Paranoid Park
Blake Nelson and Gus Van Sant, 2007
#6, 2008 Skandies

I liked this better when it was called 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Apparently so did the Skandie voters, since 4 Months placed five spots higher.

Like 4 Months, Paranoid Park is an attempt to evoke the dissociated state of someone consumed by a terrible secret while the world goes on around him/her as normal. Just swap out the Romanian family talking about whether the meatballs are made of pork and swap in a little brother recounting a scene from Napoleon Dynamite and you've basically got it.

Actually, that's not fair to 4 Months, which I did prefer by a significant margin, in that it's also an interesting portrait of Romania in Ceaușescu's last days and of a woman who goes to astonishing lengths to help out a friend (and apparently not a particularly close one). Paranoid Park, by contrast, is set among the "skateboarding community" of Portland, in which I could hardly be less interested, and the protagonist is thoroughly unremarkable in every respect. Why am I supposed to care about this guy?

One last difference: 4 Months tried to convey existential states through the lead actress's performance, while Paranoid Park does it with editing tricks, camera tricks, and audio tricks. It seems as though the point of the project was largely to explore how to use specifically cinematic effects to strike a mood. I've already discussed in other articles that I'm much more interested in things like character, plot, and ideology than in mood; to that, I will add the following:

34 There are certain media in which form interests me. Interactive fiction is one, though I have little patience for it as a member of the audience. Comics is another, though I seem to have settled into a pretty rigid style in my own efforts in that medium. But the specifically cinematic aspects of film form don't particularly interest me. Any movie whose chief raison d'être is to explore how to convey something with a camera is pretty unlikely to be my thing.

Jon Ingold, 2000

Fail-Safe is a wonderful little story. The beginning is full of moments that seem a little odd, and then when you reach the end everything clicks into place — things that didn't even seem like hints suddenly jump out at you and make you say, "Ha ha, how could I have missed that!"

Assuming that you reach the end. For Fail-Safe also suffers greatly from guess-the-phrasing puzzles that pretty much derail the thing — I played it with Elizabeth and she was ready to bail until I did a text dump and figured out a few key commands. With every single interactive piece I encounter I become that much more appreciative of Star Control II and the way it wasn't at all frustrating to solve and yet still provided a sense of accomplishment. The premise of Fail-Safe requires that there be a fair amount of toaster-fixing, but still, there has to be a better way. More synonyms, fewer unimplemented objects, more flexible verbs. But as it stands, Fail-Safe has to go into the bin marked "more fun to have played than to be playing."

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