E3 2014: Day 1 Wrap-Up

e3-future

**UPDATE**

It seems I spoke too rashly!  Nintendo brought a very fun and exciting conference which perfectly addressed everything people wanted to see from them.  By integrating the Robot Chicken sketches, they showed their intentionality in connecting to hardcore gamers as well as their typical casual markets.  And they presented or teased practically everything people wanted to hear about – Smash Bros innovations, new and promising uses for the Wii U, the new open world Zelda, a few new IPs, no mention of Pikmen (thank God!), and what has been revealed to be a first teaser that Star Fox is on the way.  Perhaps because my expectations were so low, Nintendo so thoroughly shocked me and got me excited for the future of their company, despite several recent pratfalls financially.  E3 2014 goes to Nintendo!

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The time is upon us again.  Every year, E3 rolls around and delivers the most incredible innovations in the video gaming market, the best new IPs, and a glimpse at the future of the tech industry as a whole.  For years I have maintained that interactive media is the way of the future and this E3 helped me feel confident saying it for another year.

Each year, questions fly about what games will surface, what new hardware will be debuted, and the ever present question: who will win the conference.  This year I had the very distinct privilege of having a day off to sit on my couch with a nice cup of coffee and live-Tweet all four press conferences of day one.  Not nearly as glamorous as being there, I know, but I was able to enjoy each showing in turn and critique them for the how well they presented their case.  Below are the detailed analysis of each contributors strengths and failings, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

Microsoft

The biggest question I had coming into this E3 was how would Microsoft bounce back from their floundering performance last year, in which they spent more time backtracking and promoting non-gamer focused materials.  This year, they came prepared and brought it straight to Sony’s front door, keeping a laser-guided focus on gaming and challenging the thus-far lackluster lineup for the Playstation 4.

Skipping the expected announcement of the Kinect-less Xbox One, Phil Spencer set the bar early, claiming they would focus on the entirety of their time on games.  And they showed off an incredible lineup of games coming up very soon.  Sunset Overdrive in particular showed some fascinating promise, as did the now four player Co-op Assassin’s Creed Unity.  As well, the introduction of Halo Master Chief Collection and more Halo 5 Guardians information came with the interesting focus on keeping things “exactly as they launched ten years ago.”  If anything could be said to have been odd or a poor choice, it would be the surprise announcement that Conkers will make his return in Dev-friendly Project Spark.

Overall, the team at Microsoft gambled on gamers and came up in a big way, setting the bar high.  Focusing on Co-op gameplay and “dedicated servers”, and maintaining a good blend of cinematic trailers and gameplay demos, Microsoft hit the perfect tone for the audience in front of them.  They started the conference on the right note and reminded everyone (rather than Being reminded themselves) that this is a gaming conference.  A solid, if not entirely spectacular, start.

EA

Electronic Arts, to this reviewer at least, disappoints consistently year in, year out.  It seems like they always miss the mark, and I for one attribute this to one simple idea:  they do not think about who they are talking to.

Gamers came into this press conference hoping to hear about three titles, and three titles only.  Instead of focusing on these consumer desires, EA opened their show by breezing past Star Wars: Battlefront 3 and diving straight into their sports staples.  Then later, they gave the much anticipated Mirror’s Edge 2 the same rapid, blow-by treatment, showing nothing new or titillating for the DICE title.  EA finally got their act together when they ended their show on the leaked Battlefield: Hardline.  At long last, they showed off a very interesting looking game that leads the franchise into new and better directions from the Brown, Military Shooter.  Whether one could say that a heist destroying skyscrapers and freeways haphazardly leads the series into more “realistic” material, I leave up to debate.

However, the one thing that maintains from year to year is the myriad of micro-technical adjustments to their licensed sports games.  This year was particularly egregious because early on, Brian Hayes of the UFC15 unwittingly set a tone of separation between sports fans and gamers, implying that gamers could live out their best sports fantasies “Virtually, of course” – a slight suggesting our inability to do so in real life.  Very subtly, this turned the conversation from “join us in this fun thing” to a reminder of stereotypes wedging the gamer and jock subgroups.

It did not help that EA spent the rest of they conference focusing on Sports and trying to reach sports fans.  Every year, EA misses a perfect opportunity to reach the audience in front of them.  Instead of talking about how important Defense is to football players.  Why not show wireframe models colliding with each other to highlight the technical development of the new material?  Why not focus the technically minded audience on the technical side of their new games?

If I can say anything for them, I will give them credit for their bizarrely strong focus on Development teams.  Instead of talking about the games, they focused on devs – Star Wars: Battlefront team traveling and checking out old props (instead of making the game); DICE new office in Mirror’s Edge 2 trailer (instead of making the game); Bioware not saying ANYTHING AT ALL about the new Mass Effect and whatever their new IP is (instead of making the game).  That’s it.  The abrupt, air-cannon ending was the best part of the conference because it signaled the folly was over.

Ubisoft

Balls-to-the-wall as usual, Ubisoft kicked down the door with plenty of swearing and wackiness to spare, suffering only from the tonal undulation required from having such a varied clientele.  They showed off some incredible games, demoed some exciting IP’s, and tried out some interesting new ideas.

Ubisoft captured the essence of the conference by remembering something that EA forgot:  E3 is a gaming convention.  They came out strong with a new introduction to Far Cry 4, laying out a fascinating game world that is sure to be fun.  From their, they kept the focus solidly on games and gameplay, showcasing their wide range of projects, from Assassin’s Creed Unity to Just Dance 2015, and the surprise reveal of Rainbow Six: Siege.

However, as usual, this did lead to some awkward moments.  Because Ubisoft creates games not only for the deeply committed gamer, but also for the casual gaming market, tone and mood were rapidly shaken by things like the Just Dance performance, followed by serious focus on The Division.  Worse than that, it seemed a massive misstep to spend so much time highlighting their Shape Up.  While the effort made sense and seemed to fit well with the Just Dance audience, and I certainly see the influence of the recently dictionary-inducted “gamification”, but it came off as pandering to the gamer audience.

Despite this, they clearly showed up ready to play and brought it big time.  With awesome new games and a good balance of new and sequelled IPs, Ubisoft provided another fun conference which makes me excited for their coming lineup.

Sony

Capping off the first day was Sony, and it was clear that it was theirs to win or lose.  They needed to provide some big showstoppers on top of a solid lineup in order to edge out their Xbox rivals.  And bring it they did, but was it enough?

Someone with Sony made the right call by focusing on the biggest concern for the new Playstation 4 – the opening line up of games has been decent but not spectacular and the wellspring had seemed to run dry until 2015.  Yet, from the get-go, Sony came out with a list of PS4/Vita exclusives that range from immediate release to late this year and a few that show the bright future ahead of the 8th gen console.  Of special note is the remastering of DoubleFine’s classic Grim Fandango which drew the loudest applause of the day.

However, as the show entered it’s second half, Sony turned its focus towards hardware and there things began to slip.  Andrew House showed up and spend a beautifully short time reminding us about Project Morpheus.  But then he turned it over to Sony America CEO Shawn Layden – a man who talked like a gamer but whose every statement (and $3000 suit) oozed of business mentality.  And when he started talking about Free to Play games as “free”, I knew we were in trouble.

While I don’t think any individual unveiling was poor or uninteresting, it was simply too much with too little focus.  The PSN, PSNow, and PSTV announcements could each have been cut down to spend half as much time on them without losing any information, and worse yet was the misguided floundering of the Powers announcement.  Brian Michael Bendis could not have appeared more like a Hollywood Fat Cat, not a wise choice for a crowd that had just been cheering for indie developer Hello Games fascinating new IP No Man’s Sky.  And no matter how jazzed I was to see my favorite game franchise, Ratchet & Clank, turned big screen, that could not make up for the horribly avoidable mistake of entirely spoiling Last of Us for generations of audiences.

Further, while we saw some of the best gameplay demos, including Far Cry 4 and Batman Arkham Knight, we also saw very little of several large IPs that gamers came hoping to hear about – namely Metal Gear Solid 5: Phantom Pain and The Order 1886.  Both of these received very limited trailer which did not show much more than what we already knew.

However, with clear focus on “Dev-otion” and using fan feedback to improve their produced content, Sony presented a solid (though loose) conference and ended on the high note of debuting the full reveal of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  They did a great job amping up their fans, presenting another well-rounded yet not extraordinary conference.

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Wrap-Up

Overall, it was a much stronger showing than last year all around.  Both of the Big 2 came in with reasons to celebrate and swinging strong.  The two distributors showed as expected, though the content they brought to the table was above average to begin with.  When looking over the spectrum of games coming up over the next two years, one can only be excited for the myriad of possibilities out there.

However, someone has to win, and ultimately, because of their strong showing, their great lineup of games, and their focused presentation, I have to concede this years E3 Day One to Microsoft.  Sony simply wandered to much in the middle and failed to produce the knockout blow to put them over the edge.  And while Nintendo is just moments away from presenting their conference, ask yourself: When was the last time they won an E3?

E3 is well underway and it kicked off with a marvelous first day.  I look forward to Nintendo’s showing here soon.  Enjoy the rest of E3 2014 and let me know what you thought of all four press conferences today!

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Before the Bedford Fall: The Central Problem of “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Ending

As it does most every year, It’s a Wonderful Life came up over dinner during Christmas time.  My family and I (including its newest member) were sitting down having just finished a meal and turning on the television immediately brought us to this Welch Family favorite.  As we all waxed on about how wonderful this movie is, we got into a discussion about what the Central Problem is in the film; what is it that drives this film narratively?  Both my dad and brother offered up a solution which didn’t sit well with me.

What they proffered was that the Central Problem was suicide – George Bailey’s attempt to end his life being the narrative crux around which the whole film revolves.  Now, I would be remiss and entirely unfounded to say that this moment is not the turning point of the film.  Any viewer can see that all events prior lead up to it and all following happen because of it.  However, for the purposes of this essay, I will challenge the notion that It’s a Wonderful Life is centered around an action and address what I perceive to be a general lack of depth in diagnosing the true problem of the film.  Along the way, I will propose my own theory as to what the Central Problem is.

First, we must examine what a Central Problem is and what role it plays in the narrative of a film.  Called alternately the “Throughline”, the Problem, the Main Question, and the Conflict, the Central Problem is an issue the protagonist or heroes are dealing with which defines the narrative purpose of the film.  The problem can be a number of things and certainly has numerous causes – environmental, interpersonal, and internal.  There are some who suggest that the major theme or narrative endgame are the most important facet of a film.  Victoria Schmidt proposes just such a theory in her quintessential book Story Structure Architect, suggesting that one must first decide whether the hero will succeed or fail in his/her mission before launching into crafting the story.  However, she unwittingly admits to the necessity of having the central conflict first: Once you know the answer to this question [“What is the central conflict?”] you know how to design your story…” (emphasis mine, p.7).  One cannot decide whether the hero will win or lose until the writer has decided what they are up against.

Allow me to give an example to make the point clear.  In A New Hope, the Central Problem is external:  an all-powerful Empire bearing down on even the smallest of planets.  This Empire threatens the existence of a young boy with extraordinary powers, which inspires him to learn the ways of the Force, become a Jedi Master, and take on the evil Emperor.  The later films deal with a more internal conflict (“Can I do this without giving in to the Dark Side?”, “How can I face my father?”).  It is the central antagonism, the problem, which defines how the narrative works.

Now, what my family suggested was the Central Problem to Capra’s story was this:  Suicide.  At first it seems obvious.  The narrative hinges on that point – everything prior leading up to it, all events following directly stemming from it.  No question, it is the crux point of the film.  However, I propose that there is a major flaw with this way of looking at the film.

Simply put, suicide is an Action, which is defined as a deliberately chosen exertion of a person with a purpose in mind.  And while Stanislavski would say an actor must play by their parts an action, that action has to start with a motivation, some personal cause which drives them to move.  An action is something which causes and is caused by a conflict; the inner decision leads to the outer endeavor.

Thus, suicide cannot be the Central Problem of the film.  To say this would be to ignore the vast majority of the movie.  How can an action set an hour and thirty-nine minutes in to the film be its driving problem?  Something had to have led George down a long road to arrive at the edge of the bridge contemplating that fatal action.

Please understand that I am not saying suicide cannot be an important story incident, or even a Central Problem.  In Little Miss Sunshine, Frank’s attempted suicide before the film begins is what spurs the family’s hyper-proximity and fuels their determination to help little Olive feel beautiful.  Neil Perry’s suicide caps off Dead Poet’s Society, revealing his Central Problem of proving himself and following his own dreams.  The action of suicide often reflects the conflict of the film, but of its own right it cannot be the exasperation that the chief characters deal with.

Moment of Decision

This, however, does not uncover what the larger issue is.  As I have scoured reviews and analyses of It’s a Wonderful Life, what I found most often is a diagnosis of George Bailey’s psyche that fails to see the deepest issue, the thing I am calling the Central Problem of the film.  In her examination of the Fatal Flaw, Dara Marks correctly identifies the heaping pressure of the community’s needs on George and how it drives him further towards his attempted demise.  She makes statements that are so close to the mark: “Other aspects of George’s nature were suppressed or ignored and the only things that grew in their place were anger and resentment.”  However, that is where Marks leaves it, falling just shy of the goal with “George’s limited perception of his own identity”.  Lack of introspection is not the singular culprit.

As another example of more obvious misdiagnosis, Molly Kuenzi, a student with Wisconsin Lutheran College, posted an essay titled America’s Prayers: A Brief Discussion of It’s a Wonderful Life, in which she lays out an analysis concerning post-war mentality and Capra’s film.  She falls into the easy pit of seeing this protagonist for what the film is labeling him as, rather than how he sees himself.  Several times she calls attention to the “situation[s] of sacrifice for the common good” George is thrust into, and ultimately declares that “Clarence understands that George is a self-less [sic] person…”.  This, I believe, is the most elementary trap to fall into when examining George Bailey.  It is true that he is a self-sacrificing person, one who more often than not puts others in front of himself.  However, I would say that is not something he is conscious of.  Rather than argue, as Kuenzi says, that George “easily loses sight of where the true heroism rests—in the average man’s small life of sacrifice for others,” I will argue that George’s Central Problem is not one of losing sight, but rather one he needs to be awakened to.

Now we have arrived at the moment when I must lay my own cards out and express what the true, deepest Central Problem is in George Bailey’s wonderful life.

As I have said, I think most people get into the film and see the character from an external perspective (that of the angels), which shows us George’s true nature.  However, this blinds them to his self-image, the way he perceives himself, which leads them to misdiagnose his problem.  The answer is deceptively simply: it is Pride.

Big One

George Bailey is one of the proudest characters I have ever seen in a film.  From the moment we meet him full grown (pictured above), he starts spouting his vast and wild ambitions, making a statement as much about his destiny as about his luggage – “I want a big one!”  From then on, we watch as a man, who so desperately wants to live up to the proud image he has of himself, is continually rebuffed into a humble and self-sacrificing life.

Quotes throughout the film illustrate this internal vanity:  “I know what I’m gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that”; “I don’t want any plastics, and I don’t want any ground floors, and I don’t want to get married – ever – to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do”; “I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world.”

All of this reveals that underneath the self-effacing visage of the eldest Bailey son lies a deep conflict with pride.  This conceit, however, takes on the most remarkable quality which distinctly separates it from hubris.  Cinema provides countless examples of characters struggling with pride as their Central Problem.  Usually, however, they take the form of a protagonist at a height of influence slowly corrupting and toppling (Amadeus; A Few Good Men; Wall Street; The Great Gatsby), or of an up-and-comer who connives their way to the top only to receive divine comeuppance (Scarface; Sunset Blvd; Citizen Kane).  In short, it is a common trope to use Hubris leading to a Fatal Flaw (as Dara Marks rightly shows) to tell certain kinds of stories very well.

However, what makes It’s a Wonderful Life a truly unique film is the fact that it centers on a proud protagonist who does not fall into hubris.  George Bailey is a proud man, and yet his pride is constantly rebutted; all of his efforts find themselves at cosmically designed roadblocks which force him to show a side of himself he does not recognize.  When his friend Sam Wainwright offers him a compliment about his work ethic, George takes it as a slight at his lack of success.  And yet he truly has acted selflessly; he is just blinded to this fact by his own self-image.

In this way, constantly snubbing his vanity, George is found worthy by the divine beings to have himself awoken to this side of himself, not reminded of it as many claim.  Clarence’s appearance is met with frustration and distrust, which slowly gives way to understanding and terror as the scales are taken off of George’s eyes to reveal his impact on the community.  Thus, he is enabled to see past his pride (his vain vision of his destined impactful life) and for the first time be show that he has been acting in a virtuous manner and that he is actually a humble man underneath.  Having rectified his dissatisfaction by redefining his priorities, Clarence and the Angels watch as George’s joy abounds, knowing he has finally seen (not finally remembered) his true essence.

Much has been said about the heavenly influence on Bailey’s life, and I think this only serves to take it a step further and show how even unanswered prayers can sometimes be the work of the Almighty to lead one to the best possible place, though this is admittedly a divergence from the topic at hand.  Rather than falling into the oft-filled pitfall of hubristic characters, George Bailey’s true nature is suddenly unveiled to him despite his burning inner fire of pride.  It is the rebutting of his hubris that ultimately makes him such an admirable character, and which earns him the divine action of salvation from a fate much like Salieri or Joe Gillis.

The source of this pride is a topic for another day, as is the odd form the world has cast on George because of Capra’s decision to tell the story from the angel’s perspective.  What remains then is to return to the ideas established before and interpret them in light of this new vantage, knowing pride to be the driving force of It’s a Wonderful Life. 

I have already shown how the action of suicide must be caused by some inner motivation, and I hope it now clear how George Bailey’s pride is exactly that which pushes him to the attempt.  Again, I will acknowledge that the structure of the narrative hinges around that critical moment.  However, it is the constant denial of his proud ambitions (right or otherwise) that leads George down the spiraling slope of depression, cynicism, and ultimately a nihilism which nearly proves fatal.

As for the reviewers, namely Dara Marks and Molly Kuenzi, I believe they fell for a few easy traps and saw the man for what the film was painting him as: a hero.  Both reviews are very good for what they are specifically examining (the Fatal Flaw and Wartime mentality), but both are indicative of the commonplace misjudgement of George Bailey as a humble man who knows that he is so.  It seems they get caught up in seeing the film from a holistic vantage, rather than from George’s, thus attributing to him traits which he is unaware he possesses.  It seems clear to me that if he did know himself to be a selfless man and if he full appreciated the virtue of the trait, he would never have progressed to the point of suicide and the film would have had no purpose.  Thus, reviewers who wax on about the generous and humble nature of George may do so, having completed the story and seen the awakening he has had.  However, it is the task of the viewer to not get lost in knowing who Keyser Soze is while listening to Kevin Spacey tell us about him.

Praying

George Bailey is a fascinating blend of two opposite conflictions, wrapped up in one of the most difficult eras of American History.  Having only just come home from the greatest war ever fought on planet Earth, returning veterans struggled to balance their insatiable pride for having come out on top, and the image of humble service cast upon them by their family and propaganda.  Capra masterfully took this internal discord – which the rest of Hollywood had turned into the rise of Film Noir and defeatism – and told a story of a man who, despite dealing with pride, manages to live a model life, unwittingly inspiring his friends and neighbors as well as generations to follow.

The ending of the film reflects the marvelous release that occurs with a revelation that one’s actions and deeds have amounted to some great purpose.  By removing his influence from the world, Clarence and the angels reveal to George how the influence of a common, no-skyscrapers-to-his-name guy can be so profoundly important.  Thus, they satisfy his innermost desire to matter in the world – a desire which is deeply seated in pride – by un-blinding George and showing him the wonderful life he has already led.

Thus, with our hero properly diagnosed and standing at the proper place on the bridge for his divine revelation, ends the first of my twelve essays on the cinematic world.  I welcome any feedback on the subject, be it about the Central Problem or about this film in particular.  This has been quite a blessing to write and I cannot wait to continue growing as a critic.  And this next one is going to be a doozy:  confronting all of the Browncoats on the Internet and trying not to lose a friend or two on the other side.

Sources Cited:
Story Structure Architect;  Victoria Lynn Schmidt; Writers Digest Books (2005)
http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-its-a-wonderful-life-1946
http://www.writersstore.com/the-fatal-flaw-the-most-essential-element-for-bringing-characters-to-life/
http://www.charis.wlc.edu/publications/symposium_spring02/kuenzi.pdf
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/?ref_=ttqt_qt_tt

Triumphant Return

Hello all!  A new year and a new start.  This year I am indeed making a resolution which I pledge to keep throughout the year.  It began with a challenge from my boss at work.  He was leading an meeting for our church’s band members and techies, and compelled us that if we find ourselves at the end of the year at the exact same level of skill – be it in musicianship, technical ability, or in our personal endeavors – that we will have been bad stewards of the talents and lazy in our development.  This message touched me and so I decided to be the gung-ho idealist and set a few goals for myself this year.

A great number of my goals pertain to becoming a better husband.  I have only been married just over a month and yet I think this the most appropriate time to begin working on this burgeoning new relationship.  Some of my new purposes aim at advancing myself as a filmmaker and a technical director, striving to become better at my job and at the jobs I hope to have in the future.

However, the ambition I am putting considerable effort into, which shall see the most accountability here, shall be my endeavor towards advancing myself as a film critic and scholar.  Since leaving University last May, I have not had the same level of opportunity to continually develop my skills in analyzing, studying, and particularly writing about cinematic topics.

Therefore, I am beginning a new project.  With no Summer Film Challenge to occupy my blog life, I am starting into a new project: one that is not yet titled.  The rules of my new Challenge are as follows:

  1. Each month I must write one essay on a subject with in Film.
  2. The essay must be minimum 1200 words.
  3. Subjects must be on a topic specifically in the realm of film; not media, not art, not video games or even television.  My goal is not to develop my skill in writing on any subject, but rather to focus in on making observations about the medium I first became interested in and one day hope to teach.
  4. The essay must be finished within the month.  I may write an article outside of the blog and post it at after the month is up.  I may choose not to post the article at all if I think it has potential for publication elsewhere, but I pledge here to at least post a treatment of the essay here, though again this would not have to be within the month deadline.

Before I embark on the first of these cinematic explorations, some housekeeping is necessary.  On a personal note, as I have already stated, I got married in December to my beautiful and wise wife, Emily.  We have been delightfully happy over this past month and have been wandering that long trodden road of learning to live in such deep personal connection to another.  The honeymoon was great but it is time to get back to real life…which finally has a stove in it.

Second, I want to confirm that one of the upcoming month’s essays will be the very long overdue Firefly and Serenity review.  To be honest and a bit spoiler-y, I wasn’t overly fond of the series and thus have been taking my time crafting a careful response, as I know I face the threat challenge of my close friends who adore the show.  So, most likely in February be looking forward to that final SFC12 review.

To begin this new challenge, I would like to turn attention toward that most classic of holiday movies.  Frank Capra is well known for tugging American heartstrings and tickling our funny bones with such classics as Arsenic & Old Lace, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, and You Can’t Take it with You.  But perhaps his most famous work, the film which more people have seen and connected to than all his others, has to be the towering emotional giant of It’s a Wonderful Life.  Shown every year a hundred times around Christmas, this film is far more than the holiday title as it has been pigeon-holed, touching the lives of viewers around the world for 68 years.

So, please join me in just a few days for my exploration of the Central Problem of George Bailey’s wonderful life!

A Little Announcement…..

YEAH!!!!  If you couldn’t already tell, this post is to formally announce that for the first time ever in the three year run of the Summer Film Challenge I, Tyler Welch, have FINALLY completed the Challenge on time!!!!!!!  Yesterday afternoon I watched the final film on my list, Synecdoche, New York, and thus brought to a close the 2012 Apocalypse Edition of the Summer Film Challenge.  Sixteen films plus a short television show now under my belt, I am so ready to face the semester starting tomorrow!

Now, obviously not all of the SFC12 reviews are up yet.  Ryan and I are both working furiously to get those completed and posted on our blogs respectively, and we hope to have everything completed by the end of September.  However, please try to be patient with us as we are both preparing to shoot our senior thesis “Capstone” film as well as begin a new academic year, so it is very likely that our reviews will be slowing down quite a bit.  You can check out all of our reviews over on Ryan’s blog and watch as the final reviews roll in.

So what is next then?  Well, besides uploading the last SFC12 reviews over the coming months, I am working on a massive Quickee post to cover all the non-Challenge films I saw over the summer that I have been meaning to review.  That will be the first thing to drop after all the Challenge critiques are up.  Also, Ryan and I will be doing a recap podcast about the Summer Film Challenge 2012 so expect that soon after the reviews get posted.  And for those of you out there who have been actually waiting for the Bioshock review, don’t think I have forgotten it.  I think the final product will be less massive as I initially planned, but that will be a result of me tightening up my arguments and focusing on a few important things I don’t think have been discussed enough about the game and the genre in general. So, be looking forward to that sometime in October.

Oh….and there may be a little surprise Ryan and I are cooking up for the rest of the Fall so stay tuned. We got some big(ish) things planned…..

So!  Thank you for sticking with me throughout this whole thing and I hope you will continue to check out the blog for the last few reviews of the 2012 Summer Film Challenge and all the stuff that comes after that.  I have really enjoyed taking this journey with you over the past months and I hope to keep this regiment alive as I continue to take in stories and films over the coming years.  Until then, thank you once again for being with me on this and I hope you enjoy a few choice expressions of my joy at completing the Challenge on time.  🙂

POST Oscar Thoughts

Well it was a year of surprises and of safe moves, of miraculous beauty and head-scratching descisions.  If you haven’t already seen it, check out my predictions for who would win here and then come back for my final thoughts on the 84th Annuel Academy Awards.

What I absolutely loved (and caught the careful purpose of) about the Oscars this year was the intense focus on reminding us why we like the movies, which I thought they did a great job at.  I left remembering the amazing feeling of seeing WallE on the big screen, catch every Harry Potter film at the Cinema’s and being blown away by them every time.  Obviously it is an important marketing move after one of the worst year in cinema attendance to date, but I felt they didn’t throw themselves at us too much.  It felt tasteful, glamourous and it did exactly what it needed to in bringing me back to why I love the movies so much.  So for that, Good on ya!

Let’s start with the good things, shall we?  This year was an incredibly safe show in stark contrast to the “edginess” that the Globes go for.  In some ways this was good, as it honored some of the best stars their are with dignity.  I rather loved Billy Crystal’s antics, despite the blandness of his intro.  He did a great job of making it subtly fun, keeping it clean and generally reminding us of all the fun of the movies.  Of course the departure from the “safe” came from the magnificent performance by Cirque du Soleil – wonderful as always.

All of that was wonderful, but what really wowed me by this year’s ceremony was the reverence and wonder they built into it.  Though it is sort of the thing to do these days, I was moved by the “In Memorium” section, which beautifully paid tribute to the men and women who do all of the hard work that allows this to happen.  Also, I nearly broke down watching Octavia Spencer lose it on stage. She was a mess but it was an elegant, beautiful thing.  And finally, I think we will all remember that marvelous moment when Christopher Plummer, 82 years young, was finally united with his long lost love and said “Where have you been all my life?”   It was a touching moment that he has deserved for a very long time and it was a joy to finally see him honored for his lifetime of dedication and quality performances.  Congrats, Christopher!

And now, let us turn to the the few puzzling and slightly infuriating flops from the Oscars.  First and foremost, FREAKING IRON LADY!!!  I was so surprised that a film about recent British figures beat out a film about a British woman being a British MAN, and a film about a magical world full of creatures and battles and stuff FOR BEST MAKEUP!!!!  Are you kidding me?  I was happy with almost every choice they made and I even understand why Potter wasn’t getting any love from the Academy, but REALLY! That choice makes no sense.

Secondly,  I cannot believe that Meryl Streep walked away with the win for Best Actress.  Please understand that I have nothing against Streep – in fact I think her to be the best actress of our time. HOWEVER, why did she win for this film?  Why not for something that she really gave 1000% to like Doubt or Adaptation?  Instead of acknowledge her serious work, the Academy gives it to her for a Margaret Thatcher impression.  It just doesn’t feel dignified of her to win for that.  And when you look at how much each nominated actress put on the line for their role, Viola Davis is the clear frontrunner. Michelle Williams and Rooney Mara both took greater risks with their nominated films than Streep did in this one.  Anyway, enough griping.  Congrats, Meryl and better luck to all those great actresses in the future.

Briefly let me mention the few other things that flopped this year.  First, that stupid Oz clip – no one thought it was that funny.  In fact we all hoped it would be real, but then it wasn’t….  Beyond that was the now standard Ferrell-comedian presentation of award which was funny as usual but it is becoming a little too usual.

Finally, I was a little upset at Hugo taking just a few to many awards, namely Cinematography and Visual Effects.  As I haven’t seen it yet, I will speak only briefly about it.  I just felt like it took a lot of awards that were locked for other films and that started to get really old really quickly.  Honestly, how does it beat Terrence Malick’s soul-movingly beautiful Tree of Life. And Particularly in VFX, I can’t fathow how good they must be in Hugo to beat out both the game changing performance capture of Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the stunning conclusion of the Potter franchise.  It just seems bizarrely implausible that it could be THAT good.  Anyway, congrats also go to Scorsese proving again that not all Film Brats fall. 🙂

Overall I was very pleased with how the Oscars went this year.  Almost immediately after the ceremony I began to feel the low rumbling quake of Potter fans worldwide storming the internet with their unholy hatred for the Academy and I expect the rioting to end soon. 🙂  Sorry, but the great things we are to expect from you apparently weren’t Oscars, Mr. Potter.

As promised I provided a perfectly adequete 50% success rate in predicting the winners and I am already getting excited about next years awards.  My friend Ryan on the other hand nailed 19/24!  Let me know what you thought of the ceremony, the winners, the losers, whatever!  (I am an excellent shoulder to cry on, Tree of Life fans)  I hope you enjoyed this as much as I have and I will leave you with what I think has to be the best visual metaphor I have ever seen for this year’s Animated Feature race:

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And some things….that have not yet come to pass…

Hey all.
This post is basically to apologize for having missed 3 scheduled posts in a row.  I took a spectacular holiday last weekend and I simply haven’t had time to get a new post made yet. School has obviously kicked into session and I am just trying to get in the rhythm of things again.  More will come of that later, but for now I am announcing that the Tuesday post on Soontobeangel is dead – posts will come as I am able to get them up.  Art of the Trailer will still be on Friday’s as best as I am able and you can still expect the trailer for Thin Ice to be up soon.

I have a lot in the works right now, not least of which are 4 reviews for recently released trailers, and I am happy to say, my first video game review of 2012:

So stay tuned, thanks for being patient and I look forward to bringing you some great reviews and rambles soon!

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Nostalgic Memory from My Cartoon-Filled Childhood

Welcome back for another day here on Soontobeangel.  This is the first instance of a new era here on the blog, as I will be trying to keep up a posting schedule of one post every Tuesday.  So, today I am taking a trip down memory lane back to a show that made a big impression on my childhood and I want to share the three most impactful and hilarious episodes I remembered.  And, without further ado, I turn the clock back to look back at that classic 90’s Cartoon show – Recess.

I absolutely LOVED this show!  It was a hilarious compilation of rag-tag characters that fully encompassed the chaos of everyone’s elementary school memories.  I loved how every episode utilized each person’s own unique characteristics and let them be their self.  It was the most tolerant show I have ever seen and I was very excited to find some of the my favorite episodes on Youtube.  Thus, I have posted a few of those below so you can see each one and then read my thoughts on it just under that.

This episode demonstrates an incredible sense of understanding how children deal with serious, adult issues and how they go about learning to navigate them.  I distinctly remembered this episode because it shaped my understanding of language for much of my teen years.  I love the reversal of roles that transpires here – seeing the kids acting like adults and the adults bickering like the children they are trying to protect.  Just a great example of a kids show revealing that it isn’t just a fun, happy little romp for children but an educational tool used to raise big questions.  This episode in no way whomps. 🙂

“Gretchen and the Secret of Yo” really demonstrates exactly what I mean in saying that Recess covered every angle of our youngest years as this story very clearly translates on up into Junior High and High School.  Kids want to feel accomplishment and society (particularly early school life) pushes recreational and sports victories as the ultimate achievement a kid can obtain.  What is so spectacular about this episode is its negotiation of the Talent versus Determination argument – whether or not a person can learn and earn triumph in any field with or without natural skill. Gretchen, being the quintessential geek, obviously lacks any talent in the area of sports but still has the desire to succeed. I love how she tries to reason and will herself to do many things but all of them fail.  Then, when she finds something which she has some talent at, she is able to learn from her coach and work hard to turn that skill into mastery.  It is a great story of overcoming perceived flaws and achieved the goals you set for yourself.  All I can really say about the episode is this:  Yo. 

“Dodgeball City” is by far my favorite episode of a cartoon series of all time.
I love how this episode plays on every western ever made and turns a schoolyard game of dodgeball into a Quick and the Dead  style shootout.  One can clearly see the references made to The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and Shane (that last joke is one of my all-time favorites). Yes, the whip sound effect is overused but overall the story arc is fantastic as is the general western feel that the animators are able to capture.  The bars growing to form the widescreen shot is hilarious and I give mad props to the wonderful person who wrote this episode.  It has made a lasting impression on me all these years later and I thank them for a great laugh and a great memory of my childhood days.

If you haven’t taken the time prior, I highly recommend this fantastic show from our past.  It was well written, cleverly poignant and way ahead of its time for dealing so openly with tough issues kids face (bullying, clicks, etc).  It is a really fun take on some of the best years of our lives and so I hope you take some time to go back and check out Recess – the stories of our childhood.

Just try to forget this image 🙂

Thanks for sticking around!  I hope you enjoyed each of these episodes and I would love to hear what you think of them.  Were you a fan of Recess or did you prefer the Nickelodeon classics better?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

This Friday on Art of the Trailer I am going to take a look at the first trailer for Thin Ice — a new film starring Greg Kinnear that appears to be trying to mix Fargo with the recent raunchy comedy genre. And I think I can already say that I am not particularly psyched about this film thanks to the trailer.  So, join me next Friday for that review and check back next Tuesday for another post here on Soontobeangel.  Thanks!

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