Friday, September 9, 2016

The Year of the Chicken

How has it been more than a month since I’ve written anything? That seems insane.

Perhaps you’ve been wondering where I’ve been and why you haven’t had any dumb Frozen theories or Final Fantasy close readings to delve into. Perhaps not. That’s fine, too.

Well, I got a job. A real, adult job. A 9-5 with vacation time, weekends off, the works. Unfortunately, that means I don’t have all day to stare at my computer desktop before convincing myself that should click on Microsoft Word, because that’s all it takes to get started. Just do it. It’s not that hard. Why don’t you click it? Click the button, you hack. You can’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write. Do it. Do it! CLICK THE BUTTON!

Starting a new job makes me think of all the old jobs I’ve had. I can name a few good things I took from each of them.

All except one, that is. The worst job I’ve ever had.

To set the stage, I had just moved away from New York City. I love New York. Every overpriced, gaudy, piss-scented, inch of it. It’s a great place with a million things to do, eat, and drink. There’s never a dull moment. Plenty of broke ones, but not dull.

I didn’t want to leave New York. Unfortunately, my friend/roommate was moving out west with her brand new degree, my cash flow wasn’t enough that I could move again on the fly, let alone pay more in rent, and the girl I was talking to at the time and I made plans to live in Orlando and explore more of a relationship. To do that, I would need money, and New York wouldn’t allow that. So I needed to go somewhere much cheaper where I could save up and head south.

That somewhere was the town I grew up in in the Florida panhandle.

Some of you are thinking “Ooh, Florida!” and I want to squash that enthusiasm right away. This is the moist, unshaven armpit of America, tucked right between the meaty flabs of Pensacola and Panama City Beach.  A flat coastal town that is more “Lower Alabama” than “North Florida.” A stretch of land that is better suited as a hurricane buffer to northern civilization than an entity of its own.  It is equal parts meth addiction, racism, and military douchebaggery. It’s where the ignorance of America’s second-worst state meets the lawlessness of its craziest state. As if Mordor and Mordor’s sister had a baby and dropped it down the stairs. Voted the 83rd best small town in America in 2015.

And, I mean, Orlando isn’t much better, but here we are.

I moved back with my parents for the first time in seven years. Just imagine that for a moment. You go to college away from your family, live in the most exciting city in the world, free to do whatever you want, and then travel back to Bumfuck, FL, where the biggest event to happen annually involves some jets flying overhead, to live with your parents. I love my family, but this was a test of character. Additionally, this was post-college, and all of my friends were gone. Some were still in New York, and others were traveling or moving across the country. I was essentially alone. The only thing keeping me going was the thought that I’d be in Orlando, away from all this crap, soon.

I started getting to work with job applications, assuming my clout as a New York city boy manager whose last job pulled in over one million dollars annually would easily help me land a gig at one of these hillbilly establishments where, if we were lucky, we’d see a few dozen people a day. I didn’t get any calls. I was getting desperate. The fact that I sold my car to move meant that I could only get a job within walking distance. It inhibited what was available in a big way. Suddenly, my simple plan to earn some quick cash didn’t look so surefire.

My mom suggested I work at the grocery store, but there was no way I was going to return to my first job, which I had in high school and got fired from, 10 years later with a college degree and life experience under my belt. I’d sooner kill myself.

Shortly after that, I received a call from the girl. She met someone. We were done. No more Orlando.
Shortly after that, I received a slightly worse call. The local gas station/fried chicken store wanted to interview me.

I’ll let that sink in.

With seemingly nothing to lose, I went to the interview. The interior of this fine establishment was pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a place that included the words “gas,” “station,” “fried,” and “chicken.” The d├ęcor seemed to avoid anything white, as to avoid the brown, sticky film that covered everything from showing. Every time you took a step, your shoes made a ripping sound like you’d trudged through maple syrup three days ago and couldn’t quite clean it all off. Everything looked and felt like the back of a used band-aid.

I wore a button-down shirt to the interview, because that’s what one does. It was the middle of summer in Florida, where I’ve described the humidity to be like “living in a bowl of soup.” Now add the greenhouse effect (thanks to the giant windows) and 3-4 deep fryers to that equation. In short, I got the job. I did the drug testing and tried to hope that things would turn around for me.

And yet still came back for a first shift.

The day went something like this:
Arrive and punch in. Now load up the 4-tiered frying cages with all manner or frozen matter, from chicken bits to breaded potato wedges to empanadas filled with raccoon meat or something, to a frozen stick of tomato puree and what they told me was cheese. Also available with pepperoni-flavored meat nuggets. Fry all those bitches up, because the breakfast rush is about to begin, and nothing goes better with a probably-sausage-and-egg sandwich than a pizza abortion trapped in a thick phyllo prison.

Now that everything is frying you should be developing a nice, thick, Nixonian-level sweat on your whole upper body. Don’t worry, the standard-issue polyester polo (known for their breathability) will ensure that you marinate in that lovely combination for the next eight hours.

Once those doors are unlocked, everyone will begin their morning breakfast rush, which, in the panhandle, means cigarettes and Coors Light. After the initial surge of one to two hours, it’s time for a break from the heat. That means you get to bag ice.

Most places have ice shipped in on a truck. Not this one. They had employees bag ice every day (usually without gloves) and fill up the outside cooler. This takes 2-3 trips. Be careful wheeling all that ice, though, because the condensation mixes with the aforementioned grease and makes a delightfully slippery floor.

Once your reprieve from the heat is over, get limber, because it’s time to stock cigarettes!
We’re living in a time when it’s well-established that there is no upside to smoking, and yet the southern legion scoffs at science, often sucking down a pack a day, like they’re toothless, broke Don Drapers with no sense of hygiene and a hatred of all things brown.

Don’t get too comfy, because the lunch rush is about to start. The fryers, which have been running and churning out all matter of artery-clogging treats all morning, are put to the test and stocked to the gills with dozens of frozen chicken parts. Just in time, too, because here come the regulars! The line stretches to the door and the employees know each swollen, sweaty mass by name. They get their twelve pieces and go on their way. But if you’re thinking of going to the bathroom, don’t think you’re free to do so. Every employee is required to stand in the 8x12 sales area slinging dead birds without any breaks, because it’s peak time, and god forbid anyone slow the food-to-face process. And more cigarettes, of course.

Now you can take your bathroom break and try to avoid eye contact with your own reflection, because you just can’t bear to see what you’ve become.

There’s a bit of a break before the lunch rush, so get to know your coworkers! There’s the single mother of two who is barely 20 with no high school education, the woman in her late 50s with a vague foot problem and no high school education, and the overweight guy who thinks he’s hot shit because he has the register key and no high school education. I don’t want to sound like a total elitist, but there is something to be said for people who do this work and are content with it. Who don’t care about striving for more. Whose only concerns are getting home in time to smoke a bowl, eat four or five pieces of the chicken they’re covered in, and, and glaze over while they watch a Sixteen and Pregnant marathon. I don’t have anything to say to these people. We can’t connect on a very basic level. There is a values dissonance, right or wrong.  

By the way, where’s the guy who hired me? Oh, he’s never really there, but he sure likes to review the cameras, so make sure you never stray from the registers at peak time.

Now load up the cages, because the dinner rush is coming, and this is even busier, and dinner means side dishes and side dishes means motherfucking pizza sticks.

I walked home after my first day, dragging the polo, which was now heavy with grease, and I cried right there in the street. This was easily the lowest point in my life so far, and everything was fucking terrible. Why did I bother with college? Why did I move away? What did it matter if I was going to be working with an amalgamation of every TLC reality show that ever aired? What the fuck is wrong with me?

I was a few months into life back in Florida and the Sunshine State and all the baggage that came with it was wearing me down. My time there was the most depressed I’d ever been in my life.
When I got home, I told my mom I couldn’t do it. It was awful, soul-crushing, and beneath me. She countered with “Well, it’s a job,” as if I should be thankful for what I had. As if I should just cruise along like everyone else there. I couldn’t do it. Sometimes you are too good for something. If I stayed there, on top of the rest of the crap and with no escape in sight, I have no idea what I’d do.

I went for a walk.

On the walk, I called the manager. I told him I was grateful for the opportunity, but it wasn’t a good fit. I lied and said I’d found something “more suited to my skillset.” He went off on me about wasting his time and money. How he never would have even interviewed me if he knew I was still going to be looking for a job. About how now he was going to have to start all over again and find someone else.
I told him to have a good night.

That year in Florida was probably the worst in my life. I’ve never felt so defeated and beat down. I kind of understood why some of those people woke up in the morning and smoked and drank things that would kill them sooner.

They say bad experiences build character. I don’t know how true that is, but it at least lit a fire under my ass to leave that terrible stare.

Also, you’d be shocked how quickly polyester burns when it’s soaked in chicken grease. It smells awful, though.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Who Got Lucille'd

I've written about the Walking Dead here before. It's a bit embarrassing to look back on, as I thought the show deserved to be canceled five years ago, but I still stand by the points I made in that post. Many of the problems have been addressed, but a few of the big ones remain. Characters are still inconsistent and tend to change depending on where the plot needs to go instead of vice-versa.

But if you've been watching since then, you probably know about the latest season finale and the shitstorm that ensued. In short, fans allege that the writers (and the network) took one of the most heart-wrenching, game-changing moments in the comic and neutered it for hype and to ensure audience draw when the show comes back next year. What we know is that someone (surprise!) died, and they didn't show who.

So theories abound and comic comparisons and contradictions are launched, and the fanbase plays into the hands of the people making all the money. So I'll do it, too. What the hell? Who died? Who got Lucille'd? Let's go in order of least to most likely candidates. And spoilers for both the show and comic follow, so be prepared.

This is Lucille. She is awesome.

8. Rick & Carl

It's straight-up not them. Negan says, as he begins to swing on his victim, "Anybody moves, anybody says anything, cut the boy's other eye out and feed it to his father and then we'll start." That tells you right there that it's neither of them. Plus, writer Robert Kirkman has confirmed that he never plans to kill Carl. So bam.

7. Aaron, Sasha, & Rosita

This is more of a practical reason. These characters weren't on the receiving end of a beating simply because the audience wouldn't care. Not to say they aren't likable characters. They just don't carry the weight that some of the others do. There's weight to six months of buildup for these characters. If the show came back and it had been Rosita bludgeoned to death, the audience would shrug and move on, and Negan's big moment would be stunted. They're fine.

6. Maggie

If the show didn't have the cajones to kill Judith the baby when she dies in the comic, they're not going to have a fetus beaten out of a woman. Plus, Maggie just got an important haircut that tells us something is on the horizon for her character. Additionally, the baby has to survive so the audience can have something to cling to while my number one choice gets the bat.

5. Michonne

The joke so far is that everyone Rick sleeps with gets killed. Michonne will break that trend. She's one of the long-running characters in the comic, she's stepped into the slot that TV-Andrea left empty, and from a merchandising standpoint, she's one of the most iconic characters. Michonne will be with us for a while.

4. Abraham

Now we get to the controversial picks. In the comics, Abraham is dead by now. That arrow that went through Denise's head a few episodes before? That was meant for Abe. So, as it stands, Abraham is technically on borrowed time. This means the show is free to do whatever they want with him. Do they want him to take the bat instead of the comic's choice? It could work, but for the same reason as the group in my point number seven, I don't think it would carry much weight. Abraham hasn't been around or done much to make the audience really care for him very much. His breakup with Rosita might even make a few people say "good riddance." There was a small detail in the finale where Eugene, Abraham's partner in crime, hands him the "recipe" for making bullets in the newly discovered refinery. This effectively makes Eugene redundant, as this becomes his major contribution for the rest of-- wait a sec.

3. Eugene

--for the rest of the series. Now that Abraham has access to that same knowledge, Eugene can effectively be phased out. What's more, Eugene has quickly become a fan favorite with his awkward way of talking and biting his would-be executor in the nuts. He's also generally an innocent, as far as these characters go. Showing Negan just not caring at all about that would really set him up to be hated. Eugene is one of the few characters that people would really feel anger for, I think. He's also one of the three I can see the wait being worth.

2. Daryl

If you want to make an impact on your audience, you have to do something big. I believe the character that is killed here has to A) Have an effect on the group and B) Have an equal effect on the audience. Daryl checks both of these boxes. We've seen Daryl change since the beginning of the show. He's had several character arcs where he became more empathetic, lost his brother, did a selfless search for a lost little girl, etc. He's the face of the show. This could also be a reason not to kill him, however. Daryl brings in the cash. There are legions of fans who subscribe to the "If Daryl Dies We Riot" mentality, and with the fan backlash after than finale, I wouldn't be surprised if they backed off of him to garner some good will. What's more, Daryl is the single most successful TV show-only element. Without him, the show is essentially a visual novel. Daryl helps the two stand apart. Sure, he just got a new show on AMC, and a new show usually means a departure from the current one, but that could be because of Norman Reedus's appeal. Why not double that exposure? Hell, maybe they'll write him into Better Call Saul, too.
The last few episodes of TWD also introduced a rival for Daryl in Dwight. It could easily be a continuation of the "If Daryl never met the group" narrative that pops up every once in a while, but there's no real reason to begin that story and rivalry if Daryl is dead. Plot decisions affect the next plot decisions.

You know, unless you're Beth and the show makes a big deal out of you sacrificing everything to save Noah, only to have Noah get killed for no reason a couple episodes later. I'm still bitter about that.

1. Glenn

For fans of the comic, this is no surprise. And that's part of why writing this was too easy. Glenn's death is the single most famous spoiler for the comic. Everyone knows it happens, and for good reason. Glenn was with the group since the beginning. He was Rick's first contact after the apocalypse. He was the heart of the team. He was the underdog, going from pizza delivery boy to marrying the hottest lady on the show. That's why it seems like the show would pull a 180 at the last second and fake out the audience. This could be a classic Princess-Bride-never-go-against-a-Sicilian-when-death-is-on-the-line-overthinking-the-scenario move, but wouldn't the fact that everyone knows make you want to surprise the audience? It seems likely.
Unfortunately, even with that in mind, the odds have built up against him. He has a child coming into the world. Sure, Maggie had those terrible cramps in the finale and needs a doctor, but that'll be the miracle that the audience needs to recover from Glenn's death when it happens. Hey, at least his kid survived. There's also a shot when he leaves the compound of Maggie in the rear-view mirror. That's never a good sign when used in visual media. Or how about when they raid that compound? Glenn loses his innocence on screen when he stabs those guys through their eyes while they sleep. That's usually a sign that a character is about to get his comeuppance. Then Glenn comes across a wall of past Lucille victims' photos. That's a pretty clear instance of foreshadowing.
The only thing in Glenn's favor is lazy writing. This season already had a Glenn fakeout death at the midpoint. People discussed his possible death for weeks on the internet before everyone came to the conclusion that he was under the dumpster. Would the show play that same hand again? Would they be willing to mix it up because they just had a very similar situation? Beth's death makes me a little unsure.
Glenn has the right combination of character and audience sympathy. He's important to the story being told, he's an emotional anchor, and he's not very prevalent in the marketing blitz of the show. All of these signs point to a sad end for our Korean friend.

But at least his kid is gonna live, right?

This article was edited on 6/28/16 to include notes about Dwight and Glenn's midseason skirmish.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Facebook Christians React to Trey Pearson

Before 30 minutes ago, I had no idea who Trey Pearson was. What I've gleaned off of the trending topic, though, is that Trey was in a Christian band, harbored gay feelings, tried to pray the gay away in classic Christian fashion, and got married/had a kid before realizing the truth; that he can't just run away from his sexuality. Good for him. The rest of his life is sure to be much happier with that weight off of his chest. Let's see how his adoring fans responded. Come and have a few shots with me as I go through these responses.

I love this one because the woman who wrote it clearly has no awareness. She talks down about this guy who did a really tough thing and says he was deceived by Satan, but then says to "love one's neighbor as oneself."  Seriously? Lady, learn some proofreading. Your conclusion does not match your thesis.

Also, is that a hint of philosophy you're trying to squeeze in there? Don't you know philosophy is the Devil's tool to make you do that thinkin' business?

Christ, everything is a "sign of the times" with you people. "Tornado. Sign of the times."  "Politician got arrested. Sign of the times." "Outta Ruffles potato chips. Sign of the times." Hasn't every "sign of the times" predicted by your ilk been proven to not have come true? You're still here, un-raptured. I assume that would mean something to you. 

I like that this person assumes that selfishness doesn't drive his every whim (He's surely a Trump voter) and that he knows God. Do ya? I thought he was mysterious. What happened to that train of thought?

Finally, someone telling it like Yah would. I wish I was that close to Yahweh that I could just call him Yah. I like "Yah." It's way more approachable. Makes God sound kind of chill.

If someone could tell me what that "world eye" bit means, that would be excellent. Whatever it is, I get the feeling that this person assumes they're above our worldly religions and have a closer relationship with the divine (Fortunately not The Divine because then this person would be way too well-connected for comfort). What a self-important tool. If you're so above it all, what the fuck are you doing on Facebook? Just want to make sure you get an invitation to Blake's 2nd birthday party?

They're wrong right off the bat, because "Christian" and "Gay" have mixed for generations. It's more like "Christian" and "gay" and "allowing the public to know because they'll shame me" don't mix. 

Sure, they tell me to replace my porn habits with Bible study here, but once I'm hogging the Book of Esther all to myself, they'll be singing a different tune.

Is it really so difficult to separate drugs and eating disorders from activities that don't hurt anyone involved?

Wait, "deceived"? He made the music. He didn't promise them music and then deliver bees. They got exactly what they wanted. Also, "Christian Music World"? This sounds terrible. I hope this is one of the worlds hit by Kylo Ren's Death Star.

Hmm, if only Trey had thought to pray to Jesus about this.

This is probably the creepiest thing here. He wants to be on an island with 14 year olds? Someone should contact the authorities about this guy. I bet he's the same kind of guy who says he'd rape and kill if he didn't believe in God because none of it would matter.

Do us all a favor and remain a Christian, sir.

Oh Jesus, are we not supposed to say God? Is this a new commandment? An addendum? Commandment 1-A? "Thous halt not take my name in vain. Or at all. Just don't call me, or write. Or say it. Just leave me alone."

Also, what money? The roaring Christian rock business? Probably not as lucrative as you think it is, pal.

He destroyed gay in Sodom. That's why it doesn't exist anymore and we're not having this talk. G-D is good!

Also, someone should tell this guy (and yes, these are almost all guys concerned with what two penises do, for some reason) why Sodom was really destroyed

They say this, but if this dude came out against homosexuality and said "the gays" should all be executed, his album sales would triple. Hell, he might get the presidential nom. 

Aside from what you read here, most of the Facebook comments were positive. Many people, fans or not, wished Trey well and applauded him. I really had to cherry pick to find this group of assholes.

My favorite post was this one;

And that's how you become not only a good Christian, but, more importantly, a humanist.

Monday, May 23, 2016

So, Uh... Did You Guys Hear There's a New Ghostbusters Coming Out?

The internet is firing on all cylinders lately as the Ghostbusters reboot looms ever-closer. Shouting matches between Paul Feig apologists and 80s-purists are reaching a fever pitch and accusations of sexism and bar-lowering fly back and forth because it's the internet, and on the internet you can get away with calling people pretty much whatever you want with zero proof.

I'll go on the record and say that I don't think this reboot is a good idea, but when pressed, it's been hard for me to articulate why. Something about it just doesn't sit well with me. Do I hate women? Do I think they're innately less funny than men? Am I secretly one of those guys that the cartoon character Tumblr-ites demonize? I don't think so. I don't want to be. That's not something I'd be proud to be known for. So what is it? If there's no good reason for it to not exist, shouldn't it have the right to exist? After all, it doesn't erase the 1984 classic. That movie has so permeated pop culture that it could never be undone. So what is it? I think I know.

Before we get to the heart of this, there are a few arguments, good and bad, that I've seen people lob around about the new Ghostbusters movie. The first one is that there shouldn't be a reboot because the original movie is “perfect” the way it is.

I guess?

I mean, Ghostbusters is a fantastic movie. One of my favorites. I've been a Ghostbuster for Halloween pretty consistently since college. I've owned toys, video games, comics, DVDs... all of it. I'm a little more than a casual fan. I think it's great. That said, it hasn't aged as well as you might think. And some of that is simply a product of the time and what was expected of movies in the 80s.

I have a cousin who hadn't seen Ghostbusters. They've missed out on a few classics, somehow. This wasn't the first time we've done this, either. They hadn't seen Back to the Future until we sat down and watched the trilogy together. I think that they enjoyed BttF. I never heard otherwise. But their dislike for Ghostbusters was made apparent throughout. The biggest complaint was the Bill Murray/Sigourney Weaver relationship. Watch the movie without those rose-tinted glasses. It's completely shoehorned in. Venkman is horribly obnoxious to Dana through the whole movie. They have zero moments where they actively try to get to know each other and form any kind of bond. Venkman is a creeper who wants to bone Dana, and she sees right through it and rolls her eyes. Sure, it's a classic comedy-romance setup, but it's trite now, and wasn't ever really that believable in the first place. I mean, Bill Murray may be the funniest man on the planet, but he's not great looking. He's no Oscar Isaac. Sigourney wouldn't put up with that. Especially not in her prime. And yet, after Stay Puft's demise, they share a kiss, and presumably go off to make a baby.

Totally not a page from my diary

But it's an 80s comedy. A love interest was expected. And as the lead, Bill was going to get her. Standard movie fare. But to modern audiences, it doesn't hold up. And that's ok. That wasn't what the movie set out to do. When Ghostbusters does sci-fi and comedy, the genres it set out to do, it pulls them off  spectacularly. When it does a secondary genre, it's kind of meh. It's still a great, funny movie. It doesn't have to be a perfect one on all counts. Do I, personally, think the shallow romance is a strike against the movie? Not really.  Nobody dislikes Casablanca because the fight scenes are boring. That's fine. Ghostbusters still stands on its own despite that, and I'd argue that most people who see it for the first time understand or ignore it. The rest of the film is so good that you forgive the things that don't quite work.

My point is, this is an emotional argument. It's nostalgia. It's not a great one to sway people. Just because you grew up with the franchise doesn't mean others did. They don't have the emotional connection to it that you do. They see the cracks in the movie. And that's fine. It has flaws, and seeing those flaws in their context helps those flaws make sense.

The second argument, and the one I found myself making on Twitter, was that the reboot is a cynical cash grab. People have been asking for a third Ghostbusters movie for about 30 years. Something always got in the way. Usually Bill Murray and his hatred of how the second one turned out. He famously hated it because the film had more focus on the special effects than on the character interaction that made the original so great. I don't think he's completely right there, as the second one has great moments, but he made the thing, and there were probably behind the scenes fights about this argument that tarnished his view.

Good thing the new movie doesn't seem to be falling into the same trap. Right?


At any rate, the idea of the Ghostbuster is still in the public consciousness. The brand never went away. People still know who they are. The jumpsuits, the proton pack, the laser gun, etc. People know it. Hollywood knows this. They exploit this. It's what they do. So since the original group can't get together to make a new one (or have died since then, RIP Harold Ramis), they look for someone who will.

Enter the Feig.

Paul Feig stepped up and decided to push forward with his own version. Based on what I've read, it hasn't been a quest for this man to undo the Ghostbusters and replace it with his all-female version because the other one sucked. Based on interviews, he genuinely thinks the original is brilliant, but couldn't rationalize a 30-year gap in the movie canon's timeline. Some of us may say that that's where a “writer” would step in and fill in some gaps, but who knows where Hollywood could find one of those?

So it's a cash grab. Yes. All movies are. We all implicitly know this. It's Hollywood's job to pitch it to us. A “Yeah, we know, but look!” attempt to get asses in seats. Which brings us to the next point I often hear.

Movie trailers can make or break a film. That's the whole reason they exist. I thought the idea for The Peanuts movie was a complete disregard for Charles Schulz's wishes for the franchise to stop after his death. And it kind of was. But when the trailer came out, it swayed me. Schulz's family was involved, the studio knew what they characters meant to the general audience, and they made a pitch to let people know that the Peanuts were in good hands. And it worked. Audiences loved the movie. The studio proved that not everything has to be a cynical cash grab. Sometimes a movie is made from the heart. Made from a place that respects the property and wants to see a property live on and find a home with future generations.

I'd argue that Ghostbusters 2016's trailer didn't do that. To me, a lot of the clever writing and interplay from the 1984 original was gone and replaced with one-liners that didn't work, visual gags that failed, and under-written, flat characters all mugging for focus. The pitch to the built-in fanbase wasn't there. It seems like the studio took those fans for granted and tried to made jokes more catered toward a mass audience, not realizing that A) Those fans like the original because it made the audience bend to the movie, not vice-versa, and B) Ghostbusters was the highest-grossing comedy of all time when it came out (Until Beverly Hills Cop beat it a couple weeks later). That proves that the movie doesn't have to talk down. It just has to be good. The audience is clearly there.

But maybe I'm wrong. Let's look at the trailers.

Even if you think it's good, you have to know there's a major difference in tone there.

So how could this miss the mark by so far? Why do people seem so hell-bent on seeing Ghostbusters 2016 fail?

I think Paul Feig, well-intentioned or not, is completely missing the point of Ghostbusters as a franchise. Sure, everyone knows the car and the packs and the jumpsuits, but that's not why that movie became such a cultural touchstone. Ghostbusters is Ghostbusters because of the Ghostbusters. You can emulate that formula as much as you want, but you're never going to duplicate what made that first movie work.

Ghostbusters was a passion project for Dan Aykroyd. He's obsessed with the supernatural. Ghosts, aliens, everything. And he channeled that obsession and breadth of knowledge into a script that he cared about. Harold Ramis, one of the greatest comedic writers and directors of all time, helped take what was, by all accounts, a mess of a script, and hone it into a brilliant story. Bill Murray, one of the sharpest wits around, ad-libbed much of the way his character interacted with the world around him. The actors informed those characters. Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, etc. all brought important and unique brands of comedy to the table. Bill Murray was right. Ghostbusters is about those characters. Not about that world. The two can't be separated.

Even when Ghostbusters was continued in different media, the people at the helm knew that the characters created for that movie were the glue that held that world together. They were all adapted to cartoons, video games, and recently, a comic book series. The actors and original creators aren't involved, but those characters live on because that world is nothing without them.

When the Extreme Ghostbusters premiered on television, they linked it to the originals by having them in the same world. And people accepted it as part of the canon. That's all it takes.  As long as the old characters are there to welcome the new ones into the fold, people generally accept the new characters with no problem. Just be respectful of the property. Don't wipe away the efforts of the people who did the real work for you.

When people call the reboot unnecessary, dissenters often point to other franchises that are rebooted all the time: James Bond, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spider-Man. The main difference here is that all of these are adapted works. Sean Connery may have been film's Bond, but he existed as a book before that. Fans lamented the new Turtles movie for sexing up April, but she's just another version of the character who has seen different interpretations in page, cartoon, and previous films. Even Spidey has had three silver screen actors portray him, but he's had countless comic and television incarnations as well (and alternate universes, but now's not the time). The Ghostbusters had no predecessor. This was it. These characters and this world was constructed for the screen.  

Instead, Feig opted for a reboot. Don't let the intro to the 2016 trailer fool you. It implies that the new movie takes place in the same universe as the old one, but every interview (and the structure of the trailer) tells you that it doesn't. He took a world that was molded for a specific group of characters to inhabit, and he's retro-fitting it for his own means. And it just isn't working. Those characters aren't meant for that world. The fact that he's rebooting and cutting all canon ties with the original drives home the idea that he just doesn't grasp what makes this franchise work on a fundamental level. If he had built upon what had been established by the owners of the coattails he's riding, I think fans would have been more accepting of his idea. Even if this group was on the west coast and never had any contact with the originals, just that fact that Feig was bringing back that world would have sat better with fans.

Instead, the new Ghostbusters inhabits a strange plane of existence where it stands on the shoulders of its predecessors, all the while trying to convince you that it got there by its own merit. It's an ouroboros, existing only on the sustainability of the franchise, all the while distancing itself from the very benefits it used to get here. It'll continue to eat itself to hide its shame until it busts wide open.

And Bustin' makes me feel good.

Monday, April 4, 2016

"Frozen," Story Structure, and the Art of Letting Go

We've gotten lucky here in Boston this year. You may remember the Winter-to-End-All-Winters last year, where snowfall broke every record on the books. We all dreaded it happening again. A chill ran down the spines of everyone in the Northeast U.S. as the leaves began to change in September, because we all knew what followed. It seems that the Snow Gods had been appeased, though, because it's now April and we've gotten by pretty unscathed.

Well, I mean, it's snowing as I write this, a few days into April, so that's weird. But it's too little, too late to make up ground at this point. Better luck next year.

Outside of my actual window right now
Something about a nonwhite Christmas, a Christmas of Color, if you will, just didn't seem right this year. I found myself getting nostalgic for the 47 feet of crystallized water we had to navigate last winter. I decided that I had to turn to the only people who would understand my plight. A people who knew the harshness of being buried by an unrelenting freeze, being shut in from their loved ones, and resorting to talking to annoying snowmen to keep their sanity; The people of Arendelle.

Ah, Frozen. The 2013 phenomenon that took every little girl's imagination by storm. I mean, a Disney movie with TWO princesses? How could they resist the allure? Frozen was lauded as Disney's return to form. A revival of the brand. A stepping out from little brother Pixar's shadow. A film that the world's children loved and the world's adults kind of tolerated because they had to. No more would Disney have to sheepishly admit that they had anything to do with Home on the Range, because they had Frozen, dammit. And everyone loved it, and it was the best movie ever, and Disney got all of the money.

Except it's not. Frozen is just not an exceptional movie. It's fine. It's pretty good. But it's full of glaring problems and outright oversights. The writing has no depth at all. Case in point: This movie likes to believe it is deep and metaphorical, but it contains exactly zero metaphors. The theme of love being represented by an open door comes up a lot. What could it refer to? Perhaps exactly that? Perhaps exactly the closed door that Elsa used to separate herself from her sister for years? That's not a metaphor. The closed door can't represent the closed door!

I have a theory that the script was written and submitted, and Disney's board of Money-Makers injected a bunch of ideas into the script that didn't quite mesh, but made it appeal to more kids. I want to be clear that this isn't meant as some kind of "takedown" of Frozen. It's my attempt to see where the story doesn't add up. I think the big problems with the script fall into one of two categories: Plot oversights and inconsistencies, and plot threads that lead to a climax that never occurs. Let's start with the oversights and inconsistencies.

When Anna gets blasted by Elsa's ice for the first time, how does the king know where to go? He just says "I know where to go," and then they ride out into the woods to meet the dumb trolls. How does he know this? Is this a family illness? Has every generation had to go to these trolls to get help at some point? If so, why are Elsa's parents so inept at this? Is there an uncle who could help her develop these powers? Some kind of Ice Gandalf? If this isn't an ongoing problem, how does he know where to bring her at all? Is this an innate skill all royals inherit, like cryomancy? Some kind of Stone Troll radar? It seems very specific. 

Also, why do we need the trolls at all in this movie? From a plot perspective, why are they here? They don't add anything but a forgettable song.

"Because, David," I hear you saying, "They're Kristoff's adopted family!"

Ok, but if we never saw little baby Kristoff, we'd never have to explain that he's an orphan or needs to be adopted. If Kristoff had just wandered into Oaken's shop as Anna was buying supplies, that would be a great introduction. We learn everything we need to know about Kristoff in that scene. He's an ice salesman who is a big, dopey, lovable oaf and he probably fucks his reindeer. There's no reason for him to witness the first scene with the trolls. It doesn't come up again. He doesn't mention it casually to Anna later. We don't even have to see him in Arendelle on Coronation Day because he gets one throwaway line. Kristoff's intro is fine at Oaken's. And why would these trolls bother to adopt this kid at all, if his future job is going to be harvesting ice, anyway? That's the path he was already on. Being adopted by these tumorous annoyances did nothing to improve Kristoff's station in life. Wait, did they even know he was an orphan? Did they steal Kristoff from his family? Hmm...

"Ok, fine," you say. "But without the trolls, Anna would have remembered that Elsa has powers! What about that?"

Well, if you remember, Elsa accidentally beans Anna in the head with the ice. If it's SO IMPORTANT to the plot that she not remember Elsa's magic, have her slip into unconsciousness for a while and have her wake up with no knowledge of it. Bam. Ice powers forgotten, Elsa still becomes a recluse. But even if Anna DID remember, wouldn't Elsa's constant need to push her away be even more dramatic? Wouldn't that make the reunion at the end that much more meaningful? But I digress.

I think baby Kristoff and Sven were inserted into that first scene solely so Disney could cash in on Baby Sven stuffed animals.

Hell, Sven may have been added to the movie only so Anna would have an excuse to have a carrot on-hand to give Olaf a nose when they met. And so that way your kids will want Baby Sven AND Adult Sven stuffed animals! But that may be a little conspiratorial.

There's also Marshmallow, the abominable snow-monster that Elsa creates to get Anna and Kristoff out of her ice castle. Why does she create him? Because she doesn't want to hurt Anna again and needs some muscle to bring her outside. So there's no reason Marshmallow would want to try to kill Anna and Kristoff shortly afterward, going against Elsa's wishes when she created him. It's like they just needed an action scene there.

I can already sense some of you muttering "It's for kids! Who cares?!" Well, please go tell Don Bluth or Roald Dahl or Maurice Sendak that stories for kids don't matter and I will be waiting here with a pack of frozen peas to numb the slaps you get across your face.

Up until now these have been minor complaints. Nitpicks. They make sure that the movie won't ever be as good as Aladdin or The Lion King, or Zootopia, but they don't ruin the movie for me. Suspension of disbelief and all that. But, no. My biggest complaint is that the plot seems to lead in a direction that it either abandons, or was changed at some point in production. This results in plot threads and implications that lead to the wrong climax. Let's go back to that part where Elsa and Anna's parents meet those trolls.

Anna is unconscious. Elsa feels terrible because she hurt her sister. The leader of the trolls sees the injured little Anna and asks if Elsa was "born or cursed" with her powers.

That's a small sentence, but it does a lot of world building. It says that there exist people in Arendelle and beyond that this troll has at least heard of who have had this power before. What's more, they can either be born with it in a completely random manner (as I'm assuming nobody else in their family can shoot icicles around), or be cursed with the ability by someone else. It implies that there are others out there, and by planting it so early in the movie, it suggests something large that'll come into play later. It plants a little nugget of expectation in your head.

Things progress as normal. Nobody wants to Build a Snowman, and before we know it, it's Coronation Day. Anna is excited to see people For the First Time in Forever, and the dreamy Prince Hans shows up and sweeps Anna off her feet. We learn later that Hans plans to have Elsa and Anna killed so he can inherit Arendelle and their booming ice harvesting market, or whatever. Everything is going well for him. Anna is into him, and she's playing directly into his gloved hand.

What a catch!
When he catches Anna at the Coronation Day dance, this is how it happens. Check that out. Look at what's on display here: A gloved hand. That's weird. Why would they show that? Who else would have caught Anna? The Duke of Weselton? It's no surprise when he's revealed.

But who else wears gloves?

Oh, that's right. Everyone but Anna. You got me.

Anyway, from here, Elsa freaks out and loses control of her ice powers, and after the crowd jumps back, we get this single-character reaction shot.
Is he scared? Surprised? Intrigued?
Anna and Hans follow her to the fjord where Hans notices that it's freezing. When the duo double back to Arendelle, snow begins to fall on the kingdom, and it does for the remainder of the movie. Anna assures Hans that she had no idea about Elsa's powers. Once in the courtyard, The Duke accosts Anna as Hans watches, demanding to know "Are you a monster too?"

"Is there sorcery in you, too?!"
And so we get Elsa's power ballad as she Dr. Manhattans an ice palace up in the mountains (Also, how can she create ice through her shoes when gloves were enough to inhibit it? Are her feet more powerful than her hands?) as Anna realizes that Elsa "wore gloves all the time" and that must be how she kept her secret hidden.

My favorite scene from Frozen
After a bit, Anna and Kristoff arrive to tell Elsa that "Arendell's in deep, deep, deep, deep snow," much to Elsa's shock. It's as if she's surprised the kingdom is, well, frozen. She managed to control her powers just fine in isolation up here in the mountains, after all. Have you seen the castle she built? That's some structural integrity. No foundation problems of self-doubt there, no sirree. That's weird. Huh.

From here, Elsa accidentally freezes Anna's heart and Anna runs back to her prince to get her cure. Hans dismisses the help, tells Anna it's all been a ruse, and a very interesting scene occurs.
Hans goes to the window and stares out at the frozen wasteland. In the reflection, his face is superimposed over the snow, suggesting some kind of connection.

He turns back to Anna, monologuing, of course, and removes his glove.

Remember earlier when I asked who else wears gloves, and you said "everyone"? Well, you're right. But only two people are shown having their gloves removed, let alone in a dramatic, story-heavy scene.

Hans slowly walks toward Anna and snuffs out a goddamn candle with his bare hands before dumping water on the fire.

And... nothing happens. Hans was going to marry Anna and have them both killed. End of reveal. It's a GOOD reveal, don't get me wrong, but I believe that everything about Hans sets him up to have the same set of powers as Elsa. The line from the troll leader, the fact that he directs Anna's attention to the freezing fjord that they just happen to be be standing on the bank of, the fact that he's in frame when Weselton interrogates Anna, to the fact that Arendell was completely covered in snow despite Elsa's ignorance, to this whole scene. Every little thing adds up. And the movie just, well, lets it go by without giving it a second thought.

When I saw Frozen for the first time and watched this scene, I thought it was brilliant. Hans has ice powers too?! What a reveal! Everything started to make sense! The uneven approach to Elsa's powers could be glossed over because SHE wasn't the one doing it most of the time! Hans manipulating the people from inside the kingdom to fear and hate the queen was a great power play! But no. Instead, we have a half-assed "well, I guess I know how to control them now" at the end for no real reason. Hans is punched in the mouth, and the nobles applaud, despite the fact that the last time anyone interacted with him, they were all under the assumption that he was behaving under the noblest of intentions.

The sisterly bond and the twist on the act of love are both wonderful ideas and something that really needed to be in a movie, but I just can't get over this buildup to nothing. I can't not see it as either an enormous oversight, or a purposeful rewrite that Disney forgot to erase all traces of. 

Overall, Frozen ends up being just an ok movie. Nothing special, despite the marketing blitz. The songs are pretty solid, for the most part. The way the dialogue is spoken sometimes, you can tell it was clearly written with the intent of being adapted to the stage the whole time, and that's fine. Vertical integration, and all that. And hey, Olaf turned out to be not nearly as annoying as I feared. On the other side of things, I can't help but to feel there was some meddling by the higher-ups going on. Kristoff's adoption still makes no sense and is shoehorned in. The trolls are a cutesy marketing idea that probably came from the fallout of 2010's Despicable Me and their ever-present Minion characters. However, I will argue til the day I die that "conceal, don't feel" is the most on-the-nose, transparent, trite, stupidest piece of dialogue I've ever heard, and this movie is sure to repeat it in part about eight times. If you tried to pass that off in any script workshop, you'd be laughed out of the room.

But Zootopia is great. You should definitely see that.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Snow Woes

Here in the American Northeast, we're preparing for the first major snowstorm of the year. This is all fine and good, and, as I've discovered since moving here, it comes with the territory. On the other hand, it's giving me some terrible flashbacks to last year's record-breaking snowpocalypsemageddon Winter Storm Juno that we endured only thanks to discreetly cannibalizing our neighbors and using their hides as extra blankets. Let none of it go to waste, I always say!

In January of 2015, my friend, Matt, was getting married to his longtime girlfriend, Carissa. My girlfriend, Steph, and I received our invitation in the mail, and after my insistence that just because I'd met Matt and the other invitees over the internet, it wouldn't be weird and we should go. Steph bought it. We booked our tickets to sunny California and waited.

Well, that snowstorm somehow found out that we'd booked tickets and decided to hit that week. Steph and I were both working, but she kept me updated throughout the day as she refreshed the airline's website. The long-and-short of it was this: the snow had begun falling quite furiously, and our flight had been canceled proactively, because everything was going to be covered in up to three feet of snow on that first day, and with 70 mph winds, cleanup would have been impossible for days. Luckily, there was one lone Little Plane That Could that was planning to fly out at 7pm that evening. All we had to do was bump the flight up a couple days and come home a couple days early. No harm, no foul. Work was closed for the rest of the week at this point anyway. So we booked the tickets and came up with a plan: I would get home first, so I'd throw all of our stuff into a suitcase so we'd be ready to go by the time Steph arrived. Steph's end of the bargain was to find us a ride to the airport. I called Matt, who I assume was wearing shorts and sipping something out of a pineapple and told him the news as I trudged through the beginnings of the storm. I'd see him that night. Suck it, Juno.

Things went fairly smoothly after that. We said our goodbyes, got to the airport, checked our bag, and took our seats. We even took a cute photo on the plane to put on Facebook, even though everyone tells you not to do that because that's how your house gets broken into.

The winds had picked up by now and snow was starting to gather in piles on the tarmac. The pilot assured us that we were all so smart for taking this flight out, because even though it was Monday, the snowfall would be so heavy that there was no way anyone would be leaving the airport til Saturday. Suckers. We collectively patted ourselves on the back and buckled up, put our trays in the upright position, and listened to the dumb “what to do in case of an emergency” speech that they give every time, even though if there's an emergency we're all dead anyway.

The pilot drove us out to the runway where he told us we'd have to be de-iced before takeoff, as the snow whipping around the plane and strong, freezing winds could cause some problems for a tin can that wanted to go into the sky. Who knew? The pilot assured us that it would only take 15 minutes and we'd be up above all this. Everyone in the cabin gave high-fives liberally. The crew drove the de-icing crane over. A guy sat in the seat with a hose between his legs. He looked like a fighter pilot in a World War II biplane shooting the slime from Ghostbusters 2 all over the plane. The de-icing process took 45 minutes. We started to grow restless, but the siren song of California (probably sung by the Beach Boys) kept us calm.

Finally, the de-icing was done. The captain urged everyone to get to their seats and buckle up, because the de-icing only lasted for a few moments, and if we weren't in the air before our window closed, we would have to start all over again. Everyone did, but the plane didn't move. Our captain addressed us again. The snow was worse than anticipated, so we'd have to de-ice again. The WWII crane returned and we all sighed. The captain reminded us not to get up, as that escape window was no joke. To apologize, the flight crew gave everyone a bottle of water. I got mixed signals.

Another 45 minutes later, the plane rolled to the edge of the runway. I texted everyone I had been giving my running commentary, “Here we go!”

The plane stopped. The captain came over the intercom. “Well, folks, we got a computer error. We're going to have to go back to the terminal so I can get the tech crew in here. Then we'll de-ice one more time and get you all to sunny California!”

The crowd cheered. This must be what it's like to be brainwashed.

The IT crew boarded the plane. Three or four guys all went to the cockpit to look at gauges and buttons and levers. I got up to use the bathroom, because that bottle of water was really a bad idea. As I was standing in the tiny stall, the captain addressed us again.

“OK, so we're going to restart the plane and that should fix everything.”

So an IT team fixes a plane the same way I fix my laptop when it can't find my mouse. Excellent. The plane turned off. I peed in the dark.

By the time I returned to my seat, the IT crew was bringing the plane back to life and standing around fairly confused. The reset hadn't worked. I wanted to suggest a factory reset, or a paperclip that they could poke into that little hole in the back, but they didn't appreciate my joke, and paperclips aren't allowed past airport security.

The bad news? We were still getting an error and our captain didn't want to risk our lives on a plane that was sub-par. The good news? They had a second plane ready just in case this happened.

Everyone reentered the terminal as they prepped plane #2. Some of the flight crew made snow angels on the tarmac. A few non-believers on our flight decided to cut their losses and go home. Apparently they decided they could wait until Saturday. At this point, everyone began turning their phones back on to check the weather and complain on social media. The big new development was that the roads would be shutting down after midnight. It was too dangerous to plow without the roads being salted, and it was too late to get the salt out there.

We all got on plane #2 and took our seats. The captain, having checked the weather and complained on social media, himself, addressed us again. Yes, the roads were closing, but that sounded like a problem for Northeasterners. We were all going to be drinking those pineapple drinks on Venice Beach. If not, we'd all be home in bed by midnight and we wouldn't have to worry about road closures at all. But that wasn't going to happen. We were smart enough to stick it out. It was time to get this bird in the air—after one more de-icing.

After another 45 minutes of reenacting the radar jamming scene in Spaceballs, we taxied out to the runway. We stopped. We waited. At this point it was after midnight. We'd been on two different planes in five hours. The roads were shut down, everything would be closed until Saturday, and we hadn't gone shopping in weeks, prepping for the vacation. The intercom came on, broadcasting dead air through the cabin. Then a sigh. “Yeah, we're getting the same error we got on the other plane, ladies and gentlemen. It's just not going to happen tonight. I'm sorry.”

We all groaned. Now what were we going to do? The plane rolled back to the terminal and we all de-boarded. Through the windows of the airport, billions of snowflakes looked back at us, probably with high-pitched giggles, but those were drowned out by the howling of the 70mph winds.

On the way to baggage claim, a few of the airport employees handed out vouchers for free cabs. We'd all have to go home. The airport was closing because everything was canceled, and the nearby hotels were all full of people whose flights had been canceled hours ago. Steph and I grabbed our suitcase and headed to the door where the cab lane is usually three cars deep, all trying to usher you in to bring you to your destination.

It was desolate. Not one cab. What good was a cab voucher when nobody was out driving? Angry fliers began calling cab companies to come pick them up. Steph and I stood in the line, about 50 people deep, to wait for a car. Ahead of us, a woman bounced her screaming baby. He wore nothing but a onesie and snot streamed down his face. The woman balanced a huge suitcase and a stroller with her other hand. Seeing that the woman didn't have nearly enough going on, the airport gave her a complimentary car seat for her child when and if a cab ever came. The baby screamed. I realized I had left my sweatshirt at home, because I was going to be in California.

After some time, a lone cab approached the terminal. The first person in line hopped in and, after a brief exchange with the cabby. Other passengers continued to call taxi companies. After another long dry spell as we all shivered and the baby continued to cry, a man in a trenchcoat made an announcement: No taxi companies were sending people to the airport because they weren't getting paid. They were only getting vouchers.

At about 1:30 am, a van approached. The driver asked where people were going, and the crowd, either pitying the overburdened woman or just sick of the crying, mucus-y baby, said she should take it. She shuffled to the front of the line with her four things in tow and explained to the cabby where she was headed. Turns out it was two states north, and about an hour and a half away. The cabby asked who else was heading north. Steph and I were! We rushed to the exit with one other young girl and began to load our collective excess of baggage into the trunk of the van. The young girl plopped down in the back seat. Snow stung our faces as the rest of us took refuge behind the van. I wished I had my sweatshirt. The baby had to sit in the center row, since it was the only seat with a buckle in it. Mom couldn't get in, obviously, until the baby was in. I couldn't get in until mom has comfortably in the back seat, tending to her screaming baby, who could now add “freezing” to “sick and tired.” But before we could get the baby in, we had to assemble the car seat.

The woman with the baby continued to attempt to calm her slime creature as the cabby ripped the plastic off of the new car seat. The mom directed him: “The cushion has to go over the plastic shell, but-- not like that, that's upside down. See the holes? The straps need to go through them. No, they need to line up so the straps can go through. No, you have the padding backwards. I--” She looked around. “Can you hold my baby?” I glanced around. She couldn't mean me. She handed me the baby. He screamed louder, adding “Being held by a stranger” to his list of grievances. I did what I could with my motherly instinct, shushing him and bouncing him. Mom assembled the car seat and strapped it into the van. As she placed the mandrake-covered-in-lung-pudding in the seat, it became apparent that the child was far too big for the seat. Mom tried to buckle him in, but he cried louder. The only way the baby would fit, would be to fold him in half. Mom called it off and assured us she'd be fine. She and I climbed into the van. Steph took the front passenger seat.

Steph and I are a quick 15-minute drive to the airport on a normal day. The icy roads and slow going ensured that this would not be a normal day. We inched up the first big ramp out of the city, sliding our way across two lanes of non-existent traffic. The baby soon fell asleep, gurgling his sickness into the small heated van.

At 3am, the cabby stopped at the foot of our street. Getting any closer would require going downhill, and once down there, we weren't so sure he'd be able to get out. We said we'd make a run for it, sweatshirt or not. Steph and I pooled our money together to give him something of a tip. He really went above and beyond, even promising the other passengers at the airport that he would return. We grabbed our bags from the trunk and wished them good luck.

The end of our street, likewise, it about a thirty second walk. In sub-zero weather with three feet of snow on the ground, it might as well have been the arctic. By the time we had sprinted to our house, I was shaking from the cold.

We, along with the rest of the city, were snowed in for the next two days. The airport opened late on Wednesday, allowing us to escape the frozen wasteland before the pilot's promised Saturday. When we boarded the third plane of the week, Steph and I had both begun to develop familiar runny noses.

As for the mom and her baby? I think they're still out there driving somewhere.