Friday, December 24, 2010

Keep Christ in Christopher

It's that time of year again, folks. The time when people celebrate without keeping in mind the man who made it all possible. They sign their names to their $200 gifts with not so much as a thought to their blasphemy. A sin so big, it's a wonder why the "God hates fags" people aren't all over it.

Yes, folks, I'm talking about Christophers.

Not all Christophers, mind you. In fact, "Christopher" is a perfectly fine person and I and the Lord have no beef with him. I'm talking about all of you Chris-es.

You know who you are. You remove the second half of your name because it's "too long" or "not cool" or "confuses people with its 'P-H means F'" sound. Well nobody said life would be easy for you.
When you write your name on that Christmas gift, you're signing a contract with God. You're saying that you agree to live by his rules and love him for all eternity. By shortening it to "Chris" you might as well be wiping your poo away with that contract. God forgive me for that language.

And then we have the most offensive naming of all; Topher Grace. Christopher Grace, despite his last name, hates the Lord so much that he wanted to remove as much of Jesus' name as possible from his own without having to resort to the questionable "Opher Grace."
Well, when Christopher Grace is burning in Hell, maybe he and Satan can get together and make a new TV show called "That 1070 Degrees Show"! Lol!

I added a visual aide in case some of you didn't get it. I'm also not sure if Topher Grace eats babies, but I wouldn't put it past him since he hates Jesus so much.

And don't even get me started on "Christina." If Jesus wanted to have a girl's name, he would have come to Earth as "Juanita" or something.

So this CHRISTmas season, remember to pray for all the Chrises and Tophers out there who deny Jesus in their daily lives by using this sinful name. I hope everyone has MERRY AMERICAN CHRISTMAS, and God Bless!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How I Know "Red Riding Hood" Will Suck Based on the Poster Alone

I don't know if you've seen this little beauty in the cineplex around town. I have, and it enrages me every time I walk by it. Why? What causes this near-embolism every time I glance up at this corporate misstep? Well, I'm glad you asked. Let's break it down.

Our first red flag (heh) is the scrawl at the top: "From the Director of Twilight." Fucking fantastic. Somewhere along the line, legions of teenage girls convinced this woman and the movie studio behind her that she had any talent at all. Well, Miss Hardwicke, you moat creature, they're mistaken. "Twilight" did well because the main character, a vacant slate who is pined after by two young men who would never find interest in someone so boring, comes with the inhuman ability to have the reader's/viewer's wants and needs projected onto her. She is wish-fulfillment. Ask any 38-year-old single mom. Saying your movie is made by the director of Twilight is akin to telling someone your car is built by an American car company. It's technically a car, but that doesn't make it interesting or competently made in the least.

Number two: Believe the legend. One of the earliest versions is the Little Red Riding Hood story was in a book called "Tales of Mother Goose." Call me crazy, but I think appearing in Mother Goose makes you a fairy tale, which is decidedly different from a legend. King Arthur is a fucking legend. Sleepy Hollow is a legend. It's right there in the title! The Brothers Grimm, whom you might remember from FAIRY TALES such as "The Little Mermaid" and "Rumpelstiltskin" said that a legend was a "historically grounded" folktale. When scientists discover the fossil of a wolf wearing pajamas we'll talk. In the meantime, stop calling this a legend. That's like me calling my blog a "peer-reviewed scholarly document."

This brings us to the image itself. we have dreary woods and a bright red cloak. Not only does this bring flashes of stilted, wooden, dreary "Twilight" dialogue, but also the imagery of another fantastic Hollywood triumph, "the Village," by M. Night Shyamalan. Is that fair? The "Riding Hood" story has been around forever, with its roots in "The Bible and other fantastic stories,"* so Shyamalan could have taken cues from that and transplanted them into his story. That way it's just two different auteurs drawing from the same inspiration, right? Well, I don't want to give either of these terrible directors the benefit of the doubt, so Shyamalan is stealing and Treebeard up there is just unoriginal.

Now we have the logo, presented in the same stunning way as the title to "300." Blood spatters; is there anything they can't artificially hype up?

That was a quick point, wasn't it?

And at last, we have "Who's afraid?" That's not a bad tagline. It teases the audience with the appearance of the Big Bad Wolf (who is probably a glistening werewolf in this adaptation) and the adventure that will ensue. "Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf," indeed. Tra la la la la.

Wait. That's not from the Riding Hood story. That's from the Three Little Pigs. No, not the character of the Wolf, but that line. That lyric that is supposed to be the clincher for the whole film is stolen from a song featured in a 1933 Disney cartoon! They can't even keep their source material straight.

I don't know about you all, but I'll be in line to see this movie come March so I can make wolf shadow puppets on the screen. I like to bring a little realism to the movies.

* Not true. I just wanted to take an easy swipe at the Bible.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Demi Lovato is in rehab

I really should have posted this a week ago, but I had no idea who she was then. Well, this should be all the proof you need to know that my last article was 100% accurate.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I love the Disney Channel.

Believe it or not, there was once a time in American pop culture when Disney was the gold standard for a brand. They put out high quality programming, movies, products, and even had a theme park that didn't require you to sell your children to sweat shops to visit. But, as we all know, when you're at the top there's only one place to go, and it ain't a plateau.
In the Disney Channel's infancy it was actually a pay channel like HBO or Showtime. Unfortunately this required them to use effort or people would stop paying for them. It ran shows like "Under the Umbrella Tree" and "Dumbo's Circus" and Mickey Mouse even taught you how to do aerobics.
(Mousercise pics from

Yeah. You're seeing that correctly. That's someone dressed as Donald Duck standing in close proximity to a woman (who is not a young Rue McClanahan) who is wearing leg warmers. And I'm assuming he knows he's in front of a camera. Can you imagine the preparation he must have to put himself through every morning to go to work? Not stretching, but convincing himself that life is still worth living? Plus, I can't imagine Donald wouldn't have a visible erection wearing no pants and being around that many women in tights. Why is he dressed like a sailor even when he's doing warm-ups?

(Not the same person)

At any rate, at some point Disney decided that this was not a quick enough way to bring down western civilization and they became a basic cable channel, bringing you such quality programming as "Hannah Montana" "That's So Raven!" and "The Jonas Brothers Fellate the Neighbors."

This is the Disney Channel you are familiar with. The Disney Channel that has since poisoned every industry from music to TV to clothing to movies to cooking (probably). The Disney Channel that I love.

That's right. I fucking love it. Why, you might ask? Because of a simple theory I have that has thus far proven to be true. Disney gets genetically perfect kids, exploits them for all they're worth, and kicks them to the curb once puberty sets in. Sound about right? Well, let's explore why it's so fantastic together.

Step 1: You're hired!... As a bit player of a currently hot show.

Disney likes to test the waters. Sure, your fourteen-year-old genes might make people born with flippers for arms wish they had a third of your looks. Sure, you may have broken up a neighbor's marriage because the bored husband was taking pictures of you through the curtains, but are you talentless yet pretty enough to carry your own show? Disney will shoehorn you into the background of a currently running TV show to see how well you can follow directions and appeal to the market before the next Demi Lovato becomes the next Hilary Duff. If you're vaguely ethnic, even better. Vaguely ethnic pretty young people appeal to young ethnic kids who are looking for role models and young white kids who want to frustrate their parents.

(I can't believe you got your own franchise either.)

Step 2: Your very own show!

Congratulations! Disney was probably convinced you deserve your own show because you're thin and pretty and can kind of sing! Good for you! Are you ready to churn out CDs to children whose parents will soon lose their minds by listening to your interpretation of "Let's Get Together" over and over again? Hooray! Let's give you a name that sounds kind of like yours and put you in a familiar location and make it completely wacky. Like in middle school, but you're secretly an international rock star! Or in middle school, but you're a witch! Or in middle school, but you can see the future! That's so interesting! That's so awesome! That's so Raven! Now, we're only going to make three seasons of your show. During those three seasons there will be no character development at all. Everyone must stay the way there are and have one character trait. We don't know how to develop people with more traits than that. Characters who we write as your best friends may not have the appeal we need, so we might fire them in the middle of a season, so continuity is a big no-no. Finally, we're only going to give you three seasons because after that our studies show that you n longer have that innocent look and parents will be looking for the next thing to keep their kids sheltered. But don't worry, we'll have a huge theatrical movie that will cap off the series, although almost every secondary character will be missing and it'll be focused on you and a far-off location and a love interest. But you'll get to sing all the music for the soundtrack and this will launch your music career, which we'll manage.

Step 3: Life A.D. (After Disney)

Now that you're too old for TV appeal, we'll keep churning out your CDs until the next thing on the Disney Channel usurps you. That'll be good for about six months. Meanwhile we'll rerun your show for the next five years, gaining any cash from residual marketing and interest. You may feel that you're getting a bit too old for Disney now. Instead of letting you live in obscurity with the money you don't deserve, we're going to keep whoring you out like the cash cow you are. You'll be 26 and still playing a 15 year old, but we won't tell anyone.
You may also be noticing things about your persona now. You're barely 18 now and the media is starting to sexualize you. That tends to happen when genetically perfect children grow up and blossom. You're a hottie. But don't let anyone know. Your nightclub antics are starting to catch up with you. All that cocaine might be good for your figure, but parents tend to frown on that kind of thing. That's fine, but expect us to distance ourselves from you as soon as this happens. If you're still making money for us in "High School Musical 7: The Community College Years," we'll put out a statement of support and let you off with a warning. Next time you're on your own.

4. Ok, ok we get it.

You want to move on. You don't want to be perceived as another kiddie Disney princess, so you'll be looking for breakout roles outside the company. Your career with us has come to a halt. You're tried to explore other things, but they're just not successful. It's almost as if you never had the talent we told you you had. Like all you had going for you was marketability and good looks. Like the only reason you're still relevant is because men just wanted you to turn 18 so they could jerk off without the tinge of guilt. But fine, get out of here. Don't try to come back. But somehow, despite your lack of talent and range, you really want some work that will make people take you as a serious actress and not just someone who could do a double take in a school gym.

5. You're an adult.

So, doesn't it feel good to be away from Disney? What a bunch of assholes. But hey, you're pretty and talented. You're signed with us now. You have this drive to be considered a serious actress even though you don't have the chops for it. And you're desperate to stand apart from that cute role that got you famous. What would be the logical ting for a pretty young girl who wants to be seen as an adult and has been lusted after for years?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fat Guys Hate the Beach

There's always pressure when you come back from a long hiatus to write a big, long, epic entry. As if you've been away this whole time planning your spectacular reemergence like some kind of Christ simile.
"He returned to his blog like Jesus returned to Earth."

That was awful. I apologize. Not for the comparison, but for how bad it was.
At any rate, I haven't done that. No planning, no big hoorah. Instead I'm going to make this as awkward as possible for the both of us. That way I set expectations very low for you all.

So what the hell has been going on? Well, in the last couple months I moved to New York. Kind of a big deal, considering I lived in backwoods Pensacola before this. It's a complete 180. And I like it.

There's a lot to do in the city, obviously. There are restaurants, museums, shows, landmarks, homeless people doing filthy/impressive (often at the same time) things on the subway, everything!
Florida's got the beach. I don't know if you know this, but fat guys hate the beach. I had to reread that sentence to make sure I didn't leave off the "H" in hate. That would be unfortunate. And hilarious.

Fat guys hate the beach for several reasons. The first is the obvious. Nobody goes to the beach to see and eclipse as you pass by them, blocking out the sun. They want to see other good-looking people, like in the movies. Fat guys get something good out of this deal though. If there's ever a homicidal killer on the loose, only skinny attractive people get the axe (despite our inability to run). Fair trade, I think.

Reason number two? The t-shirt. Because we feel shame because of the girth, we keep a t-shirt on. This does not hide the girth, but instead accentuates it. Especially when we go into the water. Ever go to a wet t-shirt contest? You know the feeling the women have when they get home? Imagine that feeling amplified and present the whole time. With more ice cream.

Reason number three is because we have to walk around with an erection as we look at all of the women we'll never have sex with. Enjoy that mental image.

Anyway, I'm not missing much being away from the beach. In fact, people might sense that it's much nicer there, though they're not quite sure why. But we know, don't we?

Feeling awkward yet? Good. Back to New York.

It's awesome. Plain and simple. All those comedians who say "I'm happy to be back in the BEST CITY ON EARTH!" and get a raucous response from the crowd? They're not kidding. And I've only been here a week. Image all the cool illegal stuff I don't know about yet.

Plus, I get to wear a jacket more often and trick people into thinking I'm more attractive. Ladies?

PS- Hopefully we'll have another Multipass that we recorded about a month ago up soon.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Are we big enough to warrant a podcast?

Aw, who cares? We started one anyway.

Hey everyone, I'm Thom and I'll be producing and co-hosting The Multipass. David and I will be bringing you general geek info-tainment once a week, or we'll try to at least. Check out our awesome podcast player on the right side of the blog over there (give it a second to load up after you press play) and please feel free to subscribe to the podcast with iTunes absolutely free of charge.

Or follow the podcast at:

And follow us on twitter @:

This week on The Multipass , David and I shoot the shit about cars lighting on fire and working at a strip joint (not what you think). We review Toy Story 3 and share our thoughts regarding all of the new shit presented at E3 this year. We wrap it up with tales of secret drinking, porno, and spooky films involving a thing and one Mr. Heston. Featuring music from Panthertronius Tron, JVNGL, Mas O Menos, and Paul the P Funk Fresh. All music is copywritten and used with permission from the artists.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Problems with the "Lost" finale

Note: This is kind of a knee-jerk reaction. I know that. It's not going to be completely coherent. Bear with me.

You were so close. So, so close.
You almost had a great show all the way through. You shocked us, you entertained us, you made us feel for the characters.
Missed it by that much.

Here's why;

1. Religious heavy-handedness

Jack's entry into the all-inclusive non-denominational church immediately raised a flag. Everyone had been acting very strangely, and when we saw that casket, we knew something was about to go down. Then we saw Jack's dad, realized everyone was dead, they were in heaven/purgatory without ever quite saying it, etc. The icing on the cake was the name of Jack's father--Christian Shepard--guiding them all to the bright light. It was just too much. I wanted to groan.
The spiritual theme has always been present in Lost. Locke embodied it for years, until he died, of course. Then Jack took up the mantle. Jacob hung around to give us the religious vibe in Locke's absence. I don't mind that the "man of science" was wrong in the end. I was just a bit disappointed that they went for a safe, Jesus-loves-everyone ending. It reeked of cheese and frankly I thought they deserved more. The whole scene still feels surreal to me. Why is that? Well...

2. Mysticism vs. Realism

The Island, post-season 1, opened us to a world of mysticism. We had the Smoke Monster, the healing properties of the island, destiny, time travel, Jacob, etc. etc. The Island was a wonderful place where special things happened. They were trapped there and it was a stark difference from everyday life. Before the island, the survivors were criminals, doctors, musicians, fast food workers. They were normal people. Slowly, The Island transformed their world into something fantastic. Then the flash-sideways grounded us again. We saw the familiar characters behaving in everyday ways. They still had struggles and they were still interesting despite the fact that they no longer had the mystical Island juju to help them. There was no Jacob. However, in the final moments of Lost we find out that the whole "realistic" world is a construct. It means nothing. It was undone. All of the new relationships and redemptions we witnessed meant nothing at all. They were all dead. Who cares? Lost had pulled the rug out from under us before with storytelling methods like the flash forward, but I had never felt betrayed or like I had wasted my time. I liked the flash sideways. It helped me feel like these characters, though they may be dead in the "real" timeline, might have a shot after all. But nope. The survivors left behind a lot of kids they'll never see again; Jin, Sawyer, and Michael all had children that are now abandoned. They'll never see them again. And the flash sideways world, where they could have addressed that, suddenly doesn't matter at all. Speaking of kids--

3. David

Jack's son in the flash-sideways was something of an enigma. We didn't know where he came from til the final episode, we don't know what happened to him after Locke "woke up," and we never find out. Since the flash sideways is a construct, it's possible that Jack created him as a son that he could use to be the father he always wanted. But it that's true, then that means Jack unconsciously has some kind of reign in that construct. So Jack's unconscious mind put him in a relationship with Juliet. Does that go against any kind of real emotion the characters had in the main timeline? we saw there that Jack and Kate wound up together, and so did Juliet and Sawyer. They were very happy, seemingly. The flash-sideways undoes all of that. It negates it. It seems less real than it was. It cheapens the relationships that we cared about over six seasons.

4. No finality in the real world

One huge mistake they made in the final season was showing us what happened in the purgatory world. There was closure there. Everything was tied up in a neat little bow and the white light bathed us all and we felt really good about it.
But who cares? None of it actually happened. I didn't care at all about that world by the time it ended. I wanted to know about the real world. What happened to Claire and Richard and Sawyer and Miles? How did Hurley and Ben get Desmond home? Those are the real questions. Those are what mattered. The focus was on the wrong timeline.

5. Negation of the flash-sideways

Obviously I mentioned this above. We spent a whole season redeeming characters (Sayid, Jin, Ben) and helping them learn and discover themselves (Locke, Jack). There was some wonderful character development. Jin and Sun were together despite the oppressive nature of Mr. Paik. Sayid saved Nadia, just like he always wanted to do, but at the same time he learned to move on from her. Ben looked like he was going to have a happy future with Rousseau and Alex. Jack accepted that there was room for faith in his life and Locke realized that faith wasn't everything. These were all the lessons that they should have learned in the real world. This timeline was what they needed. It was what the audience needed. In those last few minutes we realize that none of this matters because the characters were all dead when it happened. They never learned these things in life. They never got to grow from their self-discovery. They never got to live life their way if The Island and Jacob had never interfered. More importantly, the audience never got closure. What's the point of having your characters redeemed when it no longer matters?

6. The Smoke Monster

The Big Bad of season six was the Man in Black. The Smoke Monster. We were told that The Island was his prison and he could never leave. If he did, the world would be ruined.
But that's it.
At the halfway point, the Man in Black was shot and unceremoniously tossed off a cliff. Bu we never really saw the extent of his power. It never really felt like the world was in danger. We needed to see what he was going to do when he escaped. We need to know that Jacob wasn't lying this whole time. We got none of that. The fight was great, but it ended too soon.

Lost seems to have fallen into a couple simple traps; we never saw any real threat in the villain, and they failed to realize what their audience needed. These simple things would have saved us a lot of frustration... or at least it would have saved me a lot of frustration. The finale wasn't even bad. 80% of it was fantastic. I loved Ben's redemption. I loved the final shot. I loved seeing (almost) everyone again. I just wish it would have meant something tangible.

Monday, April 19, 2010

For the Love of the Game

I told myself that I wasn't experienced enough to write this yet, and I might be right, but it's something that has been in my head over the last few days.

Roger Ebert is a man I really admire in personal, professional, and intellectual aspects. He's a very smart man and is synonymous with movies in the same way Spielberg and Scorsese are. And for good reason. His makes his point articulately, usually spinning some kind of story through his reviews. He gives credence to the phrase "art criticism is art."
Recently Ebert wrote a blog in which he expounded on his claim that video games are not art. Not only are they not art, but "video games can never be art."
Obviously this enraged some gamers who, as Ebert was quick to point out, are "intensely concerned" that their hobbies be considered art.

Ebert was right in many ways. Obviously he is not an avid gamer, and some of the people posting on his blog say that he is "too old" to appreciate video games. Age clearly doesn't factor too much, as Ebert says he enjoyed the first Transformers movie and I hated it. And I'm much younger than he is. Ebert refutes the age argument by saying that "Not a one is too young to appreciate art," though a friend (also an English major) was quick to point out that a five-year-old can hardly appreciate Shakespeare. Of course people can be too young to appreciate art, but Ebert was clearly hyperbolic in his statement.

I can't help but to think that when Ebert makes these claims, he is thinking of games such as Pac-Man or Tetris. And he's right about that. Those are concepts. They are no more art than Plinko is. Concepts are used for problem solving. Tetris, at its minimum, helps you to see organization and patterns. This is not art. I'm sorry to say it's math. What can be considered an art in these games is something that Ebert, I think, is overlooking.

Video games aren't just concepts. The final product is the concept in action. All video games, at their cores, are problem solving games. Eat all the pellets; help the frog cross the street, hit the enemy's weak spot for massive damage. In between the genesis of the concept and the execution by the player comes the art.

You'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't believe that set design in a movie is not important. Costumes, mannerisms, lighting, and casting the right actor for a part are all a part of the illusion. They help you to suspend your disbelief so you can believe what you are seeing on the screen. The same is true of any video game. Before Frogger can cross the street, he has to exist. People design him in the same way one might design a costume for a movie.Video game characters don't just appear. They go through careful planning the same way any character from a novel or a movie would go through. They are important to the story and to the audience.

Secondly there is the music. I would find it difficult to tell Nobuo Uematsu that the 600+ tracks that he has composed for the Final Fantasy series alone are not art. Like the character design, the music is used to invoke feelings. The score of a film is one of the most important parts of a movie. Robert Zemeckis, on the Back to the Future special features DVD says that he told Alan Silvestri to think of the music as another character in the film, lending weight to the importance of music in the final product.

Perhaps more than any other genre, the role playing game (RPG) genre is the most like art. An important part of art is eliciting an emotional response. This is why art exists. This is why people like paintings, and music, and yes, film. RPGs are a literary genre. Take away the battles and the equipment and you have a cinematic and literary story unfolding in front of you. The game Final Fantasy IV for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, while dated, has the first truly emotional characters in a video game. We feel the self-loathing in Cecil, the jealousy and confusion in Kain, the need for revenge in Edge, and their love for each other. The story is one of forgiveness and retribution. There are character arcs for all 12 main characters, some admittedly better than others. The player feels loss when Tellah sacrifices himself and anger that his revenge was wasted.

Like any novel, we have seen these characters meet and watched their friendships blossom. The game may not run as deeply as a novel, mostly due to the memory limitations of the time, but the emotions we feel are real. And as with any good film, the music does as much to set the tone as the characters, lighting, and environment. Final Fantasy IV is light on metaphor and deep meaning, but it tells a cohesive story. It was crafted so that the player cares about what is happening.

A more modern example is the Japanese game Mother 3. The series' creator, Shigesato Itoi, is a part-time essayist and philosopher, and like any novelist, constructs his games' scripts with his own outlook on life in mind. While Mother 2 (Earthbound in the west) used traumatic bits of his childhood for the final boss, Giygas, to haunting effect, Mother 3 is rich in metaphors about human consumption and destruction of ecosystems. If there's one thing Itoi knows, it's creating emotion. In a scene early in Mother 3, the main character's father, Flint, learns of his wife's death. His reaction, although it is in simple pixelated form, is one of the most heartbreaking scenes I have seen in the medium. And it is all done with no dialogue from Flint.

The idea of art comes up in other genres too. Though RPGs may be the easiest examples, we also have the story of Wander and his lover in Shadow of the Colossus, which has almost no dialogue, but still conveys the love Wander feels for his lost love, and sympathy for the main character and the noblest of steeds. The most touching moment may be when Agro, Wander's horse and sole companion, topples over a cliff, leaving Wander more alone than we was at the beginning of the game with his dead lover. The grief in the scene is palpable. The designs of the Colossi and the musical score are breathtaking as well.

Someone might argue that video games lack one thing that gives film and literature a leg up and an obvious claim to art, and that is the literary allusion. Milton's work is full of them, and Shakespeare reveled in them. Adaptations of Dante's Inferno aside, video game developers exist in a world where they can create allusions to the most literary of all texts and get them to a mass audience.

While Star Wars used the classic design of the samurai to inform its character Darth Vader, the game Portal used imagery and even a nod to the name of HAL 9000 in the design of its GLaDOS character.

While we're on the subject of Portal we have to give the idea of design a thought. Portal is a game that makes use of a portal gun to help the player solve puzzles to escape imprisonment. The placement of the pieces of the puzzle; turrets, platforms, weighted companion cubes, are all important to the way the game is played.

They are all vital to the movement of the character and the way she interacts with her world, and by moving a platform or a turret, you change the way the stage is played. Could this be an argument for the game as art? Maybe, but it illustrates the importance and planning that goes into the development of each level and obstacle.

This is where it gets tricky. I would argue that the creation of video games is an art. Enough designers, composers, character artists, and modelers use their craft to make the game possible. Without their care and careful attention, the game is broken. It will never have a chance. However, the act of playing a game is not art. As Ebert says, "Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009." I agree with him here. We don't see the reading of a book as art. Only the writing process. The viewing of a film isn't art. It's the production. Your sitting on your couch all day to play Call of Duty is not art. The people who put the artistic knowledge and skill into the game are the artists. Bobby fisher wasn't an artist, but I'm sure he had a well-made chess set.

There is a reason I chose Pixar's Toy Story as my example of concept art way up at the start of this article. Both Pixar and a company like Square (creator of the Final Fantasy series) use computers to make their product. They design their characters, they sculpt them on a computer, they hire voice actors to make those characters come to life, they hire orchestras and composers to create a soundtrack to their world. Yet, why is Pixar's work seen as artistic genius, and Final Fantasy as tripe? I don't have the answer. Ebert seems to hint that the fact that video games are made for consumption and by executive decree;

"I allow Sangtiago the last word. Toward the end of her presentation, she shows a visual with six circles, which represent, I gather, the components now forming for her brave new world of video games as art. The circles are labeled: Development, Finance, Publishing, Marketing, Education, and Executive Management. I rest my case."

Disney is one of the largest corporations on the planet, but Pixar is undoubtedly still making art. Andy Warhol blurred the lines of consumerism and art in the 1960s and they have broken down further since then. Most art is made to be bought. The entire film industry is proof of that.

Perhaps my favorite part of this argument is the fact that a movie critic is saying that video games are not art. If you read that as a snide remark against Ebert, read it again because it certainly is not. While he sees film as an undeniable art, it was not so long ago that the same art critics were dismissing the artistic worth of photography (and by extension, motion pictures). The definition of art eventually had to be reconsidered to make room for photography.

Art critic Clive Bell said that the interpretation of art was up to the "significant form." More Americans are now playing video games than going to the movies. What could be more significant than that?

Thanks for everything, Ebert. I really mean that.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Janice: The Unsung Hero of the Muppets

Anyone who knows me knows that I love the Muppets. The original three movies (The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan) are all fantastic films that rely on a childlike approach to the world but never panders to them. People seem to hail "Shrek" as some kind of revolutionary film that started this trend. Dreamworks eventually took this schtick and ran with it, eventually creating abortions like "Madagascar" but that's another rant for another time.
The Muppets were never afraid to shy away from a joke. They treated their characters like functional adults. This would never happen in movies now, but when the Muppet films were made (at least, the three above) there were sexual and alcohol references in all of the films. They were never forced, but seemed to arise from casual conversations and were natural dialogue in the films. For instance, both Rowlf and Fozzie allude to alcohol in different films. Rowlf says he likes to "have a couple of beers" and "take himself for a walk" before bed. There's a joke there for adults, who laugh at the felt dog drinking, and one for kids who laugh at the phrasing Rowlf uses about going for a walk. Rowlf is a bit jaded as a lounge singer and this dialogue makes sense. On the other side of the spectrum, Fozzie is childlike and comments that champagne would taste like ginger ale if he added some sugar. There's a reason you never think for a moment that these characters aren't real people when you're watching a movie. They behave like real people. They have emotions and they all behave in certain ways.
And despite what politicians might tell you, kids won't start drinking because of this. They know that some activities are for adults.

Perhaps the most subversive character in the Muppets is Janice, the lead guitar player for the house band, the Electric Mayhem. In the Muppet Show she sings "With a Little Help From My Friends" and the writers made no attempt to say that she "gets high with a little help from (her) friends." With her other bandmates including Animal and Zoot, I don't doubt it. This scene even takes place during a "human" sacrifice, as Kermit notes. Can you see that flying now? Of course not.

Janice sings "With a Little Help From My Friends"

But it doesn't stop there.

Janice has two fantastic moments in "The Great Muppet Caper." The first comes relatively early in the film when Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo stop in at the Happiness Hotel for a room. Pops starts up the song and Janice gets the best and funniest lyric; "Still, the management is cheerful, though the whole joint's gone to Hell..."
Happiness Hotel
That's fine. Plenty of kid's shows from "Rocko's Modern Life" to "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" to "The Adventures of Pete & Pete" have mentioned Hell. It was much easier to get away with in the 80s and 90s. Can you see it happening on Nickelodeon or The Disney Channel now between advertisements for the new Hannah Montana album or "That's So Raven" (Is that even on anymore?)?
Her second bit is riskier and funnier. It strikes closer to the nanny state agenda we've cultivated in America; nudity.
The whole Muppet crew (in a group shot that no doubt took several dozen Muppeteers) yells over one another before Kermit can get them to shut up. When he does, Janice gets the final line that everyone hears because the room goes silent. If you've ever shouted something at a party as the music turns off you know this feeling.
Janice's life goals

The joke worked so well that in "The Muppets Take Manhattan" they turned it up a notch; "Look buddy, I don't take my clothes off for anyone. I don't care if it IS 'artistic.'"

Janice is hilarious. You may not have noticed her in the crowd of frogs and pigs and bears and... whatevers, but she's there. And she's awesome.
Disney has really dragged down the Muppet franchise. Did you see "Muppet Wizard of Oz"? I rest my case. When they started catering to kids, they dumbed it down and ruined its appeal. The Muppets weren't popular because they were by-the-books kids' characters. It was because they defied convention. Look at "Shrek" and "Shrek 3" to see what I mean. Hopefully Jason Segel, the Muppets fan he is, can rein then in and get them back on track with his new script.
And hopefully they won't be afraid to break some rules along the way. In the mean time, watch the old films. Count the jokes that would be impossible to do now, and enjoy the films as the great character interactions and hilarious slapstick showpieces that they are.

I probably should have Googled "General Geekery" before starting this blog

Because holy shit, is it used a lot.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Final Fantasy games defined by one song (Part 2)

Part 2!

Final Fantasy VII
Aeris's Theme

An easy one. Whether you spell it with an "S" or a "T-H," Aeris's theme is easily the definitive music from FFVII.
It's no spoiler now to say that Aeris suddenly gets the axe at the end of disc one. It comes as an absolute shock to the player. Sure, deaths have occurred before in Final Fantasy games in the past, but Aeris was something special. Tellah and Galuf were both old men who went out in blazes of glory. Leo was a secondary character that the player really had no emotional connection to. Aeris, for all intents and purposes, had nothing about her that would suggest that she would be departing from the game so early. She was the innocent of the group. While a bit annoying, she kept spirits high around mopey Cloud, angry Cid, and morose Vincent.
With one scene, Aeris became the unforgettable spirit of the game. She cemented Sephiroth's place, perhaps undeservedly, as he never did much else in the game, in RPG villain history. Aeris's theme served as a reminder to the player that Sephiroth was willing to destroy everything good in the world for his own purposes.
After Sephiroth dies by Cloud's massive blade, the theme plays again over the ending. The player is reminded of Aeris's death and, perhaps for the first time, realizes that without her death, even is they had stopped Sephiroth, the world would be doomed. It is because of her that the Lifestream fights off Meteor. She binds the Lifestream together in some kind of FFVII-esque "Force" that flows through the planet's veins. Cloud didn't save the day, Aeris did. She was never intended to be in your final party. She always had to die.
If FFIV is a story about redemption and self-discovery, FFVII is a story about loss and acceptance.

Final Fantasy VIII
Eyes on Me

I debated this one for a long time. It just feels so... easy. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it's the theme for a reason.
Every good RPG has love as an ingredient in its plot. Final Fantasy is no different. While FFV was very light on love, great romances thrived between characters like Cecil and Rosa, Kain and Rosa, Celes and Locke, Terra and the Mobliz children, Cloud and Aeris, Cloud and Tifa, Cloud and Yuffie, Cloud and Barret... you get the point. But love had never taken center stage until FFVIII. While the game seemed to revolve around the emotional journey of Squall and his change from cold, uncaring student to brave, likable leader, that change could not have taken place without Rinoa.
Many FF fans shun FFVIII because it failed to live up to the standards that FFVII had set. They may feel that the plot was too confusing, Squall was too unlikable, and the love story was too prominent. While other FF games focus on the saving-the-world aspect, FFVIII got more personal. It showed us that Squall DID have a heart under all that gruff. Moreso than FFVII and its literal delving into Cloud's mind, FFVIII told us all about Squall. We know why he was distant and why he opened up. It also led us slowly into the relationship. He and Rinoa's interactions seemed normal. He went from seeing her as nothing more than an employer to someone he had to protect. When he used the Ragnarok to go to space and save her, she finally shattered that emotional block and he finally let her in. Final Fantasy VIII is a character study. It's a drama. It's arguably the most cinematic of the FF games and it's more personal than anything we had seen in a video game up til that point.

Final Fantasy IX
You're Not Alone!

Final Fantasy IX is a direct reaction to FFVIII. Fans grew tired of the depressing main character. After the unlikable protagonists like Cloud and Squall, Square created Zidane. Zidane is ever the optimist. While Garnet battles with the abuse by her mother and Vivi struggles with who he is and Freya longs for her lost love, Zidane serves as the character who pats them on the back, telling them to chin up and assuring them that everything will be ok. He's cheerful, he's fun, he cares. Zidane is the anti-Squall.
So why the depressing music?
Well, near the end of the game, Zidane discovers where he is from in what has become an old Final Fantasy standby. Like Cecil and Terra before him, Zidane is from another world. He seems to take it pretty well at first, but when he realizes he was created only to kill, he, for the first time, loses hope and becomes depressed. He mopes in Pandemonium and wonders if his whole life has been a lie.
But then something special happens. While any other Final Fantasy game would allow its protagonist to mope and cry and philosophize, Zidane is instead convinced out of it by the friends he has made. Garnet, Vivi, Quina, Freya, Eiko, Amarant, and even Steiner comment on what a great friend he is. They talk him out of his depression by helping him realize that he, in fact, is not alone in all of this. When Zidane reaches his lowest point, the people he has surrounded himself with and kept going for all this time return the favor. Continuing with themes in the games, Final Fantasy IX is a story about friendship. Someone could make the argument that ALL of the FF games are about friendship and I wouldn't disagree. However, FFIX spends the most time building those relationships. Like FFVI before it it doesn't really allow any one character to steal the spotlight. Instead it is shared. We equally see Zidane's depression, Garnet's relationship with her mother, Vivi's struggle with his mortality, Steiner's unrequited love, and Freya's loss of home, and Eiko's fear of solitude. Final Fantasy IX is an ensemble piece where all of the characters work together to strengthen the story. In the past we could only infer relationships between Cecil, Palom, and Porom or Sabin and Cyan because of memory limits in the games. Final Fantasy IX helps you feel for its characters.
In some ways, as much as it is a reaction to FFIX, it is also a companion. It shows the differences between a cold character and the friends that want him to open up, and a group who become more tightly knit as we reach the end. If one gets too grim, we can turn to the other. If that gets too sweet, we can go back.
Because that's what life is; a balance between the grim and the sweet.

So that's that. I didn't intend to garner some kind of message from the games as I went, but I did. Maybe you liked them, or maybe you think I'm some kind of hack reading too deeply into some video games. That's ok. More of you may be asking why I didn't include anything after FFIX. Well, that's another blog.
For now, go back and revisit a classic. And this time, enjoy Uematsu's music as much as you enjoyed the characters, the plot, and chopping off monsters' heads.

Final Fantasy games defined by one song (Part 1)

A long ago in the far-off land of 1987, a fledgling video game production company called Square released what would be their last game on the Famicom (NES to us in the west). Clearly history didn't work out the way they thought it would because FF13 just came out not too long ago and we're already being bombarded with screenshots and trailers for the fourteenth installment.
Aside from some brilliant gameplay and fun graphics, Final Fantasy boasted some wonderful music from the mind of Nobuo Uematsu. He has composed hundreds of unique songs for 13 of the series' installments beginning with FF1.
As fans of the series will tell you, each game has its unique flavor. The characters always stand out and the music is always fresh and sets the mood perfectly. I'm willing to bet that you could play Uematsu's music on the radio and pass it off as classical and people would eat it up.
With so many great songs, some just become fused with the very essence of the game. Naming a Final Fantasy will immediately spark a tune in the mind of the fans. Sure, the Victory Theme or the Crystal Theme or the Chocobo Theme are all great (and all playing in your head right now), but they're used in all of the games, so they won't be included on this list. Also, each game has its own battle theme and boss theme, so it'd be easy to use those. But who said I liked it easy? I'll be using music used only in the specific games that define the game for me. For me, these tunes are as follows; (Please note, I won't be doing every FF game. They're all great, but these are my favorites)

Final Fantasy
Matoya's Theme

Final Fantasy takes all of the fantasy cliches we know and uses them to its advantage. We all know the rescue-the-princess scenario. We've read it for years, it's been force-fed to us by Disney, and even Super Mario did it. Any NES game that had you save a princess ended shortly after the deed was complete. However, Final Fantasy made it the first quest. After that you were free to roam the world by airship, boat, and even canoe. One of the oldest fantasy cliches is the old, evil witch. When the party stumbles upon Matoya you expect to find a new enemy. The dark, foreboding music seems to invite this feeling. However, only a few moments in you realize that this music is cheerful. And Matoya is a friendly character who needs your help. This character interaction sets you off on your real quest. Matoya and her backwards-talking brooms invite you to a gaming world where not everything is quite what it seems and puzzles and characters lie in every part of the map. Matoya and her crystal help set the stage for the whole Final Fantasy series.

Final Fantasy IV
The Lunarians

I know I'm skipping ahead by a lot, but I never played FF2 and 3 enough to really do them justice. Instead of trying, I'm going to move ahead and get to the meat of this article.
Where Final Fantasy played with fantasy cliches, Final Fantasy IV helped create new ones. The man with no knowledge of his past, the love triangle, the villainous brother, the ninja womanizer. Ok, maybe not all of those are real. Final Fantasy IV was a story about changing one's station in life while respecting the past. Cecil is a Dark Knight who works for the kingdom of Baron. He is treated like a son by the king and has a family of his own in Kain, Rosa, and Cid. However, Cecil comes to realize he has no identity. He hides behind the mask of the Dark Knight, is afraid to show his emotions to Rosa, and is quickly becoming the king's go-to man for striking without asking why. Cecil finally begins to question the direction his life is taking and he asks the king why he must fight civilians and rob the all-important crystals. For his change of heart, Cecil is ordered from the castle on a mission that will brand him a traitor to his country and a fearful symbol of oppression to everyone else.
The game, itself, reinforces the idea of change by placing us, yet again, in a fantasy world and using the narrative scrawl as the journey begins. Final Fantasy IV sets us up for another swords-and-sorcery adventure.
Midway through the game, Cecil must scale the Mountain of Ordeals in order to shed his Dark Knight persona and become a warrior of light; a Paladin. He tosses aside the mask he hides behind and shows his true face and flowing purple locks. The mysterious light he meets there calls him his son, sending Cecil on a journey of self-discovery. This journey eventually takes him to the moon where he learns that he is half alien. In this scene, the Final Fantasy series breaks with tradition and opens up a new world of opportunity. They fuse fantasy with sci-fi and scribe one of the great video game stories of all time. "The Lunarians" is the music that underscores his adventures on the moon. It is a song of mystery and enchantment. It inspires a feeling of discovery and vulnerability.
It comes as no surprise that Cecil embraces his new life and uses his experiences to return home and rule Baron. Like the Final Fantasy series itself, Cecil has become the keeper of fantasy and sci-fi and has embraces the family he has always known while accepting the family he never did.

Final Fantasy V
Clash on the Big Bridge

I promised no battle themes, but this one gets a pass. Where Final Fantasy IV was a serious tale of self-discovery, Final Fantasy V was light on story, but heavy on gameplay. All you need to know about FFV is that it involves four heroes trying to save the world from an evil sorcerer. In some ways the game seems like a parody of Final Fantasy IV. It's lighthearted and it's fun. What the game lacks in deepness or story or character it makes up for in gameplay. Final Fantasy V has some of the best gameplay in the series.
It really says something when the most memorable character in a game isn't in the main party. In fact, Gilgamesh doesn't appear until 1/3 through the game as the villain's bumbling sidekick. He has a penchant to one-liners, swords, and terrible puns. Gilgamesh's stay as the ineffectual villain begins when Bartz and company travel to Galuf's world, following the villain Exdeath in order to make sure he remains sealed in his forest prison. It makes sense in context. Kind of. After Galuf saves Bartz, Faris, and Reina, the quartet escape Exdeath's castle and head toward Galuf's castle, Val. On the bridge, they are ambushed by the comical Gilgamesh, who begins his stint as the Goldfish Poop Gang for the game. Gilgamesh eventually becomes a likable villain who is punished by Exdeath for being the pushover he is. Gilgamesh eventually redeems himself by saving the heroes at the end of the game.
"Clash on the Big Bridge" is what Final Fantasy V ends up becoming; an awesomely goofy but sometimes serious celebration of RPGs.

Final Fantasy VI
Dancing Mad

Perhaps Uematsu's magnum opus. Dancing Mad is the icing on the cake that is Final Fantasy VI. Fans are often split between FFVI and FFVII as their favorite, often leading to internet arguments about which is the superior game. Though I side with VI, VII is still great fun.
Final Fantasy VI is the game that really took the Final Fantasy series to the next level. It gave us a tragic story, an interesting villain, and great battle mechanics. It also moved the environment from the old-school fantasy realms to a steampunk stage that would set the mood for Final Fantasies to come.
Dancing Mad is first head on the opening title screen. As the logo appears, the synthesized choir sings before leading you into the first scenes. You won't hear that again until the final battle. Dancing Mad takes the player on an adventure. Like the rest of FFVI, Dancing Mad goes through several changes. It sounds like the archetypal villain-on-an-organ theme that we've come to expect, but then, as the player whittles away at Kefka's monument to non-existence, the song changes. It comes in stanzas, adapting itself to the image on screen. The demon has the ominous breathing and organ, the second part becomes a playful yet terrifying chorus among the many humanoid characters, the third sounds like something out of a church with a heavenly choir and the appropriate figures in the foreground as beams of light shine through the overcast sky. When the party rises above the cloud they are treated to an evil rock and roll, again on the organ. Kefka's final stand invokes villainous stereotypes, modern instruments, and even a riff on his own in-game theme song.
Speaking of theme songs, Dancing Mad continues after his death and leads the player on a musical travelogue through each of the game's fourteen main characters before it all builds up to the finale and the Final Fantasy main theme. It's enough to bring tears to anyone's eyes after spending so much time with a group of characters that you've learned and lived with for over a year of their lives.
What is Final Fantasy VI? A story of the struggle of life. Each character overcomes his or her hardships in order to face true evil. FFVI features the protagonists at the lowest point of any of the FF games. Kefka wins. He completely destroys their home planet and everyone must suffer through it and struggle to live. Ultimately FFVI teaches that the human struggle to preserve itself and live is something of beauty. We must always strive to go on, even when the madness sets in.

Friday, March 5, 2010

An open letter to Schick

Dear Schick,
Thank you for making a product so useless that it no longer works after one use. Your Schick Quattro is so poorly put together that you leave room for the hair to come out once you have shaved it off. As a result, the second time you attempt to shave with the Quattro, it's not so much a razor as it is a face comb. It removes no hair. And as much as I try to rinse it, that hair isn't coming out. Maybe you should consider making chainsaws so that four rows of blades will make sense. Though if you did, the wood particles might get caught in the chain and the lumberjack would have to throw it away after one use like I did with your razor. Not to put too fine a point on it (which you may also be incapable of), but I think I would have been more successful at smoothing my face with a rubber duck. I will be wearing my mangled whiskers today as an advertisement against your product. And some bigshot sees me and thinks "He would be good to sign on. Too bad he's clearly retarded because his beard is all fucked up." then you are to blame. Because that is my only problem, as you can tell from my oh-so-sexy Hugh Jackman-like appeal.
I hope you sleep well tonight. Maybe on a mattress filled with Quattros, because it may be easier to sleep on them than to shave with them.

PS- That's not how you spell "cuatro," assholes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Flowchart of Pixar movie excitement

1. Hear about the new movie/see the teaser trailer. Think to yourself "I love this concept! I can't wait until they make this movie! Wow, that looks so good!"

2. Occasionally check in to see if there are any updates on the status of the movie.

3. Notice that all of Pixar's other movies are so great that maybe this one won't be able to stand up to them.

4. See the official trailer. Get hyped up again.

5. Harp on one particular thing in the trailer, letting doubt creep in. Be reserved in your excitement.

6. Wait.

7. Movie is released. Go to opening night. Push children out of the way.

8. Love every minute of it.

9. Whip yourself for ever doubting Pixar.

10. Start over with teaser attached to newest movie.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

This is Madness!

I have no idea what this is a jug of, but I saw it in an art classroom and snapped a picture. The caps make it work for me.

Monday, February 8, 2010

How I realized I wasn't cut out to be a Believer

I've been tiptoeing around how to get this blog started, so I figured I'll take the plunge and let you know a bit about me. I believed in God and Jesus and all that fun stuff well into my high school days. I can't pinpoint when I started the questioning which led me to where I am today, but looking back I can see a few telltale signs that it just wasn't going to work out.
I was an existential child. When I was very young--younger than nine, though I can't remember the specific age--I lay in my bed at night thinking. I still do this, and I know many of you do, too. You think about all the shitty stuff about life you push out of your head with busy work and video games and masturbation. Too young to realize the fun and glory of these activities, I lay there thinking about death. I come from a Catholic family. Everyone around me was Catholic, so there was no reason for me to think anything that might run counter to the invisible guardian in the sky theory. My first disappointment in God was when I prayed for him to transform my various dog toys into dalmatian figurines overnight. 101 Dalmatians had just been rereleased and I was in a phase, I guess. I thought it would be nothing more than a small paint job while I slept. Hell, if Santa could do it, it should be cake for God.
Of course I woke up to my various brown plastic dogs and not dalmatians, but oh well. I made the best of things. My Cruella De Vil toy would have to settle for a patchwork coat.
Anyway, I was thinking about death. In my mind, people went to heaven and just kind of... hung out all day. Nobody has said anything to me since then that would lead me to believe that Heaven is anything but that. I realized that I would get bored very quickly if I was just sitting around on my cloud all day. Sure, I'd have wings, but what about the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons? What about drawing? TVs and trees don't have souls, so that was out. I wanted conflict in my Heaven. Life without conflict is boring. Some perfect afterlife that would be, hanging out bored all the time. I had toys at home and I was still bored a lot. What kind of omnipotent being was this God?
Crushed by the overwhelming idea of boredom for eternity, I began to cry. Note that I was sure I would be going to Heaven. I often wonder where that self-assurance went now that I'm older. I climbed out of my bunk bed and went to my parents in the living room, bawling. They asked what was wrong and I said "I don't want to die!"
I don't know what they said to get me back in bed, but I eventually slept. They've never mentioned that night to me.
My second (or third if you count my dalmatians mishap) realization that God wasn't destined to be in my Myspace Top 8 was in Sunday school. We had to look through magazines and find who we thought our chosen Saint looked like. We all picked a Saint. All the kids in class picked their favorite, but I didn't know a damn thing about the Saints. I picked my namesake, Saint David. After flipping through magazines, I found an image of celebrity chef (at the time) Jeff Smith.
Later, of course, we found out he sexually assaulted men who worked with him. Some Saint.

Of course, these stories aren't WHY I stopped going to church or believing, but they are, I think, things that led me down the path to question the world around me. After all, if God can't live up to Santa, what is he good for?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Anne Burrell is a Super Saiyan

"That stove is too cold. Turn it up."
"Over 300?"
"Over 400?"
"...that should be fine."

Monday, January 25, 2010

As seen on a movie theater butter machine. The more you read it, the less sense it makes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hooray for Hyphens

Somebody already had the address I wanted, so I added a hyphen to it. Never underestimate the power of that tiny line. Stay tuned for more, well, General Geekery.