Favorite Movies of 2011

Rango: Gore Verbinkski’s animated western affair was a total delight to the eyes. Accompanied by an amazing soundtrack and perfectly well done jokes, I loved every moment of it. I was sorely disappointed when the blu-ray came out without the one component I felt it surely needed though. The film was made by having the actors actually perform the entire film on a soundstage as if it were play. Snippets of this were seen in the trailers and I was really hoping to see the entire version of this, but alas. So as much as I loved RANGO, that hurt it’s long term love for me. It’s an awesome film though.

Take Me Home Tonight: I was not expecting to enjoy this. After the debacle of other films that tried to recapture that 80’s spirit or the concept of the insane night of partying, I never thought there was a chance I could like this. Yet it came on to HBO and I quickly got entranced by Topher Grace. On That 70’s Show he was probably my least favorite, but he’s evolved a bit and he has a strange mix of Jason Bateman and Michael J. Fox in him. Anna Faris didn’t hurt here either and having Demetri Martin, Bob Odenkirk and Michael Ian Black in important cameo roles really helped.

Hobo With A Shotgun: Holy hell was this a sick freaking film. It was way better than it ever deserved to be, one can of course thank the cast for that, because the film itself actually isn’t really good. The gore effects are fun and the violence is excellent, but the writing is garbage, the oversaturated film stock effect and scratches to make it “grindhouse” worked against it visually and the nudity was really luke warm. Rutger Hauer, Trailer Park Boy’s Robb Wells and Rookie Blue’s Gregory Smith really help bring it from waste of film to worthwhile fun viewing.

Hanna: This flick just blew me away and I had hyped myself up huge for it too. I got to hear Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana and Joe Wright talk about the film, the intense training and the setup of film making at the New York Comic Con in 2010 and everything really geared me up for it. I was not disappointed in the least. It is not a perfect film by any means, but it is amazingly shot, Saoirse is a joy to behold and there are elements that just make it an infinitely a watchable flick that I can see myself returning to over and over.

Beginners: Quite possibly my favorite film of the year. I recently watched it again and I loved it all over again, reassuring my previous feelings and thoughts. It actually jumped ahead of its previous spot in this rewatch. Melanie Laurent and Christopher Plummer truly deserve Oscar nominations for this film. Mike Mills is a horrible artist, but he is an amazing story teller and film maker. Listening to the commentary track and hearing him point out things that definitely made the film better but that even my trained eye missed because I was too attached and pulled into the narrative turned the film into not just a heartwarming tale, but a real mastery of cinema for me.

Captain America: If anything has come close to really being a quality live action adaptation of a comic book, it has to be the Markus & McFeely written, Joe Johnston directed The First Avenger. It hit all the right notes of feeling like a comic book literally translated from the page to the screen. I of course am not trying to discount Sin City here, that is a remarkable film but that fells more like recreation than adaptation in my mind. This film borrows from the comics without actually fully just recreating them as live action sequences. Plenty of quality inside jokes, awesome action, conceptual changes that fit the Marvel Movie universe better and not that he’d ever get acknowledged but Hugo Weaving deserves an Academy nomination.

Hugo: One of the most stunningly visual films in years, Martin pours every inch of himself on to the screen. You can tell he loves Méliès as much as Brian Selznick, if not more so. John Logan did almost a pitch perfect script adaptation of the book which Martin painstakingly tried to envision on screen. He made the decision to use Brian’s art as full inspiration for the look and feel of the film and it showed through every sequence. It was filmed in 3D, although this was not necessary to make an a good film, it ended up allowed for effects 2D imagery would not allow, such as seeing an eye through a clock, the inside of the clock and at the same time what the flock sees… the intricacies of the new 3D technology which also allows for hologram like effects was amazing on the big screen. I am actually worried how this one will translate/did translate to 2D. I’ll discover when it comes to dvd/blu ray since I don’t own a 3D TV and won’t for a long time. The performances in this are fabulous as well, Ben Kingsley dazzles, but Chloe Grace Moretz and the young Asa Butterfield are the the film and rightfully so.

The Muppets: I went in with trepidation and not all my fears were uncured, there are a hell of a lot of flaws in this film. Flaws that one could say “It’s a ‘Muppet’ movie, why are you trying tear it apart?” but I’d return with “It’s also a Jason Segel script, who is an intelligent writer and works on one of the most continuity driven shows on television, he should know better, but I do realize Bobbin and Thomas might’ve been the derailers (sic)”. So it’s really not a perfect film, but it is Muppets and Whitmire and Goelz really tried to keep the magic alive. Also, “Muppet of a Man” is one killer freaking song. The actual episode of The Muppet Show Special in the film is quite special as well.

Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows: I utterly adored the first Guy Ritchie version of Holmes. Every element of it. The acting, the story telling, the cinematography, the action, the music, the set design, the costumes. In Game of Shadows, the only factor that goes in a much different design and direction is story telling, but it’s applicable to the story they are telling. This movie is less about an actual mystery and sleuthing, but about about precognition, notice, strategy and fore thought. While the first film showed the Holmes that would inspire a Gregory House or Adrian Monk who breaks down the mystery as he goes along or ties it all together at the end, this time we see the side of him that inspired characters like Sean Spencer and Patrick Jane who see the plot as it unfolds and is always one step ahead of the villain. I’ve already written another review of the film which explores it differently and expands why I loved it, but I felt here I’d speak from another point of view.

Keeping an eye on Wadjeteye

I first discovered the writing and programing talent of Dave Gilbert through the AGS website and specifically the first games he tackled based on the Reality-On-The-Norm universe and then his first AGS game, the uncomplicated as it existed, but still essentially continued (by Blackwell) Bestowers of Eternity. I was happy to see him continue on as a writer with the AGS award winning Two of A Kind and his first major project The Shivah. This game was eventually expanded into a commercial game which allowed him to begin his independent studio Wadjeteye Games which has not only become home to his excellent and inspired Blackwell series, but as a publisher/distributor for games written by.

The latest game from Wadjeteye was The Blackwell Deception, a very well crafted chapter full of interesting dialogue, clever puzzles and exciting plot enhancement and direction which delivered on all fronts for fans of adventure games. While the pixel bit graphics are obviously a desired taste, a true adventure game fan and a person who appreciates great writing as well as the painstaking effort to create recognizable quality pixelart will absolutely love it.

At this years New York Comic Con I had the pleasure to sit down with Dave on a relaxing Sunday after much chaos and have a passionate and exciting 25 minute conversation about his history getting into programming and developing as such.

I found it quite interesting that prior to AGS and Reality-On-The-Norm he had minimal background in programming and had not been published professionally as a writer. It was 10 years ago after going to school for broadcasting and being laid off from a job at CNN, that over a weekend after the Twin Towers/September 11th situation happened he discovered AGS and the RON games and decided he could do this, as the software was fairly easy for one with some basic programming skill and RON already had an established shared universe and graphic assets.

Following that came the aforementioned Bestowers of Eternity, followed by a collaborative project Two Of A Kind, which won lots of merit and awards. Dave laments that the two other people he worked with no longer seem to be involved in the gaming world.

I asked Dave a lot about the writing process behind the entire Blackwell saga, curious to how much he had locked down in terms of where the story is going. He told me that he knows exactly his ending, but it isn’t exactly fully structured out with notes like a set screenplay or novel, there’s no “bible”… just what sits in his head, except some major structures are “written” down, like Joey’s origin. Which I find quite fascinating, cause that’s a lot to keep jumbled up there, but at the same time it allows him to work more freely and let random ideas pop in or change his focus on the sage as it exists. He had done a job where he was paid to defraud a phony psychic and he knew that at some point he wanted to use that as the plot for a game and he worked around that for a Blackwell game, building from the basic plot. The puzzles and writing come first, followed by dialogue and restructuring before the actual coding.

We proceeded talking about puzzle solutions, how people will solve them, how they get decided upon, it was really fascinating, and showed me how passionate Dave is about game creation and adventure games.

One of the final things we spoke of was Dave’s one professional game developed outside of Wadjeteye. Approached by games company Playfirst for a casual adventure game and after several pitches an Emerald City/OZ game was approved. Emerald City Confidential is one of the favorite games in my echelon of ownership. We discussed the conceptions of creating an OZ story and the rights behind creating something in public domain.

I suggested that Dave consider writing his games out as a book as well, we shall see where that goes but in the meantime, grab yourself all the Blackwell games, as well as Gemini Rue, the first published game by another developer from Wadjeteye and do yourself a favor and hunt down other games as well. The AGS scene is awesome and while Dave is one of the tops and deserves the attention, broaden yourself, it’s worth it.