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.

 

 

 

 

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