Hardcore Fans: The Craziness in All of Us

Comedy, as a whole, has some sacred cows that should not be touched lightly.

Movies, books, and games on the other hand…

I like to maintain that, if you’re a true fan of something, you know the strong points and weak points of the work and love it regardless of the latter. After all, things made by human hands are inherently flawed, but if the flaws are funny or endearing (or at least small when compared to the good qualities of the work), then it might be said that that particular work did achieve a sort of perfection.

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But sadly, a lot of fans out there turn into frothing, rabid dogs when a work they like is questioned or criticized, and even sometimes when that work is adapted to a new medium. In their eyes, the work is God, come again to save them from their meager, bored existence and enlighten the word with Its words of wisdom. To insult It is to set fire to the American flag, after having used it as toilet paper. Or, perhaps more relevantly, spanking yourself with the Mexican flag.

The ensuing “discussion” (read: bile) involved inevitably invokes Godwin’s Law, but the bitterness and resentment rage on, and the “discussion” is never truly forgotten nor closed.

Why is this? Why are these works, fiction and non  fiction, not only taken so seriously (fans and anti-fans have, in some cases, literally tried to kill over them), but bitterly argued and put up on pedestals?

The answer: ego and entitlement.

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There’s no question that people love their works. Some buy movies and books for a casual look, while others go on to buy merchandise, follow the key players (authors/creators/actors) on social media, write whole blogs and papers worth of analysis, and attend clubs and conventions. And just because one person is more fascinated and invested in a work doesn’t mean that they are always automatically the nutjobs (or serial killers). They appreciate how the work speaks to them; how it reflects society or some aspect of the human condition and experience.

There are reasonable people all over the spectrum, just as there are crazies.

While I can now appreciate both works that challenge and conform to my views of the world, I didn’t always feel that way. And some stuff still irritates me from time to time, when it doesn’t line up with how it played out in my mind. My example of this, though it’s a bit dated now, is the portrayal of Daenerys Targaryen first night with her husband in Game of Thrones. I read the book before I saw the episode, and while the book did have some rapey-ness to the scene, at least at first, it was not to the same extent as it appeared in the show. And my first reaction to this change was confused irritation.

But I’d like to point out that the director of the show is different than the writer of the book, as well as me, and three people will seldom see the same thing. Creators also have choices to make that the viewing audience doesn’t have to.

What I’m saying is that the works get caught up in people’s egos. The closer that they identify with something, the quicker and more intensely they are likely to come to its defense when criticized, I think, particularly if it is a thing that panders more than questions. And pandering doesn’t immediately equate simple or “no-greater-message;” usually, it’s just more visibly biased.

When someone attacks a work that you love, whether they mean to attack you, personally or not, you’ll be more likely to take it personally. At best, you’ll get defensive, but at worst, you’ll get angry. Hopefully not violent.

To the average Joe, or “you” in this scenario, the person might as well be saying, “It is stupid, therefore YOU are stupid.”

It’s a common misconception, and an easy trap to fall into.

The second part of the problem comes from an entitlement mindset.

Here we return to the “you.”

Perhaps you think you “saw it first,” whatever “it” is. Or perhaps you connected with the work so much that it brought you to tears, and you just can’t understand why everyone else isn’t bawling or acknowledging the work as a golden masterpiece.

You picture the characters, the story, the drama, and relationships a certain way, but that isn’t where it ends. For whatever the reason, the work has become “yours,” and you defend it like a grizzly bear defends her cubs.

To be fair, once a work has been published, it doesn’t just belong to the original creator anymore. They have shared it with the world, and, barring a few copyright laws and requirements, people can interpret and make of it whatever they want.

Also, adapting something that already exists in one medium to another is hard to do. You NEVER see an adaptation that is unanimously beloved by critics, general audience members, and fans of the original work, and anyone can successfully argue that the new thing works or doesn’t work and be right in at least one way.

Sometimes you get the guy who penned the original work to push it into a new medium, to various levels of success.

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But yes. Consciously or unconsciously, people attach their treasured works to their sense of self; their personality, and even, ironically, their personhood. These fans then use these works to measure the quality of other people. They make friends (or determine who to avoid), and subjectively judge just how smart (or worthy) those friends, enemies, and average Joes are.

A critic becomes “the other” as quickly as a regular non-fan. Sometimes even a “bully;” not there to think about something popular or interesting, but a personal assassin to your self-esteem. Any concession of merit means that you are letting them win, or agreeing with them completely, and that just cannot be!

And then some of these same “victims” take their voices to the web, or the streets, waging holy wars and viciously attacking those who don’t agree with them. Even if those people happen to be fans as well.

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Fans against fans, non fans against non fans, and everyone in between. Thanks to the internet, we have even more widespread, stupid chaos.

Silly? Sure. Potentially harmful to people? Hell yes.

The need to hyper focus on the good old “No True Scotsmen,” to constantly compete with and compare yourselves to others, even with works of escapism and fiction that don’t belong solely to you…This is a big reason why I argue that we should acknowledge faults with the work and, by extension, ourselves.

That’s not to say that I myself am perfect at it, but just that it is what I ultimately strive for. I gush and rant about plenty of things, but at the very least, I try to be receptive and respectful.

It’s much easier when people give you the same courtesy.

Disagreement is bound to happen to everyone, but how often it does and how much you let it affect you is up to you. Keep supporting your canons, fandoms, and hatedoms, but don’t push them onto others like a religion.

That goes the same, if not double, for you, hardcore sports fans.

Not everything is a battle that must be won.

*No photos or video clips belong to me. 

 

 

 

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Top 10 Favorite Zelda Sidequests

 

I am not a completionist. At all.

When I play, unless it’s something I’ve done before, I’m mostly interested in character and plot. I see video games like movies, but better, because you can be an active participant.

As long as I can move, and the camera isn’t conspiring to assassinate me, I’m a happy camper.

When I game, I am the type of person who often rushes into a battle unprepared (not sufficiently leveled up or stocked up) because I just want to advance the main story. I level up when forced to, or happily during a second playthrough, but usually, whether I’m going in as the tank or the strategist, I’m praying I can just move on. Sidequests can be the bane of my existence; sometimes feeling more like chores than anything else.

That said, Zelda games are my big exception.

I still don’t typically strive to get everything you could possibly get in the game, but there are a ton of different quests you can choose to do, and a lot of them are really fun. I complete them as soon as I can, or later, when I’m trying to stall the inevitable ending of the game.

For the purpose of this list, I am classifying a side/subquest as: any quest that either a) has no or little effect on the end’s result, and/or b) does not need to be done to finish the game. More items will probably lean to the latter, but there you have it.

Let’s begin!

 

10) Poe Soul Hunting

This spot was a toss up between bug hunting and poe hunting from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but the poes win because:

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Come on.

Sure, Agitha is a disturbing but intriguing character, and the bugs get to go to a tea party at her place once you collect them all. And yeah, catching bugs is extra fun in Skyward Sword, once you figure out the net. And you can use them to spice up potions, strengthening status effects. This is fun and useful stuff here.

But screw that! Ghost hunting!

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And the ghosts look like this:

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And this:

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Hell, I thought they were fun to hunt back when they looked like this:

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Along the course of the plot, you will meet a man named Jovani. He has quite the sparkling personality.

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His story is that he got greedy and sold his soul to the poes for abundant wealth. They granted his wish, but also turned him into a living jewel, so he can’t even spend his money, or swim around in it Scrooge McDuck style!

So he’s turned over a new leaf, and he needs you to murder 60 poes before he can be returned to normal.

This quest is a spiritual sister to both the poe and skulltula quests from Ocarina of Time. The difference here is that the hunt employs Link’s other form, rather than a bow or other standard weapons. You can only see poes using wolf senses, and once you’ve spotted one (usually at night, indicated with a floating ball of light and creaking sounds), you jump and bite it repeatedly until it falls to the ground, then dig the soul right out of its chest.

You get the picture by about 0:06, but still. Hardcore, and pretty damn brutal. It’s not the darkest thing that Nintendo has ever given us in these E rated games, either.

But it’s a fun collection quest with some freaky adversaries.

Who you gonna call?…Yourself!

 

9) Gerudo Training Ground

After you obtain the Gerudo’s membership card (which is hilarious) from the desert tribe of Amazonian/Spartan women, you have access to several things. The Haunted Wasteland (needed for plot), the horseback archery game, and the Gerudo Training Ground.

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Inside await various puzzles (many of which are timed), to test your stamina, ingenuity, and whether or not you’ve got all the right items. Or, in some cases, whether you’ve brought enough of the right items. Like bombs and arrows.

You’ll need those.

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Water puzzles, fire puzzles, monster puzzles, and more. All for the relatively useless, but nice and item-collection-completing Ice Arrows.

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And when I say useless, I mean that there aren’t many or any boss battles left where you could use them by this point.

There really isn’t too much to say about this one. It’s pretty low on this list, but still a fun mini-dungeon with elements from most of the other dungeons you’ve faced, combined in an atmospherically-acclectic moosh. Just beware misusing your keys, because you only win so many.

 

8) Magic Armor 

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Yeah, the sailing in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker did get a bit tedious after a while, but thankfully, the HD remake keeps the ability to teleport while upgrading you (via the auction) to the swift sail, making traversing the Great Sea more fun and fluid. Now, if only they gave you the option to bypass the fish man’s dialogue every time you want to fill in your chart…

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He’s a contender with this owl, Navi, and Fi as most annoying, “helpful” character.

He's a contender with this guy, Navi, and Fi as most annoying, "helpful" character.

But in defense of the sailing, the game is very big on color and atmosphere; the weather and lighting changing frequently, as well as a multitude of interesting islands to explore. So suck it up, whiners!

This is a big fetch quest and you will probably need a guide to avoid backtracking and unnecessary purchases. There are several people scattered across several islands on far sides of the map, and they will give you things in exchange for other things. And money. You will need lots of money.

Zunari

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The nice thing about these various trading items (flowers, flags, statues, etc) is that later, you can buy them on Windfall Island and use them to decorate the place or your own personal cabana, if that’s your thing. It’s not really mine that much, but few other fetch quests can say that they allow you to use and reuse items you traded away for your own purposes.

So, while I haven’t been upselling it very much and it can be frustrating occasionally, this quest is mostly fun, and in the end, you get a nice shielding device that makes you invulnerable for as long as your magic meter holds out.

Nifty!

 

7) Fetch Quests/Gratitude Crystals

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Gratitude crystals can either be found lying around Skyloft in hard to reach places, or by doing favors and quests for characters along the course of your adventure. I like the latter more, particularly those that involve going down to the surface and dowsing to locate lost items, like the fortune teller’s (replacement) crystal ball and the Fun Fun Island clown’s party wheel. Dowsing in general was pretty fun for me throughout this game.

Anyway, you collect crystals to get things like pieces of heart and wallet expansions. You get those by giving the crystals to a demon who longs to become human.

I’m not kidding, either. He looks like this:

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Friendly-looking, right?

Despite the mildly sketchy way that Batreaux is introduced (you go looking for a lost child only to find her having “screaming contests” with this guy in a hidden bungalow beneath the graveyard), he gives good rewards in exchange for the crystals, and you can have oodles of fun tracking stuff down. Sometimes, the solution to someone’s problem is interesting and complicated, while other times it just the standard point a to point b delivery.

It’s more fun finding things in a game when you know where the item should be and can scope for it. In real life, your car keys go missing, and you’re in trouble. All you can do is retrace steps and blindly fumble and hope. 😦

But on the other hand, video games make people look really morally horrible. They will only help you if you help them first…

Moving on!

 

6) Circus Leader’s Mask

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This mask is ugly as sin and virtually useless, but the jam session you go through to get it is fun. Fun, and short, but it takes a lot of elements and items to even get to this subquest, so it does feel like an accomplishment.

 

5) Skulltula Houses

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask will take up a lot of this list. It’s the game with the most sidequests and, in my opinion, some of the most fun ones. Especially because of the useful items you typically receive for your troubles.

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There are two spider houses: one in Woodfall, and the other at Great Bay. I like both pretty evenly, but if I had to pick my favorite, it’d be the Oceanside Spider House. It’s dark and haunted-looking, with Stalchildren hanging around to add to the ambience.

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Creepy, grinning, giant masks; minimalist, isolating music; a hunt through several dark and dusty puzzle rooms; and a giant wallet as a reward, with a new mask waiting around the corner. Also, you’re genociding these pleasant things:

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Enjoy!

 

4) The Romani Mask

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The first step in this quest involves aliens.

No joke.

Romani Aliens

It is one of the most bizarre things in all of Zelda. But that is what makes it so fun and interesting.

On the first day, you go to Milk Road and blow up the bolder blocking Romani Ranch. Inside, you will find several people (and activities), but the most important are Romani and her older sister, Cremia.

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Romani will be outside, running around with her dog and shooting at a balloon with her bow. You talk to her and get your horse after a brief mini game, with the promise to help her ward off an alien invasion early the next morning. Cremia doesn’t believe that such a thing will happen, but she is delighted to hear that the road is open to travel. Now she can deliver her alcoholic milk to town!

…I’m not really kidding about that, either. It’s tied into a really dark scene later, and the game makes no bones about it being hard stuff.

So you fight off these…alien…ghost…looking things:

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for a couple of hours, keeping them away from the barn with arrows, until they all go away. When you talk to Cremia, she will offer to give you a ride back into town on the second night, which you should accept.

The two of you chat (as much as Placeholder Link is capable to), and a series of road blocks lead you into “ugly country.” Some local farmers in masks come riding up to your wagon like bandits and try to destroy the milk bottles. It is your job to fight them off with arrows to the face.

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Once you’re done: congratulations! You get a cow mask/hood/thingy! It gets you into the 21 and over milk bar in town after dark!

Paaaaaaarty!
Paaaaaaarty!

 

See what I mean? Bizzzzzzzzaaaaaaarrrrrrrreeeeeeee.

What’s even more bizarre (and dark and twisted) is what happens when you fail to protect the ranch from aliens…

 

3) The Couple’s Mask

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Outside of making one guy happy and giving you a heart piece, this mask does nothing. Even less than the Circus Leader’s Mask, which can at least cry rivers. But the quest to get it is the longest in the game, and the resolution for the people involved is both sad and heartwarming. It’s very satisfying that way, somehow; one of the most in-depth and satisfying quests ever in the series, I would argue.

The Skull Kid (the main antagonist of the game) cursed a man named Kafei and gave him the body of a child, but still the mind of an adult, three days before he is supposed to marry his love, Anju. The customs of Termina (the land you are in, as opposed to the usual, Hyrule) dictate that two people commemorating their joining as husband and wife, as a symbolic gesture and simultaneous praise of the guardian giants, must each make a mask and exchange them with one another on the day of the ceremony. To add insult to injury, before Kafei could inform Anju of his misfortune, his wedding mask was stolen by a thief named Sakon, a “prancing man with a grinning face.”

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Now Kafei, ashamed and desperate to find his mask before he confronts Anju, hides behind another mask that looks suspiciously like Pikachu (but is really more of a general Japanese fox mask) and lives on the far side of town. Anju, unaware of these events and having lost almost all contact with her fiancé, is distraught, and hesitant to evacuate town along with her family (due to the rumor of the falling moon).

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Not even Kafei’s mother knows where he’s gone, and it’s up to detective Link to sort this mess out!

In-the-Kitchen

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Haha!
Haha!

You get a lot of masks from this quest; the most out of all of the quests you could choose to undertake. It’s definitely not one of the flashier and funner masks, but in the end, the couple’s mask is a nice trophy to remind you how hard you worked to make all of these characters happy.

…Before you reset the time to the first day, and everything goes back to the way it was. Doomed.

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2) Nintendo Gallery

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I love Pokemon Snap. Always have, always will. And my Facebook is crammed with pictures. Not club pics and selfies (some of the latter, to be fair), but a lot of landscapes and nature shots. And deer.

I love taking photos. I love getting the perfect shot and focusing on every little minute detail to do so. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker foresaw this, and acted accordingly.

So you take pictures (once you upgrade to a color camera) and then take them to a small pillar of land near The Forest Haven. Here you will find the Nintendo Gallery, where you can turn in good photos for shiny figurines, lovingly sculpted by this fellow:

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You track down every person, monster, and animal (almost) that you can find, no doubt freaking them out with numerous, obsessive pictures, and you fill the rooms in this place with colorful figurines. Not only will they look pretty, but they also have little blurbs about the characters they represent.

ChuChus_(The_Wind_Waker)

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This quest is utterly useless in the grand scheme of things, even by other useless quest standards, but it feels great to the completionist, and even to those who just want to say, “I stopped to take a picture of this boss during the middle of the battle! I have horrendous battle scars now, but look! A trophy!” 🙂

Hooray for catering to youth culture who are increasingly self and phone/camera obsessed!

The HD remake is worse in this regard because (while you get the colored camera much more easily, have more open slots for photos, and can use other players’ photos to complete your quest) you have the ability to take selfies. Literally, selfies. And you can stick them in bottles and send them to other people, receiving their selfies as well.

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Kill me.

 

1) Item Upgrading

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Hands down. This is. The greatest thing. Zelda has given me. Ever.

The fact that Skyward Sword shields can now take varying degrees of damage (rather than, say, the Deku shield just being obliterated by lava or fire) is an interesting, if occasionally irritating dynamic Nintendo recently added. But I barely used mine outside of certain battles anyway. Ironically, this game made shields feel more like decorations than anything else. Some people would argue you don’t need them to get through, although with hero mode I would definitely say, “pick one up for insurance.”

But the chance to upgrade my bow for better sniping capabilities?

Bows

Awesome!

The beetle can fly farther and faster now?

Beetles

Awesome!

You can use items you get from monster murder/drops, bugs, and just random things that you find around the overworld. That idea is so simple, but so brilliant, it moves me to tears.

…Well, not really. But still.

Scavenging and hunting has the most appeal in this game, I think, because you can put what you find to many uses that are nice and can help you out, but won’t stall out the plot waiting for you. And it’s not just for completionists! How about those folks concerned with always having the latest models?

No one else in Skyloft will have these cool toys!

Seriously, though. Why hasn’t Link ever thought to add on to his weapons before? Polish and spit-shine them, add a few tweaks! The closest he came before this was probably Twilight Princess, with the Eagle Eye and the ability to make bomb arrows.

Psst…Nintendo! Bring those back!

 

So there you have it. My top 10 favorite sub and side quests from the Zelda series. Which ones are your favorites? Are there any ones I so unfairly missed? Let me know!

*The fan art is by Zelbunni, and that and their other work can be found at the link under the image. As always, I don’t own any of these images or videos. All hail/credit to Nintendo, Ghostbusters, and the creative minds of the web for their collages.

 

iHateRadio: Radio Rant

With the 2014 iHeart Music Festival going on soon, I decided it would be a good time to say that I hate radio…..

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Nah, nah. I kid….Sorta.

As a person who spends a lot of time in the car and doesn’t have the money or the patience to pay for monthly “satellite” radio services, I spend a lot of my morning commute listening to FM radio, which I’m sure a lot of you do. I mean, I can say that I hate radio but that is not the truth. I hate MODERN commercial radio and what it has turned into. Let me give you a little anecdote.

Dawn of the First Day

I get into my car in the morning and turn on my car.

The newest song comes on. “Oh yeah! I love this song.” I say and I start jamming out to the song. Everything is fine….

Dawn of the Second Day

I get into my car in the morning and turn on my car.

“Didn’t this song come on at the same time yesterday?” I say and I start jamming out to the song. Everything is normal…..

Dawn of the Third Day

I’m worried the same song will come on again, so I turn on my car and cut of the radio. I drive down the road and I’m stuck in traffic…

It’s like my arm is possessed. I reached for the on button, and guess what comes on?

“AHHHH” I scream, and cut of the radio.

Later that night, I turn on my car.

3 minutes pass, and what song comes on?

“Hmmmmm…” Frustrated, I turn off the radio and silence fills the car as I drive the lonely dark streets.

“Maybe if I change the station, I’ll have better luck?”

I turn on the radio and change the station…”Oh…My..God…the song….it keeps coming back…Why in God’s name does it keep coming back!?”

Then the moon fell.

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the-end

Nah, nah. I kid. The moon didn’t fall.

But aside from my haunting tale of the song that follows me, this perpetual cycle of top 40 songs day in and day out is the majority of the reason why iHateRadio.

Now, I do have to recognize that radio has been around for a while and has done some great things over the years. It is a huge industry that has made 17 billion dollars in revenue, current annual growth is 1.9%, and employs 103,436 people, according to IBIS World. (1)

For decades, radio has provided programming to listeners free of charge, introducing its audiences to new types of music entertainment and new recording artists. It is widely believed that radio stations, record labels, and recording artists enjoy a
symbiotic relationship; meaning, the record industry utilizes radio to promote its artists and music to hundreds of millions of radio listeners, while radio attracts listeners and advertisers by airing recorded music. Also, radio’s music promotion is understood to stimulate the purchase of recordings, merchandise and concert tickets by the listening audience. The radio also provides royalties to the recording studios and artists.

However, because of the profitability of commercials and advertising the station owners found themselves increasingly beholden to sponsors, who began taking over complete shows, then buying radio stations from which to launch media empires. This type of sponsorship lead media cause a big problem. Station owners were no longer willing to lose ratings over spinning new records or breaking new artists because of all the money that was at stake if people didn’t tune in.

At this point, market research was the main way to decide what was safe to play. And to divide up that profitability risk, bigger radio stations send promo songs and new songs and artist to college radio stations and MTV as test marketing. The music rating from college radio was a good and safe indicator for bigger radio stations of what was now deemed “popular”. Bigger stations take these ratings and makes an arbitrary roster of “hot” songs, old or new, repeated ad nauseam in a blatant effort to “hook” the listener long enough for exposure to the ad.

And thus the reason why my morning commute is feeling a little bit like Groundhog Day.

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Some radio station can even be as impatient for the next ad as to cut entire sections of the song and/or speed up the song, making the song sound in a higher pitched key. Ever wonder after 1 month of hearing a new song on the radio you all the sudden can’t match pitch with Katy Perry. Well…

With that elephant in the room taken note of, I think I will leave you with this.

I do like music on top 40 stations and commercial radio. There can be some interesting songs and artists that make their way on there.

Recently, I have heard Be Okay by a band called Oh Honey. It was good hearing them on the radio, considering I saw them live as an opener to one of my favorite bands, The Fray, as part of their Helios tour, which by the way is an awesome album and does not disappoint. But I wish there was more of a chance taken with new artists and new songs on all radio stations.

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I’m still hearing Lights by Ellie Goulding on these “new” stations, which was released back in 2010. Even radio stations that claim they play everything only play “pop” songs from the 80s, 90s, and today.

If radio is truly made to advertise the artists and grant them exposure, this should apply to other artists and not just what the sponsors deem as “popular”.

So be ready to hear All About that Bass and Shake It Off as you use Maps while swinging on a Chandelier and hunting an Anaconda, because you will be hearing those for the next 5 months.

And as always, stay thirst my bros.

Sources:

1. http://www.ibisworld.com/industry/default.aspx?indid=1258

2. http://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100

Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”

 

 

This one will be a shorty, as I can separate my feelings into a couple of sentences each.

1) I like this song. I like the music itself, with its very retro, doo-wop sound. For most of the song, Trainor speak-sings in a very affected accent that borders on annoying (and it annoys several people I know, in fact), but it doesn’t bother me, and her singing voice sounds more  natural and very nice. It fits the style of the song well.

2) Glancing at other critics, I have seen them praising the song for its positive body-image message, and/or ignoring the line that just kidding’s the line about “skinny bitches” to find fault with it. If I had to nitpick something: while I don’t think this is what Trainor intended, having so much of the song reference that men like bigger women might actually take away from the song’s message about being happy with “your size” for your own sake.

It can still be “empowering”, and I don’t think it’s that big of an issue, but it is a way people can interpret it.

3) The video is colorful, fun, and upbeat. By the end, even the skinny bitch is having fun.

4) Another nitpick here, but it kind of trebles me every time I hear it:

“Yeah, my mama she told me don’t worry about your size
She says, ‘Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.'” 

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“Ummmm…thanks, mom?”

She was probably trying to be funny there, but I find it creepy on several levels. This is something your friend might say to you, but your mother?

In closing, this song is really fun. Take a listen, if you haven’t already.

To everyone facing body issues out there, this is what I say to you:

Ladies and gents, love yourself. Love yourself for you and you alone, because that body is all you truly own on this earth. Love yourself before you love others; confidence will draw others to you, and there is plenty of love to go around. Be forgiving.

Take care of yourself. Give your body good food, exercise, and plenty of sleep, as much as you can. Don’t worry about being “skinny” or “fat,” chasing ideals that you see in movies and magazines. Just taking care of yourself will make you happier and healthier. Shoot for healthy, and good things will follow.

 

When Marketing Attacks, or How to Sell Shamelessly

I have a rocky relationship with marketing.

I love and hate being a consumer, playing with new, high-tech toys that allow me to express myself, yet also draw me further inward, away from the natural world and other human beings face to face. I love and hate the way materialism and youth are valued, idolized, over contentness, making use with what you have, and loving the things that make you different from everyone else. How we seek instant gratification, rather than hard work and just rewards. I love and hate so thoroughly trying to understand people, getting inside their heads, only to then exploit their weaknesses, insecurities, and wants, telling them that your product is the holy grail; the answer to all of their problems.

I hate the power money has over everyone and everything, but I accept it and try to look at the bright side.

It’s not black and white, but let’s be real here: however fun it can be at times, we live in a culture of want. It’s just the way it is.

Sometimes the best way to live with it is to look away and think of other things. Like which new smart phone I’ll get when my contract expires soon. But other times, you come across trends that you can’t ignore. You try and you try to pass over it, or laugh it off, but it just won’t work.

BTW, support Allie's blog. She is hilarious.
BTW, support Allie’s blog. She is hilarious.

 

So what’s worse: being phony upfront, or lying to your face? And how about when you can tell that it’s a lie?

Christmas showing up early in stores annoys me. Not because I have something against the holiday or anyone who wants to keep the spirit of the season in their hearts all or part year round, but because it’s so obviously a marketing gimmick. A lie.

“Spend money now!” the retailers shout out with glee. “You can never start too early!”

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Ever heard of the saying, “Money can’t buy happiness”? Or that Christmas is (at least meant to be) about peace, joy, giving, and goodwill towards men? Lining stores with decorations isn’t meant for the benefit, or happiness, of people. It’s hoping to trick them out of a couple of extra bucks, using something they love or are obligated to celebrate. And how about those people who don’t celebrate, now forced to endure the holiday months before it even gets here?

This is as blatant as “sneaky tactics” get.

The music and decorations displays speak to your brain, trying to set you in a mood. Thankfully, if only through shear repetition and irritation, some folks are catching on and tuning out.

I guess there isn’t much wrong with that in our capitalist society, but Christmas stuff out as early as August this year? For shame, you Sam’s Clubs of the world!

I know our economy is still in the crapper, but why couldn’t we stick to marketing Christmas beginning on Halloween night? That was…tolerable, at least.

Poor Thanksgiving. It’s a nice holiday, but only really valuable to those who sell turkey, gravy, and potatoes. And food goes bad, so it can’t sit on shelves for months and months.

On a similar note, I’m getting irritated with how many movies these days, sagas or not, are being turned into multiple-parters. To me, that’s just as blatantly a money grab; almost identical in its deceptive charms.

With Harry Potter, the idea made some sense; book seven, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is jammed-packed. Could we argue that it wasn’t necessary? Sure, but we could also argue that the book turned two movies split the content up nicely. Deathly Hallows Part 1 was running and exposition, setting the stage and displaying the passage of time as they meander about looking for clues, while Deathly Hallows Part 2 was the action-packed climax. The tactic may not have been completely innocent, yes, but it served a purpose to a good, acceptably long series. And there are some arguments for artistic merit in this splitting process, after all.

But now, I can’t help but think that if Harry Potter was just coming out today, every book would get at least two parts. Because there is so much to tell!

Twilight: Breaking Dawn? Marshmallow fluff. The Hobbit? Fluff-apolooza. And now, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay? FLUFF! FLUFF AND NONSENSE, I SAY!

And it’s a safe bet that Not Hunger Games (a.k.a Divergent) will be getting this treatment in the future.

Here’s the thing: no one really uses the 2-3 parting of movies to add more content that might have been cut out from the original source material (The Hobbit doesn’t count because the appendices of LOTR and The Silmarillion have little to do with the original hobbit story, and were each written many years afterward). Did The Deathly Hallows films bring up Peeves, or Hermione’s little S.P.E.W. project? No. They kept in all that was needed to carry the plot. We saw other ghosts in the films who affected things, and learned enough about Hermione’s character to know that she is smart, resourceful, and compassionate.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1, on the other hand, was full of padding; dragging out every single minute with repetitious scenes and drama that, like the next and final segment, was rendered completely pointless by the end. Perhaps more faithful to the book, but equally, if not more so, lacking in substance.

Whether you’re adding in things that don’t need to be there, or stretching out concepts to fit a movie with a ridiculous run time, you’re padding it. Too much of that, and it’ll fall over and be stuck. Or stretch it to its breaking point.

Marketing serves a purpose and has benefits for makers, marketers, and audiences. This is true. But this process isn’t being done to bring people (book fans and general audience members alike) quantity and quality content. It’s not even really to keep a series from ending for just a wee bit longer. I see it as being blatantly, unashamedly about the money, whether it’s warranted or makes sense in the slightest.

And while that isn’t a shocking notion, and shouldn’t really bother me at this point, it does.

They are encouraging you to shop for Christmas over 100 days early. For things you won’t display for at least another month or two (if you’re sane). They want you to pay an extra 15 dollars to see the next part of the movie, rather than making one whole with an extended edition that comes out on DVD, and buy the food, merch, and hype that goes along with it.

At best, that’s annoying, and at worst, it’s insidious.

Movie-makers, if I could ask one thing of you this Christmas, it’s this: please worry about how to market your films last, and just focus on making/adapting good stories. Trust me, you’ll still make a ton of money. And marketing gurus, I wish for you to stop with the splitting of movies into parts to drag out the franchise. Endings are inevitable, and sometimes it’s better to kill off your series while you’re riding high.

Money doesn’t have to be everything.

*As usual, the video and images don’t belong to me. “Clean all the things!” is from Hyperbole and A Half, a damn good blog. 

Japanese Vs American Horror

While American horror has its gems, today the genre is about loud music, cheap jump scares, boring/simplistic/unlikeable characters, and every-villain-needs-a-backstory syndrome. If you want creeping suspense and atmosphere, Japanese horror dominates over basic, gory slashers.

The Media Junkie

In deciding a victory in this it’s necessary to understand all the components of a horror movie. There should be a distinction between horror movies and a new genre that I refer to as “torture porn”. Movies like Hostel and The Hills Have Eyes have little in terms of plot in exchange for gore, blood and violence. Those are mainly an American development and compete among themselves for the most demented slaughter. I for the most part exclude those in my analysis and center more on classics films.

Here is a breakdown of some elements that have become a staple of the genre. Though all these elements are rarely all packed in one movie there is not one I can think of that excludes any of these:

Psychotic Killer: Viewers may not know the origin or motive of the villain but for some reason One Missed Call(usually fully explained by the…

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Two Titles: “Let’s Be Cops” and “What If”

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Every once in a while, my boyfriend and I find ourselves together on a do-nothing day. Rain or shine, a good way to kill it is to go see a movie, and if we’re lucky, there will be a couple of films out that we are interested in. And if we are extra lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it), there isn’t anything else cheaper or more interesting going on.

This time, we saw Let’s Be Cops and What If (or, if it pleases you, The F Word), totally expecting to hate the former and at the very least like the latter. After all, Daniel Radcliffe is awesome, and he’s in an indie-esque romcom. I wanted to see if I could see him as anyone besides Harry Potter (an issue which, for the record, I didn’t face with Emma Watson post Hermione).

For Let’s Be Cops, I was expecting a spiritual sister of Identity Thief, a film which I viscerally detest with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns (see my list of most loathed romcom clichés and a potential future rant).

Surprisingly, I find more to talk about in Let’s Be Cops, and I’ll explain why.

The Plot(s)

As usual, spoilers ahoy.

Let’s Be Cops is a movie about two best friends (a self-identified loser and a barely self-aware, out-of-touch-with-reality loser) who are down on their luck and unsatisfied with their lots in life.

Their solution: “Let’s be cops!”

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…Okay, okay. This idea didn’t come from nowhere. Loser # 1 above (named Justin, though I forgot both characters names until the last third of the film) tries to pitch a video game idea about being a police officer to his jerky boss, who ignores him because Justin is a meek pushover and doesn’t sell the danger, realism, or fun of the game he wants to make.

His friend Ryan, or Loser #2, is an old, washed up football player who injured himself not in a game, but due to his own stupidity at a party. He is man-childish, and (in my personal opinion) an unlikeable, morally reprehensible idiot.

The two friends made a pact that if they hadn’t “made it big” by the time they hit 30, they’d leave big city LA and go back to small-town Ohio.

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Somehow, Justin managed to get real police uniforms and badges for his pitch, and upon confusing a masquerade party for a goofy, Halloween costume party, the two don the uniforms, show up, are sometimes regarded as real cops or their usual washout selves (very inconsistently, I’d like to add), leave dejected, and slowly discover on the street heading home that their “costumes” give them power and attention from chicks (with much contrivance and ham-fistedness).

Thus the solution: “Let’s be cops!”

“Hilarity” ensues in very over-the-top, The Hangover-esque, “haha boobs and farts” ways, while suspension of disbelief is chucked out the window right at the get-go. Then, later, there is a jarring shift in focus to realism; what police officers actually do and face on a frequent basis, and the broken glamour for the “protagonists,” who “grow” accordingly.

If you detect massive amounts of sarcasm in the above passage, don’t adjust your screen. You are correct.

Now for What If (with considerably fewer spoilers):

Daniel Radcliffe plays Wallace, a disenchanted med school drop out who is hung up on the abrupt and painful ending of his last relationship. He lives in the attic of his single-mom sister’s house, has a few good but oddball friends, and one night, he meets a girl named Chantry at a party he gets dragged along to by his friend Allan.

Chantry is Allan’s cousin, and works as an animator with great potential for growth. The two forge an immediate bond and become the best of friends, despite their individual hang-ups and Chantry’s already “in a relationship” status. As time goes on, Wallace feels more and more attraction to her, and suspects that she feels the same.

This really is a movie you should see to know the rest. It deals with love, friendship, unfaithfulness, and the trials of life and relationships.

Impressions, Opinions, and Conundrums

Let me start here with What If, as it is shorter and easier to pinpoint what I like and don’t like about it.

THE F WORD

The movie is very quirky and heartfelt; human. It’s not perfect (as a romcom or general story), but the people and their reactions to situations feel real. There are the dreaded “third act misunderstandings” that occur, and yes, if the characters sat down and talked them out calmly, they probably wouldn’t have happened. But at the same time, I could understand where characters were coming from, based on their present feelings and past situations. The conflicts felt more justified, and (spoiler here) the film did a great job of not putting Wallace or Chantry unfairly or overly “in the wrong.” After all, they got where they were as friends, as well as individuals, and what a lot of movies (and people) don’t seem to get is that misunderstandings are a two-way street. Wallace and Chantry do attempt to talk things out, even if it doesn’t go as smoothly as hoped.

Even when I disagreed with one character’s response to situations, I still found them understandable, if not decently relatable. For once, I wasn’t distracted or caught up by how stupid a situation or the characters were.

My only real complaint is that the main friends of Wallace and Chantry overstep their boundaries at one point later in the film, with no real impetus to do so, and seemed to think it would go well. But they were shown to be regretful for what they had caused and, while looking more flawed than before, were still funny and relatively likable.

THE F WORD

The characters are all flawed in various ways, but they feel like real people I would know. Weird, but nice, quirky, and dependable. Their small talk is goofy and awkward and even downright gross at times, but that never bothered me (again, I know a bunch of weird people).

The friendship and subsequent romance progressed well, torturing the characters appropriately while giving believable reasons as to why they wouldn’t just come out and shout their feelings on the rooftops. The comedy was very spot on. I also like that though the characters have opportunities to “cheat,” the writers didn’t make them just give in. Even when they came close to, say, kissing, Wallace and Chantry were clearly thinking about things and holding back.

It’s good to see passion doesn’t always make people act like they have brain-damage.

I like that the boyfriend/other man in this scenario, Ben, is not a jerk or conveniently dumpable third point of the love triangle (a la several Meg Ryan movies). Also, Daniel Radcliffe does a great job. I’m sad to say that his voice and accent made me kind of squint to see his new character at first, rather than Harry, but after a while, it felt more natural and different. And my boyfriend wasn’t distracted at all, so there’s that. I’m a weirdo, perhaps like those friends I mention 🙂

But yes, I like this movie a lot. It’s well acted, well written, and well shot. Everyone has believable chemistry. That’s about as thorough as I can get without spoiling major things. It’s not the industry-changing sort of good, but it does feel quite a bit smarter and less scripted than most romcom faire. Definitely worth a watch.

Now Let’s Be Cops, on the other hand…I’d recommend you go see it, but for a totally different reason.

Holy hell, what a train wreck.

This is a bad comedy. Not a “so bad it’s good” comedy, not black comedy, and certainly not “anti-humor” comedy. It almost makes you feel bad, because it’s clearly trying its damnedest and failing. Like a class clown that’s taken too many footballs to the head.

Precisely one joke made me laugh, and after the movie was over, I couldn’t remember for the life of me what it was. I think it was semi-subtle and had to do with tone, but that’s all. The rest of the jokes mainly fell into two categories: voluptuous women throwing themselves at men,

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and dumb and abusive displays of power,

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both usually for no real reason at all. Also, obligatory male nakedness.

Funny, if you’re a guy under the age of twelve, maybe.

It’s almost fascinating in how much this movie utterly fails. Fails at comedy, fails at realism, and even fails at the basics of good storytelling. I felt every agonizing minute of this damn thing; only getting invested (and cheering a bit) when the main characters were getting shot at.

If I’d had a watch, I’d have checked it. Repeatedly.

But how insulting and offensive is this thing, really?

Here’s the thing: bad people can be funny. They can also be relatable or likable, if done correctly. The keys to black comedy (or portraying morally grey characters, more specifically), for me, are: how are the characters’ personalities and actions framed, and do they receive sufficient rewards or consequences?

Those are the big issues I take with Identity Thief, which, again, I will elaborate on in the future.

You could make a story about impersonating a police officer funny; maybe even awesomely funny, if it was a short scene or well-written subplot. I’m not sure it could support a full movie in the first place, but we already have buddy cop movies for most comedic possibilities, and risks must be taken sometimes to give us stuff that’s new and interesting.

If not for the last third of the movie, I would be insulted by the over-glamourization of police life and the sheer ignorance of the struggles they face everyday trying to protect people, hyped up on display. Especially when both losers (Ryan in particular) are frequently more despicable than likable. Though Let’s Be Cops doesn’t really frame Ryan or Justin as being in the right, it does emphasize that they have fun, and don’t get caught, at the expense of others. And they clearly don’t think much about what they’re doing.

If not for the later thirds, I’d argue that Ryan, at least, has borderline psychopathy.

But then the movie goes from being stupid and padded to showing more realistic things, like a brief scene of policemen doing paperwork and more scenes of them and the losers getting shot at.

…Huh?

Even if the film is trying to go for some kind of message or big lesson the characters learn in the end, it’s jarring and makes no sense with how little suspension of disbelief is left intact by that point.

Let’s take account of a few things here:

Okay, so they show some cops filling out paperwork and talking about it, but when the characters check out a bunch of equipment to monitor a crime lord (which they don’t have a warrant for, so their evidence should be disregarded), how the hell did they get the numbers to clear that stuff?

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That’d be a lot of forms with information they cannot possibly have or pull out of their asses, to take home that high-tech gear.

For that matter, how did they get real uniforms? How did two cops pulling guns (real or not) out at each other in a restaurant not warrant a report?

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Some people did scream and duck, but afterwards just said, “Well, okay. It’s just cops business, I guess.”

How about when they told people on the sidewalk to freeze without any warrant? How were they driving around in a police car they got online with weird plates and never got noticed (except one point for contrivance alone)? How Ryan could drive on sidewalks or through a football field and never get noticed by or reported to a real officer?

The writers only did half of their damn research.

My biggest question comes halfway through the film, when Justin googles “impersonating an officer” and the subsequent punishments…

…Good on them for figuring that out, I guess, presumably weeks after they’ve been faffing about outside of work in police uniforms. But seriously, they only thought to look this up now? Justin, in particular, who is portrayed as the meek, semi-intelligent, goody-two-shoes of the two, who was apprehensive from the start, is just now looking up what he’s in for?

I don’t buy any of it! Not a single bit! And that might have been okay IF IT WAS FUNNY!

There is a “third act misunderstanding/liar revealed” in this story too (with Justin’s love interest), but it’s glossed over so quickly that I was kind of grateful.

But then!

Even after the boys end up in big trouble – get shot at, kidnapped, revealed to their new police friend as phonies, and somehow make it out alive – the movie barely treats them like they’ve learned anything at all. Sure, Ryan decides to go to the police academy and get a real, legit badge this time, but the ending scene of the movie pointlessly shows him still driving on sidewalks, abusing his power and being a jerk, all for a complete non-joke. So much for “growing up.”

To me, it looks more like he’s getting away with murder.

Justin learns to stand up for himself and be a man. He gets his game put into production and takes charge at his office. He also apologizes to his love interest, and is taken back so quickly that it made my stomach churn.

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I could understand her willing to slowly forgive him and have them start over as friends, completely honestly, but no. She takes him back, both rewarding his lying ways and becoming his end of the movie prize.

Lovely.

And of course, neither of them go to jail. Why? Because they backed up real cop guy in the final showdown.

I’d have liked it better if after the guy told them to leave (and told them badges and uniforms are something they have to earn! Right on!), they took off their fake uniforms and backed him up anyway. A sort of civilian justice coming to help out the force. Nope! By refusing to drop their uniforms (their act, if you think of it metaphorically), even in the midst of great danger to all of these people, they dishonor the uniforms they did not earn even more.

The movie tries to make it seem like they grew and learned, but it was barely there. They sacrificed the message for bad, unfunny jokes that actually detracted from the characters. It was such colossal fail that, even though I know I’m giving this film more thought and credit than it probably deserves, I’m just continually baffled by its confused, mis-matched ambitions and the sheer effort of its laziness.

It’s not like Identity Thief, and I didn’t hate it as much as that film. I’m not quite sure how angry I should be, because I’m too busy wondering what the hell I just watched.

Final Thoughts

As I write this, Let’s Be Cops has an 18% score on  Rotten Tomatoes, and it has made over $30,000,000 at the box offices, easily making up for its budget of $17,000,000. What If has a 70% score and a box office of over $2,000,000 (with a budget I couldn’t find record of). To be fair, Rotten Tomatoes is not the best or even the final word on a film’s standing in the critical or general audience communities.

Let’s Be Cops is a mess, which might actually elevate it a bit above your typical “low-hanging fruit” comedy flick. It clearly had some ambitions and good intentions, but came up with a botched delivery, revealing little understanding of what it wanted to say. What If is more emotionally intelligent and complex, but with the seemingly lower ambitions of trying to tell “just another love story.” Obviously, a lot of people went to go see both movies, whether they ultimately did or didn’t like them. But Let’s Be Cops has garnered a strong response (in box office and general bile from critics).

That’s why I ponder: what does it say about our current cultural climate, that we keep getting and going to movies like this, despite overwhelmingly negative critical bashing?

My only conclusion is that The Hangover style of humor, however well it’s executed, is incredibly easy to duplicate. It’s probably not going away any time soon.

*All images to their respective owners. None of these shots or images belong to me. 

 

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Movies, media, and what make them MASSIVE.

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