Saturday, August 16, 2014

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie - He's Gonna Take You Back To The Past...

I should preface this review by admitting that I’ve been a fan of an internet critic named The Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN) for a few years. I haven’t been there from the start, but the character’s review style has been enough to make me laugh and remind me that no matter how much nostalgia you have for an older era of video games, not all of them were good. I haven’t enjoyed every episode, but I followed him nonetheless and will continue to do so indefinitely. In that time though, I’ve also come to know James Rolfe, the creator of and actor for the AVGN, through the other videos on his Cinemassacre website. As a person, he’s much more of a film buff than a gaming buff, which shows in the ever-evolving cinematography of his main series. One of his other staple series, an annual series called Monster Madness, shows off his knowledge of horror movies and filmmaking in general, which extends in his Board James series, where he reviews board games, as well as a host of other videos. His passion for filmmaking is very clear, as he has also expressed a wish to be able to someday make movies for a living.

With this passion of his, it’s really no wonder that he would start making a movie, but the really intriguing thing is that he chose his AVGN character as the subject matter. Starting from the initial announcement, he’s also posted several videos and article updates so that fans would know how far he was in the process, of which I have seen all of them. Early in the production cycle, he ended up having to create a fundraiser, with a goal of $75,000 for the film’s budget so that it could at least be partially funded by the fans. However, by the time the fundraiser ended, fans ended up pitching in a total of over $325,000, meaning that he could not only create his vision, but it would also be entirely fan-funded.

After a few years of production and a year of post production, the movie was finally finished and premiered at the Grauman’s Egyptian Theater, chosen because that’s where the first Hollywood premiere, Robin Hood, took place. Unfortunately, despite my relative proximity to Hollywood, I was unable to attend the premiere due to circumstances outside my control. At first I thought I would never get to see the movie theatrically, but then a ray of hope shined when Cinemassacre updated the screenings page to indicate that the movie would be playing at the Landmark Regent in Los Angeles. Not exactly the Egyptian, and no personal appearances, but I jumped on the chance and, after weeks of waiting, finally saw the movie the other day. Would I say the wait was worth it? Yes.

I got better at using my Smartphone camera.

Outside of his life as a video game reviewer, The Angry Video Game Nerd (James Rolfe) works behind the counter at the games retailer GameCops (an obvious nod to GameStop) with Cooper Folly (Jeremy Suarez), a friend who wants to assist him in making his videos. AVGN is being forced to sell games that he doesn’t want to because of their poor quality, but every time he tries to warn customers about this, they do the opposite of what he tells them; he even spits on a copy of a shooting game (the name of which is a nod to Call of Duty) and this action further entices the consumer to buy it. At the same time, a company called Cockburn Inc. is marketing a game named Ee Tee Two, a sequel to the infamous Ee Tee game which promises to be even worse. This gets Cooper to insist that AVGN review Ee Tee, a game he had been trying to avoid covering for years, but also ends up exciting the crowd in the store at the possibility. Shocked, AVGN leaves the store, only for Cooper to follow him and apologize. Later, as the two of them drive to a bar, they discuss the legitimacy of an urban legend which states that Ee Tee was so bad that Atari ended up burying millions of cartridges in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. AVGN doesn’t believe the story, but Cooper does and says that they’ll meet someone at the bar he’s been communicating with for a while that can confirm it. When they get to the bar, the contact turns out to be Mandy (Sarah Glendening), a woman sent by Cockburn Inc. to try and encourage AVGN to review their new game, Ee Tee Two. After a lengthy argument, AVGN agrees to review it on the condition that they discover the legend of the Atari landfill to be true. This condition is acceptable and, the next day, the three of them are on their way to Alamogordo, New Mexico. After several days, they finally arrive with the crew hired by Cockburn Inc. to search for the cartridges. However, their search is being monitored by General Dark Onward (Stephen Mendel) and is mistaken as a terrorist threat. General Onward goes with a group of soldiers to investigate and the events that follow end up uncovering a government conspiracy surrounding the landfill that goes beyond normal comprehension.

AVGN has a regular job at GameCops, where he can't stop people from
buying bad games no matter how hard he tries.

Keeping in with the original idea for the script, AVGN: The Movie is a bit like Wayne’s World in that it explores the life of the AVGN outside of the regular review show. The story isn’t the best in the world of course, and I’m not really going to spoil anything, but the excitement and fun of watching is fueled by the unique premise and how the bar of ridiculousness is continually raised. Fortunately, this is pretty controlled, as the film knows when to throw the next big thing at you to answer the many questions brought up throughout the narrative, though to say how would involve spoilers. Each of the main characters is fairly interesting, since we are given enough information to establish who they are and their personalities get fleshed out more as the plot unfolds. However, the pacing is generally a little uneven. There are spots where the movie drags a little and some scenes could have been trimmed a little to streamline the narrative. Despite this, the film is still very entertaining and has a large B-movie feel to it, which is appropriate due to the very small budget they had to work with. Also, the wait for the credits is more than worth it, since he fulfills a particular wish that fans have had for years.

Cooper (left), AVGN (center) and Mandy (right) on their way to Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Fitting in with the style of a regular AVGN episode, the movie has plenty of vulgar humor. I normally don’t like it when a movie goes for fecal jokes, but since I knew this to be inherent to the series, I let it slide, but even then not all of the jokes are funny. With a good audience though, like the one I had, they can become funny due the camaraderie, as well as the timing of said jokes. Some AVGN-style rants are also present, wherein he compares a game to something very gross, which are given more towards the camera and some of these are actually pretty funny. However, a lot of the jokes also come about from verbal and visual puns, a style of humor that I happen to like, but I’m sure for others they may be more groan-inducing.

Another part of the humor is the references made both to the main video series and other movies. Long-time fans will be able to recognize familiar faces such as Kyle Justin, the composer of the main theme of the show, or Mike Matei, one of James Rolfe’s real-life friends and co-manager of Cinemassacre (it should be noted that, in-universe, AVGN has no idea who he is). Other recurring gags return, though for the sake of surprise I’ll keep those more of a secret. As noted before, references to other movies can also be spotted, though the one that immediately comes to mind is one which mimics the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, at least the part where Indiana Jones swaps the idol with a bag of sand. Amusingly enough, there are also plenty of meta-gags which reference both the production budget and general tropes of filmmaking and marketing. When mixed with the other elements above, it seems that anyone watching will be able to laugh at something no matter their tastes in comedy.

The effects are interesting, since throughout production James Rolfe insisted on using practical effects as opposed to purely CGI. As a result the effects do seem more real and interact better with the rest of the sets. However, there are times when the effects are glaringly low budget, a la John Dies at the End, or deliberately amateurish, such as vehicles which look exactly like toys or props, which helps add another dimension to the comedy. Some of this could probably be due to the post-production work being mostly outsourced to fans willing to aid in the project, something which needed to be done thanks to having a total of 942 VFX shots to go through, but it nevertheless fits in well. However, I must say that at a couple points the film quality seems to get a little grainy. I have no idea if this was deliberate or not, but it deserves a mention anyway.

James Rolfe insisted on using practical effects throughout the movie.
(Also, I refuse to explain the in-movie context of this image.)

As for the sound, it was done very nicely. The occasional video game sound effect can be heard, but they never really feel out of place and sort of reinforce the atmosphere. I would also give props to the music by Bear McCreary and Kyle Justin, which fits in very well with every scene and enhances the mood perfectly; at one point you can even hear a sort of orchestral version of the show’s main theme in the background. Similarly to the video though, there are a couple points where the audio quality, at least for the dialogue, isn’t as good as the rest of the movie. This only lasts for a single shot at a time though, so it doesn’t really get in the way, but I would boil this down to the outsourcing and microscopic budget.

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is a movie that every AVGN fan should see. The story isn’t perfect, but the style of humor is very much in line with the older videos and feels like more than just an extended episode of the show. Though cheap, the effects work naturally for the B-movie feel and the music is excellent. If fans can’t see it in the theater, then they should do themselves a favor and pick it up on home video (I know I really want to). This movie may not be as appealing to non-fans, but if you know someone who wants to see it or they want to show it to you on home video, then you should watch one of two AVGN reviews first; if you want a direct lead-in then you should watch Spielberg Games, but if you want a thematic lead-in (where he hints that he’s going to do something bigger than he’s ever done before) you should watch Desert Bus. Either way the movie is great fun to watch, plus I’d consider it one of the most entertaining independent films I’ve seen in a while. Here’s hoping that James Rolfe continues to pursue his dreams of filmmaking.

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