Monthly Archives: February 2011

I Am Number Four

MV5BMjI0NDI1MTMyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDMzMTcyNA@@._V1__SX1859_SY847_Let me say off the bat, the CGI was a little bit terrible. I’m not sure how good expensive CGI can get, either because I haven’t seen it or don’t remember, but cheap CGI[1] just can’t do mammals at all. It can do reptiles okay, but fur is just a complete show-stopper. The reason for that disclaimer, as you may otherwise have been asking, is that I Am Number Four was mostly enjoyable, contrary to what expectations I had been given. And that’s always pretty cool, right?

Plus, it had what I believe is a unique premise in the annals of Hollywood history. Well, no, that’s not true at all, but I think this particular combination of two premises is unique[4]:  prince on the run from alien assassins combined with high school angst. It sounds a lot more like a TV show, right? But I think it would have been too angsty to work on TV; the forced speed of the movie format made up for a lot of what might otherwise have been annoying digressions, and it only barely gave me a chance to think about the worst, most teenaged part of the plot. And corollary to those improvements via limited screentime, I hope it doesn’t do well enough for people to pick up the pie-sized bread crumbs of sequel bait and start running with them.[5]

I won’t say much more about the plot beyond acknowledging the premise, both halves of which are visible within ten minutes of screen time anyway, but I should say a bit about the acting. Dianna Agron from Glee (who has a broader résumé than I’d have guessed) did a nice job as the outcast shutterbug love interest, and I suspect that someday soon she might be able to get herself a role that isn’t defined by another member of a cast. And Timothy Olyphant[6], easily the best of the bunch as the aforementioned prince’s guardian, manages to maintain the amusedly-detached-with-flashes-of-intensity hyper-competence I’m used to from his characters without ever giving the impression that he’s above either the cast or the angsty half of the plot, despite that he so clearly is.

Anyway, I dug it. Except for the mammalian CGI. Just saying, that was a bad idea, way worse than the angst or a sequel would be. (Probably not worse than a TV show, though.)

[1] My premise may be wrong, and all CGI has this problem? But I’m guessing not. (Or hoping not.)
[2][3] It must be a problem with all CGI, though, since obviously Michael Bay can afford the good shit.
[3] I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. Consider it an easter egg hunt.
[4] Not the practice of mashing-up, clearly.
[5] I also hope I stop with the metaphors, because, wow. I am so, so sorry.
[6] If you are not familiar with his work in Deadwood and Justified, you’re doing it wrong.

The King’s Speech

Days ago now, I saw The King’s Speech, a lightly fictionalized account of King George VI’s unlikely ascension to the throne of England at the dawn of World War II and the debilitating speech impediment he had to overcome due to the rise of radio broadcasting, against the thematic backdrop of unlikely cross-class friendships. And I would occasionally think to myself, “Dude. Review,” and then immediately forget again. Until now, I guess?

And the problem is, I just have nothing to say. I can review bad things, and either explain why they’re better than you think or complain about their many flaws. I can review good things and highlight the ways that they are especially powerful and unexpectedly even better, or else explain how they’re overrated lumps of crap that people need to stop talking about. (Although I’m kind of an overly positive person when it comes to movies, so that last bit doesn’t perhaps come up very often.) But in this particular case? The movie is compelling, filled with talented actors giving moving and powerful performances, and all of it just as expected. What am I supposed to do with that?

It’s really good. Go see it if you like that kind of thing, I guess?

Assassin’s Creed

71233_frontTo be clear, this is a pretty old game. I remember reading about Assassin’s Creed in Gamestop’s magazine sometime in 2006 and being really excited about what they were doing with the cities full of random people and the ways you could run and climb and otherwise interact seamlessly with the environment, and without a lot of weird button combinations and things. Plus also the plot, which pits historical Assassins against the Knights Templar in the Crusades setting; it seemed to have a lot to offer on both the very pretty and the very cool scales. The framing story, which has a faceless but clearly very wealthy corporation essentially kidnapping a man who is a descendant of one of these assassins, because they can put him in their cool sci-fi device and use the blood link to pull genetic memories from him, seemed like it may also have been cool, but I really didn’t get far enough into the game to form a valid opinion.[1]

So, right, that part is probably relevant. Despite all of the real coolness inherent in the gameplay and plot in concept, in practice I found it absolutely unplayable. Part of this, I realize now after the fact, is that the introduction was weak and did not provide as much direction as I think I needed to latch onto the plot. The other part, that caused me to stop playing out of pure frustration, was mechanical in nature. Without a clear set of roadsigns to pull me quickly into the plot, I was still enamored of the beautiful countryside, and on top of that there were collectible items and very tall towers with expansive views to enjoy, so I started poking around into that, still perfectly happy with what was going on around me. Until I learned that any time I ran (or ran my horse) past a soldier, I would be targeted for death. It’s not like I had started murdering people yet, and it’s equally not like it was based on some recognition of me, as obviously a walking person is easier to look at. No, the designers just made a terrible decision in which any person who is running must be evil and in need of capture. And once I had to enjoy the expansive open world at a snail’s pace always instead of slowing down at the parts I wanted to explore in greater detail, or else I’d have to fight all the time? And I still didn’t really have a feel for the actual main game on top of that? It was rendered unplayable.

In the meantime, people have sung the praises of its sequels, and while nobody seemed to hate the one game-breaking aspect of the first game the way I did, everyone seemed to claim that the sequels fix a lot of other small problems that I never really saw for myself, and the whole is a massive improvement. My completionism still left me believing I might try to pick up the original again someday, but having played a few hours of its first sequel (review forthcoming, though likely not anytime very soon) and seeing that on top of my complaint, it really does feel a lot more polished and playable in ways I can’t even explain the differences for, it has become clear to me that I would only be punishing myself by going backward.[2]

Anyway, this right here? Kind of a horrible game that thankfully got another chance at life. Because the concept I loved so much? It works every bit as well as I had imagined.

[1] The wikipedia summary that I recently read tells me it probably would have been very interesting, though.
[2] Hence the wikipedia summary.

BioShock 2

It’s been rather a long time since I finished a game, though thankfully not as long as it’s been since I finished BioShock. All the same, definitely too long. But over the past few weeks and culminating in an enforced snow day on Tuesday, which is slightly ironic when you consider that I never bothered to get the plasmid that lets you freeze people into ice sculptures, I played its unimaginatively-named sequel, BioShock 2, to completion. It seems overly harsh to proceed by saying that “unimaginative” was a convenient choice of word since it can serve double duty by also describing the gameplay, which has a few cosmetic changes but nothing especially new. Honest, yes, but harsh; and I think that feeling of harshness stems from the part of my brain saying, “well, it’s a sequel, of course the game play is the same. That would be like complaining that Halloween II had a tall guy in a mask who went on a murderous rampage while trying to schedule a family reunion![1]”

If, like me, you accept my brain’s premise there, the really important question is, how does the game rate on the basis of plot and theme? And the answer to that is a little complicated. BioShock, as you may remember, was unapologetically cruel to the objectivist philosophy described by Ayn Rand. Or, depending on your perspective, it was compellingly accurate about the end results of objectivism run amok. BioShock 2 seems on the surface to be written as apologism for that cruelty. At least, the simultaneously cartoonish and ham-fisted portrayal of Sophia Lamb as Andrew Ryan’s philosophical nemesis reminded me so much of the strawmen used by Terry Goodkind throughout his Sword of Truth series that I assume the main point of BioShock 2 was apologia.[2] “That doesn’t sound complicated at all,” you are no doubt thinking. And you’d be right, except that there are moments of real brilliance (mostly in the end game[3]) that shine through that muck and leave me considering aspects of both the original and this game all over again in that light. So, yeah. Complicated.

[1] Insofar as, y’know, of course he did, that was the whole point of it being a sequel.
[2] There is every chance that this is a real word, and a slightly lessened but still significant chance that I’ve just used it correctly.
[3] And therefore firmly in the territory of spoilers. See the ROT13 comment I’ll leave by tomorrow for more detail.