Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The History of Video Game Movies (Part 2: 2000-2004)

You can watch a video version of this article here.

The 1990s saw the beginning of video game adaptation to film and had a couple big hits such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. However, in the next decade video game movies saw an increased mainstream acceptance with huge hits from equally big gaming franchises like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider. The early half of the 2000s doesn't feature the glut of game adaptations that we saw in later years, but it definitely set the course for what was to come.

The first one of the decade was in 2000, with Pokemon: The Movie 2000, an animated version of the incredibly popular RPG series published by Nintendo and developed by Game Freak. It was the second animated film based on Pokemon. In Japan, the film was released in 1999, but it came out in American theaters on July 21, 2000. Kunihiko Yuyama was the director and he was mainly known for his work in the Pokemon franchise.

The first live-action video game adaptation came in 2001, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie in the title role. Tomb Raider also featured her father, Jon Voight, and Iain Glen, who later played Jorah Mormont on Game of Thrones. Daniel Craig also appeared in one of his earlier roles.

At the time, Tomb Raider was the highest grossing action film with a female lead, unless you count Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The movie made $274 million worldwide on a budget of $115 million, easily making it a success.

Despite the film's financial success, the critical reception was much worse. On Rotten Tomatoes, its score is currently at a rather low 19 percent, and it was even nominated for a Razzie award for Worst Actress.

As far as video game adaptations go, it was one of the better ones. It was decently entertaining as a summer popcorn flick and that's all it ever intended to be.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The History of Star Fox (Part 2: 2003-2016)

Part 1 in this series covered the classic era of Star Fox (1993-2002) and can be read here. I also uploaded a video version of it.

Additionally, you can watch a Youtube version of the following article.

Many fans consider the classic era to be Star Fox's peak, but the years since then have been more of a mixed bag.

After Star Fox Adventures, Star Fox: Assault (the fourth game in the franchise), brought the series back to its space combat roots. It was released for the Nintendo Gamecube in 2005 (February of that year in North America and Japan).

The working title was "Star Fox Armada", but the subtitle was eventually changed to Assault. The game was developed by Nintendo and Namco, famed developers of Pac-Man, Tekken, Galaxian, and Ace Combat. Many of the same Namco developers who worked on Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies helped make this game.

The directors for Assault were Toshiyuki Nakanishi, Hideki Okazaki, and Yutaka Yoshida. As far as producers go, they were Tsuyoshi Kobayashi, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Takaya Imamura, who was a graphic designer on Star Fox and the art director on Star Fox 64.

While the game was being developed a Star Fox arcade game was rumored, but nothing ever materialized from this.

After Adventure's shift in gameplay, Assault brought Star Fox back to being a space shooter. However, there were still on foot missions in addition to using the Arwing and Landmaster tank.

Assault was linear in terms of mission choices; the branching paths of earlier games such as Star Fox for the SNES and Star Fox 64 were gone.

Concerning the levels themselves, some were on rails and some allowed full freedom of movement. Furthermore, the player could even hop in and out of the Arwing at certain points.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The History of Star Fox (Part 1: 1993-2002)

You can also watch a video version of this article here.

While never as massive as Mario, Zelda, or Pokemon, Star Fox has been one of Nintendo's flagship series for over two decades. It all started in 1993 with a revolutionary game that brought 3D gaming to the masses.

The first game in the Star Fox series actually had its roots in a prototype called NESGlider, that was being developed for Nintendo's first home console, the Nintendo Entertainment System. The prototype was inspired by a game named Starglider, released in 1986 for the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, MS-DOS, and Apple II, among other platforms. Starglider was developed by a British company named Argonaut Software. Argonaut was formed in 1982 and eventually worked on Star Fox with Nintendo EAD.

The prototype was then ported to Nintendo's next console, the SNES. However, the developers weren't satisfied with the 3D abilities of the Super Nintendo, so they decided to make special hardware in order to increase the SNES's 3D capabilities. This led to the creation of the very influential Super FX chip.

The Super FX was a coprocessor that allowed the SNES to render 3D polygons. The chip was included in the cartridge itself, which made games with the chip more expensive than other Super Nintendo games. Partly because of this fact, only a few games were made with the chip, including Dirt RacerDirt Track FX, and Vortex.

Star Fox was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Katsuya Eguchi. Miyamoto is one of the biggest names in gaming and had a hand in creating iconic Nintendo franchises such as Mario, The Legend of Zelda, F-Zero, and Pikmin. He created puppet characters for Star Fox that were eventually photographed for the cover.

Eguchi had previously worked as a designer on Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES/Famicom, but this was the first title he directed. He would go on to direct Animal Crossing, Wave Race 64, and serve as a producer on Wii SportsNintendo Land, and Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

The characters were designed by Takaya Imamura, who would later be a producer on Star Fox Command for the Nintendo DS. Hajime Hirasawa composed the music.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Guide to the Earliest Animated Films (1900-1915)

The field of animation has been one of the most interesting and creative forms of film and its history goes almost all the way back to the beginning of movies.

The first example is a short two-minute film called The Enchanted Drawing from the year 1900. It was not entirely animated as it included live action footage, but it was the first movie with animated sequences as far as I am aware.

It consists of a man (in live-action) drawing a picture of a male face on an easel, as well as other objects such as a cigar and a glass of wine. He takes the drawings off the paper and they turn into real items. Also, the man in the drawing magically changes his facial expressions and this is where the stop-action animation part comes in. So it really isn't an animated film in the traditional sense, but it qualifies enough to be included here.

The Enchanted Drawing is a cute, gimmicky film that's definitely worth checking out to see the roots of animation.

The short was directed by a man named J. Stuart Blackton (he also starred in the film) who was born in the UK but came to the US at age 10. He is often referred to as the father of American animation.

Friday, September 4, 2015

A (Somewhat Personal) History of VHS


The VHS format is now obsolete two times over, but its influence on the entertainment industry is undeniable. It brought home video into the mainstream for the first time and changed the way we think about viewing movies more than any other home video format.

VHS stands for Video Home System and was the consumer standard for video cassette tapes for decades.

For a bit of context, magnetic tape video recording was used in the television industry beginning in the 1950s, but it wouldn't be mainstream for home use until the 1970s.

The first commercially successful Video Tape Recorder was released in 1956 by the AMPEX corporation and it was called the AMPEX VRX-1000.

Eight years later in 1964, a Japanese company called JVC (Victor Company of Japan) entered the fray with their own videotape recorder. It was dubbed the DV220 and was their standard until the 1970s.

Then in 1969 JVC began a collaboration with two other Japanese electronics giants, Sony and Matsushita Electric, who later became Panasonic. The goal was to create a video recording standard for all of Japan. The result was a format called U-matic that released in 1971. Unlike the more common reel-to-reel systems of the time, it contained the tape in a cassette. It wasn't that successful, partly because the machine cost $1400 and blank tapes were thirty bucks. There were no prerecorded movies sold for the format, it was strictly for recording television.

After this, Sony and Matsushita decided to work on their own formats. The latter started work on the short-lived VX format, but Sony began to work on Betamax, the main competitor to VHS.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Guide to Early Science Fiction Films (1920-1929)

The following essay serves as part 3 of my series on the history of science fiction films. Please take a moment to check out part 1 and part 2 if you haven't done so already.

I've also made a video version of those articles, which you can watch here and here.

In the 1920s, science fiction movies began to be a bit more common. In 1920, there were two.

One was a German film titled Algol: Tragedy of Power. It was directed by Hans Werckmeister and starred Emil Jannings, who later became to the first person to receive an Academy Award.

The plot centers around an alien that gives a coal miner a machine that could allow him to rule the world. Algol features sets by Walter Reimann, who was a designer on the famous German horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Algol was thought to be lost for many years until it was recently rediscovered.

Also in 1920, there was a 15-episode serial released called The Invisible Ray (dir: Harry A. Pollard). It's about scientists discovering a ray with special powers and using it for a criminal scheme. Ruth Clifford and Jack Sherrill were the stars.

Unfortunately, it is currently considered lost and not much information is readily available online about it.

In 1921, a sci-fi flick called L'uomo meccanico, or The Mechanical Man was released, directed by Andre Reed. It's delightful cheesiness makes it one of my favorites from the era. This is mostly due to the awesome, goofy design of the titular robot.

It was originally around 80 minutes, but only 26 minutes survive. A scientist creates a robot that can be controlled remotely and has super-human strength. However, a group of criminals kills the scientists and use the robot to commit crimes.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The History of Video Game Movies (Part 1: The 1990s)

The History of Video Game Movies (Part 1: The 1990s)

Video games have been made into movies for almost three decades now. In this article, I’m going to talk about the very earliest examples.

Before getting into the first live action video games movies of the early 1990s, I’d like to mention what is apparently the first adaptation of a video game into film.

I’m referring to a somewhat obscure animated version of Super Mario Bros. released in 1986 (one year after the original NES game). It was called Super Mario Bros.: Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen! and directed by Masami Hata.

They never released it outside of Japan or dubbed it into any other language. The English translation of the title is “The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach.” This would be the first of many anime versions of video games.

The anime is kind of “meta” in a way as the plot involves Mario and Luigi getting stuck in a Famicom game.

The first live action adaptation of a video game was also based on Super Mario Bros. The film of the same name came out in 1993 and is one of the most infamous movies of all-time. It was a huge disaster both commercially and with critics and is often mentioned as one of the worst movies ever. Super Mario Bros. only made $21 million back out of its $48 million budget.

It was so bad that it seems to have scared Nintendo off making any movies based on their properties. There has not been a live action TV or film version of a Nintendo series since.

The film was directed by husband and wife team Annabel Jenkel and Rocky Morton, who were known for creating the Max Headroom TV show, but not much else.

Bob Hoskins starred as Mario and John Leguizamo played Luigi. They were referred to in the movie as “Mario Mario” and “Luigi Mario” due to them being known as the “Mario Bros.” This is somewhat logical, but I believe this has never been the case in any of the games.

Dennis Hopper played a version of Mario’s arch-nemesis Bowser, but he was called King Koopa as he was in some of the cartoons. The role was also offered to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Keaton.

Bowser looks totally different from the games, as he is basically a reptilian-looking human instead of a creature that is clearly of a different species. Yoshi is also much more realistic and looks nothing like the original character.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Newest Additions to my Youtube Channel (music videos, live shows, film history, gaming)

I've recently added a few things to my Youtube Channel, which I'd like to link to here.

The first I'll mention is a video version of an article I recently wrote on the earliest science fiction films from 1895-1909.

I also uploaded a couple recordings of live music. One was shot by a friend of mine, Melissa Tarantola, at a Radiohead concert in 2012. The video is of the world premiere of their track "Full Stop".

The second was shot by me at a Clark concert this April in St. Louis, MO. Clark is a British electronic artist signed by Warp Records.

My channel featured an electronic track called "Oxycan" produced by a friend of mine from Columbia, MO who goes by the name of Beat Monk. 

I also made a video compilation showing the evolution of the Star Fox video game franchise.

Finally, I uploaded my unofficial music video for a track by VHS Head.

Please subscribe to my channel if you are so inclined.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Guide to Early Science Fiction Films (1910-1919)

This article is a sequel to a previous post of mine, The Earliest Science Fiction Films (1895-1909). The sci-fi movies of the 1910s will be covered this time.

I've also made a video version of this essay which can be seen here.

Our first notable science fiction flick of the decade comes in 1910, with an approximately 15 minute long adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. This was actually the first of many movie versions of the famed novel.

It was made by Thomas Edison's studio and directed by J. Searle Dawley. Dawley directed dozens of films from 1907 to 1926.

Frankenstein took awhile to shoot compared to most films of the day, due to the heavy special effects work. Various sources state filming took place from either three days or up to almost a week.

Apparently, the film diverged a lot from the source material. According to Wikipedia, "The production was deliberately designed to de-emphasize the horrific aspects of the story and focus '...upon the mystic and psychological problems that are to be found in this weird tale.'"

Furthermore, states, "One of those changes made to the narrative concerns the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. While Shelly’s novel did not go into specifics about the monster’s creation, the creation scene in the film certainly owes more to alchemy than science."

That same site also claims that Frankenstein was not well-received by audiences, saying that people didn't know what to make of the "weird story" because it was one of the earliest horror films. Apparently, some also objected to the "blasphemous" content.

The film was considered lost for decades, starting pretty much immediately after its release. It was rediscovered in the 1970s and publicly screened for the first time since its original release in 1993.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Earliest Science Fiction Films (1895-1909)

Science fiction films have been around almost as long as the medium itself.

The earliest film that could really be considered sci-fi in any way (to the best of my knowledge) is a 50 second short from 1895. It's called the Mechanical Butcher, with the original French title being La Charcuterie mécanique.

The simple premise is that a butcher has a fantastical machine that can convert a pig into sausages. However, upon viewing the film, it seems the butcher is simply a charlatan. So this film's status as science fiction is dubious. According to Wikipedia, it has been cited as the first sci-fi film at least once, by Phil Hardy in The Overlook Film Encyclopedia.

It was made by the highly influential French directors, the Lumière Brothers.

The next contender for the title of first SF film is Gugusse and the Automaton, from 1897. Like the previous short, it was a French work made by a famous director. This time it was Georges Méliès, who was a cinematic pioneer in many ways, including his groundbreaking work with special effects.

 Gugusse is about a robot, and is supposedly the first film to feature one. A book titled  Things to Come: An Illustrated History of the Science Fiction Film said that this "may be the first true SF film."

Sadly, the film is assumed to be lost as of now, as is the case many of that era.

Méliès also directed the next film I'll discuss, which is undoubtedly science fiction and is the one most often described as the first SF movie. I'm talking of course about A Trip to the Moon, or La Voyage dans la Lune in the original French.

As you may imagine it's about astronauts taking a trip to the earth's moon. They encounter fantastical aliens there, and the film is the source of the famous image of the moon with a face getting hit by a spaceship. The plot has been cited as being influenced by the work of Jules Verne.

This is definitely the most well-known film from Méliès (who also starred in the film), as well as one of the most famous silent films in general. At 13 minutes, it was his longest film yet, and probably his most complex, taking three months to film.

A Trip to the Moon is over the top, but intentionally so, and this is a big part of what makes it so entertaining. Everything is very stylized and theatrical (Méliès began his career in the theater). Fitting the theatrical style, each scene is played out in a wide shot with a stationary camera. There are no close ups and no continuity editing.

Méliès wanted to release the film in America, but Thomas Edison's company secretly made pirated copies of it. When it was shown in the United States, all the money went to Edison instead of Méliès. It was a huge hit so it would have probably helped Méliès stave off his eventual bankruptcy.

Despite its popularity, A Trip to the Moon was actually considered lost for awhile. Méliès was somewhat forgotten until a resurgence of interest in his work in the late 1920s. By 1930, there were two extant copies of the film, but they were both incomplete. It was actually not until 1997 that it was completely reconstructed. There was even a hand-colored print found in 2002.

As a film about space travel, it is the first film featuring classic science fiction themes. I would consider it to be the first true sci-fi movie.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Brief History of Aspect Ratio in Film and Television

This essay will focus on a part of filmmaking you may not have given much thought to, aspect ratio. Aspect ratio is simply the ratio of the width of the image to the height. It is written with the width first, like 4:3 or 16:9.

Sounds simple, right? Well, it has actually been somewhat of a complicated issue over the years.

The aspect ratio most commonly used in the early years of cinema was 1.33:1, which is also written as 4:3. This is a much more square shape than most movies of today.

Thomas Edison was one of the first film pioneers. His company needed to come up with a standard for their 35mm silent films. His assistant and noted filmmaker William K. Dickson decided on an image that was 4 perforations (holes in the filmstrip going up the side, commonly called perfs) high.

This standard became a bit more official in 1909. The Motion Picture Patents Company had just formed the previous December; they were a trust of all the big movie companies, the biggest distributor, and Eastman Kodak, the main supplier of film.

They aimed to standardize all aspects of film production and exhibition. They decided on using 35mm gauges with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and an image that is 4 Edison perfs high.

The Edison standard was solidified in 1917 when the Society of Motion Picture Engineers adopted 1.33:1 as their engineering standard. A similar ratio would be used in most films for the next few decades.

In the 1920s, there was some usage of widescreen in shorts and newsreels but it was still uncommon. In 1927, french director Abel Gance released the classic silent film Napoleon, which had an experimental sequence that used three screens side-by-side. This basically resulted in an extreme widescreen aspect ratio of 4:1.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Music Videos for Jeff Mills and Oneohtrix Point Never

I'm back again with two more of my unofficial music videos set to electronic music. This time one of them is for one of the most influential techno artists Jeff Mills, and his seminal track "The Bells." The videos I used were from various silent science fiction films, such as Metropolis, The Mechanical Man, and A Voyage to the Moon.

Next we have a unique track from Oneohtrix Point Never called "Problem Areas". I edited from various surrealist films from the 1920s and 1930s from artists like Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. Thanks for watching.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

My reaction to the second trailer for The Force Awakens

Lucasfilm just released the highly anticipated second trailer for the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. I'm a huge Star Wars fan, so I'll go ahead and break down the trailer shot for shot.

The first shot is of a desert planet that is reminiscent of Tatooine, but is apparently actually a planet called Jakku that has not been featured in any Star Wars media previously. This might be a sign that Tatooine is not in the movie at all. I'm okay with this as shoehorning the planet into every episode isn't a good idea. Adding new planets is always good as well, I wouldn't want to just be returning to previously seen planets.

It pans to the left and we see a crashed X-Wing, and then a massive Star Destroyer that has crashed as well. This is a really cool shot and feels like classic Star Wars. Clearly the effects of the war between the Empire and Rebellion are still being felt.

Then we hear the voice of Luke, who was absent from the first trailer. The dialogue is taken from Return of the Jedi, and he says 'The force is strong in my family."

We then cut to a shot of Darth Vader's helmet which has been badly burnt. This makes sense as his suit was burnt by Luke in Episode 6. However, it does seem a bit odd that someone fished his helmet out of the funeral pyre, but perhaps it makes sense in context. Regardless, it makes for a cool visual and is yet another clear sign of the connection to previous films in the saga. Over the shot, there is Luke continuing, "My father has it... I have it."

At this point, we are graced with our first shot of R2-D2. Next to the droid is a figure clad in a black robe with a white sleeve underneath. This person also has a visibly mechanical hand. Presumably this is Luke. If so, I think his outfit is fitting.

Luke goes on, "My sister has it," and there's a shot of a lightsaber being passed from one hand to another. We can assume one of the pairs of hands belongs to Leia. Hopefully, this is indication that she is a Jedi in this trilogy as was implied by Return of the Jedi.

Then he says, "You have that power, too." The clear implication is that he is speaking to someone related to him who is strong in the force. Whether this is his child or Leia and Han's is unclear. I really hope that Luke has offspring, whether it be male or female.

Then we get some X-Wings flying over water in what is probably from the same sequence shown in the first trailer. Oscar Isaac is shown in the cockpit as his character Poe Dameron. It's great seeing the X-Wings back in action again.

Next, there's a very quick, but visually impressive shot of villain Kylo Ren swinging his interestingly designed red lightsaber, followed by another short clip of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega running from an explosion in the desert as Rey and Finn.

After that, they chose a close up of Kylo Ren's mask with him in the classic "using the force" posture. His character is design is really cool and he is one of the most intriguing parts of the trailer.

There's a shot of some updated Stormtroopers, TIE Fighters blowing up, and Finn taking off his helmet as a Stormtrooper.

We also get a quick peek at the "Chrome Trooper" design. The character is rumored to be portrayed by Gwendoline Christie of Game of Thrones. I'm not too sure how I feel about the shiny armor, but I will wait to see how it looks in the final film.

Following that is an adorable shot of the robot BB-8 poking his head around the corner.

One of the coolest parts is easily seeing the Millenium Falcon in action again being chased by some TIE Fighters. Some may say it's just fanservice, but isn't that what this movie is all about?

At then, the climactic shot of the trailer. At first, we just hear Harrison Ford say, "Chewie." Then we see none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca in the interior of the Falcon. This is the first clear shot we get of any of the main characters from the original trilogy, and it is plain awesome.

The only weird thing about the shot is that Chewbacca seems to be kind of awkwardly holding up his crossbow. This doesn't seem to match Han's demeanor as he doesn't seem to be in any sort of danger. However, again like many other comments I made, this may make more sense in the final film.

Overall, I am very pleased with the trailer. It really seems like they are getting the tone of Star Wars right. I kind of wish they had shown a bit more, but they are obviously trying to keep thing under wraps. Neither of the trailers has really given any indication as to what the plot will be.

A Look at the Upcoming Wii U Retail Games

The next game for the Wii U is Splatoon, and it's scheduled to come out on May 29, 2015. It's a third person shooter with a unique twist. Instead of shooting bullets or lasers, players will be shooting paint and attempting to cover territory with it.

The characters are called Inklings and can change from humans into squid form. As opposed to most shooters that are all gritty and "mature" this will be family friendly game for all ages.

A decision that seemed to go along with being for all ages was to not include voice chat as is common for many games of the genre. The developers have cited the negative attitudes shown on the voice chat in online gaming. Critics of this decision have stated that they could simply allow people to be muted as in most online games. Personally, I don't feel like it is a necessary feature and the game will probably be fine without it.

The game's focus will be on online multiplayer, but there will be a single player campaign as well. There will also be local multiplayer for at least two people.

After Splatoon, it seems the next Wii U game with a solid release date is Mario Maker. This game obviously features the iconic character but is a unique concept in not only the franchise, but in Nintendo games in general. The game involves the player making their own 2D Mario levels than can be shared online.

The game features four different art styles from different games throughout Mario's history. Of course, one of them is the NES classic Super Mario Bros. It was released in September of 1985 and Mario Maker will come out this September to commemorate the 30th anniversary of that game.

Other art styles to be included are those from Super Mario Bros. 3, the NES game released in 1990 in the United States, and Super Mario World, the first Mario game for the Super Nintendo.

The final art style is that of the New Super Mario Bros. series, which has appeared on systems such as Wii, Wii U, DS, and 3DS.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Even more of my fanmade music videos!

My first video today is set to music by Caribou, the alias of Canadian electronic artist Dan Snaith. He also released music under the monikers Manitoba and Daphni.

The track I chose is called "Can't Do Without You"  the first song from the 2014 album Our Love. The clips I picked are all from silent movies.

Next, we have another video using silent films. This one is set to "Extwistle Hall" by Demdike Stare. Enjoy!

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Monday, April 13, 2015

A Comparison of the Top Grossing Films Throughout History (Part III: Women in Film)

In part one of this series, I looked at the top grossing films from various years throughout history. My focus was on genre and the seeming resurgence of fantasy and science fiction flicks.

Part two was about sequels and remakes and whether or not they have truly taken over theaters.

In this portion, I have decided to look at the top grossing films by year and see how many of them had women as directors or writers.

I checked out all even years from 1930 to 2000 and all years from 2002 to 2014. In decades like the 30s and 40s, I used the biggest moneymakers in the US only as opposed to worldwide. This is due to the data being more complete and accessible for the American box office in these years.

It may not come as a shock that when I looked up all the top ten grossing movies from the even years in the 1930s, not a single one of them was directed by a woman. After all, this was the thirties; women had made some advances but they still had a long way to go in terms of gender equality. It's hard enough for women to break into the film industry in certain positions now, imagine how bad it must have been in the 1930s!

Directing is still a male dominated field, but what about writers? You might find it surprising that a decent amount of the top films in these years were written, at least partially, by women.

In 1930, the sixth highest grossing film was The Rogue Song, a romantic musical directed by Lionel Barrymore. The script was penned by John Colton and Frances Marion. Marion is easily one of the most significant female screenwriters, especially in her time period.

That same year, she also wrote The Big House, which garnered her an Academy Award win for best adapted screenplay. This made her the first woman writer to win an Oscar.

She won another Oscar in 1932 in the Best Story category for The Champ, thus making her the first writer of any gender to win two Academy Awards. The Champ was the fifth highest grossing film of 1932. She even got nominated again in 1934.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Another pair of my fanmade music videos (Model 500 and Com Truise)

I just finished a couple more of my unofficial music videos.

The first is set to the classic electronic track "No UFOs" by Model 500, aka Juan Atkins. The video is a compilation I created of ridiculous dancing.

The second is for the track titled "VHS Sex" by Com Truise from his 2011 album Galactic Melt.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Andrei Tarkovsky's first film Ivan's Childhood (1962)

The Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky is an undisputed legend in art house cinema, mainly for his renowned works Andrei Rublev, Stalker, and Solaris.

I finally saw his first full length film recently, Ivan's Childhood. It was released in 1962; previously Tarkovsky had only made student films no longer than 45 minutes. Ivan's Childhood is much different than his later works in many ways.

Absent are the shots that go on for minutes unbroken. Not to say the editing is fast, it is still slower than most Hollywood films, even of the era.

According to the Unspoken Cinema the average shot length of Stalker is a minute and eight seconds. The ASL in Andrei Rublev is 34.1 seconds and in The Mirror it's 23.2 seconds. By comparison, in Ivan's Childhood the ASL is 17.9 seconds. Not exactly MTV-style editing, but you get the point.

There is also a bit more experimentation with form than his later films in some ways. There is even some use of what appears to be handheld camera work. Tarkovsky also experiments with negative imagery in what results in a very striking effect.

Ivan's Childhood is shot in black and white. All of his later films would be in color, but he would often include B&W segments as in Stalker and Andrei Rublev.

Furthermore, at 95 minutes it is his shortest feature (this is disregarding his student shorts and the 63 minute documentary Voyage in Time). Three of his other features have a running time of over 2 hours and 40 minutes and his final film The Sacrifice is also quite lengthy at 149 minutes.

Overall, the film is much more accessible than most of his other work.

The director of photography was Vadim Yusov, who had worked with Tarkovsky on one of his student films and would later collaborate with him on Andrei Rublev and Solaris.  He also later worked with another significant Russian director, Sergei Bondarchuk.

The film won the highest prize, The Golden Lion, at the 1962 Venice Film Festival. It was selected as the Soviet Union's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, but didn't get a nomination. Still, the critical acclaim put him on the map in the world of international art house cinema.

The film's acclaim also marked a bit of a resurgence for Soviet cinema. Russian films were very influential in the 1920s due to great filmmakers like Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov. However, films soon fell under strict state control and Russian films weren't that significant on the international stage in the 1930s and 1940s.

The "Khrushchev Thaw" of the 1950s led to less censorship led to directors like Mikhail Kalatozov and Grigori Chukhrai making critically acclaimed films. This came to a head with Ivan's Childhood in 1962. Tarkovsky is now easily considered one of the two most significant Russian directors, along with Eisenstein.

Ivan's Childhood was based on a short story called "Ivan" by Russian writer Vladimir Bogomolov. Tarkovsky did not choose the story; he actually said it wasn't that good, according to IMDB trivia. However, this was actually a plus in his mind as he found weaker stories easier to adapt to film.

While the film does differ from most of the Tarkovsky oeuvre, I highly recommend it as essential viewing for anyone interested in art house cinema.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Two more of my unofficial music videos (Raekwon and Cybotron)

I'm back with two more of my unofficial fan music videos I made in my spare time.

The first is for the Raekwon track "House of Flying Daggers" from the 2009 album Only Built 4 Cuban Link... Pt. II. It also features production by J Dilla and guest verses from Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, GZA, and Method Man.

The video was edited from various martial arts films, many of them made by the Shaw Brothers.

Next, we have a video I made for the classic electro track "Clear" by Juan Atkins under his Cybotron alias.

Hope you enjoy them!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Analysis of Akira Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

"It's not easy hating evil, you have to stoke your own fury until you become evil yourself."

I've been a huge fan of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa for over a decade now and I've seen a large majority of his films. I had seen almost all the ones usually considered his major works, except for The Bad Sleep Well (Japanese title: Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru), but I rectified this omission the other day.

Released in 1960, it was Kurosawa's twentieth film. Unlike the historical epics that many know him for, this was set in contemporary Japanese society.

This was the first movie made by Kurosawa's independent production company (although their logo still appears at the beginning of the credits), starting a new era of autonomy. He wrote the screenplay along with Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryuzo Kikushima, and Eijiro Hisaita. The score was written by Masaru Sato.

Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune stars at Itakura (although you think his name is Nishi at the beginning of the film). He is not portraying a showy character full of bravado and anger as he often does, but he still gives an excellent performance.

Itakura is a man whose father was forced to commit suicide by a corrupt Japanese company he worked for in order to keep company secrets hidden. He then changes his identity and marries Yoshiko Iwabuchi, the daughter of the Vice President of the company. He also becomes Iwabuchi's right hand man as his secretary, doing all this in order to root out corporation's corruption.

Kurosawa uses this plot to ask moral questions. Mifune's character has to commit several crimes in order to further his plan for revenge. Is he justified in doing what he does? Do his ends justify his means? The film doesn't seem to give an answer either way, but rather forces the audience to contemplate these questions.

As with all Kurosawa films, this has some amazing cinematography. It was shot in black and white using a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The Youtube channel "Every Frame a Painting" by Tony Zhou pointed out that Kurosawa loves to shoot groups of people, and this helps make his films visually dynamic. This is definitely shown off in The Bad Sleep Well.

There are many shots throughout the film of large groups, such as the journalists at the opening wedding scene. The shots usually have everyone in focus, so there is a lot going on in them.

I really love this symmetrical shot with six people at the very beginning.

This also relates to Kurosawa's masterful use of depth of field. Often, something is going on in both the foreground and the background. A perfect example is the scene where Shirai, the chief of contracts at Public Corporation, has just been accused of stealing from the company. He goes to retrieve his briefcase, in which Mifune's character has planted cash.

The scene's focus may appear to be on Shirai and his superior Moriyama, who has become suspicious of him. But in the background the whole time is Mifune, who remains silent. He gives a subtle, effective performance that draws our eyes to him and is eventually centered in frame. 

The Bad Sleep Well is considered to be loosely based on Shakespeare's Hamlet. Kurosawa more directly adapted Shakespeare on two other occasions. The first was the 1957 film Throne of Blood, which utilized the plot of Macbeth. In 1985, he adapted King Lear to make the epic masterpiece Ran. I'm far from a Shakespeare expert, but supposedly this film takes more liberties with the source material than those two.

This easily ranks among the Japanese master's best, and is essential viewing for any Kurosawa fan.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Check out two unofficial music videos I made for Tim Hecker and Gesloten Cirkel

The first one's for the track "Submit X" from Gesloten Cirkel's 2014 album of the same name. The video is edited from really old cartoons. You can watch it here.

The second one is for ambient artist Tim Hecker and his track "The Piano Drop" from his album Ravedeath, 1972.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Beginner's Guide to the IDM Genre (Part 2)

Part 1 in this series can be found here.

I have saved Boards of Canada for last out of the big names in IDM because they are not like the others in many ways. However, they are usually lumped into the genre.

They still make experimental electronic music aimed at home listening. But while the aforementioned 3 artists make music that is fast-paced, chaotic, and at times intense, Boards of Canada have a different approach. Their work is much more laid-back and ethereal. Aphex Twin and Autechre create music that at times, doesn’t sound like it’s referencing any era, but Boards of Canada has a definite nostalgic vibe.

Boards of Canada also gained fame a bit later than the others, although they were supposedly releasing music as early as 1987. However, these first few albums were only limited releases and not available to the general public.

They are made up of two brothers, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin. Like the others, they are from the UK, but these two are Scottish.

Their first major release and earliest available official music was the Hi Scores EP in 1995. According to, the Boards of Canada wiki, only around 100 copies were distributed by Boards of Canada privately through their own label. Due to its rarity, the record was at one point going for about $1000 on ebay.

One of the most interesting tracks on the EP is “Basefree”. It’s much faster and more hyperactive than most later Boards of Canada albums.

Another track from Hi Scores, “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” was later included on BoC’s first full length.

That full length would end up being the seminal 1998 release, “Music Has the Right to Children.” The album is very influential and is often considered a landmark in modern electronic music.

Is often cited as the best Boards of Canada album and it isn’t a bad choice. In my eyes, it is clearly in the top two, but falls a bit short of their next album.

This was their first release on Warp Records, the famous IDM label that has released music by genre heavyweights such as Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. There is a clear influence from artists like Aphex and Autechre, as well the ambient master Brian Eno. In fact, MHTRTC doesn’t really do anything specifically new. Rather, it brings previously used techniques together in a way that had not been done before.

Many have described the album as about childhood. Obviously there is the title, but many  track names give off this feeling as well. A couple are references to things you learn as a child such as “Triangles and Rhombuses” and “Roygbiv” named after the acronym that helps children learn the colors of the rainbow.

Furthermore, “Aquarius” contains samples of a child giggling as well as a woman saying numbers. You can listen to it in the video below.

My personal favorite off this LP is one that shows a bit of the trip-hop influence of Boards of Canada, “Telephasic Workshop”. It has some very creative usage of vocal samples.

Another standout is the downtempo track, “An Eagle in Your Mind”.

Their next album would be Geogaddi, dropped in 2002 out of nowhere with little promotion. It is in my humble opinion, their best album  to this day. Some have complained that it doesn’t really break any new ground compared to their previous work, and this may be a valid point.  A Pitchfork review stated, “As similar as this album is to the rest of the band’s catalog, it seems a safe speculation that the concept of ‘reinvention’ is not part of the Boards of Canada M.O.”

However, I view Geogaddi as the perfection of the Boards of Canada sound. It is worth noting that I listened to this one first (as I was quite young at the time), so I didn’t have a preconceived notion of what a follow up to Music Has the Right to Children should sound like.

It’s worth noting the time period in which this was released. The previous year, 2001 had seen the release of multiple albums that featured IDM artists at their creative peak. Aphex Twin’s Druqks is often cited as his best work, and he fell off the face of the earth for a decade a few years later. Autechre’s Confield and Squarepusher’s Go Plastic also came out in 2001 and are considered to be the apex of their classic sound. The same can be said for Geogaddi in my opinion.

As with their previous LP this album is really meant to be experienced as a whole, but there are definitely a few tracks that jump out. One of the best is “1969”, which you can check out below.

The next major release was The Campfire Headphase, released in 2005. This is my least favorite BoC album. It isn’t bad, and a has a distinct new sound when compared with their previous output, which ended up being somewhat divisive among the fanbase. They went with more of an acoustic approach and featured a stronger emphasis on guitars and less of an emphasis on synths.

They released an EP in 2006, Trans Canada Highway and then went silent for 7 years. Many fans thought that Boards of Canada would never release new music again. This is a similar situation to what happened with Aphex Twin, who went from 2001 to 2014 without releasing an LP under that alias.

In 2013, they finally ended their hiatus and bestowed upon fans a new LP, Tomorrow’s Harvest. The album didn’t blow any minds, but it is a solid return to form. It harkens back to Music Has the Right to Children and Geogaddi, but is missing some of the joy and innocence of those releases and instead charts a darker path.

Tomorrow’s Harvest is strongly influenced by film soundtracks of the 1980s, especially horror movies such as those directed by John Carpenter.

It got a mostly positive reception from music critics, but some fans were disappointed that the album wasn’t much of an evolution in their sound. I can’t disagree with this assessment, but just having anything from them after so many years of nothing is a treat.

The single from Tomorrow’s Harvest was the haunting “Reach for the Dead”, which even got a pretty neat music video, directed by Neil Krug. Check it out below.

I will now discuss the next level of IDM artists that have made an impact, but not on as big of a scale as the previous four.

The first I will mention is the London duo Plaid, made up of Andy Turner and Ed Handley. The two were also part of the group The Black Dog (with Ken Downey) from 1993 to 1995.

Plaid released their first LP in 1991, Mbuki Mvuki, which was one of the earliest IDM albums. It has more of a jazz influence than a lot of other music in this genre. “Slice of Cheese” is a track that demonstrates this with its jazzy drums.

Another one that shows their uniqueness is “Scoobs in Columbia” which has vocal samples and a much more upbeat feel than the usual IDM fare.

Both Plaid and The Black Dog have continued to make music to this day. In 2011, Plaid came out with Scintilli, an excellent LP.  The sparse track “35 Summers” had a visually stunning music video released for it.

My favorite from Scintilli is “Sömnl”, which features a creepy bassline.

Their most recent effort is 2014’s Reachy Prints. The track “Tether” was chosen as the single.

Another influential figure in IDM is Luke Vibert. Like Richard D. James, he is from Cornwall. In fact, the two are friends and have done a live performance together.

Vibert has made 22 albums under many aliases, including Luke Vibert,  Wagon Christ, and the drum ‘n bass project Plug.

The best Plug track I have heard is probably “Come on My Skeleton”, which was produced in 1996, but released in 2011 on Back in Time. It features some Indian sounding instruments as well as a humorous vocal sample at the end.

Another excellent one is “Astronaut”, released in 2006. Like “Come on My Skeleton” it is playful and strongly features a silly vocal sample.

One of his more popular tracks under the Luke Vibert name is “I Love Acid”, made in 2003.

His most recent album as Luke Vibert was the 2014 LP Ridmik. One of the best tracks on it is “Acid Jacker”, which is embedded below.

Next we come to Mike Paradinas, yet another IDM heavyweight that hails from the UK and makes music under several different aliases. These include Tusken Raiders, Jake Slazenger, and Kid Spatula.

I really enjoy his work as Tusken Raiders, especially this track “Tatooine Sunset” off the 1995 album Bantha Trax.

His main body of work has been made under the µ-Ziq moniker. The first µ-Ziq album, Tango N’ Vectif came out in 1993 on Rephlex Records, owned by Aphex Twin. They even released an album together in 1996 as Mike and Rich titled Expert Knob Twiddlers. “Mr. Frosty” is a surprisingly catchy tune off that album.

Paradinas would go on to make his own record label Planet Mu, in 1998. It has featured artists  such as Burial, Boxcutter, Venetian Snares, Pinch, and Ceephax.

He has released an album as µ-Ziq as recently as 2013 with Chewed Corners.

Our first IDM artist not from the UK is the German duo Mouse on Mars, made up of Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner. They began making music in 1993, with their first full length Vulvaland coming out in 1994.

Here’s a pretty solid track from their debut, “Uah”.

Their most recent release was the Spezmodia EP in 2014.  Check out a bizarre video for a track on it called “Cream Theme”.

Finally we come to an oddball even for the world of IDM, Venetian Snares. This is the alias of Canadian electronic musician Aaron Funk. Funk is strongly influenced by the breakcore genre, but also mixes in elements of classical music.

He has been very prolific. According to Wikipedia, he has made 22 albums under the Venetian Snares name alone, and (shocker!) has also released music under various aliases.

I’ve only listened to a small percentage of his vast output, but my favorite so far has been “Fool the Detector” from the 2012 EP of the same name.

Other IDM artists that are more under the radar include Cylob, Richard Devine, Ceephax (Squarepusher’s brother), Christ., Arovane, and Cex. Artists that aren’t necessarily straight up IDM but are sometimes labeled that way such as Plastikman, LFO, and Oneohtrix Point Never are definitely worth checking out.

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