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The Slim City Pickers are predictably rock-country

in Culture by

ALEXANDER QUON

After having played in the Regina area for the last two years, the country and alternative rock band Slim City Pickers have released a self-titled album unlike anything else.

A member of south Saskatchewan’s burgeoning country-rock scene, the Slim City Pickers are fairly well known in the Regina area.

The Slim City Pickers are a five-piece contingent made up of bass guitarist and vocalist Dick Yeates, electric and acoustic guitarists Orin Paquette and Andy Beisel, vocalist and pedal steel and acoustic guitarist Ian Cameron and drummer Tristan Helgason. The five musicians bring together a variety of talents that make the band’s sound completely unique.

Composed of only 10 songs, Slim City Pickers is a fast paced jaunt through a mixture of vocal and instrumental tracks. The album conveys a sense of frantic urgency as Cameron’s pedal steel guitar sets an echoing but quick tune in many of the tracks.

The record opens with what is by far my favourite track of the entire album, “You Belong To Me.” It opens with the slow strumming of an acoustic guitar which picks up only to be joined by Cameron’s steel guitar. As the two mix, in comes the soft crooning of the lyrics: “This town is deserted/ Haven’t seen anyone in a while/ I sit here waiting and I got a thing to fake a smile.” The band sings before the drums and bass  kick in for the rest of the song. The mournful nature of the lyrics plays in perfect contrast to the upbeat tempo. It gives a taste of what is to come and more importantly it sets the mood for the songs which follow.

While overall the album is a non-stop ball of energy there are two low points that severely impact the quality of the album.

“Down the Hatch” and “Song for Paige” are the two instrumental tracks on the album and unlike the songs that feature vocals, they seem to have something missing. The music itself is strong, but the lack of some sort of leading vocals just leaves the listener wanting more.

This is a particular shame as on every track the band’s quartet of vocalists are strong and offer a beautiful contrast with the pace of the band’s instrumentals.

“No Good Man” is another highlight of the album. It is one of the slower songs of the recording but that does not mean that it doesn’t carry with it a lot of energy. While the lyrics of the song are stereotypically country — “No good women/ To hold at night/ No good women/ To treat me right” — the music carries with it numerous notes of rock and roll.

For fans of country, the Slim City Pickers’ self-titled album will be a breath of fresh air. Combining a mixture of country, alternative rock and psychedelic tones, it is a compelling but limited audio experience.

The Regina-based band is able to display a mature and well-developed sound across its short but well put together album.  While the album’s strong country themes are its biggest strength,  its most glaring weakness is the unfortunate fact that the limited nature of its sound may be unable to draw in any new fans to the genre.

Yet the biggest problem about this album is not that Slim City Pickers sticks to its country roots, but that at only 10 songs, its weakest tracks leave such large holes that it reduces the overall quality of the album.

The fact that this otherwise strong debut is marred by such significant issues does not leave me disheartened about one of Regina’s most promising acts. I am instead hopeful that the problems will be fixed before an anticipated second album.

Little Bird Pâtisserie & Café earns its wings

in Culture by

MADISON TAYLOR

Little Bird offers a warm environment.
Little Bird offers a warm environment.

With its vintage warehouse appearance and cozy, eclectic vibe, it would be completely excusable to confuse Little Bird Patisserie & Café with the loft apartment of a European artist — that is, if the artist also happened to specialize in the baking of mouth-watering French pastries.

Nestled outside the hub of downtown, Little Bird is the newest tenant in the historic Adilman building on the corner of 20th Street and Avenue B. Offering a glorious selection of teas, french press coffee and sinfully delicious baked goods, it is difficult to believe that this adorable café is only just shy of a month old.

Though it specializes in the finer — and French-er — things in life such as macarons and éclairs, Little Bird also offers a smorgasbord of unique sandwiches, soups and salads. The lunch menu is virtually a culinary wheel of fortune, rotating its choices from week to week to ensure that there will never be a dull moment for any palate.

After careful consideration of the menu and suppression of the desire to float away on an endless buttery sea of croissants, I settled on a pot of chai tea, a blood orange tart and one of the café’s signature macarons.

The first nibble of tart was all it took for me to develop a hopeless food-crush on Little Bird Café. Never before has the phrase “made with love” been so relevant. Even the simple flaky biscuit of the macaron was enough to justify a second — or tenth — helping. Last but certainly not least was the chai tea, an intoxicating blend of spices with infinitely more exotic kick to it than any run-of-the-mill bagged tea.

With its delightfully European vibe and charming atmosphere, Little Bird Pâtisserie & Café is the prime destination for group and solo outings alike. Considering Feb. 14 looming ominously on the horizon, Little Bird is definitely a location to put on your to-do list — because let’s be honest, there are few things more precious than a coffee and biscotti date.

Whether you are searching for a jolt to satisfy your caffeine fix, a source of artistic inspiration or a pit-stop during a shopping trip along the treasure-trove that is 20th Street, Little Bird Patisserie & Café is well worth a visit. Midterms are lurking just around the corner, after all. What better excuse is there for drowning your sorrows in cake?

Visit the Little Bird Café Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. at 258 Avenue B South.


Photo: Madison Taylor

12 Years a Slave is a difficult, superb film

in Culture by

JANE GALBREATH

Certain movies go beyond entertainment and capture a story that leaves a lasting impression on its audience. Directed by Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave is one of those movies.

Based on a 19th-century memoir with the same title, 12 Years a Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living with his wife and children in Saratoga, New York.

Solomon is abducted and sold into slavery in 1841. This well-respected carpenter and violinist is stripped of his past, his family and his identity before being transported to the Deep South as a plantation slave. While he insists on his freedom at the beginning of his enslavement, the scars from initially speaking up haunt Solomon and put him into a state of silence for most of his captivity.

Re-christened as Platt, Solomon is sold to a relatively sympathetic master named William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) but is later resold to the sadistic plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).

Epps is a merciless master and is obsessed with a female slave by the name of Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). Epps’ cycles of infatuation and rage with Patsey wreak havoc on the plantation, having a profound impact on Solomon.

Though he endures unimaginable beatings, it is the psychological torture that weighs heaviest on Solomon. While he attempts to forget his family and feels stripped of his dignity, there is an irresistible drive to escape enslavement that Solomon battles with throughout the plot.

The movie successfully portrays the complexities of Solomon’s survival through phenomenal character development that must be credited to the skill and heart of Ejiofor. Solomon is portrayed as a gentle-natured man who struggles with maintaining his true self in an unjust situation. Ejiofor has the ability to convey palpable anguish to the audience as they witness his relationship with both the other slaves — particularly Patsey — and his masters.

Just as talented as the leading man, Nyong’o and Fassbender are rightly Oscar nominated for their supporting roles.

Cumberbatch’s Ford is an intriguing character that the audience, like Solomon, can begin to appreciate while still being disgusted at the ambivalence he demonstrates. The contrast between Ford and Epp highlights an important point; sadistic or good-natured, when fundamental beliefs of superiority are upheld anyone is capable of furthering an evil an unjust system.

McQueen does not shelter the audience from the brutality of such a system. His use of long shots during horrific scenes makes the audience wince in pain with the characters while wishing for the scene to be over.

In particular, the audience is held with Solomon as he dangles in a noose after a plantation overseer tries to hang him. The viewer is forced to wait with him for what seems like hours for someone to cut him down. The silence in these moments, coupled with Solomon’s periodic gasping for air, is excruciating.

Indeed silence is used throughout the movie, and when music is incorporated it is purposeful and effective. Solomon’s violin plays an integral role in the plot and the sounds of the instrument are beautifully interwoven into the movie’s score. At the forefront of some scenes and other times complementary to the movie as a whole, the score is always absorbing.

Solomon is eventually freed, as the title suggests, but his abductors are never brought to justice. With Solomon’s captors left free, the audience cannot walk away without a sense of dissatisfaction at the injustices experienced by Solomon and so many others who were enslaved.

McQueen can be commended for approaching the subject matter in a way that does not alienate his audience with a sense of guilt, yet it is impossible to leave this movie without drawing a parallel with present day attitudes on slavery.

From beginning to end, 12 Years a Slave does not disappoint. It is a poignant tribute to the real Solomon Northup and the countless others who suffered until slavery was finally abolished in America. Although far from leisurely viewing, this historical movie is a must see.

12 Years a Slave plays at Roxy Theatre until Feb. 6.

Bioshock Infinite takes to the heavens

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A giant statue of the prophet Comstock welcomes you to the floating world of Columbia.
A giant statue of the prophet Comstock welcomes you to the floating world of Columbia.

It’s time to explore a new utopia — a world in the sky that believes Abraham Lincoln was a demon and that worships John Wilkes Booth for assassinating him.

The previous Bioshock games took place in Rapture, an underwater dystopia aiming for a new world. Rapture was created by Andrew Ryan, a crazed man with such a social vision, so bizarre that he had to build an aquatic society to see them come to fruition.

Where Bioshock and its sequel both took place in Rapture after disaster brought the city to the brink of damnation, Infinite takes place on the floating island of Columbia during what could easily be seen as its golden age. Here you are the force tearing it down, bringing heaven back to Earth.

The games could theoretically take place in the same universe, but are most related thematically and in terms of gameplay.

Infinite deals with extremist views and utopian ideals. A culture of white supremacists that worships U.S. presidents as gods, Columbians were so extreme that the rest of America rejected them and so they floated off, disappearing from view. Columbia takes southern secessionism to unprecedented heights, both literally — given its skybound setting — and figuratively.

As lead character Booker DeWitt, not much is revealed to the player. All you know is there is debt you must pay to a mysterious someone. You will repay this debt by finding a woman named Elizabeth and bringing her to your unnamed debtor. For this purpose you are dropped off at a deserted lighthouse with only one option available: climb. At the top, you are launched in a small rocket pod into the sky and Columbia is revealed.

It is a city dreamt up by a man named Comstock who claims he can see the future. He also claims that your character, DeWitt, is the false prophet who is meant to steal the lamb — his name for the girl you were sent to retrieve.

I could go on forever on the biblical references and commentary involved, but to do so would reveal elements designed to be experienced firsthand. Just know that the story is rich and only increases in complexity the more you explore.

Those familiar with Bioshock’s gameplay will feel right at home. For those who aren’t: you’re equipped with an array of upgradable weapons and abilities. These abilities are fantastic in nature and come in the form of power giving drinks called vigour, which can be combined with weapons in unique ways during battle.

The way Infinite updates the previous two Bioshock’s combat makes this edition of the franchise stand out. Everything in Columbia feels fucked all to hell in a way that breathes new life into the stale, war-torn environments that usually plague first-person shooters. The events that take place when you are exploring the flying city blow everything the original game had out the water. Infinite uses its floating setting to its advantage by giving the player opportunities to hurtle all over the terrain in search of the best way to take out your enemy.

The biggest addition to the new game comes in the form of the much-talked-about Elizabeth, the player’s near-constant companion. She is one of the most well-realized characters in video game history and certainly sets a high standard for future games.

Elizabeth always feels like she is there experiencing the game with you. Although initially she seems like the damsel in distress, it becomes clear she is your partner. When you’re exploring, she grabs things for you and brings items of interest to your attention. A character this well-developed feels so real at times that it’s almost scary.

One of Elizabeth’s primary character traits, which is key to showing a lot of the disturbances within Columbia, is her ability to activate rifts — seams in space that open like a window into another world. These add to the chaos of not only the story but also the conflicts, since what’s behind these rifts is highly unpredictable.

Infinite takes the slower pace of the original and scraps it, adding endless opportunities in combat to the point of overwhelming the player. The amount of options available to take enemies out is staggering and can lead to indecisiveness while fighting. I’m always worried that I might be missing out on some exciting possibility I haven’t considered yet.

Bioshock Infinite is an incredible thrill ride of a game that transcends expectations and contains some of the most memorable environments and characters to date. It needs to be experienced firsthand to be believed.


Photo: Photo: JBLivin/Flickr

Sloan rocks Louis’: Toronto band exceeds every expectation live in concert

in Culture by

LEIF CARLSON

Sloan on stage at Louis’ on Sept. 19.

[box type=”info”]Don’t forget to check out our full photo gallery from Sloan’s Sept. 19 show at Louis’.[/box]

Oh, Sloan. I’ve loved their albums since I was a zitty-faced teen and I still love them now, as a 29-year-old scumbag.

I’ve always been more in love with Twice Removed than any other album of theirs, mostly due, at first, to its accessibility. One song after another is pop perfection. Luckily for me, they played that classic album in its entirety at their Sept. 19 show at Louis.

I should mention at this point that I had never seen them live before. I’ve attempted to, and lost out, but this time I finally made it. There was no opening band, much to my pleasure. Over two hours of Sloan.

About an hour past the estimated time, Sloan hit the stage. They started with “Penpals,” the first track from Twice Removed.

As they continued to play the album, I had a horrible grin on stuck on my face while I awkwardly mouthed the words the entire time. I had more and more beer, and duck out for a cigarette when they played the last song.

The second set was a mix of old favorites and songs from their new album, The Double Cross. The new songs sounded great and I wish I had known more about them prior to them playing.

The encore began with “Money City Maniacs” and ended with songs that were less familia to me. While I have not been following them closely for the past 10 years or so, I definitely wished I had been when I got to the show.

As I said, I have never seen them live before. At the first chords of “Penpals,” and further through one of the greatest Can-Rock albums ever released, I found myself exactly where I wanted to be in life.

Frontman Chris Murphy is a beautiful man who led a chorus of 1990’s innocence all the way to the root of my heart. Later in the night I attempted to talk to Chris, rather unsuccessfully. It came out something like, “Hurr duur good shoooow.”

If you don’t trust my admittedly biased review of this great Canadian band, and listen to any one of their albums before submitting yourself to one of the most satisfying live experiences of your life.


Photos: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf

Gaming under the radar: Dear Esther

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Dear Esther is all about the poetry, the visuals and the gloomy nature of this island of the Hebrides, Scotland.
“Dear Esther. The morning after I was washed ashore, salt in my ears, sand in my mouth and the waves always at my ankles, I felt as though everything had conspired to this one last shipwreck. I remembered nothing but water, stones in my belly and my shoes threatening to drag me under to where only the most listless of creatures swim.”

Do you remember what happened to Esther, Donnelly, Paul and Jakobson on the road to Damascus? Because I sure don’t, and I’ve finished the game. The real question is, have I failed a puzzle or have I simply “played” a digital poem? Dear Esther poses these questions and more while, in a smooth English accent, sweetly declining to answer any of them.

You begin at the shore of what you later learn to be an island of the Hebrides, Scotland, and a narrator introduces you to an abandoned lighthouse with the above quotation. Your perspective is first-person and presumably you are either the narrator or following in his footsteps as you wander the dreary, desolate, serene world while he reads letters written to someone named Esther.

With no apparent objective, you chart your way around the island listlessly, hearing only the spacious, ambient piano score and the occasional foreboding words of the narrator who seems to recount the story of a tragic car accident featuring Esther and the other three characters mentioned earlier.

Mind you, the narrator does this through abstract, poetic fragments weaving in more metaphors and Biblical allegory than anyone could possibly make sense of. However, considering some of these story fragments generate randomly and there are a few slightly different paths you can take to the ending, the game is clearly intended for multiple playthroughs — especially as it clocks in at a mere two hours.

And just how do you play it exactly? It sounds like an inane question, but so far the description seems like something much closer to a film than a game. Is it even a game?

Much like your journey in the game, the production of Dear Esther had simple, skeletal beginnings. It was originally created as a free PC mod of Half-Life 2 by developer thechineseroom in 2008, which was just a research project at the University of Portsmouth then.

The mod reached cult status and after winning Best World/Story at the IndieCade Independent Game awards in 2009, thechineseroom began re-developing Dear Esther as its own full-fledged PC game, with an extended story and a complete overhaul of the visuals and level design, making it less confusing for players to find their way around. And here I was about to complain about getting lost too many times.

With enough community support, the remake was released on Feb. 14 and since then has been gaining immense critical acclaim in addition to winning the Excellence in Visual Arts Award at the Independent Games Festival. Now it certainly sounds like a game doesn’t it?

What makes it feel less like a game is when you actually play it. Yes, you can move and look in all directions as in any first-person shooter, however you cannot jump, crouch or interact with any object at any time in the game. On a functional level, this can be tiresome as I often found myself stuck on rocks and forced to spend much of my time re-tracing my steps.

Even when you venture into a dark cabin, your flashlight turns on by itself. The only tool at your disposal is a slight zoom via mouse click — as if your character is squinting at some minute detail in your surroundings. As you explore the island, you stumble upon all sorts of clues to the story: broken car parts, photos, Bible verses in luminescent paint on the walls and underwater hallucination scenes. And a few ghosts. Did I mention this game was surrealist?

It often feels less like playing a game and more like reliving a memory. True, it is still an interactive environment insofar as your movement through the space cues music and narration, and your capacity for observation determines how well you can unravel the cryptic story, but despite its lack of clear direction, the game is still very linear.

And much like a memory, the environment will occasionally give you slightly different information than the last time you played it, but the story is largely the same and you end up in the same place. The world, like the tragic event you are trying to unfold, is static and unchangeable but full of enticing secrets. All you can do hike through the desolate past and observe.

You may even find yourself taking screenshots of clues to piece together later while you attempt to reminisce with the narrator who pulls you through his experience, his identity oscillating between every character as he reads the letters, becoming increasingly distraught and ambiguous, the music becoming heavier, more orchestral and emotive. This is no puzzle game. This is literature; the narrator is the author, you are the reader and both of you are the protagonist.

And if games can be called digital literature, this title would be literary fiction. How on Earth then does it keep you entertained? I will admit the game requires patience, but I was surprised to find how engaged I was simply walking around with no pressure from external goals or judgements of my performance — I likely have the natural beauty and enigmatic artifacts of the island itself to thank for that.

As you can tell, you need to be in the right mood for this. Though it’s only two hours for a single playthrough, this game is not for someone looking for a flashy physics puzzle or bubble-gum shooter, but if you’re having trouble deciding between your English homework and playing a video game, try curling up with Dear Esther. There are no points, no winning or losing, and no rush; just eerie beauty and mystery. And when you’re finished, just be sure to ask yourself: What do you remember?


Image: Supplied

We Need to Talk About Kevin is tedious psychological horror

in Culture by

rating: ★★

These two put a lot of work into developing a convincing family scowl.

Sometimes directors and actors work at cross purposes, causing a film to be disjointed and aimless, regardless of a clever scene here or a good performance there. Unfortunately, such cross purposes plague We Need to Talk About Kevin and are likely responsible for much of its failure as a film.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a celebrated psychological horror drama that follows Eva Khatachadourian, a reluctant mother, as she deals with her demon-seed son Kevin and the aftermath of his horrific actions at school.

The film has no fixed timeline and jumps around to moments before and after Kevin’s crimes with no discernible pattern. The sequencing of events merely reflects Eva’s fragile mental state. She is as much consumed by the horrors of Kevin’s childhood and her failure as a mother in the past as she is by the aftermath of his crimes she deals with in the present.

Tilda Swinton, the pale, androgynous actress known for her roles in The Chronicles of Narnia and Michael Clayton, plays Eva. Swinton is a fascinating actress; she carries this film and gives an impressive performance despite its failings. This is because We Need to Talk About Kevin is most interesting in its exploration of Eva’s depression and hatred for her child, Kevin.

Eva never wanted to have a child and from the early moments when baby Kevin refuses to stop crying, we realize she hates the kid. In one hilarious scene, Eva is out with Kevin in his stroller and takes a break beside a jackhammer in the streets of New York City, basking in the machine’s loud noise as it drowns out her child’s wails. The scene is extremely honest, but little touches like this are few and far between and can’t save the film from its glaring tonal mistakes.

One major error is that director Lynne Ramsay seems to think this is a horror film. She makes the film impressionistic and fills it with stylistic flourishes. It’s as if she intends to pummel the audience into terror through exaggeration and the relentlessly depressing tone of everything occurring onscreen.

While Tilda Swinton plays the character as though she’s in a psychological drama about a mother dealing with the devastating consequences of her son’s horrific actions, Ramsay does the subject matter an injustice and mistakenly gives it a horror genre treatment. Swinton mines a fascinating situation and explores the question of whether parents have any responsibility in the actions of their children. Unfortunately, Ramsay doesn’t seem at all interested in actually exploring this question. She’s too interested in her stylistic touches.

For example, everything in the film is splattered with red — red blood, red sandwich jelly, red paint, red tomatoes, red lamps, red chairs, red cans in a grocery store. Everywhere Eva goes, she is surrounded by red. This is meant as a way to skewer the perception of the events; we are supposed to be seeing everything as Eva sees it, and because she is fixated on the blood her son spilled, everything gets a red tinge. However, instead of its desired effect, the oversaturation of red just becomes a running gag. Ramsay intended horror and instead produced camp.

In another scene, Eva is terrorized by children in Halloween costumes on her way home from work, and all the while Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” plays on the car radio. This is meant to be terrifying but is instead laughable. In almost every scene involving other people, the townsfolk just stare at Eva as though they are characters out of Village of the Damned. There’s nothing wrong with these tropes in genre movies, but not in this context.

In essence, Ramsay is playing camp horror seriously and the result is a film that is repetitive and preposterous.

Perhaps the film’s biggest sin is that Kevin is a B-movie villain. Instead of a complex portrait of a sociopathic child, he is merely a demon seed. He is evil from the moment he is born and no action of his makes us question that designation. This would be fine for a genre film, but for something exploring such challenging subject matter, it is reductive and a little offensive, as if it were explaining away Columbine by saying the killers were merely “bad seeds.”

Exploring whether Eva is at all responsible for Kevin’s development becomes a lost cause. There was never any chance for Eva to teach Kevin to be good since he’s pure evil from the get-go, and her obsessing over her own responsibility is fruitless.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a film that had potential, but the dissonance between the subject matter and the execution leads to a disastrous outcome. There is nothing wrong with making a film exploring an absolutely evil individual, but don’t use that individual to explain away complex and challenging subject matter that is rooted in real life. The evil acts that occur in real life can never be so easily explained away by the conventions of the horror movie genre.


Photo: Supplied

Rick Miller does Shakespeare as The Simpsons in MacHomer

in Culture by

rating: ★★★

D'oh! Rick Miller proves to be a man of a thousand voices.
A kind of MTV-generation thinking pervades MacHomer. It’s thinking that says to make classic art (like the plays of Shakespeare) relatable to modern audiences, you should throw in some pop-culture references and, voila, you have an easily digestible version ready for the masses to consume.

It seems that Canadian comedian and stage performer Rick Miller subscribes to this sort of thinking, and he really runs with it in MacHomer, a shortened version of Macbeth in which every character is performed as a member of The Simpsons.

Rick Miller does the show entirely himself. It runs 75 minutes and remains roughly 85 per cent Shakespeare, with plenty of Simpsons references peppered in for the show’s fans. It started out as a sketch that Miller incorporated into his stand-up routine in 1994, but soon grew beyond the confines of the routine and turned into a show of its own. Although Miller has been performing MacHomer since 1995, the show still maintains a stand-up vibe.

The biggest attraction here is the vast retinue of voices Miller puts to use. He uses around 50 different voices throughout the show, mostly from The Simpsons, and while some have only hints of the character in them, many impersonations are eerily accurate.

Almost everyone knows the plot of Macbeth, but for anyone who somehow skipped Grade 11 English class, I’ll briefly refresh your memory. Macbeth (MacHomer here) is a Scottish lord who some witches foretell will become king. When MacHomer hears this, he schemes with his wife, kills the king and becomes king himself. But as the body count piles up, MacHomer’s sanity and control of the kingdom begin to slip, spelling certain doom for the tragic hero.

Miller’s Homer Simpson impersonation is at the heart of the play and unfortunately it is his weakest voice. Perhaps no one has ever told Miller that his impersonation only vaguely resembles the beloved alcoholic patriarch of the Simpsons family, or maybe his voice is incapable of capturing the oafish roundness that Dan Castellaneta gives Homer. Whatever the reason, Miller’s Homer is only OK — better than what the ordinary person can accomplish, but by no means dead-on — and since a majority of the play focuses on MacHomer, too much of the show falls flat.

Luckily, many of his other impersonations are very impressive. His Marge Simpson is creepily accurate — in fact, all his female voices are strangely spot-on. His Barney Gumble and Ned Flanders are also very good. There are a lot of bit cameos by favourite Simpsons characters that work nicely, partially because the lines are so short and partially because the characters fit nicely into the play’s roles. The fact that Miller can jump so seamlessly from one character to another is astounding. This guy’s energy level must be through the roof.

There are a few songs interspersed throughout the show (seemingly for no reason). The show even ends with a musical extravaganza that has no connection to Shakespeare, but luckily, the song may be the funniest part of the entire show, ending it on a high note.

Only two things share the stage with Miller throughout the course of the play: a large television backdrop displays animated versions of the various settings of the play (the Simpsons’ house becomes MacHomer’s castle, etc.) and a smaller television set, with a camera set-up feeding onto the larger screen, is his only prop. This smaller TV often works as the witches’ cauldron and also allows Miller to ingeniously incorporate puppets into the show.

If you’re a Simpsons fan, you’ll appreciate MacHomer. It may feel a little too much like a comedy sketch and some of the impersonations don’t work, but it’s a funny show and the brief running time makes sure the gimmick doesn’t get old.

One thing is certain: it’s definitely not your typical outing at the theatre.

[box type=”info”]MacHomer plays at Persephone Theatre until March 21.[/box]


Photo: Supplied

Woody Harrelson is the ultimate bad cop in Rampart

in Culture by

rating: ★★★

Is it possible for a man to be entirely evil?

In many ways this is the question that director Oren Moverman poses in Rampart. It is a question that I still find myself unable to answer. Woody Harrelson’s intense portrayal of corrupt LAPD officer and Vietnam War veteran David Brown does not make it easy to come up with an answer.

Woody Harrelson plays David Brown, a bad-to-the-bones LAPA officer, in Oren Moverman’s frustrating, complex drama.

Brown is hard-headed. In many situations it would be easy to say that he is misunderstood, but Moverman wants it to be clear that this man does not deserve that assessment. Brown shows from the beginning of the film that chaos and brutality are what he enjoys about his job. He feels no remorse when it comes to this and it leads to him doing incredibly idiotic things on the job. Seeing the character on the job gives him no redeemable features and many times is utterly frustrating just to watch.

The film is set in 1999 Los Angeles during a large scandal involving the Rampart police department. It’s summer time making it feel like the sun is beating down on you adding to the tension of simply watching Harrelson’s performance.

Brown has two children and two failed marriages, except his ex-wives are sisters (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon). He attempts to keep himself in their lives by living in the back of their house and consistently making a fool of himself by showing his ignorance about modern society. This is the one instance where the film is able to make him feel human, though it does not last very long.

As the film progresses, Brown finds himself in serious trouble for beating an innocent man to near death for hitting his car and attempting to flee. He is repeatedly backed into corners, but makes everyone around him believe that he is more than able to squirm his way out of it. He becomes paranoid, thinking that everyone around him is a spy, possibly from his time spent in Vietnam.

Of course, brutal and violent acts are nothing new to Brown — not only from being in the war. His nickname on the force is “Date Rape Dave,” which he got from allegedly killing a rapist who was found not guilty.

Brown gives hints that he can transform, that he can be a better person and change his racist, bigoted, sexist ways. However, time and again he goes full circle to show that he is completely one-dimensional. It is difficult to watch such an irredeemably-bad man do his job and react to the situations he is put in. It is even worse to have him as the protagonist when it’s so damn frustrating to watch.

This is also what makes it compelling. The unbelievable ugliness of Brown and how ignorant he is to it all is astounding. It’s impressive how the movie walks the line of being absorbing and making you want to slam your head against a wall.

The film is paced in a very deliberate way intending to show that Brown is truly an evil man in every respect. His love for his family is misguided and his influence causes them lots of hardship. The wives and women in his life all quickly find out that he thinks nothing of them, that they are only there to fill his needs. He proves himself to be a totally hollow and heartless human being who learns nothing from the wrongs he so clearly commits.

Rampart is a powerful character study that frustrates just as much as it intrigues, while it searches to find even an ounce of decency within its protagonist.

[box type=”info”]Rampart is currently playing at the Roxy Theatre.  [/box]


Photo: Supplied

Intense snowboarding series SSX carves back onto your console

in Culture by
However skilled professional snowboarders are, you’ll never catch Shaun White on these slopes.

SSX, one of the most renowned arcade snowboarding games of all time, returns to your console with plenty of speed, frustration and a ton of dubstep.

The SSX series flourished over the previous decade amid a gaming environment with an intense over-saturation of extreme sports games. That time has passed and EA has revived the series with some pretty strong results.

One of the big new features of the game is its dynamic mountain ranges that EA modelled on real mountains. In the game’s brief single-player mode you tackle nine of the mountains called Deadly Descents. In this mode, you are introduced to all the different playable characters, each with individual statistics making them better for either races or trick events.

This mode also features a horrifyingly bad tacked-on story. It is so awful that they introduce each character’s back-story through a motion comic. Not only are motion comics a terrible way to tell a story, but the ones here don’t even have vocal dialogue. Granted, having voice actors read the terrible writing probably wouldn’t be that great either. It all just feels slapped together at the last minute. There was no real reason to have a story in the first place.

All you need to know for this mode is that you are attempting to survive the nine deadliest descents in the world. This will take you from mountains like Everest to Kilimanjaro.

Story aside, the Deadly Descents are pretty unique and require a special strategy to survive each one. Each descent has a threat. The first one you face is trees blocking the track and in order to have a good chance of surviving the descent, you need to equip your character with armour so they can take a bit of a beating.

Some of these gimmicks work very well and add a new degree of intensity to the snowboarding. The other ones present a bit of an issue. With this reboot of SSX, EA has gone and made everything bigger and faster — much faster. It feels like another EA franchise, Burnout, beautifully capturing a sense of speed so great that it barely feels like you are in control. Factor that into snowboarding that asks for some pretty extreme precision, and it no longer feels like you have any control at all.

The most frustrating descents are ones that require you to equip a headlamp, which is supposed to light your way but instead only does a great job of not showing you the various precipices where you can fall to your death.

Some of the the descents also require an oxygen tank due to the high altitude. Run out of oxygen and your snowboarder blacks out. Unfortunately, blacking out the whole screen makes any kind of quick progress feel impossible. Still, the extra dimension of having a survival event in the mix along with racing and tricks adds some much-needed variety to the game.

The way to acquire these survival tools, along with new boards and suits, is through an RPG-like loot system. Before every race you can buy boards from a store with a random assortment of wares. Each piece of equipment has its own individual stats that make it better for certain events or terrain. Equipment is colour-coded by rarity in a manner very similar to the way games like Diablo organize equipment.

Each character has an individual level as well. Obviously, the higher the level the better equipment they can get. You purchase these items with credits earned from completing various events. It is definitely a fun system that makes the gear part of the game far more interesting.

The speed and feel of the snowboarding is great, despite not feeling like actual snowboarding in the process. It is one of the main aspects that will keep you coming back long after the roughly five hours it takes to complete the Deadly Descent mode.

Other features that will keep players coming back for more are the Explore and Global Event modes. These use an all-encompassing leaderboard of sorts, a feature introduced in Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. The leaderboard notifies players whenever their score has been beaten. It is simple, but extremely addictive.

Explore mode features 150 different variations of the mountains and has you competing with friends for a high score while Global Event mode has people across the world competing simultaneously for large sums of credits.

SSX changes just enough of its gaming formula to make things fun and fresh, while keeping the components that made it beloved in the first place. It will definitely play on nostalgia for old fans but there’s enough for newcomers as well. While the single-player largely feels like an extended tutorial, there are plenty of slopes in the other modes that give the game some legs.

Ulimately, however, the SSX reboot is a lot like dubstep: fast and fun, but missing the necessary depth to make it something truly great.


Image: Supplied

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