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Voicing Celebrity Concerns

Voicing Celebrity Concerns (photo)

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Movie stars sell movie tickets, but do they also sell video games? The latest title to put this question to the test is “Brütal Legend,” a new action-adventure title set in a heavy-metal land of mythic creatures and crushing tunes that stars Tenacious D frontman and “School of Rock” maestro Jack Black as the voice (and likeness) of its head-banging hero Eddie Riggs.

Developed by acclaimed designer Tim Schafer (of “Grim Fandango,” “Psychonauts”) with Black’s creative input, “Brütal Legend” is a heavily hyped game that’s invested a lot in the popularity of Black, who’s not only touted in ads as the lead but who even has shown up on red carpets dressed as Riggs. More so than any other recent game, “Brütal Legend” has pinned its retail hopes on players’ fondness for its lead voice actor, a decision that says a lot about the industry’s desire to market their games around recognizable voice talent.

But does anyone really give a hoot who’s speaking their on-screen avatar’s lines? The answer’s still “Reply hazy, try again.” The same goes as to whether having a celeb’s participation really does anything to enhance a game’s quality. There’s no doubt that, at least when it come to movie tie-in games, having the cast carry through to the game helps maintain synergy. But in terms of stand-alone titles, the benefits of having celebrity voice actors is murkier, thanks to the many examples out there where celeb efforts either did nothing for the game or actually hurt as much as helped the overall product.

Signing a big name movie star to voice your game’s protagonist or villain definitely carries with it a sense of credibility, all the more to make the argument that gaming is just a legit an industry as cinema, one with major talent getting involved. But as more and more actors turn their gaze to the console and PC arena, it’s getting difficult to see what significant benefit, if any, is really enjoyed by games that choose to use them.

The practice first took off in the ’90s, when CD-based crud like “Night Trap” (starring Dana Plato) and “Wing Commander III” (headlined by Mark Hamill and John Rhys-Davies) erroneously assumed that having filmed cutscenes of real actors would enhance the gaming experience. But the modern trend to hire accomplished actors really kicked into gear with 2001’s “Grand Theft Auto III” and, to an even greater extent, its 2002 sequel “Vice City.” Featuring Dennis Hopper, Ray Liotta and Samuel L. Jackson (among many others), “Vice City” has a star-studded cast to match its over-the-top scale, one made up of actors whose badass personas perfectly meshed with the game’s gonzo thug-life material.

There can be an artistic danger in relying too heavily on celeb voice actors, as seen in the case of animation. Following the lead of DreamWorks’ “Shrek” series, the majority of animated films have started pushing their A-list voice cast in the same way they would any in-the-flesh leads, which can get in the way of the fiction that their characters are “real” as opposed to performed “roles” — “Hey, that’s Seth Rogen voicing the adorable gelatinous blob!” Games haven’t, at least until “Brütal Legend,” gone quite that far, but it’s a future fast approaching.

11202009_Wet.jpgMy favorite AAA game from 2008, the time-usurping post-apocalyptic RPG “Fallout 3,” offered up the vocal stylings of Liam Neeson, Malcolm McDowell and Ron Perlman, all of whom provided fine work that had absolutely no bearing on my attitude toward the game. Similarly, Eliza Dushku’s starring role as “WET”‘s sexy mercenary Rubi didn’t make a lick of difference, not because her work was terrible (“adequate” would be a more appropriate assessment), but because the game’s interests aren’t in serious drama (or engaging scripting) but choreographed action.

The list goes on — Patrick Stewart in “Oblivion,” Tim Curry and Jenny McCarthy in “Red Alert 3,” Linda Hunt in the “God of War” franchise — and the conclusions are usually the same: actors can be solid in games, but their efforts rarely elevate or desecrate a title’s general value, except in those many instances (mostly, again, with movie tie-ins) when the celebs’ voice acting is so lifeless, stilted and disconnected from the action at hand that it calls attention to their lousy contribution.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.