The Dame Wore Ruby Slippers

February 26, 2009

When I first saw the previews for Emerald City Confidential, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’m a dedicated fan of adventure games, and I’ve enjoyed all of Dave Gilbert’s recent titles, but Emerald City Confidential seemed like a major departure from his previous works. Partly, this was because the game departed from the budding Blackwell series, instead featuring a new take on L. Frank Baum’s Oz universe, an endeavor that has previously met with varied degrees of success.  However, I was also unsure of how the game’s status as an avowedly “casual” title would affect the mechanics of play.  While some adventure games feature puzzles with solutions that are downright Byzantine, most adventure games can be controlled with leisurely clicks of the mouse; there isn’t much to simplify for the casual gamer.  Thankfully, the title proved a pleasant surprise on both accounts, and should appeal to fans and neophytes of both the Oz mythos and games alike.

Part of my initial unease stemmed from the recent and largely regrettable trend of revisiting children’s fare for adult consumption, from Transfomers to the destined-to-be-awful Land of the Lost.  However, a few gems have been mined from this nostalgic dross, particularly when writers have adopted a truly adult (in the mature sense) perspective on their source material,  such as in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.   Emerald City Confidential gains relevance by channeling a similarly creative spirit, peering into the world of Oz through the lens of film noir.

The Oz of Emerald City Confidential remains glamorous from a distance, but it is populated by characters that twist the originals in clever and anarchic ways. The Tin Man has gained a heart, only to have it broken and slowly washed away in drink; the Scarecrow may have the best brain in the land, yet his acumen has turned him into a walking koan; the Lion has gained courage, but uses it to profit from the unscrupulous pursuit of contract law. Thrust into the shoes of Petra, the Emerald City’s only private detective, the player gets to see the world of Oz as a land of considerable intrigue, and the plot is shot through with allusions to some of the more arcane bits of Ozian lore.  Given that the canon of Oz titles make the collected works of J. K. Rowling look laconic by comparison, this was no easy task.

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The advent of Christianity led to the end of the  civic relationships which mediated between the gods and men, or rather elite males. The erosion of these structures was a gradual process which based itself on the ability of the individual of any class or sex to establish a relationship with the divine. Characteristic of this was the love of man for God, agape. Anyone who has ever read the works of St. Teresa will quickly realize both that her relationship with the divine gave her orgasms and that the sort of romantic love which our society now values is a result of the shifting of the objects of our affection from God to other human beings. Nothing emphasizes this shift in consciousness as well as the ancient predecessor of Valentine’s Day, the Lupercalia. The Lupercalia was an ancient civic fertility holiday, in which the patrician youth of Rome would sacrifice a goat and strip off its hide, then run around the city naked , whipping women with the strips to promote fertility. As a sidenote, the most famous celebration of these festivities took place when Antony offered Caesar a kingly crown, and he did thrice refuse. Hence, what was primarily a civic celebration in these days is understood as a celebration of the bond of individuals. For those who find this holiday to be miserable  and yearn to be waving strips of goat skin this charge, as so many others, can be lain at the doorstep of the Jews(Christians?).

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List Madness!

February 2, 2009

Over at the LA Times, Scott Feinberg has a list of the 25 best movies of the last ten years not to get love from the Academy. These are movies that went completely unnominated, so they may be a bit low on your Netflix queue. Here’s his top 10:

  1. “Dogville” (2003, d. Lars von Trier)
  2. “Synecdoche, New York” (2008, d. Charlie Kaufman)
  3. “Thank You for Smoking” (2006, d. Jason Reitman)
  4. “The Virgin Suicides” (1999, d. Sofia Coppola)
  5. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007, d. Sidney Lumet)
  6. “The Company” (2003, d. Robert Altman)
  7. “The Upside of Anger” (2005, d. Mike Binder)
  8. “Three Kings” (1999, d. David O. Russell)
  9. “Gran Torino” (2008, d. Clint Eastwood)
  10. “The Station Agent” (2003, d. Tom McCarthy)

Use the link above to see the rest of the list.

I think The Station Agent and Three Kings are the strongest of his top 10. #14, Shattered Glass, and #21, Legally Blonde. are the other two films I’ll steal for my list. Three Kings is really an excellent movie, whose director is one of the most talented directors not working today (our thoughts on his breakout, “Spanking the Monkey”); I Heart Huckabees could probably be on this list too.

Feinberg states his omissions straight away:

Something tells me we’ll see lots of cult-faves like “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days,” “Inside Man,” “Zodiac,”

Yep. All three are excellent films, especially 4 Months which is one of the most devastating movies I’ve ever seen. I’m tempted to say that it shouldn’t count since it’s a foreign movie and it’s so much harder for foreign movies to be nominated, but it was truly one of the best movies of the last decade, and as the Palm D’Or winner, was significantly high-profile. Similarly, Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher belongs as the winner of the Grand Prix du Festival and a BAFTA best film not in English nominee. Besides, it’s terrific.

Other movies I’d add: Ghost Dog: The way of the Samurai and The Limey.

So, the Yesterday’s Salad list of the Ten Best Movies of the Last 10 Years not nominated for anything:
1. 4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 Days

2. The Piano Teacher

3. Three Kings

4. Zodiac

5. The Station Agent

6. Ghost Dog

7. The Limey

8. Shattered Glass

9. Legally Blonde

10. Inside Man

“Dancer in the Dark” really needs to be on this list. It was nominated for “best song” but that should hardly count since it reinforces the fact that it wasn’t nominated for anything else. If we decide to count it, Dancer slides in at  number 8 and everything else slides down one.

I should say, once you exclude (most) foreign movies from consideration, it’s actually hard to come up with a long list of excellent movies that fail to be nominated. Most of the films on the list are terribly flawed. But for all the Academy’s stupidity, they do manage to find a way to nominate most above average to excellent films.