This Great Evil

Month: March, 2013

The Infinite Abyss

Bioshock Infinite is good, at times very good.

The ending, however, disappointed me, and I’d like to talk through my disappointment in as spoiler-free/vague terms as possible.

First off: the plot twists themselves weren’t that great. I could boil it down to two absurd and stupid sentences; I saw one of the plot twists coming from a mile away and the other I dismissed as something so Shyamalan-esqe that Ken Levine wouldn’t have dared. To the game’s credit, the twists are handled in, perhaps, the most elegant way possible, if at the expense of Elizabeth’s characterization and plot holes. There are, however, much bigger problems with the ending.

As I see it, Bioshock Infinite’s narrative shortcomings can be blamed on too much ambition. The game wanted to be a story about right-wing conservatism versus populist/socialist movements (particularly in America), an alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking story of a woman’s quest for liberation, a heady, mythologizing piece of sci-fi mind-fuck and a somber mediation on the nature of a tragic hero.

The  trouble is, Infinite goes from one idea to the one, rarely allowing its disparate narrative strands to mingle or build off of one another. Instead of forming a rich, thematically potent storyline, each thread fails to build to much at all – the politics are kept at South Park-level extreme abstraction and ridicule, Elizabeth’s arc stops stone cold, the sci-fi heady mind-fuck elicits more of a WTF than a wow and Booker’s somber resolution gets overshadowed by the late-breaking plot-twists.

Similarly, gameplay  fails to evolve or develop to any great degree. Infinite introduces a bunch of neat ideas (the renamed Vigors from Bioshock, the sky-rail, interdimensional tears, etc.), but fails to come up with the appropriate challenges. Enemies just get more health and more numbers, to the point that the very last thing level is a wretched, interminable slog of you and your BFF shooting dudes while the dudes try to outshoot you.

Ordinarily, I could probably forgive a lot of these problems in a game – I mean, have you seen the average quality of modern video games cough Black Ops 2? – but Infinite’s failings are incredibly frustrating. A game with as many interesting ideas and mechanics as Infinite should have amounted to a masterpiece. What we have, instead, is a messy (but still good) game with flashes of much, much more like a cruel striptease.

Try this: play through the Hall of Heroes level. Then think about Call of Duty. Then think about the ending. Then have your mind blown.

Evocative

world_war_z_xlg

First good promotional material for the movie; it’s simple yet iconic, aptly informing us of the movie’s main gimmick (the biggest crowds of zombies you’ve ever seen). Desaturation is a nice touch, as is the red Z, though the latter gives me a Japan in World War 2 vibe. Not the worst association for a global zombie disaster film, mind you.

Spring Breakers and To the Wonder

Embargo broke on the former, and I caught the latter during a film festival. Thoughts –

Spring Breakers

Watch this trailer. Internalize it.

If you have any doubts about Spring Breakers after that or if you’ve never seen a Harmony Korine movie before, don’t watch Spring Breakers in theaters. Seriously.

I liked Spring Breakers a lot more than my proper review let on, but I really think that the probability of you liking Spring Breakers is all that high. It’s not any sort of snobbery – plenty of hardcore cinephiles despise Korine – it’s just the vibe I got off the screening.

I’ve seen Spring Breakers described as the kind of hazy flashes of memory you’d get after a spectacular hangover. That seems about right. Unfortunately, that also means that watching Spring Breakers is as much fun as either having a huge hangover or hanging out with some dude with a massive hangover while he just to inarticulately describe how he/she got here.

However, Spring Breakers gets better the more you think about it, and boy does this film linger on the mind. It’s been a week on since I’ve watched it, and I’m still thinking, unpacking and analyzing the shit outta what I just saw. And James Franco’s performance is magnificent, instant YouTube/viral fodder. I’m tempted to make him cooing, “Spring Break” ad nauseum my ringtone.

So, yeah. TL;DR – Watch the trailer, if you didn’t like it, don’t see Spring Breakers.

To the Wonder

On the other hand,  To the Wonder’s trailer didn’t do a very good job conveying the content of the actual film. It’s always tricky to cut together a good trailer for a Terrence Malick film (I think the The Tree of Life teaser might be the only good one), so I can’t really blame the editors too much.

Credit to those guys for conveying the rhythm and style of a Malick movie, but points deducted for completely misrepresenting the tone of the film. Case in point: Javier Bardem’s voice over in the trailer sounds like an inspirational speech, don’t it? In the actual film, it’s his ineffectual, unfelt sermon that he delivers repeatedly to an increasingly small congregation while suffering his own crisis of faith. The whole movie, in fact, is about crises of faith and, as such, is pretty depressing.

I’m surprised that this received such a vitriolic response, as the movie’s probably the most efficient and most straightforward Malick’s been since Badlands. Admittedly, he goes full throttle on the abstract editing technique from The Tree of Life/The New World, but To the Wonder moves a fairly rapid (almost too fast) clip. But To the Wonder is lesser Malick only in the sense that it tackles something much less grandiose than World War II, the founding of America or the birth of the cosmos. It certainly bears the mark of considerable thought and refinement, as well as featuring my favorite overall Malick soundtrack to date.

Ben Affleck, as you might have heard, got Brody’d out of the film – he only gets about 2 lines of dialogue and 2 lines of voice over – except I get the impression that Malick might’ve planned this all along: 90% of the shots with Affleck obscure his face, either by pushing him off frame, shooting him from behind or lighting him in silhouette.

While I did like To the Wonder a lot, the ending leaves a lot to be desired. After about three fakeouts in rapid succession, To the Wonder ended on a shot so arbitrary that I thought even Malick wouldn’t close his movie on this. Way to prove me wrong, Mr. Malick.

FYI:

1. The Thin Red Line

2. Badlands/The Tree of Life

4. Days of Heaven

5. To the Wonder

6. The New World

Thoughts that I’ve had

In no particular order:

Snowquester (A.K.A. Noquester)

Immensely disappointing.

North Korea

All of the recent military threats aren’t that surprising. Kim Jong Eun presumably doesn’t have a lot of support within the KPA, so all this aggressive posturing (in response to UN sanctions) is a way through which the young dictator can court the KPA’s old, bloodthirsty hawks.

Archer

Fantastic. Go watch it if you haven’t and/or aren’t already.

Community season 4

In my work for the newspaper, I’ve been recapping and posting my thoughts about the current season of Community. Long story short: a fair amount of promise buried underneath tons of ill conceived fan service and surprisingly poor writing.  Chevy Chase is also seriously phoning it in.

Scrapped entries

In the weeks since the last post, I’ve started (and stalled) on several posts, ranging from an essay on YouTube to a bit about my comedy project. I’ve always tried to do about 2 or so entries a month, but ennui has set in,  slowing that rate down to about 1 entry a month. This will hopefully pick up during the spring and summer when I’ll have more cinema stuff to write about.

Spring Breakers

I’m going to watch it. I’m probably going to like it. I’m not going to be proud of it. Unless, of course, if Harmony Korine managed to make Trash Humpers again but with Disney stars.

To the Wonder

Great trailers, but I’m approaching this one with caution. For some weird reason, it looks as if critics who liked The Tree of Life didn’t dig this one, while those left cold by TTOL liked To the Wonder a good deal more.

Pacific Rim, Elysium, Monuments Men, The World’s End

If anyone would like to hook me up with scripts for the above, it would be much appreciated.

IMDb 

Tom Hooper’s dreadful Les Miserables has the same score as Catch Me If You Can? Fuck off!

About this entry

I’ve tried to emulate absentmindedly scrolling down the front page of Reddit here. Mostly, this shotgun approach to writing helps me power through the aforementioned ennui and finish a god damn post for once.

Proofreading

I hate proofreading my own writing. If I manage to somehow catch a grammatical fuck up on one of these posts, I’ll fix it. Otherwise, please forgive me transgressions.

Xiaolongbao

Middle of nowhere

Surprisingly good bao zi

Prepare for long wait 

SimCity Gate

It really shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Isn’t that a depressing thought?

Snatch

I remember watching Snatch a few years ago and liking it a whole lot. Last Friday, I watched Snatch on Netflix and I found myself liking it a whole lot less. I still enjoyed the last 30 or so minutes (basically starting with Bullet Tooth Tony’s entrance), but the rest of the movie is such a slog, drenched and drowned in Guy Richie’s suffocating style. Part of my disaffection probably comes from the past decade of indie flicks and YouTube videos that’ve aped Snatch, but mostly it’s that Richie’s subsequent movies have demonstrated far more restrained and elegant uses of his aesthetic than the obnoxious crap in Snatch.

Noquester

Seriously, what the fuck?