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: :-)

Kick-Ass

April 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” That’s Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, giving his nephew Peter a little bit of foreshadowing as he emerges as The Amazing Spider-man. True words.

But how about when you have no power? Kick-Ass, also known as David Lizewski (played by English actor Aaron Johnson), asks this question in the film “Kick-Ass”, a non-superhero super-hero movie that works almost as two movies. One, a light hearted comic book movie that features a lot of action, and cartoon violence. The other is a more serious undertone of betrayal, hatred, and exploitation on the part of fathers and their children. Do the two work?

Well, let’s back up for a moment. “Kick-Ass” introduces a super hero idea in which we live in the normal world, and one kid doesn’t understand why there hasn’t been a copy-cat of a comic book super-hero. He invents one that ultimately is named Kick-Ass, and goes to try and save kittens or junkies from being beaten up by a gang of other junkies. When he is incapacitated by one such group, he has lost some feeling in certain parts of his body so he is able to withstand more beatings than the normal human being. In all of the comic book movies I’ve seen, this was the most painfully realistic set up for an origin story I’ve seen. Nothing about military experiments. No explosions in the lab, no radioactive side effects from an arachnid bite. No, this was just a kid who got a little over his head and wound up surviving a stab wound among other injuries.

But, instead of deterring him from fighting crime, it inspires him even more. He is an internet sensation, and he designs a MySpace page (dating the film’s development process, obviously). He gets the attention of two others–a disenchanted father (played by Nicholas Cage) and his daughter, Mindy. He has an idea to showcase her as a superhero as well–but a much more violent one, as Hit Girl. She’s got a mouth that would give Irish Spring and Dove a billion dollar endorsement, and moves that make Cat Woman look like an amateur.

They somewhat “team up” when Kick-Ass is asked by The Hot Chick at David’s school, as they have become chums since she thinks he’s her gay BFF, to tell one of her former “clients” at a help clinic to back off of her. When Kick-Ass goes to this guy’s pad, he realizes he really is way in over his head as there are five or six other guys in there and they can easily kill him. But Hit Girl comes in and saves the day, and from there, the other more insidious plot develops.

A drug cartel is being run in the city underground by a powerful “lumber entrepreneur” named Frank D’Amico (played by another English actor, Mark Strong), and his plans are being spoiled by an unidentified “masked man” who has been killing his men. On this night when Kick-Ass is identified as being a part of the scheme (since the “client” was working for him), he is indicted fully by D’Amico, who wants him dead. His son, Chris (played by McLovin, or Christopher Mintz-Plasse), concocts a plan to create his own super hero persona to lure Kick-Ass and let his dad catch him. He wants to “learn about the family business”. His father allows it, and thus creates Red Mist.

When we learn about Mindy’s father’s past, the plot becomes a bit muddled in its purpose. What was once a fun loving, cute, and somewhat realistic approach to what it would be like to be a “real life superhero” becomes a darker, more sardonic tale of revenge and manipulation. Mindy’s Dad, Damon (super hero persona is Big Daddy, and he sports a very funny Adam West impersonation), raises his daughter to be a lethal killer so he can exact revenge on D’Amico for selling him out and causing major family complications. When she is enlisted as Hit Girl, she is more than willing. It’s hard to tell whether it’s just brainwashing and we should dislike Damon; or, we should feel he’s justified. It’s a slippery slope, and one that may be a little too heavy-handed for otherwise such a jovial movie.

The film’s fork in the road occurs when Kick-Ass  and Big Daddy are captured by D’Amico’s men, and there’s a very real danger of them being killed. While David is narrating the film, he reminds us of other endings in which the hero narrates even when he’s not alive. Is it a ruse? Or will this film go that far to prove a point?

The film, from this point, sheds its realistic layer of skin and uncovers what I guess it was going for all along–superhero comic book violence and big explosions.

It’s hard to say whether it’s a total failure. I was, by this time, completely enthralled by the film. I really liked the characters, and I really hated the bad guys. In the climactic ending, it is extremely unrealistic and extremely violent. It bears no resemblance to the sweet and funny movie it started as. But I didn’t dislike how it progressed. If you look at a lot of comic book stories, some of them do resemble normal stories of normal people in fantastic situations. Peter Parker is the perfect example. He is exactly what “Kick-Ass” is emulating, except that Peter Parker *does* possess super powers.

The lesson of the film is certainly muddled because of the bombastic way the film ends. It goes from being about taking responsibility for who you are, the loss of identity, and the exploitation of society, to being about getting revenge and losing yourself in the super hero persona. My feeling is that’s what the filmmakers wanted. They wanted this ultimately to be a sarcastic super hero film that ends like all other super hero movies end. And of course, it ends on a note that leaves it open for a sequel.

I liked this film a lot, and I would love to see a sequel. I’d love to revisit these characters. But I wonder if maybe they were missing something here. It’s hard to feel sorry for Damon, Mindy’s dad, because he’s made her a victim just as much as he made himself. Whether Mindy likes her lifestyle as being a cold-blooded killer or not, she wasn’t really given the choice. It’s a bit dark and moody and out of place in a movie that’s supposed to be mostly for laughs. However, I do find it daring that they chose to make her so young. This is an age when the younger generation has an advantage over the older ones. They have technology, and so many more things at their fingertips. Is it really overexposure and exploiting? Or is it just the way things are now? Every generation takes a few steps back and a few steps forward. The invention of Hit Girl is tricky because I certainly wouldn’t like to see anyone try to mimic her in real life–they’d be killed. But her spirit is nothing to be offended by or be ashamed or afraid of. Her heart is in the right place. I also would hope that David has realized how much his docile and sympathetic father has been so much better for him letting him make his own choices, unlike Chris and Mindy, who have had their destinies and decisions forced upon them by their fathers. I do think the film missed the boat on that revelation.

Overall though, this is a good yarn, and it’s fun. Yes it gets a bit heavy handed at times, but I still find it very entertaining–and before you start feeling bad about reveling in Hit Girl’s ability to kill 5 men in less than 1 minute, remember that these are heartless criminals who do nothing for society except have more money than you and make crass remarks about women and double park when they shouldn’t. So really, she did us all a favor.

Take the film as an origin story for a comic book, and there’s not a lot of difference between this and any other comic book movie you’ve seen. And it delivers as well as the best ones out there.

My rating: :-)