Rogue’s Legacy: Retro RPGish Sidescrolling Beat-Em-Up with a Twist

Courtesy of Kotaku, here’s the launch trailer for Rogue Legacy. The post about it caught my eye by claiming it’s a game where having OCD is an advantage. That’s only slightly misleading.

The protagonists in this new indie computer game all have a medical condition that impacts how they play the game. The OCD knight earns bonus points for breaking all the pots. The colorblind knight plays in a grayscale environment. The near/farsighted knights have blurry vision for distance/closeups.

Rogue Legacy is a rogue-lite game, meaning the levels randomly (technically, procedurally) generate to a point. Think The Binding of Isaac. You’re not going to randomly get the final boss battle after the title screen, but you can’t predict which of the first world stages you’ll get before advancing to the second.

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The Bling Ring

The Bling Ring Review (Film, 2013)

The Bling Ring is a pervasive examination of the rise of instant celebrity through reality TV and paparazzi-captured scandal. Inspired by the real life Hollywood Hills burglaries, Sofia Coppola focuses her film about vapid teenagers robbing celebrity homes for status on Marc, a self-conscious gay teenager. He becomes best friends with Rebecca, a rebellious seasoned burglar, when he enrolls in a last chance high school. He’s inducted into the party life and is taught to fund it through theft. Rebecca starts him on unlocked cars and works him up to mansions belonging to Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Orlando Bloom. They sell whatever they don’t want to keep and snort whatever can be crushed into a powder.

The Bling RingSofia Coppola has a wealth of shallow characters to work through in this film. Aside from paranoid Marc and sociopath Rebecca, she focuses a good chunk of the film on the delusional Nicki. Nicki (Emma Watson in a masterful comedic performance) is obsessed with celebrity. She’s home-schooled by her mom using the curriculum in The Secret and parties every night to try to grab the eye of just the right person to give her instant fame. Her mother hands her and her sisters Adderal like it’s Pez throughout the day. Nicki is a total mess and that makes her the most compelling character in The Bling Ring.

The Bling Ring commits hard to the instant fame/reality TV glam lifestyle of the characters, which can make it a trying experience. The characters are just so superficial and ignorant. For everything they do right (walking backwards towards houses so cameras can’t catch their faces), they do something really stupid (touch every shiny surface in every house they rob). Once the characters are all introduced, the story spins its wheels for the better part of an hour. You just can’t sustain momentum in a film about people so lacking in depth, famous only for their frivolous crime spree with no strategy involved beyond hitting empty houses.

Without a counterbalance of substance somewhere in this kind of story, it becomes an exercise in preaching what the audience already knows. The wannabe Marc, Rebecca, and Nickis of the world aren’t going to seek out a biting social critique of the reality TV generation, while the audience open to this kind of social critique is going to expect a much more nuanced take on the story.

Coppola intentionally spins The Bling Ring in place to point out how ridiculous the circumstances are. There’s at least a laugh in every scene and the transitional device of real paparazzi shots and tabloid stories about celebutantes behaving poorly raise the discourse just enough to call this satire. The Bling Ring, by intentional design choices, lacks the structure or variety of emotional or narrative content to fit together as a film.

Rating: 4/10

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Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing Review (Film, 2013)

Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s wilder comedies. It does not have the fantasy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or hinge its entire plot on double lives like Twelfth Night. It lives on a series of interwoven short stories about royalty celebrating a great military victory.

Much Ado About Nothing PosterLeonato, the governor of Messina, allows Don Pedro’s men to stay in his home for a month after their victory. Claudio, a member of Don Pedro’s court, falls hopelessly in love with Leonato’s daughter Hero. Beatrice, Leonato’s niece, trades barbs with Benedick, a friend of Don Pedro. Meanwhile, Don John (Don Pedro’s brother) plots against the celebration to spite his brother’s victory. Also, a foolish police constable named Dogberry attempts to maintain order with the sudden influx of guests.

The tricky part of adapting Much Ado About Nothing is making sure all the players are clearly introduced in the story. Joss Whedon’s one stumbling point in this otherwise enjoyable adaptation is just that.

Benedick and Beatrice introduce themselves, as do Hero, Claudio, and Don John. Don Pedro assumes limited narrator duties and Leonato randomly interjects thoughts throughout the story. The gender is flipped on one of Don John’s men to give him a love interest–confusing a villain with Margaret, one of Hero’s ladies in waiting–and none of the police force is introduced by name, Dogberry included.

Lines are shuffled around and truncated to shift the focus to Benedick and Beatrice to the detriment of the other major stories. Don Pedro and Leonato barely exist outside of the context when their main role in the play (Don Pedro especially) is to establish that context. Whedon clearly wanted to keep the adaptation short and snappy, but it becomes difficult to parse out the first act of this adaptation.

That is not to say that Whedon’s approach is poor. This is actually one of the livelier adaptations of a Shakespearean comedy to come around in years. The setting is vaguely modern and fueled with alcohol. All of the “Oh, Lord”s are changed to expletive “Oh Lord!”s and every sexual innuendo is hit like a pick-up artist trying out every smooth line he has during last calls. There are pratfalls, joke fights, well-placed sight gags, and an able cast of actors that know the text well enough to sell the comedy in a believable way.

Much Ado About Nothing really comes alive where so many stage productions and adaptations before it fall apart. The turn in Act IV to tragic circumstances is so hard to get right. The first three acts are all about misdirection, mischief, and merriment. This makes the turn to tragedy in Act IV so much more powerful when it’s done right.

Much Ado About NothingWhedon knows how to play up drama. The wedding (Act IV, Scene 1), my favorite scene in all of Shakespeare’s works, is shocking here. It took my breath away. I was crying in the theater, so engrossed in the moment that I forgot everything I knew about Shakespeare’s comedic form and the play itself. To see these characters so alive with alcohol and shenanigans fall apart to scandal and crime is heartwrenching. The pace grinds to a halt and freezes the moment so you’re forced to endure the full pain of Don John’s heinous scheme.

Much Ado About Nothing, like any of Shakespeare’s great comedies, is at its best when the turn to tragedy is unexpected and organic at the same time. Joss Whedon achieves that in this gorgeous black and white adaptation. Once the players settle in and establish themselves, it’s an engrossing ride.

Rating: 7/10

Thoughts on Much Ado About Nothing? Share them below.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Broadway

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Finally Comes to Broadway

John Cameron Mitchell’s masterful rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch has had a long arc to a Broadway mounting. Since premiering in 1998 in a converted theater space off-Broadway, the show has been performed all over the world. Mitchell adapted, directed, and starred in the feature film adaptation in 2001 that received a Golden Globe nomination and critical acclaim. It helped launch Mitchell as a director capable of getting difficult projects to the screen–Shortbus and Academy Award-nominated Rabbit Hole included–and created demand for a Broadway mounting.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch BroadwaySoon, in 2014, we’re finally going to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway. John Cameron Mitchell has been working on changes to the book for years to account for the different space and societal changes since the show debuted.

It’s not surprising that, 16 years later, Mitchell himself will not be playing the title role. That honor goes to Neil Patrick Harris. Harris has previously starred in the Broadway debut of Assassins in an excellent turn as the Balladeer, which is one of the trickier parts in the show. His Bobby in the NY Philharmonic production of Company was strong, as well. I love his work on the recording of the lesser-known Evening Primrose by Stephen Sondheim (TV musical special).

What Harris has is legitimate theater chops. He has a great stage presence. He moves well. And, most importantly, Hedwig is easily in his vocal range. I’m curious to see what Neil Patrick Harris brings to this role.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Film
Elaborate costumes and raw rock recount a sad story of abandonment
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is, undoubtedly, a strange show. It’s a musical about a young man so desperate to escape the oppression of the USSR’s stranglehold over East Berlin that he has an irreversible medical procedure to pose as a woman and flee as a war bride. As soon as he lands in America, the Berlin Wall falls. His lover leaves him for another man and he starts a rock band. It only gets stranger from there.

Part of the reason Hedwig and the Angry Inch has taken so long to get to Broadway is the rewrite. The current version of Hedwig is an immersive show. It’s a rock concert at a restaurant across the street from a much larger rock arena. Hedwig interacts with the audience, including the infamous car wash gag. There’s a set script with audience and band banter, but Hedwig has to sell it like it’s a brand new experience every night.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Off-Broadway
The original off-Broadway production of Hedwig was raw in the best way possible.
John Cameron Mitchell needed to find a way to translate this raw energy into the more formal setting of Broadway. Conceivably, the show could take a page from Roundabout’s Studio 54 and have cabaret style seating rather than a traditional orchestra. They could borrow from Murder Ballad or Spring Awakening (to name two) and have audience members sitting onstage or surrounding the actors, as well.

But I think Mitchell is more creative than that. I imagine the changes to the show make it a period piece rather than a contemporary story as it’s traditionally done. If he shifts the setting, they won’t need onstage seating or even direct interaction. With the right monologues, the spirit of Hedwig will live on Broadway.

That makes the first show I have to see next season. We’re only a few weeks out from the Tony Awards and I’m already looking forward to Spring 2014 shows.

Thoughts on Hedwig and the Angry Inch? Share them.

The Last Five Years and Structural Suspense

Coming Soon: The Last Five Years Film

The Last Five Years Set Photos
Set photos are running rampant
With all the set photos being released this week, it appears the producers of The Last Five Years film adaptation really want a big return on their investment. I suspected that when Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) and Jeremy Jordan (Smash) were cast as Cathy and Jamie.

Or should I say Tony Award nominee Anna Kendrick (High Society) and Tony Award nominee Jeremy Jordan (Newsies) starring as Cathy and Jamie? That theater pedigree helps in a show that has such a theatrical conceit.

A quick refresher on The Last Five Years: Cathy and Jamie recount their five year relationship from opposite perspectives. Cathy starts at the end and goes back to the beginning, while Jamie starts at the beginning and works his way to the end. They only meet up once onstage to sing together–not counter melodies, but actual interaction.

The film is foregoing that conceit and it makes me so nervous. Cathy and Jamie are going to sing to each other. They’re planning on using all the songs and keeping the time jumps, but with the couple interacting I fear a muddy mess.

The score is confessional in nature. When Jamie sings about meeting a “Shiksa Goddess,” he would never dream of telling Cathy she’s some kind of conquest on his rise to the top. Likewise, when Cathy sings about “A Summer in Ohio,” she would never have complained that much about doing summer stock if Jamie was there in person.

The Last Five Years Waterfornt
Are Cathy and Jamie meeting at the pier?
Sure, there are songs that hinge on interaction. “See I’m Smiling” is all about Cathy’s surprise that Jamie has arrived after their relationship became strained. She sings about all the things she wants him to do and how hard she’s trying to save the relationship. She even references how they’re sitting, how he laughs, how he smiles, and how they’re interacting. I can see the scene on film: a lovely walk on the waterfront after meeting at the docks, perhaps a montage of Cathy’s memories to foreshadow some of the upcoming scenes.

It’s so early to try to put a judgment on the film. The talent is there. The music is there. My excitement level is far higher than I anticipated.

Yet I have to mention a personal bias here. This is an adaptation of a show about mid/late 20-somethings falling in and out of love. Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick hit that perfectly–28 and 27, respectively. With the way they’re being dressed in the show and the subject matter, they’ll read the right age onscreen.

But I prefer actors aging down for the role. The Last Five Years has a really complex score filled with a lot of intricate character shifts. It has a very strong voice about relationships and love. Typically, onstage, the actors are a few years older than the characters in the script. It’s not an uncommon casting choice–how many twenty-somethings play teenagers?–but in this show it adds a level of nuance and maturity that only comes with more life experience. Sherie Rene Scott and Norbert Leo Butz were only a few years older than the characters when the show premiered in 2001 and their performances are why the show is so fondly remembered.

That bias is why I’m so drawn to a recently released video of Lea Salonga in rehearsal for a concert. Salonga (Tony Award winner for Miss Saigon and the singing voice of Jasmine and Mulan in the Disney pantheon) brings this beautifully nuanced sense of understanding and acceptance that I doubt a younger performer could pull off. With the right Jamie, Lea Salonga could easily pull off a production of The Last Five Years. It’s a total piece of fantasy anyway; if the actors read young, you’ll accept the reality of the show.

Just watch this performance of “I’m Still Hurting,” the opening song in The Last Five Years. I’ve watched it at least 20 times since it was uploaded last Friday and it brings me to tears every time. Bonus points duly awarded for doing the rhythms as written in the actual score (ahem).

Can Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan match that level of intensity or wisdom that sells the (let’s be frank) self-centered story of The Last Five Years? You need the audience to immediately understand from the first pair of songs that the show is all about diagnosing what went wrong over a big chunk of a shared lifetime. This isn’t the free-wheeling spirit of 500 Days of Summer that has the opportunity to wallow in self-indulgence and too clever scene juxtapositions to be a crowd-pleaser. This is a very low-key narrative that rests on a simple conceit and a fantastic score.

I want The Last Five Years to be a rousing success because I want musicals to be bankable again. If they earn money, studios will invest the time and energy needed to make more that don’t hinge on ridiculous close-ups of A-list actors shooting snot out of their noses for extra sincerity*. And if musicals are profitable again, maybe A-list actors won’t be required for EVERY leading role in a movie musical anymore.

We’ll see how The Last Five Years turns out eventually. At the very least, more people will learn about this wonderful little show. That’s a victory.

*Salonga played Eponine and Fantine professionally on Broadway and in anniversary concerts. She didn’t need blacked out teeth and 15 seconds pauses between words to sell “I Dreamed a Dream.” She didn’t even need the costume. She just needed a stage. Just saying.

Patti LuPone Sings Sunset Boulevard in London for First Time Since 1994

The title says it all. Patti LuPone, who originated the role of Norma Desmond in the world premiere production, sings “With One Look” in London for the first time in 20 years. The role was promised to her on Broadway and was shockingly given to Glenn Close instead without warning or negotiation. The score fits LuPone like a glove and the song sounds stunning. A true artist makes moments like this while using the sheet music.

And let me take the chance to thank Patti LuPone for allowing this video to go online for the world to see. It was made private early last week with the promise it would return after her last show in London today. It’s a wonderful record of a brilliant performing doing what she does best. People can learn from what LuPone does in this performance.

Geek & Sundry Vloggers to be Hangout

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