Sunday, May 16, 2010


Public Service Announcement: the following review was written obscenely early in the morning, so circuitousness and general incompetence may ensue. We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience, and see that the author promptly gets to bed.
-The Management

Cirque du Soleil's latest Portland-faring show is the jovial, terrifying, truly awe-inspiring Kooza! This show made me laugh, nearly cry, scream profusely in recognition and support, and scream once from sheer disbelief and fright.

To begin, one of the things that I love about every Cirque show - Kooza included - is how visually appealing they are. Every single one has themes, repetition and association, and also contradictions which help to tie the show together as a whole. The performers play just as much a role as the lighting, costuming, and set do. In every Cirque show I have ever seen, I find myself fixating on one to a few characters. I sadly don't have much recollection of Saltimbanco or Alegria, but in Varekai I remember the "twin birds," (as I referred to them), the contortionist caterpillar-turned-butterfly, the lizard who prowled the stage, and, of course, Icarus. In Corteo I couldn't get away from the white clown for his demeanor and grace, and I equally couldn't get my eyes off the singer, having both respect for his voice and his physicality as he sang. In Kooza, my eyes were glued to Trickster. The performer I saw for this role was clearly an understudy - it was a lady, rather than a man, as in all the advertisements and programs - and I would credit her, but my program, shockingly, does not list her at all. Not only was her costume fun, the persona she took on with her motions was amazing. I don't think I have ever seen that much presence in a role that never once speaks. In fact, I think the only sound she made was fabulously evil laughter right before the lights blacked out for intermission. Anyway, the point of this tangent is that Cirque performers continue to amaze me for their presence on stage as characters, not just as incredible feats of balance, strength, flexibility and coordination.

But they never cease to amaze for those reasons, as well. The double high-wire act was performed without the use of safety cables and without a net until the very last stunt. The chairs that were used for the high-balance did not appear to latch together like the ones in La Nouba clearly did. And the wheel of death? Gracious. This was the act that made me scream once with fright. Not only did the performers appear to attain zero-gravity while working this terrifying apparatus both on the interior and exterior of the circles, they jumped rope on them. It was madness, and possibly the most impressive thing I've ever seen. It's noted in the program that Cirque has never before used the wheel of death. It was well worth it.

Of course there's always the clowning factor. While the routines on stage were much more crude than any Cirque clowns that I have ever witnessed, the audience interaction was fantastic as always with shenanigans aplenty, including a clown dubbed The Pickpocket constantly being chased by "The Police." In the middle of the first act he went running through the crowd while onstage the performers lined up a confetti cannon. I was in the blast radius once, which was awesome, but in the end my best story of the night is that I got what one might call "popcorned." Twice. In Cirque there seems to be a tradition of having the clowns throw popcorn on the audience. I got popcorned before the show even started by a planted clown dressed like a tourist, and then later as well when the Pickpocket was running about. One might this this would be troublesome, but in the end, it's a part of the Cirque experience - almost a Cirque tradition - and I count myself fortunate to have gotten hit at Kooza.

I could go on for hours and hours about the set, the music, the costumes (some of which sported cogs - shoutout to all you fellow Steamheads out there), the acts, the control, the atmosphere in general, but it really is quite late where I am (or should I say early?) and so, I fear, I must bid you bon soir.

Cirque du Soleil Official site, including trailers, upcoming shows, and more!

[EDIT] A Side Note.
The packaging for the soundtrack is just about the coolest treatment of a CD case I've ever seen. Not only does the CD itself pop up upon opening the case - like a pop-up book - if you invert the first layer of this (entirely paper) case, it transforms into the box which appeared onstage, the box delivered to Innocent in the beginning of the show, that very same box which Trickster emerged from in all her splendor. I approve of this. Very much indeed.
Also the music is fabulous. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dante's Inferno


So there's this videogame of Dante's Inferno being released. You know the one. So they made a promotional movie out of the plot of the game, Animatrix-style.

Now when I say that, I mean that it's animated and switches styles at various times, lending a wide range of aesthetics and feelings to the piece as a whole. Oh, did I mention it's fabulous?

Or at least, if you're in the mood for dark, gory, terrifying animation that occasionally looks ridiculous and occasionally looks about ready to come out of the screen and eat you alive (cue demon babies and succubi, please). It recalls the style of every (good) dark vampire or goth-drama manga or anime I can think of, especially Hellsing.

I do have a quip or two with this piece, however. The first of these is Beatrice. She is, clearly, a devout and good soul in context of the story. That's the entire point, that she is a soul meant for Heaven. If this is the case, then why, for goodness' sake, does it make sense for her to strike a deal with the devil for her soul? And over Dante's faithfulness, no less? Also, doesn't just that simple act - a wager with Satan - taint her soul in the first place? It's a wholly counterintuitive plotbunny. I suppose the reason it bothers me so much is that it's so blatantly a plotbunny. There was no effort to mask the thought process of "So we need to get him to go into Hell to save Beatrice. Why is she there? She....struck a deal with the devil! That's it!" [insert sarcasm and eye-roll here]

On another note, overall I love the animation. There is only one style I have to unavoidably question. Everything about it was great, except for the title character. His face was entirely incongruous with the rest of his body. He was animated to be hugely buff, but he had giant anime eyes. I was immediately reminded of the quite unique style of Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac, except on steroids. I mean really. Who thought that one up? Other than that the character design was almost flawless. My personal favorite will always be the one which reminded me of Hellsing the most: a thin but clearly monstrously strong Dante with long hair. That segment was full of my approval. I was remarkably sad to see it go.

And finally, the finale. In other words, the ending. There wasn't one. It would have been different if one of four things happened: i) Dante was unable to escape hell, ii) Dante went to heaven, iii) Dante directly stated he was condemned to a kind of outside-of-hell purgatory, or iv) if Dante bid farewell to Beatrice. None of these happened. There was no closure of any kind and while I am all for open-ended conclusions to stories for the sake of feeding the imagination of the viewer, they have to be well executed. This, really, was the thing that annoyed me the most. All of the options I listed left room for a second game/movie/story arc just fine if that was the angle the writers were going for. The difference is that mine aren't drowning in obscurity.

All the same, the animation for the creatures and fights is spectacular. It's gut-wrenching, it's visually appealing, and it certainly makes me pine desperately for an Xbox. So if you're a videogame or Hellsing fan, check this out. It's a jolly good romp through the circles of hell.

Here's a trailer, to appease the curious. Enjoy, and seriously, watch out for those demon babies.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Merlin, Season One

"In a land of myth and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young boy. His name: Merlin."

Thank you, British Broadcasting Corporation. Thank you for bringing the world such a glorious show. Right off the bat, I will put it this way: for a long time, I have not watched television. The only purpose my TV served was for movie nights with my parents and friends, and the (very) occasional videogame. In Summer 2009 Merlin Season One aired in the United States, and thanks to Tivo I was able to catch the first episode. Because of it, I learned a schedule for a show. I hadn't done that since I was at least nine or ten. My appreciation for it has only grown now that I own a shiny set of DVDs, for which I am wildly grateful. But before I bombard you with that, a little background.

Merlin first aired in Summer 2008 on BBC while most of us were running about the woods making up our own stories (or at least that's how it goes where I come from). It was only released to wider audiences a year later. Somewhere in the interim it gained the alternate title 'The Adventures of Merlin' in Australia and Hong Kong (IMDb tells me so). So as we speak, or respectively write and read, season two - which aired to the Brits as I was initially spazzing out over season one at home, yet to graduate from high school - is airing here in the US, just waiting to be snapped up!

Can't wait for shiny DVD set #2. My credit card tingles with anticipation. Cue the obligatory college moths reminding me that my wallet actually doesn't exist. Credit card: exit, stage left.

All shenanigans aside, this show is lovable for a lot of reasons. There are also reasons that people don't love it, and I'd like to address some of them here.
The main complaint I've heard is, as one acquaintance of mine so deftly put it, that the show "totally fucked over the story." I will agree that the BBC retelling of Merlin is far from what one might call "conventional Arthurian legend," however, such a stance completely depreciates the welcome use of revitalization. No, Merlin and Arthur are not the same age in the original tales, nor did Merlin serve as Arthur's servant. Morgana was certainly not Uther Pendragon's ward (to my knowledge) and Guinevere was even more certainly not Morgana's maidservant. However, the old stories, while perhaps not universally known, are just that: old. Don't get me wrong - I have a habit of seeking out the "original" side of things and tracing stories and pop phenomenon alike back to their respective sources - but an overhaul, when it's done well, does not have to be a negative thing. And I haven't even touched on the right to creative license, especially where legend is concerned. All in all, purists: whatever floats your boat. Honestly. Just don't get your underpinnings in a twist when I can love the original legends and the show at the same time.

I think much of my love for the show is based in the quality of the acting. Some of the effects leave something to be desired and there are moments that are outright groan-worthy, but the screen presence of the actors more than makes up for these things. To begin, Anthony Head is Uther (Arthur's father and the current King of Camelot). I could sing Anthony Head's praises all day. I've loved him ever since he was Giles on Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I loved him as Nathan in Repo! The Genetic Opera. I love him as Uther, especially because he is anything but a flat villain. Like all of the other main characters, we are allowed to see multiple facets of individuals, something that I think is quite often lost in entertainment today. Uther, though he often takes the role of antagonist in the formula of the show, also has his moments. It makes it worthwhile that he is a character that one can both love and despise, occasionally at the same time.

And of course there are the wonderous Colin Morgan as Merlin and Bradley James as Arthur. What a dynamic duo. They've almost been elevated to the point of bromance and I have to approve. Both are very talented, not to mention attractive (which always helps), and I can't wait to adventure with them into season two.

So I don't ignore the ladies, though Angel Coulby makes a great Gwen, Katie McGrath as Morgana takes the cake. In watching it with my friends, we have dubbed her "Morgana the Bangable" because oh gracious, is she gorgeous. Not to mention her clothes are amazing. I believe we decided that if you took Keira Knightly, taught her to act (both in general AND ESPECIALLY without her chin), made her more than skin and bones and then combined her with non-Twilight Kristen Stewart, you'd get Katie McGrath. Her presence on the screen is amazing, and I love the light attitude she brings to a character who has such potential for dark motivations.

Apparently Merlin was heavily inspired off of Smallville, believe me or no. It makes sense structurally: the writers have a formula (which I will not disclose for purposes of being spoiler-free) and oh, how they stick to it. But somehow, it works. Though I've never seen Smallville, one of my abovementioned friends is quite familiar with it and both sees and approves of the connection.

All in all, now that this has gone on for far too long, it's fabulous. For a good healthy romp in a time fargone from now with magical shenanigans up to your eyeballs, pay Camelot a visit. Just take care you don't wake the Dragon.