Friday, June 27, 2014

Rian Johnson

With the recent announcement that Rian Johnson will be playing a major role in Episode 8 and 9 of Star Wars, I figured it was my due-diligence as a Rian Johnson and Star Wars fan girl to make my first “Behind The Scenes” post about the writer/director/folk music artist, Mr. Rian Johnson.

Johnson's films speak volumes of his talent. The executives at Disney made a perfect decision to utilize his skill and vision in Episodes 8 and 9 of the franchise so near and dear to all of our hearts. His motion picture body of work, Brick, The Brother’s Bloom, and Looper (thus far), are absolutely astounding, but what about the man who brought us these wonderful cinematic masterpieces? What is he like in real life? What are his hobbies, likes, and dislikes? How does he take his coffee? Does he even drink coffee?

This is what the people need to know. While I most likely won’t be able to answer all of these questions, as much to my dismay I'm not a personal acquaintance of Johnson, I can do my best with the resources of the magical Internet to try and get a better idea of what this man is like. I’ve always wanted to learn more about the gentleman who made me laugh and cry whilst watching The Brother's Bloom, cringe watching Brick, and sit on the edge of my seat during Looper. 

So, let’s begin at the start of his life. 

Rian Johnson was born in Maryland on December 17, 1973. He moved to California at a young age and ultimately graduated from USC School of Cinematic Arts in 1996.

The majority of his first film, Brick, was actually filmed where he attended high school in San Clemente, CA. 

Johnson finished the script for Brick when he was 23. Filming for Brick didn't begin until he was 30. This was due to lack of financial backing for the "unusual" script.

In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes in 2006, Johnson said this in regards to getting Brick off the ground:

"But it (getting Brick financed) was just a matter of sticking to our guns, refusing to change the script to make it easier to swallow, and not giving up until it came together. And eventually, it did. We figured out the smalled amount we could shoot for on 35mm, then begged and borrowed from friends and family. At the end of the day, Brick was financed entirely independently for just under $500,000. We then lucked out and got into Sundance, where we doubly lucked out and were picked up by Focus Features."
As an independent author, this is inspiring. It took them six years to get Brick up and running, and Johnson never gave up. I'm sure there were many times doubt and fear crept into his brain about his script, yet he never actually changed it to make it conform to any one's expectations of what his film should be.

After Brick was picked up by Focus Features and released on DCD, Johnson was free to start on a second project, The Brother's Bloom; my personal favorite of his work. For those who haven't seen The Brother's Bloom, I suggest you find a copy to purchase as soon as you finish this article. 

You can feel Johnson's passion and love for film making while watching this picture. From the actor's portrayals of their characters, to the intriguing and witty plot line, Johnson directed a true masterpiece. I've nearly worn out my copy from watching it so many times, my poor XBOX must be sick of reading it. 

The Brother's Bloom is the story of two brothers (Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo) who were con-men from a very young age, and what happens when one brother (Brody) decides he wants a change. Together, they meet a rich, eccentric woman who collects hobbies (Rachel Weisz) and hi-jinks ensure from there.

This being only Johnson's second motion picture, and the first following an entirely independent operation with Brick, the process was obviously completely different. This time he was working with bigger stars, larger sets in Eastern Europe, and with the financial backing of a major studio.  

In an interview with, Johnson had this to say about the changes:

"It was a concern of mine coming into this, because it was a much bigger production than Brick. We were working with bigger scale, bigger elements, bigger stars and all the rest of it, but it ended up being just as much of a pleasure. It ended up feeling very similar to Brick in terms of the environment on the set, so I was happy."

It speaks a lot to his character as a director and a human being that he can be thrown in a completely different scenario than his first film, and keep a similar morale on set. 

This film has a lot to do with the concept of brotherhood and what is means to be family and loyal to your kin. Johnson is actual a part of a folk duo with his cousin called "The Preserves". His brother is also an accomplished musician and Johnson himself plays the banjo. His love for his family especially comes across in The Brother's Bloom. 

After The Brother's Bloom came Looper, a film I'm sure most of you have seen or heard of. It was a wide release major motion picture that came out September of 2012.

Johnson reunited with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this sci-fi adventure with a much different tone than any of his other films. 

Which brings me to another aspect of Johnson's career I admire:

All of Rian Johnson's films are unique and can stand alone. 

I feel most directors fall into a funk at some point in their career where all of their projects have a stagnant feel to them. Which I suppose is a natural course of things, I know it happens to many an author, actor, and artist of other mediums as well, so it is only natural for it to happen to a filmmaker. 

And by no means am I saying this is an absolute. Plenty of directors and writers have more than successful careers staying away from this "funk", but unfortunately a vast amount do not. Johnson however is an exception, maybe not a rare exception, but an exception to the "slump" rule nonetheless. Brick, The Brother's Bloom, and Looper are all fantastic films, and each individual movie is completely different from the other. 

He has also directed a number of episodes of the hit show Breaking Bad that are critically acclaimed and have been nominated for several awards. 

I could probably go on talking about Rian Johnson and his truly gifted film making prowess for much longer, but I know you really want to go watch all of the Rian Johnson movies in your collection. So, in closing, Rian Johnson is a class act film maker. He makes entertaining, meaningful, thought-provoking movies, and most importantly, he makes them well. That is what Rian Johnson does, and I personally am so grateful for them all, and can't wait for more to come.

If the past is any indication to the future, Episodes 8 and 9 of Star Wars will be epic and awe-inspiring masterpieces that we'll be lucky to experience on the big screen. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Get On My Level!

E3 2014 is officially up and running now. Every gamer is bustling with excitement surrounding the next year's releases. Fanboys are buzzing on about why their favorite console or game or company is going to blow yours out of the water this fall. Non-next geners are waiting, cash-in-fist, to be convinced either to toss it at a next gen system or to hold on to it until Black Friday (where they will inevitably make the same considerations again)... And then there's is me... staring at the opening press conferences like this...
Actual selfie.

Okay, okay. I confess that it isn't quite that bad. It actually looks more like this...

Notice the angry reluctance at unhanding next month's rent.

I do have to admit, however, that each year when E3 comes around I do find myself less and less enamored by the goings on. Anyone who knows my taste in gaming wouldn't find this shocking in the slightest. But for the other 7.6 billion of you out there... Well, you could say that I am an indie-hipster gamer, of sorts. Don't let that scare you away. I could have a conversation about how cool Halo 5 looks or how excited we all are for Mortal Kombat X, but I'm somewhat of a devil's advocate when it comes to what's worth buying myself and what's worth heading over to a friend's house for. There are methods for my madness. Three fundamental principles that have defined my gaming nature since I was a wee lad. Hear me out and understand why the opinion of a self-proclaimed hipster may not always be bad.

A screenshot from a fantastic game you've never played: Endless Ocean: Blue World (/hipsterism).

#1. I'm a SNES era gamer at heart.

Yes. The old fogey's defense, as I refer to it. I imagine what this will sound like this in about 10 to 20 years: “Back in my day I used to bike to the laundry mat in hurricane force winds just to play the House of the Dead arcade game! And the light gun on the right was miscalibrated so badly that you had to shoot at the ceiling to hit anything! And I had to bike through an overflowing river to get there! And I had to bring all of the family's laundry to wash with me! And I still had to be home before dark!”

So many wasted quarters...

You get the picture. Old people tell stories about the good ol' days because it's memorable to them. They can relate to the things that they have already experienced. For gamers, it tends to be that way too. Almost anyone my age (that's about thirty for those keeping score) will remember games that they owned in the past fondly. Even if those games weren't their favorites when they did play them. Because I know this, I like to reexpose myself to the days of yore as often as possible to make sure that I am not misguided for suggesting that Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City isn't a bad game (and I stand by that assertion... but that argument is for another article).

This is a thing that actually happened... And I, at some point, will defend it...

The important idea to understand from this rambling is my first foundational idea of gaming:

*If you enjoyed it then, you will likely enjoy it now.

...and if you enjoyed this, you're probably a sadist... but more power to ya'!

#2. I don't/haven't ever kept up with the current gen.

It's true. When I was four I received an NES and a TV for Christmas. That was 1989. Four years after the release of Super Mario Bros. Guess what my first game was? That's right. Super Mario Bros. And guess what game was still fun when I played it for my first time, years after its release? Tetris! Oh, yea, and Super Mario Bros.... but that was hard, so I didn't play it as much.

When the SNES debuted in '91 I was glued to my television every time I saw an ad for Super Mario World. After owning and playing Mario Bros. 2 and 3 I knew that this next game was going to be absolutely amazing. My mother, in an unsuccessful attempt to keep me from spiraling toward eternal video game geekdom, declared that I could only have one video game system at a time, and my second grade aged self determined that it would probably be for the best to enjoy my amassed collection of 8-bit treasure rather than to throw it all away for the newest 16-bit glory. Logic held that my friends would probably con their parents into buying one for them, and I could just go over a friend's house to play. It paid off in dividends as I got to experience the best of both worlds, even if it was only on occasion.

Road Rash: The primary reason for visiting my friend Adam.

Eventually, around 1994-95, I ended up bored with my collection and giving in to the 16-bit era like everyone else had.

Me playing NES, circa 2000.

This trend continued on with the Gamecube, Dreamcast, Playstation, PS2, Wii, and even the Xbox360. Come to think of it, I've never owned any console within two years of its release window aside from the Nintendo 64 (that Super Mario 64 was just too good to pass up!)... But I've developed, for myself, an important second foundational principle:

*Buying later means buying cheaper and having (generally) larger libraries.
Oh, these? These are just my instruction manuals.

#3.My scrutinizing eye has rarely failed me.

This might be the most indie thing about my taste in gaming: While many gaming fans already have their money in hand ready to throw it at any awesome thing they see, my approach to anything video game related tends to be more reserved. Generally speaking, in the past ten years or so, there has only been about one or two games that I see at E3 in a given year that make me go, “Yes! This is a pre-order game!” Don't get me wrong, I see a metric-butt-ton of stuff that looks super cool and awesome every year, but it takes more than just looking awesome to pry sixty bucks out of my hands.

E3 is supposed to be innovative and evocative. The games there are supposed to feel new and fresh. Newer and fresher than a regular any other time of the year reveal. If it doesn't stand out to me as being dramatically unlike anything I have seen before or vastly different from it's predecessor (if it's a sequel) then it probably isn't for the E3 reserved cash.

Sadly, I can't explain exactly what I'm looking for when I make those determinations about what catches my eye. Things just... do.

While everyone else was playing Contra, I was feeding gorillas bubble gum!

For example, looking at last years exhibition list these are the titles which caught my eye:

Elder Scrolls Online
Duck Tales: Remastered
Disney Infinity
Plants Vs Zombies 2
Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare
Sunset Overdrive
Project X Zone
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Mario Kart 8
Pikmin 3
Pokemon X and Y
Super Smash Bros. (for Wii U and 3DS)
Rayman Legends
Lego Marvel Super Heroes
Scribblenauts: Unmasked
Rune Factory 4

Want to take a guess at how many of those games I've actually gotten around to play?

A: 9/19

Do you know how many of them I actually own?

A: 2/16 (Three of them still haven't been released at the time of writing this.)
Project X Zone: An obscure game that references even more obscure games... I don't own it (/anti-hipsterism).
Do they all still look as awesome now as they did then? Certainly not. Do I still plan on purchasing more of those games in the future? Surely. Am I happy with the games that I did get? Most definitely.

What caused most of these to get pushed to the backburner is time and money, honestly. If I bought everything that I wanted I would have a huge backlog of games that I never really played (I'm looking at you, Steam...). As I type this, right now, I have a copy of LA Noire and Batman Arkham City that don't even have 3 hours logged on them, combined. And those are two “Game of the Year” type games. Don't get me wrong. The short amount of time that I spent with them has been fun. The hitch is that I bought them at the same time that I purchased Rocksmith 2014; a game that I'd been waiting to play for ages prior. A game that, in fact, had been demonstrated at E3 2013 (but didn't catch my eye until around Christmas). They had no playable chance upon their acquisition, because I already knew that they were good and fun. Every outlet of media and gamers had already told me. But I absolutely needed to see what Rocksmith 2014 was about then and there. And so, it ended up getting the attention that Arkham City and LA Noire garnered from so many others.

Splendor I have not yet witnessed.
Even now, after my initial infatuation with Rocksmith 2014 has dwindled, been replaced by Hitman: Absolution, NBA 2K14, Saints Row: The Third, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (2nd playthru), Forza Horizon (2nd playthru), and even Rocksmith 2014 again from time to time, it's still probably going to take some time before I delve deeply into Arkham and Noire for one simple reason: The games that I am really looking forward to play have priority over the games that everyone else says I should play. I mean, I already know that they are good. I would rather experience something that you can't tell me about (if that's not indie-hipsterish I don't know what is...). Which vaguely brings me to my final principle:

*Play what you like. Video games are meant to be fun!

This was (and still probably is) your dad's Modern Warfare.

There are all kinds of gamers out there that play different things for different reasons. So, what do you think? What drives you to play the kinds of games that you play? What games do you think I may have missed out on because I've played against type? Do you think I used too many graphics?

Either way, check for my article in the coming week to find out what actually DID catch my eye at E3 this year and compare your gaming pallet with mine.

~Cameron Moore

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review

While I was watching How to Train Your Dragon 2 in IMAX 3D, I kept thinking to myself about how beautiful the film was. The original had a wonderful concept: vikings fighting dragons that eventually ended up working together for a greater good. Don't get me wrong, the first movie had great animation and the character designs were all superb. But something about this sequel made my jaw drop like no other DreamWorks animated film had before. If you are looking for a beautiful animated film that has a nice enough story and wonderful character animations, then How to Train Your Dragon 2 is most definitely for you.

As I previously said, this movie has some of the best looks I have ever seen in a DreamWorks animated film. The dragons fly freely around the Viking village of Berk this time around, and look better than ever, and it isn't every year that we get to see characters that have grown older and have changed so much in between sequels. How to Train Your Dragon 2 takes place several years after the original movie and its television series, and the animators did excellent work in making the characters look naturally older. Toothless and Hiccup have grown leaps and bounds in their relationship and have developed new ways of flying, fighting, and mapping out the entire world outside of Berk.

This is where the story comes in, as Hiccup learns he must grow up much sooner than he thought. In the opening scene of the movie, we learn that Hiccups father, the chief of Berk, propositioned him to become chief soon. Hiccup goes through a lot in this film, but ultimately grows for the better. I will be honest here, the story did not captivate me as the previous film did, and it felt like it was about 15-20 minutes too long, but overall, it was a great story and one that many viewers will enjoy.

Here is where I will warn you: this movie is quite dark for a children's movie. The theme of death is apparent throughout the entire film as the main antagonist, Drago Bloodfist, seeks to capture all dragons and use them in order to conquer the world. Drago has no qualms with killing any of his men and orders the dragons to kill anything they possibly can in one fight scene. This movie can be a bit intense for younger viewers, and I was quite surprised at how dark the film truly was.

Although the film can get quite dark at times, there is an overarching theme of the value of family within this film, one that takes precedence over death. I wont spoil anything for you all here, but there are many heartwarming moments within the film and the characters alone will melt your heart all over again.

Overall, How to Train Your Dragon 2 was a great children's film, one that I enjoyed and would enjoy seeing again. Do notice my warnings though, as the film can get a bit dark in places and death is a common theme throughout the film. I am giving How to Train Your Dragon 2 a whopping 4.5/5 stars as I feel that it had a beautiful environment, wonderful characters, and a world that I didn't want to leave.

Until next time, feel free to check out our latest video podcast all about Maleficent and Scott Pilgrim vs The World! Thanks for reading and be sure to check back periodically for new articles on our website!

-David "Macks" Mackay

Friday, June 6, 2014

Welcome to the FilmGeeks Articles Page!

Hey there everyone!

We are very excited to bring you the FilmGeeks Podcast now available on YouTube and iTunes! We hope that you enjoy your stay here at the FilmGeeks website, and be sure to check back at this page for some premium articles and other content written by our very own Mike, Shayla, and the other members of FilmGeeks!

Feel free to check out the podcast in which ever way you see fit, and we can't wait to share more with you all! Thank you for your visit!