Fare Play: Crazy Taxi on the Dreamcast

“Hey hey hey, it’s time to make some craaazzy money – are ya ready? Here we go!”

Crazy Taxi

Reviewed by Matt Keleher

Ever sat in gridlocked traffic, watching the sapped faces of commuters slumped over the wheel?  You feel a burst of elation as the car in front begins to move, which turns to dejection as you meet the glare of its brake light just five yards on…

Get me to the church on time: Passengers don't appreciate waiting around and will hop out of the cab without paying if the time runs out

Get me to the church on time: Passengers don’t appreciate waiting around and will hop out of the cab without paying if the time runs out

Then, glancing over your shoulder, you plot in your mind’s eye the fast, exhilarating shortcuts you’d take if exempt from the Highway Code; sharp right, into the multi-storey, exit at the third floor into the park, tear-arse it downhill for a bit, (while weaving between two-way traffic) then home!

Isn’t it lucky that there’s a way to keep your license while living these dreams vicariously? Thank the stars for Crazy Taxi!

For those who haven’t played it, you assume the role of a cabby in a teeming city (a hybrid of California and San Francisco) whose goal is to ferry passengers from A to B, earning as much cash as they can before time runs out. Gameplay is intuitive from the get-go; while you’ll pick it up quickly, it takes time to master – you’ll discover are numerous shortcuts, jumps and hidden passengers that will save you those precious seconds.

There are two maps to choose from: Arcade (The map featured on the original arcade machine) and Original; (A ‘new’ map for the console port) for me the former is the most fun, as there’s a greater sense of speed with more scope to try out drifts and jumps.

Crazy Taxi has numerous mini-games including this bowling challenge; the key is to execute a perfect drift to clear each set of pins...but it ain't as easy as it looks!

Crazy Taxi has numerous mini-games including this bowling challenge; the key is to execute a perfect drift to clear each set of pins…but it ain’t as easy as it looks!

The game is filled with a host of weird and wonderful passengers including a mohawked punk rockers, spirited octogenarian, vacuous valley girl and a preacher never seen without the good book in his hand; there’s even a lone passenger you can collect underwater!

Upon its console release in early 2000, critics and gamers alike praised Crazy Taxi for its smooth graphics and pacey gameplay. The game has a distinctive look with its deep blue skies and eternally sun soaked pavements; a number of real-life high street stores are featured, (including Levi’s, KFC and the now defunct Tower Records) which bring a sense of realism in an otherwise madcap game.

You’ll notice a number of charming visual touches – pass the tennis court and you’ll see two players enjoying a game, watch the helicopter take flight as you leave the helipad or see a phone booth crumple like a paper cup as you hit at 100 miles an hour.

As you might expect, there’s a suitably high-energy soundtrack to complement the action; the buzz-saw guitars of The Offspring and Bad Religion fit the bill perfectly.

There are also mini-games, which allow you to hone your driving skills in a series of quirky challenges including balloon popping, high jumps and even bowling!  Crazy Taxi is arcade fun at its purest and perfect for half-hour bursts; it’s a game you’ll pick up time and time again for your fix of adrenaline-fuelled fun.

The equally fun Crazy Taxi 2, which brought the action to New York  hit the shelves the following year brought the action to New York, but flew under the radar for many players with a Dreamcast-exclusive release.

Watch the game in action here:

Have you played this game? Don’t be coy, share your thoughts in the comments box…

Film Focus: All the King’s Men (1949)

all the kingsDirector: Robert Rossen

Starring: Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Mercedes McCambridge

Running Time: 110 minutes

“An honest man? The state is full of these log-cabin Abe Lincolns with price-tags on them; the louder he yells, the higher his price.”

Reviewed by Matt Keleher

History has shown us that it is the candidate who is best able to project certain qualities: sincerity, charisma, passion, gumption and just a slither of that folksy, everyman charm that stands the best chance of succeeding in politics.

Certainly, other factors come into play, but it’s hard to imagine a camera-shy milquetoast winning over the hearts and minds – whether his platform ticks the right boxes or not…

Some may argue that a person may be coached to nurture these qualities – others would say: leaders are born, not made.

All the King’s Men (based on Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel) tells the tale of Willie Stark: a self-made man of the people whose convictions and integrity are put to the test as he moves from grassroots politics to the governor’s office.

Early in his campaign trail, Strark comes to the attention of reporter Jack Burden, who finds his sharp-shooting honesty a refreshing change in a political environment rife with cronyism, back handers and covert deals. When Stark draws a small crowd with a spirited speech, a local politician attempts to scare him away, sending his retinue to shut down his campaign and to make life difficult for him.

The film is bolstered by strong supporting performances - particularly Mercedes Mc Cambridge's portrayal of the gutsy Sadie Burke

The film is bolstered by strong supporting performances – particularly Mercedes Mc Cambridge’s portrayal of the gutsy Sadie Burke

When Tiny Duffy, an opportunist on the incumbent governor’s books persuades Stark to run for governor, Burden learns from the savvy, wise-cracking Sadie Burke (Mercedes McCambridge) that the whole thing is a set up and Stark is intended to split the vote and lose, thus swinging the election in the governor’s favour.

When she later spills all to Stark- a lifelong teetotaller, he proceeds to get drunk for the first time in his life and is a wreck the following morning when he is due to deliver a speech. Burden cleans him up as best as he can and gets him to the venue. When a clearly inebriated Stark stumbles to the rostrum, Sadie asks Burden how he managed to get him there:

“A hair of the dog the bit him.”

“Hair? He must have swallowed the dog!”

Burden’s speech makes headlines after he humiliates the incumbent governor, exposing his slimy tactics:

“Now, shut up! Shut up, all of you! Now listen to me, you hicks. Yeah, you’re hicks too, and they fooled you a thousand times like they fooled me. But this time, I’m going to fool somebody. I’m going to stay in this race. I’m on my own and I’m out for blood.”

His outspoken honesty, intensified by his drunken state resonates with the locals. Although he initially loses, Stark the underdog fascinates the press, racking up the column inches during the campaign.

Four years later, Stark comes to Burden’s attention once again, as he runs again- this time as a much more viable contender, with significantly more money backing his election trail; money amassed through a series of questionable deals with other parties. When questioned about said deals, Stark shrugs them offer with apparent naiveté, suggesting that there were ‘no strings attached’.

Drunk for the first time in his life, Stark makes a brutally honest speech, which cements his image as a man of the people...

Drunk for the first time in his life, Stark makes a brutally honest speech, which cements his image as a man of the people…

Remembering Burden from four years back, Stark welcomes him into his new coterie, in which the ambitious Sadie has found also found a place. Watching Stark rise to power, Burden begins to question whether the simple virtue and honesty he saw in the man who canvassed in the streets will survive as he grows accustomed to the perks and vices that come with his new vocation.

When the role of Willie Stark was offered to John Wayne, he refused, citing that the scripted “smeared the machinery of government for no purpose of humour or enlightenment”.

‘All the Kings Men’ earned three plaudits at the Academy Awards in 1949– ‘Best Motion, ‘Picture’, ‘Best Actor’ (Crawford) and ‘Best Supporting Actress’ (McCambridge).

While Broderick Crawford’s name made for a less impactful billing than Wayne’s, it did not detract from the quality of the film; he capably channels Stark’s Jekyll and Hyde – a gutsy, community-spirited hero and the latent power-crazed ruler which begins to come to the fore as he ascends to power.

It is also apparent that McCambridge’s iron-willed Sadie was perhaps the toughest female character to have graced screens at the time. From the very outset, she is wry, cynical and wise to the political game and all its smoke and mirrors.

If you’re a fan of political thrillers, you’re sure to enjoy ‘All the King’s Men’- it’s smart, tautly plotted film that pinpoints the changes that may come over the few when they are called to govern the many…

Watch the film’s trailer here:

Have you seen this film? Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments below…

 

Something to chew on: Popcorn ruins cinema ad effect

by Matt Keleher

The silver screen is theoretically an ad man’s dream; with dimmed lights and a room packed with comfortably seated moviegoers, advertisers have the perfect platform to dazzle audiences…

That is, unless there are any distractions such as, say…popcorn. A new study conducted by researchers at Cologne University has concluded that the simple act of chewing lessens the power of advertising considerably.

The mouth instinctively simulates the pronunciation of a new name the first time it is heard, which explains the effectiveness of television and cinema advertising; the brand name becomes ingrained in the psyche after viewing. However, the study which was recently published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology noted that chewing interfered with this “inner-speech”.

The findings of the Cologne study has certainly given advertisers something to chew on... Photograph: RubberBall/Alamy

The findings of the Cologne study has certainly given advertisers something to chew on…
Photograph: RubberBall/Alamy

As part of the research, a group of 96 people were invited to a cinema to watch a film preceded by commercials. Half of the group were given free popcorn, while the remainder received small sugar cubes, which quickly dissolved in their mouths.

A study conducted after the film revealed that the ads had not affected the popcorn group, while the others had responded positively to the brands advertised.

“The mundane activity of eating popcorn made participants immune to the pervasive effects of advertising,” explains researcher Sascha Topolinski.

“Our findings suggest that selling candy in movie theaters actually undermines advertising effects, which contradicts present marketing strategies. In the future, when promoting a novel brand, advertising clients might consider trying to prevent candy being sold before the main movie.”

I would hate to see this happen, as for me enjoying a snack is an integral part of the cinema experience. If advertisers did manage to cull crunchy snacks from foyers, I’m sure moviegoers would still find surreptitious means to take their favourite treats to the movies!

Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Film Focus: Page One – Inside the New York Times

Page One- Inside the New York Times (2011)

Page One_DVD_3D_RGBCertificate: R

Director: Andrew Rossi

Writers: Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi

Starring: David Carr, Sarah Ellison, Bill Keller, Bruce Headlam, Brian Stelter

Running Time: 92 minutes

“The Times was a very human institution run by flawed figures, men who saw things as they could see them, but it was equally true that The Times nearly always tried to be fair…and each day, barring labour strikes or hydrogen bombs, it would appear in 11,464 cities, throughout the nation and in all the capitals of the world; 50 copies going to the White House, 39 copies to Moscow, a few smuggled into Beijing and a thick Sunday edition to the foreign minister in Taiwan, because he required The Times as necessary proof of the earth’s existence, a barometer of its pressure, an assessor of its sanity.”

Gay Talese – Former Reporter, The New York Times

Reviewed by Matt Keleher

It’s clear that the burgeoning social media age has brought with it a stark change in the way we consume information – specifically news. The newly emerging crop of savvy young bloggers and self-styled web polemicists are ever eager to challenge the old guard.

Indeed, diminishing readership and advertising revenue has plagued many print newspapers in recent years.

The New York Times is regarded by many as an American institution, but as many of its long-standing rivals plummeted into bankruptcy; all eyes fell upon the Times, clamouring to see whether the newspaper behemoth would sink or swim…

Andrew Rossi’s documentary ‘Page One: Inside the New York Times’ gives us an unprecedented look at life inside the newsroom, chronicling  a crucial year for The Times, during which a household name that has forged its legacy in print must regain its footing in a landscape increasingly shaped by its digital competitors…

Pictured: The New York Times Media Office

Pictured: The New York Times Media Office

We’re introduced to some of the paper’s most influential figures including the spirited David Carr, once a crack addict now a savvy communicator, prominent reporter and advocate for the Times at social media conferences. A would-be zeitgeist blogger attempts to upstage Carr by insinuating the traditional print column lay out favoured by the Times is outmoded when compared to the livelier design of his webpage; in response, Carr reveals how the webpage would look sans content originating from the Times; he produces a page with a dozen holes cut out of it!

When the world was dominated by print, the Times’ a much loved and trusted brand was the chosen source of news for a great many of New York’s denizens. In the burgeoning digital sphere, however the game is markedly different; as everything is instantaneous consumers are no longer likely to get their news from a single source; individuals will search for news specific to their interests with everyone from news corporations to homebrew bloggers vying for their attention – on the web, the Time is just another voice…

Pictured: Media and Culture Columist David Carr (left) and Media Desk Editor Bruce Headlam of the New York Times

Pictured: Media and Culture Columist David Carr (left) and Media Desk Editor Bruce Headlam of the New York Times

Brian Stelter is the young media correspondent who had already made a name for himself as a prolific blogger. Stelter took the lead while the Times took the risky decision to run some of the controversial WikiLeaks material as it emerged; he is seen conducting a phone interview with the site’s founder Julian Assange. When asked whether he considers himself to be a journalist or an activist, Assange asserts that he does, although with the principles of activism.

After careful deliberation, the Times ran a selection of confidential diplomatic cables leaked by Assange – some showing world leaders in an atypically candid and unflattering light. The reaction to Assange, and the Times was an even split of praise and vitriol.

“I think it was an important moment that WikiLeaks chose to go through The Guardian and The New York Times in the sense that they were detoxifying the information they had and they were giving it a little more veracity” explained Carr.

Bill Keller, then Editor at the Times added: “The basic calculus that you try to do in your head is the trade-off between the obligation to give people information about how they’re being governed and on the other hand, the government’s legitimate need for secrecy.”

Another topic that the film explicates is honesty and integrity in journalism – first, a dark chapter in the Times’ past is brought up. When it transpired that Times’ journalist Judith Millers reports concerning Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction were based on faulty information, her career was effectively finished and in turn the Times’ credibility was rocked.

There’s also a segment concerning controversial figure Sam Zell, who in 2007 bought the Chicago Tribune, LA Times and a number of other media assets. In a now infamous conference, Zell (the very model of The Fountainhead’s Gail Wynand) stated that to generate revenue, journalists should focus on what the readers want. A Tribune journalist complained that readers wanted “puppy dogs” as opposed to true journalism; Zell’s response was:

“You’re giving me the classic journalist arrogance of deciding that puppies don’t count…Fuck you!”

Zell filed for bankruptcy in 2008. Staff at the Times agree that a lack of journalistic principle on the part of Zell and his coterie contributed to their failure. In 2013, more than three years since Rossi finished documenting life at The Times, the paper is still alive and well.

It’s tricky to speculate through which medium the daily news will reach us in 10, 20 years’ time, but the tenets of journalism (should) remain the same. Having watched this film, the message I was left with was: whether you write for The Times, in an upscale office or for yourself from a studio apartment – the best always write with purpose and conviction and while they may not get it right every time, I, as a reader have respect for any writer who strives to exercise fairness and objectivity in their work.

Watch the film’s trailer here:

Have you seen this film? Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments box…

Book Corner: ‘The Fountainhead’ by Ayn Rand

“But you see,” said Roark quietly, “I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards—and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”

Ayn Rand- The Fountainhead

the-fountainheadReviewed by Matt Keleher

Integrity can be a difficult virtue to uphold; our elders may advise that life brings about scenarios where it is prudent to exercise a little pragmatism. Many people compromise for the expediency of the moment, whether to placate someone who’s making things difficult or to facilitate their ascent of the corporate or societal ladders.

The Fountainhead chronicles the respective careers of two very different architects; one being Howard Roark, a visionary and strident individualist whose work completes him (a character inspired by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright) ; who holds himself only to his own exacting standards and vision. The other, Peter Keating, is a man of scant ability in the field, who attains success by means of charm, etiquette, forging the right connections and undercutting colleagues of greater talent to get ahead.

As the novel opens, Roark is on the verge of expulsion from the Stanton Architectural School of Technology and is asked to come to the dean’s office to discuss his future. While Roark’s tutors agreed he promise in the field, many were left bemused his highly idiosyncratic designs. The straw that broke the camel’s back came when Roark was asked to submit a design in the historical style of a Tudor Chapel or a French opera hose:

“…and you turned in something that looked like a lot of boxes piled together without rhyme or reason- would you say it was an answer to an assignment or just plain insubordination?”

“It was insubordination,” said Roark.

The Dean quickly realises Roark will not relent:

“I see no purpose on doing Renaissance villas. Why learn to design them, when I’ll never build them?”

“My dear boy, the great style of the Renaissance is far from dead. Houses of that style are being erected every day.”

“They are. And they will be. But not by me.”

At this juncture, Roark is predictably expelled, although would likely have left of his own accord anyhow. Meanwhile, his foil Peter Keating is the most popular guy on the campus and graduates with honors, having followed the syllabus to the letter. He seems poised for greatness and after graduation, goes to work for Guy Francon a popular and successful architect.

Roark predictably struggles to get work, but eventually secures a placement with Henry Cameron a once prolific figure fallen on hard times after falling out of favour with the contemporary architecture scene. Everything seems to fall at Keating’s feet, while Roark struggles.

A particularly telling scene succinctly highlights the differences in Roark and Keating’s methodologies. Roark speaks to a client who asked him if he would like to play badminton sometime; Roark declined:

“Do you really think it would be a better building if I played badminton?”

Having watched the scenes from the sidelines, Keating approached Roark to impart some career advice once the client has left:

“That’s no way to go about it, Howard. You know what I would have done? I’d have sworn I’d played badminton since I was two years old and how it’s the game of kings and earls and it takes a soul of rare distinction to appreciate it and by the time he put me to the test, I’d have made it my business to play like an earl, too. What would it cost you?”

“I didn’t think of it.”

Imbibed by his early success, Keating resorts to skulduggery to usurp a fellow architect, leaving the poor sap jobless.  The book’s leitmotif is the struggle of the individualist against a collectivist, populist society; Roark being a true individualist and a prime mover, in a society filled with ‘second handers’ i.e. those whose sense of derives from others in some way, rather than emanating from within.

'The Fountainhead' has sold more than 6.5 million copies to date and was Rand's first commercial success.

‘The Fountainhead’ has sold more than 6.5 million copies to date and was Rand’s first commercial success.

In the pursuit of his goal, to become a great architect on his terms, Roark encounters opposition from the intellectually dishonest Ellsworth Toohey, a newspaper columnist and architectural critic possessing no innate talent other than to belittle those who hint at greatness and the yellow-press baron Gail Wynand,(a Nietzschean egoist and misanthrope who has the potential for greatness, but chooses to squander his ability on trampling simply because he can) editor-in-chief at The New York Banner a rag that revels in smut and scandal and all the while feigning moral indignation.

Society beauty Dominique Francon recognises greatness in Roark’s designs before meeting him; as she does she falls in love with him, but her outlook is tinged with pessimism; she feels that Roark’s greatness could not survive and in an act of mercy, sets out to destroy him…before society does…

Published in 1943, The Fountainhead remains a surprisingly prescient novel. Rand makes a number of piquant observations on the group-think mentality that shaped and continues to shape our society. If anybody accuses Rand’s work of being humourless- point them to this book; almost every page is saturated with sardonic wit.

I leave you with this final example:  Later in the novel we learn that the collectivist everyman, Ellsworth Toohey also moonlights as an arbiter of the arts and has assembled a coterie of ‘counterfeit individualists’ comprising of a writer who doesn’t use capital letters, a painter who didn’t use canvas, working instead with bird cages and metronomes and Lois Cook, (loosely based on Gertrude Stein) an author who self-consciously cultivates a dishevelled appearance; (while her age is around 35, she claims to be 65) her books, which have no discernible meaning have earned her plaudits as a literary genius!

On a related note, a film adaptation of The Fountainhead was released in 1949; Rand herself wrote the screenplay and closely supervised the project. This was not her first foray into the world of film, having cut her teeth working under the wing of legendary director Cecil B De Mille as a writer, shortly after arriving in America in the 1920s.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Fountainhead’ here:

 

Have you read this book? Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments box…

Book Corner: ‘Nausea’ by Jean-Paul Sartre

“And somebody else will feel something scratching inside his mouth. And he will go to a mirror, open his mouth: and his tongue will have become a huge living centipede, rubbing its legs together and scraping its palate. He will try to spit it out, but the centipede will be part of himself and he will have to tear it out with his hands.”

Jean-Paul Sartre- Nausea

nauseaHow many of have experienced moments of disillusionment that have provoked us to question the meaning and nature of this life? During those dark days, we seem to perceive everything through a lens of moribund lucidity; all interactions seem false and contrived, everybody seems to be acting out a rehearsed and tacitly understood script for the sake of the expediency of their lives.

Nausea is a philosophical novel that dramatizes and expounds Sartre’s existentialist philosophy. The story is told from the perspective of Antoine Roquentin, a young writer plagued by many of the aforementioned feelings, which are chronicled in a series of diary entries.

‘Nausea’ is the term that Roquentin ascribes to these powerful ruminations. He spends many of his days idly perusing libraries and navel-gazing at terrace cafes; his occupation as an unemployed writer affords him plenty of time to get lost in his thoughts.

Many of the secondary characters are rendered only in broad strokes; characters that feature more prominently are those that are of greater interest to Roquentin, i.e. those who are cognisant of the ‘nauesa’ concept to varying degrees are shown in greater detail. Two characters which particularly pique his interest are the creepy Autodidact (a man seemingly consumed by the task of reading and comprehending the contents of an entire library) and former flame Anny.

A sombre introspective tone pervades Nausea and humour is relatively scant, although there is the occasional amusing passage: Early in the novel, Roquentin frequents a café to meet the patronne for sex, only to be told she was out shopping.

“I felt a sharp disappointment in my prick, a long disagreeable tickling…”

Pictured: Jean-Paul Sartre at work

Pictured: Jean-Paul Sartre at work

Towards the end of the book, Roquentin’s musings take a strange tangent. He posits how the unassuming denizens of Bouville would react if the laws of reality, which for so long they had brazenly taken for granted on day decided to turn on them:

“For example a father of a family may go for a walk, and he will see a red rag coming towards him across the street, as if the wind were blowing it. And when the red rag gets close to him, he will see that it is a quarter of rotten meat, covered with dust, crawling and hopping along, a piece of tortured flesh rolling in the gutters and spasmodically shooting out jets of blood.”

These visceral passages of fevered imagination feature intermittently throughout the book and serve to demonstrate the gymnastics of which the unconscious mind is capable, when it is left to simmer.

This is not a book suited for a hazy summer’s afternoon sprawled out on the grass; its ideas should be digested and reflected upon slowly, rather than consumed in a hurry.

Having said that, while I found the book enjoyable literarily, I do not share Sartre’s philosophical convictions. What this book suggests to me is that while some introspection is good; a fixation on the futility of being can cloud your world in a haze and in turn induce the kind of ‘nausea’ Roquentin felt. In fact, the book has helped me in the sense that I can now use Roquentin as point of reference and a reminder to take stock and put things in perspective when I become a little too absorbed in my own thoughts.

Living day to day in such a state of somnambulistic confusion is anathema to life. Roquentin’s efforts would have been better placed in the pursuit of life-serving goals and his own misplaced happiness, although admittedly this may not have been quite so compelling in a work of fiction.

Have you read this book? Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments box!

Film Focus: My Neighbours the Yamadas

My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999)

my_neighbors_the_yamadasCertificate: PG

Director: Isao Takahata

Starring: Hayato Ishohata, Masako Araki, Naomi Uno

Running Time: 104 mins

Fact: The film is an adaptation of a comic strip by Hisaichi Ishii.

“The reason the Yamadas get along fine is because all three adults are nuts. If one of you were normal it would unbalance the rest.”

-Noboru Yamada – ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’-

Reviewed by Matt Keleher

Many families share a bond that is unique to them. Together they can celebrate life’s milestones, reflect upon a tragedy; be squabbling in one moment and laughing uncontrollably at life’s foibles in the next.

‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ showed me that many of these experiences are universal and although the fictional family live some 6000 miles from my neck of the woods, as I watched the film I found that many of their adventures and experiences resonated with my own.

The film was directed by Isao Takahata (whose work has included acclaimed animated films Pom Poko and Grave of the Fireflies).

The Yamadas are a modern nuclear family living in Tokyo; Takashi Yamada lives with wife Matsuko , their children Noboru and Nonoko , his elderly mother Shige and Pochi – their loyal dog.

The film features many fantastical sequence that reimagine the drama of family life

The film includes numerous fantastical sequences that reimagine the drama of family life

The film doesn’t follow a singular plot; instead it features a series of vignettes each capturing one of the many varied experiences of family life, such as father – son bonding, the frenzied panic when a child goes missing during a shopping trip, oversleeping for a business meeting, first loves and heated arguments over who will wash the dishes!

Many vignettes present otherwise conventional scenarios with striking and imaginative visual storytelling; one of the film’s most entertaining sequences chronicles the trials and tribulations of married life: Mr and Mrs Yamada push a bobsleigh before hopping on board and are seen racing down the tiers of a huge wedding cake, spurred on a by a crowd of well-wishing wedding guests! They then set out on a voyage at sea; sometimes all is calm, while at others they must endure the torrid waves. As the sky fills with storks, they recover two eggs from which their beloved children emerge!

The individual quirks and nuances of each family member are expounded early on and viewers will find themselves more endeared to the Yamadas as the film goes on.

One of the funniest scenes sees Mr and Mrs Yamada squabble over what to watch on TV; Mrs Yamada attempts to change the channel with the remote but her husband is quick to block her attempts with his paper!

One of the funniest scenes sees Mr and Mrs Yamada squabble over what to watch on TV; Mrs Yamada attempts to change the channel with the remote but her husband is quick to block her attempts with his paper!

The film has a minimalistic, yet charming visual style throughout; it’s computer animated, though stylised to appear hand-sketched. The background at the family home is virtually blank, save for a door here or a piece of furniture there; busy scenes such as city streets and shopping malls are rendered in sporadic detail and washed out in felt-pen colours.

This stylistic choice suggested to me that it was Takahata’s intention to strip each frame to its bare essentials, ensuring the focus is fixed upon the Yamadas and their busy lives, while negating any specifically local details and distractions, which could detract from the universality of the stories.

For parents weary of hyperactive CGI searching for a family film that will keep everyone happy, ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ is your jewel in the rough! The film belies its superficially simplistic appearance with plenty of sharp observations, emotional depth, warmth and insight.

Watch the film’s trailer here:

 

Have you seen this film? Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments box!

Book Corner: ‘We the Living’ by Ayn Rand

“And what is the state but a servant and a convenience for a large number of people, just like the electric light and the plumbing system? And wouldn’t it be preposterous to claim that men must exist for their plumbing, not the plumbing for the men?”

Ayn Rand- ‘We the Living’

Reviewed by Matt Keleher

wtlOne can imagine that privation, and uncertainty compounded by the ever-present threat of state sanctioned force would make the simple act of living a tremendous hardship – if not impossible. Yet some possess an immutable sense of life, which can be extinguished only as they draw their final breath; nothing can match the resilience of the human spirit at its best.

Kira Argounova, the young heroine in We the Living is the possessor of one such spirit. The story begins in 1922 as the Argounovas, a bourgeois family make a cramped train journey to Petrograd (later Leningrad) to stay with relatives. We learn of their misfortunes: the family’s factory and assets had been seized during the Russian Revolution; the once wealthy Argounovas are now struggling to scrape a living.

Scarcity pervades the city; citizens subsist on a staple diet of millet and whatever scant commodities happen to be available…that is, unless they are able to find favour with the ruling party. The family are made to pay an exorbitant price for rent, due to their aristocratic background. While others around her pay lip service to the Soviet State for the sake of expediency, Kira refuses. She enrols at the institute to study engineering:

“It’s the only profession…for which I don’t have to learn one single lie. Steel is steel. Every other science is someone’s guess, and someone’s wish and many people’s lie.”

She brazenly slights the ‘Internationale’ anthem citing it as the ‘first beautiful thing’ she had noticed about the revolution. A man whom it later emerges is a GPU (State Political Directorate) officer is quick to chide Kira for her remark:

“You must be new here, I’d advise you to be careful.”

“Our stairs are slippery and there are four floors to climb, so be careful when you come to arrest me.”

“Are you exceedingly brave…or just stupid?”

“I’ll let you find that out.”

While watching an imported American film, Kira scoffs haughtily at its state mandated censorship. Often outspoken and a strident individualist she is drawn to Leo Kovalensky – another disillusioned member of the bourgeois, with whom she kindles an affair. Leo is later diagnosed with incipient tuberculosis and Kira vies to save his life. To do this, she seeks the affection of Andrei Taganov, a political idealist with connections within the party.

"We the Living is as near to an autobiography as I will ever write...I was born in Russia, I was educated under the Soviets, I have seen the conditions of existence I described. The specific events if Kira's life were not mine; her ideas, her convictions, her values were and are." Ayn Rand- 1958

“We the Living is as near to an autobiography as I will ever write…I was born in Russia, I was educated under the Soviets, I have seen the conditions of existence I described. The specific events if Kira’s life were not mine; her ideas, her convictions, her values were and are.”
Ayn Rand- 1958

As living conditions worsen, all three are implicated in a bleak struggle, which pits the individuals who cherish life against those fervent to destroy it. The theme of the struggle of the spirited individual against the collective is pervasive throughout the novel and would also feature prominently in Ayn Rand’s later works, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

In spite of its political and philosophical underpinnings, We the Living is at its heart a tautly plotted thriller that will keep readers guessing until its final page. While my personal favourite from Rand’s work is The Fountainhead (a book I’ll be reviewing for a later blog) I would recommend We the Living as a starting point, due to its comparative brevity to her later, mature works.

Did you know?

We the Living was pirated by an Italian film company who produced a film adaptation of Rands’ novel in 1942 without her consent. The film was released in two separate parts, Noi Vivi (We the Living) and Addio Kira (Farewell Kira).

Watch the film’s trailer here:

Have you read this book? Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments box.

Jet Set Radio: The Writing’s on the Wall

“Let’s go to the mailbag. We got a letter from Mr. Owsaki. He asks “How do I get rid of these nasty roaches?” Easy, just burn your house down!”

Professor K- Jet Set Radio

Reviewed by Matt Keleher

_-Jet-Set-Radio-Dreamcast-_While titles such as Parappa the Rapper on the PS1 had previously attempted a 3D cartoonish aesthetic, Jet Set Radio (or Jet Grind Radio in the US) was the first to truly evoke the feel of a living graphic novel; its clean, cel-shaded graphics make it arguably one of the most visually innovative titles in video game history – you need only look at later titles such as Crackdown and Borderlands to see its perennial influence.

In the opening cinematic, charismatic pirate radio DJ Professor K fills us in on the game’s back story: for the youth in Tokyo-to there are two favourite pastimes – skating and spraying. You’ll be running with the GG’s (Graffiti Gangsters) – one of several rollerblading graffiti gangs operating throughout the city, each vying for supremacy on the streets.

In Jet Set Radio, players collect aerosol power-ups before ‘tagging’ marked spots around each level; your rollerblades make it easier to negotiate the levels – grinding rails and walls makes it possible to reach the higher tagging spots and you can even skitch on the back of cars. You’re not alone, however; the game dispatches a host of enemies to hamper your plans including mobs of hapless cops, the trigger happy gumshoe Captain Onishima (and if you’re really shaking things up) armoured tanks and choppers.

DJ Professor K and keeps you in the loop about developments in the graffiti underworld...

DJ Professor K provides the tunes keeps you in the loop about breaking developments in the graffiti underworld… Image: lonelygamer.blogspot.com

There are numerous detailed, open levels to explore across the game’s three districts: Shibuya, a busy shopping district, Benten, the city’s urbane entertainment hub and Kogane a residential docking area basking in the warmth of a low (but never setting) sun. The game looks superb, making the most of the Dreamcast’s capable hardware; the levels are teeming with traffic, nervous pedestrians, and pretty visual touches such as destructible walls, smoke bombs  dispersing pigeons and signposts that sway as your brush past them.

Each environment has its own distinct look and feel.

The GG’s are the new kids in town and face tough competition from rival gangs, including Poison Jam (a freaky, horror-inspired bunch), hi-tech hoodlums the Noise Tanks and Love Shockers (a band of surly spurned lovers).

You begin the game with three characters to choose from, but from time to time a newcomer will challenge you to a race. The racing sections place greater emphasis on the skating aspect, so you’ll need to time your jumps and switch rails and just the right time to trounce your rival. These challenges are not only fun, but they also bring a little variety to the table.

If you win, they’ll agree to join your crew and each character has their own unique moves and abilities, so the more you recruit to your gang, the better.

The eclectic soundtrack spanning J-pop, EDM, Rock, Funk and hip-hop should keep fans of all genres happy; I defy you to get ‘Humming the Bassline’ out of your head after playing.

All in all, Jet Set Radio is a great title, which unfortunately slipped under the radar for many players when it made its debut on the ill-fated Dreamcast. Luckily you can pick up the game without forking out for a used Dreamcast, as a version with overhauled HD graphics is available for download from both Xbox Live and PlayStation Store. How good is that?

Click below to see the game in action:

Have you played this game? Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments box.

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