Surprise Entirely-Not-What-You-Expected Day!!!

My good friend Ryan has been having trouble with his Live Journal account recently and asked if I would upload this review for him.  So without further delay…We Present…..

Summer Film Challenge Report #8: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Rating: 9/10
Date: 25 July 2011
By Ryan Lagerstrom 

This is one of the few movies where all the individual parts, from the writing and the acting to the direction and the filmmaking are all phenomenal and yet one never eclipses the others. They all build each other up to make a fantastic movie. The movie is based on a famous stage play of the same name, and you can very much tell it’s based on a play. While that sometimes spells death for a movie, director Mike Nichols is able to make the film visually stimulating by keeping the camera moving and filming in rich blacks-and-whites, so even when the shot is static, it’s still beautiful to look at..
I really don’t have much to say about this film in a general sense except to say go see it. It’s a great movie that features some of the greatest American actors giving the performances of their careers, and it paints a very powerful portrait of a married couple trying their best to destroy each other, yet pretend that there’s nothing wrong. (It’s like Revolutionary Road, except less suicidally depressing). This is a movie that has so many layers to dissect and I can’t wait to see it again so I can properly dig in to it, because it’s definitely one of those movies. The next section will have spoilers.
The thing that I really want to address in this review is the title and how it relates to the relationship between George and Martha (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) and, more specifically, their imaginary son. My friend Tyler had questions about this particular issue and here are my thoughts on it.
The title “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is a reference to an old Disney short, The Three Little Pigs, which had a song called “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” as well as a reference to the well-known author Virginia Woolf. As I did some research into the play and the film, I found a quote from the playwright, Edward Albee, explaining how he came up with the title:
I was in [a saloon] having a beer one night, and I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” scrawled in soap, I suppose, on this mirror. When I started to write the play it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf means who’s afraid of the big bad wolf . . . who’s afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical, university intellectual joke.

The way I understand it, there is no specific reason why Virginia Woolf is included in the title (I mean, besides the fact that it happens to rhyme with “Big Bad Wolf”), just that a university intellectual would find it funny.. As to the meaning of the title itself, it directly correlates to the imaginary son that George and Martha have concocted. Their marriage had disintegrated to a point where they not only had to pretend to other people that they had a normal marriage, they also had to pretend to themselves. Throughout the film, there is constant questioning about what is true about a person (or persons) and what is illusion. This contrast is played up between the two couples. While the majority of what George and Martha reveal about themselves is illusion (George’s “friend” who killed his parents), Nick and Honey tend to reveal what is true about themselves (Honey’s “hysterical pregnancy”). The breaking point for George comes when he is faced with the fact that Martha is unfaithful. When his illusion is torn away from him, out of spite and jealousy, he must tear hers away as well. In her case, it’s the illusion that she has a son. By the end of the film, they are faced with the fact that each other’s truths are fully exposed to each other. There are no more illusions, and as the title asks “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (or as Albee says, who’s afraid of living life without false illusions) Martha replies that she is.

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Goodbye, Harry

Here it is. The review of the last Harry Potter film to be released.  Part of my childhood ended Sunday, and I am glad to say that it was exactly what I needed it to be. So, without further delay, my review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2.

Warning!
This Review will have MASSIVE Spoilers so if you don’t want the film ruined, please scroll to the end.  After the last photo I will post my Summary Wrap-up as well as my Rating Scores.
You have been Warned…

I Loved it!  I was so worried when I finished my review of Part 1 that I would be disappointed, but the film lived up to everything I was hoping for and even exceeded expectations in some regards!  Also, this was the first film I had ever seen in 3D IMAX and it was a real treat to see that on such a large screen.  I truly felt immersed into the film.  One of the best movie going experiences ever for me.

For this review I want to break it down into a few sections, dealing with the issues I had with Part 1 first, discussing the changes and plot next, visuals and sound after that, and then finish on the very few issues I had with this one. Thus:

  • Issues with Part 1 Revisited
  • Changes and General Storytelling Analysis
  • Visual and Audio Stylings and Devices
  • Issues with Part 2
  • Final Summary and Scores

So with that I jump right into it!

1.  Issues with Part 1 Revisited

In case you haven’t already, please check out my review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1. As we shall recall, my issues with the first film fell mostly to the PACE and the ACTING, as well as my frustration that Yates had “totally missed the major conflict of the book”.  Part 2 really seemed to hear me on that because they really stepped it all up 10 notches!

The pace was fantastic.  Only after the movie was over and the credits rolled did I realize I had been sitting for 2 hours.  It seemed to be perfectly spaced and I loved the connectivity of each scene.  It all seemed to flow together into one big sequence which works so well.  I will get into it more later, but I loved how the film/story was made in such a way that fans can see and follow it without any extraneous explanation of trivial elements, while still seeming accessible to Muggles who haven’t followed the series at all.  I also loved how it managed to surprise me at parts (more on this in the “Changes” section), preserving the magical quality I felt was lost in the previous movie. Truly a major improvement over the disconnected vignettes of Part 1, Part 2 conveyed the final chronicles of Harry Potter’s story in a well-constructed, beautiful manner that left me very content.

The second major issue I had with Part 1 was with the Acting, and Part 2 took that and blew it out of the water!!!  Every single person stepped it up about 8 notches and gave by far the best performances of the series. A few in particular stood out to me:

Best Actress goes to Helena Bonham Carter

HBC is BLEEPING scary!!! Not just because of the roles she plays for Tim Burton but because of how ridiculously she matches Emma Watson’s Hermione.  Seriously.  I am not the only one who originally thought that Watson’s face was digitally put onto Carter’s body.  She performs in what I would gladly call an Oscar-worthy performance – both as the creepy and insane Bellatrix LeStrange and as the Polyjuiced, yet timid Hermione breaking into Gringotts. However she does not get the best performance of the film.  That honor goes to….

Best Acting goes to Alan Rickman as “Snape”

By far the best performance came from the character who fans have lost there hatred for and come to love – Snape – played by Alan Rickman.  Such sorrow and pain I have never seen in a character.  I almost believe that Rickman decided to try to embody the word “Anguish” in order to play this immensely deep role.  Rarely have I ever felt, not just seen, such somber determination in a character and Rickman I feel was the only man who could possibly do justice to Potter’s nemesis and unbeknownst defender. Sorting Hat’s off to you, sir!  Job well done!

One final standout performance before I get to the trio’s was that of Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort.  As you will recall, I was not a big fan of his portrayal in Part 1.  I said that, “He comes off as too human, which makes hating him a little difficult.”  While I stand by that statement for the first installment, I was surprised to find that this was the very quality that made him so great in Part 2.  Here is my reasoning: At the beginning of book/movie 7, Voldemort has 7 parts of his soul, his humanity, absent from his person.  Thus he should be practically a snake as he has little human existence about him.  However, as the Horcruxes get destroyed one could say that either the parts of his soul return to him or that he simply becomes more mortal as his extra tethers to life are severed.  Ergo, he becomes more human towards his final hour.  Fienne’s Voldemort was beautifully human after he had “killed” Harry and it was a joy to watch his Hubris lead to his climactic end.

Now for the Trio.  I will keep it brief though I could go on and on about it. Rupert Grint was magnificent. His humor was perfectly on character and his courage was wonderful. It will be hard to imagine Ronald Weasley without seeing Grint’s face anymore.

Emma Watson made me cry (well almost).  She is by far the best of the trio and her emotions ARE her sleeve.  She was brilliant in the role and I am sad to see an end to the girl that won all of our hearts.

And finally, Dan.  I must say the thing I was most worried about going into this film was whether Radcliffe could manage the intensely powerful, entirely internal emotions that occur in this final installment.  And much to my joy, he pulled it off!!!  You could feel his hard-set determination and his selflessness all throughout the film and he really did do justice to the Boy Who Lived. He still needs to work on really selling it with his eyes and his eyebrows, but on the whole it was a massive improvement on his previous work. Great job Dan. Be proud of your work and thank you so much for 10 amazing years of Potter.  Thank You!

And the final element, the “Hallows vs Horcruxes” issue, I feel might have a different explanation. While I still felt that the internal struggle inside Harry was entirely neglected, I think that is because internal struggles are a bleep to put on screen.  Thus, when watching Part 2, I let go of my expectations for that conflict and instead let the film be what is was. Through that zen-like letting go did I find how great the film really was.

2. Changes and General Storytelling Analysis

I said it before and I will say it again: the pacing was fantastic! I thought it flowed very well from start to finish.  It was only at those two points that I find issue. The “reminder scene” at the beginning was unnecessary and went as far as to throw off the pacing for me for the actual first scene.  It had no entrance, explanation (in context), or connection to the tone that followed.  And, because 86% of opening weekend movie-goers had just marathoned the ENTIRE series pre-screening, it was entirely unnecessary.  They should have just started with the fade-through-clouds WB logo with the music swell and leave it at that.

The only other issue I had with the story-telling (and I swear I had loads more positives about it than issues) was that the very end was beautiful and tragic – with the Hogwarts express trudging away into the fog and the final shot of the trio staring off into the future.  It was a truly beautiful moment with the music swelling, the fade out…..the music still swelling…..still black…..then music dies.  At the time I didn’t mind it because I was reveling in that last fading image of the trio who had made my life so wonderful.  However, after the film my dad pointed out an interesting thought: in all that blackness with music going they had not put up a “The End” slide.  Interesting move. Again at the time I didn’t mind the gap and after having thought about it, I applaud them not calling this “The End”.  We are not at the end friends, but rather the beginning of a new adventure. However it was a bit of an odd moment. Still pondering this one.

Other than those to items I was floored by how well the story worked!  It started off with a nice slow ramp from Shell Cottage, then thrust us into the action at Gringotts and kept the upbeat tone the whole way through.  It had some nice relief moments (room of requirement, the lull in the fight) and some good comic relief along the way to let up on the tension just enough for us to breath and get ready for the next crazy fight.

The changes made to the story, I thought, were well done and well chosen, and they made the story easier to follow in such a short time.  Obviously, I was sad to see the Dumbledore Subplot go; however I can see that it is extraneous to the major plot. Same with the treasure in the vault not burning – it doesn’t matter in the ultimate plot.

As a matter of fact I did like Harry’s confrontation of Snape in the Great Hall and the Severus-McGonagall fight because it broke me out of “Analysis Mode”.  Up to that point I had been seeing things for how they lined up with the book.  That scene threw me off that game and reminded me to enjoy the film for what it is, not what I think it should be. For that I thought the scene worked well, but also it was an improvement in that it gave Harry a chance to fully vocalize his feelings toward Snape before the final reveal of his motives. It worked on the story level and was powerful emotionally – I loved it!

Yates did a fantastic job of cutting through the fat of the story and giving us only the meat of it (even though we like that fat…a lot).  He presented Part 2 in a logical and accurate, yet surprising and magical manner that kept me enthralled throughout the entire 125 minutes. Fantastically presented – I, a devoted fan, could not be any happier with how he told the story.

3. Visual and Audio Stylings and Devices

In case you haven’t gotten it yet, I thought the story was told magnificently! David Yates made the film very well and in a style which played to the fans particularly.  I loved how he let things go – such as the Goblin Lore with Griphook – and allowed for things that extend beyond just the books – such as Matthew Lewis getting to voice his Real Life passion in his moment of glory speech.  The visual style was phenomenal.  I particularly liked the flying fight between Voldemort and Harry for the shot where their faces merge, symbolizing the incredible magical link between them.  And the “King’s Cross” afterlife scene, while not what I pictured it as, was beautiful and elegant.  And finally, Voldemort’s death was, as I wrote immediately following, “graceful yet gutturally satisfying”.

I seriously could go on for days about how it amazing it looked and how well the plot was handled, but I will make these last notes and leave it there:

  • Fantastic choice to end on the original “Hedwig’s Theme” (;_;) – Beautiful. Thank you.
  • Incredible use of sound – both silence and noise – to set mood.  Particularly the use of breath and breathing were nice as symbols of Harry’s impending doom and the frailty of life in general
  • Score was perfect – Desplat brought us the magical world in a magical way
  • Special effects for the fights (ie – the spells) were fantastic. It struck me as amazing occasionally that a scene was probably done entirely in computer
  • The aging of the cast at the end was incredible! Blew my mind how they must have done that!
  • Best looking and sounding film of the series by miles!

4. Issues with Part 2

The issues I had with Part 2 are exactly three-fold and all I have already mentioned, so I will be brief. The first is simple and criticized often by me – Daniel’s acting.  It was Better. It could have been Best. He did finally start to show some emotion but I still don’t believe him when I look in his eyes at every single second. Keep on working on those eyes and (recent revelation) your eyeBROWS, and I look forward your next film project The Woman in Black. Again thank you for bringing Harry to life for us. I think we can expect great things from you, Mr. Radcliffe. Great things!

My second issue was with the very beginning of the film. As I said the “refresher scene” was unnecessary, clunky, and gave the beginning a very rough start.  It didn’t have the confidence or poise of the start of Part 1 which I will again praise as excellent.  Start right into it as you did the first movie – Logo followed by action.

Finally, the end, which I am still not sure about.  While I am sure that the exclusion of a “The End” slide was a good choice, I can’t help but feel the oddness will return when I am staring at a black screen with powerful music going and I don’t have the hardcore emotional catharsis stirring my heart as I did watching it for the first time.  I might comment on this again later after I have seen the film again.

5. Final Summary and Scores

10/10 – Masterful & Cathartic

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was exactly what I hoped it would be. It accurately and magically captured the essence of the story and reminded us all why this series has become the defining point of an entire generation. It was elegant and eloquent. It was morose and somber yet filled me with joy – a bittersweet wonder.  I have said it a thousand times and I will say it again, it does NOT all end here.  No from here we, the devoted fans, go out and we take this story, this love, this passion wherever we go.  Whenever times get hard we have more that just the camaraderie of the fans to help us through. We have incredible role models to guide us:

  • the Selfless Potions Master who risked everything for love
  • the Wisdom of a School Headmaster who taught us best of all that everyone makes mistakes
  • the Heart of Service from a Friend who stays with you no matter what
  • the Power of Learning and how Knowledge really is power
  • the Boy who Laid Down his Life for Love and Friendship, who never backed down from what must be done, and who taught us that life without love is meaningless

The world has not lost this magic.  It lives, beating in the hearts of one billion young men and women, all of whom now carry something that cannot be forgotten – Hope.  We know that the world will get tough, that times will be hard and all will seem lost.  And we know how much we may have to sacrifice.  But most importantly, we know that will a little faith and a little trust and a little love, nothing can stand in our way.

Thank you Jo for uniting us, for showing us truth, bravery and love, and for giving us the kid we all want to be. Thank you for giving us 14 years of Magic.  We are Potter’s men and women, through and through. And Dumbledore’s Army, YOUR Army, looks forward to continuing to grow up with Harry and to preserving his legacy of courage, selflessness, and love for generations to come.  Thank you, Jo. Thank you.

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Wow.  I can honestly say that I have never been so close to crying writing a review.  If you don’t know me, I never cry, ever. God just made me that way. But I can say that when things move me this much, to the point of tears, I listen because I know God is up to something.  I will continue to document my passion for the Harry Potter series and will keep up commentary on his films and books in the future.

But in the more near future, I am just tickled PINK to announce that I WILL be able to review the Dark Knight Rises trailer!  It will be up on the Art of the Trailer soon. Thank you for stopping by, please check out my other reviews and ramblings, and please let me know what you think of this review in the comments below.  Thank you and God bless!

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Appreciation and Understanding w/ Dash of Irony

Hello all!  I thought I would take a break from my reviews to share some news, and have a little ramble.

First, my IRONY MOMENT OF THE WEEK!!!  I was cleaning my room recently, being all productive and stuff, when I found my old Pokemon Ruby Game. Now a bit of history: I have been playing Pokemon games since the first set (Red & Blue). I can still remember playing them on my Original B&W Gameboy at the ballpark when I was 10.  Good times… Anyway, in the 10 years I have had since I have never, repeat NEVER, beaten one. Seriously. I bought every game up to the ruby/sapphire generation and have never beaten any set of Elite Four and Champion. I either spent all my time focusing on completing the Pokedex or lost interest before getting there.

Now having said that, I decided to play the game a bit just for old times sake.  I had made it all the way to Stephen, the Champion, before but I could never beat him.  I decided to try victory road, again just for kicks and made it all the way to the final battle of the 5 and somehow, having not played in over a year now, I BEAT HIM!!! It was so crazy!!! I finally beat a Pokemon game!!! Part of my childhood had ended, IRONY, on the day that the Last Harry Potter film came out!! Just an amazing thing that those two coincided with….the battery died.

I was watching the final cutscene where May comes back and is all surprised that you are the Champion and then Prof. Birch comes in and is all surprised that you are the Champion and then he takes my Pokedex and says, “Here’s some advice…”  CLICK.  My battery dies….right there….. GAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

It was just hilarious that I had waited so long for that moment and when it comes I was robbed of it 🙂 I did go back and beat it about an hour later after I had gotten over how funny it was.  The ending was awesome just as i had always read in my strategy guide (JK!! Haha. Just…..just kidding…….totally not me………..yeah. I did read it cover to cover….yeah.) I loved the Hall of Fame thing and the credits (didn’t even know they did that!) and then….at the end….it says….”THE END”  😀

YEAH! 😀

So now that the embarrassing, end-of-my-childhood moment story is over, I turn to a more philosophical thought.

Something which I have been trying to nail down for many years is how one appreciates a work such as film or book. Recently I had a breakthrough thought which I’d like to share with you for your thoughts.

Our society seems to stress two conflicting opinions.  First, post-modern culture puts forth that appreciation of art can be had in any form or way and by any medium, but I will focus on the thought that no Understanding is required for Appreciation. The Second worldview, coming from Academia, says that in order to fully Appreciate something, one must have full Understanding of it.

Let me give two examples to clarify.  The former puts forth things such as John Cage’s 4’33” or Jackson Pollock’s abstract art as important because each person experiences it differently and in unique manners. The Latter would take things such as Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” and say that in order to fully appreciate it you must know that it was done as a fun exercise with his wife, and that each variation is based on one of his friends.  Obviously the two are in conflict and thus I turn to film.

My friend Ryan and I have a disagreement. Last year he gave me the French film Amelie as part of the inaugural Summer Film Challenge. When I started the movie and realized it was entirely in French without subtitles, I made the decision to watch it without them.  I had taken French in High School, but the true reason I made that call was because I wanted to see what the film was like unhampered by English text muddling the image.  I wanted to watch it as the French did, and I am not sure whether Ryan has forgiven me yet. 🙂

The reason I bring this film up is that I just ordered it on Amazon and I am not sure I will ever watch it with the subtitles, which brings us back to the original point:

What is the relationship of Understanding to Appreciation?

I propose these thoughts on this issue:

  1. I think that everything is art, and some of it is good, but only a rare bit is Great Art and that is what we must focus on. (More on this in a Ramble to come)
  2. While I can get how Knowledge in tandem or conjunction to a piece of art that helps me understand it’s origins and purpose enhances the experience of it, I wonder if we are losing a part of Appreciation by doing so.
  3. The Appreciation lost by seeking understanding I shall call Wonder or Awe. It might be aptly titled “Magic”.
  4. The Wonder I experienced when watching Amelie in French was that, though I could understand only the occasional word or phrase of the dialogue, I was able to understand the film’s plot and message remarkably well.

As my friend Ryan pointed out to me, I did miss the full meaning of the “Counting Orgasms” scene.  However I was able to appreciate that sex plays a major role in the life of Parisians in Amelie’s world and that she is keenly aware of the sexual world around her while remaining aloof of it. I was able to gleen that without being told it by verbal means. This shows me that their is a level of appreciation which is obtainable and important because you experience something unobtainable otherwise.

If you enter into something without understanding and experience it, you are able to return later with understanding and have a new experience (see – INCEPTION).  However, this path cannot be traversed the other way; if you know going in, you can’t experience that Magic (see – INCEPTION again). You can never watch Fight Club, Memento, even Jaws the same way you did the first time, so I stress the importance of not missing appreciating something as wonderful, magical and worthy of our awe.

Just to point out, I do see the irony that I am discussing “Magic” both in the context of the fanciful film Amelie and on the eve of the finale of Harry Potter franchise. 🙂

Thanks for sticking around.  Please tell me what you think about how we appreciate art, film, etc.  I’d love to hear from you!

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A Tribute to the Boy Who Lived

With just under 36 hours left until The End, I thought I would take a second to remember just how big this phenomenon is and share some of my favorite HP links.

Potter Puppet Pals – Bother! A classic set of spoofs of the HP universe…with Puppets!

Pottermore – Still waiting to see what exactly Jo’s got cooking with her new project.

Dear Mr. Potter – A link to the book I mentioned in my review. Really great look at how big this really movement really is.

Mugglenet –  The best authority on all things Potter. I listened to these guys back at the release of book 6.

Mugglecast – Podcast by the above, which is a great source for Potter news from the Orlando theme park to chapter-by-chapter analysis of each book.

The Harry Potter Alliance – Another great fan site and the producers of Dear Mr. Potter

Leaky Cauldron – ANOTHER great fan site 🙂

RAP BATTLE!!! – 😀 Done by a group I love, IndyMogul – for all your DIY film needs.

Literal Trailer – Bit more Tobuscus for you. Just kill him with your awesome, Harry.

Starkid Productions – AMAZING parody’s of the Potter series, A Very Potter Musical and A Very Potter Sequel are hilarious and well worth the three hours each of them are. Seriously the funniest Potter spoofs I have ever seen! Don’t believe me? Ask Umbridge!

"Did you get my text?"

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Those are my favorite Potter tributes and sites! Check them out and let me know what you think! Also let me know if you have a great site or video which I missed in the comments below! Keep calm, wait for July 15, and check out my review of the Trailer for Part 2 tomorrow on the Art of the Trailer!  Thanks!

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Harry Potter 7 pt1 – A Letdown with High Hopes

SPOILERS!!!!  You have been warned…

This is it. It all ends here. Part of your childhood and mine ends this Friday. We must say goodbye to the Boy Who Lived – the boy who taught us to believe in ourselves, to be courageous in the face of overwhelming odds, and to understand the power of love. I am not sure I can fully explain the depth of my passion and my appreciation for J.K. Rowling and her amazing fantasy which has captured my heart and the hearts of millions around the world. But I shall try. I shall try 🙂 LUMOS!!!

Leading up to this review, I was really nervous because i thought I might have to give as sub-5 rating to a Potter film. Seriously. My first viewing of HP 7.1 at the midnight showing in Oakhurst, CA left me sorely disappointed. It wasn’t bad but I had been expecting a 10. Instead I gave it a 4 that night. Seriously.

Luckily I decided that one viewing wasn’t enough to give a fair review. So, I watched it again….yesterday. Yup. Took my time on that one. Yet it paid off. No, I can’t say I discovered my original opinion to be incorrect. However I did made a break-through which helped me understand why I felt how I did. So with that I enter into the review I have been waiting years to write.

First, what I liked.

This was BY FAR the best film of the series VISUALLY. It was gorgeous to look at. I loved the color choices of deep blues and greens for the dark Ministry, the bold whites of the snowy hills of Dean, the amber cloth for the intimacy of the trio’s tent. The canted angles, the effects for both spells and disapparations, the snake! Oh my goodness! That whole scene with the Fake Bathilda was fantastic! The way the light in the kid’s room played around – Masterful!

A few more notes on the visuals. I liked how David Yates figured out that it isn’t about showing us what happened verbatim to book. In particular, I refer to the trio’s disapparation from the Ministry of Magic which ends in the woods. Yates makes the right call there in showing us how it would have seemed from Harry’s perspective, not how it plays out in the book. Thus we, the audience, follow the action as well as see it from our hero’s POV.

I also love the cinematography which had several nice devices that connected the film. After the apparition from the Ministry and the one to Shell Cottage at the end, the first shot was straight down and then panned up to show those who had made it.  I thought it was a nice visual connection between major events of the story. The other that I noticed was the revolving shot, used at both the Seven Potters scene and the first run-in with the Snatchers. It was just a beautiful display of technical prowess on the filmmakers side, and it represented magic to fans and cinematographers alike.

I will say it again, this film LOOKED AMAZING!!! I also loved some of the changes they made, such as Hedwig’s death. I was nervous when I heard a rumor that it doesn’t go down the way it does in the books but Yates gave us something far better. Same with the locket. I know others have said it so I will be suffice to say that he got it absolutely right. And finally, though it was a gutsy call, the animated version of the Three Brothers story was a nice touch on a beautiful film. Good calls that paid off well for the film.

Now…having said that, I have to get to why this film fell short for me.

It all comes down to something I discovered in my second viewing.  My issue from the beginning has been with the pacing of Deathly Hallows pt.1.  It seemed to be a series of vignettes rather than one complete and connected story. In some places that really worked such as the opening scene with the trio taking quiet, private moments to reflect and prepare for what they must go through. However, it diminishes the emotional impact of the story and left me with a disconnected, uninspiring ending.  It killed the mojo, you might say, of the film.

HOWEVER…

I think I know what has caused this.  It is the struggle of all adaptations from book to film to visually capture the essence of the work on screen.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt.1 takes this fight and goes a bit too far.  It visually represents that which we already know is coming.  At this point, most of the viewers are fully caught up on the story so instead of being surprised by each and every twist and turn of the movie, we simply check off each item on our list as the film gets there.  Obviously I don’t mean this literally, but mentally we are simply fulfilling our expectations rather than exceeding them.  Thus, the film seems to lack that which I was hoping for – something spectacular and new – something magical.

Let me give some examples.  The scene which I was most looking forward to most in part 1 was the break-in at the Ministry of Magic. While I thought the “During” was fantastic, I was really disappointed that they didn’t make it the planned out heist it was in the book.  The trio spent weeks preparing themselves for the task, yet in the film they just get the idea and make a dash for it without much preparation.  While I understand the need to cut down on the time, and think the choice works for comprehension, the scene becomes a “well why not” rather than something crafted and connected to HP & Crew’s ultimate journey.

Another example:  The Ending. I’ll just jump right into it. The reason the ending doesn’t work falls to the expected and the actual. As Pirates 2 taught us, if you are going to split a story you need to have what I shall call a Strong Emotional Question Mark. Here’s what I mean: you need two elements to drive me, the audience, to see the second film. First you need a strong emotional moment, such as the death of “witty Jack” or the understanding that Luke must face his Father and the Emperor. Or….say….the death of a beloved character in tragic fashion and emotional turmoil in the protagonist’s mind?

The ending of Part 1 didn’t work because of the SECOND MAJOR FLAW with the film: Yates totally missed the major conflict of the book.  Since Alfonso Cuarón, Potter directors have sought to tell Harry’s story rather than follow the books verbatim.  The focus is on Harry and his mind, his struggles.  Having said that, David Yates simply misses what the major battle in Harry’s mind is for the first half of the final book.  Harry is not nearly as focused on beating Voldemort as he is on the internal struggle of:

HALLOWS VERSUS HORCRUXES!!!

When I heard that the split was to be after the escape from Malfoy Manor and the death of Dobby, I was ecstatic. It is the perfect splitting point because it is the turning point of the book and a major character point for Harry.  Dealing with the death of his beloved childhood friend, struggling with the leadership role he has been thrust into, still reeling from the harrowing escape, Harry is MOST torn up by his indecision over whether to fly out to get the Elder wand from Dumbledore before Voldy gets it or whether to stay the course and continue to seek and destroy Horcruxes.  THAT is what his mind is running through in that moment.

Instead, we get a super sad moment at which we all cried and then a scene which made little sense (btw- Mugglecast got it right when they criticized the tomb as “designed by Ikea”. It just looks stupid.) There wasn’t any connection between the two.  I wrote immediately after seeing it a second time that “I am scared and curious about what happens now that Voldy has the wand. But is Harry?”  Because we don’t see him wrestle with this, we have no clue whether he cares about it at all.  And then the transition from the emotional high(er) point of Voldemort getting the wand to the credits was dreadful, which causes everyone I watch it with to say, “so that’s it?” Seriously.  They build it up to be huge, climactic point and then let it drop completely. We get a tangent graph of emotion that really doesn’t work at all towards inspiring me to see Part 2. It had the emotions but didn’t execute.

Dobby = UP. Drop. Voldy & Wand = Up. Drop.

It becomes a case of “then they…..then they…..then they…..” It’s like a bad “What I did on my Summer Vacation” report. They spend time on scenes that they don’t really need to (the chase, the fight in the cafe, finding Mundungus) and cut several important or at least interesting bits (Resolution with the Dursley’s, Wormtail’s death). Ultimately the vignette style of the film really doesn’t work and leaves me sorely wanting. But enough about that.

I wanted to take just a moment to talk acting.  I know there have been lots of comments on just about every actors work in this film so I will keep it brief.

Dan – Uggh. Dan. Buddy. You have come a long way from the little kid that you were back in Sorcerer’s Stone. You have grown quite a bit and have become quite the theatre man. But when you are in the movie biz it isn’t about the 90% of your body that matters. It is the 10% which makes up your face that must be mastered for the camera. I love him and know he loves the role but I can never see it in his EYES! Ron leaves, his wand snaps, Ron comes back – at no point do his eyes sell to me that he cares. To be honest that puts him one step above line reading, which is really sad.  However I must give him his due for the scene with Dobby. That was by far the best acting he has ever done in the films.  His sorrow poured out of every orifice (but particularly his eyes), comes through the lens, and delves into my soul. I hope he can take that moment of total emersion and learn to channel that for any film acting he does in the future.

Rupert Grint. The first time I watched it I was mad at the director, writer and editor because they made him a form of comic relief, robbing him of the depth of character Jo had given him. However on my second screening I got it – that’s just Ron. He is the ever doting friend who cheers us all up. And when his moment comes to shine (the fight with Harry) he rocks my socks off! I got goosebumps at how deeply angry he was! You could tell he was all in it and I came to appreciate his humor for what is was – his very nature. Great job, Rupert!

Emma Watson steals the show by far! Every line is delivered perfectly and in every scene you can see the depth of Hermione’s character through her performance. Her sorrow goes deep in, her joy muted beautifully by her anxiety and stress. I think her shining moment was at the grave of Harry’s parents with her little hesitation before laying her head on his shoulder. Such a real moment! Sorting Hats off to you, Emma!

One final note – I am not a fan of this Voldemort. Ralph Fiennes is a great actor but Voldemort is described as “part snake” and I see none of that from his character.  He comes off as too human, which makes hating him a little difficult. His cruelty is muted (see – taking Lucius’s wand) and his anger is more comical than terrifying. I just wish he were more…villian-like:

Terrifying!!!

So with that I will make one last critic and then I will rap it up.  I know it is a contested issue so again I will try to keep it brief but I must address it:  The Awkward Dance.

In case you don’t know what I mean, there is a scene between Harry and Hermione which seems to have divided fans. It is just after Ron leaves and Hermione is in a slump. She and Harry sit in the tent one night listening to a song on the radio, and Harry decides to try to cheer her up. So he goes over, gets her up, and starts to dance with her. What is so controversial about this is some (like me) think this is too flirtatious, too romantic for the pair.  Here is why I think it doesn’t work: from the perspective of a filmmaker and a film reviewer, I have seen this scene many times:

  • Boy and Girl sitting alone, both a little sad.
  • One decides to cheer the other up, so they start to dance slowly.
  • Other joins in laughing.
  • Pace quickens and they laugh some more.
  • Finally they end up slow-dancing very close to each other, followed by the make-up and make-out bit.

That is exactly how the scene between Harry and Hermione plays out, which leads the audience to believe it will follow the natural progression of that sequence – them kissing and/or having sex…which is really awkward because we all know they don’t end up together.  I can see what they were going for (and this might have been made less had Dan’s face showed his true and pure intentions) but ultimately it just doesn’t work.

So to recap — the Visuals are phenomenal and right where they should be, the Pacing is vignette-esque and not the spectacular thing which we want it to be, the Acting is best from the supporting cast but lacking from the Leads. I went in expecting to be blown away by a spectacular display of cinematic magic that would capture my imagination as the book did, but ultimately felt it was only just…passible. Decent. Meh.

FINAL ASSESSMENT — 6/10

I truly wish I could give it a better review, because it deserves to be great, but I just can’t say that it was magical. Sorry. I am still excited about Part 2 (thus the “High Hopes”) and know it will deliver the catharsis we all need. Though I won’t be there opening night, I know we can expect great thing from you, Mr. Yates. Great things 😉

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This past week a book arrived in the mail for me, one that I ordered as soon as I had found it – Dear Mr. Potter: Letters of Love, Loss, & Magic. It was created by fans like us, trying to do exactly what I am trying here.  We all want to express, to record our love for this series so that our kids someday might begin to understand this incredible global phenomenon and how it has touched each of us. The forward of that book ends thus: “You have created a generation, Jo. Let this book serve as proof.” I couldn’t agree more. We are the Potter Generation, and I am proud to claim that title.  I look forward to not an end, but a beginning of some new, grand adventure. Let this review stand as proof to that. Stay thirsty for adventure, fellow members of Dumbledore’s Army, and let us send Harry out with the bang he so rightly deserves – with wands held high, happy thoughts in our heads, screaming “EXPECTO PATRONUM!” one last time.

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Thanks for checking out my review!  Please let me know what you think in the comments, feel free to debate and share your story there, and join me again for my analysis of the trailer for Part 2.

Thank you so much and I’ll see you on the other side of July 15.

Mischief Managed!

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Donnie Darko vs. Michael Bay

2 for 1 Special Sunday!!!

It’s Sunday and you are getting two short review for the price of one! Lucky you.
First up, it’s that atrocity of cinema: Transformers 3!

First of all, I must make it clear that I am impressed and awed by how Epic Transformers 3 is. When I say “epic”, I mean that the production was spectacular in how it was done (like Pirates of the Caribbean or 10 Commandments).  The locations are breathtaking and exotic and Not CG. The CG that was there (ie – the Bots and explosions) was spectacularly blended into reality. And the fights were great as the spectacle that they were and for the depth to which they went – going to the dark point of death.  Ultimately the film is incredible in the Epic category; however that is the only aspect of it that I can use the word “incredible”…or even a positive adjective.

The story sucked. The writing sucked. The editing sucked. The acting….meh. Let me explain:

**Spoilers**

The story just wasn’t that good.  It started off well, using the classic story of ally turning on ally. I actually was very excited about the blending of the 60’s space race with modern world. However they basically dropped that story after the first 20 minutes and went back to the fighting. One positive note, they did drop the sex-i-mean-love story from #2 and kept the focus on what matters:  you can’t be focused on the girl during the end of the world.

The writing also plays into why the story sucked. Basically, in typical Bay style, it contains no Ramp and no build; it is just hardcore, over-the-top action the whole way which doesn’t let us get excited about it. Another thing, why is “I’m not a hero. I am just a messenger” the main arc for LeBeouf? That makes so little of him, the protagonist, that I really stop caring about him. Also, Who the BLEEP is Dutch and why the BLEEP is he Deus Ex Machina!? You need a personal assistant? Dutch. You need a kick-a body guard? Dutch. You need a tech-savvy hacker? Dutch. Why don’t they just make this guy God and get it over with!?

Speaking of Deus Ex Writing, why did they bother making obstacles when they take them out without any problem? In particular I refer to the bridges in Chicago. They make it a big deal that the bridges to the middle of town are up so the special forces guys will have to figure a way around tha….wait. No. Just have Dutch from some mystery place hack it in two seconds and remove that obstacle. “Somebody’s watching over us!” Yeah, the writers are.  I could go on and on about how the obstacles really never factor in (plane gets them into the city, giving them weapons to take out Starscream just before they fight him, two small guys get stuck on the big ship right as Bumblebee is about to be killed) but i won’t do that.

Editing falls under the same category. I said it on facebook and I say it again: Where are Simmons and Mearing during the final battle? “Headquarters, duh!” Oh, headquarters! Is that where they have the tech set-up or is that the war room? Or maybe was that the roof that they were on at the end? I can’t tell you how many times I was raising my hands during the movie saying “WTF! Where did that/they come from?”  The fight stuff was well cut as always (because that is the only part that matters) but everything else I thought was useless. One final question – Why are his parents there?

Finally, the acting was…okay. It wasn’t spectacular but because everything around it sucked, it stood out as some of the best stuff of the movie. Other than one obnoxious “OPTIMUS!” from LeBeouf, I thought it was well-performed and a good job of the actors to overcome the bleep that was the script.

Ultimately if it wasn’t for the circumstances in which I watched it, I would regret every second of that night. However it was fun to watch this piece of bleep with friends super late at night and to despise Michael Bay with all of you here, now.

FINAL ANALYSIS:  4/10
Looks pretty but entirely not worth my time and money.

Btw: I am officially starting a boycott of Michael Bay films. You are welcome to join me if you like. Until I hear the he has final stopped making bleep and starts making quality, intelligent films, I am out. $11 less for the multi-millionaire.

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The second of this Review double-feature is actually a Summer Film Challenge 2011 Film, Donnie Darko.

Summer Film Challenge 2011
Report #5
Date:  10 July 2011
Film:  Donnie Darko
My Rating:  9/10

This film…
I am really not sure how exactly I feel about this film and I think that those of you who have seen it know what I mean.  My thought is this film falls somewhere between “WTF!?” and “Holy BLEEP!”  It is definitely an amazing film, deep and dark. I am just not sure I know what Richard Kelly was trying to say. Thus it is not a 10.

Going into it, I really didn’t know what it was about. I knew it was dark and had the creepy, apocalyptic version of Harvey but other than that I really didn’t know anything about it. I was surprised by how many people I recognized in it: Battlestar’s “Madame President” Mary McDonnell, Maggie Gyllenhaal (who plays Rachel in the Dark Knight), Jake Gyllenhaal – the star, and the Dirty-er Dancing, pedo-Ghost Patrick Swayze. Great cast that really sold a tough script to me.

**Spoilers**

Not much to say about the plot, because I don’t think that is what I am supposed to think about. So I focus on what I believe this film to be about.  The time-travel thing and the liquid worm-hole thing I think come back to one throw-away conversation in the middle of the film.

Donnie starts talking with his physics professor about time travel, etc, and at the midpoint of thef film, they have a conversation about Predestination – sort of. They are actually discussing his liquid worm-holes that he sees and how they seem to guide his path in life. They discuss whether following a physical manifestation of “God’s path” for them constitutes free choice or a predestined life (ie – “Can we escape fate?”). I think this is what the whole of Donnie Darko is about. Donnie’s whole experience with Frank after the escaped accident seems to explore what happens when you escape fate (similar to Final Destination). Donnie is granted sight into the chaos of the world without the order of destiny and thus comes to choose (not follow blindly) to follow the path he should have taken. I think these lines might help clarify what I mean:

“Freedom is having a desert open and bare before you, free to be roamed at leisure, and instead you choose to sit in the sand and weep.  Freedom is knowing all angles and vertices of the argument, understanding that which is right and which is wrong, and confining yourself to half-truths plastered on feltboard for children’s comprehension.  Freedom is being able to walk past everyone in the courtyard and out the gate, on to whatever life you choose, and instead you bend your neck down onto the chopping block.”

I wrote that immediately following my watching this film. Hopefully it makes clear what I am trying to say – freedom is having every option and choosing the hard one.  Thus Donnie, who is fully able to avoid his fate, chooses to stick to it.

I think I will be analyzing this film for quite a while. Not sure this film is fully accessible to everyone (or anyone), but it is deep and, I think, important to discuss and figure out.  I loved all of the references in it (King’s “IT”, Last Temptation of Christ, Evil Dead). Not sure exactly what is meant by all of them but it does add a nice level of depth to the film.

I really wish I had watched Donnie Darko with people. Not because I am freaked out by it, but because I wish I could have discussed it with them. This really is a thinking person’s film and I look forward to unpacking it as the years go on.

So there you go! Two films reviewed – one bad, one good. Thanks for stopping by, please comment and subscribe, and here is your clue for the next review:

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Assassin’s Creed – Review and Thoughts

My latest endeavor in the world of video games was into the ultra-popular Ubisoft flagship title of Assassin’s Creed. I went in with high hopes for a fantastic story and an incredible game.  I got one of those. And the other sucked. LET’S GO!

I want to break it down into 4 sections that can best allow me to describe my thoughts. They will be

  • History
  • Story
  • Gameplay
  • The “Christian Element”

That having been said, let’s jump right into it.

1.  History

When this game came out in 2007, I was not at all interested in it.  Part of that was due to some serious discouragement from my friends and family. Me being a Christian and they being Christians, I was told that the game’s purpose was to kill Christians and thus was told not to play it.  Assassin’s Creed wasn’t even on my radar…until recently.

Back in 2009, when I was a freshman in college, I began to get back into video games. My games of choice where the Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper series on the PS2, and I had only just acquired my PS3. From there I began to rediscover my appreciation for video games (mostly thanks to Valve). I looked up some news on video games from there and then found a playthrough of the first mission of Assassin’s Creed. The main thing I took from it was that the story wasn’t really about Altair, a 12th century assassin, but about a man in our very near future reliving his ancestors lives to find something for a modern day Evil Super-Coorporation. I was fascinated! But also I was busy, so I dropped it there…until recently.

As I mentioned previously, this summer I have rekindled my interest in video games. I spent some time following the E3 conference a few months ago. Usually I miss it, but this year I was able to stay up to date on the new releases (via Machinima, Rooster Teeth, etc). Thus I came across the trailer for Assassin’s Creed Revelations. I loved it and you can check out my review of it on Friday at the Art of the Trailer blog. Anyway, I found a playthrough of the 3rd game, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, by Tobuscus. It wasn’t the best playthrough (97 videos x 10 minutes each = my life wasted); however the story was really incredible and I was really inspired by it.

It was then that I remembered that my brother had bought Assassin’s Creed last year. From there it was very simple – play the game. Thus – we arrive at Now.

2. Story

I said in the beginning that either the game or the story sucked. Well it wasn’t the story. One of the best worlds I have ever seen in a story.  The guys at Ubisoft Montreal really made something incredible and I am so excited to see where it goes.

**This review will have spoilers (if you haven’t played it by now, you aren’t going to)**

Contrary to what everyone who hasn’t played it thinks, the story really isn’t all about an ancient assassin.  It is the story of a bartender named Desmond who is kidnapped by Abstergo Pharmaceuticals – the 2012 front for the ancient society of the Templars. Desmond’s past is rooted in a secret group of killers know as the Assassin’s (original, I know). Abstergo and the Templars have taken Desmond in order to find an ancient artifact – a “piece of Eden” – which is locked in the his “genetic memory”.  They use a devise called the Animus which allows Desmond to relieve his ancestors memories and discover the fate of the artifact.

First of all, I love the blending of historical possibility with this story. They didn’t reinvent the wheel. The Templars have always been known for their secretive nature and they have always been suspected of wanting to take over the world. You don’t need to resell that too me and Ubisoft doesn’t. They take something well established and add just enough extra fiction to create a good plot. Works really well.

As far as the genetic memory goes, I thought it was a decent idea. Not sure the science would work out that way but it is plausible enough for you and I to believe it. It also creates the interesting parallel of what becomes a Game within a game. Through the Animus, Desmond puppeteers his ancestor Altair throughout the 12th century world. It allows for the explaining of important game information (maps, controls, quests, etc) to be blended into the game in a way I have never seen before. Very neat idea.

HOWEVER, I really wish that Ubisoft would figure out that Assassin’s Creed isn’t Altair’s story or Ezio’s story. It is Desmond’s tale. They always advertise only the past Assassin stuff, which makes sense – it is flipping awesome. However the story is about Desmond’s rediscovering his family’s legacy and coming into that role. The only time they actually develop that story is at the end of Brotherhood, but as I have not played 2 or 3 yet, I didn’t understand what was happening.

One final note before I get into the spoiler section – the locations where incredible. I climbed the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem! The cities were awesome in their accuracy and in the architecture which was so fun to explore.

**Spoilers**
First I have to say that I loved the games way of starting me at the weakest and building my skills.  Again, very unique style. You start as a fully trained master assassin, but because of your hubris you are stripped of your rank and made a level 1 killer again. Very cool explanation (I know it doesn’t really work that way in life but remember we are in the Animus). That was cool.

Basically you get 9 names of men you must assassinate in order to restore your honor. That works pretty well and makes sense – story wise (more on this later). You followed the proud Altair as he relearns what being an assassin is all about and humbles himself. A nice change of pace from games where you start off low and unrespected and then work your way into cockyness.

Some really amazing twists at the end. I got totally taken by the fake Robert, was surprised to find that my teacher was out to kill me, and that there were more Pieces of Eden. I thought the ending was truly fantastic! But then he came out of the Animus…

Basically you sit on the Animus table listening to the scientist conversing with some business men, have your life spared “just in case they need you”, and then they leave alone. Desmond has some “bleeding over” from his time in the Animus and can now see in Eagle Vision (let’s you see secret stuff). Looking around his room he sees someone has written secret messages all over his walls and floor. “What could it mean?” END.

Yup. It sucks. Their is no emotional ramp. There is no cathartis or conclusion. There is NO PROGRESSION! That is my beef with this whole game – it goes nowhere and it takes forever getting there. After a long set of credits it spits you back out into your little world at Abstergo where you can *Gasp* read emails. 😐  Really Ubisoft? Really?

I know from having read a synopsis of AC 2 that it starts with Lucy coming in and busting you out of Abstergo. WHY DIDN’T YOU END ON THAT UBISOFT!? It would have been amazing had they ended with a nice musical ramp, you look at the stuff on the wall, and then are interrupted by gunfire or something and Lucy runs in saying “We have to go!” That would have all the emotion I need and enough momentum to carry me over to Assassin’s Creed II. I was just a very disappointing end to a phenomenal story. I definitely plan on continuing it to see where they go with this.

FINAL ASSESSMENT – STORY:   4 out of 5

3. Gameplay

As I am sure you have guessed by now, the story was awesome but the gameplay sucked. It was long and tedious, time wasting quests that ultimately made me lose my love for it while I was playing.

It goes back to what I said before – NO PROGRESSION. What I mean is this: when I got to Damascus for the first of the 9 assassinations I had to complete some fact gathering missions so I would know when and where to get him. Being fresh into the game, I went ahead and did all six missions, saved all the citizens in the city (small perks) and found every viewpoint (enhances your map). Then I completed the assassination and returned to my home for the next assignment.

It was here that I discovered I only had to do 3 of the 6 to get through. For the rest of the game I did only just enough to get by, which is sad simply because it really shouldn’t be an “only just enough” sort of game. What really ticked me off was that, after I have done all of that and my honor is restored, I go to take out Robert de Sable in Jerusalem AND STILL HAVE TO FACT-GATHER!!!! Are you kidding me!? I have been doing this forever and now at the end of the game you make me do it more? Now, it makes sense that the humbled Altair doesn’t mind tracking his foe but I, the player do.

Basically I am playing the same game at the end as I was at the beginning. How it should have been done is on the first mission, when Altair is at his lowest and I am most excited, I should have to complete all 6. Then the next two assassinations (which are paired together) should be down to 4. The next three, 3. The last two, 2. And then the last kill (Robert de Sable), I shouldn’t have had to do anything. This creates a nice progression, eases up on the player, and gives the game a flow. They really dropped the ball there (and that is the same issue as how they messed up the end of the story).

Speaking of the end, I have a bone to pick with whatever bleephole designed the real Robert de Sable fight. The way it works is you fight 10 Templar guys and then Robert comes out and you take him on, all in front of King Richard. There is a cliff on one side and a large wall on the other. SO WHY DID YOU MAKE PART OF IT OUT OF BOUNDS! There is a section where “memory cannot be accessed” in the middle of the field. So I go for my second try, have the best fight I have had in game period, BEAT Robert, and when I go for the neck stab he has fallen into that out of bounds section. I beat him but am “Desynchronized – Death”. 😐 I was screaming at my TV. The level has enough natural boundaries. Why put in more? To tick me off, that’s why.

A few other notes. The combat has come under fire a lot and now I understand why. It consists mostly of mashing the square button and occasionally holding R1. Also, there are three weapons (hidden blade, knife, sword), yet you really only ever use the sword. The hidden blade which was a major part in putting Assassin’s Creed on the map is almost unusable because they block you if they even see you coming. Disappointing.

Also, I don’t know if it is the weaponry on my side or the large sign on my back that says “I AM AN ASSASSIN!” but everyone seems to notice me. If you aren’t mashing the “blend” button, you are spotted in half a second. No one else knocks the jars off of women’s heads. No one else gets targeted and smacked by those bleeping lepers. No one else gets hounded by the beggar women, about whom you can do nothing without drawing major attention to yourself. Basically I get the Inception treatment – I am the outsider in a world trying to find and expunge me. It is just poor programing, and I know that would be crazy hard but I hope in later installments they fix the “it’s all about me” feel.

Finally, there is no reason for me to do the side quests. The side quests are finding flags scattered in all the maps and to kill 60 Templars also scattered all over. In the end, there is no perk to my completing them so I have no reason to do so.  Compare that to Sly Cooper. In a story about a thief regaining his honor (sound familiar?) the side quest is to find 100 bottles per level which unlocks a safe. Inside the safe you get instructions on how to do a special move like the Spire Jump or even Slow Motion. It enhances the game by giving me options, helping me complete tasks, or just making it fun. I need some reason to work for it and Assassin’s Creed doesn’t give me one.

Ultimately what made me keep going was the story, not the gameplay. I was sorely disappointed by the clunky controls and lack of advancement or progression. The open world was fun but give me a reason to actually explore it.

FINAL ASSESSMENT – GAMEPLAY:  2 out of 5

4. The “Christian Element”

I wanted to take a second to respond to the discouragement I received from my Christian friends and family. First of all, I was surprised and impressed before the game even started. Ubisoft put a note during the loading screen saying that “This work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultrual team of various religious faiths and beliefs.” While it is not specific or really personal, it does carry the thought that they care enough to address it. I thought it was a nice goodwill gesture.

First and foremost, the purpose of this game is NOT to kill Christians as I was told by every Christian I knew. You aren’t fighting the Crusaders (directly) and you assassinate an equal number of Muslims as you do Christians. The 9 you are sent to kill all have good reason to be taken out. One is a demented doctor who experiments on healthy citizens. You take out slave traders, corrupt leaders, power hungry fiends. Not harmless church leaders.

On that same note, the Assassin’s fight the Templars and it is made very clear that the Templars aren’t fighting for God as they claim. They are working for their own ends – their control of the world. Their Christian front is exactly that: a front!

Finally, the game has come under fire for the morals put forth by the Assassin’s. Their key phrase is “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.” Obviously this doesn’t jive with Christian theology. However I simply ask you to consider this:  If nothing is true is that statement false? If everything is permitted, is ignoring that adage okay? The point of the phrase isn’t to be held as a hard-and-fast rule; it is meant to get one in the mindset of questioning that which is told them. It is about seeking truth and not letting your search for it be hampered by other’s rules. Seek truth. That sounds more in line with what we believe. Don’t take it as literal but think and seek the truth in it.

So there you go! A phenomenal story muddled by poor gameplay, with some interesting philosophy thrown in.

FINAL ASSESSMENT – 3 out of 5

I enjoyed following Assassin’s Creed and I do plan on finishing the series over the rest of the year. Please let me know what you think about my review in the comments below. Also, check out my review of the Assassin’s Creed Revelations trailer on The Art of the Trailer!  Thanks again and God bless!

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