Archive for the Movie Reviews Category

Cutting Commentary in Velvet Buzzsaw

Posted in All the Things, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2019 by trivialpunk

I never said I was consistent. The horror aesthetic is in right now, and creeping doom is on every horizon, but that’s more the state of the gaming industry than its content. Perpetual experiences and micro-transactions don’t lend themselves well to producing horror games, even if they do inspire dread. So, it was either ride the Dark Souls wave or write about the only thing more horrifying than creeping existential horror: politics.

Not here, though. No, the personal is political, so I can excuse the evening off from charting our winding path into a coiling snare. There are so many things in this world that would bind us and use us that one can hardly keep track. Sorry, got kinky there for a second, but it speaks to the question that faces most artists in today’s market.

Capture.PNG

There are many ways to read Velvet Buzzsaw, and I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding outside interpretations of the movie, except the initial review that led me to it. I wanted to remain surprised, because I was promised a character-focused horror movie with great cinematography and a twist. I got a lot more than that, though, and I want to give you the same opportunity I had to enjoy it. So, here’s your spoiler-warning. From here on out, I’m going to be spoiling major plot-points and the central gimmick of the twist, as well as dissecting what I see as the ethos of the film. There will be no coming back from these spoilers, soo…

SPOILER WARNING!!!!

That being said, let’s start with the exploiters of artists and the gate-keepers that enable the scarcity they profit off of. I mean, the cast. Morf Vandewalt is a renowned art critic that is insulated by pride, pretence and pomp. He acts as a gate-keeper of value in the artistic world that “assesses out of adoration,” but the film goes out of its way to demonstrate his profound naivety towards the powerful people and institutions that profit off his work. This is a great example of the lighting direction and framing coalescing with the narrative at the perfect moment for a story beat.

Capture2

Up until this moment, Morf has been framed as a suave, sophisticated socialite whose words can move mountains. But here, for one moment, his hair is under-lit to make it look like a bowlcut, as Morf is saying something that we know isn’t accurate with absolute confidence. He is, in truth, incredibly childish. You can see it in his demands and complaints. As a critic, Morf is being used to promote dangerous items for dishonest people, as well as destroying the careers and lives of countless artists to further his cachet. He excuses his actions by claiming that his opinions are honest, and they do seem very genuine, but he does tear down Ricky for Josephina. He knows it is wrong, though, and he even gets moments of moral indignation by refusing to sell out his personal beliefs. Morf is not morally corrupt, but he’s not overtly critical of the systems off of which he profits.

You know who is morally corrupt, though? Rhodora Haze, former punk artist turned wealthy socialite. As the owner of the Haze Gallery, she deals in modern art and Machiavellian politics. She’s manipulating Morf behind the scenes, holding contracts like switch-blades under the throats of other characters and stage managing the launch of the Vetril Dease Collection: a series of paintings that were discovered after the artist’s death. Since the artist is dead and the owner of the art is under her thumb, she is free to lie about the paintings at will. She squirrels half of them away to increase their scarcity value.

Rhodora’s mirror-mirror doppelganger is Gretchen. As a newly-minted art advisor/gate-keeper, she’s trying to survive in the same world of money and perception as Rhodora, but she’s nooot as good at it. In her stumbles, we see the ugly seams of their art scene come blatantly to the surface. She tries to bribe Morf to point her to “under-valued, pre-review art,” because she sees Rhodora profiting by buying pieces before Morf’s favourable reivews go live and increase their value. Of course, Rhodora isn’t bribing him; she’s spying on him. Despite Morf’s integrity, he exists in a system where his favourable reviews can be fore-casted by the people who profit off of them. An uncomfortable reflection of the game review space I left all those years ago? Maybe that’s why we’re here…

Let’s not get TOO meta, TOO fast. Where were we? Josephina is another inductee into the world of power and politics. As an employee of Rhodora, she stumbles across the paintings of Vetril Dease on the evening of his death. Recognising his brilliance and claiming them for herself, Josephina empties the man’s apartment of his life’s work. It’s clear that Rhodora took her under her wing as a employee, but is in the process of demoting her when she’s tipped off to the existence of the Dease collection. Josephina is strong-armed by Rhodora, under threat of contractual litigation, into handing over management rights for the Dease Collection in exchange for wealth and prestige. She agrees, because she has no choice.

Jon Dondon is a competing art dealer that learned well from Rhodora. He spends his days trying to poach artists from the Haze Gallery and sabotaging their stars. Jon Dondon puts considerable effort into undermining the reputation of the Dease Collection before meeting his bitter end. His body is discovered by Coco.

Coco is the mirror-mirror opposite of Josephina. She’s working an entry-level position at the Haze Gallery and learning how to navigate the choppy waters of a cut-throat industry. I have a fan-theory about her. I think she sabotaged Josephina in the opening act of the movie by calling her Right before work to tell her about her cheating ex. When Josephina was moved off the front line, Coco got her job. A job she immediately lost, because Rhodora uses and discards people at will, but it’s clear that she’s learned how to undermine people in order to advance her interests. Yet, the film doesn’t totally condemn her for her actions. Coco’s trying to survive in a harsh market, and it’s causing her to compromise her integrity. At the mid-point of the film, she reveals that she’s been spying on Rhodora, and the information she gleaned gets her a new job. So, she’s dishonest, buut…

Capture3.PNG

Which is really more of a condemnation of the system she wants to profit off of than her as a character. At least, in relation to the other characters in this little psychodrama. She keeps losing her job, because her employers keep dying for their sins, but she survives, even if her dream is broken.

That’s most of the main cast. There’s the blue-collar Bryson, who exists as a stereotype both so broadly drawn and utterly eclectic that I can only call him a douche-hipster. Piers is an established artist that is struggling to find creative truth in a system that values constant exploitable productivity. Damrish is an emerging artist from the streets that wants to find a place where his work can mean something, caught between financial success and cultural relevance.

The last two members of the important players are almost uncredited. They are the representatives of the Museum of Modern Art, and only one of them gets a name. It’s Jim, and his unnamed partner says one of the most important lines in the film to Gretchen: “…If you wanted to ram more of your collector’s hoard down our throat to increase their value, you should have done so before the Dease deal was locked…” You see, there’s only so much room in a gallery to show off cultural artefacts, so curators have to be careful with their space. As an artistic institution, the museum has a responsibility to the integrity of the art world, but the leverage provided to Gretchen by the inflated value of the Dease Collection gives her power over their investors. The wealthy gate-keepers of the art world have lent her the pictures and capital necessary to dictate what cultural artefacts will be displayed as valuable in the museum. She does to them what Rhodora did to her by packaging Dease with another artist named Minkins. In this scene, the film is saying that the power structures that profit off of exploiting artists do not elevate art based on its cultural value but on its ability to be exploited for profit. Therefore, the exemplars of this cultural space did not gain ascendancy through cultural relevance, but  through systems of power. Even if the art is only valuable for the moment:

Capture4.PNG

From EA to Disney, this is the relationship that most artists find themselves in today. The gate-keepers of artistic value are propped up by towers of money, and it seems like the only way forward is to sell-out for profit. As Gretchen says, “Look, I came to the museum, because I wanted to change the world through art. But, the wealthy vacuum up everything, except crumbs. The best work is only enjoyed by a tiny few. And they buy what they’re told. So why not join the party?” These are not evil people, but they’re still profiting off of a system that locks culture and the ascendancy of artistic vision behind pay-walls and monetary access. So, what should an artist do in this environment? What is the point of art if nobody sees it?

It turns out that the film has really optimistic answers to both those questions, but I want to address two very important aspects before we get to those answers. The first is that the paintings are haunted by the ghost of Vetril Dease, because he literally put his blood, sweat and tears into his work. His pain and madness are seared into his tormented works, and their raw manifestation is what ensorcells both critics and artists alike. This life of misery, “A howl for answers and a resolution that never comes,” is the fascination point off which the galleries will profit. They’re capitalising on the dead man’s pain.

The second aspect is the way in which Dease’s media is altered for consumption. Not a single stroke on his paintings is changed, but when they are removed from the context of his tiny, ramshackle house, they lose their connection to their meaning. Dease faced serious abuse, and his work was a means of processing that trauma. His howl for answers reveals the depth of that pain, but that depth is completely removed by transplanting it to a gallery space for safe consumption. In a gallery, people see the brilliance and clarity of the emotion, but they are insulated from its impact. Capitalism sanitizes media and removes it from the consequences of its context, a point which the film makes extremely explicit:

Capture5.PNG

Everyone thinks that Gretchen’s death is part of the exhibit, so they’re removed from the reality of the situation. The children in this scene think it’s fake blood; they assume that everything in the gallery is safe for consumption, so they are protected from its implications. The paintings and sculptures in this movie could stand in for any form of media. By removing media from its context and making it safe for capitalistic consumption, we are insulated from its true meaning, thereby allowing the framers of that information the power to control our perception of it. Which gets even more interesting when you consider that Damrish is a culturally-relevant Black artist being tugged away from his artist’s collective to pursue success in a mainstream gallery

Capture6.PNG

It should not be ignored that the history of African Americans in most artistic mediums includes a long history of exploitation. That the gate-keepers of power in this movie are primarily white, and that systemic socioeconomic differences are of key importance in relation to their access to power. No one in this movie is anything close to racist, but they are unquestioningly profiting off systems of exploitation built on inequality. You could not have an honest psychodrama about the flaws inherent in media exploitation without bringing up the rotten foundation on which it is built. This applies to all vulnerable populations across the media landscape, from Freddy Mercury to the Jackson 5. While naming those two makes it seem like these were relationships of mutual profit, we’d do well to remember the barriers they faced and the artists of all stripes and orientations who see nothing for their life-times of work. The more vulnerable you are, the easier you are to exploit, which is why some populations are targeted more explicitly than others.

Everyone in this movie is duplicitous to some degree. They’re all stage-managing personas and stabbing each other in the back behind warm smiles and “Kisses!” They are the perpetual manifestations of this psychodrama, profiting with cold brutality as they devour warm bodies with neat, sanitized pretence. It’s the same cheerful nihilism on display when the News feeds us justifications for murdering people and presents the deaths of thousands as an engaging tragedy. There is no human way to easily digest the deaths of that many people, but when it scrolls by on your news feed, it feels like one more point in a burning world. Something you can accept and “deal with.”

The personal is political, and the most important point of conflict in the daily lives of most people watching this movie will be fighting the apathy bred by comfort. The most important weapon against action is the idea that everything will be okay. By making things safe and digestible, we never feel the true weight of the tragedies happening around us. There is an art to insulating us into inaction, while at the same time justifying murder. It is the howling storm into which we all must scream.

That brings me back to the haunted paintings and my two final questions. What is the point of art if nobody sees it? I think the film answers that rather handily on multiple occasions. An artist’s primary concern should be the act of creation. “All art is dangerous,” which is to say that all art is powerful. Dease created otherworldly paintings as a byproduct of using art as a tool for exploring his trauma and grief. He survived a life of torment through art, even while definitely committing some murders along the way.

At the end of the film, we have an extremely human moment with Rhodora as she hands the keys of her beach house to Piers. Piers has been struggling with alcoholism and the media-driven idea that artists flourish by sacrificing their sanity to addiction and mental illness. Grappling with the raw honesty on display in Dease’s work, he wants to keep the “easy answer” at arm’s length, while he “tries to get back to creation.” The art world only values him as long as he’s creating work that they can sell, and it seems like the only answer to creating that work is sacrificing his mental well-being. Which is when the ghost of another dead artist steps in. Rhodora’s old girlfriend Poly -who was killed by a similar life- whispers a quote into the chill winds of history that saves Piers, “Dependency murders creativity. Creativity plays with the unknown, No strategies exist that can enclose the endless realm of the new. Only trust in yourself can carry you past your fears and the already known.”

Dependency on liquor and the financial approval of others is murdering Piers’ creativity, while the addiction slowly kills him. Rhodora tells him to take a break from the art scene, because she’s aware of its potential for toxicity. He needs to heal. She tells him to go somewhere and do something for nobody but himself. Because, at the end of the day, You always see your art. What is the point of art if nobody sees it? None, but the artist always sees their work. Art is a tool for expression and self-discovery. The finished product has inherent value to the artist and naturally reflects the time-period of its creation. At the beginning of the film, Rhodora posits that her art world has been thriving since a caveman charged a “bone to see the first cave painting,” tacitly suggesting that art and capitalism are inherently intertwined. Which perfectly reflects her world-view, but it has nothing to do with reality.

While it’s true that pretty shells and intricate carvings have always been traded as valuable, the drive to create is inherent to the human experience. Whether it’s ancient, crumbling paintings or lines in the sand swept away by the tide, the act of creation is inherently valuable. When we place importance on the exploitability of the finished product, rather than the act of creation, we murder creativity. So, what should an artist do in this environment?

Damrish’s story-line follows this logic to its fruition. The personal is political, so we should create for each other in an accessible space. Instead of allowing ourselves to be exploited for personal economic gain, we should look to the good we can do in our community as artists. If you have a voice, then we should use it with thoughtful purpose. At the same time, the collective in the film suggests that if this is the case, then the community needs to be there to support these artists. As someone who wrote free articles for years, I can tell you that you can’t dine on artistic integrity. We need to respect each other and our art, because our creations hold value. Both for ourselves and the future generations that will try to understand us through the exemplars of our culture.

Then, there is the other artist: Vetril Dease. The vengeful spirit left to toil in obscurity, exploited after death without the consent of his personal demons or consideration for the private pain it would unearth. His flesh was sold at auction with each painting, his literal body of work was violated for profit. Artists often sign away the right to control their work in exchange for the ability to create it, especially in the gaming space. Their legacy as creators is controlled as if they were a meaningless incident of its creation. The sole reason I’m writing this review, now, is that I kept asking myself one question: “What is the motivation of the paintings in this movie?” What injustice do the demons locked away behind Dease’s rage seek to correct? In looking for this answer, I came to my thesis for the film: “By making media fit for consumption by cultural institutions propped up by capitalist markets, we sanitize pain and profit off of death. Art that is both personal and culturally relevant/transgressive will/should undermine the power structures that enable the exploitation of art and humans, so that no more people must die in painful obscurity while the rich profit off their work.”

Each death in the movie reflects this motivation. Bryson was supposed to take the Dease paintings to be locked away in a warehouse, but he clearly died on a country road in the middle of stealing them. Rhodora kept Dease behind lock and key, both preserving the paintings he wanted destroyed and setting his work up to be exploited. Josephina stole his work and sold it, despite his wish that it be destroyed. John Dondon dug up Dease’s tragic past, but he was killed before he could use it to undermine the value of the work and profit off the destruction of his competitors through it. Gretchen was killed moments after threatening to use Dease’s work to destroy the hopes of emerging artists, keeping undiscovered artists like Dease in the dark forever to profit off the increased the value of Dease’s posthumous work. Morf kept emerging artists from the public’s eyes by judging their work to be valueless, profiting off their destruction to the point that one of his targets killed himself. Further, Morf stood to make millions from an exclusive Dease book-deal. Before dying, he publishes a tell-all article on Dease’s tragedies and the deaths connected to his work. It is telling that Morf was assumed to be corrupt by people like Gretchen, and that his credibility was only ever destroyed when he told them a bizarre, uncomfortable truth.

Damrish and Piers don’t die, because despite their exposure to the work, they never exploited it. Coco kept losing her job, so she never made a dime off it, either. She lost her dream but not her life. She’ll return home and find something new. And Dease’s art? It’s still out there, circulating out of stolen crates. Which makes me wonder… out of the context of these exploitative systems, will his art still be dangerous, Or was his art most impactful/destructive within this system, because it sought to tear down the power structures that exploited it? Am I reading too much into this? Possibly.

These paintings reflect a dark theme that stretches all the way back to “The King in Yellow.” A terrifying work that inspires heights of artistic excess or the lows of human suffering. Artists often see in works of this amorphous, eldritch nature a kind of creeping wonder. Am I divining something that exists or creating an idea from whole cloth? Kind of meta in a sense, because it comes back to why I’m here and often not here.

I created this blog to “forward the realm I analyze,” as Morf would say, but I found myself in the same position a lot of the time. Discussing gaming at this moment is putting support behind companies that are busily exploiting and destroying the works and artists that I admire. I couldn’t allow myself to be part of that anymore, even if the encroachment of larger investors opened the doors for greater profit. I have zero desire to be chewed up and spit out by an ungrateful industry, but I will always love gaming.

Yet, in my absence, I’ve seen the work of people like Jim Sterling and others pushing back against the glorification of exploitative excess, and I see in that movement a future for gaming. We’ve been here before, so maybe it’s better to stand and fight. These exact same historical beats have been playing out over time, from 3-D to the syphilitic collapse of the AAA Industry from its moulding throne. As we know, from the ashes of failure rise the Embers of a new age, and I’ve been heartened by the growth of the indie scene on Steam. Its gluttonous collapse after Steam Greenlight seemed to me the absolute excesses of Dark Souls’ Humanity. Even I’m back here, writing about the revolutionary potential of an above-average horror movie churned out by a corporate mechanism designed to respond to Disney’s global I.P. Power Grab.

Still, we must shout into the howling gale. We must not place the value of creation on the exploitability of the finished product. In this life, we must live and create, finding joy and integrity where we can make it. I have no mouth and I MUST scream.

Also, I wanted the opportunity to clear up a misinterpretation of my earlier assertion that reaction-time was an important consideration in relation to tank-controls on early survival horror games. Yeah, the tension-and-release cycles are still effective, even when the controls are fluid, because they speed up the monsters, too. The point isn’t the movement of the characters on the screen. The point is the experience of the individual reacting to them. So, if both characters are slow, then tension rises as the character prepares to react, then executes and experiences the results of those actions. The timing of that cycle is the important thing, not the speed of the pixels on the screen. When you’re running away from Pyramid Head’s attack in Silent Hill 2, you have a fraction of a second to react, then pick a direction and run. The tension exists in the execution of the maneuver, even if success or failure are decided at the beginning of the reaction when the startle reflex kicks in. It doesn’t matter if you get hit; it matters that you panicked for a second while you tried to react. That’s part of the build-up of physical tension that accompanies the game’s psychological anxiety.

The Hunters in Resident Evil are the same way. They cross vast distances in one jump, but your reaction to them is hurriedly finding a horizontal axis to safely cross their straight leap. This allows you the time to turn around and launch grenades at them. The controls were slow, so the tension came from thinking quickly. Now, you can react more quickly, but the startle reaction is still there, so more of the mechanical tension has to come from the staging of the game-play sequence.

So, yeah, Velvet Buzzsaw is a psychological revenge-drama where art goes on a killing spree to avenge an exploited artist. Give it a look if you’re still interested. Even with everything spoiled, it’s worth watching. Hell, maybe I’ve been over-analyzing things this whole time, and you’ll find something different in viewing it. That’s the nice thing about art: we each get to decide its value to us. I’ll be back if I feel like I have something else worth saying. Until then, I’ll just be enjoying things for their own value, because…

Capture7.PNG

Alien: Isolation v. The Order: 1886

Posted in All the Things, Game Guts, Game Reviews, Movie Reviews with tags , , , on March 13, 2015 by trivialpunk

Yes, I’m writing again. Don’t question it; just roll with it. I’m frankly amazed that this website still gets traffic. Wait, maybe not amazed… perhaps touched is the right word. Some of these posts are more than two years in my past, and I’m not really the same writer I was then. So, moving forward, please remember that this is as much a record of my bullshit as it is a repository for it. It’ll make the whole experience that much more surreal when I take myself suuuper seriously.

To be honest, it was our loss of Mr. Pratchett that drove me back here. As an aspiring author and long-time fan, I can’t help but feel the absence. And when I lose things, I need to write. When I need to write, I come here. So, I’m back. I’m not promising weekly updates, but you can find me on Twitch, and I’m going to try to find reasons to come back here as often as possible. Even when I’m gone, I still think about this place. These solitary moments of recording my thoughts and making up terrible puns about video games.

TheOrder198860023

With that out of the way, I want to discuss two very different games with a powerful common element: narrative linearity. Of course, that doesn’t narrow things down at all. Okay, jump the gun, the games I’m thinking of are The Order: 1886 and Alien: Isolation. Neither one of of these games is shit, despite the liberal use of colons, but they are quite limited in the experiences they can provide. By design, of course. They’re trying to tell carefully guided gameplay stories. You can’t bake a hundred cakes and make an entire fortress lit by squandered birthday pastries. This isn’t Minecraft. Mostly, you’re moving down corridors to do the thing.

Okay, so by now, you’re probably rolling your eyes. The games are way too different to compare. One’s third-person, the other’s first-person. One’s a stealth-based horror game, the other’s a steam-punk modern-warfare re-skin. One has a flamethrower and an angry alien, the other has Tesla weaponry and like eight werewolves. That’s fair, but I spend my days comparing Candy Crush’s excitation curve to WoW’s loot systems, so this isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Basically, my whole comparison is going to hinge on this thought experiment:

Let’s assume that the whole point of playing these narrative games is the story. Let’s pretend that movies are becoming games and not the other way around. Given Alien’s pedigree and 1886’s campaign-mode, I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble with that. Now, as people living within this imaginary world, let’s strip off the aesthetic coating of the story. The narrative and the themes are unimportant now. All that matters are the polygons and how they interact. We’re talking Quake on an oscilloscope level. With me so far? Good, now tell me about the games. I promise I’m not eavesdropping in your house right now. I’ll wait until you’re reading this sentence.

Can you still figure out what they’re about? I’ve gone on and on about integrating gameplay into the narrative of a game’s experience. I’ve held up Alien: Isolation as a great example of it, despite the fact that you’re basically being led by the nose the whole time you’re playing. The gameplay is still interesting gameplay. It presents some unique challenges to think around, and the A.I. is fantastic.

Even without really knowing what’s going on through the haze of the oscilloscope, it’s still clear that you’re hiding from something awful. There’s still a basic crafting system, and the combat’s still pretty clunky. The game of cat and mouse you’re playing with the monster goes on unabated. In my head, it’s even more frightening being stalked through the halls by the hazy green monster.

Alright, let’s give The Order the same treatment. It’s a linear, cover-based third-person shooter with a suite of standard weapons and waves of human enemies. Occasionally, you shoot at some dogs, and there are quick-time events. Now, this is well-polished gameplay, and everything functions very well, but it’s hard to tell it apart from any other third-person, etc shooter. Good thing or bad thing? Compare.

Now that you’ve got that comparison in your head, let’s inject the rest of the games back into our thought experiment. Does the narrative improve the gameplay at all? Well, I’d say it’s certainly more interesting being stalked by and standing up to the Geiger-beasts as a dis-empowered spaceship mechanic. And, for someone like me with nascent fears of alien dick-heads in my darker places, the fear-factor of the experience is increased considerably. That being said, The Order: 1886 is far more kick-ass when you know you’re playing Victorian Batman alongside a host of immortal knights that fights werewolves using steam-punk Teslacutionary weaponry. So, points on both sides there.

Let’s get a little more switchy-the-words-aroundy on this shit: does the gameplay improve the narrative at all? This one’s a little more difficult for me to answer with Alien: Isolation, because I’ve always wanted to play this style of game: hiding from an unknowable Alien intelligence. Being hunted by the world’s most perfect predator. So, the experience of play really highlights the game’s narrative for me. I’m in it. It’s happening. Best game ever, 8/10.

Let’s get somewhere I haven’t already thoroughly documented, though. Alien’s gameplay delivers on the themes and story-elements of its narrative. The gameplay of The Order seriously detracts from the narrative and our character’s, well, character. If we’re an immortal knight that’s been tasked by England to protect its people, why are we perfectly okay with slaughtering them in their hundreds? It would be interesting if we were exploring the kind of dehumanization that arises when someone’s an immortal bad-ass living within an isolated, elitist society that hands out licenses to kill to every member like issues of The Daily Buzzfeed, but it’s not. At one point, the main character makes a specific points of trying to avoid slaughtering people, but there are no gameplay elements that reinforce this option. You take out one guy with a shovel, then you go right back to the slaughter.

Yes, it makes sense that he responds by defending himself in hostile situations, and I’ll forgive him his B.A. in Stoicism, but why bring these elements of mercy and stealth up if we’re not going to use them? Or, if they’re going to be subverted, why not steer into the skid? Hell, give me a line of throw-away dialogue about his mental health or even one from the Queen (you know which one I mean) about his past actions against her rag-tag forces. I don’t need to make a big deal about it, but if we’re stealthing anyways, why do we need to kill? Why can’t we Tesla a knock-out chemical together or even just a tesla-taser? I just had a knife-fight with a werewolf; you’re not going to pull me out of the experience with chloroform, unless that’s you moving around in my closet… Let’s wrap this up before that door creaks open…

Both of these game present tight, focused gameplay scenarios. In one situation, you’re sneaking down a limited set of hallways. In the other, you’re shooting your way down an elaborately designed, limited set of hallways. I enjoyed both experiences for different reasons. I finished them both. Although, given their respective lengths, that’s not too surprising. Still, they were experiences worth having. My question is simply this: did the underlying mechanics create a unique experience? Alien: Isolation has shown us that tightly designed games can create engaging gameplay experiences within a limiting narrative. Whereas, The Order feels like one of those old tie-in franchise games they used to slap on top of third-person shooters, but… uh… they put more money into it?

Take what you can from those bleary thoughts. I’m going to find out what chloroform smells like! I’m sure I’ll wake up at some point… See you on the other side!

Addendum: I know it sounds like I’m really down on The Order, and that, perhaps, I’m a little hyperbolic, as well. He understated.  I really did enjoy playing it. I was talking it over with some friends, and we agreed that we enjoyed watching it being played. And I know that sounds like sarcasm, but it does possess a quality someone might have argued was akin to being cinematic. If you’re in for that, check it out through your usual electronic intermediaries. Also, chloroform smells absolutely rotten.

The Edge of Tomorrow: A Cthulhian Tale

Posted in All the Things, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on June 18, 2014 by trivialpunk

Hey, so it’s time to talk about The Edge of Tomorrow! And how we apply Cthulhu to understanding its darker implications. But, first, if you haven’t already, check this video out. It will help you understand the concept of Cthulhu better than the average individual, and it saves me a lot of time. Plus, the people at Extra Credits do a hell of a job! So, let’s get into The Edge of Tomorrow…

Edge_of_Tomorrow_Poster

Alright, let’s get the up-front stuff out of the way. The Edge of Tomorrow is a dark action-comedy that’s an unholy fusion of Dark Souls, Star Craft and Cthulhu. And, honestly, I half expected to see Bill Murray fall to his death in a helicopter crash. The time-skips are well-presented, and the general plot is fairly clever. However, if you can think like a trans-temporal omni-swarm creature, then you might spoil the ending for yourself. Which is exactly what we’re here to discuss, so SPOILERS! If you’re on the fence about seeing it, then I recommend it. Take that for what it’s worth, and sorry for the short post!

**SPOILERS!!!**

Now, as we all know, at the end of the movie… …

Okay, now I’m free to spoil it. At the end of the movie, Tom Cruise finally destroys the hive-mind behind the alien invasion, and he wakes up a day before, in a brighter, cheerier world. Victory, right? Well, it depends on your perspective. You see, for humans, time is a pretty simple, albeit baffling, progression. Because we live within it, we value the moments and ages that have come and gone, as well as the future. But, what if you lived in the past, the present, the future and all of the multiple iterations therein?

Well, then you’d have a wholly different relationship to time and, as a result, to military action. Now, if you’ll recall, when The Angel of Verdun first drove back the enemy, it retreated from its camp, and the day played out very differently than it had before. However, the results of that day were simply that: the results of that day. For the creature that was attacking them, it wasn’t really a big loss. Think of it like a cat torturing a mouse. It tests its defences on one side. It swats at it a bit on the other side. The mouse struggles and struggles, but, eventually, the cat just goes in for the kill.

But, let’s say the mouse could drive the cat back. Let’s say it bites the cat’s claw and sends it scampering away, giving the mouse just enough time to make it into the next room. My question to you is: is the mouse safe? Well, that would depend almost entirely on the room and the cat. The same goes for trans-temporal beings. Okay, it can’t go all the way back in time, but it can go forward as far as it needs to. And, there are things inherent in the mechanics of the time-resets that should also trouble us.

Alright, every time Tom Cruise dies, the day resets. That’s the basic event, but does it reset for everyone, or does he just go back along his personal time-line? That’s an important question, because if the Alpha aliens (the blue ground-troops that can reset time when they die) get killed, then the day also resets. So, one would imagine, on the truly colossal front-line of D-Day, at least one or two blue aliens must have been killed in the action, besides the one that Tom Cruise takes out. So, then, there must be time-stream resets that  take place before Tom Cruise got his power. If that’s the case, then we can assume that the time-stream resets are personal. Otherwise, he would never have gotten his power in the first place. In fact, the Alpha that gives him his power dies before he does, so that’s really all you need to know.

A disturbing thought, because it forces us to ask ourselves: what does the alien really want? In what way would a trans-temporal alien invade a world? It’s not just invading you on the physical front: it’s invading time-streams. So, if you consider every single day that Tom Cruise died as one potential future, then we aren’t winning the war because we pushed them out of a time-stream. We’ve merely managed to eke out a space to continue existing. In most other potential time-streams, the creatures dominate the world. And human-kind is extinct.

This is where things get even more Cthulhian. Because, if you listened to the video, it’s right. Our only hope of surviving a creature that unknowably powerful is to hope that we’re insignificant enough to be ignored. So, if you’re a creature waging a trans-temporal war, maybe you don’t care about every time-stream, because some of them must end in your defeat. It’s not likely, but it’s necessarily possible. Tom Cruise weighted the scale a bit, but he didn’t change the fundamental nature of the invasion. We lost everywhere it mattered to the creature.

But, we’re beings of singular perspective, so We don’t really care about those other time-streams. In fact, it’s nearly impossible for us to appreciate the implications of temporal genocide with a straight face. But, to a creature like this, it must be a daily reality. So, obviously, it would be able to reset time if its own body was destroyed. That’s the realization that spoils the ending, by the way. This creature fights trans-temporal wars all the time. Of course, it has natural defences to work within the bounds of its zone of combat. But, that’s not what we see, because we’re limited.

And that’s the whole thing about Cthulhu. Powerful beyond comprehension, because we can only begin to glimpse the facts of its reality from our own. Its structure is so insane that trying to communicate its nuances will get you sectioned or dissected. And for creatures not adapted to the ravages of trans-temporal living, the iteration of days can drive you mad. You see life and death in a very different way, necessarily. (They bring that across nicely in the movie.)

Love, life, memories, death and Being are very different for time-travellers. Even the concept of being born is a bit wibbly. And when you realize that, and scream it at the top of your lungs, but no one cares… no one can care… that, too, can drive you mad. That’s an unheard-of military advantage. They don’t press the issue in The Edge of Tomorrow, but they acknowledge it at the farm-house and within the characterization and narrative. Show, don’t tell, right?

Still, the more I thought about it, the more interesting and tragic the narrative became. And, it’s always a wonderful thing when a movie gives you that experience.

I could go into the ways that different conceptualizations of the shape of time and space would change the “biology” and habits of a trans-temporal Cthulhian monstrosity, but that’s half the fun. And I’m gonna let you have it! Cheers!

Okay, so, there’s a lot of house-keeping today, which is why I’m doing it at the end. The concept video for Mike And Marco went up! Don’t worry, it’s supposed to look and sound that way, at first. It felt more… screen-testy… There’s also a place you can go to hear me read stories, some of them are Grimm’s Fairy-Tale old, and some of them are mine. In fact, there’s a whole live-action section that’s slowly coming on-line…

Our letsplays of Far Cry 3WATCH_DOGS and Silent Hill: Homecoming are chugging along. With many more games to come. So, please, visit our YouTube channel at your leisure. If you’ve ever wondered what my face looks like, it’s time to see it from the other side.

Spider-man and Godzilla: Double Feature

Posted in All the Things, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2014 by trivialpunk

Hey! There’s rarely been a better time to be a nerd, has there? Games, books and music are easier to access than ever before, and they’re making movies and television shows about things that are relevant to us! Cool, eh? But, as we all know, that stuff tends to get watered down as it runs through the process of going from culture, to concept, to cinema. But, hey, the more people get involved in something, the more money you need. And you know what they say about money and problems, don’t you?

Anywho, I was going to go fishing this weekend, but I came down with something; instead, I went to the movies. So, I figured I’d tie this paragraph into the first one by giving you my opinion on “The Amazing Spider-man 2” and “Godzilla”  in the clusters of words that follow.

images

I literally just got back from Godzilla an hour ago. And I have to say, I lovv… haaa….watched that movie. It was a bit weird walking into a movie-franchise that’s classically Japanese and having it redone by Americans. I got eerie Silent Hill flash-backs. It’s like leaving your house for an hour, then coming back and the walls are all a different colour. Troubling, off-putting, but not a deal-breaker. As long as you check the closets. And Godzilla has a pretty big closet, so let’s peek there first.

The weird cultural movie-thing you’ll probably hear about first happens within the opening twenty minutes or so of exposition. I mean… Wow. I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say that the people who put this film together weren’t really being sensitive when they wrote the script. And I don’t mean to the material. I mean at all. Let’s leave it at: a nuclear reactor goes critical, because of an earthquake, within a Japanese city. Ooooh. Did… didja guys really need to do that? That’s like having a scene where Godzilla throws Mothra into the Twin Towers, one at a time. I felt a little sick to my stomach, but moving on…

It’s not really out of place, because the central conceit of Godzilla has always been that it represents a humbling force of nature for all humanity to respect. An unbridled power. As you’ve probably heard a thousand times by now, the original Godzilla was a metaphor for the atomic bomb. A power wielded by humans. It was our ultimate power for a long, long while. And I really like how the newest iteration kind of flips that notion on its head. Not in a de-constructionist sense, but it violates the concept by reminding us that the power of the atomic weapon is a force in itself. We merely poke at it.  Between this and Attack on Titan, it’s nice to see a reminder of our place within a wider Universe.

Remember, the forces of nature we’re talking about aren’t Just trees and bears. The forces of nature are reality; reality is an insane, emergent elemental “forces of the universe” team-up. It’s gravity. It’s suns that are so large that we can’t even grasp their immensity. It’s Godzilla. Who, oddly enough, kind of looks a little like a bear in this reincarnation. It harkens back to the original creature design very well. In fact, the monster designs, in general, are pretty damn good. Their movements and animations are top-notch, and I love the inspirations that the creature behaviours take from nature – really reinforces the monster-as-creature angle they’re going with. I mean, they didn’t flash “The Origin of the Species” in the opening credits for no reason at all.

I think Godzilla aficionados will enjoy the lore retooling, given the narrative re-write. The whole monster section is actually done really well. If you came to “Godzilla” to see a kick-ass Godzilla, then you came to the right place!

…for 30% of the movie. They did the Brad-Pitt in WWZ thing where they pick a generic white guy to follow around for most of the plot. And I think, much like WWZ, the movie suffered/was changed for it. Hideous contrivances are thought up to give this singular white-dude character a reason to be in the line-of-fire all the time. It’s not terrible, per se. It’s for personalization purposes, obviously. (But given that Godzilla is a global phenomenon, it kinda undermines the central narrative) At least, the plot mostly makes sense. But, there are plenty of moments in the movie where a monster punch-up is interrupted to give us more back-story about the humans, a’ la Transformers. It’s really irksome, because I came to “Godzilla” to see Godzilla, not some really generic family with a really generic set of movie-problems.

The human scenes are theoretically moving, but the people react to all this monster business with about as much fear and emotion as someone discovering that their milk has gone off. Mothers putting their children on buses with barely a tear in their eyes. My Mom was more broken up dropping me off on my first day of High School. It gets really surreal as the movie progresses. Did we really need these people? Think about it this way, though: can you really have a movie that’s just about two monsters punching each other? Demonstrably! You definitely can. Will that movie make the returns that Godzilla needs? I’m not so sure about that.

Adapting niche films is always tricky, because there might be a reason that a film has niche-appeal. A thing or emotion that it explores that isn’t always appealing to the size and type of crowd that can support big-budget movies. So, how true can you be to the original piece, while also putting enough into the film that it’s appealing to a large enough audience? I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s a direct answer, but this was a really good try. I think they might have done it, if you can ignore all the slow people-scenes.

Don’t get me wrong: We need people-scenes. We need pacing. We Don’t need to obsess over generic story-lines. You use generic, stereotypical story-lines because they don’t need to be fully developed. We know, with a look, what it can mean to lose your child. Or, at least, we understand what they must be feeling. Sadness, generally. Anger, maybe. Fury, definitely. But, unless you have a damn good reason, do you really need to have the entire thing unfold before our eyes, instead of a monster-battle? (If we’re there explicitly to see monster battles, I mean)

It’s difficult making monster-movies, because two giant monsters punching each other isn’t a plot, however cool it might look. But, weaving a plot into it is the initiation requirement for making a good creature-flick. The human plot of Godzilla is contrived and, at times, lacks the emotional tone the dialogue suggests. However, it does manage to echo and tie into the monster-plot in a meaningful way. The main characters are the luckiest unlucky family ever. The best actor is killed off early. Military hardware is shielded against EMPs. And if they aren’t, then why are you using them to transport your timed MacGuffin? And, no, that wasn’t going to be a safe distance, however much Dark Knight Rises logic you use.

I’m not giving anything away, really. It’s all pretty clearly foreshadowed. I’m just saying, now, the things that you’ll be thinking as you watch it. And you should watch it. Because, the 30% with the monsters is fantastic. The cinematography is divine. Even the scenes are well conceived. The transitions between punch-up and human-jabber is pretty seamless, and they get some really good shots of the fights. You can see what’s going on, and there isn’t a smoke-barrier occluding absolutely everything. Oh, it’s still there. It’s just not blocking all the things. Also, there’s no shaky-cam to ruin… stuff.

There are some really nice call-backs to the original films; some of the people involved with this film’s production clearly knew the material. There’s wit and charm in there, and a visual direction that begs to be experienced. It’s a shame that it all hangs off of a human-plot that doesn’t always do it justice. But, the broad strokes are there. The creatures, the lore, the world, and the look. Even the dialogue, writing, and acting are done competently. If there’s a Godzilla 2, and they look over the script a couple more times for localization faux pas, plot-holes and hacky plot-points, then it’s going to be an absolute monster. Until then, check out what we’ve got so far! Just, expect that there’s probably a little more human in your gumbo than is recommendable.

The-Amazing-Spider-Man-2-Full-HD-Poster

The Amazing Spider-man 2… is pretty amazing, honestly. I wasn’t expecting to like it nearly as much as I did. I’m not doing a long review here, because it’s been covered pretty thoroughly by the rest of the inter-webs: Standard intro-Spidey plot-points, with a slight movie-make-over and a bit of a back-story reboot. The changes aren’t really a deal-breaker, because they hit the same notes in this iteration. Guilt, super-powers, responsibility, etc. But, the coolest thing they do with this iteration is actually make it a Spider-man movie.

Do you remember Spider-man? Cheesy one-liners and silly characters. Stereotypes, accents and science so soft that it could function as a non-Newtonian fluid, if you consider inquisition a percussive force. These are generally seen as bad things, but we’re in a super-hero universe, so relax. Spider-man is a teenager’s character. He has their problems and their outlook. He’s fiercely intelligent, but he lacks the experience necessary to be awash in wisdom. His story is the path to gaining that wisdom, and he exemplifies the will to carry on in the face of hatred, oppression, mis-understanding and the unknown. When you can’t even trust your own body, and the world is a confusing mess of rhino-people and living electricity, you need something to stand on. Like a roof-top, for web-slinging.

And the web-slinging here is great. Andrew Garfield started out as a gymnast, and the experience/flexibility shows. This guy does a lot of his own stunts, which really helps with visual continuity. Or, if you don’t notice that, then it’s a nifty tid-bit. Again, the visual design is more than impressive, and I really enjoyed the design of the Rhino-suit.

But, that’s not really what I wanted to cover. I could have summed all that up in: “The Amazing Spider-man 2 is a fairly faithful comic-book adaptation that takes itself seriously enough to actually be a Spider-man movie.” The important thing I wanted to talk about was the villain threshold.

Going into this movie, I was dumb-founded by the thought that they might try to squeeze three villains into one movie. It seemed pretty impossible. But, they did it really well. And, without giving anything away, I’d like to pontificate on why it worked.

Villains aren’t just bad-guys. They bring out something in the main-character. That’s what makes them compelling as Villains. Otherwise, they’d just be thugs. Batman has the Joker; The Joker forces a mirror up to Batman’s face. He shows Batman his own hypocrisy and his madness. The blue-print for the Joker swims in the veins of the back-story of the Batman. That’s why they’re such a great couple. Spider-man has similar nemeses. Doc Oc is his fascination with science, but, also, the danger of scientific obsession and personal vendetta. Peter, as a man of science and progress, understands Doc Oc better than almost anyone else. They’ve both been given power by their obsessions; how they differ in the usage of that power defines their characters.

So, how do you make a multi-villain movie? Take some themes that resonate deeply with your main character: say, celebrity and responsibility. Then, ensure that the villains each explore an aspect of that. But not in the same way. Those of you familiar with video games know that there’s more to an encounter than simply combat. And you know that, because most boss encounters are simply combat. But, people challenge us on multiple levels. Intellectually. Spiritually. Sexually. Emotionally. Philosophically. Down any given -ally is an opportunity for character exploration. Use those opportunities carefully.

Tie the story-lines together in a meaningful way, which should be easy, because they’re thematically linked through a single individual. But, make sure each individual has their own story-line and likeability factor. Now, recombine until smooth.

It’s not a simple task; if it was, then it wouldn’t remarkable or “Amazing”. But, this movie makes it work. It doesn’t force meaning into places where it doesn’t exist by stretching out encounters. It’s simple, because the creators trusted the source-material. They didn’t dress it up more than they needed to. They weren’t afraid to be silly, and they did some pretty damn cool stuff. It’s not perfect; what is? Give it a shot, but don’t expect an epic, timeless tale. Expect Spider-man, because that’s what you’re getting. And if that’s an epic, timeless tale to you, then tell canon to shove it, because I love him, too.

Addendum: However, some people hated it. So, here’s a link to a critic I trust: MovieBob. I can see his points, even if I still remember enjoying the film while I was there.

The Hobbit: TDoS – Spoiler-Lite Brand Review

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2013 by trivialpunk

Well, look at me all posting twice in the same week. I just watched the new Hobbit movie: The Desolation of Smaug and I had to weigh in on it while it was still fresh in my mind. I had a couple of problems with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. To this day, it’s still hard to nail down what they were. Something about the cinematography reminded me too much of the LotR series. I mean, it makes sense, because they were in the same world and created by the same director. But, it felt like the style clashed with the narrative.

The Hobbit has always felt like a pretty personal story to me; it’s much smaller in scale than The Trilogy, even though it’s epic in its own right. So, the panoramic vistas and huge tracking shots felt weird. That’s the closest I can get to articulating my feelings towards the film. It’s not even 100% accurate, because, upon re-watching it, I can’t rightly say one way or the other if that’s a fair assessment. Whatever the issue was, it was completely gone by the time of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I don’t know if it was the relative size of the film or if the cinematography was different or if I’d swallowed some unusual mushrooms before viewing the original, but TDoS just felt right.

MV5BMzU0NDY0NDEzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTIxNDU1MDE@._V1._SX640_SY947_

I don’t know if it was because the story was a little more cut up, so there were plenty of cut-aways, or if the film itself just came into its own, but this instalment in The Hobbit trilogy is definitely worth seeing. If you were on the fence at all, then this is my textual shove in the “watch” direction. I’m not going to spoil anything here, because I want you to go check it out, but I will point out a few things I noticed that aren’t exactly plot-relevant.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: this isn’t the book. People going in and expecting to see the book are going to be a little disappointed. It doesn’t deviate wildly, but they added some things and changed the pacing a bit to make it more viewer-friendly. And I think that’s great. Too many book-movies will spend time trying to be exactly faithful to the original incarnation, oblivious to the fact that you can’t expect one medium to translate perfectly into another without an awareness of what the mediums do best and how the audience experiences them.

They added a couple of sub-plots in just the right places. The dwarves split up in Lake Town for an unspecified-here reason, which is appropriate, because it gives each dwarf a little more personality. They’re helping to hold up three movies, so you have to hope that they each get a little personal development. A heady task when your cast is 13 dwarves and a burglar.

Legolas makes his contractual appearance, but it’s not really obnoxious. It feels… right? Maybe that’s not the word, but it flows into the narrative pretty damn well. They put him opposite a female elf that gave me Brave vibes the entire movie. I can’t unsee it.

download (4)

I mean, am I crazy, or does anyone else see it?

HBT2-fs-140204.DNG

Green dress, red hair, bow and arrow, liberal attitude towards established authority, heart of gold, total bad-ass… Either way, she was a welcome addition to the cast. The fight-scenes with her and Legolas are sublime. The combat, in general, maintains its choreography par excellence status. It’s serious sword-play interspersed with some high-level ranger action and a little intense slap-stick.

Some effort is put into making the dwarves more sympathetic by making them fight for their homeland a bit more stringently. In the book, they just kind of show up and piss off the dragon, then let the lake-dwellers clean up the mess. Here, well, let’s just say the fight that caps the movie is cinematic gold.

I saw the film in 3D AVX, so the theatre could take advantage of the greater FPS of the cameras used to film The Hobbit trilogy. You might not notice it if you saw it in the standard theatre, because only some theatres are set up to take advantage of the increased frames-per-second, but the footage was super smooth. It was honestly a bit weird, at first, but, as I settled in, I started to appreciate the added fluidity, especially during the dragon sequences. Even the 3D was used to great effect, notably in… Mirkwood. uuugh… I don’t like things with 8 legs that move with hydraulic motion outside of water. I hid my eyes like a child for a few seconds at one or two particularly disturbing scenes. It helps that I’ve got a bit of a phobia of giant spiders.

But, even the portion with the bee on the screen was effective in 3D. Even so, I do have one particular request to make of film-makers: can you please stop doing the “thing stabs out of screen” shtick? It doesn’t look real. It doesn’t catch me off-guard. It just reminds me that I’m watching a film. Sure, drop something on the screen or have something hover in front of it: that gives us time to appreciate the detail or get caught off-guard by the impact, but nothing looks real -stabbing- out of a screen. I thought we figured this out in My Bloody Valentine 3D. That’s a tiny, irrelevant complaint, though, because the rest is done so well that I’ll forgive the occasional jolt out of the action.

The acting is on par with the rest of the series. Everyone possesses exactly the right amount of gravity and Gandalf is always appreciated. Thorin in particular carried his role very well. And Martin. Let me stop for a second and talk about Martin, because he sold it for me. Somewhere between awkward English slapstick and sheer determined Hobbitness sits Martin’s Bilbo. His scenes in the Dragon’s Hoard are particularly lauwkward (laughably awkward), and his moments as the burglar and the invisible sting are The Hobbit manifest. He’s not MY Hobbit in MY imagination, but he’s a damn good real-world equivalent, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Boondonoddle Cambridge-mat was a believable Smaug, and I have to wonder if those two are ever going to be in a movie where Benzedrine Cabbage-patch plays subordinate to Mr. Freeman (I guess we’ll have to wait for the new Sherlock to find out). In any event, I love their chemistry. Even if, well, the movie takes a very interesting approach to the heat that comes off of flames. And it never bothered me before, but I remember noticing that the ancient races of Middle Earth have a complete and reckless disregard for railings. I have to wonder how many more members of the Old Races fell to clumsiness before hubris. I guess that’s why the elves that remain are so nimble and the dwarves are so stout. Low center of gravity, ya see?

For a two and a half hour movie, it went by pretty quick. The only time it lags a bit is towards the end, but, by then, well… you’ll get it. The Hobbit’s approach to politics is pretty interesting, too. No one is portrayed as simply in the right. Greed is used as a powerful tool for good in the right hands, but it’s also an extremely destructive force. Just like real life! Speaking of politics, there’s a greater depth to the whole situation than there was in The Hobbit the book. Effort is made to tie the franchise to the LotR Trilogy and it succeeds to an admirable degree. Shhh… spoilers.

Also, the whole thing looks awesome, but you knew it would going into this. I’m not sure what they’re working with over in Hollywood, but it’s deep Magick. On that note, they cut out the fairies in Mirkwood, but, overall, the set is fantastic and largely excuses the lack of Fairy-folk. I’m guessing that the fairy dinner would have been a bit difficult to sew into the tone of the rest of the piece, but the manner in which they write it out is totally believable.

The final surprise of TDoS was Stephen Fucking Fry. I love this man in everything he’s in, and he played a right brilliant bastard this time around. I don’t know what your feelings towards the guy are, but he’s a treat in this film. Even comes with his own Wormtongue. In closing, go see TDoS and keep an eye on the number of barrels for me.

TDoS.
TDoS Run.
…RUN!!…

Pacific Rimshot – Taking the Good with the Not Quite as Good

Posted in All the Things, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on July 14, 2013 by trivialpunk

Okay, I didn’t want to write this. I really didn’t. I look at horror games, and I can really only justify stretching to horror movies for this blog, because they’re related. Also, movies with zombies in them. Or, alternatively, just games I like. Okay, so I’ve got plenty of precedence for a pop-culture romp. I mean, pop-culture is pretty much what I do. And yeah, some of the monsters were a little scary. But, still, I didn’t want to write it. Pacific Rim is getting enough attention without me sticking my nose in. However, it has gotten so much positive attention that I feel I’m justified here. Enough of that, let’s sink our teeth into…

pacific-rim-movie-banner-striker-eureka-jaeger-vs-kaiju
The reason I felt like I had to write this was because every time I recommended it, I wanted to put an asterisk on the end of my recommendation. I’ve told people over and over that it’s awesome, and it is. However, for some people (The pop-culture obsessed psychotics like me), there are going to be some issues. That’s why I’m here to warn you about them now, so that you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the robots. I probably shouldn’t have to tell you that I’m going to be unleashing a spoiler-cane here, but I will any ways.

Not that there’s much to spoil. Pacific Rim is a largely visual movie. Stunningly visual, actually. I felt like my eyes were going to melt out with joy when it fired up. It didn’t hurt that the theatre was mostly empty, because it was a Thursday night, so it was as silent as I could have wanted. I got totally absorbed in the film. Well, mostly. You see, there are still going to be plot-holes to fall into. Huge ones. That’s what I’m talking about. I fell into them, and it interrupted my enjoyment of the film. I don’t want this to happen to you. Before we get to that, though, we’re going to talk a bit about culture. I know, right?

It’s debatable pop-culture wisdom that some of the primary differences between American and Japanese video games is the approach these cultures have to weapons and combat. Bushido (I’m not kidding with the reference) tends to stress responsibility and wholeness. As that approach to combat trickled down through the ages and culture, it manifested in games, representing a bond with one’s weapon during combat. The power lies within-without. Conveniently enough, there’s an Extra Credits video that explains the concept better than I could. Conversely, the idea of the citizen soldier, of great individuality, manifests in the American Zeitgeist and, consequently, its video games.

This was easier to parse out early on, before the world became so globalized. If you want video game examples of this, then, for Japan, think Megaman and Vanquish (Gundam Wing, Evangelion). For America, on the other hand, think of Doom or Duke Nukem (Independence Day, Die Hard). That’s what makes Pacific Rim so interesting as a study of culture. It’s about the bond between people. In this movie, strong connections are the pre-requisites to stopping the end of the world. Stop me if this gets a little too “real.” To me, this represents something that today’s movies are approaching again and again: we need to work together as a world to survive. It happened in World War Z. It’s happening again here. It’s actually a trend that I love. The internet should bring people together.

That mush aside, Pacific Rim’s pilots connect deeply to one another, while also melding with their machine. It’s a perfect blend of the two concepts. The deep connections between the Jaeger (giant robot) pilots enables them to fight the Kaiju (giant monsters).

One of the things that has bothered me so much about this movie is that people are calling it totally original. I know the idea of originality is fluid, at best, but I didn’t make the references to Evangelion and Independence Day lightly. If you mashed those two movies together and added revolutionary special effects, then you’d get Pacific Rim. That’s not a bad thing; they’re fantastic and so is this. Once you think about it, you won’t be able to unsee it, though. The speech by the commander. “Today, we’re cancelling the Apocalypse.” … “Today, we celebrate our Independence Day.” It’s spooky.

Okay, that all aside, let’s talk plot-holes, because they’re going to bug you. So, let them bother you now. That way you can just enjoy the movie. Okay, if the Jaeger program is a failure, then why are the coastal cities surrounding the rift so unusually intact? Why cancel it at all, especially in favour of that wall. Oh yeah, their big plan to replace the Jaegers is to build a big wall from California to Alaska. Aside from the fact that that won’t cover anything, it’s a dumb idea. I mean, we get to see a Kaiju rip right through the wall in the middle of the movie. We’re also made privy to a flying Kaiju (hereafter known as a Fly-ju). So, who approved this plan?! To me, it evokes the image of a bunch of tired, old bureaucrats sitting around a table, looking at financial charts, when one throws up his hands and says, “Fuck it! We’ll just build a big wall!” Right, because anyone that served on the Maginot Line can tell you what a great idea that is. On the car-ride home, we came to the conclusion that the only way to think around this glaring plot-hole was to assume that said bureaucrats had the same agenda in implementing it as the movie-makers had in putting it in the movie: to raise the stakes. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it makes more sense than the wall. There were trying to push humanity into coming up with an actual solution.

Near the end of the movie, they discover that the reason they haven’t been able to get a nuke through the rift between worlds, where the Kaiju are coming out of, is because it’s only a semi-permeable membrane. Like a cell, it reads an incoming object and decides to accept or reject it. This is a perfectly serviceable analogy, because it certainly looks like a cell on the inside. *Double Spoiler Alert* Once they get the explosive through, one of them ejects to escape. This makes sense, since the rift hasn’t closed. However, once the other once ejects, the rift is collapsing, and it’s safe to assume the other side of the rift closed. So, how the hell did he get through? Oh well, think your way around it again!

You see, the aliens are “colonists.” They come to other worlds to strip them of their resources. However, given how many resources are available in a single solar system, let alone a galaxy, for a resource-rich society like theirs, why wouldn’t they be flying around the galaxy gathering resources instead? Well, if you think about it, it might be easier to rip a rift between adjoining dimensions than to develop fast-than-light capabilities. Maybe the rift was already there, or even weakened. Otherwise, I think they’ll be back. Even a thermo-nuclear device isn’t going to put a scratch on the kind of resources it would require to create and sustain the Kaiju. Back to Independence Day again, the scene where the explosion goes off in the alien’s face is almost the exact mirror of the nuke-the-mothership scene from Independence Day. Only now, it has four eyes.

Further assisting us is a pair of comedy-scientists that are competing to solve the Kaiju problem. One clearly representing Biology and the other repping Physics. Sort of. In the end, they learn to work together, Jaeger-style. Woot. (Aww, if the sciences cooperate, then everyone wins. It’s a good message.) The reason I bring this us is because the physicist discovers a pattern: a count-down (No, I’m not making another Independence Day reference). That count-down is leading to an unleashing of Kaiju like we’ve never seen before. The time between emergences has been shortening by a predictable factor. He uses that model to predict a double-emergence. Now, why does this make sense? Time-dilation, of a sorts. As the universes move closer together, the time it takes to travel between them, relative to each world, shortens. On this side, we see them coming out slowly. However, I have a feeling that on the alien’s side, they’ve been just pumping them in one after another. That’s why it takes them so long to adapt. They don’t realize that they need to re-adjust their tactics until they’ve sent a few through, because it’s happening immediately for them.

This also explains why the gate lets our hero through. On the human side, the gate may have been closing immediately, but, because of his direction of travel, the human side to the alien side, he arrives on the alien side, drops off the nuke, then comes back before it ever closed. Remember, the time between each emergence was shortening, suggesting that it’s now faster in this direction. So, that explains that.

The troubling thing is that if this is true, then there should still be Kaiju en-route, unless they were caught in the collapse of the rift, which seems likely. Also, and you won’t understand now what this means as a plot-hole, but eagles can lift some deer. You’ll understand.

Things move a bit fast, but that’s okay. We’re trying to tell an epic tale of robot smash-ups in a limited amount of time. The entire tale is actually quite expansive, and I’m thoroughly impressed with how they brought it across. The one thing I’m still divided on is the ending. Dude-buddy-pilot pops to the surface (with a wicked case of the Bends, I assume) and embraces his lady-love. Everything’s good! Saccharine and happy. I was kind of hoping a shark would eat him, because mundane threats still exist, but oh well.

On the one hand, I believe you should trust your audience enough to deliver them a sad ending. A dose of reality. On the other hand, I’m on-board for a happy ending. It would be a grievous shift of tone at best for our hero to just die at the end, especially after all the crap he went through. “Save the world and die” is a pretty anime thing. Sacrifice for the good of the whole is a decent message. However, if Halo has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t like our armoured heroes to stay down. And, if this movie showed us anything, it’s that you can still sacrifice a lot and live to tell the tale. It’s a nice fusion between the concepts.

So yeah, go see Pacific Rim. It’s a great film. I’ve heard it’s even alright in 3-D. You may come across some plot-holes or things in the movie you didn’t like that I didn’t cover here. I only wanted to go on so long. Just ignore them or make a game out of explaining them. Often-times, movies ask us to suspend our disbelief. To look past their flaws at the diamond underneath. I’m not always willing to; a movie has to earn that. It has to give me something worth looking past the crap to see. Well, Pacific Rim has my respect. It’s fantastic. Go see it.

One last question remains: what is a Jaeger’s feet made out of?!? Do you know how much impact it’s handling? It’s insane! Also, look for cameos from GLaDOS.

Addendum: In many areas, it’s also quite a clever film. It respects you enough to not have to explain every little detail of itself. Just another thing that makes it great.

World War Z: The Movie – One Goal, No Soul

Posted in All the Things, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2013 by trivialpunk

Alright, I wrote a really long pre-amble to this post, but then it went on a little too long, so I posted it as its own thing. So, for this one, we’re getting right down to business!

world_war_z-wide

If you want to see a zombie movie, then don’t go see World War Z. If you’re a fan of the book and want something equally as intelligent, then don’t go see World War Z. This is not the utter condemnation it sounds like. It’s a recognition of what World War Z is; in many ways, it’s not your traditional zombie movie. There are things it does right and things it does wrong. So, by now, you’re waiting for me to do my “I know it’s not horror, but it has zombies, so swiggity-swool, I think it’s cool,” but no, we’ve got to get right down to it. Right now. Now. …

Contemporary pop-culture wisdom states that zombie movies are not about zombies. You could replace the zombies with anything (flood, bandits, slow-moving, overly-aggressive girl-scouts), and it would still ring as a zombie movie. Zombie movies are, at their core, about the walls of society breaking down. That’s a bit trite, so let’s elaborate. They’re about the decisions people make when no decision looks good. They’re about selfishness, avarice, hope and courage. The outside world is hostile and bursting to get in, but you do everything you can to keep it out. Meanwhile, your society is rotting away from the inside. Think “The Divide.” That’s a zombie movie that includes absolutely no zombies. I’m not recommending that you watch it, because it’s incredibly depressing and so focused on delivering a message that it skips right over character depth. It explores interesting portions of the human psyche, but it does not explore gestalt humans. The complexity that the characters do have isn’t complemented by much. It’s just all bad, all the time. Even the light that manages to squeak through is yellowed with grime and fly corpses. Then again, terrifying situations do tend to focus your priorities a bit. I’m just not sure it’s as black and white as all that.

That’s the freedom that zombie movies give us. They let us take people to the edge and comment on what they find there. World War Z is a bit… unusual, in this respect. First of all (and SPOILERS, btw), it’s all about Brad Pitt flying around the world looking for a cure and appreciating different set-pieces. Its schizophrenic presentation is a bit reminiscent of Modern Warfare, which isn’t necessarily bad, and it’s helped by a fairly decent framing mechanism. The problem is that World War Z, the book, is told in vignettes. They’re small pieces of exposition, told within a larger short story, that combine together to form their own story. Making a movie out of this chaotic approach would be impossible, unless you went full-on mockumentary (truth be told, I wanted THAT movie, but…). They did the best they could. They wove in references and set-pieces fairly competently, even if the driving plot is a bit absurd. I mean, that’s a lot of resources to be spending on one man, especially one without the means to posit a solution.

Speaking of plots, they stripped out references to the Redeker Plan. I think it’s because it didn’t fit in to the world they were trying to create. If you’re familiar with the book, then you know that the Redeker Plan is the extremely pragmatic, controversial solution to the zombie apocalypse and that it was implemented during World War Z. Essentially, it talks about who to save, why, and how. Then, it talks about who should be sacrificed and why. It’s about the greater survival of the species, even if the survival of our humanity is a bit more questionable. The book was an indictment of popularity and policy. It was a harsh criticism and a noble celebration of our greatest endeavour: politics. You can laugh at that statement all you want, but working on the level of “society” is incredibly complicated. It’s like House on Haunted Hill with a room full of socio-paths, and the occasional psychopath. However, this approach would have been a little too dark for the movie we got.

The World War Z movie, as it stands, is about the hope and bravery inherent in the individuals working to make society run again. It’s about the small acts of kindness that can mean everything to someone. It’s about what we can accomplish when the world bands together. (If you’re familiar with the book, then it’s one of the two versions of The Hero City movie.) It’s incredibly saccharine, but that’s not a bad thing. I’ve got loads of movies about how people suck and only your best friends will help you kill a werewolf, but in the serious AAA world of adult zombitainment, I haven’t seen anything like World War Z in a while. Once in a moon, it’s nice to have someone rip off the cowl of cynicism and talk about how good people can be. When we approach the apocalypse, we often talk about how shit humans are going to be to each other. Maybe that’s true, but it’s nice to see a little something from the other side. (Maybe we won’t be the architects of our destruction. Maybe there are things larger than us) Yeah, it’s tragic and all, but it’s sparkled with so much bravery and magical realism that I can’t help but feel that the events of the movie are being held at arm’s length. It’s like I’m literally watching a baby eat his mother’s face, while she holds him close and smiles, and all I can think is, “Aww, wook at his wittle teef!”

So, that would be a bit detrimental to any oppressive atmosphere it could try and build, but there’s more than that. The movie goes about itself with a sense of camp that’s charming, despite being occasionally cringe-worthy. There was some brilliant advertising, as well, that pulled me out of it still more. For me, though, the zombies killed the feature more than anything. They don’t make sense within the book’s own universe, or ours. If you read my post on realism and its uses, then you’ll be familiar with this, but offering an explanation is always a huge risk. It’s extremely important that you do it right, because, otherwise, you risk breaking the covenant you made with your viewers. Let’s look at a small scene from the movie…

hqdefault

The Israeli wall scene. Visually, it’s quite striking. Even in the movie, this scene is pretty well executed. For those of you worried about CG zombies (like me), then be happy that they actually used it to do some good. They didn’t use CG because they were lazy (in terms of production costs, that doesn’t even make sense) or totally technophilic. They did it because scenes like this one would be impossible without CG. To put your mind at ease a bit more, they used practical special effects whenever they could. As you would expect from the budget and talent on the project, they did a great job. Most movie extras ever, I think? Any ways, the reason this pile doesn’t make sense, and another reason I don’t think this qualifies as a zombie movie, is because it’s not zombie behaviour. It’s hive behaviour. The zombie behaviour in this movie was modelled after locusts. It’s pretty cool watching the tides of humans race around like insects, but, zombies, they are not.

Each individual zombie, according to the canon I’m familiar with, is a unit onto itself. However, all zombies have exactly the same desires and response-patterns, so you’ll always get predictable, centralized behaviour. It’s kind of like how fan-site message boards work. For this scene to make sense, the zombies would have to all be drawn to one spot on the wall. Fair enough, but these zombies are climbing in a controlled fashion. Sure, maybe they’re following a single stream of least resistance, like water, but that’s not really very zombie. Zombies are stupid, mindless drones. These drones are quite intelligent. In fact, and I’m about the spoil the end of the movie, so be wary, they’re intelligent enough to surge, in a coordinated manner, around sick children, so that they don’t run into them. That’s right, zombies won’t bite terminally ill people, because that would weaken the strain. What terminally ill means here, and how the zombies know you’re terminally ill, is tactfully avoided. We’ll get back to that in a second…

Why is this important? It implies an awareness on the zombie’s part that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Water behaves in patterns because of the rules governing it. Locusts communicate and behave in tandem because of an awareness of their surroundings. Zombies, on the other hand, walk off the edges of buildings. This scene right here is problem solving. It’s an efficient path. So, that doesn’t make much sense. The zombies that surged around the crouching child, ostensibly, did so to avoid being slowed down or hurt by him. Earlier, I saw a zombie leap – catapult, really – through the air to catch a helicopter. Continuity would be nice.

That’s the risk we run when we explain ourselves. You have to, otherwise you’re not really saying much, but it’s a careful, treacherous undertaking. World War Z shows how tactful it can be by not getting into the specifics of how zombies sense the terminally ill or what terminally ill means. That would have been a clusterfuck, especially since the pretense didn’t make much sense to begin with. The zombie virus kills them. No heart-beat, no infection. That’s almost a direct quote from the movie. So… yeah… science and continuity aren’t the movie’s strongest points, but, in the post-apocalypse, at least zombies will be able to become part of the triage process.

These aren’t haphazard changes by lazy artists, though. The book was an epic tale about humans in the zombie apocalypse. It represented the looming dread of a coming menace and our inadequate ability to face it, initially. It’s about growing. It’s about keeping the outside at bay while your society rots from within. In short, it’s a zombie story on a global scale. The movie is NOT that. So, the rest of the movie had to change to reflect the differences in pace and scale. Fast zombies kept the action and the infection-spread intense. When you’re trying to explore a world as large as that of World War Z, there’s not a lot of time to wait at the gates for the zombies to surge in. In many ways, it’s difficult to imagine a slow-moving swarm taking out a city in the time it would take to read the book, let alone the world, in the span of the movie.

Let’s put ourselves in their shoes. You can’t make the movie about Redeker because of the tone you want to set, the themes you want to explore and the amount of time you have to express it. So, you have to find something new. It’s the beginning of a proposed trilogy, so you can’t solve the whole thing, either. However, you’re only making another one if there’s interest and you (blessedly) don’t want to leave anyone hanging, so you need something vaguely end-worthy. Medical research is an arduous process, and you want to depict it with some respect, so you don’t make Brad Pitt a researcher.  There would be no reason for him to be out in the field. They even kill off the crazy guy whose idea it was to find patient zero, like you could actually do that in the zombie apocalypse. Like it would actually matter in this case. His death is pretty silly, look for it. What do you do? You glom on to something that sounds sort of scientific and has a background that makes sense, even if it’s mechanically ridiculous. You don’t explain that, though. You just run with it.

And why not? We don’t berate Frankenstein for the weakness of the science in it. We don’t roll our eyes at Osmosis Jones too much. Yes, the movie was about science and relied on science for an explanation that didn’t make sense; and that’s grating, but let’s allow them some creative license.

It’s politically correct as butts. It’s saccharin, wholesome and scientifically inaccurate to a startling degree, but it’s a good movie. We can’t look at things and just judge them by the standards that we have. Sometimes, we have to create new standards with new labels to discuss them properly. Meet them half-way. I don’t have a new label for this, but I’ll reiterate one thing, World War Z is not a traditional zombie movie.

Addendum: …but that’s okay; it’s still awesome.

Evil Dead and Unrealistic Expectations of Blood-Loss

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , on April 7, 2013 by trivialpunk

I’m, ostensibly, a horror game reviewer, but there haven’t been that many big, juicy targets pecking around the field lately to take pot-shots at, so I’ve just been making do with whatever scavenging game I can pick off from my comfy balcony in Manhattan. (Disclaimer: I don’t live anywhere near Manhattan). However, I realize that, even with my latest review up, I’ve got a perfect opportunity to talk about horror. Mind you, it’s not a horror game, but it is horror, so we’re on the right track.

Before we get down to Evil Dead (2013), I want to direct you to one of Chuck from Counter-Attack!’s latest posts about regimentally ordering games by their merit. I would say very latest, but he’s pretty prolific, so who knows what he’s churned out since then. Also, if you haven’t watched the movie, I’d say go give it a watch, despite what I’m about to say, it’s a pretty fantastic flick with an epic conclusion. Go on, I’ll wait…

evil-dead-leadin-602x396

Welcome back! How was it? … Great to hear/sorry to hear that! When I went to see it, I was seated directly in front of a small child, so I was understandably worried that he might kick my seat and scream through it, especially given the fact that he kept telling his mom that he might end up screaming. Thankfully, he didn’t scream and he didn’t kick my seat… after I asked him to stop doing it in the first place. He learned, though, nice kid. The reason I bring this up is because he didn’t scream. I suppose he probably cringed, but he wasn’t brought to the edge of terror and, honestly, neither was I. While I have to admit that I grew up steeped in horror and lore, and that well made video games are probably more engaging in a horrific sense than movies, I still couldn’t see myself being frightened by the movie.

Oh, I cringed quite a few times. There were a couple scenes that were pretty hard to watch, actually. Well, no, but they made me grin through the anxiety they provoked, especially the scene where the one girl cuts off her arm with a meat saw. Then, there was the scene where the girl is carving her face with a piece of glass and you can hear the wet, sloppy sound of a rough edge cutting through flesh. Masterful scenes of cringe, let down only slightly by the obvious prosthetics they required, but you can’t really blame them for not cutting their own arms off; they would have passed out half-way through or bled to death. Aha! Herein lies the crux of my problem with this movie: the characters.

The script was alright, and many people liked that they actually contrived a reason for them to stay out at the cabin this time, but the characters all shared one problem: they were tough as fucking nails. I’m not complaining about their personalities, because those were alright, I’m talking about the amount of punishment they could take before they started to care. Some of them honestly didn’t react to it and, when the character on the screen isn’t passing out from blood-loss, then I’m just not feeling the consequences of the actions that took place. There are many emotional components to good horror and one of them is a sense of the consequences of actions. You got us going with the actual damage, part of us actually feels a ghost of the percussive force or physical pain, so you’ve got us anxious. All that remains after that is a sense of what happened to the character afterwards. Oh. Whoops. Let me recount to you some of the damage that one of the characters took: he smashed his back on a toilet, got stabbed with a needle, got stabbed with a long piece of glass, got shot with nails from a nail-gun in the arm, chest and leg, got wailed on by a crowbar, had his hand decimated by same crowbar, and was finally lain out by a stab wound to the stomach from a girl possessed by Satan. Holy crap! That guy was a tank! No… he was a skinny high school teacher.

You see what I mean? Any one of those things would have sent a regular person into some sort of shock, but he was up and about smashing heads with the best of them. Okay, he was acting injured, but not as injured as he was. Adrenaline can do a lot, but it doesn’t block out all pain, and it eventually fades. He wasn’t the only one, either. Maybe desecrated sites naturally increase endorphin flow, but I like to think it’s more the result of having a limited cast. You’ve got to make each member of your victim-list last, otherwise no one really has a personal journey to anywhere but a meat shop. It still takes some of the effect out of the effects, though.

Evil-Dead-2013-still

The male lead, if you can call him that (it was kind of an ensemble), was a bit thick, too. I understand the emotions and trauma that were affecting him, but that’s no excuse for being wilfully ignorant of everything going on around you. This happens until the other half of the good/evil dichotomy strikes a tree with lightning and he suddenly becomes uber-competent… if still a bit stupid. Dude, if the chlorpromazine didn’t do anything the first time, there’s no way it’s going to work when she can float on water. I’m really curious how he thought things were going to work out when he went down into that basement… whatever. Anyway, that’s the second problem I have with the film. Everyone was a little too good at everything besides staying alive; they lacked some humanity. Sure, one of them was a nurse, but the male lead dude was able to rig up a defibrillator from two needles and a car battery. I get that he was a mechanic, but he performs some serious triage over the course of the movie (with duct tape, hilariously enough) and seems a little too good with that shotgun. Then again, he was a mechanic, so some of that makes sense.  His sister is equally skilled, once she stops being possessed, in many others areas. I think it’s just the whole family.

They just didn’t feel human. One of my friends put it this way, “What do you expect? They’re horror movie protagonists; where they’re supposed to have organs, they just have more blood.” That’s all well and good, but I would have gotten out of the house when it was obvious that it had recently been broken into by a murder cult. Clearly, your sister shouldn’t be detoxing in this particular environment.

The rest of the movie was alright and the climax was excellent! (Pro-tip: Stay after the credits on this one) I just didn’t feel like there was much weight to many of the events, especially after one of the guys appears to murder his girlfriend in the bathroom and no one really suspects anything, but they still don’t seem to think the Satanic cult thing is a serious problem. Pick one! Either they think there’s something going on or they don’t, but you can’t have it both ways. Real people have emotions and make silly decisions, but they’re usually consistent and not script convenient. Also, if you want to scare us, stop panning around and screeching on violins before something is about to pop out. I know that music can help build tension, but over-exposure to anything makes it predictable. We’re pattern-reading animals, we’re going to get the message.

I hope this hasn’t spoiled too much, and if you think it has, then go see the movie anyway. It’s worth a watch, if only for the experience. Besides, it’s an Evil Dead movie, we kind of know what’s going on here already. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the splatter.