I have been an admirer of the work of sibling directors Joel & Ethan Coen for many years now and count movies like The Big Lebowski and Fargo amongst some of the best movies I’ve seen. However sometimes these talented guys seem to stumble upon an idea that for one reason or another just doesn’t work – and I’m surprised to say, this is one such movie.
The plot follows a day in the life of a movie studio exec (Josh Brolin), sometime in the early 1950s, where musicals and swords & sandals epics were all the rage. It’s certainly a fascinating setting and one I was hoping would be a great backdrop to an intriguing kidnap storyline, at least that’s the idea the trailer gave me. However following the mysterious abduction of their biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), Brolin finds himself being forced to come up with a ransom whilst at the same time juggling a myriad of other issues at the studio.
Now you see here lies the problem … there’s a lot of things going on here; Scarlett Johansson appears as a tough-talking pregnant starlet whose lack of a husband puts her image (and that of the studio) in question. Also twin reporters turn up trying to dish the dirt on Baird Whitlock’s past and a dim-witted western star get’s the opportunity to do his first speaking part in a new movie. Oh and there’s some dancing sailors too, headed by Channing Tatum. Yet despite these admittedly colourful characters, along with Clooney they’re written so one dimensional that it was really hard to care about any them. Johansson, considering she’s one of the most bankable actresses around at the moment gets two redundant scenes, and Clooney’s plot is more perplexing and confusing than gripping.
The movie isn’t without it’s moments though. It looks fantastic (thanks to regular collaborator Roger Deakins) and behind the scenes segments of movies being made will always pull me in. The dialogue at times is also pretty comical (a meeting with various representatives of different religious faiths to discuss a biblical epic is a stand out). Yet the comedy isn’t strong enough to hide the fact the movie fails to go anywhere even remotely interesting and no attention to set design, costumes or musical numbers can make up for such a glaring flaw.
I have somewhat mixed feelings regarding the Gears franchise. Arguably one of the flagship game series on the XBOX 360, this guns and brawn third person sci-fi shooter is perhaps at times a little too macho and gory for my taste. Yet I played and completed Gears 1 & 2 and still managed to get a lot out of them. Their gameplay mechanics especially the combat, is superbly realised, but at times the series has let itself down badly with unnecessary (and badly implemented) vehicle sections, and a steep learning curve. Gears is bad-ass hard at times. It’s also probably the loudest, noisiest game currently available, something that again can make playing it an uphill struggle. I’ve rarely been able to play a Gears game for more than half an hour at a time.
Gears Of War 3 however comes to us with little of the fanfare of the previous two, and from what I have played so far, feels much better realised, from a story and gameplay point of view, than the two previous games put together. It seems clear to me that developer Epic games has honed their craft and delivered what could be a gaming masterpiece, at least on this generation of consoles … with action, character and a cleverly written narrative coming together to pull me into the franchise like never before. It also has to be said, that along with games like Crysis 2 and the forthcoming Rage, this is visually of the top tire of XBOX 360 games, with stunningly detailed environments, excellent character models and a wealth of effects, showing that when it comes to Unreal Engine 3, creators Epic Games sure know how to pull out all the stops.
In addition to the lengthy campaign (touted as the longest in the series) there is a plethora of multiplayer modes. Now multiplayer Gears has usually left me cold, mainly down to its round-based gameplay with no respawning. This means if you die, you have to sit the round out until either team dies or wins. This means for a novice such as myself, it’s very hard to get good at the game, with many long pauses between play. Epic have listened to us tried and tested deathmatch fanboys however, and this time given us a traditional, respawning team deathmatch mode, and when you put this alongside other modes such as capture the flag, as well as the acclaimed Hord mode – this is a game that even once the single player is beaten, should last you for months. I must also add the single player offers four player co-op, and all the multiplayer modes can be played on your own against bots. In other words, this has it all.
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