Posted 2 weeks ago

Happy October! I’m pleased to announce that starting today I am reviving my old video game Tumblr page for a month-celebration of monsters, scares, and the inability to climb over couches or turn quickly, no matter how many zombies and giant snakes are chasing. It’s the 2014 Halloween Countdown on B Shoots; Clay Jumps!, each and every day in October.

We’re kicking it off today with entirely too many words about Deadly Premonition, a bad game that I love. Expect more reviews, as well as drawings, sculptures, animations, videos, songs - whatever it takes to fill a month. (What have I done!? Why did I say I would do this?)

If there are any games, monsters, or spooky stages from video games that you’d like me to tackle, don’t hesitate to send a request.

(Above: The first trailer from an early version of Deadly Premonition, then known as Rainy Woods, which I think we can all agree is an amazing name. Believe it or not, this is somehow even more like Twin Peaks than the final game.)

Posted 3 weeks ago

Oldboy
(Oldeuboi - I watched the original Korean one; not the remake)

Ever see a man eat a live octopus with his bare hands?

Oldboy is every bit as sick and twisted as something like Saw, but it operates under the veneer of being a movie with a bit of class. It doesn’t have any class, but it wants you to believe it does. It’s dumb and gross, and it has nothing to say, but it’s also stylish and exciting.

The plot involves a man looking for answers and revenge after getting kidnapped and imprisoned for fifteen years without explanation. Who did this to him? Why? These are the questions the movie wants you to ask, but you’re not really given enough information to make any sense of what’s happening until right before you’re given your answers. Who did that thing? Oh, I guess it was this guy who was just introduced. Okay, but why did he do it? Don’t worry, you’re going to be given the answer in twenty minutes, and it’s going to come completely out of nowhere. Actually, the biggest twists are all too predictable, but the moment-to-moment action is shrouded in silly comic-book mystery until the script decides it’s time for someone to come out and just deliver an expository monologue.

It’s very much a movie by men, with women being passed around as supportive sexual tokens and long scenes of men beating and torturing each other with household objects on the path to vengeance, and it’s certainly cool if you’re into that kind of thing. I mean, a dude crams a living octopus in his mouth and chows down. Just don’t approach it looking for a movie with a heart or a brain.

Posted 1 month ago

Cry-Baby

Greaser boy from the wrong side of the track meets sheltered charm school girl. They fall in love, the socialites won’t have it, and eventually we all make up and learn some lessons. There’s not that much to this movie. The plot is simple, the characters each have one trait, if that, and the cartoonish slide whistles are plentiful.

I love Cry-Baby not for the story it tells, but for the masterful way it tells it. It’s just stupid, silly fun, and it zips along so briskly, joyously celebrating the bad teeth and makeup of its raucous hillbillies, as well as the tragically unhip dopiness of its doo-wop-singing squares.

I’ve never seen a John Waters movie before, but I get the feeling this is my kinda guy. I feel bad for ignoring Hairspray when it enjoyed a resurgence in popularity a few years ago, because the man clearly knows how to write and direct a smartly stupid campy musical. It’s weird and distasteful, but without going as far as a Troma movie. It’s closer to the Pee-Wee Herman brand of nostalgic craziness, but with a slightly harder edge. Turn off your brain, let your toes start tapping, and you are in for pure entertainment.

Posted 1 month ago

Last year I found a Craigslist ad for a voice acting opportunity. I spent weeks hounding them on the phone, desperate to take a shot at a lifelong dream, and they finally gave me a time and place to them. I spent hours transferring from bus to bus, riding alongside withered junkies and burly dudes with the word “WHITE” tattooed down one arm and “POWER” on the other, until, at last, it was just me, alone in the Texas desert on a summer day. I found myself surrounded by enormous steel shacks, sweating profusely as I walked from one to the next, unable to find one that matched the address I’d been given. I called my contact, but no one answered. My appointed time came and went, and just as I was ready to give up on the whole thing, I got a call telling me I’d been given the wrong location. I trekked through the dust to a different cluster of industrial hovels, and an old pick-up truck pulled up beside me.

"Jake?" I nodded and greeted my employers. They pointed me toward a building that looked the same as any other. They parked and we all walked inside. The man who would be my director for the afternoon complained that recent policy changes meant he couldn’t smoke in the studio anymore. We waited a moment for a woman to turn on the air conditioner, then pressed forward through narrow, winding hallways to a dimly lit room full of disassembled drum kits and baffling. I was shown to a closet-sized booth, where I was handed a bottle of water and given my script. I sat on the stool, plugged in my headphones, and took a big swig as I adjusted the music stand and microphone to my height.

The session went very quickly. The voice in my ear would count me in, and then I’d read exactly what was written on the page, free of any nuance or character, just as I was directed. Occasionally I’d unconsciously correct the grammar, and we’d have to back up the recording and try again, but it otherwise went quite smoothly. When I finished, they pulled me into the mixing booth, and I listened to someone else read the same lines I’d just read, albeit with a bourbon-soaked southern drawl. The director gave me another bottle of water and drove me down the street to my bus stop.

I’m still not exactly sure what it was I did. Regardless of what the ad said, it certainly wasn’t anything I would consider “acting.” My best guess is that I was testing voice recognition software for Korean cell phones. I didn’t get paid in money, but I did get a recording of my session, which they told me I could put on my acting reel. So, hey, if there are any agents out there looking for a client who can flatly ask a telephone to call Robin Hood, I’m your guy.

Posted 1 month ago

I Know That Voice

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this movie ever since I first heard John DiMaggio
and Rob Paulsen discuss it on an episode of Talkin’ Toons. That’s a relevant detail. When I tell you how much I like this movie, keep in mind that that’s coming from someone who listens to every episode of a podcast where successful voice actors talk to each other about how much they love voice acting. When I say you should watch it, consider that I am someone who has tried to find work in voice acting. I have a certain investment in the subject matter.

I really like this movie. You should see it.

Getting to see the faces of my cartoon friends on screen for an hour and a half was more than enough to sell me, but if you don’t fancy yourself a cartoon geek, there’s still probably something here for you. In fact, if you’ve never considered the kind of craft that goes into making a bunch of drawings speak (or growl or sob) convincingly, you might enjoy this even more than those of us who can start rattling off Charlie Adler’s roles without a second’s hesitation.

Truthfully, though, the subject of voice acting is much to big and broad for a single movie to cover. I Know That Voice brings in nearly everybody you could hope to see (with notable exceptions, like Frank Welker and most of the Simpsons), and they all have something interesting to say. On their own, most of these actors have managed to fill whole episodes of Talkin’ Toons with anecdotes, tips, and improv, and then they come back for another episode and do it again. These people are paid to think and talk, and they do it well. Put dozens of them in one movie together and there’s barely time to hear from everybody.

If you follow professional voice acting, then it’s not unlikely you’ve already heard Billy West explain the mush-mouthed origins of Dr. Zoidberg, laughed about Jess Harnell’s early-nineties trip to Disney World, or marveled at Mel Blanc’s recovery from a coma. I Know That Voice covers a lot of familiar ground, and yet these expert storytellers put so much into the delivery that it hardly matters if you already know exactly what’s coming. And I don’t care who you are or what you know, watching a ninety-something-years-old June Foray slip back into the voices of Rocky J. Squirrel and Natasha Fatale is amazing.

I Know That Voice is a delight, but it’s also the most basic sort of overview of one my favourite subjects. I watched it on Netflix, but when a documentary has access to this many hilarious and insightful experts, there’s no doubt the real movie has been stuck in hours and hours of DVD bonus features. I’d recommend seeing this movie, but know that if you like what you see, you’ve only gotten the introduction to the world of voice actors.

Posted 1 month ago

The Highlighter Method

I can’t find the source now, but Lore Sjöberg (who, I believe, was paraphrasing someone else) once wrote a great piece of advice for comedy writers:

Go through your script or essay or whatever you’re writing and highlight - with a bright highlighter marker - every line you think is funny. Audiences won’t necessarily agree with you about where the laughs should fall, but at least now you can flip through and fill in the definite dead zones.

Posted 1 month ago

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie

The pitch was easy to get behind: Much like Wayne’s World took its metalhead slackers out of their cable-access show and into the larger world, AVGN: The Movie would pluck the Internet’s favourite reviewer of terrible old games out of his basement and into an ode to campy B-movies. As a longtime fan, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this for years.

Much of the fun in watching a series make the leap to the big screen is seeing what its creators can do with a longer running time and a bigger budget, and James Rolfe has hinted at having greater talents than his (already great) projects allowed him to showcase. He’s made a name for himself by reviewing old video games in character, but he’s also released hundreds of movie review videos which showcase a deep knowledge and understanding of B-movies and cinema in general. The guy knows his stuff. (And on a personal level, when I attempted to find a career in movies, his passion was a key inspiration.)

It pains me to say that, while there are a few good laughs and some charming effects, Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is sorta bad.

In the series, the Nerd spends most of his time alone, although he’s sometimes joined by some sort of crude and cartoonish antagonist, like a pooping Bugs Bunny, a swearing Cowardly Lion, or Super Mecha Death Christ. He plays bad video games, exaggeratedly picks every nit, spews creative obscenities, drinks Rolling Rock beer, and commits over-the-top acts of violence on game cartridges. It’s not a complex character, but he’s rounded out by stories from Rolfe’s own youth, as well as his natural charisma and ability to play off of access to decades of old games.

Naturally, the big movie isn’t simply an extended game review. Naturally, it introduces other characters. The trouble is that these new characters are completely flat and do nothing to steal screen time from the star. No one follows any believable arc, and most of the actors aren’t bringing much to their roles. (It must be noted that a few of the performances are nice, with Robbie Rist, in particular, doing a fantastic job. It’s good to hear the voice of Mikey again so many years after the old Ninja Turtles trilogy.)

The Nerd’s defining characteristic is that he’s skeptical of supernatural myths. That, and he doesn’t want to review Atari’s E.T. game, even though that’s what the whole world wants from him. There’s this weird, running thing about how much the Nerd’s fans adore him. Rolfe’s always struck me as an incredibly humble guy, but in the universe of the movie, he has legions of followers proclaiming their love. They march, they chant, they show off tattoos in video montages, and it’s seldom played for laughs. Honestly, I think Rolfe was just trying to share his big movie with the people who made him (Internet) famous and donated to his budget, but it’s all too much with too little payoff. None of this is playing to the character’s strengths, nor is it bringing anything new to his story.

There’s a cleverness to the plot, which elaborately ties the infamously bad E.T. video game to the Roswell alien coverup, but the exposition is delivered so slowly and clumsily that it hardly matters. Like I said, the Nerd is at his best in the series when he’s giving huge reactions to minor grievances. but in the movie he just dismisses everything to do with E.T. and Roswell. Any comedian can tell you that, “Yes, and…” leads to funnier situations than denial. The Nerd’s unflappable skepticism, even more so than the one-note supporting cast, is the movie’s biggest misstep.

The look of the movie also demands a mention: It is ugly. So much of the fun here comes from the silly practical effects, but then the whole thing is smeared with nasty digital corrections. Lighting is always too blue or too blown out. The focus is either smudgy or too sharp. It’s not fair to mock a low-budget production for being made with cheap cameras, but nighttime shots are covered in digital noise. Poor green screen and effect compositing means people, props, and explosions are often totally disconnected from their backgrounds. Sound balancing is equally inconsistent. It’s not cute or funny. It’s distracting and bad.

If I sound harsh, it’s only because my expectations were high. This is not the movie I’ve been anticipating for years. This is not James Rolfe at the top of his game. It’s a movie that’s sometimes very funny, but more often kind of dull.

If you’ve never seen the online series, this is a terrible introduction to AVGN that will be mostly wasted on you. It’s a movie made for fans, but it’s lacking what I like about the show. I want to love it, and I definitely don’t hate it, but I also can’t recommend going out of your way to see it. It’s fine. Unfortunately, “fine” is neither good nor bad enough to make it a true B-movie classic.

Posted 1 month ago

12 Angry Men

Here we have one of those most elegantly brilliant concepts I have ever heard for a movie: A deliberating jury. That’s it. That’s all. We don’t see the courtroom debates. No investigation. There are no flashbacks to the night of the crime. Not a glance at any of the jurors’ lives outside of what they tell us. Just 12 men in a tight bottle with no means of escape except to come to a unanimous decision about whether or not the accused will live or die.

Immediately, the characters shout that there’s nothing to discuss, and that every minute in the room is a waste of their time, yet the pacing is taut without ever feeling like it’s racing toward a conclusion. We’re given the same time and opportunities as the jurors to decide for ourselves if the boy is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This is a movie about the American justice system, but, more than that, it’s about prejudice, willingness to listen to reason, and having the courage to advocate for others even if you have no clear reason. It’s entertaining, thrilling, captivating, and it has a worthwhile message that’s worth hearing even if you already believe in it. Yes, it’s a black-and-white movie about a bunch of old guys sitting down, standing up, and smoking at a single table for an hour and a half, but don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll find it boring. On the contrary, this is one of the rare movies I would recommend to everybody.

Posted 1 month ago

Donnie Darko

I’m going to admit upfront that I don’t totally get what this movie is all about. I don’t know what events, if any, take place in the minds of characters, or how fantastic or sci-fi the world in the movie is supposed to be, or what the symbols and philosophy are supposed to mean. I’d need to watch this at least once more to make any sense of it, or to convince myself that my shaky understanding is correct after all.

I say this because anyone would come away from a first viewing of Donnie Darko feeling intellectually satisfied, but I know a fair number of us would be thoroughly provoked and entertained. Personally, it doesn’t bother me. I’m not of the opinion that it’s the job of art to answer questions so much as it is to ask them. Does writer/director Richard Kelly have a neat explanation for what happens in this movie? I don’t know, and I don’t care.

Donnie Darko is every bit as funny and as dark as you would hope a movie called Donnie Darko would be. There’s plenty of creepy, imaginative imagery, like the iconic bunny pictured on the poster above, and memorable shots a young, beaten-down Jake Gyllenhaal brooding, and there are a million angst-filled Deviant Artists who have latched onto these elements and want you to know how much they relate with Donnie’s pain and struggle, but the movie really isn’t too mopey. On the contrary, for as much as I felt for poor, miserable Donnie, I laughed harder and more consistently at this movie than I do at most straight comedies.

I’ll spare you my rant on why Gary Jules is a dumb idiot and skip to the part where I say that this movie is rad. It’s one of those love-it-or-hate it pictures, so I can’t give it a universal recommendation, but it’s called Donnie Darko and it has a freaky bunnyman on the cover. It’s weird and grim and funny. You probably know where you land already.

Posted 1 month ago

Not Another Teen Movie

I’ve long operated under the assumption that genre parodies which included the name of the genre in their title would be irredeemable garbage. Hey, I like a good spoof as much as anybody, but take a look at that poster. Take the name plus the shameless male-gaze pandering, and you’ll have to forgive me if I didn’t expect anything more than the laziest dreck.

Not Another Teen Movie is filled with juvenile poop jokes and gratuitous nudity, and it’s sights are set on a target that’s about as easy as they come, but it’s also funny. Really funny. The eighties and nineties were rotten with movies about unlikely romances, underdog sport heroes, snooty rich kids, and sex-crazed nerds, all set in the clique-y, relatable halls of the every-high school, and this parody smartly picks from the best, or at least the most memorable, and zips through them all with a great efficiency. Too often, parodies are content to merely recreate their source material without making and joke or statement, and you do see some of that here, but more often than not, there’s a good twist, and maybe even a twist on top of that.

The casting makes the movie, with lots of young, virtually unknown actors who have gone on to bigger things in the past 13 years, as well as a fair number of surprising cameos. The soundtrack is also notable, consisting of punched-up covers of eighties new-wave standards. System of a Down playing Berlin’s “The Metro”? Yes, please!

This certainly isn’t a must see movie, but in skewering 20 years’ worth of high school movies, Not Another Teen Movie has achieved a surprising timelessness. If you share my prejudices about broad genre parodies, leave ‘em at the door - this flick is not wack.