08 10 / 2012
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30 9 / 2012
TW: child logic.
does anyone else find it obnoxious when a gay guy is tOO gay?
like ‘GAY PRIDE! <333 NO H8! <33333333 Gaga! <3333 Look at my cute outfits and suspenders and bow ties! <3333333333333333 rAINBOWS’
And you can’t be “too” an orientation. Seriously, do you read?
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08 6 / 2012
We get it, you’re different, but the Avengers was still awesome.
One of the most memorable scenes in Marvel’s The Avengers featured heroes Hulk and Thor working together to take down a large dragon like creature attempting to destroy Manhattan. Earlier in the film Hulk and Thor were locked in battle with one another after Bruce Banner had transformed into the mindless green rage monster known as The Hulk. Thor and the rest of the Avengers team’s fear that Bruce Banner will turn and pose a threat to their safety as the Hulk is a pretty substantial thought point; with that in mind, the audience can’t help but wonder why The Hulk suddenly seems to have so much control during the final battle as he battles with Thor atop the large flying enemy. As Thor and Hulk win out, and the flying invader comes crashing down, the two walk forward and pause looking over the audience’s head for a moment. This is when the audience really starts to wonder why Hulk is only attacking the enemy and seems to pose no threat to his fellow Avengers. Before the thought is even complete however, Hulk casually punches Thor hard enough to lift him off his feet and off the screen. At the midnight showing, the audience exploded with laughter.
This is the brilliance of Joss Whedon’s Avengers film; it gave the people what they want. Super Hero movies were going through a rough patch with the disappointing finales to the X-Men and Spider Man series, but with half a dozen films, and several more on the way, the Avengers series has given the genre its dignity back. (And the makers were handsomely rewarded at the box office.) The Avengers hasn’t escaped a fair share of rough critiques. Some fans found the story lacking, others the theme, and of course the devoted comic loyalists who loudly point out even the slightest difference between the comic heroes and their big screen counter parts. While occasionally obnoxious, these criticisms are all fair. Everyone has a different idea of what they want in a Super Hero movie (or any movie for that matter), and everyone is entitled to cast judgment upon a movie’s quality.
One type of criticism however needs to end forever. Those who point out proudly that the Avengers “isn’t that good” need to stop it. No one is saying it’s the next Schindler’s list, or Citizen Cane. If you want to point out plot holes (Thor coming back even though the bridge was destroyed), or weak acting (looking at you Samuel L. Jackson), that’s totally fine, but don’t pretend like people are calling Avengers the most cinematically perfect film in existence just so you have an excuse to contradict all your friends that have seen it multiple times and can’t stop posting about how awesome it is. If you want to make them feel bad just tell them Iron Man 3 has a new director and it’s not Joss Whedon, but responding to phony praise, especially when there is so much available to actually fairly criticize about the movie (the first forty minutes for example) is just beyond annoying.
25 5 / 2012
New music doesn’t suck.
The above picture is one that’s been floating around Facebook in many different forms, usually sampling the lyrics from a Led Zeppelin song (or another classic rock band), and a current top-40 hit. The implication being made is clear enough, contemporary music doesn’t come close to matching the level of past classics; or more simply, new music sucks. While the way in which the above picture makes the argument is obviously unsound (it could easily be countered with a sampling of Rolling in the Deep by Adele, and Dyer Maker by Led Zeppelin), is it fair to say that older music is better?
It’s not too difficult to understand why many might feel new music doesn’t live up to the standard of its predecessors’. Different aspects of the music industry have changed dramatically since Led Zeppelin’s day. Listeners can now download individual tracks online, listen to singles on Youtube, and make their own playlists to listen to on mp3 players. Besides making it extremely convenient for music lovers to listen to their favorite songs, it’s also made it very easy to quickly see what songs are going to be popular. Complete albums aren’t emphasized as much as singles, which, when coupled with the vast consolidation of radio stations, has led to a lot of repetition on the radio, particularly top-40 stations.
Access to a wider range of music also gives aspiring musicians a lot more people to emulate. While on the surface it may sound like that should lead to more unique music, that theory falls apart when you consider that the access to a wider range of music is not exclusive to up and coming artists. Led Zeppelin emulated (stole) a lot of their best music from American blues artists, but if you weren’t in the right geographical area to be a part of the blues scene at that time, you might not have heard the original songs that the music of Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, or the Beatles was based off of. It’s a little easier to know Coldplay’s music is heavily influenced by U2 when all of U2’s work is available to download off Itunes, and listen to on Youtube. While all of the above factors help explain why music might seem stale, or repetitive, is that really the same as saying old music is better? Is it fair to throw all new music under the bus?
“It’s a cop out,” says Dallas Osborn, weeknight DJ at Bay Area alternative station Live 105.3; “…an unfortunate, yet widely accepted mindset…you don’t like Top 40, welcome to the club…your parents likely weren’t down with everything that was being released in their era either.” And that’s really the big not-so-secret, secret. Mainstream music didn’t become unpopular over the last couple of years. “Not everyone has enjoyed what’s considered ‘mainstream’ for decades.” There are people in every generation that think the generation before them had the best music.
So why is it that when you look through your parent’s album collection they have classic after classic? The answer to that is simple enough: pick your least favorite popular song right now, what are the odds you’re going to own that song in twenty years? It’s not that time has a way of filtering out the bad music of yesteryear, it’s that time keeps it out of your face. You might stumble upon some truly terrible music in your parent’s collection that they loved, but all their friends hated. But you probably wont hear that music on the radio or in a movie trailer too often.
Of course the problem of overexposure to music might be one that the last generation didn’t have deal with, at least not in so many different mediums. If you’re one of those people that can’t stand the top 40 radio playlist, where do you find new music? Dallas has a pretty simple suggestion, “hit up last.fm or Pandora, type in the name of an artist from the past decade that you like…and take ten minutes of your time to listen.” If you’re sick of hearing the same songs over and over find other ways to get new music, but don’t just throw all new music under the bus; not all new music sucks.
22 5 / 2012
The Simpsons don’t live in Oregon.
In a recent interview, Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening revealed that the name of the Simpson family’s hometown, Springfield, was inspirited by a city in Groening’s home state of Oregon. This probably didn’t come as much of a surprise to Simpsons devotees. In a past interview, Groening had stated that several character names were based off of street names in Oregon (apparently there is a Flanders street somewhere). The story should have been finished there. Groening reveals a semi-interesting fact about where the name came from, people say it’s interesting and move on. But it didn’t.
Several articles picked up the story and ran with variations of the headline “Simpsons’ Springfield Location Revealed!” What of course followed were superbly written articles with such definitely-not-cliché things like putting a “drum roll” in before the reveal. And of course, headline-grazing readers filled comments sections with gems like “so they’ve been in Oregon this whole time!” or “But Tennessee has a Springfield and a Shelbyville!”
For those who read Groening’s complete interview with Smithsonian magazine, it would have become quite clear that the Simpsons don’t simply reside in Oregon. Groening stated that he watched the show Father Knows Best, which was based in a town called Springfield. He assumed it was the town near his own home in Oregon. When he realized it was just a random name, he decided to use that name for The Simpsons because he wanted everyone to think that the Simpsons were from their own Springfield. “This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield. And they do.” Groening continued, “whenever people say it’s Springfield, Ohio, or Massachusetts or wherever I always go, ‘yup that’s right.’”
This really captures the whole point of The Simpsons. The Simpsons was spawned out of the 80s decade of television. Shows like The Cosbys would show families working together and, as Bart once put it, “tackling issues.” The point of the Simpsons isn’t to be the family that everyone wants to be, it’s supposed to be the family everyone is. Not all families are perfect; parents fight, families ignore issues and problems, and kids end up in, as Lisa once said, “every kind of therapy.” Most families are not in fact the beacons of perfection that were the Waltons or the Cosbys.
The Simpsons were a counter to the image of the perfect, wholesome American family. They were so much the antonym of family bliss, it prompted then President of the United States George H. W. Bush to proclaim that he “want[ed] more families like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.” The point of the Simpsons isn’t to exist in one Springfield and just be a funny family, it’s to exist in all of America, and give a warped, and entertaining view, of that culture.
21 5 / 2012
In defense of minimalism.
The rise of modern American cinema is said to have begun when D.W. Griffith brought his acting troupe to shoot in a vacant lot in Hollywood California, in 1910. It took only six years for the first ever sequel to be released. Looking to cash in on the success of Griffith’s controversial film The Birth of a Nation, Thomas Dixon Jr. released The Fall of a Nation, and in doing so created a trend of sequels, prequels, trilogies, and film series that has not just survived to the modern day, but thrived, and is arguable the dominant theme in contemporary mainstream American cinema.
The recently released Avengers movie, which was the accumulation of five other Marvel superhero movies, demonstrates a remarkable difference from the aforementioned Nation film series. Black and white, and silent, has been replaced by captivating colors, not a single quite moment, and visual imagery stunning enough for three dimensions. With one of the biggest releases since the equally visually based film Avatar, Avengers is reinforcing the common belief that the success of big budget movie series will push the smaller films aside. Movies have a humble and silent origin, but to many, the future is big and loud, and often has a sequel.
Mainstream video games aren’t much different. Like movies, video games have a humble origin, with bits in the single digits. Atari’s 1979 hit Adventure is considered to be the first ever action-adventure game. The game featured 8-bits, and three colorful dragons. Released on Christmas, and still credited with pioneering video game features like being able to “continue” a game, and Easter Eggs, Adventure was a hit, and considered a classic.
The difference between Adventure, and the action-adventure video games of the day is about as remarkable as the difference between the Avengers, and Birth of a Nation. Games like Drake’s Fortune, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, or Halo, are filled with vibrant colors, beautifully created landscapes, and long cinema-style plots, with each featuring at least two sequels. Like big series films, big series video games are dominating the mainstream of modern gaming. The success of games like Call of Duty, and movies like Avenges ensures that this theme is not soon to change. The big budget, big ticket, long running series pieces aren’t going anywhere.
Although it would be hard to tell by looking at the sales numbers, not everyone loves these big gaming and film epics. Call of Duty’s latest addition to the series, Modern Warfare 3, has received plenty of critical acclaim, but a large amount of fan discontent, one fan saying, “we’re not interested in being sold the same game year after year.” Avengers, which faired equally well with most movie goers, still incurred some fan wrath: “Typical action sequel with no plot, no real character development, but a lot of pretty lights to keep the fanboys happy.” The next Call of Duty will be released this November, and the next Avengers film is scheduled for a 2015 release, with at least a couple Marvel movies in between. Do those who don’t care for the big budget series have any hope for diversity within the mainstream of their mediums?
Last March video game director, Jenova Chen, and producer Robin Hunicke released Journey exclusively onto the PlayStation store. The minimalist game features a variety of simple landscapes where the main character, a single robbed figure, makes it’s way toward a beacon of light. When massive multiplayer online game types are the trend, and game mics are a must have, Journey veers off in a completely different direction. The entire campaign can be played online with another person, but the catch is the other player is completely anonymous, and the only way to communicate is through signals within the game. Receiving spectacular reviews, and becoming the highest selling downloadable game from the PlayStation store, Journey is an instant classic. Diverging completely from the Call of Duty type games, Journey has created it’s own style, and managed to make it successful.
The Academy Award for best picture last year went to the 2011 limited release film The Artist. The film, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, and produced by Thomas Langmann, has the distinction of being the first black and white film to win since Schindler’s List in 1994, and the first silent film since Wings from 1924. The movie tells a romantic story with black and white era Hollywood as its backdrop. With a budget of only $15 million (The Avengers’ was $220 million), it made well over a hundred million dollars, and became the talk of its backdrop.
Big series movies and video games aren’t going anyway. They sell well, and most people go with the flow and buy them, or see them; and let’s face it, they’re usually pretty darn entertaining. Little movies, and independent games have their place though; recent examples have shown that breaking the commercial mold can still lead to commercial success. Hopefully the achievements of Journey and the Artist will lead to a more diversified mainstream in both mediums. Until then, critics and fans agree, there will always be a place within gaming and cinema for artists who go against the grain.
17 5 / 2012
Louis’ Big Gamble: how Louis CK bet on the audience and won.
Louie is sitting at a kitchen table with a pile of vegetables in front of him. “Catch me!” his wife says, “and I’ll suck your dick.” This was the closest Louis CK got to really doing what he would describe as an “honest” sitcom. Unfortunately, the rest of the scene involved a cute, and even semi-romantic chase around the kitchen table. Louie failed to catch his wife, and anyone’s attention. After one season, Lucky Louie was cancelled.
On a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, host Terry Gross described Louis CK as, if nothing else, “honest;” that’s not the first time someone has called Louis’ work honest, and that’s no accident. From his early writing days on the Chris Rock Show (for which he was nominated for an Emmy) to his industry loved stand-up specials, Louis CK has strived to bring a sense of reality to his work. This attitude and willingness to confess his inner feelings about the most uncomfortable subject matter for a good laugh has given Louis a loyal fan base, and made him beloved by his peers.
It’s surprised no one to hear that Louis was going to get his own sitcom, on HBO no less. Everyone is looking for the next Everybody Loves Raymond, and HBO thought they were cashing in with Louis unique sense of humor. The final result, however, was disappointing to say the least. While its raunchy subject matter made network sitcoms look tame, you could almost hear the whispers of people in the background trying to convince Louie to give episodes a romantic moment or two, or at least a happy ending. Louis wanted to create an honest sitcom, but Lucky Louie wasn’t it.
This has been the challenge for sitcom writers since the dawn of time. Networks want programming that will have audiences laughing along saying, “that’s just like my dad!” or “my friends do the same thing,” or, perhaps best of all, “that’s just like me!” Networks want fans to relate to their shows. Did you really think it’s a coincidence that every show’s main characters match the target demographic? This is hardly an industry secret. Every season audiences are indulged with a rewrite of a bunch of 20-somethings living in New York or a typical American family. And, to top off all this clichéd beauty, networks also insist on keeping material fresh. Being a TV writer is often the difficult job of taking something that’s been done a million and one times and making the million and second original and interesting.
So why are writers forced into this exercise in monotony? Producers don’t trust audiences. Similar to the way newspapers are written to a 5th grade level (and don’t you feel smart for reading it everyday?), TV shows are written for the lazy thinker and the Internet surfer. Audience members are expected to be either so terrified of change that they can’t take anything outside the same rehashed plot lines, or so distracted by the internet around them that they can’t process anything but the life and times of the Ted Mosbys of the fictional world. In short, the golden rule for mainstream TV writing: the audience is not to be trusted.
Louis CK decided to break that rule with his FX sitcom Louie. Where HBO’s Lucky Louie featured a married Louie, with a cute wife, Louie is based around a divorced single parent Louie, who has one female friend that seemingly has zero interest in him. Louie is honesty. It has complex characters, painfully awkward plot lines, embarrassing circumstances that find reality in their uniqueness and being borderline unbelievable. Where a tender moment with kids on a different sitcom might feature a parent sitting a child down for a life lesson, on Louie it’s a dad rocking out to his favorite Who song in the car, and trying to getting his young daughter to begrudgingly join along. That’s Louis’ big gamble. He trusts that the audience doesn’t really think parents are a bunch of lesson machines that sit their kids down once a week and try to teach them things with the kids dutifully nodding along. He thinks parents are adults who have their own likes and lives and interests, and sometimes they try to share that with their kids. Not since The Simpsons tongue-in-cheeked the unofficial title of the show as “Not The Cosby’s,” has a sitcom so embraced it’s attempt at reality over pleasant familiarity.
Louis’ gamble paid off. Louie is a hit on FX, with two seasons under its belt and a third scheduled to start again this June. While it’s certainly too soon to predict Louie starting any trends with other networks and sitcoms putting more trust into their audience, it’s certainly refreshing to see at least one. Even more refreshing is seeing that trust justified.