Friday, 22 April 2016

Movie Review: Atop The Fourth Wall: The Movie (2015)



I’ve brought up the notion of sheer objectivity in film criticism before, and how for various reasons I just can’t apply myself to that school of thought, but this is one of those occasions where I kind of have to address something in the interest of objectivity. I am something of a regular producer for a large number of the shows that I have covered over the last month, which thanks to services like Patreon has been made a lot easier for laymen such as myself. Now, while there could have been arguments made about bias considering these are people I am actively putting money towards on a semi-regular basis, the fact that I’ve been mostly sticking to lists of their best work should already show that I have a rather biased approach to these shows already. This is something a bit different, as I along with a slew of other people contributed directly to the production’s Indiegogo campaign, meaning that my name (my birth name, at least) is attached to this feature-length production. Maybe if I saw any revenue as a result of my involvement with the thing, this would actually factor into things, but… yeah, this is pretty much just me admitting to being involved somewhat with the thing in keeping with how generally open I am about whatever stance I may already be in when going into a film. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started with this thing already. This is Atop The Fourth Wall: The Movie.


The plot: It’s Linkara (Lewis Lovhaug)’s birthday and his government liaison Allen (Nick ‘Lanipator’ Landis) has asked for his assistance in finding out what happened to their spacecraft the Caelestis, which they have lost contact with. Not wanting him to go out alone, his friends and fellow reviewers Obscurus Lupa (Allison Pregler), Marzgurl (Kaylyn Saucedo), Angry Joe (Joe Vargas), the Cinema Snob (Brad Jones) and Nash come along for the ride as part of the crew of Linkara’s ship, Comicron One. However, once they make their way out to the ship stationed near Jupiter, an old foe of Linkara is waiting in the wings to finally claim its revenge.

The acting here is mostly pretty good. Lewis has had a lot of time to work with his own characters and it shows here, taking some of the sillier voices like Finevoice and 90’s Kid and making them work to some remarkably dramatic ends. Pregler is finally allowed to be something other than completely juvenile, like the majority of her crossover work, and her usual appreciation for bad movies comes across a lot better as a result, something that definitely helps considering how referring to horrible movies is a running theme with the film. Brad is in full Snob mode here, almost to the point where I’d call it self-parody, but his gloriously cheesy grin and speaking tone actually pull off a lot of “yeah, we’re not even hiding what his role is” writing that he’s saddled with. Most of it involves referencing some of the more populace horrified that he’s reviewed like Nekromantic, Salo and Caligula. However, even though the Snob is made out to be the requisite comic relief, I honestly got a lot more enjoyment out of Nash in that department. He’s mastered some great reaction faces to what goes around him, and his mallet-wielding antics are as fun as ever. Vargas is really good in this, managing to balance out this sense of professionalism in being a part of the crew with some serious bloodlust that makes his acting in the fight scenes all kinds of hilarious. Landis, being the only real actor in the cast, does wonders with his very bizarre non-sequitur dialogue, as well as working well off of Lewis. And Marzgurl… is by her own admission not that great an actor, and yeah some of her blocking and delivery can feel awkward at times, she isn’t terrible in the role either. She’s passable and she isn’t so bad as to botch up the dramatic heft that her character is given; good enough for me.

As you can probably tell from the cast list of this thing, this feels an awful lot like a TGWTG Anniversary special with the name cast and the “let’s band together and go on a journey” story set-up. Actually, that’s rather fitting considering the plot here follows up quite a few threads left over from To Boldly Flee, like the Plot Hole and the locale of Europa. However, it seems like Lewis is actively trying to re-write the standard when it comes to that same basic premise of a bunch of reviewers going out on wacky adventures. It makes direct reference to the lead-up of Suburban Knights and To Boldly Flee (read: The Critic just gets everyone together for something related to his own ends) and then quite loudly subverts it by having everyone in the ship crew volunteer to head out to the Caelestis. There’s also a sense of thematic connection between this and TBF, especially the ruminations about death. Given how much Lewis has gone on about his love for Star Trek, in particular Wrath Of Khan, it can be expected for this to go down that kind of territory about the time-worn captain pondering his own existence. And yeah, we do get some of that here… except it honestly doesn’t work too well. Lewis is haunted by his past battles, and constant questioning of his own reality out of its usual surreality, and wonders what the meaning of his life is and why he should continue it. The conclusion this arc leads to is one that is not only really damn obvious, but it lands with the weight of smoke. That’s kind of symptomatic of a lot of the bigger plot details. It’s all very well structured, in that it feels like every scene shown has its place to be, but the ultimate pay-off for a fair bit of it feels kind of lacking.

This is ultimately surprising, given how good the character interactions are in this thing. The plot itself operates a lot like about 4 or 5 episodes worth of plot, based on the interludes to the original show, and so a fair bit of it is stretched out with these character interactions that land into a similar area as most sci-fi shows that just start conversations with “Do you ever think about _____?” I’d normally wag my finger at a set-up this basic, except the conversations themselves are actually really good. Lupa and 90’s Kid have a bit of a standoffish beginning, but then 90’s Kid suddenly grows a pair of dimensions and goes into why he loves the 90’s as much as he does in a way that I don’t think anyone would have expected from this character. Then again, that very fact is lampshaded throughout the entire scene. Nash and Harvey Finevoice connect over thoughts of the afterlife and credit where it’s absolutely necessary as philosophical debates are difficult to pull off without giving a head start to your own side of it. Here, Nash and Finevoice’s respective views feel… like they belong to actual human beings, which makes their attempts to comfort each other kind of touching. That, and their very evident bromance is pretty cool too, especially when culminates in a nice exchange during the final fight. All of that said, there is one exchange that did kind of bug me: The one between Marzgurl and Pollo. Basically, Pollo’s big speech sounds like he really wanted to say “Hey, people who don’t like storyline segments in reviews?! You should give them a chance!” Not only is the exchange itself tacky, but considering this entire film is one long storyline segment, I think the people who agree to watch it will already be on your side on that one.

The production values are… half-and-half, honestly. Thanks once again to TBF, that ingenious cost-saving measure of turning plain old houses into spaceships returns in the depiction of the Caelestis, and because of that same aesthetic it’s at least excusable. Comicron One, by contrast, is outfitted just enough to make it look like an actual ship, but not enough to give it the sense of space within it. Speaking of space, the outer space shots of either ship looks wonky as the CGI isn’t amazing in this thing; Comicron One keeps looking like it was carved from wood with the battle damage it ends up with. That said, the effects for the fight scenes are decent, with the energy blasts and the bullets and what have you, and while the main villain’s practical effects look a bit off, it’s still put to good use when it… changes form, let’s say. But then there’s the serious elephant in the room of the warehouse(?) where a lot of the latter half of the film takes place. I’m not even talking about the numerous boxes littered around the place, which at least offer some nice reference jokes in their existence. I’m talking about the extremely, painfully obvious show lights just sitting in the background. This could not be any more obvious of a studio than if they literally walked past a green screen setup. As a result of all of this, it feels like the budget has been stretched a little too thin when it comes to making this look like a movie. At best, it’s slightly above average for Atop The Fourth Wall in general. I’d make a joke about Lewis not being used to making videos with multiple cameras in use, but the amount of times he looks dead into the camera already made that one for me.

All in all, I reckon this film succeeded at what it set out to do for the most part. It’s set-up as this low-fi space opera in the vein of something like Star Trek, with all the musings on the human condition that that entails, but Lewis’ writing and understanding of character definitely helps to pull it off. The production qualities sometimes get painfully obvious and some of the characters don’t get a decent enough resolution, but overall it’s a fun ride. If you’re a fan of Linkara’s storyline work on his own show, then this is definitely worth a watch and, even with how ingrained it is in the series mythos, it’s informative enough for newcomers to get into it somewhat. It ranks higher than Joy, as this honestly doesn’t feel like any kind of step down from the director’s previous material; this is well and truly on par with the bulk of Lewis’ storyline work. However, in comparison to another film that had interesting themes that it didn’t quite convey in the best way possible, it falls short of Leviathan which aimed for a more niche idea and actually hit it pretty well in terms of overall theme.

Next time, we’ll be continuing our look at the adventures of Linkara as I take a look at the series proper and do my usual rundown of my favourite videos. And no, they won’t all be on there purely because of the storyline segments.

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