[Game: Half-Life, Valve, 1998]
Half-Lively:

Half-Life, Black Mesa, and the Work of Art in the Age of Post-release Modification

 

Introduction:

In an unassuming former monastery building adjacent to the church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan, Italy, there is a wall decorated with the remnants of a mural painted by Leonardo da Vinci. In English, the mural in question is known as The Last Supper, and—due to a combination of the oil-painting-like techniques employed by da Vinci (which differed considerably from Fresco techniques, and thus were very unconventional for mural work) together with aspects of the construction and later history of the building—the work is badly damaged.

Meanwhile, about 20 minutes away, in a space on an upper floor of the Galleria Vittorio Emannuelle II shopping complex (next to the Milan Cathedral), at the time of writing this there is an exhibit known as Leonardo3 which includes, among other features, a computer-aided reconstruction of what The Last Supper would have looked like at the time of its original completion by da Vinci in 1498. The question I now pose to you, dear readers, is a simple one: if these were the only two options in existence, which one would you say is what is meant by the phrase, ‘The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci?’

I’ll give you my own answer to this quandary in due time, and (regardless of your own response) it’s almost guaranteed to be an answer you don’t expect. But I can’t provide it just yet, as first I need to take some time to introduce and discuss the main topic of this article: Half-Life. And I need to do that in order to adjudicate a similar superficially straightforward dilemma. The Half-Life remake Black Mesa is a terrific game, is an incredible labor of love, and is the single greatest fan-led project of its kind ever completed. But on top of all of that, does Black Mesa also count as being Half-Life itself?

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci - Half-Life, Black Mesa, Valve, art, Walter Benjamin

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[Game: Half-Life, Valve, 1998]
Half-Lively:

Half-Life, Black Mesa, and the Work of Art in the Age of Post-release Modification

was last modified: June 20th, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

{Guest Post} [Film: Ghost in the Shell, Rupert Sanders, 2017]

Mostly Shell:

Explaining the Real Problems of the Live-action Ghost in the Shell

Introduction:

Ghost in the Shell movie poster - Rupert Sanders, Scarlett Johansson - white-washing, analysis, anime comparisonIt would be more apt for the new Scarlett Johansson movie, Ghost in the Shell, to go by another name or even another franchise; if so, it would be considered at least a decent sci-fi romp. Unfortunately, the writers of the film fundamentally failed to capture or even understand the spirit of the source material.

This is disappointing because the director and the art department has definitely captured the look and feel of the series even while taking their own interesting visual deviations as well. Nor is it any white-washing that dooms this film, as explained below. It is instead the stilted dialogue, safe plot choices, and horribly forced interpretations which hold this adaptation from being a true Ghost in the Shell adaptation.

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{Guest Post} [Film: Ghost in the Shell, Rupert Sanders, 2017]

Mostly Shell:

Explaining the Real Problems of the Live-action Ghost in the Shell

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Alec Brouillette

[Film: Arrival, Denis Villeneuve, 2016]
Life Willed at Every Second:

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Eternal Return of the Same

 

Arrival movie poster - analysis - Denis Villeneuve - Friedrich Nietzsche - eternal recurrence

Introduction:

The 2016 film Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life,” shares much with the tone of the cerebral and philosophically adventurous science-fiction from twentieth-century speculative-fiction masters like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Rod Serling. Helmed by Villeneuve, Arrival’s simultaneous full command of modern moviemaking practices as well as fidelity to that earlier era’s penchant for respecting the intellect of its audience make it an excellent film.

But as much as Arrival’s modern touches and classic style make for profuse praiseworthy and analytical fare—and have featured in reviews, essays, and explanations aplenty—it’s another relationship that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere that interests me more: the overlap between the premise of Arrival and a philosophical concept known as ‘eternal recurrence’ or ‘eternal return of the same’ that was most famously championed and explored in western philosophy by Friedrich Nietzsche. Both ultimately come around to raising the same notion: what would it mean to actively, enthusiastically, and fully will every moment of one’s life?

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[Film: Arrival, Denis Villeneuve, 2016]
Life Willed at Every Second:

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Eternal Return of the Same

was last modified: March 31st, 2022 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Pontypool, Bruce McDonald, 2008]
Pontyficating:

Pontypool and its Rapid, Disappointing Ruining of an Excellent Horror Story

Introduction:

Pontypool movie poster - movie review analysis - Dr. John MendezThe low-budget Canadian horror film Pontypool is well worth watching. Its several characters are well-drawn and fully fleshed out through minimal tactics, while the premise’s in-built limitations contain new and unique elements, even to my seasoned movie-watching cynicism. But still, despite its heavy success at an early establishment of an unnerving, creepy tone in a genuinely novel context, Pontypool‘s second half tanks its tone and changed my initial opinion of the film from ‘excellent’ to merely ‘good.’

So what is Pontypool about? What makes its premise so unique? And what goes wrong for it? It is about a freshly-employed-yet-seasoned disk jockey and his finnicky, neurotic new manager at a local radio station in a small town in Ontario which gets caught in the middle of a violent and mysterious apocalyptic-style nightmare (as well as a snowstorm). And how does the film go so wrong? By transitioning from this unique and wonderful set-up into a mess of tired tropes, tone-destroying filmmaking and acting decisions, and nonsensical as well as unnecessary pseudo-scientific explanations of—and later attempted cures for—the nightmare in question.

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[Film: Pontypool, Bruce McDonald, 2008]
Pontyficating:

Pontypool and its Rapid, Disappointing Ruining of an Excellent Horror Story

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: Solaris, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972]
Humanism and Pessimism in Space:

How Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Turns an Unnerving Premise into an Intimate Film

Introduction:

Andrei Tarkovsky Sketch by M.R.P. - Solaris - technology, emotion

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Back in January, I wrote an article for this series advocating the watching of movies in languages besides English, taking up Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In as a prime example of value that would be lost by limiting your viewing via language. This is a topic I would like to revisit today, with my endorsement of a film that really needs no endorsing: the classic Russian science-fiction film Solaris, co-written and directed by auteur Andrei Tarkovsky.

Just four years after American science-fiction cinema was forever altered by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Andrei Tarkovsky also released a methodically paced, over-two-hours, thoughtful movie concerning technology, space travel, extraterrestrial life, and the limits of human understanding. But where Kubrick made a film that foregrounded topics and questions related to technological and intellectual development beyond earth, Tarkovsky instead imbued Solaris with a primary focus on human grief, guilt, and connection beyond earth.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Solaris, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already seen the film.

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[Film: Solaris, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972]
Humanism and Pessimism in Space:

How Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Turns an Unnerving Premise into an Intimate Film

was last modified: February 26th, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski