Monthly Archives: January 2014

Redford on a boat – The ‘All is Lost’ review

Before J.C. Chandor would go on to direct All is Lost, he made Margin Callhis first film. At first glance, the films seem entirely dissimilar, though it’s possible there is a certain degree of thematic overlap in the two films. Margin Call is a very ‘talky’ picture that deals with some of the events leading up to the great (and ongoing?) financial crisis of 2008. It doesn’t really get into the specifics of how all that stuff actually went down, but it does illustrate, conveyed through Paul Bettany who makes the point from the leather driver’s seat of his Aston Martin, that we are all very much complicit in the quest for wealth and its consequences. I guess he simultaneously makes the point that it’s not that bad when you’re managing very well to stay on the right side of that equation. All is Lost, on the other hand, has a completely silent Robert Redford at the helm of a sailboat, somewhere in the Indian Ocean, trying to survive a series of disastrous events. Over at Quarter to Three, they jokingly posited the theory that both films were part of the same ‘universe’ or ‘story’ and Redford was one of the stockbrokers who is now trying to get away from it all by sailing his vessel around the world.

Interesting theory. Though it has two holes in my opinion. First, his boat looks just a little too beat up and old for it to belong to an extraordinarily wealthy individual. And second, Redford is altogether too stand-up a guy to be selling bullshit stock over the phone. But, the theory has merit and Redford is enough of a mystery to have you guessing at his origins. Especially given the message he writes (and bottles) when he’s at the end of his rope:

13th of July 4:50 p.m. I’m sorry. I know that means little at this point, but I am. I tried. I think that you would all agree that I tried. To be true. To be strong. To be kind. To love. To be right. But I wasn’t. And I know you knew this in each of your ways and I am sorry. All is lost here, except for soul and body. That is, what’s left of them, and a half day’s ration. It’s inexcusable really, I know that now. How I could have taken this long to admit that, I’m not sure, but it did. I fought till the end, I’m not sure what that is worth, but know that I did. I always hoped for more for you all, I will miss you. I’m sorry.

Think of that moment in First Blood, where Stallone treats his own gunshot wound in the middle of a forest. And Brosnan, setting all sorts of traps for his pursuers using nothing but a simple bowie knife in Seraphim Falls. Or that scene in No Country for Old Men where Brolin just manages to blow all the water out of his pistol before shooting a dog that chases him. This is like one hundred minutes of that and it’s fascinating. A capable individual figuring out how to stay alive in thoroughly sticky situations. And it’s easy to view Redford’s message in light of his nautical nightmare. It’s like the man said, he ‘tried’. However, there’s expressions in that message that carry different connotations. And I guess that’s where comparisons to Margin Call come into play. Both films are about sinking ships after all. Albeit one in a more literal sense than the other.

Zelda – A Link Between Worlds is 2013’s Game of the Year

Granted, I didn’t complete a whole lot of games in 2013, but I did manage to check out some of the most important ones. Like this one: Nintendo’s Zelda – A Link Between Worlds. For a handheld console no less! That’s right, I actually bought a 3DS just to play this game. I’m glad the game turned out as good as it did, because, going by the videos, that really wasn’t a sure thing. The videos made it seem more like a weird little remake of a Super Nintendo classic, but one that has fallen out of the proverbial ugly tree and hit a bunch of branches on the way down. That’s also why I went with some concept art instead of the usual screenshot, the media that’s been released for this game really doesn’t do it justice, it looks quite good in motion. A Link Between Worlds strikes a fine balance between 3D visuals that actually work and the style that echoes a lot of what defined the original game on Super Nintendo. The only thing I found lacking personality were some of the dungeons, but then, you’re not really going to worry about that once you’re playing it: it’s positively bleeding ‘Zelda’ everywhere else.

That’s readily apparent when you first hear some of this game’s music. A lot of it has been lifted from a Link to the Past (the original game), though it has been rearranged and iterated upon in quite a spectacular fashion. Pretty dicey if you ask me. When you start tinkering with tunes that are regarded as all time classics, you run a fairly serious risk of ruining them. They didn’t though, and it’s pretty much flawless as a soundtrack that simultaneously plays on nostalgia (which is when music is at its very best anyway) while offering plenty of new sensations as well. However, since games have always been about ‘doing stuff’, nostalgia doesn’t work as well with games as it does with music. Unlike that infinitely re-playable album you first discovered when you were thirteen years old, games often aren’t able to hold your attention quite as firmly the second time round a decade after you first play them, however good your memories of those games might be. And since I’m declaring A Link Between Worlds game of the year here, that must mean it’s something more than a simple remake.

I remember watching Vinny over at Giantbomb doing his ‘quicklook‘ of this latest Zelda game and thinking ‘this looks exactly like a Link to the Past, how is this a thing?’ How indeed. Well, A Link Between Worlds has a number of interesting spins on the formula, spins that you just would not expect from Zelda. Gathering items through dungeon completion for instance, a series mainstay since its very inception, has now been replaced with a rental system (run by some shady looking dude in a purple bunny suit). This allows the player to choose from pretty much all of the game’s items from very early on. This philosophy extends to other aspects of the game, like the dungeons themselves: the player can pick the order he or she wishes to complete them in. Fairly radical for a Zelda game and it’s one of the things chiefly responsible for the sense of freshness this game exudes. I also caught myself approaching puzzles the way I was taught by the original game, back when I was ten years old, which, for instance, led to me figuring out how to acquire the ‘Pegasus Boots’ only at the very end of my play-through. Shame, though indicative of a playful approach in terms of the game’s design. In addition, A Link Between Worlds‘ use of 3D is superb: a game I once considered to be very flat now has a very unique sense of depth as you peer into the abyss underneath one of the game’s later dungeons. Very cool stuff.

It’s also a genuine, old fashioned, gamer’s type of game. I loved the Last of Us as much as the next guy, but this was better.