Very Aware Website Analysis

By Jennifer Hanson

Very Aware is a film review and news blog run by Scott Hutcheson.  A number of contributors write for the website, and upcoming film releases are reviewed, and trailers and movie posters are posted.  The “Columns” section of the website features news and commentary about the world of cinema.

Rhetorical Design

The website is aimed overwhelmingly at film fans; particularly those who read reviews and follow film news.  Big budget films and independent films are covered, which allows the website to appeal to a wide demographic of film fans.  TV viewers are a secondary audience, as there is a section featuring television news.

Very Aware seeks to entertain and educate film fans.  Going to the theatre is expensive, and informative reviews help visitors determine how to best spend their money and time.

Interface Design

The website uses a blog template; likely a WordPress template.  It is very cleanly designed; the navigation bar at the top is clear, and it’s easy to navigate the website.  This navigation bar is on the top of every website, so it is easy to go from page to page.

What this navigation bar lacks, however, is a “home” button.  The “home” page links to the latest articles and the most recent interviews done by the website.  As the interviews are often buried within the “news” section, the interview links on the homepage are valuable, and the fact that one must click the banner to return to the homepage may be confusing for visitors at first.  Separating the “news” and the “interviews” on the navigation bar may be a good idea.  There is ample space on the bar to add another two buttons, and it would make navigation slightly easier.

The latest reviews can be found in the right sidebar, which offers a convenient shortcut for visitors who are looking for a recent post.

The “who” is always made clear, as the author of every written piece is credited.  Their bios are easily accessible through the navigation bar or found at the bottom of articles they’ve written.  The “what” is also clear; the website consistently posts content about film or television, specifically news, interviews, reviews and content promoting upcoming films.  “Where” isn’t particularly clear.  While the author bios do state where the authors are from, “where” doesn’t seem to be a priority.  The website is based out of the United States, and most of the films reviewed are American films.  Every written piece is categorized by date, which is valuable to the audience as it allows them to read the most timely articles first, or search through the archive for an older review.

Site Design

The website is broken into different categories: News, Reviews, Trailers, TV, Columns, Posters and About.  Each category has its own “homepage”, where the most recent posts can be found.  Every post is categorized well, and this system allows visitors to determine which type of content they would like to access.

The home page is very visual; no full articles are posted, but various images, and blurbs about their most recent articles are posted.  This works well for their intended audience, as the blurbs allow visitors to get a sense of what an article is about before clicking the link to it.  Each blurb sits next to a thumbnail, and the thumbnails are integrated cleanly.

Graphics

As the website is a film website, graphics are used heavily throughout.  Photos from films are placed in every article and review.  They appear next to the article title and article “teaser” on the “news”, “reviews” and “trailers” pages, and within the written pieces themselves.  They are well-integrated and encourage visitors to read the articles.

Advertisements appear throughout the website, as well.  Many of them are fairly discreet, but there is one that consistently appears below the header of every page.  This is an awkward place to put an ad, especially since the ads are often animated.  It is distracting.  One ad that often appears is one for Netflix, and the colours in the banner are similar to the colours in the header.  The ad is also larger than the header itself.  This can lead to a negative first impression for a first-time visitor.  They may get the sense that the website is “full of ads”, and that it is not worth their time to visit if they will be bombarded with ad content.  Such a prominent space would generate considerable ad revenue, but those who run the website must balance that with the potential hit their reputation will take for having such a glaringly obvious ad right next to their header.

Editorial Style

The writing is straight-forward and very casual, which allows it to be accessible to a wide audience.  Each author lists pertinent information (such as the name of the film, director and stars) at the beginning of each post, and continues to list performers throughout.  There are no links in the reviews, which is ill-advised, and there are few links in the news stories.

Typography

The font used throughout the website is consistent and easy to read.  The authors also add bold formatting in the form of titles and subtitles throughout their posts.  This aids readability and makes their content look polished and professional.

Multimedia

Film trailers are regularly posted, and they are generally embedded as YouTube videos.  The trailers are sized well and do not interfere with other elements on the website.

Overall Impressions

I felt that the content of Very Aware was well-written, professional and valuable to its primary audience.  The website itself is easy to navigate, and fairly clean, but a poorly placed ad does detract heavily from its visual appeal.  In the review portion of the website, it would be a good idea for the authors to incorporate more links into their posts.  This will make it easier for the audience to get more information about the movie and its stars.

While working on this piece, Very Aware experienced considerable downtime.  Those who manage the site were very good about tweeting updates, but the downtime itself was quite concerning.  This does call into question the reliability of their web hosting.

Overall, Very Aware is a great resource for film fans who are interested in staying informed about the film industry through news, interviews and film reviews.

Advertisements

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene, 2011, USA

By Graeme Coleman

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a brilliant film in a classic US indie style. Writer and director, Sean Durkin, delivers a chilling and ambiguous debut film. Rather than this being a cult film, it is a film about a cult. It is more than the obvious film about drugs, sex, and cult-like antics, it is about the psychological damage one has from a mentally abusive cult, and their troubles reintegrating into reality.

The story starts off with the men of the cult eating their evening meal, as the women sit on the stairs and wait in pure silence. Once the men are finished, the women eat what is left. This image instantly sets the offsetting tone of the story. Next, we witness Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) pack her bag at first light, and escape into the nearby woods. Two girls desperately run after her as she hides under a dark bank of dirt until they pass.

Martha makes it into town and calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) with a pay phone. Lucy is taken by surprise, as she hasn’t seen, or even spoken to, Martha since she disappeared two years ago. Lucy demands to pick Martha up, but Martha is unsure of where she is and is visibly paranoid about leaving the cult. She says things like “I shouldn’t have called” and “I can’t stay gone.” Lucy is able to persuade Martha to go find out where she is so she can come get her.

Lucy brings Martha to stay with her and her wealthy husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) at their idyllic vacation home, about three hours away from where Martha was picked up. We find out that Martha was living in the Catskill Mountains. As far as Lucy and Ted know, they believe Martha ran off for two years to live with an abusive boyfriend because she refuses to tell them otherwise.

The cult is lead by a Manson-like figure named Patrick (John Hawkes). Hawkes gives a chilling performance, exuding a dark, dominating power through his presence and gaze. Although the cult pretentiously tries to come off as a place of equality, everyone worships Patrick. He is the mastermind behind the all of the brainwashing. He gives each member a new name, giving him a sense of ownership. Martha’s name was Marcy May. Marcy May was born at, and belonged to, Patrick’s cult. Marlene was Marcy May’s fake name for when she had to answer the phone on the cult farm. Her three names are what makes the title, playing on the effect of Martha’s identity confusion that she faces once she runs away from the cult.

The story is told chronologically through Martha’s stay at the vacation home, with flashbacks as she slips into recollections of the events of the cult that damaged her mind. Most of what we know about the cult is mediated through these creatively integrated flashbacks. Elizabeth Olsen brings a star making performance. Her haunting expressions miraculously tell a story of being in love and feeling accepted, yet being terrified and wanting freedom. Her disquieting and bizarre actions have Lucy and Ted confused and worried, but each flashback helps explain how the cult has conditioned her to act in such ways.

During her stay, Martha grows increasingly terrified that the cult will come and find her, and we soon find out she might have good reason. In the meantime, the troubled girl’s actions slowly peck away at Lucy and Ted’s relationship. The story is about Martha’s increasing paranoia after she escapes from two years of mental manipulation and abuse, and the effect it has on Lucy and Ted’s relationship.

You are going to want to watch this unsettling drama more than once.

4.5/5 stars

Megamind

Megamind, 2010, USA

By Jennifer Hanson

What would happen if Lex Luthor won and killed Superman?  And what would happen if Lois Lane developed feelings for Lex Luthor?  This film examines that dynamic, and features characters that parody modern superhero conventions.

Megamind (Will Ferrell) has always had a rivalry with Metro Man (Brad Pitt).  Megamind was unpopular in school, and Metro Man was beloved.  Eventually Megamind and his best friend and protector, Minion (David Cross) decide to go evil.  Years later, after many battles, Megamind manages to defeat and kill Metro Man.  At first, he is thrilled, but quickly becomes despondent after realizing he no longer has a purpose in life.  Using some of Metro Man’s DNA, Megamind creates a new superhero using the unsuspecting Hal Stewart (Jonah Hill).  During all of this, Megamind is trying to woo Roxanne (Tina Fey), his former kidnapping victim and love interest of Metro Man.

The primary focus of satire is Superman, but other superhero conventions are explored as well.  What I appreciated most was the DreamWorks did not turn to pop culture humour in order to tell the story, which is something they did quite liberally in their past efforts.  Pop culture humour becomes dated very quickly (often within two or three years), which means that there’s no longevity to the film.  As long as superhero stories (especially Superman) are being told, this movie will remain amusing.

The voice acting is generally really good.  Ferrell’s Megamind is very similar to some of the characters he’s played in the past.  I appreciate Ferrell, but he does have limited range when he’s playing an arrogant, eccentric sort of character.  It’s very much his shtick.  Hill was a nice surprise, and I did like his voice work.  Pitt’s role was relatively small, but it was obvious that he had quite a bit of fun with it.

I watched the film in HD, and the picture was smooth and crisp.  However, due to the nature of the plot line, there weren’t many opportunities for any overly beautiful shots.  The animation was well done, however.  It’s amazing how far computer animation has come in just under 15 years.  The technological advancements brought on by computers have done so much for the film industry.

This movie was decent and enjoyable, but I do get the feeling that it will ultimately be forgettable.  DreamWorks at its best can rival Pixar in terms of genius (How to Train Your Dragon is by far their best film), but at its worst, they’re intolerable (Shark Tale was a nightmare to watch).  I’d say that Megamind is middle of the road, as far as DreamWorks films go.

3/5 stars

Chronicle

Chronicle, 2012, Canada/USA/South Africa

By Andrew Burns

Any kid with half an imagination growing up would be lying if they said they never thought about having super powers at least once.  Whether it to be faster than a speeding bullet, the ability to fly, or just have one of those bitchin costumes with a cape.  Imagining yourself become like one of those larger than life characters from the glossy 32 paged modern day mythology tales is almost like a rite of passage for every kid.  In this newest Sci-Fi film, Chronicle uses the handheld sub-genre to explore what happens when those imaginations suddenly become a reality for three teenagers from their point of view.

Much like other films of this handheld camera sub-genre there are key elements of the story that are left unanswered or up to the audience’s imagination.  We, as the audience, only see what is “caught on camera”, and nothing more.  Like other films in the past that used this style of filmmaking as a crutch or an overplayed gimmick (Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield) Chronicle actually makes it work to fit it’s story.

One of the three teenagers, Andrew, is about as social awkward as they come and decides to document each minute of his miserable home & high school life with a home video camera.  Andrew’s home movies are filled with scenes of school bullying, his abusive drunk father, and his cancer ridden mother on her death bed.  After some careful nudging towards a better high school experience by Matt, Andrew’s more popular cousin, he convinces Andrew to tag along to a huge party out in the woods one night.  Out there with Matt’s friend Steve the three of them stumble upon a larger hole in the ground with something alien-isk that changes each of them forever.  From then on out the three all possess unexplained telekinetic powers and get stronger after each day.

This film is obviously inspired by a mix of comic books and video games, from some brilliant daydreamers in director Josh Trank and his writing partner Max Landis.  Trank absolutely maximizes this story’s potential under it’s tiny $15 million budget with some incredible special effects.  With a cast of unknowns and a fresh idea Trank and Landis take a phenomenal approach to putting their childhood fantasies on to the big screen.

With a character as damaged as Andrew the film’s ending is no mystery to the average movie-goer, as they can predict the outcome after the first ten minutes of the movie.  Apart from that minor drawback Chronicle does a terrific job pacing itself with it’s supernatural development.  With a fantastic type of idea like this it was refreshing to see this story not told on a grand scale or set in those cinematically over used cities like New York or L.A..  At the risk of ruining the film’s ending I’ll just say the film’s climax might be seen as an exaggerated spike for the story’s slower progression but it takes you on a thrill ride that delivers a lasting impression.

4 / 5 Stars

Tweeting the Oscars

By Jennifer Hanson

A few weeks ago, I live tweeted the Academy Awards.  The Oscars are one of the major film events of the year, and it provides an opportunity for film fans to get together to discuss film.  The Oscars were a trending topic all evening, which made it easy for interested individuals to search what others were saying.

Image
The discussion varied wildly: some talked about the fashion, others talked about the ceremony itself.  Still others took the opportunity to discuss their favourite films of the year, and their favourites among the nominees.  Many did all of the above.

Oscar parties are still common, but the rise of the Internet social media has brought the party right to your living room.  You no longer need a fancy gown or an invitation to a party to watch the Oscars with friends: instead you can “watch” it with them in your pajamas, right in your living room.  Smartphones make tweeting easier than ever, as well.

Major events like these are a great way to interact with fellow film fans.  I love live tweeting the Oscars and other awards shows so much that I never seek out an “Oscar party”.  I simply make myself a special dinner or snack, and sit with my phone and tweet.  While some may question the relevance of the Oscars today, I believe they are more relevant than ever.  You don’t have to wait until the next day to discuss the biggest surprises of the Oscars (as was the case in my youth), instead, it’s instant on Twitter.

Another fun element to live tweeting the Oscars is participation from well known and respected film critics.  Famed film critic Richard Roeper (of At the Movies fame) was tweeting during the Oscars, and his insights were fun and interesting.  It is difficult, if not impossible to make a living nowadays as a newspaper film critic, but the ones that are established tend to be very active on social media.

In order to stand any sort of chance at making a living as a film critic in the future, a budding critic must have a blog that is updated regularly, and must regularly tweet about movies.  I personally think the time has ended where film criticism has any financial value, because it is so easy to be a film critic nowadays.  As anyone could see during the Oscars, everyone who watched the Oscars and tweeted about them offered their opinion on movies.  A decent number of them had blogs, as well.  The future of film criticism is on blogs, online newspapers, and even on Twitter.  People who were on Twitter during the Oscars received first hand proof of the passion people still feel for movies, so film is still a very relevant media, even if film criticism has little financial value.

The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black2012, UK/Canada/Sweden

By Graeme Coleman

I wasn’t sure how well Daniel Radcliffe could branch away from the enormous Harry Potter franchise. I feared spending the entire movie having inevitable flashbacks of Harry, but surprisingly, I didn’t think of him at all. What I did catch myself thinking was When did Daniel Radcliffe become such a handsome man?! Besides his good looks, his acting wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. He kept the same sombre, subdued expression throughout the entire film. I mean, it worked, given his character’s circumstances, but there were parts in the movie where I am sure I looked more frightened then he did… and his character was the one who was supposed to be experiencing the terror first hand! In the end, I think Radcliffe was a decent fit for the movie, and he took a baby step out of his Harry Potter spotlight — especially since I actually call him by his real name now.

In this new adaptation of Susan Hill’s 1982 bestseller, Radcliffe plays a young, widowed lawyer from London, named Kipps. Kipps is dispatched to a swampy marsh to settle dues with a recently deceased woman. As he attempts to find his way to the eerie mansion of the deceased, the locals are overwhelmingly cold and evidently have something to hide. There has been an epidemic of dying children, and as Radcliffe explores the town, warnings are given by the locals as they pull their children inside and shut their doors. Any normal person would flee, but the widowed protagonist has a lot on the line: supporting his son. He insists on staying and finishing his business, while things get spookier as time progresses.

Director James Watkins focuses on using chills and suspense, rather than gore. Because of the large number of cliche, supernatural horror movies that are made, I prepared myself to expect the worst and hope for the best. Luckily it was the latter. This movie was painfully enjoyable to watch… through your fingers! The parts that made you jump out of your seat were unexpected, which was refreshing. There was enough fear left to your imagination; the woman in black was never exposed too much or too long, so you weren’t desensitized to her horror, which I think is the problem with a lot of supernatural movies.

The remarkably authentic sets contributed to the dark mood of the film, as well as the phenomenally suiting music. Production value was very high. Everything was thought out extremely well. Even the ending had you shocked and walking away from the movie pleased. I haven’t enjoyed a ghost movie this much in a long time.

3.5/5 Stars

Sabah

Sabah, 2005, Canada

By Jennifer Hanson

Image

On paper, this film sounded awesome. It’s a Canadian romantic comedy about a 40-something Muslim woman (Arsinée Khanjian) who meets a Canadian man named Stephen (Shawn Doyle), and they fall in love. However, their relationship must remain secret, as Sabah has an overbearing older brother named Majid (Jeff Seymour), and must care for her ailing mother (Setta Keshishian).

Unfortunately, “on paper” and “on film” are very different things. The film is very awkward, and I don’t necessarily blame the actors for the awkwardness. I just felt uncomfortable as I watched it. I think it’s because Sabah is a very awkward character, and the actions of so many of the characters felt unrealistic. The love story between Sabah and Stephen was sweet, but there was very little substance to it. The characterization of the supporting characters is limited, as well. Majid is written as the villain, but his actions are so drenched in stereotypes that it is actually offensive. For a film that is presumably supposed to fight stereotypes, it is not good to have a storyline that depends on a very offensive stereotype. We’re given no reason for these actions until the very end of the movie.

In addition to all of this, we’re given a deus ex machine happy ending that feels unnatural and tacked on. We’re never shown how the issues are resolved, other than an extremely brief scene prior to the ending. An extra few minutes would have removed the awkwardness of the ending. Every storyline is resolved in an overly happy, awkward and unnatural way, which is typical in romantic comedies. I was hoping Ruba Nadda would go in a different direction with her film.

Nadda is an Arab-Canadian director and writer, and many of her other films look at life in Arab families. Seeing “normal” Arab or Muslim families in film productions is relatively rare, so that is why I was so eager to watch this film. It is truly a shame that Nadda felt the need to create such a stereotypical character when she created Majid. I fear that his character may confirm the prejudices that some people feel towards Muslim individuals. However, I did admire the way she approached the topic of inter-racial and inter-religious relationships. I felt that the apprehension Sabah felt towards her relationship was an accurate portrayal of what someone may feel in her situation.

The film was obviously a low budget production, and it was shot in only 20 days. It was shot well and I also respect what she accomplished in such a short period of time.

Sabah was a bit of a disappointment. It was thought-provoking for all of the wrong reasons, and relied far too much on stereotypes and clichés. It’s such a shame, because this film had every opportunity to be fantastic.

2/5