Category Archives: Movies

Side Quest: Why This Matters

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On March 27, 2013, my friend David Cole passed away in an automobile accident. He was twenty-seven.

David had one of the sharpest minds I’ve ever encountered in my day-to-day life. He read at a pace and with a level of comprehension that made me feel inadequate on a good day, like a proper numbskull on a bad one. Toward the end of his life, his admiration for Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals led him to read more about Abraham Lincoln in a few short months than most of us will throughout our entire lives. He was also re-reading Infinite Jest, and although “re-reading Infinite Jest sounds like something a snobbish character on a sitcom would do, he never discussed his intellectual proclivities with even a hint of snobbishness or posturing. Of all the media hounds and pop culture junkies I’ve known over the years, David’s interests always felt the most pure, the most born out of a genuine love of the arts and the discourse surrounding them. He didn’t talk endlessly of Faulkner’s brilliance or claim Andrei Tarkovsky’s famously trying Andrei Rublev was his favorite film for any other reason than that they emotionally and intellectually moved him. Yet he also adored the comparatively pulpy Song of Ice and Fire novels, obsessively followed comedy podcasts, and had old usernames inspired by Final Fantasy characters. He loved everything that gripped him or made him think, and if you got him talking on any subject for long enough, he could be touchingly earnest, hilariously self-effacing, and mind-warpingly smart within the space of a few sentences.

I never met David Cole in person, but in this day and age I don’t believe this disqualifies me from calling him a friend. Continue reading

Side Quest: Celine and Julie Go Gaming

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Could Celine and Julie Go Boating — a semi-obscure masterpiece of French cinema — contain the secrets of proper video game storytelling?

Video games need to stop trying to be movies. You’ve heard it here and elsewhere; the tight, thematically coherent structure that reins in your typical two hour film will just never fit the wily, interactive nature of a game that can be fifty times that long. Games are typically better at moment-to-moment plotting and visceral release, waves of emotional catharsis cresting on the backs of set pieces and trial-and-error player accomplishments. These scenarios can move us; at best, they can insert us into an entire world ripe with someone else’s personality. But for any number of reasons — the audience as an active participant; the variations of player experience; the sheer time investment; the, um, general awfulness of most video game narratives — the common consensus is that games can’t do what movies do, and we are hurting our medium and ourselves by still imploring them to. It’s gotten to the point that cutscenes and nakedly cinematic opening credits sequences are greeted with cringes and eyerolls by most discerning gamers. It’s like we want to tell developers, “Stop trying to invite yourselves to the movies’ Grown-Ups’ Table. Just relax. There’s nothing wrong with the Kids’ Table; we can start food fights here!”

For the most part, I agree with this sentiment. Didn’t Wreck-It Ralph just heartwarmingly teach all of us gamers that fostering community is easier when you actually like yourself? (Um, spoilers?) But as someone with no great love of big-budget genre films — from which video games borrow approximately 99.8% of their cinematic ideals  — I sometimes wonder if gaming’s supposed inferiority to movie storytelling is more about misguided inspiration than the true differences between the mediums. Why would games — rambling and easily distracted by nature, or at least since the leap to inhabitable, three-dimensional worlds — try to emulate action and adventure films, easily one of the most tightly scripted and traditionally “plot-driven” movie genres? (The answer, unfortunately, is because man-children like guns and aliens, and usually can’t draw a line between “form” and “content.”) What if there were films out there that could teach us how to deepen and strengthen video game narratives without violating the tenets of the medium? What if we’ve just been watching the wrong movies? Continue reading

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Side Quest: Wreck-It Ralph

This is the first of two film-related blogs I plan on writing over the next few weeks. This is a straightforward review of Wreck-It Ralph; the second will be a little more esoteric.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is the first film I remember seeing in theaters. “Remember” might be too strong a term, though; I had just turned four, so “retain a hazy, dreamlike vision of colors and music informed by subsequent viewings” might be more accurate. Still, I’m positive I was quite taken with it, as we all were (and are) taken with Disney’s squashy, stretchy hyper-realities, these simple fables that are less movies than canvases for the ceaseless imagination of youth. (I’m still close enough to those years to remember that when your kid wants to watch The Lion King VHS for the twentieth time, it’s less about the story told on-screen and more about the world of possibility it illuminates.)

Still, even at the tender age of four, there was a moment in the film that struck me as totally inauthentic. It’s near the story’s endgame, when vain, buffoonish Gaston decides to get the heroine Belle’s father locked in an insane asylum unless she agrees to marry him. He explains this plan to the asylum’s owner, a decrepit old man who couldn’t scream “shriveled up incarnation of pure humbug evil” more if the animators actually just rotoscoped in one of the skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts. His response to Gaston? “Oh, that is despicable. I love it!”

Again, I was four years old watching this. I was not far removed from mastering the use of a toilet, and the thought of Santa Claus being a phony probably hadn’t yet crossed my mind. But the fact that this guy, this literal cartoon, was completely aware he was the “villain” of the film sat completely wrong with me. Continue reading

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