2011 Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Changing Reels Episode 1 – Better Luck Tomorrow

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Hello all!  I know things have been quiet recently, but the great results myself and Courtney had with our Denis Villeneuve series has led to a new podcast.  We've partnered with Modern Superior for our new bi-weekly show Changing Reels.

With Changing Reels, we hope to create a new cinematic canon focusing on diversity in front of and behind the camera.  Along with a feature-film, we'll be selecting two short films to discuss at the beginning of each episode.  Our first episode focuses on Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow, Patrick Ng's Real Talk, and Michi Que Doan's Evidence.

Show Notes:

  • 0:55 – Real Talk by Patrick Ng
  • 8:09 – Evidence by Michi Que Doan
  • 17:28 – Better Luck Tomorrow by Justin Lin.

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Octodad (2011) and Octodad: Dadliest Catch (2014)

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Earlier video game writing was under the banner Why Video Games, now Pixels In Praxis.  For a FAQ on Pixels In Praxis and explanation of spoiler policy, click here.

OctodrewSeth, I have to say, I'm disappointed in you this week.  After our video game analysis started off so well with a good initial chat and great examination of Myst last week, I thought we were going to be in for something special.  After all, how do you follow walking around a mysterious island and interacting with unusual machinery?  Well, you don't do it by making me play a video game starring a perfectly normal father.  I mean, I was pumping water through a dilapidated ship last week, and this week I'm picking up groceries?  What's next, selling lemonade?

I kid, of course, but at the heart of any good joke lies a great deal of truth and the truth is I'm delighted that you wanted to talk about Octodad in both student game and retail release formats this week.  Delighted because it's one of the few examples of its suddenly overpopulated and mostly rubbish genre, of which I don't have a specific name so I'll go with "how the hell do I control this?"  Also delighted because it'll allow us to discuss something we didn't really get to talk about too much last week, that being how to engage the player through character and control.  Finally delighted because it has quite easily the best theme song of any video game released in the last five years (and was an initial pick for my fiancée and I's "coming out" music for the reception).

But, perhaps most importantly, we'll be able to see an evolution.  Because I played through Octodad: Dadliest Catch only a few months ago and had it fresh in my mind, but the student game was new to me.  It astonished me how much a simple change in design philosophy made the experience so much better.  In the student game Octodad, you are an octopus who happens to be a father, but in Dadliest Catch you're a father who happens to be an octopus.  A slight turn of expression did a world of good, and I'm curious if that was part of your plan in suggesting the two together, or if there was some other devious reasoning afoot?

OctosethYes, indeed. I see the two Octodad games as parts of an interesting statement. The student game seems to be a shot in the dark. An experiment. They Young Horses team took wobbly, nigh-unpredictable controls to a certain extreme, and went to work making a character so charming we didn't mind. I don't know how they decided on an octopus. But the interesting point is not the species of animal they selected. It's that they prescribed a series of goals to that octopus which weren't meant for it. There have been lots of games about animals doing human-like things. But they tend to be fully anthropomorphized and skilled (See: Ratchet of the Ratchet & Clank series and many others). In other words, the standard animal fantasy is to imagine that animal as having a level of sophistication similar to humans and run with it. This is not so with Octodad. This octopus is just an octopus. Yes, he wears a suit and has learned and accepted certain trends of human life. But we get to share in a wide-eyed bewilderment with this creature as we discover what it's like to explore and manipulate a world that was not meant for him.

The tasks had to be simple enough that the game was about experimentation. Those wobbly tentacles are the center of this game, and the glue that binds them to the world design is the Suspicion Meter, which is based upon consequences of physics rather than direct input. It's the things that we are doing unintentionally that alter our metered success in this role. Without that touch, it might have been a curious physics toy and not a fully-realized game.

It's interesting that we are given unmatched inputs and outputs, as it were. This is not a game about being an octopus. This is not a game about being a human or accomplishing tasks that humans value. It's a game about an octopus trying to be human. That's the subject, anyway. Weird place to be. Putting aside the specifics of the controls, or the setting (the fatherhood narrative), what do you think this says about the core fantasy of Octodad?


Not Another Not Another Movie (2011)

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Watching and then sitting down to write about Not Another Not Another Movie has proven to be a microcosm of relaying a positive or negative review relative to how long ago the movie finished.  The first time I watched The Big Lebowski I hated it and two years passed before I gave it another chance.  In the case of NANAM (which, itself, is a fun acronym) if you caught me within the first ten minutes I would have said it was one of the surprise comedies of the year.  Alas, as the song goes, time keeps on slipping...slipping...slipping...

It's now been forty five minutes since the credits stopped and I'm struggling to remember what I liked so much.  The opening scenes of Hollywood big-shots forced to do z-grade motion pictures were amusing, especially given my admiration for their pluck.  But this is a prime example of how a premise cannot sustain a film.  The mockumentary of NANAM that becomes the film I watched would have worked as a splendid twenty minute short film, but stretched to an hour and a half is just too much.

There's another part of me that wants to scream, "So what?"  So what if the quality of NANAM degraded very fast, it was one of the only films this year that gave me a belly laugh.  This is the year of Kevin James as a street-fighter, what's a little harm in laughing at movie stars as they gradually fall into the abyss?  "Not much," replies NANAM, "as long as you don't want anything else."


Arthur Christmas (2011)

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Arthur Christmas is nearly a  year old, and not a film I have been looking forward to seeing.  Despite its pedigree through Aardman Animations (they of Wallace and Gromit and this year's Pirates!) I was let down by their last effort, the surprisingly lackluster Flushed Away.  Then there was the matter of that advertising making every inch of the film look like prepackaged bland cheer.  There's not anything wrong with a bit of cheer, but after so many "We have to save Christmas!" expressions in a three minutes span it's hard not to feel a bit wary.

This is one of those moments I'm happy to be wrong, and for exactly the reasons I should have anticipated.  All of Aardman Animations films, even the ones that have left me a bit cold, are firm believers in the old Rocky and Bullwinkle principle of animated entertainment.  You have to hook the kids with the flashy animation, and then keep the adults happy with humor that will look silly to the kids but sly to the adults.

I'm happy to report Arthur Christmas accomplishes this in spades and is probably the darkest movie about Santa Claus ever made.  It's not "Santa is surprisingly racist and literally fighting the devil" dark, but the reality isn't that far off.  The world of Arthur Christmas has kamikaze elves and a Grand-Santa (a superb Bill Nighy) who I suspect was not a fan of the suffragette movement.   It's a strange Christmas film.


Take This Waltz (2011)

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Someone should have told Margot (Michelle Williams) when she was growing up that living life exactly how and when you want requires a certain kind of crazy conviction and total abandonment of empathy.  She wants to live life to the fullest, but doesn't exactly have the expressive tools to explain to everyone around her that's her mission.  So she quietly goes about her daily routine making muffins, traveling, and eventually meets a handsome stranger who may be able to make her life exciting again.  On another note, someone should have told her that if the exciting life is all you live, that becomes just as repetitious as everything else.

Take This Waltz is a great film by the Canadian writer / director Sarah Polley.  She has performed and learned under one of the greatest directors of all time, Atom Egoyan, and has also been in films by David Cronenberg and Terry Gilliam.  Because of these associations there is plenty of visual invention throughoutWaltz, but the most important lesson of directing came from Egoyan.  There is no point throughout the movie where Polley treats her characters with anything less than total empathy and no one gets to be the victor.

Those sort of complications thrill me, because I love when movie characters are found to be as weak and flawed as the rest of us.  Polley shows Margot as the kind of person who will never be satisfied, but seems to find relationships that will never satisfy her.  She embraces fiction and says that she is a writer but the only artistic lies she creates are the kind that lend her credibility with her friends and family.  The handsome stranger (Luke Kirby) wonders why she's in a wheelchair, she lies and says that she has leg issues.  The sister-in-law (Sarah Silverman) needs someone to tell her she's strong, so she lies and tries to support her through her alcoholism.  The husband (Seth Rogen) needs to feel loved, so she tells him he loves him.