Appreciation and Understanding w/ Dash of Irony

Hello all!  I thought I would take a break from my reviews to share some news, and have a little ramble.

First, my IRONY MOMENT OF THE WEEK!!!  I was cleaning my room recently, being all productive and stuff, when I found my old Pokemon Ruby Game. Now a bit of history: I have been playing Pokemon games since the first set (Red & Blue). I can still remember playing them on my Original B&W Gameboy at the ballpark when I was 10.  Good times… Anyway, in the 10 years I have had since I have never, repeat NEVER, beaten one. Seriously. I bought every game up to the ruby/sapphire generation and have never beaten any set of Elite Four and Champion. I either spent all my time focusing on completing the Pokedex or lost interest before getting there.

Now having said that, I decided to play the game a bit just for old times sake.  I had made it all the way to Stephen, the Champion, before but I could never beat him.  I decided to try victory road, again just for kicks and made it all the way to the final battle of the 5 and somehow, having not played in over a year now, I BEAT HIM!!! It was so crazy!!! I finally beat a Pokemon game!!! Part of my childhood had ended, IRONY, on the day that the Last Harry Potter film came out!! Just an amazing thing that those two coincided with….the battery died.

I was watching the final cutscene where May comes back and is all surprised that you are the Champion and then Prof. Birch comes in and is all surprised that you are the Champion and then he takes my Pokedex and says, “Here’s some advice…”  CLICK.  My battery dies….right there….. GAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

It was just hilarious that I had waited so long for that moment and when it comes I was robbed of it 🙂 I did go back and beat it about an hour later after I had gotten over how funny it was.  The ending was awesome just as i had always read in my strategy guide (JK!! Haha. Just…..just kidding…….totally not me………..yeah. I did read it cover to cover….yeah.) I loved the Hall of Fame thing and the credits (didn’t even know they did that!) and then….at the end….it says….”THE END”  😀

YEAH! 😀

So now that the embarrassing, end-of-my-childhood moment story is over, I turn to a more philosophical thought.

Something which I have been trying to nail down for many years is how one appreciates a work such as film or book. Recently I had a breakthrough thought which I’d like to share with you for your thoughts.

Our society seems to stress two conflicting opinions.  First, post-modern culture puts forth that appreciation of art can be had in any form or way and by any medium, but I will focus on the thought that no Understanding is required for Appreciation. The Second worldview, coming from Academia, says that in order to fully Appreciate something, one must have full Understanding of it.

Let me give two examples to clarify.  The former puts forth things such as John Cage’s 4’33” or Jackson Pollock’s abstract art as important because each person experiences it differently and in unique manners. The Latter would take things such as Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” and say that in order to fully appreciate it you must know that it was done as a fun exercise with his wife, and that each variation is based on one of his friends.  Obviously the two are in conflict and thus I turn to film.

My friend Ryan and I have a disagreement. Last year he gave me the French film Amelie as part of the inaugural Summer Film Challenge. When I started the movie and realized it was entirely in French without subtitles, I made the decision to watch it without them.  I had taken French in High School, but the true reason I made that call was because I wanted to see what the film was like unhampered by English text muddling the image.  I wanted to watch it as the French did, and I am not sure whether Ryan has forgiven me yet. 🙂

The reason I bring this film up is that I just ordered it on Amazon and I am not sure I will ever watch it with the subtitles, which brings us back to the original point:

What is the relationship of Understanding to Appreciation?

I propose these thoughts on this issue:

  1. I think that everything is art, and some of it is good, but only a rare bit is Great Art and that is what we must focus on. (More on this in a Ramble to come)
  2. While I can get how Knowledge in tandem or conjunction to a piece of art that helps me understand it’s origins and purpose enhances the experience of it, I wonder if we are losing a part of Appreciation by doing so.
  3. The Appreciation lost by seeking understanding I shall call Wonder or Awe. It might be aptly titled “Magic”.
  4. The Wonder I experienced when watching Amelie in French was that, though I could understand only the occasional word or phrase of the dialogue, I was able to understand the film’s plot and message remarkably well.

As my friend Ryan pointed out to me, I did miss the full meaning of the “Counting Orgasms” scene.  However I was able to appreciate that sex plays a major role in the life of Parisians in Amelie’s world and that she is keenly aware of the sexual world around her while remaining aloof of it. I was able to gleen that without being told it by verbal means. This shows me that their is a level of appreciation which is obtainable and important because you experience something unobtainable otherwise.

If you enter into something without understanding and experience it, you are able to return later with understanding and have a new experience (see – INCEPTION).  However, this path cannot be traversed the other way; if you know going in, you can’t experience that Magic (see – INCEPTION again). You can never watch Fight Club, Memento, even Jaws the same way you did the first time, so I stress the importance of not missing appreciating something as wonderful, magical and worthy of our awe.

Just to point out, I do see the irony that I am discussing “Magic” both in the context of the fanciful film Amelie and on the eve of the finale of Harry Potter franchise. 🙂

Thanks for sticking around.  Please tell me what you think about how we appreciate art, film, etc.  I’d love to hear from you!

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A Tribute to the Boy Who Lived

With just under 36 hours left until The End, I thought I would take a second to remember just how big this phenomenon is and share some of my favorite HP links.

Potter Puppet Pals – Bother! A classic set of spoofs of the HP universe…with Puppets!

Pottermore – Still waiting to see what exactly Jo’s got cooking with her new project.

Dear Mr. Potter – A link to the book I mentioned in my review. Really great look at how big this really movement really is.

Mugglenet –  The best authority on all things Potter. I listened to these guys back at the release of book 6.

Mugglecast – Podcast by the above, which is a great source for Potter news from the Orlando theme park to chapter-by-chapter analysis of each book.

The Harry Potter Alliance – Another great fan site and the producers of Dear Mr. Potter

Leaky Cauldron – ANOTHER great fan site 🙂

RAP BATTLE!!! – 😀 Done by a group I love, IndyMogul – for all your DIY film needs.

Literal Trailer – Bit more Tobuscus for you. Just kill him with your awesome, Harry.

Starkid Productions – AMAZING parody’s of the Potter series, A Very Potter Musical and A Very Potter Sequel are hilarious and well worth the three hours each of them are. Seriously the funniest Potter spoofs I have ever seen! Don’t believe me? Ask Umbridge!

"Did you get my text?"

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Those are my favorite Potter tributes and sites! Check them out and let me know what you think! Also let me know if you have a great site or video which I missed in the comments below! Keep calm, wait for July 15, and check out my review of the Trailer for Part 2 tomorrow on the Art of the Trailer!  Thanks!

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Donnie Darko vs. Michael Bay

2 for 1 Special Sunday!!!

It’s Sunday and you are getting two short review for the price of one! Lucky you.
First up, it’s that atrocity of cinema: Transformers 3!

First of all, I must make it clear that I am impressed and awed by how Epic Transformers 3 is. When I say “epic”, I mean that the production was spectacular in how it was done (like Pirates of the Caribbean or 10 Commandments).  The locations are breathtaking and exotic and Not CG. The CG that was there (ie – the Bots and explosions) was spectacularly blended into reality. And the fights were great as the spectacle that they were and for the depth to which they went – going to the dark point of death.  Ultimately the film is incredible in the Epic category; however that is the only aspect of it that I can use the word “incredible”…or even a positive adjective.

The story sucked. The writing sucked. The editing sucked. The acting….meh. Let me explain:

**Spoilers**

The story just wasn’t that good.  It started off well, using the classic story of ally turning on ally. I actually was very excited about the blending of the 60’s space race with modern world. However they basically dropped that story after the first 20 minutes and went back to the fighting. One positive note, they did drop the sex-i-mean-love story from #2 and kept the focus on what matters:  you can’t be focused on the girl during the end of the world.

The writing also plays into why the story sucked. Basically, in typical Bay style, it contains no Ramp and no build; it is just hardcore, over-the-top action the whole way which doesn’t let us get excited about it. Another thing, why is “I’m not a hero. I am just a messenger” the main arc for LeBeouf? That makes so little of him, the protagonist, that I really stop caring about him. Also, Who the BLEEP is Dutch and why the BLEEP is he Deus Ex Machina!? You need a personal assistant? Dutch. You need a kick-a body guard? Dutch. You need a tech-savvy hacker? Dutch. Why don’t they just make this guy God and get it over with!?

Speaking of Deus Ex Writing, why did they bother making obstacles when they take them out without any problem? In particular I refer to the bridges in Chicago. They make it a big deal that the bridges to the middle of town are up so the special forces guys will have to figure a way around tha….wait. No. Just have Dutch from some mystery place hack it in two seconds and remove that obstacle. “Somebody’s watching over us!” Yeah, the writers are.  I could go on and on about how the obstacles really never factor in (plane gets them into the city, giving them weapons to take out Starscream just before they fight him, two small guys get stuck on the big ship right as Bumblebee is about to be killed) but i won’t do that.

Editing falls under the same category. I said it on facebook and I say it again: Where are Simmons and Mearing during the final battle? “Headquarters, duh!” Oh, headquarters! Is that where they have the tech set-up or is that the war room? Or maybe was that the roof that they were on at the end? I can’t tell you how many times I was raising my hands during the movie saying “WTF! Where did that/they come from?”  The fight stuff was well cut as always (because that is the only part that matters) but everything else I thought was useless. One final question – Why are his parents there?

Finally, the acting was…okay. It wasn’t spectacular but because everything around it sucked, it stood out as some of the best stuff of the movie. Other than one obnoxious “OPTIMUS!” from LeBeouf, I thought it was well-performed and a good job of the actors to overcome the bleep that was the script.

Ultimately if it wasn’t for the circumstances in which I watched it, I would regret every second of that night. However it was fun to watch this piece of bleep with friends super late at night and to despise Michael Bay with all of you here, now.

FINAL ANALYSIS:  4/10
Looks pretty but entirely not worth my time and money.

Btw: I am officially starting a boycott of Michael Bay films. You are welcome to join me if you like. Until I hear the he has final stopped making bleep and starts making quality, intelligent films, I am out. $11 less for the multi-millionaire.

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The second of this Review double-feature is actually a Summer Film Challenge 2011 Film, Donnie Darko.

Summer Film Challenge 2011
Report #5
Date:  10 July 2011
Film:  Donnie Darko
My Rating:  9/10

This film…
I am really not sure how exactly I feel about this film and I think that those of you who have seen it know what I mean.  My thought is this film falls somewhere between “WTF!?” and “Holy BLEEP!”  It is definitely an amazing film, deep and dark. I am just not sure I know what Richard Kelly was trying to say. Thus it is not a 10.

Going into it, I really didn’t know what it was about. I knew it was dark and had the creepy, apocalyptic version of Harvey but other than that I really didn’t know anything about it. I was surprised by how many people I recognized in it: Battlestar’s “Madame President” Mary McDonnell, Maggie Gyllenhaal (who plays Rachel in the Dark Knight), Jake Gyllenhaal – the star, and the Dirty-er Dancing, pedo-Ghost Patrick Swayze. Great cast that really sold a tough script to me.

**Spoilers**

Not much to say about the plot, because I don’t think that is what I am supposed to think about. So I focus on what I believe this film to be about.  The time-travel thing and the liquid worm-hole thing I think come back to one throw-away conversation in the middle of the film.

Donnie starts talking with his physics professor about time travel, etc, and at the midpoint of thef film, they have a conversation about Predestination – sort of. They are actually discussing his liquid worm-holes that he sees and how they seem to guide his path in life. They discuss whether following a physical manifestation of “God’s path” for them constitutes free choice or a predestined life (ie – “Can we escape fate?”). I think this is what the whole of Donnie Darko is about. Donnie’s whole experience with Frank after the escaped accident seems to explore what happens when you escape fate (similar to Final Destination). Donnie is granted sight into the chaos of the world without the order of destiny and thus comes to choose (not follow blindly) to follow the path he should have taken. I think these lines might help clarify what I mean:

“Freedom is having a desert open and bare before you, free to be roamed at leisure, and instead you choose to sit in the sand and weep.  Freedom is knowing all angles and vertices of the argument, understanding that which is right and which is wrong, and confining yourself to half-truths plastered on feltboard for children’s comprehension.  Freedom is being able to walk past everyone in the courtyard and out the gate, on to whatever life you choose, and instead you bend your neck down onto the chopping block.”

I wrote that immediately following my watching this film. Hopefully it makes clear what I am trying to say – freedom is having every option and choosing the hard one.  Thus Donnie, who is fully able to avoid his fate, chooses to stick to it.

I think I will be analyzing this film for quite a while. Not sure this film is fully accessible to everyone (or anyone), but it is deep and, I think, important to discuss and figure out.  I loved all of the references in it (King’s “IT”, Last Temptation of Christ, Evil Dead). Not sure exactly what is meant by all of them but it does add a nice level of depth to the film.

I really wish I had watched Donnie Darko with people. Not because I am freaked out by it, but because I wish I could have discussed it with them. This really is a thinking person’s film and I look forward to unpacking it as the years go on.

So there you go! Two films reviewed – one bad, one good. Thanks for stopping by, please comment and subscribe, and here is your clue for the next review:

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Assassin’s Creed – Review and Thoughts

My latest endeavor in the world of video games was into the ultra-popular Ubisoft flagship title of Assassin’s Creed. I went in with high hopes for a fantastic story and an incredible game.  I got one of those. And the other sucked. LET’S GO!

I want to break it down into 4 sections that can best allow me to describe my thoughts. They will be

  • History
  • Story
  • Gameplay
  • The “Christian Element”

That having been said, let’s jump right into it.

1.  History

When this game came out in 2007, I was not at all interested in it.  Part of that was due to some serious discouragement from my friends and family. Me being a Christian and they being Christians, I was told that the game’s purpose was to kill Christians and thus was told not to play it.  Assassin’s Creed wasn’t even on my radar…until recently.

Back in 2009, when I was a freshman in college, I began to get back into video games. My games of choice where the Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper series on the PS2, and I had only just acquired my PS3. From there I began to rediscover my appreciation for video games (mostly thanks to Valve). I looked up some news on video games from there and then found a playthrough of the first mission of Assassin’s Creed. The main thing I took from it was that the story wasn’t really about Altair, a 12th century assassin, but about a man in our very near future reliving his ancestors lives to find something for a modern day Evil Super-Coorporation. I was fascinated! But also I was busy, so I dropped it there…until recently.

As I mentioned previously, this summer I have rekindled my interest in video games. I spent some time following the E3 conference a few months ago. Usually I miss it, but this year I was able to stay up to date on the new releases (via Machinima, Rooster Teeth, etc). Thus I came across the trailer for Assassin’s Creed Revelations. I loved it and you can check out my review of it on Friday at the Art of the Trailer blog. Anyway, I found a playthrough of the 3rd game, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, by Tobuscus. It wasn’t the best playthrough (97 videos x 10 minutes each = my life wasted); however the story was really incredible and I was really inspired by it.

It was then that I remembered that my brother had bought Assassin’s Creed last year. From there it was very simple – play the game. Thus – we arrive at Now.

2. Story

I said in the beginning that either the game or the story sucked. Well it wasn’t the story. One of the best worlds I have ever seen in a story.  The guys at Ubisoft Montreal really made something incredible and I am so excited to see where it goes.

**This review will have spoilers (if you haven’t played it by now, you aren’t going to)**

Contrary to what everyone who hasn’t played it thinks, the story really isn’t all about an ancient assassin.  It is the story of a bartender named Desmond who is kidnapped by Abstergo Pharmaceuticals – the 2012 front for the ancient society of the Templars. Desmond’s past is rooted in a secret group of killers know as the Assassin’s (original, I know). Abstergo and the Templars have taken Desmond in order to find an ancient artifact – a “piece of Eden” – which is locked in the his “genetic memory”.  They use a devise called the Animus which allows Desmond to relieve his ancestors memories and discover the fate of the artifact.

First of all, I love the blending of historical possibility with this story. They didn’t reinvent the wheel. The Templars have always been known for their secretive nature and they have always been suspected of wanting to take over the world. You don’t need to resell that too me and Ubisoft doesn’t. They take something well established and add just enough extra fiction to create a good plot. Works really well.

As far as the genetic memory goes, I thought it was a decent idea. Not sure the science would work out that way but it is plausible enough for you and I to believe it. It also creates the interesting parallel of what becomes a Game within a game. Through the Animus, Desmond puppeteers his ancestor Altair throughout the 12th century world. It allows for the explaining of important game information (maps, controls, quests, etc) to be blended into the game in a way I have never seen before. Very neat idea.

HOWEVER, I really wish that Ubisoft would figure out that Assassin’s Creed isn’t Altair’s story or Ezio’s story. It is Desmond’s tale. They always advertise only the past Assassin stuff, which makes sense – it is flipping awesome. However the story is about Desmond’s rediscovering his family’s legacy and coming into that role. The only time they actually develop that story is at the end of Brotherhood, but as I have not played 2 or 3 yet, I didn’t understand what was happening.

One final note before I get into the spoiler section – the locations where incredible. I climbed the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem! The cities were awesome in their accuracy and in the architecture which was so fun to explore.

**Spoilers**
First I have to say that I loved the games way of starting me at the weakest and building my skills.  Again, very unique style. You start as a fully trained master assassin, but because of your hubris you are stripped of your rank and made a level 1 killer again. Very cool explanation (I know it doesn’t really work that way in life but remember we are in the Animus). That was cool.

Basically you get 9 names of men you must assassinate in order to restore your honor. That works pretty well and makes sense – story wise (more on this later). You followed the proud Altair as he relearns what being an assassin is all about and humbles himself. A nice change of pace from games where you start off low and unrespected and then work your way into cockyness.

Some really amazing twists at the end. I got totally taken by the fake Robert, was surprised to find that my teacher was out to kill me, and that there were more Pieces of Eden. I thought the ending was truly fantastic! But then he came out of the Animus…

Basically you sit on the Animus table listening to the scientist conversing with some business men, have your life spared “just in case they need you”, and then they leave alone. Desmond has some “bleeding over” from his time in the Animus and can now see in Eagle Vision (let’s you see secret stuff). Looking around his room he sees someone has written secret messages all over his walls and floor. “What could it mean?” END.

Yup. It sucks. Their is no emotional ramp. There is no cathartis or conclusion. There is NO PROGRESSION! That is my beef with this whole game – it goes nowhere and it takes forever getting there. After a long set of credits it spits you back out into your little world at Abstergo where you can *Gasp* read emails. 😐  Really Ubisoft? Really?

I know from having read a synopsis of AC 2 that it starts with Lucy coming in and busting you out of Abstergo. WHY DIDN’T YOU END ON THAT UBISOFT!? It would have been amazing had they ended with a nice musical ramp, you look at the stuff on the wall, and then are interrupted by gunfire or something and Lucy runs in saying “We have to go!” That would have all the emotion I need and enough momentum to carry me over to Assassin’s Creed II. I was just a very disappointing end to a phenomenal story. I definitely plan on continuing it to see where they go with this.

FINAL ASSESSMENT – STORY:   4 out of 5

3. Gameplay

As I am sure you have guessed by now, the story was awesome but the gameplay sucked. It was long and tedious, time wasting quests that ultimately made me lose my love for it while I was playing.

It goes back to what I said before – NO PROGRESSION. What I mean is this: when I got to Damascus for the first of the 9 assassinations I had to complete some fact gathering missions so I would know when and where to get him. Being fresh into the game, I went ahead and did all six missions, saved all the citizens in the city (small perks) and found every viewpoint (enhances your map). Then I completed the assassination and returned to my home for the next assignment.

It was here that I discovered I only had to do 3 of the 6 to get through. For the rest of the game I did only just enough to get by, which is sad simply because it really shouldn’t be an “only just enough” sort of game. What really ticked me off was that, after I have done all of that and my honor is restored, I go to take out Robert de Sable in Jerusalem AND STILL HAVE TO FACT-GATHER!!!! Are you kidding me!? I have been doing this forever and now at the end of the game you make me do it more? Now, it makes sense that the humbled Altair doesn’t mind tracking his foe but I, the player do.

Basically I am playing the same game at the end as I was at the beginning. How it should have been done is on the first mission, when Altair is at his lowest and I am most excited, I should have to complete all 6. Then the next two assassinations (which are paired together) should be down to 4. The next three, 3. The last two, 2. And then the last kill (Robert de Sable), I shouldn’t have had to do anything. This creates a nice progression, eases up on the player, and gives the game a flow. They really dropped the ball there (and that is the same issue as how they messed up the end of the story).

Speaking of the end, I have a bone to pick with whatever bleephole designed the real Robert de Sable fight. The way it works is you fight 10 Templar guys and then Robert comes out and you take him on, all in front of King Richard. There is a cliff on one side and a large wall on the other. SO WHY DID YOU MAKE PART OF IT OUT OF BOUNDS! There is a section where “memory cannot be accessed” in the middle of the field. So I go for my second try, have the best fight I have had in game period, BEAT Robert, and when I go for the neck stab he has fallen into that out of bounds section. I beat him but am “Desynchronized – Death”. 😐 I was screaming at my TV. The level has enough natural boundaries. Why put in more? To tick me off, that’s why.

A few other notes. The combat has come under fire a lot and now I understand why. It consists mostly of mashing the square button and occasionally holding R1. Also, there are three weapons (hidden blade, knife, sword), yet you really only ever use the sword. The hidden blade which was a major part in putting Assassin’s Creed on the map is almost unusable because they block you if they even see you coming. Disappointing.

Also, I don’t know if it is the weaponry on my side or the large sign on my back that says “I AM AN ASSASSIN!” but everyone seems to notice me. If you aren’t mashing the “blend” button, you are spotted in half a second. No one else knocks the jars off of women’s heads. No one else gets targeted and smacked by those bleeping lepers. No one else gets hounded by the beggar women, about whom you can do nothing without drawing major attention to yourself. Basically I get the Inception treatment – I am the outsider in a world trying to find and expunge me. It is just poor programing, and I know that would be crazy hard but I hope in later installments they fix the “it’s all about me” feel.

Finally, there is no reason for me to do the side quests. The side quests are finding flags scattered in all the maps and to kill 60 Templars also scattered all over. In the end, there is no perk to my completing them so I have no reason to do so.  Compare that to Sly Cooper. In a story about a thief regaining his honor (sound familiar?) the side quest is to find 100 bottles per level which unlocks a safe. Inside the safe you get instructions on how to do a special move like the Spire Jump or even Slow Motion. It enhances the game by giving me options, helping me complete tasks, or just making it fun. I need some reason to work for it and Assassin’s Creed doesn’t give me one.

Ultimately what made me keep going was the story, not the gameplay. I was sorely disappointed by the clunky controls and lack of advancement or progression. The open world was fun but give me a reason to actually explore it.

FINAL ASSESSMENT – GAMEPLAY:  2 out of 5

4. The “Christian Element”

I wanted to take a second to respond to the discouragement I received from my Christian friends and family. First of all, I was surprised and impressed before the game even started. Ubisoft put a note during the loading screen saying that “This work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultrual team of various religious faiths and beliefs.” While it is not specific or really personal, it does carry the thought that they care enough to address it. I thought it was a nice goodwill gesture.

First and foremost, the purpose of this game is NOT to kill Christians as I was told by every Christian I knew. You aren’t fighting the Crusaders (directly) and you assassinate an equal number of Muslims as you do Christians. The 9 you are sent to kill all have good reason to be taken out. One is a demented doctor who experiments on healthy citizens. You take out slave traders, corrupt leaders, power hungry fiends. Not harmless church leaders.

On that same note, the Assassin’s fight the Templars and it is made very clear that the Templars aren’t fighting for God as they claim. They are working for their own ends – their control of the world. Their Christian front is exactly that: a front!

Finally, the game has come under fire for the morals put forth by the Assassin’s. Their key phrase is “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.” Obviously this doesn’t jive with Christian theology. However I simply ask you to consider this:  If nothing is true is that statement false? If everything is permitted, is ignoring that adage okay? The point of the phrase isn’t to be held as a hard-and-fast rule; it is meant to get one in the mindset of questioning that which is told them. It is about seeking truth and not letting your search for it be hampered by other’s rules. Seek truth. That sounds more in line with what we believe. Don’t take it as literal but think and seek the truth in it.

So there you go! A phenomenal story muddled by poor gameplay, with some interesting philosophy thrown in.

FINAL ASSESSMENT – 3 out of 5

I enjoyed following Assassin’s Creed and I do plan on finishing the series over the rest of the year. Please let me know what you think about my review in the comments below. Also, check out my review of the Assassin’s Creed Revelations trailer on The Art of the Trailer!  Thanks again and God bless!

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Super 8 – A Super Movie! :D

**Non-Summer Film Challenge**
Film:  Super 8
Rating:   9.5/10

So I finally got around to seeing Abram’s and Spielberg’s collaboration and, like everyone else, I loved it!  It was well written, well executed, all around just excellent film. It tugged heart strings that I didn’t expect as well as satisfying the mystery and excitement that I did anticipate.  I loved that I went in thinking it was a dark, updated version of ET, but it really showed up as it’s own film that is worthy of all the hype it is getting.

I was surprised at how dark it really is. I expected it to be more intense, of course, than the early Spielberg films that it is often compared to, but I didn’t expect it to be so crazy.  The wreck was terrifying, as was the reveal of what was in the train car.  I really didn’t expect it to go as far as it did in that realm but I was pleasantly surprised that Abrams didn’t hold back.

The other thing that really stood out to me about it was the performances of the children. They really brought their A-game, I thought, and the film really is carried by my empathy for and with them. It was also a joy for me as a filmmaker myself to see the parallels that must have occurred on set. I wonder if Joel Courtney (who plays Joe Lamb) was given the opportunity to shadow a makeup artist, if Riley Griffiths (Charles) got to hang out with J.J. and see how it works. It must have been a joy to work on and I wish I had known they were filming in West Virginia. I might have gone out to help!

Only a few things seemed off to me, and I will touch those lightly. First, and others might have mentioned this, but the lens flair thingy at the trains station (the blue line when they first arrive) didn’t really work for me. Both my Dad and I were thrown off by it. It jarred us out of the film to wonder if that was a mistake, and (***SPOILER COMING***) I get the parallelism with the end, but it still doesn’t really work for me.  It is too jarring and it doesn’t come enough for me to be cool with it.

The only other issue I have might have been an issue with the theater in which I saw it.  The sound was weird. It seemed like it was constantly peaking which caused it to sound scratchy and nasty. This particularly came through during the train wreck. I understand the concept of using sounds to enhance a mood, going from silence with bigger sounds to a loud bit in which it’s all a bit blended together. However it seemed to me that everything was a bit blown out. Again, I saw the movie in a really junky theater (Carmike) so if you had the same issue and know what I am talking about, please comment and let me know below. Might push my review up to a 10 if that was just the theater.

Ultimately, it was an amazing film that I plan to go back and watch again.  Well crafted bit of cinema that reminds us that it still can be done. Might not take my young friends to see it but certainly well worth the time of anyone who loves movies.

Thank you for sticking with me, as I have been working hard on my new blog – The Art of the Trailer. Check it out and let me know which trailers you want me to review.  It is going to be fun and I look forward to really delving into it.  So again, thank you, please comment below, and I will leave you with a clue as to my next review:

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Who IS Virginia Woolf and Why is She so Scary!?

Summer Film Challenge 2011
Report #4
Date:   28 June 2011
Film:  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
My Rating:  8/10

Reasoning:
First of all, this is one of the best written films I have ever seen, and for obvious reasons.  I really enjoyed watching this scene (and it really is one or two scenes) and the George and Mary relationship play out. Really fantastic.

This to me is what every indie film tries to be: a dark, yet honest representation of real life and real people. What makes it stand out (besides the lack of indie music) was that it takes place over the course of 5 hours one night.  Most films try to show so much of life over several months or a solid week, but Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? proves that with excellent writing it can be done in much shorter time.  Beautiful writing that really challenges you to think.

However, I still feel like I missed the “joke”. Going into it I knew that Virginia Woolf was a writer, probably a poet, but that was all I knew. After seeing it, I educated myself on the subject.  And still I don’t know what the point is.  She was a feminist and the parallel can be draw there from the strong woman she was and the strength of Margaret’s character, but I am not sure that is the full extent of the point being made.

Also, I really don’t get the ending.  I mean I understand what happened but I have no idea what happened. All I will say here is that, again, I followed what occured but I am not sure I understand how it got there and where it goes from there.  Below, I am including a section that will go into more detail about this issue, but that includes spoilers.  Check that out to see what I mean.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I don’t get these two things, but I don’t get them sort of like I don’t fully get Inception or The Departed. I don’t understand it but I know that it is deep and amazing.  I just need some time to let it all sink in.  Good stuff that you can’t just accept and move on.

One final note in the spoiler free section about the acting.  Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton give near flawless performances, really nailing these two incredibly difficult roles. The supporting cast….not so much. Watch and see what Nick (New Bio Teacher) drinks after his wife throws up. It must be 1000% proof because in a matter of seconds he goes from calm and collected, if not a little nervous, to smashed out on the lawn. I know acting drunk is hard but Taylor and Burton nail it (the couple being very used to drinking works well) versus the other two start in control and, after a few drinks, completely fall apart.  That wasn’t great but it was covered well by the phenomenal performances by the every beautiful Elizabeth Taylor and the wonderfully calculating Richard Burton.

In summary, a great movie, a bit tough to watch but on the whole, amazing and well worth the chance to watch it. I look forward to unpacking it over the next few weeks. Btw: 20th post!!! 🙂

Do you fear death?

***Spoilers below***

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What I mean is this: I understand that they don’t have a son. That I can follow, but I don’t really understand it. I guess that the game is that they can’t mention the game (sound familiar?) and they both are in charge of the creation of their son’s life.  I guess it just doesn’t make much sense to me how deeply they are connected, partially through a neurotic fantasy life of their imaginary child, yet are so evil to each other on the surface. Both traits are believable but I am just not sure how well they work together. Really going to need some time to unpack this whole debacle.  That’s it.  Thanks!

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The Art of the Trailer

So this is the big one – the EPIC Post. Something that is quickly becoming a major passion of mine is the creation, construction, stylisms, and impact of a trailer.

........no.

I mean the short video promos that sells to you the product, be it movie or video game.  I have even seen them for books. They are the first impression makers, the only thing that makes me even think about caring about your production.  Trailers are an invaluable part of how a film or game gets big…and yet to most people they are just bothersome fodder between them and the movie they came to see.

For me this is an incredible tragedy.  In the space of 2 minutes or less you have to convey what your story is about AND make it look worth my time AND make it look fun.  This is not a task for the faint of heart, nor for the perfectionist. It’s not easy, and thus we often get junk, but once every long while we get a great one that stands out as the amazing work of art that it really is.

It seems to me to often we end up seeing the whole movie in the short preview.  There is no wonder. There is no mystery. There is no draw. I may be a film major, but it doesn’t take any sort of real brain-power to see the entire plot of the story from the trailer; they give it to you on a silver platter.  Take almost any modern trailer, say….oh…how about…Everything Must Go. Check out the trailer and come back for my thoughts.

Right off the bat the tone is set by the music – this is a comedy. This is confirmed by the opening image of Will Ferrell as Nick. However they quickly show us that it is a bit more serious than most of his other stuff….until 0:25 in, when he falls right back into his old schtick.  The next thirty seconds details the entire Act 1 – he gets kicked out and decides to live on his lawn, trying to hold onto his old life.  The First Turn is at 1:08 when he finds out that he can’t stay this way for much longer.  His struggle is between letting his past go and moving forward versus keeping his old life.  MAJOR CONFLICT DEFINED.
Immediately following that we get “the sidekick” (and a bit more confirmation of Ferrell’s humor).  Then, comes my friend Ryan‘s favorite part – THE INDIE MUSIC!!! (that tells us that it’s going to be a “quirky, yet serious drama about ‘real’ people and ‘real’ life”. Yippie.)
***1:42 – Blatant stating of the moral of the story by female friend/mentor. (Then the music gets hopeful…).  We get a nice little montage and at 1:51 we see the Second Turn – he gets rid of his stuff, thus proving he is learning the lesson.
And you might be saying “wait! that seems more like the ending than the end of Act II.”  And you’d be right, because at 2:17 we see the hero’s low point (the real Turn 2). Clearly he falls into depression towards the end of his borrowed time and is lifted out of it by what really matters – his friends. Aww.

End on some jokes to remind us that it’s funny and that’s it. The story mostly laid out in the trailer.  Why should I pay $11.50 to see in 2 and a half hours what I got in 2 minutes and paid nothing for? Seriously.

To be honest, what really sparked this dissertation was the recent slew of trailers and news from the E3 conference.  Video Game trailers have inspired me far more than most of those for movies.  What I truly love about video game trailers is that they understand that they can create something totally off-story to sell it.  Doesn’t make much sense when I say it but check out the announcement trailer for Dead Island and I think you’ll see what I mean.

I LOVE THIS TRAILER!!!  The music fits so well to what they are doing there, and this is exactly what I mean.  It shows absolutely zero gameplay, zero story, and honestly zero characters from the video game.  Yet, this alone enticed me enough back in February for me to have followed it all the way here into June.  I love how it focuses on the emotional impact of the zombie invasion, something often left out in favor of “killin’ them damn zambies!” But the true beauty of the promo is the mixing of the story, both forwards and in reverse, so that at the end he leaves his daughter behind.  That was a beautifully tragic moment that incredibly re-imagined a classic scene into something new and amazing!  This is far more interesting than them telling me the whole story and hoping I’ll buy it anyway.

Ultimately I could go on forever about this (and I probably will do a follow-up post sometime) but this post is epicly long enough already.  However, as promised to my friends on Facebook, below I am posting a list of great trailers along with my comments on each.  They are broken up into three sections – Classics, Friend Recommendations, and My Own Personal Favorites. Enjoy, Comment, Subscribe, and please let me know what you think about my opinions.  I am passionate about this and would love to hear your comments. If this is your first time here, thanks for checking me out (yeah!) and please feel free to comment below! A-Dios!

CLASSICS:

–>Psycho
[All-time classic; Hitchcock creates a neat documentary style which makes the film seem all the scarier because of the potential reality of it; though his acting sucks, the audiences of the 1960’s would have been totally freaked out by this sort of gimmick]

–>Cloverfield
[A more recent classic, it really sells the major feature of the movie – the handy-cam-esque style of the film; Also note: they don’t even name the film in this preview…fascinating J.J. Fascinating]

–>Wall•E
[Surely you remember this one, a classic that focuses on it being the last Pixar original (early) idea; really works well for selling it to older audiences who will in turn excite the younger generations; Cool way of marketing this]

–>Scary Mary
[I am putting this under Classics because this really shows how important a trailer is and how much impact it can have on the expectations of a movie or game. Also because it is bleeping scary!]

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YOURS:

–>Green Lantern
[Never been crazy about this; It shows way to much of the movie; I like the motto at the end except that Batman does the final line]

–>Star Wars: The Old Republic
[1:11 is the teaser; 2:02 is the second teaser; the rest is the trailer; It is super long but works I guess.  More of a short than a trailer]

–>Girl with Dragon Tattoo
[I have no idea what this is about; the only reason it works is because most people have read the books or seen the foriegn movie and know sort of what is going on; an insider’s trailer – not good for outsiders like me]

–>Battle: Los Angeles
[I like the ramp from the metallic somber song to the near-scream; also this one doesn’t say title just like Cloverfield; However, they are still showing us a lot of the movie]

–>Transformers: Dark of the Moon
[I remember I really loved this the first time I saw it; great mixing of past and future; I am looking forward to it; doesn’t tell us much but just enough to make me interested]

–>Another Earth
[Perfect example of a trailer that shows too much; I know most of the story and am left with only a little mystery left. Also they don’t clarify the mood – it starts as a dark sci-fi then becomes a typical indie depressed drama; I am interested in the story but the only thing the trailer did for that was tell me the name]

–>Green With Envy
[Please watch it first then read the rest of this! ||  Love it!  Great misdirect and beautiful parody of every RomCom trailer ever 🙂 Segel is really making me believe that this won’t suck! In fact I am really looking forward to this!]

–>Gears of War 3
[Really just “meh”; good use of song but really doesn’t make itself stand out; Only really good part was the “Let’s finish it” line and the “Brothers to the End” – that seems interesting but otherwise really a letdown from GW3]

–>X-Men: First Class
[Great trailer; starts off with emotional build up of the music which really invites you in; Great blending of the old and new (in many ways); Doesn’t show to much and still enough to make me think this might be worth my time; Good use of a different title scheme rather than typical text]

–>Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
[Should have ended right after 0:56; we see far too much; just like the movie you keep thinking “when is this going to be over?”; Again a trailer that really only works because the audience has already seen movies 1 and 2 and is chomping at the bit for the final installment; really not that good of a stand-alone trailer]

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MINE:

–>Assassin’s Creed Revelations
[By far my favorite trailer right now; sick song that hits deeply and emotionally – amazing graphics in the cinematic – tells me everything I need to know (protag, setting, style, and part of plot) – and is FREAKING SICK!!! Please check this one out now and see what I mean]

–>Halo 4
[Very cool reintroduction of the series; I like that it takes only 20 secs to figure out what we are seeing, yet the payoff still is really fantastic]

–>Inception
[Almost put this in classics, but I want you to try to watch this how you first saw it – see everything new and remember what it was like to not understand it then (not like how you don’t understand it now 🙂 ]

–>Sly Cooper 4
[I have always been a fan of the series, and the trailer plays right into what I love about it with a great payoff at the end]

–>Dead Island
[Worthy of being mentioned again; great re-engineering of a scene to make an intended mood]

–>Legend of the Guardians
[This is the trailer that got me into studying trailers; PLEASE watch in HD; really showcases the visuals which are phenomenal (and totally Snyder-esque) and the song was well selected and used to drive in the emotional impact]

–>Ghost Recon Future Soldier
[I like the “carousel”-esque effect that really works to make itself standout from Battlefield or COD, which is what this needed to do to muster any support]

–>Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter
[Just to prove that books get trailers 🙂 but really this is a great promo for what looks to be an awesome book]

–>10 Things I Hate About Commandments
[I end on another parody that again showcases how important a trailer can be in making the mood, tone, and direction of film (or game) go and how well it can reach the target audience]

NO...DAMN IT!!!! Gah........

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