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2016/12/04

Black Jesus

by Jav Rivera

I've always been a fan of things that weren't afraid to be funny, no matter who they might offend. And it's not because they're trying to offend that makes it funny for me. It's more because of the fact that the artist tackles something that in truth is funny, but just happens to be a bit taboo.

With that said, "Black Jesus" may or may not be for you, though I do urge you to look past its cover, because what's beneath has a lot of heart.

"Slink" Johnson as "Black Jesus"
Created by Aaron McGruder and Mike Clattenburg, the show is a perfect combination of the animated series "The Boondocks" and the Canadian cult series "Trailer Park Boys." And it just so happens that both McGruder and Clattenburg were the creators of those shows, respectively. "Black Jesus" shows us the life of an African-American Jesus living in Compton, CA trying to spread the good word while getting high and drinking a 40. And yet, oddly enough, "Black Jesus" feels relevant for current television. With other shows and movies promoting drug use, alcohol, and violence it makes sense that we see religion being represented in modern times.



The titular role is played by the incredibly cast Gerald "Slink" Johnson. Johnson brings a joyous spirit to his character, much like what you'd expect a Savior to have. His castmates bring a perfect balance of reality to over-the-top scenarios. Black Jesus' main crew are full believers while antagonists Vic (Charlie Murphy) and Lloyd (John Witherspoon) question his identity. In fact, Vic, who does believe in God, is a downright vicious non-believer of Johnson's character. He takes offense that Black Jesus is the real Lord Savior. Lloyd, on the other hand, flip-flops between believing or not, depending on if he gets what he prays for.

Lloyd (John Witherspoon) and Vic (Charlie Murphy)
If you're familiar with the great John Witherspoon, you won't be disappointed. He brings his comedy genius to every scene. There's something about how he delivers his lines that make any sentence sound funny. And it's nice to see that Charlie Murphy has finally graduated from his work on "Chappelle's Show". It made me sad to see Murphy get mostly bit parts knowing that he was a skillful comedic actor. On "Black Jesus" he's given the chance to shine.

Most of the gang, L-R: Boonie (Corey Holcomb), Black Jesus, Trayvon (Andrew Bachelor),
Maggie (Kali Hawk), and Fish (Andra Fuller)
But it's not just the bad guys; the good guys bring the funny too. Besides Johnson's outstanding portrayal of a modern day Jesus, his co-stars add a nice range of characters. For me, Boonie (Corey Holcomb) and his mom Ms. Tudi (Angela Elayne Gibbs) have the best chemistry. She cuts him down at every given moment, and he takes the beatings like a slow-witted child. And though the rest of the crew make the show more rounded, it's scenes with Boonie and Ms. Tudi (whether they're together or separated) that have the show's best laughs.

[warning: explicit language]


The only other character that might be able to compete with Gibbs' chemistry with Holcomb is Boonie's ex-wife Shalinka (played by Dominique Witten). Witten who's already a talented stand up comedian, dumbs it down for her character. She only appears once in a great while but she's always well worth the wait. And in season two, the underrated Keith David appears as Reverend Otis. It's always nice to see David appear in films and television, but when he's given a meaty role like he has in "Black Jesus," you wonder why more people don't give him the credit he deserves.

Every episode furthers the overall story arc per season, but the individual episodes have their own mini stories. I often felt like I was watching a McGruder version of "Trailer Park Boys," though the show never feels like it's a ripoff of the Canadian series. If anything, "Black Jesus" is honoring Clattenburg's incredible creation. And even though its "Trailer Park Boys" similarities is probably one of the show's best features, "Black Jesus" has enough originality to have other redeeming features. As I said, there actually is a lot of heart to the show despite its crude humor. Black Jesus really is trying to spread the good word to the modern world; he just happens to enjoy smoking a bud or two while he does it.


Just because a show like "Black Jesus" isn't politically correct doesn't mean it's all-out blasphemy. McGruder and Clattenburg have done a good job of showing just enough innocence and love through the lives of a group of sinners. Indeed, there are a lot of good lessons to be learned if you can look past the vulgarity.

For more information, visit their IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3589872

TRIVIA: Some of the cast members previously worked with Aaron McGruder on his animated series, "The Boondocks," including John Witherspoon, who was the voice of "Granddad."





2016/11/06

Bart Simpson Sells His Soul

by Jav Rivera

Many, many, many years ago (in 1995), The Simpsons aired one of their best episodes, entitled "Bart Sells His Soul." It was during their seventh season (they're currently on their 28th season!), and it has easily become one of the more classic episodes to fans and critics.

For me, personally, it made a huge difference in more than one way. First of all, it was one of the first episodes that changed my view of the show from being a fun animated series to more of a work of art. I thought to myself, "If I ever direct a feature film, I would use this episode as my guide." But this also made me think, way back when, that The Simpsons should have a college course based on its themes and art. (More on that later.)

Bart, Milhouse, and Bart's Soul
The episode starts with Bart handing out hymns to the church-goers as they enter Sunday mass. As it turns out, the hymn is actually a rock song by the band Iron Butterfly. Because of this prank, Bart gets in trouble from the priest. During a discussion with his best friend Milhouse, Bart argues that there's no such thing as a soul, and just to prove his point, he eventually sells his soul to Milhouse.


It was written by Greg Daniels, who's famous for also writing and producing King of the Hill, Parks and Recreation, and the US version of The Office. Daniels wrote several more episodes of The Simpsons, many of which are now referred to as classic.

[On a side note, I was surprised one year to find myself sitting behind Greg Daniels during the Austin Film Festival. At first I didn't know it was him, because as the announcer was introducing Daniels (who was scheduled to talk), I could hear him talking to his parents. The conversation was very ordinary and he even sounded a bit neurotic. When he stood up and headed to the front, my eyes widened because that conversation made me think differently of him. I suddenly saw him as an everyday man who just happened to have extraordinary writing skills.]

As the episode plays out, Bart finds himself in several predicaments that make him believe something is amiss. He runs into motion-controlled sliding doors that don't open for him, he can't produce condensation on a window, he can't even laugh at his father's tragic, yet hilarious, accidents.

Lisa attempts to make Bart laugh at Homer's accident.
The Simpsons have been in my life ever since The Tracey Ullman Show premiered these boundary-pushing characters in 1987, and I've been a huge fan ever since. I've collected DVDs, toys, artwork, books, T-shirts, etc. My oldest nephew (born in 1991) doesn't know a world without The Simpsons. As they continue to make more and more episodes, it seems the only way the show will end is when the voice actors either retire or pass away.

The show has impacted my life in many ways, and going back to those older episodes now, it's become more obvious to me why. They were dismissed by a huge population as a silly cartoon. Others called the show too controversial. Fans knew what the show really was: groundbreaking.


I remember being on a train reading one of their first books (The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family) and an older man in his 30s or 40s scoffed at me. I looked up and asked him, "What?" He told me that it was ironic that someone was reading a book about The Simpsons. In other words, he was telling me that the show was not deserving of literature. (In a way, he was also insulting my intelligence). I replied, "Actually, the show is really well-written and isn't just a cartoon." He shrugged me off. (I admit I had the urge to punch him in the face.)

Fortunately, time has been extremely good to the series and its reputation is no longer that of a dumb show. Even though the show first focused on Bart and his rambunctious behavior, the writers quickly began to explore the other characters and themes. Even though "Bart Sells His Soul" was released in the seventh season, you can find heart-warming episodes as early as the first season.  

Milhouse gets rowed by his two souls.
One of my favorite scenes in "Bart Sells His Soul" is when Bart has a dream. All his classmates are on a beach with a castle-like structure (which looks an awful like the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz) way off on a distant island. The children are all playing with their souls, and at one point they hop onto row boats towards the castle. Milhouse, with two souls (his and Bart's) rides carefree while the two souls row. Bart, left alone, rows in a circle.

There are so many philosophical and cultural references throughout the episode, especially during this dream sequence. There's the idea of the Emerald City being some kind of spiritual destiny, or perhaps a place for heavenly existence. There's the idea of rowing yourself through the long ocean of life. In a scene when Bart is praying, he says, "Are you there, God? It's me, Bart Simpson," which is a reference to the Judy Blume book Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. At one point Lisa references poet Pablo Neruda. There's so much in this episode, it's as if the team couldn't hold back because of the quality of the episode's story.

Bart runs into a sliding door.
A few months ago I was asked if I would be interested in teaching an honors course of my own creation. The course had to include a subject that a student would normally take (mathematics, literature, history, etc.). It was suggested to me by my boss that I teach something relating to The Simpsons since I was such a huge fan. It took all of 24 hours for me to get the idea of teaching a course that focused on The Simpsons and everyday issues. Later, the course description became more about the show and philosophy. I pitched the idea to the head of the honors program and it appears the course will be offered in the fall of 2017.

Although this is the first time that this university will offer a course like this, I'm not the first to have this idea. In fact, many universities have been teaching something relating to The Simpsons for many years. I was always jealous of those students because I would have loved to take a course like this. My point being that the series has not only gained respect over the decades, it has become a cultural staple.

If you never watch another episode, at the very least you should watch "Bart Sells His Soul". To list the best of the series would be impossible, but this is easily one of my top favorite episodes. You can bet that it'll be shown in my course next fall.

For more information about "Bart Sells His Soul" visit IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0763025

TRIVIA: Writer Greg Daniels was inspired by an experience in his youth when he tricked a bully into selling his soul to him.





2016/10/02

Up In The Air

by Jav Rivera

Have you ever watched a movie that meant one thing at one point in your life and something different at another point? Back in 2009, when the film Up in the Air was released, I sat in the theatre watching the credits thinking about the film's theme. As people started leaving their seats, I was processing the idea of leaving behind your baggage and pushing yourself to stay in constant movement.

I was 33 years old at the time and not so happy with my career. I thought to myself, "Am I weighed down by my own baggage? Have I really challenged myself? Have I reached the goals I set for myself in my twenties?" By the summer of 2010, I sold everything I owned: clothes, furniture, and even my DVD and CD collections. I only kept what I could fit in my Volkswagon Golf. I scraped together all the money I had and moved to Los Angeles to pursue my dream of working in the film industry. But that was just one version of my interpretation.


Directed by Jason Reitman (director of Juno, Thank You For Smoking, and the little-known but excellent film Labor Day), Up in the Air proved once again that Reitman is a filmmaker to keep an eye on. And not just because the film was nominated for (and won) several awards. He values characters more than spectacle. And though his films typically get categorized as dramas, he knows when and how much humor to bring to the story. The film, based on a book by Walter Kirn (who gets a cameo during the "Glocal" scene), follows the life of Ryan Bingham. But more importantly it examines the topic of family, and the various points of views people have of it, which is probably why it can be interpreted in multiple ways.

George Clooney as "Ryan Bingham"
George Clooney takes the lead as Ryan Bingham, a representative for an HR consultant firm. His job is to assist in the termination of employees for other companies. Although most people would have issues with this kind of job, Bingham's philosophy on life affords him freedom from guilt. On the side, Bingham is a motivational speaker; his seminars focus on living a life without baggage. In other words, by not getting involved in relationships (friends, family, etc.), a person is free to roam and truly live life more fully. Of course, things get sticky when Bingham's job and lifestyle are challenged.

Bingham must be both charming and cutthroat. There's little room for his character to sway. He can't be too kind, but he still has to show some sympathy. Clooney was a great choice for the role, with his charm and wit combined with his ability to bring fierceness to his characters. He owned the role, and when you watch the film you forget that he's megastar George Clooney.


On the other side of the spectrum is Anna Kendrick's character, Natalie. She believes in technological conveniences, and their benefits towards family time. The clash between the two never feel like the stereotypical odd couple. Instead, their relationship is a constant challenging of each other's philosophical points of view.

Bingham consoles Natalie (Anna Kendrick)
Bingham is bombarded by more than just Natalie. His siblings, who he spends little-to-no time with, ask him to help take photos with a cardboard cut out all around the States. Since he has to travel to different cities anyway, why not? Not pleased with this familial duty, Bingham reluctantly adds baggage to his compact luggage lifestyle.

Melanie Lynskey, Danny McBride, and Clooney
Then he has to face one more challenge: Alex, played by Vera Farmiga. Though she started out as a casual encounter, Bingham quickly falls for the seemingly cold Alex (cold in the sense that she enjoys the casualness of her new partner). The difference between Alex and the other challenges is that Bingham is to blame for this new risk.

Vera Farmiga as "Alex"
Though I view this film as excellent storytelling, I must include the quality of the cinematography (by Eric Steelberg) and editing (by Dana E. Glauberman). Glauberman's best example is early on when we're introduced to Bingham's airport-loving routine. It's a quick scene that compresses Bingham's life in just a few seconds -- appropriate considering his lifestyle. Reitman doesn't overuse these aspects though, and focuses more on the acting. That seems to be his strongest trait as a director and is always a reason I enjoy his films. By this point in his career he seems to have graduated from teenagers (as featured in Juno) to middle-aged adults. If Juno can be considered his pop song, Thank You for Smoking as his alternative rock tune, and Labor Day as a romantic jazz song, then Up In the Air should be his classical piece.


Up In the Air remains one of my favorites. Once the film was available on bluray, it became one of those films that I liked to share with others. And little at a time, the way I viewed the theme changed. Maybe life wasn't so much about moving. Maybe life is found in the people that surround you. Maybe family doesn't weigh you down, but instead lifts you up. And I admit that this new point of view coincided with my real life. I began looking for ways to plant my roots and be closer to people. Maybe it's just my age, but I prefer to think that films like these affect my life. And who knows? Maybe in my late 40s I'll reinterpret the film yet again.

For more information, visit the film's IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1193138

TRIVIA: The theme of unemployment and downsizing was not meant to coincide with real life events. As the film was nearing completion, the economic crisis in the United States just happened to be peaking. Because of this, interviews with non-actors who had lost their jobs were filmed and interwoven into the film's beginning and ending.

2016/09/04

Perfect Times Six

by Dave Gourdoux

Alida Valli and Joseph Cotten in "The Third Man"
Over the course of the past 120 years or so, as it's grown to a full and complex and truly global art form, film has provided us with many classics, from iconic epics to quiet and personal statements. It remains the most collaborative of all art forms in that even the movies that are intensely personal statements from a director require contributions from cinematographers, writers, actors, art designers, composers and musicians, and even financiers to make sure there is enough money to pay for them all.

This is probably the main reason that almost all movies, even the masterpieces, are flawed. Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, for example, has moments where the narrative drags. John Ford’s psychological western The Searchers, a character study of a nearly psychotic racist that is darker than anything he ever made before, is nearly destroyed by Ford's attempts at comic relief, using the same brawling men and fawning women formula that became tired twenty years earlier. Blake Edwards’ 1961 Breakfast at Tiffany’s features an enchanting Audrey Hepburn and a memorable romantic Henry Mancini score. Its treatment of sex is, compared to other films of the production code era, more mature than other films of its time. The film is almost ruined, however, by the overly broad and racist performance of Mr. Yunioshi by Mickey Rooney. 

Some films are fascinating because of their flaws. Tod Browning’s landmark 1932 horror film Freaks uses professional circus sideshow attractions as amateur actors and walks the thin line between exploitation and art. The result is an almost documentary look and feel that heightens the horror movie plot and makes watching an even more uncomfortable experience. 

Take any Stanley Kubrick film made after Doctor Strangelove and you can see his self-indulgences and pretentiousness grow. Yet Kubrick was such a genius that his flaws were more interesting than almost anyone else’s best traits. All of the films he made between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Full Metal Jacket are filled with hubris and self-importance, yet they are all more interesting than almost any others, including most of his own earlier films, where he earned his reputation.

So thinking about this, of all the elements that have to come together to make a good film, and that so many classic films are flawed in one or more significant way, I asked myself, has a perfect movie ever been made?

The answer in my humble opinion, is yes, there have been at least six “perfect” movies. They are:

6:   Duck Soup, 1933, directed by Leo McCarey, starring the Marx Brothers.


One of the most important components of any perfect film has to be the pace of the narrative. This is especially true in comedy. From the opening scene, where Groucho as Rufus T. Firefly is introduced (by his great foil, Margaret Dumont) as the new head of the state of Freedonia, through to the brothers engaging in the silliest war scenes ever filmed, Duck Soup establishes and maintains a frenetic and consistently high level of humor and never stops, never pauses. Even the musical numbers, normally where you stop and catch your breath in a Marx Brothers film, are funny. Duck Soup is the perfect comedy because it is the happy marriage of the brothers at the peak of their skills with McCarey, the best director they ever worked with. McCarey, who had made many of the best Laurel and Hardy silent films, injected his skill for physical comedy as well as his considerable cinematic talents into the mix. Where films like Animal Crackers and Monkey Business were essentially filmed stage productions, Duck Soup could only exist on film, as McCarey used the camera and the editing room to tremendous comedic effect. That the film is also a brilliant satire on political leadership and nation / states is secondary.  It's the one film I've seen more than any other, and it still makes me laugh out loud, and each time I see it, I find something new that I hadn't appreciated before. This is another element of the perfect film - it not only stands up to repeated viewings, it gets better each time.


5:  The Maltese Falcon. 1941, directed by John Huston, adapted by Huston from the Dashiell Hammett novel, starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre.


One of the most important elements of perfect films has to be the writing. While in Duck Soup, we will never know how much of the movie was in the original screenplay and how much was improvised by the brothers and McCarey on the set, the other films on this little list (with the exception of one) all had brilliant screenplays that revealed memorable and complex characters and a compelling narrative. This is the foundation on which The Maltese Falcon is built.  John Huston, already a veteran screen writer, adapted the Dashiell Hammett novel and made his directorial debut. His direction is as brilliant as his script, as we witness the film noir genre being born right before our eyes. The cast is amazing. Sam Spade becomes the archetypal Bogart role, cynical and tough, with enough flaws (at times, like when he terrorizes the young gunman Wilmer, played by Elisha Cook, he's downright sadistic) that you're never really sure of where his allegiances fall. On screen virtually every minute of the film, only Bogart had the skill and the persona and the stature to pull off such a complex and iconic role. He's tough and worldly, but he also has a vulnerability that fleshes Spade out as a three dimensional character. There's also Sydney Greenstreet as Guttman and Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, a pair of odd and creepy characters who'll stop at nothing to get the bird. All the performances are top notch, but it's Mary Astor as the greatest femme fatale ever who gives one of the greatest and most underrated performances of all time. Watch the expressions on her face change from disbelief to devastation during Bogart's soliloquy in the climactic scene. Huston's script and direction are perfect, but without the perfect cast, there's no way we'd still be talking about this movie 75 years after it was made.


4: Casablanca, 1943, directed by Michael Curtiz, screenplay by  Jules and Phillip Epstein…., starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henried, and Claude Raines


Although it's a little bit murky now who actually wrote the screenplay for Casablanca (The Epstein twins, Jules and Phillip, were assigned to the project twice, Howard Koch is also credited, but there is some question as to whether any of the thirty to forty pages he produced were actually used in the film, while the uncredited Casey Robinson was responsible for several key re-writes), there's no questioning the greatness of the script that gave us some of the most iconic quotes of all time, from "Here's looking at you, Kid" to "Round up the usual suspects" to "Play it, Sam" to "We'll always have Paris." Besides the memorable one-liners, the script is lean and efficient. The direction by Michael Curtiz serves the screenplay perfectly. Curtiz handles all of the moving parts of the script with aplomb, from character revealing little asides to the flashback scenes that are so important. It's vital that we see how much in love Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Illsa (Ingrid Bergman at her most beautiful) are in Paris. It has to be a love of epic proportions to drive the climactic scene at the airport. Thanks to the way Curtiz presents the flashback, and thanks to the charismatic performances of Bogart and Bergman, Casablanca remains probably the greatest love story ever made.


3: Shoot the Piano Player, 1960, directed by Francois Truffaut, adaptation of the David Goodis novel Down There by Truffaut and Marcel Moussy, starring Charles Aznouvar, Mari Dubois, and Nicole Berger.



Shoot the Piano Player, Truffaut's second feature, was shot on a shoestring budget and is so loose and free that watching it you get the idea he was making up much of it as he went, and you're left wondering was he trying to make a crime story or a love story or a slapstick comedy or a philosophical meditation on art and life, until you realize that it's all of the above and more, an explosion of genres that only a young director would even attempt to try. That Truffaut succeeds so brilliantly in only 81 minutes of film is testimony to the prodigious talent and genius of the man. Unlike The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca, Shoot the Piano Player feels looser and less structured, but that is misleading. Like Casablanca, there is a vital flashback sequence that explains so much about the main character. Truffaut handles the transition in and out of the past brilliantly, and all of the other cinematic rabbits he pulls out of his hat, from corny burlesque singers in a Parisian cafe to silly little sight gags to shootouts in the snow, work spectacularly well. Shoot the Piano Player is the rare tribute to filmmaking that mashes up so many different elements into a coherent and profound statement that stands on its own as a true work of art. It's the perfect realization of Truffaut's unique vision that makes this his most perfect film.


2.  Chinatown, 1974, directed by Roman Polanski, screenplay by Robert Towne, starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston.


Chinatown is directly linked to The Maltese Falcon by John Huston, the writer and director of the 1941 classic and the actor playing the memorably evil Noah Cross in Chinatown. But there's much more linking the two films. First, there's the brilliant performance by Jack Nicholson as private eye Jake Gittes. Nicholson is probably the only actor who could not only pull off a part that was clearly inspired by the great Humphrey Bogart, but make the character his own, adding shading and depth to the archetype and avoiding a mere impersonation. In Nicholson's hands, Gettis becomes a vulnerable cynic. He's wise enough to know the rules of the street, that concepts like justice and redemption are illusory, yet he can't help but try to believe in something, and when it falls apart, the pain is almost unbearable. Then there's the femme fatale played by the indescribably beautiful Faye Dunaway, who adds a new twist of melancholia to the part, enhancing the mystery and intrigue. There's Robert Towne's screenplay, which is often held up as the finest screenplay ever written. Only after repeated viewings do you realize that Towne and the director, Roman Polanski, don't waste even a second of screen time - everything is used to reveal character or advance the plot. And what a plot - as complex as any of the Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammet stories filmed in the 1940s, but without any of the excess that so often got in the way of even great detective movies like The Big Sleep.


1. The Third Man, 1949, directed by Carol Reed, adapted by Graham Greene from his own novella starring Joseph Cotton, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, and Alida Valli.


The ultimate mark of a perfect film is that every time you see it, you find something new, while the parts that thrilled you the first time, that captured your imagination, hold up so well that you experience the same thrills again.  I've become convinced that The Third Man is the most perfect film ever made, and whenever I see it, it climbs higher and higher on my list of the all time greatest films.

First, the screenplay. Written by Graham Greene while simultaneously writing a novella of the same name, The Third Man is the ultimate "fish out of water" story.  It's about a writer of dime westerns, Holly Martins (played brilliantly with wide eyes and a slow voice by Joseph Cotten.) who travels to post-war Vienna to look up an old friend, the appropriately named Harry Lime. A true innocent abroad, he's not prepared for what he sees: the bombed out rubble of much of the city and the dark and mysterious characters he encounters on the way to learning that his old friend is dead. By the time he stumbles upon the truth, that his friend is alive, he's also fallen in love with Lime's girlfriend, and he's learned that Lime has become, like the rotten fruit his name implies, corrupt and evil, trading in watered down penicillin on the black market.

Greene's screenplay is tight and nuanced, and he takes his time letting the story unfold, filling us with information that we learn later is important. He draws the character of Martins just right, as he bumbles his way through the landscape, almost accidentally solving the mystery. When he finally encounters Lime (in a great supporting performance by Orson Welles), he seems to be both physically and intellectually overmatched. This isn't one of those movies where the part of the writer is portrayed as a romantic and adventuresome hero; Martins is instead a reluctant protagonist.

Greene and the director, Carol Reed, also know what every maker of great monster movies know: hold off on showing the monster as long as possible.  The monster in this case is Welles as Lime, and we don't see him until after an hour into the film. Even then, Welles is onscreen for only about twenty mines, but his specter dominates the entire film.

The Third Man also gives us a glimpse into a world largely ignored in films of the time: the devastated after math of World War Two, and the destruction and corruption that dominated the European landscape. Martins is shocked when he learns what Lime is capable of, and there is the famous scene where the two old friends finally meet, on a Ferris wheel high up above an amusement park, where Lime asks if Martins would really lose any sleep if one of those dots below stopped moving? The movie reaches its climax with a famous chase scene through the sewers of Vienna that's as suspenseful as anything in any of today's action movies.

Visually, the film is stunning, thanks to Reed's vision and the great black and white film noir photography of the cinematographer Robert Krasker. Obviously influenced by Welles' films, Reed makes great use of tilted camera angles, and his use of contrast, of shadows and light, is simply exquisite and takes film noir to higher places than ever before or since. Reed distorts angles and corners in a way that is reminiscent of great German expressionist silent films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu. His insistence on shooting on location in the post war ruins of Vienna make the locale itself another vital and vibrant character in the story, and now, nearly seventy years later, serves as an important historical document of the enormous damage inflicted by the war on the European landscape.

The soundtrack to The Third Man is one of the most memorable and distinctive in film history. It was composed by Anton Karas, who Reed met by coincidence at a party in Vienna, where Karas was playing a zither (a stringed instrument that appears to me to be a cross between a guitar and an auto-harp). Reed had already decided he wanted a more intimate score than the usual orchestral accompaniment. Hearing Karas play at the party struck him as the perfect sound for the film, and he decided then and there to hire Karas to compose and perform the entire soundtrack, even inviting Karas back to London to live in Reed's home while finishing his work. It's such a unique and distinctive sound that hearing even a tiny bit of it instantly conjures up images from the film. The only similarity I can draw to "modern" films is the Neil Young soundtrack to the 1995 Jim Jarmusch film, Dead Man.

As great as the screenplay and the acting and the setting and the cinematography and the music are, it's Reed who pulls it all together into a cohesive and coherent product that realizes the vision he had in his head. Which pulls us back to what makes a film perfect: it's the contributions of many toward the realization of an individual's vision. And at the end of the day, isn't that what all great works of art are? The sharing of a vision? Filmmakers like Huston, Polanski, Truffaut, and Reed are among the greatest artists to work in such a bizarre and complex medium. They are sculptors of motion, and their clay is the talent and human flesh and blood of actors and writers and artists.

Anyone who loves movies needs to see The Third Man. Those younger readers who love movies but maybe haven't seen too many of the black and white "oldies" - this is the one to start with. Never boring or slow, with almost every frame an exquisite work of visual art, and with enough movement to satisfy even today's action movie junkies, The Third Man is the perfect place to start or nurture or reignite a love affair with film.





2016/08/07

Ghostbusters: I Ain't Afraid of No Reboot

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless


I usually go at least a little bit retro when I choose topics to write about here on 2FL, but this time, I'm spotlighting something very current that's just hit the theatres in the U.S.: the new Ghostbusters movie, directed by Paul Feig.

I've been looking forward to seeing it since trailers for it started popping up months ago. I was a kid when the original movie was released back in 1984, so there's a certain nostalgia at play there. I'm a fan of the four main cast members too (Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Wiig), and I'm not going to lie--seeing four women in strong leading roles definitely was a draw. And fine, in the interest of full disclosure, I really didn't mind that Chris Hemsworth is part of the cast too.


As soon as the publicity for the movie started though, so did the backlash. So. Much. Backlash. It seemed to center mainly on the two reasons I wanted to see this film in the first place: nostalgia, and the all-female leading roles. I'm going to do my best to not give any spoilers, but I have to shake my head at the people who are flinging those points around as reasons against the movie. To me, it's the opposite; they're the reasons that you should go.

So, nostalgia for the first Ghostbusters. Believe me, I know--it's a powerful thing. I'll be the first to admit that I've been right where the naysayers who are digging their heels in are: I've written here on 2FL about how much I love The Neverending Story, a beloved movie from my childhood. I firmly refuse to see the second film. The same goes with the talk that's flown around about a possible new The Crow movie; for me, Brandon Lee will always be Eric Draven, and I don't want to see anybody else try to fill those shoes. As far as the new Ghostbusters though, fans of the original don't have much to worry about. This is a reboot, so it's not following the same story line as the 1984 flick. But, the movie is full of nods to the first film, so get ready for nostalgia to hit you like a blast from a proton pack. Some of them are subtle, others a little more pronounced, but the new movie knows what an emotional tie some people have to the original, and it respects that. Cameos are another big thing. You'll see plenty of familiar faces, especially those that will bring a smile to your own. And I do have to give you some friendly advice--don't leave the theatre when the credits start rolling. Stay a little bit longer or else you'll miss an important cameo appearance.


Then there's the whole discussion about the new cast being female. I'd almost say, "Don't get me started...," but I'll try not to get too long-winded. I saw a picture online the other day of two little girls at the movie's premiere, beaming up at Kristen Wiig as she high-fived one of them. In the film, most of the female leads are scientists: I might have missed McCarthy's character's title, but I did catch that Wiig's character has a Ph.D. in physics; McKinnon's character, Holtzmann, is a nuclear engineer. There's been a lot of controversy that Jones' character is the only one who's not a scientist, and I can understand the points that some are making, but I'll leave that discussion to others. I didn't enjoy her role any less because her character didn't have a specific title attached to her name. I'm happy that young girls (like the ones in the photo at the premiere) can see strong women portrayed in this movie. Not only that--I'm happy that boys will also see the same. My son was just as excited to go see Ghostbusters as I was, maybe more so. And it's not just the physical bad-assery they display as they sling around ghost-fighting weapons and face down the supernatural. They battle plenty of doubts about their legitimacy and their capability because of their gender and deal with some Internet trolls. Trust me, the controversy swirling about this reboot wasn't lost on the filmmakers.

I found myself laughing out loud throughout the movie, and one of the main reasons for that was McKinnon's portrayal of the wacky Holtzmann. Don't get me wrong; all four leads did a good job with their roles. For me though, Holtzmann's eccentricity was really brought to life by McKinnon's facial expressions, gestures, and timing. Where McCarthy is often a physical actor (which works so well and adds to the comedy), and this film is no exception, the subtlety that McKinnon adds in some scenes just ratchets up the effectiveness of her character. Hemsworth's character is meant to be played for laughs, but he, too, does a good job of adding a few touches that enhance that.


While I'm not sure that this new Ghostbusters will reach the near cult-classic status that the original has, I don't regret plunking down my $11 to see it, and I'd likely do it again. If you're on the fence about seeing the movie because of all of the nonsense discussions that have been swirling around, don't let that stop you. It's currently showing in theatres in the U.S. and many other countries.

2016/07/03

The Boondocks

by Jav Rivera

Around the fall of 2005, I saw an ad for a show titled, "The Boondocks," in one of the magazines I was reading. I mentioned it to a friend and he stated that it was probably going to be bad, for such and such reasons. At the time I held his opinion so high that I let him convince me to completely ignore it.

I never thought about the show again until sometime in early 2016. A different friend kept telling me about certain scenarios on the show and each one made me laugh. One weekend he showed me an episode and I was totally on board. From there, I watched one to two episodes a day until all four seasons were complete.


The Boondocks is an animated series that focuses on the Freeman family, a trio of characters made up of Huey, Riley, and Granddad. After Huey and Riley's parents died, Granddad decided to take their inheritance to move to the wealthy (and prominently "white") suburb of Woodcrest. Just that alone makes for fun writing -- a clash of cultures being the main storylines for several of the episodes.

But before I get into more of the actual show itself, let me express my love for Asheru's music and lyrics (listed below) for "The Boondocks" theme song. Though the song was a remix of Asheru's tune "Judo Flip," the song still matches the show seamlessly. Not only does it complement the egotism of the show's characters, but it gives so much more dimension to the strength of their backstories.



The Boondocks Theme Song
by Asheru

I am the stone that the builder refused
I am the visual, the inspiration
That made Lady sing the blues

I'm the spark that makes your idea bright
The same spark that lights the dark
So that you can know your left from your right

I am the ballot in your box, the bullet in the gun
The inner glow that lets you know to call your brother son
The story that just begun, the promise of what's to come
And I'mma remain a soldier till the war is won

[Judo flip...chop chop chop]

L-R: Uncle Ruckus, Thugnificent, Riley, Huey, Granddad, Tom, and Stinkmeaner
And while we're on the subject of the characters and their backstories, let's talk about one of the best features of the series: the way each character is introduced is almost the same way people in our lives are introduced. We get a first impression and we typically categorize them. Over time we get more insight into their personality. "The Boondocks" slowly explore their characters in the same manner. 

Aaron McGruder
Creator Aaron McGruder based the show on his comic strip, and was able to get an excellent cast, starting with Regina King as both Huey and Riley. King has been acting since an early age, with an impressive list of shows such as "227" and "Southland." She thrives as a dramatic actress with good comedic timing. Seeing her name in the credits was a bit unexpected, but it makes sense after viewing all four seasons. Playing both characters utilizes both drama and comedy. Huey is a leftist radical black revolutionary, while Riley is more laid back with dreams of living a gangsta rapper lifestyle.

Comedy great John Witherspoon (Friday and "The Wayans Bros.") plays Granddad. Don't be fooled though; Granddad is not your typical elderly character. He dates, he blows through money, and he has a rich history in political events. Often I think that Huey and Riley are his shoulder angels. Granddad seems to have a mixture of both of their traits and can be swayed to do good or bad, depending on which of his angels is more convincing (or convenient) at the time.

Outside of the main trio is a collection of very odd characters. The show boasts a roster of great actors, including Cedric Yarbrough, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Asner, Charlie Murphy, Mos Def, Xzibit, Fred Willard, Snoop Dog, Busta Rhymes, Cee-Lo Green, and Katt Williams.

Uncle Ruckus
One of my favorites is Uncle Ruckus (voiced by Gary Anthony Williams), someone you love to hate. Every time he's onscreen his theme music comes on, and it's not a flattering theme at that. Sometimes we hear the music just before he gets onscreen which makes his impending appearance all that more enjoyable. I'm always surprised when he appears because he pops up in random places. Since he has about 32 jobs that he works throughout a week, you never know where he is at any given time.

Ruckus is often found supporting white people, claiming that he himself is white and that he has "the opposite skin condition that Michael Jackson had" (vitiligo). Ruckus is truly a character. Though he gets the Freemans in trouble, you wouldn't want an episode without him.

Another aspect that I get a kick out of are the multitude of references and homages. Sometimes it could be a historical event (recent or past), sometimes a scene is picked straight out of other movies or TV shows (like "Breaking Bad" for example), and sometimes it could be a character design. Side characters/bit parts are made to look exactly like someone from an old show, usually from an African-Amercian based show. There's even a character that looks exactly like Pearl (played by Helen Martin) from "227." In a season 3 episode titled "Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy," Stinkmeaner is joined by three other characters, all of whom have very distinctive designs. Crabmiser looks like Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx's character on "Sanford and Son"). Gripenasty looks like Aunt Esther (from the same show), and Pissedofferson is an obvious take on J.J. from "Good Times."

Stinkmeaner, Lord Rufus Crabmiser, Lady Esmeralda Gripenasty, and George Pissedofferson
The show is more than just a series of goofy jokes though. There are also cultural messages. Though "Boondocks" has been given a lot of beef over its use of the "N" word and its representation of races, there's still a lot to gain from the humor. Much like Dave Chappelle's show back in 2003 ("Chappelle's Show"), poking fun at stereotypes and misinterpretations of cultures makes understanding more accessible. After all, it's easier to relate to a point of view through a funny story than an argument.

"Boondocks" homage "Breaking Bad"
The show has too much to cover in one article, but needless to say, I'm a fan. It's another lesson to make my own decisions on what or what not to watch. Try it out yourself and discover a show unlike most.

For more information, visit their official site: www.boondockstv.com


TRIVIA: The music that plays when Uncle Ruckus appears is a variation of John Williams's "Jabba's Theme" from Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983).





2016/06/05

Detectorists

by Jav Rivera

There's so many times when I think to myself, "That guy is such a great actor. It's a shame that he only gets small parts." I wonder why some actors aren't given the praise and opportunities they deserve. They're usually bit parts that appear bigger because of their onscreen presence. And though many of these actors are underrated, sometimes they get a chance to take center stage.

In 2014, actor Mackenzie Crook took things into his own hands and wrote, directed, and starred in the BBC series, "Detectorists."

Toby Jones & Mackenzie Crook
Though Mackenzie Crook has had plenty of acting work, he's mostly known for his portrayal of Gareth on "The Office" (the original UK version). Gareth was the basis for the Dwight character (played by Rainn Wilson) on the US version. Crook may also look familiar because he had a recurring role in the Pirates of the Caribbean films; he played Ragetti, the pirate with the wooden eye. And yet, despite these high profile projects, he never seemed to get his due recognition.

Mackenzie Crook as "Andy"
His "Detectorists" co-star, Toby Jones, has had a similar career. Looking at his extensive list of projects you might think, "Oh! He was in that?" I admit I overlooked him in earlier films too. I first took real notice of Jones on Captain America: The First Avenger where he played Dr. Arnim Zola. I was instantly engaged by his presence, so much so that I decided to look him up. I found a brilliant film titled Berberian Sound Studio in which he stars. The film is uniquely odd and at times unsettling. Jones deservedly won a Best Actor award from the 2012 British Independent Film Awards.

Toby Jones as "Dr. Arnim Zola" in Captain America: The First Avenger
Being a fan of both Crook and Jones I was so happy to see their names listed on a the show "Detectorists." I didn't even know the show existed until December of 2015 when I saw it on Netflix. I've only watched season 1 so far, but I love it so much that I've already watched it twice!

From the title of the show I had expected some kind of detective series that involved two blokes and their metal detectors. It turns out I was half right. There's definitely two blokes with metal detectors, but it has nothing to do with crime-solving. Instead the series focuses on Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones), two friends with a passion for metal detecting. They live in a small, fictional town in Essex, England and are surrounded by eccentric locals.

They each have simple lives and deal with everyday issues, be it at home, work, or within their detecting group, the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (DMDC). And there's plenty of content per episode because Crook was smart enough to create an excellent cast of characters. And perhaps it's because of his insight to background characters, or maybe it's just because he's a great writer, but "Detectorists" boasts an excellent cast.

L-R: Orion Ben ("Varde"),  Laura Checkley ("Louise"), Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook,
Gerard Horan ("Terry"), Divian Ladwa ("Hugh"), and Pearce Quigley ("Russell")
Crook also combines subtle humor with well-placed drama. The relationship between his character and Becky (played by Rachael Stirling) feels authentic. Becky doesn't understand Andy's hobby, and often pokes fun at him about it, but at the same time she accepts him for who he is. They're not a perfect match and they each bring flaws to the relationship, but that's what makes it real. 

Crook ("Andy") and Rachael Stirling ("Becky")
There was a part of me that was worried when the Sophie character was introduced because it looked like the stereotypical love triangle scenario. Fortunately, Crook didn't go that route and what he did instead should further justify his work behind the camera. And I'm sure Aimee-Ffion Edwards, who plays Sophie, was pleased because it gave her role much more dimension. The love triangle is such an old gimmick that actors probably roll their eyes anytime they get the part of the "affair." This, again, makes me think that Crook has played enough side characters to understand the lack of quality side players usually get. Additionally, Crook wrote strong roles for the women on the show. It never feels like a "guy" show with women. It feels more like great actors playing great roles.

Jones, Crook, and Aimee-Ffion Edwards ("Sophie")
Crook even makes "crazy" seem natural. The Larry Bishop character, played by David Sterne, could have easily been written to be as bland as most "crazy old guy" characters. But instead Crook gave Bishop something more than nonsensical dialogue. In fact, I wonder if "Detectorists" may have had some influence from the excellent '90s show "Northern Exposure." It would make sense, considering the amount of characters who, alone, seem unusual, but together, all seem to fit.

And to the credit of the actors on "Detectorists", they've all embraced their parts, Sterne being a great example. What I really enjoy about the Bishop character is that as mad as he may be, it's never overplayed. And though he's clearly out of his mind, he still has enough sense to understand the difference between good and evil, allowing some room for emotion.

David Sterne as "Larry Bishop"
That brings me to the evil duo of the so-called Simon & Garfunkel. Simon Farnaby (who has a standout performance in the little-known film Bunny and the Bull) plays Art, and Paul Casar plays Paul. They're both connected with a rival detecting group named the Antiquisearchers. They tend to use detecting laws and regulations to their advantage, specifically to take over land that has already been claimed. It's a great rivalry between the DMDC and the Antiquisearchers, and any time I see Farnaby's frizzy hair in the distance I grin because I know I'm going to have a laugh in the near future.

Simon Farnaby ("Art") and Paul Casar ("Paul") aka Simon & Garfunkel
It would seem that Crook didn't just give the best bits to his character; each of his co-stars have enough content to head their own series. Toby Jones, for example, takes on a character with closure issues. He lets himself get taken advantage of by his ex-wife Maggie and her new -- much younger and more fit -- beau, Tony, played by Lucy Benjamin and Adam Riches respectively. Their characters have so much dimension that you could see why Maggie and Lance were once together. The history of their relationship doesn't need the use of flashbacks. It's all there in their performances.

Adam Riches ("Tony") and Lucy Benjamin ("Maggie")
There are so many interesting characters that I would imagine the show could go on for years and years. This article is just a blip on the metal detector. There's so much more to uncover. I haven't even written about the Detectorists club members, nor the secret behind Lance's yellow 1977 Triumph TR7. And keep in mind that I've only addressed season 1 of the show. There's just so much detail in the show, so for now this'll have to do.

When you first watch "Detectorists" you may be taken back by its pace and style, but give it a few minutes and hopefully you'll understand why I fell in love with it. After a few days watching it the first time around, I took a step back and realized that the show seems to be comprised of background characters that happen to be put to the forefront. And if that's true, then Mackenzie Crook truly was the best man for the job. It's about damn time someone paid attention to those background characters!

For more information visit their IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4082744/

TRIVIA: "Detectorists" is Mackenzie Crook's directorial debut.





2016/05/01

Isn't That Remarkable: Truth Versus Illusion in American Theatre

by Dave Gourdoux



One of my favorite moments in all of literature is the scene in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman where Biff Loman finally breaks down and breaks through a lifetime of lies and delusions and makes his father, Willy Loman, understand that he loves him. It’s the same scene where Willy famously exclaims, “I am not a dime a dozen, I am Willy Loman …” Willy’s response to the breakthrough is three simple words: “Isn’t that remarkable?”

I’ve read only a handful of great American plays, but one theme that seems to consistently run through them is illusion versus the truth. The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, opens with the following speech from Tom, the younger brother of the play’s main character, Laura:

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

The entire play is about the struggle between truth and illusion, responsibility versus escape. It’s a theme Williams continues in his most famous play, A Streetcar Named Desire, which becomes an all-out war between the cold and violent truth, represented by Stanley Kowalski, and the fragile dream world of illusion represented by Blanche Dubois.

Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire"
We also see the same conflict in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, about a group of drunken dreamers who are awaiting the annual arrival of their friend Hickey, the iceman. Hickey arrives, but he is sober, and honest, and he confesses to the murder of his wife. The harshness and violence of Hickey’s sober truth shatters the shallow dreams of the drunks. Truth is again shown to be harsh and violent and destructive, while illusion is shown to be weak and wasteful.

These themes continue in almost all great American plays. Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is about a night with an alcoholic married couple playing a twisted game of deception and lies on their young guests until the light of dawn reveals the tragic truth they’ve been trying to hide.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Why does this theme show up so often in American theatre? I think it might be because it’s at the center of our history, the core of who we are and who we wish we were. The illusion of America is that it’s that shining city on the hill, where all men are created equal, and where life, liberty and happiness are guaranteed to all, and where anyone willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard can make it. These illusions cover up an uglier truth of genocide and corruption that have, since the beginning, been at the core of our history. It took the Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620, who came to this country to escape religious persecution, less than four generations before they were burning “witches” at the stake. While the ink was still wet on Thomas Jefferson’s self evident truth that “all men are created equal,” slavery was a major part of our economy and would remain so for another eighty-nine years. Our westward expansion wiped out the natives who’d been here for hundreds of years, through a combination of disease, pestilence and war. It was actually documented government policy to exterminate the great herds of buffalo that roamed the great plains, thus crippling the primary source of food and clothing of tens of thousands of Native Americans.

The illusions and the truth of America continue to this day. The land of the free is also the country with the largest percentage of its population incarcerated. The gap between the rich and the rest of the country is widening to cavernous proportions, shattering any idea that all men are created equal. There are sharper racial and class divides and deeper wounds to our psyche. We are the most violent developed country in the world.

But we still hang on to the illusion, to its ideals, and every now and then, we make the illusion reality. It was the belief in the illusion that allowed us to join together in World War II and defeat the most powerful evil the world has ever known, it was the illusion that landed a man on the moon, it was the illusion that granted women and minorities the long overdue right to vote, it was the illusion that has allowed men and women throughout the country to marry who they love, regardless of sexual orientation. Every now and then, we hold up our ideals to the mirror of reality and shame ourselves into action. The ugliness of the truth cannot disfigure the beauty of the dream.

Isn’t that remarkable?

2016/04/03

Short but Sweet

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

Short films are, to me, the poetry of the filmmaking world--in just a small space, the creator of the piece needs to get their point across and make an impact. As a writer, I know how tough that can be to do on the page sometimes, so that's probably why I truly admire the shorts that manage to take on the challenge and not only run with it, but soar. Below, I've picked out five short films--in no particular order--that have recently made me smile, cry, laugh, or sometimes all three.

I found all of these on the always-excellent website Short of the Week, a treasure trove of short films spanning all sorts of genres. If you've never visited the site, I highly recommend it--there's bound to be something(s) that you'll enjoy.

Papa
Directed by Natalie Labarre


This little animated short tells a tale that any parent, or anyone who's felt like they might be letting another person down in any relationship, for that matter, will relate to. A dad tries hard to do his best with his little girl, only to fall short of perfection. When he comes up with a solution that he thinks will finally make his daughter happy, he finds out that flaws and all, he simply can't be replaced. Part of the charm of this film is that it relies on music and sound effects to help move the story along, which lets the viewer concentrate on the animation and discover other sweet nuances.




I Don't Care
Directed by Carolina Giametta


In this touching, sometimes funny short film, an expectant mother is adjusting to the news that her child could be born with Down's Syndrome. Not sure how to feel about this, a chance encounter in a store leads to a part-time job and the opportunity to spend time with a young girl with Down's Syndrome who has a vibrant personality and a big crush on Justin Bieber. One of the most poignant moments in the film comes when the two are looking at some of the little girl's family photos and they come to a collage of children with Down's Syndrome. "These all your friends?," the expectant mother asks. When the little girl says no, she asks again, "Who are these children?" "They're just children" the little girl answers.

(This short was inspired by a photography exhibit, Shifting Perspective, and stars the curators of the exhibit's daughter, who had never acted before this film.)





The Alchemist's Letter
Directed by Carlos Andre Stevens


The animation in The Alchemist's Letter is simply gorgeous, but it's not just that that makes this short worth every second of its five minute run time. The plot of the film is bittersweet: a son whose father abandoned the family finds that the legacy his dad left behind might not change the past, but it can help heal, and prevent history from repeating itself. If you're like me, you might get to the end of this short and think, "Wait--there's got to be more." Honestly, I think it would be incredibly easy for the filmmakers to take this short, expand it, and turn it into a full-length film. But much of the charisma lies in the way it's condensed down to a handful of magical moments, like many of the scenes in the film itself. Some things may be better left as they are.





Lost Property
Directed by Asa Lucander


Like Papa, there's no dialogue in this short; only sound effects and lovely, melancholy music. Day after day, an older man sits in the Lost Property Office. Each time the cuckoo clock strikes four, he's visited by an older woman who shows him a photo of something she's looking for--a different object each time. I have to admit that I didn't expect this charming film to end the way that it did, and when it did, it threw me for a loop in a sadly-sweet way.





Dotty
Directed by Brett O' Gorman and Mick Andrews


Any younger person who's tried to teach an older person how to use new technology will smile knowingly at the beginning of this film. As it progresses though, we see that the instruction from the woman showing a nursing home resident how to send a text on her cell phone isn't just an ordinary exercise in patience, but a heartbreakingly meaningful interaction. When I mentioned earlier that some of these films that I've highlighted made me smile, laugh, and cry, well--this was one that did. A tissue might come in handy if you decide to watch too.




What about you, readers? Have you seen a short film that left a lasting impression? If you have, please share by telling us about it in the comments.





2016/02/07

Shovel Knight

by Jav Rivera

Have you ever gotten addicted to something so fun that you lose track of time? Maybe you're having a phone conversation with an old friend, or playing a game of 21 basketball (and you're a terrible player), or maybe just binging on Netflix. Whatever it is, at one point in our lives, we suddenly realize that hours have gone by without noticing. When I started playing Shovel Knight, I think I may have lost 24 hours in 5 minutes.


Shovel Knight was released in March 2013 by California game developer Yacht Club Games. The multi-award-winning game has a retro style and gameplay similar to games of the original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console. In fact, there are clear homages to several games including Super Mario 3, Mega Man, Zelda II, and DuckTales.

It's Yacht Club Games' first title and has quickly taken a hold of gamers. So much so that even the Nintendo amiibo for Shovel Knight, which was released on Friday, January 8, 2016, sold out during its pre-order phase. I know because it was officially available for pre-order on Tuesday, January 5, and by the time I got to work, it was already too late. Fortunately, an official announcement from Yacht Club Games stated that stores everywhere in the U.S. would be stocked with enough amiibos, and advised people to avoid purchasing from scalpers (individuals who buy up hot items and sell them at a much higher cost on eBay or other online shops). They were right; I bought one at a local Best Buy the day it was released.

My personal Shovel Knight amiibo!
But I hadn't realize it was such a huge game! I was a fan after the first few minutes of game play but I guess I took it for granted how many other gamers were nostalgic for their 8-bit days; and I think that's one of the many reasons to love Shovel Knight. I was immediately taken back to my childhood. The music, the graphics, the challenging levels -- they all brought memories of sitting in front of my tube TV and playing NES games for hours on end.

And I'm positive that there are hundreds of articles out there detailing Shovel Knight, but what they might not be mentioning is the love that Yacht Club Games invested into the game.



Shovel Knight boasts excellent game play and incredible music (by Jake Kaufman), but more amazing is all the hidden material. It's more than just hidden passages throughout each level, and more than the tricks and tips for the game. Shovel Knight has over 300 codes that unlock all sorts of items, as well as how you play the game. And that infamous amiibo? Well, it opens up even more! Think about what that means in terms of programming.

Additionally, when you complete the game, you also unlock even more content. There are challenge games that allow you to test your skills (they're very hard, by the way). You also unlock a new character, Plague Knight, who is also one of the bosses. With this character, you can play the game using his weapons and platforming abilities. I tried it, and it's a very different kind of game play. I'm still having trouble getting used it, actually. But it's amazing that Yacht Club Games basically provided a free sequel within the game.

There's no way anyone would put that much content into something if there wasn't love involved. And it's that same amount of love that they're getting back from fans.


As a (light) gamer, I know the difference between a good game and a great game. With Shovel Knight I don't feel like I'm just playing a retro-style game. I can see the effort put into every pixel and every shovel stroke. I can almost hear the banter between the programmers during their brainstorming sessions. I can only imagine the number of late nights and empty pizza boxes during the making of the game.


There's really not much else I can say about Shovel Knight that hasn't already been said in the hundreds of reviews, articles, and comments out on the Internet, but I still wanted to make it a point to thank Yacht Club Games for the love they put into their game. Even if you're a novice, try it out on a friend's console and see for yourself. And if you're a hardcore gamer, well then, you probably already know about Shovel Knight.

For more information, visit their official website: http://yachtclubgames.com/shovel-knight/

TRIVIA: Shovel Knight began with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. People who had pledged $200 or more have a portrait within the Hall of Champions level.