Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Meet the Pyro and Introduction of the Source Filmmaker!

In lieu of a “real” film review today, I want to talk about the last of the “meet the class” shorts that have been coming out of Valve to describe the characters from their game Team Fortress 2. I can’t say I have much experience playing the game myself, but these films have gotten better every time they release a new one and today they finished the series with the release of “Meet the Pyro”.

While it is true that you have to have some understanding of the characters and the game in order for these videos to make sense, take my word for it when I say that this fits the character perfectly. I don’t think Valve could have done the characterization any better because it is flawless. For those who don’t know, the Pyro is notorious for not speaking because of his gas mask, so he normally just mumbles. Making his inner thoughts a mystery to the rest of the characters and revealing that his world is entirely different from reality finishes the series on a high note, and I must say it was worth the wait.

Before I get into “cinematography”, Valve also released a video revealing their Source Filmmaker, a film editing program that lets you make films in-game. Go ahead and take a look at what I mean:

Thus, anything within the shot including the lighting, posing and character placement, etc. is all done within the game, like this shot:

This is a visually impressive shot as it is, but knowing it was made within the game engine makes it even better. This is a 3D image, and not just in the sense that it is not a sketched cartoon. In the editor, the creator would be able to switch camera angles to reveal all sides of this image. Controlling all the details, such as the excellent use of lighting, within a 3D environment is impressive and innovative and I personally cannot wait to get my hands on the Source Filmmaker. Check out http://sourcefilmmaker.com/ for more information!

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Posted in Film Commentary, Rants and Raves

Rants and Raves: My Opinion of “Brave”

So normally this blog is reserved for well thought out reviews of movies I’ve had plenty of time to analyze and dissect over the course of a week. However, I have decided to include a new segment, Rants and Raves, that will consist of my initial reactions to movies I’ve just seen (new or old). Unfortunately, my first post in this segment is a rant. I just got back from seeing “Brave” and was drastically disappointed. SPOILERS AHEAD! READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK!!! Now that I have warned you, let us continue.

Ok, so you know how most of the trailers and tv spots for this movie made it seem like it was a movie promoting the ideals of following your heart and not letting societies rules and expectations get in the way of who you really are, like this one?

Yeah, they gave that up less than halfway through the movie. Instead, the main character puts a curse on her mom and the rest of the movie is spent following the main character realizing how selfish she is and how she should have just accepted that her mom was doing everything out of love.

Hold on a minute. Her mom spent the entire first half hour of the movie trying to turn Merida into something she clearly is not. Both characters needed to listen to each other more, but every time Merida tried to get her mom to listen she would just retort with how she’s the queen so she doesn’t have to. Why, in this case, should I believe that Merida was just being selfish in trying to “change her destiny”? Her destiny sucked! I would have tried to change it, too! Sure, the way Merida went about trying to change her fate wasn’t well thought out or even a good idea, but I wouldn’t call her selfish for trying to gain even an ounce of freedom to choose for herself.

Now, some people might say “But her mom changes, too!” Yes, this is true. The mom does change her mind and doesn’t force Merida to get married. However, this does not change the fact that the mom actually was being selfish in the beginning by trying to change Merida into something she wasn’t while Merida was simply trying to live her life the way she felt most comfortable. It is not until her right to choose for herself is dangerously threatened that Merida tries to change her mother, whereas her mother was trying to change her simply because of who she was and not because of anything that was actually wrong with her daughter.

If you take a look back to that TV Spot I posted above, you will notice that the tag line for this movie is “If you had the chance to change your fate, would you?” This of course implies that Merida’s attempt at changing her fate is a good thing, and thus I am completely baffled by the movie switching the viewpoint halfway through to imply that her attempt at changing her future was selfish. Yes, everyone is happy at the end of the film, but this comes at the cost of sending young girls the message that societies expectations are there for a reason and that only under extreme circumstances should you question them. In fact, the short film before “Brave”, titled “La Luna”, did a much better job at portraying the message that doing things your own way can be beneficial to everyone.

Pixar had a great opportunity here to tell young girls, and young boys for that matter, that societies expectations are not always going to be the correct path. Instead, they showed that you can get what you want, but not before admitting that you’re just being selfish and shouldn’t have argued in the first place.

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Following

I am reviewing this today as a fan of Christopher Nolan. I decided to review this movie first so I wouldn’t come off as merely another raving fan-girl. “Following” is the first feature length film by Christopher Nolan, and therefore has many stylistic elements that he has continued to use but this film is still very rough around the edges. Since it was his first full-length film and he was under a tight budget I do not blame him or the production team for this. Thus, I am going to mostly focus on the story for this movie, which seems fitting since Christopher Nolan studied English Literature during college and has proven time and time again with his other films that he understands story structure extremely well.

Right, so the first thing about this story that I have trouble with is simply the timeline. The DVD actually has two options for watching this movie which are “watch it the way it was originally edited” or “watch the movie in chronological order”. I do have a rule about watching a movie twice before I review it, but I decided in this case to watch it once normally and once chronologically. While I must admit that watching the story unfold chronologically was less interesting, it did make a lot more sense. It was easier to trace Cobb’s plan (oh yeah, the antagonist is named Cobb, fancy that) and it made the relationship with “the blonde” much easier to follow. That being said, the original order is unusual and harder to follow due to the short time frame of the film, but foreshadows at what Nolan ends up doing with Memento. The movie doesn’t go backwards, obviously, but the tendency to play around with timelines has definitely been there from the beginning. While I don’t think it did the story justice for this film, Nolan has learned to do it much better since.

The main problem I had as far as the timeline goes is how unclear everything was in the first few burglary scenes. The characters talk about the different robberies as though they all happened on different days, yet costumes worn by the characters suggest that they all happened on the same day. If “Bill” is the second person they rob, presumably right after the first robbery, how would he have had time to buy a mat just to put a key under it? I’m not sure if there were finer details in the costumes that I missed that would have tipped me off, such as a change of shirts underneath their jackets or something, but if there was it was so subtle that I couldn’t tell the difference. The only thing that suggests that these scenes don’t take place in the same day is that in the original cut these scenes are interspersed with other scenes that chronologically occur later. I suppose the intention was to visually separate these scenes to make it seem like they didn’t occur on the same date, but a little more is needed. Anyway, timeline continuity is a girl’s best friend and I missed it in this movie.

Other than the timeline problems, I actually really enjoyed this story. I thought the character development was pretty good and they got some pretty good actors considering their budget (by good I do not necessarily mean well known, however). There are a few things that aren’t really explained, but they don’t have to be. For instance, why would “Bill” get involved with Cobb and his robberies if he doesn’t like robbery? This did come across my mind, but I was able to immediately answer it myself by remembering that “Bill” had said in the beginning that the following started because he was lonely. Nolan and Jeremy Theobald do pull off this character well (writing and acting) just by portraying him as completely and utterly lonely and naïve. I do sort of feel bad for him as a character, but have to agree with Cobb and “the blonde” that he’s the perfect fall guy.

One thing I will say about the aesthetics of the film is I’m not sure whether or not it was necessary to film this movie in black and white. I understand that this is supposed to be a neo-noir film, but I feel like the story covers that aspect well enough. The viewer (most likely) doesn’t need this to be in black and white to tell us it’s a noir film. If Christopher Nolan ever decides to re-visit this, I hope he re-makes it in color.

I apologize for the short review, but I honestly feel like anything else I could say would just be nit-picking about production quality, which really isn’t fair considering how small the budget was for this film. Yes, there were some sound problems (being able to hear things in the background that are clearly not intended and the like), but overall this movie was pretty good once you remember what little everyone was working with. I do recommend this movie to anyone that enjoys Christopher Nolan films or noir films in general.

Trailer:

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Repo! The Genetic Opera

I honestly have mixed feelings about this movie. While there were plenty of times I just wanted it to be over, there were also moments that I got sucked into and thoroughly enjoyed. I’m not really sure how to review this movie, so I’m going to go with the “compliment sandwich”, ok? Here we go.

I really enjoyed this film for the cinematography, lighting, costume design, and pretty much everything else that could possibly affect the visual aesthetics. The movie specifically chose lighting in certain scenes that was extremely reminiscent of German Expressionist silent films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu.

The scenes do reflect back to older horror films and have an odd sense of nostalgia about them, despite their content. Thus, I can’t say I entirely hate this film because the people creating it obviously have knowledge of film history and know, visually, what they’re doing. They not only visually referenced the films mentioned above, but they also seem to have been influenced by futuristic dystopian films such as Blade Runner.

I can appreciate a film that knows where the medium has been, and I really do appreciate them using these visual styles as references to cinema history, yet still adding to the visual aesthetic.

Alright, now to the bad parts of my “compliment sandwich”. I honestly thought a majority of the songs in this were atrocious. I cannot express how happy I was when Nathan slapped Shiloh after her “Seventeen” song.

It’s not even that the music in these songs is awful, but a lot of the actors in this film were over-acting (especially during the songs) and it made them annoying to listen to. The only songs I enjoyed in this film were sung by either the Graverobber or Blind Mag, and all the other songs were either just sort of awkwardly there or were so annoying that I just wanted them to end so I could get back to focusing on the story.

Speaking of the story, I’m honestly sort of confused. Not that the story didn’t make sense, but why was pretty much everyone in love with Marni? Why was she so special? The film goes to great lengths to explain the love triangle between Rotti and Nathan both loving Marni and the fact that Blind Mag was Marni’s best friend, but honestly I don’t know what was so special about Marni. If she was so important, you think they would have done more character development on her rather than “she’s dead now but EVERYONE loved her. EVERYONE”. I found myself wanting to know why everyone thought she was so great and not really caring that all these people were still caught up in a grudge over her. I mean, sure, she’s dead and has been for a long time, but you could at least give us some reason as to why the whole plot surrounds her former existence.

Speaking of Marni, I honestly don’t see why they even had to add the whole bit about Blind Mag being her best friend. She’s an excellent singer who happened to be blind and Geneco gave her new eyes. I’m sure Geneco would have given her the lifelong contract to work for them knowing how talented she was, so I’m not sure why they thought it was necessary to make her Marni’s best friend.  I think the love triangle thing works on its own and I just think it got cluttered trying to add Blind Mag into that equation.

I understand that this film was low-budget, but I really wish they had been able to do better casting, or maybe just better cast motivation. Most of the actors never really seemed to have their characters pin-pointed, nor did they seem to think they had to. Anthony Head was fun and interesting as Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer so it was really disappointing to see him in this movie seeming like he didn’t really want to be there. Giles, I mean Nathan, was sort of a strange character that I never exactly figured out. For someone who says he hates his job, he sure seems to enjoy it.

To be fair, I really did enjoy Sarah Brightman as Blind Mag, and I enjoy all the work Terrence Zdunich put into this film and his character, the Graverobber. There is a reason the Graverobber is a fan-favorite, and it’s because Terrence Zdunich gave that character his all (unlike a majority of the cast, unfortunately).

Segueing back to the good things permanently though, I did appreciate that the filmmakers seemed to embrace that this film was cheesy and campy. There were a handful of moments that seemed as though this movie took itself too seriously, but there were plenty of other moments that showed the filmmakers awareness of how ridiculous this project was. Case in point, the Graverobber using a dead body as a battering ram.

I laughed so hard at this scene for how visually ridiculous it was, and yet it still said so much about the film. In this movie, people don’t care about each other and will use others to their advantage, even if that means using a dead body to break into a building so they can hide from the cops. Another visual aesthetic I loved about this film was the use of comic panels to montage parts of the story. It fit well with the overall campiness of the movie without being jarring, and it was a nice break from the expressionistic scenery and lighting.

I would not watch this movie very often because I honestly can’t sit through some of those songs again anytime soon. However, this movie has great visuals and you can tell that the people working on this movie have a working knowledge of film history, which is always appreciated. I honestly think this movie could have been done much better had it been given a larger budget and had more people working on the music. Overall, I would have to say that this movie ranks in my book as “awesomely bad”.

Favorite Scene: 

Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

For those of you just now discovering this page, I want to warn you that my reviews always contain spoilers. I have yet to review films that are all that recent though due to budget constraints, so hopefully nothing I say here is too surprising. That being said, let’s move on! There are some movies that we love simply because we grew up watching them. When we get older we realize just how awful that movie really is and we tuck it away, glancing over at the case on the bookshelf for a sense of nostalgia, but never daring to watch it again. This is not one of those movies. However, that does not mean it isn’t cheesy and ridiculous, but that is because it was intended to be that way. The movies we tuck away to forget usually don’t intend to be cheesy or ridiculous, but Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure knows exactly what kind of movie it is and embraces its quirks wholeheartedly. That being said, if I had never seen this movie and someone came up to me and said “so these two high school kids trying to start a rock band get sent back in time and kidnap historical figures so they don’t fail their history class” I would have laughed at the absurdity but probably shaken the idea off entirely. The thing about Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is that the premise is completely absurd and the movie only works because it is executed so well.

First off, let’s go back to that idea of the intended ridiculousness. This movie is very self-aware, and that is a large part of why this movie works. I think this idea can best be illustrated by the break-out scene at the jail when Bill and Ted remind themselves to set up traps and other devices to help them get through the jail without being seen only to have said traps and devices appear within seconds. Not only is this scene a wonderful interpretation of time travel, but it reminds us (as this film does every few seconds) that while the movie is playing with very intellectual concepts, we still can’t take it or any other part of the movie too seriously.

In the spirit of not taking things too seriously, I absolutely love the representation of the historical figures in this film. I will never stop enjoying Socrates calling Sigmund Freud a “geek”, but I digress. While realistically it wouldn’t be hard to say that these people would be panicking in this situation, the representation given is perfect for a teen comedy. Instead, Beethoven likes Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, Joan of Arc likes aerobics, etc.  Every historical figure is able to find something they enjoy and for the most part has a good time while they’re in 1988 San Dimas.

On to other things, what absolutely made this movie was not, in my opinion, the gimmicky circumstances or the ridiculousness of bringing historical figures into the 80s. What made this film great is definitely the dialogue. Bill and Ted have some of the most face-palm worthy lines of any characters I’ve encountered, yet they’re so true to their characters that it becomes endearing in a way. To be perfectly honest, I decided to review this movie this week because upon my recent move I encountered Circle K gas stations for the first time (they’re not very common in my hometown) and I have not been able to stop myself from thinking “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K” every time I see one.

While I can’t say the dialogue in this movie is phenomenal or awe-inspiring, it is memorable and funny. This is the kind of movie you watch with a bunch of your friends and quote to each other at every opportune moment. Again, it’s not exactly an awe-inspiring film, but it is not trying to be. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure just wants you to let go and suspend disbelief for an hour and twenty minutes, if that’s not too much to ask. If it is, I am sorry and hope you can spare the time someday and enjoy yourself.

Favorite Scene:

Posted in Uncategorized

My Apologies

I am writing this post from my phone. I still don’t have Internet in my new apartment so I was unable to post a review today. I will hopefully be able to post my review tomorrow but if not, I will post as soon as I can. Sorry for the delay.