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Check Out the New YouTube Channel and the First Two Videos

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Posted by on April 2, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

I’m Not a Female Writer; I’m a Writer

I remember once during my grad school time, I took a class on creative writing theory. One essay we read was by Langston Hughes, and in it he said that the young black writer who doesn’t want to identify himself as a black writer is wrong. Of course, discussion followed. I was against this idea. My professor hit the nail on the head when he asked me if I want to be identified as a “female writer”. I gave a very quick and very loud, No! in return. I’ll explain why this is so important to me.

To Be Identified Is To Be Qualified

We don’t say that Stephen King is a white writer or a male writer. We say he is a writer. Some may say he is a horror writer, and that is a qualifier of a different sort, but with all the minimization that the genetic qualifiers are used with. Identity social protest and politics are very in right now. I’ve never been behind them, and I’m not behind them in art either. When our identity is put before everything else, it pigeonholds us. It’s a qualifier. “Miceli is a female writer” vs “Miceli is a writer”. It’s clear to me that one of these implies that as a writer, I’m not on equal footing with others. It implies “less than”, a niche, a special case. We get the same thing with athletes and scientists. It’s not necessary to say a person is a woman. Let other people figure it out on their own.

To say that Stephen King is a male writer is to suggest that we can’t expect good women from him. But his first novel blows that theory out of the water. To say that he is a white writer is to suggest that we can’t expect him to understand the issues that ethnic minorities face. That’s also disproven. To say that I’m a female writer is to suggest that you can’t expect good male characters from me. Empathy is supposed to bridge these gaps. It is a writer’s greatest tool and we can stop qualifying people at any point.

The Womanly Effect on Writing

Well, being a woman has an effect on my writing in the same way that being a man effects a male writer: minimally, if you wield empathy correctly and well. I have no control over the sex I was born with, nor even with the sex I identify with; however, I’m a strange person. I don’t get along with most women. We often have less to talk about. I don’t wear makeup, and I get haircuts every two years. I hate fussing with my appearance and don’t like kids. This is basically the opposite of most women I know. I do identify myself as a woman, but about as much as I identify myself as a human being. All of us are human beings, and a little more than half of us are physically female. It’s what I am. It’s not who I am. I have other things that I feel make up who I am a little stronger than those two things. Those are foundation, not home.

I have a learning disability. It made me incredibly different those around me. It made learning how to read and write so much harder. Yet all the rewards were so much sweeter. I am an atheist, not by choice (it’d be easier in this world to believe and I tried), when everyone around me was devout. I had to discover Christianity and discover that I didn’t believe in it, nor anything else resembling creation, the divine, or an afterlife. I more recently discovered that I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and had to learn how to deal with that. These things more greatly explain the kind of person I am and explain the kind of writer I am a lot better than simply being a woman. Being a childfree woman has more of an effect than just being a woman.

Being a woman is so simply a part of me that it is hard for me to focus on it. Just as I imagine being a man is hard for men to focus on. I think only people who want to simplify themselves focus on their genetic differences. It’s easier to feel like you’re part of it all when you can pick out others who look like you and feel the same things you do. But I identify with no one and everyone, because everyone feels differently and feels the same. I think that’s what writing and art is supposed to show us, which is why what the writer is doesn’t matter, just what they write.

Proud to Be a Woman and My Name?

First of all, my name is Alex. It is not Alexis, Alexandrea, Alexa, or Alexandra. My first name really is just Alex. Yes, people have thought that I was male before meeting me on occasion. This doesn’t usually bother me too much. I am not proud of what I didn’t accomplish. I didn’t accomplish being a woman. That doesn’t mean anything. I didn’t control it. Genetic chance doesn’t seem like something I should be proud of. I’m proud of the things I do. I’m also not ashamed of things out of my control, like genetic chance. It doesn’t make any sense to me to be so. I feel like pride and shame should be wrapped up in actions, not chance. So I’m proud of this blog, my Patreon, my published play, the awards I’ve won, the stories and poems I’ve written, the actions I’ve taken to help others.

I Am Woman; Hear Me Roar?

I care about women’s issues. I  also care about men’s issues. I care about poverty issues. I care about animal cruelty. I care about messed up beaucracity. I care about everything that feels like it is hurting another living creature. Some are higher on the list of emotional response, such as women’s access to sterilization in the US and animal cruelty or the treating of animals as property. I don’t necessarily let these things guide my writing however. Instead, I let my writing guide itself. Will it be effected by these things? Of course, they are all in my head, and what’s in my head invariably comes out in my creations. I don’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write about animal cruelty”, unless I’m writing here in this blog or for a paper. In my creative work, I’m writing from an image or a character first, not an ideal or an injustice. Let the work be interpreted as audiences are wont to do. I know I interpret work I experience.

I’m Simply a Writer

The end goal of equality should be to be seen no different than someone who is different. Of course, that doesn’t apply when I go to the doctor, except that the doctor should still see me as someone who is smart enough to make decisions about my body. Overall, though, I am simply a writer. This is who I am above all things. I’m reading about Jonathan Swift right now, and I keep having some eerie feelings while doing so, because his attitude is so much like mine (Everybody can fuck off, but I worry that you’re being treated like shit). He lived centuries ago, in a different country, and with a different set of sex organs, but I keep getting the idea that I would have loved this man and also never hung out with him, just as I never hang out with anyone. I don’t like people when they are in front of me, but I certainly care about them. This seems to be something a lot of other people feel, and it doesn’t seem to be effected by gender. It’s an example of how characteristics transcend obvious genetic differences. They can also transcend cultures and times. We can all find something that connects us to someone else. Anyone else. We can all empathize, if we try, with everyone in the world. And that effects my writing more than my sex.

 

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Buying vs Renting: The Great Debate of Society

I keep seeing articles about how Millennials aren’t buying homes and how it is hurting the housing market. Most of us know, however, that the reason most Millennials are not buying homes is that they aren’t in a place of financial security to justify making that kind of leap. So many of them just keep renting. I, myself, have rented five different homes and bought one home, but when I first got the idea for this blog post, I hadn’t gotten into even considering purchasing personal property for a myriad of reasons. Having now been on both sides of this issue, the benefits and detriments of each is pretty obvious. Here’s why renting or buying may be the best option for a person.

Benefits of Renting

You Can Leave a Little Easier

When you rent, the time that you’re stuck there is wholly dependent on the lease you signed, but there is always a clear end date. So if life changes on a person, as it is wont to do, such as a new job, a job loss, neighborhood goes to crap, or the rent goes up, a person only has to holdout until a specific date and after that date there are no more strings tying the person to the rental. Some people see this date as a detriment because they may not be able to hold out until that date, but it is better than owning a home in that regard because when a person needs out of the home they own, offloading that home could be immediate or take years, and in all that time the person will still have to pay their mortgage or property taxes, insurance, and utilities, even if they aren’t physically in the property anymore. So renting is definitely for people who are not sure about where they will need to be in the next year or even the next five or ten years.

What’s Included

A lot of rentals include extras. Perhaps water and trash are included. Perhaps they include internet and/or cable. If these things are important to a person, it can be helpful to shop around for those things per rental. But pretty much universally included is maintenance. Nearly every rental property comes with at least one maintenance person who will come to fix issues as they come up, like plumbing issues, broken large appliances, heating and cooling problems, and such. They often also include pest control. The reason these two things are most often included in a rental is that they help prevent the rental from being unrentable once the current tenant moves out. It is to the rental management’s benefit to maintain and keep the place free of infestations. Especially in the day and age of the internet review. One review that mentions flooding, heating, cooling, or infestation issues can drastically lower a rental’s value. Homes do not usually have this kind perk. Nothing is included. Maintenance and pest control are completely up to the owner and no home includes a utility. The middle ground for an owner is to get a home warranty, which is basically an extra cost that covers most pest control and plumbing, appliance, and heating and cooling. Depending on what a person is willing to pay, it may include more. This is must for the buyer who doesn’t know diddly-squat about home maintenance, but that doesn’t change the fact that the home owner has all their utilities and entertainment costs on top of their monthly mortgage.

Perks

A lot of rentals come with a few things that cost a lot of money to lay out in a home, such as landscaping, a gym, a playroom, a pool, or a hot tub. These are great things to have, but to put them in a home, a person needs a lot of extra square footage and acreage. This adds to the price tag of a home and getting all or any these into the home also costs a lot of money. Even buying a home that comes with a pool preinstalled costs more than a home without a pool. But there is more than just a financial cost to set these things up and maintain them. There’s also the time cost to maintain them. Pool and hot tub maintaince takes a lot of time, and knowledge. A rental can push all this financial and temporal cost off of a person with all of the perks of being able to use them.

Security

Some rental properties come with a security patrol and/or gated access. This can make it harder for something to happen to your car and can make you feel safer walking to the mailbox, gym, or pool. To get this in a purchased property, the price tag on the home goes way up. Most rentals have to have one or both of these to be competitive, especially in major metropolitan areas. In this same vein, delivered packages can be taken to the rental office to be picked up later, which helps prevent said packages from being stolen by neighbors. Homes often face issues with package delivery, but a big part of this is the delivery service itself. Some companies have no problem leaving packages at doors, whether or not there is an office at which to drop off the package instead. But a rental has a higher chance of safe package delivery with an office involved than a home without a secluded front.

Benefits of Buying

Less Rules

Rentals come with so many rules. To some extent this can be a benefit to the tenant, but some of them can just be frustrating. You know those perks I mentioned? Well, guess what? You can’t use the pool or hot tub after eight at night and you have to wait until eight in the morning to use them. They even lock up the pool area at night. What if you want to swim laps before you go to work? Well, too bad. So sad. Hate your kitchen? Better move. Would like a garden? You can have a max of three pots on your balcony. Want more than one pet? Not at this place. Purchased homes usually come with way less rules. Homeowners’ associations care about the front look of a home, but inside a private yard and inside the home, the owners can do anything they can afford. General laws still apply, so no loud parties or meth houses still applies.

Make It Your Own

There’s basically no reason to paint your walls in your rental. You’re going to have to repaint them when you leave or pay out of your deposit or above your deposit for the rental owner to do it. Even if you hate those beige walls, they will haunt you for months and months until you can’t stand it anymore and unfortunately, you know that every freaking rental you look at has those same beige walls. Look! There’s one that isn’t, but hey, they are prison grey, so that’s not really an improvement. Rentals are quite possibly the most average and least unassuming residences ever. They lack character. Nearly all of them. And there’s no reason for you to change it because you don’t own it. When looking for a home to buy, you can focus solely on the look of the outside because that’s the only part you most likely won’t be able to change. The inside? Paint the walls as black as your soul if you want; it doesn’t matter. Even if the previous owner painted all the walls chartreuse and your eyes feel like they might burn out of your skull, it doesn’t matter because before you move in, you can just paint them that lovely chocolate brown you’ve always wanted. Also in a rental, any minor damage you cause is immediately a castrophe. “They’re going to make me pay for that hole in the wall from me tripping on my bag!” Versus, the same minor damage isn’t great but doesn’t feel like a parent is going to come screaming out of the woodwork at you, demanding money to fix it. You can fix it at your leisure. It still sucks, but it doesn’t make you feel like a child.

Mortgage Payments

Comparing a mortgage payment to a rental payment for a place in the same area for the same square footage, a person can see how buying can be financially better. A thousand dollar rental can have a five hundred dollar mortgage. Of course, that doesn’t include any utilities, but does often include homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, and sometimes the home warranty. It does take a lot of research and a lot of smarts to make sure that the mortgage is the best one for the home and for you. Predatory home loans swept the market leading up to the housing market bubble burst and far too many people got taken for a ride. Mortgages are not something to be entered into lightly and a person should really get a smaller home to be able to cut their housing costs in half to make the purchase worth it. If done right, this switch can be very beneficial. Some may wonder why rental prices are so high. It’s not just what the rental may include, but the risk involved in renting to people. Another current issue effecting the prices of rentals is AirBNB and similar companies. People with the cash can make a hefty profit by renting a bunch of apartments and always have them on AirBNB. This lowers the turnover rate on rentals, resulting in a scarcity issue. With the same or possibly more people wanting to rent fewer properties, the value of each one goes up. AirBNB was not designed for this secondhand market wherein this was the only way some people make a living. It was designed so that people could rent out their homes more easily for short term stays as an alternative to hotel rooms. Rental companies are seeing a piece of the pie too, so they aren’t against it. In fact, some of the people doing this on the side work for the rental companies. This is mostly happening in major metropolitan areas, so rentals in smaller areas are only seeing the normal property tax and maintaince hikes that come with rising values and older properties.

Middle Grounds

Renting a House

A standalone rental house can give a tenant a little more privacy from the rental owner and neighbors. It still gives the benefit of maintenance but takes away the typical rental benefits of included bills, perks, and security. If privacy and a quieter environment are more important than those things and the ability to leave by a certain date is still a requirement, this can be a good choice.

Renting a Room

This is often done without contracts. I suggest that you demand a rental agreement with rules of conduct anyway so as to not get any surprises and that the person renting the room can’t just kick you out. Getting those two things will lock both the tenant and the owner into following the contract. It’s better for everyone if the lay of the land is clear from the beginning. A room rental also comes with nearly all lack of privacy. A bathroom is usually shared with other people in the home and parking is often a problem. It’s more like living with family or roommates in college and often results in arguments. However, it is usually cheaper than renting an actual apartment or a mortgage payment and can still come with some perks, such as a pool or some gym equipment if the owner has it.

Buying an “Apartment”

In other words, purchasing a condo or townhome. Some of the responsibility of maintainance falls on the HOA, and they do enforce some rules. Certain specific renovations might be against those rules and some may need to be approved. It may also come with a gated community, a pool, a hot tub, a playroom, landscaping, and trash service. The home owner gets the benefit of the lower mortgage payment, the “make it your own” mentality, and sometimes even a yard at smaller condominiums. It’s like buying a mini-home, except it also usually comes with the close neighbors. HOA fees go up and down depending on how much they have to maintain; gates and pools cost more, so the fee is more if the community has those things. The only utility that’s usually included is trash. Everything else is up to the homeowner. A middle level of privacy and enforcement of some rules are the biggest factors in if this is right for a person.

What Should You Do?

At different stages in our lives, we are ready for different characteristics from our homes. Figuring out which is a higher priority and what we really want is a very personal thing. It is effected by the market and what you need right now. Still in college? Rent. Looking for a job out of state? Rent. Got your dream job? Start shopping for a home. Dream job doesn’t pay that well? Shop for less square footage. Want all the perks but don’t want to take care of them yourself? Get an apartment. Want privacy and need to be able to leave? Rent a house. You can see how it really depends on you. I do not suggest buying a place unless you are financially ready and are settling down. People often say that buying a home is the right thing to do once a person is out of college or once a person gets married. That is typical, but if you aren’t typical, there’s nothing wrong with that. It is okay to not ever buy a home. It is okay to wait to do so as well. It’s really up to you. Make the decision that is best for you.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2018 in Consumer Rights, Social Issues

 

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Rules, Rules, Rules Were Meant to Be Broken

I’ve got a formal education in creative writing. That means I was given techniques, criterion, and rules by which to write. This included how to form beautiful and interesting yet clear sentences, character development, story arc, setting description, and a boatload of things not to do. Don’t say it was all a dream. Don’t kill the main character off at the end of the story. Don’t write in baroque style. Don’t write about violence or death. Now it was okay to break grammar rules as long as it was done on purpose, but the majority of the rules were about what you could write and these always grated with me. So I’ll explain why at a certain point a writer needs to start trusting their instincts and break any rule they’ve been told should never be done.

The Red Cape

Now, throughout all of my educational career when a teacher would tell me I couldn’t write something, I basically said “Well, screw that. I’m gonna write it.” I was like a bull and their rule was a red cape flying in my face. Don’t say it was all a dream? Allow me to present a short story wherein the realist moments only happen in dreams and the most surreal moments happen when awake. Don’t kill off the main character at the end? Allow me to present a novel wherein each chapter is close limited third about a different character wherein they die at the end. Don’t write purple prose? Allow me to present stories with poetic and baroque style. Don’t write about violence, suicide, or the so-called dregs of society? Allow me to present a story about a former child prostitute dying of AIDS. Don’t write genre fiction? Allow me to present a novel about a woman who lives forever, a short story about a woman who flies, a graphic novel about two supernatural beings/superheroes, a romance novel, and so on. Don’t show sex? Ho, ho, ho! Telling me I can’t do something as a writer is the surest way to make me do it to try to prove you wrong. My teachers often let me get away with it because what I gave them didn’t lack in technique or criteria of writing. It was my point to do the best at it I could, so as to show that these rules weren’t hard and fast. They didn’t prevent the work from being good. Maybe it meant a writer had to work harder at it, but I don’t think so.

Realism vs Magic Realism

“It was all a dream” is possibly the most cliche sentence in the English language, so yes, it is probably best to avoid this sentence in writing. That doesn’t mean, however, that writing dream sequences or whole narratives in dream is a bad thing. Watch Waking Life if you don’t believe me. There is always a way to go about this, and it usually involves the use of Magic Realist techniques. Treating dreams as reality only makes sense. We dream. It is a subject we should write about. Realism, to me, often means dry writing. Writing without spark or real interest, usually because it is combined with other rules, such as a lack of dark subjects, poetic language, or unrealistic elements of any kind. This is what all of my teachers wanted us to write; as such, there were a lot of stories about characters going to a funeral, planning a funeral, the journey to see a family member die, a marriage that wasn’t quite working out. Most of these never showed death and the characters when faced with making hard decisions often chose stasis over change for the better. That’s all very real. Most people are like that. But they started to blend together for me. The stories that stick out from those classes were the stories that weren’t very real such as the couple who had an octopus for a baby. The reality of realism fiction is that we’ve read basically all of those stories and they have to be done so well as to stick out that our minds are blown away. Dream sequences, houses that are spiteful, the finding of a baby hand in the living room, the questioning of what is real and what isn’t are new ways to tell the same ideas. Is it a hook? Of course it is, but at least it is entertaining as well as interesting.

Chekhov and the Dead Character

At one point, one of my teachers brought up an essay by a writer wherein every time she gave a rule to her students, she would then read a Chekhov story that broke that rule. If you don’t know this one, it is called “Learning from Chekhov” and it’s by Francine Prose. Now according to everyone who knows anything about literature, Chekhov is a giant of writing. Apparently. Once when writing my novel about the girls who all kill themselves (called When the Lights Flicker Out), said same teacher tried to tell me I couldn’t kill off the characters at the end. I rebutted, Chekhov did it, and she said something along the lines of I’m not Chekhov. Now this feels like a backhanded compliment meant to be a put down. I am not a fan of Chekhov’s writing. I’ve never felt he was very good. The subtext everyone claims is there feels like major digging to me and he has characters do exposition dumps in his plays. So to me, not being Chekhov is a good thing. I’m smart enough to know, however, that said teacher thought of Chekhov as not just a good writer, but a great writer. Yeah, I’m not Chekhov. I’m good with that. I’m Alex Miceli. I write the stories Alex Miceli would write, not the stories Anton Chekhov would write. Creative writing is completely subjective. I wouldn’t try to ape even a writer I did like. But the idea behind the statement that “You’re not Chekhov” isn’t that you’ll write like Chekhov; it’s that you aren’t as good as Chekhov or that you haven’t earned the right to do what Chekhov has done. Well, you and every other writer won’t be better unless you try and you aren’t trying much if you aren’t pushing yourself to do hard things. Basically, you can’t know if you’re good enough to have your character die at the end until you try and then try harder.

Sensationalism/Sentimentalism vs Dark Subjects

I understand why sometimes teachers want their writing students to shy away from dark subjects such a violence, rape, murder, suicide, and other nasty business, which is all a part of life too. A good amount of writers can’t do justice to those subjects and it comes from an inability to prevent their prose from becoming sensationalist or sentimental. Neither of which is good writing. However, that doesn’t mean these subjects can’t be written about without becoming sensationalist or sentimental and can even be written with some dignity and gentleness. It’s harder, obviously, but it also doesn’t mean that again writers shouldn’t try and try harder to write about these subjects. Part of the problem, though, is that sometimes critics and teachers associate these subjects so much with bad writing that they don’t judge the piece in front of them but their past experiences with the bad writing. They also may find these subjects just too uncomfortable to read about. That’s fine, but they should acknowledge that sensation and separate it from their thoughts on the work critically. Art that makes a person uncomfortable because it forces them to face the worst parts of life is a good thing. Art shouldn’t shy away from these subjects but, yes, they must be treated delicately, which means with prose that doesn’t make it a sideshow freak or a tearjerker.

Purple Prose vs Baroque/Poetic Style

Purple Prose is hard to describe. Examples of it can be pointed out easily, such as much of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the best way I have to explain it is to say that emphasis is overstated and adjectives and adverbs are overused. It is not the same as using a very baroque or poetic prose style. Baroque almost edges into purple but skates back from that edge instead of tipping over it. Most likely because while descriptive words are heavily uses, the emphasis is not overstated. Poetic style is similar but more closely follows the techniques of poetry than of prose. Figurative language is heavily used and sound is a factor in the configuring of sentences. While figurative language is often used in prose, the focus on sound is not typical. I prefer the language in my fiction to be more baroque or poetic because it helps create tone in the work without being overt. Purple prose is at odds with that in that it is overt. The tone is stated instead of created. While poetic style and baroque language can both use a lot of adjectives and adverbs that does not make them purple. The idea that a lot of either of these sentence parts is automatically bad is not correct. Description is important but style effects the sensation it creates in the reader. Mostly a writer needs to back off from telling the reader how to feel.

The Merit of the Genre Fictions

Early in my writing education, a teacher said that a writer, much like a woman, couldn’t be a wife and whore at the same time. Putting aside the very erroneous idea that matrimonial love and exclusivity are one in the same, I’ve already written my disagreements on this subject. The idea that all of the work that has ever existed in genre fiction is without merit simply by being genre fiction always puts me off. It is a kind of prejudice. I don’t believe that any medium can be judged by the sub-type it happens to be. This includes music, film, TV, and poetry in addition to fiction. I won’t say all rap is bad simply because it is rap. I won’t say all horror movies are bad simply because they are horror movies. A person is allowed to not like a specific genre. But a personal preference is not the same as prejudging all of the content of the genre as being without merit as an artistic endeavor. We still have things to learn from genre work. We can still discover ideas and amazement in genre work. Of any medium. Stephen King, who for the longest time was simply considered a horror fiction writer, is now being taught in classrooms as a technically adapt and thematically interesting writer. Does that mean that all his work is worthwhile? Of course not, he writes two thousand words a day. No one keeps up that much momentum without having bad days. But Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is taught in classrooms and has been for years, but for being published in serial, it suffers from serious structurual issues and could have done with several more edits. And until the middle of writing that book, he was a genre writer, focusing solely on adventure novels. A bit of these genre roots can be seen in his epic novel, but his best work is actually the short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener“, which showed that he had the ability to write beautiful and thought-provoking narratives that weren’t long-winded or structurally unsound. Melville could have been pigeonholed because of his past genre work, but we didn’t do that to him, and no writer or work of fiction should be prejudged based who wrote it or to what genre it may belong. Writers are not in stasis and neither are their skills. They may surprise you.

When Can You Break the “Rules”?

I understand the idea that when first learning writers should focus on structure, technique, character development, the well crafted sentence, and so on, instead of trying the harder stuff. However, I believe critics and teachers should trust writers’ instincts more as well. Perhaps they have already mastered those things and are ready for the harder stuff. Perhaps forcing them to write content they don’t care about will make their craft suffer. As Flannery O’Connor said the writer will write the kind of stories they want to read. A person has to care about what they are working on to give it their all. She and I may have been very different in our beliefs and styles, but I’ve never agreed with another writer more. I certainly believe that grad students should be encouraged to break the rules and experiment. That is definitely the time in which the student has proven that they are capable at their craft and need to be challenged. It is better that they face challenges in their work with some guidance, instead of waiting until they are out from under the thumb of academics. And if a writer decides to strike out on their own without any academic guidance, then more than ever they need to trust their instincts. All that being said, every writer, no matter what level of skill or education, has to trust in the work to guide them to the proper places and ignore rules if the work requires them to be broken.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2018 in Craft of Writing

 

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AdNonSense: The Poor Logic of Advertising

Advertisements are everywhere. You can see them walking down a city street. You hear them when you listen to free music. You turn on the TV, and even if you don’t pay for cable or satellite, you’ll probably still see an ad or two. All the products in your home are pretty much an ad as well as they are what you bought or were given. But the majority of the time, the ads we see now are on the internet. They’re in our apps and on almost all our websites. The ads on our videos and websites are the ones I see the most of the time. So here is why those ads are a useless waste of my time and a waste of the company’s money.

Non-memorable Ads:

I can’t tell you about the ads I’ve seen that aren’t memorable because, well, I can’t remember them. This obviously is bad for the product or service that the ad is trying to sell. Obviously, ads don’t work if they don’t have any impact. Now let me tell you about the ads that are memorable to me years after I’ve seen them.

1) Taco Bell had a Bacon Ranch Gordita Crunch item a few years back and I saw one ad for it that killed me. Two women are in an upscale bar, their clutches on the bar top and one of them smells the air and asks about the smell. The second woman opens her purse to show the gordita and says “Oh, it’s the Bacon Ranch Gordita Crunch. Men love bacon.” Then three men come up to them and one says “What’s that smell? It’s . . . intoxicating.” Then the commercial goes into the typical explanation of the new product. I remember the vendor and the name of the product. I never bought it, but I also recited the commercial to other people. I don’t like ranch so that’s why I never bought it.

2) Around Christmas a couple of years ago, RadioShack had a very effective commercial about the games they carried. A young boy runs downstairs on Christmas morning all excited for his presents. His father is standing there, leaned over, with his hands behind his back. The kid asks what he got for Christmas. The man pulls a video game out from behind his back, saying “I got you this game!” The boy raises one of his arms and cheers. The man pulls out a second video game from behind his back, saying “And I got you this game!” The kid raises both arms and cheers. Then the man pulls out a third game from behind his back with a third arm and says “And this game!” There is a long pause before the boy raises both his arms and then a third one and cheers. I laughed so hard. Now, there weren’t any RadioShacks anywhere near me, so no, I did not buy games from them. But again, I told other people about this commercial.

If a person can remember a commercial, especially the important components of vendor and product or service, then the commercial has done its job.

Nonsense Ads:

Like an unmemorable ad, an ad that doesn’t make any sense, in that you don’t know what it is for, also hasn’t done its job. I see billboards around town that just say one word. I don’t know what the ad is for. I’m not going to look it up because I don’t know if it will be a waste of my time to do so. Also I’m busy, forget about it, and can’t be bother to care that much. I’ve seen commercials like that too. It’s not clear what the product or service is and I’m not going to go look it up. I shouldn’t have to. Advertising should put the important details at the forefront, clearly expressed with all the pertinent details presented as well. Sometimes if the text or audio of the ad is so stylized that, again, the product or service and details are lost. I don’t see why a company bothers with the ad if the ad is not clear. It’s much like that earlier episode of Bob’s Burgers where Gene wins the mascot race but can’t remember the name of Bob’s restaurant but tells people to eat there. If an audience member doesn’t know what the ad is selling, that’s the worst result. If an audience member doesn’t know how they can get the product or service, as in the store info, possibly even just the name of the store, is missing, then that’s a bad result too.

Annoying Ads:

Some ads are just too annoying to live. Once I started to get banner ads on all webpages for Outback Steakhouse, and while I like that place, these ads drove me insane because they would flash continuously. I ended up clicking the offensive option on all of these until they went away. The same kind of in-your-face tactics with audio components are the quickest way for me to hit the mute button. The idea with these ads is to get a person’s attention no matter what because then they’ll see what you’ve got to offer. The problem with this tactic, however, is counter-intuitive because the first reaction is to get away from the ad as soon as possible and creates animosity for the company the product or service is from.

Misdirected Ads:

Ad tracking is supposed to display ads related to a person’s profile based on their inferred interests from what they watch, read, and sites they visit. I’m a thirty year old woman who has never bought baby stuff. In the last year, I have had more ads than I can count about my poor fertility. I hate these ads so much. I’m Childfree, not infertile. It is very insulting. The tracking system is pretty sure I’m a woman and knows my age. In systems where I can turn down ads related to motherhood (and makeup), they suddenly start showing me ads for new cars. First of all, a person has to be super set financially to purchase a new car. Secondly, I can’t drive. I may never learn. So these ads mean nothing to me. I believe, since I declined traditionally feminine ads, the tracking system then thinks I’m a man, because I also get ads for men’s razors and deodorant mixed in with the cars. I suppose I’m hard to sell to. I’m not a mother, and not going to be one, I’m already married, and I don’t wear makeup. It’s not as if I don’t have interests: food being the largest. Just give me ads for restaurants and food delivery services. There, solved. But one day I got four or five ads telling me how great real milk was over almond milk, even though I’m lactose intolerant. So then there’s that waste of time. My point is that if an ad that is insulting or has nothing to do with the person seeing it, then the ad is a waste. The vendor paid money to make the ad and have it displayed. To have it displayed to the wrong person is a waste of their money. It’s also a waste of my time.

Useless Ads:

If you can’t purchase what an ad is for then the ad is useless. In the last ten years, the number of these ads has increased because somehow advertising companies have convinced pharmaceutical companies that advertising their products would increase their sales. Considering that a person cannot go out and buy a medication that is prescription locked, the majority of these ads don’t have an effect. The ads tend to be twice as long as a typical thirty second commercial because of half of the run-time is devoted to fine print. Pharmaceutical prices have gone up recently for a lot of medications, but the costs of goods sold hasn’t increased dramatically to match the new price tags, though it has gone up marginally because of the absolute waste the companies are now spending on advertising. A company cannot possibly see a matching increase in sales for the effort and cost of these ads because the majority of people this advertising works on, hypochondriacs and other neuroses sufferers, are often told by their doctors they don’t need the new medication they saw an ad for while watching their favorite TV show.

Redundant Ads

Every once in a while I get an ad for Netflix, like I don’t already have a subscription. It’s okay to see an ad for something you might need to buy again, but when it is for subscription services or something you only buy once in a long while, then it’s not all that useful to see an ad for it. That in itself isn’t much of an issue since ads are trying to hit a wide variety of people. The problem comes when it is a time consuming ad that does not allow skipping. A billboard isn’t an issue, but a commercial before a video or between scenes of a TV show or movie that has no skip feature is annoying especially if you already have the specific product or service.

Conclusion

I believe advertising can be effective and enjoyable at the same time. I believe that good advertising companies can create memorable and interesting commercials that help potential customers keep specific products and services in mind and even purchase them. But for every effective ad out there, there are more than a dozen misses around. But advertising is just one piece of the puzzle: the needs of a potential customer and their budget are bigger factors in whether or not the product or service will be bought. For example, I remember Geico ads like nobody’s business, but when it came down to it, I bought insurance from a competitor simply because they were half the price with the same quality of service. I see ads for Taco Bell all the time and I remember them, but I don’t like Taco Bell, so it doesn’t matter how many ads they bombard me with, I’m not buying from Taco Bell. Advertising is to inform potential customers of services and products they haven’t heard of before. Getting them to take out their wallets? That’s a different story.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2018 in Consumer Rights, Social Issues

 

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A Sensation in Horror: The Saw Movies and the MDQ

 

 

A couple of years ago, I watched all of the Saw movies in a row. I recently redid it when they all became available on Amazon Prime because they tend to stick in my head. It’s not the gore that gets me. It’s the writing. I believe there was a reason these movies were some of the most financially successful horror movies of all time, and I believe that the reason is the writing. Spoilers for the Saw films and, strangely, Speed. I talk about the most recent one, but don’t spoil it. Before you read this, I highly suggest you watch all of the original seven. And Speed. That’s a good movie if you can look past that archaic title card. You can skip to the bottom of the Saw sections to see my ratings for each; however, I spoil previous movies in talking about next movies, so hopping around is not suggested.

The MDQ

My first semester of college I took a writing class wherein I was introduced to the Major Dramatic Question by a playwright by the name of Evan Smith using a movie I knew quite well: Speed. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen that movie, but the answer is surely more than seems necessary for an action romance movie. Before I get into the MDQ, let me just say, that the stunts of that movie are some of the best and most ballsy ever done. Especially for the time, considering it would have been unimaginable to have your lead actually on a mechanic creeper under a moving freaking bus (Reeves was always dedicated and crazy) or to actually jump a bus with a stunt driver inside it across a gap. Insane. And awesome. Totally unsafe. Back to the class: Smith asked us what the climax of the movie was. Most people don’t know the movie as well as I do to remember the subway train after the bus. But after the bad guy has been defeated, there’s still more movie. Jack (Reeves) can’t get Annie (Bullock) free and can’t stop the train, which means she’s probably going to die. Once that pesky business is out of the way, the movie ends with Jack and Annie kissing and a sense of completion in the audience. Because the major dramatic question of Speed is “Will the guy and girl get together?” Answer: Yes, until the sequel and Reeves is too expensive to hire again or something.

A major dramatic question is usually presented pretty early on, in the first act. Character-focused movies can have one per major character, usually best for ensemble casts, but a movie without one is very blasé. It’s a movie most people walk away from without ever wanting to watch the movie again, without being able to remember the movie very well, and without a feeling of satisfaction. Due to rewrites, poor writing, changing directorial hands, and studio interference, some movies make it to audiences without this question. I’d say that blockbusters require these more than any other film. Indie films are actually allowed to get away from the MDQ because they are sometimes instead character studies. Movies that focus on a twist can sometimes get away from this if the twist is well set up (see The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable for the best examples and none of the rest of Shyamalan’s movies–including the much enjoyable but nominally twistless Split). Most movies though need to use an MDQ and answer it to be successfully entertaining. A lot of viewers get bored without one, but for established franchises, ala Star Wars and Star Trek, people are willing to give them a pass because they are fans. I’m usually willing to give Star Trek a pass, except for the new ones, but First Contact did have an MDQ focused on Picard (Can he overcome the violation the Borg perpetrated upon him? Think about it: the movie starts with a Borg-based nightmare he’s having). Typically though I won’t watch a movie again without an MDQ because it isn’t satisfying. It’s like if you took three bites of your meal and then your waiter just whisked it away from you. It’s just unfulfilling. The number one reason I believe I enjoy the Saw movies is the fact that the majority of them have an MDQ.

Saw

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t watch any of these in the movie theater. I wasn’t interested. One month a couple of years ago, the first four were available on Netflix, so I decided to watch them. Wild hair and all that. I very much enjoyed the first one. It has a rawness to it the rest don’t have mostly because it comes from new faces in Hollywood, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who happened to be given free reign and a new studio to work with, Twisted Pictures. The two were fresh out of film school and had an idea, and they even filmed a bit of it to show to studios. Their idea was picked up, but they were given very little budget. This is pretty obvious in the movie, especially when compared to the others. I’m sure a lot of the budget went to hiring Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, and Dina Meyer, but even with what little they had they did a fantastic job, using CCTV footage to round out the movie and having Whannell step in for one of the parts and some shots of other characters to make sure they got everything. The rawness of this movie reminds me a great deal of The Evil Dead (the original, not that run-of-the-mill remake). Wan moved quickly when filming, managing to get all of Shawnee Smith’s scenes done in a day, while she had a fever. The bathroom scenes were filmed sequentially, which is virtually unheard of, but lends a realness to those scenes, as the griminess of their clothes and skin increase true to life the longer they are in there. Is it the best movie I’ve ever seen? No. It is one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen. Is the acting amazing? No. Elwes is often fighting to act through using an American accent and Whannell is unrefined. But they both do an amazing job during the dramatic climax, which is what matters most.

That scene is amazing and answers the MDQ of the movie: How far will Dr. Gordon go to save his family? Answer: Pretty freaking far! One of the reasons that scene is so good is that most of the sawing is not shown. Instead we see the start of it and then most of the shots are of the two characters’ faces as it happens. The horror and pain on their faces are enough to make the audience cringe. This is also the most graphic thing to happen in the movie. The other movies are very much torture porn but the first one is not. I also believe that it brings up a very good point. In previous games shown in the movie, the victim is only fighting to save their own life. In the main game of the first movie, he is fighting to save that of his family. Most of the previous victims were not able to save themselves, but Dr. Gordon wasn’t fighting to save himself. And while he wasn’t able to do it by the due time, he was still more successful than most of the other victims. There is an emphasis on mind games and traps in the other movies, but in the first one, Dr. Gordan and Adam must solve puzzles and riddles, not work their way out of elaborate traps. Jigsaw is still playing mind games in this one, partially by being in the room the whole time, but the mind games are rarely focused on the actual victims of his games in the later ones and instead are focused on the police as a whole and on his disciples. So it seems obvious that while the first one and a few that follow involve writing by Whannell, it is also obvious that this first movie is different, partly due to its budget constraints (notice the fact that there are almost no exterior shots) and partly due to its freshness which comes with some sophomoric qualities but produces a movie well worth watching. My score is 7/10, IMBD has a 7.7, and the Metascore is a failing 46. On an estimated budget of $1.2 million, it made $103.9 million, giving it a return rate of 8558%.

Saw II

This movie was actually written by someone not connected to the first one and then the studio thought it would make a good sequel. I’m not usually a fan of this way of making movies, as I mentioned in my adaptations post in relation to Bug Hunt at Outpost 9 vs Starship Troopers (and making 10 Cloverfield Lane a sequel when it was not intended to be as written makes JJ Abrams again an asshole because a viewer spends the whole time wondering how it is related to the first one and not giving the story shown their full attention), but the studio was smart enough to bring on Whannell for rewrites. He even stayed on set to make sure any changes could be made to the script and sometimes didn’t have pages for them until they were ready to shoot. Now that can lower the quality of a movie, but that’s what multiple takes and good editing are for. Overall, this one lacks the rawness of the first one, pumps up the use of traps ala the reverse bear trap, and is a tighter movie. A second watch actually makes John Kramer’s comments to Dave Matthews somewhat tongue-in-cheek in a good way. “A safe place?” Hardy-har. On a first watch, I spent a good deal of time trying to place the brunette woman (Emmanuelle Vaugier) until I just looked her up and saw that she was in one episode of Supernatural. But besides that distraction, the movie did a really good job. I did not see the twist coming, even though the first one had a twist. This early in a franchise, it’s too hard to tell what methods will be carried over to other films, so a twist wasn’t necessary at this point in creating a Saw movie. This one still wasn’t really torture porn. It wasn’t overly graphic while still being horrifying. However, the scene where Xavier cuts off his number is a bit–okay, a lot–corny. It’s just not very well edited and the whole production of it makes it out to be more horrific than the actual situation calls for. It’s far more horrifying when Dave Matthews is screaming in anger and fear in the dark bathroom. Bloody gruesomeness is less horrifying than the idea of dying slowly in the dark alone. The MDQ: Will Dave Matthews be able to restrain himself? Answer: Apparently not! I also give this one a 7/10, which has an IMDB rating of 6.6 and a Metascore of 40. With an estimated budget of $4 million and a gross of $147.7 million, it had return rate of 3592%.

Saw III

Whannel wrote this one, and gore is kicked up a notch. The story is like the second one, split in two: we have the doctor working to save Kramer and Jeff going through a maze of traps. This is the first movie to have the single-person maze/journey, as Jeff is the only person running the maze, whereas in the second movie we had a big group of people. At this point, they have finally solidified how they are writing these movies. Either it is a group of people who are supposed to work together or it is one person trying to work out their issues as they solve the traps. I feel the single journey movies are stronger, because the focus is narrowed, unlike in the multiple people traps. That’s a stronger foundation, but it doesn’t mean it will be better. The idea that Jeff is so wrapped up in his anger that he is incapable of letting go of the past, moving on, and forgiving is such an interesting idea. It is also the major dramatic question, and each of the rooms are designed to test it. The parts with Lynn, Kramer, and Amanda are a little distracting to this, and this is really when the movies start to bring in their overall storyline, which they barely pulled off at times. When Amanda opens that note and starts crying, it is incredibly frustrating and distracting because we don’t get an answer to what it was about until a later movie. I felt the gore was just below the threshold of “too much”, but no other movie takes it just to the edge as this one did. The twist was actually pretty good. Jeff was too much of an idiot to be able to forgive, and it cost him a lot. The beginning of blending the movies makes this movie not as good as it could be. This one also gets 7/10 from me, has an IMDB rating of 6.2 and a Metascore of 48. It had an estimated budget of $10 million and earned $84.6 million, giving it a return rate of 746%, making it the first to drop below a thousand percent return.

Saw IV

This movie is similar to the one before it in that it is about a single person. All his tests are based on the same question, which is also the MDQ: Can Rigg prevent himself from running through an unsecured door? At the same time, Agent Strahm is chasing after him and is a general dick about everything. This movie is one of the most focused because they don’t show us what’s going on behind the traps, and there is an awesome reason for that! This was my favorite twist of the whole series. Not Hoffman. That was surprising but not as amazing as how much they hid the timeline. Whannell did not write this one, but what brilliant writing. They didn’t even cheat. Unfortunately, this means the movie cannot stand on its own at all. To enjoy it, a person would absolutely have to see the third movie. That and Rigg’s less than compelling character prevents this movie from being better than the others even with its tight focus and amazing twist. Again 7/10 from me, but it has an IMDB score of 5.9 and Metascore of 36. With an estimated budget of $10 million and a gross of $139.4, it has a return rate of 1294%.

Saw V

This movie starts immediately after the fourth one, and it’s when the series kind of loses focus. While I enjoyed it, mostly because of Julie Benz, who is enjoyable in anything, I could see it wasn’t very good. Hoffman is a dumb character and weak antagonist and while Strahm is played by one of my favorite TV actors, he’s still just a major dick. Now the movie is pretty much all about the behind the scenes crap with Jigsaw’s disciples. The story of the five people in the trap is the most interesting part of the movie and is minor in the plot of the film. This is also where the gore is ramped up to comical levels. For all that, the movie is lesser than the others and has gone off the rails of the original intrigue and intensity. We’ve got a problem in that our MDQ isn’t the focus of the plot nor related to the main traps: Can Strahm follow instructions? Now we’re down to a 6/10 from me, and it has a comparable IMDB score of 5.8 and a Metascore of 20. The budget was estimated at $10.8 million and the movie grossed $113.9 million, resulting in a 955% return rate.

Saw VI

The quality drops a notch further. Again the traps and the main focus of the plot are unrelated. The real question is if the FBI and police can figure out that Hoffman is the new disciple. While the best work is done with Easton, the CEO of the insurance company that denied Kramer an experimental procedure that might save his life. It brings up important issues with health insurance and shows how mercenary and unempathic those who work in that industry can be. This is where the real writing is being done. But we have so much with Hoffman, who is just bleh. And something’s going on with Jill. Jeeze, who cares? The gore level is now outrageous and sensationalist. Not worth the time they put into it. I only give this one a 6/10, the IMDB score is a matching 6 even, and the Metascore is 30. The estimated budget was $11 million but it only grossed $27.7 million, giving it a low but profitable return of 152%, which shows that people stopped caring so much at this point.

Saw 3D: The Final Chapter

Man, if only. Again, the focus is not on the traps, which are being navigated by a false victim who wrote a book about his experiences before, during, and after as a Jigsaw survivor. There’s more about Hoffman and Jill. Oh, and look, Dr. Gordon is back. Unrelated, I wonder what the twist will be about. Obviously, I’m not a fan. We also don’t even get an MDQ, so we don’t even know what we’re waiting for. I have a problem also with the fact that Bobby doesn’t manage to save anyone, even his girlfriend, who had no idea he was a complete liar. Guilt by association is not something early Jigsaw would have done. Then there’s the 3D gimmick. Also by this point I am sick of hearing that twist music and that horrible metal music in the credits. Now, we’re at a 5/10 from me, a 5.6 from IMDB, and a 24 from the Metascore. It had an over-bloated budget of $20 million and grossed $136.2 million, giving it a return rate of 581%.

Jigsaw

I’ve not seen this one yet, but it doesn’t involve Whannel or Wan as writers or directors, who moved on to Insidious and The Conjuring—though Wan is a producer. Instead, it is directed by the Spierig brothers, who have done Daybreakers (which I enjoyed), and written by Pete Goldfinger, most of his experience being in horror films no one has ever heard of, and Josh Stolberg, who has worked with Goldfinger on many of the same movies, but his most well known film is Good Luck Chuck, which is absolutely a completely different genre of movie. I’m not sure what to make of this combination of major players. The premise also seems off the mark from the cannon ending of the seventh film which is that Dr. Gordon and the two young men from the beginning of the movie are going to continue the games. Whereas, the description I read says that a new series of murders is taking place and it seems like it is John Kramer. Maybe since it was so bad, most people won’t remember that ending, but it was such a shock to so many viewers that I’m sure fans will remember it. Or maybe they are pulling a Bryan Singer ala Superman Returns and ignoring some of the later, and frankly worse, sequels. But look how well that turned out for him! I imagine they are just going to retcon it, especially considering I’ve not seen Jigsaw hitting Elwes’ IMDB acting credits. I’m not expecting much from this movie except to say that it will be a studio beating a dead horse. Currently it is sitting at a 5.9 from IMDB and a 39 from Metascore. The budget was a respectable $10 million and has grossed $38.1 million. This puts the return rate so far at 281%. As I said, not much hope.

Too Make a Long Blog Post Short . . .

Too Late! Horror as any genre can be done well, but like any genre of film requires focus on a singular question. Without which, the audience will not know what they are waiting for and will no longer care, shown partly by lowered return rate over the course of the series. The shine has also worn off by the sixth movie. It may have been too soon to try again. There were only seven years between the seventh and eighth films, but that could mean that the cooling off period was too short or long, in that either people were still sick of Saw films or that people no longer cared for them at all. It’s hard to tell and depending on who you talk to you might get different answers. To be honest, while I give my opinion on things, I do not much care for the aggregate opinion on most things. Critics don’t like horror films, and a lot of regular joes don’t either, thus bringing down the scores of horror films in general. But to gauge audience retention, aggregate scores are helpful. Overall, I believe the Saw movies have merit. There is often good writing being done, in that the focus is sometimes there and the themes are at the very least brought up if not exhaustively explored. Obviously, horror is capable of being thematically capable as shown by It (2017) and Stranger Things. Without focus and theme coming together, a movie of any genre is not going to be good in my book, and I will not judge a horror movie (or any other genre film) by the same expectations beyond those two metrics across genres. Which is why my scores may seem high for some of these movies. I would say that there was a reason for the outrageous success of the first film, and it wasn’t the twist, and it wasn’t the gore. It was the focus on Dr. Gordon as a character and just how far he would go to save his wife and child from that goddamn Benjamin Linus!

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2018 in Craft of Writing, Uncategorized

 

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Do You Need Money or Something, Disney?: Reboot, Remakes, and Sequels

 

Now, I’m going to be making fun of Disney quite a fair bit in this post. But they aren’t the only people doing this right now. They also, however, seem to be the company doing it the most without reason considering the fact that they own the MCU and Star Wars and now also Fox and any of that IP. Now, the MCU and Star Wars are endless sequels. Technically. And the MCU movies are all really adaptations. However, they are all pretty solid movies. They are entertaining. Which is the ultimate goal of a movie or TV show. Otherwise, what did you think you were doing?

I haven’t seen all of the Disney live-action remakes. I haven’t seen Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon, or Maleficent. I also don’t want to based on the ones I have seen. I have seen Alice in Wonderland, Alice through the Looking Glass, and The Jungle Book. I recently watched Beauty and the Beast. Like really recently. I haven’t been impressed by any of these movies. I’ve ended up looking at my Facebook feed which is what I do when I’m bored. I’m not saying that the fairy tales and children’s stories of old Disney animated fare cannot be remade into new and interesting movies. I love Mirror Mirror, but Snow White and the Huntsman, The Huntsmen: Winter’s War, and The Legend of Tarzan (also recently watched) were again extremely boring and those weren’t even Disney, even though Disney has a version of Snow White and Tarzan. So I won’t be addressing Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon, or Maleficent, but will be using examples from the Alice movies, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast.

Why, Just Why? Because? Money?

Disney is worth a lot of money. Like 55 billion dollars in 2016. They are one of the biggest media conglomerates in the world. They own Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney Theatrical Productions, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, The Muppets Studio, Radio Disney, and Disney-ABC Television Group, and own hefty percentages of ESPN, A+E Networks, and Hula. To name some of their most recognizable subsidiaries. And they just bought Fox. That’s a lot of pots stirring and bringing in the moola. So I question the need to not take risks. Especially considering the cash that Marvel Entertainment ($676.2 million from 2008), Marvel Studios ($12 billion worldwide for MCU titles), and Lucasfilm ($1 billion estimated profit from purchase price) are all raking in. No one thinks that Disney is suffering. The evidence is in the purchases they’ve made over the years, that all produce high profits. Disney would have to be making crazy stupid decisions to be leaking money at this point. Crazy stupid decisions like financing Adam Sandler’s career. Oh, wait, that’s Sony.

So why are they rehashing old material? Why aren’t they taking risks with their live action films? Why do they plan to remake, reboot, or sequel all of their animation titles in the next decade? I’m not saying that Disney shouldn’t be making movies under the Disney brand. I’m just wondering why they’ve chosen to do nothing new or truly creative under that brand. The results of this plan are a bunch of very boring and nostalgia-driven pieces of crap that are full of bad acting, bad cinematography, bad CGI, bad dialogue, and bad story.

The Plan

What’s coming to theaters from Disney soon?:

  • Sword in the Stone
  • Mary Poppins
  • Mulan
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • The Lion King
  • Cruella de Vil (One Hundred and One Dalmatians)
  • Aladdin
  • Peter Pan
  • Tinker Bell (Peter Pan)
  • Dumbo
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Chernabog (Fantasia)
  • Pinocchio

That is 14 titles to add to the six that have already come out. And bear in mind, not a single one of these was an original idea when it was adapted into a movie by Disney before. Why is this the plan? Why not try new things?

The Alice in Wonderland Films

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These are horrible messes of films. I’m not sure why a sequel was made when the first one was so terrible. First of all, Alice is so bland and no one can care about this girl. She’s as bland as the people she can’t stand. She travels to Wonderland to get away from a destiny she doesn’t want, only to be told in Wonderland that she is destined to do this thing. Don’t follow your destiny unless it turns out to be incredibly dangerous! ~the motto of this movie. Also the caterpillar keeps saying that Alice isn’t Alice, which is a weird message again, as it suggests the idea that changing is inherently wrong since the last time she was there was when she was a child. Children grow up and become more mature. There is nothing actually wrong with that. In fact, it’s a good thing. If they mean that Alice losing her gumption and sense of imagination are bad thing, that’s a good message, but they don’t actually present this idea well, especially when they are all telling her that she needs to do what she is destined to do. It also suggests that the caterpillar’s idea of who Alice is is more important than who Alice believes she is, moving her identity away from her ownership and leaving it still with other people. Or caterpillars as the case may be. When she comes back from Wonderland, she talks to her crazy aunt telling her to stop believing in her own crazy stories. Why is this moment in the movie? Is it to confuse the audience? Oh, Alice’s crazy story is true, but that woman’s just suffering from mental illness. Only pretty, young women can be believed when they tell crazy stories?

This blandness and the weird messages continue into the second film, but the plot is even more convoluted. The idea that proving to the Hatter that his family is dead will somehow cure his emotional wasting sickness is freaking weird. Also he keeps saying that Alice isn’t Alice, that everyone is not quite right, which is a little bit of a callback to the caterpillar but suggests that there is something wrong with everyone in Wonderland. That’s not the case. He’s just referencing the first movie. That’s not helpful to the audience trying to figure out what they are waiting for. In fact, I have no idea what we were waiting for. This movie actually made me think that Alice and the white queen were the bad guys. Alice steals the time machine, thus endangering everyone throughout all time in Wonderland and the white queen has been lying for years mostly to herself about how good she is, having gotten her crown by lying about her sister and resulting in her sister’s injury which is still a problem for her to this day. And the part where they resolve this decades long problem is so quick and not at all satisfying.

Then there’s Johnny Depp. Ugh. If Tim Burton doesn’t finally screw Depp and get it over with so we don’t have see him do these increasingly substanceless parts in Burton films, I may never watch Depp in a film again. It seems that Depp doesn’t want to actually act anymore. All his parts are the same now. Wild and crazy look, weird compared to everyone else, and the absolute center of attention or he will burn the set to the ground. He’s in the second one less but is still annoying and eccentric. Watch his performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and then watch him in Through the Looking Glass and you’ll see what I mean. He has stopped trying. He lacks all subtly and internal action. While some may say this is an unfair comparison, I say no! Robert Downey Jr. is still able to bring that into even his outrageous comedies such as Tropic Thunder. Whereas his friend Depp only looks the part. Depp: Divorce yourself from Disney. They are sucking out your lifeblood. You need to do something with some substance. The Lone Ranger, the Alice movies, the Pirates movies, and Dark Shadows (which isn’t even Disney) are all terrible movies. The first Pirates film is enjoyable, but Depp does not steal the show; he shares it with Bloom, Knightly, and Rush, who all do a great job. But later films are all just about Depp doing crazy things on camera. That’s all that really happens in the films listed above, and I find those movies boring, no matter how much action they also throw into the pot. In fact, I didn’t even finish The Lone Ranger. Having Depp behave and look weird isn’t enough to carry a movie. It wasn’t what made Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas amazing. It was all the Rum Diaries tried to do. Depp isn’t a bad actor, but he hasn’t produced the kind of performance that truly deserves an audience’s attention in quite a while.

So the second film. What can truly be said of this mess? I can’t quite describe when the movie went astray, possibly when it turned out they were going to do basically the same character development as the first one all over again. Alice is back in England and people are trying to make her life as bland as her personality is again. But no! She’s a ship’s captain. Whatever. The movie was not at all helped by the time traveling plot or Sacha Baron Cohen. I like this guy. I watched him from his early HBO days, and he was great as King Julian in Madagascar, quite possibly the most quotable character of that movie. Problem is, a character like King Julian can’t carry an adversary role in a feature length film, and since he wasn’t really the bad guy, he didn’t really have a place in the movie. Children’s movies do need to be direct with plot and character dynamics. This movie doesn’t do that at all. It is half-way between the dynamics of a serious drama (the main character is screwing everything up in a monumental way) and a children’s film (cooky characters without real motivation). It’s just too hard to get behind something that doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s called focus. How can the audience focus if the movie can’t?

Beauty and the Beast

I love the 1991 Beauty and the Beast. It got a Best Picture nomination. The first animated film of all time to do so. That’s a big breakthrough. It’s got its problems, such as the fact that the prince was only eleven when the enchantress cursed him or that she cursed all of the castle inhabitants just because they happened to be employed there. You know, so they could feed and clothe themselves along with their families. But it has a great charm. The songs are amazing. I could watch the Gaston song five times in a row and I’ll still laugh every time he says he uses antlers in all of his decorating, throwing that leg up in the air. I love this movie. It’s not my favorite animated film of all time, but it is certainly in my top ten.

So I can’t be accused of not liking the remake because I don’t like the material. I can be accused of liking the original too much to enjoy a remake; however, there are very clear reasons why I don’t like the remake. Again, it is boring. There isn’t enough new in this movie to create a feeling of discovery in an audience. They changed very little: the prince was shown to be an adult at the time of cursing, they tried to justify the cursing of the staff of the castle, and they added a song. That’s about it. Oh, yeah, they added a magic book. The change that the prince was an adult was a good one, but the second change is still a crap reason for cursing everyone. Oh, they didn’t stop him from becoming a monster so that’s why they deserved it. You mean, in a time when a nobleman could conceivably ruin a person’s life to the point of them begging for alms and dying in the mud, the staff could have done something? Suuuuure. I seriously doubt that they had much control over what kind of man the prince became. I didn’t see his childhood nurse among the staff nor any of his tutors. In fact, none of them would have had much direct interaction with the prince based on their positions except to take and fulfill any orders beyond their traditional duties. So there really is not reason why they should be held responsible. Also, the cursing of Chip throws a major wrench in that theory as a child surely is not responsible. It’s still dumb. In fact, it’s dumber for them trying to fix it.

On the other changes, they weren’t all that enticing to me. The song is good and Dan Stevens does a good job, but overall, the majority of the songs pale in comparison to the original performances, mostly because the original was made in a era when Disney insisted on hiring good voice actors and good singers that weren’t necessarily the same person, doubling up the voices behind many of the parts. This means most of the original singers were just that: professional singers, not actors. This go round, that’s not the case. The actors shown are the people singing, and most of them don’t compare to the professionals of the original.

The final change, the book, I pretty much forgot about since it made very little impression on me. I believe, it was a device to further develop Belle as a character and explain why she was so different from the other villagers. It seemed overall a bit too clunky to achieve much of anything which is probably why I almost didn’t remember to include it here.

Oh, there was one final change. The gay character. If you could call a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment much in the way of a “character” feature. They made such a big deal about this. It was in all the press and internet discussions leading up to the release of the movie and I can only assume that it was to drum up interest in what was essentially an uninteresting remake. Making it as minor as possible in the actual film suggests that Disney wanted to be able to point it out, but also wanted it to be as unassuming as possible as to be unoffensive to those family movie-goers who are homophobic. Basically, they were trying to have their cake and eat it too. I hope we’re smarter than that kind of ploy in the future.

The Jungle Book

What a strange movie. Not many people remember the original. It is very old at this point, but I’m sure any of us could sing The Bare Necessities if given a few notes of the melody. We can all thank Screen Junkies for reminding us what this movie was like since Disney locks that crap down harder than Fort Knox in their stupid vault. When babies are born every year, I’m still surprised at the use of that brilliant concept. I had to look it up, but that crap is still going on. Genius. I’ve read some of Kipling, and his anithropomorphic animals are strange, so the remake managed to capture a lot more of that than the original did. This movie did go in new directions. Even interesting ones. It was almost ironic in the end. I appreciated that quite a bit, but there were some issues with this movie.

First of all, the only real thing through out most of the film was Mowglie. This always bothers me. At that point, all I can think is just make the whole thing animated. It’s not like the brilliantly shot Dinosaur wherein the locations were all real but the animals were CGI. No, most of the actual environment of The Jungle Book was CGI. I’m more impressed by the effects of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which still amaze me to this day. Making nearly everything CGI felt like a cop out. It’s now cheaper to render entire environments than it is to film on location. That’s fine. Then just make the whole thing CGI. I’ll watch a realistic CGI animated film. I have no problem with that. What’s the problem with Mowglie being the only real thing throughout the majority of the movie? It makes it harder to suspend disbelief when you have a very real boy touching not just CGI panthers, bears, and wolves, but also touching CGI leaves and rocks. Now had everything been CGI or just the animals, it would have seemed either more like a cartoon or more like reality. Instead it was stuck in this halfway place, much like the Star Wars prequels. So often throughout the movie, I couldn’t help but think that in the real, real world and not CGI world, Mowglie would be the deadest child in the world.

They left only two of the songs in the movie. The two everyone knows and had two men who can’t really sing perform them. It was jarring to hear those two beloved songs mangled as they were. Don’t get me wrong. I love Bill Murray and Christopher Walken, but neither of them is famous for their singing ability. Murray is a funny actor, who can bring great depth to his face. He’s not a singer. Walken can be terrifying or hilarious, sometimes even both, and is an amazing dancer. He’s also not a singer. We would have been able to tell very clearly had they decided to use singers for the songs instead of the two actors, so maybe they should have just cut them altogether. John Favreau was really trying to tell a more realistic story and frankly closer adaptation of the original Kipling material, so these moments were nothing but sore thumbs and I would love a version of this movie without them.

Overall this movie evoked a kind of meh response in me. It could have been better, but it could also been worse. It was mediocre at best. Right now, that seems like a not bad place to be as a movie, since there are so many horrible movies coming out, and making loads and loads of money for some strange reason. This movie wasn’t as entertaining as it could have been, mostly because those two songs slowed down the progress of the plot, and it didn’t really grab me because of the weird choice of using nearly all CGI. That’s about it.

The Point

Why make all these movies? Why try weird sequels to one, a nearly exact remake of another, and a nearly full reboot of another? There are other stories to tell and other ways to tell the stories that Disney has animated in the past. As I said, Mirror Mirror was very enjoyable and original. The telling was completely different and charming. It even had great art direction. So it is not impossible to do something new or exciting with the material. I think the big difference here is that while the writers and director of Mirror Mirror cared about the project because they had an idea of what they wanted and had little to no interference from their studio, Disney is the driving force behind many of these movies. They are scraping their barrel of IPs and asking someone to do something with each one. It’s easier. It has little risk. But there is a lack of care in the projects shown in lackluster films such as Beauty and the Beast because the director and writers were given a paint by numbers film plan. Or the studio butts in on what could be a good film and tells them to do certain things, like have songs that don’t fit the tone of the film being made. Or they just own Johnny Depp’s soul and think he is still profitable. If Disney just wants to have someone to create a film based on each of their IPs, they should let writers and directors who have clear and personal ideas about each IP hold the reigns and not butt in. They would make much more solid and enjoyable films, instead of passable to horrible movies that no one should even waste their time on.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2018 in Film Criticsim

 

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