Monday, July 22, 2019

We'll Watch Anyting: ANGRY VIDEO GAME NERD: THE MOVIE

by Adam Riske and Robyn Buckley
I hope you like niche topics!

Adam: I forgot how it came up, but Robyn and I realized we’re both fans of the YouTube series, The Angry Video Game Nerd. Luckily for this column, neither of us had seen the 2014 movie based on the AVGN character created and played by James Rolfe. A little backstory for those of you who have never heard of AVGN: Rolfe plays a character named “The Nerd,” a foul-mouthed, testy, Rolling Rock beer-drinking gamer who reviews retro games (most often from the original NES console) while providing commentary about how shitty they are. Imho, it’s a funny series in large part because The Nerd vocalizes thoughts I had as a youth playing frustrating games that were usually based on movie properties. It’s cathartic to see someone vocalize what you complained about 30 years ago on your behalf.

Robyn, how long have you been watching the AVGN series? Also, grading it on The Lizzie McGuire Movie curve, is Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie better or worse?
Robyn: I started watching AVGN around 2010 - I don’t remember the exact reason that I started the series, but there was a period where I got into a lot of “review” type shows on YouTube and AVGN fell into that category for me. I’ve kept up with watching the series sporadically over the years. I’ll find myself drifting away for a few months and then bingeing multiple episodes at once. When I learned about the AVGN movie, I was mostly confused. How would a show that consists of episodes that are typically 15-20 minutes in length and focused on a specific video game related topic work when adapted into a movie?

And here is where I start to feel a little guilty. Adam, grading on The Lizzie McGuire Movie curve this movie did not work for me. Lizzie McGuire (which I saw in theaters because I loved that show) feels like an actual movie. Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie plays as if 15 different people all wrote ideas on scraps of paper, tossed them into a hat to choose the plot and decided “Screw it, we’re doing everything! Every idea is great.”

What are your thoughts on Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie? What, if anything, would you change?

Adam: I think your assessment is spot-on. One thing I admire about AVGN as a web series is that it takes a premise (reviewing a single game), then quickly goes off the rails into creative digressions but still gives you what came for. This approach works in 20-minute spurts, but it becomes exhausting applying it to a narrative feature. I was messaging you while I watched the movie and it helped the film’s cause a little because it forced me to look for positives. We’ll get into those in a bit, but regarding the movie as a whole I’m in a weird position where a) I don’t want to be too critical of Rolfe because I’m a fan (he does a lot of great non-AVGN work on his site: Cinemassacre - especially related to Halloween season, Universal Monsters, and the video store generation); b) I was disappointed by Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie because I’m the target audience and it still was a tough sit for me and c) What did I expect? The film was made for under $1M with funds raised from crowdsourcing, so it’s a fan film. I just wish it were a better fan film. I’m guessing it’s mostly what Rolfe wanted to make. I just find it odd that his sensibilities and mine no longer align in a property where they aligned before.
The main issue I have with the movie is that it takes a thin premise and stretches it to the point where it’s no longer the thing that drew me to the property. Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie reminded me a lot of those bad DTV Bruce Campbell movies from the early 2000s (e.g. My Name is Bruce) where it’s too indulgent and pandering. Specificity can be good, but these movies are too “inside baseball” (even for me as a fan). If you haven’t been watching AVGN for years, I’m not sure if there's anything to take away from this movie besides frustration. It’s schlocky in a way that makes me feel bad. I felt sad during the movie and I’m not being hyperbolic. It bummed me out and I wanted it to be over.

In terms of what I’d change, that’s a tough question because normally I’m not into doing that. I know whatever I come up with from scratch probably wouldn’t be as good as the filmmaker’s blueprint (after all, they lived with the project and I haven’t). I will say, though, (for the purposes of this column) that I’d make the movie smaller in scale (aim small and hit the mark instead of aim big and miss), I’d hire a writer or director that wasn’t James Rolfe (it’s cool if he does one or the other, but by doing both, he can’t seem to see the forest for the trees) and I’d make a decision on what I want to say about “The Nerd” and then say it. The movie seems to have no point of view or reason for being which is a problem because that leaves it to be a run of scenes that could arbitrarily stop at any time and it wouldn’t make much difference. I feel bad saying this because it’s dragging a performer I like, but this movie’s not The Lizzie McGuire Movie, which at least had sincerity and closure of a series on its side.

What were some aspects about the movie you liked?

Robyn: I found myself enjoying a few of the performances -- specifically Mandi (Sarah Glendening) and Sergeant McButter (Helena Barrett). While as over-the-top as the other performances, both actresses had this sort of “These men are all idiots. I am done with this shit” attitude that I found myself appreciating. I did laugh a few times, and it was usually related to something either Mandi or McButter had said. I liked Robbie Rist as the voice of the Alien! I kept having flashbacks to the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles because all I could hear was Michelangelo and that was a nice bit of nostalgia for me. You know, one of my friends once told me that I was the Michelangelo of our group and I’m still not sure if I’m ok with that? Robbie Rist was the best actor of the entire cast and brought a ridiculous character to life in an entertaining way. The movie had recurring bits that I liked -- the use of what was clearly models in an obvious way for certain action scenes and General Dark Onward’s (Stephen Mendel) complete inability to properly do... anything. As we’ve noted, these ridiculous parts work well when used sparingly in a 20-minute episode. It’s when they take up 115 minutes (barely an acceptable length for any movie) that things start to fall apart.

Adam, let’s keep this lovefest going so that my guilt for not totally loving Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie can abate! Did you have a favorite scene or comedic bit? Which character worked the best for you? Should we tell readers to watch episodes of the show on Prime or YouTube and make their own decision on if they also want to watch the film?
Adam: There were two scenes that I can think of that really worked for me. One was when Robbie Rist (as a Basket Case-looking alien puppet) and The Nerd were in a spaceship together flying around. The movie was so absurd at that point that I just broke for a minute and was onboard. Rist was far and away my favorite performance in the movie. The second is a similar WTF moment involving a giant robot kaiju who just suddenly roars “FUCK YOU!” in a bellowing voice. It was all in the delivery.

I agree we should tell people some episodes of AVGN to watch. Here’s a bunch I’ve seen and enjoyed. I’m also including some episodes of James Rolfe’s work on Cinemassacre that I like even more than his AVGN content:

• Any video from his “Monster Madness” series. These are history of horror episodes that he produced over the span of about 10 years, where he posted a new video daily during the month of October.

• “Blob Town,” which is an on-location film documenting Blob Fest, the annual festival for The Blob that happens each year in Phoenixville, PA.

• Any of the videos with him going through his sizable movie collection. He converted rooms in his house to replicate a retro video store. I’m very jealous.

• The entire “You Know What’s Bullshit” series which is, for me, the funniest content he’s ever produced for his site.

• His “Board James” series, which is like the AVGN episodes but for board games.

• “Rental Reviews,” his weekly retro review show set in his at-home video store.

• As for my favorite AVGN episodes: “Top Gun,” “The Power Glove,” “Sega CD,” “Sega 32X,” “Nintendo Power,” “Dragon’s Lair,” “Virtual Boy,” “Universal Studios Theme Park Adventures,” “Dick Tracy,” “Tiger Electronic Games,” “Hong Kong 97,” “The Crow,” “Sega Activator Interactor Menacer,” “Gameboy Accessories,” and the episode guest starring Macaulay Culkin where they play all the games based on movies he’s appeared in.

How about you? Any you want to give a shout-out to or anything else you want to add about Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie?

Robyn: I might be watching the AVGN episodes incorrectly -- my favorites tend to be the ones where The Nerd enjoys the games. These episodes are as hilarious as all of the others, but there is something nice about seeing him get to play a good game. “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link” and “EarthBound” are two episodes that come to mind that fit this mold.

For non-AVGN content, the Rental Review for Last Action Hero is a recent episode that I liked. I’m an unabashedly huge fan of that movie, so it was nice to see it get some love.

I don’t have anything else to add about Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie. I wish we had loved it so that we could champion a work made by someone whose work we both enjoy. At least we’ll always have everything else made by James Rolfe!

3 comments:

  1. Adam and Robyn, it pleases me to see this. I love AVGN! I am disappointed to read that it failed to live up to the energy of the web series, but I guess I will have to judge for myself. Great list! I would like to add "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and also his Polybius video was quite creative and wildly entertaining. And, agreed, the one with MacCauley Culkin was absolute GOLD! Keep up the good work, you guys.

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  2. I think that moment with the kaiju is perhaps a callback to the AVGN episode featuring Super Mecha Death Christ 3000, a cybernetic messiah whose dialogue mostly consists of him screaming "Fuckers! Fuckers!"

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