Wednesday, April 27, 2016

PewDiePie Reflects on His Career

PewDiePie is one of the biggest examples of a society that is Hell bent on destroying itself and making the people who occupy it as stupid as possible.  While he is not the person who has single handedly destroyed serious video commentary, he has contributed to it's fall more than any other YouTuber I can think of.  I have no love for this talentless hack and believe he is a cancer of the internet.  So why am I embedding one of his videos?  Has he finally said something so stupid that I have no choice but to join in the haters?  No, I am not.  While I do find the man reprehensible, I largely do not hate for hates sake.  He's not hurting me personally and he doesn't appear to be a mean guy or anything like that.

While I am very concerned about how he is affecting the industry I work in, I believe that is another topic for another day (and, again, he's not the sole contributor to the current problem of video criticism).  Yesterday he uploaded a video where he looked back on old videos he uploaded.  He's been doing this for five years (God, has the world been blind to real entertainment that long?), and with anyone that has been doing something for a substantial period of time, he has fans who wish he would be more like his old self.  His videos have apparently changed throughout the years.  I have no idea how true this statement is, but apparently his videos have changed drastically, and people want him to go back to “the good old days.”  So how does the Pewds respond to this?  Why, by watching some of his old videos and commenting on them.  He laments over how young he used to look.  He jokes about how playing certain games helped catapult his career.

Then the video takes an interesting turn as he squirms over old jokes he used to make.  He gets uncomfortable every time he uses the words ‘retarded’ and ‘gay’ in the form of a joke.  He wishes he could go back and edit his videos.  He admits that he had no editing skills and believes it’s a miracle he got famous at all.  The video ends with him thanking people for the support, acknowledging that he understands where the fans are coming from when they want the old stuff back, but he stands firm and says that he has changed, he wants to believe he makes better stuff these days, and he wants to continue to make better videos.  This is not only a self-examination of his career up to this point; it is a bold statement from a man who doesn’t want to rely on his old tricks to make money.  He wants to perfect his craft and grow in this career he’s found himself in.

And you know what?  I 100% agree with him.  Not that his videos are that much better than his old ones (they still aren’t my thing to be honest), but I do agree that just because you find something that works doesn’t mean you have to stand still.  You have to experiment.  You have to grow.  Sometimes you have to look over previous works and groan at the mistakes you’ve made.  I make it a point to re-read old reviews every several months.  I read my old stuff not because I think highly of my writing, but because I want to see if I’m growing as a writer.  I want to go back to my old work, with some distance between myself and the time I wrote it, and see what works and what doesn’t.  Like the Pewds, I laugh at certain things I still like, I cringe at stuff that doesn’t work, and I wish I could do some things differently.

I thankfully don’t have to worry about using words like ‘retard’ and ‘gay’ in the form of jokes because I have always strived to make my sites as family friendly as possible (gets hard when you have to write about “Fifty Shades of Grey”), but there are spelling errors and sentence structures that are just…just embarrassing.  I mean, when I look at some of my older stuff I think “no wonder the Online Film Critics Association hasn’t accepted me as a member yet.”  Looking at the past is painful, but it is nessicary so that you can know where you used to be with your craft and give you ideas of where to go in the future.  So, for once, I think PewDiePie is absolutely right in his commentary.  I also need to mention that this is the first time I’ve watched one of his videos and felt like he was being genuine and sincere.

There was no outrageous commentary to be found, no forced jokes to be heard.  Just a guy looking at his past work frankly and honestly.  Admitting that he understands the appeal but that, ultimately, he has to do the stuff that makes him happy and work to improve on past mistakes.  This is something every critic must do.  Heck, it’s something you must always do regardless what career path you take.  I still don’t like PewDiePie’s videos, but for once I sort of admire the guy, and I’m curious to see where his career goes from here.  If Pewds is reading this blog post (and there’s a good chance he will because one of his fans will probably forward it to him) I want to assure him that I don’t hate him or his fans.  I don’t even hate what he does.  I hate what it has done to a craft and industry I take very seriously, but after this video I know that he is not malicious in his intent, and I look forward to him improving.

That said, I do believe he HAS contributed greatly to devaluation in YouTube commentary, and we’ll discuss why in my next post!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bedridden Critic

Depending on who you speak to, being bedridden is either one of the worst things to happen or one of the best.  Some people don't like that being confined to staying in bed for a day or two because they miss out on work.  Others feel that work (and, by extension, life in general) is so stressful that they welcome any excuse to take a time out and relax.  I am currently in a situation where I can't leave bed.  There is a sharp pain in my right foot (likely caused by extensive driving) and the foot is so tender that it hurts to touch the ground with it (although it isn't swollen surprisingly).  For bathroom breaks and answering the door for the pizza delivery boy I'll just have to limp those few steps, but for the most part there is no walking today.  There may not even be any walking tomorrow.  I am in the very situation that polarizes so many people, but with one twist: Being bedridden doesn't really affect my ability to work.  In fact, if anything, it is a good excuse to watch a couple of classic films and work on some writing.

The Surface RT that I write on is lite and fits comfortably in my lap.  My Xbox One can stream Netflix, Hulu, and Crunchyroll to my hearts content.  After viewing what I need to view I can stream music off Pandora in the background while I work on my writing (much like what I'm doing now).  The only way this job is affected is if I have to attend a screening at the movie theater.  I don't have another theater movie to view for a couple of days, but if I did have one today... eh, maybe it could work.  I mean, all I have to do is sit down and watch a movie.  There's very little walking required.  Sure, I'd have to get a Lyft over to the theater for safety reasons, but otherwise, it would be very doable.  This is an interesting position to be in because as much as people love to dream that this is the greatest job in the world, it's one of the few jobs you really can't escape from.

Outside of having the flu or being in a coma, if you can watch something and comprehend it, you can work.  This is bad if you depend on situations like this to take a much needed break.  On the other hand, it is also kind of liberating because situations like these give you a great opportunity to catch up on work you've put off.  I finally got around to writing my review for "Ex Machina" today and I will continue it by watching that Netflix movie I need to put back in the mail (I'll risk the three steps it takes to put the BluRay in the player).  I've heard people claim that with the advent of smartphones and laptops all jobs require you to be on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  I understand where they're coming from, but this is one of the very few jobs where this isn't just a hypothetical intrusion; it is a cold hard fact.

There's literally no escaping this job unless you are in a state where you are delusional or can't stay awake.  Even if you sprain your hand there are programs out there that will type what you say for you and you can manually edit them later on to make them read more professional.  Course, I guess this also means there's almost no reason to call in sick... but I digress.  I suppose whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your personality.  When I get down to it I'm sort of in the middle.  I do like resting my brain, but when I do find myself stuck in bed it is nice to know that I can do some work with relative ease.  Your mileage will vary, but it's just another one of the unique aspects of being a film critic.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

When Movies Are Your Salvation (or: Emphasizing with The Wolfpack)

Just a heads up before we start this post: If you are looking for true, eternal salvation, I cannot stress how important it is to receive Jesus Christ in your heart as your Lord and Savior!  I know what the title of this blog is and I don't want to get all religious on my readers, but the following discussion is a different kind of salvation we are discussing, and I have never for a moment believed that anything on this Earth can truly fulfill people the way they want to be filled.  For me Jesus has always been my main salvation over every aspect of my life.  Movies are also my salvation... they just are to a lesser extent.  With that said, on with the show...

I saw a movie last year called "The Wolfpack" which was a documentary about six brothers who spent all day watching movies and recreating them in their apartment.  They did this because they were not allowed to leave and go outside.  The only person who had a key to door was their father.  Not even their mother was allowed to leave the "sanctuary" of the small apartment complex.  These brothers (and their sister who strangely gets sidestepped in this whole story) were essentially prisoners in their own home.  Cut off from the outside world.  The only thing they had unlimited access to were movies.  For these boys, movies became their salvation; their only real window to the outside world.  I did write a review for this movie, but I never published it.  I still have it in a Dropbox folder, but chances are it is one of those reviews that will just never see the light of day.  Mainly because the review isn't good.

I tried over and over to make it worth reading, but it just didn't work at the end of the day.  The strange thing about this is that this seemed like a movie I was born to review.  Because I could relate to the idea of movies being a personal salvation and window to the open world more than most.  Granted, my childhood was very different from these boys.  My parents didn't lock me or my brother up in our house and forbid us to go outside.  Movies weren't unrestricted because I couldn't watch a PG-rated film until I was at least eight.  And unlike these boys, I did have friends growing up.  Yet as I watched this documentary I couldn't help but feel a special connection with their love of movies.  I feel that when they talk about how much movies saved their lives I could nod and think "yeah, they saved my life too." How can this be?  How can someone in my position think such a thing?  Because, whether we want to admit it or not, movies have the power to save anyone.

I even believe that movies have saved everyone to a certain extent.  The best movies are the ones that give the audience a chance to walk in someone else's shoes for a day.  For these brothers, this was a valuable thing as they weren't allowed to leave their own home.  For me, I was also in a prison, but it was more of a prison of the mind.  As someone with Asperger's Syndrome (a mild form of Autism) I view the world with, let's say... filtered lens.  There were a lot of things about people, emotions, and actions that I just did not understand.  To this day there are many things I still don't understand.  My parents (God bless them) did the best they could to teach me how things work, but they didn't think like me.  No one in my life did.  For the first six or seven years of my life I remember waking up just hating my life because I didn't understand people.  Even the people I considered my friends (some of who I consider friends to this day) seemed strangely distant and aloof.

In "The Wolfpack" the brothers comment that movies were like a window to the outside world.  They allowed them to make their own world in their head.  I bring this up because I sort of believe this is what movies were (and are) to me.  A window.  A visual representation of feelings, emotions, and world situations presented to me in a way I could understand in my own head.  Now, I do want to point out that there is a danger in this.  People who are mentally unstable, depressed beyond reason, or have the most shaky of relationships can experience movies in the same way and take away all the wrong things from them.  They aren't able to separate fantasy from reality.  Movies become reality.  And that reality is fractured and damaging, and it leads these people to sometimes do some very scary and dangerous things.  These are the people who go into midnight screenings of Batman and shoot innocent people because they think they are the Joker.  For people who can tell the difference between movies and real life this world within their head can be a gift.

The Wolfpack - for how horrible their childhood was - did provide loving parental figures, strong bonds between the brothers, and a sense to know that movies were fiction.  Those movies still provided a glimpse to the outside world though.  They did give them a chance to understand how life worked a little better.  Movies did that for me as well.  I believe I learned more about how the world works than I ever learned in school.  I learned more about how people feel from movies than any phychologist could tell me.  Some people laugh when I tell them this, but if movies weren't so influential to how people experienced the world, I sense the art would have died off a long time ago.  It is precisely because movies have the ability to teach us, mold us, and help us feel things that it is the biggest form of entertainment in the world today.

For these boys movies were a salvation that few people could possibly understand.  It makes sense that they would like to get involved in the business that gave them their only window to the outside world.  Even though my circumstances are different I largely feel the same way.  That's why I write about film.  I don't have the talent to make movies, but I have the capacity to understand them.  To understand them is to understand life a little better as well.  That is why I do what I do.  You can follow up on where The Wolfpack is now thanks to a "20/20" special on ABC.  Whatever direction theirs lives take I wish them the best of luck.  If any of them are reading this and ever want to discuss movies, my contact information is readily available on this site.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The UBER Film Critic

One of the things that is very important for a critic to maintain is a social life.  This may not sound very difficult, but let me assure you that being a critic full time is one of the loneliest professions on the planet.  It is VERY hard to maintain an active social life!  This is such a huge draw back to the job I write about so much that I'm surprised I haven't tackled it yet.  I will write a future blog post about why this is the case, but for the sake of today's article we need to acknowledge that if you do this job, you are going to need to find something to do that forces you to interact with people.  Going to church certainly helps (but that usually just covers Sunday... maybe Wednesday if you join a small group).  A book club would be nice if you can find people who will dedicate time to reading one book a month (not an easy task I assure you).  Online gaming and Facebook doesn't really count as far as I'm concerned because there is still that digital wall between you and the other person.

Sports is also a great way to socialize with other people... too bad I don't like to play sports.  When I sat down and decided what would be a good way to socialize with other people, a unique opportunity arrived: UBER!  The money you make from UBER is certainly not going to afford you the right to retire anytime soon (something that has been played out in the media for a good portion of the past year), but it does get you out of the house and driving real people around town.  Most of the people you pick up will be friendly and want to talk.  If this person wants to go a long distance it is even better.  One of the most common questions you will get asked is if UBER is something you do full time.  I always tell them "no, I'm a film critic." This is a great line if you want to spark a conversation with a complete stranger in a car.  Most people immediately have questions concerning this new bit of information you have just provided.

How does someone get that job?  Is it cool?  What is the bet movie currently in theaters (for the record, this usually translates to "is the latest superhero movie any good")?  What is your favorite movie?  Can you please turn the A/C up?  The trick to answering all these questions is to answer them in a friendly way that is not confrontation.  If your passenger likes "The Waterboy" (and those people do exist) you politely disagree with them but let them know that you are happy someone enjoyed it.  Rarely will these conversations get testy though, and sometimes the movie conversation will be a segway into another topic.  Sometimes you will have passengers who don't really watch movies.  Ask them what some of their interests are and take it from there.  Feel free to even discuss the lack of a tip feature on UBER (this is something that NEEDS to change).

I picked up a couple tonight who were heading home after catching up with some friends they went on a vacation with.  I can't remember his name, but her name was Lynn (hi Lynn!), and the conversation went from the pictures they looked at, the vacation, to what I do, to her Googling me (and yes, I do come up if you search my full name), to finding out what her son does for a living, to a goodbye that went something along the lines of "we should all have lunch sometimes." Now, most of the time you will never see these people again.  While it would be nice to have the aforementioned lunch I acknowledge the reality of it happening is low.  Most people simply need a ride home and you will never see them again.  This isn't something you do to form new, lasting friendships.  If you want that go to church.

If you want social interaction then there are worse ways to get it than driving for UBER.  Again, the amount of income you get isn't going to be very much (although during surge times it can certainly be worth your while and can help pay for a new car).  The idea is that you have something to do to speak to people.  Again, this could be playing sports, a book club... whatever.  For me this is how I get the bulk of my social interaction.  And if you plan to do this for a living you will need to find a social outlet as well.  It's not anyone's fault, but this is one of those professions where talking to human beings is largely not in the cards.  We'll discuss why later this week.  For now though, start exploring your social options.  Oh, and if you DO want to give UBER a try, sign up with it using my referral code!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Are Critics Wrong About "Batman v Superman?"

It's been a few weeks since Warner Bros. unleashed "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" to great critical scorn and big box office.  I've written that sentence more times than I care to, but I must write it once more because we need to tackle the subject of whether or not critics are out of touch with the real world.  I've written about this before (when talking about "Transformers") and I'll likely have to tackle it again (when... well, the next 'Transformers' movie comes out).  I've stressed before that big box office is not an indicator of a quality film (or visa versa).  Yet every time a studio farts out a multi-million dollar film that features beloved characters the critics are the bad guys for wanted to "destroy fans dreams of a massive franchise."  No, we don't want to crush any dreams or crap on your beloved franchises; we just want to watch good movies.

And honestly, if that means being out of touch with the rest of the world than maybe that's a good thing.  I rarely take the time of day to take a shot at my readers, but how many of you went to see this movie despite the negative reviews it got?  How many of you went to see it despite the fact that your friends said it was a waste of time?  Heck, how many of you are STILL planning to see it despite the negative things you've heard from BOTH groups?!  How on Earth is it WE'RE the ones who are out of touch with the real world?!  This is a world where a vast majority of women are feminists yet they make "Fifty Shades of Grey" a worldwide hit.  This is a world where animation is considered "not real film making" even though it's a much more difficult kind of movie to make (and requires far more imagination).  This is a world where everything has to come to a grinding halt because a new Star Wars movie has been released.

Yet somehow the critics are out of touch in this situation... because we want to see a superhero movie that is about something other than two heroes beating the snot out of a giant brown booger for almost a full hour.  Yet the general public will go see a movie they know is terrible - sometimes twice - and they are the ones who are sane?  Remember how as kids we hated school?  We all thought we knew how the world worked and that school wasn't needed.  How wrong we were back then.  We had a lot to learn. We still have a lot to learn.  In fact, I don't know about you, but I hope I'm always learning because learning is fun and keeps my mind working.  That's why as a film critic I want better movies.  Because movies, like most things in life, are experiences.  I want to keep having new experiences because I grow when I have them.

I don't grow when I watch a movie like "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." Remember "The Dark Knight" though?  Remember how that movie made you think and feel about the world?!  I remember when my sister-in-law was trying to get out of seeing that movie with my brother several years ago.  She trusted my opinion on movies, and she normally used me as a way to get out of seeing movies with my brother she had a strong feeling were going to be terrible.  After I assured her she would like this one she came back later that night and told me how much she loved Batman.  She never thought that was possible before.  She watched the other Batman movies as well as other superhero movies. And you know what?  While she enjoyed some of them, she was constantly disappointed because she knew how good this genre could be.

She didn't like to settle for less than she deserved.  She knew her value as a human being.  And she projected that knowledge in how she spent her money, what movies she saw, and the family she decided to marry into.  If she could see "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" she would feel insulted by how little this movie thought of her.  Of the characters she had no idea she would eventually come to love.  The strange thing is, people should feel that way now.  The public has seen "The Dark Knight," "Superman: The Movie," "Spider-Man 2," Guardians of the Galaxy," and "Iron Man."  They know what a movie that treats them like thinking human beings looks and sounds like, and this isn't it.  Yet somehow the critics are the bad guys in all this.  Because we clearly just don't understand the world... no, I don't buy that.  In fact, I'm going to say that you need us more than we need you.

Alright, in all fairness we do need you to read our reviews, because that gives us traffic, which shows our sponsors we're worth investing in, which helps us pay out bills... yeah, should probably make that very clear.  That said, because you do pay our bills, we have a responsibility to steer you towards good movies. Towards good experiences.  We're not trying to tell you what to like: We're trying to share what is great with you!  We know you'll see "Captain America: Civil War" because Spider-Man is in it - ah heck, I'm going to see that movie because Spider-Man is in it - but what about those movies you might not see if we didn't push?  What about movies like "Hugo," "Spotlight," "The Iron Giant," or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?"  What about these movies you might never have seen if we didn't push you?  Were those experiences really so bad that you have to dismiss us because we feel the new Batman movie is beneath you?

Listen to me loud and clear: From where I'm sitting, it's not the critics who are out of touch with the world, it's the ticket buying public that is.  And the sooner you all realize that the sooner things like the Rotten Tomatoes scores won't matter as much as you think they do.