Disclaimer: This review is of the PC version and was conducted on a PC with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960, i7, 8GBs of RAM.
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Disclaimer: This review is of the PC version and was conducted on a PC with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960, i7, 8GBs of RAM.
by Tanner Kinney Disclaimer: This review is of the PC version and was conducted on a PC with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960, i7, 8GBs of RAM. I’m typically one for flowery introductions. Ones that will paint a picture of the legacy for a game or how impressive the story behind games are. There are great stories of development and publishing history that deserve to be recognized when analyzing a game. It’s a personal little touch, but almost every game deserves that kind of recognition. I say almost, because The Quiet Man is one of the worst games I’ve ever played and easily tops my worst of the year list. There’s just so much wrong with this game that there’s no time to dance around the issue. This game is awful in so many spectacular ways, to the point where I’m almost certain there’s basically nothing legitimately good about it. That’s not an exaggeration. This game is legendarily bad, and everyone deserves to know about it. Double-edged art The Quiet Man thinks of itself as an art-piece and, in a way, it kind of is. The people behind the game at Human Head Studios put a lot of love and passion into crafting an experience they believe to be truly unique. They released a 9-minute “Who is The Quiet Man?” documentary on YouTube, describing some of the decisions they made during development. It is very enlightening to watch after playing through the double-decker disaster they actually ended up creating. It’s like one of those tweets the Peter Molydeux parody account puts out was turned into an actual video game: “What if there was a game where the main character was deaf, and therefore the player was also deaf and could only understand the world through artistic and bold visuals?” That’s The Quiet Man, and it results in one of the biggest blunders of 2018. The story follows a young bodyguard(?) Dane/Drake/Deaf Punchfist (he isn’t named in the game itself, so I’m calling him that last one), a man who is hearing-impaired and was orphaned at a young age, only to be raised by some cop/detective. The opening is full of sound, immersive energy and is a fairly strong start to the game. After that, the game actually starts, and almost all sound disappears. The only sounds left are whooshing noises and wind chimes, probably to simulate the feeling of sound waves and vibrations. This, on its own, isn’t the worst decision. It’s not really executed well, but that’s only part of the problem. During start-up of the game, a screen pops up allowing you to select subtitles. Except, it specifies that subtitles will only be shown if dialogue is “intended to be heard or understood.” This means that, of course, no more subtitles are shown. Deaf Punchfist literally speaks and communicates to the people he talks to, but we don’t even get to understand what he’s saying. It’s clear that our lead, despite being deaf, can perfectly understand people. Despite that, absolutely no subtitles are shown. This makes the already sloppily constructed narrative even more of a puzzle, except there’s no solution until the devs patch one in. That doesn’t mean the story is inherently bad, right? It’s just hard to understand, and you need to have a very high IQ to decipher it. Except, just by watching the cutscenes and trying to decode this trainwreck with the rest of the internet, it’s still a poorly constructed mess that uses twists for the sake of twists with no setup or payoff. Making things worse, it’s just creepy that Deaf Punchfist’s love interest/girlfriend/client looks identical (and is literally played by the same actress) to his dead mother. This game is an epic tragedy in more than one way, it seems. And to top it all off, the developers are actually patching in sound a week after the game’s release. That’s not a joke, and it was fully intentional as they are patching it in a week later. The game even ends on a timer with the text “Learn the full story!” or something similar. Watch out Toby Fox, Human Head Studios is coming for your meta-storytelling crown! The Quiet Man only wishes it could tell a story as cleanly as Deltarune. The inglorious return of FMV Remember full-motion video (FMV)? The next evolution of gaming, only available on CD-ROM discs for overpriced game consoles. Games are now like movies; how incredible! Except, FMV was never really good. It had cheesy acting and unintentional entertainment, but other than Wing Commander IV there aren’t too many good examples of FMV games. Modern FMV games tend to be independent projects, and can even be good sometimes. The lovely Her Story was an FMV game that was actually award-winning, but then there are things like Super Seducer which doesn't deserve to be talked about. So, how does The Quiet Man fare in this new FMV age? Let’s just say it’s like a Sega CD game developed combat from the Arkham series and pre-rendered cutscenes from the PS2 era. Does that sound enticing to you? If it does, seek help, because it’s unbelievably bad when it all comes together. Okay, in all fairness, the FMV itself is not bad. The scenes are well-shot and the acting is probably great with sound included. Compared to similar modern FMV titles, they aren’t the worst part. Surprisingly, considering the rest of the game and how it looks, I was praying for the 10-minute FMV cutscenes to carry me away to a silent world, where only wind chimes and repressed thoughts can be heard. The lead, Deaf Punchfist, is at least stoic in his role, even if his only emotions are wildly over-dramatic to the point of comedy. The fight choreography is also pretty solid, for what little FMV fight choreography there is. However, this isn’t just FMV; this is FMV into the future. The FMV sequences were marketed as and are allegedly supposed to “seamlessly transition” into either pre-rendered cutscenes or in-engine gameplay sequences. I say allegedly because anything that's done in-engine looks like a long-lost PS2 game. Initially, it could be thought that it was because of my elderly computer. Yet, I had the graphics on high and the resolution at 1080p, which is about what you’d expect from the console version of the game, and it still looked terrible. Characters don’t emote with their faces in these sequences, and the lip-movements are stiff and janky to the point where if you could read lips, you’d still have no idea what’s going on. During the first chapter when it “seamlessly” transitions between FMV into gameplay and then into a pre-rendered cutscene, I was baffled at just how bad it looked. There was only one sequence in the game where it might be considered passable, and that’s during chapter two when Deaf Punchfist is stalking his girlfriend/client because she looks like Punchfist’s dead mother. It’s weird, but in those sequences the girlfriend/client looks like a real person, except the world around her is a pre-rendered cutscene. I’d like to believe they didn’t just green-screen an actress into their virtual world, especially considering all it did was contrast horribly with the fake world around her. But this is The Quiet Man; everything is terrible and the TV is on mute. The Deaf Knight punches and kicks five different dudes The Quiet Man is clearly trying to be an art piece, as explained before. It’s trying to create an artistic, linear narrative experience, except they still want to maintain gameplay of actual video games. It’s respectable, considering that many linear art-games are kind of dull to play through from a pure gameplay standpoint. Now, if only the gameplay was anything better than Rocksteady’s scrapped alpha-builds for Batman: Arkham Asylum. The gameplay segments of the game consist of Deaf Punchfist using one of three cool moves to defeat a wide variety of five or six enemy types. He can do a punch, he can kick a leg, he can even do a grab on the enemies, but all of it feels terrible. I didn’t even know he had a grab until I realized that the neon signs in the pause menu were explaining the controls of the game. This game has absolutely no tutorials on how to do anything, which is fine if it’s clear what the character is capable of doing. With The Quiet Man, however, there’s no indication anything is happening other than two punches and a kick. Deaf Punchfist literally has the combat capabilities of Knack from Knack, a game which used to be the worst publisher endorsed PS4 title until this disaster came along. Combat never feels satisfying to play through, just frustrating and sometimes laughable. Most combat is taken down by spamming punches until no dudes are left standing. When the special enemy types show up, the player is expected to do some kind of arcane ritual to dispatch them that I never quite figured out until, again, I realized that the pause menu was telling me the controls. It’s sometimes worth it to see Deaf Punchfist teleport over to an enemy to perform one of “5000 unique finishers”, but other than that there’s nothing fun to see in combat sequences. The “boss battles” also tend to just devolve into “wait for the guy to charge, then hit Q and spam left click.” Nothing in this game feels as fluid as the Arkham games or the 300 clones using the same combat style. At the very least, there wasn’t a time when I fell through the floor, although I did get stuck on geometry during a transition sequence, which locked my character in place and out of combat. Twice. There’s something horribly wrong when the player would rather be watching the ugly, unintelligible cutscenes than playing the actual game. Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn was a better action game than this; at least then you could turn into a Shaqtus and consume Gold Bond. The Quiet Man achieves a whole new level of terrible brawling never before witnessed by the human intellect in the modern age. Good thing Square Enix published this instead of holding onto the license to the critically acclaimed Hitman! To add insult to injury, when jokingly playing combat music over the fight sequences, they became much more enjoyable to play through. It’s ruining the vision of the game completely, but the vision is all this game lets me use so I might as well bring my own soundtrack. Hopefully, the devs patch in some real bangers when they patch in sound because then The Quiet Man might not be the worst thing this year. It’ll be the second-worst thing this year. Images: Steam Featured Image: PlayStation
During the final day of this year’s Heartland Film Festival, every single finalist was shown to the public one last time, although all the winners were announced the day prior. Taking home the coveted grand prize for “Best Narrative Feature” was a foreign film titled The Elephant and the Butterfly. Going into this film as my final screening of the event, I had high hopes that it would surpass all other narratives I had seen prior. While it didn’t do that, there’s a clear reason why it won the grand prize. The Elephant and the Butterfly is a heartwarming story about family, achieving its purpose of being a feel-good film almost too well.
The most important thing I’ve learned while studying history is that there are so many great stories left untold in a modern age. There are so many great, culturally significant events that just get lost along the shuffle of time. Father Time doesn’t care about who you are or the things you’ve done, it comes down to society to remember who you are. There are many great people who never get their stories told. Fortunately for the radium girls of the late 1920’s, directors Lydia Dean Pilcher and Ginny Mohler have created a phenomenal film depicting the long untold tale of young laborers fighting against the system in ways that (almost) changed the world.
by Tanner Kinney During the final day of this year’s Heartland Film Festival, every single finalist was shown to the public one last time, although all the winners were announced the day prior. Taking home the coveted grand prize for “Best Narrative Feature” was a foreign film titled The Elephant and the Butterfly. Going into this film as my final screening of the event, I had high hopes that it would surpass all other narratives I had seen prior. While it didn’t do that, there’s a clear reason why it won the grand prize. The Elephant and the Butterfly is a heartwarming story about family, achieving its purpose of being a feel-good film almost too well. The Elephant and the Butterfly follows a young man named Antoine, a chef of sorts who returns to visit an ex-lover and their child. The twist here being that the little girl, Elsa, has never met Antoine and doesn’t know of his existence. A twist of fate causes Elsa’s mother to ask Antoine to babysit, which turns into a whole series of events with Antoine finally getting to connect with his daughter. Together they play games, read stories, go to the beach, cook, paint, and all sorts of other activities. It’s not the most complex film or the most original concept, but its execution of these elements is near flawless. The two leads of Antoine (played by Thomas Blanchard) and Elsa (played by Lina Doillon) are both likeable, relatable, and even sympathetic at times. The chemistry between the two is absolutely fantastic, with the young child actress playing Elsa being particularly talented at the role. There are times when I wasn’t sure if the director just started rolling and told the two to improvise, because it was all so natural and realistic. Blanchard turns what could have been a potentially creepy character into a lovable father, but the star of the show is definitely Doillon’s Elsa. She’s just so gosh dang cute, even if she’s just filling the trope of the manic pixie dream daughter. It’s like when you babysit your own young family members; they do the dumbest things but you can’t help but smile. Well, you smile until they start playing with the knives. This great strength of the film is also what serves as the point that weakens the rest of the movie. It’s a nice feel-good movie, but that’s all it is. There are some points within the narrative that try to take a more dramatic turn (Antoine’s hatred of the stepfather, whatever is happening with the other babysitter, the business involving the restaurant Antoine is buying, the business involving Elsa’s crazy Grandma, etc.), but it all just never develops into anything. If one of those angles had been played out more within the film, the developing relationship between Antoine and Elsa would have been much more impactful. As it stands, the narrative just feels like it's missing that special something to truly ascend above the other narratives at Heartland. This is, of course, aside from one of the greatest scenes I think I’ve seen in any movie. In this scene, Antoine swipes his daughters scrapbook, rips out the picture of her and her stepfather, tears the stepfather specifically out of that image, neatly folds the bit of picture up, swallows it whole and downs it with a glass of some alcoholic beverage. That little bit of insanity was the best dramatic element in the whole film, but even that felt underdeveloped compared to the whole of the film. Another point of contention would have to be the filmmaking style. The film included a lot of shaky cam and more action oriented shots, even when it might not have been the best choice. It wasn’t bad enough that it turned on the motion sickness, sending me straight to the nearest trash bin (likely thanks to the fact I spent a lot of the film reading the subtitles), but the person I saw the film with noted that it made him uncomfortable. There also aren’t too many shots establishing locations and the passage of time. It’s hard to tell just how long Antoine and Elsa are together, which may have been an intentional choice, but it leads to the question of just how long Elsa’s parents were away. It’s one of those things that’s likely left intentionally vague, but it just became a nagging question in my mind. Despite those problems though, the real unsung hero of the film is the score. It’s very minimalistic, sticking to short piano features and limited instrumentation. It gives the film the whimsical touch it needs to accompany the adventures of Antoine and Elsa. The moments of the film where the two are just spending time together with no dialogue, just laughter and the score, are easily the best parts of the film. It’s like wrapping yourself up in a warm, comfortable blanket with a mug of hot cocoa. There’s not really anything to challenge you, it’s just a pleasant experience overall. Follow the film on its website Featured image: Heartland
by Tanner Kinney The most important thing I’ve learned while studying history is that there are so many great stories left untold in a modern age. There are so many great, culturally significant events that just get lost along the shuffle of time. Father Time doesn’t care about who you are or the things you’ve done, it comes down to society to remember who you are. There are many great people who never get their stories told. Fortunately for the radium girls of the late 1920’s, directors Lydia Dean Pilcher and Ginny Mohler have created a phenomenal film depicting the long untold tale of young laborers fighting against the system in ways that (almost) changed the world. Radium Girls is a narrative based on true historical events. The story follows the fictional characters of Bessie and Josephine, sisters who are glow-in-the-dark watch dial painters for American Radium. They have both bought into the magic of corporate America during the roaring 20’s, with Bessie dreaming of being an actress in a motion picture and having crowds of adoring fans. However, when Josephine becomes ill, the sisters uncover the truth about radium: it’s a deadly poison. With Jo’s life and body now on a timer, Bessie becomes determined to bring the horrors of radium poisoning to light and take down American Radium. The most interesting part of this filmmaking is that it borders on documentary-style. Intercut during transitions during parts of the film are either Josephine thinking about the past, or footage that’s either from the time-period or was altered to look as close to it as possible. The film is in no way a documentary, and doesn’t market itself as such, but these moments give the narrative more legitimacy for an audience member who might not know the story. Radium Girls is constantly grounding the audience in the world it creates, and that makes the narrative all the more impactful because of it. Which leads into the narrative and writing itself, which is phenomenal. The characters are all written realistically, and are supplied with little bits of humor to provide relief from such a dour situation. During the Q&A after my screening of the film, an audience member expressed concern that the film wasn’t nearly dark enough to match the horrors of the story it was telling, but I don’t believe that to be the case. There were already plenty of grotesque moments and descriptions within the film; any more and I feel it may have started to hurt the film in terms of myself and, at least I’d imagine, most general audiences. This isn’t a story about the sheer terror of radium poisoning, this is a story of Bessie trying to change her small part of the world and save her friends. It was touching and heartfelt, with a feel-good ending that is intentionally soured before the credits start to roll. Bringing the great narrative to life are a batch of great performances from every lead within the film. Special props deserve to be given to Joey King’s portrayal of Bessie, as there was a noticeable physical and emotional evolution to the character that you don’t typically see in a lot of films. King performs spectacularly as the leading lady, making you truly believe this is the girl who inspired a revolution (of sorts). All of this makes it more surprising to discover that King was not only the lead in the so-bad-it’s-good Wish Upon, along with being a plot critical character in the critically panned Slender Man. She’s clearly a fantastic actress with the right script, and I sincerely hope she starts picking better projects to so she can truly shine. Other great performances come from Abby Quinn’s Josephine, playing the caring older sister who’s quite literally falling apart perfectly. There’s great chemistry between Quinn and King, with both playing off of each other (whether its comically or emotionally) excellently. Susan Heyward also does great in her role as a no-nonsense reporter, easily being the most likeable of the side-characters within the film. The only weak spot would come from one of the other major side-characters, Walt (played by Collin Kelly-Sordelet), who doesn’t exactly have the best line reads. They’re serviceable, but compared to the star power around him it’s definitely more noticeable how average his performance. The soundtrack should also be noted for how lovely and period accurate it is. I’m a sucker for that sound and aesthetic, and this film played me like a fiddle (or, rather, maybe a jazzy saxophone). Costuming and set-design also played into this perfectly. Returning to the point about it feeling like a documentary, it really did feel like a story pulled straight from the 1920’s. Bessie may have ended the film not wanting to be in motion pictures anymore, but Radium Girls is one that’s worth the nickel. Featured Image: Post Star
It’s not surprising to see someone double-up between roles during productions of a film. Writer and director, director and producer, actor and producer, writer and actor; a lot of these roles tend to find people taking multiple of them. The trouble comes when some directors try to take on every role possible. A famous example of this is The Room, which is written, directed, produced, and performed by Tommy Wiseau. Neil Breen also does this for many of his films. They tend to turn into vanity projects where the director in question wants to make themselves appear the greatest man on Earth, even if they can’t deliver on that.
Heartland brings many amazing films all to one place. There are so many touching stories, moving documentaries, and beautiful narratives that stay fresh in the mind of any viewer. Thinking back on my time at Heartland this year, there isn’t a single film I saw, even the less-than-good ones, that didn’t leave an impression. There’s a reason audience ballots are scored from “fair” to “excellent,” because really, there aren’t too many bad films at Heartland. At the very least, bad but ambitious films still leave an impact on a viewer, especially one that’s not used to viewing actual, artistically minded films.
by Tanner Kinney Heartland brings many amazing films all to one place. There are so many touching stories, moving documentaries, and beautiful narratives that stay fresh in the mind of any viewer. Thinking back on my time at Heartland this year, there isn’t a single film I saw, even the less-than-good ones, that didn’t leave an impression. There’s a reason audience ballots are scored from “fair” to “excellent,” because really, there aren’t too many bad films at Heartland. At the very least, bad but ambitious films still leave an impact on a viewer, especially one that’s not used to viewing actual, artistically minded films. However, that’s all aside from Room for Rent, a film that’s creating a vacancy in my mind for things that are interesting, funny, compelling, or actually good. Okay, that’s a bit harsh, but of all the films at Heartland, this isn’t one to remember. The story follows ex-lottery winner Mitch Baldwin, now broke, sad, lonely, and entitled, as he concocts a plan to allow his family to keep paying for their forever home. His genius plan is to rent out the storage room to a stranger and have them pay the remainder of what they need. His parents are skeptical until the stranger of choice, Carl, shows up on a dark, stormy night. Carl proceeds to worm his way into the family and slowly attempt to replace Mitch in the family unit, leading Mitch to grow suspicious of this stranger who appeared from nowhere. Combined with a car without license plates, general shady behavior, and an actual death threat, Mitch calls on the few friends he still has to help solve the mystery of who Carl really is. The most engaging part of the film is the mystery revolving around this stranger of Carl. The audience knows he’s suspicious, Mitch knows he’s suspicious, and even Mitch’s ex-girlfriend Lindsay knows he’s suspicious. The mystery of what makes him so suspicious is legitimately an interesting part of the movie, and based on the information at hand and what we know of Carl it becomes a treat to develop crazy theories and see which ones stay viable throughout the film. Combined with a phenomenal performance from Brett Gelman, who completely nails the malicious kindness that embodies the character, and makes a solid rock for the film to build its narrative around. The other performances in the film are all solid as well, with Stephnie Weir being a bright spot playing a mom that’s slowly falling apart emotionally. Yet, performances can only do so much when the overall narrative is based around the worst character. For the most part, however, the narrative is built around Mitch Baldwin learning a valuable lesson about friendship and being a better person. Mitch starts the film entitled, selfish, and thoroughly unlikeable. Mitch ends the film a new man that’s accepting, self-reflective, and still thoroughly unlikeable. A lot of the comedy in this film is based around digging up Mitch’s past mistakes and embarrassing him with them, most of which aren’t actually that funny and just make Mitch come off as a disgusting creep. Mark Little puts in a decent performance that delivers the overall awkwardness of a person who had the wealth to skip growing up, but that doesn’t make Mitch a character you want to root for. If anything, I was hoping the twist of who Carl really is would resolve with Mitch getting his just desserts, which sort of happens, but it’s not satisfying enough. The other real problem with Room for Rent is that it is labelled as a comedy, but it’s just not that funny. There are only so many ways to say a movie just isn’t funny, but this one is not funny purely because of its failure to make the situational humor work. There aren’t a lot of one-liners or traditional “jokes,” as this film uses the more reliable form of situational humor to try and create the laughs. However, the situations presented by the movie aren’t really that bizarre or unusual enough to make them funny. A lot of times, the situations are more horrifying than hilarious, and maybe that’s intentional, but that still doesn’t make it funny. Judging by the audience reaction around me (that being the occasional chuckle), it seems clear that this film didn’t resonate with a lot of audience members. The only entertaining comedic moment of the movie is the final twist revealing who Carl truly is, where his motivations for moving in are brought to light. The sheer ridiculousness of the twist was horribly underwhelming, intentionally so. The entire movie was setting up for this reveal, leaving clues and hints for the audience to follow, and then the payoff is the non-twist of the year. In hindsight, it makes sense given the clues, and the absurdness of it all is the one great joke this movie has. If only the non-ending of the movie hadn’t spoiled such a great anti-climactic. Follow the film on Facebook and Twitter Featured Image: Heartland
by Tanner Kinney It’s not surprising to see someone double-up between roles during productions of a film. Writer and director, director and producer, actor and producer, writer and actor; a lot of these roles tend to find people taking multiple of them. The trouble comes when some directors try to take on every role possible. A famous example of this is The Room, which is written, directed, produced, and performed by Tommy Wiseau. Neil Breen also does this for many of his films. They tend to turn into vanity projects where the director in question wants to make themselves appear the greatest man on Earth, even if they can’t deliver on that. This makes writer/director/actor Jim Cummings (no, not the Winnie the Pooh voice actor) all the more impressive, considering Thunder Road is bizarre, hilarious, and fascinating in an actually intentional way. Thunder Road follows Officer Jim Arnaud (Jim Cummings), a man who’s life slowly falls apart over the course of the film’s 92 minute length. Starting with the funeral of his mother, Jim faces a messy divorce, an unloving daughter, a falling out with co-workers, getting fired from his job, and losing custody to his junkie ex-wife. In this film, everything that can go wrong will go wrong for Officer Jim, and it all goes wrong in such a captivating way. This lead role would typically be a tough one to play in a way that an audience member can both sympathize with him, but also understand that everything bad that happens is his fault. Yet, this feat is achieved by an incredible performance from the lead. Jim Cummings manages to make this awkward, emotional wreck of a character painfully real. Having a movie open on a roughly seven-minute eulogy featuring a generous amount expletives, bipolar fits of crying and joy, and a choreographed dance routine to no music playing would be horribly uncomfortable in most films, but in the grand scheme of Thunder Road, it’s not even the weirdest thing our lead does does. We spend every almost every moment of this film with Jim and the effort he makes to repair his life and his relationships, along with all of his failures. It’s hard not to be sympathetic. The other performances are pretty great as well, with the daughter (Kendall Farr) being a breakout star, proving it is entirely possible to get a good child actor in a film. Another great part of this film is the cinematography, which works perfectly for the film. There’s a great variety of shots, and particularly a lot of long takes on Jim Cummings ranting and raving at various points. The opening sequence is one of my favorite shots in the movie, particularly because it establishes the tone of the movie and its gritty, realistic style while still managing to not be headache inducing with shaky-cam. The scene with Jim talking to his daughter’s teacher is also great for similar reasons, but with more subtle features that make is something else. That still leaves one aspect which is this film’s heart: the writing and narrative. The writing, particularly the comedy elements of the film, is perfect in how it is on a razor’s edge between comedy and tragedy. The terrible things that happen to Officer Jim aren’t funny, but his responses to them are. There’s an absurdist nature in the writing of this film that makes it so engaging to sit through from start to finish. At its core, though, Thunder Road is about family, and that’s what makes it so powerful. Officer Jim desperately tries to keep what little family he has left together, but things are falling apart around him as he struggles to pick up the pieces. Even his personal relationships with friends are falling apart despite his best efforts. His attempts to connect with his daughter are heart-warming, even though his daughter isn’t very receptive.. The ending is also touching and emotional, with Officer Jim and his daughter finally connecting with each other despite tough circumstances surrounding them. It’s a beautiful little story, and all of the pieces together make it so surprising it won SXSW. Follow the film on Facebook and Twitter Featured Image: Heartland
Input 2 continues to explore the deep roots of the Halloween film genre. More specifically, how the original Halloween movie created many of the horror tropes today. But how does the new Halloween sequel hold up to the first one? Does Michael Myers still strike fear into the hearts of viewers? Tune in to this week’s episode of Input 2 to find out more!
When measuring the milestones of anything, we tend to put value into the multiples of ten, sometimes five. Although it may not be significant in terms of the time this Earth has been around, human lives are short enough that ten years is truly a long time. So when a company, organization, or even University reaches the tremendous milestone of a full century, it’s a feat to be celebrated. These entities have existed long before us, and will be likely to continue after we expire, through more hardships and triumphs than the human mind can comprehend. So, when a story is told about these great milestones there should be plenty of material to tell a story that feels like a true movie narrative. Howard, a documentary finalist at Heartland this year, manages to do that with a life that was tragically cut short, so there should be no issue for Ball State University to tell its story in a similar grandiose fashion.
by Tanner Kinney When measuring the milestones of anything, we tend to put value into the multiples of ten, sometimes five. Although it may not be significant in terms of the time this Earth has been around, human lives are short enough that ten years is truly a long time. So when a company, organization, or even University reaches the tremendous milestone of a full century, it’s a feat to be celebrated. These entities have existed long before us, and will be likely to continue after we expire, through more hardships and triumphs than the human mind can comprehend. So, when a story is told about these great milestones there should be plenty of material to tell a story that feels like a true movie narrative. Howard, a documentary finalist at Heartland this year, manages to do that with a life that was tragically cut short, so there should be no issue for Ball State University to tell its story in a similar grandiose fashion. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-KLNAHYBDE[/embed] As a Cardinal myself (obviously), I can say that I definitely did feel a sense of pride while watching From Normal to Extraordinary: Ball State’s First Century, at least somewhere deep within my soul. For the most part though that pride was buried underneath an overpowering sense of clock-watching, toe-tapping, doodling-in-my-notes boredom. Production fit for an award-winning department The best part of From Normal to Extraordinary was the production of it. The editing was slick, fast-paced, and worked wonders to keep the mind-numbing material moving. The effects that were applied onto old-timey photos of the centuries old Muncie to make them alive were a nice stylistic touch, even if it didn’t necessarily look seamless. The interviews were also cut together expertly, with very few edits that seemed odd or out of place. Sound quality is excellent, and the orchestration provided by Ball State’s music department was the unsung hero of it all. I’m a sucker for some smooth jazzy tunes. From the production alone, it’s no surprise that this documentary was put together by an award-winning department. The cinematography of the film was also good, but nothing really special. A couple of shots seemed out of focus, and the camera’s moving during interviews wasn’t a choice I was a big fan of, but otherwise it was a very well shot film. The few aerial shots in the film were surprisingly great looking, giving a new view of the familiar campus. Again, it looked like a professionally made production despite being a (mostly) student project, which was impressive. The only really jarring thing is that in interviews with former President Jo Ann Gora the shots seemed blurrier than the rest of the film. I had initially thought I was seeing things, but when they cut between an interview with another person and then back to President Gora, it really felt like there was some alteration to the footage. Yet, that may have been my imagination, and otherwise the rest of the film is excellently shot. How long is this lecture again? Ultimately, the thing that sours From Normal to Extraordinary is the way the narrative was presented and told. A documentary, of course, needs to tell facts and events as they happened, otherwise it becomes fiction based on true events. In that aspect, this documentary was well researched and told what it needed to do to accomplish that. But a documentary is more than just the history books and research material being presented. A great documentary tells a true story in a way that it becomes a piece of entertainment. The most compelling documentaries still use storytelling techniques to create a film that stands strong on its own without using the source material as a crutch. From Normal to Extraordinary not only doesn’t tell its story in a compelling way, it also waters down any potentially interesting elements to the point where not even the material being presented is interesting. Watching it gave the feeling that there was something noticeably absent in the narrative, like it was missing some kind of driving aspect to keep an audience member engaged. After sitting on it, I think I figured out what it was lacking: conflict. Going back to Howard, as that’s served as a go-to example for what makes (to me) a great documentary, it created a celebration of someone’s life that wasn’t afraid to speak on the hardships. The defeats, the failures, the disappointments, the tragedies, and the many eventual successes were all present in Howard. It wasn’t a one-note piece, it created a gripping narrative without any fictionalization of his story. An audience member, even one who didn’t know Howard Ashman before entering the theatre, would leave the show mourning the loss of a great musician and talent. The struggles shown made the triumphs all the more sweeter. After all, it’s hard to enjoy dessert if all you eat is candy. Unfortunately for From Normal to Extraordinary, it downed its whole bucket of Halloween candy and then tried to eat the entire centennial birthday cake. From Normal to Extraordinary brushes over the universities struggles all too briefly. You’re telling me that, within a full 100 years of existence, there wasn’t anything worse than “attendance and funding plateaued while the leadership was unstable”? Even other bits of hardship are touched upon and then quickly abandoned to go back to stroking egos. A rollercoaster isn’t exciting if it only goes up, and the same goes for a documentary narrative. Heck, any narrative needs to have some kind of struggle or conflict. Otherwise, what’s the difference between watching the film and reading a Wikipedia article? At the very least, the Wikipedia article might not gloss over the struggles that come with existing for 100 years. So that leaves a couple questions to be asked. One: does this film tell Ball State’s story fairly and accurately? I would believe the answer to that to be yes, it’s a clearly well-researched, well-produced film. A lot of care went into the production aspects of this movie. However, does that make From Normal to Extraordinary a good piece of entertainment? Judging from the fact that I had to shift in my seat, bite my hand, and slap myself to stay awake during the film, I would give that a resounding no. It doesn’t matter how excellently put together the film is if there’s no reason to stay engaged through the whole film. Featured Image: Heartland
Disclaimer: This review is of the PC version and was conducted on a PC with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960, i7, 8GBs of RAM.
Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for this episode and previous episodes of God Friended Me.
The short film is a time-honored genre. Sometimes informative, sometimes thrilling, and sometimes absolutely mind-boggling, the short film is a place where documentarians, animators, and storytellers can experiment and hone their craft on a smaller scale. This year at the Heartland Film Festival, audiences were able to observe the crème of the crop from Heartland’s Short Film Festival this past summer, and to put it bluntly, it’s nuts.
When thinking about famous Hoosiers, there aren’t too many people who come to mind. Orville Redenbacher is one, since the popcorn is so tasty. Three people (including me) may consider former Indiana governor Paul V. McNutt as a legendary Hoosier as well. The point is, the list isn’t very long. On that short list, however, is legendary American writer Kurt Vonnegut. Author of strangely dark and satirical novels like Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut is a genuinely unique and interesting person who moved through the world in his own way, and this documentary titled God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut helps paint that picture. Unfortunately, the great subject matter of the documentary is anchored down by some rough filmmaking and editing.
by Tanner Kinney When thinking about famous Hoosiers, there aren’t too many people who come to mind. Orville Redenbacher is one, since the popcorn is so tasty. Three people (including me) may consider former Indiana governor Paul V. McNutt as a legendary Hoosier as well. The point is, the list isn’t very long. On that short list, however, is legendary American writer Kurt Vonnegut. Author of strangely dark and satirical novels like Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut is a genuinely unique and interesting person who moved through the world in his own way, and this documentary titled God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut helps paint that picture. Unfortunately, the great subject matter of the documentary is anchored down by some rough filmmaking and editing. This documentary doesn’t follow a traditional documentary structure, especially the structure of documentaries about living people. In its essence, God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut is more of a series of only somewhat connected anecdotes, presented in no particular order with only a sort of overarching “theme” for each selection of anecdotes. The sections are divided by readings of Vonnegut’s writing, short Vonnegut-esque songs composed and performed by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., or clips of Kurt Vonnegut himself at panels or other events. These breaks between sections, strangely enough, were some of my favorite bits of the documentary since they have a more direct look into Vonnegut’s mind. This aimless structure, where-in Vonnegut’s death is discussed about halfway through the documentary and then never really mentioned again, seems to be an artistic decision emulating the style of the man himself. That’s an interesting concept, but in terms of the experience watching the documentary, it was a tough sell for me. What works in a short story or novel doesn’t necessarily translate well into a documentary, and that’s the case with God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut. There was no hook to keep viewers fully-engaged throughout the documentary, although the clips of Vonnegut himself definitely tried to do that. Compared to the documentary I saw later in the day, Howard, it was night-and-day the difference proper structure makes. The other major problems with this documentary come from the cinematography and editing. The camera-work is fine (aside from a couple questionable angles), and the quality of the film is there. Yet, there were times during the film where it seemed clips would drop to half the framerate of what was around it, as if it was being shot with two different quality cameras. Sometimes this would happen during a clip of someone, where it would start with them talking and the framerate would look like it was stuttering briefly before eventually correcting itself. I couldn’t tell if it was a problem with the projector or the film itself, but it was definitely jarring and continuously noticeable. The editing, however, doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut genuinely looked like it was thrown together in Premiere over the course of a week or so. I know this because it had a lot of techniques that I used when I made a short documentary in a caffeine-fueled evening. There is so much uninspired B-roll within the film, some of it seemingly disconnected from what’s being discussed. On top of that, anytime an image is shown within the film, it uses the same cut-and-paste editing effects over-and-over. I get there’s only so much you can do when there’s so little actual footage of the man himself, but there isn’t anything unique within the production of the documentary. The man himself may be a unique individual, but the pieces that make up his documentary don’t match his energy. Despite all of that though, there are still enough great moments and fun anecdotes about Kurt Vonnegut that consistently made me smile. A personal favorite was in a clip of Vonnegut at a panel where he’s asked the question: “Why are we put on this Earth to suffer and die?” After a minute or so of silence Vonnegut responds, “That’s show business,” and then walks off-stage. These little moments of brilliance make the documentary worth watching for someone interested in learning more about Kurt Vonnegut as a person, but in terms of filmmaking, it’s a rough film to sit through. Follow the film on Facebook, Twitter, and the film’s official website. Featured image: Heartland Film Festival
Before the screening of Nathan’s Kingdom, director and screenwriter Olicer Muñoz spoke about how the film was about a journey, much like the filmmaking process itself. Over the course of ten years of production, five of those years for filming, and numerous hardships, Muñoz clearly put boatloads of passion into the film. I kept his story in mind during the screening, thinking about all the time, the hardships, and the triumphs that must have occurred during production. This journey on its own is worth telling, and that’s not even to include the journey he created for the characters within Nathan’s Kingdom. All of it comes together and, despite some rough patches within the movie, results in a very heartwarming experience.
by Tanner Kinney Before the screening of Nathan’s Kingdom, director and screenwriter Olicer Muñoz spoke about how the film was about a journey, much like the filmmaking process itself. Over the course of ten years of production, five of those years for filming, and numerous hardships, Muñoz clearly put boatloads of passion into the film. I kept his story in mind during the screening, thinking about all the time, the hardships, and the triumphs that must have occurred during production. This journey on its own is worth telling, and that’s not even to include the journey he created for the characters within Nathan’s Kingdom. All of it comes together and, despite some rough patches within the movie, results in a very heartwarming experience. Nathan’s Kingdom initially stood out to me because the titular character Nathan is on the autism spectrum. This made me skeptical, because many production companies are afraid to tackle mental health related issues in a realistic manner. Muñoz purposefully casted the role of Nathan to be played by an actor (Jacob Lince) who himself is on the autism spectrum. This makes the character feel completely real in a way that I’ve never seen done before in a film. Nathan and his relationships with everyone else, particularly his sister Laura (played by Madison Ford) seem to be plucked straight from life experiences. Watching how Nathan moved through the world I saw many shades of my little brother who is on the autism spectrum. Nathan is absolutely the star of the show, and his struggles cut more deeply than I could have imagined walking into the film. The narrative itself is, like Muñoz described, one of a journey. But it’s not just about Nathan’s journey to find his kingdom. It’s a story of siblings learning to connect despite the barriers that lie between them. Laura clearly is unable to properly handle Nathan on her own, but doesn’t believe anyone else can handle it. Her family ties are more powerful than her desire to escape and abandon Nathan. This can mostly be accredited to a great performance by Madison Ford, perfectly capturing the confliction and resentment the character has built up inside. The character of Laura could have been one that, if played improperly, would just make the audience hate her. Yet, whenever she loses her temper with Nathan, I felt more inclined to sympathize with her. There’s clearly much more going on than what we are shown, although maybe some of that could be self-projection onto the film. When it all finally resolves it creates a sense of overwhelming joy that makes the heartache worth it. The audience can find their own kingdom within Laura and Nathan’s journey. Another fantastic addition to the film that I never expected was the storybook sequences included within the film. These animated sequences are inspired by the drawings within Nathan’s notebook, and both of the ones included are beautifully animated. The long sequence while Laura and Nathan exploring the dark mine, in particular, is a wonderful expression of child-like imagination. The audience gets a look into Nathan’s mind; how he sees the world and his own story. It’s hard to not get absorbed into that world during these sequences, with all of the wonderfully creepy, hand-drawn imagery. These were much more preferable to the couple short CGI sequences which, while they weren’t bad, looked nowhere near as good as the animation. It would have been neat to see more of it, but then the charm might have outworn its welcome. Despite all of these great things, there are still a couple of gripes with the film that make me reluctant to declare it perfection. The cinematography is the biggest culprit here. When the film is taking in the scenery, playing and interacting within Nathan’s fantasy world, the camerawork is fantastic. The main problem lies in the scenes where Nathan and Laura are interacting outside of a make-pretend world. It may just be a pet peeve of mine, and I get the artistic value, but I can’t stand by using shaky-cam within a film. The effect is that it makes a film more gritty and realistic, and that’s fine. It also induces motion sickness and generally just makes the film harder to watch. The few shots that used a drone as well are noticeably cheap looking, with the drone camera being significantly lower in quality. Those two things served as my main problems with the film, but it’s something that many people can ignore to get lost in the world this movie creates. The final thing to ask is: does this film succeed as a “feel-good” movie? The answer is easily a yes. The best parts of the film were when Laura and Nathan are playing together, laughing, joking, enjoying each others company. It was so incredibly heartwarming to watch these sequences where both let go of their problems and just play. Laura in the film describes it as Nathan’s coping mechanism, much like her drug habit (which admittedly doesn’t really play a huge part in the film, despite it being shown so frequently). I thought back to home, when I was a kid trying to play with my little brother despite the communication barrier. I would play games with him, I helped him learn how to use a computer, and so many other memories that this movie made me remember. It takes a lot to make me cry during a film, but seeing these sequences turned on the waterworks. This film can do a lot of good to teach people how to communicate with those with developmental disorders, and that alone makes it worthy of its spot at Heartland. Follow the film on Facebook, Twitter, or its website Featured image: Heartland