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Bots High – Battle Robots! Awesome! – Day 10 FFF2011

April 23, 2011

These Women Know How To Destroy Your Robot

Number One Son here. You can’t really watch robot combat on TV anymore, but back when I was middle school I loved watching BattleBots. In fact I think robot combat is my all-time favorite sport. (Sometimes I will tell people my favorite sport is chess-boxing, but I’m being facetious. I’ve never even seen a match.) What happens in robot combat is: two smallish metal killer robots try to destroy each other in extremely delightful ways in the ring. The robots are remote controlled (autonomous killer robots would be terrifying), and sometimes they have circular saws, spears, or other weapons.

This documentary was the one film at the festival I absolutely had to see. It’s good! It follows three high school robotics teams, including an all-girls team and a group of underdogs whose robot tends to break down/burst into flames.

How awesome is it that some high schools have battle-robot teams? And how crazy is it – if you’ll allow me to go off on a tangent – that some fuddy-duddies object to this sort of thing? Wikipedia says some schools want to “…shy away from the violence of combat robots…” The violence of combat robots?! Robots do not have nervous systems! These robots don’t even have faces!

One day kids are going to be so over-protected that they are not allowed to watch their teachers erase the whiteboard, in case they are traumatized by seeing all the teacher’s carefully-crafted words and numbers violently obliterated.

I suppose some people might have safety concerns. At one point in the documentary the teacher tells everyone that they’re going to be testing the robot, and it’ll be rolling around the floor, and could everyone get their feet off the floor because the robot could break your ankles.  Even so, if you think combat robots are too dangerous for high school kids you are, if you don’t mind me saying, a terrible person.

Speaking of overprotectiveness! I am required to tell you that clicking on the above image will take you to a pretty R-rated comics site

Although, you know, I think the main reason you won’t be seeing a battle-robot program at your kid’s high school isn’t that people think robot fighting is too violent or dangerous – it’s that building robots is fricken’ expensive.

Anyway it was great seeing all the young kids in the audience. After the screening the director asked the kids how many wanted to build a battle-robot and a bunch of hands shot up. Also, I dunno if he’s going to post them, but LanceAround got some quotes for the blog from a young girl, who said she really liked the film, and talked about the (non-battle) robot she made for a school competition. It’s rad seeing kids – girls especially – get excited about sciencey and engingeeringy type of stuff.

[Editor’s Note: LanceAround here, sorry for the interruption of Number One Son’s creative and insightful review, but he is correct. Here are my notes from the interviews I did:

“I love the Florida Film Festival,” says Grace, who brought her 11 year old daughter, Mary. Mary thought the movie was, “cool. You could actually see your own creation destroy something else.” I tease Mary that another word for that is ‘morbid.’ Jeanette, who’s husband works with Grace’s husband, is quick to rush to Mary’s defense. “It’s not morbid,” she says emphatically, “it’s seeking power!” I jokingly ask Jeanette how long she’s been a feminist. Laughing, Grace jumps in and says she became a feminist when she became the mother of two boys!

Tim is a young student from Lake Highland Prep. He made it to the state finals last year in a different kind of robot competition. (The kind where, instead of destroying other robots, the robots attempt to complete specific tasks.) I asked how he did at states and he admits, a little dejectedly, that he didn’t do too well in the finals. But it was clear that he takes a lot of pride in his robot work. I offered him, and the rest of the incredible youngsters who came to see the film, some words of encouragement.

Now back to the infinitely more amusing review by Number One Son.]

If I have one complaint, it’s – well I wouldn’t go so far as to call the documentary confusing, but, like a lot of documentaries, it is sometimes a bit murky. You might find yourself thinking “wait, what is he doing on another team? Oh, does that team have two robots? Wait, who just won the championship again?” I wonder if documentaries might be improved if the filmmakers did something to test how well the audience is understanding everything. Like, have special test screenings where every so often the movie is paused and people have to take a quiz about what just happened. That way the filmmakers have a detailed account of what information people are retaining, and will be able to tweak the film accordingly. The best videogame makers do lots of play-testing, where they look at how well the player is able to handle the challenges and puzzles.

I guess part of the problem is that Bots High didn’t have a narrator, if I remember right. It’s a bit harder to achieve clarity without a narrator. Narrators aren’t in fashion because narrators are dry and boring most of the time. However, the thing is, it is possible for a narrator to be enthusiastic and/or awesome. Just look at Arrested Development. Or The Big Lebowski.

I’ve only found one other review for this movie online. I liked it so I’m going to link to it! He notes that a big part of the appeal is that it lets you see “teenagers be teenagers; nerdy boys a little too eager to rush to hug cute girls when the girls’ bot is bashed, girls batting their eyes and getting the boys to help with a quick fix a a failing power supply.”[sic]

I’m not sure I can agree with his anti-hugging sentiment however! Can you ever really be too eager to hug? Especially around robots, who need to learn about the importance of loving-kindness so they don’t rise up to kill us all.

P.S. Yes, I know remote-controlled robots are not technically robots.

P.P.S. Fun fact: Up until now, this was my first review that didn’t use the word “aww”

Vampire Movies Are More Fun When They Follow The Rules – Day 9 FFF 2011

April 22, 2011
vampire sketch

The First Midnight Son Fan Art?

Number One Son here. The Florida Film Festival is well-over but we still have a few more reviews to post!

NOT Cilian Murphy

Midnight Son is about a young man who looks kind-of like Cilian Murphy who has a skin disorder. He gets badly burned if sunlight touches him. So he sleeps during the day, and works as a security guard at night, and, as a result, he’s lonely and alienated. Anyway turns out he’s a vampire. I don’t have a lot to say about this one, which is why I’ve been doodling instead of writing. (See sketch above.)

The movie isn’t a masterpiece or anything, it’s no Vampire’s Kiss (trigger warning: non-graphic rape scene.) But it is moody and fun and I enjoyed it. The twist with this one is the main character has been slowly turning into a vampire his whole life. Sunlight became deadly for him around puberty. Now, all of a sudden, there is only one type of food that satisfies him: A certain red liquid which, I’m sorry to say, is not V8. So he goes to the butcher’s and gets some blood, and starts drinking it out of a coffee cup. But animal blood doesn’t quite hit the spot. So he finds someone who will sell him blood bags with human blood. But then it turns out the dealer gets some of the blood using questionable means. Also, our protagonist loses control and kills somebody, but he didn’t really mean to…

You know that feeling you have that you were innocent when you were younger and now you’re corrupted and make all sorts of moral compromises? Also, remember that one time when you did something really, really terrible and you wished you could undo it and you were like, Oh God, What now? I think this movie speaks to these feelings. (“Actually,” you reply, “I’ve never had feelings like that.” Really? Never? It’s just me? Huh. Guess I’m evil.)

(There is this nagging voice in my head that is saying ,“Sorry but that last paragraph is the WORST. You were like Ha ha! Look at how brilliant I am! I have uncovered the deep hidden meanings of this film. Truly I am the world’s greatest movie reviewer. Meanwhile the reader was just rolling his eyes.” Aww man don’t roll your eyes! I want you to love me!)

(“What!” you say. “I didn’t roll my eyes at all! Actually I think you’re super-smart!” Well thanks!)

Midnight Son Filmmakers During Q&A

During the Q & A the director said that this movie was inspired by Romero’s Martin, which I haven’t seen. To me it felt like a less-comedic An American Werewolf in London. (The director of this movie said he thought vampire movies are all about guilt, and that they became more popular after 9/11 because we are feeling guilty about our response.)

I’ve been trying to figure out why the movie doesn’t quite work and I think the answer is: The characters will sometimes act the way the plot requires them to act, rather than act the way they actually would. For example, at one point the blood-dealer is all, Sorry, I’m out of blood, how about I drug somebody and steal blood from them? Right now! Here I go! And Jacob, our protagonist, is all, No, stop! And then the dealer’s partner pulls a gun on Jacob. Now I don’t know much about the black market and I don’t know much about business, but this, to me, kind of seems like a bad business move. There’s a rule in How To Win Friends and Influence People that people sometimes overlook. It’s right after Rule 3: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Rule 4: “People don’t really like it when you pull a gun on them.” Actually I think anytime you find yourself pulling a gun on one of your customers, you’ve got to ask yourself: “Is leveraging guns on the customer base really consistent with my company’s core guiding principles? Maybe we should have a team meeting and open a dialogue about shifting our paradigms in vampire contexts so we can better meet long-term mission critical objectives and really take things to the next level.”

I also think vampire movies (and King Arthur movies, and Robin Hood movies, and Spiderman movies) are more fun when they follow as many of The Rules as possible. When Jacob put a cross to his forehead and it didn’t do anything, I was thinking aww boo!

A vampire movie where the vampire isn’t afraid of crosses? Blasphemy! That really crosses the line.

(I’m very sorry.)

Of course there are lots and lots of vampire rules,* I guess you can’t follow every single little one. But if you are trying to decide whether your vampire should have a reflection, and part of you is like umm, no reflections? That is much too silly, and part of you is like, yes! No reflections! That is awesome! then you should listen to the second part of you. Try and bend your movie to the rules instead of vice-versa. Don’t worry! You can approach vampire movies from a brand new angle and still follow all the big rules. You can make your move gritty and serious and follow the rules. You can make it over-the-top and goofy and follow the rules. You can even be a die-hard atheist and follow all of the rules (Joss Whedon: atheist, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

And instead of throwing out a rule you can always put an interesting spin on it. I haven’t seen Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers, but apparently someone holds a cross up to a vampire, and the vampire replies: “Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire.” That is awesome.

Actually, come to think of it, Jacob was turning into a vampire in stages, so maybe he becomes allergic to crosses and garlic later.

(I didn’t have any problem with Jacob being a born-vampire, incidentally! Other vampires are born in the normal way so it’s fine.)

Anyway, solid movie. The last shot is fantastic.

*The best part of that Wikipedia article is the  section on Count Chocula.

I Am A Terrible Person

April 16, 2011

I’m feeling guilty that I angrily tore into a scrappy independent documentary film yesterday. Actually I feel guilty every time I say something bad about any film. A year ago I wrote a short negative review of Batman Returns and I still feel guilty about it. Do you know how much effort went into every costume, every set, every line of dialogue, every facial expression, every scene? An army of people spent hundreds of hours of their lives crafting something…..and then I came along and I glanced at everything and I sneered.

There is a special circle of hell for anyone who has ever written a negative movie review. After you die you will find yourself sitting in a movie theater. It is owned and operated by Regal. (It used to be a nice locally-owned theater but it was just bought out.) On the screen? A never-ending Regal Cinemas© FirstLook™ at Upcoming Attractions. All of the upcoming attractions are live action remakes of old kid’s cartoons with CGI characters starring Sean Hayes. One of the speakers is buzzing and the film is just slightly out of focus. It’s a full house – all the seats are filled. Filled with crying babies. There’s no popcorn but somehow a bit of popcorn is stuck on the roof of your mouth anyway. You can hear rumblings from the next theater – which you happen to know is a special showing of Stanley Kubrick’s “Napoleon.” And if you try and walk out into the lobby, of course you just re-emerge into the same theater from the emergency exit.

(On the bright side though you won’t go hungry for a while. In fact you’ll be able to take care of both your hunger pangs and the crying problem – at the same time!)

(That was a dead baby joke…get it?)

–Number One Son

MindFLUX: “Probably Better Than The Infomercial I Saw The Other Night” – Day 7 FFF 2011

April 15, 2011

MindFLUX Filmmakers During The Q&A At The Enzian

“Number one son here”. Here’s the problem: We do not own a time machine and therefore we cannot see all the films at the festival (or kill Hitler.) Today we had a choice between a documentary and some sort of surreal psychosexual thriller. We chose the documentary and, of course, the entire time I’m thinking gyah! Boring! What are we doing here? the other film sounded awesome! I think next year we should just watch films at random so there’s no regrets.

Anyway the documentary in question: MindFLUX. It’s about Richard Foreman, an avant-garde New York theater director, and it’s got interviews with, among others, F. Murray Abraham, James Cromwell, and Wallace Shawn!

Not a very good film though. It’s one of those documentaries for people with no attention span. It plays a soundbite from one person, then it cuts to another soundbite from another person, then it shows like four seconds from one of the plays. I wanted to scream: stop skipping around! I want to hear people talk! I want to see the play! Also whenever someone is talking it does this awful thing where it switches angles every second and also (ugg) switches back and forth between black and white and color. The movie tries so hard to be not boring that it winds up boring.

And then there’s the animation. At one point someone is telling an audition story. And it’s a great story. And he’s a great storyteller. But instead of letting you see the person who is talking, the movie cuts to a really lousy flash-animated dramatization of what happened. Why do this? The animation doesn’t add any information, or any humor. It doesn’t add anything. And in fact it takes away something: I bet the interviewee would be even more entertaining if you could see him.

I dunno I’m probably being too hard on this. It occurs to me that I saw an infomercial for a blender the other night, and it didn’t really make me want to buy the blender. But today I saw a movie that made me want to buy a ticket to a Richard Foreman play! The plays looked good! It’s hard to say for sure because the movie only shows tiny snippets, but they definitely looked like my kind of thing. I am a fan of surreal dreamlogic type stuff, and the sets looked beautiful. Anyway I guess what I’m saying is MindFLUX is probably better than the infomercial I saw the other night.

Oh man what if the filmmaker reads this review and gets disheartened and decides to quit filmmaking and become a banker? Aww don’t do that Mr. film director! Actually I’m glad I saw the film! It was interesting! It just, you know, wasn’t very good.

Number One Son Reviews 13 Assassins – Day 5 FFF 2011

April 13, 2011

Gory And Over-The-Top

[Editor’s Note: I couldn’t be more excited to announce the introduction of another new LanceAroundOrlando Journalist–none other than our very own Number One Son makes his blogging debut with tonight’s review of 13 Assassins. Welcome to the LanceAroundOrlando Team, Number One Son!]

  “Number One Son” here. So we saw 13 Assassins, a gory homage to Seven Samurai, courtesy of Takashi Miike. Also it probably homages some other Samurai films. I dunno. I haven’t seen that many to be honest. Anyway at the beginning of the screening the announcer warned us that some people think it’s slow in the beginning. But then he said something like don’t worry,  it gets awesome once the epic 45 minute battle scene starts. No, turns out that part is boring too!

Maybe I’m weird. The audience seemed really into it. (Except for LanceAround who started snoring in the middle of the movie.) Nevertheless, I think the music and cinematography are both way too dreary for such an over-the-top movie. Also since, alas, we are living in 2011 the battle scenes are much harder to follow than they should be. But I think the main problem with the film is: I didn’t connect with any of the characters. They’ve got no personality.

I have this theory that it’s just really hard to write good characters when you know everyone is going to die a horrible death. How can you pour your heart into a character when he’s cannon fodder? (Of course there are good movies/characters where everyone dies. Seven Samurai for example! Also it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I remember Hamlet being pretty good.)

Anyway I wonder if you’d get better results if you told a writer to write a samurai movie where nobody dies, and then when he’s done, you say “oh, sorry did I say nobody dies? Ha ha ha did I really say that? Oh man! I meant everybody dies! Go ahead and rewrite the last third of the film, would you?”