Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie

August 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

In the fall of 2006, I started mining YouTube after hearing so much about it being this outlet for people to make videos of themselves and whatnot. At first I thought it’d be just a passing fad, something that would be like an internet version of America’s Funniest Home Videos (which in some ways, it still is), but have no staying power. Obviously, I was completely wrong. It grew, and grew, and by the time I got into it, there were already internet celebrities.

The one that immediately caught my interest was a guy who went by the name The Angry Nintendo Nerd. The first video I watched was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, his rant on the NES version of the game. Immediately, I felt like I was 8 years old again, remembering all the frustrating things about it. I remember all the insane little jumps and the electric seaweed in the underwater stage. As nostalgic and classic as the game was, it certainly caused many headaches. And I liked this refreshing look at these old games–sure, AVN was angry. But you could tell he had a love for these games as well–or at least gaming in general. I subscribed immediately, and through the years I grew beyond just the Angry Nintendo Nerd stuff (renamed Angry Video Game nerd as he got bigger and tapped into bigger markets–plus there’s that pesky trademark issue). I watched “Monster Madness” on his Cinemassacre site, and followed some of his short films like “Rocky Jumps a Park Bench”, and even watched some of his old films he made as an adolescent. His fame grew wider, and I had a feeling he was going to do something more with the Nerd. Of course…the obvious thing was…make a movie.

In 2011, I saw that there was a posting about auditioning throughout the country. Being based in Chicago, I immediately responded saying I was interested. I went to the audition, got to meet The Nostalgia Critic (Doug Walker) and have my picture taken with him, and I wound up on an audition video that was compiled sometime after. Not to brag (because I thought my audition was terrible), but The Critic gave me a thumbs up and said he liked it. Sure, he was probably just being nice. But so what!

Anyhow, I didn’t know what to think of the movie once I started seeing the trailers and such. I knew he was putting a lot of effort into it, as his quality of his other efforts dipped a bit (time constraints will do that); but I wasn’t really into the plot I guess. And I didn’t know if he could sustain this character for a whole two hour movie. I still remember being disappointed with feature-length adaptations of short themed sketch-like endeavors such as “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie”. So once the film was finally completed, and release dates were published, I knew I had to go see it. I just didn’t know that I was excited to.

I decided not to follow his progress, or read any blogs relating to the movie. I didn’t watch any updated trailers. I wanted to go in fresh. So, August 14th, a second showing opened for Chicago, and I went.

Before I start the review, I will admit that I am a total fan of James Rolfe and the AVGN brand. I feel like I’ve followed his career through the thick and thin (there were some lean years) and I have always admired his acumen in both film and gaming. That said, I am not reviewing this film as a fan. I feel like I can’t do that. I have to do service to the film itself and knowing how hard Rolfe worked on this, how many sacrifices he probably made and how wonderful of a wife he must have to go through this with him (and now having a child on top of all that), I will fairly critique the film.

The film opens with an homage to AVGN as a celebrity, and his fans. It references some of his trademark reviews an signature riffs and rants, and splices shots of fans saying how much they are a fan of his. These are genuine videos made by the fans, presumably by those who donated to the film as well.

I’m mentioning this because, even though I am a fan, and I love the Nerd and his rants…this has to be the most useless way to start his film. I realize that Rolfe has a soft heart, and loves his fans dearly (I can’t say enough how much I appreciate his devotion to his fans)–but this wastes some time and it starts the film off wrong, and slow. And no, I didn’t make a fan video and am just disappointed he didn’t use mine. But if you are a fan of his, you already know how funny and awesome he is. If you aren’t, do you really need to sit through 5-10 minutes of people adulating him? I think that’s a bit self aggrandizing, even if Rolfe doesn’t mean to make it that way.

It does serve a narrative purpose, slightly (not enough to justify it completely though). We learn that the Nerd (Rolfe) will do anything for his fans–except review The Worst Game Of All Time–“E.T.” for the Atari 2600. The Nerd, who works at GameCops (ha…) is egged on by a fan of his, and friend, Cooper (Jeremy Suarez), who also does game reviews as well. You could call Cooper a protege. The Nerd is shocked to see that a gaming company, Cockburn Gaming, is launching a sequel called “EeeTee Too” (they also refer to the original as EeeTee). A representative of the company, Mandi (Sarah Glendening), tries to entice the Nerd to review the game. But he is fearful that if he reviews that game, it’ll only stir up more interest in the original, which traumatized his childhood so much (in a very amusing scene) he can’t bring himself to relive it.

There’s also a myth he wants to debunk that there are countless copies of the original buried in the Alamogordo dump in New Mexico, which apparently is very close to Roswell. An irate and insane general, General Dark Onward (hilariously played by Stephen Mendel), goes after the Nerd thinking that he is after the UFO remains at Area 51, not the landfill dump.

Another subplot involves a scientist named Dr. Zandor (Time Winters) who is partly behind the “EeeTee” conspiracy, and his plot was to uncover the UFO conspiracy to help the alien that crash landed here in the 40’s. The alien, voiced by Robbie Rist, is one of the most entertaining characters in the film. Rist, if you’re not familiar, is the voice of Michelangelo in the first “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film.

One more subplot that adds to the last third of the film involves a theory of a mechagod that will destroy the universe and ultraverse and everything in between…existence as we know it will no longer…exist.

All of this actually winds up working well. The film is part buddy movie, part caper, part monster movie, and part sci-fi yarn. It all comes together nicely, and I credit that to the writing team of James Rolfe and Kevin Finn. They also do a nice job of throwing out references to other films (“They found me. I don’t know how, but they found me.”) and paying homage to old 1950’s B movies.

The special effects are purposely simple; and, in some cases, downright ridiculous. But even though it’s self-aware, there is never once a wink at the camera. Nobody cries out, “It’s a miniature!” or “That’s a spaceship?” While the Nerd references his own trailer (“I only said that for the trailer!”) there isn’t much more of that self-referential humor bogging the film down.

Really, the only two problems I had with the film were the first fifteen minutes; and I thought the character of Cooper should’ve been more well developed. While I get that the in-joke is that he’s a sidekick and they’re mostly useless, he could’ve been stronger as an adversary–or, someone who is the complete opposite of the Nerd. It just creates more possibility of tension, and in some ways Rolfe takes the easy way out of any character conflicts.

There’s another character named McButter (Helena Barrett) who is amusing as well, and gets involved in a predictable catfight later in the film. Most of the cast, actually, is quite charming. And the film does have some really big laughs.

I’d say that I enjoyed the final third of the film the best. And that would be when it becomes a monster movie. Knowing that Rolfe had trademark limits, I liked his clever little ways around any copywritten material or names (Vegas casinos, for example). Again, this film knows it’s low budget. But it’s not trying to be low budget, if that makes sense. While I know Rolfe prefers practical effects to CG, he also knows its constrictions when you don’t have millions of dollars to spend on them.

The film works overall because you can tell how much fun they’re all having with the material, without it being too self indulgent. It walks that line throughout, especially in the beginning; but it never crosses into anything too groan-inducing.

There are some fun cameos in the film, too, which I won’t give away. But a certain bad bird movie heroine has a sighting. OK maybe that was a giveaway. But I didn’t give away the biggest ones.

And stick around at the end, and you will finally see AVGN’s review of “E.T.”

My rating: :-)

Men In Black 3

May 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

I have a continuing dilemma whenever I see that there will be a  new MiB movie released. On the one hand, I have a lot of anticipation that it will be better than the last one that came out; and inevitably, when I see it, I’m always underwhelmed and disappointed that it wasn’t even as good as the last one that came out. Such is the case again with “Men in Black 3”, a movie with just enough ambition to make a smile-worthy film, but tries nothing new to re-invent itself or push its own limits. It goes through the motions and hopes we are pleased. This may work for some people who just want to get out of the house for a few hours and sit in a cool theatre on a hot day (as I call them, “get away” movies); but for me, at least with this franchise, I’m always wanting more. The jokes are predictable, the climax and resolution always seem to leave me empty–and in this case, kind of sour.

This film begins with a  bad guy named Boris “The Animal” (though it’s just “Boris” to you) who is locked up on the moon after being captured by Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). He subsequently breaks out and goes back to earth with the intent to travel back in time, kill Agent K, and start an invasion with his cronies, an alien race known as the Boglodites. Agent K’s original capture of The Animal 40 years ago is legendary because he also installed what’s called the ArcNet, a protective shield that won’t allow the Boglodites into the earth’s atmosphere.

Agent K and J discover Boris’s time travel plot when they are checking out routine alien criminal activity, and when K disappears, J also finds himself in a rip in time that makes him crave chocolate milk, and he soon learns that he’s in an alternate present in which K was killed 40 years ago by Boris. J then has to go back in time to save Agent K to the 60’s.

I’m going to stop here and reveal that I’m instantly on edge whenever time travel is introduced to a plot as a device. It’s so incredibly contrived and overused and because there are so many possibilities and flaws, it winds up being ludicrous and unconvincing. It also usually leads to many, many plot holes. When I was reading about the production of this film, Will Smith had said they had tried everything to make sure that the film’s time travel rules were followed as best as they could. At the same time, the film’s director, Barry Sonnenfeld, admitted they did not have a definitive act 2 or 3 when production began. Well, it certainly showed.

J has to convince K about this plot of Boris (played by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) going back in time, stopping K’s original arrest of Boris by killing K, and also killing  an alien named Griffin whose race created the ArcNet (Arcadian is the name of Griffin’s race, and Net is pretty easy to figure out) and gave it to K to begin with. Griffin (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) is kind of like a cross between Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, and Robin Williams. He has one of the more memorable scenes when the three of them are in the infamous The Factory (although the Andy Warhol joke is a bit weak, I thought), when he goes on and on about possible futures, confounding Agent J. 

The best scenes in the film involve Agent J (always charismatically played by Will Smith) and the young Agent K (well imitated Jones by Josh Brolin–he has a knack for imitation). We finally see a softer side of Agent K, and find out he did at one point have a love interest, Agent O (played in the present tense by Emma Thompson). That plot is never really explored but it’s probably for the best as it would’ve been far too complicated to sort out in an alien comic action adventure movie.

As relieved as I was that it didn’t become a love story, I was also left unmoved by the main story involving the plot to save Agent K. I’ve enjoyed the two characters through their movies, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I really cared about them. And usually by the time the new movie comes out, the old one has evaporated from my mind. These are not inherently memorable films. While the chemistry is fine, and it’s fun to see some of the antics the MiB go through to catch the bad guys (bowling with an alien’s head, for example), it never really leads to anything that memorable. I also found the villain Boris to be a bit stale at best; and at worst, kind of irritating. You never really get a good read on what kind of personality he has. He’ll toss out a one-liner here or there that makes you think he’s hip; but then he’s stone faced or upset about being called “The Animal”. I also thought that the lack of “place” in the 60’s was a missed opportunity. I get that they can’t go “Austin Powers” on everybody, but what were aliens like 40 years ago compared to now? There could’ve been many possibilities for humor and even some adventure. There’s one flat joke about how the Neuralizer has evolved but that’s pretty much it.

Where the film ultimately fails, though, is the ending (how could you guess?). There’s a twist which I won’t give away–I will just say that it has its heart in the right place, but unfortunately doesn’t have its logic in the right place. Up until that point the film was digestible. Nothing great, but nothing bad. But the twist, with all of its intentions, just falls flat. And you don’t even have to think that hard about it. Almost immediately you will think, “Are they just throwing this in here for the sake of it?”

Sometimes I wish someone would just tell a screenwriter, “Look you don’t have to just throw a twist in there okay?” Just resolve the movie and move on. Sure, the film would still be less than a masterpiece. But it at least would be closer to that than an out of focus Polaroid, which is what “Men in Black 3” ultimately is.

My rating::?

The Cabin in the Woods

April 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

As a fan of the horror genre, I’m always intrigued by any filmmaker who sets out to tear down the genre and build it back up. Wes Craven achieved this with “Scream” back in the late 90’s, a film that was released during a desperate era for the genre, when it had been bled completely dry (pun intended) by the saturation of slasher franchises such as “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”. We were starved for something new, and “Scream” provided a fresh but somewhat all-too-hip alternative to the routine slasher genre. It turned it on its head by being more self aware, while still telling a decent story and having a fun twist at the end.

Now that we’ve been inundated with remakes and “found footage” movies left and right, perhaps it’s time for another shot in the arm. That’s at least what Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon set out to do with “The Cabin in the Woods”.

But this movie may be one of the biggest miscalculations of a genre critique I’ve ever seen. Any fan of these types of movies should see right through the criticisms of Goddard and Whedon fairly quickly. And then we are left with a very arrogant, cynical, and extremely self-serving horror comedy that neither chills nor amuses.

First misstep: the characters are too bland and irritatingly stock to be made into funny caricatures mocking what we usually find in these kinds of films. We have the dumb blond, the jock, the quiet smart guy, the homely (but insanely beautiful) down to earth girl, and of course…the stoner who turns out to be right about everything. I guess Whedon wanted him to be the “audience”, catching onto every little inconsistency in a horror story. He’s played quite nauseatingly by Fran Kranz. I hope I never have to see this actor in another film in my life.

The second misstep can only be described while describing the plot: take a couple of kids and have them go to a cabin in the woods (because it’s the jock’s cousin’s), and then as the story progresses, illustrate that these kids are part of a scheme by oddly button down suits who are part of some cult that sacrifices people for ancient gods that will destroy the earth if the sacrifices are not executed (ahem). Did I just ruin the surprise for you? I don’t think I did, but even if I did, I did you a favor.

The idea is that these suits are going to control what happens to the kids at the cabin. They display all kinds of creepy things you find in these types of places. Creepy dolls, creepy paintings (which came the closest to actually scaring me), and of course…Pandora’s Box. So the kids actually raise the dead and the suits then try to make sure the kids die one by one until the sacrifice is complete.

I actually liked the premise of this film because it would give you a chance to make fun of the standard horror “cabin in the woods” story while still telling a bigger story with the real horror being that if these stereotypical things don’t happen, we all die. Unfortunately, Whedon and Goddard are far too interested in being cute and clever that once we’re let in on the joke, they’re already telling you how funny it is.

I think in a horror comedy, you have a very thin line to walk. You don’t want to be too jokey, because it becomes self aware and then you take the fun out of it. But you do still want to scare people. I think one of the best examples of when it works is the original “Fright Night”. Another would be “Evil Dead 2”. I can even point to Whedon’s introduction into the genre with his own “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. But here, this is beyond self-aware. This is purely self-congratulatory. Whedon and Goddard want you to know how cool they are by throwing in a ton of horror film references (everything from “Hellraiser” to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to “Night of the Living Dead” to “Aliens”) and how great it is that they are being critical of bad horror films that are full of cliches and bad dialog.

However, in their attempt to mock the genre, they simply just come off as snobs as far as I’m concerned. I’ll be honest–I love bad horror films. I love the stereotypes, the cliches. Why? Because these films aren’t meant to be film classics. They’re meant to be drive-in fodder. An excuse to put your hand around your date’s shoulder and make a move. In many cases, these films mock themselves already enough and become parodies of themselves to the point where “The Cabin in the Woods” is the equivalent of the NYU film school grad sitting in a showing of “Friday the 13th” and telling you how adolescent it is.

We get it, guys. How about instead of wasting time telling me what I already know, make your own film fun and entertaining? “Cabin in the Woods” has its own problems, too. Logically some of the steps these guys take to sacrifice people don’t make sense, and sometimes they’re too convoluted if the end result is supposed to be death for the ancient gods. Why would you give anyone a chance of surviving if it means the end of the world for all of us? Which by the way, leads to a very anticlimactic ending. All the while I kept thinking…what is really at stake for any of these characters? Can we really believe the world will end if these kids aren’t killed? What’s at stake for the kids is far more relevant and credible, and yet we already know what has to happen with them so there is no tension going into the third act of the film.

I wanted to like this movie and appreciate the level of detail that Whedon and Goddard took with the horror genre. If they didn’t try so hard to manipulate me so much, maybe I would’ve actually enjoyed it.

My rating: :(

District 9

August 17, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

It’s relieving to know that there are people in Hollywood like Peter Jackson that have some power now. I’ve always believed in the guy, going back to his “Beautiful Creatures” days. I saw “Meet the Feebles” after he had made it bigger (possibly because it wasn’t in DVD rotation until he started making some money) but he’s always had a passion for fantasy, sci-fi, and imaginative storylines. All you have to do is watch one of his films and you’ll know that within the first 10 minutes.

He and his production company put up pretty much all the money for this film directed and co-written by 29 year old Neill Blomkamp, which is about an alien spacecraft that “crash” lands in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the alien occupants become “citizens” of a quarantined area called “District 9?. Pretty much every implication of racism, apartheid, worth of life, and intolerance is explored throughout the narrative and it winds up a fairly clever, fun, and darkly comic fable that–while violent and at times very vulgar, is also charming.

The film’s first twenty-five or so minutes is a bit jarring, in that it flings different POV’s at you at random times, trying to give you an up-to-date idea of what’s going on in “District 9? through a series of interviews and documentary footage. The footage includes talks with Wikus van der Merwe, who eventually is identified as the “hero” of the film, or at least the main character. Wikus is introduced to us as somewhat of a “Company Man”, who is promoted to the head of a group of people to move the aliens out of “District 9? since the human occupants have had enough of them.

A little bit of info on the aliens themselves: they’re creatures that have insect-like qualities, and are extremely ugly. They’re referred to as “prawns”, a derogatory term because they resemble the underwater creatures themselves. There are gangs of these creatures, and they’ve overflowed the city of Johannesburg to the point where they are “sectioned off” and only allowed in certain areas. What does this remind us of? Of course, this is the main theme the film plays with, and it does so fairly well, even if it is a bit obvious.

No one wants these creatures around, and so this group of people have to attempt to get them out of “District 9?–but it’s not so easy, as Wikus learns quickly. Wikus is also married to the daughter of a powerful government official, who was in charge of promoting Wikus to his new position–but he has very little confidence in him, and doesn’t like him. It’s kind of obvious why–he’s an alpha male, and Wikus is a bit spineless. He doesn’t want a violent attack on the creatures while they evict them, but in the course of trying to evict one family, he is exposed to a black liquid that eventually begins to altar his body.

Wikus soon finds that he is becoming one of the creatures. He doesn’t want this to get out, but it eventually does, and he becomes a potential victim of science until he breaks out, and lives as a fugitive in “District 9?. Other things that are going on in District 9 include a group of rogue Nigerians who are buying and collecting the alien weaponry found on the spacecraft–the drawback is that no human can operate it. The Nigerians believe they can use witchcraft and “eat” parts of the aliens to get the power to use it, but to no avail. When Wikus shows up and his ailment is discovered, the Nigerians want him too–well, at least–they want his arm.

Wikus befriends a prawn that he earlier had to evict, and learns that he and his son have hatched a plan to get the spacecraft working again, and go back to their home planet. Wikus also learns that they can cure him and get him to be human again. Once the government learns his whereabouts, and the Nigerians as well, all hell breaks loose and this is where the film turns from an intellectual sci-fi film into balls out action packed shoot-em-up.

To be honest, this didn’t bother me. Much in the way that “Sunshine” devolved into a “slasher film”, the third act didn’t betray the original plot and theme and therefore, I didn’t have a problem with it becoming more of a visual experience rather than a cerebral one. Plus, it is just really cool to see the alien weaponry actually used. If you’re going to set it up, you have to pay it off, and it’s paid off very well.

In fact, the whole movie looks good. This is a credit to the fact that Jackson put up the money–this could’ve been a failed low budget sci-fi film that looked silly; or, it could’ve been a script that sat on a shelf for decades before being picked up by Michael Bay and turned into Transformers 3. Instead, this is a smart film that while it loses itself a bit in action packed violence, never loses itself to the point where you forget how important the theme is in the first place.

This is a movie about tolerance, and it’s executed well enough to be given praise. It deserves a chance to be seen, and I think if you have the right mindset, it may even open your eyes to some of the same problems we face in the real world. Even though these prawns are creatures, in some ways they’re no different than you or I. It promotes the idea of unity rather than segregation; only in this narrative it may be too late for that to happen. There’s been criticism that this film shows Nigerians in a negative light, and that it cheapens the angle of the Apartheid. I think because it’s science fiction, you have to look at it in a more symbolic sense rather than a literal one. As far as vilifying, it depends on how you look at it. I think the entire film gives enough credit to characters where it’s due, and only a few of the “villains” are cartoonish–and the most vile isn’t a Nigerian. Though the film does become more action packed, the film’s climax also leaves ambiguity; but its final scene is incredibly touching.

It’s probably the best movie the summer has to offer, and I have a feeling it will be passed over because of its complexity. But if you’re willing to give it a chance, it delivers.

My rating: :smile: