A couple of days ago, Disney uploaded the entirety of their new Oscar-nominated animated short Paperman, which opened screenings of the feature-length Wreck-It Ralph. It is a beautiful six and a half minutes about a chance connection between two office workers with a little swelling Disney magic thrown in by the end. It’s interesting to note that that the impressive 2D style is actually the result of 3D modelling.
The first half of the story may seem rather familiar to long time readers who will have seen the utterly charming live action short Signs — about a similar connection between two office workers in opposite buildings — when I mentioned it a few years back. I am evidently not the only one to make the connection with the video generating a great deal of traffic over the past few days, along with some unwarranted criticism of Paperman for likely taking a little inspiration from it.
Watching the two on my way into work yesterday (other than providing a surprisingly positive boost to my morning) made me realise that, whilst I have developed an ingrained aversion to genre labels, perhaps my favourite genre of films is best described as “Connection”. It’s different to romantic drama or comedy in that there is no reason the connection need be romantic or even limited to humans. The nebulous connection between Bob and Charlotte in Lost in Translation is precisely what I love about the film, whilst the bond that forms gradually, uncertainly between Hiccup and Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon is both stronger and more nuanced than most romcoms I have seen.
The corollary to this sadly unrecognised genre would be the “disconnection” or “failed connections” found in films like Blue Valentine, Le Mepris and even Casablanca as couples’ lives together fragment or as people simply slide past one another without ever quite achieving their collision, planets forever in parallel orbits.
It makes me wonder what other potential genres might exist beyond the standard ones into which we try (and fail) to separate our media entertainment.
Whilst I appreciate the sterling work Secret Cinema does, it is the “secret” part that tends to put me off. If I am to dedicate the best part of a day and a reasonably hefty ticket price, I would at least like to know what film I am seeing. As a result I am a big fan of Future Cinema‘s recent initiative to roll out their acclaimed production of The Shawshank Redemption to a wider audience. If the idea of an interactive theatrical experience themed around the film followed by a screening is appealing to you, please stop reading now and book tickets for February (when the run will probably end). Whilst the description below contains sizeable “spoilers” for potential attendees, it has been heavily enough covered by the press that I feel I am hardly spilling new information.
For those of you still reading, allow me to share a little of my spell behind bars. I will assume a certain level of familiarity with the film but suffice to say that Shawshank is the brutally disciplined fictional prison in which protagonist Andy Dufresne is imprisoned. Resurrected by Future Cinema as Oak Hampton State Prison, for several hours on Saturday Rav and I found ourselves similarly incarcerated.
Having followed the strict dress code, we arrived in suits shortly prior to the Court hearing in which we were sentenced in short order. My assigned alter ego, Ricky Kelley, was convicted of the illegal sale of medical drugs, and the tantalising opportunity for role playing was too hard to resist. As we were marched by abrasively insulting guards and boarded onto a bus, Ricky came together as a well-mannered kid, not too bright but street smart enough to take advantage of his friendship with a pharmacist to make a tidy bit of cash on the side. Being caught came as a shock, but his plan was to do his six years quietly and to go unnoticed as far as possible.
As we marched off the bus into the resurrected Shawshank prison — a former Huguenot hospital which had been meticulously redecorated with open wards turned into confined cell blocks — the intimidation began almost immediately from both guards and inmates. Inside, we were stripped down to the long johns we had been instructed to wear, and assigned our prison uniforms. After a freezing introduction to the prison, during which we witnessed briefly a brutal beating in the showers, we were locked in cells and able to dress. At first dutifully buttoning himself up neatly, Ricky soon began tweaking the outfit into what he hoped appeared more confidently casual: an unbuttoned jacket, upturned cuffs. The “library cards” we had purchased earlier came into play as the only means to purchase food and drink inside the joint. A hidden pocket sewn inside the jackets would prove particularly useful for concealing beer from the guards.
Soon afterwards, we were free to roam the prison interior, an atmospheric place with various themed rooms for work, recreation, education and medical treatment (Rav’s decision that his own character had syphilis was an amusing touch, the nurse noting she’d know who to come to if she discovered an outbreak). Roaming actors (as either guards or fellow inmates) would routinely “interfere” to provoke or to discipline, whilst impromptu set pieces would occur sporadically, and if nearby often one would find oneself carefully funnelled into an area shortly before one began. These often involved music but were as varied as a guard-endorsed brawl between two inmates whilst others crowded to watch and bet on the outcome (Ricky had a good eye for the winner in a fight but only liked to gamble with those he knew, for the apparent intelligence he believed his winning would demonstrate to them).
Whilst the parole board took a liking to the seemingly contrite and always polite Ricky (he never missed a “Sir” or “Ma’am”, though Rav later complained my ready-made Southern US accent was “cheating”), the infirmary staff were particularly unimpressed as soon as they saw papers indicating his crime. It turned out they were right to be suspicious as Ricky pretended to swallow his medication before quietly pocketing the pill. Never know when it might come in handy to trade. It seemed he had not really learned from being caught and, even on the inside, planned to use what skills he had to make his time more bearable.
As the evening drew to a close, a riot broke out with shots fired before everyone was herded into a gym whilst those in charge dealt with an escapee. This set up the film screening which, by this point, was almost superfluous to the experience itself. However, it is notable just how much of an impact the previous few hours had in this viewing. I watched Dufresne’s arrival through both his eyes and through Red’s (having watched a later batch of arrivals — fresher fish — enter wide-eyed whilst we roamed free). Brooks’s letter was far more moving having heard it read out in the chapel earlier, so that one knew the words as he spoke them. Red’s final appearance before the parole board raised a hearty cheer from the crowd, most having experienced a fake one already (with a similar certainty that the game was fixed). And sharing in the free suds Andy procured his fellow workers was certainly a nice touch!
The result was more a themed experience than a film screening, and one that grew in quality the more “audience” members were willing to interact with the actors. Indeed, had I known his charge in advance, in some ways it would have been nice to prepare Ricky in advance rather than on the fly. I chose not to take a camera and am glad as it would likely have limited the immersion, but for those interested there is a decent set of photos from the Secret Cinema run. I am intrigued to see how seamlessly this larger-scale experience can translate to other films where perhaps the location is less confined, but I think the real key is evoking the atmosphere rather than the detail of the films. At least on the basis of this and last year’s La Haine, atmosphere appears to be Future Cinema’s forte, so I look forward to their next endeavour and cannot recommend highly enough that you attend.
Continuing on from the first half our 2012 wrap-up, we head back to the Continent. Having never been to Spain before this year, September marked my second trip, this time to Madrid for the firm’s inter-office football tournament. Naturally I attended in my role as photographer rather than player, though I discovered that football was considerably tougher to shoot than languid afternoons of softball in Regent’s Park. People seemed pleased with the results, nevertheless.
I finally joined the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, whose private bar in London is located a short walk from my office. A relaxed, unstuffy location with highly knowledgeable bar staff, it is located just above the Bleeding Heart which provides some great food too. The Society bottles all the whisky itself, in identical bottles that conspicuously lack a distillery logo. Sure, lists can be found to reverse-engineer the numbering system, but the underlying idea is that it ought to be all about the taste.
The end of the year always brings the big gaming releases from the Eurogamer Expo onwards. Dishonored felt like a game from an alternate universe in which the first person games evolved from Thief and Deus Ex rather than Unreal and Quake. Hitman: Absolution was a great new instalment to the franchise when it provided the open playgrounds for which the series is known, but struggled in its new brand of tense escape sequences which frustratingly introduced forced errors into a game that values silent perfection above all else. Halo 4 proved 343 Studios were more than capable of taking on Bungie’s mantle, crafting something not only worthy of the Halo name, but arguably superior. Only Assassin’s Creed III proved slightly disappointing. A sprawling and stunningly ambitious game, without doubt, but one that is unlikely to maintain interest throughout.
This year more than any other, however, several of the standout games were those with vastly smaller budgets. Telltale, having proved their adeptness with episodic storytelling, finally graduated successfully from comedy to riveting drama with the gut-and-heart-wrenchingThe Walking Dead. FTL: Faster Than Light was a sci-fi roguelike that I have “lost” more often than I have played most games. And finally, PS3-exclusive Journey proved hugely divisive when it came to “Game of the Year” lists as people argued whether the 2-3 hour experience deserved such accolades. The truth is that whilst it may have swallowed up far less of my time than any other game in contention, its lasting impact upon me is almost unparalleled. It goes beyond sheer beauty to the subtlety of its intentionally limited social interaction with the real players you meet along the way, destined to remain forever strangers.
The back end of the film calendar was marked by Skyfall and the first instalment of the The Hobbit. A Bond film from Mendes proved perfect for film fans, if a little jarring for lovers of the old-school gadgets and excess. I was surprised to see the franchise trusted to an auteur director, but I hope its success (surpassing $1 billion worldwide) means more experimentation and strong directors. The Hobbit, meanwhile, was a good movie but with horrific pacing problems. I have no problem with slow films where the material warrants it, but here it is clearly the result of poor editing and the inexplicable decision to stretch a very short novel out to three films. Surprisingly for a film that lags, it is all early on and the latter half of the film is a fun ride. The greatly anticipated “riddles in the dark” scene with Gollum is stunningly captured and almost warrants the price of admission alone. The 3D is decent yet unnecessary, but it is the high frame rate that has proved more controversial. It is, in essence, higher fidelity and I suspect it is largely preconceptions that cause people to dislike it. I admit I actually appreciated the greater ease with which I could follow fast action sequences, which may be its strength.
December brought Christmas with the family and… Miranda’s leaving drinks. If you think that sounds strangely like the start of the year, you would be entirely correct. With her antipodean plans falling through, she instead decided to spend this year in New York, so we once again gathered to see her off. Suffice to say the invitation had to include a picture of her plane ticket to prove that this time she was really leaving. In truth, I’ll be rather disappointed if we don’t have a similar event in another year as they have been rather fun reunions so far.
Unfortunately the year ended on a much sadder note, with the sudden passing of my Uncle Rajan just a few days after we all saw him at Christmas. The unexpected shock brought the family together again on New Year’s Day, which he had invited us all to spend with him just days before his death. His funeral last weekend drew a huge crowd from around the world, an impressive testament to his efforts to maintain these wide-ranging friendships over the years.
Having been a little quiet here of late, rather than dive headlong into a couple of in-depth tech posts, I thought a summary of the year gone by might make a better start to the new year, as well as allowing me to fill in a few gaps where I failed to write about things at the time. Naturally, condensing an entire year, this is likely to span two posts.
I will gloss over January, which was spent largely devoting time to relationships I had been neglecting, so there is not much to recap. February brought Miranda’s leaving drinks as she prepared to head off to Australia for year, an opportunity to catch up with her and a few mutual old friends. It was also a month for meeting new people. Dan and I agreed, as a favour to Suzie, to attend Charlotte W’s inaugural Single City Supper Club as she was short a few men. Whilst I tend to dislike the artificiality of dating or singles events, it actually turned out to be a highly enjoyable night, introducing Dan and Anna, who hit it off and remain together. Although I only just noticed the slightly ominous Closer reference in their names. Meanwhile on Valentine’s Day, having stopped by for a quick cocktail at my usual haunt, I soon found myself at the bar deep in conversation with Chandara, a Hawaiian law student, perhaps somewhat oblivious to the fact she was technically there with her boyfriend at the time. Given our shared penchant for decent cocktails amongst other things, it’s not surprising that we stayed in touch.
The next few months were punctuated primarily by films. A preview screening of Café de Flore with Rachel led to the only review I wrote (for a second year running, and something I sincerely aim to remedy this year). The Avengers proved Joss Whedon’s ability somehow to wrangle what, on paper, ought to have been an utter mess of superheroes competing for screen time, into a taut, fun romp that (for me) set the high water mark for comicbook movies this year. By contrast Ridley Scott’s much-anticipated return to sci-fi with Prometheus, his pseudo-prequel to Alien, was utterly underwhelming as soon as one scratched beneath its glossy surface.
A screening of La Haine put on by Future Cinema was simply spectacular with Asian Dub Foundation performing their rescore live. Organised by the purveyors of Secret Cinema but without the somewhat tiresome need to guess at the film being screened, I am keen to see their future projects. Also on the cinematic “event” side, Vlad and Pepijn’s brainchild, Ciné Illuminé, blossomed over the summer with a series of monthly silent films with live musical accompaniment, cocktails and other themed entertainment including dancing and calligraphy. Piccadilly and Orochi were particular highlights. Sadly the programme is on hiatus at present.
The summer brought Jenna’s first ever visit to the UK, along with Jeff and the kids as well as her sister-in-law Jessica. Naturally I took the entire time off work to show her around my city, along with trips to Barcelona and Wales. Sadly I still haven’t finished sorting through the photos yet, but it will happen. Jenna was pregnant with Dylan at the time, which did not prove too great a bar but does mean there were certain omissions to be remedied on her next trip (such as bars). Our lasting memory, however, is likely to be late-night Dominion marathons rather than Stone Henge.
The second half of the year brought both Sparkie’s sailing stag do, a remarkably relaxing affair (given the general lack of sailing experience amongst many of us) up on the Norfolk Broads, and his and Sonya’s wedding in the picturesque town of Woodbridge. More photos, incidentally, that I need to finish reviewing.
Having never really heard of the Mongol Rally until about a year ago, in the 2012 rally I found I knew no fewer than three teams participating in the ambitious event, driving from the the Goodwood Circuit in the UK to Ulaanbaatar in cars with 1.2-litre or smaller engines. As I was in the area for the Bundell’s annual summer party (at last, having missed out in previous years for a variety of reasons), I headed along to see them off. All three teams made it to the finish line — some in better shape than others but all came back with suitably epic stories.
For most of the country, the summer focused on the Olympics. Having scant interest in sport, I was most interested in the Opening Ceremony being concocted by Danny Boyle and decided to watch the games kick off with the equally cynical Korff. Boyle deftly batted aside our cynicism and swiftly won us over with his portrayal of the industrial revolution followed by a tribute the breadth of culture we now enjoy. Thanks to Amy, I suspect I tweeted more that night than in any other month of the year! Whilst many others proceeded to follow the Games in minute detail, either at the stadiums or via the BBC’s highly impressive coverage, I discovered that Olympic sports are much like regular sports only slightly faster or higher or longer or whatever the relevant metric happens to be. It’s still just sport with arbitrary rules and which still fails to hold my attention, lovely as it might be briefly to see Britain placed astonishingly highly on the various medals tables. With further recession looming, it undoubtedly provided the country with a much needed morale boost, as artificial as the cause may have been.