Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Sex and Death: What Could Possibly go Wrong?

Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)

Watched: 22nd May

Where: TV

I first saw Y tu mamá también around seven or eight years ago, yet somehow my feelings towards it have remained unchanged. I still feel both sad and uplifted by the ending, the different journeys that life takes and how quickly they come to an end, the fragility of the relationships between the participants of life's journeys. There are a few journeys in Y tu mamá también, and many opposites sitting alongside. At the centre of the film you have rich vs poor, urban vs rural, young vs old and life vs death amongst others. The journeys that our characters take and the relationships they build help break down the barriers between the oppositions but also bring up new ones in their places.

The oppositions in the film begin with the opening sex scenes where young lovers make each other promise their fidelity as our young ladies are about to embark on a trip to Italy, leaving their men behind in Mexico. Like the many vows we see in the film this one proves to be empty. The boys Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal) tell Luisa (Maribel Verdú) on their drive along the coast of their "brotherly vows not to be unfaithful and sleep with each other's women" but by the end of the film both admit (though somehow you feel like at least one of them is lying) to having slept with each other's girlfriends, and they both end up sleeping with Luisa too. Jano and Luisa are married, Jano (Juan Carlos Remolina) phones his wife whilst drunk admitting an affair, thus prompting her final journey with the boys and her sexual experiences with them.

The physical journey that our characters take from urban to rural (read also rich to poor) is also central to the relationships in the film, especially when contrasted with the social backgrounds of our characters. Tenoch is wealthy, was born wealthy and will probably die wealthy. Julio is very much middle class and not as wealthy as Tenoch continually reminds him (mostly in jest and also when they fight). Luisa had a tough upbringing in Spain looking after her sick grandmother while her husband is an author and academic who gets invited to a wedding where the president is a guest of honour. Although there are comments in the film about the class struggle it does not judge the characters themselves in terms of their class but we do see some of the consequences of the power the "haves" have over the "have nots". The change in politics the film mentions does not have disastrous consequences for Tenoch's wealthy father, but the building of a hotel whilst creating many jobs takes away the livelihood and family profession of Chuy who is no longer able to fish and take tourists on private boat tours. Progress comes at a price it seems, for some the price is easier to pay than others, but the innocence and simplicity of friendship and family are lost forever.

Another opposition that is set up is birth, this is in the form of a new set of sexual relationships, a new marriage, a trip to a secret beach, trying things for the first time, an escape from death, moving from school to University and the inevitable progression to adult life that follows. This is inevitably followed by death in the final scene of the film. Julio and Tenoch meet again and have coffee together. Both have now grown apart and have long since split up from their girlfriends following their road trip with Luisa. Tenoch tells Julio that Luisa died of cancer shortly after the end of their trip. Luisa wanted to spend the last moments of her life with no regrets, sharing her experiences and regaining a little of the youth she lost caring for her sick grandmother. For Luisa the trip was a chance to be reborn and feel freedom for one last time (or perhaps for the first time). For Tenoch and Julio it was the chance to be adults for the first time and children for the last time. The end of their friendship signified their coming of age. When we see them in the coffee shop they are dressed more smartly, more conservatively, they are not the same people we saw mocking the guests at the wedding party, their freedom and youth seem to have vanished. Their shared memories seem distant and blurry.

I love this film for the innocence of its characters, their fun adventure versus the sullen reality of the factual documentary style voice over narration. I like the childhood innocence and the fragility of young friendships. I understand how everything feels like it will last forever but tomorrow it is gone and the day after that but a distant memory. I feel that sometimes the big things don't matter but it's the little ones that count. Then I realise that these little things are big things after all; a passing remark, calling or not calling, participating or sitting out. Everything adds up, sex and death, the beginning and the end. What could possibly go wrong in between?

Saturday, 8 May 2010

I did it! Didn't I?

Heavy Rain (Quantic Dream, 2010)

Who is the origami killer?  That is the quest that Heavy Rain sends you on.  Young boys are being kidnapped and drowned with the same clues left with each body.  Your job is to solve the mystery and save the latest victim in this tragic tale, Sean Mars.  You take control of four characters involved in the story to save Sean.  Depending on the choices you make, different plot points may (or may not) come into play that dictate the final outcome of the game.  Heavy Rain starts out like a bad film noir and builds into something so much more, it is a game filled with emotion and addiction that haunts you for days.

We kick off with Ethan Mars, a bit of a sad sack and thanks to the voice acting he feels like he has a huge gaping void inside him.  Even in the opening segment of the game where he is playing with his sons feels somewhat hollow.  Ethan's life falls into ruin when his son Jason is killed in a car accident after Ethan loses track of him on a family trip to the shops.  Ethan ends up in a coma in his attempt to save Jason.  Months later Ethan is a washed up and desperate man living alone.  He suffers from blackouts and strange dreams which always end up with him holding an origami figure in his hand.  Being the great dad that he is, Ethan loses his other son, Sean during a blackout episode at the park and so begins his search to get his son back.  Ethan's strand of the narrative takes on a serious of trials that are laid out for him by the origami killer to reveal the whereabouts of his son.  For Ethan however, life is not so simple.  He harbours a large amount of guilt over what has happened with his sons, and with his blackouts he starts to believe that he may be the origami killer and the trials he must complete he has created as a way to uncover his split personality and remember where he hid Sean.  Somehow Ethan is just not very likeable, you tend to feel he's a bit of a depressing social outcast who is unable to interact with anyone.   Though depending on how you do with the trials and which outcomes you chose you do begin to warm to him as the story progresses.

Our second protagonist, Scott Shelby a fat, trench coat wearing, hard as nails private eye and former police officer who is investigating the origami killer case privately.  On completion of the game he is the character who you will want to replay the most.  Shelby seems bored with the investigation, he shuns help and seems to genuinely not care about the real killer being found out.  Instead he chases after part animal and bored rich boy Gordy Kramer who he believes is the origami killer.  A classic clichéd detective filled with personality flaws that come to light as the game goes on.  Depending on your path he may suck you into liking him but his strange behaviour is initially hard to explain until you slowly uncover his truth, at this point how you feel about him is the real beauty of the game.  My favourite bit is when he leaves his assistant Lauren to die in the sunken car after Kramer has tried to kill him.  But maybe that says more about me than about the game!

FBI profiler and drug addict Norman Jayden is our third protagonist.  With his magical C.S.I. glasses that he uses to review the crime scene mixed with a sceptical and hilariously violent partner, Blake who is happy to lock up the first person he finds and close the case.  Will Jayden find the origami killer, will he OD on drugs and can he get around Blake and do the job he was hired for?  You can have quite a bit of fun with Jayden, you can be spineless and weak, cold hearted, caring, in fact you have quite a lot of choice as to how you want to play him.  However, make sure you don't take too many drugs if you want to make it to the end alive!

Finally we have Madison Paige, journalist, kind heart, and insomniac.  Or is she just undercover and playing a role to get the inside scoop?  For some reason Madison feels a little shallow and underdeveloped in the two times I've made it through to the end of the game.  You just feel like making her walk around semi naked rather than solving anything in particular.  Perhaps it's because I have not fully explored her character, but it feels like there is something missing with her.  It would be interesting to know what triggered the nightmares and insomnia.  Does she also have a difficult past like Ethan and Shelby?

Heavy Rain is not a game for long summer nights.  It is a game for wet, dark, overcast days at home.  That relentless rain and those endless shades of grey make you want to end it all.  Still, you keep on playing to find that clue and unravel the mystery.  The way the game cross cuts from character to character makes it very hard to put your controller down.  Not to mention that most of the levels are short enough for you to say to yourself "just one more" when really you should have been in bed an hour before.  The game looks amazing, great location set pieces that you want to see over again with lots going on.  What I like most about Heavy Rain is the morality test.  Do you do what you think is right?  Do you do what you think you need to do to complete the game?  How do you react again to the same scenes once you know who the killer really is?  What would have happened if I did this differently?  However hard you try and play in a dispassionate fashion the game sucks you in time and again, testing your mental strength and at times dexterity to beat some of those challenges.  Heavy Rain is not perfect, sometimes the controls feel a little clunky and sometimes you feel forced to behave in a specific fashion when you want to try something else.  To end the review I think I'll retrace my steps and see if I can get away with the killing Sean this time, or perhaps not!