugh. “I was literally fuming. I had been expecting it to sound like my solo album. But then after listening to it a few times, I thought, ‘That’s not going on Park Bench Theories, but I love it.’”

“I was already a fan of Jamie’s music,” Danvers says. “He was playing in this intricate style with amazing lyrics, and I just said, ‘Look, you’ve got to let rip on this, mate.’ We both love a lot of the same music, so I think I awakened the Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye in him. He has a truly unique voice. It doesn’t sound like anyone else and that’s what I love about it.”

Rather than repackage Scott’s solo album and have Danvers produce it, the two decided to start writing original material together. “I didn’t want it to be a producer producing a solo artist,” Scott says. “It was a collaboration. The sound was just too strong to be anything else.” “Basically we just thought, ‘This is really good, there’s something happening here between us,’” 

Danvers says. “A musical relationship is very much like a personal relationship in the sense that you’ve got to just see where the road takes you, so we put our heads down, shut the doors, and kept working.” Over the next year and a half, the songs began to pour out. “It opened a door to a whole new way I could start thinking about some of the songs, with all these big harmonies,” Scott says. 

Indeed every song on Colours can be stripped down and performed on acoustic guitars and sound just as exciting. Check YouTube for Graffiti6’s stellar versions of “Annie You Save Me,” “Stone In My Heart,” “Calm The Storm,” and “Lay Me Down,” as well as covers of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” and Black Eyed Peas’ “I Got A Feeling.” Graffiti6’s live shows have also earned them a growing devoted fanbase around the world.

“We really are just two musicians enjoying the sound we make,” Danvers says. “It’s a sound that neither of us could make without the other's participation.” 

Graffiti6 released Colours on their own NWFree Music label in the U.K. in October 2010 and in April 2011 signed to Capitol Records, which will release a digital EP in June, followed by Colours later this year. Their songs have already been heard on such shows as Grey’s Anatomy, Covert Affairs, CSI: NY, One Tree Hill, and in the new MTV series Teen Wolf. Scott has relocated from London to Los Angeles and is looking forward to spending much of his time Stateside. “I’ve been signed to record labels for nine years and I’ve always wanted to come to America,” he says. “It was the one place where we got a load of love right away from the industry, so the minute my manager said, ‘Let’s do it, let’s move,’ I said, ‘I’ve got my bags packed, man. I’ve had them packed for nine years.’”