The AVGN Movie Review: An Amazing Indie Accomplishment

Last night, my girlfriend and I had the unbelievable pleasure of going to a movie premier in New York City. Even better, we got the pleasure of going to see Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie! I’m a huge AVGN fan; I even brought my Ghostbusters NES cartridge to get signed. I had to leave before I could get that, however; my dad had a medical procedure the following morning, but damn I wanted it! Why? Mainly because I am an independent author, AVGN’s company Cinemassacre is an independent studio, and in many ways he is an idol of mine. The bulk of the movie, after all, was crowd-funded by his fans through IndieGoGo!

For those who don’t know the Angry Video Game Nerd, well, it’s a self-explanatory name for a character. James Rolfe created a series of you-tube videos where he plays a video game nerd who is angry about bad video games. He reviews those games, or in some cases entire game consoles, demonstrating all of their bad design choices. He also curses them out, and often destroys their physical copies, frequently talking about either feces or bizarre anal sex acts. There, done! For those of you who are familiar with him, his style and the entire culture of internet reviewers (including, to a lesser extent, me!), well, you also already know what you’re getting! That is a great thing, overall, but it’s also a little lacking in some areas.

The Angry Video Game Nerd Movie.  Image courtesy of Cinemassacre.com

The Angry Video Game Nerd Movie. Image courtesy of Cinemassacre.com

The plot of the film is pretty basic: In all of his one-hundred-plus Youtube videos, The Nerd has never reviewed the game “ET” for Atari (called EeeTee in the film). Yes, it is based on the Steven Spielberg movie of the same name; no, it isn’t good. For years, now, fans have begged Rolfe to review it. In-character, he has refused, claiming the game is just too horrible. As you might imagine, by the end of the movie, the fans get their wish!

Of course, it isn’t so simple. The plot unravels around an evil corporation that descends like vultures upon the trend of gamers playing bad games, gamers such as The Nerd. They intend to use our favorite Nerd as a marketing ploy for an ET Sequel, namely by forcing their way into his life and annoying him until he cooperates. Said corporation (‘Cockburn,’ of course) also investigates a popular video game legend: That Atari buried millions of copies of ET in a New Mexico desert because it was such a bad game. Naturally, since this is in New Mexico, it attracts the military’s attention because they’re talking about “ET’s” and digging about in the desert, and, well, something-something-Area 51.

Coincidentally, at the same time the AVGN movie was nearing completion, it was revealed that this legend was – in fact – true! There are actually a bunch of old (and terribly designed) games buried in the desert!  But, by now, my own review is buried in the plot of the movie it’s about, so let’s get to some actual critiquing!

 

The Angry Video Game Nerd Makes Me Happy

I want to start with the good, both because I always do and because there’s a lot of good to be had. The comedy comes mostly from making fun of common tropes. The film takes situations frequently explored in other movies and “Nerdifies” them, complete with the vulgarity and excess that AVGN is famous for. Oh! Look! There’s the AVGN and his female gamer playing a game, but being misunderstood by the old man downstairs! We’ve seen this scene before, but Rolfe and his co-writer Kevin Finn make it funny by slipping in double-entendres that catch viewers off-guard. In a scene where two girl characters are fighting, there is a significant sense of sexual tension and a lead-up to some sort of cat fight that ultimately gets a brief acknowledgment before being thrown away. It was refreshing that they didn’t lean on girl-on-girl action to attract too much attention!

The visual effects are worthy of mention because so many of them are what Rolfe considers “practical.” He doesn’t just rely on fancy computer graphics; he actually built tremendous set-pieces just to have a guy in a suit destroy them on camera. It was a throw-back to old Kaiju films like Godzilla, another favorite topic of Rolfe’s. Some of them were deliberately-horribly done, such as one scene involving what appeared to be a micro-machine on fire. It earned a hearty chuckle and some crowd applause! One of his favorite tales of practical effects gone wrong involves the accidental triggering of a fire alarm by his set lighting. Go figure. The bottom line was that when the movie needed to look good, it did. When the humor called for it to look goofy, it didn’t stray too far into the absurd.

The characters were, for the most part, enjoyable. Even Cooper, played by Jeremy Suarez, was generally charming and funny! I have no idea where Cooper came from, since as a fan of the show I am stunned by the idea of AVGN having a side-kick, but that’s part of the point of the film. It’s a spoof on film expansions to TV series or video games (or vice-versa!) where new, seemingly-vital characters are shoehorned into the plot. Speaking of shoehorned, Mandi – seemingly the obligatory love interest for the Nerd, played by Sarah Glendening – actually comes off as fairly charming, and while she makes some of those “classic movie mistakes,” like leaving the safe-house to make a useless phone call, she succeeds in avoiding any one stereotype. By and large, every other actor was appropriately over-the-top for their character, had witty lines, and made themselves stand out.

I think the final note I want to hit is that, at times, I was impressed by how the movie really got its timing down. Many of its cameos (we’ll get to some of them) were timed perfectly, and made sense within the movie’s continuity. Getting the actual programmer of the ET game, Howard Scott Warshaw, to appear in the film? That was genius. One of my favorite AVGN characters, Shit Pickle (I know), is featured on a billboard on one of those incredibly detailed Las Vegas sets that Rolfe built and had destroyed. Pat Contri (Pat the NES Punk) does a fantastic job as an AVGN groupie.

 

The Shitty Side of the AVGN Film

Okay. It’s not shitty, but if I’m watching and talking about the AVGN, I’d better fucking swear.

My number one complaint with the film is that it leaned heavily on its audience’s knowledge of the series canon. Some of the jokes – invisible blocks obstructing a player’s progress – were obvious. Others were nothing more than a token appearance by The Nostalgia Critic, who has served as an internet video enemy of Rolfe’s and, well, doesn’t contribute much except to be a face on camera, briefly. Then again, I’m a hypocrite – the very next scene is a similar cameo from Lloyd Kaufman, creator of The Toxic Avenger and a guest in one of AVGN’s episodes, and I liked it very much. The difference, I think, was that Kaufman actually did something. He had a line. He had a role. Nostalgia Critic? I love you, but no.

Speaking of “having a role,” who the fuck is Cooper?! Look, no offense to Jeremy Suarez – again, he did a great job – but the AVGN already has back-up. In the real world, Rolfe is teamed up with his childhood friend Mike Matei to produce his videos. Why couldn’t Matei be the side-kick? Instead, he and Kyle Justin – the musical mastermind of the series – have little cameos at the AVGN convention. Kevin Finn, a frequent guest and also-friend of Rolfe’s, has made appearances in the series but seemed content to co-write on this ride. I know we’re all supposed to wonder where this Cooper guy came from, but it all feels like it stretches what we AVGN fans know a bit too thin.

Speaking of thin, the biggest serious critique I have of this film is that the movie’s last half hour feels like a complete mess. There were moments where I looked at my girlfriend and fought back the urge to ask, “did I miss a scene?” I had absolutely no idea why, at the end of the film, the soldiers are cheering for their general’s demise. I can extrapolate that the officer in question is a complete jerk, but I don’t get why his men have transformed their mission from “crowd control” to “insane mob.” This is the biggest and most severe weakness the film suffers from: A spasticity in its progression.

Overall Impression of The AVGN Movie

The aforementioned flaws aside, I’ve spent about 1,500 words talking about this movie. If it wasn’t worth watching, would I have? Now, you might be asking yourself, “Jesse, what if the movie isn’t in a theater near me?” It’s an indie film, after all, and it’s not in mainstream movie houses! Well, in the after-movie Q&A session (which I had to leave early, sadly), Rolfe was asked what his plans for a wider release were. He intends to do a digital distribution arrangement of some kind, mentioning a date in early September, but he hasn’t got a specific plan finished, yet.

So now let me talk just a little more about what this movie means.

Yes, it’s pretty insane. Yes, it’s got flaws. However, it’s the brain-child of a man who started off making nothing more substantial than home movies. Later, he went on to create a few Youtube videos, ones that became extremely popular. He helped make Lets Plays into a major thing. He managed to generate enough revenue from his internet show to quit his day job and produce content full-time! That’s pretty much the American Dream, here.

But most of all, he created something for his fans. Yes, Rolfe goes over-board on content that makes an avid AVGN fan say, “Well, you’d have to listen halfway through episode 37 to get this joke.” However, as an indie producer myself, all I can say is, “Congratulations, man. You did it.”

Overall: 8.7/10 (8.1 for non-AVGN fans; 2.1 for non-video game fans, but then WTF are you watching it for in the first place, exactly?)

Jesse Pohlman is a writer from Long Island, New York.  If you enjoy science-fiction novels, check out his Amazon Store and see if one of them sounds fun to read, to you!

James Rolfe, Kevin Finn, and some dude's big ass head.  @Symphony Space in New York City, 8/8/2014.

James Rolfe, Kevin Finn, and some dude’s big ass head. @Symphony Space in New York City, 8/8/2014.

 

 

 

 

Dealing with Project Sprawl – Writing Tips!

Hello, fellow creators!

While I was working on my Lego Comic, and debating on drawing some more cover art for a book I’m almost done with, I was networking and writing my local news blog and…

…And I realized I have a problem.  See, I have a lot of projects on my hands at any given time.  Sometimes I get commissioned to write an article, while other times I just end up in a pointless debate with someone on the internet.  Most of the time, though, I’m working on a book.  There are lots of them I’m working on, and lots more that I’ve de-facto abandoned.  That’s probably the greatest shame, because I’ve written them all in my head!  Just not on paper!  This always saddens me, because I always have another great idea, another new scheme.

Unfortunately, if I were to start on them, then I’d leave other projects un-done, and therein lies one of my greatest problems as a writer.

Focus On One Thing?  Hah!  …How?

Some people’s first bit of advice is to pick one thing to focus on at a time.  For many people, that works – and if you’re that lucky, hey, good for you!  Put that exceptionally rare talent to use!  Many others find themselves always waking up, each day, with a different “feeling.”  Maybe some day they feel like writing, while another day they feel like painting.  If they don’t write, their manuscript goes unfinished; but if they try to force themselves to write when they want to paint, well, nothing gets done except for the denial of their true desire!  They spend time staring at a blank computer screen, imagining they are in front of a blank canvas, instead.

In my case, I was inspired to write this article because I was working on the cover-art for my next novel, and I realized just how disparate my goals were.  There’s so much I want to get done, but so little I can.  It’s a problem!  Just creating a place-holder image for this article took some time.  Yes, I learned new techniques for a paint program, but it was still time spent doing something which distracted me from the sheer pleasure of writing.  Sometimes, the research or the image-collecting for an article simply steals the show.

So what’s my answer?  Well, one thing is to try to have a schedule.  “Day one, work on project one.  Day two, work on project two,” whatever works best for you!  Everyone has a different routine, after all.  Unfortunately, we also have daily obligations.  There are days when I only have 15-20 minutes of “Creative Time,” if that!  This forces me to pick something I can get done quickly, or at least something I can make a major contribution towards.  Being able to figure out where one left off, then continue, isn’t always so easy.

Then, sometimes I’m working on commissioned articles or promotional material, and my “Creative Time” becomes “Second Job.”  And sometimes, I’d rather write about knights and dragons than do content for some band’s website.  The same things can apply to painters, photographers, and even musicians.  Photographers might want to shoot macro-scale, exploring the nuances of a flower petal, but instead have to do bland portraits of an average family to pay the bills.  All of these things add to an already overloaded plate.

Truly, sprawl is a problem any creator has to face down.

The Answer Is Patience

Most of all, I feel like I’ll never get something done “in time,” whatever “in time” happens to be.  I feel that the book cover will take so long, I don’t want to even begin.  I feel like finishing a novel will take forever, and that it won’t get done.  Editing?  It feels like bashing my head against a brick as a little voice screams at me to work on something fun, not something old.  There’s just this overwhelming feeling that if I’m not creating new work, I’m not being productive, and the stories in my mind will never get out.  Ever.

And none of that is true.

See, I’m young.  I’m 29, now.  But even if I were 69, I’m probably not dying tomorrow.  I’m probably going to wake up tomorrow and have time to work on my next idea.  The biggest reason why other creators I’ve spoken to seem to collapse into working on dozens of projects at once is because they don’t know how to be patient.  They don’t understand how to put their ideas on paper until the ones they’re already executing are complete, and come back to it later.  That’s the bottom line – patience.

For me, it takes patience to believe that, yes, this cover-art will get done; yes, the book will be released; yes, I can edit and re-release old ones, and – finally – I can put out new material.  I can clear this massive plate I have in front of me, and I can think about new ideas and not feel like I have to immediately act on them in order for them to ever happen.  The key refrain I’ve discovered?  If they are strong enough ideas, they will be there when I’m finished with what’s got me busy.

For others, I’d recommend the same – or, at least, a genuine evaluation of which projects should take priority, and what the subject of the creator’s effort should be.  Immediate performance and financial income isn’t the only guideline, here; existential reward and personal satisfaction matter, too.  Each person will be different, and there’s always some creep, but sprawl should be kept to a minimum – before it gets out of hand, and nothing gets done.

This article is adapted from an original, less-refined version, posted on my old “Ramble About Writing” blog.  Enjoy!

Thoughts on the Ongoing Israeli Military Action

Since its very inception, Israel has been up against attackers from all directions.  In more recent memory, it has had to fend off missile attacks from the terrorist group Hamas, a group which controls the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory in the south-west of the country.  I’m all for Israel defending itself; my question has always been, “how?” I absolutely believe Israel shouldn’t have to live with lunatics lobbing rockets into their cities, but the devil is in the details.  Just what is Israel supposed to do?  Ideally, it should be seeking a lasting peace with its Palestinian neighbors, but let’s examine the tactics it has employed, instead:

The current Israeli administration has hardly taken its peace talks with its Palestinian counterparts seriously.  Their Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has all but overtly refused to endorse a two-state solution to this ongoing conflict.  Israel has gone so far as to tap U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s phone, a reprehensible act (that we do to other leaders) and a clear show of bad faith.  The Gaza Blockade, designed to choke Hamas, hasn’t helped; just like our embargo against Cuba doesn’t actually hurt the Castros, it has starved and strangled civilians for years. Israel settlers have continued to invade occupied Palestinian territory. Multiple invasions of Gaza have led only to massive civilian deaths; in many cases, they were easily avoidable. Is it any wonder Hamas still has power there? Maybe it’s because the local population only sees Israel as the people starving them, as the people blowing up shelters it claims are safe, and the people refusing to negotiate in good faith!

Now, Netanyahu is talking about Hamas paying an “intolerable price” for attacking Israel. Cool! How will he make sure Hamas is the one paying it?  Depending on who you ask, the answer might horrify you.  Yochanan Gordon, a writer who had an Op-Ed in the Times of Israel, literally stated:  “If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?” Once the (if I may be forgiven for violating Godwin’s Law) Nazi-esque propaganda Mr. Gordon published drew the international condemnation it deserved, it was removed from the Times of Israel’s page, and he has since apologized.  Nevertheless, we are still left with the question: What, then, are Netanyahu’s ideas of an ‘intolerable price?’

The Gaza blockade, courtesy of Wikipedia

The Gaza blockade, courtesy of Wikipedia

At least 1,500 Palestinians have died in this current round of fighting, most of whom are civilians.  Gazans are starving, and their only power plant was destroyed (Fortunately, the United States insured it, so we U.S. taxpayers get to pay to rebuild it!).  Will Netanyahu get a safe Israel out of this behavior?  Ask yourself:  Does anyone in their right mind believe that the children who are watching their friends and family suffer and die will grow up without a hatred for Israel buried in their hearts?  Would you so readily forgive a nation if it invaded your city and killed those around you?  Put a third way:  Do you believe those who lost family members and friends in the September 11th attacks would have been happy to live side-by-side with Al Qaeda?

This isn’t a defense of Hamas.  Hamas is an evil organization, and it is sickening that Gazans haven’t already thrown them out of power.  These are the assholes who hide rockets in schools, prompting Israel’s attacks upon them.  That doesn’t make Israel right – it just makes Hamas’ evil instincts clear.  On the other hand, from the average citizen’s perspective, Hamas are the ones who build tunnels to smuggle material goods (as well as guns) into Gaza.  They provide the police.  They can be seen shooting at the Israelis who invade Gaza, and they have Israel playing exactly the game they want them to:  “Come get us if you can find us, and don’t kill too many children on the way there!”  I find it pitiful that Gazans haven’t thrown Hamas out on its ass, yet, but at the same time I can understand their rationale.  Why would you part ways with the only group that seems to maybe have an interest in helping you?

Therein lies the problem.  So long as Israel makes it a habit of invading and destroying huge chunks of the Gaza Strip, so long as it refuses to negotiate a lasting peace with Palestine, and so long as it allows illegal settlement of Palestinian territory, groups like Hamas will appeal to the Palestinians who don’t believe there is any hope of peace.  When a Palestinian parent reads an article like Yochanan Gordon’s, he believes his children’s lives are under an existential threat.  If you recognize that term, it’s because Israel has so often claimed that Hamas, or Iran, or someone is the Existential Threat to them.  And how does Israel respond to these Existential Threats?

Just look at Gaza.  Now you see the shit’s depth.  And, yet, today another UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip was bombed, despite that organization’s boss, Robert Turner, saying that the Israeli Defense Force receives daily updates on what sites are being used as shelters.  3,000 people may have been taking shelter there, some of whom are now dead or wounded.  Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, when asked why Israel is eschewing peace talks on this issue, responded by asking “What’s the point?

The point, ambassador, is that Israel has a right to self-defense.  It does not, however, exclude Palestine from having one.  Unfortunately, Israel’s military invasion of the Gaza Strip has left Hamas looking, to Gazans, like the only people fighting to protect them.  Increasingly, as school after school housing civilians gets bombed by Israel, it stops being about Israel’s right to defend itself – and starts being about the unacceptability of its attacking a civilian population.

I hold my friends to a high standard, and as I’ve always viewed myself to be a friend of Israel, I’ve always believed they can do better.  If they continue to prove to me that they can’t – if they keep killing civilians and refusing to even try to negotiate a truce – then I, one lone voice in the crowd, will stop supporting them.  Fortunately, as The Economist points out, I’m far from alone in this opinion.