Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
This one's for the ladies...
Although this movie made 12 mil during its opening week in the box office, I have to wonder if it wouldn’t have averaged better if it didn’t alienate its female audience in the first five minutes. George Clooney, as the precocious Jack, trudges alongside his lover near their secluded picturesque cabin, out for a winter stroll. Suddenly Swedes with guns burst from the snow banks above them, only to be brought down by Clooney. “Get to the house, call the police” He bids, and the moment she turns, he plugs her in the back of the head with a bullet. This may be the highest and lowest point of the movie, and it’s all over in the first scene.
For anyone still sympathetic to the main character after such a startling introduction, congratulations you’re probably a sociopath. He even goes so far to explain to his handler that she wasn’t a traitor. She was, apparently, just in the wrong place at the wrong time (his bed). This one regretful lament colors the rest of the film and haunts him through a long string of prostitutes, girlfriends, and attractive clients, until he’s wading hip-deep through half-naked European women, wearing a perpetually glum look on his face.
If it weren’t for Clooney’s ability to infect the audience with his mood, The American would be a colossally boring film. We watch him adapt to his new shell of a life, working again for his old organization. He orders parts and builds guns for dangerous clients, tests rifles, drills and fills bullets like a one-man machine shop, and constructs professional grade silencers out of an auto mechanic’s scraps. He breaks bread with an equally emotional priest and stares at butterflies in the woods. And, when the mood strikes him, he contemplates shooting more women who’ve gotten too close. If the main character had a beergut and a Dixie flag he’d be a melancholy gunsmith.
Most action-dramas save us the tedium of preparation before a secret mission. We don’t see the long hours in Q’s lab where the ammo is repacked and the lasers are charged, nor do we see the care that’s taken in attaching rockets to a sports car. All we see is the end result; Bond blowing the hell out of tanks and kicking ass. A few movies can focus on the precision of planning and still manage to juggle in some good action, The Jackal, Ronin, Munich. The American, as an action, flatlines by comparison.
One byproduct of watching this film is I now plan on reading A Very Private Gentleman, a novel written by Martin Booth. I feel like there is too much unexplained in the film, too much that couldn’t be conveyed through George Clooney’s troubled eyebrows, or the subtle bits of dialogue and music drops. Killer he may be, I still find the characters fascinating enough to want to know more. Without sitting through the movie a second time.
And a side note for anyone else who saw this film: The ‘special rifle’ he builds is a Mini-14, a stable but notoriously inaccurate weapon. Apparently the big scope fixes all.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Rupees, Cooler than Rubles.
Anyone born during the gaming generation is familiar with Princess Zelda and her codependent erstwhile companion, Link. Nintendo’s little green-garbed elf has lost his princess through so many sequels that his children are now doomed to repeat his mistakes, or so it seems from the paper doll puppet show that precedes the game.
And for a Nintendo DS game, Phantom Hourglass has an impressively long opening cinematic, written to snare sympathetic ten-year-olds into the plot; save Zelda. This is reinforced whenever the DS is turned off and reloaded, starting every game with a frantic figure of Zelda begging for help before she is gulped down into a maw of mysterious smoke. So begins the epic quest for pirate-Link to rescue pirate-Zelda.
Once again, Link finds himself unconscious in a village with a freebie sword and a love for smashing pots and hacking down grass stalks. But to make his new job as a lawnmower tolerable, you are given a few samurai-esque slashing maneuvers which take advantage of the DS’s touch screen quite admirably. More touch-based weapons are made available throughout the game, all of which are classics from older Zelda arsenals. The boomerang in particular has become a potent quest solving tool, as it will follow any loopy line you draw on the screen, and can carry items (and flames) back to your character.
Sailing is now the great glue which holds the plot and dungeons together. The mini-map, not so mini, takes up the entire top screen and allows the player to scribble hints and treasure locations whenever it’s convenient. More often though, the game hits you over the head and demands you use this fine feature, making every excuse to withhold simple map markers so you’ll have to rely on your own squiggly incoherent scrawl. The dungeons and puzzles themselves are still very clever, with or without self-drawn hints, and remain one of the best aspects of Zelda gameplay.
The animation may be the part that bugs me the most. I know there is only so many graphics that can be rendered on a handheld game system. But I argue that if you don’t have the marble to carve Michelangelo’s David, then don’t settle for balsawood. I still blame Paper Mario for lowering standards, and everyone’s acceptance of wobbly-necked characters that slide around on the screen like targets at a carnival shooting range. The deficiencies are easy to forget while fighting monsters. But when the screen zooms in for an up-close conversation, the player is stared down by brown polygon faces with massive eyes and features that looked like they were spackled on.
With Full Hearts:
I honestly don’t know how Nintendo does it. I’ve played (nearly) the exact same game every third year, with the exact same weapon selection, viewed through the eyes of the same stunted elf. And I haven’t grown bored of Zelda games. Has the rewarding sound of popping a chest and holding weapons above my head become so engrained in my brain that I can’t help myself? Like a cat that runs into the kitchen at can-opener noises. Maybe Zelda has become my RPG minesweeper or bejeweled; another dungeon cleared with my heart meter beeping away to alert me that the chambers are essentially half full.
I suppose I can recommend this game to anyone above the age of zygote and still keep a clear conscious. It’s fun and even witty at times. And compared to many DS games that see the stylus as a burden to throw minigames at, Zelda actually incorporates it. And although I haven't beat the game yet, I'm still confident that I can guess the ending. I predict Zelda will be saved from the replacement Gannondorf.
And maybe, just maybe, the princess will stay saved this time.