October 22, 2011

Alice Is Not A Bad Ass Yet

Resident Evil: 3/10

Logan Haffner

You know all those trailers for the newer Resident Evil movies that show Mila Jovovich as Alice being a total bad ass? To someone who had never seen a single Resident Evil movie, these depictions of post-apocalyptic genetic experiment, Alice, are very misleading, because in the first movie, Alice is kind of a little bitch.

Not to say that I was expecting anything other than terrible shit from this movie, but I was kinda disappointed. Again, I had based all of my expectations off of the high-budget special effects witnessed in trailers for Resident Evil: Extinction and Afterlife, only to find that the first of the series must have had a tiny budget for actors and effects alike. I would mention the writers as well, but it’s a movie based off of a video game, I feel like there’s little more to be said.

Alice, as we come to find half way through the movie, is an agent working for a company called “Umbrella Corp.” To anyone who’s played at least one resident evil game, all this is common knowledge, but let’s pretend the people who read this blog have standards.

Ha.

Umbrella is basically the “Mainstays” (a company that makes pretty much everything you would want in your home who’s merchandise is widely available at Walmart) of Raccoon City, a fictional place made up for this movie. Later in the series, however, the characters travel to very real places, so the point of creating this whole new world for 2 movies is lost on me. They make electronics and household gadgets and we come to find that they also happen to dabble in government secrets and chemical warfare. Alice, as we find, was involved in all of it, but her memory was wiped so now she’s just kind of a helpless doll with weird eyes.

Basically, Resident Evil is a glorified zombie movie centered around the idea that a “hot” chick can be a bad ass, but she doesn’t even become awesome until the last 15 minutes or so and even then it doesn’t seem bad ass, it seems really fake. So. Yeah.

The effects are crappy (like REALLY crappy, even for the time the movie was made) the acting is pretty terrible, the writing as awful, and the plot isn’t engaging at all. They’re trapped in a compound, the movie is literally them trying to get out with very few steps. Each step just takes a while. Being someone who’s only played Resident Evil 2 and 5, I can say that the movies are nothing like the games and probably just bought the title rights so they could use character names and places without paying fines.

The movie is exactly what it looks like, people. A medium-paced action flick with low budget everything and a huge feeling of dissatisfaction when it’s over. I looked at the credits rolling and felt as if the movie went nowhere. Not to mention, it’s structured so poorly there are hardly even rises and falls in action, more just one long string of events with very little segue. And Mila Jovovich.

October 18, 2011

An Earthquake, a Tiger-Fighter, and a Chicken Shop

The Bridegroom: 6/10

Brandon Haffner

Ha Jin, previously an author I’d not read, is said to be one of the finest contemporary fiction writers alive.  A Chinese-American writer, most of his stories, both in this book and elsewhere, are set in Muji City, China (a fictional city).

Click to buy a copy

In “The Bride-groom,” I see glimpses of a real master.  As far as I can tell, Ha Jin specializes in two storytelling elements: plot and description.  Take for instance his story “Alive,” in which a successful businessman is caught up in an earthquake when away from his family and friends.  He suffers multiple injuries and is hospitalized, then experiences memory loss.  He has no identification so no one can get him back to his home.  He starts a new, simpler life, and begins a new family.  Eventually something triggers his memory, he recalls his past wife and child, then he sets out to find them.  So the story takes on an interesting shape; the protagonist begins with everyday aspirations— to be promoted at work, to buy a bigger apartment, to please his wife— then suddenly a natural force renders the whole thing worthless.  The sharp turn refocuses the story on how the protagonist reacts to starting from scratch without knowing he’s starting from scratch.

Such is the genius of Ha Jin’s plots.  They can take us anywhere.  His balance of summary and description move the stories along quickly and easily.  Every scene feels relevant; there’s not a line wasted.  In the final story and one of my favorites, “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town,” the young characters admire large sums of money coming into their American fast food joint, much more than any similar Chinese owned shop.  It’s a novel idea and explored richly, told from the perspective of curious young characters who helplessly yearn after the lives of their managers.  The yearning becomes harping, the harping becomes stealing, and they realize in the end, of course, that as unskilled laborers in a western restaurant, they’re entirely disposable.

If I have complaints, it’s that the terse description is often so plot-based that I often find it difficult to become emotionally involved.  But there are, as I said, glimpses of a dynamic writer fully capable of these insights.  Take for example this descriptive passage from “Broken.” It’s precise, beautiful, and provides a clear set of expectations for us in regard to her character.  Of course, as with many of the best descriptions in literature, it’s delivered through a slightly biased narrator.  This time it’s told in limited third person, the “he” at the beginning of the passage being our male protagonist Chen Manjin, who works in the same building as she:

“…but he was also  eager to know more about Tingting, the pretty girl who was being courted by several sons of the top officials of the Muji Railroad Company. To him she seemed to flimsy, coquettish, and expensive, like a gorgeous vase only good for viewing. She rode a galvanized Phoenix bicycle, wore a diamond wristwatch, and was dressed in silk in summer and woolens or furs in winter— during which season she changed her scarves every week and sometimes even put on a saffron shawl. Manjin had been to her office a few times to deliver documents that needed typing. She seldom said an unnecessary word to him. When they ran into each other in the building, she would tilt her head a little, just to acknowledge that she saw him.”

An almost cinematic character introduction, if you ask me. And such is the way of Ha Jin.  Any of these stories could be translated to the silver screen with relative ease. He has a natural eye for setting up his readers. He paints Tingting as a dainty little thing, precious, reserved, maybe a little snobby. So that when she is exposed for carnal sins at the end of the story, her shame is all the greater.  Again, a cinematic arc in its dramatic, almost manipulative construction.

Ha Jin

I use the word cinematic here both praisingly and constructively. I sense a kind of fairy-tale or yarn-like approach, one that enchants the impatient part of me but leaves the intellectual part empty, one that pushes the story forward at a galloping pace while also leaving important possibilities in the dust, one that provides all the wide-reaching plot events one could hope for in a story yet, because of the broad scope, sometimes sweeps over more delicate subtleties. Here’s a passage that represents much of what I mean.  The final lines of the title story:

“Guhan became reticent and gloomy.  He couldn’t resist wondering whether he should have stayed with Shan and Mo in Taifu and let people here believe he had left this crowded world for good.”

The first sentence is classic telling.  The second is a summary of our characters final sense of conflict.  Could we not have been shown these things?  Mostly, I think we all want sentences that don’t tell us what’s going on so directly.  If that’s what we wanted, there’d be no need for good writers, because the bad ones would do just fine.  Anyone can summarize.  Now don’t get me wrong, “The Bridge-groom” has plenty of the good stuff.  I simply wish, because he clearly possesses the talent and eye for detail required to write complex character as well as complex plot, for Ha Jin to combine all his strengths all the time.

 

October 11, 2011

Did You Try Turning It On and Off Again?

The IT Crowd (Seasons 1-3) : 7/10

Logan Haffner

Everything the British say is more of what they want it to be than if an American says it. Daunting, serious, emotional, awkward, and, most of all, funny. That being said, it’s not really fair to hold any british TV show up to american standards because they simply do it better automatically by being British. “The IT Crowd,” I imagine, is like England’s 30 Rock, I imagine, only less inventive and with more jokes that fall flat.

“The IT Crowd” is about Roy, Moss and Jen, three workers in the IT department at a large cooperation, Rentham Industries. We’re never told what Rentham does, nor does it really make a whole lot of difference. The show follows the three of them through varies issues and hijinks involving work, women, life, or their crazy boss, Douglas. Though the show focuses little on any real aspects of the IT department (other than the vast amount of stupid calls they apparently get), or really any part of actual business, it manages to play off the character traits a job like IT stereotypically attracts. The job acts more as a reason for these three character to be together than an actual plot topic, and it works well.

It’s typical british humor, if not a bit deluded for whatever reason. The vast majority of the jokes are funny enough, but every once and a while a joke comes along that lacks the sophistication you’ve come to expect from British humor. The show is filmed at a set and then played for an audience on a screening night and the laughter is recorded, and there’s something about audible laughter in a show that makes even actually funny jokes… not as funny. It certainly plays a role in the perceived funniness of the show.

There are 4 seasons, but I’ve only seen the first 3 (streaming on Netflix), and I swam through all 24 episodes in 3 days. The show flows well, it hits clever moments frequently, and (unlike some shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “How I Met Your Mother”) they paint geeks in a light that makes them like normal people so you can actually relate to them, and seeing as how most of the humor in the show is reality based, it does well for the show. Some people may think that’s kind of an odd bit of feedback, but I’m more or less sick of shows that display nerdy characters as a spectacle to laugh at, where you almost feel like a loser for relating to them. These (mainly Roy) are real people. I mean… Moss is a little f***ed up, but we forgive him because he’s AWESOME.

The show is funny. Yes, deep, I know. But it’s good enough to merit the 22 minutes it would take to try it out, but not so great I’m insisting you give it a chance. I had a good time, anyway, and I feel like it’s a great show to toss between other more serious or committed television endeavors.

October 8, 2011

Pretty, Modernized Poop Is Still Poop

Tron: Legacy: 3/10

Logan Haffner

I know some people who really liked this movie, and when I say that, it’s important that you realize I actually mean I know no one who really liked this movie. That is mostly because this movie is not very good.

Tron: Legacy is more or less a modern recreation of the revolutionary Disney film from 1989, “Tron.” The plot is an extension of the original, but they make sure to structure it in a way to constantly attempting homage to it. The bikes with the deadly trails they leave, the disc fights, the stupid outfits, are all included and have been touched up to seem more modern and bad ass. I suppose they achieve that in image only, but the fact is Tron was a movie for nerds, and Tron: Legacy has completely removed the nerd factor by making this movie an effects-driven action flick centered around stylized fighting and hot chicks with form-fitting clothes. Also, everything is either black, clear or white, so that’s… something, I guess.

Sam Flynn is the son from the lead in the original Tron, Kevin Flynn. Years after his disappearance that we later find to be to “The Grid,” the world made up of programs we know from the original, Sam is a deviant with resources (he remains the majority shareholder of a massive company, “Encom,” created by his father’s legacy) who finds himself back in the grid after following a page he learned about that was sent from a line rolling a strong 20-year disconnect back at his dad’s old arcade. Immediatly we’re taught about a couple things:

Programs now run everything. They’re things that look like people in this world only they all wear read or orange with their black. Users (people form our world who log into the system) created the world because we’re people and we make these things. After the last movie left off, apparently Kevin Flynn has his copy, Clu, create a perfect system for the grid, and we’re now finding out that this, to Clu, means militant dictatorship. Kevin’s been trapped in the grid for 20 years or so because this uprising over the user(s) kept him from getting to the portal out.

Also, there are these things called Isomorphic Logarithms (ISOs) that Kevin keeps saying are going to end disease, hunger, and all the word’s problems in the real world. He never mentions how, though. So… yeah. I guess… there’s that. We learn that ISOs are self-created, so that’s cool, but all but one of them were killed a while back and now the one left is played by Olivia Wilde, so I’m not going to complain THAT much. Anyway, Sam is trying to rescue his father and this ISO, Quorra, before this portal closes again. They mention the portal’s gonna close in 8 hours, but the movie lasts over a few days and it never closes… so… not… yeah.

Confused? Yeah. Well, not so much confused as “this story is half-created. That’s kinda dumb.” And you’re right. It is kinda dumb. The movie is kinda fun, I suppose, but the plot, as you’ve now read, is boring and predictable. The characters are flat and have absolutely NO development, this whole conflict between Sam and Kevin because Kevin was gone for so long is talked about like it’s some big thing but never actually amounts to anything other than one awkward dinner conversation. The art direction is niffty, but its quality doesn’t extend beyond that level. The acting is pretty bad, save for Wilde, actually, and the plot just kinda lingers around without having any real rise or fall in action. It’s just kind of there. I felt no change, and with no change in tension or development of the story, I get bored and want to watch something else.

It’s okay as a movie, and it’s honestly bad as homage to the original Tron. All the elements that made Tron classic in it’s dorkiness and oddly advanced mathematical themes were cut out of Legacy and replaced with cheap thrills, and the whole time we’re forced to look at this terribly computer animated Jeff Bridge’s face on Clu. PEOPLE’S MOUTHS DON’T DO THAT, DISNEY! It was disappointing. But hey, people seem to love disappointing lately, so if you’re people, dive right in. I won’t stop you. I’m just an internet.

October 7, 2011

Baseball < All Other Things

Moneyball: 6/10

Brandon Haffner

Tepid. That’s the best word to describe Moneyball, a lukewarm film about a man who helped transform the lamest sport ever invented. Sure, Brad Pitt as Billy Beane is good, maybe even more than good, but he can’t provide what this movie needs, which is excitement. The best moments, those of the greatest tension, rise suddenly and fall quickly. And unfortunately, those moments you’ve already seen in the previews. Most everything between is fluff.

Billy Beane, the general manager at the Oakland Athletics, is a likable enough character.  He’s an abrupt speaker, quirky, and compassionate. He likes his family and his players, but he seems to love the team the most; that is, the franchise of the Oakland Athletics— its history and lore. He wants to win a championship there and cares little about anything else. Like many down-on-his luck male protagonists these days, he has an ex-wife with custody of his only kid. It’s a cliched, lightly explored, and uninteresting portion of the plot.  Like Billy, all we really care about is his job.

His job involves convincing many baseball traditionalists that statistics work best as the primary, not secondary tool, when building a team. Because this is something we in the present day already know works, all the time spent on Billy’s desperate persuasion feelsoverlong and exhausting. There’s a conversation near the beginning of the film in which Billy is arguing what appears to be the same point over and over but just with different people at a table. I began to wonder, does the filmmaker really think we don’t get the point?

I heard this would be a movie for all folks, sports fans and non, baseball fans and non. Well I’m a sports fan, but I loathe baseball, from the game itself to what it represents, which I think is probably the worst combination as a viewer for a film like this. The sports terminology, approach, and enthusiasm is all old hat to me, yet the sport of baseball is about as interesting to me as a tomato.

I did think the art design and settings were created with care. The cinematography and set design make an impact; we feel quite at home in the homey, run-down Athletics stadium, yet feel in awe when we enter the office of the Cleveland Indians, or enter the stadium offices of the Boston Red Sox.

I also appreciate some of the mild humor, and some of the details of the “moneyball” system— “when you hit low pitches, you’re only batting this well, so wait until the pitch is high” type lines— but overall there just wasn’t enough new in “Moneyball” to coax it out of mediocrity. Apart from Pitt’s performance, the film is average in every sense.  Which, sadly, puts it as a front-runner for best picture in 2011.

October 4, 2011

Now A Major Motion Picture

The Road (the novel): 8/10

Brandon Haffner

Several years ago in a fiction writing class of mine, one of my professors passed out a sheet of paper on which were listed several sentences. Each sentence represented an exceptional example of descriptive efficiency, inventiveness, and precision.  He did not cite authors or book titles. One of these lines was, “The rain fell hard and slant.” I’d not thought much of it at the time, being a sophomore in college and still having much to understand about writing in general.  Then, a few weeks ago, years after graduating, while in the middle of enjoying “The Road,” I stumbled across the line, “The rain fell hard and slant.”  I stopped reading and was instantly struck with the memory from class.

Years had passed between my first and second reading of this line, during which time I’d of course read thousands and thousands of other lines, and my memory is not a great one. Yet this sentence rose from the page like Mt. Everest. I read it over and over. It’s so pared down, each word only a single syllable. Yet would you or I have the intellectual reach and the writerly confidence to compose a book built with such simple, easy lines such as, “The rain fell hard and slant”? The answer is no, because if the answer were yes, you and I would be rich and famous.

It got me thinking about Cormac’s general economy of language in “The Road,” which I believe is its greatest feat. I don’t think the plot is anything to get excited about. Nor do I believe the dialogue is really any good, nor do I think the characters are all that dynamic or interesting, nor do I find the backstory well-imagined. But its present-day descriptive language is so richly evocative that I couldn’t help but turn page to page. However cliched the environment and story and characters are, the description of that environment and our character’s day-to-day actions is raw yet refined, simple yet elegant, and enables any reader of any level of academic snobbery to become deeply immersed.

The story, then, is not one to spend a good deal of time on. As most of you probably know, “The Road” is a kind of post-apocalyptic tale, one that doesn’t explain where the “apocalypse” came from or how it happened. That’s not important. What’s important is the survival of our two main characters, a father and a son, who both go unnamed.

There are hardly any humans left. There are no animals, there’s no vegetation, and there’s no plant life. There are no sources of food except for the occasional vacant house or hidden storm shelter with a few unfound canned goods. The weather is unbearable; it’s always cold, sometimes wet. The sky is always gray. They live out of a shopping cart. The two of them travel toward the coast, the father says because he hopes to find more “good guys” like themselves on the coast, but he knows it’s really because they need a goal. The real question that comes into focus is: when a life becomes nothing but a series of miserable moments fighting for survival to continue living those miserable moments, and when there is no hope for a better future, is it right to continue the life?  Cormac I don’t think suggests any real answer.  But it certainly gets us thinking.

As the two of them walk the empty roads, run into the occasional straggler or cannibalistic human, and find stashes of canned goods, the descriptive imagery is undeniably first rate. “The Road” won the Pulitzer largely because of this accomplishment, I have to believe. Every event is rendered immaculately. I could plaster this page with quote after quote, but you will just have to read the book. Anyone who appreciates fiction, whether you’re a reader of Dean Koontz or J.M. Coetzee, will appreciate what the illustrious McCarthy has done here.  It’s not a perfect book, but it certainly breaks new ground.

On a final note, I have a brother who has a gigantic man crush on Cormac McCarthy. That brother is none other than the Logy Haff half of this Haff & Haff empire, so the fact that I’m the first to review his favorite book of all time, “The Road,” may seem a little strange, I suppose. But here it is anyway. I beat him to the punch. I wonder if this means he’ll review “Fargo” before I get a chance.

 

October 1, 2011

Daydream Delusion

Before Sunrise: 8/10

Brandon Haffner

I once took a screenwriting class in college. The class was taught by a talented man, not famous but certainly successful.  One of his plays, he wouldn’t let us forget, was turned into a Hollywood film back in the seventies. As an instructor, he was meticulous about details. He was the type of professor who would send you out of the room if you yawned during a lecture. But the man loved his craft, and he gave us a clear picture of how complex and difficult it is to make a movie from the ground up. You’ve got your screenplay that begins the whole endeavor. Then you need the practical structural bones: a producer to pay for everything, a director, actors, lighting and camera equipment, a cinematographer to run the aforementioned, and an editor. You need someone to be in charge of visual effects, sound, art direction, makeup, costumes, casting, music and stunts. For everything on the screen, you can point to one of hundreds of men and women standing behind the camera who are responsible.

“Before Sunrise” is a rare film that depends almost entirely on only two of those dozens of functions: the script, and the ability of two actors (Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply). Sure, there are other facets; someone had to decide what Ethan should wear, for instance. But it’s truly an infrequent occurrence when a film’s entire success is built singularly on dialogue and acting.

Many of you, even if you haven’t seen the film, know the story already. The camera follows around a young American man named Jesse and a young French woman named Celine for 24 hours in Vienna. They meet on a train, Jesse convinces her to get off with him, and off they go for their now world-famous one-night-stand.

Beyond that, there really is no “plot” to summarize. They meander. They see the sights. They talk philosophically about life and death. They jab and jive. There’s one interesting scene in which they bump into a street poet. The poet asks them to give him a word, any word, and he’ll write a poem including that word; then, if they like it, they can pay him whatever they feel he deserves. The word they cruelly give the poor poet is “milkshake,” but the man’s poem is surprisingly good, unlike many made-for-film poems tend to be. It’s a refreshing exception and a nod to the intelligence of the screenwriter.

The entire time they’re together, we’re wondering the same thing they’re wondering in the back of their minds. Are they going to exchange contact information? Are they going to have sex? If so, is this going to become a long term relationship? We think of these things because of how deep their connection seems to be, how compatible they are, and because a natural tension rises from their relationship. Each scene and conversation, even when Jesse and Celine are discussing shallow, uninteresting topics, has urgency. Like all good films, as my screenwriting professor taught, there’s a hard time deadline for the characters to complete their business. The deadline makes us, the viewers, uneasy, anxious, and most importantly, absorbed.

Frankly, as a writer, I’d be terrified to write this script if someone approached me with the idea. Every word is exposed because there’s nothing in the film except words and facial expressions. No action sequences, no art direction, no wide landscape shots, no fancy camerawork, no background music, nothing.  The film’s life depends on those words and how they’re spoken. Richard Linklater, who wrote most of the script and also directed the film, sometimes dips into a bit of pretentiousness. And sometimes he overdevelops the character histories (these two seem to dig up the perfect stories to tell for every conversation), but all in all you have to give him credit. For a movie that very simply follows two characters around with a camera for a day, there’s not a single dull moment.

September 29, 2011

My Favorite Actor Is Better Than Your Favorite Actor

Capote: 8/10

Logan Haffner

It’s hard for an actor to get me to forget that they’re an actor. I’m not saying I’m well versed in the art of acting and my standards are so high that only the elite actors can please me at this point, I’m just saying I see an actor and I know he’s an actor. I mean it’s simple. I’ve seen them before as lots of other people, it’s just hard to get past that. Now and again, however, there’s an acting performance that totally masks the actor and leaves nothing but true, unblemished character, and I can become fully emersed in my movie experience. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote is one such role.

I don’t want to say this movie is rated so high because of Hoffmans acting alone, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the largest factor. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of this movie. I mean I wouldn’t give it an eight if I didn’t. I’m simply trying to get across how amazing this performance is in my eyes. His character that he’s “created” (since Capote is a real person, I can’t give all the credit to the character writers, now can I?) is just so complete, I get lost trying to find the actor. I fail, of course, and then I end up here, writing about my gay crush I’m sort of just realizing as I type a post soon to be published on the internet… hmm….

Maybe not the best choice.

Capote is an author, though best known (at the time [the early 1960s]) for his work publishing short stories in the New Yorker and his novella, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”  The movie focuses around a group of murders committed in Kansas at that time, the murderers themselves, and Capote’s relationship with them and those around him as he writes (arguably) his most famous work “In Cold Blood,” the story of the murderers before, during, and after the crimes committed. The movie shows us Capote in many ways. How obsessed with himself he is, how obsessed with his work he is, and how much he utterly depends on those around him (even if just for attention) to get by with his life. This sounds a little simple, and it is. I’m not the best movie-pusher in the world, but you should trust the rating and not the explanation: THIS MOVIE IS GOOD.

The acting from all over is great, honestly. I don’t mean to get swept up in Hoffman and his gorgeous skin, as the whole cast does a fantastic job (which includes Catherine Keener as Harper Lee) in supporting Hoffman and maintaining the illusion as a whole. The flow of the movie is fantastic, and by the time the murderers are finally put to death (no, it’s not a spoiler, this is history, stupid), the movie and Capote have done such a great job at exposing and humanizing them that you don’t know how to feel about them dying. I mean… you kinda feel bad. And you know they did it! That’s crazy thing! Oh… oh man… it’s NUTS! Ah… movies.

So anyway. See this movie. Seriously. If you haven’t and you’re serious about movies, I’m sure it’s already on your list, but you keep putting it off because new Transformer movies keep coming out. Michael Bay will still be there tomorrow, loser, so get on Netflix (yes, Netflix, I just gave you a plug on our WIDELY successful movie blog. I expect compensation in services rendered) and move Capote to the top of your queue. Keep it on your coffee table until you feel like watching an emotionally stimulating movie, and put it in the DVD player. F*** bluray. You’ll thank me later. Or right then. I have no idea, I don’t know you.

 

September 27, 2011

This Review Is Very Long

Gears of War Trilogy: 9/10

Logan Haffner

The day I find a perfect video game with no real way to make itself any better at what it’s trying to do that it’s already done is the day that I stop playing video games. That day is never going to come. That being said, I have a very hard time imagining a game or game series than can come closer than Gears of War.

My guess is most people who read this will disagree with me. Not that Gears is a fantastic game, but that it’s so much better than other games or deserving of a rank as high as I’ve given it here. Most people aren’t me, and I’m the one with the blog, so they can all shove it. The fact is, I’m a fan of a very specific kind of game, and when I play Gears of War 1, 2 or 3, I feel like these games were made specifically to cater to my wants and needs. My involvement with a video game depends on a few key elements, which I will now discuss.

Story vs. Online Play- This is the largest thing that separates me from most Xbox 360 gamers. Most people who rock the 360 are into online play, massive multiplayer, and a versatile gaming platform. They want to be able to play what is essentially the same game over and over in different ways with many people so they can make themselves feel good about their respective penis sizes online in front of thousands of people. I don’t know what it is, but the 360 tends to attract the more technical and competitive gamers out there. Now I’m all for playing the shit out of a game, but I’m not about to throw in 48 hours to a game to max out my gamer score or fill up my achievements. I’m not looking to get online and try to beat everyone and their mother with my l337 haxorz headshot skillz. I want a game with an interesting story (like a movie that I’m controlling) that allows me just enough freedom to remind me that I’m controlling something and involving enough that I actually want to beat this game for the sake of the characters, not just so I can say I beat it. Gears does this… so very much, and with a story that last long enough to leave you wanting the next game, but not so long that you’re struggling to finish for the sake of calling it “done.” Gears took some hits in the press with Gears 1 and 2 with their lack-luster online gaming, but with Gears 3 new multiplayer platforms (and perfected Hoard mode from Gears 2) with ranking systems and custom multiplayer maps, Gears now appeals to an audience previously lost to this franchise: the intense gamers.

Graphics- Yes, I am a shallow gamer. I want a game that looks pretty. Like movies, if it looks too fake or their are laughable glitches, I’m going to enjoy my gaming experience less. Gears introduced one of the most visually seamless gaming experiences to hit the market, and has continued to build on that claim with Gears 2 and 3. The world is almost fully destructible, things look so real you can touch them, and gameplay does not sacrifice graphic quality from cut scenes. The developers put so much thought into every little detail years ahead of other games (like the barrel of your gun turning orange and steaming after you fire multiple shots that you see featured in Halo: Reach). Not to mention the art design and insane attention to detail is bafflingly intricate and dazzling on a massive scale.

Violence- Yup. I’m a little boy. I like to be able to kill things. Not only does Gears let you kill LOTS of things, it has hilariously meticulous ways to kill someone, and keeps very diligent records of how you do so. The weapon spread is massive, but not so much so that you feel bogged down or like you’re missing out. The game gives you enough options to keep you interested and excited, but not so many that it becomes a burden to try them all in the span of a game. Gears is more or less build on excessive gore, and it embraces that almost to the point of parody. It’s because of this balance that you’re able to enjoy a very intense, serious story with moments of “holy shit, that was f***ing awesome” that don’t take away from the body of the experience.

Gameplay- I want a platform that works and that comes naturally to my eyes and fingers. If I have to spend more then 10 minutes of total gameplay figuring out how the basic control template works, the designers have done something wrong. This game has LOTS of options, but it’s not complicated to figure them all out. Perfect.

Gears is the most flawless series I’ve ever played (shut up, die-hard portal fans. Your game is good, too), each new game besting the last. I just finished Gears 3 and am extremely sad the series is over. That being said, Epic Games, please don’t pull a Bungie. Just let it go. It’s perfect. Leave it at that.

September 23, 2011

If Only We Had Two Lives to Live

The Age of Innocence: 6/10

Brandon Haffner

In high school I was introduced to Edith Wharton. We were assigned to read “Roman Fever,” one of her most popular short stories. And although it remains one of only two fiction pieces of Wharton’s I’ve ever read, the language of that story has stuck with me through the years; her authorial voice has a distinct regal feel, one of elegant precision and careful vocabulary.

This care results in a slow-paced rhythm that feels right for her extremely wealthy, extremely traditional 19th century characters, who, although we can tell are all churning and boiling underneath their skin, around other people say things like “Yes indeed, I’d very much like to visit Paris again someday.” So the stories become heavily narrated in order to provide tension. You will not find any explosions or sword fights in an Edith Wharton story. These are stories about complex people who are angry but are trapped by an endless cycle of maintaining social norms.

So the question is, how do you tranform a story consisting mostly of small talk at dinner parties into a watchable 2.5 hour film? Or perhaps the real question before getting to the “how,” is why?

I have no answer. Maybe Martin Scorsese had already beaten that day’s crossword and required a new challenge: “The Age of Innocence: THE MOVIE” was born.

Being familiar with Wharton’s style, then, I was not exactly surprised when the film turned out to be a little exhausting to sit through. I was also not surprised that the film relies heavily on off-screen narration, which unfortunately only enhances the tediousness of the experience. It’s difficult to find the same enjoyment in some undisclosed off-screen narrator telling me how the characters are feeling, and why, rather than seeing it happen on the screen with my own eyes. But I understand the dilemma: for much of the first half of the film, we viewers would be lost without some narrative help. In the opening segment, for instance, we learn about 30 names in almost as many seconds. We are told their brief histories, their “positions” in our setting (New York city), and even in some cases their opinions, behaviors, and tendencies. Nearly all of this information is relevant at some point in the story. Or at least, the surface-story.

And by surface-story I mean the story we don’t care about. Yes, that’s the small talk at dinner parties. And oh, how many dinner parties there are, and while they’re elaborately and artfully designed (the art direction and cinematography in this film is fabulous), this is not a story about dinner parties. This is a story about a man, Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) who loves one woman, Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), whom he can’t have, because he is instead getting married to another woman, Mary Welland (Winona Ryder), whom he finds painfully uninteresting (and so do we).

So the story goes of his inner struggle. Ellen and Newland are both in love, but they can’t possibly fully realize that love because of their social restrictions. The moments when the two of them are together are the best and most engaging in the film, because we don’t need a narrator telling us what to think. These are the scenes of raw emotion and drive the “real” story forward. This is the story we want to see unfold, and the story that progresses causally to bring us to the conclusion. The other half of the movie, those gosh darn all-consuming dinner scenes, are sprinkled in between the “real” story scenes and weigh down the film. They start to become a burden on us. We start to feel the horrible emptiness of this constant social upkeep, right along side our protagonist.

Eventually (spoiler!) Ellen leaves New York because she can’t take it anymore. And “it” could mean many things. “It” could be that (spoiler!) Mary, Newland’s wife, becomes pregnant with the his baby, and she realizes their impossible happy ending is indeed impossible. Or “it” could be her inability to fit in with these phony, elitist New Yorkers. It’s probably a combination of both.

To be honest, I was a little glad when she left town, because then I knew the story was coming to a close for me, too. Yes, that’s a cheap shot, but you know what? It’s hard to watch fancy dinner scenes for 2.5 hours on an empty stomach. It really is.