Heavy Meta – Overrated is Overrated

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I count myself among the many people more than a little irritated at the fact that Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s The Lego Movie was all but completely snubbed for the 2015 Academy Awards. However, just as soon as myself and those of like mind took to message boards and Facebook groups to express our distaste, an opposing faction came out to tell us in no uncertain terms how mistaken we were in enjoying it.

 “I don’t get why everyone loves The Lego Movie; I fell asleep in it.”

“Why are people getting all pissed at The Lego Movie not being nominated? It’s not even that good.”

…and my personal favorite: “Lego Movie has got to be the most overrated film of 2014.”

Okay, I’m going to do something I don’t normally do and put on my angry eyebrows for this post. It’s a bit of a rant, so FYI, kind readers. Read on One of Us Net–>

Friend of the Rogues, Colin, takes the stage for a Guest Review of Maleficient!

Maleficent is a triumphant story of rape survival and recovery. It’s a movie that strides boldly away from expectations, at the expense of depth in the supporting cast.

SPOILER ALERT.


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Because I Feel Like It Reviews: Robocop (2014)

RobocopPoster Earlier on this year, the Joe Padilha-directed remake of the much beloved 80’s sci-fi film Robocop debuted to mixed reviews. I finally got around to watching it, and while I certainly believe that in a direct comparison, the remake falls flat, I also feel like the newer film has gotten a lot of undeserved flack from critics. In reality, it is an attempt to add a much more personal, human element to its speculative sci-fi aspect, and as a result, resonated more emotionally with me than the original.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I’d like to say off the bat that I do really enjoy the 1987 Robocop directed by Paul Verhoeven. It’s a smart, funny satire of military-industrial privatization that showed some serious testicular fortitude in terms of its willingness to show some brutal violence on-screen. If this version were to try to follow in its predecessor’s footsteps, it’s quite likely that Padilha would find himself unable to fill the colossal insteps of the original. It’s for that reason that I believe the creative crew on the remake made a smart choice in taking a different thematic tact than Verhoeven did. True, the jabs at the callous nature of corporatizating law enforcement are still present; Samuel L. Jackson plays this world’s equivalent of Bill O’Reilly on a network that might as well be called Nox Fews, and Michael Keaton fills the role of the profit-driven CEO of arms manufacturer OmniCorp. However, despite attempts to update the discussion for a modern world of unmanned drone strikes, I personally found that their lack of subtlety caused them to come off as a token effort to give people what they expect from a new version of Robocop ’87.

Where Robocop 2014 shines (and in my opinion, outshines the original) is when it decides to take a more inwardly reflective look at the nature of humanity through the eyes of Alex Murphy (played here by Joel Kinnaman). After the attempt on his life, Murphy goes through the same emotional trauma of any soldier who has lost a limb (or worse) in the service of their country. However, in his case, the trauma is magnified by the fact that he’s lost just about everything that he identifies with being Alex Murphy. One particularly effective visual representation of just how much he’s lost physically made me inwardly shudder at how utterly disturbing it would be to go through what he has. At one point, Murphy takes a page from Johnny Got His Gun in asking the doctor who saved him (played by Gary Oldman) to kill him rather than to go on existing as something he perceives as barely even human.

Robocop shines when it focuses on the human element.

Robocop shines when it focuses on the human element.

While many reviewers complained at how long it takes the film to get Robocop out onto the streets and dealing out justice, I felt the first hour of the 2014 film was by far the most powerful, building empathy for Alex Murphy as a person in a way that the original never did. Seeing the sheer enormity of what he has to deal with; facing isolation from the entirety of the human race, forging an entirely new identity, and fearing that his wife and child will reject him upon seeing his new, mechanized form makes you root for him in a way I never did with Peter Weller’s version of the character.

Later, Oldman’s character tinkers with Murphy’s brain in order to make him a more effective officer, to the point where he only believes that he’s in control. In reality, the computer in his body is running the show. But when he begins (seemingly impossibly) to defy the system, it brings about questions regarding the essential nature of consciousness and theory of mind that are rarely broached in spectacle sci-fi. Padilha and his team of screenwriters deserve credit in taking the franchise both in a new direction, and in making that new trajectory such an intelligent one.

That being said, my biggest issue with the film is its third act. After so many interesting questions, and the introduction of such a strong human element, the film is left with nowhere to go in its last 30 minutes other than to essentially re-create the original’s third act. Much like its imitation of the 1987 version’s political satire, the failure of Robocop ’14 to take the potential it builds in its first hour anywhere new or interesting results in a rather disappointing paint-by-numbers action movie conclusion. That’s not to say that it’s BAD by any means, but I wish that Padilha et al could have brought the same ambition and humanity to the film’s conclusion as they did to its opening.

In conclusion, though it is a mixed bag, comparing Robocop 2014 directly to Robocop 1987 is a wrong-headed approach to watching it. The two have similarities, but in fact it’s when the remake attempts to adhere too slavishly to the structure and characteristics of the original that it loses opportunities to become something more than a hollow imitation. In contrast, when it acts on the chance to place something truly human inside the machine, it creates a powerful and affecting story about loss and re-discovering identity that makes it easily worth your time.

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Geek Spiel: What Star Wars Can Learn From Redwall

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A recent piece of news stated that not only will Harrison Ford be returning to the Star Wars franchise, but that Han Solo will be having a “major role” in the new films. This, along with this particular cast photo:

…are some of the first inklings we’ve been given about existing characters returning in the J.J. Abrams directed sequels. This scarcity of information led some fans to theorize that the new movies would draw upon the plentiful material from the Star Wars Expanded Universe (SWEU). Many of the books in the expanded universe contain characters and storylines that rival Han, Luke, and Keia in terms of the devotion of their fanbase. Continue reading

Cutscenes to Silver Screens: Team Fortress 2

Look around the gaming scene, and it’s unlikely you’ll find a more beloved gaming franchise than Team Fortress 2. Since its release in 2007, TF2 has continued to be a cash cow for Valve, despite going free-to-play in the past few years. A big part of this is that the game is bursting at the seams with personality. Despite the main characters only being known by their class designations, each is a colourful and unique entity. Part of this is the amazing voice acting by guys like Gary Schwartz, Dennis Bateman, and John Dennis Lowrie, and part of it is the quirky art style that’s become the game’s signature. The world of TF2, limited as it is by way of story, leaps off the screen and into the hearts of gamers everywhere. Is it any wonder that fans have been tearing down the walls waiting for a feature film?Though a TF2 movie might still be a glimmer in Gabe Newell’s eye, I thought it’d be fun to take a whack at it in this week’s edition of Cutscenes to Silver Screens!

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NEW FEATURE!!!! Vince talks game-to-movie adaptations in Cutscenes to Silver Screens.Today, it’s Shadow of the Colossus!

 All The Colossi

The idea that video games can be effectively turned into films is one met with skepticism. With the list of game adaptations including such critical darlings as Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, Prince of Persia, and Silent Hill, it’s not surprising that people give the stink eye to any possibility of a videogame movie being any good.

Like any other adaptation, the differences in story structure (and the demands placed on the audience) make it difficult for the themes and emotional experiences to translate. Despite this, I think that there are tons of games that, placed in the right creative hands, could make a great cinematic experience. In Cutscenes to Silver Screens, I’ll be breaking down some of my favorite titles to see if there’s any adaptive potential to be mined. As always, I’d love to hear what you guys have to say, so feel free to comment or suggest games you think would be great on the silver screen. For now though, here we go!

Shadow of the Colossus

Director: Nicholas Winding Refn (Bronson, Valhalla Rising, Drive)
Writer: Guillermo Del Toro
Visual Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Producer(s): Coen Bros.

Characters

  • Wander – Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood, Ruby Sparks, Looper)

Shadow of the Colossus seems like an odd pick right off the bat. A game where a good chunk of the plot consists of placid, silent exploration of a barren land doesn’t seem to exactly make for riveting cinema. The long stretches of quiet contemplation contrasted with the earth-shattering scale of the Colossi fights makes SotC look like a filmmaker’s nightmare. It also epitomizes one of the problems with adapting a game to the screen: the solitude of the main character. In absence of any supporting cast to interact with, pressure gets put on the writer to fabricate aspects of the story out of thin air in order to both provide some form of impetus for a character arc, as well as to make it fit better within the typical three-act structure of most screenplays.

Those who have seen Drive will know that Nick Winding Refn has a knack for capitalizing on onscreen silence to fill the auditory void with tension and emotion. Just because characters aren’t speaking doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t saying anything, and by making use of skillful visual storytelling, those undertones can be earth-shakingly profound. The same could be said for just about anything within the world that the camera places its lens upon, and if there’s any director I associate with breathtaking visual storytelling, it’s Guillermo Del Toro. In the original game, the minimal dialog there is gets largely used for exposition; to point the player in the direction where they might find their next foe. Del Toro has come under fire for the weakness of his scripts, or at least the ones written in English (understandably, not his first language). The scarcity of dialogue win SotC works to his strengths, as even making the movie in Spanish could actually benefit the overall quality of the film. Whether Wander speaks in the gibberish language of the original or Del Toro’s native tongue makes no difference here. Del Toro also has a great sense of pacing and maintaining thematic arcs in his scripts, and for a story where so much of it is subtext, that skill is indispensable.

Guillermo Del Toro's visual prowess is unquestioned, and is a great match for Refn's use of silence as negative space.

Guillermo Del Toro’s visual prowess is unquestioned, and is a great match for Refn’s use of silence as negative space.

Speaking of subtext; another challenge of SotC is the largely implicit nature of its story. The player is never explicitly told, “Hey, dude. These colossi never did anything to you, so by killing them, you’re kind of an asshole. Oh, also, you’re killing the world. So… thanks for that. Douche.” They’re given a series of increasingly direct hints to that fact, but regardless, Team Ico respected its audience enough to allow them to figure it out on their own. No Country for Old Men is a movie with a similar philosophy (whatever misgivings I have about the ending) and that’s why I think the Coen Bros would be a great selection to produce a SotC movie. Some mistakenly minimize the role of the producer, but having a good one can mean the difference between having or not having a significant degree of creative autonomy from meddling studio execs. Given the frequently offbeat and odd nature of their films, the Coens have a solid track record of maintaining their creative voice; again, another indispensable skill.

In trying to dispense with forced, expository dialogue, Wander could discover the legend of the Colossi in (for example) a short prologue before the main story begins. Strategic use of the prologue and a late title card could work well to convey a significant amount of information without eating up precious runtime. Placing this background at the beginning of the movie also gives a chance to show how #GIRLFRIEND_NAME died. Establishing significant enough audience empathy with Wander to justify his dogged determination to bring his lover back from the dead at any cost is essential , and if I’m honest, is an aspect I never felt was handled well in the game. In the game, the quest to revive #GIRLFRIEND_NAME comes off as a plot vehicle to get us to the point where we can stab giant monsters with a sword. The use of the prologue in this way also highlights another advantage to Refn and Del Toro’s visual skill: its economy. It takes a great deal less time to tell a story in images than in words.  I’m the first to admit I have a bunch of problems with Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising, but its visual style is breathtaking. The rough hewn grays of its mountainous, Nordic terrain bears striking similarity to the landscape in SotC.

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In the game, Wander is essentially a cipher for the player, absent of defining characteristics. This won’t do for a movie, and Paul Dano has not only played a mute character to great effect in Little Miss Sunshine, but he’s also shown in movies like There Will Be Blood and Ruby Sparks that he has the acting chops to pull off being the protagonist in what is essentially a one-man show.
Paul Dano: man of many faces. All of them vaguely marshmallowy.

Paul Dano: man of many faces. All of them vaguely marshmallowy.

This returns us to the problem of isolation. Aside from the monks who eventually arrive to give Wander a stern talking-to, there aren’t any other people. At all. This is a sticking point, but not an impassable one. Agro, Wander’s noble steed, it also his sole, stalwart companion, and given a strong enough script, I genuinely believe that the relationship between the two could carry a movie. Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey in Moon pulled it off, as did Will Smith and his loyal pooch in I Am Legend. For those skeptical that one could characterize a horse with the same skill brought to the “boy and his dog” movie sub-genre, I’d like to remind you that one of 2013’s Oscar nominees was War Horse: a movie where the horse was an undoubtedly sympathetic, fully-developed main character.

A final point worth mentioning is the plot. Though the main impetus and progression is set out by the source material, the specifics of the movie’s progression need to be filled with more significance if they’re to make a compelling narrative of Wander’s dogmatic quest, and the growing dread with which the consequences of his actions begin to dawn upon him. Given the gigantic nature of the world, “discovery” and “exploration” seem like strong through-lines to build the movie around. The discovery of the implications that coming with slaying the Colossi, the discovery of the world itself, and the inner discovery of the man whom Wander is becoming via his actions. There is a ton of meaning to mine here (if there wasn’t, I doubt that SotC would have become such a timeless classic), but it takes a steady hand and a skillful eye to harness these titans into a moving cinematic experience.

The Rogues’ Gallery – Women in Geek Culture… Part TWO!

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We’re not close to done yet, folks! As we realized once we were done recording the first episode, there’s a TON of stuff we didn’t get a chance to cover in our first segment, so you get 100% more geeky, feminist goodness! On this triumphant sequel episode, Alysha sheds some light on the insane demands placed on actors of all genders within the filmmaking industry, and the problems of typecasting and perceived ‘marketability.’

As well, we get into the nitty-gritty discussing the tenuous relationship between video game culture and women, both in the realm of gamer girls, and the portrayal of characters within the games themselves.

Geek Spiel: Valentine’s Movies That Won’t Make You Tear Your Hair Out

I honestly think that more people would enjoy romantic movies if more of them were better made. What turns me off about most movies involving the lovey dovey stuff is that they tend to be trite, dumb, and unrealistic; playing up to the cultural fantasy of the relationship rather than the real thing. This is necessarily bad on its own, but for me and many others this turns them into the equivalent of an emotional action movie. Lots of sizzle, no substance. So this Valentine’s, I thought I’d throw out a list of some of my favorite relationship-centred movies (in no particular ranking), all of them fine choices for enjoyment either with your significant other or on your forever-alonesome.
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Geek Spiel – Guilty Pleasures, Wrongly Accused: Why “Fun” Shouldn’t Be An Apology

Picture this scenario: you’ve just finished seeing your favorite big, summer blockbuster in theatres, and decide to meet up with some friends after. When asked what movie you saw, you tell them, only to receive looks similar to if you spontaneously grew a head out of your armpit that began singing broadway show tunes. The average opinion within your cadre is that said movie was crappy at best, and “utter trashdick” (hey, their words, not mine) at worst. For several minutes, to try in futility to defend the things you found good about it, but after being driven back by hordes of cynical derision, you relent to your only remaining weapon:

“Aww, c’mon guys, it was FUN…”

I think it’s reasonable to say that at some point, most of us have encountered a similar situation. You reveal one of your “guilty pleasures”, be it your love of low-budget 80s action films, the secret ABBA playlist that shall never be named, or that stack of Vampire Diaries books on your shelf, and eventually reach the point where you acquire that telltale, self-effacing pout in your voice, and do the social equivalent of a wolf rolling over onto its back in order to appease a series of snarling, geeky maws.

"C'mon guys, I know the acting was bad, but Megan Fox was hot, right? Right? Guys?"

“C’mon guys, I know the acting was bad, but Megan Fox was hot, right? Right? Guys?”

But since when did “fun” become a white flag?

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