Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Scenic Route

by Drew Martin
A week ago I watched Scenic Route (2013), which I really liked but noticed that it got trashed by almost every critic. Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote that it was miscast and that Kyle Killen’s screenplay is “...an awkward, long-winded mash-up of therapy session, horror movie and survival tale with pretensions of psychological depth.” What this actually translates as is “real dialogue.” I appreciate that the Goetz brothers believed that an extended conversation is enough to pull off a movie.

I, for one liked the dialogue between the two buddies who have grown apart since one of them married a rebound girlfriend and gave up his music-career aspirations for a desk job and to raise a kid in suburbia.

There are a couple media comments I think the film nailed. I like when a film says “I could be a stage play because I do not need to do this, but I am a film because I can do this...” While watching it, I pictured it as a play with a bare stage with different intensities of light to mark the passage of time, and the presence and absence of heat. In the play, the characters would appear in a dying old pickup truck that would conk out center stage, and the play would continue with little difference from the movie.

I like how the movie interprets the classic desert mirage not as simply a visual trick, but as a full immersion of the characters into an oasis of life; the lives that potentially wait for them beyond the desert. I also like how the never-finished story by the unsuccessful writer friend who feels “deserted” by the married guy, is this story. The desert is then the metaphor for the writer. It is the unwritten landscape of the blank page, where staring at the blank computer screen is like staring at the sun.

The only complaint I have about the film, and I think the Goetz brothers would probably welcome this criticism, is a cut they make in the middle of the film to illustrate a tale of adultery when the married friend recounts his affair to his buddy. We leave them shivering in the cab of the truck for a fleshy scene in a hotel room. Perhaps the Goetz’s wanted to spice up the film a little but I think they should have saved this displacement for the end in the delusional oasis moment.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ten Reasons To Marry A Man Who Was Once A Boy Scout

by Drew Martin
I was once a Boy Scout and although I was never a particularly good Scout I have very fond memories of spending time in nature with my father, brother, and friends. I am especially grateful for the experience from the activities we did including mile swims, mountain climbing and rappelling, all-day-hikes, and overnight canoe trips. I also really liked the merit badge system, and wished I had pursued more of the categories. I still think the round, stitched badges are fascinating because of their bright colors, economic imagery, and use of symbols. While they have an old-world reference to coins and perhaps military adornments, the sash is also very new-world native-American, like a form of wampum. The scouts in the United States reference both worlds: an quasi-military order, with a real love-of-the-land passion, and an understanding-of-nature sensibility.

My brother was an Eagle Scout and has worked for the Boy Scouts of America for more than two decades. His recent appearance on a Richmond, Virginia-area television show, made me think more about the pros of Scouting. Here are my ten reasons why one should marry a man who was once a Boy Scout.

1. He will take out the trash. A deep-rooted fear that a bear will come through camp and tear the place apart translates into keeping the kitchen clean.

2. He will be cool-headed when a storm hits and you lose the comfort of your utilities. The Scout motto is Be Prepared. That does not mean stockpiling goods like an end-of-the-world conspiracy guy but knowing what to do in certain situations. Former Scouts are waiting for a raw moment to show off their survival skills and relive some of their youth.

3.You will never be cold. Asking a former Scout to start a fire is like asking a dog to play fetch. Scouts do not just run to the store and buy a Duraflame log, they build elaborate kindling pyramids and make roaring fires.

4. He has an appreciation of nature. While it is nice to be part of a city rush when you are young, it gets old by one's mid-thirties. A connection with nature, whether it is just day trips or getting a place with some green space is welcomed when you get older, and it will not be overruled by the fear of leaving city limits because of the unknown.

5. He will help an old person across the street. Sounds cliche but chivalry is not dead among Scouts, and one day you will be that old person.

6. He will be successful in an honest way. Scouts do not peak in high school like the a glory days teen athlete. They are always working towards something with a good work ethic, and not likely to take short cuts.

7. You will never be hungry. Think of the worst-case scenario. If the food transportation network is obliterated, the former Scout always has his eye on those Canada geese hanging out on the lawns of office parks.

8. He can cook. Not only do Scouts learn the basics of cooking as adolescents but they can make a hot meal with almost nothing: a couple potatoes, a piece of tin foil, and a few sticks.

9. He can sew. Merit badges, camp patches, mosquito netting...Scouts are master sewers so they will never approach you with a drooping garment over their arm, a rogue button in their open palm, and a desperate "Can you fix this?" look.

10. He can tie knots. Sounds a little abstract but picture your luggage flying off the minivan on an interstate highway, at 65 mph.

Click here to watch my brother on CBS 6 WTVR out of Richmond, Virginia.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

"The Sum Total of Every Expressive Medium of All Times"

by Drew Martin
Last night I watched Indie Game: The Movie, which is a really interesting and beautifully made documentary from 2012 about young, indie video game developers, who spend years of their lives designing and programming computer games. They see their characters as extensions of themselves, and their work as a contribution to the ultimate medium. Phil Fish, the guy who developed FEZ says of video games,

"It's the sum total of every expressive medium of all times, made interactive."

Super Meat Boy, developed by Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, is a cube-of-meat character that navigates a platformed world of spinning buzz saws, which show no mercy and often leave him in a splat of blood. This does not sound very insightful but Meat Boy is actually a very touching character. He is a boy without any skin; always vulnerable and perhaps constantly in pain. He quest is to rescue his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, the only person who can complete him. One of the most uplifting points of the film is when McMillen and Refenes watch YouTube videos of people playing the release of Super Meat Boy. All of their trials, sleepless nights and anxiousness is wiped away with broad smiles when they see how much people enjoy their game.

Consciously or unconsciously, the Canadian filmmakers, Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, recreated Edward Hopper's iconic Nighthawks (second from top) in a scene that follows Refenes to a Waffle House at 4 am (top). Nighthawks is one of the most recognizable American paintings, and has been parodied by replacing the original 1942 diner customers with characters from Star Trek, Sesame Street, and The Simpsons. The scene from Indie Game, however, is not a cheeky reference but an interesting modern take because we learn so much about Refenes before we find him in this lonely spot, and we see him continue his life afterwards. He explains in this moment that he is broke, and could not go on a date if he wanted to because he does not have a car or money to treat someone to a dinner.

Fish's character FEZ (bottom) is a two-dimensional character with a cube fez hat that lets him navigate a three-dimensional world, one plane at a time. It brings to mind Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions not just because of its concept in relation to the evolution of computer graphics but because its use of the novella when it was written in 1884 is not unlike the young developers pushing the limits of their own computer game medium. Flatland is a critique of Victorian English society but its more relevant now for its exploration of dimensions. The main character is a square who dreams of visiting Lineland, a one-dimensional world inhabited by points, and then is visited by a sphere, which he cannot comprehend until he visits three-dimensional Spaceland.

Click here to watch a trailer for Indie Game: The Movie.