Album Preview

Julian Casablancas + The Voidz

It’s been a year since The Strokes’ ‘Comedown Machine’ was released, and five since Julian Casablancas’ debut solo album ‘Phrazes For The Young’. Since then, Casablancas has kept himself busy by collaborating with Daft Punk, signing exciting young bands to his record label (Cult Records) and – apparently – by working on a followup solo outing titled ‘Julian Casablancas + The Voidz’.

Heralding this news is a glitchy, 80’s infused album trailer featuring a number of snippets from the upcoming album set to images of Casablancas and the band practicing, riotous crowds… and Pacman.

Check it out below.

Film Review, Review

Film Review: The Wolf Of Wall Street

The Wolf Of Wall Street is pure electric. Director Martin Scorsese presents his most energetic film since ‘Casino’ (1995) whilst our main-man, the titular ‘Wolf’ – Leonardo DiCaprio – huffs, puffs and blows us away with what may be his most assured performance to date. The results are nuclear.

The Wolf Of Wall Street tells the true life story of Mr. Jordan Belfort. A Wall Street banker who used incredible ingenuity and fraudulent means to acquire immense wealth – at the expense of others. The film takes it’s name and inspiration from a book written by Belfort himself, about himself.

Through The Wolf Of Wall Street, Scorsese and DiCaprio take us deeper into the essence of greed than is comfortable. Running the gauntlet from one fucked up scenario to the next, we the audience can only watch in horror as the depravity unfolds before us. The story ultimately revolves around the deplorable actions of Belfort and his motley cohort of corporate thieves. It’s a wild, debaucherous ride which – if you can stomach it – makes for one of the most entertaining films of recent years. Belfort tells us that “there’s no nobility in being poor”, whilst he demonstrates there’s clearly none in being rich either.

The sheer ferocity of the film is deliciously overwhelming, it’s in that quality that it’s true nature comes out: The Wolf Of Wall Street is out to addict you, to the highs, the lows, the whole shebang. It’s scattered energy brazenly evokes a drug-like effect: the mood soars and dips erratically; moments of unbridled euphoria and ones of caustic desolation are never far apart.  Even as it’s tone shifts wildly from A to Z, then back to A again, it’s hard not to love every single intoxicating second, even as it threatens to engulf you.

Despite it’s almost three hour run time (179 minutes, to be precise), The Wolf Of Wall Street hardly falters. No scene feels unnecessary, nor bloated. Half way through the film it dawned on me that I needed to urinate. Countless minutes passed as I waited for a scene I could bare to miss. This scene never came, but thankfully I can run really fast, so I didn’t miss much at all. The Wolf Of Wall Street is so absorbing that the ending is almost a surprise –  a nasty one. Not for a long time have I been so entranced by a film.

It’s script bubbles and hisses, appalling and amusing in equal measure. It’s direction is magnetic, Scorsese brings a visceral immediacy to each shot which few others can match. DiCaprio is typically excellent, as Belfort, he carries the whole movie on his shoulders and makes it look easy. The supporting cast is also convincing, with particular nods to Jonah Hill as the incestuous Donnie Azoff, Belfort’s second-in-command, and to Margot Robbie as Belfort’s lover, Naomi Lapaglia.

If I have one qualm with this film, it’s that the intentions of the story are not always clear. It’s hard to tell whether you’re supposed to root for, or against Belfort. His actions are obviously portrayed as villainous, and I by no means believe the filmmakers are endorsing that type of behaviour – on Wall Street or elsewhere, but he is portrayed sympathetically. I found myself understandably perturbed by the selfish, and morally reprehensible actions of Belfort, but at the same time I couldn’t help but enjoy his successes, and woe his failures. Either my moral compass needs retuning, or the film’s does. Either way, it’s a minor issue, and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film.

Do yourself a favour and see The Wolf Of Wall Street, it’s fun, darkly funny, interesting, and impeccably made cinema. It’s a monster of a film, a big, beautiful monster which wears Armani suits and snorts cocaine from prostitute’s vaginas. At some point during the film, Belfort describes the state of his office as follows: “A greed fest with equal parts cocaine, testosterone, and bodily fluids”. I’ve been trying to think of a better way to describe The Wolf Of Wall Street in one sentence, but I can’t, so there you go.


Film Review, Review

Film Review: American Hustle

*may contain minor spoilers, depending on what your definition of a spoiler is*

David O’Russell‘s American Hustle is obnoxious, loud, messy, and sometimes confusing. It’s also lushly produced, expertly presented and effortlessly engaging. O’Russell‘s strokes are wildly passionate, seeming more interested in style than story, Hustle can sometimes feel a bit unfocused. With one too many plot points to handle at once, the film bends under it’s own weight during the second act. It’s okay though, because the brilliant and enigmatic cast – which I’m calling the ‘Best of ’13’ – lead by Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper ensures that Hustle never breaks under that weight.

Hustle, like it’s characters, is a deceptive film. It wants you to believe it’s a comedy, a drama, a caper and a period film all at once. It’s trivial though, because the audience isn’t invested in a genre debate, it’s invested in the characters and the relationships they form. At times, Hustle is a veritable guessing game, characters vow honesty whilst simultaneously stabbing another’s back. It’s fuzzy and a little stressful but that’s the point. It’s a con game through-and-through.

The story follows the misadventures of character’s Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) as they con their way to wealth and love. FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) adds his stick to the pile and in the process ruins everything by – without ‘spoiling’ too much – catching Irving mid con. What results is a tenuous partnership between Irving and Richie, as Richie uses Irving in an attempt to land bigger, guiltier fish. It’s a simple plot device which rapidly devolves into madness. Other character’s include Irving’s estranged wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) who is a lot of fun to watch, every time she appears on screen things start going haywire. Lawrence continues her winning streak here, her performance exuberates confidence. The great Robert DeNiro appears also, and is typically brilliant – despite his painfully brief screen time.

O’Russell has an incredible eye for detail which is really put under the spotlight here, every frame glitters and shines whilst the dialogue hits hard like a hammer. It’s a fast, fun, daring film which ultimately wins the day with it’s incredible cast, sure handed direction and a crackling although somewhat bloated script.

Well worth the entry price, Hustle is no con, it’s must see cinema and one of the best of 2013.


Album Review

Album Review: ‘AM’ by the Arctic Monkeys

With their first album (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, 2006) the Arctic Monkeys rode upon an enormous wave of hype with reckless and youthful abandon. A lesser band would have buckled under the pressure. Luckily for this Sheffield quartet, they did more than just walk the talk: they stomped, screamed and fought to justify the hype they were granted by providing a tautly constructed 40 minute disc full of energetic and raw post-punk aggression.

Since then, the boys have forged one of the most consistently brilliant discographies of the past decade packed with fistfulls of fun and nuance. As such, it’s no surprise that AM continues this tradition. Yes, AM is fucking awesome. Turner and Co. have crafted one of the best, if not the best album of the year.

What makes AM so great is the obvious growth the band have undergone. It channels everything the young rockers are known for. AM manages to recall the best moments of 70’s and contemporary punk, new-wave and garage with equal measure. Disco, hip-hop bravado snakes throughout many of the tracks which flirts perfectly with Alex Turner’s (vocals, guitar and main songwriter) trademark lyrical precision, making his vocal performances more engaging than ever. Turner’s effortless ability to spout complex and clear rhymes sets him apart from other would-be similar frontmen, and transforms songs into incredible narrative experiences.

AM constantly straddles an oblique line between white knuckled tension and cool-as-a-cat calculation, and the results are phenomenal. Turner’s songwriting has never been more adventurous and yet familiar than it has here.

Standout tracks include the album’s leading single, ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ which slowly builds up into a grinding, hot, wet kiss of tension which doesn’t relent until track 2 rolls in. ‘Arabella’ is another great one, an upbeat romp with an incredible sense of flow which is owed to Turner’s vocals (the lyrics, again, I cannot emphasise how great his delivery of them is) and a cat-and-mouse interplay between guitars. Then there’s ‘Snap Out Of It’, a bouncey, harmonic pop-rocker with one of the catchiest choruses you’ll hear all year.

Coming in at 40 minutes long, AM breezes by, being neither overbearing nor understated at any moment. It’s a tight and easy package to consume and it’s hard to think of a social scenario it wouldn’t suit.

AM is more than just an album though, it’s a coming of age tale for “Our Generation’s Most Important Band”. The Arctic Monkeys now need no introduction, no wild journalistic rhetoric to bolster their importance. These boys have become men, and their music reflects that.

These young men have looked the bull in the eye, grabbed it by the horns and come out unscathed. Needless to say, the future of this young, brilliant band is looking ridiculously bright. For now though, we can happily bask in the light of their current triumph.


Genres Across Time

First-Person Shooter

The first-person shooter, or the FPS, has evolved from humble beginnings into the juggernaut genre of modern gaming. An FPS is experienced through the eyes of the protagonist, and exists in three dimensional spaces. Despite technically being a sub-genre of the much broader ‘shooter’ genre, I believe the diversities and iniquities within FPS games lends itself to it’s own genre. FPS games often include aspects of platforming, puzzle mechanics and RPG elements, some FPS games defy the title and omit combat entirely (Portal). To reiterate, the FPS genre (like all genres) possesses multitudes of variety, and is more complex in its description than the title would imply.

The origins of the FPS can be dated back to the early 70’s, titles such as Maze War and Spasism introduced the perspective, though received little to no public attention. Battlezones, a first-person tank combat game featured wire-frame graphics was given an arcade release in 1980, the game was popular enough to then be given the console treatment three years later, 1983.

MIDI Maze was released in 1987, and can be credited as the first multiplayer FPS. Due to the limited multiplayer capabilities of the time, MIDI Maze received little commercial success, despite this, the game accumulated a devout cult following who praised it for it’s innovative, never-before experienced multiplayer model.

That model would evolve over the next 30 years to become the most practised, over-exposed feature in modern gaming, period. Series such as Halo, Call of Duty and Battlefield immediately come to mind. Incredibly huge first-person shooter franchises which all made their name based on their addictive multiplayer experiences.

There was a time though, when multiplayer in FPS’s took a back seat to the single player modes, largely thanks to American game developer Id Software. Id are credited for not only popularizing, innovating upon and practically inventing the FPS genre, but also for radically pushing forward the boundaries of video-game design and technology. Starting with their 1992 release of  Wolfenstein 3D, Id transported players into a new world with unprecedented graphical fidelity, and violence yet unseen in gaming.

Finally, with Id Software at the helm, the FPS had reached the forefront of popular gaming. Only a year later, Id followed up Wolfenstein’s success with Doom, again they set new standards for graphics and gameplay. Doom became an unprecedented cultural phenomenon, its legacy is undeniably huge. Doom challenged people’s conceptions of what was possible in gaming, from both a gameplay and conceptual perspective. Doom is famous for the controversy it generated following its release. Said controversy was due to the graphic nature of the game, and the satanic imagery featured in the world of Doom.

Following the release of Doom, and it’s sequel Doom II, all other FPS games were given the title of ‘Doom Clones’, such was the influence that Doom had on the industry.

Not until the late nineties did Id Software find a worthy competitor in Valve, Half Life released in 1998 is often referred to as one of the best and most influential video games of all time, as is it’s sequel Half-Life 2 (2004). Not only did Half-Life breathe new energy into the genre, but it’s huge influence spawned a multitude of player-made mods that with time evolved into enormous titles in the FPS genre. Counter-Strike and Team Fortress both originated as Half-Life mods, and both of them later became juggernauts in multiplayer, even today, over a decade later, these titles are still being refined and are incredibly popular.

With the advent of consoles such as the PlayStation 2, and the Xbox, multiplayer gaming found new life in the form of console shooters like Halo: Combat Evolved. Gamers were able to interact with their consoles in ways they never were before, Halo defined the Xbox and created the console FPS culture that is evident in today’s gaming successes. The next generation of consoles (PS3, Xbox 360) brought this idea of connectivity and expanded upon it exponentially. Players could connect to each other wirelessly from across the world, competing against each other in games of skill, reflex and cunning. Here the multiplayer FPS experience found a new and enormous audience – having previously existed predominantly on PC, console users became the main consumers of multiplayer FPS games.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007) was the first Call of Duty to truly become a huge blockbuster, it’s multiplayer was praised universally for it’s addictive, dynamic nature. The franchise has now become an annual affair and is often met with criticisms of franchise over-exposure. Despite this, each annual entry breaks the last’s sale records. Whether for good or evil, Call of Duty is the modern FPS franchise.

Many people woefully remember the ‘golden age’ of FPS’s, believing games such as Doom, Duke Nukem and Quake to be the pinnacle of the genre, yet to be surpassed. I implore you to take a look at the FPS’s of the last decade and tell me that amongst them aren’t some of gamings brightest jewels. BioShock, Half-Life 2, Portal, Halo, Call of Duty, Borderlands… the list goes on. The FPS may have changed, but it’s far from worse off.

Whether you come for the single, or multi player modes, the FPS genre definitely has something to offer you, irrelevant of your gaming preferences. The genre is broad, and its games are often mesmerizing. Sure, it’s probably the most over-used genre in gaming today, but don’t let that deter you, choose your games wisely and even the FPS can surprise you.

Genres Across Time

Survival Horror

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” – H.P. Lovecraft.

The term ‘survival horror’ was first used in reference of the original Resident Evil released in 1996. The genre, however, is considered to have existed since the late 1980’s. It’s origins can be traced to horror films at the time, and from classic horror literature by writing greats such as H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe as well as varied influences from Japanese film, theatre and literature.

The survival horror genre of gaming is a hard one to define. You could even argue that ‘survival horror’ is more a concept than a genre. Survival horror is one of the most broad, and varied genres in gaming. Period. Gameplay in a survival horror game can consist of practically anything imaginable.

Games such as Resident Evil and Doom put you through the gauntlet; the fear is generated through a constant flow of enemies which increasing in ferocity and power as the game progresses – it’s less a primal fear than it is a series of bursts of intense bursts, designed to test your fortitude and ability to maintain composure under intense pressure. On the otherside of the spectrum exist games such as Silent Hill, or the recent Slender: The Eight Pages, games that perhaps Lovecraft would argue are purer forms of horror. These games suggest danger, they emanate it. You’ll spend more time pondering when, how, and with what you’ll come into conflict with than you will actually resolving said conflicts. These games steadily wear you down, they invade your subconscious and play upon your innate, human fears; of the dark, the unnatural etc.

Survival horror is a genre that is believed by some to be a genre on its deathbed due to the semi-recent focus on action in horror games. Games such as the recent instalments of the Dead Space and F.E.A.R. series resemble flat out shooters more than they do traditional survival horror experiences. These games are advertised as survival horror, and certainly possess both elements of ‘survival’ and ‘horror’, though are by many considered to be inadequate substitutes for the more traditional style of survival horror video game.

The reason for this shift to action is obvious; it’s a factor that is affecting every genre in the industry. Developers are attempting to broaden the reach of their games by making them accessible by broader audiences. Modern gamers like action games, it’s that simple. However, if you ask me this is hardly cause for despair. It’s a misconception that by creating gaming experiences suitable for a broader audience that developers are dumbing down their games. Sure it may be true in some cases, but generally, these games are still incredibly complex pieces of software and are simply offering a different style of game – a modern interpretation of the survival horror genre. Simply put, these games are not worse, they’re just different. Take BioShock Infinite for example, sure it’s not a survival horror game per say but it’s still a comparable scenario: rather than advertising what BioShock is known for – incredible world design, absorbing narratives etc – the developer, Irrational Games,  marketed it as an action/shooter experience (which to be fair isn’t inaccurate). Despite this, the game still released as one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time, proving that widening your audience doesn’t necessarily mean the game will be worse off for it.

Those who yearn for the older style of survival horror ought to look towards indie gaming. In the last few years the genre has exploded across the independent scene. Games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Slender: The Eight Pages, Home or Limbo all offer varying interpretations of many aspects of traditional survival horror: namely a decided lack of combat and gore.

Instead, these indie titles depend on atmosphere and mystery, and as Lovecraft would put it: ‘the unknown”. They’re incredibly effective horror games that if you’re a fan of horror – be it in gaming or otherwise – you owe to yourself to check out. I would praise Slender: The Eight Pages as the most intense gaming experience of my life, as I describe in my review of the game from mid last year – around the time of its release.

Survival horror is a genre that constantly changes, its concepts and philosophies are fluid and it’s history a grim, complex mosaic. The vagueness of the genre makes it difficult to do well, but it certainly keeps it interesting. Where it heads in the future is a unknown, though not to be feared. I for one would disagree with those who claim that survival horror as seen its best days – game design has a knack for evolution, but also for retrospection. I believe that the future of the genre is in combining the two: by taking modern design philosophies and pairing it with what gamers love about past generation of games we may yet see some excellent entries to the bizarre, terrififying and wonderful realm of survival horror.

Discussing Design

The Open World Game

The ‘open world’ game, otherwise known as the ‘sandbox’ or ‘free roam’ game, has been around to a limited degree since the early to mid 1980’s. An open world game is characterised as a game that possesses a considerable degree of freedom regarding the level design. Developers achieve this freedom by abolishing the artificial environmental barriers put in place in more linear video games. In layman terms: an open world game is a game wherein a large traversable space exists for the player to interact with.

An open world game lives or dies on the quality of the world itself. The world must be interesting, dynamic, detailed and it needs to be seamless. Most importantly though, an open world needs to go hand in hand with the gameplay and story elements of the game. It’s all well and good to have an incredible game world in terms of atmosphere, aesthetics and even gameplay ideas but have almost nothing to do in it, or any reason to explore its areas (cough, cough, L.A Noire).

A great game world facilitates creativity by allowing the player to take full advantage of the tools and environment at his or her disposal.

A recurrent theme in open world games is the implementation of gameplay devices which allow you either access to new areas, or allow new ways to interact with already available areas. A great example of this is in the recent Batman games: Arkham Asylum, and Arkham City. The Arkham games do an exceptional job at making sure your tool kit is always expanding. As Batman gets new gadgets, the scope of the open world and the things you can pull off in it expands exponentially. If this is done correctly, the game benefits not only from a gameplay perspective but also opens up endless narrative opportunities for the developer to explore – as it’s a mechanic that often goes hand in hand with story progression.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, an over saturation of tools available to the player can actually limit the ways that people will interact with the open world. Assassin’s Creed Revelations presents an incredibly vast and beautiful game world, packed to the brim with detail and aesthetic nuance. However the developer (Ubisoft) jam packed the game with a plethora of tools that actually hindered the experience due to their limited or practically non-existent uses. A side note, however: ziplines in that game were pretty fucking badass.

Another common theme is the inclusion of procedurally generated environments. Many open world games such as Diablo and Minecraft take advantage of this concept, as each time you load a new area, the map is created algorithmically. The upside to this is that no two play sessions are the same which goes a long way in creating re-playability. The downside is that it limits the control the developer has over the gameplay – however, if the world and tools available to you are adeptly made then this isn’t a problem.

A brief look at the top scoring games on Metacritic will demonstrate just how popular open world games are with critics – and a look at sale charts will reveal how lucrative they can be also. The open world is here to stay, that much is certain, however to remain interesting to consumers developers will have to devise new ways to keep their fans engaged. New innovations upon the open world formula will need to be made. Watch Dogs, an upcoming game from Ubisoft and a launch game for the PS4, and presumably for the unannounced Microsoft console also, looks to shake up how players will interact with the open world. In Watch Dogs you will be able to actually manipulate the environment through use of an in-game device. The player is attuned with the electrical systems of the city they’re placed: traffic systems, security systems, the opportunities are endless – it’s an exciting concept that if pulled off well could really shake up how developers approach creating open world games in the next generation.

Love them or hate them, you cannot deny the impact that open world games have had and will continue to have on the industry. Though if you DO hate them, what’s wrong with you? You monster.