Sunday, March 27, 2022

Free Guy (2021).

It's not often that I get a chance to use words like Appearance and Reality around here.  I mean, it's not like I haven't used them in a sentence before on this blog.  If I had to take a bet on it, then my guess is odds are even that I've done just that, sometimes more than once.  However, using those words in the course of an article is not the same as turning to something like a discussion of the topics or ideas contained in each of them.  That's because in some ways a movie like Free Guy can surprise you.  I'll admit, when I saw the first trailers for the film, my initial reaction was to ask myself if I was just looking at maybe another Ready Player One clone.  I've long since made my opinions on that whole debacle known before.  I think that whole movie was such a dispiriting experience, that it at least helps explain the almost immediate skepticism I had to the first preview release of this one.  Instead, I have to ask whether its possible I've been given an opportunity to ponder a few questions related to the perennial struggle between the topics of truth and illusion.  If that sounds like a tall order, or if things seem to be getting "out there" a bit too soon, then perhaps its best to start things out at ground level, and go a bit into the background of today's film.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the basic concept for the movie began way back in 2016, as an idea in the mind of screenwriter Matt Lieberman.  Here's how the writer described the beginning of things in his own words.  "I’d been a professional screenwriter for a while. I’d sold Christmas Chronicles. I’d worked in the Disney writer’s program for a couple of years, which was great. I’d gotten open writing assignments like Short Circuit and Scoob! Even Addams Family by then. I was definitely feeling a little stuck in a place. It is more an autobiography than I’d be willing to admit. I felt stuck and I had this idea, I’d been kicking it around for a while and I knew it was a good idea. Five years ago this month, I sat down and knocked it out, really quickly".  If there's anything to be frustrated about this information, it's that we're given just the scarcest details as to how the story idea came about.

The good news is the reader doesn't have to go away empty-handed.  Lieberman's admission to an element of autobiography in the story can help give an idea of where it came from.  His comments about feeling "stuck in place" help situate the initial creative idea as stemming from, or growing out of a slight mid-life crisis situation.  It's the sort of thing that can happen if a person starts living life at the rote, just-going-through-the-motions level.  It's a pitfall that anyone can trip into if they're not careful.  This sense of "stuckness" appears to have been the catalyst, allowing the artist's imagination to cough up a story concept which acts as a neat reflection of the writer's circumstance.  Lieberman continues: 

"I wrote the first draft in less than three weeks.  A lot of that stuff is very much still in the movie. It’s crazy.  I’d been kicking around the idea for a while.  I knew what it was.  There were pieces of talent that were interested in talking about it as an idea, as a pitch maybe. I had a good sense of what it needed to be when I started out...I started the idea as, “What if you have the cheat codes to life? What if you could walk around and see power-ups? Oh, then you would be in Grand Theft Auto.” I backed into it that way. Once I had that, it all started falling together really quickly. I relate to NPCs in a lot of ways. Like a lot of writers are, I’m a habitual guy. I’m very much in my lane. My wife says I’m a cartoon character. I wear the same three sets of clothes all the time. The Blue Shirt Guy was me for a while.

"I was thinking a lot about Truman Show and Cabin in the Woods. I’m a high-concept guy. I love great, high-concept movies. I don’t know what they are called in [Cabin in the Woods] — the executive guys. I set it up the same way. Who are these guys? Are the two worlds related? I wanted them to have a scene or two of that where you weren’t even sure if these were part of the same world or not. It just naturally evolved from there (web)".  It's the mention of The Truman Show that gets my attention.  By bringing that film up, Lieberman seems to have provided us with our first clue to the kind of movie he had in mind, even during the course of those first round of drafts.  It's also maybe now that my earlier comment about Appearance and Reality begins to make perhaps the slightest bit of sense.  It's an issue that the Carrey movie is more or less obsessed with from the first reel to the last.  It's also possible that this obsession is part of the reason for why it has stuck around for so long.  There's just something about the conflict or the quest for the reality behind the appearances that is appealing to the human spirit on some fundamental level.  Or at least there's one explanation for it.  Whatever the case, I'd say that's as good a place as any in which to get started on a story born out of one man's mid-life crisis.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020).

I guess the best place to start is with a little history.  I born the year George Orwell made famous.  If you stop and do the math here, for a bit, you'll soon discover that means I was more or less just in time for the fallout of the big video game crash of 1983.  It was the start of a pretty lean season for the industry.  The problem, so far as I can tell, was a mixture of market over-saturation, combined with an actual drop in public interest with the digital gaming format.  What it meant in practice was a drop in stock value, and lot of important cash drying up in some otherwise hefty pocket books.  The one blessing visited upon the industry was the 1985 release of a home console cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  It was an otherwise unassuming piece of work known as Super Mario Bros.  The rest was pretty much history by the time I was old enough to even be aware of any of this.  That game is the one which more or less helped in a slow re-building of enthusiasm for the video game format as a whole.  It became such a juggernaut, that by the time my folks bought me and my sister our first SNES console, it was pretty much a matter of ancient history already.  By the time I came onstage, things had changed for the better.

It was near the end of 1991 that our folks treated us to our own slice of early gamer history when we we're both given our own copy of Super Mario World as a little Christmas bonus to go along with the then new console.  It was the first time I'd ever had any of that stuff in my own living room, and my initial reaction is probably worth being ashamed of now, in the eyes of many who are reading this.  The truth of the matter is my first thought was I didn't even know what the hell I was supposed to do with the darned thing.  The scant amount of exposure I can even remember having to video games up to that point comes in the form of an old episode of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, of all things.  I guess that's worth a laugh too, as these things go.  No matter how ridiculous it really is, there's nothing that can stop it from being the honest truth.  Kindly, old Fred was paying a visit to a local soda fountain shop, and there, in the corner of the room was this little kid futzing around with this huge box with garish looking colors painted all over the side.  It even had pictures on it, as I recall.  They were of a man, a woman, and an ape, for some reason.  The boy told Fred and the kids at home that the game was called Donkey Kong.  And that was literally all she wrote for me till then on the subject of video games.

Aside from the retrospective recognition that 80s Horror icon Keith David also played a role in that segment, there's very little I can add to a discussion of either the format, or it's history.  Like, seriously, I cannot recall a single minute of my life, from that moment until the winter of 91 when I even so much as heard a single thing about video games.  I'm pretty sure I would have remembered at least something of that, as well, because of the narrower window of information at the public's finger tips.  This was way back before the internet began to pick up any real sense of steam, remember.  We're talking now about the last vestiges of a vanishing Analog Age.  It was a style of living that was already in decline by the time that console was plopped right into the center of the family living room.  However, because the web wouldn't go world wide until a good number of years down the road, that meant there was just one way I could have ever learned of video games, and that was through whatever I managed to catch on the cable TV of that decade.  I was a young strip of a lad, back then, however, and as most hyper-active 80s kids, if it wasn't a cartoon I happened to like, then odds are I tuned it out, more often than not.

I never I even really discovered the 80s music video until some time in the early 2000s.  I would catch some of them at odd moments, and yet the inherent, self-indulgent oddity of the format just worked as a turn-off for me.  These days I'm able to get an ironic sort of enjoyment from a lot of them.  Back then, however, it just wasn't worth my time, or so I thought, anyway.  The point is, if I tuned out one, then I sure as hell probably never paid any attention to a single video game commercial if they were ever advertised on television.  And, like I said, my life up to that point hadn't given me any real disposition to the format.  In fact, I remember I was quite reluctant to even bother with it once it was fully set up.  It came off as noisy, and I wanted to focus on whatever else it was I got in my stockings that year.  I know that must sound like blasphemy to a sizable segment of the readers right now.  You'll just have to take my word that I was a novice at the time, and still remain one to this day, in many ways.

Believe it or not, it was the constant nagging of my parents that finally made me sit down next to my sister on the living room rug, and pick up a console control for the first time.  I think they were operating on the knowledge that they'd forked over a pretty penny for this whole system, and damn it they were not about to let all that lost, hard-earned cash go to waste.  Perhaps the second greatest surprise waiting for me that day was not just that I had a video game in my house, but that after a while, I kinda wound up getting into it a bit.  I found myself in control of everyone's favorite, red and blue wearing plumber, and to be fair, that was the start of a brief yet eventful phase of getting hooked on gaming.  The key word here is that it was just a phase only, and I mean every word of that.  The last video games I ever played were somewhere at or about 2002, just before I was set to graduate high school.  The most interesting thing about my entire experience with gaming is just this.  It was a fun bit of a ride, yet it always seems to have been just a diversion for me.  It never made me into a gamer.

Instead, it seems as if books and films have become the overarching hobbies of my life.  These days, the best I can ever manage in terms of gaming is a peak into the occasional Let's Play video on YouTube, here or there.  Beyond this, I think I never had much to say about video games in general.  That's not the same as saying I don't have a clue as to the impact they've had over the years.  Like, even back when I was still a youngster, I was able to get the sense that big things were happening with the medium.  A lot of this awareness came from starting to notice how a lot of the steam the format was building up made itself felt with a noticeable increase in advertising space.  I almost want to say that Mario World was the game that shifted the paradigm by a lot, because after that, it was like every other commercial on the idiot box was about the latest games.  It wasn't just limited to Nintendo back then, either.  Here's the part where my memory gets sketchy.  I can't tell whether I just heard about the Sega Genesis on TV at some point, and egged my parents to get it, or if that was another Christmas gift.

Come to think of it, did I get Mario World in 91 or 92?  I must have miscalculated.  My first ever copy of a Sega game was Sonic 2, and that wasn't released until 1992, so it must have been the Christmas after that when I got both consoles as gifts.  That's because another piece of memory just occurred, and it insists we got both the SNES and the Genesis together at once.  We made a bigger fuss over the Nintendo, as I recall.  Yet I also just remembered the Genesis was there as well.  I think the fact it didn't occur to me all at once is testament to just which system was prioritized at the time.  As I recollect, it wasn't forgotten, just shunted into second place by everyone that day.  I think I was the one who noticed it left lying around, like an unintentional afterthought.  I'm certain for a fact that it came with the Sonic 2 cartridge, because I still have the image of the eyeless looking Robotnik glaring down at our two heroes.  Anyway, I brought it to my mom's attention, and she helped set it up.  Then I put the cartridge in and started the game up.  That's how I first made acquaintance with the Blue Blur.

Like I said, none of it was ever enough to make me into a full-time gamer.  Though I suppose I spent enough time with either a SNES or Genesis controller in my hand to be able to allow all that stuff to carve out a room full of memories in my brain.  It's by no means the most used, or even well kept room in the place.  It's just something that will probably always be there, in some way.  I know I played Sonic just long enough to get a rough idea of the characters and their personalities.  The main character is the snarky trickster, Tails is the ever-present sidekick, Knuckles is sort of the muscle of the group, and Robotnik (or Eggman, depending on how you choose to call him) is the designated baddie.  Beyond that, I'm not sure how much help I can be.  I just point all this out to give you a heads up.  When it comes to looking at a film adaptation like Sonic the Hedgehog, you might have to accustom yourselves to a very rough outsiders perspective, even if it's the best that I can do, under the circumstances.