Video Games: The Movie is More an Advertisement Than a Documentary

Video Games: The Movie Poster

Video Games: The Movie Poster

TitleVideo Games: The Movie
Genre(s)Documentary
Director(s)Jeremy Snead
Release Year2014

I have played plenty of video games. I might even go so far as to say that I love video games. A bold claim, for sure, but not an uncommon one by any stretch of the imagination. Video games are huge, and constantly getting bigger and bigger, so the idea of a documentary that looks back on the history of the medium and examines the struggles that the medium has had since the days of Pong and the arcade cabinet, is both tantalizing and informative. There is a lot of information to be unearthed when it comes to what went wrong at certain times in the industry and how some companies fell to the sidelines simply because the industry was in a constant state of flux. Unfortunately, Video Games: The Movie is a celebration of gaming, with very little recognition of the struggles the industry has had to overcome and is still overcoming.

There was a moment when the most beloved of video game companies, Nintendo, was being discussed as the saviour of the gaming industry and developers and publishers talked about the influence Nintendo had on the industry as a whole, as well as their lives. That segment is exactly what is wrong with Video Games: The Movie. It never acknowledges the missteps of Nintendo, and even goes so far as to feature employees of Nintendo esteeming the company in both what it’s done in the past as well as the present. It is a moment that plays out as a very unappealing advertisement, where you can tell the filmmakers were not concerned with telling two sides of a story, but merely wanted to get more people into video games.

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How Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Restarts Human History

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Poster

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Poster

TitleDawn of the Planet of the Apes
Genre(s)Action, Drama, Science Fiction
Director(s)Matt Reeves
Release Year2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a magnificent film. Not because it does anything original; not because it breaks new ground; and not because it reinvents the wheel. It is a magnificent film because it uses revisionist film-making to make a point. It understands that good science fiction has something to say, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has something very poignant to tell the audience. It takes a human story and uses apes to tell it. By doing so, Matt Reeves manages to highlight the simplicity in the story, but also reinvigorate what it means to be a science fiction film.

The movie picks up years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes escalated into a world where Caesar (Andy Serkis) is essentially the ruler of the world, or at least in the scope of the film. Humans aren’t even considered to still be alive, and there are rules which the apes live by. They are rules which are reminiscent of Moses and the Ten Commandments, but more limited and devoid of religious association. However, they are the beginning of a civilization. That is where Dawn of the Planet of the Apes excels: it demonstrates the evolution from tribalism to civilization by simply restarting the world.

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Noah Ambitiously Engages With The-Text-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Engaged-With

Noah Theatrical Poster

Noah Theatrical Poster

Title: Noah
Genre(s)Action, Adventure, Drama
Director(s)Darren Aronofsky
Release Year2014

I dismissed Darren Aronofsky’s Noah for several reasons. One of which was that it seemed to be doing what every movie that has interpreted the Bible has done: treat the tale as either true or false. Noah does not do that, though. It fills in the blanks of a text that has never had the blanks filled in. What does a world in its death throes do when it is not going to survive? What lengths will one man go to in order to complete a task? That Noah deals with these questions is not surprising. What is surprising is how earnestly it portrays the answers, never shying away from one moment of darkness. It utilizes rationality to tell the tale of a man tasked with rebuilding the world; a world which mankind itself has ruined.

Aronofsky’s hand can be felt in the distinct visual style of Noah, with a little help from influence by the late Ray Harryhausen. Stone giants assist Noah (Russell Crowe) in the creation of his Ark, complete with stop-motion animation seamlessly mixed in with CG models. Noah is at all times beautiful beyond its animation. The constant bleak imagery that persists contributes to the sense of a destructive mankind, and a world that is doomed to be wiped clean of human life. Images of greenery and sunny vistas simply drive home the notion of both good and evil residing in everyone, regardless of how sinful they are. It is no surprise that Aronofsky uses visual cues to convey the themes of Noah, seeing as how he has always been a very visual director. Continue reading

Deliver Us from Evil Attempts to Break Away from Horror Tradition

Deliver Us From Evil Poster

Deliver Us From Evil Poster

TitleDeliver Us From Evil
Genre(s)Crime, Horror, Thriller
Director(s)Scott Derrickson
Release Year2014

The interesting thing with a lot of good horror films, are that they recognize what a generic horror film is. In fact, many still bathe in a bad horror film’s tropes. Buried underneath the goat’s blood, holy water, exorcisms, crucifixes, and constant stupidity, is a kernel of something clever, though. Sometimes the film lets that unique twist flourish into something whole, or they just have it there as a means of providing one moment to fawn over. Deliver Us from Evil is interesting because inside its classic possession/ritualistic tale are a slew of kernels of a different movie. They wind up as tonal inconsistencies more than moments you enjoy, but there’s something admirable about Scott Derrickson’s attempt to subvert the horror genre in so many unique ways.

The beginning of a horror film is predictable, yet always acts as a form of comfort. That initial killing or freaky circumstance sets the tone for the film and reminds the viewer that they will get their screams. When a horror film opens with a bunch of soldiers running through the deserts of Iraq as explosions detonate all over the screen, something unique is attempting to unfurl. Deliver Us from Evil tries so hard to unfurl from a standard horror film into this weird crime noir/action/horror hybrid that it can’t figure out how to meld each genre together. As the atmosphere tries to be set, action scenes ruin the creepiness, and those action scenes are ruined by weird comedic moments that do not jive with the noir elements of the film’s main character.

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A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness Embraces The Darkness [VIFF 2013]

A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness Poster

A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness Poster

TitleA Spell to Ward Off The Darkness
Genre(s)Documentary
Director(s)Ben Rivers, Ben Russell
Release Year2013

If you were to ask me what my favourite genre of music was, I would probably just say ‘metal’. And then go into detail of each sub-genre that I listen to frequently. So when I saw that there was a documentary which featured Robert A.A. Lowe of Lichens-fame as the protagonist, playing at VIFF this year, I was sold. For a long time, black metal has been associated with anarchy and satanism, due to artists like Burzum and Mayhem going around burning churches and killing people. However, lately, the scene has changed and with bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Om, there has been a shift to trying to entwine spirituality within the music. A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness is the first film I have seen to display this new wave of black metal so vividly. It is not a perfect film, but for what it is trying to do, it serves its purpose with ease.

The film is comprised of three parts, with the final part representing the culmination of the first two acts. The problems that the film encounters primarily stem from the initial act, where we sit in on a 15-person collective in Estonia, as they live their lives among each other. The sense of community presented in this section is something which the film does to great effect, but in relation to the rest of the film, it creates the most problems. There is no main character provided before the switch to the second act. This is because the film tries to show as many characters as possible, and the one person who ends up being our protagonist, is the one who talks the least and who we barely understand except that he plays guitar. Other characters have more depth by the end of the first act than him, but we still wind up watching his journey. Of course, the man in question is Robert Lowe, who spends the next section of the film wandering through the woods, finding himself. This section isn’t necessarily exciting, but it is interesting in the context of A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness.

It will probably turn many off by having a black metal concert being the final act of the film, for many reasons, but for me, I was engaged by simply the melodies and the sense of community that the atmosphere gave off. Plus, it was a conclusion to the journey of Robert Lowe, even if the audience had no idea we were on the journey in the beginning. A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness fully captures the essence of a lot of United States black metal acts and demonstrates how spirituality and community can come together to form such a dissonant and ferocious sound. For fans of black metal and bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Altar of Plagues, there is plenty to appreciate here, and for others, while the music may not be pleasing to the ears for everyone, there is still an appreciation of the music that can be formed by watching Lowe’s journey.

Screening courtesy of the Vancouver International Film Festival.