29 August 2010

Should I Feel Flattered?

Some time ago, I decided to share my terrible acting skills with the world and create a series of bogus audio recordings of the (possibly) lone crewman of a spaceship overcome by a terrible calamity. I have to give credit where credit is due and point out the article Snap, Crackle, Plot by Graeme Virtue as well as his Science Officer's Log Blogger page. Additionally, there's Jason Killingsworth's Start Press: The Spirit of Radio. They all deal with these little items of video game fame known as audiologs:

So, in short, I made a few of my own, bogus audiologs for a game that never was. I uploaded the videos to my YouTube channel, but I'd also uploaded them to Revver where, after taking a surprisingly short amount of time in showing them live, the videos were given maturity ratings, effectively on the power of words despite there being no foul language and no innuendo. Heck, there isn't even any music or sound effects.

Part One:

This received a 13+ rating from Revver's internal review board. I wasn't disappointed or upset or anything, as I had no idea what sort of "rating" my content would warrant. After all, the fact that novels lack a sort of rating system compared to theatrical motion pictures would imply that simply describing a gruesome act (either via printed text or even spoken, as with an audiobook) is not half as objectionable as a movie showing it to us. In the case of Part One, the act in question is the hysterical aftermath of some sort of outbreak or invasion, wherein frantic and paranoid crew members begin indiscriminately killing one another.

Part Two:

Part Two received no rating, implying a general appeal and lacking in any overly objectionable material. This seemed rather odd to me; I mean, it was obvious I was making episodic content, so why wouldn't they just stick with the "13+" designation as the default rating? It's not uncommon for a film series to have ratings go up, as was the case for Revenge of the Sith and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which received PG-13 and PG ratings respectively while their prior chapters were rated PG and G, but it's quite a different issue when the ratings go down. This was the case for Conan the Destroyer and Weekend at Bernie's II, both PG-rated sequels to R-Rated films as well as Be Cool, the PG-13 sequel to the R-Rated Get Shorty. To give further perspective on how ratings going up for a film series is more common than going down, consider the James Bond films, which had all been rated PG up until Licence to Kill in 1989, which was originally rated R upon release but later re-rated PG-13, which ended up being the typical rating for a Bond film henceforth despite retaining relatively consistent levels of violence, suggestive dialogue, and sexual scenarios throughout. Granted, the PG-13 rating didn't exist until the late 1980s, so the shift ultimately had more to do with social standards than the actual content of the films.

Part Three:

Here is where I apparently cross the line, or at least come as close as is possible to it without actually crossing it since that would probably just lead to the video being taken down. As for what tripped the alarm and got me the "17+" rating:


That's the only thing that might be considered objectionable in the whole recording. I mean, I doubt anyone's offended by vending machines or the continued use of coined currency in the distant future. So, apparently discussing and describing mass hysteria and homicide is worthy of "13+" but taking the extra step to mention that those victims of said hysteria and homicide will start to reek a bit when no one's around to clean up takes us straight into adult territory. It's like in old westerns and, probably more noticeably, the jailbreak scene in Star Wars where people just seem to vaporize after they fall out of frame, clutching their fatal shot wound. It's something we can probably find examples of everywhere, but the fallacy of the logic behind it: showing humorous or inaccurate results of violence is all right for children, but once you start showing the real consequences (like in a public service announcement against drugs, gangs, guns, and the like) suddenly the material is objectionable.

Part Four:

Like part two, it received no mature rating, implying mass appeal. This is just baffling since the plot ultimately leads to my character requesting what basically amounts to a mercy killing (possibly in the idiom of self sacrifice, if there was indeed any sort of calamity) and begging his wife for forgiveness about not being able to come home.

At the risk of turning this into a catch-phrase: Am I missing something here?

15 August 2010

The Fourth Kind... of Worst Movie of All Time

As stated in the Paranormal Activity review, one of the biggest criticisms against these "Faux-Archival Recordings" films like The Last Broadcast or Cloverfield is their use of cinema-verite shooting and editing styles to disguise a low budget and/or inexperienced crew. It's akin to the criticism that most video recordings made of UFOs take advantage of low resolution and shakiness to hide what could otherwise be either a very obvious model or a perfectly normal and natural aerial phenomenon. To that end, The Fourth Kind tries to dispel these potential accusations by taking the bogus amateur footage and juxtaposing it with polished and highly dramatized re-enactments in the tradition of Unsolved Mysteries or America's Most Wanted. This merging of styles should have been the strength of the film. Instead, it tears at the very fabric of cinematic reality itself and exposes the utter incompetence of the director.

The plot of the film centers around a widowed psychologist named Abby Tyler, who's studying the sleeping habits of some of her patients in Nome, Alaska. She's carrying on the research of her husband, who was murdered several years ago while they slept. The good doctor has vague and distorted memories of the event and finds herself unable to clearly recall the killer's face. To further add to her anguish, her daughter is rendered blind shortly after the murder and her son becomes withdrawn and resentful of his mother. Unable to deal with him, Dr. Tyler buries herself in her late husband's work and begins to notice strange similarities in the testimonies of some of her patients. They all seem to have been woken in the middle of the night (around 3am) by a white owl. This owl becomes the last thing these patients clearly remember before they experience memory loss and blackouts. Attempts at using hypnotherapy to uncover these missing hours often results in fanatical panic attacks. Things take a turn for the worse when one of these patients becomes completely unhinged and murders his family before taking his own life, hysterically referencing an enigmatic "them." If you think you can see where the rest of the movie is going from here, there's at least a 75% chance you're absolutely right on the money. After all, when dealing with entities like ghosts or aliens, there aren't many directions the narrative can go; either you keep it vague and bank on the audience projecting their own fears over the gaps, or you come right out with it and turn the whole thing into a creature film. That's not a bad thing, and it's certainly not the low point of the film.

Where the movie fails is almost entirely in the presentation. The film has such a confused sense of its own reality yet tries desperately in spite of this to suspend the audiences' collective disbelief. This is what I like to call an Imperial Failure, which refers to a film that tries to be something more than what it is but has nothing to back up its endeavors with, much like The Emperor's New Clothes, where dignity and royalty are thrust upon the seemingly simple-minded masses in the hopes none of them will notice that the big kahuna's new threads are a birthday suit. Thus, when someone does point out the obvious, er, shortcomings, the whole exhibition falls apart and becomes a laughingstock. In short, there's nothing wrong with trying something new or different, but don't expect the path less traveled to be beyond criticism compared to the path well-worn.
Right from the start, we get our sense of reality thrown into question when Milla Jovovich emerges from a shadowy and out-of-focus forest, approaches the camera, looks the audience dead in the eye, and introduces herself as... herself. She goes onto say that what we are about to witness is based on reported events. She explains how the film will essentially be structured, with archival footage mixed with reenactments, either side-by-side on screen, juxtaposed, or even overlaid (in the case of some of the audio recordings).
If this all sounds like it would be jarringly distracting, completely ruining any sense of immersion, it is. The movie takes great pains to continually remind you that you're watching a reenactment; whenever a new character is introduced, however late into the narrative that may be, a caption appears beneath them giving the actor's name, their character's name, and, where applicable, a notation stating that the character's name is actually a pseudonym to protect the identity of the supposedly real individual.
This double-identity run-around reaches its epitome when the director himself appears in the film as the head of the psychology department at Chapman University, using his real name, which is Olatunde Osunsanmi. This situation is two-thirds true; Chapman University is a real establishment, and Olatunde Osunsanmi is an alumni, but he's not the head of the psychology department, now nor ever. Normally, I'd say, "fair enough" and even call the move subtle to the point of being masterfully crafted. After all, the director is not particularly well-known, certainly not as well known as someone like Milla Jovovich, so appearing to us in the supposed archival footage interviewing the allegedly real Abby Tyler would stand as a kind of subtle, yet finalizing, clue as to the film's insisted authenticity. Unfortunately, subtlety gets thrown out the window when he shows up at the end, in the shadowy and out-of-focus forest alongside Milla Jovovich, and delivers a would-be cryptic message to the audience along the lines of, "believe what you will."

This is the part that speaks to the director's incompetence. Milla can break character because she's part of the reenactment side of the equation, so she doesn't interfere with the archival footage's feigned authenticity. Olatunde, however, is part of the authentic side of the story, the part we're supposed to be fooled by, so when he breaks character (even if it's not that much of a character), he takes half his own movie down with him, leaving the other half twisting in the wind. This makes his pretentious statement of "believe what you will" utterly laughable because his very presence removes all doubt about what we're supposed to believe. People often talk of directors sabotaging their own movies, but few do it in person.

And another thing...

To put it another way, "twisting in the wind" is a charitable assessment of how the film's other half fares on its own.

06 August 2010

Because I'm an Audiolog Fanatic

Since moving into a new place where we actually get a cell signal, I've been shopping around for a new phone as well as a new carrier. I was looking in the AT&T store and found myself trying out an iPhone. It's not the first time I tried one, but I only felt compelled to give it another go because I was waiting for a sales rep to finish with another customer. Without this turning into an anti-mac rant, I'll sum up my sentiments toward Apple in a single sentence: I've always maintained that Apple is a fitting name for the company because if there's one thing it excels at above all, it's polish.
I tried out the voice recorder application, the default one that comes with the device, as opposed to a third-party one like Night Recorder (which is actually kind of cute), so I wasn't expecting anything beyond what my current phone has. The interface consisted of an image of an old studio microphone, complete with a VU meter. On other side of the meter were two buttons, one for recording and pausing, the other to stop. When I first tried to make a recording, I wondered if the needle on the VU meter would move along with my voice. It didn't, but here's the part I don't get: when I tap the screen, the needle jumps.

The programmer made the VU meter touch-sensitive, but not sound-sensitive.


I mean, sure, the "Oscilloscope" image that appears on my phone when I press record is just a looped animation, but at least it only plays when I press record; it's not linked to another function or other part of the interface. However, making the VU meter only respond to tapping really just made me think at first that I wasn't being loud enough to get a rise out of the needle, which was preposterous given the noise level of the store in general.

It just strikes me as bad programming (not lazy programming, wherein the needle wouldn't have done anything at all) to go to the length of programming a VU meter's needle to respond to tapping a microphone (an image of a microphone, but one nonetheless) but be unaffected by the sound said "microphone" would hear.