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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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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.