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April 05, 2005 - Image 10

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2005-04-05

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Tuesday
April 5, 2005
arts.michigandaily. com
artspage@michigandaily.com

ARTS

0

10

. ...... ...

JARED
NEWMAN

40

Mario's artistic value

"I haven't been this uncomfortable since I peed my pants at kindergarten graduation."

ANGER MANAGEMENT
ALLEN AND COSTNER GIVE PITCH-PERFECT PERFORMANCES

Despite my never-ending love
affair with XBox and Game-
cube, I went back to the origi-
nal Nintendo last week after learning
about the "Negative World" in "Super
Mario Bros." Apparently it's possible
to jump backwards through brick walls
- a tactic which can be used to trigger
a warp-zone glitch that sends the player
to an infinite underwater level. Alas,
the instructions I got weren't thorough,
enough, and so I just ended up playing
through most of the game in the usual
way until I died around World Six (proof
that games have become easier over the
years, but that's another column).
After playing "Super Mario Bros."
enough times without using warps, I
started to notice how things are put
together structurally. The design-
ers did a decent job of keeping things
interesting considering that, by today's
standards, they were working with a
pretty narrow palette. Think about ter-
rain, for example. You've got your basic
solid ground, your bricks, pipes, blocks
(destructible and solid), springs, bridges
and the occasional dense cloud. Sure,
things were different in the water and
castle levels, but those boards had even
fewer options as far as obstacles are
concerned.
My point is that the developers
weren't relying on fancy tricks to make
a good game; Mario couldn't even run
and swim on the same screen. It's the
way things are arranged that makes the
game so good, and there's an aesthetic
to that arrangement that really means a
lot for the sake of art and video games.
If you look at them just the right way,
those spatial arrangements of pipes and
bricks become things of beauty that any
artist can appreciate.
I'll admit that calling a bunch of
pixilated pipes and bricks art is sort of
crazy, but it's not that different from cel-
ebrating the beauty of simple colors and
geometric spaces, as many early 20th
century artists did.
"Careful," Music Prof. Steve Rush
warned me when I confronted him on
this. Comparing something as complex
as modern art to a seemingly simple
piece of media like "Super Mario
Brothers" can be a slippery slope. Why
not, though? If there's an aesthetic to

be found in Neo-Plasticist art like Fiet
Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie Woo-
gie," then the aesthetics created by
Shigeru Miyamoto and his crew can't
be too far off.
I'm not trying to be facetious by com-
paring Mario to modern art. Quite the
opposite: I want to use that parallel to
legitimize the video game as art in the
digital age. But in the case of interac-
tive media, it's more than just creating
an aesthetic. The beauty of something
like level design has to coexist with
entertainment value. That's why, even
as a gamer that favors the "new-school,"
I must hail "Super Mario Bros." for giv-
ing us what we now take for granted
- the use of space and the calculated
arrangement of obstacles as a means of
practical game design.
To explain exactly what I mean,
I want to point to level 1-1 - a stage
filled with examples that almost anyone
who has played the game can visualize:
The symmetrical sets of treasure-filled
blocks, the first set of pipes where play-
ers can avoid Goombas with some fancy
jumps, the pits that become increasingly
dangerous due to the narrow columns of
solid blocks that surround them. Not
only do these things carry visual beauty
through space, color and repetition, but
they also have practical use by provid-
ing a challenge to the gamer. The devel-
opers created something beautiful with
"Super Mario Bros.," even if the tech-
nology gave them little to work with.
What I'm ultimately trying to say is
this: A video game doesn't need elabo-
rate scenarios, stunning realism or even
complex symbolism to be art. Those
things do help to make a great game,
but it is the beauty of a game's design
that truly deserves admiration. The
Museum of Modern Art in New York
describes "Broadway Boogie Woogie"
as an "extraordinary balancing act."
After years of trying to jump on a red
Koopa shell as it bounces between two
strategically placed pipes, how can we
see "Super Mario Bros." as anything
different?
- Jared would like to give a shout out
to the dog from "Duck Hunt"for its sup-
port in researching 8-bit art. E-mail Jared
and the dog atjnewman@umich.edu.

I

By Jeffrey Bloomer
Daily Arts Writer
When angry, Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen,
"The Bourne Supremacy"), the recently aban-
doned anti-heroine of "The Upside of Anger,"
has a disquieting stare that is more alarming than

anything seen in the innumer-
able horror films currently in
theaters. Before her husband
walked out on her, Terry was a
kind, even-tempered woman;
now, armed with a Bloody
Mary and a biting sense of
humor, she makes the des-
perate Housewives" look like
Betty Crocker.

The Upside
of Anger
At the Showcase
and Quality 16
New Line

Davies (Kevin Costner, "Open Range"), becomes
a newfound drinking buddy and eventually her on-
and-off again lover.
Binder, who also wrote and co-stars in the
film, structures the movie entirely on lives of its
characters, which seem a bit too familiar. Terry,
the suburban housewife gone over the edge,
and Denny, the has-been former baseball star,
are only slightly tweaked versions of the usual
romantic dramedy stock. Nevertheless, Binder
treats them as if they were complete originals,
developing them with astonishing success; the
two are fleshed out into complex, intriguing and
strangely alluring personalities that drive the
film. "The Upside of Anger" also considers the
lives of Terry's four daughters, played by Keri
Russell (TV's "Felicity"), Evan Rachel Wood
("Thirteen"), Alicia Witt ("Two Weeks Notice")
and Erika Christensen ("The Perfect Score").
Their scenes, though often brief and glossed over,
are just as intelligent and inexplicably captivating
as those featuring Costner and Allen. Equipped
with a furious sense of humor and sharp, witty
dialogue, the characters alone nearly propel the
movie into greatness.
Alas, the surprise ending - though not unorig-
inal or disingenuous - is completely incongru-

ous with the movie's tone and narrative. Binder
seems to have conceived the film with the ending
as its selling point, and despite creating such a
smart and engaging framework, was unwilling to
cut the final punch even though it was no longer
necessary. As a result, the final moments of "The
Upside of Anger" resort to an extended voice-over
for closure that lacks any poignancy - turning
the title into a catchphrase and ending the film on
a schmaltzy, unwelcome note.
Still, the self-depricating climax doesn't com-
pletely diminish the film's worth. At its heart are
two luminous performances from actors who have
aged with confidence and grace - Allen, in yet
another showcase of her eclectic talents, and per-
haps more surprisingly, Costner. Though playing a
washed-up celebrity who has gone from boundless
arrogance to utter disillusionment may not seem
like much of a stretch for the fading star, he brings
Denny to life with a kind of unpretentious zeal
that suggests he may have a few more films ahead
of him after all.
On the whole, "The Upside of Anger" follows
a path similar to Costner's career: It approach-
es great heights that it never quite reaches, but
its uncommon delights make it impossible to
regard as a failure.

Directed by Detroit-area native Mike Bind-
er, "The Upside of Anger" follows Terry along
her downward spiral, and opens as her husband
appears to have jumped ship with his Swedish sec-
retary. Terry doesn't reflect, lament or ask why; she
simply becomes angry - very angry. Her merci-
less fury takes no prisoners, even as her baseball
star-turned-alcoholic disc jockey neighbor, Denny

i

'Next Top Mo
By Alexandra Jones
Daily Arts Editor1
It's official: The first season of "America's Next Top1
Model," one of television's most unintentionally hilarious
reality gems, has been released on DVD. Now in its fourth

del

:

Cycle 1' struts on DVD

season, "ANTM" takes a dozen or so
"beautiful" girls, puts them in a loft
apartment with cameras rolling 24/7,
attempts to shape them into models
and shows the process on UPN.
Cycle 1, the nine episodes that
started it all, remains the most pre-
ciously ridiculous season. Through

America's
Next Top
Model:
Cycle I
Paramount

Courtesy of NBC
At least pretend to be happy.
Remake of The Offce'
lpoi
ac p. co r n

By Hriday Shah
Daily Arts Writer

Imagine four Americans with shaggy
hair calling themselves The Grasshop-
pers and singing Beatles tunes with

slight variations.
This is essentially the
idea behind NBC's
remake of the BBC
comedy cult hit "The
Office." When the
show initially aired

The Office
Tuesdays at
9:30 p.m.
NBC

from the rest of the cast. Rainn Wilson
appears too old to play Dwight Schrute, a
blundering social misfit who takes his job
title of "assistant to the regional manager"
too seriously. Wilson is neither completely
grating nor funny and becomes a pale imi-
tation to the British character he replaces.
Jim (John Krasinski), a sales rep who does
not take his job seriously, makes it his goal
to harass Dwight, but is not nearly ani-
mated enough; he appears almost too shy
and professional for his role. Moreover,
the rest of the supporting cast is bland and
takes away from the comedic potential of
the show.
Aside from Carrell's antics, another
focus isthe improbable romance between
Jim and Pam (Jenna Fischer), an engaged
office receptionist unaware of Jim's feel-
ings for her. This is the center of the plot
and provides the show with a coherent
timeline. However, the amusing and ador-
able office romance lacks development;
more scenes reflecting Jim's interest in
Pam are needed.
"The Office" is reminiscent of "Arrest-

casting calls and mailed-in videos, producers selected 10
girls to compete to become America's Next Top Model.
One contestant is eliminated each week until the final
three face off in a high-fashion runway show. Cycle l's
judges include hostess/supermodel/Creator of the Uni-
verse Tyra Banks and one of the world's first supermodels
and ex-cokehead Janice Dickinson, whose catty com-
ments alone ("This looks like she escaped from a mental
institution," or the classic "It looks like you have a penis.")
make this show a must-see. There's also Marie Claire
fashion editor Beau Quillian and Kimora Lee Simmons,
head of Baby Phat. Each week, the girls learn modeling
techniques (like strutting on the runway), compete in a
challenge (creating the perfect "smoky eye") and have
a photo shoot (posing with a snake, acting in a contact
lenses commercial).
The first season of "ANTM" brought some of the pro-
gram's most loved and most reviled personalities. There's
Ebony, the obnoxious, outspoken black lesbian whose
attempts to improve her skin's rough texture result in a
confrontation over the grease she's been leaving on all the

doorknobs; laid-back Chicagoan rocker Adrienne, whose
thick Midwestern accent and a bout with food poisoning
don't stop her from winning the season; and hypocriti-
cal ultra-Christian Robin, a former Miss Soybean pag-
eant winner whose bitchy zealousness creates a faction of
Bible-thumpers in the house.
And then there's Elyse - a bastion of real real-world
sanity in a house full of ditzy bitches with pretty, empty
heads. This rail-thin, pre-med indie chick stumbled upon
a casting call and made a tape as a joke - but her cou-
ture-perfect body and a real knack for modeling got her
to third-to-top- on the show. One of the few contestants
who's actually gotten work after being on the show, Elyse
has done better than any of Season 1, 2or 3's winners and
recently completed a stint working in Hong Kong.
After they've spent a few weeks stuck in the house,
Robin criticizes Elyse's atheist beliefs - and she snaps.
In a confessional booth rant, Elyse verbally rips apart the
other girls in what has to be the absolute apex of reality
television: " ... The most vapid conversations are going
on all around me ... Adrienne ... Stop quoting "Jay and
Silent Bob" next to my ear. Robin, how fucking dare you
show me that 'foolish is the atheist' Bible verse ... Foolish
is the woman who believes that goddamn tripe. Giselle,
you fucking worthless cunt. You are so wasteful, bitchy,
stupid. You're worthless ... Dammit. Let me fucking die.
You bitches." Elyse is totally awesome.
Unfortunately, Paramount skimped a little on the
show's features. There's a peek into contestant selec-
tion that shows boring rejected contestants, a talk with
Tyra and producers Ken Mok and Michelle Mock about
the show's inception and a short featurette on two of the
show's fabulous mainstays, makeup artist and utterly use-
less Jay Manuel and he of unqualified diva status, world-
famous runway trainer J. Alexander. More of the judges'
deliberations - or a few of Janice's stories from her
rehab days - would have made this DVD perfect.

So what if none of them (with a few exceptions) are
talented, skinny or young enough to actually break into
the modeling world? How can you resist watching the
unsuspecting hamsters pose with live snakes, condemn
each other as heathens and affectionately call each other
"slut-hos"? You can't. Go buy this DVD. Now.

Show: ****I
Picture/Sound: ***I
Features: ***

0

in Britain, it was an
unanticipated success with the perfect
combination of drama, wit and crass
humor. It won the American Golden
Globe for Best Comedy, and Richard
Gervais surprised everyone by winning
Best Actor in a Leading Comedic Role.
Although it has its moments, the remake
is the latest in a series of futile attempts at
modifying a British show to accommo-
date an American audience.

British Sea Power releases forgettable album

By Gabe Rivin
Daily Arts Writer
Open Season, the sophomore
release from the England-based

If this antiquated approach sounds
like it belongs in a poetry textbook
rather than an album, you're prob-
ably right. Both "Like a Honeycomb"
and "North Hanging Rock" open with
quaint bird chirpings; the album even
concludes with the shrill squawk of a

in which Yan commands the listener
in a Dionysian tradition to "Drape
yourself in greenery / Become part
of the scenery."
"Larsen B," a tearful lamentation
on the breakup of an enormous Ant-
arctic shell of ice, is arguably the

exception of the crashing choral
arrangement on the final track,
"True Adventures," Open Season
suffers from a general absence of
rhythmic and harmonic dynamism.
Yan's voice retains its stuffy-nosed
consistency throughout, and his lyr-

*I

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